Budget Cuts

by Cait

Generally speaking I try to shy away from talking about budgeting here. The last time I wrote at length on the subject was March, shortly after Robert switched companies. It’s not so much that I’m uncomfortable talking about money (although I kind of am sometimes; I always feel like my comments come off as judging other people on how they spend their money). It’s hard to keep in mind that everyone spends their money differently when talking about budget. The “simple” ways that a lot of people cut back in order to make up for a loss of income just don’t work for us. We can’t just go “Well, I guess I’ll stop getting my biweekly mani/pedi & give up my cup-a-day Starbucks habit, you can give up your gym membership, and together we’ll stop going out to dinner & a movie weekly and skip our vacation” because we don’t really do any of those things to start with.

Robert and I often find ourselves reminded of the fact that we may not be like most couples. We don’t go out to dinner very often, we haven’t seen a movie since a spontaneous decision to see The Men Who Stare at Goats (when it came to a small theatre that sells pizza and beer in 2009). Robert doesn’t go to the gym, I have never gotten a manicure in my life, and when I buy coffee it’s $1.12 mug refill at Einstein’s. Of course that doesn’t mean we are hoarding our money, it just means we choose to spend our money in different ways. We love our house (working on it & buying things for it), we love food, and occasionally I go a little retail crazy. (Especially when the seasons change and new cuter stuff comes out. Though to be honest, when I say “retail crazy” I mean I shop sales at places like Target & Old Navy and I spend about $100 total. Last year I bought the sweaters I mentioned in this post and the boots I mentioned here.)

Over Labor Day weekend I “splurged” on a pair of gray pants from American Eagle. They were 40% off with free shipping. Unfortunately a lot of women my size had the same idea, because when I checked on my order yesterday I saw it had been cancelled (without so much as an email to tell me “sorry, we ran out of your size even though we said they were in stock when you ordered”).  I tweeted (did you know I am on The Twitter?) to vent my anger/disappointment and had a brief conversation with Kim at NewlyWoodwards.

Then earlier today I tweeted to say I was planning to go buy a sweater at Target after work.

After a long Twitter conversation with several other bloggers about boots, I started making a list of things that make me happy this fall. Which somehow morphed into a list of things I wanted to buy this fall (with the exception of my boots from last Black Friday). And honestly I was ok with that at first. Then I saw Amanda at Our Humble A{Bowe}d’s post about their kitchen plans, which made me think about our guest bath and everything left to buy for that. At that point I stopped thinking about fall clothes (mostly) and tweeted this:

While standing in Target clutching the sweater I wanted I came to the conclusion that I need to chill out with spending for a while. Even $1.12 for coffee or a couple of $20 sweaters can add up. Maybe I will rediscover all the fun things I bought for fall last year, and we have plenty of smaller projects we can work on while saving up for the bathroom. (I really, really would like to use our new tub soon.)  I dejectedly put the sweater back and came up with a few goals for this fall.

Oh and I made one more small change.

I change the dry-erase label on this jar pretty frequently.

How do y’all encourage yourselves to save up for big projects?

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44 Comments to “Budget Cuts”

  1. Saving up for big projects is difficult! They take so long in comparison to how long it takes to “save up” for a cute cardigan or new deeply dark washed jeggings (so freakin’ cute by the way, if you’re not familiar).

    We’re currently trying to decide WHAT to save for. There are so many projects that are going on in our house that we WANT to do that we’re having difficulty figuring out what we should tackle first. There’s the backyard that includes a new retaining wall, privacy fence, ripping down a terrible awning-like-thing, ripping out the old patio and building a deck or new patio or both… then there’s the kitchen that’s original to our 1950 ranch that needs to be gutted completely in order to function for this century… and then there’s our bathroom, the only one in the house, that needs to be desperately rearranged to function at its best in its small space. HOW do we choose? HOW do we save?

    Like you said, every little bit counts! I’m fortunate to have direct depositing for my paychecks and take X amount of money each paycheck and directly transfer it into two savings account and have the remainder deposited into my checking. Because of this, and this is the biggest and best thing for us, I forget I even have that money…so I’m saving without even realizing it…and before I know it I’ll have a decent little egg in there to splurge on whatever project we DO decide!

