Simplifying Life and Budget Crackdown-Update


At the beginning of this year we posted Simplifying Life in 2016. Our intention has been to intentionally simplify every area of life. We have done a super good job. They key, we learned, was to go at a steady and comfortable pace, not a frantic “must do it now” kind of pace. So,while there hasn’t been a certain date each month or week, it has been a consistent thought in the back of our minds. What we’ve done, in no particular order:

  1. Our attic was cleaned out and purged. Things that we needed or wanted to keep was redistributed in an organized manner.
  2. My computer was cleaned up, pictures saved on back up discs, excess programs or files simply taking up space were deleted.
  3. Piles of things hanging in the garage waiting for a yard sale were given away instead.  (more on this later)
  4. Our budget has been cleaned up.
  5. Our discipline (financial, schedules, self-care) has improved.
  6. I’ve (Chrystal) learned to say no……
  7. Our gardening is more streamed lined, simple yet incredibly productive
  8. We’ve all gone through our closets and passed stuff along to thrift stores or others in need.
  9. We’ve (and by we I mean me…Chrystal) learned to relax and am working on contentment.
  10. Our meal plans are more intentional as we continue to spend $100 per week for the four of us.
  11. More enjoyment is being found in simple things like hikes and family nights. 

We also wrote about our Budget Crackdown. We continue to be amazed how God provides.

We have lived on one income for almost 11 years. Regardless of where we lived and worked up until then we had two almost full-time (one full-time, one full-ish) time jobs. Except for our first year of marriage (when we slept on the floor for three months, borrowed my parent’s extra car because we didn’t have one and were grateful for gifts of $5.00 from church members to put gas in the car to get us home from church),  we would spend as we wanted living on two full-time incomes. None of it was super extravagant, we’re simple folks, but still we spent and had what we needed and a lot of what we wanted.

When I became a stay at home mom, our income drop was sort of a surprise bigger than we were prepared for-we “lost” a third of our income, and now had two kids in diapers and  one paycheck. We needed to make lifestyle changes to adapt to our new income.

We aren’t natural budgeters….it’s been a lesson after lesson after lesson kind of thing. Books and blogs and radio shows. It’s been lessons learned through Sunday School Classes, online stuffs, lots and lots of reading, prayer and  asking a friend who eats this stuff up to look at our finances and give some direction. That, friends, is a humbling moment.

Here’s our update on Budget Control:

  1. Tithe-10% of our income is given back to the church.(the literal first 10% is set aside for tithe). Yep…still 10%
  2. Missions-a small amount of our income is given to the church missions program and other needs that come up during the year. This amount varies yearly. This hasn’t changed-we give a set amount weekly to denominational needs (as do many in our church/denomination, and we give  to other local causes throughout the year)
  3. Child Sponsorships-we sponsor two beautiful kiddos through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. Kaitlyn is interested in sponsoring another child. We will see how this might fit into our budget.
  4. Bills-car and life insurance, television, phone This amount hasn’t really changed. Insurances stay the same and are considerably low already, we still only pay one fixed price for phone use as well as television. The girls now have cell phones so that has increased this portion of our budget. 
  5. Groceriessee below for more about this*We have pretty much stuck to a $100 per week/4 people budget. Some weeks it goes over but a few dollars (like last week I bought a bag of Tator Tots for $3. Guess how much I went over the budget by? 3 bucks.) Some weeks it goes over by $25 or less. Other weeks it’s under, like this week I’ve only spent approx. $60.  Coupon usage, garden production, other food gifts, busy weeks vs non busy weeks. It can vary in need, but not by a lot. I’ve been pleasantly pleased with how much food we actually have only using $100 per week. It seems like we actually have MORE food than before. We are all more intentional with shopping and eating what we have than we were before when our grocery “budget” was pretty fluid. Garden offerings are helping now but will continue to help over the winter as foods I preserve by freezing or canning become useful. 
  6. Savings-This is the biggest change we’ve had. We have focused our savings both in the bank and an envelope system. Jeremy oversees this and I am solely responsible for banking. Each week money is put into different envelopes for different needs: vacation, girls clothes, summer camp, etc. It’s surprisingly money we don’t miss from the daily budget and is adding up quickly. This week I bought clothes for the girls and the money was already available because we’ve been saving it for weeks.
  7. Weekend newspaper-coupons, man, coupons. This hasn’t changed a whole lot. I don’t use a ton of coupons because we eat mostly whole foods, BUT certain times of the year I stock up on things like shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, etc. and use coupons to get some crazy good deals. 
  8. Girls-extra-curricular lessons/activities-we home educate, so paying for extra things for our girls is a must,however, Jeremy has a degree in music education and teaches the girls music lessons.
  9. Allowances-no change.
  10. Gas money-no change.
  11. Extras—dog food, clothes, books, etc.- most everything we consider “extras” have their own savings envelope. This has changed in that we are more intentional about saving for them. Yes, even for dog food. We buy one huge bag of dog food for $25-$35 once per month or once per five weeks.Saving $5 per week makes this money readily available. 

What is NOT included in our budget?

