Developing a family budget is an excellent exercise in humility. I highly recommend it as a way to get your ego in check if you’re feeling overly confident, or just need a quick slap in the face. It’s especially advisable if you or your partner recently lost a job, have massive debt to curb, or are expecting children.
Ok, I’m being a little melodramatic. But seriously, I wonder if I could turn my experience into the preface for an especially terrible Lifetime movie… limited plot, lots of drama, and cheesy hopeful ending.
Creating our family budget almost killed me. Ok, I exaggerate a bit. But mapping out our fixed and discretionary costs on paper, next to the column that shows how much we actually make each month, was terrifying and depressing. I lost my job at the end of December, so I knew this recent re-work of our budget (which we hadn’t touched in months) was going to be a little nerve-wracking, but it was far worse. It was like watching Paranormal Activity where you’re heart is pounding outside of the chest and you keep waiting for something to jump out at you but instead they keep sucking you in further and further until all your blood is in your legs and you’re thinking “I can’t take this anymore! Just get it over with!”
After comparing our income to our fixed costs, we were $6 in the hole. That’s before discretionary costs, people! That’s assuming we never go out to eat again, or hire a babysitter, or go to the movies, or buy a latte. Seeing that ugly truth on paper would make you want to cast Tori Spelling and come up with a great movie title like “Dialing B for Broke,” too.
Ok, so I’m going to grow from this experience, right? After all, this month I am a THRIFTY mom. This isn’t just a challenge, it’s an opportunity. And one thing I love to do is challenge myself. After adding in what my husband and I felt would be reasonable yet conservative discretionary costs, we saw the hole we had to work around. Now it was time to start making the budget cuts.
I thought I was being very careful in grocery shopping in January. I even made 20 freezer meals for $165. But it turns out I still spent several hundred on groceries over the course of the month. This seemed like the obvious first point to tackle. Other line items included lowering the thermostat at home (I already wear a sweater around the house, now it’s going to be a sweater and a robe), less trips to the hair salon, no more pedicures (this breaks my heart but seriously, I can rub my own damn feet), and more date nights at home (probably dining on one of the aforementioned freezer meals).
As sad as I am to lose some of these fabulous perks in life, I try to remind myself that this is temporary. I will have a new job. It might not be until after the baby arrives, but it’s waiting patiently for me somewhere. We will take family vacations again, we will have dress up date nights, we will buy that camper we’ve been dreaming of… it’s just not a priority right now.
And here’s my silver lining. In a way, this experience is bringing our family closer together. Family challenges have a way of uniting and bonding. My husband and I are seeing that first hand. I’m actually excited to be in this with him. I wouldn’t want to be facing this adventure with anyone else. My son doesn’t know any better, but he’s on this family obstacle course too. This is like the Amazing Race, family edition. And we’re here to win.
Suggestions for developing your own family budget? Here are some resources I found online.