Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Family Who Fasts

I created a second blog to keep ourselves accountable on this particular part of the Williams adventures.  Check out the full version over here at The Family Who Fasts

The Plan
Our family is going on a "financial fast" for one year--spending money only on actual necessities, focusing on what we truly need, what we can live without, and how much we can save for what might be around the corner. We will use this time to be obedient to God's desire for our money management, and to experience spiritual growth--individually, as a couple, as parents, and for our family as a whole. Hopefully in the process we will be His light to others....even if they think we're crazy.

The Reality
Even though I "make good money" we never seem to get control of our monthly spending. When I look back on our newlywed years, part of me longs for those days of eating out several times a week, coming and going whenever we pleased, and buying gifts for everyone we knew. Fast-forward 15 years and three kids later--we love our life! This is truly the life I always wanted. But in all that time, we've never quite "made it" with our finances. Year after year after year we barely make our monthly bills, we build up a small savings then have to wipe it out for some unforeseen need, and we constantly dip into our reserve account to keep our checking account from overdraft. Every year we hold our breath until our tax refund can rescue us--which goes toward paying off debt, trying the savings again, and getting bills caught up.

Every month (twice, actually) when it's bill-time again, my husband knows he probably better stay away from the Wicked Wife of the West.
I am super-organized with our finances--we have gobs of spreadsheets, budgets, calculations, and categories. I keep budgeted numbers compared with actual numbers, color-coding where our out-of-budget spending went, what we need to improve on, and what we totally blew it on. We pray. We sacrifice. We cut. We cry (ok, I do). We pray more.

It's. Still. Not. Working.

I came across a blog called And Then We Saved which described one person's journey on a spending fast for one year. Like me, she felt a cycle of guilt and remorse which she finally declared must end. I couldn't stop reading, and I knew right then that if we were going to be faithful to God with our finances, it had to be dramatic, crazy, long-term, and ALL IN.

The Sacrifices
When I talked to my dear husband, you can imagine he was.....let's just say, less than thrilled. We had a not-so-fun argument about the constant despair of where-the-heck-does-our-money-go-every-month when we already feel like we've literally cut everything there is to cut. But, one thing I love about him is that he is a process thinker: he might get mad at first, but if I give him some space then he comes around. A few hours later he was 110% on board and already making plans even more dramatic than I had come up with. 

So we made an initial list of all the things we honestly could live without. Keeping in mind's only one year. And also reminding ourselves that we have proven over and over that can't do this on our own--we HAVE to do it God's way. (Why do we always wait until utter desperation before we understand that He truly knows better than we ever could! Sigh....) And what a coincidence (um, not!) that right after our little argument, Bryan came across this verse: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." Malachi 3:10 Well ok then. Not much more to think about, is there!

So here's the list of what our year will look like.....telling ourselves it's "short term pain for long term gain."

  • House mortgage--two of them, unfortunately
  • Utilities--electricity, water, heat, garbage
  • Cell phones--but limiting our plan
  • Email and internet
  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Friday coffee--this is our cheap date....and honestly, it's crucial for us!
  • Life insurance
  • Money market savings account
  • Health insurance
  • Tithe (this should probably be first on the list)
  • Kids extracurricular activities--one per kid per season
  • Lowe's and Home Depot--unless an actual "need" not a want
  • Cable--or at least a very minimal package
  • Cell phone "everything" plans (is Facebook really necessary 45 times a day?)
  • Costco membership--*insert sad face* but it seems to be a grocery-budget buster for us
  • Eating out, movies, dates
  • Kid rewards that involve money--such as eating out when they successfully pass their current level. We'll definitely provide a reward, but it will be focused more on quality time rather than something monetary.
  • Pet insurance
  • Gifts--attempting to make DIY homemade gifts
  • RV payment/sell the camper--this is the most dramatic on our list! *insert an even sadder face* But we will still go camping, we will just buck up and sleep in a tent.
  • Our current gas-hog car--but it is paid off, so we're planning to do a straight across trade for our SUV and RV in exchange for a more economic car which can still meet our family needs. We'll see what happens....
  • Civil War tickets *insert super really sad face*--we'll be selling them
  • Out of town trips--this doesn't mean never, but we will be more closely evaluating the actual cost (including gas) of each potential trip

The Wins
Selling the SUV and RV is a win-win-win on multiple levels--no more monthly RV payment, less gas to spend, decreased auto insurance, and less cost for campsites! This will be something we'll immediately benefit from, as well as all year. It sounds silly, but the RV is already one of the hardest sacrifices and I will cry when we sell it! It's more about the sentimental value--Graeson was only six months old when we bought it, and we knew he'd be 12 by the time we paid it off. And by that point, we figured the kids would probably rather sleep outside in a tent and we'd have the place to ourselves anyway! And it has so many fond family memories inside those four walls. Playing games while waiting out the rain, nap times in the air conditioned trailer, male-bonding at high school camp..... I know, I know--we'll make new memories. And we can always buy another (smaller) trailer at the end of our year if we just can't stand tent camping! But I will need a moment of silence to say goodbye to an old friend. (We even named him Harvey.)

Cable, cell phone package, and Costco will be an immediate win for our monthly bills. Our grocery budget is one area we just can't quite reach. Bryan is WAY better at the grocery budget than I am, and he's already thinking of less-expensive recipes we could easily adapt for our family. One up-front purchase we will probably make is to invest in a laptop, so we can still watch our favorite shows and movies on the internet.

But of course, the most important gain is the journey our family will be taking. Together. The kids are already on board, and coincidentally (or not?) have been learning about Godly money management in Sunday school. Kaela seems a little hesitant about it all, but ultimately I think her issues are that she just plain doesn't like change. And the thought of a different car is a little anxiety-provoking for her. But these are the exact lessons we want to teach our kids--in the context of Biblical teaching and the concept of giving up what we don't need.....and giving it all to God.

Goodbye ball and chain! We're not even going to miss you.