- Stop eating out.
- Stop going out.
No offense to anyone who has saved money this way; please, understand I am glad you have conquered your addiction and see a new priority in your budget. However... we don't eat out and we don't go out. The last movie we saw in the theater was The Da Vinci Code and my in-laws paid for it! When we eat out, it's either because my mom is here or it's ice cream at Ollie's (and that's once a month if we're lucky!). So I had to get creative when we moved and decided I would not get a job and thus would have to survive on a $13,000 graduate student stipend.
So without further ado, here is my own personal survival story:
Step One: Come to peace with the fact that your husband is still a student. After voicing your opinion and your desire, let him make the final decision. Then be still and know that God will provide.
Step Two: Make it a game before you lose your mind entirely. I call it the Frugal Amish Game. The point of the game is to survive on less than you ever thought possible through creative solutions. And I'm winning!
Here are some things I've discovered that help me play my Game:
- We use cloth diapers. The average cost to use disposable diapers for three years is $2000. And then another $2000 for the next child. The average cost to use cloth diapers for three years is $700. And the next child is free. Since I am a mother of two, that's $3300 I'm saving every year. And then, of course, add in the environmental reasons, and I'm completely convinced. We also use cloth wipes and make our own wipe solution. I love going right past the diaper aisle in Wal-Mart and thumbing my nose at The Man. When you only have $170 each month to spend on household cleaners, toiletries, gas, and emergencies, being able to skip this aisle gives me great satisfaction and I get to move ahead two spaces in my Game.
- We don't use a dryer. We live in an apartment that does not have washer and dryer hookups. This used to cost us over $10/week in quarters just on the washing machine downstairs alone. I just couldn't afford to double that for the luxury of a dryer. I have two wooden clothes racks permanently set up in our living room with a fan blowing on them at all times. Recently, I also purchased some clothesline and affixed it to the railing of our balcony because sunny days are here again and that means softer and faster drying clothes! To save us over $50/month more, my husband also (possibly illegally) hooked up our own washing machine in our apartment to the plumbing beneath our kitchen sink. I kept waiting for the water bill to go up, but guess what? It went down. I don't understand it either, but hey, I'll accept it. I was also afraid that the maintenance men would tell on us, but so far they have only expressed how impressed they are with my husband's ingenuity.
- While on the topic of diapers and laundry, the next logical play in my Game would have to be.... Make your own laundry detergent. This idea and recipe was completely stolen from this site. It's easy and it's ridiculously cheap and it's extremely effective, and it's even good for cloth diapers (and just about every store bought detergent contains something that shouldn't be used in washing cloth diapers). The cost comparison here follows as this: If you use Tide, you are spending approximately $0.50 per load. With this recipe, I spend less than $0.01 per load. And it lasts forever! I only have to use one tablespoon per load. My original batch has lasted me about two weeks so far (doing 1-2 loads per day) and it's still half-full. And it was only 2 1/2 cups of powder to begin with! I still have an almost full box of washing soda and borax in my closet! *Sigh* Another aisle I get to walk right by in Wal-Mart. *Moves ahead two spaces* (Confession: I still use Downy fabric softener. It's a smell from my childhood that I'm not sure I'll be able to give up! Plus, you use so little of it and my great big bottle will last so long... We'll see how the budget works and if it gets to stay.)
- Speaking of budgets - Must have one! Not just one in your mind where you know you shouldn't spend "too much". I tried this method and failed miserably. Then I learned to use Excel. Oh, this was exciting! This program actually adds up your expenses for you, if you program it right! Then my rocket scientist husband comes home and I exclaim to him my recent discoveries about Excel and he gives a very bemused smile as he comes over to see what I've accomplished. Here is a copy of our budget for your perusal. The non-bill section is what we have to work on the most. The "Other" expenses so far have gone towards parking tickets and library fees, and has been reserved for an oil change in the month to come. The "Eating Out" fund is there just in case we actually behave ourselves (financially) all month and then we get to treat ourselves to ice cream! More times than not, it goes to the Wal-Mart fund. Keeping Wal-Mart expenses under $80 is the most difficult thing I have ever done. You might be tempted to quit at this point, but this budget is actually the highlight of my Frugal Amish Game. In a culture where you rarely see actual money, I desperately needed a tangible way of knowing if I was keeping our family afloat. Seeing the "Accumulation" category grow each month gives me an intense feeling of satisfaction I never felt back in my pre-budget days. Two more notes: The "Extra Income" category is for any Pampered Chef work I've done and the "Savings" goes towards Josh's tuition fees this May, August, and December. Just in case you thought we were going on a cruise.
- Here's where it got hard for me. You may have noticed on our budget that there is no section for groceries. Not long after we moved here and started receiving our new paychecks, we realized we didn't have the money for food. One day I was at the local Medicaid office to see if Olivia qualified. The caseworker then told me that we not only qualified for Olivia, but myself as well (because I was pregnant), and we also qualified for over $300 a month in foodstamps. I took the paper home to show Josh and we discussed our possibilities. Let me interject here that this was during time when Josh was deciding whether to continue his schooling at Purdue or to apply for the job in Alabama. For me, the choice was easy: Foodstamps or an engineer's salary? Why take money from the government when you are perfectly capable of making it yourself? However, this is when I learned Step One (see above). My husband has a wonderful view of the future for our family, while I only see the here and now. He decided to pursue his dream job, which requires a PhD. We both agreed that getting his schooling over quickly was better than drawing it out over a decade while also working full-time. This way, he has more time with his family and his grades will be better, hopefully enabling him to get that dream job in the future. And so, we signed on the dotted line.
But I was determined not to take advantage of this opportunity. My cart would not contain merely pop, chips, and Ho-Ho's. I will take the money, but I will spend it on healthful produce. I will bake my desserts instead of buying them. I will make my food from scratch whenever possible. I will save the government as much money as I possibly can so that when we get off foodstamps, they can take the money we didn't spend and give it to others who need it. To date, we have accumulated over $900 of unspent foodstamp money.
- Lastly, in playing my Frugal Amish Game, the most important rule of all is to never take off your Kingdom Goggles. This is a phrase I picked up from our old Bible study leader in Indianapolis. One night, he passed around a pair of colorful swimming goggles and told us that we must see the world through God's eyes if we are to resist the worldly temptations that surround us. We must see what will pass away and what will remain of our efforts here on earth. When I put on my Kingdom Goggles in Wal-Mart, I am able to walk past the Little Debbie aisle. I am able to resist the gadgets I never knew I needed until I saw them on display. I am able to see what is needed for nourishment and resist everything else. Yes, we have desserts, but the homemade kind that are cheaper, healthier, and I value them more when I realize the effort that goes into making them! When I put on my Kingdom Goggles, I see the materialism of the culture around me as a trial I must overcome that will test my faith, develop perseverance, and ultimately lead to maturity and completeness, not lacking anything. My Kingdom Goggles also help me to see what James means when he says,
"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business." (Chapter 1:9-11)When I feel ashamed at not having the material possessions that this world values so much (a house! a dryer! a bigger "Eating Out" budget! a puppy!), I meditate on this scripture and realize my high position. I rely on God for everything. I know where my blessings come from. I am not fooled into thinking I can provide for myself. I just do what I can with what God gives me. If I were a rich man (Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum) I would have to realize everything I thought I possessed in this world, including my proud, self-made attitude, could disappear at any moment and I would be left with nothing but God's grace and provision. I would first have to realize the low position I truly held, where nothing is my own, but God's; then I could take pride in that. Maybe someday I will have to deal with that half of the verse. Right now I just focus on the first half.