Monday, January 18, 2010

Changes Part 2 -- The Experiment

So to recap thus far: no job for me, savings wiped out by car issues and illness, Sam had a reduced income from what we had had, and I was spiraling towards depression since I was unable to find another job and felt guilty for my parting of ways with AT&T. Allow me to state, unequivocally, that it's a good thing I have an amazing husband. At this point, I think many couples would have been at the yelling and accusing part of the equation. Thankfully, God blessed me with an understanding husband, who told me on numerous occasions he still thought it a good idea that I was gone from AT&T, even if it meant things were tight.

About the second week of November, I privately decided I could not continue the way I had been. I was spending all of my time either looking for jobs or playing on WoW. My sleeping schedule was in disarray. My house around me was in disarray. My finances were in disarray. My life was in disarray. And Christmas was coming.

I knew we weren't going to have much in the way of disposable income for Christmas, but I wanted to make sure I had good gifts for the people in our lives. So I started looking around the 'Net for cheap, homemade Christmas gift ideas. In doing so, I came across two different site types which would be integral in changing my thought processes. The first were "Frugality" sites; these were website dedicated to finding ways to save money and be good stewards of said money. The second types were "Homemaking" sites; these were websites for men and women who for whatever reason didn't have jobs in the workforce, but instead stayed home and took care of it.

As I read through the sites, several things crystallized in my mind.

1. I needed to build myself a schedule. No more going to sleep "when tired" and getting up "when I woke up." No more spending all day, every day at my computer, either searching for jobs or playing computer games. I needed a list of things to do each day and a set time to do it.

2. I needed to get the house under control and keep it under control. In general, since I moved out on my own, I'd been pretty good about keeping up with the house--typically by having a big cleaning day 2-3 times a month. But this meant that in the weeks between cleaning binges, the house would get pretty wild and overwhelming. I decided that if I was going to be home a good deal of the time, then my home should reflect that fact.

3. It was time to accept the fact that I would get a job when God wanted me to, not when I wanted to. As such, we needed to look at what we were spending money on each month, and figure out how to reduce the bills. It wasn't going to be pleasant, but it needed to be done. This also meant finding ways to reduce home expenditures--food, household products, etc.

4. Lastly, but most importantly, I needed to start relying on God and letting Him get us through this, instead of constantly worrying about it and making myself sick with stress. He feeds the sparrows in the air, and clothes the lily in the fields. He wasn't going to let us starve.

By the time Sam got home from rehearsal that night, I had skeleton of a plan, and by the time we went to bed that night, we had given it some meat as well.

I drew up a schedule for myself for the following two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. I would get up when Sam did to go to classes and allow an hour and a half to do morning ablutions, make us breakfast and coffee, and then pack him a lunch and send him off for the day. Next would follow an hour and a half of intensive job hunting/applying. At the end of that time, I would spend an hour cleaning something specific around the apartment. (i.e. today I dust, tomorrow I vacuum, etc). If Sam had a short day and was home for lunch, I'd cook us lunch and then spend the rest of the day hanging out with Sam. Otherwise, I'd make a sandwich for myself, and then spend to afternoon working on projects. In this case, those projects were Christmas presents.

We also determined what we could cut out of bills. iPhones had to go--couldn't do the $60 a month data plans. Texting needed reduced. Time to cancel the WoW subscriptions. And so on, and so forth.

Oh, and absolutely

We had already cut most of the eating out, but there were times when we still fell off the wagon, for the simple fact that it was habit. I'm ashamed to admit it, but even though I'd worked hard on making sure we had lunches to take to work with us, when I was at AT&T we probably ate out of 4-5 nights a week. When you consider that for the two of us that meant the bill was typically between $15-$25, we were spending over $100 a week. Obviously, that was no longer feasible.

By this point I had seen several websites about doing menus and doing grocery shopping based off of said menu. As such, since I was already doing the schedule experiment, I decided to make up a 2 week menu and buy groceries to match those meals. I also decided that, as I'm a fairly decent cook, I would stop buying pre-packaged foods such as macaroni and cheese and instead buy the components and make it from scratch. I also dug out my bread machine and decided to make my own bread.

By the time all of this was taken into account, I took my regular two week grocery bill of ~$100 plus two weeks of fast food at over $200, and reduced it down to $46.00.

Now, admittedly, I had a metric ton of foodstuff in my kitchen that just never registered in my brain, and when I built my menu for those two weeks, I based it around what I already had. However, it completely amazed both of us how much we were able to save by making that simple decision.

Armed with our plans, we commenced upon the next two weeks. During that time, I made a startling discovery--I enjoyed keeping my house up. It was hard to get myself into the routine, but I liked how much better the house looked. I also enjoyed cooking meals and taking care of my husband. My kitties were happier because I was up and about and playing with them, talking to them, and cosseting them once I reached the point in the day when I could sit and relax a bit. I found myself constantly attacking the challenge of how to reduce what we spent. I have always reveled a bit in problem-solving, and this was one of the most interesting problems I've had to solve in a long time. Finally, I enjoyed making things for my friends and family. Since I started working on everything so early (for me), I was able to take time and make things properly and with attention to detail, instead of blazing through it all like I normally would.

I also continued looking for a job, and managed to score a handful of actual interviews in that time. I'd had another business request an interview with me, but they sent the request via email and asked for it the same day. I, of course, did not come across said email until that evening.

Despite that, we were feeling more upbeat about our situation than we had in months. Best of all, we'd managed to scrape and scrimp enough that we were able to go to KC and see Sam's sister and her family for Thanksgiving. Sam also had a couple of gigs lined up for after Thanksgiving... yes, things were looking up.

Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.
--Franklin D. Roosevelt

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