Surviving the Sequester

Torn & Cut One Dollar Note Floating Away in Small $ Pieces
photosteve101 / Foter / CC BY

 

This sequestration is for the birds, you guys.

In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s supposed to be a temporary budget-saving measure requiring government employees to take a day of unpaid leave each week. This results in the loss of a fifth of their income, which, if you’re like us, because my kids’ father is a civilian employed with the U.S. Army, also affects our child support.

If you google “child support and sequestration,” most of what you’ll find are stories sharing at the child support enforcement program will not be affected by furloughing of federal employees. Not the amount a non-custodial parent receives for the care of minor children, the program.

I know this sequester is not about me, it’s not about my kids, it’s not about our bills. No one really cares, and I get that. We all feel sorry for the employee who has been forced into this. We know. But this sequestration affects others, too. I hate to be the stereotypical baby mama in this situation, always worried about her check, but it’s very important to our household and the loss of that income means bills are going unpaid. The state can only take up to half of my ex’s pay, so when he loses a significant amount, my kids lose, too.

On top of losing 1/5 of the kids’ child support, which goes into an account and is used to pay for everything from childcare to gas to take them to school and food for their lunches, in the last six weeks my health insurance premium and out-of-pocket expenses went up (and my coverage down, which also means my paycheck decreased), my utility costs increased slightly, my property tax increased, there was a screw-up with my paycheck so I’m losing another $100 this month, and school started (which means supplies killed my account balance). It’s very, very frustrating.

Dear Congress: So you cut my ex-husband’s pay and not your own? Okay, but my bills are still due in full and my kids still need to be fed.

I can get mad and whine or I can get mad and hustle to make sure the bills are paid and the kids are fed. It’s time to reassess the budget. I use mint.com to track my spending and review my accounts. It’s very, very helpful tool (especially for the left-brained creative types who need illustration, like me) and shames me into submission sometimes. So, after doing that, it’s time to do what the government hasn’t figured out doing: trimming the fat and bringing in other income until this stupid program is over.

Here are some cuts you can make, because, unlike the government, we can’t spend our way out of debt:

1. Entertain yourself. We don’t have cable or satellite, so we can’t cut that, but you can put services like Hulu, Netflix, Audible, etc. on hold for up to three months if you need to. I pay $8/mo. for both Hulu and Netflix, so that would save $16 itself.

We rarely go to movies, but when we do, it’s $38 for tickets and $30 for concessions; we have a local playhouse in walking distance from our house, so we can go there for $28 in tickets, $1 popcorn/candy, $2 bottled drinks and nothing in gas.

You can also give your Kindle account a rest and visit your local library to borrow the tangible book for free. Many libraries now also offer services where you can borrow ebooks for free, too.

Instead, play outside, ride bikes, walk the dogs, read on the front porch, play board games.

2. Meal plan and use coupons. Planning your list ahead of time really makes a difference in the amount of money you spend. Also, use your leftovers in other dishes so you’re not wasting food. If you’re making roast one night, use the leftover beef in a stew, quesadillas, sandwiches, etc.

3. Go meatless, even just once a week. Having pasta or biscuits and gravy for dinner, or even ramen noodles if your children enjoy eating them, will help keep your grocery budget down. Try and stock up on spaghetti when Kroger has a mega sale.

4. DIY & don’t pay for convenience. You can make your own bread, pizzas, tortillas, breakfast burritos, soups, etc., and you can do so for even cheaper than what you’d spend in the store. Don’t buy snack-sized anything; buy the regular size and put it in bags yourself. Pay your bills with cash or check – which will require you either mailing it in or visiting the office – instead of with a credit or debit card if there’s a convenience fee (those are $4 where we live). Pick up your pizzas instead of having them delivered. Convenience costs you money.

You can also DIY or go natural with your cleaning products. I use vinegar, baking soda and bleach to clean almost anything. I know plenty of people who’ve made their own laundry detergent, too.

4. Make alternate childcare plans. Due to my crazy evening schedule, my parents have been picking my children up from their afterschool program twice a week, and I found that it was often right after they’d arrived, so I was paying caregivers for time I didn’t need. I’m saving $43/wk. by having them (gulp!) ride the bus right to my parents’ house instead. This also saves my dad from making a trip to the afterschool care facility.

5. Defer your student loan payments. Call the company and ask if you qualify for a temporary economic hardship deferment. I’ve deferred for six months at a time in the past.

6. Bring your lunch to work or eat off of the dollar menu. A PB&J sandwich and a piece of fruit is much better on the budget than going out to lunch five times a week, but if we can be at all honest, I enjoy the time away from my desk, too. Sometimes I go home for lunch, let my dogs out and grab a quick bite to eat, but sometimes I just want to sit somewhere with a couple of friends and complain about things.

7. Apply for free/reduced school lunch or pack lunches for your children. I spend $120/month on school-provided lunches alone, and the cost could be up to $180/month if my children had breakfast at school as well. If you qualify for the program, which, ironically, is paid for using federal tax dollars, you can at least use that as a backup if things get really tight.

8. Suspend hosting for your blog. If you’re not making income from your blog, you might consider taking a break and suspending hosting, to save a few extra dollars. Or, you know, you can monetize your blog (you can sponsor this one if you’d like).

By now, after living five years in a downturned economy, these tips are likely old hat, but I wanted to remind you that even in households with limited means, there are still ways to save money. There are also ways to make money, like having a yard sale, taking on freelance jobs if you can (I’m using elance.com, but haven’t been awarded one yet), selling arts and crafts, babysitting, or selling any other good and services for which you can be paid (i.e. baking cakes, changing oil, selling eggs from your hen or produce from your garden).

It’s not going to be easy, but let’s get real here and be thankful this is (supposed to be) only temporary.

What are some tips you have to share? Anyone else having anxiety attacks over this?