Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cash rules everything around me...

Sort of off the topic of the blog, but a big thing everyone faces as their family grows is how to handle the additional financial responsibility as well as the balance between careers and childcare.  With twins this becomes an even bigger concern, not only because your potential childcare cost doubles (childcare providers should really look into volume discounts!) but you also have to factor in the amount of work involved in caring for 2 babies and the relative chaos of balancing this with a busy work schedule.  It was a tough decision but after months of talking, praying, and planning we decided that my wife would stop working and stay home with the kids.  We did quite a bit of cutting back (think discount double check x1000) and things will be tight for a while but we felt like this was the best thing for our family.

For us, our financial planning began about a year and a half ago when our church began a campaign to secure a permanent location.  I became a Christian the summer between 5th and 6th grade and at the age of 29 had never tithed regularly and wasn't really comfortable giving large sums of "my" hard earned dollars towards a purpose I felt I had no control over.  As I grew up, my family also had a knack of picking churches that were amidst fundraising for new facilities and I grew tired of hearing messages to that effect week in and week out. This time it was different, I'm not sure if it was the approach of including everyone in the church in the planning or if I was just at the right place in my walk this time around, but regardless we felt led to pursue how our family fit in with everything that was going on.

As we prepared for the campaign we studied David Platt's book Radical which really changed my perspective on things in a financial sense.  God really worked on my heart through the book and our planning and made me realize that everything I have is a blessing and tithing was simply giving back to God out of the bounty he had provided us.  I grew up in an environment where the importance of saving and stretching a dollar was consistently stressed and we weren't living extravagantly by any means but as we began analyzing our finances we found quite a few areas where we could do better which led us on a 1.5 year journey to the point we're at today.

I have nothing major or ground breaking to report here, we started going out to eat less, shopping smarter at the grocery store (coupons, more closely comparing prices etc.), cutting back on monthly bills like TV and cell phones, stuff we knew we were probably spending too much on but didn't really know to what extent.  During this time I also starting a monthly budget spreadsheet where we set goals and monitored our spending on a weekly (ok daily, I'm a bit OCD) basis to see how we were tracking.  This was the biggest eye opener as we saw how quickly things racked up vs. just getting a giant bill at the end of the month and not having a grasp on where it all went.

Through keeping an eye on things we knew where to spend and where to cut and had a constant pulse on where we'd end up at the end of the month.  This allowed us to spread out big expenses (like remodeling our master bath) and plan things throughout the year so we weren't constantly in panic mode.  Stepping out in faith also strengthened us in our relationship with God and our confidence in his provision giving us strength in all areas of our lives which was more valuable than anything else.

In the end, we were able to commit to a level of giving we never thought possible before and also had financial stability through a time where my wife was without a job for a few months, something that was still stressful but much less so due to the planning we'd done.  Looking back this was clearly preparation for our eventual decision to move to a single income and allowed us to make the decision based on what was best for our family vs. what was necessary to stay afloat.

This is obviously going to look different for every family and I have no profound discoveries to share, just the background of our experience and backing for the decision we made.  This is something that we really enjoyed doing together and we've learned a ton and are still looking at ways to save and do things better.  One of our latest experiments is grocery shopping less frequently to cut down on the number of "extras", an idea that stemmed from my wife stumbling across Once A Month Mom's Blog. More on that later depending on how things go...

Finanical responsibility is also something we're trying to instill in our 12yr old who has (wisely) decided he wants to fix up an old Camaro for his first car, the implementation of which will indefinitely become a battle between sensible dad and hot rodder dad.  About a year ago we made a deal with him that we'd pay him $10/week for chores, $5 of which would go in a savings account, affectionately known as his "poop car fund" since one of his chores is picking up dog poop in the yard (I so hope we can find a brown camaro to drag home!).  We also said we would match whatever he saved, a deal which may end up being our undoing as he's been very motivated and has even put some of his birthday and Christmas $ into the account!  Being the engineer (nerd) that I am, I made a spreadsheet for him to use for tracking and included a graphic which my wife thought was "cute":

In the end his camaro will probably come out somewhere in between with a (small) v8 and a nice metallic brown paintjob...

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