I’ve been obsessing over one specific van and spending inordinate amounts of time on floor plans, color schemes, etc. I have wishlists on Amazon.com for every aspect of the van, from decor to appliances, including how to generate enough power for Ana’s C-PAP machine on a daily basis for as little money as possible.
What has been lacking, up until now, was
a plan for how I will get the money to purchase it, and then, once it is officially mine, how I’ll come up with the cash to fix it up pretty and functional like I want.
Tonight I figured it out!
Here is the back story, if you care: A week ago Ana had an eye appointment and ordered new glasses. So this paycheck we had to come up with the money for what her insurance doesn’t cover — $315. Now, to some of you that might seem like pocket change, while to others $315 is a big freaking deal. Up until last month $315 – to know we’d need that much and then to actually have that much at the end of the month – well, you’d have as much luck with that as if you asked me for the moon.
Lack of money wasn’t the problem, on paper, anyway. We had plenty of money. We just didn’t know where it all disappeared to every month. I had a vague sense that the groceries I bought every paycheck weren’t getting eaten because we were spending WAAAY too much on eating out and that had something to do with why we were always getting 5 or 6 overdraft fees on our bank accounts every paycheck.
***I don’t want or expect anyone to feel sorry for us. Nor do I want to make other people feel bad for relying on fast food, eating out, or overdraft fees. There are many factors that can lead to a fast-food or financially disasterous lifestyle. In our case many of them were beyond our control. We just had the good fortune of finally being in a situation where we were ready to take control and make a change.***
What happened last month was my mom-in-law (just “Mom”) gave me a little Bella rocket blender for my birthday. It sat unused in its box for about a week and I figured that’s where it would stay for the foreseeable future until one night I happened upon a whole ton of recipes for hummus on Pintrest.com. The only restaurant that serves hummus in my little town was closed for the night and I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store, but I remembered seeing a can of garbanzo beans in the kitchen. My mind made the connection that rocket blender + garbanzo beans = hummus. I’d just need to add the lemon juice and garlic that were in the nearly-empty fridge to make simple hummus-y dip.
It turns out hummus is easy to make in a rocket blender. And the next morning I discovered so are fruit and yogurt smoothies. And that evening I blended up canned pinto beans and spices to make burrito filling. In just a matter of days Ana and I quit stopping for pastries and caffine every morning. And I stopped my (secret) two bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit habit. We cleaned all the old expired deli meats and veggies-gone-science-experiment out of our fridge to make room for CostCo-sized bags of frozen blueberries and whey protein and kale to add to our smoothies. I bought ready-to-eat veggies, made sandwiches for lunch, and fried up home-made sweet potato chips to serve with a dinner I actually cooked myself. For months before this the only veggies and fruit we ate were literally the lettuce and tomatoes on our fast food burgers or the “strawberries” in our shakes. So the sudden influx of all those assorted fruits and veggies had the unexpected effect of violently detoxing us from all the crappy food we’d been eating.
Now gas station pastries, candy bars, and greasy burgers don’t sound all that appealing and actually do make me sick when I eat them. I blame the blueberry kale smoothies. Ana has stopped eating processed sugar and I limit my chocolate to two squares of a Ritter Sport milk chocolate hazelnuts bar as a reward for when I’ve cleaned out the litter boxes or done something else equally difficult or unpleasant.
So what does this dramatic dietary change have to do with finally having money? I looked back through our bank statements and it turns out
we were spending more than $900 per month on eating junk at gas stations and fast food restaurants after I bought a month’s worth of groceries. The food would sit in the fridge and get gross and we never opened the fridge so we didn’t notice until it was really bad and then we wouldn’t clean it out because we didn’t see the point. So, by the end of the month when we were out of money all the groceries I’d bought were nasty, so we’d just keep going out to eat because by then we were REALLY hungry and a $20 overdraft fee sounded better than starving to death.
So, all this partially explains how we suddenly had $315 for Ana’s new glasses. I say “partially” because no longer eating out wasn’t the only part of the puzzle. By the time we stopped eating out we were already facing a financial deficit heading into April. I didn’t want to go into May already down a few hundred dollars, so I sat down and made a budget. Now, this isn’t anything new for me. I make budgets all the time. I actually do it for relaxation because it gives me a sense of control when it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel and it helps me see there is indeed a way to make everything alright. It’s the actually sticking to them that we’re terrible at.
But, last paycheck we did it! If Ana was hungry and stressed and wanted to eat out, I said no. If I was hungry and ready to snap if I didn’t get food NOW, Ana said took me home and made me a sandwich. It wasn’t easy. Especially when we were down to our last $5 and our friend Jeremiah, who we hadn’t seen in weeks, told us to meet him at Chili’s. After calling Ana and agreeing we wouldn’t knowingly spend money we didn’t have, I finally texted him and told him we could only afford drinks, so we’d eat ahead of time. He was a sweetheart and bought
bottomless chips and salsa for the table so we didn’t have to just sit there and sip our lemonades while everyone else munched on fajitas. At the end of the meal he even paid for our drinks! That was especially nice because we had decided to wait on filling a prescription so we could go. So we got to do both!
At the end of the two weeks we still had a of couple overdraft fees to make up, but that was mainly because we’re still getting the hang of our bank’s slow online bill pay system. But two fees is way better than the usual five or six, so we had a lot more wiggle room this paycheck.
I budgeted for Ana’s glasses first and then made everything else fit in around them. I budgeted for groceries last.
I spent most of my morning roaming the local grocery stores hunting for the best prices so we could get all the (healthy) food we’ll need for the next two weeks for only $87.00. That’s less than $1.04 per meal per person. I remember when I lost my job due to illness several years ago and we had to survive on that much per month. It made me grateful I could buy so much! Other than bread and barbecue sauce I’ll have to make everything from scratch, but now that we’re eating healthy I feel so much better I don’t mind.
Seeing how quickly and (relatively) painlessly we were able to pull together $315 got me wondering what else we could do if we stick to a budget and prioritize saving for the van. As I created a new spending plan for next month,
I focused on paying the minimums on our regular bills and squeezing every cent from the more flexible categories like haircuts, groceries and personal spending money. I nixed wedding savings, figuring we have longer to save for that, as the van could go up for auction any time. Without showing you our actual budget, I’ll do my best to show you how I did it.
We have had a budget on paper for years. We just haven’t been using it. Part of the reason is I saw how much money there was and I didn’t feel like I needed to pay attention to our spending. It just seemed like there should be plenty for anything and everything we wanted. Turns out there isn’t! However, careful planning can help us save money for what we want pretty quickly if we stick to it.
Please keep in mind that before this we were spending all of our money on food and overdraft fees and most of these categories only existed on paper. So, taking money away from, say, the house upkeep budget, doesn’t actually mean we’ll be spending any less on that.
I added $6 to utilities because I noticed our electric bill is higher than it used to be and I didn’t want that throwing everything else off. I took all of the savings ($792) and put them toward saving for the van. If we stick with it we’ll have the money to buy it soon!
But that isn’t the whole story. I realized we will still need money for the wedding. So after talking to Ana about what she thinks is reasonable and doing some research, I decided to reduce the total wedding budget from $3130 to $1980. How does that break down?
I already bought my dress and jewelry ($200) so that means once the van is ours we’ll need to save $1350 before the wedding. With some more careful money manipulation, we’ll be able to get all of the money for the wedding with days to spare. Then, since the day of the wedding is also my pay day, we’ll get our honeymoon money in the nick of time!
So there it is! We’ll get a campervan and a wedding, too! All we have to do is stay on budget!
I know it won’t be easy, but we’re determined, we have a plan, and it is do-able!