Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Why Do Americans Have Such a Hard Time Living within Their Means?

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Some of the answers to that one are obvious:

  • The best cities in America are bloody expensive to live in.
  • We eat out all the time, which costs about four times as much as cooking your own.
  • Pay does not keep up with inflation.
  • The cost of a car has gone through the roof.
  • Insurance–especially health insurance, but other varieties, too–has become obscenely expensive.
  • Owning a pet became an expensive obsession as pet food manufacturers, veterinarians, trainers, and a host of others in the “pet industry” realized that pet lovers are the biggest cash cow ever to come their way.
  • Entertainment is through the roof: to go to a baseball game, you need to take out a bank loan.

You no doubt can come up with others. But I’d suggest something more subtle is going on. To wit:

We are being nickeled and dimed toward penury with the repeating costs of subscriptions, gadgets, doodads, and hoodoos. Half of Americans live beyond their means, and many don’t even know it. The most effective and possibly the most profitable way to extract money from consumers is to lock them into a monthly payment. And so much the better if you can persuade them to auto-pay those charges on a credit card.

Resisting this trend is well-nigh impossible, because so much of what undergirds a 21st-century lifestyle is paid for on a monthly basis.

Consider:

  • You pretty much need a wireless connection to live in our current culture. I pay $90 a month for the privilege of using the Internet.
  • You need a phone. Still resisting the $50-$150/month cost of a smartphone, I pay a measly $30 ($15 plus that much again in alleged taxes and fees) a month for a land line. But that can’t continue much longer…sooner or later I’m going to be forced to give up and buy into a smartphone plan.
  • You need health insurance. God only knows what that costs younger people. I pay about $230 a month, give or take, for Medicare, Medigap, and Part D.
  • You need transportation. That’ll be $380 a month for a late-model second-hand car.
  • You need car insurance. You need homeowner’s insurance. If you’re not crazy, you have umbrella insurance. If you are crazy, you have health insurance for your dog or cat.
  • And then you have the various monthly dings: electric, gas, water, sewer, trash pickup, and on and on.
  • And the annual gouges: property taxes, state income taxes, federal income taxes, and in some parts of the country even city income taxes.

Have you noticed that of late the pressure to sign up for repeating charges has escalated? For example, if you get your news on the Net, as I do, about a third of your sources are now stashing content behind paywalls. A few, like the Washington Post, will let you read an article if you linked to it from Google, but you get only ONE article. Wanna read something else, you have to pay for it. Others will let you read a limited number of articles per month — three, say, or maybe even ten — and then demand that you sign up for a paid subscription.

For the Post, that’s $195 a year — $16.25 a month, or $4 a month if you’re an Amazon Prime customer. But to get that bargain rate, you have to pay Amazon another $100 a year for its “Prime” come-on. For the Times, it’s $1.88 a week (bare minimum), or $7.52 a month or $97.76 a year.

When people demand my cell phone number these days, I now just frankly say outright, “Sorry, but I can’t afford a cell phone.” That’s more polite, I suppose, than announcing “I wouldn’t give out a cell phone number on a bet,” but it still takes people aback.

Fifty or a hundred bucks a month sounds like small change. But think about it: if  your monthly income is pretty much fully dedicated to buying gasoline, a car, lodging, food, clothing, utilities, insurance, and other necessaries, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Small change adds up…

Let’s suppose, for example, that I decide to pay for the Washington Post and the New York Times, both of which are publications of record and pretty much indispensable for anyone who wants to keep up with non-fake news. I keep the New York Review of Books and The Economist, both of which keep me amused and informed in the absence of cable television, movie-going, and very much restaurant-going. I add Forbes — in reality, I would write that off through the business because it would provide a lot of fodder for the profit-making blogsite that you’re reading as we scribble. But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine I run it through my personal books instead. And let us assume I decide to join the herd and sign up for a smartphone. And let’s also imagine I get suckered into buying pet insurance — not a realistic assumption about yours truly, but one that applies to a large number of otherwise sensible pet owners.

None of these costs, at first glance, appears to be very much. However:

This figure is exactly the amount of my entire Social Security check! And it doesn’t even count utilities and gasoline.

Obviously, to stay within my budget I cannot have all these things. To have item a, I have to give up item b. So, I can’t read say, both the NYRofB and the Washington Post. I can’t have Amazon Prime and Costco. I can’t have Netflix and Amazon Prime.

