Suddenly needing to budget and downshift (more) - Need advice please, where to start? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 10-10-2012, 08:38 PM - Thread Starter
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It seems like life has a way at balancing itself out constantly. The fortune and misfortune, So I can look at it as every downfall is followed by a windfall, or if I want to be negative every windfall by a downfall...


Bummed out and crunching numbers tonight. I was anticipating a shift in our financial situation- partner works (getting married next summer so i refer to him as my husband some of the time in these forums), and I had been making a small amount in craft sales, being a SAHM with our new baby, and taking care of our 3 part-time kindergartners and managing all of my son's (who has autism) therapy appointments etc. He just recently got approved for SSI, and I saw this light at the end of the tunnel that I may be able to start doing more for him, and the rest of my family. Well, they misquote me and then called back later to say it would be HALF the amount they had told me. Then in the same day I was told that my food benefits would pretty much be cut now that I have a baby with my partner (2 of the older boys are mine, 1 his). SO, I am getting SSI now but actually further in the hole because I lost my other benefits. because the SSI benefit brought our income over! I thought, perhaps now I will just need to find out how to make extra money- but if I do, for the money I earn the SSI will be cut back, until it finally reaches an even point again and I could possibly start making more than where I started. 


I am disappointed because I thought the SSI was to help my son, but now it is being counted against the rest of my family and we are worse off than before. I definitely did not want to be part of the system forever, but with a developmentally disabled child, a new baby, and 3 of our 4 children in K part days a job in my field is basically impossible, I've done the math and we would LOSE more money if I worked f/t and put the baby in f/t care and the others in after/before school care! It's crazy. And I'm mourning the fact I won't be able to do the things I was hoping to for my son. :(


The one bright side of this, I suppose, is that I am where I am. I KNOW I am in this financial situation that won't change much any time soon, and I KNOW working would actually cost our family more than me staying home at this time- not to mention added stress on our children and family as a whole. So, I know what i have to work with! Fortunately I was already in the mindset of figuring out how to live more frugally and have a big discussion with my partner about really putting it all on the table and having a real, mindful budget. I know it probably sounds terrible, but I don't think either of us have been good with money and budgeting. I'm not so bad I guess, I make so little I am totally aware of my finances and everything goes to bills and things my kids absolutely need. But as a partner, I don't question how we spend a lot of *his* money. He covers everything else, but there is a lot of spending that goes unchecked- toys the kids don't need, clothes the kids don't need, eating out too much, etc etc. I don't think we really should be upset we lost benefits, because I think we are capable of cutting back and living more frugally than we do. I had just hoped to invest more in my son- and I can- but it will just take longer.


I just want to know how you (yes, you!) got to a point of living a much more frugal, simple, downshifted life. I am particular about some things- I want to preserve my values as best as I can and those include using natural/ organic/ healthy the most I can on a tight budget. I would forgo it for survival, but I'm looking to make things work in our favor as best we can. Specifically by eliminating the things we don't truly need, or at least keeping them in check. I think I am bad at meal planning and stocking up on food- I always act as a short-order cook for picky eaters... I want to know if anyone has pointers on eating well on a tight budget- and in a way that is healthy and somewhat pleasing to kids.


I also want advice on how to talk to my partner. Money has always seemed like a sensitive issue with him and he never is very open about budgeting with me. I think we both need to really become conscious of our money and how it goes toward things, and find the places where we are wasting it. How much were you able to shift your lifestyle, and mend your finances? 


The one thing we can't change right now is where we live. We rent a house and the cost of living here is high-for a 3 bedroom house, which is our minimum room requirement. Our lease is through next summer, at which pint we are going to look into buying a house or finding something potentially more affordable. Being in the position to buy is going to take a lot of work, though. And possibly a lot longer than next summer.


Mostly this comes down to food and excess spending. Just wanting pointers on how you tackled those issues :) 

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#2 of 6 Old 10-10-2012, 10:11 PM
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Crockpot soups, beans and rice, and spaghetti with pesto or meat sauce are our go-to healthy budget meals.



Which things are you not able to do with your son now?


Sorry you're going through this...I actually know someone who had to quit her job in order to preserve some of her necessary assistance...she also has a disabled son.

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#3 of 6 Old 10-11-2012, 12:07 PM
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If you're even remotely tight with money, I do'nt really recommend buying a house.  It's easy to have something go wrong (window gets broken, furnace breaks down, hot water heater explodes... stove top stops working) and you're on deck for those financially where you're so totally not with renting (in general).  Also, the estimates don't necessarily include your taxes which depending on where you are may be hundreds of dollars a month... of course I'm in ny, where taxes are really high. 


I say this because I was one of those people who put ALL our savings down on the down payment/closing costs (which are more substantial than I had expected) and then things were EXTREMELY tight for a few years, especially when anything broke... and we had no kids and were in an excellent financial position in general (great income, no other debt, etc).  We went from going out to eat 3-4 times/week, and having tons of cash to spend on whatever we wanted, to nearly never eating out, that kind of thing.


I remember looking at houses as a renter and thinking "omg a mortgage is cheaper than renting!" and how great owning a house would be and all that, but most of our weekends are taken up by house-fixing/cleaning gutters/mowing the lawn (though maybe you have to do these things as renters, too...). 


