Today I have a guest post from….Theo!
At our house, Theo is the man in charge of our finances. I think that I am organized enough to do it, but I am not gifted with the mind to do that. Thankfully, Theo is very gifted in this area.
We figured we would share with you all how we do our finances because it is such an important part of life. We have a lot of fun and we love our lives, but there are certain decisions that need to be made when it comes to the finances.
So, without further ado, here is Theo…
Do my wife and I budget our finances?
Perhaps by some definitions we are budgeting, but if you mean setting up a strict guideline to determine where our money will go and how much, then we are not exactly budgeting. Let me first tell you what we do, and then I will explain why.
For the past 15 months Suzanne and I have been trying to live very cheaply, partly because we want to discipline ourselves against materialism, since there are so many things we really don’t need (that often are distractions in our lives), and partly because we could not afford many of the conveniences and luxuries that are available.
When Suzanne and I got married she had one more year of college to finish, and I was working full time. I was also working a few hours a week teaching Martial Arts. Due to the expenses of being newly weds we did not really see spending money on ourselves as a luxury we could afford. Most of our money went to rent, groceries, and gas for our car.
Before we had gotten married I had come up with a very frugal yet reasonable budget that I was hoping we could follow. Little did I know that we could live even cheaper than I had budgeted for, which was good, because also little did I know that I wouldn’t even be earning enough monthly income to meet the budget I had come up with. Within three months of being married, I was laid off due to downsizing, which on average left us with $300 coming in per month.
Something I have been doing since we got married, almost more out of curiosity than out of necessity, is I record every single thing we spend money on. I have different categories to group our expenses under, such as groceries, gas for the car, dates I took Suzanne on, reoccurring bills like rent and utilities, etc. Then I group everything by month. One of the reasons I did this was because we didn’t really have enough income to have a pre-made budget. So instead I used hindsight of the previous month’s expenses to gauge areas we could save a little more in the coming month.
It was actually quite unique to see what we had bought, because it is so easy in the moment to think we need something. So we buy that thing, and two weeks down the road we don’t even remember buying it. So this was a cool way to see how much we were spending in each category and on specific items.
So when it came down to it, we didn’t really need to set a “budget”, because we really could only buy what we absolutely needed. Even after I ended up finding another job we still struggled to make ends meet. We both wanted me to keep teaching Martial Arts, but that came with the cost of not having a flexible enough schedule to work full time anywhere else. (I must add that we really only made it through financially because of God’s grace and how he used people’s anonymous giving to bless us. Thank you.) At that point what I was earning each month seemed to hover within $10 of what we felt we needed to live on, which always felt like a miracle! We counted ourselves blessed, for God was providing.
Now jumping to the present, about one month ago I was offered a full time position as an EMT that Suzanne and I were not willing to turn down. Because of its rotating schedule the job would interfere with teaching Martial Arts on a consistent basis, but my Tae Kwon Do Instructor was gracious enough to work things out with me so that I could still teach on the days I was available. Along with that, Suzanne graduated from Cedarville (Old news I know, but Yay!!), which meant she would be starting to work in the area part time. Thus as a result of my full time position, still teaching Martial Arts, and Suz’s part time job, we were making more money than we needed.
So this is where budgeting might come in handy, because the tendency is now that we have the extra money in our hands it is available for us to spend. Thankfully so far our monthly spending hasn’t really increased, which I think in part is due the our realization of how little we can live on. Probably the other reason is that whatever we have extra is simply going to pay off student loans. (Which we will hope will be payed off within a year, living the way that we are currently living).
(Now please don’t think that I’m saying it is more “spiritual” or “closer to God’s will” to live as simply/cheaply as possible. I think what is more important is learning to be a good steward of what God has given us and being thankful and content either way. Not having lots of spare money simply means putting more effort into making what we do have last. It also teaches us to trust God, for he is the one who provides. It’s always easier to “feel the need for God” when we have little, but we need him just as much when we have plenty!)
I’m sure I could try and explain what real budgeting looks like, but I’m not a pro and I’ve probably already exceeded my word limit for Suz’s blog =). I do recommend you learn to manage your finances though, as it is part of being a good steward of what God has given us. Here’s a source that could explain things much better than me: “Money and your Marriage”
by Russ Crosson.
Here are a few tip’s for spending less if you have a tight budget or if you just feel inclined to work on your spending habits. These are things we have tried ourselves or learned along the way from others.
