Everybody keeps saying they are glad 2020 is over. I’m not. 2021 is not going to prove to be better than 2020 in any way, shape or form. Most of us (me included) are going to get hit with many, many financial challenges (i.e. low funds) than we are aware of.

I’m just starting to get my 2021 Budget set up for the new year and already I see some challenges. The first one is food. Looking over my past year’s budget analysis, despite my allotting $500 a month for groceries (which is up from $400 in 2019) we barely could keep our expenses in line. Most months hubby and I spent upwards of $700 a month on groceries (one month we hit $800 when we were stockpiling). I’m certain there are many more people feeling the same food insecurity squeeze as hubs and I are.

Due to Covid-19, 30% more Americans are now facing life on a lower income. Through no fault of their own. Throw in the current delay on the unemployment benefits and eviction moratorium (click here) and we are going to witness, if not, become stranded ourselves on mile-long food pantry lines and setting up tents in parks or simply just living in a car. Already, families are posting on YouTube how they are sleeping in their cars due to evictions.

If you have an eviction on your record, it will be extremely difficult to ever rent again.

Two weeks ago, I posted how our propane utility company of nineteen years suddenly changed all their rules thus making it difficult for hubby and I to maintain a monthly budget payment plan (click here for that post). Rather than set up their normal 11 month payment budget plan @$208 per month, they now wanted our propane usage to be pre-paid in 7 months. That meant our 1000 annual gallon allotment @ $2.29 a gallon, had to be paid @ $327 a month. They originally wanted $295 a month but changed it. When we balked at the new budget structure, the owner got even more vicious and now wanted $322 up front (to cover a propane delivery we already got for the new year) in addition to the $327. The owner was now demanding a payment of $650.

When you are retired and on a fixed income as we are, coming up with money like that (although doable but not sustainable) is not a wise choice to make. Instead we said we would now go on a ‘Will Call’ system (we’ll call them when we need propane and pay for the delivery right there and then, which will limit us now to about 150 gallons at a time vs full fuel up). We paid the company the $322 we owed them and then proceeded to lower our thermostat two degrees downward to 66F. We’ve had some winter nights where the temps have gone down to single digits. Thankfully, electricity here is cheaper than propane so we have been supplementing our heat, for now, with electric room heaters. Next season we might install either a wood burning stove or a pellet stove. But then again, we might just sell our home and move someplace warmer.

We also got hit this year with a 116% rise in property taxes. Our town decided to go full assessment home values which means, higher taxes. We went from paying $1114 last year to $2746 this year. I am certain this won’t be the end of our higher property taxes. Our state is facing a pandemic budget deficit and guess who the ‘powers that be‘ are looking at to fill that shortage? Homeowners. You fail to pay your property taxes and your state may seize your home so fast they’d be skid marks in your driveway. Homeowners can become homeless too.

As I said, we might just sell and move away. Unfortunately, that might not work out because sooner or later most states come to the same conclusions. We might find ourselves back in the same financially strained boat but poorer and smaller since we moved (and spent a lot of money to do it!) So, we are going to wait this decision out. For now.

One last hit (that I know of) to our 2021 budget is going to be the unfortunate event hubby and I did four months ago. We adopted my daughters puppy because she bought a dog for her daughter (my granddaughter) and within two weeks her husband (my SIL) was severely allergic to the dog (despite being an allergy-free breed). Click here for that post. What seemed like a good idea at the time, which stopped my granddaughter from crying and crying and crying over her little puppy, turned into a financial nightmare for my husband and myself. Apparently this little puppy is a very expensive ‘elite’ breed (Maltipoo) that is growing up to be an extravagance we fixed incomers can nary afford. In just four short months, we have spent $1058 on this puppies vet visits, shots, prevention meds, food, toys, bed, clothing (don’t ask), pet carriers, leashes, chew toys, harnesses and treats. The puppy needs to be spayed at 6 months (which is January) and the vet bill for that will be over $600 (daughter has agreed to pay half of that bill!). Throw in the fact that we already have a dog and spent $424 on that pooches annual vet bill and we’re looking at a doggone annual spending of around $1500. Ouch. Nonetheless, I budgeted $125 a month (up from $50 a month) just to cover our two doggies food bills and some flea/tick/heartworm monthly meds. Double ouch.

