Cutting back is hard work

Like a lot of Americans this economic downturn has gotten real personal, in the past month between client cut backs we are operating with over $2000 less than we did just a couple of months ago. Thankfully we still have income but when you start losing a couple thousand dollars, it means the only way to make the basic bills is to really start cutting back.

For me this is beyond surface cuts, I already got rid of newspaper and magazine subscriptions and premium cable a while ago. No, this month meant looking at things like the grocery bill which has always been a tad high. The older I have gotten and the more refined my palate has grown, so has my grocery bill. I only eat farm fed beef, which a pound of ground beef goes for $8, my milk of choice comes from a local farm that sells quarts of milk for $2 a quart plus a $1 for the bottle deposit (thankfully that is refundable)  which with kids means we easily go through $10-12 a week in milk alone.

Now with times so tight, there are certain things I don’t want to give up mainly my local beef and milk and local produce when in season but everything else is negotiable. So my challenge is to reduce the grocery bill to $400 down from the normal $500-550 in winter months (mind you this time of year, elder boy is at his dad’s so that bill is only for 2 adults and a 3 year old).

So yesterday I went shopping and spent a whopping $187 for groceries for 2 weeks with a few bucks left over for milk and produce, can I just say that cutting back is hard work. In order to keep the bill down, rather than one stop shopping at the local chain store, I went to several stores to catch the deals. Now back when I was a single Mama I used to shop like this so its not new to me but admittedly after 13 years of not being single, its an adjustment.

However the biggest challenge is going to be living with the $150 from now until the 20th that I have allotted for miscellaneous spending. I would like to say I am doing a no spend challenge but really this is a modified version where its the don’t spend so much challenge. To the super frugal person reading this they may be wondering how is this cutting back, believe me this is cutting back in a large way. I am now writing down everything I spend and let me tell you its not the big shit that gets me its the little shit. Just Sunday I spent $41 on bullshit….play dough for the kid,a few items at the store. Truth is money has always gotten away from me.

Now the plan is to spend as little of that money as possible and come the end of the month, dump it in my savings account.  Eventually I do want to have no spend days but I know myself well enough to know if I go from what I used to spend weekly to no spend, it would be like starting a diet, starving myself for a few weeks and then having a binge session.

Yet, I gotta say living on less is hard work, though at the same time I recognize that even in the midst of my own financial storm, I am blessed to still have something for extras, when so many are struggling to just keep the lights on and food on the table it almost feels wrong to say I only have $150 for miscellaneous. Though I should add some of what that must cover is things like my dry cleaning (have a few meetings this month with funders for work, must look decent while begging for my cause), new shoes for the little one (going through a growth spurt) and of course my weekly pack of butts (yeah, I know….better to quit).

Anyway I will keep you posted in two weeks and let you know how well I do on this first go around with less money.

By the way, so glad to see that Tom Daschle has withdrew his name, I mean really that was not a small tax issue at all. If only we could get these damn companies that are getting gubment funds (aka, our money) to realize that when you get a government handout, it pretty much means you can’t have the extras in your budget….just ask folks living off government entitlement programs. We need to scrutinize these banks like we do aid recipients…if some single Mama in middle America can’t own 2 cars to qualify for cash assistance then a bank or other entity getting a handout shouldn’t be giving out bonuses or having lavish retreats. Come on man, where’s the common sense?

Gotta let it go

Regular readers may have noticed that I have been a tad quiet this week, honestly I haven’t been in much of a space to blog as I have been dealing with some pretty heavy shit in my personal life. Its no secret that I have been scrapping to get by like many Americans these days, hell these are rough times as evidenced by the fact that in today’s NY Times, they had an article about how swank stores are now discounting goods just to get folks in the door. Times is rough and the reality hit me this week that in tough times, you may have to make some tough choices.

Well after almost 5 years of owning our house, we are almost certain that the time to let this money pit go has arrived. When we bought back in 2004, we were doing well, had no reason to think that our income would ever be reduced by a substantial portion, most certainly never figured we would have to ask family to help us out beyond the down payment that my father in law generously gifted us with. Initially we were looking at condos and smaller homes, but my father in laws gift allowed us to choose this house, a lovely 120+ yo old Victorian that we knew needed work but at that time were confident we could do. The house seemed to fit our needs, problem is life happened. Not even six months after moving in, I got pregnant with mini-me and well everything that could start to go wrong did and the end result is that in the past two years we have had to lean on my father in law more than we would have liked. While I am thankful for his help, help comes with strings and now the price to stay here just seems too high.

Sadly, we are caught in the cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul, with the national economy in a slump, our dreams of bringing our income back to the level it was when we bought are starting to look like a distant dream. Aside from the big issues like the roof and heating system, we have been unable to do anything else to this place and I am tired of living in a half finished house that seems to have new issues that are nickeling and diming us to death.

Part of me has known for a while that we might have to let this house go, yet home ownership is emotional, but when I run the numbers even knowing that we won’t get what we put into this house, the fact is that our financial outlook would be a lot brighter if we were renting because we would go from having a monthly deficit to a surplus that can allow the spousal unit to stay self employed and me to continue my work.

That said, its not been an easy week to face that reality because selling feels like failure but I am tired of just getting by and in the almost 5 years we have been in this house, we have forgone visits to family, at times even medical care because we have to take care of this house and honestly the madness must stop.

Yet now that I am almost at peace with the idea of selling it feels like a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders, the reality that no longer will I have to decide between essentials and can maybe even save some money and get out of debt seems worth the hassle of dealing with landlords. Everyone always talks about the perks of home ownership but no one ever talks about the negatives, that when your fridge dies on Thanksgiving Day which happened last year, you suddenly must find the cash to obtain this item. Or that on a frigid winter day when your furnace decides to stop that the repair guy needs his money when he comes. Don’t get me wrong, if you are doing well financially and have the resources you can address these issues, problem is how many of us bought the dream that we must own a house because its a sign of being an adult without really thinking these things out? Sadly, I did….. I thought about it but probably not as much as I should have. How many folks are doing whatever they can to stay in houses they cannot afford because they don’t want to be seen as a failure? Probably quite a few.

No, being a grown up means its ok to admit your mistakes and regroup. Obviously it will take some time to unload this house but just knowing we are starting this process has me eager for the next stage of my life. In some ways it will be nice to call someone else to fix shit when stuff goes wrong.