This is Eli

A blog about Eli. A blog about survival – and by that, I mean life!

One day at a time

Making a budget was the last thing on earth I felt like doing tonight.

A few days ago, Mark sent me a text. And by a few days ago, I mean, roughly 10 days ago, he sent this text:

“We have to do our February budget.”

No, we didn’t really want to face the stark financial reality of our lives this Monday evening. Yet, somehow, we just knocked our meager little ledger out. We are a few weeks late. But, better late than never.

BTW, I don’t know that it’s correct to call a budget a ledger. It sounds good, though. Great word, ledger. We’re going to go with it.

I’m not the budgeting type, really.

I’ve been surprised that having a budget works as well as it does to curb my spending. At least — at first.

Each month, I start of with the best intentions. By the end of the month, just a few measly weeks out from my fresh little shiny budget, I start to slip. Oooh, a little of this or that here or there won’t hurt. Then, it does.

The month turns over and we’re given a chance to start again.

And here we are, February.

There was good news heading into February. Last month, we paid off in full the second of four major hospital bills that came into the mix after Eli was born. I need to do a final tally, but I’m pretty sure we had about $9K in bills (after insurance paid a lot more) if my health insurance plan panned out like it should have. About a year later, we still owe around $3K.

Meh, that’s not so bad, given the topsy turvy world we’ve occupied. For 1/4 of 2013, I was home with buddy boy, not getting paid. We also had my own medical bills to contend with, but those weren’t as extreme as Eli’s and have been paid off for a while.

These days we’re stuffing what we can into a savings account. How? Auto-deduct. We live like it’s ghost money. It doesn’t exist when it disappears before you spend it.

I also got a second job at a restaurant. On one hand, the money’s pretty good, it’s only two nights a week and my co-workers are fun, hard-working, down-to-earth types. On the other hand, I worry I’m burning myself out. And yet, as I say that, I note in my head that my restaurant manager works double the hours I do, with one job. So I’m going to shut up now and be thankful they gave me weekend shifts to accommodate my schedule.

Last week I stuffed $200 restaurant cash into a savings account. Ideally, we’d like to save up for a little trip this spring.

Planning for meals and supplies is a huge component of our effort to make more savings and less debt. Toward that end, we started using cash at the grocery store. In January, we were good about picking out around 3 meals plus stuff for breakfast and lunch each week, making a list and taking cash out before we went to the store. We used coupons (from the newspaper!) and spent between $50 and $250 a week for sundries. We made large, kid-friendly meals and froze and labeled a big portion of these. We also continued to blend Eli’s baby food and make the applesauce he needs for his enzymes. I need to do a comparison to see how much this saved us last month — but my guess is that the more tactical approach to stocking our household frees up around $500.

I wonder if this would be a better read if we were doing something in the extreme, like living on one income.

That is not possible for us at this point in time.

A 28-hour-a-week nanny and our housing costs in one of the lowest cost-of-living metros in the country = roughly one take-home income.

So that’s what we have to work with. Wee!

I can’t complain. I mean, yes I can I so can, but I really shouldn’t.

The fact is – we have a pretty nice life. We feel ‘the squeeze,’ but it’s the spoiled American squeeze, the ‘Waah I can’t buy Tarte cosmetics and lattes and pedicures all day’ squeeze.

Mark and I occupy worlds in which we brush elbows with the much-less fortunate all the time.

I spent two years writing about almost nothing but violent death, ends the less fortunate suffer in a lopsided sort of way compared to the rest of us.

We’re urbanites and live close to a highway. Down the way, vagrants hang at the corner, lighting up pipes of God knows what.

Mark works at a school where only a small percentage of children can afford to pay for lunch.

We’re a lot of fun at parties. Not a drag at all, with our mopey, depressing stories of real life.

Whatever I’m trying to say now is quickly becoming a cliche. Stop me. Stop me before it’s too late.

No, it’s too late.

I do look around, and I realize things could be a lot worse. So, here we are in the middle, Mark and I. We could fall or we could climb.

It doesn’t feel like we’re moving much. I think we’re preparing. We are making a little cushion so that unexpected setbacks won’t obliterate us, financially speaking.

It’s a slow, slow ascent for two regular middle class people to get a little more comfortable. Acclimating is … irksome.

We’ll get there.

As my good friend Phil says – One day at a time.

About this post: Mark and I are attempting to knock down the last 3K of 9K in hospital bills, a $2.4K personal loan and, oh, roughly $35K in student loans in an attempt to be responsible adult parents of two young children who will need to go to college one day, hopefully not throwing themselves into a debt spiral by doing so. On the upside, we are not under a big pile of credit card debt. Each Monday, I attempt to write about our effort to take down debt and save in a modest, dual-income household of a teacher and a journalist. My attempt to cover our financial journey has been thwarted as of late by a second job that, for two months, has been on Monday evenings. For now, my other gig has been moved to weekends, so I hope to re-focus the effort to write each Monday about our money madness, and also quantify it a little better. Here’s what we’ve done so far.

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