So, based on my rather tight figures, hubby and I will be facing 2021’s budget with a $200 a month deficit. This is NOT a good thing. I’ve looked over all our expenses. I cut what I could but because we already live so close to the bone, there really wasn’t much I could cut. We rarely eat out. We rarely buy clothes. We rarely go anywhere, despite the pandemic. Hubby did a few upgrades to the exterior property (such as cutting down trees and clearing more land out). We’ve been keeping up with home maintenance and repair (mostly DIY) I cancelled our 2021 Florida vacation so we could catch up financially this year (saving $3500). We’ve gone more plant based in our food choices. I’ve stopped buying red meat after getting hit with an $18 bill for just 2 porterhouse steaks that were on sale! We’ve been cooking all meals at home.

I’ve been mastering the art of leftovers. I took 2 leftover cut-up potatoes, added 2 beaten eggs and some parmesean cheese, parsley and sauteed it all in a cast iron pot and made a great breakfast (with a side of ketchup). Took leftover marinara sauce and ricotta cheese and made a lasagna using par-boiled noodles. I took leftover penne pasta and added 2 beaten eggs and some parmesean cheese, parsley and again, sauteed that all up in a cast iron pot and voila! Another dinner meal got served. I threw all leftover veggies (broccoli, onions, pea pods) into a wok, added some leftover chicken pieces and a touch of Aldi Asian sauce, served over rice and another lunch is re-born! Lastly, I made a chicken broth from some leftover bones, added in a new Aldi item (veggie won tons), a few frozen peas and I made a great soup!

As for our $200 monthly deficit we will be facing in 2021, our only alternative is to stop putting that $200 into savings. I usually can put aside $500 a month into our savings account (so that we can meet puppy or propane challenges). We are going to have to cut short our savings goal. That is NOT a good thing nor do I recommend it. Nonetheless, that’s what this pandemic has done to our finances and truthfully, I think it is going to get worse in 2021. Not better.

We’re still going to keep trying to lower our monthly food bill. Less meat. More plant based. This spring, since we are eating more veggies, we will be expanding our garden to keep up with our vegan demands. We’ve stopped all un-necessary expenditures. Our foo-foo puppy needs to be groomed every other month. I bought the required equipment to DIY but I’m not comfortable yet cutting her hair, trimming her nails or trimming the hair growth around her eyes. Till I can get more courageous, we’re going to cough up the $62 grooming fee (gulp).

We were carrying a zero-interest, credit card balance in 2020 of $8161. Carrying any kind of debt going forward in this economy is not advisable at all. Even though the debt was zero interest. So, I just paid it all off from our savings. That freed up around $600 from our monthly budget and lessened our savings threshold by about $3,000. That’s why I chose to forgo Florida this season. We needed the year to balance out our finances. A sacrifice for sure.

We may sell one of our cars and go down to being a one-car family. Hubby has been holding on to his car because he thinks he is going to go back to work. One day. He’s been out of work since March 2020 and there are no prospects on the horizon for work in 2021. Selling a used car right now might be very profitable since the demand for used cars is very high. BUT….and here’s that but, if we should ever need a second car back, it’s going to cost us a whole lot more than what we would save in costs and upkeep of our second, fully paid for 2015 car. So, we wait. And see.

Lastly, our foo foo puppy. There’s no room here for any kind of celebrity treatment. Hubby runs our puppy just like he ran all our other dogs. She gets oodles of outdoor exercise and activity (sometimes he walks her 2 miles per day!) Good quality but affordable, healthy dog food. Balanced out sometime with leftovers to keep the costs down. Expert vet care (we don’t scrimp on health care here because if you do, it’ll cost you more in the end) Puppy is crated in a crate we bought off of Craig’s List for only ten bucks. Neighbors have given us some ‘clothing’ pieces (she’s a very tiny dog, weighing no more than 10 to 12 pounds and needs protection from our harsh winter weather). We’re giving a good home to a good dog. To see the happiness on our granddaughters face each time she’s reunited with ‘her’ puppy is worth all the money we’ve been spending. They play together for hours and hours. Plus it’s been a great ‘excuse’ for our daughter and granddaughter to come up here and socially distance visit with us at least once a month.

If the Good Lord wants us to raise this puppy, as I always said, the Good Lord will send us the money to do it. So far, so good.

Hubby preparing dinner while our little puppy keeps him company. Puppy getting a full groom next week. Stay tuned!