Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saving the Moola: when you don't have a spending problem, you have an income problem!

There may come a point in your life when the numbers for your budget just aren't working, despite all of your best efforts. You're not spending frivolously (or at all), and there is nothing left to cut. The money you do have just isn't fitting together for the bills you have, and it's like you're literally missing a few pieces of the puzzle to having a quality life.

We've been there and done that and quite recently, too. Once my unemployment ran out, we were in the negative several hundred dollars per month. There was quite literally nothing left to cut. We spent money on the following budgetary line items:

  • Rent
  • Groceries
  • Gasoline
  • Car insurance
  • Cell phones (basic plans through MetroPCS for our "dumb" phones)
  • Internet 
  • Energy bill (lights, heat, etc.)
  • Tithe
  • Laundry
To explain a few line items, we did not feel comfortable canceling our cell phone plan because that is the only communication we have via phone. We probably would've canceled one phone's line, but we do have our daughter to think of and if there's an emergency in the night, we want to be able to call for help. We also did not feel comfortable without Jason having a phone to take to and from work. 

We did consider canceling our Internet service. It is really cheap, but it was money being spent each month. When I realized how much we made by having Internet service, though, I could not justify cutting it. For one thing, I made a few dollars from this blog each month. Jason also works as an independent contractor for mystery shopping companies on the side; he makes more than $30 a month in profits but could not complete assignments for companies without Internet service. 

There is a cost to laundry where we live because we do live in an apartment. We keep the costs as low as we can by hardly ever using the dryer. Instead, we hang our clothes on racks to be dried. In the past, we have also hand washed our clothes using a handy dandy portable washable plunger-type tool. If it ever came to that, we would use it again. It is a tool I will never get rid of - it is just too darn handy and cool! 

I'll be writing an entirely separate post about tithing, but I'll just say that I don't regret ever tithing. In fact, tithing helped strengthen my heart and trust in God. 

I think it is obvious that we were just living a very basic, but very happy life... except that we didn't have enough money to pay for all of our bills. 

So what can you do when you have an income problem and not a spending problem? 

First, take a look at your budget and make sure you're really only spending money on the basics. Trim any extra items you can. 

Second, take a look at what you're spending per category. We decided to stick to a very basic grocery budget and it was reduced compared to what it normally is. This meant a lot of basic meals, but our tummies were always full. Make sure you have a basic phone plan. 

Third, take another, harder look at what you're spending per category. I know I already said that, but trust me. I felt our energy bill was too high. I became quite obsessed with turning off every single light in the house that wasn't in use. We didn't just turn off the heat, but there were several days and hours it wasn't on at all (and yes, it was quite cold but that is what heavy clothing and blankets are for! No one got sick, we all survived and we're all quite hardier for it). I also unplugged certain items to save on electricity costs. 

Evaluate how much you're spending on gasoline for your car. Make a plan to stay home most days except for work. Grocery shop once a week and combine that with all other errands, like going to the library or post office. 

Once your budget is really trimmed, you're going to have to find a way to increase income. The best ways we've found to put a little bit extra back in our pockets fairly quickly: 

Jason tutors a student once per week. This puts enough back in our pockets that it honestly does make a difference. I don't know how many times we've needed something we didn't have the money for... except that Jason was heading off to tutor and picking up what we needed on the way home. 

I am so grateful to Swagbucks for how much it's helped my family. In March, we received 48 rolls of toilet paper, diaper cream and baby wipes for $3.18 out of pocket. This seriously helped our grocery budget which includes groceries and all household purchases. 

Mystery shopping
This doesn't just help our budget in terms of putting money back in our pocket, this also helps us be able to enjoy food made by someone else that doesn't cost us a thing! It saves us on our grocery bill significantly. 

Being a nanny (or mowing lawns, walking dogs, house cleaning, etc.) 
For about two months, I was a nanny. This helped us really purchase some needed items, like cat food, paper diapers, etc. If you have no desire to be a nanny, no problem! Just pick a service you can provide to someone and do that. 

Between just tutoring, Swagbucks and mystery shopping, we were making an extra $130 per month. That helped us to survive. Now that I have a job (praise the Lord!), I'm really happy there is a happy + sign in front of the difference between income and expenses which is allowing us to save a lot of money per month. 

One of the best things you can do, though, when you're facing a deficit each month is to stay calm and get creative. That may mean eating a lot of rice and beans, reading by flashlight at night (and using rechargeable batteries in said flashlight), going to bed when it gets dark to save on all light usage, wearing a few shirts to keep the heat set at 60, but do whatever you have to do (that is legical, ethical and moral) to keep your family afloat. 

Above all, have faith that God has not forsaken you. He has a plan for you. You can't see it and you might not ever this side of Heaven. But you're in His loving arms and He cares for you. When a day had been particularly trying, I often repeated, "He cares for you," to myself as I was falling asleep. Keep your sight set on Him, and you can make it through anything. 

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