Over the years, we heard more and more about the importance of living within our means, and avoiding debt, but as full time students, and then as full time students and young parents with one income (and a meager one at that), it was impossible for us to live without incurring student loan debt. We always asked for the maximum amount allowed, knowing that it would not only pay for books and tuition, but for groceries and rent as well. We didn’t live extravagantly. We mainly lived in poorly kept apartment complexes in one-bedroom units. We made each house as lovely as we could, trying always to leave things better than they were when we found them. We made the very best out of what we had.
That attitude has held over the years. We bought this home after much re-evaluating of what we needed. We started out thinking that we’d build a luxury home in a beautiful neighborhood. Then we talked and decided that we’d buy a pre-built home in that same neighborhood. Then we decided that we didn’t really need those glorious granite countertops, or that lovely guest bathroom. We re-re-evaluated and kept doing so until we managed to become deathly realistic and admit to ourselves and to each other that we really needed to find the worst house in a good neighborhood and fix it up over the years until it eventually would become the home of our dreams.
And luckily for us, we were able to find just the house. But with the fixer-upper of our dreams, we have the bills of our nightmares. We drained our savings on the down payment, then drained our secret savings on “immediate need” fixes, and then even tapped into Grandma’s savings when we found out that we needed to replace the AC and furnace. Consequently, finances have been tighter than ever.
There was a time that we had a little extra cash and were totally debt-free (except for our student loans). It was glorious. We were able to grocery shop and throw caution to the wind. Three kinds of Cap’n Crunch? You bet. The twelve dollar can of Deluxe Mixed Nuts WITHOUT peanuts or almonds as fillers? Throw them in there. And that heaven-sent white bread that melts in your mouth but is still somehow chewy? Wouldn’t think if getting anything else!
But, oh! How times have changed! We now have a food budget. And we’ve been sticking to it for a month. It has been eye-opening and shocking all at once. We have a daily limit. Some days we purposely spend two days’ worth so that we don’t have to go back to the store the next day. And one day we accidently spent four days’ worth, thinking we were spending two days’ worth. That was in the beginning. And it hurt.
The thing about deciding on a budget--and sticking to it--is that it has made us aware of expenditures in a way that we have NEVER been before. We scrutinize every purchase now. And we buy a LOT of generic food items. Growing up the way we both did, that’s what we lived on. Generic bran flakes. Generic soda. Generic chips. Generic everything. And because we grew up that way, we vowed never to inflict such injustice on our children. They would NEVER know the taste of store-brand anything. Until now. And we understand why our parents bought generic brands. And we are ROCKING our budget.
What we’re doing is taking cash out on the day we get paid. Enough for the two weeks until we’re paid again. I partition the cash out into one of these things, each section labeled the day that the cash is intended for.
Another side-effect of maintaining this budget, is that we save waaay more food items than we used to. I have always put left-overs in the freezer. But once there, they’re often forgotten. But being so aware of how precious our funds are has made us acutely aware of what food we have available in our home, and we end up actually eating what we have. Even with things like cilantro, we used to cut off only the few sprigs we needed for our meal, and then would throw the rest in the garbage--after all, cilantro is less than 70 cents a bunch. But now we chop up the remaining herb and freeze it. Every little bit we save means that next time we need it, we don’t have to buy it.
Today was Fast Sunday. On this day each month, we’re asked to give a donation to help those in our community who aren’t as fortunate as we are. It’s supposed to be the amount that we would normally pay for the meals we skip during the fast we concurrently participate in. For the first time since I can remember, it was an actual sacrifice. Normally, we pay a set amount and don’t think twice about it. Today, we actually took money from our allotted budget--truly the money we would have spent on those meals-- and paid that as our Fast Offering. We felt the sacrifice. And it felt wonderful.
This attitude of spending less on food has spilled over into other areas of our life. We’re now much more conservative in other money matters. In most cases, we can do without. I mean, do I really need that 34th pair of darling ballet flats? Probably not.
Even within just a month, we’ve seen the benefits of sticking to a budget, and we’re developing these four habits that President Clark mentioned. As an added benefit, aside from spending less, we’ve been able to recognize the blessing that we have of not knowing true hunger. We treat our food with more respect and allow less of it to go to waste. And we always have enough. And miraculously, we’ve been blessed in ways that on the surface don’t look like they relate to a food budget. It is a true testimony that there’s a spiritual blessing for every temporal sacrifice.
How lucky we are to have what we have. No. Not lucky. Blessed.