Reaping What You Sow

Wow.  Lately I have been MIA because I just feel super overwhelmed right now, and I'm not even sure anyone reads this thing besides my mom. 

Anyway, have you lived your life in a constant cycle of playing catch-up?  Whether it's bills, or housework, or outside activities, etc?  My husband and I have been living this way for quite awhile.  Never fully committing to a routine because that just meant to us that things would become predictable...boring.  This was the way of our youth as a couple.  Get up when we wanted, go to bed when we wanted, go for a midnight drive, take off on a moment's notice, put off laundry to the point of literally having to take it to the laundromat just to get caught up.  Looking back on this now, it seems ridiculous to let things get out of hand, but we both came from homes where our mothers were neurotic about having a clean house.  Clean houses took precedence above anything else.  Before fun, before chill-out time, before anything.  As I am learning now,  you can't just clean and be done for a week, it's a constant, daily activity.  I'm just now beginning to understand my mother's plight as I make it my own.  Therefore, I think Greg and I have this innate aversion to being on a routine, to constantly pick up, to constantly be aware.  Add to the equation that we both work full-time, have two kids under the age of 5, and Greg goes to school 4 nights a week:  things get tough.  No pity party, these are the things we have to do, but for two people that don't enjoy routine, you could imagine the continuous chaotic-ness that always was our life. 

We would spend an asinine amount of money eating out.  I'm talking amounts that would blow your mind.  This was in addition to grocery shopping in my feeble attempt to make nightly dinners.  Most of the time, I'd let time issues get in my way, and I'd pick up dinner on the way home.  Each time promising change was on the horizon.

Well about 3 weeks ago, I had a massive melt-down.  I was doing bills and wondering how the hell we were barely making ends meet.  I mean on paper Greg and I make a decent wage for a two family income.  We are by no means wealthy, but we according to my black & white math on paper, there should be plenty of wiggle room, yet we have been constantly struggling.  Well, our bank has a monthly spending report where they pie chart all your expenditures made on a monthly basis and represent it in percentage form along with the deposits made into the account.  Let's just say, I about croaked when I saw what we were spending eating out.  Right then and there, in the midst of melt down, I swore to change our ways.  Even if it meant me becoming a raging lunatic in the process. I knew if we didn't start implementing changes, we would continue to perpetuate this ongoing chaotic cycle.  I knew if we continued this cycle, we'd lose our way as a family.  We wouldn't accomplish things that we feel are important like traveling, music lessons for our daughter, paying off our debt and living a debt-free lifestyle.  So right then, I committed to change.  So did Greg.  We realized we were going to have to buckle down, sacrifice now, and then in a couple years be on our way to living life like we have always envisioned.

The first thing I did was spend about 4 hours making our a monthly budget.  I listed all our current household bills.  I averaged them out based on the fact that my utility bills are significantly higher in the summer months.  Then I listed out every possible thing that we would need money for during the month.  From housing expenses down to personal hygiene items like bath soap, hair products, and even a small clothing allowance for each of us.  When I was done, there was a plethora of funds leftover.  Let me rephrase, according to my calculations, there should've been a plethora.  But there hasn't been.  And I finally saw what our un-budgeted ways were doing to us as a family.  I'll be honest, I wanted to vomit thinking about how much money we have wasted...frivolously,  just because we were too lazy to be on a routine.  After I did our budget, I wrote down the balances and interest rates on the 4 credit cards we have.  I figured out how to pay them based on the acceleration method*(if interested, see below for my explanation).  If all goes well, we should be debt free in about 2 years.  We can buckle down for 2 years, if it means being debt free.  I think it will be worth it. Already, we've paid off 1 credit card (with the help of our tax return), and made 2 additional car payments.

The second thing I did was menu plan on a weekly basis.  I'll be the first to admit, up until now, I did not know how to effectively grocery shop.  We would make it a family affair, I'd go to the store hungry, or unprepared and just wander the aisles.  Well, you can imagine the amount of money I'd spend and then waste by not eating or preparing the food I had bought, and then eating out.  Before when I'd try to menu plan, I would always get stuck making the same crap over and over.  It was like I couldn't think outside the box.  Then I took a suggestion from a friend and basically just made up 7 themes for weekly dinners like:  Pizza Night, Chicken Night, Something New Night, Something Easy Night, etc.  It made it A LOT easier to plan recipes off of a theme versus finding 7 recipes without any real direction.  Usually on my easy night, I'll make breakfast for dinner.  We all love it and it's super easy, and pretty cheap.  I have now made rules regarding grocery shopping:  I do it alone, I do it with a detailed list, I do it on Sunday mornings, and I do it with my weekly budgeted amount.  To insure I stay within or below my budget, I take a calculator with me and add up every item I put into my basket.  It's makes me stay accountable and when I'm done, I know I have enough food for the four of us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it's all with funds that have been budgeted.  It feels fantastic to be in control.

We're also making huge strides in becoming a greener household.  More on this on a different post, but I'll be making my own cleaning supplies this weekend.  I'm pretty excited to save money by doing this, protecting our environment, and limiting our exposure to harsh chemicals that are not biodegradable. 

This weekend, I'm also purging stuff I don't need anymore, like books, clothes, housewares, etc.  I need to feel peaceful in my home, and right now there is just too much clutter. 

I hope you all have a great weekend!!

*Acceleration Method - I couldn't really find a good definition of this, so I'll just explain it myself.  Normally, you want to pay off your lowest balance credit card first because once you see that accomplishment, it keeps you motivated.  If your credit cards are all around the same balances, you want to focus on the one with the highest interest rate.  So, let's say you have 3 credit cards, and you try to pay $50 more than the minimum payment on all.  Pick the first to payoff and only pay the minimum on the other two.  Use the $50 from each of the other cards you already are used to paying and apply it to the card you have chosen to pay off.  Once you pay off that credit card, you use that amount plus the minimum amount required on your next card of choice (You can always add to this if your budget allows), by the time you get to your last credit card, you are making huge payments.  Most people once they pay off a credit card, reabsorb that allotted money into their budget for other things besides paying off debt, therefore never really getting out of debt.  This is kinda a shoddy explanation, but just google it and maybe you can find a better explanation.  It really does work.  You just have to be dedicated and see the big picture when living the little picture life.


Miss M! said...

Meal planning makes SUCH a huge impact on your finances. I used to shop like you - go to the store, buy what looked good, eat out every night, have food go to waste. It was terrible. Now I'm cooking more and trying to meal plan. The biggest hurdle for me is that when I go to the grocery store, instead of spending $50 like before we spend $90. I have to remind myself it's because we're eating at home now, and that $40 extra would have only paid for one or two meals out, so it's actually way, way less than we were spending before. It's a lot more work, but it's worth it, for your wallet AND your health!

Jessica O'Brien said...

good for you! my husband and i had to do a similar plan about a year ago. though we're debt-free, we're saving for a house and for our future.

well, add in him starting his own business and us losing his salary. and then in early 2010, me being laid off and loosing mine! i was so thankful we had planned ahead, had already saved a lot and didn't have to make many more adjustments.

can't wait to hear about your green endeavors!