Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Happy Easter

It's been a while since you last heard from me and my accounts of accounting for Fun Dollars. This may come as a shock to many of you, but as of January of this year, we suspended our Fun Dollars. This new turn of events stemmed from our Christmas trip and daughter's birthday, followed closely by our son's birthday all vying to swallow us in the name of consumerism. We had to buy presents. We had to buy cake. We had to buy balloons. We had to pump gas to get across town (or across the country to visit for the holidays.) In our minds, all of those extra expenses were "gimmies". Why wouldn't we buy presents for our kids? Why not save money and drive instead of fly across the country? In light of our extra-extra spending, Corey and I decided we could live without our Fun Dollars until further notice.

Three months have passed, and we still have not budgeted for our Fun Dollars. What we did instead was completely deconstruct our family's finances and start from scratch.

The catalyst of this momentous event came in the form of resignation from Corey's previous job. With no hard feelings, Corey was told that the job he had worked (ridiculously) hard at for nine months was not exactly the right place for him in the company. He was asked to abandon his post with a month's paid salary.

Many of you might be thinking, "PANIC!!!! WHAT WILL WE DO NOW????" I am a stay-at-home house spouse. I have no income whatsoever. We solely rely on Corey to bring home the bacon. Much to my surprise, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and relief. Working 80+ hours a week and being on-call 24/7 was no longer a part of our family life.

Thankfully, Corey has a massive contacts list, and within days he was interviewing for a position with the insurance company he has been with since he was sixteen, Country Companies.

He was slated to start officially working on March 7, pending a passing score on four exams. This left him at home, with us, studying, and taking care of business that was left hugely undone after our move to the Valley.

As the wife of someone who worked such long hours, and the mother of two, I was just barely able to keep my head above water during our first several months in the Phoenix area. I was just starting to get the hang of it when Corey's time with his old job came to a close. To my relief, he spent the time when he was not studying for his exams cleaning out the garage, organizing closets, and addressing long-forgotten projects. One such project was setting up an online budgeting system...and actually sticking to it.

We reduced our spending. We cancelled a few subscriptions. We decided what was really necessary, and what was realistic. Then...we executed it. That's the hard part. It's the part when you delay a purchase because it's not in the budget. Or you say 'no' to something, even though you want it. Bottle of wine? No thanks. Netflix? Nah. We can live without it. We have Hulu and Amazon. Bam, $9.00 a month back in the bank.

Acting as better stewards of our food by eating what we already have as well as planning meals has saved us $50.00 a week in groceries. $50.00 A WEEK!!!! That's $209 each month we are now ahead. Now, we could go back to our original Fun Dollars allotment, but why? When we are actively building up our bank account, why turn our backs on frugality just to shake hands with consumerism?

For me, I like the challenge. I find ways to budget delicious meals, and make dessert, all within the bounds of our new budget. No longer do I feel the need to eat out at a restaurant. I like what we have at home. (We still budget $20.00 a week for eating out if we so choose, but so far, we have only done that once since setting up the new system.) Since we have a meal plan, I am not panicking about what to make each night. I know I can open the fridge, and have all the ingredients for tonight's meal because we planned for it. Also, since we gave up regular alcohol consumption at the beginning of the month, we don't feel the need to "go out" and indulge. We did enjoy some margaritas over Spring Break, however, and it was with tequila we already had.

With a month of practicing and executing our budget plans, I felt confident as the Easter Holiday loomed ever closer. Each week, we allot a certain amount for non-grocery purchases; the stuff I would buy a Target, like toilet paper, Kleenex, toothpaste, etc.  I was also ahead of the budget for this category since I skipped my weekly Target trip over Spring Break. (Go to Target with two kids? No, thank you.) I asked Corey if a $10.00 Easter budget would be Ok, knowing that I had a little cushion from last week. He agreed.

Many of you might be thinking, "Easter? On $10.00 for two kids??? Impossible." Well, I am here to tell you, it's not only possible, it is essential.

