In the experiment that has been “Monet & TJ Move to Portland” many discoveries have been made. The biggest and the most impactful has been how we’ve handled our subsistence on one income. We relocated here with $10,000 in combined savings, an amount that incredibly after just one month was gone. It was a month of beer and fine dining. It was a month of plenty. And if I could do it again, our rent would be paid two months in advance and we’d have some money in savings. But that’s easy to say now.
For me, the four months since I left my job at Elon has been the longest period of unemployment of my adult life. Now that I think about it, I’ve never left one job without having another lined up since I started working at my local grocery store as a teenager. I’ll admit that I enjoyed unemployment longer than I admitted to my closest friends. With all the time, I could read and write and overall be a lot less stressed. But I was raised to work and pull my weight, and it didn’t take long after reaching Portland that I began to feel like a burden to TJ.
I looked for jobs that I knew I could get right away. Fifteen minutes into an interview with a manager with Macy’s and she asked if I could start that Friday. It was Monday. I begged off, asked if I could have more time to accept, which she graciously gave me. And I went off and had another interview and was offered that job. A job with a catch: a commissioned sales position — One that required a month’s worth of training and state licensing, all unpaid time.
On the drive home I called my mom. I explained to her what the job would entail, that my biggest concern was that my pay would be completely dependent on me, which meant we could go months without two incomes. I asked her if it was a reasonable thing to ask of another person. The sacrifices from both of us would be monumental. My mother’s advice was that I make a plan A, and then make a plan B. She said that presenting TJ with a well-thought-out plan was the key to his buy-in. She said that in a way this was my first pitch. So when I got home, I busted out a calendar. I took the month-long training schedule given to by HR and cut it in half. The test I was supposed to take in three and half weeks, I would take the following Friday. I put our bill due dates on the calendar along with TJ’s paydays. I made a budget, and found that the one place we could save a lot of money was on the grocery bill (also alcohol). I started researching meals on Pinterest. I downloaded coupon apps.
When TJ got home that evening I was ready. I started by explain what the job entailed. I then pulled out the calendar and showed him how I’d planned to cut the training time in half by doubling my study days. I showed him our budget and how we could do better about our grocery spending. It would be tight for a while but we could do it if we both committed to the plan. I’d expected some resistance. I expected, at the very least, that TJ would ask what my Plan B was, and all I could think of was stripping. But he didn’t resist, or ask me any of the questions I’d been prepared to answer.
- For my birthday, TJ got me a coffee mug and some Pike Place coffee. Starbucks has a collection called “You Are Here” where each mug depicts cities or states all over the US. More than once I’d almost bought one, in California, in Arizona and in my favorite Starbucks in North Carolina. When we were long distance, I’m sure I went on and on more than once about those mugs. I surprised myself to find that an overpriced $11 mug is one of the best presents he’s gotten me in our almost four years together.
- I ran out of soap, my green bar Dove soap, and when I went to buy more I realized that it was $1.50 more than TJ’s Irish Springs AND there’s three bars in the Irish Springs instead of two. I couldn’t justify the Dove when TJ had soap at home so I started using his. I swear I feel like a lumberjack when I get out of the shower and that my leg hair has started growing in faster. I also finally noticed that on the occasions when TJ uses his Old Spice Wolfthorn instead of the Irish Springs, it’s Business Time.
- Couponing has become a small obsession though I never could get behind driving to more than one grocery store. Seems like a waste of gas which is too damn expensive. I use the Coupon app, the Ibotta app, and Favado. I also bought a coupon organizer. Most recently I downloaded the Walmart Savings Catcher, which has been a game changer. I just redeemed a credit of $15 the last time I went shopping. Cha-Ching!
- I went to the Trader Joe’s for the first time in Portland and it was like going to Nordstrom. I bought smoked mozzarella and sliced pepperoni, then made a pizza for dinner. For us, that was a $6.00 splurge, but it was worth it.
- I love taking meals and figuring out how to make them for less. We buy in bulk, freeze large quantities of staple foods like beans and soups, and we try to use everything in our pantry. My goal is to get our food bill down to $50 a week.
Being poor obviously isn’t great. We can’t always hang out with our friends, go on long, gas-guzzling drives to the coast or impulse buy the clothes we see while shopping. And we are always thinking two or three months ahead of our budgets, which can make it hard to live in the moment. I worry all the time that one big financial emergency could topple our balance. But what I have found is being poor has brought us closer to each other. We spend most of our free time together and we find amusement in simple things like long walks and dog parks. I don’t think we’ll be this poor forever, but I do think we will always be grateful for whatever we have, no matter how little or how much.