As a practical matter, I don’t have Netflix…but I’d like to re-up to Netflix because its choices are better. To get Netflix, I’ll have to drop Amazon Prime, which will mean a lot less shopping on Amazon, because it’s cheaper for me to buy stuff locally than to pay the same or more on Amazon and cover shipping.

These little monthly dings look so piddling that many people don’t realize the little stuff is the reason they can’t stay on budget.

So…what would you give up to get a Smartphone?

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Author: funny

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21 Comments

  1. I don’t have a smartphone either. Still using a flip phone I bought at a discount store about three and a half years ago, with an AT&T program that gives unlimited talk and text for $2 a day if I use it, (If I don’t use it, which is most days, then I don’t pay anything.)

    Hoping to avoid needing to buy a smartphone, ever, but probably will at some point.

    We dropped our trash collection; it’s only $150 a year, but we were using teeny-tiny bags per week. Sometimes we made less than one plastic grocery bag’s worth of garbage.

    No doubt I can find other things to give up. Thing is, a lot of people don’t WANT to live with less. They don’t realize the opportunity cost of all those tchotchkes.

    • The flip phone I have is also aging. But I think the time is going to come when you HAVE to have a smartphone to function in the culture. You will, for example, need a smartphone instead of a credit card to charge your groceries. Cash will no longer be accepted. And more and more businesses and services demand to text you…some of those people are already flummoxed when you tell them you don’t have a cell.

      We’re not allowed to drop the trash collection. It’s part of the water bill: $26.85 a month, or $322.20 a year.

  2. I’m in the very enviable position of having my work pay for my smartphone use, and a good portion of my smartphone equipment. Technically, I’m supposed to pay for my personal use, but since we have unlimited data, voice, and text for a fixed price, I’m not sure why I would pay anything at all and I just expense the entire bill (which is a bargain basement price of less than $60 a month.)

    Since you like to read online news, have you explored what you can get for free through your local library? It looks like you could access WaPo through the PressReader service offered through Phoenix Public Library. There is also access to Gale Books & Authors database. All you need is a library card and an internet connection. http://www.phoenixpubliclibrary.org/browse/learning-research/Pages/eResources-A-to-Z.aspx You could also try to drop into a local library branch and have a friendly chat with the librarian about what resources they recommend for your needs.

    I use the local library quite a bit, yet I barely set foot in it. I download ebooks with Overdrive and Axis 360, stream and download music from Freegal, and view movies and listen to audiobooks through Hoopla. I get all this wonderful stuff online for FREE from the Napa County Library and the San Francisco Public Library, which will issue a card to any California resident.

    I know you don’t watch TV, but you may also want to just check into what the other major telecom providers offer through bundling TV and internet. Here the major players are AT&T or Comcast/Xfinity. I have an AT&T TV + internet package that costs me just under $80 a month. Because I work online so much and am often downloading/uploading large files, I pay for a faster tier of service for that price, too. My download speeds are between 20 and 30 mbps, which is more than adequate for my work and for streaming video to multiple devices in the evening. The TV channels aren’t that great, but that’s not why I have the service; if I switched to internet only I’d be subject to data caps and higher rates, too.

    Pet insurance is something I haven’t paid for, but I’ve been tempted to look into the plan offered as a perk through my company. Now that my dog is aging and needs more vet care, the bills are really going up. I think she’s worth the money, so I’m not complaining, though. (Says the woman who will shortly be forking over at least $700 for her dog’s latest vet bill.)

    • If your company offers it as a perk AND it actually covers something, then the pet insurance might be good. But watch out. They come up with every reason under the sun for why they shouldn’t cover your animal as agreed. It’s pre-existing: not covered. Your dog’s breed has a genetic predeliction for x, y, or z: not covered. They don’t like the way you comb your hair: not covered.

      I had a friend who paid through the schnozzola for YEARS to cover his three dogs. One of the dogs got sick and required abdominal surgery. Then another surgery. Then another surgery….on and on. The pet insurance didn’t cover one red dime of the costs. Apparently the ASPCA brand is particularly bad: https://www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/aspca_insurance.html and https://www.yelp.com/biz/aspca-pet-health-insurance-akron and https://www.caninejournal.com/aspca-pet-insurance-reviews/ and https://www.caninejournal.com/pet-insurance-reviews/

      Y’know, Americans are socialized to think of their dogs and cats as their “children.” But…they’re not our children. They’re more like livestock. Realistically, we can’t be spending thousands and thousands of dollars to keep an aging animal alive — an animal that’s approaching the end of its natural life span. Seven hundred bucks, I might spend. But much more than that…and believe me, you will be asked to spend LOTS more than that…I personally draw the line.

