So, if you don’t know my background, I’m 42, and my wife is 38. We’ve been married 7 years. We had assumed that children weren’t part of our future, as my wife has endometriosis, and she has tried all her life for kids (she had a 1st husband). We had talked about adoption, and perhaps being foster parents, but nothing really felt right. So we ran our business, loved on our dogs, and planned toward some land and a quiet retirement.
The Good Lord had other plans, and we were blessed with twins back in January. For many people, this would have been a disaster. My wife was without insurance. (She was uninsurable under the old system, and we couldn’t get her signed up on the ridiculous government healthcare site due to the technical issues. When we finally did, it was too late to cover the birth, and would only take effect the following month. Yep, ridiculous) And while the business is doing OK, the massive increase in the number of survival stores in the past 2 years, plus some problems with an unethical competitor last year left us pretty damaged. All in all, not what you hope life is going like when you hear ‘hey, its twins!’.
Still, the main benefit of preparedness is that what might be a catastrophe for one family is only an inconvenience for another. Having twins brought into focus many of the things we have done right over the past number of years, plus some of the things we still need to work on. Here are a couple things we did right that let us weather the storm without going bankrupt, as well as a couple more that provide me peace of mind every day.
1) Save, save, and save some more: I am pretty fanatical about saving. And to be truly prepared, you have to be too. In 2000, when I was flat broke and several thousand dollars in debt, I still saved. So to those who don’t save, don’t tell me its because you can’t. Every paycheck back then I took $5 and put it in an envelope; when saving is the FIRST thing you do, not the last, you can make it happen. When I worked overtime or got a raise, I put away $5 more. If I got a birthday card from Mom, half that money went in the envelope. I remember the day, standing in a crappy 1 BR apartment, when I looked and I had $500 in the envelope. I hadn’t seen $500 in a VERY long time. (And only a couple times total up to that point in my life)
No matter what, I NEVER stopped saving, whether it was just a dollar or whether it was $50. By developing a savings mindset, you learn self-control with your money. So yes, it hurt like hell when we got hospital bills every day for a month for the delivery of our babies. And yes, writing thousand dollar checks more than a few times sucked. However, because we always put money aside, we were able to cover our bills without going into debt, and without relying on family or the government.
2) Save more part 2: NEVER BUY A NEW CAR: Everyone hears this advice, and so many still don’t take it. I don’t care what your reasoning is (unless you are independently wealthy and buying a new car doesn’t register on the checkbook), I’ve heard all the excuses. ‘I have to have a reliable car…’ or ‘It’s for the kids…’ Guess what? Everyone needs a safe, reliable car for themselves and their kids if they have them. That still doesn’t mean you need a new car. Back when I was at Dollar General, I desperately wanted a Toyota FJ Cruiser. With my income at that time, any car dealer would have gladly sold me a new one. A used one a couple of years old was going for $17k, something any bank would give me a personal car loan for. My self-given budget before I started car shopping was $10k. I bet you all know someone who would have bought the FJ Cruiser in my spot.
What did my wife and I do? We searched cars.com, Craigslist, eBay and 5 other auto websites for 6 months until we found a perfect, clean, shiny 2005 Jeep Jiberty for $10,000 (this was 2007). It was such a good deal the owner told me to walk away if I wanted to offer less. And considering I sold my ‘old’ car, a cool little Toyota MR2 for $6300 (also paid for in cash from the money I saved by quitting smoking in 2003), I was only out of pocket around $4k. Instead of giving in to the desire for the ‘new shiny’, we stuck to our budget and instead got the best deal we could for what we allocated toward a new vehicle.
Do you know what I drive today, even though we’re in much better financial shape than even back in 2007? A 2005 Jeep Liberty we paid cash for in 2007. It’s been incredibly dependable and such a huge blessing to our finances.
In 2010, my wife wanted something bigger to help with her eBay business. Again, we could have afforded (according to conventional thinking of the average car salesman) a new or newish Tahoe or the like. After a month of shopping, my wife found a 1999 Chevy Suburban with 121,000 miles. We wrote a check for $6950. What is my wife driving today? A 1999 Chevy Suburban. I imagine we’ve saved $30,000-$40,000 since we met over what the average family spends on vehicles. Please take my advice on this if you are tight on your finances; vehicles tend to be the #1 budget buster for most families.
