Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Slow Start To 2010

As most of you probably know, Shane works in construction. He gets paid quite well when he works, but not at all when he doesn't. He gets no sick leave, no paid vacation time, and no personal days. Unfortunately, he hasn't been working very much the last few weeks.

The economy, of course, plays a roll. The construction trades usually feel the worst of a down economy a few months after everyone else does, which means the hard times are just now hitting many of the builders. Add to that the rain we had in November and early December, the snow that's been on the ground since Christmas Eve, and the holiday days off (two at Thanksgiving, two at Christmas, on on New Year's Day) and we're finding ourselves with very little money coming in.

One of the positives of being a frugal family to begin with is that when we need to cut back, we don't experience a big lifestyle change. We're used to living simply and spending little in comparison to "the average American family". On the other hand, when we need to cut back, there is very little left to cut back on because we're already there.

This is where Shane and I are finding ourselves right now. He hasn't been laid off from his job. As it is now, he's getting a day of work here and one there as the weather allows. This works out well for the company, because they can keep all their good employees on the payroll. When they lay off employees, they run the risk of losing them to other companies who may have work available. This situation is bad for the employees, though. Because of the slow work and days missed because of weather, they are fortunate to get a day or two of work a week. They'd actually be better off financially if they were laid off and drawing unemployment.

The good news is that there is work on the books. For one reason or another (weather, architectural changes, etc.) these jobs haven't started up, but they WILL be happening. The only question is when they will start up. The projection is that work will break loose by the end of February, but of course, there are no guarantees. It could be a little sooner or a little later.

To be completely honest with you, it's going to be rough making it through the next two to three months. Shane may have to take a voluntary layoff (his company is assuring anyone who does will not have their unemployment contested). That would at least guarantee us some income, although not nearly what we need.

Meanwhile, it seems we have three choices in making up the shortage: make more money by working, make money by selling things we own, and cutting back on our expenses.

Here's our plan of attack, so far:

- We've gone over our budget and reduced it to an "emergency" state. We've cut back on everything that we feel, at this time, can be cut. Of course, there may be even more that we can reduce, but in this first cut, we've lowered total expenses by almost 40%. It won't be easy, but we really have no choice.

- We've reduced our already modest grocery budget from $240/month to $160, remembering it's only a temporary reduction. Our pantries and freezer are well-stocked right now, so that's a huge asset for us. Meat will be used for flavoring rather than the main dish, and we'll eat a lot more pasta, rice and breads in our meals. Shane usually buys a 30-pack of beer each week to the tune of $75/month. He suggested we eliminate that entirely, which is fine with me.

- We have suspended our Netflix account for 90 days. At that time we can either reactivate it or cancel it entirely. We'll save $15/month while it's suspended.

- We have cable and Internet packaged together. We looked into either dropping both, or more reasonably, dropping just the cable since we can use the Internet for selling items on eBay or craigslist. Unfortunately, we are under contract and would have to pay $250 in termination fees if we cancel either service. By dropping just cable, it would take us about seven months to see the savings. By dropping both cable and Internet, it would still take almost three months to see a savings. At this time, we've opted to keep both services.

- We have a cell phone family plan with only basic phone service (no texting, no IMs, no photos, etc.). The only lesser package our provider offers is $10 cheaper a month, but if we switch to it, we'd have to pay a $35 activation fee for each of our two phone lines. Therefore it would be seven months before we'd see the savings. For today we're staying with the plan we have. However, we aren't under a contract with our provider, so next week we're going to start looking into something different, perhaps a prepaid plan of some sort. Since we do not have a land line phone, we really need to have at least one cell phone in operation. If we find something less expensive, I'll post about it separately.

- We are currently looking into changing our auto and homeowners' insurance, as I'm certain we can find something cheaper. Shane has one outstanding speeding ticket on his driving record, and we were planning to wait until it drops off in February. However, we think we will go ahead and try to find cheaper premiums next week. Again, I'll write a separate post to tell you how we do.

- Kat's been wanting to take her lunch to school, so now looks like the time to start letting her. We can probably save 50% over hot lunch on the days she takes it. Looking over our school menu, it looks like she'll want to carry her lunch at least 3 out of 5 days most weeks.

- We've suspended all meals out and will be considering every purchase we make very carefully.

- I'm looking for some kind of job. I have one application submitted and will be submitting more. I have been out of the corporate workforce for about 10 years, so it's likely I'll have to go into retail or maybe school food service, but that's fine.

- If he's laid-off, Shane will check with other construction companies to see if they are hiring, but that's not a likely scenario. He might try to find some small side job, but if he draws unemployment, he'll be very limited on how much he can make at a different job without it actually causing us to lose income.

- We'll contiue to items on craigslist and eBay. We do a little of this anyway, but now is the time to get aggressive with it.

- We'll be talking first to our credit union to see if there is any help they can give us regarding the van payment, and then to our mortgage company. If nothing else, these entities will have been told upfront that we may be experiencing some financial difficulties. I believe financial institutions are always more willing to work with someone who is upfront and honest from the beginning.

- As one of our last resorts, we'll put some living expenses on our credit card. We have just one card, with a low $2500 limit, so that really won't get us far. We'll be will try our best to avoid it.

- As another last resort scenario, we'll try to sell our van for enough to pay off the loan. Although we'd miss it very much, this could be a possibility for us. We aren't upside down in the loan because I've added a little extra to the payment most months. The van is only 4 years old, in very good condition, with lower than average miles. It's definitely worth more than we still owe on it.