      • Well, luckily the vet bill came out less than the estimate and it was just over $500.

        It’s hard to deny an aging pet who has been such a great companion the comfort of modern medicine when it is suffering. My dog has been my constant companion for 13 years; my relationship with her has lasted longer than my marriage. I don’t consider her a child, but I do consider her a friend.

        Sounds like pet insurance wouldn’t help her now. She’s on maintenance meds now for some age-related health issues (her liver function is declining, and she has some sort of disc issue in her lower back) and needs regular blood work to monitor her condition. The latest bill was for removing a growth on her rear leg that she simply would not stop fussing with. I’m hoping it’s not a mast cell tumor (or if it is one, that it’s a low grade one and was cleanly excised) and that I won’t have to make some tough decisions about treatment.

        I guess in some ways it may be a relief to her that she has a malignancy because then I could give her more effective palliative and pain care for her back. Right now the pain meds I can use for her are limited because they would accelerate the liver issue. If I was told that she has a malignancy and that it would involve expensive radiation and chemo to treat her then I could just start preparing for her death and making her more comfortable with stronger pain killers. But I really don’t want that.

        I do spend extra money on her, I know. She gets acupuncture regularly because it really helps with her back pain and that’s about $150 a session. All I can say is it’s hard to see your best friend suffer and be in pain.

      • Yah, I feel the same way about my dogs. We DON’T live on farms, and because we have the animals living inside our homes with us, it’s very hard to regard them as anything other than members of the family.

        And because of the constant buzz we get from the surrounding culture, it’s difficult to take a cold, realistic look at just how long a dog or a cat can reasonably be expected to live in good health or at least in tolerable comfort. We tend to believe a human should be kept alive at all costs — not a very good view of things, IMHO, but that’s another story. When the dog or the cat gets to be a member of the family, we quite naturally transfer that ethic to the animal. At 14, a cat is the equivalent of 72 years old in human terms. Depending on its breed and size, a 14-year-old dog is the equivalent of a 72- to 88-year-old human.

        There’s a point at which throwing money and technology at an illness — whether you’re a human or a cat or a dog — ceases to make sense, and in fact becomes cruel. Our religious scruples lead us to overlook the cruelty when it applies to humans. But I do think it should be a factor in making decisions about end-of-life care for animals.

    • And post-script: That’s a good idea about the libraries. I definitely will check on that. I have a friend who’s a librarian at the community colleges, and he’s able to track down research articles for me. But it probably would be worth paying for a library card at ASU. It would be cool to be able to download videos from a library…used to be that you could check out DVRs, free. Will look into that.

  3. There seems to be a desire, in today’s economy, to have it now and to have it all. The phrase…”delayed gratification” is a thing of the past. And to that end businesses concentrate on the “payment not the price”….for example that new truck I would enjoy…a lot…is sold not as a $64K plus tax or almost $70K purchase…but rather I can have this beauty for (JUST) right around $1K a month …for 72 months. And they sell these every day! I just don’t get the whole cell phone thing and to pay $600 for a phone just approaches madness…let alone the monthly “data plan”.
    Kudos to Donna for “cutting the trash collection cord”….We did this quite a while back. When we explain to others that we don’t have trash collection there is an awkward silence. But in this neck of the woods trash collection is $35-40 per month OR $420 to $480 per year. And between our tumbling composter, woodstove, cashing in scrap metals and FREE recycling we have VERY little trash ….

