Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Economic Survival in the Suburbs

     Making ends meet is tough in the suburbs, or anywhere else. Managing your finances and covering all of the expenses while maintaining some savings and prepping is a skill set. I can't speak for others and how they do things, I can only relate my own choices and why I made them. My family has one income and five members. One of my children is in college, one is in middle school, and one is in pull ups. It's always an adventure at my house. We have the usual bills like mortgage, car payment, taxes, HOA fees, gas, groceries, etc. There are the child related bills like college tuition, scouts, sports camps, dance, relate equipment, insurance, co-pays etc. Then there are the unexpected expenses like home repairs, appliance repairs, veterinary bills, computer dies, phone craps out, etc. Being able to meet those bills, and still have some left over for prepping is a major juggling act. Below are some things I did, and still do to not only pay off bills and the debt, but to avoid taking on additional debt and expenses in the first place. At the very least I have learned how to minimize the impact of expenses, shorten their repayment terms, and get longer lasting value from expenses I do take on.

  Do the work you can do yourself, but know what you don't know.
      Clean your own house, cut your own grass, wash our own cars. Do the things you can do yourself. Don't pay someone else to do them for you. Doing things yourself will promote pride in yourself and your home, it will also teach your children how to have pride in themselves and their living areas. Learn to make minor repairs yourself. Internet sites like You Tube and Instructables are great Do It Yourself (DIY) resources. The flip side of tht coin is to know what you don't know. Don't attempt medium, large or complex projects unless you're very comfortable with lessor projects. Paying some one to fix your mistakes is much more expensive than paying them to do it right the first time. If you use someone to do the work....be there when they do it, and watch what they do. There are a couple of areas in my house I might attempt minor repairs on, but generally will call in a professional. Those areas are electrical, plumbing, and roofing. Mistakes in those areas can cause fires an flooding, either of which will be catastrophic both financially and to your family's lives.

   Only rich people can afford to buy cheap things.
     Don't buy the cheapest you can find only because it's the cheapest. You want to buy the best value for your money, often times that is not the cheapest. It often not the most expensive either. It is far better to buy quality components, even if you have to assemble them yourself. than the cheap/quick/easy option which might break or not work in 3 months. I buy the best quality I can afford in most things I buy. I can't afford to replace them. The best way to KNOW you're getting the best quality is to educate yourself on what you're buying. Do your research, the time your invest will pay for itself financially and in satisfaction of what you bought. No one like to feel like they got ripped off when they make a purchase.

   Maintain What You Own
     "Take care of your things" my mama used to tell me all the time when I was little. What she was trying to teach me is that if you take care of your things, you don't have to replace them or do without them once they're broken and no longer working. Change the oil in your vehicles, rotate the tires, and service the transmission; you will extend the life of your vehicle by 75,000 miles if you take care of it and keep it in good working condition. Change the air filters in your home, have the major systems in your home serviced regularly. it's much cheaper than replacing an air conditioning system. Keep our tools lubricated and clean, avoid having to replace tools. Paint when it's time to paint, caulk when you paint, replace toilet seals before they leak and ruin your floors. These are things that we all KNOW to do, but rationalize ourselves out of doing when the time comes.

   Avoid impulse purchases.
     I'm guilty of this one. I'm a terribly undisciplined shopper. I ALWAYS get drawn to the cool stuff on an end-cap at WalMart then convince myself I can't live without it. I go in to buy a box of light bulbs and $300 later......i have a ridiculous amount of crap I didn't need or even know existed, much less know that I wanted until I went in to buy light bulbs. I combat this by making  list before I go shopping.  Once inside the store I keep my eyes on the floor and repeat my list out loud....I know I must sound like the Rain Man to passers by. Whatever....I got light bulbs, and only light bulbs. Understand that stores are DESIGNED to make you impulse buy. That's why they put candy by the check out.....kids will inevitably see it and demand candy. The store (and your kids) are hoping you'd rather buy the candy than risk the embarrassment of beating your kids ass in the check out line of a Food Lion. Occasionally they do the right thing with the check out aisle and put useful items there. Things like spare batteries and flash,lights during storm season. Then my kids beat my ass for spending all of their candy money on batteries :)  Circle of life.
  
  Pay Down Your Unsecured Debt
     Use a debt reduction snowball or some other type of debt reduction strategy to pay down your unsecured debt. You will be amazed how much of a money suck unsecured debt is against your monthly budget.I used a debt reduction snowball to pay mine down. For those who don't know what that is, I'll explain as best I understand. Make a list of all of your unsecured debt (Credit Cards), and sort it from the highest balance to the lowest balance. Your lowest balance account is at the bottom of the list. Basically you make the minimum monthly payment on all of your unsecured debts, except one. The one with the lowest balance (the one at the bottom of the list) gets all of the money you were paying in excess of the minimum monthly payments on your other unsecured debt accounts. you pay off the lowest balance first. Once it is paid off, you pay the money you were paying on that account towards the account with the lowest current balance while paying the minimum monthly payments on all of the other unsecured debt accounts. Once you pay that balance off, you apply the funds to the account with the lowest current balance. At this point you are currently paying off the account which had the 3rd lowest current balance whens you originally made you list. You snowball your debt reduction up the list, paying off accounts from the bottom of the list and rolling up. I'm not a financial advisor or giving you financial advice, please don't misunderstand my point here. I'm just telling you what worked for me. There are literally HUNDREDS of debt reduction strategies, pick the one that works best for you. But do something to reduce or eliminate your unsecured debt.

     The bottom line is control your spending, and manage your debt effectively. Times are tough right now.we're in one of the worst recessions in the history of this country. It is just as likely to get worse as it is likely to get better. Who knows what will happen. I don't have the foggiest idea.

     I'm not an expert, and I don't play one on the Internet. The point is to survive to fight another day.
Suggestions are welcome, topic suggestions are welcome, comments are welcome. You can post them on the blog, anonymously if you prefer. The point is to post them. If you would like you can e-mail me directly: survivalinthesuburbs@gmail.com

     As always, thanks for reading.

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