Typically, in the winter, my husband has down time with his job during which his hours are cut or when he is laid off for a period of time. I have to budget accordingly so we can pay our bills. This past year, in addition to his working fewer hours, we also had a baby in December, which meant we also had to pay a deductible for labor and delivery and budget for time off work for me. I had to make pennies stretch…and stretch far. By planning well in advance, saving money, sticking to a tight budget, and stockpiling, we were able to survive on a $100 a month grocery budget, pay all of our bills on time (including our deductible), and even buy Christmas gifts. But how?
To start, I set up multiple savings accounts—one for our Christmas fund, one to help cover bills during the time we would be without or with reduced incomes, and one for our insurance deductible. I set a goal for what amount of money we needed in each account and I started saving.
I started with our bill-paying savings account and put every extra penny we had into that account, because, realistically, it was most important that we paid our bills than it was to buy Christmas gifts. Once we had our goal saved up in that account, I started saving and putting money into our insurance deductible account. Finally, once that was at our target, I saved up for Christmas expenses.
For our Christmas fund, I made a list of holiday-related expenses, such as food to take to family gatherings, cards, postage, and transportation costs, as well as a list of persons for whom we needed to buy gifts. I set a goal of $650.00 to pay for everything and then I found ways to make it work: I bought some of my toddler’s gifts at garage sales. I cut back on the amount I spent on the children’s gifts. I got several smaller cost items so they would have several gifts to open and then I got a family gift that everyone could enjoy. Instead of spending a lot of money on cards, I sent out Christmas cards that I bought at a garage sale. They weren’t the prettiest cards in the world, but the sentiment was the same.
In addition to saving money ahead of time, I also stockpiled. When our local grocery store had a blow out sale, I hit it hard and stockpiled discounted canned goods and cereal. When I was grocery shopping throughout the year and found a sale on pantry items or freezer safe items, I stocked up. We bought part of a cow from someone at a discount because they did not like the taste of the meat. I also filled the freezer with freezer meals I made so that during the hard months, we would be less likely to want to eat out. As we needed necessities like toothpaste, cotton swabs, dental floss, deodorant, and toilet paper, instead of buying one item at a time, I bought three and stored them away in our linen closet for use at a later time. During our “poor” months, we used quite a bit of our stockpile, but I was able to feed our family on a $100 per month grocery budget by only having to buy a few fresh produce items and milk.
We made it through those tough months successfully. Christmas was a joyous holiday, especially since we had been blessed with the wonderful gift of our baby girl’s healthy arrival a week before Christmas. We were able to pay our insurance deductible with money we had saved and were able to pay all of our bills on time. I am hopeful we will not ever be in a position to be so strapped financially again, but, if we are, with a bit of hard work, some budgeting, saving, bargain hunting, and shopping at garage sales, I know that we can make it through. I am confident that because of my experience, I can help my clients find a budget that can work for them, too.
by Megan Dennis, W M Law Attorney