Saturday, June 21, 2008

Living within one's means - or trying to!

To say my husband and I have struggled financially would be an understatement. It seems like ever since we got married, there has been one financial trial and tribulation after another. Whether is was major credit account debt, or one of us losing our job, or a major medical bill or an auto accident, there always seemed to be some big money-sucking monster waiting around the corner.

In October 2001, I lost my job. September 11 was rough on the airlines and postal industries - our two largest clients. Hubby and I were devastated, but we had the requisite six months of savings in the bank so we thought we were OK. I mean, come on - I'm smart, not horrible looking, do great work and clean up well. I seriously thought I would have another marketing job in no time.

Of course things didn't turn out the way we planned.

You know, we burned through that money fast - way faster than six months - and eventually we wound up filing bankruptcy.

Wow - that is out there in the Universe now.

We filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which means we are paying our creditors off (if they filed a claim). We have about 18 months left to go in our plan. I don't want to tell you the extreme about of debt we were in. Suffice it to say we were young (ok - not so young), stupid and lived a lot in the moment. We were a disaster waiting to happen.

My friend Lorrie turned me on to the CNN Money website, and today I found this article about 10 families living without credit card debt. This has been Carl and I since roughly 2002. While it IS hard, especially saving for something big, there have been a lot of good things coming out of this.

  • Both our cars are paid for. No big monthly payments for us. Even with the high gas prices, we are saving a little because our cars are paid off.
  • We HAVE to save for large purchases now. Before, we had absolutely no problem opening up another credit account or a three years-no interest plan for furniture or appliances. Now, we get TOTAL satisfaction walking into a store and paying CASH for large purchases. BONUS - you can do a lot more negotiating when you have the cash in hand. We saved about 15% on our suite of leather furniture for the den, and my living room furniture we saved about 12%. That's cash back in my pocket.
  • Shopping sample sales at work has been a bonus too. After 9/11, I was working in the corporate area of retail operations. One of the perks of the job was having access to furniture and home decor at sample sale prices - usually cost or significantly below. My entire house is beautifully decorated thanks to The Bombay Company and Pier 1. The trick, of course, is not to buy a sample simply to buy it - you gotta have a plan. (Confession time: a LOT of times, I had no plan.)
  • ING Direct is a great way to save for the future. When I first signed up for an account, the interest rate was about 4.5%. Now it's about 3%, but you get that on ANY amount in your account. Plus they pay you DAILY, so you can literally see it adding up. Sign up and make a deposit and they usually give you $25. Sign up under me, and I get an extra $10 in my account. Then set up a weekly or bi-weekly draft from your checking account and let it be. In no time, you will be rolling in the cash.
  • Dollar Stores - I used to think they were trashy and only for really poor people. Then I went in and was actually AMAZED at the things you can find for about a buck. Name brand shampoos and conditioners, food wrap and containers, scrapbooking stuff, candles, detergent and even toothpaste. Of course some of the stuff is made who-knows-where, but if you look you can find all kinds of bargains.
  • Farmers Markets - one of the best places to find the tastiest LOCAL produce is your farmer's market. If you are close to a big city, there is usually one around somewhere. Here you find freshly picked, locally-grown goodies like beans, tomatoes, peaches, onions, etc. They taste WAY better than what you can get in a grocery store, and you are helping your local farmer stay in business.
  • Friends with chickens - yes, you read that right. When I worked at Bombay, my buddy Steve would bring me some eggs from his chickens. They were always wonderfully fresh with bright yellow yolks. Best part was they were FREE! Sometimes, chickens lay so may eggs people will practically THROW them at you!!!

With the economy today being what it is (and with me being currently unemployed), families really need to find ways to cut costs. Staying afloat is a full-time job for me right now, but we are managing OK. I won't say living without credit is a cake walk - it's not. There are still times I walk into a store and want to buy the latest and greatest (I really want a WII and WII Fit), but those feelings are being tempered with a little bit of wisdom now.

Hey - don't let my mistakes and misfortune become yours. My dad always said that if you lived below your means, you'd always have money in the bank. Boy howdy, it might have taken me 45 years, but that has finally sunk in. Thanks Dad!


scriggle said...

We are getting there .... At least with the credit cards. Cars aren't paid for - that's step 2.

Hello...My name is Kareah... said...

What farmers market do you go to around here? I'm trying to move in a positive direction of supporting local growers and don't know where to go...Help!