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This month I will be featuring a Guest, Mandy White, in her Series of “What to Do When End’s Don’t Meet”.
*Update 9/26/16: This is now condensed to one very long post instead of a 3 part series*
A little bit about Mandy. She is an amazing wife and mother living in the Hot, but beautiful Arizona. Mandy is the one who has helped me the MOST with food storage and frugal living tips! Any questions I have, she’s the gal! Not only that, but so many family and financial tips also. If I have a question, and need different opinions, Mandy is ALWAYS one of my go-to-gal!
Now… back to the post…”What to do When Ends Don’t Meet”
It can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming when you have worked diligently to create a budget for your family, and that budget makes it very clear that your income is going to fall short of your needs. I will go over 8 things you can do if you find yourself frustrated that your carefully crafted budget is telling you that you have too much month and not enough money.
1. Remember Winston Churchhill’s
great speech given in October 1941: “never give in, never give in, never, never, never- in nothing, great or small, large or petty- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
It can be very tempting to rip up your budget and throw it out t he window when it doesn’t work. It can be even more tempting to rely on the credit card “just this once”. Don’t do it! Never give in! I have personally fallen into this trap, and I know from personal experience that it only makes things harder in the end. Instead, focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
2. Assess the Situation
You need to understand what is going on and why, in order to know how to fix it. Ask yourself the following and answer honestly–
- “Is this a temporary problem or a long-term issue?” If it is something temporary, like a couple of unexpected trips to the doctor’s office, then you can pull the money from savings to cover the expenses. THEN repay it to yourself as soon as you are able. If being short each month is the result of something long-term, like a job change, then your entire budget may need an overhaul.
- “How short of money are we?” This is very, VERY important to know. You can’t fix something if you don’t know how broken it is. There is a BIG difference between regularly being $20 short and being $500 short. Be honest with yourself so you can actually FIX the problem instead of applying a band-aid to a budget that needs surgery.
- “Is our budget realistic?” You will only set yourself up to fail if you create a budget that your family can’t live with. The Internet is replete with stories of bloggers living off of practically nothing for food or utilities, but be extremely cautions as you read these. Often, their budget amounts are completely unsustainable long-term, especially as kids grow and prices rise. You need to calculate what your family needs. Be thrifty, and be wise, but be practical. Don’t let your family suffer just so you can say that you are “making it work” on a tiny budget.
- “Is there anything I’m overlooking?” Your budget is realistic, with amounts that are neither too high, nor too low; and your income is adequate to cover your budget. Yet you are still going over-budget every month, then there is a good possibility you haven’t budgeted enough for non-monthly expenses. Examples of these include: birthdays, Christmas, family outings, car maintenance (this one gets me every time!) or back-to-school expenses.
3. Seek Out Alternatives and Be Open to Change
Get creative in working to make ends meet. This is hard, I will admit, but absolutely necessary if you find yourself unable to make ends meet on a regular basis. You have to be willing to change your habits, and find less expensive alternatives.
Goodwill is a great example. I love Goodwill, but I didn’t used to. I had never shopped there, until a friend who often shopped there offered to go with me one Saturday several years ago. I’m so glad she did! I thought I was a great bargain shopper, sticking to the clearance racks at Target, but I quickly learned I had a long ways to go. My kids’ blue jeans? $2.50 on Half Price Day. Me not being cranky at my son when he rips a hole in the knee of his jeans playing soccer at school? Worth every penny I didn’t spend at a regular store, even if I had gotten them on clearance! You can find more than just clothes, too.
Other creative solutions for freeing up some money include:
- Go an entire month without spending any money aside from regularly-occurring monthly bills like rent or insurance. Make a game of using up leftovers and things from the pantry and freezer. When we did this, we gave ourselves a small amount for milk and fresh produce. You get to set the rules that work for you, but be as strict as you can be. The point is to use what you already have as much as you possibly can. Jessica Fisher of Good Cheap Eats does a great job of eating down the pantry and freezer twice a year. Check out her posts under the heading “Pantry Challenge” if you need inspiration.
- Use real plates instead of paper places, real cups instead of plastic or paper cups, and real hand towels instead of paper towels. Often the expense of purchasing these items is recouped within the first month or two of not having to buy their disposable version.
- Seek out free or inexpensive versions of your favorite activities. Find out if your friends are willing to trade babysitting so you can go get a cheap ice cream cone for date night one week, and they do the same the next week. Or find some Free Date Night Ideas to try out.
- Shop at your local dollar store for some of your groceries. Just last week, I stopped in for a package of hamburger buns, and discovered they had just gotten in 4-packs of Dannon Greek yogurt. The time before, I lucked into big boxes of Chex cereal. If your store stocks groceries, it’s worth checking out whenever you are in the area.
- Get movies or TV shows from your local library instead of Netflix, Redbox, or cable.
- Ask friends and family if you can pick in-season fruit from their trees. I picked lemons at my parents’ house last week, mixed the juice with sugar, and froze it. The kids have had so much fun making lemonade for a treat by only adding water to the concentrate.
4. Distinguish Between Needs and Wants
There is a reason that nearly all finance gurus mention “need vs. want” all the time…it is one of the most important things you can do to make ends meet, but also one of the most difficult when you feel like you have already sacrificed so much to make your budget work. Sometimes, realizing that something is not a true “need” requires a major shift in thinking, and, just like #3, requires being open to change.
