Furloughs, pay cuts, tumbling stocks, college on the horizon, the rising cost of EVERYTHING.
We are a lucky, grateful family. We have jobs and only one kid to send to college. But it is time to cut spending to the bone at our house (if the bone does not mean my son gives up his iPhone).
For three weeks, I have kept track of every cent, almost always leaning toward the cheapest option. I've reacquainted myself with middle-school math. I've struggled with moral dilemmas.
Cage-free eggs or treat-the-chickens-any-way-you-want-eggs? If one large potato costs $1.02 cents and a plastic bag of 10 potatoes costs $2.99, but you only need one potato and you care about plastic littering the environment, what is the best option?
Herewith is a random look at my adventures wrestling our tighter budget. I was reminded that there are ways to cut corners that don't hurt at all. That $10 here and there does matter.
And that no matter how hard you try, life and ants will conspire against you.
Um, chin hair.
Tempted by: Revlon Diamond Grip Slant Tweezers, $10.89. "Diamond" and "grip" just sound better.
Reluctantly purchased: Walmart's Beautycare Slant and Square Tip Tweezers (2-pack), $1.24
Result: Hairless chin in 3 minutes or less. Why pay more for torture?
Dilemma: What to make for Monday-night dinner, first night of budget, for three.
Hungry for: Shrimp fettuccine Alfredo with side of fresh cantaloupe and decent bottle of chardonnay. About $30 for ingredients and wine.
Settled for: Three boxes of Kraft mac and cheese at $1.29 a box. Mixed in browned ground sirloin. Side of cantaloupe. Blue Moon beer with slice of orange for the adults. A very orange meal. About $9.
16-year-old son: Thrilled. And leftovers for after baseball!
Event: Rare date night with husband.
Tempted by: Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, showing locally only in "cinema suite" at Grapevine Mills theater. Giant La-Z-Boy-ish seats with power foot rest. Waiter. Free chocolate mint and hot moist towelette afterward. $12 a ticket. Drinks and dinner could zoom it up to $75.
Reluctantly purchased: Two $4 tickets to Cowboys & Aliens at Grapevine Tinseltown.
Result: Come on, the Smurfs are beating it at the box office. But ... my husband held my hand.
Saved: A bunch. Still have the memory.
Dropped: Beloved New York Times Weekender subscription
Tempted: Not to.
Tried instead: Watching Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert every night in bed with husband.
Result: Camaraderie. Laughing. Some dying brain cells.
Saved: $45.60 a month
Surprise purchase: Red (Michael) Jordan school backpack picked up by 16-year-old son at Marshall's. Price: $20.
Me (pleased -- son is on board with the budget!): "Good job. So what would you have liked better?"
Son: "What are you talking about? I like this backpack. It's cool."
Me (persisting): "But there must be something you would have liked that cost more? That one is kind of small. Will your lunch fit in it?"
Son (annoyed): "Why would I pay more than $20 for a backpack?"
Lesson: Son picked up husband's budgetary genes.
Saved: $30 (retail price $50).
Event: Midweek grocery shopping trip to Walmart.
Vow No.1: To buy only Great Value store brand if an option.
Vow No. 2: To buy only items written on list in my hand.
First thing: Pick up Us magazine not on list. J.Lo. Marc. Need to know. Already down $3.99.
Saved: $14 buying Great Value staples (11 items including bread, yogurt, sugar, freezer bags, frozen pasta, etc.).
Veered off list: For J. Lo, E.L. Fudge Keebler double-stuffed cookies and a six-pack of Rolling Rock. Considering my track record, not bad.
Surprise: Son declares Great Value sour cream "creamier."
Math for dummies: $14 off a $100 grocery bill is 14 percent. I wish my son's college fund was rising by 14 percent.
Searching for: Books recommended weeks ago by a friend for summer reading. It's August.
Destination: Grapevine Public Library.
Usual way I'd handle this: Amazon. Five-minute shopping spree. Come on, they're in paperback.
Found at library: Every single book in under 10 minutes.
Saved: $33.31 (for three that looked interesting). I have the books NOW.
Feeling: Nostalgic. Guilty. How could I forget how great libraries are? Sweet librarian makes me think fondly of my Decatur childhood librarian, still a voracious reader of books and newspapers at almost 90. Heck, she's probably reading this! Hi, Martha! Feel connected to books and humanity. Vow not to cave in to my Kindle desires (not in budget).
Mandatory obstacle course: Registering son for his junior year in public high school.
