Paul and I are all too aware of the type of sticky financial situations life can throw at you. In the summer of 2008, Paul was laid off from his position. Just two weeks later while he was visiting me in Florida with the extra time on his hands, I came home early from work with a box and a tissue in hand. I also watched both sets of my parents go through bankruptcy, which was after they each went through the financial and emotional upheaval of divorce.
All of this has left me slightly fearful when it comes to money. Even though money might be coming in one day, it’s not necessarily going to continue flowing in the next, so we should not spend all of our take-home pay. Who is to say that we won’t experience a medical situation? What if one of us cannot work one day? What if social security continues going downhill and there is nothing left for us when we retire at the future retirement age of 85 (looks like it’s heading that way, right)? Even if we are not overspending or in debt, if we were to spend money as if we are going to continue at our current rate with no regard for the future, then we could find ourselves in a pickle rather quickly. I am not a doom and gloom conspiracy theorist by any means, but I have a healthy respect for the future, and an even healthier respect for the unknown. This is why I am such a diligent saver. Savings are not an option for me but a necessity.
While some of the situations I have mentioned were self-induced, others were not. Whether self-induced or not, having a cushion of savings will make any situation much more palatable. It is much more digestible to place money restraints on yourself than to have them placed on you. And by choosing to place money restraints on yourself and living below your means, you will put yourself and your family in a much better financial situation for when life decides to throw that curve ball. The reason is twofold: money restraints equal extra savings in the bank, and also teach you to live on a lower income, thus making the transition to one much more smoothly.
Here are some money restraints you may wish to pursue to jump-start your savings and deflate your lifestyle. While “deflating your lifestyle” really doesn’t sound like fun at all, what will be fun is watching the balance in your savings account grow at a much faster pace.
Live on One Paycheck in a Two Paycheck Household
If you are a two-income household, you can choose to live on one person’s paycheck only. This could act like a simulation for the future in case one of you loses a job, wants to start your own business, or wants to stay home to raise children, or it could be used as a strategy to boost your savings dramatically. Paul and I currently do this; we live on his income and use my income for savings for both short term and long term goals. Granted, he makes a sizable amount more than I do, so to ensure that we could still survive on my income alone, I have an excel sheet budget where I calculate out our costs and living expenses. We can do this with either one of our incomes; but it would be super tight on mine (sounds like a fun challenge to me!).
Pay a Pretend Mortgage
Many financial gurus give this advice: if you want to purchase a home, begin “paying” a mortgage into your savings account to see if you truly can afford one. Fortunately, homes in Texas are much cheaper than where I am from (the Northeast), so you can actually find one that is close to what you would pay in rent anyway. What would be a good exercise is to take the mortgage that the bank feels you can handle (and the bank will balloon this figure), and pay this every month into a savings account. Not only will you build up money towards a down payment, but you will get to determine what monthly mortgage payment you are comfortable with, and not the one the bank thinks you can afford. Paul and I ensured that our mortgage payment could be paid by either his salary or my salary alone, along with all of our other monthly expenses. That means we took the paycheck with the least amount in it (mine!) and based our comfort level off of that.
Live on Last Year’s Pay
Though you may not have received a pay increase in the last few years due to the recession, you can always go back to living on the income you made from an earlier time period, such as when you graduated college and got your first job or three pay increases ago. Look up an old pay statement, or look in the archive to your bank account, and figure out what that amount used to be. Adjust your spending accordingly, and have the extra pay automatically withdrawn into your savings account. You used to be able to live on this amount, so chances are good that you can still do so (unless you have suffered from considerable ‘lifestyle inflation’, added to your family, etc.).
Execute Your Emergency Financial Plan
Do you have an emergency financial plan? This is your plan for when you lose a job, or have another small financial catastrophe hit. What bills can you give up (cancel cable, internet, cell phone plans, etc.)? Are there debts (mortgage, student loans, credit card debt, etc.) that you are overpaying on that you can go back down to the minimum requirements to increase your cash flow? Perhaps you can defer your student loan payments (if you have them), or even temporarily suspend your car insurance if you are no longer driving it around. With my insurance company I was able to do this while traveling abroad. For $10 per month, we could keep insurance, but have it temporarily suspended, thus keeping any discounts we receive for tenure.
While you may not want to do some of these things while just pretending, execute a few of them and reap the savings to build up your emergency fund. If you don’t wish to do any of these, it is still a good idea to take this time to write up an “I lost my job” budget in excel.
Do you place financial restraints on your household in order to save more money? I’d love to hear about it!