For today’s installment in our interview series, we’d like to introduce you to Laura and John from Rather Square! They’ve got a great story and some awesome tips, so enough from us. Here’s Laura!
Tell us your story.
My husband (and co-blogger) John and I bought a nearly-100-year-old American Foursquare house in the spring of 2013 that was in remarkably good condition for its age. It had been loved and cherished over the years by previous owners, and we were lucky to find a home with such character and history. But it still needed a variety of repairs. We were told by the home inspector when we bought the house that the 25-year-old furnace needed to be replaced, but we had a lot of other improvements we wanted to make before investing in a new heating/cooling system, so we decided to wait. But as we were spending our carefully-saved money on immediate updates, we still reserved some of that cash for future emergencies.
Several months later, about halfway through 2014’s extremely cold winter (and less than a year after buying our house), the furnace came to a screeching halt one evening with a series of scary-sounding bangs. We called in a repair technician, who confirmed we’d need a total replacement. Luckily, we still had that cash in our emergency fund to pay for a new HVAC system. So we did some fast research on energy-efficient units, called in a few contractors for estimates, and were able to get a new energy-efficient furnace installed within a few days. With all the stress of trying to care for our home and family during those cold furnace-less few days, it was a relief to not have to worry about how we were going to pay for this emergency.
So how long did it take you to save up for that emergency fund?
We’d been married for a few years when we bought our house, and it had been our regular practice to automatically transfer a set amount of cash on a monthly basis into a separate savings account. It’s helped in past times of irregular income (when John was working as a freelancer, or when I went on maternity leave from my job) to have that cushion, even if sometimes you don’t know what you’ll use it for. Any amount saved can help out in a crisis, so we’ve built our emergency fund up over time in small increments.
What sacrifices did you make in order to build up your way-freaking-cold-snowy day fund?
We tend to live pretty frugally. We don’t eat out much — I like to cook, and we’ve had some version of a vegetable/herb garden for several summers. As artists and designers, we also like to be creative around the house and do a lot of projects ourselves, which helps us save money for true emergencies that we can’t handle on our own.
We painted all the rooms in our house ourselves, we’ve experimented with DIY landscaping, and John (who is an amazing woodworker) has taken on lots of carpentry and handyman projects in our home. He’s renovated our built-in bookcase; sealed cracks in our foundation, exterior, and paver walkway; and created a studio workshop out of a unused storage area in our basement. We get books and movies for free from the library, and our kids’ toy collections are carefully curated so we don’t spend a lot of money on things they’d only play with a few times. But really, we don’t look on these things as sacrifices. We’re much happier eating our home-cooked meals and knowing we have cash in the bank than if we had an empty savings account but ate at fancy restaurants all the time.
What budgeting tools (apps, spreadsheets, strategies, etc.) are you using?
We use shared Google docs and spreadsheets to keep track of our budget and expenses. We also schedule a monthly financial meeting where we sit down with our current numbers and balances one night after dinner when the kids are in bed. We review the expenses of the previous month and what’s coming up for the next month. It helps us stay on track and avoid surprises.
What big home improvement projects do you have on tap for 2015? Maybe a ball pool room?
Ha, not a ball pool room! We’ve got lots of projects we want to accomplish, and our 2015 challenge is how to get the most value from our small budget and limited free time. You can read more about our project goals here, but we’ve already got a few projects on our list underway (like some spring landscaping and renovating our front and back porches). And currently we’re building out a custom mudroom area in our entryway — so necessary with two little kids and tons of shoes/jackets/backpacks all over the place! We try to keep our plans flexible so that we can prioritize family time, and our goal with any project is to balance aesthetics with functionality.
We love hearing stories that show how small habits (like automatically putting money toward an emergency fund each month) can make a huge financial difference. Thanks for the wise words, Laura and John! If you have any questions or thoughts for them, leave them in the comments below!