Money and I have a love/hate relationship. Everything about it stresses me out. I sit in bank meetings and my eyes slowly glaze over. Don’t ask me what a mutual fund is. Or what the current interest rate is. I mean, seriously…I just figured out what a tax-free savings account is. Now I whip out the acronym “TFSA” like a boss. Like I know what I’m talking about.
You might be wondering how I’ve gotten this far in life with my head buried in the sand, financially speaking. Truth be told, I do understand more about money than I let on. (I did live on my own for a good 5+ years before Jeff and I got married, after which I happily passed the financial “reins” onto him.) But I can honestly say that I abhor talking finances. The only thing I like about bank meetings is the free coffee they give me. And even that can barely keep me awake.
Thankfully, I married a man who is very good with money and who also has a relatively great job. He’s also an engineer. (Translation for those of you not well acquainted with engineers – he LOVES spreadsheets. So he’s fairly adept at keeping our budget in line with multiple Excel spreadsheets. I, on the other hand, start dozing when I look at a screen full of columns. If it’s not colourful, it doesn’t hold my attention.) Thankfully, I have been blessed to not really have to worry about finances for the past seven years or so.
Before you write me off as a completely irresponsible airhead, I am actually fairly frugal with our money. I’m not a big shopper. I love buying second-hand. I’m decent at meal-planning, price-checking and buying in bulk. But, even though what we were purchasing didn’t seem frivolous, it became increasingly aware this past year that our spending was starting to spread us a little thin.
Numerous changes in our lives this past year accommodated for the increase in spending. We moved and bought a new house. And when I say “new” it’s an old house. An old house with great bones, but an old house nonetheless. While most of the “boring” updates had been already done by the previous owners, there are still some outstanding renovations that need to be tackled. (Like windows. Windows dating back to 1959 are not efficient at all. Or our kitchen. Or doors and trim. Or our shower that’s starting to grow a science experiment.) These are all expenses that we didn’t have to deal with in our previous townhouse, which we had built ourselves. Cha-ching.
Zoe also started part-time Juniour Kindergarten at the local Christian school. Christian education is something that is near and dear to our hearts, so there was no room for discussion as to whether or not she’d attend. We fully believe that this is where our children are supposed to receive their schooling. We also fully believe that God will provide the finances and discernment to make this a possibility. But this also means that we need to somehow conjure up $500 every month to pay for her schooling. Cha-ching.
There has also been seemingly harmless expenditures (clothing, overly expensive coffees, some pretty extravagant date nights/outings) that, over time, have taken over a large part of our income. Realizing that we also had been caught in the trap of “keeping up with the Jones’ was a hard pill to swallow. Cha-ching.
When we got hit at the end of the year with a particularly large VISA bill, Jeff and I sat down and re-evaluated what was important to our family. In summary, we came up with a list of five core values that we wanted to emulate as a family – contentment being one of those principles. (See previous post about our core values here.) While we weren’t completely foolish with our money, it became increasingly evident that we were not living a life that mirrored contentment, especially in the financial department.
So how were we going to change this? An attitude of contentment is something that we pray about now on a daily basis. As I’ve mentioned before, I also now ask myself before making a purchase whether that particular “item” will enrich our marriage, our family, our faith, our hospitality and our contentment with our lives. (Reference to our core values again.) Surprisingly enough, cycling through our family values before making a purchase has had significant impact on the balance of our monthly credit card bill. For the month of January, our bill managed to be almost half of what our average credit card bill has been in the past.
We’ve also taken a closer look at what our biggest expenses are each month. Expenses that we can control, such as groceries, gas, alcohol, hobbies etc…We were both shocked to realize that we were spending $1000+ a month on groceries. (I partially want to blame food allergies on this high cost. Having to eat or stay away from certain foods definitely has a big impact on how “cheaply” you can eat. However, I know that food restrictions are not totally to blame for over-spending.)
We now follow a bi-weekly meal plan, which means less exciting and adventurous meals. (This unimaginative rotation makes me a little sad. But my picky eater kiddos are much happier. Another post on that maybe later.) I keep a master list of groceries that I don’t really deviate from, ensuring that everything in my pantry is actually getting used. I’ve started price-matching. I’m now using the Mint app (check it out) to track all my spending. (The artist in me is loving the pretty colours and easy to read information.) All these steps have led to a month with more money in our pocket and more living with what we have.
However, I want to take this a step further for the month of February and challenge myself to half our grocery bill. That means taking our previous grocery costs of $1000 down to $500. Without eating Kraft Dinner for four weeks straight. The Open Door Sisterhood had a great podcast featuring Rachel Cruz (daughter of Dave Ramsey) who explained that research has proven that the brain registers pain when spending physical cash, rather than swiping a debit or credit card. So, not only am I challenging myself to spending half of what we’d normally spend on groceries, I’m going to challenge myself to spend it all in cash.
I’m excited to see how this will go. And I plan to keep you updated with any hurdles I face and overcome during this month. While groceries is only one category in the long list of life expenses, I believe that regaining contentment in this one area of our finances will enable us to live our lives more intentionally. In the meantime, do any of you also spend cash only when doing groceries? Do you have any other tricks, apps, or tips that help you to stay on budget with spending? Let me know! For now, this price-matching, flyer-wielding, coupon-clipping gal has a serious date at the Superstore.