A recent post on Shoved To Them has been running through my mind all day. In it, Rebecca (a.k.a "The Mom") seethes over how expensive it has become just to survive. Lately, I've found myself adjusting and readjusting numbers in our budget, trying to make things "work". And I was finding it harder and harder to find the money for the things we needed. I was aware that the cost of things like gasoline had definitely gone up, but it didn't all sink in until I read this post, and realized that it's happening everywhere: living costs for everything are getting way more expensive, but people are still making the same amount of money as before.
And I don't really know what we can do about it. Since getting married, and especially since Sly was born and we were determined to have me stay home with him - I've had to learn so much about being frugal and getting by with much less than I was used to.
We've cut down our spending in so many ways:
We don't buy anything new if we can reasonably get it second-hand instead. Or sometimes we make it ourselves, as in the case of one of our baby gate on the basement stairs....made out of wood Tom scavenged from somewhere.
When something breaks or is no longer usable, we scavenge it for parts before throwing it away. Tom removes the screws and bolts from furniture (and keeps the wood as scrap), saves the wires and cords from electrical things, I remove buttons from unwearable clothes (and then cut them into rags). Seriously. Nothing goes in the trash that is not actually trash.
We use cloth diapers, baby wipes, napkins, and rags. We don't buy any paper products anymore except toilet paper (and I'm really working on my husband to agree to switch to cloth for that as well!)
I haven't bought anything "fun": new clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc., since we were married...except a few things which I purchased with birthday money from my mother-in-law (with the strict instruction that I MUST spend it on myself).
The thick black or brown tights I live in all winter (I mostly wear skirts, remember) have had at least five holes sewn up on every pair. Same with socks and gloves. I'd love some fresh ones, but we can't afford it.
I do as much grocery shopping as possible at Aldi (which has the cheapest prices, hands-down, for almost everything). The items I can't find there, I get at one of three other places (based on where it's cheapest), and always generic, if possible. I only buy meat when it's on a BOGO sale or otherwise very inexpensive, and I severely ration my meat-loving husband's portion sizes of it. I've had to learn how to cook various new (read: cheap) cuts of meat (it usually involves some combination of lots of marination, pounding it with the meat hammer, and cooking it for a really long time). I make most of our meals from scratch and without elaborate ingredients. We eat leftovers for lunch, or something cheap like ramen.
We save all gift bags and tissue paper we're given for re-use. We make our own greeting cards out of pictures we cut from magazines (given to us free), because they cost too much to buy. We are shameless re-gifters.
We wash out plastic baggies and pieces of aluminum foil to reuse them. I save the envelopes we get with our bills and mail other things in them (we pay the bills online, to save the price of the stamp). Tom brings home scrap paper from the office, and we use the blank side to print things on.
As much as we love our cats, we've talked about how we kind of wish we didn't have them, so we didn't have to buy their food and litter every month. They do not get taken for check-ups at the vet.
We use our contact lenses way longer than you're supposed to, so we only use the paid-for-by-insurance pairs. We got our eyeglasses for $10 a pair (frames and prescription lenses!) at Zenni. Shampoo, conditioner, etc. comes from the dollar store.
Tom either walks or rides his bike to his job downtown, so we don't have to pay for gas/parking, or buy a monthly bus pass.
We don't have air conditioning for the summer, and we keep the thermostat at a frigid 62.5° in the winter, which is the coldest I can stand (because, of course, the house feels much colder than that).
We canceled our newspaper subscription. We don't get cable (well, technically we have "basic cable" which means essentially the networks + 3 home shopping networks + PBS+ EWTN. But only because it's strangely cheaper to have internet with cable).
We get the cheapest cell phones possible and only when our 2-years are up and it's almost free (and, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, we're each still on our own family's "family plan", so don't actually pay the phone bills on those...). We don't have smartphones, a laptop, a tablet, an e-reader, etc. We listen to vinyl records we buy at the thrift store, or music on the (old desktop) computer.
If we ever go to the movies - which is basically never - we only go to the dollar theater. And only when we can get free babysitting from parents. We don't go out to eat. We don't order pizza. We never have beer or wine in the house anymore. We don't pay for admission to the zoo, the science center, etc. (we wait for the occasional "free days").
And there are so many other little things like this. We've already tightened our belts so much. I don't think there's a lot more we can do. (Seriously, what more can we do? If you have ideas, tell me, because I need them!)
My husband is a hard worker. He's a very good and honest employee and does his job well. But he still doesn't make a ton of money, and besides, it's hard these days to support a family on a single salary. He studied history, philosophy, and anthropology in college. It's not like he can get a job in his actual "field". He hates the corporate world, but that's where he is, and we need him to keep making the money. Once you have a family, you can't just start over again in an entry-level position in some other field. He talks about maybe finding a second job, but we haven't found anything that would work for the family yet. I wish I were an interesting enough writer to make money through blogging, or crafty enough to sell stuff on Etsy or something...but I'm just not. And even so, I don't know if I would have the time/mental sanity to be the mom and wife I want to be and also take on a part-time job.
For the most part, we've accepted being broke, and understand that it's probably helping us to become more holy. But sometimes I just wish I could get a coffee at a coffee shop with friends every now and then, and not feel guilty about it. I wish we could invite people over for dinner without worrying about all the extra mouths to (pay to) feed. I wish we could get invited to a wedding, and actually feel happy about it, instead of getting all stressed out about the gift we'll have to buy.
So anyways, reading that blog post was reassuring in some ways. We're not the only ones feeling this financial crunch! It really is hard to get by. But at the same time, it was pretty discouraging to realize that. I mean, if it was an issue of something we were doing wrong, then we could change things and hope for a better situation. But if if we're already doing all we can and it's not working, then....what?