Saturday, July 9, 2011

Living On Less Part Deux

A reader had left a very interesting comment, and one I feel I should address.  My instant reaction was I got angry, but then decided perhaps it was a simple case of me needing to clarify.  I am well aware of the economy, and extremely grateful that my husband has a secure military job, as I have no idea what I would do if I had to go back to work.  I've said it to friends that while money can be tight at times, I have chosen to not even entertain the idea because we don't need the money that badly, and I know there are others who getting a job I might apply for could be the difference between eating or not.  I live in a big city with many homeless and plenty on hard times. 

If my post was unclear with the comment about not living the stereotypical American lifestyle, my post was referring to what I know as an American.  Some of what I said could probably apply for other countries, but not living there, I cannot speak to that effect.  As to a small paycheck, it's decent because my husband has put 6 years into the military, but it's by no means impressive.  We are firmly in the middle class by annual salary standards.  I am "lucky" that my husband is deployed so that he makes more than usual and I'm the only one really living on it (he eats at the chow hall in Iraq... his splurge is a box of granola bars for snacks).  It's been said that I eat out a lot.  I have no qualms about admitting that since I've been pregnant I totally have.  Mainly because my husband and close friends tell me to eat and I have no desire to cook.  When left to my own devices I eat fruit.  This is not an exaggeration, I eat fruit and maybe some nuts.  I've been told this isn't sustaining enough, though my care providers keep telling me my appetite will come back at some point.  G will often tell me to go to Carma's and get an actual sandwich.  My frequent coffees out are $1.50 with free refills.  (I split a pastry with a friend on occasion... mmm!)

I also stated "We do go out to eat more than the average couple on a budget, but that's because of our other choices, and it's something we plan to limit to continue to increase our savings."  G and I have discussed just within the last couple of weeks how we plan to only go out once a paycheck (we usually spend less than $30 for the two of us, with enough for leftovers the next day).  Even The Frugal Girl does weekly takeout with her husband as their date night.  It is because we don't spend in some areas that we can spend in others.   Furthermore, as people who support "Buy Local" we usually choose locally owned establishments in order to aid our local economy.

We have had to discuss how much money we've simply blown these last 2 years, and have been thoroughly discussing a budget in order to start putting money away that will stay in an account rather than be used for splurges.  Other than our gas card (used on base it's 5 cents off a gallon), that we pay off each month, we have no credit cards.  We've used cash for pretty much everything except our car and our house.  We only have the one car, and I usually just stay around the house.

When G is home I cook the majority of our meals.  And it's from scratch.  I make my own pie dough, pizza dough, pizza sauce, dressings, bread, even my own chicken stock with the bones from chickens I roast... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  I make enough pizza dough for 4 at a time and freeze 2-3 portions.  I make bread in 2 loaves and it's what we use for sandwiches, toast, or to go with soup.  If you're going to claim to read my blog, take a look around, I am known for the way I cook.  I also do it as cheaply as I can to the standards we choose.  I choose to spend more on ingredients at times, but we eat less and make it stretch.  We've been known to add more veggies and wine/stock to make a soup last longer (usually a pot last us about 4-5 days, but we've pushed it further before).  I'm learning to can/preserve to be able to stock up on cheap fresh fruits and veggies we get this summer.

We spend more money on food, but less on other things.  We haven't had a t.v. plugged in (we technically have my college one somewhere) for 2 years, we don't have cable, and if our home security didn't need it, we wouldn't have a land line phone.  We have the cheapest cell phone plan we could get, utilizing a military discount on top of that.  We don't go to the movies, we don't even really rent movies, and we tend to stay in and play board games or go to free art museums.  Even when we grab a coffee out, it's not unusual to see us sharing one.

I haven't bought new jeans since we first moved back to the U.S., and in fact have been utilizing the rubber band method to keep wearing mine as long as possible.  I figure I can just wear a lot of dresses and skirts this summer, though I'm quickly finding less and less clothes that fit.  I will probably buy one pair of maternity jeans, 2 if I'm feeling daring, and if we choose to not have another child I'll sell them.  A lot of my clothes I buy from thrift stores, because many of the brands I wear I've been able to find super cheap there (and I can be super cheap).  I've needed new black flats for a year now, but have chosen to wear all my old (various colored) ones I've had for 3-5 years instead because I have been unable to find a simple pair at a price I feel isn't ridiculous.

And as for a vacation, we've never had one that wasn't us going home for a family even or holiday... a hellacious 20+ hour drive.  In England we chose to stay local (except for the cruise that his co-worker had paid for for herself and a friend and the friend cancelled and she asked if I'd like the spot), not even going to Scotland or Ireland.  The trip to Paris I've been discussing is only possible because G has deployed.  If we're able to do it (and with a baby I'm still questioning it), it will be for our 5 year anniversary, and the first time we've splurged on a trip of any sort for ourselves.  Well worth the insane hit to our bank account.  

