What are we doing wrong?

I work 40 hours a week in retail pseudo-management (pay is somewhere between full management and average employee). My wife works 20+ hours a week in customer service and 10+ hours a week teaching various crochet classes. In her spare time she does crochet design work to bring in more income. In the Spring I make maple syrup and fight to make more money selling it than I put into the effort. So far all the wood for the evaporator has been obtained for free.

We have a smaller home than anyone else we know, but it’s still a $1000/mo. mortgage. Three years ago we disconnected the cable TV. Then we ditched the home phone service in favor of an ¬†internet based phone that cost less per year than we had been paying monthly. We have the smallest bandwidth internet package our ISP offers. We do not own smartphones. We each have pre-paid flip phones, for contacting each other and for emergencies. The kids don’t have “their own” phones, media players or computers. No iPhones, no iPad, no iPod. No Nook, No Kindle. The two laptops we’ve had were both secondhand gifts. We have a Netflix streaming video subscription. All the rest of our video entertainment we find for free online and watch on our single desktop computer and 24″ monitor.

We hang out our laundry whenever we can to avoid the unnecessary cost of running the dryer. There is not an incandescent light bulb left in our home. The lights we use everyday have LED bulbs, all the rest are CFL’s. No light comes on in this house during the day, and at night, only the ones needed. We upgraded our windows to energy efficient units. In the winter, we keep the thermostat at 60 and opt for electric blankets on the beds over heating the entire house while we sleep. I installed a timer switch on our oil burner so that it can only run when we need it to, not all the time, needlessly keeping a tank of water hot. (This act alone saved us an entire tank’s worth of oil a year.)

We have a garden and raise chickens to save on food costs. We manage to feed this family of four for about $100 a week, and we eat well. (I am losing weight for the first time in 8 years, just from healthier food choices, and it hasn’t increased our food bill.) We sell our excess eggs. It largely covers the cost of feed, allowing us all the fresh, free eggs we can eat. We grow more in our garden than we can eat, and put the rest up for storage. In the last 2 years we’ve purchased and planted 5 apple, 2 pear and 2 cheery trees as investments in our own food and financial security.

I have sourced thouands of dollars worth of goods and materials through Freecycle, Craigslist, salvaged from worksites and accepted used from friends and family. From the building materials alone I’ve been able to build (instead of buy): all the raised bed planters in the garden; the clothesline; the permanent and mobile chicken coops; an apple press; benches for the yard; the gate to the chicken yard; a solar air heater; a food storage pantry; storage racks for my lumber; stairs, walls and ceiling in the garage; and at least 75% of both the sugar shack and deck. Other things we can enjoy that didn’t cost us one penny: the propane grill, all the lawn furniture, the stove, the dishwasher, roller blades, hoses, the exhaust fan, the tomato cages, fencing, and more that are too trivial to name.

I have taught myself to do my own plumbing, electrical and automotive work when needed.

While the kids still get injections of newer secondhand clothes from various sources, Sara and I wear clothes until they’re just this side of decent. I will often wear mine longer.

Sara and I will routinely trade vehicles so that the person who has to drive the farthest on any given day will take the most fuel efficient of the two.

We do not own a single credit card. If we want or need something, we have to pay for it, or we have to save for it.

We have successfully paid off a ten year old rolling personal loan. We own one vehicle and are borrowing another.

When gas prices go up, we hurt.

When heating oil prices go up, we hurt.

When electricity prices go up, we hurt.

When food prices go up, we hurt.

When my tax burden goes up, we hurt.

When I don’t get a raise, we hurt.

When my earnings are capped, we hurt.

When the cost or need for childcare increases, we hurt.

When banks add fees, we hurt.

When fees for things I am required to participate in by law go up, we hurt.

When I must by law purchase medical insurance and then its cost goes up or its coverage goes down, we hurt.

I have done every gods damned conceivable thing that is in my power to do to control my costs and expenses. We live as lean as we can. Every single cut we’ve made or increase in income we’ve squeezed in the last few years have done nothing more than maintain a net zero. We hang onto the vaunted middle class by our bleeding fingernails.

You tell me what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t see it.

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2 responses to “What are we doing wrong?

  1. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. I don’t know what to suggest, but I couldn’t read your post (for the third time) and not say something. We too have the smallest house of anyone we know. I’m fine with that, the husband not so much. We have the advantage of owning the house completely, but on the flipside, the reason we own it is because the husband has a permanent work-related injury and is now on a disability pension and in pain every day. I’m self-employed and doing ok (although the accountant said we qualified as ‘low income’ in the last tax year!). Not having a mortgage anymore helps a lot, but we have smartphones (mine is prepaid) and laptops and the kids have computers and ipods etc. I was lucky enough to finish my degree the year before the govt brought in the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, so I didn’t have to pay for my education (apart from books etc). Things are a little tight at times, but nothing like you describe. Sure, the husband would like to extend or move somewhere bigger and buy new ‘stuff’, but there’s nothing we really need that we can’t manage. I don’t know if it’s the difference between the US and Australia? Perhaps it’s just luck on our part – we bought the house when the market was at its lowest, and were able to put extra into the mortgage while we were childless and both working, and then the injury compensation finished it off (it wasn’t a huge amount, but the mortgage wasn’t huge by that stage, and it was a cheap house to start with). I don’t know – I have friends who earn three times our income, but who aren’t much better off than we are in terms of disposable income because of big mortgages and car loans and the rest of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but you sounds like survivors, and you’ll find a way.

  2. Would it help if I became an egg/syrup customer?

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