Living within our means

June 29th, 2011

Eight months ago I started my business anew, without partners. I have taken almost all of my (full) paychecks since January, and half of them October –  December last year. That’s good, because almost a year ago my husband lost his job (again, 2nd time in two years). But he’s joined me in the business and soon we expect we may be able to pay HIM some money too (right now he’s working for free).

All this is working because we live within our means. By living, I’ll outline what we have: a 2400 sf new house (almost two years old now), two cars, one is a 1997 Ford Explorer held together with duct tape and bailing wire (kidding, but the doors may rust off soon). And a 2003 Subaru WRX wagon. Both paid off (long since paid off). We also own a nearly paid off 1200 sf house that we rent to college students, about four blocks away. Once we pay that off (2013), it will spin off enough cash every month to nearly cover THIS mortgage payment, for the house that I’m sitting in. And then we will be sitting pretty!

But in the mean time, and for the last 19 years (except for a brief blip in the mid 2000s when we were funding our first child’s conception to the tune of forty grand) we have not carried any consumer debt. No credit cards, and cars that were paid off as soon as we could.

We also managed to save enough to put away a good start on retirement and college savings for both children, though we must be vigilant. We have to save for months to pay our five-figure property tax bills (two houses!) But we are frugal in other ways:

We eat at home almost every day. And we make enough to take lunches to work almost every day. We eat out at a cheap local bar which has a Monday night burger and beer special. Not every Monday, but some of them.

We buy almost everything for our children used. Mom 2 Mom sales are our friends.

I buy almost all of my clothing, shoes and accessories at secondhand boutiques. We have a few of them, competitors, who really do a nice job of making it boutique-y and I can then enjoy shopping AND afford it.

I sew a good percentage of my wardrobe and some of my kids’ stuff. I get a lot of fabric in trade from a sewing pattern designer for whom I do marketing work or a fabric store for whom I do web work. Otherwise I get gift certificates when I can from my favorite fabric stores (online usually).

We don’t buy stuff we don’t need. I used to have a shoe habit. I now am getting rid of a lot of that stock of shoes that I bought when I was childfree, before I knew having kids was going to take me a good chunk of my savings and four years to attempt. That’s a long time ago. But now I rarely feel the need to do much, and when I do, I try to buy secondhand (not always good for shoes – most people only get rid of the uncomfortable ones) or at least on sale. And failing that, at clients’ businesses or local businesses.

We vacation up north at my parent’s house, or my in laws in Chicago. Big city or beach, we’ve got it covered! We do take a winter vacation to Florida or somewhere warm, but we usually try to do that on the cheap (or with grandparents willing to contribute).  We used to do an annual European vacation but we’ve not been able to do that since 2007. It’ll come again, I’m sure of it.

But mainly we live simply – a fun night is a beer on the porch, watching our kids play. Or sailing at our sailing club. Or bicycling as a family.

We take advantage of free music concerts, art festivals, and other happenings in our city, which are numerous. We could go out a couple of times a week for free doing this.

But I feel good that we live within our means. We are not yet saving where we used to be, but we’ll get there as soon as those property taxes are paid.

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