I was going to blog this morning about the pitiful State of My Union, financially speaking, but then I got word from a good friend that she is on uncertain terms with her job and her husband recently lost his. Suddenly, my financial woes seem insignificant and petty. But I guess in these times, you could play the “Whose Got It Worse” game with just about anyone and you’d always find someone who is worse off and someone who is better off than you. If anything at all is certain right now in this economy, its that we all are going to have to make some sacrifices and cutbacks, and whether that is in your paycheck or in the grocery bill cutbacks are always hard to handle.
In talking to people, I think one of the scariest parts about this whole economic hell hole is that no one wants to talk specifics. The government is so general when they talk about the “economic stimulus package” that it doesn’t really generate a warm and fuzzy feeling in my household. And on a more personal level, no one wants to talk about money specifics with friends. Not only is it such a downer, but its also kind of rude. I completely understand this and have always been an advocate for keeping money, religion, and politics out of the civilized social conversations. But I think an exception may need to be made in this case. Knowing what other people are struggling with financially, considering where other families are choosing to cut back in their personal budgets, all these things help people realize that they are not by themselves in this. We are all experiencing the same frustrations and, even if some of us are unfortunate enough to feel it a little stronger, at least we can find some ounce of comfort through hearing other people’s stories.
So, I’ll start with mine.
Chris and I have been really fortunate with money since he graduated. We both have pretty good paying jobs and (at least for the forseeable future) both our jobs seem secure. But we are feeling the crunch in our accounts because of this little Bean in my belly. Daycare around these parts is pretty outrageous and when I think about what I will be spending on it a week, it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a wooden spoon. Add to this the funny fact that my insurance company has decided it doesn’t really feel like paying some of my lab test and ultrasound bills (to the tune of about $2,000.00) and that the hospital where I had the testing done just sort of arbitrarily assigns costs to procedures (“Today, this procedure will cost you, um, $5,000. Tomorrow it will cost you…oh, lets say $500”) and you see my predicament. I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon on the phone with the hospital and Aetna trying to even understand the bills, much less pay them. And to top it all off, my tires are balder than Mr. Clean.
And my dogs smell. Although, that’s not really a financial issue, but its still very much a problem…
So, what to do about all this mess? What to do? Well, we have found some ways to tighten the purse strings and maybe some of them are some things that can help your family, too.
1. Grocery Store – We are making a real effort to conserve money on the food-front, starting with the grocery store. I’ve started clipping coupons and we are rotating between 3 different grocery stores based on who is having what sale, as opposed to just shopping at the same place every time. We are also trying this new thing where we only buy what is on our shopping list. I keep a list on our fridge and as we run out of things, we add them to it. But when we get to the store, we tend to venture pretty far off that list based on how hungry we are at the time we are shopping. Now, we are making more of an effort to just stay on the list. That way we are only buying what we need and not ending up with random crap that doesn’t get eaten. I’ve also started buying things in bulk and freezing them. So, if bread is on sale for buy-one, get-one, then I buy 2 and put one in my freezer. I know this seems like it should be common sense, but you’d be surprised little common sense I actually have sometimes.
2. Eating Out – We have cut back so much in this area. We both pack our lunches every day (which capitalizes on our new grocery store system) and we are not eating out at all. In fact, we went to BJ’s Wholesale this past week and stocked up on meat products so that we don’t have any excuse to eat dinner out. And we are even cutting back on weekend dinner out, too. Now, if we are going somewhere like the movies or something, we eat at the house first and then go out.
3. Re-examining our checking account – One of the most helpful things we did was to take a good, hard look at our checking account. It was quite painful. I may have cried. Chris may have threatened to leave me over my Target addiction. It wasn’t pretty. But we did it, and we found so many expenses we were running up that we didn’t even know about! Target is actually a good example. I was going to Target a few times a week and I wasn’t spending less than $50 a trip! That really adds up! We also noticed we had several small things that were being automatically deducted from our account. There was one charged called “Easy Saver” which is some program that we inadvertedly signed up for at some point. They were charging our checking account $20 every month!! And have been doing it for almost a year!! And I never noticed!! Once we spent some time really looking at our account, we found some very obviously places that we could cut back. (Goodbye, Target. I’ll miss you dearly…)
So, that’s about it. I’d love to hear how your family is tightening its purse strings, too. What are you sacrificing (Target…I love you…)? What are you cutting back on?