Today marks exactly a year since I transitioned from full time employment as the primary breadwinner of our family of 4 and took a 35,000 dollar pay cut to work part time.
I will start by posing this question, and it’s the one that finally helped me finally take that leap: What is the worst that could happen? Maybe you are thinking “There is no way we can make that work” “We won’t have money to pay our basic bills” “We’d starve!” because those are the same things that I was nervous about. But truly, what is the worst that can happen? I knew that if I gave it 6 months and we really were not able to make it work financially I could easily find another job.
Before you start slashing costs and cutting up credit cards, I would really encourage aka mandate you to start by pouring yourself a glass of wine, grabbing your partner, and listing all of your monthly expenses, due dates, and amounts due. Every. Single. One. From the trash collector, car payments, tolls, life insurance, grocery cost, child care, gas, etc. For any debts, list total amount owed, amount due each month, and interest rate on each. (Don’t skip the interest rate step. This is key – you may be alarmed at the sky high interest charges you are paying each month and being aware and educated is the first step! Ignorance is not bliss in this process). And If you aren’t sure what your interest rates are – call each lender and find out.
Here are 10 easy steps that the Smith crew did that made this year to be more of a success than I ever imagined.
- Switched cell phone carriers – We were averaging bills around 150$ or more with Verizon for only 2 GB of data each. Parks’ phone contract with Verizon ended first so he tested the waters with Straight Talk for 6 months while we waited for my contract to end. We both have now had Straight Talk Wireless for a year and pay 90$ total. No overages, hidden charges, or crazy fees. We have 8 GB of data each and unlimited calling and texting, which is 4x the amount we had with Verizon. We have never experienced poor service or connections. (This is the most expensive plan option because we both use a lot of data, so you could save even more if you don’t use as much as we do!) I will admit, I had wanted to switch for years and our hesitation was always superficial. Who has Straight Talk? WHO CARES. People who want to save money and save more have Straight Talk.
- Cut the cable cord – We did this when Palmer was born and have used SlingTV for 3 years now, and have LOVED it. We pay 25$ a month for so MANY channels and it’s a month to month contract where you can pause without fees. I still get Bravo TV & HGTV, Palmer has Nick Jr, and Parks gets to still enjoy sports. But, when I first quit my job we stopped sling for a few months and existed solely on Netflix just to try it out! (I found we enjoyed more family time, more time playing outside and more family walks when the TV wasn’t a distraction!) If you are looking for a way to cut the big TV package deals, SlingTV is a great option and stepping stone rather than jumping from big packages to just Netflix! We have Verizon internet for 39$ a month for the last 3 years. (It took a few calls to Verizon to get them to agree to that package but I held firm because I had a few friends who had that deal and I knew if they had it I could get it too! Totally worth the 4 calls it took!)
- Eating out – We mostly reserve our eating out for Mexican because it’s cheap, fast, and delicious! Well, and margaritas. We cook healthy and easy meals at home and Save TONS at the grocery store. Eating out is an area of the budget that can really add up if you aren’t paying attention. Instead of drive thru Chick Fil A for days on the run we pack snacks and lunches and come prepared for busy days. Make a coffee at home for your drive to work instead of running to Starbucks, make a breakfast on the go instead of heading to Panera, etc. A few dollars here and there do make a difference! If you aren’t ready to give up those extras, tally up how much you are spending in this category. You might be alarmed when you pay attention to how many Wawa stops you are making.
- Grocery shopping – We do all of our grocery shopping at our local Aldi and average a cost of 80$ a week for our family of 4. We used to spend 160-170 a week and would have nothing to show. I write a grocery list based off of the meals I choose and stick to that list at the store. If it’s not on the list, we don’t get it (for the most part!) It helps the shopping experience be more productive, fast, and less stressful for all. I don’t leave the store with a bunch of junk food and no meal options or forget anything we need because it’s all on the list. I still sigh a breath of relief when we can get SO many fresh options for such an affordable deal.
- Meal Planning – Every Sunday I sit down and decide every breakfast, lunch, and dinner option for us for the week. There is no guess work, no room for last minute fast food, and no reason to ditch the plan. I have a chalk board organization door in my kitchen and I write the meals out so we all know in advance. We used to fall into the trap of “I’ll thaw something out in AM, Ill wing it we have a lot in the fridge” but that really meant a good ol disagreement over what we were going to eat when we were all exhausted and starving that evening and hangry Erin usually came out. Planning ahead is KEY for meals and staying on track.
- Play Dates – We stick to play dates with mom friends and kiddos at places that are free, cheap, or that we have memberships. You can easily avoid places like Chick Fil A or where we have to purchase something to be there and have a picnic at Maymont. We pack lunches and head to the Metro Richmond Zoo, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, a local RVA parks, or a friend’s house. I would recommend looking at the options you have in your area and finding a membership to the place you go most. Even better, ask for memberships for birthdays and holidays – pool, Children’s Museum, Science Museum, Zoo, etc. from family. (You will see more about what memberships I think are best in RVA soon!)
- Limited online shopping – I rarely online shop anymore, it used to be where I spent a lot. I deleted the Amazon Prime app from my phone and if there is something I really want I sleep on it for a day or two to make sure I really truly can’t live without this item and it’s not an impulse purchase. I am more appreciative of buying myself things when I wait and think on it for a few days to be sure I really want the item. I also don’t buy a brand new dress and shoe combo for every social event anymore, I swap and borrow dresses with girlfriends who are the same size.
- Child care costs – We no longer need week long child due to me not working full time so we save an extra 900$ in that budget line alone monthly. Look at scheduling; would your place of employment let you work 4 long days and be home 1 day a week? Do you have a job that is flexible on hours you work? Can you work from home some? With creative scheduling we have been able to only require child care 16 hours a week. We still spend 400-500 dollars a month in child care. There are certain things that are worth being frugal one and childcare will NEVER be one of those. I have seen far too many scary things as a social worker, so I will spend more hourly to make sure that the person who is watching my children is THE BEST OF THE BEST. But by cutting down the hours we need childcare from 40 hours to 16 this is where we saw the most significant savings.
- Pay off debt – We can make a smaller household income work because we don’t owe as much debt as we have in the past. We paid off my car and two credit cards and now have more money to pay down other debts. Our goal is to be debt free outside of our mortgage by the end of 2019. This is the step that will open up a lot more freedom for our family, especially down the road! We have been following Dave Ramseys Debt Snowball method and I would highly recommend checking out his books from library or taking a local Financial Freedom class.
- Use a cash system – I will be sharing with you guys more about this in future post but as a quick synopsis – sit down and decide on a predetermined amount of cash for various categories each week – groceries, gas, food, clothes, etc. – and label and put the cash in envelope each Sunday night. When the money is gone for the week, it’s gone. When I have to take out a dollar bill or count change instead of just swiping a card, I find that I am much more cognizant about what I am buying and I think twice.
None of these ideas are earth shattering, but they are EASY and simple action steps that you can implement without major household change. We haven’t had to decrease our standards of living and have enjoyed this year much more than any year past because we have TIME to play and enjoy the simple moments with the boys while they are still little.
What have you done to cut back? What worked and what didn’t?