  4. Is the problem that wages are not keeping up with inflation or is it that we continue to have lifestyle inflation?

    The average house size continues to grow larger and larger (~1,000 sqft in the 1950s to ~2,500 sqft now) while household sizes continue to decline (~3.5 to ~2.5 over the same time period). Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted average housing prices per square foot have remained flat since the 1970s. The way we choose to develop land these days also imparts a cost. Historically, neighborhoods were built at a walkable scale – narrower streets, smaller block sizes, small street setbacks – that took the pedestrian into account as well as other modes of transit, and placed retail/services nearby. Over time people came to see this as undesirable. Land uses began to separate, streets became wider, blocks became larger before disappearing into the curvilinear suburban model we have today. In the past where a household may have had one car it was not a problem because the most used services were within walking distance. However, now in most neighborhoods no retail/services are within walking distance – or if they are there are barriers to walkable access such as no sidewalks, wide streets, no crosswalks – which means a car is necessary to complete basic tasks. Now instead of one car per household we’re seeing one car for every 16+ year old household member. The inflation-adjusted average price of a new car has remained nearly flat since the late 1980s. It all costs money, but it’s not inflation. It’s lifestyle choices that have become so engrained that they no longer consciously register as a choice.

    Entertainment is largely the same story. Baseball tickets have increased slightly in the last decade when adjusted for inflation (~$5/ticket), but I see a lot of lifestyle inflation in entertainment. We’ve gone from one tv in the house to one in every room, and a few channels to hundreds. We’ve gone from sandboxes, tree forts, Legos, Erector sets, and dolls to iPads, iPhones, and American Girl dolls. Does a 10 year old really need an iPhone? In many states dining out is subject to sales tax when groceries are not because dining out was considered a luxury good when the tax codes were written.

    • MD….gonna “beg to differ” with “sports inflation”. Back in the day…. the mid-70’s….We could catch a Major League Baseball (and they were contenders) game in this neck of the woods for $1….for “bleacher seats”. That’s right $1 for 9 innings of pro ball and you could carry in non-alcoholic beverages in a cooler. I just looked at the pricing and today the CHEAPEST seat in the house is….$15….the nosebleed seats…and they are AWFUL….But for a “slight upgrade” one get “box seats” for $72….each. Sooooo a family of 4 would drop $288 PLUS the cost of food….Don’t get me started on food prices….Inflation is alive and well in this neck of the woods!

      • In 1964 the average ticket price to an MLB game was $2.25 (~$18 in 2016 values) and in 2016 the average was $31. So yes over the course of 50 years the average ticket price has gone up $13. But those are averages so it is still possible to find tickets for less than that. The Orioles are playing the Blue Jays April 5th, and I found tickets as low as $11. Or on the 6th the Nationals are playing the Marlins and I found seats as low as $6.

        Interestingly, over the same period the average player salary went from ~$15k ($114.5k in 2016 values) to over $4.4mm.

      • @MD… $4.4 gerzillion for a baseball player. Once again, my friend, we went into the WRONG business! 😀

        I imagine you could probably find coupons or bargains on Cardinals tickets, if you were motivated to look hard enough.

        One of their profit centers is the food and drink. You’re not allowed to carry anything, not even a can of soda pop, into the stadium, and the cost of what they’re selling in there is just freaking astronomical.

        If you enjoy spectator sports, that is the ONE area where it seems to me a cable TV subscription would be worth it. Watching games, races, and the like in the comfort of your home with your own beer in hand and your friends hanging out on the sofas seems to me to be a big improvement over fighting crowds to get into an overpriced stadium and being gouged for a hot dog and a soda. That kind of cable use really would return good value on the subscription cost.

    • There’s a lot to what you say there. On the baseball front, we have this report from 2013:

      “Season tickets on the lower level of University of Phoenix Stadium range between $65 and $112.50 per game, while upper-level seats go for between $25 and $70 per game.”

      Dunno what they charge today — not any less, of that you can be sure. But really $65, $70, $112(!!!) to go to a BASEBALL GAME? Or $25 to sit in the stratosphere? Come ON, folks…that’s absurd!

      It certainly is true about housing: people want larger houses. On the other hand, we seem to be willing to live elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors, in yardless tracts of what used to be “patio homes.” One reason they do crave larger homes, I think, is that people want free-standing offices in their homes — some people work at home, and others just want a place for their computer gear or hobby junk. And people want a separate room dedicated to the damn television. When I was a kid, the TV went in the living room — no one ever heard of a “family room.”

      Also no one ever heard of a “guest bedroom.” The idea of an empty room to air condition and heat would have been preposterous. Guests slept on the sofa or, if you were moderately affluent and could afford the extra cost for a truly uncomfortable sofa, a hide-a-bed.

