“Honey, we’re broke.”
Those are words I hope never to have to utter again.
I sat down to reconcile our bank accounts with our budget and at the end of the process was not good news. Our monthly expenses surpassed our income.
How the heck did this happen?
I could go into all the details, but for now, just know that it happened. We were spending more than we were making.
Our income for last year (2016) came mostly from contract work, which means we owed the IRS a lot of money. Like, a LOT of money. We had to clean out our savings accounts to pay off our tax bill, as well as our rent for the month. And after that, we were broke.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? I hope not, but maybe you have. That feeling of lost hope and despair is very real. And if you have a family, I believe those feelings are even stronger.
As a man, I began to feel like I was incapable of providing for and taking care of my family. And as a type 5 on the enneagram, being incapable is one of my greatest fears. So this was crushing news.
“What do we do?”
My loving wife looked over at me as we began to realize that we couldn’t afford to live in our apartment in this sweet spot of Southeast Portland unless we made some drastic changes.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that I’ve been out of full-time work for six months. So there’s that.
Thankfully, we’ve been using a budgeting software called YNAB (You Need A Budget) for seven years, so we can go back and look at our spending habits and trends and see where we’re bleeding money. It’s extremely helpful and revealing, in a not-so-good way.
We sat down, looked at the numbers, and made some changes to stay afloat. And today, I want to share some of the plans and changes we made in hopes that it’ll help you if you ever find yourself in this situation.
1. Make a Worst-Case-Scenario Plan.
The first thing we did was figure out what to do if we couldn’t afford to live here. “We could always go back and live with my mom,” said Tessa. Since Tessa’s mom only lives about 18 miles away, that was true. And Tessa’s mom would have us in a heartbeat. A very viable option, but still worst-case.
2. Slash expenses like Inigo Montoya.
Aside from being a well-loved character from the cult-classic film, Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya can also help you straighten out your budget. Using a tool like YNAB helped us easily see where to cut back. Here are several cuts that made the biggest difference:
- We temporarily halted our Roth IRA deposits
- GREATLY reduced our casual coffee dates/meetings (and opted to make coffee at home)
- Found ways to conserve utilities (Tessa stopped taking a bath every night. She still bathes, just faster and in the shower.)
- Stopped buying meat. (This is a whole other post on its own, but it had a significant impact on our budget AND our health).
- Reduced our “dining out” habits. We still dine out, but far less than before.
- Walked/biked more. We live in a very walkable neighborhood, so this was easy.
3. Dreamed of other ways to increase income.
Cutting expenses is great, but we also knew we had the capacity to increase our income in other ways that we hadn’t fully tapped. Shooting stock photos/videos, consulting, video editing, etc. As creative people, there was no shortage of opportunities. But the pressure to make ends meet helped us figure out where to focus our energy.
4. Find ways to relieve stress and pressure.
This is super important. If you’re married, your spouse might be able to help relieve you of duties you normally do. In this season, I became a chef! Or, more like an aspiring chef. I started doing all the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. And I LOVE it! I’ve discovered a love for something I didn’t know I had. And it helped relieve Tessa of that pressure and responsibility, which created greater harmony in the home. Now, if you’re single, you’ll have to get creative. Maybe you live in an apartment with a dog, and walking your dog is a hassle and stresses you out. Find a friend that’ll help you walk your dog on a regular basis, or just dog-sit for awhile while you figure out how to navigate the financial trenches. Whatever it is, find people in your life that are willing to help relieve you of stressful situations so you can find some breathing room.
Hopefully, this was helpful for you. The biggest thing you might need to do is take scissors to your budget and cut out all unnecessary and discretionary spending. OR, maybe you just need a little stress relief so you can get back in the game and take control of the wheel again. Whatever it is, figure out what needs to happen and go to work: both figuratively and literally.