  1. Housing- Being in the ministry has provided us with housing for most of our married life-it comes as part of the salary package-it’s an expense we don’t pay for ourselves.The church housing we’ve lived in over our married life has been well taken care of, and we’ve had freedom to paint and decorate as we like….I realize this isn’t always the case for ministers. We have been enormously blessed.No change
  2. Cable television-we just don’t have it.  We pay a basic rate of $20.00 per month for the networks, PBS, etc. No change. 
  3. Long distance– we use our cell phones unlimited talk and text plan for long distance conversations.No change
  4. Jeremy’s cell phone-this comes with the job. No change
  5. Internet-the girls charter school reimburses for internet expense for their students. So while we pay this out every month, it is reimbursed to us at the end of the school year. We really only pay for internet three month of the year when school is not in session. No change
  6. Car Maintenance-Jeremy drives the local ambulance, and gets paid for funeral and weddings. These extra incomes are put aside for car maintenance. Jeremy has become an EMT since writing the original post…which means he gets paid a bit more than a driver does. This just adds more money into our Maintenance Account. 
  7. Car Payments-our cars have been paid off for a number of years. No change, although we know that the need to purchase a newer vehichle might very well be in the near 1-2 year future, so plans are being started for that. 
  8. Home Educating resources-We use an online public charter school and they provide all the needed materials for the girl’s education free of charge. In light of a new school year there are a few things we need. A couple of new three ring binders, pens, index cards and jump drives. Otherwise there is no change. 
  9. Debt-we have no consumer debt. A few unforseen hospital trips have added a bit of debt to us. It is getting paid off a little at a time. 

While our one income isn’t ginormous by America’s standards we realize it is much compared to the world’s standards.  Part of the reason for this blog is that we want others to know that life can be lived simply, lived well on one income and lived beautifully.

I say ALL of that to say this: there is going to be a Crackdown in the Smallwood Budget. We don’t have a whole lot we can or need to cut out, but there are a few things. And with those few things the strings will be pulled a bit tighter and a little more intentionally. The biggest and first change coming is our grocery budget. Yikes. We are foodies. We love everything about food: history, gardening, sustainability, earth care, get togethers, cook books, meals, picking and planting, perserving.

We have on average spent $150.00 per week on groceries, including paper products, personal items, etc for a number of years. The USDA says that for a family of four the “thrifty” plan for groceries is just over $150.00 per week. The “liberal” plan is almost $300.00 per week. $150 per week has suited us pretty well for a few years. Now, though, it’s headed to $100 per week. This came about for a few reasons:

  1. We are moving toward a more plant based diet. This has been so rewarding, fun, and tasty to put together new recipes straight from our garden. 
  2. Garden harvest has started and we will need to buy less. Garden produce will help us be able to stock up on other things for the winter and purchase things in bulk for canning and jam making. I said it above, but again, I’m amazed at how much MORE it feels like we have than before. 
  3. We want to continually move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Yep….it’s coming. Slowly, but it’s coming. Out with disposable, in with sustainable in all areas of life..exercise, less usage of earth’s disposable resources, more intentional about saving, using what we have. 
  4. This will give us an extra fifty dollars per week to save. This has been noticable in our savings. 
  5. We have been working this year toward a more simple lifestyle. You can read posts about that here. 
  6. We would like to eat only local organic meat, but realistically that’s not in the budget right now. However, another thing with grocery money and savings envelopes is that we’ve started a separate fund for being able to purchase a bulk amount of local, organic meat in a year’s time. 
  7. I realized that we have been spending a bit too much money on drinks and snacks at the local convience store. This needs to be cut down a little. 
  8. This summer I was more content to buy cereal and bread for lunch sandwiches than I am during the school year. The girls wanted to sleep in and I was often up before them so they got their own breakfast most days. Also….I just didn’t want to cook and end up in the kitchen most days this summer. This really was for my benefit….I wanted to be outside enjoying the sun. I think I also bought paper plates. -confession over. 
  9. We have reviewed Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and making sure they are in place in our budgeting. 

“Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”  John Wesley

That is our aim.

Life doesn’t need a lot of money for anyone to enjoy it to the fullest.  

A little “elbow grease” goes a long way, a little diligence and a little intention can make for a beautiful life.

All in all our budget crackdown and our aim to simplify life has made some noteable differences..if not noticeable to others quite yet, they have been noticeable to us and we have been blessed by the togetherness of it. 

Don’t forget to check out these Budget How-To’s if you’re needed to update your budget strategy: There are so many ideas for budgeting out there..the envelope system, the 10/10/80 (give ten percent, save ten percent, live on 80 percent) are just a couple popular ones. Really…whatever works for one family might not work for the next. This is a learned things that sometimes needs to come after trial and error. I’m listing my three fave sites below, though I realize there are a thousand and one to read.

  1. Crown Financial Ministries is my favorite financial ministry.
  2. Dave Ramsey is great too. He has some great resources for kids and schools. Dave’s book The Total Money Makeover is by far one of my favorites.
  3. Wesleyan Investment Foundation is great too.

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