3) A food storage program can cut many food costs in half: We’re not big couponers, though my wife and I have talked about getting into it. However, we still do what we can to save on groceries, and our food storage lets us do that pretty easily. The financial benefits of food storage is what really convinced my wife to let us start prepping more heavily. How so? Our food storage system means that we store about 90 days worth of all the groceries we regularly eat in our basement. The result is we generally don’t ever have to pay full price for any of our groceries. When our peanut butter comes up Buy-one-get-one at Publix, we don’t just buy 2 jars…we buy 10-20. So we get a years worth of peanut butter for half the cost of picking it up one jar at a time when we run out. Because the majority of our food, from pasta to fish sticks, comes up eventually buy one get one, by having a storage program we essentially cut our grocery costs in half, without trying to finagle the system with coupons (though to those folks who can, more power to you!). Most of our other items (plus our paper products) we buy at Sam’s, and get a discount by buying in bulk.
4) Know where your finances are: For a long time I worried that if I died, my wife would have a hard time figuring out where all our finances were. We have multiple checking accounts for home and business, IRA’s, a 401(k) from my old job, an HSA for me, and a couple of savings accounts. In most households, one person handles the finances, generally whoever is most money savvy, whether husband or wife. For our family, that is me. But what happens if something happens to us? It is imperative our spouses or someone responsible knows about our finances as well.
I created a special folder on our computer called ‘For My Wife, If I Die Go here’. My wife laughed, but is genuinely thankful that the information she needs is readily available if something happens to me. It contains a spreadsheet of all of our accounts, insurance policies, passwords, and balances (which I try to update every 3 months or so). It would be a terrible hassle for my wife to try to figure out all this on her own if she were mourning the loss of her husband, if she even knew where to look. I even put in some advice as to what I recommend she spend the modest amount of life insurance money on (Pay off the house and rental mainly, and save anything left). This way, I’ve done what I can to protect my family to the best of my ability should something happen to me.
Write down all your financial info somewhere, whether on a spreadsheet or in a notebook. And then make sure your spouse knows where it is and how to interpret it.
5) Try Out The Auction Lifestyle: I started writing a book I was planning to call ‘The eBay Lifestyle’ a few years back…until eBay sent me a cease and desist order. While I never finished the book, my wife and I continue to live what I now call ‘The Auction Lifestyle’. In short, all it means is that my wife and I understand the value of things, because we think about where we spend every penny. When you understand the value of ‘stuff’, you tend to make smart spending decisions. (including NOT spending on many things)
An Example: The hospital rented us a heavy duty breast pump for a few weeks after my wife’s delivery. Because we have twins, pumping is a constant in our house. After things got a touch settled, my wife and I started looking at the costs involved in renting the breast pump. Over 2 years, the cost was going to be $1500. Not unreasonable, was my initial reaction. However, we were able to find the same breast pump used on Craigslist (with a bunch of bottles and nipples to boot!) for $500. We returned the hospital one and bought the used one on Craigslist. Better still, after we are done with it, we will likely be able to resell the pump for the same $500 we paid for it. With just a little bit of effort, we saved close to $1500.
We do that same math with essentially every purchase we make over $100. By buying quality used items we can often resell, our costs for most hard goods (over time) is very close to $0. Our entire nursery set, which includes 2 cribs, a changing table, lamp, chair, bouncy seats, etc, which new could have cost us over $3500, we spent $1000 on. (And we know several families, a couple of whom live mostly paycheck-to-paycheck, who would just put the $3500 on credit cards). And after we are done with it, we will be able to sell all of it for very close to what we paid.
I know most preppers are pretty good with their money, and are usually frugal. However, I know one prepper (a great friend, don’t get me wrong) who bought not one, but two new cars in the past 5 years…and who wonders why he never gets their student loan debt paid off. Luckily, he finally took some good advice and started an online retail business like ours, and is going to be able to dig his family out of debt very quickly.=)
What most of this advice boils down to is: Be intentional with your money. If you do that, over time you will be much more prepared to deal with what life throws your way.