    • I’m glad to hear we aren’t the only ones in this position, Miranda! Direct deposit is wonderful, isn’t it? I think I should look into having part of mine automatically go into savings (or at least make the concious effort to log in to my credit union’s website on payday to transfer funds). I think Robert has been doing that with his, but he is partially saving for tuition, not projects.

      Yes, jeggings are cute! I’m wearing a pair of medium wash skinny jeans right now, haven’t made the jeggins leap yet.

  2. Ok Cait, do I ever know how you feel! Eric and I are both total stingy people who don’t spend much money so we don’t have a lot of places to cut down on expensive either. People even make fun of us for it too. To help motivate us, for the most part, Eric and I keep an on going list of projects and goals we want to accomplish. We try to re evaluate the goals every now and again to see if we are still on track. If we are not on track sometimes we realize we need to reevaluate what our plans are and how we plan to accomplish them. I totally love your idea of the jar the changes from project to project and idea to idea. I totally need to get me one of those!

    • We used to get made fun of for our spending habits too, but somewhere along the line that stopped happening. I don’t know if it’s because we drifted away from those people or if they were quieted after we paid for our wedding (a wedding which all our friends loved) and then bought a house. Or maybe it just gets easier to ignore the comments. Sometimes we get off-track, which is where having goals (and a list of what we want to accomplish!) helps.

      I love the idea of the jar, too, although admittedly I sometimes make it say completely sarcastic things. It said “401k” for a while, and then it said “vacation fund”. (Um, Robert and I have never been on a vacation together. The closest was when we went to San Fran for his cousin’s wedding. We are staycation kind of people.)

  3. Aye. This is where I am at too, saving for a couple big projects…which does affect blog content. Finishing old projects…good idea. Doing the labour involved. Check. As far as saving money, I don’t have those things to drop either (cable, manis, etc) for the same reason. I did just drop my health insurance though, in an effort to boost my reno savings, (which I highly do not recommend that to the majority!!!) Actually, there were a few reasons involved in making that decision, but this is the most absurd reason. Hopefully I don’t hammer my hand. Instant gratification has gotten the better of us, focus on zen and the art of renovation…

    • I’m glad to hear that we aren’t the only ones who have a dip in blog content as we save, Sara! Logically I know that we can’t do everything at once, but sometimes blogging tends to make things look like “hey, look at all these fabulous projects we’re taking on 24/7!” I completely agree about the instant gratification! I’m pretty sure that is part of what is bumming me out. Blog-speed vs real speed. Especially when you factor in work (and school for Robert), and the fact that some other bloggers are lucky enough to work on their houses all day. I’ve been trying to slow down and remind myself that things can’t all happen at once.

      Yikes about the health insurance! I completely understand about a lot of reasons going into the decision, but I think I would be a little freaked out! Fingers crossed that you don’t hammer your hand or anything!

      • “Blog-speed vs real speed. ” This is a very good point to remember! We read and see these amazing things done online, but how much time it actually took is relative. That’s the part that gets me. If I factor in all the other things that are going on in my life my projects are bound to take a while. And when I think things are taking so long, I can reflect/look back on the blog on accomplishments already made.

        • I completely agree! I sometimes struggle with reminding myself about the things we have accomplished. We are so busy with work, and school for Robert, that getting anything done – big or small – is struggle. I need to make sure to remind myself that while we may not get the patio done this year, we did make the front porch look great and we are saving for a need-driven bathroom remodel that we didn’t expect to happen anytime soon.

