I realize the very title of this post screams “first world problems.” We have a roof over our head, food to eat, we make more than enough money to pay our bills and entertain ourselves…yet payday comes around and a week later we are often asking ourselves what on earth happened to all the money we made.
We recently met with a financial advisor to make sure we are making the most of our money, and as it turns out, we’re not. We have good intentions- we set aside money bi-weekly for our daughters for college (they’re 3 and 1), we don’t have a balance on any credit cards, and the only loans we have out are for our house, my student loans, and one vehicle. By all accounts it sounds like we’re doing a super job with our finances, but upon taking a closer look, not so much. The $50 per paycheck we set aside for our daughters’ college will grow over time, but by the time they turn 18 and need it for their education, it will only cover 2.5 years of schooling each at a community college. I may be paying aggressively on my student loans (because who wants to be paying those off in 30 years?!) but every dime I put towards that debt is a dime that could be put towards my retirement fund. And speaking of retirement, as a mainly one income household, we are only putting money down towards retirement for one.
If you think about all of these facts for long enough, it’s sure to give you a headache. For all intents and purposes, I feel like I’m doing great! It’s easy to get in the comparing game and tell myself I’m putting aside more than most people I know for the future of my family. But is it enough? I decided a few weeks ago that our family of four would live off of $100 for the week. Our mortgage and all other major bills had been paid. I took out $100 in cash and decided that all of our expenses relating to entertainment, food, and gas would come from that money. By learning to live on less, we hope to save more money from each paycheck.
How did we fare? I detailed ten major things we learned over the span of the week below.
1) Road trips tank a budget like none other. When we decided to do challenge we were visiting family three hours from home. To even get home in our van cost us $30. Not to mention, we drove through for dinner which was an additional $17. We ended up starting off our week already down by half! We go out of town a lot so I am estimating that in gas and food we spend hundreds a month that we didn’t even realize previously.
2) There is always a sale on something you want when you have no money to spend. About midway through the week, I stopped at a store that I love to putz around at and everything was 50% off. I desperately wanted to buy blog staging stuff and it SUCKED that that was the time that their sale was. I had all the excuses yet no money to burn.
3) There’s not a lot you can do to save on gas when you live far from work. The house we bought is a good 40 minutes from my husband’s job. We planned our life that way because the housing costs are less the further you are out from the big city, but the tradeoff is that there’s no real way to save on gas. It’s a fixed expense, just like your mortgage, that you can’t change. We had “budgeted for” $20 in gas for the week but didn’t quite make it.
4) You have to eat at home for every meal. We should be doing this anyway, but that mid afternoon coffee run was no longer an option. I couldn’t afford to fork over $4 for a drink that week. Let’s be honest, I always add on a chocolate milk for my little one and a scone for the girls to share when I drive through. My bill is usually $11, which is totally not in a weekly budget of $100.
5) Discount grocery stores are your friend. I hate shopping at the discount grocery store because I have to bring my own bags and I always need to make a second stop to finish my list. However, the food I buy there tastes just as good and my grocery bill usually ends up being more like $40 for a week rather than $150. It’s totally worth the inconvenience for the savings!
6) When you have to get creative, items in your pantry and fridge go farther than you think they would. Midway through the week, nothing we bought at the grocery store looked good at all, but I was determined to make our budget. I was able to make three meals out of random ingredients in our house. I chopped peppers and onions and precooked grilled chicken to put in quesadillas for dinner, and the remainder of the onion and pepper mix went into a breakfast casserole in the crockpot. I even had some left over to mix into mac and cheese for the next day’s meal!
7) You have to become a “no” person and not a “yes” person- people always want to do things that cost money. Of course, during the week that I was trying to save, people kept inviting us to do things- go golfing, go to the mall, meet up for lunch, etc. It doesn’t have to be frustrating though! If you can sway people to tweak plans it all works out for the best. Meeting a friend at the park with a packed lunch for the kids is just as cheap as eating at home.
8) You have to really want to be in a better financial place more than you want material things. This one is hard for me because it’s easy to feel like throwing in the towel midway through the week. Greed was taking me over. There were so many things I wanted, and even things I ran out of that I couldn’t replace. We had just taken family pictures and I wanted to hurry up and order prints already. I wanted a new lipstick. I wanted something different to eat for dinner, etc. But at the end of the day I had everything I needed at home and a fridge full of food that would perfectly sustain my family. There was no reason to desire more than I already had and doing so would not help me meet my goals.
9) If you think you are following the rules, how is everyone else in the family doing? Oftentimes when I drive through for my coffee drink or a little lunch time pick me up somewhere, I’m only thinking about the $7 I spent. But I’m married, and my husband is a whole other adult who is off making money choices (good and bad) during the day too. I am the bill payer of the household and I can easily track money spent. Most of the transactions under $10 are from the coffee drive through, but my husband’s weakness if online ordering. If I comb through all of our “miscellaneous” expenses for the month it adds up to hundreds of dollars. Our kids’ college fund is being spent on random crap that nobody even remembers they bought.
10) The realization that for some people, they truly don’t have $100 to spend because they’re that broke. For their families, it’s not just a game. I was frustrated several times during the week at how quickly we blew through our money but at the end of the week, the situation was fake and we were trying to challenge ourselves.
So…did we make it? No. We failed. We overspent our budget. But I learned a lot! I walked away from the week with some great ideas to save and ways to stretch my money out between paychecks. If you would like a follow up post on those tips, let me know in the comments below!
Have you ever done a challenge like this one? Did you make it? I would love to know how!