      Streets are wider, I think, not only because we have MORE cars but because they’re larger. When we lived in the 1929 house in Encanto, there was an old garage in back. Once I tried to park my Toyota Corona (a middling small car) in it. The garage had sliding barn doors on the front and on the back, opening into the alley, and it was what in 1929 probably would have been regarded as a double garage — it was fairly wide. I got the car in there, all right…but I couldn’t get it OUT! The turning space was so cramped, I could neither back the car out nor pull it into the alley and turn tightly enough to get out. Holy mackerel. Finally my husband managed to get the car out of there…but not without great difficulty.

      I think we’ve visited the fact that cars are, inflation-adjusted, not a lot more expensive than they used to be. On the other hand, one could argue that they do contain a lot of expensive gadgetry, and that an ordinary stripped-down car without the geo-locator and the digital doo-dads and 28 (!!!) computers on board should therefore cost LESS than a car cost in the good ole days. Inflation-adjusted, that is. In fact, we see no economic benefit from improved car production and design.

      It surely is true that Americans accustomed themselves to driving everywhere. In that same 1929 neighborhood, I used to put my son up with a neighbor who lived about a half-block away — literally, right around the corner, and yes, we had perfectly fine sidewalks. One day I walked him over there. She looked outside and asked, “where’s your car?”

      Huh? I said, “we walked.”

      She gave me a surprised look, tsked, and rolled her eyes as though I were crazy as a loon.

      I hate it when a neighborhood has no sidewalks. But have you noticed that when there ARE sidewalks, people will walk in the street anyway? They do it all the time. SDXB used to do it…in fact, he flat refused to walk on a sidewalk. And just yesterday I had to drive around three people who were strolling up the middle of the road.

      We have commerce nearby: an Albertson’s, a Sprouts, a Walgreen’s, and an ethnic Mexican grocery store. These are all within easy walking distance of my house. A Walmart neighborhood store and a CVS are a further stretch, but in theory one could walk there. The problem is, it’s not safe to go into those shopping centers on foot. They’re overrun with bums who panhandle you, and some of them are damn scary. I’ve had a panhandler literally CHASE ME AROUND A PARKING LOT — and a couple weeks later learned another neighbor lady was chased around that lot. Women who have told these guys they don’t carry cash have been assaulted. If you’re stupid enough to give them money, they’ll demand more! I will no longer carry a purse into those shopping centers at all — and in fact, usually drive a considerable distance to shop in safer areas.

      And the light-rail, which is supposed to make our city so shoppable and so walkable and so wonderful, brings the bums into the neighborhood. The city has a program that hands out free public transit tickets to the indigent, so they can spend the day riding around on the buses and trains. Experimentally, the city added a raft of cops to patrol the train pick-up/drop-off stations for a brief period; in five weeks they made 147 ARRESTS for drug use, theft, and the like, along a short stretch of Conduit of Blight Blvd.

      My guess is that the move out of central cities and toward a lifestyle that uses cars for even short trips coincides with the rise of drug use and indigence in American cities.

      People who can afford it move away from that kind of thing. People who can’t or don’t want to move to the suburbs are forced to drive even relatively short distances in order to stay safe and escape harassment. You stay in your car because you want a layer or two of steel between you and the next guy. 😉

      I can remember when it was perfectly safe for the 13-year-old me to ride the buses and streetcars to and from school in San Francisco. Twenty-five years later, I wouldn’t have let my son ride to school on the local bus (the one that showed up every 45 minutes, if you were lucky) — not on a bet. There’s been a number of sea changes in our culture. They don’t all work to our benefit; they don’t all work against our benefit; but they’re surely all inter-related.

  5. I have a fine smartphone that I bought for $40. My plan is a pay as you go monthly plan and costs about $38 per month with fees. It does what I need and then some. These phones last 2-3 years. In terms of vet bills, I personally won’t spend over about $500, no matter the age of the animal. Maybe that makes me a bad pet mom, but so be it. For those without trash pick up, what do you do with the trash you do generate? We don’t have another legal disposal option. When I was in a house, I shopped around and it cost $18-20 per month.

    • Does your area not have a city or county dump? Hereabouts, for a fee you can carry your trash up to the county waste disposal site…and actually, I think you get several trips per month free. Gerardo carries a lot of yard clippings and things up there all the time.

      Where did you get the phone? Is it new or used?

