|Photo credit- Kenneth Cratty|
A friend told me that there's only so far we can pinch our pennies; at some point we'd need to earn more, as you can't save money that you didn't bring in already. But I didn't know how to raise our income. Once I calculated how much money I'd be able to bring in each month by working full time at a minimum wage job (the only type of job I was qualified for) and then subtracted work related expenses such as childcare and saw that I'd bring in so little that it would be offset by the amount I could do to save money if I were home so I wrote off going to work as pointless.
I did manage to find some part time jobs, some working from home (started off with childcare, but then switched to writing jobs, primarily), and some part time jobs out of the home -- cleaning jobs, predominantly, and did some occasional gigs here and there to bring in some money, such as teaching foraging classes, and selling homemade food products.
In addition to that, gradually my penny pinching ways gained popularity and I started to be able to earn a little bit of money from this blog, in addition to some other frugality themed writing jobs. Slowly but surely we were inching our way forward and I started to be able to do the things I wanted to do to save money, and we got out of that rut of being insanely frugal and still spending more than we were bringing in, and instead we were just very frugal and generally not spending more than we were bringing in...
When I first started this blog, I'll admit that it was in the hopes of bringing in an income from it, and joked that hopefully one day I'll be able to rename it Penniless to Millionaire. While that is no where near the truth for us, I can say that our financial situation at the moment is worlds apart from how it was 6 years ago. We have up months and down months, but we've had more ups than downs lately, especially since I kicked my butt into gear and started teaching more classes, selling more homemade soaps, writing some books, etc...
For the past many years, any money I brought in, I considered a nice extra. It helped, but it wasn't anything that I could rely on. My husband's salary was what we had to live on, and hopefully I'd make some money to increase available money. But since I've taken an active role in bringing in a larger income, and increasing my business, in the past few months I have turned what I make from a nice extra to almost a full (albeit low) salary that we can depend on. In previous times I'd spend what I earned on all the expenses that I spend (groceries, transportation, clothes, household expenses etc....) and when that got used up, used the money my husband made to pay the rest of my expenses in addition to our regular bills.
The past month or two I realized though that something different happened. I was using only the cash I earned (classes, soap making- yes on the books...) for my expenditures, and had left over from that; my supply wasn't running out. And that was without even using the money that was digitally transferred to me regularly (blog income, as well as some soap sales and people prepaying for my classes).
For the first time in forever I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere instead of stuck in a financial hamster wheel.
A big part of my life has been playing catch up and trying to survive so I wouldn't let myself even think about spending on any extras, just the bare minimum. (Ok, I did spend on two home births but that was the only thing and even that was hard for me to be able to justify to myself even though it was important to me.) We cut in every way we could think of, did unfathomable things, just spending on needed physical expenses and nothing else. And over the years as we were able to catch our breath from time to time financially, we splurged on little things here and there. Twice a year hubby and I go on a frugal date. Occasionally I spend a little extra on groceries to get some nicer small things. Allowing ourselves a little luxury here and there made our very frugal lifestyle more manageable, made us content with our life...
I had a hard time writing that last sentence for a multitude of reasons, among which being that I didn't know the best way to describe our feelings. I truly believe that the way to be happy with life is to focus on all the blessings you have in life instead of focusing on the negative. And throughout it all I cannot discount how lucky I am to have a loving, helpful, and supportive husband, four terrific kids, health, never going hungry, and my husband always bringing in a regular paycheck (even if small) over the last 10 years. These are no small things and cannot be taken for granted. On top of that, I also feel that in order to be happy with your life you need to not constantly be comparing your life to others' as there will always be people who have more than you and you'll never manage to keep up with them.
Fortunately I live in a wonderful community of people who live relatively simple lives, and who don't tend to flaunt the luxuries they do have, so we are content with our lot and happy.
But again, back to the difficulty with writing this. Last week a long time blog reader who hates me and what I stand for confronted me, accusing me that I can't possibly be happy with my life and I shouldn't put on a show that I'm proud of what I do when I should be embarrassed of my lifestyle. I hesitate writing this post because I know she and other haters who read this blog will use it as fodder and proof that they were right about me and my lifestyle all along. That I'm just deluding myself by saying we're happy and content when that isn't true. But here's the thing. We are happy with our lot and content with our life but life is complicated.
