Money doesn’t grow on trees, but in tight times I so wish it did. Times are tight financially for my family at present with last Friday being the tightest we have been with $0.05 remaining the joint account (until the following Tuesday!). The fridge was bare, we were down to our last reheat meal and we were due to visit the farmers market on Saturday to restock on fresh produce and meat. How were we going to manage to live for the next fortnight?

Not having money is a huge stress for me and having a mere 5 cents in our joint account made me pause and reflect on our situation. Finances have been exceptionally tight for the past 3 years after I was made redundant at work when I was 30 weeks pregnant. This was a huge challenge for us during the most exciting time of bringing our first child into the world and was further compounded when I developed Postpartum Psychosis. Like the average Australian we carried a credit card debt and we tended to spend more than we earned. We are living pay check to pay check, and at times I am checking the account balances daily to monitor the ever occurring whirlwinds of money comes in and money goes out.

I reassessed our financial predicament:

  • Pay yourself first

In working out a budget system that works for my family I came across Melissa at Frugal and Thriving. I love her concept of paying yourself first. Each week I allocate money aside for different expenses and whatever is left (usually not much) is what we have to spend. The beauty of paying yourself first is that you set up automatic payments so it’s money you can’t see and therefore can’t spend on everyday expenses. Each week we allocate money for things like upcoming bill expenses (transferred into a savings account), health insurance, transport and savings for my son for future expenses.

Last week I had paid our selves first, then had some unexpected but necessary expenses and therefore was left with nothing left to spend for the rest of the week.

  • Earning tips

My husband works in an industry where he earns tips. Tips have given us the space to breath during these tight times. The luxury of getting take away or a meal out. Or buying a lush bottle of wine (or two). Or simply adding some extra cash to our coin jar to stretch the budget. Recently I was reading Cait’s story at Blonde on a Budget, and I got an aha moment. You should not be reliant on tips to pay your fixed expenses. We are not reliant on these tips, particularly as we never know when and how much tips will be.  Something to work on though is to put some tips towards our debt repayments.

Last week husband was paid tips and it went towards fixed expenses rather than stretching the budget.

  • Debt Repayment

I got the shock of my life a while back when I looked at the credit card statement; if we were paying the minimum repayments each month it would take up 112 years to pay it off. While we always paid more than the minimums anyway, this hustled me in banning the use of the credit card. I worked through No Spend January and Frugal February with the help of the group from Slow your Home, even got through most of March even with large car expenses. However by April the wheels fell off with a budget blow out and the use of the credit card crept back into our lives.  Melissa at Frugal and Thriving has some great tips on debt busting and  I have used many different ways of paying off debt by choosing what works best for me. Whilst paying off debt we are also building up a small savings at the same time. I can’t get on top of the credit card debt if I continue to keep swiping it any chance I get.

I declared July a no spend credit card month.

  • Christmas crunch

Each year Christmas rolls around and the credit card gets a work out. By January we suffer with the credit card hangover. Each year we kept saying we should save up for next year’s Christmas but never do. This year I decided to do things differently. I came across this brilliant 52 week money challenge from Jan at A Gluttonous Wife and thought it was something I would challenge myself with in the lead up to this year’s Christmas.

Starting with $1 in Week 1, each week I add a dollar more than the previous week, so Week 2 is $2, Week 3 is $3 and so forth.  The first 6 months have sailed by without any challenge and have allowed me the extra cash to put towards debt repayments. Week 30 is $30 and will only continue to increase, plus I still am working on paying off debt. I am hanging in there as the $1300 incentive by Christmas will be a nice present to myself of a stress free Christmas period.

Now I am in July, 30 weeks into the challenge, I am starting to feel the burn.

  • Cash versus (debit) card

Part of paying ourselves first is allocating how much we can spend on groceries each week. I find I am better able to track expenses when we use our debit card, particularly as we have a joint account and we both do the shopping at different times during the week. The exception to using our debit card is each week I withdraw a set amount of cash to spend at the farmers markets. Having cash only to spend at the markets makes us take note of what we are spending and what our priorities are.

While there was only $0.05 in our joint account, we had $100 cash for the farmers market.

So we changed our plan of attack. Instead of going to the farmers market with a supermarket top up we opted for the local fruit store and Aldi for our entire shop. I had to slacken my priority of health buying organic, or spray free fruit and vegetables where possible for everything conventional. I chose price over packaging and selected vegetables that were pre-wrapped in the foam trays and plastic wrap or bundles together in plastic mesh bags, trying not to think about Plastic Free July. I was still supporting small local business by shopping at the local fruit store plus I was able to pick up some great bargains though in the reduced section. To stretch the grocery budget further we bought our meat from Aldi rather than the local butchers, but was still able to get grass-fed meat or free-range chicken which are on my list of priorities for health. I was proud of myself of putting food on our plate for less this fortnight. Husband and I did a huge cook up on Saturday night to start us off with a bang for our buck!

2015-07-18 002 Cook Up

Our cook up

Do you live week to week? Have you got debt to repay? What are some of the tricks and tips you do to manage your finances?