The New Fiscal Responsibility

As of the beginning of this month, July 2012, my wife and I have embarked upon a new program of fiscal responsibility, thanks to the convergence of two trends that brought our fiscal, *dissoluteness* is probably the wrong word and so let’s go with *inattentiveness*, into focus:

1. The first trend is the one with a deadline this month: the tuition for our daughter’s private school, which has taken a rather large step up, for reasons that were made clear but do not change the reality, how how I feel about it.
2. The second trend is the ongoing flat-line of our salaries, which have seen one three percent adjustment since 2005. So, no change in seven years despite both of us getting promoted, being regularly prominent at the national level in our respective fields, and our various efforts to help out locally.

Some of this is no doubt due to the extreme financial difficulties forced upon our state by the hurricanes and then the election of a governor who is vying for national prominence by being tough on what conservatives are fond of calling the “cultural elite” of which the professoriate are a part. (Never mind a good chunk of us are moderates and/or conservatives: why deal with complexity when the simple version makes for better sound bites?) And some of it is the nature of things at a public university in the Deep South. You live with it the best you can: remembering to be thankful to have a decent job with decent pay and benefits when lots of others do not. And I should be clear: we enjoy our work and our lives on a daily basis.

Here’s the trends as an abstract chart:

Household Fiscal Trends 2012

And so it was time to rein in our spending. We are not profligate spenders. Our expenses for repairs on our house and one of the cars this summer dwarf the money we spent on a five-day vacation in Perdido Key, Florida, but the money was spent and we need to make sure we stay within a budget.

For too long, however, our budget has been an abstraction: a loose sense of the finitude of our finances. It was time to bring things into focus and to make clear to ourselves what we could and could not afford. Our focus is both on the immediate need to be able to pay our daughter’s tuition as well as achieving some long-term financial security goals, which include our own retirement as well as financing our daughter’s college education. We are thinking of it in terms of saving for things we *really want* (and which are largely more expensive) and spending less on things we *kinda want*.

To do this, we have put strict caps on our individual monthly spending. Groceries and certain household expenses as well as expenses associated with our daughter — the child needs clothes as she grows after all — will not count against those caps, but they will be tracked via a recording sheet which is now posted on the refrigerator. (I confess: I am regularly a bit too wanton in my spending on groceries. Places like Fresh Market simply offer too many little treats that are too easy to pick up and place in your basket as you wander about the store. *No more wandering!*)

We both spend money on books because our university library simply hasn’t bought books in the last seven years — that sounds bizarre, but it is close to the truth — and so the only way we can keep up with our fields is through individual purchases. We are simply going to have to find ways to fit that within a monthly budget or begin to find alternate ways to keep up with our fields. Our library does, for instance, maintain its journal subscriptions, and so we will look to spend more time there.

We both also have our favorite indulgences, and I suspect that we spend more money there than we would like to admit. The moment to indulge is past for now. Perhaps one day when times are better, we can indulge again, but not for the time being.

Would we like to be able to afford grander vacations than locations we can drive to? (We would like, for instance, to be able to afford a vacation to Europe while our daughter is young.) Sure, you bet. Would we like not to worry about how we are going to retire before turning 80? Sure, you bet. Would we like to know that our daughter can go to any school into which she has won admission. Sure, you bet. We hope that our new fiscal responsibility will get us there. If anything, it is making us more mindful of what we already have. That is a good place to start.