Monday, March 31, 2014

Money and Saving It

My super-objective for my household - the whole reason I began this radical homemaking journey in the first place - is for my family to live by the dictates of our own hearts.  I want to fashion a home, a life, a marriage, a family, a career and an environment that authentically reflects my values and aesthetics. I want to live true, live green, live deep and process my experiences in an space filled with art, comfort and family. I know this all sounds very pie-in-the-sky, but I now realize that none of this is possible if I can't control my consumption or my resources. And one of my key resources is income.

Art by Phoebe Wahl

I am now going to write about the most boring topic on God's green earth: budgeting. It's okay if you leave now, I don't blame you one bit. Budgeting, money, saving, blah blah blah - I never liked reading about it either. But if you, like me, are walking the radical homemaking path, you are assessing your available resources and learning how to make the most of them.

In the book Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, Henri Murger chronicles the lives of the bohemian arts culture living in Paris' Latin Quarter in the 1840's. He writes about their poverty, debauchery, radical political beliefs, unconventional lifestyles, drunkenness and also their frugality. Murger wrote that artists who remained unshackled by debt possessed the most freedom in their creative work. This freedom allowed the bohemians of 1840s Paris to live as they pleased - free love, booze and art. (Yes, I realize this is a romanticized pared-down version of their actual living situation.)

This idea was again highlighted for me last summer when I picked up Shannon Hayes' book Radical Homemaking, which highlights the ugly side of consumer culture and promotes self-reliance. I knew that my dual goals of living harmoniously with nature and manifesting creative freedom would only come when my family and I were free from credit cards and unnecessary debt.

I'm not looking to live as Murger's characters did, subsisting on a diet of absinthe and poverty, but rather looking to live apart from demon banks that strip our nation's citizens of their basic freedoms. I've made many changes in the past year to diminish our household consumption and create a closer community bond: a vegetable garden, composting, reusing materials on hand, recycling, selling items we don't need, giving back to the community with volunteer work at our neighborhood school, making my own household staples in lieu of purchasing them, etc. But our newest household endeavour has been to make a budget geared at eliminating credit card debt and creating a substantial savings.

See, I told you this was going to be a boring post.

On January 1st of this year, Jack (my husband and super partner) found an online resource to help us accomplish this overwhelming goal. Its called You Need a Budget (YNAB). And while it isn't perfect (what budget is?), it has been unbelievably effective at helping our family track money and save. In just three months, we've been able to make all of our bills and pay down large portions of debt. We've already paid off and cut up two cards. 

Again, we're only three months into this new way of allocating our income, but the system created by You Need a Budget has helped me to look at my money in a new way - to see it as a valuable resource instead of something emotional or fleeting. The simple act of giving each dollar a job and tucking any extra funds away for a rainy day is helping me breath easier. We'll work with this new budgeting system for as long as its useful, but its a great starting point. Things are always in flux, especially my freelance art income, but this is why our family needs a budget now more than ever. 

I'll let you know how it progresses. Until then, thanks always for reading!


Mrs. Bianca said...

This is so great, and not boring. Reading your words helps me to wrangle my emotions and think with my head when it comes to finances, instead of just my heart.

Good luck! I can't wait to read more.

Tate, Jenn, and Elliette said...

I sat down at the computer to do my bi-weekly YNAB (You Need a Budget) data entry, and stumbled upon this! I'm also only a few months in (have started and stopped a few times in the past, but this time is for REAL!!!) Congrats on meeting some of your financial goals!!!

bofill said...

YNAB is a wonderful tool. My (grown) kids all use it and have done very well with very limited income and without feeling deprived. They say it is empowering!

Loretta Fontaine (EcoHappy Blog) said...

Sarah- Read it all! :)

How wonderful you are gaining this control in your life! Such important financial work.

We use the credit card for the "perks" and pay it off each month, but I wonder if going cash would make me track money more wisely and be a better deal than the "perks".

Important info, thank you for sharing!


Sarah Greenman said...


We will still have a credit card for emergencies - but one from a credit union. I also love the idea of using for instance an airline miles card that you pay off every month in exchange for "free" travel. But for us, having a credit card for daily purchases is a tough thing to reign in.


Deanna said...

Thank you so much for this post, Sarah. I NEEDED it! (And it prompts me to re-read Radical Homemaking.) I'm off to download YNAB...