How to Stretch Your Budget

Not everybody is going to be able to win big at a casino so we all need to learn to live within our budget. We all know the basics -- bring in more income than you are spending. Simple, right! Not always as simple as most of us would like.

Approach 1: Do not get married and / or have children before you are ready

We all know the childhood nursery rhyme …

Johnny and Sally sitting in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g … First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes Johnny and Sally with a baby carriage.

Forbes magazine in 2014 wrote an article, “The Biggest Reason for Income Inequality Is Single Parenthood.”

In 1980, approximately 78% of families with children were headed by married parents. In 2012, married parents only headed 66% of families with children. According to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 11 million single parent families with children under the age of 18, 80 percent were headed by single mothers. Of all single-parent families in the U.S., single mothers make up the majority. About 4 out 10 children were born to unwed mothers. Nearly two-thirds were born to mothers under the age of 30.

In 1968, 85% of children under 18 lived with two parents (regardless of marital status); by 2020, 70% did, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS).

Although, it should be noted that according to the official statistics, “If one parent is deployed overseas at the time of interview, for example, children are shown as living with one parent. The same goes for separated or divorced parents sharing custody: The parent the child is living with during the interview would be the identified parent.”

When talking about income, this can skew things, because a parent who is deployed overseas or a divorced parent sharing custody, the parent is still is involved in the child’s life and still financially contributes to the child’s financial, academic, and social well being.

But at the end of the day, it is simple mathematics. If two people are contributing to the family income, and two people are contributing to the raising and well being of the children, from a financial standpoint, things are going to be easier than with a single parent household.

Note: There are circumstances, especially when it involved spousal and child abuse, where living with the abusive person is not an option. So let’s look at some other ways to stay on budget.

Approach 2: Focusing on the big “ticket” items

There are certain things in the budget that are always going to account for a huge part of your monthly expenses.

First is “Uncle Sam” -- taxes. Everybody has to pay taxes. Nobody gets out of paying taxes. “The only sure thing in life is death and taxes.” For most people, assuming that 25% of your income goes to taxes is a realistic assumption. So before doing anything else, take off taxes from your gross income (income before taxes).

Second is housing. In a “perfect world”, I like to estimate 25% after taxes, but 30% is also fine. Take into account if your rent includes items like heat, you may be able to push this number up a bit. But once you start going to 40%, 45%, 50% of your income, the little things are not going to help, because the numbers will never add up.

Third is transportation. Cars have a lot of “other” expenses. There is the down payment on the car. Then there are the monthly payments. Then there are maintenance costs. Then there is insurance. Finally, there is gas (which, depending on what is going on in the world, can double without any warning). A “New-used car” will cost more in terms of the initial payments, but less in maintenance. But as the car gets older, the payments are lower (or potentially none), but then the maintenance costs are higher.

Now compare those expenses to buying a monthly train or bus pass.

Approach 3: Focusing on the small stuff

If you suddenly find yourself unemployed and you expect to get reemployed at the same level you were at before, it makes sense to try to focus on the small stuff.

There is a TV show called “Extreme Cheapskates”. I watched the pilot episode, and I watched one episode where “Uncle Roger” was commenting on the video.

When talking about trying to save money, there are some things that make sense, and there are some things that go in the category of “are you serious”?

Taking “army showers” -- You use water yourself. You shut off the water to lather yourself. Then turn back on the water to rise yourself off. A lot of people do this. It makes sense.

Using a clothes dryer -- A lot of people do this. It makes sense. If you have problems with rough feeling clothes, put the clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes then hang them to dry. It will help “break the fibers”, so the clothes do not feel as rough. Or you fling / whip the clothes item before hanging up to dry, and it can accomplish the same thing.

Using drying lint instead of cotton balls -- (seriously?) -- why are you using the drying and not just hanging your clothes up to dry?

Picking up the rice from the floor at your wedding -- (seriously?) -- Use candy instead. The kids will make sure that there is no wasted food, and you will end up with a lot of sugar filled happy children at your wedding.

