The View From Ground Level
I was making out the budget for November. Then I realized that Christmas is right around the corner. Once the New Year starts, bloggers everywhere will be doing their Year in Review posts
Here it is, November, and I and started thinking back to last year.
Last November we just finished Financial Peace University and we just had our first successful month of budgeting. It can take a few months to get the hang of it. (Do you budget? How long before you felt like you had a system that worked for you?)
I can see we were spending much more than we needed to back then. - and we thought we were cutting back! We had always been creative. Our "31 Days to a More Organized Life" series could have also been called 31 Ways to a More Frugal Life.
We have half the income we had a year ago,
but we have better tools.
1. We save on groceries.
We intentionally watch for sales and stock up when we can. (I've stopped using the term "stockpiling" because after the TLC couponing show people seem to think it means fill your garage to the rafters with stuff you'll never use in this lifetime.) You've seen our pantry. I only buy things our family will use. And, I buy whatever amount I expect us to use between now and the next time it will go on sale. You get a feel for whether that means a month or 3 months. Last week I bought Barilla pasta for 27 cents a pound. (The store had it on sale for 77 cent and there was an internet coupon for 50 cents off. I do not clip more that 1 or 2 coupons a week - most of the time I do not use coupons at all.
2. We cook with inexpensive - and very flavorful - cuts.
Looking back to our budget amounts for food and restaurants - I'm amazed that we spent that much last year. We were still very far below the national average. (In August of 2012, Gallup showed Americans spending $151 a week on food. Higher incomes averaged $180 a week). This year we are spending even less. You know we are big fans of the wonders of slow cooking and how it saves us money while tasting great, too. We use our slow cooker in the summer and now it's Dutch oven season. This week we made a beef roast and an amazing veggie soup. (I'll be sharing the soup soon.)
3. We save on utilities, too.
We've learned the power of friendly negotiation - where each party comes out feeling it was a win for them. We don't burn bridges. We keep business cards and write notes on the back for next time. We decided we were paying to much for our garbage service - we were using the one the village had negotiated a contract with. Hubby made it his mission to find something better. First, he drove around town writing down the phone numbers on the dumpsters in the area. Then he called each one. He ended up cutting our bill down to one-third and he signed a 3 year contract locking in that rate. As a bonus, it was a small local company and we like helping out both small and local. They wanted our business and to know they would service us for a long time. We wanted reliable service at a reasonable rate that wasn't going up. Win-win.
4. We understand the importance....
of customer retention and how costly it is for a company to acquire new customers.
More importantly, they understand it, too.
For example, last we we went took a trip to our local store and renegotiated our phone/movies/internet service and lowered it by $50/month for the next 12 months. Yep - you really can do that. Our phones and the rest were past their contracts so the ball was in our court. Six months ago, when I knew I was going to be laid off, we went in a negotiated a lower rate - without signing a contract. This time we negotiated for a larger rate and we signed a 1 year agreement to lock in those rates.
5. We build relationships.
We are proponents of small businesses so we frequent the same local businesses over and over. They know us when we visit. We also understand the importance of cash - especially when working with a sole proprietor - not only in terms of negotiation, but also that it's nice to help them cut down on their expenses by avoiding costly transaction fees. Recently I pulled out a debit card at the local Mexican place and our teenager reminded me it would be nicer to use cash for that family-owned business. Smart kid.
I have no idea what the next year will look like. This year tore us up emotionally and financially. We lost a loved one and later a job. We've found our footing but usually we were on our knees. God gave us provision through friends, unexpected checks in the mail, and lots of patience and grace. I found a new job and it's better than I ever could have imagined. But, our bottom line stayed very low. It's okay - we're kind used to that now. One things is for certain, even with half the income, we're at a better place financially than we were a year ago. We'll see what next year holds. I'll be keeping my eyes on the horizon.
How are you doing in this economy?
Are you seeing an upturn?
What are you doing to help keep costs down?