Dread level: High. It's a million degrees. Long lines. Have to take checkbook.
Paid beforehand online: $110 for baseball and AP English "fees," plus a "convenience fee" of $5 for using the "convenience" of online registration.
Paid at school on registration day: $100 for parking sticker for son's '99 Volvo station wagon, $10 for school newspaper subscription (close to my heart), $7.50 to PTA, $5 for raffle ticket when cute Pantera dancer hits up my son.
Skipped, with son's blessing: Ordering $70 yearbook. There's Facebook.
Total bill: $237.50.
Could have: Told son to take the bus and ignored the cute Pantera.
Feeling: A little hopeless about my budget. Angry at Congress. Ticked off about the $5 "convenience" fee.
Surprise invasion: Acrobat ants. At least 500 of them doing circus tricks in my master bedroom windowsill and in the carpet in the upstairs guest room.
Initial reaction: You are not in my budget, you freaky things with heart-shaped bottoms!
Second reaction: To vigorously spray them with old can of Ortho from garage.
Third reaction: Call the pest man. The ants are five feet from the sheets on my bed, nesting in the walls, laying eggs in the soft wood around the windows. There are HUNDREDS of them.
Pest man, shaking his head, reassuring me that I am not a bad housekeeper: "Bad luck. That will be $250." He drills holes, sprays stuff.
Surprise repair: The cell in our salt-water pool system dies. Pool is green like a river.
Initial estimate: Exorbitant. Our family could take a weekend trip to Mexico for the same price (no vacations in budget).
Second estimate from friend who owns pool service: Half the price for a more generic brand. No fee for putting it in. Easy, he says. Plug it in. Screw it in. Shows up in an hour. Pool turns blue. Thanks, George.
Final cost: About $100 more than I am getting paid for this story.
Budget: What budget?
Mission: Send husband to Costco for water, grape juice, Coke, dog treats.
A concern because: Husband LOVES to go to Costco. He is attracted to large red meats, NOT ON LIST.
Arrives home: Unhappy that he had to pass up a giant plastic bin of Pub Mix to eat in front of Rangers game.
Mollified immediately with: Great Value cheese ravioli in homemade vodka sauce, salad and a Miller Genuine Draft, all in budget.
Victory: At $21.20, lowest Costco bill EVER.
After dinner, husband says: "I still want Pub Mix."
Mission: Birthday present for my father, turning 81.
First idea that pops into head: iPad. It's cool. He's cool. $499.
What he got: A Fiskars rake ($20) with a coupon from me for a "free" day of fall yard work , a driveway reflector so he can see where to turn in the dark ($2.99), a bottle of Austin's own Tito's Handmade Vodka ($20), a homemade vanilla bundt cake and an afternoon of playing cards.
The budget: Happy.
My father: After a vodka tonic and whipping all of us at cards, very happy.
Mission: To buy only fresh fruit, three chicken breasts and hamburger (on sale) at Central Market.
A concern because: Have you been to Central Market?
My mantra: Stay on list, stay on list, STAY ON LIST.
Go off list for: Champagne grapes, $3.99. Pass up the bread, the wine, the cheese, the exquisitely prepared food behind the case. I'm getting the hang of this.
Awesome deal: Six plump limes for $1.
Feel: Guilty. All the way home. There are starving children and I can't pass up champagne grapes for my spinach salad.
Budget: Now attacking my conscience.
Problem: Story due in a week. Budget in the red.
Goal: To spend virtually nothing for five days in an effort to catch up.
Strategy: Eat out of freezer and pantry. Read library books. Watch for ants.
Most popular budget dinner of the week: Eggs over easy, sausage, homemade biscuits and gravy, and fruit.
What broke and didn't get fixed: A toilet. Still running.
Most excessive purchase: A perfect birthday card that wasn't sappy or crude, $3.99, at Target. $3.99!
Constantly on my mind: How do people with three kids or more do this?
Depressing fact: It's expensive to eat healthy.
Tally of final budget numbers: Hmmm. I might need to lay off the cat.
Blame: Congress! President Obama for riding a freakin' bus around Iowa with taxpayer dollars and then heading to Martha's Vineyard on vacation with his summer reading list. Gov. Rick Perry for leaving his $10,000-a-month-taxpayer-rented Texas mansion and wandering America sounding like he jumped out of Bonanza.
Rebelliously donate: $5 to Stephen Colbert's Superpac, not in budget.
Pop open: Miller Genuine Draft, in budget.
Repeat my mantra: STAY. ON. LIST.