Our children will have a fun and memorable Easter Holiday. They will not "go without". They will have treats and sweets and an Easter outfit for church. Buy "borrowing" another $10.00 from last week's unused budgeted amount, I managed to not only create a cute, pastel, Easter-themed goodie spread for the kids, I also found a way to incorporate BOTH of their church outfits into that budget as well.

I started with what I already had.

Carrick's pants from last year's Easter outfit still fit him and are in good condition. I needed to replace his dress shirt, and (if I found one that worked) a vest as well. Lily has an adorable pink gingham sundress that she inherited that looks like new and she is just now big enough to fit into. All she needed were some cute white shoes or sandals to wear with it. Dress shirt, vest and shoes for the kids cost me a total of $7.00 at two different Goodwill stores. All items were in like-new condition.

Among the other items I "already had" were Easter buckets from last year's community Easter Egg hunt. From this I also scored a boat-load of free Easter eggs, since the kids got to keep the eggs they found. I also had a bag of grass; green and pink. I spent $2.00 at Dollar Tree on two 5oz. bags of Easter chocolate. I filled 26 of the left over Easter Eggs with the candy (and ate 3 of them myself). Yes, each child gets a total of 13 Easter Eggs, that's it. They get to find the eggs, they get what's inside. Do you think they are going to complain that they didn't get more? NO! Because they are going to be so happy with the fact that they are even getting candy they it doesn't matter the amount. And let's face it, parents, less is more with candy, am I right?

At Target, I spent a whopping $10.00 on items to fill the baskets. I bought paintable wooden bird houses for each kiddo. Lily's has a more "girly" look and includes pink, purple and yellow paint, with a brush. Carrick's has blue, yellow and red, the primary colors, which he is a fan of. Not only is it a present, it's a present with purpose. The kids can enjoy the activity of painting, and hanging up their bird houses. I also bought them each a butterfly net. Carrick has been begging me for one ever since the bugs stared popping up more. Watching my kids run around the yard, exploring their world, trying to catch bugs? Yes, please. Both presents are activities, and things they can appreciate, and they are not expensive, fancy or elaborate. Why? Because they don't have to be. Keeping it simple...

I also bought them each a Reese's Pieces carrot, since they are both in love with those little bite-sized drops of peanutbuttery.....mmmm....Where was I? Oh yes...Total on Easter so far: $19.00, and that's where it ends, folks.

The rest is all stuff we already had. I put two springy books in each of their baskets from our book shelves. "Guess How Much I Love You" in Carrick's basket, and "A Child's Garden of Verses" for Lily. One has rabbits on the cover, the other a little girl with a flower garland around her head (it is the same copy I had as a child, so in addition to looking springy, it's also vintage.) I can read to the kids as they paint their bird houses. Tada!!! Memories made. Money saved. That's what it's all about. Oh yeah, and the Easter Bunnies (and Care Bear) were already a part of our stuffed animal collection. THEY DO NOT NEED MORE STUFFED ANIMALS...AND I BET YOUR KIDS DON'T NEED ANYMORE, EITHER. Use what you already have. Your kids will not complain that a sweet friend, a long-forgotten toy, has made a miraculous reappearance for Easter. In fact, you can hide the toys all year long, and only pull them out for the Easter season.

So, I challenge you, this holiday, and every holiday, look at what you already have. Respect your own finances. And remember, those few fleeting minutes or hours of euphoria your kids feel when they open up their Easter baskets is NOT, I repeat, NOT worth breaking your bank over. They will know you love them whether or not they have a chocolate Easter Bunny. And if they don't know that already, an extravagant Easter spread of goodies will only mask it temporarily, and you probably have bigger things to worry about besides saving money. But to all of you who have children who know they are loved, make that the real message, on any holiday. Holidays are about family. Not things. Not treats. Not toys and eggs. Get creative, and make an Easter that everyone will remember.