Monday, January 02, 2012

Money Monday: January 2, 2012

Happy New Year, one and all! And before I get all mercenary and self-absorbed with the money-thing – may 2012 bring peace, love, joy and plenty to you, one and all!

The last quarter of 2011 went by in a blur for me. It was definitely a one damn thing after another kind of quarter, both at work and at home. But in the back of my mind, the fact that my current contract expires on March 30 keeps repeating over and over. Not that I’m counting or anything, but there are precisely seven more paychecks coming before this chapter closes and the Next Big Thing begins.

I started looking at the numbers during the Thanksgiving holiday, but quickly abandoned the project when I realized that I was not coming at it from a particularly good head-space; I was moving fast into either being angry, or silly; playing the blame-game about every last penny spent or deciding that every last penny spent was vital, absolutely a non-starter for things to cut.

And I always call December a ‘no budget’ month – which is not < I>entirely true because of course I still have a budget…but I try not to set goals and get all nit-picky while Christmas shopping is in its final days.

It’s just not worth it, you know? I’m going to make myself crazy(er), which by extension means making the whole family crazy, and in the end it does no good – I’m too discombobulated to do good work on that front until after the tinsel and eggnog has been retired for another year.

Which leads me to today, the first Monday of the new year – when indeed the eggnog has been drunk, the Christmas tree de-ornamented, and I’m staring down a new ‘season’ of this full-body-contact sport called Life.

Thanks to the initial pass at number-crunching I’d already done, I’m already uncomfortably aware that we’ve got a lot of…um…fluff in the budget. Monthly charges for this-n-that, So Forth and So On and Miscellaneous Expenses.

When I find myself wondering why I never seem to have any money at the end of the month – this is the stuff that answers the question. Seldom anything Big! and/or Dramatic!...usually a bunch of little stuff that adds up over the course of the month.

But, a lot of it kind of settles in under the ‘sacred cow’ category for either myself or the husband; things that we may acknowledge are adding up to significant amounts of money, but which we will argue, vehemently, aren’t “that” big a deal and/or provide “that” much value in return for us.

It’s particularly hard for me to bring up things that are “his.” He isn’t a guy who is constantly charging out there buying thousands of dollars in power tools or gun safes; he has pretty sane and steady wants, and very seldom runs up saying he neeeeeeds this or that or the other thing.

Lately, he’s been talking a lot about one of our Someday Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If items – which is to move to a place with a little more land around it. Not 160 acres in the middle of nowhere or anything like that, but maybe five to ten acres within reasonable distance of the Amtrak line back to the city.

Prices are really good right now, and will probably stay that way for quite a while to come; but we’re in a really bad position to take advantage of them. We’re upside down on the current house (ugh), still paying things off, and every single month I’m ending up practically at a net-zero in terms of income v. expenses.

Last week, we got to have a dinner out; it’s rare for us to have more than a quick walk out for lunch on the days we’re both in the office, and was a great treat to be able to talk about anything for more than a few minutes without being interrupted by a child or a coworker.

Finally, on the drive home, I asked the tough question: How much do we really want that house on a little land? Because (I continued, awkwardly), when I looked at how we spend our money lately…it would appear that we value things like monthly massages, nail appointments, cable TV and tablet network plans way more than we value that Someday Awesome home on a few acres of range, where the deer eat the broccoli all day.

Plus, it simply won’t be possible to keep spending this way when I’m not working – even if it is only for a few weeks while I look for the next contract.

Just sayin’.

{awkward pause goes here}

After a moment of prayerful consideration (or possibly mourning for the Impending Budget Cut Victims), he opined that we should indeed look at where we are currently spending, and consider each line item’s importance in that way: Is this monthly expense more important than being able to make that move we keep saying would be Awesome?

Which leads me now to my task for this week: This week, I’m going to pull together a spending report for the last three months. Ignoring the things that are Christmas / Holiday spending, I’m going to get an idea of the average monthly spending for everything from cable to haircuts.

And then, I’m going to look for areas where we could cut back – without treating anything as a sacred cow, without whining about how we neeeeeeed this or that emotionally, or how it’s such a good deal, really, when you think about it.

We’re hurtling toward a period without my income; whether it will be brief or prolonged, we have no way of knowing. Sure, I have a skill set that is in demand and fairly highly paid; and usually, as long as I’m willing to make that long commute, I don’t have a lot of trouble finding a new contract.

But nothing is guaranteed. (Including my willingness to make the commute. Ahem.)

We need to make sure we’re ready to handle it, whether it is short or long in duration. We need to be able to get by on just the one income, and it would be ideal if we could not merely get by, but also put by – if we can reduce our spending enough to also be saving, we’ll be able to get to that bigger goal that much sooner.

And also…I need to do much better on the “dinner” front. Holy smokes, meals have gotten weird around here. Frequently, “dinner” equates to “forage in the fridge, find something to eat.” Between the family not eating together and the tendency for the “snack” foods to be substituted for “actual” foods by parents and kids alike (oops), we’re eating unhealthy and expensive junk instead of more cost-effective, actual food.

TO WHICH END…I propose the following menu for this week. (Wish me luck. I need to get this all assembled and ready to go today, or it will not end up on the table during the week!)

Monday: Pork chops, gratin potatoes (leftovers from the weekend) and corn (also leftovers)

Tuesday: Lemon chicken breasts, rice and spinach (from the garden – good old California!)

Wednesday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas and carrots

Thursday: Spaghetti night (woooo, easy!)

Friday: Beef roast, roasted potatoes and green beans

Saturday: Beef pot pies (leftover roast)


Tara said...

Yet another post of yours I read while nodding my head and muttering "yup!". I love the "blank slate"ness of New Years', but it can be awfully daunting as well, right?

RobinH said...

Your dinner menus are making me hungry. Just sayin'.

Steph B said...

Good post. We've managed for almost 20 years now on just the hubby's income, and we do okay. The thing is, we could do GREAT if we were disciplined about things. His salary is fine, it's our spending habits that cause problems. I'm going to be doing some hard thinking about this whole topic, and trying to come up with ways to save instead of spend. I think I can, I think I can....

Colleen Mole said...

Yeah! Return of Money Monday! I too am on the cut the budget rampage for the New Year (we have not called it the "R" (resolution) word as this most likely will jinx it)(Although I am relieved this years resolution has nothing to do with me trying to shed a few pounds). Our motivation instead is to keep a few bucks for a house down payment. Hubby is highly motivated to not live with his MIL anymore!

PipneyJane said...

Ahhh.... the "B" word. I need to rework ours since DH's job went south before Christmas which leaves me paying all the bills. Wish I could magic up some extra income from somewhere. :o)

Welcome back "Money Mondays"!

- Pam

PipneyJane said...

So how did the week's menu go? Curious minds want to know.

- Pam