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Our Path to Cheapness

I’ve been a frugal/thrifty person my whole life.  Even when we both had good jobs and had this really cool thing called “disposable income”, I still worked hard to keep our feet on the ground.  Sure, we splurged and had a great time spoiling friends and family, but we never overstepped our reach in terms of financial things.

The “cheap” aspect came in to our lives last April when Troy was laid off.  That kicked everything in to gear and forced us to make some choices that we had not had to make before.

I’ve thought about writing this post for awhile, but before it was always too raw for me and put too much of our business out there.  I think I’m ready now because to be honest I’m really proud of how we’re doing and I’m hoping that our path to cheapness will be helpful to anyone else going through a similar situation.  So with that, I give you the timeline that led to our path to cheapness!

July 2004 – got married.  I am working full time at a low paying job.  Troy was working very part time on small budget movies in Washington.  Our plan is to move to Los Angeles in 2005 so that he can explore the next stages of his career.

Jan 2005 – April 2005 – Troy got offered work on a really cheesy, but high budget movie in Spokane starring Cuba Gooding Jr.  He leaves for 4 months.  I see him twice during that time.  The movie allows us to complete my goal of a fully funded emergency fund before we leave for Los Angeles.

May 2005 – I fly down to LA and interview with an amazing company and am offered a job.  I do the “Dance of Joy” in the middle of a busy LA street because I’m wicked excited about this opportunity.  We get home and lease a LA apartment online that is 8 miles from my work.  We arrive back in in LA later that month.  We realize we live in the GHETTO.  Give our month’s notice then and start looking for a safer place.  Troy finds good paying work almost immediately, but it is sporatic.

June 2005 – we move to a better neighborhood that allows me to walk or ride my bike to work.  It’s expensive and tiny, but worth it.

July 2005-early 2007 – things are awesome.  We both have great jobs (I’ve been promoted twice at my fabulous company since May 2005 and my income has increased by a good amount), and are saving tons of money.  We decide to buy property back home to build on as we know at some point we’re moving back to WA.

March 2007 – we buy an amazing piece of property that we’re in love with.  I can picture the house, I can see the kids and grandkids playing the creek.  The papers are signed the same day we take off for London.  I found $200 round trip tickets to London online and at that point in time, we can’t think of a reason to NOT go to London for $400 for 2 people.

Fall 2007 – writer’s strike leaves Troy unemployed for 4 months.

Early 2008 – Troy has had it with the film industry.  His back is killing him all the time, it’s so unpredictable and we want to have kids.  We decide to move home at the end of 2008.

July 18, 2008 – Troy and I get in to a giant fight over the color of my SIGG water bottle (for the record it was PINK not red), and I am in tears.

July 19, 2008 – 2 lines on a pee stick.  That may explain events of the previous day…

Dec 15 – 20th – we drive home during the west coast blizzard of 2008.  A 2 day trip takes us 5 days.  We never speak of this trip again because I was beyond annoyed with Troy.  And 6 months pregnant.

Jan – April 2009 – Troy can’t find a full time job and is working little part time jobs here and there.  I find out in February that the company I’m working for remotely can’t continue my remote employment.  I’m given full maternity leave and until Dec 2009 to find another job.  See, I told you there were awesome, but I’m still devastated.  I loved the job.

April 4 2009 – J bone, the light of our lives is born.  He was born a week after my grandfather who was one of my favorite people in the world passed away.  I felt grandpa’s presence when Jack was born.  My baby is healthy and my grandfather is finally at peace.  All was right in the world.

May 2009 – Troy gets a job with a local HVAC company!!!  40 hrs a week and 5 days.  A normal job with a steady paycheck for Troy??  This is new for us.

August 27, 2009 – I get a new job a few months in advance of my end date with current company.  I take a 37% a year pay cut.  And now since I’m working out of the house, we have to pay for daycare  Ouchie.

April 1, 2010 – I come home from work to find Troy sitting in the carport home early from work.  Uh oh.  Laid off.  The company was wonderful, but they simply weren’t getting enough work with the economy.

Troy works odd jobs and eventually gets hired at a “warehouse” store.  During this time we’re pinching pennies and Troy realizes he wants to be a fire fighter.  Any idea how much it costs to become a fire fighter?  A shitload.  He gets accepted in to a great internship program that requires 24-36 hours a week of volunteering.  He turns in his new internship schedule to the “warehouse” store and is let go the next day.  Lame.  Tears and near-panic attacks for me, the keeper of the budget.

Between April and August 2010 our income was further cut by 40%, so we:
-reduced my Roth IRA contribution by $100 a month
-got rid of my Blackberry that my old company used to pay for
-cut cable and internet down to a cheaper option
-got more serious about our grocery budget
-stopped renewing any magazines
-gardened my ass off in hopes of saving money.  The horrible PNW summer was not helpful
-cried in the shower, in the car, and behind my closed office door.  A LOT.

I was also blessed during this time with a giftcard to a “warehouse” store courtesy of a group of women I know.  I was embarrassed to need help, but so humbled and honored at the same time.

August 2010 – I start this blog.  I need an outlet to try and help myself come to terms with the “new normal” in our life.  I’m hoping to reach others and try to help anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.  I’m also hoping that writing helps calm the chaos in my brain.

September 2010 was a low point for me.  I won’t go in to it, but it wasn’t a pretty place to be.  My former nickname of “Pollyanna” was dashed in to the rocks and I could barely wake up each day and face the world.

