Monday, August 12, 2013

how to live within your means: a series

2013-05-31 09.38.11

I've been thinking for a long time about writing a single post on this topic. And then last week Ashley at The Vanilla Tulip did an entire series called Living Small about how to live simplistically. It encouraged me to no end. She lives in a 2 bedroom house with 4 kids. We live in a 2 bedroom townhouse with 2 kids and I thought things were tight around here! But just like she makes it work for her family, we make things work around here too.

And so, I've decided to write a series called How to Live Within Your Means. Over the next 2 weeks I'll be posting about all the different ways we live within our means and what my best tips are in each area. I'll talk about the kitchen, meal planning, grocery shopping, budgeting, cheap and free family activities and dates, lifestyle and attitude changes and I'm hoping to throw in some of my favorite cheap, real food recipes here and there (baby food and dinners). If you have any questions or tips of your own, please share them along the way.

how it all started
We've never had a lot of money. For the first 7 years of our marriage, my husband was in the military. He was enlisted. It's no secret that they don't make a whole lot. When Ben re-enlisted into the Marines in 2007 and we moved back to San Diego, things were the tightest they had ever been for us. We had just spent a year living with his mom, I was working only part time and going to school full time and he was working full time for an hourly wage. We had no money in savings and few options. That's how he ended up back in the military.

The first several months were rough. It was in those months that we really had to believe God for the finances to pay just our monthly bills. It was in those months that we really saw God do exactly that.

The electric bill came due and we didn't have enough to pay it. Surprise! There was an unexpected check in the mailbox the next day. I needed to buy groceries and we only had change. Surprise! There happened to be enough in the checking account to purchase said groceries. We were required to put down a deposit and first and last month's rent on our apartment. I sheepishly asked our landlord if we could split the last month's rent into 2 payments. She agreed! Then I had to go back and ask if we could split it into 4 payments. She happily said "yes." I learned quickly that it doesn't hurt to ask.

We spent no money on entertainment, cable, dinner out. Instead we ate basic meals every night and took turns playing Xbox online and counted that as "date night." We went for walks and bike rides.

We did that for months, probably close to a year.

In the mean time I budgeted like crazy. I was determined to get on a solid budget and get all of our obligations paid. In time, that happened. Ben received a bonus for re-enlisting and we paid off his vehicle (I had purchased mine with cash when I was a teenager). And soon, we were down to only the basic bills/expenses each month: tithe, rent, gas/electric, phone, internet, groceries, gas, retirement account, savings. And to that I was finally able to add in one more expense: spending.

It was wonderful. It began modestly. $50 each, each pay day. Ben would stop at an ATM on his way home from work and take out the cash. I highly recommend cash allowances (more on that later).

By the time his 4 year enlistment was up, we had put a very comfortable amount of money into savings and had also paid cash for a new car. All that budgeting had taught me something: it's worth it to live within your means. It's worth it to be self-disciplined.

From there we moved to Texas for a brief 15 months. Our savings came in handy. Unexpected expenses popped up everywhere. We continued to budget and put money away and boy am I glad that we did!

where we are right now
Looking back now, I'm so grateful for that rough start to San Diego. It prepared me for right now. Things are tight again. But in a good way. In a way that forces me to keep a budget and stick to it. In a way that requires us to truly consider if a purchase is going to be a good use of our funds. In a way that allows us to trust in the Lord every single month, every single day, that He will provide for us. .

And so, here we are again, living within our means. We rent a 2 bedroom townhouse. We share a single car. We eat out maybe once a month and sometimes we'll splurge on a Friday night and order pizza from Domino's (only when I have a coupon). Our outings usually consist of a day at the neighborhood pool or hiking in the nearby mountains (both are free). We don't have cable.

Our life may not look like the typical American family (at least what is portrayed on television), but we want for nothing. Absolutely nothing. God has truly transformed our attitudes toward "stuff" and in a really good way. I can't wait to share with you more about what "living within your means" looks like for us.