Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ziploc bag budgeting

We're not good at budgeting. We are good at not spending money and hoarding it away like squirrels hide their acorns for winter, but we're not good at budgeting--at least not in the traditional sense.

Hans owns a couple sweaters and one pair of jeans; I own two pairs of jeans and a pair of black pants, all of which I bought at various thrift stores. We have mismatched cutlery, mismatched plates and bowls, and some of our pillowcases date back to my childhood. We don't spend money on stuff.

We also don't have any Excel spreadsheets and we tried to do Quicken once and gave up after two hours.

So how did we save up enough money to sail around the Caribbean for nearly three years? How are we staying afloat (pun intended) while Hans plugs away at medical school? The answer: ziploc bags.

When we quit our jobs and set sail for the tropics, we had a finite amount of money. We parceled it away into CDs and kept one year's worth of cash in our checking account. Weekly expenditures were divided into categories: fun, food, gas & diesel, laundry, etc. The actual cash was then parceled out into its respective ziploc baggie. Why ziploc bags? We were living on a boat and traveling to and from land via a dinghy. More times than not, we were getting splashed on or just plain wet. A good cruising friend, Dave, loved to see us slap down a ziploc bag on the bar and count out our cash to see if we could afford a rum drink or a beer.

Since returning to the U.S., our budget has been non-existent. We simply try not to spend any money. We're not always successful--it's hard to live in Philadelphia and be surrounded by awesome restaurants and farmers' markets and not spend--but we've done a pretty good job. But now our money is finite again. There is no more cash flow until Hans starts his residency at the end of June. So we've divided and subtracted and itemized; and we've re-instituted our ziploc bag budgeting.

We each get $40/week in cash which seems like a lot but disappears in an instant. Or on one meal out or something extra like taking Freja ice skating or buying tokens for the subway. (And, of course, there is wine, rum, and beer to buy...) Beyond that, we try not to use our debit cards. Don't buy anything new for the boat. Our clothes may be a little frayed on the edges, but they are just fine. The girls don't need any new toys; they can play outside.

It's hard to stick to a budget when there is so much temptation--so much to buy, so many treats, so many things that will make our lives a little better or a little cushier. I wonder if wanting more, if "needing" more, is a natural human tendency or if it is cultural. We naturally want to live a more comfortable life and having a new t-shirt or cappucino maker (yes, we have one!) are easy ways to feel a little better about our daily lives. We see people with nice things; society reveres those that have the nice car and the big house. How far can we stick our heads in the sand to live contrary to the norms of consumerism? It's easy for me to distinguish between a need and a want, but it's also easy for me to justify that want and turn it into a need.

If anything, our strict budgeting and forced non-consumerism is good training for when we need to live off Hans's resident salary for three years.

Freja, happily entertained with a pencil and a piece of paper.

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