Making Ends Meet: Part 1Essays, Featured — By Diane Nienhuis on January 21, 2011 at 8:00 am
Editor’s Note: Diane will be writing about her experience during these tough times over the course of the next few weeks. We would love to hear from more of you as to how the “Great Recession” is affecting you.
My life recently rounded a new corner.
After teaching high school Spanish for six years, I was laid off in July. Initially, I was really okay with losing my job. I worked in a tough district and was exhausted by the politics, which only seemed to be getting worse. Before I became a teacher I worked with urban students for 12 years, which brings me to 18 years of working with urban youth. I was not ready to jump back into another professional job for the sake of having a job, and it was too late in the year to devote myself to finding a new teaching position by the time school started. The idea of having a “year off” was incredibly appealing, and I thought I could heal from the wounds teaching had created. I approached the year as a forced sabbatical and decided to look for work as an evening waitress and to spend my days writing.
I overhauled my budget and came up with a bare minimum to live on. If I could make $350 a week then I could cover all of my living expenses but nothing else. It took about six weeks for me to find a waitressing job here in West Michigan, and I think it would have taken me even longer to find a more “professional” job. I was happy to be working, no matter what. I have now been waitressing since August 23. Since then, there have been only two weeks during which I made $350. The first several weeks I made well under $300 but my garden was in full bloom, and I was about as happy as a person can be.
Last month, however, I made only $1100, and I am starting to get nervous. I actually spent this past Friday night online applying for food stamps and tomorrow morning I am going over to the Department of Human Services to apply in person. It is hard to believe it has come to this. I used to be the person who would send people gift cards anonymously. Or shove money in their purse when I saw them at church. I tried to live generously when the moment was right.
Applying for food stamps is no small thing for a woman who loves to take care of herself. While I love to give generously to friends or those in need, I personally live a very frugal lifestyle.
Here is a quick look at my life:
Mortgage – $668
Condo fee – $110
Gas – varies on time of year but averages to $40/month
Electric – $30
Phone – $35
Internet – $65
Car Insurance – $68
For the last four and a half years I have also embraced the Dave Ramsey Envelope System, which helped me become debt free in February 2010. After paying bills, I take the rest of my earnings and divide the cash between little envelopes. Each of the following categories is a literal envelope kept in my drawer, and I really do stuff it with money at the beginning of each month. I pay for the entire month in advance and then spend that month working for the next month. These are my envelopes:
Tithe – $100-$130
Food – $120
Gas for the car – $50
Haircuts – $20
Clothes – $40
Car repairs – $40
Housing repairs – $30
Christmas – $20
Going out – $50
When I do not make enough money, like last month, my envelopes are the first things to suffer. I cannot remember the last time I actually put $20 in for haircuts or $50 for going out. Shoot – I cannot remember the last time I put $40 in for clothes either or even the last time I bought clothes that were not for work. I am quite strict about tithing and my groceries, for obvious reasons. Everything else is kind of fluid right now. This system works for me because it decreases my stress level. I used to be a missionary who had to raise support each month. It was awful, and I barely made my way through each month. When my car broke down – which it often did – I was in a financial emergency. Or when I needed something for my house, I put it on my credit card and worried about it later. I have not had a credit card for four and a half years and when there is no money in an envelope, I literally cannot buy anything. This system allows me to have money set aside in order to avoid financial stress.
Over the next few weeks I will continue to honestly discuss my finances, my journey into asking for food stamps, and how I prioritize my spending. God continually asks me, “How much do you trust me?” and the answer is usually, “Not very much.” My hope is that I can share this story with others who may need to read it. It is cliché to say, “life is hard,” yet the cliché exists for a reason. Life is hard, and we all choose our battles – this is my battle.