It begins with one large bill. Then something happens, exacerbating the fact that you just spent a lot of money on the first large bill. Perhaps your car breaks down, or your appliance breaks down, or you have a large medical expense. You spend the rest of the month a little clammy around the wrists, vulnerable to the outside world until your next paycheck makes its way into your hands.
Do you ever have a month that you just can’t seem to get out of, financially anyway? The way my budget works is each month an allotted amount goes to bills, to our IRAs, to our savings, and to spending. Last month, the spending category is simply out of control! In fact, I have never spent so much money in my short adulthood life as I have last month, September, 2009. I feel like Stretch Armstrong.
Our Month that Would Not End
Our first major expenditure was we bought a home. This was a planned expense, although I must admit that we did not know exactly how much to bring to closing day until the day of, and it was definitely several thousand more than we had originally thought. Then, we had to purchase a refrigerator. We managed a great deal; Energy-star rated, stainless steel Frigidaire at 50% of its cost because we bought it at the scratch and dent store. Next, we hired movers. Originally we had not planned on doing so, but several people we spoke with said that it cost around $180 for them to move everything. After renting a truck, paying for gas, and taking all of Paul’s family out to lunch afterwards as a big thank-you, it would have cost us $180 anyway. So instead of taking up Paul’s family’s Saturday, we decided to go with the movers. The final bill? $462. Whew (still not terrible, but we were not expecting that, and we could have asked family to help instead to shave the cost). And the icing on the cake, perhaps everyone’s nightmare (purchase a new home, and not one week afterwards, when you are in that vulnerable period between when you’ve spent most of your savings and when your emergency fund is back up to fully functional), my car died on me. We purchased another used vehicle (paid cash—no new loans for us!).
Finally, we undertook our first home project together: my office! So we went to Home Depot this past weekend and purchased paint supplies, a paint color, a smoke/Carbon monoxide alarm, batteries for the alarm, etc. Getting my office up and running is our top priority so that I can get back to normal writing routines (am currently writing this at 8:00 a.m. on our couch).
Things that Have Mitigated Spending
Honestly, this month could have been a lot worse, and the main reason why it was not was the generosity of so many people to whom we are very thankful for. To begin with, even after negotiations, the past owners generously offered to leave us their washer, dryer, and kegerator! The washer and dryer are saving us lots of money, and certainly lots of headache, time and energy. I mentioned that we saved 50% on our major appliance purchase, which is energy star rated and this will help our energy bills for many years to come. We packed all of our belongings up ourselves with free boxes from our neighbors and Paul’s boss, which was very helpful. One of Paul’s brother and sister-in-law brought us a meal the first weekend we moved in (which we thankfully ate for two nights!). Our previous landlord generously prorated us half a month’s rent for September, even though we did not properly give her the 30 days notice (because of not knowing when the closing day was), which was a big help. We got free movie tickets from my swagbucks earnings and were able to take a break from all of the stressful details and go to the theater. I was able to use my free $40 Wal-mart gift card for our first week’s worth of groceries. I was also able to use a free $40 gift card to the Home Depot, on top of a free $40 American Express gift card to bring our paint supply and safety purchases cost down substantially (earned by going to the Timeshare presentation). And today, a friend from my work is dropping off an old lawnmower that she longer wants, and that probably just needs a tune-up.
Ways to Stop the Bleeding
My point in writing this article is to show everyone that expensive months happen. True, buying a home was a planned expense, and we knew that there were going to be unforeseen costs involved. But we were definitely met with more surprises than we had not thought of (both good and bad).
- If you are planning a big expense in the upcoming months, try to save as many gift cards, coupons associated with your type of upcoming expense (for example, Home Depot/Lowe’s coupons for buying a home/apartment, prescription drug coupons for having planned surgery/start of new school year, etc.), and favors as you possibly can so that you can combine them all and make something out of it to help save you money.
- Plan ahead a little; hopefully you have some stockpiles built up from previous months when you had more cash available, such as in your freezer, which you can use instead of going to the store and purchasing necessities. Remember that on top of whatever it is that is costing you extra for the month—something breaks, textbook expenses, health issues—you still have to feed yourselves, put gas in your car, and pay your bills.
- Always have a backup; even when purchasing a home, resist the temptation to stretch yourself so far that you are putting everything in your savings towards the down payment and closing costs. This leaves you very vulnerable, and who knows…your car may breakdown the next week.
- Don’t let spending money become a snowball effect. For example, while you are at the store, you see some other things that you want/need, and you throw them in the cart because, hey, you are having a bad spending month anyway, right? What’s another item at this moment? Save those kinds of purchases for when they properly fit into your budget in a few months to come.
- Pare down your expenditures for the following month as well in order to better absorb all of the added expenditures into your budget system.
But most of all, take a deep breath, and realize that this is not the norm, and that your savings will build back up with a little bit of time, effort, and patience. If this is not your month of large expenses, but someone in your family or a friend is experiencing them, please take the time to offer a cooked meal, or to help out with some of your time, or to do something which will make a big difference for them. Trust me, the kindness is much appreciated.