While politicians in DC wrangle with cutting the federal budget, I’m trying to do the same thing here at home. It ain’t easy. I suggested to Xy we might cancel our newspaper subscription — she was not happy about that. Well, neither am I, exactly. But a part of me relishes the challenge.
First a glimmer of good news. Because of some sort of federal social security rollback, my monthly take-home pay just increased by $72.33. I guess Xy’s should have increased as well, but it’s actually gone down $1.50. Not sure why. But it’s still a net gain of $70.83.
Also, we were overpaying by $100.00 per month on our car loan. This was an intentional decision on my part, in order to pay it down more quickly. Same with our house note. But in the interests of cash flow, we can just pay the minimum on both of these. Of course, our monthly home escrow payment is going up by approximately $250.00, which is what precipitated this sense of impending doom in the first place.
So let’s do away with those two overpayments, combine the $70 take-home boost, and just effectively cancel out the escrow increase.
Awesome. I feel better already.
It’s smoke and mirrors, of course. Remember we were already having trouble making it to the end of each month. We do need to tighten the belt.
Here’s some things we can’t cut.
Cable television: Don’t have it, can’t cut it.
Home phone: Don’t have one, can’t cut it. (But see below.)
Second car: Don’t have one, can’t sell it.
Theater: Haven’t really gone since our daughter was born.
Here’s a breakdown of things we could cut completely.
Books: I’d estimate my monthly book club habit costs me around $12.00 on average. Sometimes we read cheap paperbacks, sometimes expensive hardcovers, and there’s quite a range between. I should be able to borrow most of these books from the library. I work above a library, after all, and there’s always interlibrary loan. I just submitted my first request, for Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson. As much as I like to support my local bookseller, I need that $19.99 this month.
Netflix: $14.99. Easy to cut.
Times-Picayune: $18.95. Vociferous objection from Xy duly noted.
Garden: Our community garden membership is $20.00 per month. Xy does a little work each month, and we get a basket of veggies and fresh eggs delivered on our door once or sometimes twice a month. I love that we’re getting locally grown organic food. I love the entrepreneurship of the guy who started the gardens. I love the educational aspect for our daughter. I really hate cutting this, because I think the food baskets are worth almost $20 in and of themselves, but perhaps not quite.
Yard: I’ve been paying a guy $35.00 to cut our lawn. Sometimes that adds up to $70.00 a month in the summertime when the grass goes twice as fast. It’s not that I’m lazy — really — but we don’t have a mower, and we don’t even have a good place to store a mower. I’m pretty sure a certain friend and neighbor will let me borrow his. I’ll be sure to bring it back right away. Promise. Also, our yard needs a little more attention, plus the exercise will be good for me.
Yoga: $15.00 per lesson at four per month = $60.00. A shame to cut this, but OK.
How much have we saved so far? I make it about $160.94.
So much for that. Now here’s some opportunities for saving rather than cutting:
Internet: Looks like we can save $13.00 if we switch from Cox Preferred to Cox Essential. That would drop us to a max download speed of 12 Mbps to 3 Mbps. But so what? I’m pretty sure we don’t get 12 Mbps during peak hours anyhow.
Grocery: Just as a baseline, we spent approximately $1,032.69 on groceries over the past month. Xy estimates that by hitting the Sav-A-Lot weekly we could save $80-120 per month on food costs. Let’s aim for a nice round $100.00.
Our total in now $273.94 per month. Hooray, this is starting to add up. That, more or less, may be what we need to make up the gap we have at the end of some months.
I was going to say that we don’t go out to eat much, if at all, but I note we’ve spent $116 or so at restaurants over the past month. One night the Sewerage & Water Board shut off water to our house as they fixed a blown main and so we went out and ended up spending $60 that we didn’t have. So that kind of thing has to be reined in.
Here are some costs that don’t appear negotiable, at least not immediately:
Energy: Hard to say, because it fluctuates, and we just added insulation under the house a few months ago. When we had our bill leveled it came out to $188/month. We keep our thermostat at a reasonable level, in my opinion, so I don’t see this one changing. Entergy solicited me to try SmartView yesterday, which is a no-cost pilot program to help people understand (and possibly reduce) their electricity usage — but we earn way too much to qualify.
Daycare: $690.00. I’ve realized our primary challenge is to get through the next four months. Then our daughter will be out of that daycare forever. We’ll get a bit of relief over the summer, and then the girl will begin Pre-K 3 at Xy’s school. It’s not free, alas, though it should be a bit cheaper than daycare. After a year of that, we hope to enroll her in a Pre-K program at a public school. That’s the plan, anyhow. If that works, our financial situation should improve in 16 months from now.
Cell phones: We pay Verizon $141.92 each month for our two phone plans. I have an unlimited web plan for my Blackberry, which Xy says she likes. A friend of mine suggested we could use an iTouch with Skype and save money, but I’m not convinced that would suit our needs. I’m pretty sure Xy would insist on being able to make an emergency call from the road. Perhaps we could tweak the plans we do have, but I find this awfully confusing. I think we’re locked in these plans until July or maybe May of next year. Maybe I need to call customer service.
Insurance: A friend recommended we get our insurance thru USAA, but since we’re not veterans this would require getting my father or father-in-law to buy some insurance. We could buy the smallest possible plan, say supplemental auto insurance for them, which might be worth it in the long run. Suffice it to say it’s a little complicated but bears further investigation.
I remain open to suggestions from all my friends and family. There is power in collective wisdom.