There's no contradiction between being happy and content and having dreams and maybe hopes even. Maybe there isn't a difference linguistically so much between dreaming and hoping, but in my mind the difference is that dreaming is considering about a possible future that would be nice, but being realistic and not expecting it to happen, being totally fine with it never happening but if it did that would be great. Hoping in my opinion goes beyond that, knowing that something isn't a guaranteed but still expecting it to happen, but at the same time being OK if it never comes to fruition. Pining for something, on the other hand, is wanting something you don't have and feeling down about not having it until you do. Pining, in my opinion, would be mutually exclusive with being happy and content with life. But my family being happy and content with our extremely frugal life doesn't mean that we never dream of other things. And dream we have. (As I said above, I did dream of getting wealthy from this blog.) Some dreams materialized even. (Buying a house.) But we never expected them and made the best of the life we do have, and not saying 'our life would be so much better if...'
One of the things I've dreamed about for years is scuba diving. I've been a swimmer nearly my whole life, am a lifeguard, and my personal heaven involves lots and lots of swimming. Scuba diving seems to just take that to the next level and I've wanted to do it for years but could never, for multiple reasons, among which were the fact that I was either nursing a small child or pregnant. And then there was the money issue. There is scuba diving in my country but not anywhere nearby, so any scuba diving would have to involve a long trip that is overnight for a few days in a very expensive resort town....
But as I mentioned, it was just a dream and something I didn't expect to happen in the foreseeable future, so that was that.
However in the past while as our finances took a turn for the better, and especially in the past few months I realized that this dream of mine certainly does have the possibility of becoming a reality. That maybe for the first time in our married lives we could spending on something like this that was totally not a physical need, is more than just the bare bones basics in life, but is for fun, for the purpose of fulfilling a dream.
I hesitate to use the word want here vs needs because, quite frankly, can something be a need if we've managed 10 years without it? But using the word want instead is complex as well because there are 'want's that can go very far in filling emotional needs, which aren't any less important than physical needs.
However emotional needs ebb and flow and when possibilities arise and dreams become potential realities, what was once a dream that you could do without ends up feeling like an emotional need for your sanity. And that, therein, is a problem. Because so many things can be justified as emotional needs, once you've opened your mind to the option; where do you draw the line? If you give in to one or two emotional needs, does a deluge of 'needs' start, until you're unhappy with your life that previously left you content, because it doesn't fill these newly discovered emotional needs?
I'm not just philosophizing theoretically here though. I decided that for our tenth anniversary this coming September, Mike and I will be going away for a few days, alone, to celebrate, bond, have fun, and fulfill this dream of mine. But since deciding that, it's like I've had a shift in my mind, and what was just a dream now is feeling like a need.
I need a break from the kids who I am with 24/7. I need to go away with my husband on a getaway for our anniversary as we never once went away together alone (not even for one night) without any kids since our oldest, Lee, was born nearly 9 years ago. (I went away for work, alone, 8 months pregnant 2.5 years ago, and Mike and I went away with Rose 1.5 years ago. But never together with no kids.) I need to have some fun and reward myself for all my hard work so I can have the energy to keep it up and not burn out. And when Mike, who is such a homebody, tries suggesting that we not, I find myself telling him that I need it for my mental health. And I don't think I'm lying or even exaggerating. And that scares me. Because even if we can afford this now, we can't afford it to become a regular thing. But if I feel it is a need now, and I fill it, how long will it keep me fulfilled and how long will it be till that niggling voice in my head tries to tell me not to be content with my life until we go on an expensive vacation again?
At the same time, for years I've thought about the definition of frugality and how it differs from stingyness, and I don't want to be one of those people afraid to spend money on things, even when it's available to spend, out of this misguided idea that it's a sin to enjoy life and have nice things. I am afraid that if I want something this bad and I deny it to myself for no reason other than 'its a want, not a need', I'd have crossed the unhealthy line into miserliness and money hoarding.
So we're going to do it.
But in a way that suits my money conscious side. That I don't feel like I'm irresponsibly throwing out money on a want.
I've priced my potential trip and looked into various options. In the resort town in my country we could take the bus there or the plane. We could stay at a nice hotel, a hostel, an airbnb, or camp on the beach. But I've been told that that resort town is so expensive and there are other options, that I can go abroad to another resort town and stay at a decent hotel and have it come out to be cheaper than it would be at the resort town in my country.
Essentially, my options for such a vacation are:
Go to the resort town in my country:
Take a bus there and back. 63 dollars round trip for us both, and 10 hours+ travel time altogether (on a bus, so not so pleasant) altogether. OR fly there, 300 dollars round trip, 5 hours travel time altogether (not counting check in at the airport, etc...)
