Friday, June 3, 2011

Loose Change

Back in April, while I was posting poetry, my friend Sharon over at Musings From a Midlife Mom was posting about her continued odyssey through her year of spending less and living more. Pounded by several Life events - a broken water heater, a family emergency - she noted ruefully how the month so far had been a lot about "spending more" because she had to, and added that she needed to also plan on and budget some "living more" items into her life. Sharon then noted that her personal "living more" list required some major funding to come true.

Sharon hit on something critical: it is important to take into account your wants as well as your needs as you thread your way through life. We sometimes forget that, either thinking we may only consider our needs or else only taking into account our wants. Either path will ultimately prove discouraging at best and disastrous at worst.

I liked how Sharon identified items that represented "living more" for her and recognized they all have a price tag. I suggested in a comment that she think about opening (with a very modest deposit) a "living more" bank account that the odd change and odd savings go into so she could see progress, even a little, toward her dreams. I wrote "if you can save one auto trip a week maybe there is $5 saved in gas and you throw $5 or close to it in a jar."

I have always found it impossible to read Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and not be moved by the story of the Nolan family saving pennies in a homemade bank nailed to the floor of the closet. The goal was five cents a day. "It seems a little. But where is it to come from? We haven't enough now and with another mouth to feed…" It is the grandmother who gives advice on how to scrimp even harder to come up with the precious pennies. I had the Nolans in mind when I suggested throwing the extra savings into the jar that would eventually be deposited into the "living more" account.

Sharon is still working on solving her money issues by taking a long, hard look at her family budget and aligning the needs and wants into the budget. Like all of us, she struggles with the needs versus the wants, the goals (saving, budgeting) versus the reality (what stopped working now?).

This was a very stressful spring for us due to external factors over which we had had very little control. Our peaceful home life was very hard hit and is still recovering, some major issues in our larger families have cropped up that we have to deal with, our finances were thrown into total chaos by outside events, and at many points both Warren and I felt beleaguered, to put it mildly. It is a blessing our relationship is so strong, because I am not sure a shaky one could have survived. At one low point, when I got done ranting to the point of tears about some of those external factors, I announced loudly "And you know what? Next year we are going on vacation for a week and GETTING AWAY from all of this!"

Saying those words was like letting the genie out of the bottle. The moment I spoke them aloud, they started taking on form and shape.

I want to go to the ocean. I love the ocean. I miss the ocean. I want to go east and eat blue crab and other seafood wonderfulness. I want to sit on an almost empty beach (we're not talking Virginia Beach here) somewhere and stare out to sea. I want to walk along the shoreline holding hands with Warren. And I want to watch and listen to the waves rolling in until I feel whole again.

(Note: I wrote a draft of this post in late April. Since then I have added an alternative destination: north to a lakefront cottage with a screen door and maybe, maybe the Northern lights. We'll see what next year brings.)

Sharon has blogged before about putting spare five-dollar bills in a special drawer, jar, or box, and watching how fast they build up. I do the same thing with loose change and one dollar bills, spare five-dollar bills being a rare commodity around here. Don't laugh: loose change is what helped us get to Montana last summer. Well, the only way to accomplish GETTING AWAY on our modest incomes is to follow my advice to Sharon: open a "living more" bank account and throw all the loose change and extra dollars into it. Which is exactly what I did earlier today. True to my advice, I opened it with a very modest deposit, but open it I did. Into it will go all the loose change, coupon savings (I don't use coupons very much but when I do, I will write a check to the "living more" account for that amount), rebates, and other odd amounts that come my way for the next year. If I write a check for $43.57 for the electric, I will enter it as $44.00 in the checkbook and count the extra 43¢ towards the account, moving it over each month as I balance my account. Loose change, it all adds up.

Thank you, Sharon, for inspiring me! I can hear the surf (or the slap of the screen door) already.


Jackie said...

I'm so inspired by both you and Sharon. You have just given me some great ideas. We are on very tight budget as of the last couple of months and now I know some ideas of how to put away our loose change to save up for some of those things we "want". I'm going to my library website right after this comment to check out the book as well. I hope you have a lovely weekend.


Sharon said...


I am both humbled and honored by your post. You absolutely should get to the ocean. It's such a simple request, and I'm sure there are beaches that are less crowded than Virginia Beach. (By the way, we never go there...).

It is true, if I didn't plan for the lake we would not be going. Giving myself a budget helped me find a place, and I could kick myself for not finding this place before now, as we've paid more than double for lodging in the past. I would much rather spend my money on things that bring me joy.

I love the book "A tree grows in Brooklyn". I have three copies...go figure. I'll have to pull it out again and re-read it.

Thank you so much April for your kind words of encouragement. They mean the world to me!!

Here's to "getting away".

see you there! said...

"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is an old favorite of mine as well. One trick is having paychecks deposited directly to the bank. Go to the bank and take out a certain amount of "walking around money" for yourself/partner. Everything else goes on a credit card which is paid off monthly. The card I use makes it easy to track categories. Whatever was left of my cash at the next pay cycle went in the "wants" jar and could be saved up for something. I find our monthly expenses don't vary much unless something big needs replacing of course.


Arlene said...

Wow, April, you really hit it again... how well I remember my mother's jar of dimes. I still have tears when I think of the morning she rolled back the worn rug and removed enough nickels, dimes, and pennies to pay my first quarter tuition at OSU. Near my computer sits my plastic container for loose coins saved for my special treats.

You deserve a trip to the ocean. Give me a call.

Ellen said...

Awww, when you said you wanted to see the ocean, my heart skipped and jumped as I thought "A visit from April!" But I should have known with your family background you would be dreaming of the Atlantic over the Pacific. Please know you and yours are welcome in my home whenever you might make it!

Anonymous said...

This echoes a conversation we had at our house last night until the wee hours of the morning...the vacation you have in mind sounds absolutely lovely. I was stunned to read that you had been in Montana last summer. That is where we vacationed last summer as well...our paths may have almost crossed.

Arlene said...

Here at the farmhouse this weekend, I'm stirred by memories of Mother taking well hidden coins from under the front room rug. She gave me the best (coins, love, life lessons) she I am tending to her house, ever mindful her sacrifices made many of my dreams possible...and that I have a responsibility to keep her legacy growing by doing the best I can for my kids and grandkids... They, however, must pick up on their own to create their life legacies, to roll back their own rugs on the way to their dreams. You have given your sons a start toward theirs.

You and Warren are such a great team; how well you mesh your talents and values. What blessings you share!