It's definitely more expensive than renting.  /rant shy.gif

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#4 of 6 Old 10-11-2012, 03:00 PM - Thread Starter
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The only reason we are considering buying someday is because we are getting married next summer and my parents gave us this option: Either have a moderate wedding and moderate wedding 'gift', Or a very simple/ cheap wedding and they would start an account for us that had money towards a down payment and closing costs. Other family members will contribute as well, and how could we opt out of that? Even if it takes us years,  It will be there. As far as fixing things etc... I totally get that. My parents have replaced a lot on their house... Luckily my dad is a retired craftsman, and he can do almost anything in regard to building or fixing a house, inside and out. I have taken part in those projects as well, and he strangely looks forward too helping with those things... Where we live it us pretty easy to find a   foreclosed or low cost home and get it so mortgages and taxes are lower than renting- if you go the right routes. But who knows! we have to work on getting to an approval point first! I am content renting for now, just wish rent wasn't so damn high! Thanks for the input though- definitely something to be aware and wary of. One of the upsides of our rental is that it is newer and pretty energy efficient! we paid $150 less for our last place, which was old and falling apart, but we probably save that much in cold-weather heating here! Way nicer house, same cost essentially!


Emma- I know others who have dealt with that too. It's a a weird balance thing, I am so grateful for all of the assistance I have gotten, but it's this tipping point thing where suddenly you're worse off than where you started when you are actually trying to be more self sufficient. 


I recently rekindled my love of the crock pot, and with fall and winter underway more one-pot cooking might be nice :) Also been needing to reset our kids eating habits.

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#5 of 6 Old 10-11-2012, 08:43 PM
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Regarding the finicky eaters and frugal cooking -


At one point, I had 6 kids; 3 were VERY picky (1 with autism, 2 therapeutic level foster kids with serious food issues). I very quickly learned that I can not be a short order cook, nor can I be the food police. I just couldn't fight that battle. For dinner, there were always 2 choices - either whatever I cooked, or a do-it-yourself peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No other options, ever. Homemade sugar free jam, natural PB, and whole grain bread. Even the 5 year old learned to make a sandwich and clean up after himself. This may not have been the most healthy diet imaginable, but I really couldn't handle arguing and coaxing every dinner time. There was also a large bowl of fresh fruit available at all times - unlimited access, no need to even ask. Popcorn, home made, not microwave, was about the only other snack, and I made that nearly every night. Not eating was also another option - dinner was available, but not required. I had to rethink many ideas I had about nutrition and priorities, but it worked well for us, and somehow, most of the food issues faded away. Everyone is remarkably healthy, and even the autistic YoungSon eats a nearly full diet these days (he still has some texture issues, won't eat mashed potatoes for example).

One dinner that almost everyone liked was macaroni and cheese with broccoli. Everyone but the non-veggie eater, that is! Or with rice instead of the macaroni.


Another thing that went over well was build-your-own pizzas (on English muffins) or burritos. Kids loved participating, and seemed to eat anything they had made themselves. Not everyone chose all the healthiest ingredients from what I put out, but there were always lots of choices. The toppings/fillings were often leftovers, so quite un-pizza- or un-burrito-like, but we called them that anyway, and laughed about how weird our pizzas could be.


Weekend breakfasts were often fresh baked biscuits, with a large assortment of toppings like butter, jam, cheese, leftover meat, honey, and everyone fixed their own at the table. Again, at least nothing was wasted, and there was no need to be picky if you are fixing your own food.


I second the idea of renting longer. I really appreciate that my landlord fixes things as they break - I would never have the money when needed for a furnace or other emergency.

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#6 of 6 Old 10-12-2012, 08:58 AM - Thread Starter
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Mamarhu- really good meal ideas! That definitely sound like things I could see myself doing. My son with ASD is gfcf, which can be spendy but I try to do much of it from scratch and he is a big fan of fruits and veggies and protein- by far my least picky eater these days. I have attempted awhile back to see if I could put him back on a semi-"normal" diet and it just doesn't work for him. His dad has celiacs, and my son has the same symptoms if he eats wheat or dairy, as well as getting COVERED in eczema. So it's not really a choice but I plan on budgeting much of his SSI for "his" foods. 


My husband and I have talked about needing to shift the kids to a more whole-grain, whole-foods palate- While I avoid processed foods, they still prefer, like many children, the-closest-to-white-flours possible, gluten free or regular. It's funny and sad being one of those people who judged other parents who catered to their picky kids- "Why not just NOT give them any options? They will eat if they are hungry!"... And now I see how easy it is to fall into that pattern of giving in to their preferences. It's a fine balance of discerning their legitimate aversions- like texture and certain flavors- and the total unwillingness to try new things. We are working on that, trying to respect their deep-rooted dislikes while encouraging a varied diet. I had one of those "the game has changed" moments when I heard for the 100th time in a row "I don't like _____ " in regards to the meal when sitting down to the table. Even things they DID like! I told them it hurt my feelings, i had worked hard to make something I thought they might enjoy, and if they tried something and truly didn't like it, we could talk about after. It seemed to really help- telling them how their attitude made me feel vs. just telling them they needed to try it etc.


I think crock pots/ casseroles/ baked dishes etc are something I am going to look into more- usually with those I can tweak an ingredient and my gfcf child can have the same thing. I think offering an alternative may help, but could hurt initially because I KNOW how our 2 NT older boys work- they wouldn't give dinner a chance if they knew there was an alternate. But we do give them alternates if they truly don't like something they've tried.


Yes, buying would have to entail the right circumstances- a perfect home for us at a very reasonable price that would equate to a low enough mortgage that we could actually afford to put money into savings more, in case something needed fixed etc. I would not consider buying something that put us in the position that we are now- JUST paying the bills, with no backup. Another huge money suck is my husband is making car payments on a new car he bought years before I met him- which also makes his insurance super high. I wasn't part of that decision, and his dad is a cosigner on it and isn't very supportive on him "returning" the car and buying something outright... but it would save us a couple hundred a month! Definitely something that needs to be looked into further, IMHO. 

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