Let me preface this post by saying that I am talking to myself as much as anyone else. I have definitely made my fair share of stupid and selfish money decisions, but I hope that my experience can keep you from making the same ones.
I haven’t taken my family out to eat for a long time. Why? Because the 5 of us can’t get out of even a budget-priced restaurant for under $50. That is a good chunk of our weekly grocery budget! I used to think, “Oh it’s just $20, I won’t miss it.” But when I started taking that extra $20 and throwing it at my car loan, I couldn’t believe how quickly I had it paid off. I generally prefer my own cooking, anyway! If going out to eat it something you REALLY enjoy, budget it in for a rare treat, or to celebrate a special occasion. As long as you are in debt or continue to have too much month left at the end of your money, you need to be realistic that eating out isn’t something you are going to do weekly, or probably even monthly.
Now, let’s talk about Starbucks. Seeing a Starbucks cup in the hand of someone who cannot pay their bills seriously drives me crazy. Why this is the one thing that absolutely sends me into Judgey McJudgerson mode, I’m not sure. I realize that maybe someone blessed them with a gift card, or there was some situation like that, but let’s get real: 90% of the time they just spent $6 on a cup of coffee because they felt like they deserved a treat because life is really hard when you are broke. Let me virtually slap that Starbucks cup out of your hand right now – this is the kind of thinking that will keep you broke for a very long time. If you are spending $25 per person per week on food, that $6 could have fed someone for 2 days!
Movies and concerts are in the same category. If this is something that is REALLY important to you, save your spending money. But don’t adjust your spending money to cover an entire concert ticket. I allow myself $20 a month of spending money. If I want something more expensive, I have to save for a few months! It’s a great way to learn patience, and by the time I have the money saved I generally change my mind about what I was going to buy anyway.
If you are broke, you can’t afford a new iPhone. You probably don’t need a smart phone at all, unless you are legitimately using it for work anyway. This is a huge temptation for me because I am an Apple fan girl, and since I DO make a significant portion of my living online, it’s easy for me to justify techy purchases. I recently went through a change in my life that meant I was broke overnight. Not only did I put the brakes on any frivolous spending, I sold my iPad, and attempted to sell my iMac (people who try to take advantage of someone’s situation are a topic for another post), and was able to pay off my car and completely eliminate that payment. Not only did I make ends meet on a scarily small budget, I paid extra on my debt and had a huge financial victory!
I get the love of the MacBooks, and Kindles, and Keurigs … I totally get it! But if you are in a tight spot you CANNOT afford these luxuries. Sell them and add even nicer ones to your dream board. When you are out of debt you can buy whatever gadget you want, and the best part is that you won’t be trading your financial freedom for it.
“Look at this new, artisanal beignets I picked up at Costco to go with my $6 Starbucks coffee!” Seriously tho, convenience foods are more expensive, and while it can be soul-sucking to make everything from scratch, it is a necessity when you are broke. A big bag of rice and dry beans from Sam’s is not the highest-brow eating you will ever do, but it will feed your family CHEAPLY for a long time. Frozen pizzas, pre-packaged snacks, soda, and all of those convenience foods need to hit the bricks until you are in better financial shape. I make everything from tortillas to crackers from scratch, and having to plan ahead does stink, because when you have the munchies, you have the munchies, but it has revolutionized my food budget.
If you are in dire need to get away, there ARE budget-friendly options (helloooo… camping), but when you are broke there is no way that you can justify taking your family on a cruise or spending anywhere near that kind of money on a vacations. I’ve heard the justification that you can’t put a price on memories, but you can make lots of great memories without being on a beach. By all means start a vacation envelope and save so you CAN take an awesome trip when you are debt-free. But until you ARE debt-free, vacations are not a priority.
When you are in the season of being broke it can seem like an endless desert, but if you really keep plugging away you will start seeing progress, which will fuel your motivation. Get realistic about your priorities, and what you are really spending your money on. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or Dani Johnson’s War on Debt are great places to start. What would you add to the list of things you can’t afford if you are broke?