Saturday, August 28, 2010

Micro and Macro

I love economic speak.

We were talking about the roles we play in terms of our household finance, and the best description we could find for those roles is micro vs. macro.

I am not a big picture girl. At least, not with my money. But I am working on. It used to be that it was guaranteed if I went into the mall with $60 to spend on something, I'd be walking out with nothing left. If what I was looking for was only $25, I'd get a bonus item. And a latte. Lots of lattes. I'm trying now to save some of the allowance I have for bigger purchases, fun things to do, and yes, the occasional latte.

The way this affects our attitude on finances is that in terms of budgeting for long term/abstract concepts, Ted is very much in command of where our money goes. He is so good at focusing on our long term dreams and making them tangible. He can imagine things, add up the costs, and make a plan that's going to work. He also saw that incorporating me into our household finances was so important, and our jars was the perfect compromise.

The jars give me limits. The boundaries set out are not meant to say "I can't trust you with our money." In fact, it's just the opposite. They play on my strengths. He is saying to me, "Here's our weekly household budget. I know you will provide for us what we need within these means. You will stretch them. You will be creative with them. You will make this household budget go farther than I could ever take it." And he's right. I coupon clip, watch for sales, and get creative on getting the most out of what I am given. He's encouraged me to use my strengths positively for our home. We were lucky to discover that I excel most on the micro scale, and I am blessed with a partner who has a gift for the macro.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Go Go Gadget Creativity!!

We went to a wedding this weekend. It was out of town and involved travelling 5 hours, away from the move in progress at home. Normally for a wedding we make exceptions from our jar money, the wedding gift and associated costs will come from other savings, but this time our wish was to do it all from our normal weekly costs.

This goal we set out with left us only $15 in grocery money when we got back. $15 for three days worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, before we can fill up our jars again and restock the house.

Let me set the scene. My goal as we left for our trip was to consume as much of our perishable food as possible. I hate to think of wasting food, so I carefully planned our meals to try to use everything we had in our fridge. Since we just moved across 3 provinces, we don't have the kind of stocked pantry that a household usually has. There was no bean soup in the back recesses of a cupboard, no Kraft Dinner from a past pregnancy craving. Our shelves are painfully bare, as I didn't have time before we left to stock up on many staples.
On our drive back from the wedding I was talking to Ted about buying groceries, and I told him, "I think we can feed ourselves for three days with this $15." The ideas I kick myself for later. Now under normal circumstances, $15 is quite a lot for two people over three days. It's the unstocked pantry that made me start to second guess my challenge. I did have a few supplies, carrots and a head of lettuce in the fridge, half a box of pasta and rice in the pantry.

I hit the grocery store, studied the weekly specials, and came out with 3 days worth of groceries for $15.27. (Change scrounged from car/bottom of purse)

That grocery trip definitely struck me that if I can pull of three days for $15, where on earth is the rest of my budget going? Yes, babies are expensive, and yes, I am missing our usual staples of eggs and milk, but I wonder if half of what I consider "necessary purchases" during the week are in fact really necessary? Do I take my weekly grocery budget to it's limit this week simply because it is there to spend?

I think a key ingredient in maximizing my food budget is creativity. I need to examine exactly how focused I am on taking what's available, what's inexpensive, and what's healthy and combining it with my best ideas and recipes.

Dinner number one for the week:

BBQ chicken breasts with rice and BBQ carrots

Monday, August 16, 2010

Less Blogging

More moving.

Over the past couple weeks we've crossed 2 provinces, stayed in 4 places, and have finally made it into our new house. We have floors to lay, unpacking and organizing and assembling to do, and NO INTERNET.
Will get back to blogging next week!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Building the Budget, Filling the Jars

When I used to hear someone talk about “building a budget” it made me cringe. It sounds like such a gruelling , painful process . I’m not a great number cruncher in that I don’t do well with taking abstract numbers and translating them into a concrete method of living. I married someone who has much more skill in that department, but still for our family, getting disciplined was usually put on the backburner.

Then we found Gail’s interactive budget worksheet online. For Ted, the fill in the blank aspect was really appealing, since we didn’t need to take the time to make our own worksheet in excel. For me, it was appealing because it’s all colour coated and pretty, and suddenly not so scary.

The way that we started was to gather all our bills for the past 6 months, and averaged them. Our heating bill had both summer and winter months in there, so the average gave us a pretty good picture for our year’s spending. Same goes for the electricity. I was pregnant at the time, and soon to go on maternity leave, so we had to calculate our budget based on my mat leave earnings. Had I gone back to work, we would have had to make a second budget at that time.

Once you do all the work of plugging in numbers, at the bottom you are told how much you have to put in your jars. Gail gives the options that if you are left with only $20 in groceries, you need to cut expenses or make more. That’s the hard part to face. Make sure that how the jars are divided is something you can live with week in and week out. If for your family, you need less on transportation, but more in entertainment, you can make adjustments to suit your lifestyle. The bottom line is the bottom line though, and you have to stay within the funds available.

I know that for the foreseeable future, we will be using the jars in our household. They make SENSE, they’re simple, and they’re US. Somehow they’ve just become an intrinsic part of how we run our household, and what we aim for in our lives. They remind me of the goals we have every time I walk by them. We get SO many comments on them when people come over. They open up conversations about money. They stare you in the face when you wish they wouldn’t. They make it clear that in life, there have to be boundaries for our own good.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why Put Off Til Tomorrow...

...what you can put off forever??

This line is often (somewhat jokingly) passed around our household. I am a procrastinator. I married a procrastinator. Sometimes we find that even harder than budgeting our money is budgeting our time.

We were trying to figure out today how we actually started with the jars. We had come back from a wedding, we had been talking a lot about money, but Ted had trouble recalling how we came about actually sitting down and working out our first budget. I told him it was a Friday, therefore in our house the Til Debt Do Us Part marathon was on, and we were watching Gail chew out a couple for their outrageous spending habits. (If you've never checked out this show, you seriously have to. She's so REAL about facing the music of your family's finances, and she makes it all make sense.) I remember distinctly Ted just grabbed our laptop, grabbed the bills from the past 6 months, and we just DID it. (I'll come back to what we did in a later post.)

How many things are just brushed to the side in my day to day life? How many of my projects are permanently in the "in progress" stage? We're in the middle of a move, and I'm finally having to face up to those back of closet, buried in basement, back of the mind piles. In our new home, we have a couple targets we want to reach. We are in a much better starting position in terms in terms of organization. We have purged many of the things we have no need for, and we're implementing from day one systems to keep the stuff under control. I've made a commitment to pick just one household project a week to complete. It can be sorting a tupperware bin of old household decorations, reorganizing my cupboards, or writing and addressing my Christmas cards. I think as a result of this my house, my life, and certainly my finances will be in much better shape.