Tomorrow, my family and I begin a one year spending moratorium. Originally I was calling it a “spending holiday” as in, taking a holiday from spending, but that phrase sounded fun and as my husband pointed out, this will not be fun. At all. Yet it’s absolutely necessary.
Like many American families, we have way too much debt. Besides a mortgage we have a smidge of credit card debt, a loan to pay off even older debt, and a home equity loan we used to purchase and install heat pumps. Ok, let’s be honest here. That last loan is really a second mortgage. I just hate calling it that because it makes me want to throw up. Plus there’s the usual monthly bills and essentials like gas and food. Meanwhile our car is hanging on by a thread, and I mean that literally. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to put any more money into it for the next year, but the way it’s sounding and shaking, I’m thinking it needs to go back to the garage and hope they can fix it.
Not only do we need to pay for all I mentioned, but we’re trying desperately to go on a 9-day vacation next autumn, including a short Disney cruise and 5 days at Disney World. 2017 is a big year for us. The boy turns 10 in the spring, my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in the summer and my husband will turn 50 in the fall. Those are some big-ass milestones and we want to celebrate appropriately!
So what does a spending moratorium mean exactly? Well, no more spending frivolously. I can’t say that I am particularly frivolous with money. I do try to be conscious of what I spend. (My husband, on the other hand, is not quite as conscious. Yet just talking about this moratorium has made him much more so.) I buy a coffee maybe once a week, otberwise I always make it at home or work. I don’t buy books or movies or music. I do buy clothes occasionally, but since my weight has pretty much stabilized, I don’t really *need* to buy anything. BUT, I do like to buy the occasional gift for family and friends, even when I really can’t afford to. I also go over budget on our grocery bill every single week. I justify the over spending by saying, “Hey. I don’t travel, I don’t go out, so I’m going to buy whatever I want for food to have in the house.” But now that has to stop.
I want to feel like we’re not drowning. I want to feel like we’re in control of our lives even a little tiny bit. And I want to go on that damn vacation. I want to escape this life for just a little bit and try to enjoy ourselves, but I want to do that without this heavy burden to carry. A burden I realize we created but one we are ready and willing to cast off. No matter how painful. And I *know* this will be painful.
Does this mean we’ll stop living for the next year? No. I will still buy running shoes every six months so my feet don’t fall off. I’ll still buy my husband another pair of work pants since I mistakenly bleached his other ones. We’ll still give our son his allowance each week as long as he does his chores. And we will all still go see the movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in December because it would be insane not to. (It’s the one movie we’ll see in the theater this year.) But it does mean that if we run out of coffee on Wednesday, I won’t pick it up until Friday. (Let’s all hope this doesn’t happen because it will be disastrous for everyone.) If all of my underwear or socks have holes in them, I will keep wearing them until they disintegrate. As my kid grows out of clothes, we will not go to department stores but to Goodwill and thrift stores to find something he can wear. The moratorium means we’ll all need to plan better, live with what we have or find very inexpensive alternatives for what we need. Which is what we should be doing anyway, right?
This also means no more gift giving or a drastically reduced version of it. Each child we typically buy gifts for will each get $5 and possibly a book for both Christmas and their birthdays. (Our own kid will be an exception, but he is aware that he will need to save for most of what he wants.) All of the adults in our families will get a pat on the back, a heartfelt note of how awesome they are and possibly a homemade goodie. And Christmas cards? Well, this one is really difficult for me. I *love* sending and receiving Christmas cards. I will still send some, but only to those not online. That’s literally only a handful of folks. I may post my holiday letter on Facebook so the usual suspects can still read it, but they just won’t get it in the mail this year. This bit of the moratorium is what really hurts me. I know it sounds silly and very corny, but it brings me great joy to send those cards and letters out. I don’t think it’s the fact that I’m telling everyone about what we’ve been up to, although that’s nice, too, but I love hearing about everyone else’s lives and what *they’ve* been up to. I get all cozy on my couch with a cup of tea or coffee and I read those letters and cards and notes and think about those friends and family that I don’t get to see face-to-face anymore. I block out a little time to spend with them. It’s like a little gift to myself.
Over the next year, if you ask me to join you for lunch or an outing of some sort, please forgive me if I say “no.” It’s not that I don’t want to, but I just can’t. Most of my friends are totally cool with me just saying that I can’t afford it right now because we’ve all been there or are currently there. I don’t expect people to buy my way into places, either. If there’s something I want to do that I’m willing to sell something or give up food for, then I’ll do it. This is not a cry for donations or assistance. This is just me setting the ground rules for how my family and I need to live for the next year.
This will not be easy. It will not be fun, although it may be more fun for me than for others. I love paying my bills and knowing they’re paid for and we owe nothing else that week. The hard part is realizing there isn’t enough money left for all the groceries you intended to buy….or the wine you really, really need….ok, really, really want. (cue Spice Girls music)
If you have any tips for me on how to save money or make a little extra cash, I’m all ears. Admittedly, I won’t do things like get an extra job or do something that will take even more time away from my child. I’m not quite that desperate yet. But suggestions like buying no-brand food items, ripping dryer sheets in half, or baking my own bread (all of which I do) are all helpful. If there’s something you do that has helped you save money, please let me know. I want my head *above* water for a change.