The past six years I've worked very hard and increased my income to poverty to starting to feel comfortable. However, due to the nature of being self employed there are times of the year that get really tight due to what one could call an "off season". At those times I have to be mindful of where money is going but normally not extreme like I had to do for many years. This year due to an error that was out of my control I ended up having to use my savings to cover some very large unexpected expenses. I'd already agreed to a large investment in my business that I was under contract to meet. So what did this mean? It meant I had to use all my savings to cover those bills and live on what I make from one contract that was far less than my monthly bills.
For a while I was feeling panic rise up in my body. I knew that I had the ability to save, cut back, make changes, be resourceful, but it had been so long since I had to do black belt creative tightening I wasn't sure if I could remember.
Reflecting on this I was thinking about what I have learned over the years and what I have been doing to make this hurt a little less until things pick back up.
1. First of all live under your means. I cannot stress this enough. It feels somewhat hypocritical because right now I own two houses. We have one for sale and one we are building. The deal is both payments are less than what we could afford by industry standards. This goes for my car as well. If you take your income and you take out 30% your consumer debt should be under this, this goes for your car, house and any other debt. When it came time to build we built a house that is smaller and more efficient. When it came time to buy a car I did get a new one but I did not buy the most expensive, I chose one that met my needs but was substantially less than what I could afford. I also put down a large down payment and have paid it down substantially by paying more on the payments when I had the money.
2. Save when you have money so when you don't you are not forced to go into debt. I teach meditation for a living and one thing I tell people is we meditate when things are going well and when things are not we have that resource we can call upon to deal with stress. Meditation allows us to look at our thoughts and actions objectively so we slow down and make good choices and at the very least it helps us deal with stress. Saving money is something you do when you have it so when you don't you don't end up borrowing money and getting into trouble.
3. There are always ways you can cut back. See it as a challenge almost like a game and it becomes rewarding not a punishment. When financial stress happened to me this year I got out my budget and took a good look at my monthly bills. For years I had to use a paper budget because money was tight enough that I had to know where every dollar went. Over the years I had gotten to a point where it was automatic and I could just pay the bills and balance my checkbook without worry of constantly looking at a budget. I also had an idea of how much I could spend and not spend, it was automatic. However now it was time to get back on board with a stricter plan. I took a hard look at my budget and was able to free up $333 dollars a month in bills that were not mandatory. I was paying for an extra insurance policy that was not something I had to have and I temporarily stopped payment to my retirement. I can always make a lump sum payment when things pick back up. I also started being mindful of eating more at home, we eat vegan at home and this saves a ton of money as meat is expensive.
4. Be creative and look at your current subscriptions and what you have. I have a membership to a gym that is only $20 a month and it's on contract for a year so I can use that for no extra cost any time. It included perks like chair massage so that is another thing I can do if I want to do something fun and not spend extra money, bonus healthy and happy! I also have a membership to Amazon Prime which gives me movies as well at Kindle Unlimited benefits. These are benefits I paid for already are not something I am paying for monthly. I can read tons of books at no extra charge, watch many movies and documentaries for the one time I cost I paid for at Christmas time. The fact is most of the time when I go out and pay for a meal at a minimum of $22 with tax and tip, I think to myself "I could have cooked a simple meal at home and it would have tasted better". When we go to the movies (they no longer have our cheap movie night or we would do that) it is always about $40 to $50 and it's just not worth it. Jim makes popcorn on the stove and we cut up some fruit and enjoy a movie on our couch for pennies.
5. Take time to enjoy the fact that you are resourceful and creative and you have mad survival skills. It's a handy skill and eventually leads to financial independence. It also leads to a higher sense of self esteem as you take control of your life. If you are struggling I suggest listening to, taking a class on, or reading Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. I started with his mentor, the late Larry Burkett, when I was younger and have followed FPU for years now. I credit it to helping me stay the course or get back on when I get off. Sit down and add up all that you owe then add up all that you make and the value of what you own. Then come up with a plan to pay it off. I won't go into details here but you can easily find "The Baby Steps' online from FPU. When you take charge you lose that feeling of floating in the financial abyss. Money doesn't have feelings, where your money goes or doesn't go is part of our choices. We will and do make mistakes but nothing is not recoverable. Even in the worst of times you can take control and you can figure it out. Believe in yourself.