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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Changing Behavior For Better Future

It is said that my industry, the mortgage industry, is the first into a recession and the first out of a recession. The current recession began officially in December 2007--you tell me when it began for the Smith family. Starting early in 2007 we began tightening our belts on small expenditures in our budget as income shrank. As the year progressed we kept adding items to the "not needed" list. As we entered 2008 the list of what we previously thought was needed became shorter and the list of "luxury" expenditures lengthened.

Clothes, shoes, meals, day trips, toys, games, were all on the list of being examined before bought. I liked to joke, "you can tell the severity of the economy by the number of brown paper lunch bags you see walking across the parking lot every morning." Every opportunity is taken to provide economic lessons for the kids.

"Daddy why are you bringing a lunch?" Well at an average of $6 per lunch times five times per week times fifty-two weeks if Daddy brings his lunch every day he saves over one thousand five hundred dollars. That pays for most of our electric bills for the year.

"Daddy why don't we go to XYZ Restaurant anymore?" Well if we eat at the local restaurant we can walk to once a week, plus go to the diner restaurant once a week we spend about $150 a week on eating out. I've shown you how we can make a delicious dinner at home for about $10-12. When we eat at home every night we save about $135-140 per week. That adds up to over seven thousand dollars per year, several mortgage payments for the house.

We quickly noticed that much of our budget was being spent on paying others to make some of our meals and clean up the dishes afterwards. Simple budgeting saves us close to $10,000 per year--a huge number we had never really studied, until we had to. When we did treat ourselves to meals out, such as on date night, we did so using coupons and looking for bargains--like Hennessey's two-for-one burger night. We have become adept at changing our habits so we still have quality family time, and relationship time, without spending a lot of money and having any fiscal guilt over our expenditures.

Our current vacation is a great example of not diminishing any family time and being very cost conscious. We are spending the week in Scottsdale, Arizona where it is over 100 degrees every day--and everyone is loving the trip, including the Family Budget Man.

Several years ago we received in the mail an invitation to spend several days at a resort hotel on Maui for a ridiculously low rate. Checking our points accumulated with American Express we could travel round trip for all four of us for "free." We knew the purpose of the low room rate was to entice us to purchase a time share from the host company. Leslie and I went into the presentation with arms crossed and a "no-way" attitude. After listening to the facts, and getting the costs we were left alone. I do not want to use the term "great deal" because there was a decent amount of money involved, but it was a make sense transaction that was presented.

Going over the merits there are two items that stick with me still. First, Leslie said, "If we get this it will ensure that you will take at least a week away from the office every year." Second, we were locking in a significant cost of any vacation, accomodations, for the long term while we had funds to do so. I will spare you all the details that make our time share better than anyone else's, after all nobody admits buying anything inferior, but suffice to say we have been very pleased with all the various options and aspects.

The biggest benefit for us these past two years is the ability to maintain a family vacation in the summer with minimal costs. Had we not had the time share we would not have had a family vacation last year, or probably this year as well. Last year Leslie came to me and said that while times are tight we need the time as a family to get away, what were my thoughts.

I thought of the prospect of the in vogue "stay-cation" and rejected it know that while Leslie and I may be around the house most of the day, we would not be on vacation. I would be on the phone and/or laptop all day every day. Leslie would be working on her business--since she has a home based office every day is an office day; plus she has a very difficult time just sitting and relaxing when home. There is always a project, a fix-it, a "just let me finish this..." going on the keeps her moving. The "stay-cation" does not work well with the Smith family.

I told Leslie that as long as we can drive to our destination and use the time share we could take the family vacation. Leslie, the whiz of manipulating the time share points and trades and whatever else is involved in the transactions, went to work. Soon thereafter I learned that we would be travelling to Scottsdale. Perfect. Six hour drive and a condo style unit for the week.

This year we had the same conversation, no way we are paying for airfare--with the points changing on airlines and our decreased consumption flying four people to Maui is a cost burden we are not prepared nor able to make. Back to Scottsdale in the family van.

As I reflect back on the week I realize we are probably spending less money for maintaining the household this week than if we had stayed at home. With a Safeway across the way and a Trader Joe's around the corner we stock up, at lower prices than back home in Long Beach, on essentials for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We will have two dinners out this week (one being Father's Day so that is a wash with home) and one lunch by the pool. Other than that every meal will be prepared in the unit. With grills located conveniently around the resort I grill many dinners (lemon garlic chicken, jalapeno lime pork, fajita style sirloin...) that are turned into lunches then next day.

Despite a bad economy, because we planned ahead during more prosperous times, we are able to spend a week together playing in the pool, playing board games, just relaxing and talking and being a family. While very skeptical about time shares several years ago when being pitched on their benefits, it has not hit home how beneficial they can truly be until these past two years and our weeks together on vacations our daughters, and we, will remember for many years.

Think about your vacation costs, they break into three major expense categories: travel (cut costs by driving and using less than three tanks of gas), accomodations (paid for when purchased the time share) and food (making all our own meals saves 90% of the total if we had to eat out every meal).

Tight times means tight budgets and changing our habits. We get into the habit of bringing our lunches to work, and learn that what we bring is usually better than what we were buying. We get into the habit of buying our cars and keeping them for a longer period of time instead of leasing the newest model every two or three years. We get into the habit of more family dinners and teaching the kids how to cook instead of going out two or three, or more?, times a week. We get into the habit of teaching our children lessons about home economics and values.

We get into the habit of loading up the family van with many of our personal comforts and driving to our family vacation. We get into the habit of a family vacation being about the family being together not about where the vacation is taking place.

When this economy turns, and it will, we need to hang on to the habits and changes we have made in our lives during the tough times--our futures will be better for it.

1 comment:

Leslie Smith said...

I was recounting the last few years for us regarding financial issues to a friend recently. It really started in 2006. He said, "The real estate industry wasn't bad in 2006, was it?" It took me a minute to remember why Dennis's business had been drying up. Then I remembered, he was losing loans to the unethical predatory lenders who ended up going belly-up amid controversy in 2007. All those people who bought homes they could not afford with lenders who only cared about their commission and not the ability for their client's to pay long-term and stay in a home helped lead to the financial collapse--a house of cards was all they built. Dennis and his colleagues at Stratis steered clear of those subprime loans and though they feel the aftermath of increased legislation, they are still going strong delivering quality service, strong loans and sound financial advice.