Thursday, February 24, 2011

So it begins.

The first day of the experiment (also known as payday) went innocently enough. School was out for the state fair (??), so I took the Lily and her friend to the museum for the morning. We got a membership to the museum as a Christmas present, so it's free to go whenever, AND we can see the regular Imax movies for free. Score! So, first event of the day cleared, no cash spent. Then it was time for lunch, and I took the little girls to Steak N Shake. Alas, at this point I had to part with some cash. This being the first cash I had spent in a long time, I tried to strike the right balance with the tip. Somewhere between running (sans tip) from the restaurant cackling evilly, and giving the waitress all my money. I settled on a hopefully karmically positive four dollars for a fifteen dollar tab. My theory of tipping relies heavily on karma. I am fanatically cheap. Really. But I can't take all the negative energy in the universe tracking me down, so I try to strike a balance and respect service industry workers. After lunch, it was time to pick up Jeremy, and then drop off the Lily's friend.

A moment if I could, to describe the payday syndrome. By the time we get to our paycheck we are down to the last so many dollars in our checking account that we spend the last few days of payday week not spending any money, or, if a purchase is direly necessary, we put it on the credit card as we're just about to make a payment anyway. By the time payday arrives, we are so excited to have money again that we spend almost all of it before the first weekend after payday is out. Let me say that in this time bills have been paid and groceries have been bought, but any fun or leeway that was to be squeezed out of the budget has been so squoze. So, this is why we have undertaken this experiment. To see if we can find a better way. The way we are attempting is to take out so much cash at the beginning of the week for personal expenses and groceries, and then nothing goes on the debit card but gas for the car.

It being week one, I realized early on that I may have to budget for some growing pains. Expecting everyone to drop payday syndrome and toe the line immediately was probably a little premature. My plan is to review remaining cash and forecasted needs towards the end of this week and perhaps pull out a small supplementary cash bump if necessary. Of course, with the understanding that this is a one-time expense.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Almost the end of week one

And we have survived! And there is still money in the bank account! We still have one week in the PP to go, but it is a respectable sum we are sitting on, will buy us the week's groceries, and even if we should have to, say, buy two new tires for the car, not touch the money we managed to put into savings this go around.

The grocery money lasted exactly as long as it was supposed to. I was hoping to have a good amount of change left over at the end of the week, but not this time. I have a dollar and some change left. In the spirit of improving the system for the future, I would try to chisel out some real time where I look at what is really needed and make my shopping lists from there. I'm not sure the one shopping trip a week is highly practical for me at this time. I have one grocery store where I get my prescriptions filled, but there's another grocery store close to my house (that's actually often cheaper) where I tend to do a midweek soda run. I like to do my big grocery shopping run at Target, but do occasionally find myself at Wal-Mart trying to stretch that last dollar.

The spending money was kind of a fiasco. But again, it's not like we didn't learn some things. We managed to escape the Payday Weekend with enough petty cash to sustain us for week one of the PP, but week two is going to take some juggling. Which can be managed. We have some goals we're saving for, but at this point in the semester, I'm willing to make allowances.

Henry turned one this week! A year ago he was a tiny thing at the hospital, mewling, but holding his head up. Today, he is a towheaded dynamo, almost ready for his first steps. His birthday present will be a pair of robeez style baby shoes, so that he can practice walking away from home, too.

Henry's birthday has also forced me to do some accounting of how the last year has gone by and what has been accomplished. Lots of good things have happened. Henry got born, Lily started reading chapter books, we successfully moved to Florida, Jeremy got a good job, and we have continually avoided financial ruin! But still, Jeremy needs to finish his dissertation and I need to go back to school. Those are the priority for this year and they kind of have to happen in that order. To further those goals, I will be applying to USF for undergrad admission next week. This is a big step for me and I don't know where it will lead. Will I be able to start at USF or will I have to do time at a community college to show I can be a good student, now? Can I be a good student? I think I have learned how to focus and do what needs to be done, and, at the very least, I no longer have the time to mess around missing class and whatnot.

More detailed breakdown of the actual process of the first week coming soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Experiment

We're trying something new this time around. Instead of spending our paycheck until we run out, we're going to calculate our expenses and allot money for certain purposes. For instance, the spending money and grocery budget will be withdrawn in cash at the beginning of the pay period, instead of just whipping out the debit card at the sight of something shiny. You've probably read all the same books and articles I have and gleaned the same 95 theses of money saving. In no particular order, here are some favorites.
- Plan your meals for the week. Cook at home, don't eat out. Plan your meal menu around what your family will actually eat. It's not savings if it rots in the crisper drawer. Shop the store circulars and incorporate good deals into your meal plan. I try to buy and extra meal or so a week, so I'll have something on hand, leaving me extra options midweek and in the future. Use coupons for products that you already buy and use. It's not savings if you don't actually need it.
- Save 10% of your income each paycheck. If you have it direct deposited into a savings account, chances are you won't even miss it, and that's a tidy sum when the time comes.
- Use credit cards wisely. Don't close all your accounts at once, but don't cut up all your cards and never use them, either. The first will ding your credit score and the second will rack up inactivity fees.
All this information (and much much more) is out there if you are looking for it, but what does it really feel like, really mean to live on less than you earn? Can it be done in a one income, one car, two child household? We are staking a claim in this frontier of adulthood and asking you to come along for the ride. We don't have all the answers. We have a plan, that we suspect will be taking in some alterations. We have some goals that need fleshing out. We have an idea what a fiscally sound, reasonable life looks like, and it seems to be possible from where we are. But can we actually, in the trenches, day to day, actually get it done?