Tuesday, March 04, 2008


We are trying to work within a massively restrictive budget. We have to: my medical bills have piled up, and we've acquired some considerable debt in the couple of years from you-know-where. It was way too easy to order take-out instead of cooking; it was way too easy to justify buying a little toy for Tessa because she was dealing with such crap at such a young age that she deserved it. Well, it's time to pay up.


I am not the world's best budgeter, and I am extremely frustrated by my own inability to stick within the budget we've set forth. It seems like this shouldn't be so hard! Our grocery budget still needs to come down $50 per week, and though I've made great strides in that direction, it's not enough. And I have to figure out if this gardening business is worth it, too. We still need soaker hoses, and grass seed, and yard fertilizer, and raspberry bushes, and we need to build some kind of trellis or latticework for raspberries, beans, and snap peas. Ching, ching, ching go the dollar signs. The worst part? These are really small expenses, but as we crack down on our spending, they suddenly loom large.

Maybe the hardest part is that we've had such "rich" years in the past; weekends at bed and breakfasts, European travel, buying a new car (that is now 8 years old!), buying nice wine, dinners out without even thinking of it. Well, we've only eaten one meal out in three weeks, and it was $16 for the family, and now I regret it because we're over budget for the week so obviously that wasn't a good idea. Anyway, my point being that we didn't have much of a budget, because we didn't need to. We did not save nearly enough for a rainy day, either, so the tsunami that hit us found us relatively unprepared.

Whine, whine, whine. There are people in the world who are starving, and I am indignantly saying that I will NOT eat Top Ramen and I mean it. We live in a beautiful home. We have great health insurance (just imagine those bills without it....yikes). Tessa attends a good preschool; she takes gymnastics. It doesn't sound like I have much to complain about when I look at it that way, but still, this belt tightening, frankly, sucks. There are those who would beg to be in our shoes, but still....

It could be better. It could be worse. It is my reality, and I'm adjusting.

I am tracking every single penny I spend, writing it down diligently, trying to cut corners. I've cut a lot of corners in the past few weeks. I have utilized the public library more than ever before. I've all but given up coffees out. I have minimized the miles on the car. I have lowered my carbon footprint substantially by these choices.

Some choices won't make themselves apparent for a while; our house is being kept at 66 degrees (bring a sweater if you visit, or we'll loan you one) and that should knock down our heating bill somewhat. We're turning off lights more than ever before. I'm unplugging things not in use (like the cell phone chargers) to stop phantom energy devices. I'm reusing plastic bags, or eliminating them when possible. (That'll save what, $10 a year in Zip Lock bags? Not much, but I guess $10 is $10. I'm doing it to keep the bags out of a land fill, the $ is secondary.) I don't use Swiffer products any more, replacing them with reusable products that can be used on the Swiffer broom handles. I'm using vinegar and baking soda with increasing frequency to clean with.

I really believe in voluntary simplicity, but this would be a little easier if it were more truly voluntary and not required in order to pay off our bills. Or maybe it would be harder because more things would be tempting! Maybe after this period of trial we'll stop missing the foolish stuff like coffees out every day and when we have extra we can spend it on things that are more meaningful to us, like vacations or home repairs or whatever.

I've been using the library like crazy; I keep putting things on hold. I'm currently reading something called "Ditch the Diet and the Budget" which is about changing mindsets about money and weight (but still staying on track for both). I have been skimming a book called "Unplug the Christmas Machine" about turning Christmas back into a festive time of celebration instead of an overconsumption-bank-breaker. I'm reading about raising children with voluntary simplicity. I'm reading how French Women Don't Get Fat. I'm reading about gardens, and composting, and blueberry care, and natural lawn care (turns out that grass is green, so is moss....is moss so bad?). I have "Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food" on hold (awaiting my turn). I have Oprah's Debt Diet on DVD from Molly to watch.

I am baking my own bread. This doesn't cease to amaze me. It's pretty good, if I may say so myself, and I'm settling on a version that uses molasses, whole grain wheat flour, oatmeal, and flax seed. So far I've been using canola oil, but I'm considering other options. I still have tons of my bulk yeast from PCC left. The honey bread is more expensive and doesn't last as long, so molasses are the family preference.

I have stopped buying deli turkey, and I'm roasting my own for sandwiches.

Ryan is taking a lunch to work most days, either leftovers or a sandwich.

I'm reusing the plastic bags that you use for vegetables at the grocery store, and I take my own bags everywhere; I no longer forget my grocery bags when I go shopping. I've taken to sticking my purse instead a pretty Guatamalean striped bag that doubles as a shopping bag, so I use this for errands (prescriptions, cat food, etc) and small grocery trips. I sought out and used the PCC 10% off coupon, and I marked "member days" on my calendar so that I could get the extra 5-10% off that week (it's only 2 days per month). I've been shopping at PCC, the Farmer's Market, Thriftway, Trader Joe's, and Safeway so that I get the best deals (argh that doesn't make me happy - sometimes all that shopping to get deals sucks the life out of me).

I have taught Tessa to say, "No impulse shopping!" and taught her what taht means; she and I remind each other when we go somewhere. We remind one another that if something is really important to us, we can save our money and buy it in a few weeks. If we forget what it was, then it wasn't important.

I make myself tea in the afternoons when I have time instead of going to coffee.

I've cut back on sweets because I'm not buying pastries etc.

I've used frozen vegetables instead of fresh with some meals (yikes!).

I plan menus around what's on sale (we had pork ribs yesterday for pretty much the first time - slow cooked, they were really good, but I don't think they were very healthy; tonight we had a beef stir-fry using organic broccoli and carrots, brown rice, and free range/no antibiotics/no hormones meat and the whole meal came to $6 for the three of us....this was definitely one of my better economical meals because everyone liked it and it was easy to prepare....just had to marinate the meat for a couple of hours and slice it very thinly before stir-frying to make it tender).

I'm learning. It feels like a trial, but I am learning.

Shep likes running errands with me because I'm walking whenever possible. Fortunately, the weather has been accomodating.

I don't go into stores unless I have to. In this way, I'm not tempted. Tonight we had to go to Rite-Aid because Tessa was out of pull-ups (much to my chagrin, she still needs them at night only), and I intentionally paid for them at the pharmacy so I wouldn't be tempted by magazines and candy.

I'm 38 years old. You'd think I would have figured this stuff out by now, but I feel like I'm learning from scratch. My parents taught me, as they lived this way, but I apparently didn't take the lessons with me. I'm remembering them now.

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