Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Look at the Pocketbook

This post yesterday was a very timely one for me, and a good reminder that life is enriched by how you spend your time, not your money. I start school tomorrow, and intend to spend the next two years (maybe longer) earning my Master of Public Health (MPH). That means a certain amount of student loans, although I am going to keep it to the smallest amount of debt possible. But I'm starting out on close to nothing, and today signifies a pretty big change in how Matt and I will be spending our money. We've been prioritizing our spending in a different way this summer (I'll get to that below), but from here on in, we'll be living extremely frugally.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

When we arrived home from New Zealand at the end of May, we didn't have a whole lot of money, but the experience we got for our money was more than worth it. We came home expecting to be able to find jobs for the summer, and then hopefully ongoing ones, in particular a part-time one for me while I attended school. Things haven't exactly gone that way. We came home into some of the highest unemployment rates Oregon (and the rest of the U.S.) has ever seen. These days, our college educations mean very little, and Matt was happy to find work for ten weeks as a kayak instructor, while I took the first thing that came to me, a temporary data entry job. I started that job at the beginning of July, then got pneumonia two weeks in, then after two more weeks of work developed a repetitive stress injury from using only a mouse (no keyboard) for hours on end, and had to quit. I was not eligible for unemployment benefits. Since returning from NZ, I have only worked for one month. The summer hasn't really gone as planned (although it's been a good one!). We each had to spend $120 to fend off our respective bouts of pneumonia. Neither of us can afford health insurance. I've been searching for a job since mid-August, and have only found three positions to apply to. I won't be able to work more than 20 hours per week while I'm a (full time) student and stay sane, and I'm also limited geographically, because we don't live centrally and I commute by bike and public transit. Luckily this week the school year started, and through PSU I've suddenly found four great positions to apply to, so hopefully something will come through soon. Matt is job searching again too, while trying to change career paths; it's a very hard time to try and transition out of one field and into another. He is getting unemployment benefits, though.

We're certainly not going to founder; I have student loans that will cover all my tuition and living expenses (just barely) and Matt has savings from this summer and some inheritance that we can call on if absolutely necessary. Still, some regular income wouldn't go amiss.

One of the reasons things are so tight now is because when we first moved into our house, we made the decision to spend up front on some things that would enable us to continue on in the lifestyle we wanted. I don't regret that we did this, but it's kind of biting us in the ass right now, financially. There are a lot of things we could have gone without that give us more satisfaction in the long run, and take out some stresses that could have created larger problems later. We spent $300 on a brand new mattress, and don't regret it one bit; we are sleeping better than we have in the last year and have far fewer aches and pains that we used to. We bought a snazzy food processor and are in love with it; it saves us so much time in cooking, which is so valuable as we go into a period of our lives when we'll be on different schedules (my classes are all in the evenings) and our time together is limited. I bought a rear rack and pannier bag for my bike, so I don't have to carry everything in a backpack. We could have continued sleeping on our old futon, tossing and turning and waking every morning with sore backs and necks. We could have decided to forgo the food processor and taken the time to do that work by hand. I could have carried all my textbooks on my back, ending every ride with a backache. We'd rather spend the money up front to be comfortable and happy, frankly.

And there are some benefits to both of us being unemployed at the same time. We got so much done around the house and garden. We completed all the projects we wanted to finish before I got sucked into school. We got to spend a lot of time together before my schedule gets busy again. We had time to fill up the freezer with ready-to-cook foods and made sure the "pantry" was well stocked so we wouldn't have to think about shopping for awhile. I had time to scout out my new bike route to downtown and research the cheapest options for obtaining my textbooks (I'm renting them, for a grand total of $90 for Fall Term. They would have cost me about $370 new).

 Our "pantry" in the basement. The plastic bin and trashcan are full of bulk foods: rice, oats, beans, potatoes, etc.

Our freezer is packed full of good quality meat, fish, containers of beans, lentils, and stock, veggies and berries, herbs and baked goods (and ice cream...)

Ultimately I am happy when I reflect on where our money has gone. There are certainly some "wants" thrown in there with the needs, but I'm happy with our choices. From here on out, there are very few major expenses that we anticipate in the next year, and we have set ourselves up to live the way we want, and not feel that we are depriving ourselves of anything. Truly, we spend so much less than most of those around us. Our everyday expenses are incredibly low. Rent is our biggest cost (we are currently looking for a new roommate, so it's a little more expensive this month. John's friends from Alabama all moved up last week and they got a house together, so we are back to just the two of us until we find another roomie). The only things we regularly buy from the supermarket are milk, cheese and free range eggs, and we can get those very reasonably at Trader Joe's. In just a couple months, eggs will no longer be something we buy at the store. Everything else we buy in bulk and have stored away in the kitchen or basement. I can't remember the last time we went out for food.

However, I know we have it great compared to so many people in these times of financial turmoil. And I know we are not alone; there are so many people, particularly in our age and education bracket, setting out in life, who are coming up against big barriers to paying for further education or for a house or property, or who are laid off or have a medical emergency while uninsured. By tightening our belts, making instead of buying, changing our standards a little and saving a few dollars here and a few cents there, we'll get to where we're going. It will take longer and be a little harder than we imagined, but we'll get there.

1 comment:

S.P. Avenger said...

So amazing! You are such a wonderful and amazing woman Liz! By the way, I have been relegated to the land of no grains... would you and Matt like my bread machine? Let me know!

Much Love, Tink