Can I be honest for a minute, like brutally honest? I just don’t know how to get ahead.
Before I used it all when Cammy got sick, I finally had the requisite Dave Ramsey-approved $1,000 emergency fund. It freaks me out that I don’t have that anymore, and I’m really hoping that the client work I’m doing now will allow me to regain it.
I’m not a crazy spender. I’ve never eaten dinner at a place where it costs more than $25 a person, and even that is only on special occasions. I don’t have a shopping addiction. I cut out my regular Starbucks habit years ago. One of our primary family cars is an 11 year old Chevy.
We’re not poor anymore like we once were in Michigan. We’re finally able to pay our bills on time. But it’s still paycheck to paycheck and things like an extra high utility bill affect our budget for the month. We do pay a lot in rent — far from the highest, but needing a four-bedroom place in an acceptable school district without a grueling commute just plain costs a lot around here.
And to be clear: I’m not complaining about any of this. I love where I live. I love that I don’t have to total up the groceries I’m buying to make sure I can afford them anymore. That’s actually kind of what prompted this: there was a thread on Twitter about how the difference between poor and broke is when you stop having to carefully ration everything you buy at the grocery store.
I can still spend $20 a week on my smoothie ingredients, which I consider both a luxury and a preventative health measure. I couldn’t do that if I were poor. Yet I did the type of grocery shopping where I kept a running total on the calculator on my phone for so long that it’s still second nature. I can usually guess the total within 5 dollars even without using the calculator.
And I know that being okay with that 5-dollar margin of error means I’m no longer truly poor. But I’m also scared to let anyone else do the shopping because they don’t have that same innate budget-tracking skill that I do, and we’d feel the effects if they spent a lot more.
Yet I think about the fact that there are people who have incomes similar to ours who are saving a lot more money than we are. And instead of feeling sorry for myself, now I want to figure out how they do it.
First step has to be about earning more money. We’re still right about on the median household income and not rapidly progressing. I’m sure that lack of rapid progression accounts for something significant.
But maybe I also need to go through my spending with more of a fine-toothed comb. I was telling my husband earlier that I was proud of myself that I had spent less than $100 this year so far at Sephora and about an equal amount at Ulta. He pointed out that his mom and sister always used drugstore makeup and hair care products. I’ve worn designer brands of makeup for years and I know which things work best for me. Drugstore hair care products seem to especially suck for me.
But if I could cut back from designer brands to drugstore brands, I could probably save a couple hundred bucks a year. If I could get over my (admittedly strong) bias against stores like Aldi for my grocery shopping, I’m sure I could save even more. If I saved, say $30 a week, that would add up to an additional $300+ per year. Maybe I could turn up the indoor temp a couple degrees in the summer and be a little less comfortable. I’d eventually get used to it.
It has to be a mindset and it’s one I haven’t yet developed: embracing frugality so I can save more money, not because I’m poor or broke. But because the goal is to become un-broke, to stop living paycheck to paycheck. I want to be like one of those people (most often immigrants) who work way harder for way less money and still manage to save major cash.
There’s also the fact that I feel like there’s a two-fold front I need to attack. The first is having automatic savings, which I hope to start when I get a new job, and the second is making a lot more money. My husband already works very hard but doesn’t seem to be on a fast-track to rapid income growth. I’m not either, but I have a pretty damn lucrative side gig. I can keep doing my side gig while also working full time and hope I won’t need much sleep (which is admittedly a challenge with MS.)
There has to be some way to do this. Even having about the median income with somewhat high rent and medical expenses, I refuse to accept that we’re doomed. I really want to pay off our student loans, and that’s going to require a lot of sacrifice. Other people seem able to save major amounts of money, no matter how much or little they make, although I know the majority are living paycheck-to-paycheck and relying on credit. I just don’t want to be the majority; I want to be more secure.
Maybe I can make enough from my side gig and saving money to really make that happen. It’s like a game or a puzzle that I’m determined to master. The question is if I can avoid feeling completely deprived and miserable in the process.