Thursday, May 9, 2013

Working Wage: More Mutiny Against Excess

 So....remember back when we read 7 (all but one chapter of it because for some reason we just never did tackle "Stress") and I blogged about it some (all but two chapters because "Possessions" overwhelmed me and I wasn't being diligent about keeping up with how much crap I was culling and I just didn't have much energy to work up a post) and it simultaneously squeezed and stretched us a little bit? Well, Peyton decided we needed a bigger challenge this year. And I obliged. Because at this point, I want to oblige him on his pet projects (or you know, CompletelyOverhaulOurLives projects) when I can. Not when it's comfortable. Not when it's easy. Not when it's a struggle. When it's possible, I want to give him the things he desires. And it so happens, this Winter it was a little budgeting project.

The challenge? We decided to live on Minimum Wage. Part of Peyton's desire to do this came from his Libertarian leanings and the fact that most leaders in that party support the elimination of a Minimum Wage. He's done a bit of research on it and it seems that some pretty intelligent economists are in favor or its elimination, too. Peyton just starting thinking about if the current Minimum Wage is even practical and we had a few discussions. He actually started a little blog to chronicle the journey and you can see more of his reasoning behind wanting to try this here.

Anyway, fast forward and we got to April. We had been doing it (pretty much successfully!) for three months and Peyton told me he had learned what he needed to learn from the project and we could stop at any time (the plan, initially, was to do it for the year). I kind of heckled him at first and asked him if it was because he wanted to buy new camping/hiking gear (which he's yet to buy, so guess it wasn't). Ultimately, he was being really selfless and he said part of it was that he wanted me to enjoy our last six months or so in Mississippi (e.g. be able to buy the kids' the kind of Souther clothes I wanted, eat at our favorite restaurants a few more times each, take another sewing class, ect.).

Now that the experiment is over, I thought I'd share a bit about it.

First of all, full disclosure, there were a few exceptions: 
1. Trips- We had several trips already planned this year and all but one were important for us not to sacrifice. I went to an adoption conference that I had already committed to go to and we were still planning to New York to look at apartments this Summer. We also have a friends' wedding in the Fall that AP and Peyton are in.
2. MPhA and Junior League- We kept these partially because we're committed to these organizations and also because we knew if we were truly working at Minimum Wage paying jobs we wouldn't be involved in them. 
- Annie's School- We adore it and we were both adamant about not letting the project dictate her education. That said, there were a couple other areas where our children (mostly Annie, of course) felt the sting (obviously subconsciously).
- Savings/Charity- We kept these the same for obvious reasons.

* We also assumed we'd both be working. The project took into account that we could find jobs with a similar schedule to what Peyton's parents' had- a schedule intentionally developed to ensure someone would always be at home with the children and daycare would not be a consideration. In this case, the hypothetical he created was that I'd be working a day time job and he'd be stocking shelves at his store or doing some other nighttime work and one of us would be working weekends. This sort of thing would obviously be very stressful for a family, but I think it could work (we had a mother at Mother's Day Out who worked as a nurse at night and until her son was about two she had just been napping when he napped and trying to function).*

A few people that knew about the project (and I mean a few; we didn't tell a lot of people) asked us where we were able to make cuts...

- With big things, most everything did stay the same. We cut our phone bill (I'll get to that) and obviously our utilities and mortgage didn't change. And we're fortunate enough not to have any car payments.

- We did change our cellphone plan. We have iPhones, so the obvious carrier is AT&T. However, Peyton found a much better deal (T Mobile, I think?). It's kind of a pain in the butt, because sometimes (alot) my phone starts "searching" for a connection (always, like right when I need to use it- First World Problem, of course). But, it saves us about $75 a month. Which, over time, is kind of a big deal.

- We made adjustments to our grocery budget, but really they're not that stringent. Know we were NOT buying groceries for $40 a week (I think it's amazing that people can do that). Also, I know this would be harder if we were trying really hard to "eat clean" all the time. We still bought organic milk and beef (and maybe a few other things?) and bread from a local store, but not all our produce is organic or anything.

- I tried to be more careful with non-food grocery items. Like using cloth diapers more and stuff like that. Not for church where other people have to deal with it, but to go over to my parents' house, the park, ect.

- One big thing for me has just been totally (are almost totally) cutting out expenses that aren't necessary at all. I REALLY had to change my shopping habits. Of course, this changed some when we got's not like I had no budget. But this was different. We severely restricted (pretty much eliminated) our "play money". The way it had always worked was that Peyton had a certain amount each month, I had a certain amount, and the kids had a certain amount. Usually, I bought kid clothes with theirs and mine :) Anyway, now we have a clothing budget for them without much, if any, room to fudge. This part of the experiment didn't really reflect reality, in a way, though, because I buy ahead so much they really didn't need much at all. But I wasn't spending $30 here and there at Target that I didn't plan to and Peyton's wasn't constantly getting a dipcone or an icee.

- Eating out kind of goes along with this. We've always had a budget for eating out (hilariously, broken down into "SD's eating out" "Peyton's eating out" and "Friends and Dates"). Anyway, this year it's just part of our "food" budget. We went out to eat once with friends who were moving to another state in January and then I went out to eat with a girl who is moving here from out of state. I also went to a restaurant twice and just ordered a drink- something I felt comfortable doing both times because it was a large group. But we've also turned invitations down several times and decided not to go out just us on nights we ordinarily would have. And also, I obviously had to break down and tell Carrie about the project ;)

We did end up saving a lot (although, that's relative). Honestly, it didn't hurt as bad as I thought it would. I mean there were days that I wanted to sob because I just wanted to go to dinner with my husband and I struggled with temptation enough that I just hardly let myself enter the Bullseye zone period. There were times where I had to really get creative (the kids' birthday party is probably the best example) and when I got sad about choices I had to make between buying milk I knew we needed or a dress I really wanted. But overall, it wasn't as awful as I had expected.

NOW, here me say this. It was easy because it wasn't reality. We never faced decisions about if we should take a hurt kid to the ER or if we really ran out of grocery money (we did, on one particularly negligent month, end up eating things random things from the pantry as meals and calling a couple of cans of beans and some Ramen noodles supper). But we didn't have the fear so many Americans face. Don't think the significance of that is lost on me.

It was interesting and growing for us, this experiment.  I learned that we could do with a lot less. I learned that we could be happy with a lot less. I learned that we could rejoice in a situation with a lot less...maybe even rejoice more easily. There were parts of it that were liberating, to be honest. I'm glad we're back to our normal budget and we can allow ourselves to enjoy some "extras" before the move, but I'm also thankful for Peyton pressing me to do this and the things it taught me.

[Edited to add: here is the official budget, if you're interested.]


The Niemeyer Nest said...

I found this fascinating and inspiring SD! What did y'all's parents think of your experiment? I thought that I was doing great by having two no-spend days per week. Ha!

Courtney said...

Very interesting experiment. I commend you for sticking to. I am sure your whole family has grown from this experiment.

Bre said...

Thank you so much for sharing, I've been so interested. I am I presided with your dedication, I don't think I could have done that! What an awesome example you are to your children!