This year, when we moved to Illinois, our income went down a fair bit. That wasn’t a problem--we were very excited that Andy had a paid internship, and my part-time job allowed me to spend lots of time with family. But we did need to adjust our budget.
Nothing too drastic or dire or Oliver-Twisty. We have always had more than enough. We just needed to be a little more careful. We took more time making decisions about purchases. I spent more time each week making a meal plan, and buying only enough food for that week. I realized that I used to grocery shop with a list, but I would buy extra things, just in case. Just in case what, I’m not sure. Mostly to have options, I think. But I would always have too much, and I wouldn’t have a precise idea of where it all was going, and lots of it would go bad. Now I have a better idea of where it’s all going. It doesn’t always work out--unexpected things come up, or I forget about a container of leftovers. But it’s much better than it used to be.
A fun side effect of buying just enough is that often at the end of the week we have to get creative with what we have. A couple weeks ago we had some mangos that were about to go bad, and some chicken, and I found a recipe for a mango curry. Once we ran out of bread but we were eating soup and we wanted some--so I baked it! This also means that random ingredients are getting used up and aren’t expiring way in the back of the cupboard.
Things that we used to just buy (like beer or nice cheese or chocolate or the entire stock of Trader Joe’s) became special treats.
We also stopped buying clothes because we found something on sale that was pretty OK (Target clearance, anyone?). We only bought new things with birthday money or saved clothes budget, and after careful thought that it was a worthwhile purchase. If something wasn’t quite right for some reason, we let it go.
Another way that we have been saving money is through our trash service. In Wheaton, you buy a sticker for a trash pick-up. The stickers cost three dollars. My goal has been to produce less trash so that we have to have a trash pick-up less often. We’re down to one a month. I really like that system, because it encourages me to make less trash since I hate buying things like trash stickers. We also created a compost pile, and it helps that in Wheaton you can recycle just about anything for free.
When we moved here we started driving a lot less. We live right next to the church, so Andy strolls across the lawn, and I work from home. We walk to the library, and most stores we visit often are within a 10 minute drive. I have some extra time, so I’ve been trying to walk more places. A while ago I biked three miles to Target! But I got super lost on the not-well-marked bike trails and wound up biking an extra three miles. Hopefully I’ll get better at it in the future.
So all that to say, we were being very careful with our money. We were making wise choices! We weren’t being wasteful! We were walking and biking more! Life was good!
Then we found out that through a clerical error, we were being underpaid. With no extra work on our part, our income was going up!
That was pretty exciting! But as soon as I heard the news, I got a little nervous. It’s always nice having more money, but I realized that before, I was spending some of my extra money on carelessness. I had enough money that I didn’t have to pay close attention to what I was buying. I could buy a clearance shirt that I didn’t really need or actually want. I could buy food on impulse and not suffer if it spoiled. I wasn’t really worried about the volume of trash I was producing.
With this good news, I didn’t want to lose the care that we had gained in taking care of our money. I wanted to keep the care, AND the extra money.
So we decided to celebrate by taking $100 to Trader Joe’s and buying whatever we wanted (primarily alcohol, cheese, and chocolate), and it’s nice that we can include those items in our lives on a more regular basis.
While those treats are fun, I’m so grateful for the things we learned while tightening our belts. It feels good to take our money seriously so we don’t have to spend it on things like trash stickers and spoiled food. And as we get less wasteful, that opens up the door to spend more money on treats, but also on quality things, on fun things, and on other people. And who wouldn’t want to trade rotten food for Hamilton tickets? It’s like alchemy! It definitely takes more time and effort, but it’s been well worth it so far.