We are currently living within our means. That feels extraordinarily good to say.
However, one might conclude after such a statement that we're financially stable, that all our ducks are in a row, that we've got it all figured out. Unfortunately, and it pains me to admit this, but that's not at all the case. Living within our means is a step. A small, sure, steady step toward our goal of living without debt. What this looks like for us, on a teacher's salary (and my infrequent freelance work), living in a city where the safe neighborhoods are skyrocketing in cost, is quite simple: we live paycheck to paycheck and extras don't exist, or at least not very often. Here's what we're doing these days in an effort to craft a future without debt:
- Ellen set up an Excel document and spends one or two days a week working on our budget. Where I'm terrible with numbers and money, she's excellent, so our system works well for us. She works on the budget and on payday, immediately pays all bills online, which are dated in the budget. The budget spans several months out, so we can see exactly where our cash is going and allows us to save and plan for upcoming events, like school clothes for Adelaide or our yearly trek to the Canada cottage. She then briefs me weekly on where our income is headed and how much, if any, is leftover.
- Gone are the days of wayward spending, where we'd hop around on weekends spending a little at the coffee shop, a bit more for afternoon beers at the pub, and maybe a dinner out, a plant buying spree, or an online Amazon or Madewell order...and then suddenly, we're confused about where all of our money went and are struggling to make the numbers add up.
- Instead of relying on hindsight, we're planning ahead. We're structuring our budget and life in order to have a better future, even if it means that we're not able to have the immediate gratification of a weekend out or new clothes, where we're curbing 'fun for now' in hopes that we'll have less stress later.
- I keep a saved note on my phone, a running list of tasks or fun things to do that fight the urge to get out of the house and go spend. Whenever we're bored and we start talking about just 'running to the thrift store to look around' or 'let's just grab a beer at the pub', I'll pull out the list. There's always something on the list that we can tackle. Once knee deep in the task or activity, we always feel better that we're working on something productive rather than be out spending money we don't really have to spend. I will share some of those ideas in another post!
- We are actively paying down credit cards and school loans. We plan to have one of our credit cards completely paid off by August and another partially paid off. We took initiative and worked with our lenders on getting our student loan payments into a bracket that we can actually pay, and plan to increase the payments once our credit cards are paid off.
Recognizing that we are in control of our finances, despite the (severe) limitations of our current salaries, was life-changing. Sure, it may not look like a whole lot of fun right now...but fun for now is what gets us in trouble and leads to stress and/or guilt that's just not worth that dinner out or that spending spree on clothing we'll rarely wear. It all comes full circle, especially as we're working to streamline our entire lives: eating at home instead of out is healthier and often tastes better, and shopping emotionally instead of practically leaves us with things we didn't need or want in the first place. So instead of continuing a pattern of spending, we took a step toward our goals of being debt-free. The road ahead is long and the step isn't particularly glamorous, but it's one that is already giving us a feeling of accomplishment and reward...and it feels really, really good.