  4. Every month we keep an extremely detailed budget which includes blow money. Blow money is a small amount (for us $25 each- we’re big spenders!) that can be spent on anything at all without complaints from the other spouse. My $25 normally goes to coffee and Jordan’s normally goes to booze (this month he took this month and last month’s blow money and bought a 5 gallon beer kit). It’s a small amount of money but it keeps us from feeling deprived when we live on a such a tight budget. Your’s could be your sweater fund and Robert’s could be for frozen yogurt :)

    • Oh the joys of budgeting. We have always been more of the wing-it type than the detailed budget type, and usually it works out fine. We know how much goes to bills, and what we typically spend on food and gas, but a true budget would probably be helpful in holding us accountable for the little things like coffee, sweaters, alcohol and frozen yogurt. My problem is that sitting down and tallying everything up is depressing when we look at how much less is coming in. It took us a while to adapt after Robert’s job change/pay cut. With him making so much less money we seem to constantly juggle unforseen costs (one of the dogs getting sick or a car breaking down, etc) vs saving. It’s not good. It seems like every time we manage to get ahead in savings something happens and our savngs.

      Another issue is that I sometimes over-estimate what my check is going to be (thank you, unpredictable overtime and stupid Wednesday-to-Tuesday pay cycles). There was a point where I just dumped any OT directly into savings, and I should probably start that again. It would definitely help us make up for the hit we took when we had to shell out a $500 deductable for my car in July, and it would get us closer to finishing the bathroom. I also need to factor in things like how I am making a little bit more than I used to (yearly raise), and figure our how much (if any) should to go into savings from that (since we know we could live off of what I used to make) or if we should just leave that in checking as an extra cushion. And the final thing to factor in is that my health insurance in changing thanks to my company being bought out.

      Basically, the short version is: we do need to figure out a blow/fun money amount. It might be $25, it might be even less, we just have to see where all the chips lie after some reevaluation of our loose budget.

  5. I can totally respect that. Because I love spending some money on my home (fortunately it wasn’t a fixer upper) but there are still things i want to add to it. So we slowly save up money to do certain things to our condo. But then the other things I want to save up for – and that’s a vacation once every year. Definitely not luxurious vacations, but my husband and I want to travel to different places, but we don’t have to have the best of the best.

    The thing that pains me the most is when we tried to refinance our home – the mortgage lender kept telling us we had to cut back on our spending! and I was flabbergasted because we don’t go out to dinner (maybe once a month, and it might be under $50). We both bring leftovers or tv dinners for our lunches (despite everyone at my job eating out practically every day). i do have a gym membership but it’s only $35 and that’s my one luxury. I probably get my hair cut once every 6 months – and that’s at a beauty school. i hardly ever go shopping for clothes, and if I do it’s because i really need something. so it irks me that he asked us to cut back when we’re pretty much down to what we need. and we have no debt except for the condo. No credit card, no car payments, except for his school loan, but i feel we’ll be forever paying that off. UGH. needless to say, we were unable to refinance.

    • Thanks for the comment, Erin!

      I know what you mean about being flabbergasted at having to cut back! We bring lunch to work daily, Robert cuts my hair (and I/he cut his), I bring coffee to work instead of buying it, we don’t have car payments… We do have two credit cards but they are through our credit union and hardly ever get used. We are almost down to just basic needs, to the point where the next cut we may have to make would be to eliminate “fun money” entirely. Sad day.

      We would love to travel, but unfortunately anything outside of small day trips is out of the cards right now. We try to make the best of it, but sometimes I get so jealous seeing everyone’s vacaton pictures!

  6. Do you do a seasonal clothing “swap out” for fall? I just put all my summer dresses in the guest room and brought out my sweaters and boots. Gets me all excited for fall and *slightly* curbs the urge to shop — I can go through all the fun fall clothes I already have that I had forgotten about since last year!

    • That’s such a great idea, Leslie! I don’t really swap out what is in the closet/dresser, but I think it would help curb the urge to shop. Thanks for the suggestion, I’m adding that to my mental list of things to do this weekend!

  7. I hear you – Joe and I are saving up for our wedding so the past year has been filled with a lot of penny pinching. There are a lot of things I haven’t bought because I know that the money could go towards something extra. I can’t wait until the wedding has happened so we can start saving money but in a less stressful way!

    • Glad we aren’t alone, Kristen! I remember saving for our wedding started getting really stressful at the end, and we had some similar moments of “can we really afford this?” panic right before we closed on our house (there was a lot of writing out the monthly expenses and trying to make sure we were gettign in over our heads). I would say we’ve done pretty well over the past two years, and now we just need to make some minor adjustments.

