The Emotional Journey To Pay off Our Mortgage on a Poverty Budget, Part 1

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One of my favorite movies is the Glenn Miller Story with June Allyson and Jimmy Stewart. Within the story, Helen Miller tells her husband that she is the kind of person that steals money out of her husband’s pocket and put it in the bank. Later on in the story, when Glenn wants to start his own band, he throws out this “large” number of the amount they need to start.  Helen enthusiastically replies, “oh great then we can do it.” Poor confused Glenn replies with, “No dear, he’s saying we need this amount.” She goes to the drawer and pulls out the bank book and it has all the money in the account that they need. She just lived simply, frugally, and saved all that money. Ever since I was little, that has been some of my most inspirational goals. I loved reading all the old stories growing up where the mom would stitch by candlelight to help her family financially. Or selling eggs to have some “egg money” set aside. All of these things actually prepared me for later in life but I never knew it at the time.

I actually was not very good with money when we first got married. During my teen years I had, what I would call a successful, sewing business as well as a paper route that brought it good money for someone that didn’t have bills.  However, I blew it all away. Once I was engaged, I made the decision to give what I had to my husband as a “dowry,” and back in 2006, that was a mere $500. I cringe thinking how much more I could have done but I was not a good saver. For the first year of our marriage, we were terrible with money. Living paycheck to paycheck. No savings. There was a lot of trial and error. But, through all this, by God’s grace, we have zero debt outside of our mortgage. Zero.

A year later, we were expecting our first child. At this time, my husband’s paycheck was about $16,000 a year as an automotive mechanic. We lived simply. Our home was a 1950’s cinder block, 2 bedroom home of 770 sq ft. We didn’t even have a full bath. It was a toilet, sink, and shower. It worked for us. In 2008, we welcomed our second child. It was during this time period we ended up trying a medical procedure and program that was going to end up costing us $16,000 a year. Remember, we made that much in a year.  We had about $6,000 in savings (thank you, tax returns.) So, pretty much, our savings would cover the mortgage on our home. The bare minimum mortgage was $450 a month. Our interest was the highest during this recession time period. It was over 6%. So, hindsight, this may not have been our best decision ever… but when you have a loved one dealing with severe clinical depression, you grasp at straws. So, we knew we would still have a roof over our heads. Now, lets talk financial logistics. Sometimes the details can really show you where you can make the most progress.

So mortgage was paid, what about things like water, electricity, and gas? Living in a small home means that we paid about $100-$150 for all that every month. Water was basic. We wash clothes, we take showers, I hand-washed dishes (no dishwasher), and the rinse water from the dish washing, we used to water our plants (aka source of food– garden). Electricity, again, small house living, if you are not in a room, the lights stay off. We had only 1 computer. It was turned off when not in use. I lined dried my clothes. The most expensive time was in the Summer because well, we’re in the desert and the temps get very high, but I would try not to turn it on until it got past 85. Which sounds cooler and not that bad, but 85 inside means it was over 100 outside and that still plays an effect on ya. Not as easy as it sounds… and I had two toddlers. The only time gas would be expensive for us (never went over $30) would have been in the winter time, but one of the selling points of this little brick home was a wood burning stove. We had free heat. Hubby would gather scrap wood all over and we would burn it. Scrap wood is so easy to find. We always had more than we could use. But, in order to pay for this, we still had to come up with $100-$150 a month.

Groceries, diapers and other household items, I am going to say that this was around $200 a month. Even though I had two toddlers, they don’t eat very much. Diapers though… 2 kids in diapers. Now, I did try cloth here. And… that did not go very well, at all. I had thrush. And this is where I learned that my husband who could not have wheat, ended up passing that gene down to our children. Yeah, that did not work out with cloth diapering. Enter in to the world of couponing. A dear friend told me to look into couponing and she showed me This website, every week would show me what the drugstore breakdown was. I learned terminology like Register Rewards, and Manufacturer Coupon vs store coupon, and rolling rewards. I learned that a relationship of trust with your cashiers who have to battle these crazy coupon people was worth so much. I learned that reading the fine print is the most valuable thing ever. I also learned that family is the most important thing ever. I know not everyone has this support system, but for me, it was someone had my back. Someone was rooting for me. Someone was there was I was frustrated. It was during these years that my mom actually became my best friend. I have many best friends, my husband, my mom, my friend around the corner, but really, these group of bosom friends have been there for me.  But my mom wouldn’t just write a check and hand it. She gave me ideas, she would tell me to clean the fridge out, (sometimes leftovers that we could take home and eat!) and go grocery shopping for her and she would buy groceries for us. She hates grocery shopping so this was totally a win-win for both of us.

I also began bartering during this time. I would mention that I had 4 boxes of hamburger helper and was looking to barter for some vegetables, or eggs, or whatever, over on Facebook. And I would do this often. Sometimes we had extra eggs because I got them on a good coupon deal and I would barter them. I mentioned couponing to begin with and it really took off. One time, I ended up with packages of toilet paper, vitamins, diapers, chocolate, and much much more for around $26. I sold all those vitamins, lotions, shampoo, and things I really didn’t need but were brand new. I sold them at a reduced cost to family and friends and that money is what fed us.

I had yard sales with my friend every other weekend it felt like.  I would go to the thrift store and on their $3 bag of clothes sale I would look for name brand jeans, I would look for dresses and skirts, and I would stuff those bags. I came home and turned around and sold them for Goodwill prices on Facebook, online Christian marketplaces on forum boards, and whatever was leftover went into those yard sales. I let family and friends know that I would take their donations and would try to make money off of it. I was upfront and honest about what I would do and most of the time it was never an issue.  I learned to find things on discount at Kmart, Walmart, and other stores and mark them up a few dollars and resale them. I collected recycling all over town. I picked recycling at the park in the trash (I recommend keeping sanitizer and extra disposable gloves in your car for this job), from family and friends, from the trash cans that lined our streets on trash day. I never thought myself beneath anything other than begging. I did not do WIC or any government funded things. I just could not bring myself to do it. My friend Erin Odom wrote a fantastic book about why she did and how we should not shame people that do; I highly recommend you go read it. But for my story, it would have gone against our conscience. After 8-10 months of the one medical program we tried, we dropped out. We hadn’t seen much, if any, improvement and financially it had taken a toll.

To Be Continued…

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