An excerpt from Life After Bankruptcy by Seth Hanson
In the hierarchy of expenditures there are certain things that come before everything else. Too often we mix up wants with needs and mistake luxuries for necessities. How you get things done after bankruptcy in a debt-free life will hopefully look very different from how you got things done prior to your bankruptcy. At first, it may seem uncomfortable or even demeaning. However, once you get used to living debt-free you will feel so liberated that you will never feel embarrassed to live within your means. It will be a great source of pride and accomplishment.
With these principles in mind, let’s explore the expenditures that should come before all others. As we discuss each category, I will share some insight I have gained over the years.
Budgeting for food should come first. Without food none of us would last very long.
In my experience, a person can eat reasonably for about $250 per month. If you have multiple people in your household, you may even be able to eat for less than that. For example, in my household of 6 (my wife, two teenage boys, two teenage girls, and me), we budget $1000 per month for groceries.
One of the biggest financial trouble spots I’ve seen with my clients, and my own family, is eating out. Eating out is not a necessity. A $40 dinner for four, at a moderately priced restaurant, can easily be prepared for less than half that for the entire family. Eating out is not only hard on your wallet. It is usually bad for your health when compared to a wholesome, home-cooked meal.
Staying within your food budget may require creative shopping and deliberate meal planning. For example, potatoes, rice, and pasta are very cheap food sources. When buying fresh produce, make sure to buy only what you will use so you are not throwing money away when the produce spoils. Also, consider buying generic or off-brands.
I recommend avoiding junk food because they tend to cost more than healthy food and are better for you. Doing so will not only save money in the short-run. It will also result in better health and long-term savings. Think of it as a relatively inexpensive form of health insurance.
Save money where you can, but don’t cut corners on nutrition. Learn to cook at home and plan meals. You might also cook a week’s worth of dinners and put them in the freezer if you’re short on time during the week.
Shelter and Utilities
A safe place to live is the next basic need. Be sure that you budget for shelter and utilities.
Beyond providing reasonable shelter and keeping the lights on, these expense categories may provide an opportunity for savings. For example, if you have a mortgage payment that exceeds your means right now, you might consider downsizing and moving into a more reasonable living space. This goes back to “needs” vs. “wants.” Do you need 4000 square feet of living space, or could you make do with 2000?
The same principal is true with an apartment or home that you might be renting. If you’re paying rent above your means, look into reducing that expense by possibly downsizing or getting a roommate. It doesn’t mean you have to go to a lower quality home, it just means that you get less square footage for less rent.
Make sure you have enough to pay your rent or mortgage and utilities. By the way, expensive television packages and the latest and greatest cell phones are not necessary utilities.
Take a look at what you’re really spending to live in your home beyond the rent or mortgage. Add it all up, including homeowner association fees, repairs, maintenance, property taxes, and utilities. Is there anywhere you can reduce expenses? Is it better in the long-run to move? Look carefully at what is best for your family in the short-term and long-term.
The next basic expense category is transportation. In our modern society, transportation is absolutely essential to being a reliable employee and to keeping our job and income.
However, many of my clients get into trouble by paying way more for transportation than is necessary. Believing you need a fancy car to get you from point A to point B can get you into trouble. I won’t argue with the underlying principal – reliable and affordable transportation is necessary.
However, I might disagree about what qualifies as “reliable” and whether it is more “affordable” to have a new car or a used car. For more information about this topic, please see the chapter on Car Loans later in this book.
For more information contact your Modesto bankruptcy attorney.
Categorized in: Debt