1.Don’t buy snack foods. Unless we are having people over for a birthday or cookout we almost never buy soda, chips, cookies, sports drinks, pop tarts, etc. If you don’t believe how much you can save from this alone, then try recording your expenses in this one area and see what it totals to each month, then what it totals to for an entire year 😉
2. Don’t live off pre-made meals. I don’t even know how to describe these because I’ve never really had them–anything from lunchables to frozen dinners. Indeed you can spend a lot of money on fresh vegetables and meats and dairy, but if you can be a little creative, then things like rice, pasta, and cous-cous and be really inexpensive and tasty fillers of a meal. (This may require you buying a cookbook, but it does not require you to be a professional cook! If you can read (a cookbook or the internet) than you CAN cook. Some argue that it takes too much time to cook, and if that’s you then I recommend you examine the other areas in your life too, not just your finances. Perhaps just as your need to learn to manage your money, you can learn to manage your activities and if need be slow down a little bit.)
3. Cut down on the electric bill. We choose to not use the Air condition at all. I’m not sure how much we save, but I’m sure it adds up. A tip we learned from my brother and his wife is to unscrew all the lights but one in a given light fixture. So our bedroom ceiling light has three 75 watt bulbs, but we only have one that turns on, and it’s still plenty of light! Speaking of lights, making sure you turn off lights when you leave a room or leave the house also makes a big difference (It’s also a good way to jokingly annoy a spouse if they left a room only to return to it 45 seconds later =P)
4. Learn to do certain things yourself. This can range from mowing your own lawn to learning to make your own bread. It’s often the little things that add up. Paying someone to mow your lawn for $10-25 a week really adds up over the long run, not to mention if you use a push lawnmower you’re missing out on some good exercise. Suzanne makes food things like bread and salsa. We don’t know if it saves us THAT much, but it’s a really cool skill to know, it’s a lot more healthy than store bought, and it tastes great! Again, sometimes the benefit from doing these things is not just saving an extra dollar. (Things like growing a garden, learning to store the produce from your garden, raising chickens, growing fruit trees, shoveling your own snow covered driveway, hanging wet clothes on a line verses using a dryer, doing your own handyman/fix it jobs, etc).
5. Cutting down monthly bills. I can’t even tell you how many times people have just stared at me with that blank look on their face when I tell them we don’t have a TV and thus no cable, or at work driving ambulances and people wonder why I don’t have a Smart phone to use the GPS app. By no means do I try to judge others on this, and I don’t think that we are “better” because of it. It really is up to you. But it is hard for me to understand how cable TV or an Iphone or an IPad are true necessities (I know there are aspects on phones that may make work or travel or keeping in touch more of a convenience, but they are still luxuries if we’re being honest). I have had multiple people say they are struggling financially, yet when I mention their big screen TV or the three Iphones their family has, they just insist those are minor expenses that they are not willing to go without. Again, it’s up to them, but they do really add up.
There are lots of ways to save on your monthly phone bill, things like getting out of those two year contracts from the big carriers (we use PureTalk, so we just pay per month and can cancel whenever we want), if you’re married then having just one main phone that has unlimited talk/text. This phone is what your friends and family would use to contact either spouse, and then having a separate track phone that only the other spouse knows the number of. The track phone can be for which ever spouse happens to be leaving for work, or staying home when the other goes and hangs out with friends, etc.
6. Don’t buy things new. There are these great resources called craigslist, Goodwill, garage sales, etc. My dad always told me growing up that if I wanted to buy something that was not a normal necessity like food, then I should learn to be patient and not buy it for at least 3 weeks. If I could go without for those 3 weeks than there was a chance I didn’t really need it. If during those 3 weeks I determined that I really did need it, then I could go buy it, because waiting those 3 weeks helped me determine if it was a emotional purchase (I just HAVE to have it NOW!). My dad would say, “if it’s worth buying, then it’s worth waiting for.” Now during those 3 weeks of waiting, simply keep an eye open for that item at Goodwill, garage sales, your neighbor’s trash, etc =)
I’m telling you, you can find GREAT deals at those places if you just have patience. Here’s a few I found: $120+ REI hiking jacket for $6 at Goodwill, a military grade backpack (nothing wrong with it) in someone’s trash, hiking boots for Suzanne for $4 at Goodwill, the entire Harry Potter book series for $2 each at Plato’s Closet, a 5 piece set of kitchen chairs in someone’s trash, a kitchen table for $20 at a garage sale, and the list keeps going. Most of the time we just had these things in the backs of our mind, patiently waiting.
There are lots of other ways to limit how much you spend each month, but these are some that have worked for us. If there is something you do that helps you spend less, please comment. We’re always open to learning more! Also, let us know if you have any questions.