Penny pinching is possible

It’s always the same. We drive to a store to get the assorted essentials of our daily lives: peanut butter, milk, bread, cat food, laundry detergent and of course, a little chocolate for mommy.

Each time, I prepare for the visit by repeating my mantra to my three sons: “This is what we’re here for, and nothing else. I won’t change my mind, so don’t ask.”

And without fail, each of them will find a multitude of must-haves, ranging from small items like comic books to outrageously expensive gadgets.

And as they’ve been told, the answer is always no. It has to be, and they think I’m the meanest mommy on the block for it. The bright side is that one day they’ll thank me, because we’ll have something better than a pile of comic books and outdated techno toys. We’ll have our very own home.

Like many Fraser Valley parents, I want to buy a house. It doesn’t have to be new, or grandiose, or in an elite neighbourhood. But I’ll require a yard, and at least three bedrooms, and the fewest repairs possible to keep my costs down.

Pat Phelps, a local Realtor with Landmark, tells me that in Chilliwack, that will cost about $330,000. More affordable options may include a townhouse, which start at about $200,000 these days. Availability isn’t a problem, she says, with anywhere from a dozen to 15 houses being listed daily. But I want a house. And while there are opportunities for people with good credit ratings to get into a 100 per cent financing option, I simply wouldn’t fall into that category.

That means I’ll need cash as a down payment, which will vary depending on my lender. And the more I put down, the smaller the mortgage (and constantly accruing interest) will be. If I can bring five per cent ($16,500) to the table and can get mortgage at 7 per cent, for 25 years, that’s about $2,100 a month. Yikes. Those are big numbers for anyone to juggle, parent or not. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially as a single income household. Here’s the trick, though.  Don’t fear that looming number as an obstacle. See it as a goal.

Like any goal, it’s going to take a series of steps to reach the top. Saying no to comic books is a start, but my growing family is in need of a little more financial trimming. I’ve been cutting and wheedling away at my budget for the past two years, and we’re getting closer. Some of the things we’ve tried to date have failed, others have succeeded.

Our single biggest savings has been a change in housing. We dropped our rent by $200 a month by combing the classifieds religiously for a beautiful little house with decent rent and a park next door. Being patient, and remaining diligent in our search, has saved us a solid, unwavering $2,400 a year. Ka-ching.

We’ve also made a huge sacrifice. Keeping in mind that we now have a park in our front yard, I pulled the plug on a modern day necessity — cable.

Yes, drastic I know. But the kids found their outside toys, have more time for their homework, don’t bother with morning cartoons, and have dusted off their old, massive videocassette collection. Savings? About $60 a month.

I’ve made other little alterations which the boys have readily accepted. While we still hit up Cottonwood Cinemas once in a while, there are limits to what I’ll buy in the concession. If we’re on the road and needing drive thru food, we choose from the dollar menus and skip the fat and sugar-laden french fries. We turn off lights, eat left overs and use the public library.

My teenager will kill me when this hits the streets, but we’ve even embraced the second hand stores. More often than not, we’ll check the local Salvation Army,  Bibles for Missions or Value Village before hitting stores with bigger price tag. Annual savings? Enormous. Unexpected bonus? Plenty of affordable videocassettes to purchase, guilt free.

There are easier things, too. Plan your driving tips so that you’re not going in circles around town. Cut back on take-out food, or eliminate it altogether. Enjoy free recreation by going for a walk or a hike.

Better yet, have the kids return bottles, and give them the money to spend as they see fit. It doesn’t take long for children to learn the old rule: Easy come, easy go.

My son recently returned a high price tag item just hours after buying it. He had the dreaded buyer’s remorse and I was thrilled, because I know he is learning the value of his money. The boys have plenty of money to work with. A small amount of my paycheque has been going into their Canada Savings Bonds every two weeks for two years. While the interest is negligible, they can’t access it without my approval. Unlike their personal chequing accounts — which they can access fairly freely — their savings are there for large purchases and personal spending money on planned holidays.

At eight, 11 and 13, they deliver papers and do odd jobs to earn extra cash. And it seems we’re on the right track. Phelps tells me she recently sold a house to a local man, 22 years old, who has been saving since he was a little boy.

“He saved 10 per cent of all he earned, all his life,” she says. That added up to $20,000 for a down payment, along with him having a clear understanding of what a dollar is worth, and no need for a co-signer.

“That’s the key,” she says. “Start teaching savings now to your kids, and be consistent.”

Now, if I could just cut down on that chocolate.

Jessica Peters is the editor of the Agassiz-Harrison Observer