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Austerity Program

Blood & Money

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.

Published inFinancial Shit


  1. martin martin

    See if Amica will write your home or car insurance and get a quote. 800-24-AMICA. This is an excellently rated insurance company that saved me tons when I switched to them.

  2. mills mills

    Use TracPhone, no frills but cheap variety of plans cheapest is $20/ for 3 months and 60 minutes you can add minutes separatley

  3. lefawn lefawn

    Your grocery budget is half of my take home pay. I would definitely look at ways to cut that. And you don’t have to live on rice and beans and go without wine. This week alone my husband and I feasted on salmon, brisket, chicken and sausages. You do have to plan a little bit by looking at the circulars, seeing what’s on sell, and making a meal plan, but you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen or clip coupons or live off dented cans.

    Also, we get a box from Hollygrove 2 or 3 times a month and consider it to be well worth it. If you compare the price of those same (organic) items at the grocery store to the cost of a box, the box usually runs a couple of dollars cheaper.

  4. Brenda Helverson Brenda Helverson

    Get a push mower from Sears. It’s good exercise and a lot easier to store. But if you borrow your neighbor’s mower, learn to sharpen the blade (easy) and change the oil every few times. I’m sure that you already know to bring it back full of gas.

    I would not stop the veggie coop. As a long-time reader, I know that you encourage grass-roots efforts like this and surely you can trim $20 off your grocery bill.

  5. HK HK

    I recently cut out just the Sunday edition of the Times-Pic from my weekly subscription. It was a surprise to me that Sunday accounts for almost half the monthly fee. So, maybe that’s a compromise that can work.

  6. mills mills

    I agree your food bill is way too high. Savalot is not fancy Whole Foods but cheap, do you have a Sprouts or Sunflower market? Cheap Whole Foods style stores.

    And going out to eat can wreck a budget. You have to have good places where $10-15 a person works.

  7. Lee Lee

    As with all the others, I agree that your grocery bill is out of control! At maximum I would say we spend $400 a month on a combination of all items we consume regularly.

    Does the TP offer a discount for a “online only” subscription? The HT charges around the same as what you pay, except with an online only account, it’s for a 3 month term.

    I know you’re a heavy internet user B, but 3 meg down is DOUBLE what I have currently. You should be fine with it. And depending on usage on your node, you are correct about not getting what you’re paying for, as all cable internet is networked, not dedicated.

    Regarding the cell phone dealio. I recently showed you my pre-paid iPhone. I must say that the blackberry is the worst phone of all when it comes to the $$$ it takes to use them. Did you know that you cannot connect to a wireless signal with one unless you have a data plan?

    My recommendation for you is this: Analyze your (XY and you) cell phone usage. Figure out just how much data you really use, how many texts you typically go through, etc. If it seems right, put one person on a pre-paid plan, while the other stays on a typical contract plan. We were spending about half of what you are, and are now saving about $40 per month on what we were spending.

    I hope all of our suggestions help with these trying times. Sometimes you’ve just got to do what’s best for the checkbook and not what’s good for you personally.

  8. What Lee said + try making your own pizza at home from scratch. It’s fun, delicious and well worth the effort. Using good bread flour, there are lots of websites that walk you through the whole process. You don’t need a peel. A 500 degree oven and 11×14 black pans will do. Tip on heating cold pizza: put pieces in a frying pan. Keeps the crust crispy.

  9. David David

    Entergy offers bill-leveling. With the service, your monthly bill is constant based on your average prior usage. The number is adjusted up or down annually. Get that if for no other reason than to take the fluctuation out of that bill.

  10. David David

    Also, when I bring beer home, I buy Natty Lite. Why? Well, it tastes good when ice cold. And a tall-boy is $1.29.

    One might think I’ve got lousy taste in beer. But actually I love a high quality beer. I just find the drop off in quality between a fresh keg and the same beer bottled made for an unsatisfying experience. So I quit buying bottled microbrews which put me on the slippery slope to Natty Lite.

  11. Jaime Coffman Jaime Coffman

    I don’t know if your Y has Yoga, but both the Greenwood Comm ctr and Baxter have pretty reasonable rates on Yoga. I read a lot, but don’t buy books… I can actually place holds for new books on line which cuts time too. I also discovered the library has a DVD lending libary–it is $1 per DVD but that is for 7 days, so cheaper than my local video store.

    I used to be insured by USAA as my ex is a veteran, but they were more expensive than a local insurance broker–and after just one hail claim, they increased my annual homeonwers by $400. Good insurance but am not sure it is worth the extra. Is there anyone you could “share” a newspaper subscription? I share with my grandma.

  12. Garvey Garvey

    I’m interested in hearing how you spend $35/day on groceries for a family of three. You should be able to cut that in half. The explanation sounds fascinating.

  13. Jimbo Jimbo

    $35/day for 3 people
    $11.67 per person
    $3.89 per meal

    How are you cutting that in half, Garvey? Eating Alpo twice a day?

  14. Something that has helped me through rough times is keeping track of petty cash. Not too directly, just limiting what I’d take out of an ATM for the month and making it stretch. You may not carry cash, though.

    The groceries -sound- outrageous but they may not be as mad as they seem. If you and Xy both bring lunches (which I think y’all do), that’s money you spend on groceries and not out on fast food. Wish I could take that advice myself more.

    There is no silver bullet-there never is, but little things help. Realizing that you’re in this situation and trying to fix it so that you don’t siphon your savings away until it’s gone is probably the most important thing. Broke you can fix; poor is a state of mind: paycheck to paycheck. And it’s a lot easier to fix it now than it might be otherwise. (I should know. About that I will not go into detail here.)

  15. Lee Lee

    Jimbo, I have a family of 3, and spend way less per person and per meal. Why is the biggest question here. Are groceries more expensive in NOLA than southern Indiana? Is it the fact that I typically chose “generic” or store brands mostly? I don’t know. The thing I do know is that I can fix a decent spaghetti dinner for my family for around $5.00, and we typically have leftovers.

  16. […] the subject of our household finances, a consensus has emerged both in the comments of my recent post and elsewhere: Our grocery bill is out of whack, off the chain, out of […]

  17. Garvey Garvey

    @Jimbo, cold cereal, yogurt, milk, juice, coffee, fruit, and oatmeal for breakfast is about a buck a head, tops. Sandwiches and celery, carrots, etc., for lunch is about the same. A pot roast for dinner plus veggies and a starch, and you’re looking at maybe $8 or $9 for the whole meal, with leftovers. We buy on sale, use coupons, and track prices. We make things from scratch. Anyone with a family who cooks at home knows what I’m saying. No Alpo, bro.

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