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Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's All Relative

Just like a lot of folks everywhere, we find ourselves with a budget that is spread pretty darn thin. We blame no one for our situation but ourselves. We have just a few too many credit card bills, and are working hard to change that situation. Because of this, and probably because it is just in my nature, I do my best to get the most I can for our money. If I can get produce at one-third the price by going a few blocks further from home, that's where I will be. If a store does price-matching, I'll be making note of what's cheaper elsewhere.

It's because of this need and this way of life that I was attracted to a magazine cover story recently. How could I not read an article about how a family of four saved thousands of dollars in the last year? Every time I see something like this, I acknowledge right away that everyone's situation is different. We do not have two teenage sons. They do not have a nine-pound attack poodle who thinks she's the roughest, toughest wolf in town. But if reading this article gives me some ideas that can save me a few dollars when I go to the grocery store, I'm eager to read it.

Like us, this couple decided that they were suffering financially because they had too many credit cards to pay off. I could identify. While driving to a family skiing trip, they decided that something must be done. Okay, starting to not quite identify like I did at first. Apparently through the many years of their marriage, they have kept their finances totally separate. They each have their own banking and credit accounts and don't pool their funds at all. One of them pays the mortgage and their own credit cards, and the other pays the rest of the bills. Hey, if that works for them, then hurrah. As long as everyone has shelter and food, life is good, right?

Okay, so they both agree that they need to make an effort to get rid of credit debt. She decides to go with a plan she read about in a book. I'm cool with that; we all have our things we do to make it happen. Mine involves a very high-tech set of tools...a couple of clipboards, some paper, a mechanical pencil, and an eraser from the dollar store. The plan established in this book is fairly simple. You start with the amount of your monthly income, and subtract the amounts of all your bills. You know, water, cable, phone, etc. Then you divide the remaining amount by the number of days in the month to get your average daily spending allowance for groceries, gas, and discretionary spending. And if you don't have the money, you don't use your credit card to get stuff, thereby reducing your credit card debt. You don't have to only spend x dollars in one day, but you must realize that if you spend double in one day, another day takes a hit.

Okay, this still makes sense to me. It's a variation on the "I have xx dollars to spend this week" budget or mindset. Then the author of the article lost me. After she pays her share of bills, and not counting what her husband can provide (because their budgets are separate, remember) she is floored by the small amount of her average daily budget. As I recall, she said it was in the neighborhood of $93.00 a day. Huh? I'm sorry, did you say you only had $93.00 a day to scrape by on? Hmm. Broke really is a relative term, isn't it?

Trent and I consider ourselves blessed. We have a comfortable apartment, and we are not starving. But our combined budget for groceries, gas, and so forth after our bills are paid comes to less than $9.00 a day. No, I didn't skip any zeros. Or any other digits, for that matter. Again, I don't have teenage kids. Or an additional fund of money that may be being utilized for dining out and such. It's rather hard for me to sympathize with her distress over whether she should still spend six or seven dollars per gallon on organic milk when her kids go through a gallon or more a day. And don't even get me started about her guilt over buying the designer blouse she didn't really need, but got anyway because it was on sale. 

There are lots of families who never have had this sort of quandary. It's more about being able to afford enough food to get through from day to day. Designer blouse? Highly unlikely. I have to remind myself that it's all relative. What's broke for one person is living like royalty for others (me! me!). Yet there are many who are far less fortunate than me. And, all things being relative, when I get a bit bummed because I can't buy something I want, I try to remember that. And then go to the kitchen to cook something tasty with all the food we bought on sale.