This is not a Wine On Wednesday post. Sorry. Keeping reading though!
Anyone remember Robin Leach and his introduction to each episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? Watching that show as a kid always left me pining for more. More house, more cars, more vacations, more, more, more. Reality always stung a bit after my latest shopping spree and my wallet was empty though.
It took me a long time to realize that keeping up with the Jones’ is no way to live. My husband and I tried to when we were first married. We both drove flashy cars, built a big house out in the suburbs, dined at lots of fancy restaurants in Chicago while we still lived down there. It was great, until the housing market collapsed and we had our first child. Boom. That was a wakeup call. Suddenly, we didn’t know if we could make both car payments. I still had a student loan. Our mortgage felt like this huge burden. Plus, we were down to one income because we agreed that I would stay home with our daughter. We spent many nights tossing and turning wondering if our house would be the next foreclosure in the neighborhood.
After a big dose of humble pie we took a serious look at our expenses. Where was our money going? What can we cut back on short of electricity, diapers and food? We created a monthly budget and set aside one Sunday night a month to go over upcoming expenses and how to pay for them. The best financial advice came from Dave Ramsey’s book: Total Money Makeover. That book has saved us over a hundred thousand dollars since we read it five years ago.
I considered writing this post after the holiday hangover, but I figured there’s never a perfect time to write this so it might as well be now. We’ve learned a lot in the 12 years that we’ve been married. Today, my husband and I pay for our cars with cash, my student loan is long gone, we don’t pay for cable, I share my phone expense with my brother and mom so I’m only paying $30 a month and our grocery bill usually adds up to $120 a week. If we want something, we pay 100% up front. We don’t take out loans and we never have a balance on our credit card. Luckily the credit card was never an issue for us, but that’s not the case for most Americans. Finances are a lot like keeping a healthy diet. You have to be disciplined. Of course, there are times where we spend a little more than we normally do, but then we talk about it and get back on track the next month before the spending goes out of control.
I don’t want to sound preachy or self-righteous. Basically, I just want to share what I’ve learned so everybody can start feeling better about their money situation. Here’s some tips to keep your bank account healthy this Christmas season (and maybe get a better night’s sleep):
- If relatives ask for gift ideas for the kids, see if they would like to contribute whatever they are comfortable adding to pay for extra cirricular activities. We’ve done this for our daughter’s birthdays too. It’s helped to pay for golf and piano lessons. That stuff can add up and it’s way better than another stuffed animal!
- Cut back on those extra coffees from Starbuck’s or Dunkin’ Donuts. You’ve probably seen the math before, but just one of those each week adds up to hundreds of dollars a year. Save that money and throw it in a jar. You can use that for Christmas shopping.
- Skip the picture with Santa. We used to spend close to $30 or more to see Santa at the mall and for what? So we could stand in line for over an hour with crabby parents and kids. I’m so over that.
- Don’t skimp on generosity to those in need as well as friends, family and neighbors. It may sound counterintuitive, but giving to others actually brings more money back to you. Even if you don’t believe in karma, there is something to be said for those who won’t share their wealth. Plus, I’m sorry, but being stingy just makes a person look like an a$$hole.
- When you’re hosting and people offer to bring something over, whether it’s during the holidays or any time of the year take them up on it! My brother-in-law always provides the wine for our Christmas gathering and our other relatives never arrive empty-handed with side dishes, appetizers or little hostess gifts.
If you have any of your own ideas, please share them and I’ll add them to this post.
Don’t worry if your holiday spending is still freaking you out. I’ll be back with a post next month to share how to shave down your outstanding bills and start saving for retirement and college. Until then, hang in there and have a Merry Christmas!