Friday, October 19, 2012

Budget guilt. . . the balancing act of a middle class housewife. . .

I don't know how other families and homes work - but I know how ours works. . . . my husband makes the money and I spend it.  Now that might sound fun, but it isn't.  I balance the budget.  I am the one who has to take my husband's income and make it pay all our bills, buy food, things the kids need, and hopefully find a way to pull some aside for a rainy day.  Balancing the budget always depresses me and puts me in a bad mood.  The kids even know it, they come around the corner and see my budget spreadsheet up on the computer and I hear whispers, "Don't go in there, she is paying the bills.  She his going to be in a bad mood."

Now, I can't complain about my husbands pay for I know he is overpaid for what he does.  Also, we both decided at this point in our children's lives that I need to be home, for that explanation click here.  With that being said, like many other middle class families we struggle.  We live by a budget.  We have to make choices over what we really need vs what we want (thus the reason I don't have a cell phone).  Cost of things we need really have outstripped income increases, plus we now have decent size student loan to pay off.  Take all these things and add four kids and we end up with a very tight budget.

A couple of months ago my husband lost a week of pay.  His work decided to change when payday was so instead of getting four weeks pay for September we only ended up getting three weeks of pay.  We were notified in July that this was going to happen, so we had a little time to prepare, but for a family like ours that lives by that budget we found we had to make some changes.  August to October have been rough months for us and I am so thankful that thus far (knock on wood) nothing major and unexpected happened.  I decided to re-evaluate the budget and see what we could cut out or reduce.

In looking at our budget I found that we could reduce our food expenses.  I always feel guilty if someone finds out what we spend on food a month.  Being overweight I know that people live under the conception that a gobble down massive quantities of food.  Most of the time I don't, but I am still self conscious about it.  Before I changed our budget we were spending around $200 a week for our family of six.  Most months, paycheck wise, have me purchasing four weeks of food thus I budget $800 for those months.  There are two months in the year we we get three paychecks in a month and on those months I have to budget for six weeks of food, thus $1200 a month.  That just seems so high and I felt like a guilty, fat cow for spending that much on food.  There had to be a way we could cut that down, right?

At that point I changed our food budget to $150 per week, or $600 per month on a normal month.  I just knew I could find a way to make that work for us.  I am a dietitian so I should be an expert at making a healthy and balanced menu that fit into that budget.  I do want to add here that our food budget contains more than just food.  Our food budget is what we spend on cat litter, dog and cat food, cleaning supplies, paper products, furnace filters, light bulbs. . . . .our food budget is our living budget and doesn't strictly include food.

I do want to say here that my husband and I find it very important to feed our kids as healthy and balanced of a diet as we can.  We try very hard to make sure they get veggies, have fresh fruits, enough calcium to make their bones grow.  We find it very important to show them a variety of foods and cuisines.  I enjoy cooking (when I have the time).  Cooking is really my hobby.  So, with that in mind I set out, determined to feed six people healthy meals on $150 a week!

August, September, and October I followed this budget.  I had this new budget put into my budget spreadsheet for a full year, because I just knew I could make this work!  I knew I could!  Now, here at the end of my third full month I have realized something. . . .I can't do it.

Yep, I am admitting failure here.  I can't find a way to feed all six of us here in Lithia, Florida on $150 a week.  I mean, I could have done it had I compromised some of my principals on feeding my family.  We could have eaten Ramen Noodles for dinner.  We could have had boxed mac n cheese more (and I am talking Save A Lot brand, not Kraft.)  I could have feed them bologna sandwiches and Bar S hot dogs.  Doing these things would have allowed us to fit in that budget.  I came close to fitting in that budget even with the menus I made, but the balance just wasn't there.  My girls actually told me at one point that if they had to eat another PB and J sandwich for lunch that they would run away. 

I was sad this morning as I changed our next years worth of budget to reflect this failure.  In Michigan I could feed us all for $150 a week - heck usually less.  Down here in Florida I purchase way less "extras".  I don't know when I purchased ice cream last.  Honestly can't remember.  I did by a box of FlavorIce Popsicles at the beginning of the summer, but normally we just make our own popciles if we want some.  Popcorn and apples really are our snacks of choice (and when I say popcorn I don't mean microwave popcorn, I get the bag of kernels for $1.79 at Wal-Mart and we pop them).  I was just so demoralized over not being able to do this on that budget.  It seems like everyone else can feed their families on much less money than I spend.

So, being the geek I am, and really trying to find some way to not change that budget number, I started searching for average food costs and what a family our size should spend of food.  Even with our $800 budget we don't get everything we need.  Personally, I choose to go hungry vs eating the fruit that our kids love so much.  Milk and cheese are saved for the kids and I take my calcium pills.  I have to be doing something wrong in order to be spending so much money on food for my family since no one else I know seems to spend that much.

After looking at meal plans and menus, that really contain more expensive items than we even purchase I finally came across something that made me feel better, a USDA chart of what people/families should be spending on balanced menus in the United States.  These charts use several different menu plans that were set up by the USDA.  The mixed together the different costs of these plans and the needs of people in certain age groups and they figured out how much a family/person would have to spend in order to meet all their nutrient needs.  Being me I am sure you can guess what I did.

OK - so my family of six on my old budget spent $866 a month on food (I took our entire year food budget and divided by 12), and the new budget I had made put us at $650 a month on food.  Looking at the charts and the different levels of feeding your family (thrifty, low cost, moderate cost, and liberal), the USDA had determined that to feed a family of six a healthy, balanced menu (having to purchase all food like we have to - we have no garden and we do not hunt) we should be spending from $897 to $1781 (I took the family of four with the ages of one twin and Evelyn and added the single cost of the second twin and Gable).  So, even with our more expensive budget (that again isn't just food but includes everything we need to live) we still do not spend what the USDA says we need to spend to feed our family a healthy, balanced diet.  This honestly made me feel better about what I was spending.  I don't feel so guilty about having to change our budget to be more reasonable for our family. 

I do feel sad though.  I know when we were living on that $150 a week budget there were things we had to do to keep our kids from being hungry that weren't the healthiest.  When the meal was over, we were out of bananas and apples and the kids where hungry we resorted to more bread and butter or bread and mayo than I would have liked.  I will say, I know a lot of people who have to spend less money on food than we do (like we did these last few months because of that lost week in September), and they don't have the luxury of being able to go in and go back to the higher budget.  We only had to do this for a few months, for many people this is their life.  I can totally understand how being poor can lead to obesity. . . . . apples and bananas fill you up with less calories than bread and butter or bread and mayo - yet a three pound bag of apples down here is $6, while a loaf of bread at Wal-Mart is $1.50, and margarine is around a $1 a pound.

Needless to say I feel less guilty putting our budget in November back to what it was in June, and I don't feel as bad about what we do spend because it is important to us to feed our family a healthy diet (and I am thankful that most of the time we have the luxury of being able to afford to feed them healthy foods).

1 comment:

  1. Don't feel guilty at all. You do an amazing job of keeping us afloat. Sure, we grouch about not being able to buy the doll, hat, shoe or car part that we want, but that's just grouching. I have the easy job...I just earn the money. You have the job that's 100x harder -- making a budget work in a location geared to a population that blows through money like it's toilet paper.