  8. Mike and I are usually always saving for a big project because it makes me feel like my money is going to something tangible. When it’s spent eating out or on small things, I feel guilty like I could have had a partially finished basement with that! The past two weekends I was bad with a sale at Loft and my West Elm trip, but sometimes I feel like I have to loosen the reigns every now and then and stop feeling guilty.

    • I may have to go online and rename my savings account (which ranges from “Vacation Fund” to “Fun Money”) “Guest Bathroom Fund” in addition to the jar with rolled change. It would make the saving seem more tangible, and staring at a sometimes-empty bank account labeled “Fun Money” does not have the same gut-wrenching effect that I think it would if I signed in and saw that our Guest Bathroom Fund was empty. Also I think I should add a sign over the change bowl by the front door.

      I completely agree with needing to loosen the reigns a bit sometimes! I sometimes struggle with the proper amount of loosening, though. I have yet to completely wrap my head around the fact that while we used to be able to loosen the reigns and treat ourselves to dinner & maybe a West Elm trip, we can’t do that these days. Now loosening the reigns is a $17 day night to Barnes & Noble where I buy a couple of decor magazines.

  9. Since we don’t really own a home (that we live in at least) the projects have kind of stopped for us, except for decorating, which I really keep down to minimum costs! But when we lived in our first house, I didn’t buy a new piece of clothing (or pair of shoes) for almost a year, thanks in small part to being in a household of two unemployed people and to our renovations. When my hubs first got his job offer, we went shopping for clothes because shoes are my biggest passion (shout out to the boot twitter party yesterday)! We (and by we, I mean I, because my hubs has no idea what our money does) prefer to save up for an emergency fund and a travel fund right now. If I could travel every month and never do a DIY project again, I probably would.

    I love that you are doing what is best for Y’ALL! I read a few comments mentioning getting made fun of, and I think that is crazy! Everyone spends in different ways…. for you its projects at the house, for me its traveling, for the next person it may be gourmet food, everyone is different. I applaud you for getting your priorities in order when so many in this economy don’t. I wonder why the credit in this country is so high and why so many homes are foreclosed on?! ;)

    • Thanks Samantha!

      I totally agree about priorities! Sometimes I wish we could do it all, travel, do projects, shop, etc, but then there are times like the other night, when I realized that while clothes and travel do make me happy, there is something about walking around our house that just puts a smile on my face. Things like the art room curtains make me smile every day, and they make things feel sunny and cheerful even then they aren’t.

  10. This is such a great post. We just got done spending a load of money on our Reno (which was budgeted for) and now we are trying to go into save mode. But what I’ve learned about myself is that I’m like you. I spend on small things that add up super quickly. So I’m trying to keep myself out of places like Target. And to remember how much stuff we already have and how I really need a purge Fest as it is. Looking forward to reading more about your savings.

  11. I relate to you, girl. But really. You guys still roll your loose change?

    • Thanks Emily!

      Haha, yes! I know there are things like Coinstar, but we just roll it a little at a time when the spare change bowl gets full and deposit it in our credit union.

      • I never actually roll or use Coinstar, but get satisfaction out of transferring $20 into savings and using the loose change any chance I get at the store or at a yard sale or anywhere. Make sense? Or am I crazy wanting to pay for almost everything in loose change? Feels like “free money” sometimes since I try to never keep cash in my wallet (way too easy to spend when I have it… debit card is much more of a hassle plus I hate seeing the debits in my account when times are tight). Mind games with myself, I tell ya.

        • Definitely makes sense! I try not to carry cash because, as you said, it’s too easy to spend it! Robert sometimes gets cash for doing sidework, and I don’t like to be the mean wife who makes him put all of it in savings, so whatever is left (change, small bills) usually goes in the jar.

          Finances and budgeting always seems like a “whatever works for you” kind of thing, but it’s interesting to see all the varying opinions.

