May 7, 2010
Examining One Family's Stay-At-Home Budget
IconEXAMINING ONE FAMILY'S STAY-AT-HOME BUDGET By Cheryl Gochnauer Recently, I received the following e-mail: "Have you considered sharing your'stay-at-home mom's tight budget' with your readers? I would be veryinterested in reading it." There are lots of practical steps a family can take to bring their financesunder control and unlock the door to Mom coming home. I'll be happy to letyou peek at my own budget, to get some insight on living frugally. You maysay, "Gee, that's a lot of work for such little return...", but keepreading. Consistent cost-cutting over the broad scope of your finances canreap significant rewards. The secret to pruning your budget is mastering the ability to separate wantsfrom needs. Got your highlighter handy? All right...on your mark...getset...SAVE! We sold our financed vehicles and bought two reliable older cars for cash.Even with the occasional breakdown, the overall cost is still less than amonthly payment. Because our cars aren't mortgaged, we carry only liabilityinsurance, which slashes premium costs. By securing a no-fee mortgage refinance, our monthly house payment dropped20 percent, with no out-of-pocket expenses. All it cost us was time - a fewphone calls to go through the application process, then a short drive to themortgage company to sign the papers. A home equity loan paid off all credit cards and installment loans andfinanced some remodeling. Interest is tax-deductible, we pay one billinstead of four, and I'm enjoying a new home office...all for $70 less amonth than we were paying before. We raised deductibles on policies, after shopping around to secure thelowest price on life, homeowners and car insurance. We chose comprehensivemedical plans that limit out-of-pocket expenses and allow us to pay a flatrate per office visit. Jealously guarding my at-home status, I resist paying full price foranything. I stick to that conviction while watching for coupons and weeklysales, taking stores up on their price-matching offers. Carrying threedifferent ad flyers into a local department store, I save gas as I do all myshopping in one spot. There is usually a 30-day price guarantee, too. After making your purchase,watch advertisements over the next month. If the item you bought goes onsale, you can visit the service desk with your proof of purchase and get acash refund for the difference. I don't go to the mall, unless I'm carrying a sale flyer which places itemswithin my limited budget. When buying big ticket items from commissionedsalespeople, be prepared to negotiate. You probably already know you canhaggle over cars, but what about furniture? Or appliances? Anywherethere's a commission to be made, there's a salesperson who has a vestedinterest in selling you something. Be wise as a serpent, gentle as a dove -and demand the best deal available. When shopping for groceries, make a detailed list before you leave the houseand stick to it. Take coupons for items you've selected, and patronizesupermarkets that give you double and triple their face value. Invest in afreezer and stock up on "loss leaders", the low-priced teaser items storesuse to lure you. Many clothes marked "dry clean only" can be handwashed in gentle soap fordelicates. But a sure way of saving money is avoiding buying "dry cleanonly" clothes in the first place. Speaking of buying clothes, don't overlook those neighborhood garage sales,especially the ones held in more upscale areas of town. Kids grow out ofclothes so quickly, these sales can be a blessing. Often, gently-worn jeansand dresses are found for pennies. You can garner some cash and free upspace by cleaning out closets and basements for your own sale. Our credit union offers no-cost checking. By purchasing checks through themail, I pay a third of what banks are charging. For that inevitable loan,I've found credit unions consistently charge lower rates than banks, sothey've got my business when it comes time to buy a big-ticket item. We paid off, then canceled, all our credit cards except one. This majorcredit card carries a low fixed rate, with no annual fee. We try to use ourcard only to the extent that we can pay it off each month, avoiding debt andinterest charges. If you have an excellent credit history, request theannual fee be waived. There's a good possibility they'll agree, sincecompetition for trustworthy credit customers is fierce. The first time I stroked out opening an outrageously high electric bill, Icalled the utility company and learned about level payment plans. Now wepay a predetermined amount each month, protected from burdensome chargesgenerated by July's heat or January's freezing temperatures. Take advantage of buy-in-bulk opportunities on everything from frozen foodsto Internet access service. Send e-mail messages to on-line friends andassociates instead of calling long distance or using snail mail. I don'tput a stamp on any mail I can deliver myself. Fill out and mail those rebate forms. I've received a computer modem, 200diskettes, extra memory and a software upgrade for free, just because I tookthe time to fill out the proper paperwork. Often, I'll come out ahead when using a combination of coupons and mail-inrebates. For instance, a shampoo was on sale for $2.50. I used a 50 centcoupon, and the store doubled it. My cost for the shampoo was now $1.50. Itook two minutes to fill out the $2.00 mail-in rebate attached to thebottle. Even after the cost of a 34-cent stamp, I had a free bottle ofshampoo and 16 cents to the good. I don't pay for baby-sitting when I can trade with a friend. A filmfanatic, I've been known to trade typing services for show tickets. But Ionly go see movies I'm dying to see. All others, I rent on video whenspecials are running: 2-for-1 Mondays, etc. Whether minding our manners at a sit-down restaurant or pigging out at thelocal buffet, my family uses newspaper coupons and Gold C or Entertainmentcoupon books. Sometimes it's cheaper to eat out than cook at home,especially when you visit an establishment where kids eat free. Penny-pinching aside, there are some things you just gotta have. Aftertrying to live without it for six months, our family decided satellite TVwas a necessity. So, we'll cut somewhere else. Instead of taking a daily newspaper, I buy the Sunday edition, which usuallypays for itself because of the coupons inside. I don't purchase books ormagazines I can check out of the library, unless I can use the informationin them on an on-going basis. Networking is important. Find out whose brother-in-law works on homecomputers... whose friend knows lawns...whose sister holds a once-a-yearprimo garage sale with upper-class outfits going for a pittance. Don't pay someone else to do something you can do yourself. Use the morerelaxed time schedule of an at-home mom to expand your horizons in ways thatwill benefit your family. Learn to maintain your automobiles, do your owntaxes, perform your own repairs. Wear out your library card, checking out"how-to" books. By applying thrifty principles liberally, you'll be surprised how muchyou'll save. Then, when it comes time to splurge on something that's justpure fun, you won't feel guilty -- it'll be your reward for being such agood steward of your finances. (Comments? Write , or visit her website at . Her book, " So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom ," isavailable through Dr. Laura#146;s Reading Corner . Copyright2001 Homebodies.Org, LLC. Permission granted for use on

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