The 30 Large Project is open for business, people. The idea is to get our finances under control and have a plan to create some kind of financial balance. I have a bad habit of being unorganized – undisciplined really – about my spending. I close my eyes and swipe my card. These days I am lucky because I do not doubt that the cashier will hand me the receipt with a smile (well, maybe not a smile). There have been times in the past when I have held my breath, crossed my fingers and swiped, not certain at all what the outcome would be.
Right now we are fortunate to be experiencing good times and I am grateful. I am able to be at home, because my husband is working (like crazy). There have been other times when we could not even consider a stay-at-home-mom option. And those days may come again (did I mention a daughter going to college?) And so, I think the way to be truly grateful for this time is not to waste it. I want to be disciplined and organized about our money now – and create a sustainable financial plan that can help carry us into the future.
As a start, I bought Elizabeth Warren’s book, All Your Worth, to give us a framework to analyze our finances and make decisions going forward. I chose this book because, first off, I love Elizabeth Warren. She speaks truth to power, as they say, so I felt she would likely be speaking the truth in her book. Also, her basic idea makes some common sense: in order for a financial plan to be sustainable, it needs to be reasonable and balanced.
Her idea of balanced is:
(a) 50 percent of after-tax income goes to “must-haves,” such as mortgage, utilities, food (more on this later), and things we are already in contracts for (cell phone);
(b) 20 percent of after-tax income goes to savings (which also includes credit card debt); and
(c) the remaining 30 percent goes to “wants,” which is basically everything else.
So we get everything – but in balance. Just like Weight Watchers.
It was heartening to go through Warren’s charts and see that, though we spend maybe too much in the “must have” category (we included our children’s private school tuition as a must have) we have a pretty good handle on savings (i.e., we are paying down our debt). What is left is just keeping those “wants” in check.
Based on Ms. Warren’s formula, we figure 30 percent of our weekly take home pay can go to “wants.” For example, this week’s “wants” will include football cleats and other sports supplies for the boy, and a graduation gown rental for the girl (why we have to pay for it this early, I do not know).
To keep track of my spending I have a check register and will give myself a “balance” of 30 percent of our weekly after-tax income (as well as a weekly amount for food – this money comes from the “must have” column – again more on food later). This “balance” will be our walking around money for the week for food and other household expenses that are not “must haves.” When I pay for something, I will – shocking I know – deduct it from my balance. I hope in this way to keep an eye on how we spend our dough and to create a limit (gasp!) on what we spend. Some weeks hopefully I can spend less. Some weeks will be much more (e.g., round-trip airfare to Florida for Thanksgiving). But the idea is to be disciplined, keep track and create balance. Maybe we can even save for those big budget family trips to Florida. I know – weird, right? We’ll see how it goes.
About the food costs thing I mentioned earlier: Ms. Warren says that the USDA estimated cost to feed a family of four is $650 a month. This book was written in 2005, and clearly food costs have risen since then. But we figured – what the heck – we’ll use the $650 amount. So I am going to try to feed us all for $650 a month. Already we have our CSA subscription of $37.80 a week so that’s $170 a month right there. So we’re talking roughly $100 a week for anything that we don’t get in the CSA box.
Limiting my food spending to $100 a week may be hard to do as I have this condition called, “Serious Whole Foods Addiction,” but that is the plan. Any extra costs, if there are any, (but I’m going to be so good there won’t be any) can just come out of our weekly “wants” amount. I mean, even though it is food, going to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner is not a “must have,” it’s a “want.” Although when I was working I have to say it sometimes felt like a sanity saving must have. These days, in my stay-at-home-Mom mode, it’s a luxury that I don’t even want. I’d rather cook at home.