  12. Oh man alive! I so can relate! We were hit with a few things that unfortunately we’re unavoidable…laid off, find mold in bathroom, Todd gets a pay cut, find botched plumbing AND electrical work and now we’ve spent 3x’s our budget making things non-leaky and preventing a ton of potential fires. CRAZY! You guys will do it, it’s tough but your bathroom is going to look amazing regardless!!

  13. You will be shocked how much change you will save. When I started college my mom started putting all of her change in a jar saying it was my wedding dress fund. She had a long time of saving her coins but it paid for my wedding dress plus some and it was fun to talk about. Also, we didn’t have to deal with my father saying “how much does it cost for a dress you are going to wear once” since it was paid all with change. Good luck!

    • Too funny, Jordan! Gotta love spare change! Right now our jar hold $48, and there is more in the change bowl by to door, just a few nickels and dimes short of a full roll.

  14. We have a different approach than a lot of people (but we also don’t have super huge expensive projects that we need to tackle). We have a set “allowance” each month. We figured out what bills are consistent each month and then used that to determine how much we could each spend. That “allowance” includes eating out, gas, groceries, clothes, paint, etc. I find it helpful because it doesn’t make me feel like I can’t do things. If I want West Elm curtains this month, I can buy them but it means that I will be eating at home every day and buying nothing else that month. Anything left over in our “allowance” goes to paying off my student loans. And I want to pay off my student loans fast so it’s extra motivation to leave some funding in the allowance. If only money grew on trees…

    • I think the allowance system is pretty similar to the fun money system that a lot of people seem to have, which seems like a pretty good system. And I totally agree with the “if only money grew on trees” part, Michelle!

  15. We’ve been talking about “cutting back” more too lately. I suppose it’s not really cutting back, it’s more like re-prioritizing, but it’s definitely work to change our spending habits!

    • Glad to hear we aren’t alone, Kate! In our case it’s definitely cutting back, but hopefully if/when we have more coming in again we will retain some of the same spending habits.

  16. We just spent 5 months spendingspendingspending to get our house to the point at which is was livable, so I can completely relate to your realization holding that sweater in Target. We put a ‘spending freeze’ on ourselves for this month — except for the essentials, we aren’t allowed to buy ourselves or our home (!) anything. When you just go home and stay home after work and putter around the house on the weekends, it’s surprisingly not that difficult! But I can’t wait until October…!

    Good post!

    • Thanks Nette! We’re basically on a spending freeze, too. You’re so right about it being easier if you just go home and stay home. I find I also have to stay away from Pinterest and sometimes blogs, but so far so good on our spending freeze.

  17. I meant to give you these web sites a while ago. They’ve really helped me with budgeting.

    Frugal Hacks – http://frugalhacks.com/
    Get Rich Slowly – http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/
    Fabulously Broke in the City – http://www.fabulouslybroke.com/

    Also, in order to save money, the boyfriend and I are trying our best to consume less. These minimalist blogs have helped guide me a bit.

    Zen habits – http://zenhabits.net/
    The Everyday Minimalist – http://www.everydayminimalist.com/

    I hope they help. Everyone’s in rough financial spot. At least, I’d consider the changes and money you’re spending on your home an investment.

  18. Get one of these ASAP!

    http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?SKU=16580414

    We got one a couple years ago and it’s been the best thing EVER! Whenever you put coins in, the lid tells you how much change you have and it is the best motivation tool I’ve ever used. We recently realized that we were about halfway towards new flooring in our baby’s room a couple weeks ago and it prompted us to get rid of a few things we weren’t using around the house to make up for the rest. Seriously, I would have never figured the small amounts of change we kept in our cars (for parking meters we encountered once ever six months or so..) would add up so quickly.

    We started working on cutting our costs earlier this summer and thank goodness we did because I ended up being laid off from my second job. Trust me when I say I totally understand how hard it is to cut back when you don’t have much to start with. We’re pretty frugal as it is because I’m in grad school and holy macaroni are my supplies more expensive than they were in undergrad..

    Oh, and take advantage of Amazon. Did you know they give you gift cards from trading in dvds and stuff? We were able to trade in old dvds and were able to get enough credit to buy (a small box) of vinyl flooring for our laundry room. Free floors! Who knew they had so much home improvement stuff on that website?

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