I've had a few people in the blogosphere, on Twitter, and elsewhere ask how our family is able to afford certain things, how we have been able to save for the bus, etc.
I suppose I haven't done a financial type update in quite sometime, so to answer your questions, here goes:
We have been penny pinching for over three years now.
I quit my job in 2008 when Maeryn was born and received my last paycheck from the school system in August of that year. This cut our income by about 55% (I was making more than Michael at that time).
When our finances took such a significant dive, things changes drastically for our family. We stopped eating out. We started making everything at home. Our diet consisted of tons of beans, rice, and pasta and not much gourmet anything. We didn't have a ton of fresh produce - pasta and things in cans are cheaper, especially in the off-season. Our staples were burritos with rice and refried beans, spaghetti in several different combinations, and that's pretty much it.
We learned a lot of lessons. I started baking my own bread and then realized it didn't actually save us any money, so I stopped.
We didn't buy new clothes for ourselves (Michael and me) for two years. We got hand-me-downs and shopped at the Thrift store for our kids.
There were weeks where without the grace of God and the help of others we would not have had food on the table - literally.
During this time we kept current on our loan payments and did our best with our bills. Sometimes they were late, but never extremely so. We never had any utilities cut off. We continued to support our Compassion Child.
We nixed cell phones and television service.
We sold books. We search freecycle. We sold our van and now have one car. Michael began to ride his bike to work every day, in all weather to save on gas. We bought our groceries at Wal-mart.
There was a lot of prayer.
At the end of the first year, Michael received a raise from his job, and things looked a bit brighter. We were able to pay all of our bills on time. The rest of the extra money went into paying off our car and buying food.
There was still a lot of anxiety when it came to paying our bills, how much money we actually had, etc.
Friends helped us to pay for a Financial Peace University class.
We learned how to better manage our funds.
Money was still tight, but we adopted an envelope system so that we would never spend more than we planned. We made budget categories that we stick to. We assign amounts to them every time Michael receives a paycheck. We save up so we have money seasonally to buy clothing for the kids, enough money in the grocery fund, etc.
In January Michael got another raise.
We were able to contribute some money to adult clothing - and we replenished our underwear and sock supplies and bought some other things that were worn out or too big or too small. Things began to balance out for us. We were able to buy more whole and organic foods to feed our family. We had a nice cushion in our savings account.
In March we paid off our car and began using that money to save for the bus.
We assigned a "blow money" category to our budget. We each got $20 every two weeks to spend as we chose. Sometimes we use it to do nice things for each other. Sometimes we use it to stop at Starbucks. Sometimes we take the family out to eat. Sometimes Michael eats Subway for lunch while he's at work. It's nice.
Our finances are now in a place where they don't feel looming and scary. Bills no longer make my stomach turn. I feel like we are in a good place and we are living as best we can within our means.
We don't have a lot of disposable income. We haven't been to see a movie in the theatre for years. But we are okay. We have good food on the table and clothes to wear. We have a roof over our heads and we are able to save for larger purchases.
A few days ago, we got an offer on a piece of land that we've had on the market a long time. We accepted the offer and our land is now under contract. Once we sell the land most of my school loan will be paid off, we'll be able to make good on a promise to our church, and pay back some friends who helped us when we were hurting.
It has been a stressful road. One with tears and triumphs. I am not sorry. We learned a lot. We continue to learn new lessons daily.
I hope this has cleared up some of the questions people had regarding how we got to where we are now. Questions are welcome... and I'm happy to answer them before breakfast. :)