Sunday, October 20, 2013

Living frugally

Apparently I am not capable of multi-tasking. I cannot run a photography business and maintain a non-exciting, personal blog at the same time. All of my free time lately has been going into shooting and editing, and especially now that it is "holiday season" I have been even more busy.

I want to share a personal portion of our lives, something that has changed the way we've been living the last 6 weeks or so. It's in regards to finances. I feel the need to preface this post with a statement of acknowledgment. When I say we've been "poor" lately, I use the term lightly. We are utterly spoiled in comparison to a vast majority of the world: we have heat, we have clothes, and yes, we have food. We even have internet and two cell phones. We have a car we bought new, a home we are renting, and a job. We have health insurance and shoes, and a huge comfy couch I am sitting on while doing so.


(And this is a good 'but,' so don't take it the wrong way)

- We double-jammy our son at night because while we do have heat, we don't keep it up very high and only turn it on when necessary.
- We have clothes, but not once in the past 3 years of marriage have I paid full price for a piece of clothing. The majority of my clothes come from thrift stores, and when they come from Target, they come from the 70% off rack. I haven't gone shopping for clothes in months.
- We have internet, but it is the slowest package available and does not include cable. We don't even own a tv. We don't have a Netflix or Hulu account, and the only time we watch movies is the occassional Redbox rental.
- We have two phones, but up until last July we only had one. One phone shared between Adam and I. Now we have two, but neither of them are smart phones and neither have internet capabilities. They both are Wal-Mart, pay-as-you-go, non-contract cell phones.
- Our car may be new, but it's the only one we've got. When I need to go somewhere with Axton, I have to wake up at 6am and take Adam to work to do so.
- The couch in our living room came from last year's tax refunds. The couch before that one? A torn-up love seat we bought from Salvation Army. It was shedding leather all over the floor everytime we sat down on it. I had to vaccuum in front of it every day. And it would only fit one of us comfortably; there was no snuggling going on with that couch. No other piece of furniture in our home was bought brand new besides that couch. The bed frame we sleep on? Adam built it. Our computer desk? Adam built it. Our kitchen table? We bought second-hand and Adam refinished it. Our bookshelves and nightstands? Given to us or found in the dumpster.

These are all daily decisions that we have made together throughout our marriage. We strive to live a frugal life, making smart decisions that add up to less stress and savings.

Before we had Axton and I was nannying, most of the money I earned went into savings. We wanted a small cushion for "rainy days," as prophets and most other financial gurus will tell you do to do. But slowly, since I stopped working, we have nibbled into that cushion from time to time. Here a little, there a little, not putting much back into it. When we moved from our apartments to our current condo, little costs kept popping up and the move ended up being much more expensive than we anticipated. On top of that, the security deposit was GINORMOUS compared to our last apartment's deposit. We continued in faith, knowing we were moving to an area we were supposed to be in.

Our tickets to Hawaii were bought with the last of our savings. "We will replenish it right away! We will be okay."

And that's when the furlough hit.

I now understand the fear and the stress that comes with not knowing if you will be able to pay rent that month or not.

I started getting used to not turning lights on when I walked into a room. If it was daytime, no lights were turned on. If it was nighttime, we used a flashlight. During the random intense heat spell in September, we didn't turn our AC on and I ended up getting so hot I got ill. We didn't eat out and we didn't travel anywhere that wasn't necessary.

Our dear friends and family all told us we could borrow money if we needed to. I never thought I would be in that situation - what an eye-opener! To have my best friend from high school - in college, about to graduate, tell me she would loan me her savings, intended to get her started with life, if I needed it. I was shocked. And, 100 percent humbled. If they didn't offer us money, then friends who knew of our situation invited us over for dinner so we didn't have to use our limited resources that night.

In the past six weeks we have only gone grocery shopping for the bare minimums. And by that I mean, we haven't bought fresh fruit or produce, besides a couple bunches of bananas and 2 heads of lettuce.

Did you read that? In the past 6 WEEKS, the only fresh produce we have bought are bananas and lettuce. I am dying for the days of last summer - the days we had a fridge full of strawberries and blueberries and raspberries, green peppers and zucchini, spinach and baby carrots.

The only grocery shopping we have done in the past 6 weeks was for the daily necessities you run out of most often: milk and eggs and butter. We have been making homemade bread and homemade tortillas. We have been using every last canned item in our cupboards and are depleting the last of our frozen chicken breasts and ground beef in our deep freezer. I have learned to get creative with our meals. If we didn't have it on hand, I would either substitute something else or make it myself -- or do without.

I miss cheese.

Last week I had a friend over and I was absolutely mortified when I realized it was lunch time and I had.....not much to offer her. I fixed up the last of our head of lettuce and offered her a salad. She said she could help me chop up vegetables for the salad and I had to swallow my pride and say, "Actually, it's just lettuce. I'm sorry, that's all we have." We had just finished our last tortilla so I couldn't even offer her canned refried beans slabbed on some flour and lard. I had an apple someone had given to us because I mentioned I hadn't had apples in so long I was starting to crave them (I never crave apples), so I cut that up and placed it on the table. Axton saw her son eating a jar of baby food and asked for some. I searched our cabinets and pulled out the only baby food we had left: the prunes we bought six months ago when he was constipated.

My friend was gracious and acted kind and unaffected, but I finally just said, "Things are a little tight for us right now. I'm so sorry I don't have more to offer you."

Again, I was so humbled. To look a friend in the eye and admit that we don't have money to go grocery shopping.

And I know......I know what you may be thinking because I've been thinking it everyday for the past few months as things have gotten tighter and tighter: We are still so much more blessed than so many others. Even if things had been worse, we would have had parents and siblings help us. We never would have had to go hungry - though we might not be eating the food we want to eat or dream of eating, we are still eating. I might not have new clothes, but still I am clothed. 

In the LDS church, we can be given special blessings that warn us of trials or challenges, guide us personally, name particular talents or blessings we may be given - these are called patriarchal blessings. We hold them sacred and generally don't share them with the public; I re-read mine often, especially during times of trial. My patriarchal blessing mentions twice that, throughout my life, my physical needs/financial needs will be taken care of, and that I will not want. I have always taken those words seriously, and in times past, they have given me confidence and comfort. Whenever Adam would worry about finances I would not be affected, I had, perhaps, an almost arrogant attitude about it, an over-confidence.

But still, even after going through this and being humbled, still my physical needs have been met. I have not wanted in the ways that others want. My health and safety have never been compromised. My comfort, indeed, has, but I also know that that is part of life.

It's been, and still is, a wonderful learning process. It's good to not have everything you want. It's good to worry a little, to be humbled and to admit and accept help. I hope this post doesn't come across as 'holier-than-thou' or Look at me, look how frugal I am! In fact, it's meant to be the opposite. It's meant to be grateful and thankful and amaze-ful at the goodness of God and the absolute goodness of trials and tests, to be stretched thin, to be vulnerable, to need and to ask. I do not think this experience will be wasted; I have a feeling there will come a time when someone else will need to hear me say, I know how it feels. I've been there, too.