Stories From Our Readers: How Mandi recalibrated her family’s spending

“My husband and I are generally frugal people who live well within our means. We work very hard at this but for some reason, 2017 got away from us. We anticipate saving about $25,000/year. But in 2017, we only managed to save a total of $2,500. It was quite devastating. As we entered 2018, I knew I wanted to get a better handle on our spending. By no means were we spending super frivolously, but the addition of a second child plus a job change for my husband left us feeling like we were in survival mode for most of 2017.

First, I had to figure out where the financial leak was. Besides a few emergency expenses, I realized we were constantly living above our weekly allowance and charging it to the credit card. Mostly, the extra costs were for food. Because we were in survival mode, we didn’t have as much time to plan meals, and therefore, we were eating out too much. And when we did buy groceries, we overspent on them. On top of all of that, we were stressed out.

So, I was determined to stop charging, i.e. spending, extra money in the beginning of 2018. Trent Hamm has written about 30-day challenges in the past. In the month of January, I did a 30-day challenge to not charge anything extra on our credit card, and strictly live within our weekly cash allowance.

The first two weeks were very hard. I didn’t realize how big of a habit I’d formed. Getting coffee every day isn’t bad when you don’t have to see the money leaving your account. I felt deprived at times and I wanted to give up. But after those two weeks, it got much easier and I ended the month successfully. I even saved money to pay for a much needed haircut at the end of the month. Before, I would have just charged the cost and called it a necessity beyond our weekly allowance.

What I love most is how this challenge has had a positive impact on other parts of our lives. My husband and I sat down and made a manageable weekly meal plan. We no longer overspend on things like food or drinks. And toward the end of the month, we notice how we’re feeling much less stress.

So, by challenging myself to change one thing, several others improved. We plan on re-calibrating our spending a couple times a year, just to keep things fresh. It’s certainly important, because the stresses of life can draw you into some bad habits if you let them.”

-Mandi, MN

The takeaways

  • Our spending habits, no matter how subtle, affect a lot more than we think they do. It doesn’t take much to set off a chain reaction – and you go from being in control of your finances to survival mode. Making the decision to change one habit will make it easier to change the next, and the next, until you’re back where you want to be. For more, check out Trent’s list of the 10 daily habits consistent among frugal people.
  • Financial independence sometimes calls for going back to square one. Even if you don’t feel like you’re in survival mode, there’s no harm in assessing and re-calibrating your system. You may find that tweaking some things here and there will keep you engaged and prepared when life change happens. (Further reading: Trent’s breakdown of the four stages of financial independence.)

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Personal finance can be difficult to navigate, and everyone’s story is different. This series is about sharing experiences of people just like you — the good and the bad — to empower the TSD community. Through your stories, voices will be heard, lessons will be learned, and wins will be celebrated!

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