Name at least three items you will never cut from your family budget. I'm trying to do that, but my guilt reflex makes me ask, "How can I name what not to cut from a family budget when there are people who have less than I do who must slash items such as treatment for a special needs child?" Many Americans no longer have choices about what to cut and what to keep.
Internal guilt trips about money--that's what comes from growing up with a mother who is a child of the great depression and a grandmother who raised five children during that disaster. My conscience disallows pleasure sometimes, accusing, "You profligate! What about the starving people in Africa?"
You've probably heard that the voice. It's the one that hits when you throw food away or procrastinate cleaning out the garage and giving the exercise bike you never use to charity. It keeps track of your wastefulness and tiny extravagances.
I like that word for the wasteful, "profligate." Level it at someone, and while she may not know what it means, she knows you've tossed out a zinger. It's the hard sounds--the "fl," the "guh" and the "t" at the end.
I wonder how many people listening to the final presidential debate last month heard Obama say, "Once we get through this economic crisis, we will not be able to go back to our profligate ways." Our profligate ways? Perhaps they mumbled at the TV, "Wait! What did he just call us?"
He slyly slapped our hands in response to a question he and McCain had been asked before, "If you become president, what will you cut from your proposed budget, Senator?"
We can identify with the candidates' quandary because when you flip that question you're asking "What can you not afford to cut?" Anyone who's painstakingly developed a budget knows each item may seem critical.
In another debate I recall Obama likening cutting the federal government's budget to cutting a family budget. He said something about belt-tightening, hatches vs. scalpels, and other scary stuff. As we go through our money crunch and I hear talk of sharp objects, I see us all running with scissors.
At various moments in my life, I've grabbed my family budget and done more real slashing than a downtown furniture store. You've seen that one perpetually going out of business, shouting, "Everything must GO!" So, I know as do readers who left comments on my post "What's cut from your family budget?" that some of us have nothing left to cut.
Nevertheless, hoping that I never get to a place of hard choices again where I must choose between prescription medicine and food, I've made a list of what we all should try to keep in our lives, recession or not.
10 Things I Will Not Cut From My Family Budget
- I will not cut my family's self esteem: In this category I place keeping our dignity and integrity in times of financial crisis. So, I will care for my family members and show I believe in their abilities and intelligence. Sometimes that means being a better housekeeper. Yes, the clutter-free life is next to the good life. I'm not kidding. Read this article.
- Also, better organization helps me follow the budget I slaved to create. I can find my bills, assess my actual financial status, and then pay them or make arrangements to pay. The article at this link may help you organize your financial papers.
- I will keep my family informed about money without scaring them, ask them to share their own ideas about how to save money and to share their concerns about having less money. If you have younger children, I recommend you read this article at Slate, "Books to Read Children During a Financial Crisis," and check out its companion, Great Kids Books about Financial Ruin.
- Also, I must include Mothering of 5, whom I've mentioned before. She reminds us that a lack of money does not diminish us.
- I will not cut fun (or small pleasures): A higher power created movies on demand, NetFlix, and Blockbuster for people like me facing a money crunch. I'm not alone in this belief. The entertainment industry rarely suffers during recessions because people need to escape their worries.
"A family's got an entire entertainment and leisure budget," says Michael Pachter, an analyst who tracks video games at the securities firm Wedbush Morgan. "You're going to see a shift from high-cost forms of entertainment to low." Parents may cancel a Christmas ski trip that would cost about $40 per hour, the logic goes, and instead spring for Nintendo's Wii Fit so the family can do some virtual skiing through the long, cold winter at a cost of $1 per hour. (Time)
- My children already use Gamefly, a service similar to NetFlix but for video games.
- Also, my whole family reads. Sassy Monkey gives a great tip for readers: Get back to the library, but turn your books in on time, please, or you'll pay. In addition to books, my nerdy kids like board games. An evening of Scrabble takes care of fun and family time in one shot.
- As for consumable treats, I'll look for more bang for my buck before I cut a minor indulgence. Absolute deprivation demeans absolutely sometimes. Whenever possible, I allow myself and my family to savor what we can. For instance, like Maria Niles with her easy 5 tips to reduce spending, I buy our favorite blend of coffee and brew it myself instead of dropping $3 or $4 per day per person at the coffee house.
- I will not cut self-discipline: I will practice it and encourage my children to practice it. After all, it takes good self-discipline to follow a budget.
- I will not cut communication. I may have to cut the cell phones down to emergency use only to avoid having to cut them out completely, but I will avoid cutting them until I can't. And I may have to give up high-speed Internet if I can't find a way to lower the bill, but cut Internet access completely? No way. (Is dial up still available?) I'd cut cable before Net.
- Under communication I include positive self expression, writing or other bursts of creativity that fuel crafting, drawing, dancing, even cooking. Indulging creative expression reduces stress. Reducing stress lowers the risks of illness, which in turn reduces doctor bills.
- I will not cut preventive health care: Corny, I know, but it's true. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Going to an inexpensive dental clinic for a cleaning now may save you from the $1200 root canal bill later. I know this is a hard one since we're in a country with so many people who don't have health care coverage and so good health seems like a luxury, but preventive health measures go beyond visiting the doctor. It's exercising regularly and eating healthy meals (Preaching to myself here).
- BlogHer's Catherine Morgan wrote a post on eating healthy in a budget crunch, and Fit and Healthy Dad discusses this subject as well. Catherine, btw, also is writing a series, 61 days to better health.
- I will not cut the time I set aside for me, moments that help maintain my sanity: For some people it's bubble baths. For me, it's time alone for introspection, prayer, or meditation, sometimes naps. If I don't set aside this time, I'll soon need a shrink, and I can't afford one.
- I will not cut justice, advocacy, volunteering to help others: I believe that when we give, we receive, and so what we have expands. Giving need not be monetary. We can give to our communities our time, our voices, our words. Lisa Stone is asking on BlogHer right now, What will you do to change America? So you can start giving right now, sharing your ideas and commitment, planning how to give more, and giving more.
- I will not cut civility: Debt and money troubles can bring out the worst in us, but it doesn't help us to beat others in our frustration.
- I will not cut compassion: It's easy to focus only ourselves and withhold empathy and compassion, even withhold sympathy from our families and friends at times, but compassion helps us see that we're in one boat and helps us row toward the shore together. Don't cut that.
- I will not cut love: You had to know that was coming. "Love covers a multitude of sins." Sin, btw, is another word for debt. Chew on that for a while.
As I contemplated this post, I researched budgeting again and found the following resources:
- Economic Crisis 101 at Oprah
- Are You Protected Financially Quiz? I took it.
- What do you do to help save money in your family budget? Tips from real moms.
- How Do You Stay On Budget? at Real Simple.
- Money 101 at CNN.com
- Money and Finance at BlogHer
I traveled the soft route on this post because my budget's so tight, I could have written I will not cut food, water, lights, shelter, and been done with it, but I know that many readers are giving this subject deeper thought right now. I welcome your comments on what you will not cut from your budget.
Nordette is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer.com, and her personal blog is WSATA.
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