      Radio Shack used to have a nice array of phones that would let you install by-the-minute purchases of time. The clamshell variety I got was ludicrously cheap — as I recall it was under $12. I didn’t buy the smartphone-like variety they had because I had learned from the T-Mobile phone that smartphones are too smart for the likes of me. Though I’d LIKE to be able to text (and think the thing I have may do that…i just can’t figure out how), most of the time it’s just to frustrating for me to figure out.

    • Couple of things….I understand pet care is a personal matter….But everyone is different….I once spent over $1K for the care of one of our DD’s cats that required an operation and a hospital stay. I’m cheaper than most…..but have never regretted spending that money and would do it again…she (the cat) will be 19 in May…
      I don’t have trash collection ….we recycle(free), scrap metals($) and compost($$). Our “trash can” is about 12 inches high and plastic grocery bags fit inside perfectly. When it gets full every 10 days or so I drop the bag in the trash receptacle as I enter the Aldi grocery store to shop….

      • However, the cat stayed alive. Think of the people who are persuaded to spend thousands on chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation for pet cats and dogs with cancer, when the best the treatment will do is extend the animal’s life for a few months. Nineteen…THAT is an o-l-l-d cat.

        My mother-in-law had a cat that lived to be 21. She did love cats!!

  6. MD….I would encourage you to go to our “beloved Orioles” website where indeed the cheapest ticket for April 5th is $15….A “re-seller” is offering tickets in Sec 385 for $11( reasonably certain there is a fee in addition for e-tickets). …PLUS parking…BNUT pretty sure it would be hard to see the game as those seats are above the clouds. Aaaand I went to an Orioles game in 1976….sat on the bleachers for a $1…..that’s right ONE DOLLA’….Few things have went up 11 OR 15 times what they were 41 years ago. To put it in perspective….gas was around 50 cents a gallon….that would make it $5.50 to $7.50 a gallon…. I bought a loaded 4-wheel drive heavy duty pick up….loaded…$5500 brand new in 1977…..Today that truck is +$70K…right around 12.5 times what it was 40 years ago. ….Nope…Pretty sure we are “in the weeds”….

  7. Americans def eat out much more now than they did when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. More car ownership per household, more electronic gadgets that started out as luxuries but most people see as necessities, wage stagnation, etc. I could go on and on but I think you stated it very well, Funny.
    I have a flip phone with Tracfone minutes and I dropped cable years ago. I haven’t had a pet since 2012 and don’t intend on getting one until I’m working full time again. (Who knows when that’ll happen.) I do get a certain amount of free food now that I’m working at a restaurant, as well as tips, so that helps a lot.
    But I’m waiting for this foreclosed building to be sold, when I’ll either get my rent jacked up or be kicked out so they can renovate and jack up the rent even higher. Seems like every time I take a step forward, I’m forced to take two steps back. *sigh* Fortunately, I can live on a budget. Too many Americans can’t seem to grasp the concept any more.

  8. I do have a smartphone, in part because there are so many great apps out there for blind/visually impaired users. But…as a phone, I hate it. If not for the fact that many of those apps require a data connection, I’d ditch the phone plan, get a flip phone, and just use the smartphone as a device. I’ve debated doing that, but can’t always count on having wi-fi available when I’m away from home.

    A friend recently applied for a grant from a nonprofit to purchase three fairly expensive apps for a group of low-income blind folks. Unfortunately, two of the apps are only available for iOS and won’t work on my Android phone. So now he’s hell-bent on convincing me to get an iPhone. I don’t think he understands that I’d have my paid-for Android than an iPhone and a new monthly payment.

    We gave up cable five years ago, though we pay roughly $10/month for our son’s Netflix subscription, to which he added the rest of the family as users. When he moves out, it’ll go with him, as MrH and I hardly ever use it. I can’t remember the last time I set foot in a movie theater. MrH and our sons go once or twice a year, usually in conjunction with someone’s birthday. We hardly ever eat out, maybe a couple of times a month, and we try to buy inexpensive basice ingredients to cook at home. Our diet is a lot closer to the way I remember my family eating in the 70s and 80s than the way it seems most families eat today.

    Staying vigilant about unnecessary expenses, even seemingly small ones, is the only way we’ve stayed even nominally above water for the past couple of years. And yet it’s still hard to make ends meet. I think it’s the other budget factors you’ve listed that are doing us in.