Financial Friday: Spending Freeze

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I think I wrote down once that December was a time for excess and that January is a time for paring down. It seems it happens every year—after the decadence of overeating, overspending, and over-receiving, I am ready come the new year for eating healthier, spending less, and downsizing.

This month I want to kick one of those things up a notch.

There was a time near the beginning of my marriage that we barely had enough to make ends meet–I’ve mentioned it before, but we were spending less than $100/month on groceries and were pretty much living on the bare minimum. Then time and good fortune and heaven-sent help brought  us stable jobs and a slightly more roomy income. Matt and I have always talked about how we want to keep our expenses down to what we’re used to rather than increase our spending when our incomes increase. We both have lofty goals of retiring comfortably (hopefully with a couple million in our 401k’s), traveling to various exotic locations, and of owning a large yard someday. We know that to get to these goals, we’ll need to be in frugal habits now and save liberally over many years.

I thought we were doing a decent job at this. And, by many standards in our nation, we’re doing better than many–we have no debt whatsoever to speak of, we have a little money stashed away in easily-accessible savings, and we both have retirements accounts we’ve been contributing the max amount on for years.

However, we don’t have the 3-6 months’ worth of expenses stashed away in our emergency fund that I’ve been working on for two years now. At first, I chalked it up to medical bills, prenatal care, and taking advantage of our last stretch of time together as just a twosome. But after doing some reflecting and some checking and some reviewing, I discovered (with a bit of a shock) that we’d done exactly what we’d sworn not to do those three years ago—

We were living up to our newly increased income, almost to the dollar.

Our ascent to this new level of monthly spending started out innocently enough–once Matt got a part-time job to help us out (while he was still a full-time student), we finally felt like we had some breathing room. We took advantage of the new income by having weekly date nights out, a luxury we definitely couldn’t afford before. From there, we somehow came up with the concept that Matt’s income was our “fun money,” which seemed to give us license to do whatever we wanted as long as the money was there. We found ourselves going out to the movies a couple times a month, regularly hitting up the bookstore, and spending at least $40-50 most months on buying new DVD’s for our collection.

Once I got pregnant, the spending only seemed to get worse since now I had what felt like unavoidable cravings that must be satisfied and new maternity clothes to buy (even though I’d inherited plenty from my two older sisters).

But I’m putting my foot down. With the dawn of 2015 here, the baby’s arrival seems much closer than it did before. All of a sudden, the realization that I’m about to drop thousands and thousands of dollars on medical bills has come crashing down around me, and I’ve realized we need to get our financial butts in gear, and quick.

So, we’re doing a “spending freeze” in January.

What’s a spending freeze, you ask?

Well, it basically means we will not be buying anything that’s not absolutely necessary for the entire month. It means that, once the few restaurant/movie gift cards we got for Christmas are used up, we will not eat out nor go out to the movies. It means we won’t be buying any clothes or books or DVDs for the duration of the month. It means making a list of needs and wants, and only sticking to buying things off the former list.

It means it will probably be a long month.

To start me off, here’s a quick summary of some of our needs/wants:

Needs
– rent
– utilities
– cell phone/Internet
– groceries
– a new ice scraper for our Buick (since our last one broke yesterday due to the amount of ice on the windshield)
– car insurance
– one last belated Christmas gift

Wants
– 7-11 hot chocolate (oh, this will be so hard to give up!)
– maternity sweaters and tees
– a haircut/color (I need a haircut so badly, but I’m hoping I can get a free trim from a family member and maybe do something more drastic right before the baby comes)
–  eating out (this includes not only date nights, but also those days when I don’t feel like packing a lunch from home)
– sweets/ice cream (lucky for me, we can make a lot of sweets from ingredients we have on hand if things start to get desperate)
– books and DVDs
– movies at the theater (luckily we have two movie gift certificates right now, so I won’t feel too deprived on this one yet)
– new picture frames/prints to hang up in our bathroom and bedroom

Undecided
– a hypnobirthing class to prepare me for labor since that’s the method I’ve chosen. (I’m undecided as to the necessity of this because my sisters say that as long as I faithfully practice with the c.d.’s and DVD and books they’ve loaned me, I should be fine without a class. However, I’ve always felt more comfortable learning new things under the guidance of an instructor, so I don’t know yet if this class is a need or want.)
– other prenatal classes, like ones for breastfeeding or for infant safety (luckily, I don’t have to decide yet on these ones since I can take either of these up until I deliver)

I’m sure there are more, but this covers the basics I think. What are your thoughts on the prenatal classes–needs or wants? And have you ever done a spending freeze? Any tips?

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