One of my favorite things about joining the Reno Moms Blog community has been meeting other moms who are following Dave Ramsey’s plan to financial freedom, or are just awesome budget-conscious mamas. It’s always inspirational to hear other people’s stories of how they are getting out of debt, and having a community of mamas who are in the trenches with me helps me stay focused.
Our family started The Total Money Makeover the summer after Lucas was born. We were getting buried under medical debt from his birth, plus a week-long hospital stay thanks to jaundice. We had credit card debt racked up from school expenses, though luckily no student loans, and we were paying off the bare minimum every month. My husband was only part-time, and I was working full-time for pennies on the hour doing in-home childcare. In short, our financial situation felt pretty hopeless at the time.
That was 2011.
Fast forward to almost three years later and our financial story is totally different. We have no debt except for our home mortgage (and for the first time since we bought it, we’re not upside-down in it. Hooray!). We have built up an emergency fund of $10,000, which is enough to cover 4-6 months of bare bones expenses. We’re slowly but surely chipping away at two college funds and our retirement fund. We are winning this uphill battle.
We’ve come a long way in three years, but we still have a long way to go. At this point in our financial journey, it’s sometimes hard to stay focused. I want to go out and buy new clothes. I want to buy beautiful, overpriced throw pillows. I want to buy all the handmade cuteness Etsy has to offer. I want to throw over-the-top parties for my babies and buy them everything and then some. I want to go out for nice dinners. I want to take expensive vacations. None of these things are in the budget, and they won’t be for a very long time.
I’ve had to get creative with my definition of luxury. I’ve had to find new ways to live richly within a tight budget. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this journey so far, it’s that “living richly” is all about perspective. It’s about having a spirit of abundance.
Along the way I’ve discovered a few practices that really help me realize how rich my life truly is. These “tips” have helped me stay on track, without feeling confined by my budget. But more importantly, they’ve helped me focus on the blessings, not the wants, in my life.
1. Pare down your belongings – It seems a little counter intuitive, but getting rid of stuff really helps put into perspective how much you have. I know whenever I go through my belongings to donate to charity, I am always overwhelmed with how blessed I am.
2. Learn to cook – This is one of the best tips I can give by far. Learning to cook gourmet on a budget makes sticking to your monthly food budget so much easier. I feel like such a rockstar when I make a drool-worthy menu and load up on a week’s worth of groceries for $50-$75 for our family of four. Meal planning is a big part of making it work with your budget, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun and rewarding.
3. Start cheap traditions – The quality of time spent together has nothing to do with how much you spend on it. A weekly after dinner trip to get frozen yogurt or a picnic lunch day at the park are great (and inexpensive) traditions. Date night at Süp or an afternoon hike together kindles romance way better than breaking our budget at a fancy restaurant (we won’t go into the details of our last pricey date night wherein I fell victim to the most expensive and terrible diarrhea of my life).
4. Host a Girl’s Night In – Sticking to a strict budget often means passing on drinks at the bar or dinner out with friends, but it doesn’t have to end your social life. We love having friends over for dinner, and I aim to have a girl’s night in once a month. You don’t have to wear shoes, let alone heels. You get to lounge on the couch and move straight past the chit chat and get down to real deal girl talk. Plus homemade appetizers and all the beverages our hearts desire for cheaper than a single drink plus tip at a bar? Yes, please.
5. Pamper yourself – No spa days? No problem. You don’t need to spend a lot to treat yourself. I’ll sometimes have my husband take the kids for a little while so I can take a solo shower or, dare I say it, a bath. I paint my nails, read books, go for runs, attend author readings and writers groups, do things that make me happy. And of course, I take the kids so my husband can do the same.
6. Explore outdoors – With about 300 days of sunshine a year and some truly beautiful spots to explore, the Reno/Tahoe area is amazing for outdoor adventuring. There are endless hiking trails, beautiful lakes, awesome parks and so much more. If you want to feel really lucky about where you live, just head outside for a little while.