Friday, January 30, 2009

Personal Economy

The economy is on everyone's lips these days. Companies are no longer matching 401(k)s, or there are layoffs, and the stock market is in the toilet, and there is a lot of fear around. Turn on the radio, open a newspaper, or just listen to people talking on the street, and the news isn't good.

Right now, the global economy isn't impacting us as much as some others. The rising costs of food (well documented in other places) are troublesome, and our food budget continues to rise even as I cut costs all over the place, because I become more committed each day to grass fed beef, free range organic poultry, and organic produce. We have some of the fear - if Ryan got laid off we'd be in trouble - but we are hopeful that we are in a good position right now. Ryan's job is going well, and the work isn't drying up. We are hopeful in that regard.

But right now, our finances are actually looking up.

If I talk to you in person, it won't seem like our finances are improving. Ask me if I want to go out for dinner, and I'll mumble something about not having enough money, or needing to go somewhere cheap. Our gift giving has fallen off to almost nothing. We're avoiding stores altogether when possible - I used to go to Target and Costco and the like almost every week, and now I rarely go. We quit the YMCA, despite their reasonable rates, solely to save money. We really are eating rice and beans (but we have fruit and veggies with them). I only rarely go out for coffee, but when I do, I often have a cup of drip instead of a more expensive latte, or I have tea. I like to invite people over for coffee at my house instead of meeting them for coffee at a local place. (I do still love our weekend trips to C&P, though.)

With all of this cutting back, I do feel some deprivation - don't get me wrong. I'd love some new Seven jeans; I want to fix our porch and put in something with slate and river rock and heavy wood; and I would really, really, really like to take a trip to somewhere warm with the family. And it's not going to happen, not for a long time.


We're finally getting ahead. Finally.

We are committed to living within our means and getting out of debt. Facing the reality of the numbers was no fun at all (oh dear), and figuring out where to cut things out was even less fun. I will never enjoy the agony of grocery shopping as I try to come up with creative, interesting meals for the family that are gentle to the earth but also tasty....and don't cost much.

And after a few months of this, we're adjusting, and I can't believe it, but it's getting easier. We don't eat out much, and when we do, it's not a "oh I don't feel like cooking" it's a "let's meet friends and have a really wonderful time." I am spending more time reading and writing (loves of mine), and much more time on beaches (isn't that why we love West Seattle anyway?).

And every month, Ryan puts the new numbers - pay this much to this company, reduce the total this month - into a spreadsheet that he's made (it has lots of tabs and formulas; very nice work) and we watch the right numbers rise (emergency fund) and the right numbers fall (amount owed). In June, if we stay on track, we will be paid in full to the PolyClinic AND Swedish, and we will apply those amounts to the totals on our credit cards. We might be able to get totally out of debt by the end of 2010.

So, for the next two years, things will be tight, but I've decided I don't care. I want to get these debts off our backs so that we can kiss them goodbye forever. If we did, we'd feel so much more relaxed....and as we write these checks and send them off each month, I think "wow if we didn't have debt that would be money for us to keep!" and I look forward to 2011 when we'll get to keep that money for ourselves to invest or spend.
And we're not exactly hard done by. Here we are, with a decent car (not fancy, not worth much, but does the job), a lovely home, comfortable furniture, a kitchen filled with the tools of the trade, bicycles, toys, iPods, computers, music, candles, books (LOTS of books). We're being more creative with how we spend our free time. We make popcorn*, we get movies from the library, we take the bus downtown and go to the market, we go to the Seattle Art Museum. We have play dates, we go to Lincoln Park. Tessa still gets to ride on horses.

So we're determined to stay on track. Little by little, we are making progress, and I'm proud of us. Upward and onward.

I am jumping off the American bandwagon of "more more more stuff." I want "more more more" it's true, but I want free time, happiness, peace, relaxation, better world. It's great to be comfortable, and I'm not giving up my life for an adherence to poverty (I'm not giving up my iPod, I love my GoreTex coat, and I do enjoy nice things). But I'm really happy to be out of the mall.....and I'm not missing it at all.

For those who are considering making some financial changes in their own lives, I'll mention that we're following Dave Ramsey's "debt snowball" program. Dave Ramsey can drive me nuts - he's a bit high on himself and I don't agree 100% with everything he says - but his basic advice is excellent....and it's working. He has a podcast that you can download (which I listen to because it helps me to stay on track and focused), and books that are available on his website or from the library. He's on the radio, too, and he does seminars around the country.

* Popcorn: I read about microwave popcorn and how people working in those factories were getting horrible diseases and cancers from inhaling the fake butter, and I promptly threw out the popcorn in our house. However, I have an easy solution! For those who don't have popcorn poppers and don't want to do the stovetop method, try this: put 1/4 cup of popcorn (from your bulk section!) in a paper bag, and tape it shut. Put this in the microwave and pop until you can't hear it any more. Viola - microwave popcorn with MUCH less packaging, and it tastes good

PS Here are two pictures from a recent (Monday) family day. The weather was nice, Tessa had an in-service day and Ryan had the day off, so the three of us took Shep on the bus and went downtown to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park (dogs allowed on leash). We walked through town, we had lunch in the market (Piroshky Piroshky for me; Le Panier for Ryan and Tessa. We sat outside with Shep, sitting on the curb in the sunshine, watching the market bustle as we ate.). We picked up some veggies for dinner while at the market. It was a lovely day, unrushed, relaxing, fun.....and CHEAP. I recommend it highly!

1 comment:

jennyward said...

well spoken my dear!!!! i with yA!!