Try living on one car
I have a really good friend that has helped me to come to understand this in a new way. A few years ago, her husband got a new job a few miles from their house, and she became a stay-at-home mom. They decided to sell their second car. Every day, her husband either a) bikes to work, b) she wakes up early, loads the kids in the car, and drops him off, or c) she plans her day to not need the car so he can take it. She readily admits that it was quite an adjustment and took a few months to get used to, and that sometimes it can be challenging. However, she also is very grateful for the money that it freed up in their budget.
Re-evaluate your cell phone
Another topic people generally dismiss without giving it the thought it deserves is their cell phones.
Do you need as much data as you are using?
Do you really need to stream video on your phone when you aren’t connected to wi-fi, or is it just convenient?
If you are already paying for home Internet service, wi-fi routers are reasonably priced, and will more than pay for itself within a few months. You can set your phone to use your home wi-fi, and lessen your data package. While you are at it, make sure it is set to connect to the wi-fi at work, school, or anywhere else you often go.
Did you know that most smart phones have a feature under the data or Internet settings that will block all cellular data once you reach the threshold you choose?
Set it for less than your data package (not exactly at your data limit since phones and providers track data use differently), and you won’t have to worry about overage charges.
One word of cation: if you share your data package with other people, the data limit is per phone not per account. You should set each users phone accordingly so that the combined total data threshold of the phones on your plan doesn’t exceed your data package. Also, you can set up text or email alerts within your service provider’s account to let you know when you have used 50%, 75%, or more of your data. This feature is great, and saved us overage charges a while back when the wi-fi on my husband’s phone accidentally got turned off and we didn’t know it.
5. Shop Less
This is pretty self explanatory, but it is absolutely worth repeating. The less you set foot in a store, including Amazon and even Goodwill, the less money coming out of your wallet. Do NOT shop for recreation or to get out of the house! Go on a walk; take the kids to the library or the park; visit friends or relatives. Shopping out of boredom leads to finding “great deals” on things you don’t need. And those purchases add up.
6. Write Things Down
Writing down things as you plan saves a lot of time, energy, and money. My favorite things to write down are:
- Meal Planning– If you write down your meal ideas, you know what you are making and when, so you can get stuff out of the freezer in plenty of time for it to defrost. You are less likely to pick up a cheap pizza if you have a plan for dinner, and the ingredients ready to go. You also know exactly what you need to add to your grocery list so you don’t buy things that you don’t need.
- Shopping Lists– Not writing down what you need at the store leads directly to buying things you don’t need and forgetting the things you do need. Ask me how I know!
- Back to School Needs– At the start of each summer, the kids and I take a day and go through everything in their closets, and I mean everything! They try on each item, and we decide if it will still fit come August or not. If the condition of the item is “school appropriate”, ie: no rips, holes, or major stains, then I make a list. I write down how much of each article of clothing each child needs, and what sizes. This accomplishes two things: 1) I can take my time shopping over the course of the summer and not end up having to pay extra because I need something right away. 2) The kids and I both know how much we need to buy, thus avoiding buying too much of one thing (usually shirts) and not enough of something else.
When things are tight, and you don’t have enough money to go around, it is essential that you prioritize. You have to ask yourself if you need something right now, or if it can wait. It is imperative that you answer honestly and not let your wants trump your needs. (See action step #4)
A really simple example to illustrate this principle of idea is this: You have a major school report due. Is it more important to buy printer ink right now, or printer paper right now? Both are necessary for the printer to work. But if you are completely out of one and merely low on the other, then the one you are out of is your priority.
Get professional help
Dave Ramsey is a personal finance professional, and uses the phrase “below the line” to help establish your budget priorities. Click HERE for link. The concept is very simple:
On your budget, list your tithes, shelter (including utilities), food, basic clothing, and transportation expenses (like gas or bus fare, not a giant car payment). Then, in order of importance, list all of your other bills. After whatever bill you run out of money on, you draw a line on your budget paper. Anything that comes after the line you have drawn is “below the line” and will have to wait to be paid.
This is a good way to make sure your priories are in the right order, and to see how short of money you are.
8. Get your Family on Board
If you are trying to fix a problem with your finances without the support of other people in your household, then you are setting yourself up for failure. I know that sounds harsh, but it is true!
Shortly after my husband and I got married, we got a puppy.
The first few times I took her on a walk. About halfway home, she would lay down and refuse to take another step. This taught me two things.
1) Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Puppies can only walk so far before they get worn out. It didn’t take long before I learned to shorten our walks.
2) Once she laid down, my only options to get home was to pick her up and carry her. It’s a good thing she wasn’t very heavy at that age, and we were only a few blocks from home.
These lessons relate to getting your family on board to make ends meet.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations for them.
If you suddenly announce that your family will be going without something that is a well-loved staple in your home, you are setting them and yourself up for failure. If you truly feel that there is a major financial change that needs to be made, counsel with your family, and make the change in small steps.
I felt it was important to reduce the amount of meat my family eats for both health and budget reasons. Since I am the primary cook, I took it slow, and sought my family’s input. We have made this change work, but it took a team effort and willingness on everyone’s part to try new things in order to figure it out. Making a change and demanding that everyone comply only leads to disharmony and hurt feelings.
Families are a lot heavier to carry than a 3 month old puppy. If someone refuses to do their part, you need to have a conversation and figure out whats going on.
Working together is the only way to have lasting budgetary change and make ends meet.
Challenge: Take an honest look at the things Mandy talked about today. Ask yourself questions. Take notes on things you want to fix. Post in the comments below one thing you are going to work on to keep yourself accountable.
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate link disclosure here.