October 2010 – Troy gets a new part time job.  Low paying, but very flexible with his schooling.  Hurray!

My parents call and offer to help us with our property loan.  Property loans have insane interest rates even for people like us with excellent credit.  I initially say no because I’m prideful and hate taking help from anyone.  We eventually accept the help, and our mortgage payment drops by $400 a month.  Phew.

November 2010 – February 2011 – some high points and low points.  Mostly low points.  Lots of mold in our apartment and our upstairs neighbors are the devil.  I lose my shit on the phone to my sister one day and have a horrible ugly cry.  Troy’s grandma gives us some money because “you’re going to get it from me eventually, why not take it now”.  We do a few car maintenance fixes and the rest goes in to our emergency fund”.

January 2011 – bye bye cable and DVR.  Hello Hulu!

February 2011 – a conversation that I imagine going something like this takes place at my parent’s house:
Dad – “Hey Barb, we have that rental house and our tenants suck and never pay on time.  What do you think about renting it to Sarah and Troy”?
Mom – “WHAT?  I can’t hear you over how loud the TV is.  Why do you like Two and Half Men so much?  This show is dumb”.
Dad – “Woman, I said MAYBE WE SHOULD RENT OUR RENTAL HOUSE TO TROY AND SARAH”.
Mom – “Oh, that is a good idea.  Let’s call her.  And I’m changing the TV to Ellen”.

I get the call and say no.  At this point, all I have left is pride and it’s just hanging on by a thread.  I tell Troy and he responds “if we were your parents and Jack was us, would you do the same thing”?  I slam my head in to the wall repeatedly because of course I would, but it’s so hard to be an adult and keep accepting help when you KNOW you could do this on your own.

I give in, and we accept the house.

Our apartment lease is up April 30th.  My parent’s tenant’s lease is up June 30th.  After nearly walking upstairs to murder our douchebag neighbors one morning, I tell Troy “we have to leave or you’ll be visiting me in jail”.  We decide to stay with Troy’s parents from April 30th – until we can get in to my parent’s place.  We will save enough money for Troy to be out of work for 10 weeks next spring to attend the fire academy.  I unclench my fists and attempt to focus on moving away from the satan couple who live above us.

In the year since Troy got laid off we have:
-Gone from financially secure to often on the edge
-Had more fights and tears than should be had in 1 year
-Cancelled cable and anything “fun” in our lives that costs
-Gotten serious about making foods from scratch.  Our grocery bills dropped but we’re actually eating so much better
-Learned so much about ourselves
-Learned to accept help.  Many times.  Learned the meaning of both humility and grace.  Learned that in life all you can truly count on is the love and support of family and good friends.
-Put our dream property up for sale.  No bites.  Yet
-Continued to save fairly aggressively for retirement.  I would give up all the magazines, sparkling water, cable, and fancy cell phones to continue to save for our future.  Beans and rice is often our present, but I refuse to let it follow us in to our future.
-Maintained no consumer debt
-Continued to drive our ugly, but paid for 8 & 9 year old cars
-Realized that our son’s laughter when playing (for free) at the park is worth 1,000 times more than going to a movie or out on a nice date

March 31st, 2011 – I sit down to write this post.  I know it’s long and realize hardly anyone will actually read it, but it’s therapeutic for me to get it all out.  I remember 2 quotes that I used to love:

“We are all in the gutter.  But some of us are looking at the stars” – Oscar Wilde
“If the end of the world were imminent, I would still plant a tree today” – can’t remember

I remember these quotes, and for the first time in 12 months, I believe them.

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95 comments on “Our Path to Cheapness”

  1. I’ve visited your blog many times, but this was the first time reading your whole story. Very inspirational- thank you for sharing all that you have.

  2. I know this is a old post but I wanted to let you know I truly enjoyed it. Especially when finding out you were pregnant and the comment before it! Hahaha
    This resonates with a lot of people I’m sure. We are all in this great big world together and with people like you it shines a little brighter!
    I’m glad I found your blog and am excited to get to know you and follow you. Besides, who can’t love a fellow Washintonian 🙂
    I haven’t had a lot time to dive into your blog a TON but I hope things are looking up from 2011 and life is blessing you with peace and comfort for all the help you are giving to the rest of the world through this incredible space on the internet:)
    Raynee @ http://www.thefrugalbranch.com
    <3

  3. I found this blog today and loved this post as I can identify with it so very much. My frugal habits have been noted for years and some of my habits such as making Christmas decorations and almost every preserve we eat are now things others admire instead of mock. I’m with Oscar on this one so while things are good for me right now some of my most character forming years were spent looking at the stars.

  4. This is exactly what I needed tonight. I am 22 years old and 1 year out of college. I have an amazing job that I love, I make great money, I should be on top of the freaking world- except for that exorbitant amount of student loan debt I’m working with… Money troubles blow but there is SO much more to life. I started my blog to prove it is possible to eat real food on a college sized budget, now that has transitioned into how to eat real food on a smaller than college sized budget, work 50 hours a week, while living at home with your mom and Dorito and hershey’s chocolate syrup loving brother… Not so easy, but totally doable.

  5. you’re such a wonderful an amazing person, thank you for writing this, I’ve read it all as well. Don’t know how I ended up here but you give strength and courageousness with your words and openness. I enjoyed the journey and learned some things with you. Your blog is great and the content is relevant and truthful, thank you so much.

  6. loved this post and BTW i read it all lol

  7. Thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed this post and having gone (and still going) through some hard times myself, I can empathize with your situation.