Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Big Pig In The Room

Gwyneth’s recent GOOP - DO blog entry was all about finances. I let it sit in my inbox, along with all sorts of other things I didn’t have time to read then. Since my older son and husband are off camping with their Y Guide tribe, and the weather couldn’t be nastier, it was a perfect evening to put the little one down (early) and tackle my office. Note that this is not the way I like to spend my Saturday nights. But then again, it’s also not the way I like to spend my precious 3 hours that our little one’s in preschool a couple times a week, so tonight I dealt.

Reading the GOOP finance entry was timely because I’d gone out earlier in the week with two dear friends who (over a couple glasses of wine) told me I had to write about how our family was attempting to save a little dough. This subject isn’t food related per se, but this blog is supposed to also be about getting control of that Full Plate of yours, and merrily balancing it as you trot through the day with an adorable child (or two, or three, or four) in tow. So, here goes…

Without getting into specifics, I’ll tell you what we’ve done. It’s not like we’ve figured it all out, but I do think it’s caused us to be thoughtful about expenditures.

OK, so many of you are going to cringe when you hear the first step, but I think it’s totally necessary if you’re going to get a handle on and clearly think through your spending: we inputted all of our 2008 expenditures into a spreadsheet, and categorized them. Every. Single. One. Cash, credit card transactions, checks, all of them. So we had buckets like: mortgage, groceries, pharmacy, dinners out, housecleaning, mommy & me classes, day camps, babysitting, my clothing, the kids’ clothing, gas, home maintenance, toys, travel, etc. A monstrous process, for sure. Really tedious. But wow, did it ever clarify our spending. And then we've done it again, each month, in 2009.

Once we had those buckets, we could answer the question of how we were spending our money. So, the next question was whether we felt like this was the right way to be spending? Maybe you look at your bucket list and you say, “You know there’s really no wiggle room because XYZ are important to me”, and things stay as is. But when I looked at the list and the astronomical amounts we (or rather, I, since I am the stay-at-home-mom) were spending on certain things I knew we could cut back.

The first thing I did—and I know many of my local friends think I am nuts to have done this—was to cut out my week day babysitting. All of it. Sure, we hire a sitter if we’re going out on a weekend evening. But during the week, yours truly is the one and only caregiver (save for a generous neighbor who helps out for things like teacher conferences in which case I “pay” them with a homemade meal). Multiply $15/hour x the amount I had each week to do a tennis clinic, meet a friend for coffee, grocery shop alone, go to a volunteer meeting, things like that and it really added up on an annual basis.

I know your next question: how’s it going? Still sane? Yes. Some days more than others. In most parts of the country, this is the norm. It’s just in Fairfield County that I seem like some mom who has a screw loose for “doing this to myself”. Sure, I’ve put off paddle sports until both of my kids are in school full-time, my shopping is greatly curbed (because who really wants to try on clothing in confined space with a wiggly toddler?), no I do not get to go to most of the parent meetings/social gatherings at school anymore, and yes sometimes I am envious of friends enjoying a bowl of coffee and adult conversation at Le Pain Quotodien when I roll my jogger in to buy my little guy a special treat (since he’s going to have to be really good sitting through mommy’s eyebrow wax). But you know, the flip side is that I am spending a ton of time with my children and it’s forced me to prioritize. And, recession or no recession, I no longer suffer pangs of "mommy guilt".

Cutting out the babysitting alone put a big chunk of money back into our bank account. Of course there were other areas we pared back some, like not going out twice a weekend, every single weekend. Rest assured, we still have a life. And if I am feeling stretched too thin during the week, I make plans to meet a fellow mom for a casual supper out, once my husband is home. I tried shopping with coupons but that was too tedious for me and I found myself buying things because I had a coupon for them. So that kind of backfired. However, the Wednesday Supper Exchange has replaced what was a typical night of take-out most weeks. When I am cooking, I make an extra portion for my husband to take for lunch the next day. He’s psyched. It’s not a huge sum of money saved, but daily NYC lunches add up (and my cooking is way better than any of those salad bar joints). Instead of a gym membership, I spend about $30/week going to a boot camp 2x/week at $15/class. The remaining days I have to be disciplined to either go for a long walk, get on the elliptical or do a video (which I must get more disciplined about, this is definitely the area that needs work for me).

In sum, we’re still living really well. I feel a little funny even writing this entry, since we’re lucky that these “cut backs” are all we’ve done to date. But it’s all relative, so if it gives a fellow mom an idea of a way she can take care of herself and/or her family for a little less, then it was worth sharing our experience.

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