Tuesday was one of my babysitting days. My mom came over, and we were discussing my husband’s and my frugal ways. She mentioned that she didn’t think a lot of other woman would be willing to do the things I do. This really made me laugh, because I think deep down the majority of people think that my penny-pinching husband is behind most of what I do . Well, that just is not true.
I guess I have always been a penny-pincher. I just didn’t know it. I was 16 when I got my first checking account. Back then I would work packing strawberries for a month during the summer and then no work until the following summer. That money I made working long hours in the middle of a strawberry field under an awning was the majority of the spending money I got for the year. Yes, I got an allowance, but that usually went into the gas tank on weekends. So I had to learn how to make that money last.
The very first thing I did was make sure every single check I wrote had something in the memo part of the check. It could not be for a nonessential reason or for something simple. If I wrote a check back then (and this is before debit cards), I would have to make the memo info be something I could remember six months from then and be sure it was a good purchase.
When I was in high school, designer clothing became the cool thing to wear. I saw others wearing Jordache jeans, but it didn’t mean anything to me. We bought my clothes at Penney’s and little hole-in-the-wall shops that sold cheap clothing. You would now call them boutique shops. I was oblivious to the whole designer thing.
My parents raised chickens when I was younger and had a garden. My grandparents raised chickens and rabbits and had a garden. These things were a way of life for us. I grew up dreaming of owning a self-sufficient place to live and raise a family. This was not such a normal dream for a teenager.
I eventually married my husband, and we had to be frugal when raising four kids on one paycheck. Frugality is awesome when you choose to be that way, but not so much when it chooses you. Over time I couldn’t wait to stop having to be so cheap. I hated the restrictions of saving for vacations. I hated the restrictions over my grocery allowance, and I hated asking for $20 to just spend on myself. Now some of this was just communication issues, but most of the anger came from being restricted due to the limited income.
I started working and soon had a credit card in my name that was my responsibility and no one else’s. This was mostly under control until the next one. Even then it was not as bad as it eventually became. Having a credit card balance of $1,500 wasn’t so bad when compared to $12,000. In 2009, I lost the job that paid for those credit card bills of $12,000. Then we went through an even greater financial loss that dwarfed my $12,000. We “lost” everything except what mattered most: our family and each other.
Chris and I had a sit-down discussion that brought us onto the same page with the same ideas and plans. Those days were the darkest financial days we had ever seen. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy just being totally honest and not defensive. We began by reading a book called "The Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey. We worked on our finances and saved our first $1,000. We were incredibly proud of ourselves. Now I don’t 100% agree with him on everything, but following the basic premises really helped us make ourselves debt-free.
Frugality is awesome when you choose to be that way, but not so much when it chooses you.
We paid off the bills we had left. We let the house go and saved everything we had, including borrowing from Chris’ 401K to purchase our home. We remodeled the house and paid back the loan within two years.
I wrote a post in the past about being on the same page as your hubby or partner when being frugal, but you have to get to that spot in your brain where you can make the choices to make the rest of your life work for you, not you for it.
The exercise I use the most and seems to work for me the best is imagining how I would be able to live if I was alone. I love my husband and want nothing to happen to him, but bad things do happen. How would I pay my bills and do the things I want to do? Writing this after taking my dad’s ashes to Michigan makes me think even more. You see, my dad never considered taking care of his or my mom’s future. Dad could not see past the here and now. He didn’t care how he left things. He wasn’t going to be there to see it or even deal with it. I watch my mom live on a very tight budget. She is doing it and very happy with her life, but it is not easy.
To start this exercise, you have to get a handle of your household expenses. For me, this is everything from quarterly trash pick-up payments to taxes and homeowners' insurance. You take the number you pay yearly or quarterly and divide it by 12 or three. Take a yearly property tax bill of $600. Divide by 12 and your monthly property tax bill is $50. This is just an example. Chris never includes the gasoline for our vehicles. This drives me nuts. I even include my Starbucks green tea addiction.
I take in account every household payment and write them on a piece of tablet paper. I look for things we can get rid of. Each and every item is checked as a necessity or able to cut out or diminish use. Each family has their own priorities and needs. It has been four years and we still have no cable or satellite television. We are very fortunate to have a good assortment of television stations that are free with an antennae. I do not miss it, and if it is left to me, it will never be in our home again, but Chris plans on getting it when he is retired. He thinks he will be bored without it. In this case, we have agreed that as long as we can save up the amount of money to pay for the entire length of the contract prior to purchasing, then he can do it. So far that number shocks him each and every time he looks at the ads for service. He really doesn’t miss it, but gets sad when he can’t watch the Steeler’s play.
We have now cut our monthly expenses down to the very basics. We pay electric, internet service, food, car insurance, homeowners' insurance, gas, property taxes, and trash pick-up. I can’t think of what else off the top of my head. We purchased some solar panels and are doing other things to cut our electric bill. The biggest savings toward the lowering of our electric bill has been shutting the water heater off every night. We have gone whole days without it even on. During the summer here in Florida it is so hot and humid I don’t mind taking a slightly cooler shower.
This is just an example of what you can do. We attempt to garden, we shut down lights and have green switches on our televisions and computer. We rarely eat out, choosing to prepare meals at home. This is not easy. I work part-time and babysit three days a week. Some days I don’t want to cook; I don’t want to go to work with lunch in hand. I fail sometimes, too, but I don’t give up.
The point is I love shutting the water heater off at night. I get mad when the computer or TV hasn’t been turned off at the green switch, and it really bugs me when lights are left on in rooms where no one is. I turn my A/C on higher when it is just me, just not as high as Chris does when I work. I get a kick out of “beating” last year's electric bill. I love seeing a freezer full of food and making my own cleaning supplies. There are rewards in these things. Peace of mind, more money in the savings account, and we can travel without feeling like we will never pay off the credit cards. Most of all, the relationship I have with Chris is one that I never have to deal with lies and deceit. Not his, but mine.
The frugal life is not always easy. It can be difficult when there are more than two people involved. It doesn’t have to be every single thing all the time. I buy pizza and McDonald's sometimes. I don’t always have the energy after running after a 20-month-old or the stamina to stand up and prepare food after standing all day and my feet feel like they want to be removed from my legs. Sometimes I don’t have the cleaning supplies made up and I have to go buy some. Just choose what works for you, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or less frugal when you do!