- We'll be hoping that Shane's W-2 is sent out early. We anticipate a refund -- maybe one large enough to pay off our van. If not that large, it will definitely be enough to ease our financial burden in other ways. Meanwhile, I will be gathering all the necessary documents so that I can prepare and file the return as soon as the W-2 arrives.

- We'll be hoping for mild weather so that ground can be broken as soon as possible and the guys can all get back to work. Soon enough, it will be overtime season again and Shane will be wishing for a little time off.

- We'll be enjoying his time off the best we can and making the most of it. We actually have a few small projects (like painting our bedroom) that we've been putting off because we've not had time, although we've had the supplies on hand. Those things will get done now.

- Most of all, we'll be looking at this as an obstacle, but not an impossibility. Not much good can come from having a negative attitude, but experience has shown us that a lot of good can come from what at first seems to be a negative situation.


Sarah said...

Looks like a good plan :)

The only thing I was going to suggest for you, to help stretch that grocery budget even more, I dont know if you already shop at Aldi, but Save-A-Lot is very comparable and it is not too far from you (87th and Blue Ridge, by me). They have a $5/20 purchase coupon on their site, and you can print what you need. If you break your purchased up into $20 increments, that's an additional 25% savings for you. Worth the 15 minute drive to save $40 :)

Also, a great place to apply is Target. I used to work at yours - its not bad at all. And they pay a lot more than normal retail. If you are physically able, the "flow" team unloads trucks from 4a-8a (sometimes noon). You get paid almost a $2 premium to do that job - at least when I was there you did. And you can cross-train to get more hours, like cashier. Kohls has a similar thing, but they do their trucks at night, usually starting at 10. Its really not as physical as you would think - more walking than heavy lifting. Good exercise!

Annie Jones said...

Thanks, Sarah. I do shop at Aldi (always my first stop) and I'll shop at Save-A-Lot when I'm near one. I'll check out their coupon on the website.

I've applied at HyVee so far. I applied at the Target here and in Martin City in early November and was told they couldn't use me for the positions they had open at the time, but I'll check again.

Work will be challenging because of Kat's school hours. When Shane IS working, then I can only work between 8:30 and 3:00, or an evening shift after he gets home. It wouldn't make sense for all of my earnings to go to before- and after-school daycare. If he is laid off, it will be easier for me to find a do-able work schedule.

Annie Jones said...

It would also make sense for Shane and I to both go to Save-A-Lot, split our purchases, and each use a coupon. More savings per each drive over there. :)

Cathy said...

What an inspirational post! I love that you and Shane work together on budgeting and come up with new ways to save. We took a big hit in 2009 and are making more conservative changes for 2010. This post helped give me some new ideas. Thanks and I hope Shane is back to work soon.

Leanne said...

It sounds like a good plan you have worked out and those savings from Save-a-Lot sound worthwhile. At least it will only be in the short term and you have an idea of when things will start to pick up. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a good thaw and dry days from here on in for you.

Annie Jones said...

Cathy: Thank you. Even if impossible in real life, it would be easy to have been easy to skirt around our current situation here on the blog. But that wouldn't have been "real life" and it wouldn't have helped anyone. I know that a lot of people were, are or will be in the same position we're in. I'm hoping by writing about it, I can help someone, even just a little.

Leanne: Knowing there WILL be work again is definitely something we have over other families in similar situations...and it does help keep us motivated to do what we need to in the present.

Tug said...

I hope the slow time goes by more quickly than expected, and things get back to 'normal' real soon for you. Happy 2010...may it be one of the best years yet!

Annie Jones said...

Thanks, Tug. I'm sure it's just a minor setback, but yes...normal would be good.

slugmama said...

It sounds like you have a good handle on changing your spending habits and your family budget. Just reading this I feel like you all will be fine and weather this temp. lay-off.
One thing I would suggest, if I may, since your family has what they call an 'irregular income'(one or both of the spouses has a seasonal type job where they are regularly laid off for some part of the yr.), once this current crisis is past do NOT go back to how you use to operate with your money. You need to come up with a budget that allows for this irregular income so that you can make all your regular outgo payments without a problem. Get that van paid off and fund an emergency fund with at least enough $ to live on for 6 months.
Best wishes and look at this as an opportunity to get a better handle on your financial life so the next storm doesn't even flap your sails. ;-)

Annie Jones said...

My husband's job is not normally irregular. This is a very unusual year due to the economy (building has slowed down) and the weather. Normally he works year 'round with no layoffs and no more than a day each month lost to rain or snow. Of course, not many jobs are protected in this economy.

But yes, our main goal is and has been to get the van paid off. We've been paying extra each month for a year or more. We had an emergency fund in place. It didn't have as much in it as we would have liked, but it had about 3 months worth of wages in it. I had extensive dental work done in the fall (above and beyond our insurance) and because we had legal fees to get legal guardianship of our granddaughter. Both were necessary expenses, but they all but depleted our savings. So, building it back up is another goal, either right behind or at the same time as paying off the van.

Karen said...

Have you looked into one of those phone companies that are internet based, like Skype or Vonage? I think they were advertising $25 a month and unlimited long distance calls. I could be wrong, though, but it is worth checking into, to use instead of cellphones until you get back to normal.