Do you have a question for me about couponing, saving money, menu planning or anything else? I love to hear from my readers, so please be in touch!
Thanks for your question, D. My answer got a bit long, but here goes:
The way my husband and I make decisions about where to spend our money comes down to two factors: availability (of funds) and values.
With everything we buy, I look at it as a zero-sum game. If I do x, I probably won’t be able to do y. So is X really that important?
Our budget is a symbiotic whole: The little things affect the big things and vice versa. As I always say in my couponing class, one of the reasons it’s so important to focus on what you’re doing at the grocery store and Target and Costco is because even a small little leak in your basement can eventually cause major structural damage to your home.
In other words, I think both are essential to your financial well-being. It’s a balancing act.
With big purchases – and to me, that means anything from a new TV to a new car to a summer vacation to our home — we ask ourselves three questions: Do we need this? Can we afford this? Does it fit with our values?
Additionally, we almost always “sleep on” big purchase decisions – sometimes for a long time. We’ve found that when you take impulse out of the equation, it’s a lot easier to make prudent choices.
At the same time, I think it is still critical to focus on the little stuff. Maybe those of you with more wiggle room in your budget can “afford” to be less attentive, but at the end of the day: The more you waste at Target today, the less you have for your retirement – or your child’s wedding… or any other far-off goal that seems impossible to relate to right now, but one day (soon) will be all too immediate.
For us, we spend around $500 a month on groceries and household expenses because it’s the best way to make the rest of our budget make sense. To achieve this goal, I have to pay attention to the “little stuff”.
For example, I went to Target the other day to pick up supplies for our Lag B’Omer bonfire. Drinks, chips and supplies for s’mores (I had the marshmallows at home) rang up to just under $50 without coupons. With coupons, my total was $26. And that was just for one party.
When I’m feeling a little lazy or overwhelmed with the rest of life, believe me – those things go all too quickly. And the second half of the month becomes a major struggle!
As for your specific situation, I obviously don’t know the particulars. But I will say that it really sounds like you are really struggling under the weight of your day school tuition – and that possibly you’re in “too much” house and even vehicle. (If you have a car loan(s), that’s probably definitely true.)
While downsizing your home, trading in your car loans for paid-for “beaters” (as Dave Ramsey likes to say), and even home-schooling or public schooling your children are all money-saving options, I’d suggest to you and your husband that you spend 6 months really focusing on the little things. And here’s why:
1. The little stuff is easier to change.
If you are like most families, you have a lot of memories, value, personal identity and even self-worth wrapped up into your home. Possibly even your cars. Definitely your kids’ education.
Are you really that attached to the jar of hearts of palm? Will your kids have to say goodbye to their peer group if you switch brands of toilet paper?
Plus, if you’re upside down on your vehicles and/or home, getting out from under that loan will be far from easy. Yes, it’s do-able – with a car, for example, you will probably have to take out an unsecured loan to pay off the balance and then get a very inexpensive car to get you from point A to point B in the meantime. Even still, a $4000 loan is easier to pay off than a $40,000 one.
But that is a LOT of work, especially in comparison to cutting some coupons and paying better attention at the grocery store.
If your situation is really dire, you can even institute a full-on nothing-but-survival spending freeze. No new shoes, unless you are down to one pair and that one has holes in the sole. You obviously won’t want to live like that forever, but doing so will surely shine a light on all the little things. They may seem small now – but in total, I bet they are a really big part of your overall budget struggles.
2. The little stuff is faster to change.
Unless you are super lucky, odds are you won’t be able to sell your home and relocate by this time next month. Maybe not even by this time next year!
But you will be able to cut your grocery budget by 25% or more within just four weeks. If you’re currently spending $1500 a month – that’s an immediate savings of $375. Within six months, I think you’ll be able to have your food & personal care items budget well under $1000 – possibly even as low $700!
Even if your grocery spending is the only budgetary change you institute, that’s still a savings of $8,400 a year! After taxes! And I’m guessing $8,400 will make a lot of the big struggles seem far more manageable.
I’d love to hear what you all think! What matters more in your overall budget — the big things or the little things? Is it a balancing act in your family, too, or do you focus more on one area than the other?
Disclaimer: This post contains my opinion. I am not offering professional or legal advice, nor should this post be construed as such.