Let me start by saying that we are incredibly blessed. I have a good paying job that does not involve digging ditches or other manual labor. Angie and I have sacrificed little even when we decided that she would stay home to be a full-time homemaker. Even as the economy tanks and many lose their jobs, mine seems to be relatively secure. We have much to be thankful for...
Over time, Angie and I have come to learn that our finances are about enabling us to do things that are important to us. To give the kids advantages and experiences, to share with friends and family, to help support causes in which we believe are just some examples. However, what we never figured is that we could actually CONTROL our money instead of having it control us.
We've gone through a couple of different classes with church. I fully understand that the church has a vested interest in our finances. If we were able to live in a way that honors God, there would be more for supporting the church. I'm not naive enough to miss the point that this benefits the church as well as benefits us. However, the benefits to our family have been astounding. The most drastic of which just happens to be our connection to our money...it's been an eye opening and freeing journey.
However, the one thing that Angie and I have been unable to do is live completely within our means. We've built up a huge debt load three times and each time have worked to eliminate it (we are currently in our third reduction right now). We built a budget last year, but even on paper we were negative. We just couldn't get to a balanced monthly budget. It's almost like we knew we'd live negative and use a bonus or an income tax refund to get out of the hole we built.
A couple of weeks ago, this changed. I blogged about the Financial Learning Experience hosted by Joe Sangle. It was a life changing three hours. We learned one simple truth:
Income - Outgo = Exactly Zero (EZ)
To do this not only did we need to change our habits, we needed to change our plan. We immediately moved to a two week budget to match my pay checks. We used Joe's budget planner to get this done. It reduced the number of categories we had to budget for from about 40 to 10. It helped us spend the money on paper before we spent it for real.
In order to get a balanced budget, we needed to change some things. An alteration to the W4 resulted in more cash coming in. We changed our auto insurance carrier and saved $400 per year. We reduced our health insurance withholdings, but must go to plan doctors or pay a premium.
And, we've started cutting coupons.
I've never been a real fan of the coupon thing. It always seemed kinda cheesy to work to get things for reduced prices. A couple of beliefs caused this attitude; 1) I always thought there was value in paying. For example, the more you pay, the more quality you get. This is one of the reasons that I go to the dealer for routine maintenance on may car. And, 2) I also valued my time as being more valuable than any possible amount saved.
That's changed. Angie and I sit and do the coupons before we purchase things now...this includes before we go out to eat. In fact, with the economy so tight, there are deals to be found everywhere. Save $2 on a burger. Save on car repairs. Get a free Dr. Pepper. If you just take the time, the savings can be considerable. Angie and I have saved over $70 in a little more than two weeks. If we save even $50 between paychecks, that's $1,300 per year. That may not be a huge amount in the grand scheme of things but every penny counts.
Especially when you are looking for financial freedom.