Basically my point is that yes, I get it, we live a nice life.  That was kind of my whole point all along.  I know people who live well on much less than we do, and people who make much more and yet always seem to be paycheck to paycheck.  Our goal going into this marriage was to live a life where we slowly squirreled enough away for a rainy day/emergency fund, but also didn't hoard it.  We both firmly believe that there is no taking it to the grave.  We have lived paycheck to paycheck before, and found that through tweaking we've been able to get away from that.  If we continued to have issues, I would clearly be out looking for a job to help pay bills.  Instead, when we realize we've been spending too much, we discuss it and then perhaps don't go out for a month and limit our spending only to what we truly need.

I'm proud of the way we live.  It isn't perfect, as I never claimed to be.  However, I had been asked by a handful of people how we do it, where we cut back, what we choose to splurge on and how much we try and save and so I have been trying to answer those questions.  I've said it to others, we've been incredibly fortunate, but part of it has been simply saying no to what for us were frivolous things.  Eating out is a treat, and usually reserved for something we can't make at home easily.  For someone else they may choose to eat out less but be able to buy crafting supplies because that makes them happy.  The point isn't to cut out everything or to do anything "just like I do" but to look at your own budget and honestly re-evaluate if there are places to save or change things, or to consider taking on another job if the money is important to you.  For some, the answer will be "no, right now we're living as tightly as we can" while for others (like us) you'll suddenly see a lot of places that can be tweaked that you won't miss.  All I can do is share my experience, and from where we're at, we live a more frugal life compared to most people I know.


  1. Very well said. I for one, like getting a peek into the way you live on a budget and you strike a great balance between frugality and planned indulgences which makes sense.

  2. I don't think you need to defend yourself. Everyone's circumstances are different, obviously, and anyone who thinks you should be doing something different with your life and/or finances is weird, frankly. I mean, right?

  3. Just my two cents worth and 44 years...

    I have learned to take comments, the very judgmental and scathing ones, into context. Look at what is being said and where it is coming from which you did very well. I have found that many of the not-so-nice commenters are not-so-happy people.

    Me personally, and this may be because of my age, I do not defend my position. This only leads to more of the destructive criticisms from others and shows that there is some doubt, on my part, as to where I stand on the issue. I do give myself the right to change my mind - that happens in life.

    But I'm owning it - right or wrong.

    You are sharing your life right now and what works for you. What you are saying is obviously hitting home with quite a few others and inspiring them to do the same. And for those may be hitting on a nerve. Remember...look that the source and go from there.

    xo Cat

  4. Hi there Kate - I'd just like to put in a word for the commenter you are referring to. I have read her blog a few times and I have the impression that she is an educated women who is interesting and interested in life. However, as Catherine says, you have to look at the source - I know that this particular commenter lives in central/eastern Europe, so, really, your idea of frugal cannot be anything like hers. I live in Budapest (also a military wife) and I know how hard life is for ordinary Hungarians; I assume it's the same for people in the surrounding eastern bloc countries. I wouldn't take her comment as an outright criticism of you, just that she is probably quite frustrated with life right now. We really have no idea how good we have it in north America, despite the economy!

  5. Dear Kate, since this post is more than obviously directed at my comment yesterday, I too wanted to clarify my position. Again, my intent was not to offend you or your way of life. I don't want to go into various frugal, cooking from scartch etc. life choices. What I really wanted to say is that your way of life, chosing where and what to spend your money for is your choice and that you have more than one option. For many, this economy has taken that away from them, the ability to chose. What to do with their money and their life. For me, making things from scratch isn't an option. I have to cook our meals, prepare my bf lunch, just to make ends meet. Again, did not mean to attack, just give you a different perspective.

  6. Gee, how "generous" of someone to "give you a different perspective" while a guest in your territory. "Bitter, party of one, your table is ready!" :oP

    This is your blog, and you don't owe anyone an explanation. You do not have to defend yourself, your choices, or any part of your life. You're doing a great job. Keep it up.

  7. I like the way you make your lifestyle choices - that you do what you enjoy, while being careful with your money, and then say no to things that you consider frivolous. I see many middle class people struggling to pay their bills but I also see part of the problem is that they don't realize they have to make choices and trade-offs. You seem to "get it" and live a richer life as a result.

  8. My husband and I have a saying that we apply to email correspondence, blog comments, etc.: If you will be embarassed, one day, to find your email/comment splashed across the New York Times, then don't write it.

    This has saved me from responding emotionally to blog posts with which I disagree or emails from my mother.

    Honestly, if I don't like something a blogger wrote I just don't comment!

    You're doing a great job, and as a financial counselor I second your position that we each make choices about how we spend our money - even if it is very little. And for those who are struggling, visiting blogs where people share how they spend their money can be inspiring for the day when their situation turns around. I've been there.

    Keep sharing your choices, Kate. It inspires me!

  9. Just tracking through your posts, sorry about the drama! We live Dave Ramsey style and are now debt free but for our mortgage on one generous income. We too choose to be more frugal in some areas in order to splurge in others. Thanks for the mindful chic lifestyle you offer up, I like, I like!

  10. I don't think you need to defend yourself at all. Further clarification is fine, for those who might want to understand your choices to help make their own, but you have been very generous in sharing how you live your life.