by Caren Crane
These days, pretty much every news report, newspaper article, comedy sketch or blog post has something to do with the "financial crisis". People are more concerned about money - or their lack of it - than they are about anything else these days and with good reason. I live in North Carolina, where we currently have the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation (behind Oregon, South Carolina and Michigan). One county's unemployment rate is 17.8%! Numbers like those are something to be concerned about, for sure.
Fortunately, we haven't been impacted by job loss, home foreclosure or Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Nothing, in essence, has changed in my family's financial picture, but in my house we have had cause to keep a close eye on our spending since September. A series of events caused us to put on the financial brakes and really scrutinize what we were spending our money on. After six months of this, I know exactly where every penny of our money was going. Mostly, we ate it!
Like many people born in the 60s, my husband and I had little money growing up. At times, my family had none. Both of us knew from watching our parents how to pinch a penny and squeeze a dollar. When we were dating in college, we had very little money. I vividly recall a "date" where we sat on the porch of his single-side mobile home and listened to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert that was playing down the highway at the new amphitheater. Cheap beer and 'Free Bird', now that is college romance! With our histories, we knew about economizing because we'd had plenty of experience with it. So what happened to us over the past 19 years?
Well, for one thing we started making more money when we graduated from college and got married. A lot more money. We were blessed with medical, dental and prescription benefits, automatic investments for each 401k (with matching interest up to a certain percentage), automatic deposit of payroll, automatic payment for the mortagage and electricity and phone...you get the picture. Mix enough "automatic debits" with enough "automatic credits" and it's easy to lose focus of exactly what is going where. Add in two full time jobs, three children and a full roster of afterschool, church and volunteer activities and we were two very busy people managing barely-controlled chaos. And not paying enough attention to our bottom line.
A shocking amount of our money was spent on eating out (oh, the convenience!) and on entertainment (I do love a movie!). Another place we spent too much was at the grocery store. Those fancy jarred pasta sauces, organic chicken broth and free-range eggs really add up! So do the lattes before guitar lessons and after church on Sunday. My husband's downfall was those convenient two-packs of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a couple of diet Dr. Peppers picked up at the convenience store each morning. Add up all those little things and you can see where my financial WHOAs came from. As in "Whoa, Nelly!"
Being busy is nothing but an excuse, it's true; however, I think ours is a fairly common situation. Like many couples, we were shortsighted and more concerned with our own ease and convenience than with fiscal responsibility. We should have been paying more attention and been better stewards of our resources. Fortunately, with a lot of attention and a good bit of planning, it was easy to get us back on track. The great part is, we have no debt (except our mortgage), enough money to cover our bills and enough left to set money aside for our emergency fund every month. The bad part is, we really have to watch our discretionary spending. The worst part is, books are part of discretionary spending! Therein lies the real tragedy, dear reader. As a result of my own personal "financial crisis", I have had to (temporarily) put the brakes on my book purchases. Except for the must haves, of course. For those, I wait until Borders sends me one of those 30% off any item coupons, then I count my pennies and run out and buy it!
Has a "financial crisis" (either national or personal) impacted you? What, if anything, are you cutting back on these days? Are you in the sad situation that I am regarding book purchases? And do you really know how much you spend on your delightful beverage of choice in a month?