Washing ziploc bags out -- If you just stored dry stuff in the bag, this makes sense.

1 ½ quart freezer mason jars -- If you want to store wet stuff, mason jars work better. The straight jars can be put into the freezer, while the “regular mason jars” cannot. In terms of lids, I prefer the plastic lids. The metal lids rust, and unless you are actually canning, you do not need metal lids. I looked into canning, and since my plan was to use the items I “canned” within 6 months, just freezing was fine.

Approach #4: Preplanning “the small stuff” -- invest in the future

The following are some ways to pre plan for future savings.

Chest Freezer -- if you invest in a chest freezer, you can take advantage of meat on sale, and you can buy tomato sauce in bulk, make a huge batch of pizza sauce, and then freeze it for later use. I brought a large chest freezer. It came with 4 baskets, 2 on each row, and there was the bottom. But the freeze could easily fit in 2 more baskets, so I went online and bought 2 more baskets. No wasted space.

Food grade garbage cans for storing dry ingredients -- Do not go cheap on this item and buy non food grade ones or even buy them used. These are intended to store food in, so they are made with materials that are designed to store food. These food grade garbage cans are great for storing flour and sugar.

Freezer Mason jars with plastic lids -- I buy in bulk and make huge batches of food items. But I never got into traditional canning. It is a lot of work, and if you do it wrong, people can get sick. But when I read the FDA’s guide on freezing and canning food, I realized that canned food (which does not have to have any extra processing) is generally fine for 6 months. And since I never canned more than I would use in a month (or 3 at most) at a time, just putting the food in freezer mason jars and putting them into the freezer was fine.

Buy in bulk -- If you get a membership to Restaurant Depot, you can buy things like flour, sugar, cheese, and tomato sauce in bulk. You buy a #10 can of tomato sauce, and from that you make pizza sauce, marinara sauce, etc. You can get 12 jars of sauce from 1 can of tomato sauce.

At the beginning of the school year, when the pens, pencils, paper, etc. are on sale, buy enough of these to last the whole school year. On top of that, learn the cycles of stores. Most stores have major sales in January, after the Christmas season. But buying a lot of gifts on sale “for the future” that just stay in a closet is not going to save you money in the long run.

Approach #5: Invest in your future and your children’s future

The more education you have, the more ability you will have to earn a higher income. More income means less financial problems.

As for your children, keep up with how their schooling is going. Ask them every day, “How was school today?” If they need a bit of prodding to get communication going, ask, “How did your math test go?” “What did you learn today?” The goal to be involved in your children’s education.

Do not forget the nightly storytime ritual. This works not only for helping reading skills, but also helps building the bonds between a child and a parent. As the kids unwind for the day, they will procrastinate going to sleep by talking about their day, asking questions, etc.

Tips for keeping a wedding in budget

When I was getting married, I was told, “There are only 2 things that people remember about a wedding: the food and the music.” So we invested in a good band for the music. For the food, we picked our favorite restaurant and did buffet style. For the server, we hired culinary students from the local high school cooking school. For the wedding dress, there was a local store that rented wedding dresses. It was a very informal wedding, and a lot of our guests afterwards commented that it was the best wedding that they had ever attended.

Is money saving shows worth watching?

Cheapskate Monthly started out as a monthly newsletter 10 years ago. I had brought her book. Although there were things that never became part of my routine, they did give me a general idea of “how her mind worked”. From that, I could create something that worked for my family. She now has a website, so visit the site, read the articles, and decide what works for you and your family.

Extreme Cheapskates is a TV Show. As would be expected from a TV show, things go the extreme where you scratch your head and wonder what this person was thinking. Although maybe these people have some good ideas on how to save money, the TV show obviously emphasizes the crazy stuff for ratings. On the flip side, if you are trying to teach consumer education, it can be a good starting point for a class to start talking about how you can accomplish something similar, but in a different way. And not all ideas that TV shows like this present are crazy. Some actually do make a lot of sense, and are not too difficult to include in your home life.

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