Making Ends Meet
From New Beginnings, Vol. 28 No. 3, 2009, pp. 46-47
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine New Beginnings, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of New Beginnings to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
Because of recent economic changes, my husband and I need to make some difficult decisions. We can no longer afford to live in our "dream" home unless we can significantly reduce other expenses or add a second income. We are already rather frugal but we would like suggestions. How have other families dealt with this stressful situation?
The recent economic changes have given all of us a chance to look into our financial lives and determine where we stand. It isn't always easy when we realize that we are spending frivolously. I would recommend starting by sitting down with your spouse and taking a long hard look at your bank statements, both check card and credit cards.
If you are using a credit card, cut it up. Pay it off. Look at where your money is going for a month and remind yourself that if you live temporarily as if you have no money, you'll spend less and have much more. Put your family on a strict budget: no eating out, no expensive activities, no spending unless it is necessary for health or debt reduction. Cut your food budget and plan meals so you can use what you already have. Try going a week without entering a grocery store. When you do buy groceries, pay with cash. Shopping the perimeter of the store, where the healthy, filling foods are -- staying away from the expensive pre-packaged items -- can help save money. Often, you can make meals like those pre-packaged ones yourself with only five extra minutes' time. Think like Grandma did. You don't spend what you don't have.
Pay your bills on time and in an order that makes sense: four walls, utilities, vehicle, and debt. Anything else (cable, cell phone, Internet, movie and magazine subscriptions) can be cancelled or you can drop down to a lower plan. Be honest with yourself and your spouse. Your home may seem to be your "dream" home but if it is causing you stress is it really your dream? Plan to downsize if your home is more than you can afford. Home is a relative term. It means where your family and your love are.
New Castle, PA, USA
When my husband and I found ourselves affected by the economic downturn, the first thing we did was to contact our creditors. Surprisingly, the credit card companies were willing to work with us and helped us work out payment plans or allowed us to "skip" a payment for a month or so. We reduced other bills by getting rid of those extra, unnecessary expenses. When money is tight, it is amazing what can be found to be extra and unnecessary. Because the financial situation was going to affect our entire family, we included our teenage daughter in the conversations. Being honest with her, and ourselves, was not only a good lesson for all of us, but it helped us to find those things that we could truly do without. While the situation was stressful, we found that by facing it head on and taking responsibility instead of hiding it was easier to bear.
Gilbert, AZ, USA
In today's world, it is very difficult to be creative with your finances, but it is a necessity. Living beyond one's means has become the norm, more often than not. When finances are such that one must become more than frugal, it becomes even more difficult. However, difficult does not necessarily mean impossible.
One suggestion would be to track how many times you eat outside the home in one month. Track everything from a cup of coffee to a full meal. You may think that you have cut out all the "extra" spending but since eating is a necessity, this can be overlooked. After watching how often you eat out in one month, decide to cut that amount in half. You may find that this alone can save you a substantial amount. If you find that there really are no other areas for you to cut some spending, perhaps an option for you would be to take on a job. If your children are very young, perhaps there are work-at-home jobs available for you. Direct sales often make it easy for parents to stay home with their children and still earn a little extra income. The financial situation is stressful, but with a little creativity and determination, you can make it through.
New Wilmington, PA, USA
I had a great job as a manager and made more money than my husband. After the birth of our son, I had a change of heart. I wanted to stay home and raise him. We now live on one income. It's tough and stressful to change your lifestyle, but with careful planning and an open mind it is possible.
You mentioned that you have a "dream home" and obviously you want to keep it. Perhaps you could consider a part-time job. Or you might find other creative ways to generate income without leaving your home.
Fight for your dollars! Insurance companies tend to increase rates annually. By calling them or your insurance broker, they might be persuaded to decrease them. We called our credit card companies, too, and had them reduce our interest rates on two cards. Be knowledgeable about income tax incentives and deductions. And have you any unclaimed taxes owing to you?
We have become a super consumer society and it is challenging to change our mentality as well as our economic situation. My family and I appreciate the peace of mind we have experienced since minimizing our spending habits.
It seems to me that this would be the best time to redefine the meaning of your "dream home." A dream home does not have to be a mansion; it can be anywhere that is full of love and family. However, it is also a reality that giving up a home is not always an option, especially in today's financial climate. At times like these, you need to pick those things that are most important to you and find a way to keep them in your life.
Start by looking at what other things can be cut out of your daily, or even monthly, life. Perhaps restrict your family to one vehicle? Can you switch to a lower cell phone plan or eliminate it altogether? Are there changes that can be made to your shopping habits? Watch the grocery store advertisements for special deals and bonuses on those items you use most often. Work out a budget with your spouse and stick to it. Try to set aside a little money each month to apply to your current debt.
If the cold, hard fact is that there is not enough money coming in to maintain the barest necessities, perhaps finding some sort of employment is the only option. However, it is also necessary to look at what it could cost for you to return to work. If you need to purchase a new wardrobe, arrange childcare, pay union dues, or even plan for lunches away from home, you may find that outside-of-the-home work is not a viable option. Keep in mind that there are many alternatives to the traditional full-time, outside-of-the-home jobs. There are part-time jobs, job-sharing positions, and work-from-home jobs. Even Internet sites like Ebay or Craig's List can be sources of income.
Mothers of New Castle Area La Leche League,
New Castle, PA, USA
Staying Home Instead?, LLLGB, 2008. Information Sheet No. 2901. This discusses the options and reasons for delaying a return to full-time work outside the home. Produced in loving memory of LLL Leader Sarah Brown. Available from www.lllgbbooks.co.uk