Camp on the beach there. ~$50 altogether for 4 nights. Lots of people, not private, not so physically comfortable- no AC. No place to keep stuff during the day so we'd have to lug everything with us everywhere we go. OR stay in a simple AirBnB for $160 for for nights OR Stay at a hostel for 232 dollars for 4 nights. OR spend more money on a nicer hotel, price can vary tremendously...
Scuba diving would be $75 each so $150 for both of us.
Then food expenses, which could vary tremendously based on what we eat and where, but I heard that in general that city is insanely overpriced.
Total options for pricing, not counting food or any of the other expensive stuff to do there; ~$263 plus food for the bare bones trip there with camping and taking the bus there.~$375 plus food for bus/airbnb/scuba combo, ~$450 plus food for bus/hostel/scuba combination. ~$690 plus food for flight/hostel/scuba.
Then there was the alternative of going to the resort city abroad, and there are bundle deals there through Expedia, so it works out cheapest to fly there and stay at a hotel (even cheaper than flying and camping, or flying and staying at an airbnb)- a total of $340 plus scuba for $150 so $490 plus food for the trip there!
With pricing and options like that, I'm sure you could see why I would prefer to go abroad...
So I set myself a goal.
I know, on average, each month's grocery bill is $520 dollars, when I'm just doing my regular, mostly frugal shopping with a decent amount of short cuts and splurges too. I have gotten it to $390 to $440 per month without trying too hard, just by cutting out extraneous splurges. I am sure I can get it even lower, possibly as low as $300 dollars if I work hard and do without extras for myself and make everything from scratch.
I decided that whatever money I generally spend on groceries, but don't, that money will go towards the trip. If one month I spend $390 instead of $520, then the $130 will go into the trip fund that month. If I manage to spend $300 instead of $520, then $220 will go into the trip fund that month.
And of course, if I only spend $25 less than my usual, then only $25 into the trip fund.
This way, I don't have to feel guilty that I'm spending money that I should be saving, on luxuries, because this is money that I anyhow spend, and if I work harder, I have more to spend on the trip.
I started this in May, already, and set aside $130 for the trip. Our anniversary is in September and I'd like to go in the end of September, so that gives me four more months in which I can set aside money that I'd otherwise be spending on convenience items for groceries, on such a trip, and I will do that!
I know critics reading this will be all uppity and be thinking "how can you make your kids suffer so that you and your husband can have a good time?!?!" Nothing like that, let me assure you. The ways in which I am cutting back on groceries is not in any way that hurts the kids- I'm still making foods they love and are excited about. The only one "suffering" is me- I'm the one who now is spending more time in the kitchen and is eating less luxuriously, but that's ok with me. Whenever I start saying "Maybe I'll just get this treat for myself" I say "Then those $4 is money you aren't spending on your trip. What would you rather now- this treat, or the trip for your anniversary?" And doing that, I am able to put back and work on delayed gratification, because I really would rather go on the trip than have that treat now.
Same for making things from scratch. When I'm feeling lazy and less in the mood to spend more time in the kitchen to make something from scratch instead of buying it ready made at a higher price, I just remind myself that my laziness is going to cost me. That I really would rather spend more time now to be able to enjoy myself more later.
When it comes down to it, whatever I save will determine how our trip will be. If I only save $263 dollars, then a bare bones trip with bussing and camping it will be. But if I work hard and save up $600+ dollars (that is including extra for food, etc...) then I'll be able to have the vacation of my dreams, abroad, in a hotel, scuba diving, etc... So I have good motivation!
And what will the kids be doing during that time? Vacationing at relatives they love! So no suffering for them there, either, and a win win situation for all.
Since this vacation budget isn't any extra money, I do plan on saving for the future simultaneously, with the money I've been earning from working, thereby not being irresponsible by spending on this trip without also having a savings...
So, now that I told you about how I have to work hard to save up money on groceries, I'm going to end this post now so I can go grind flour for homemade baked goods instead of buying more expensive flours to make them. And I'm off!
Have any of you ever improved your finances from a situation that seemed pretty hopeless to one where you have money for extras? How did you manage to do that?
Once you started spending money on extras, how did you manage to stay frugal, and not feel the need for extras all the time, having these extras becoming "needs" thereby drastically increasing your cost of living?
Anyone else have torn feelings about spending money on nice things, even if you have the money for them? How do you justify it and feel comfortable with spending, and not feel irresponsible for spending money on unnecessary "wants"?
Do you think you can be content with your lot in life and still have dreams?