Editor's note: Join columnist MP Dunleavey and a group of women as they seek to strip away the myths around money, liberate themselves from debt and find financial sanity. Follow the ongoing quest of the Women in Red every other Wednesday in Dunleavey's column on MSN Money.
Last fall, many readers of this column were skeptical when I announced that my husband and I had decided to take some dramatic steps in the name of financial -- and emotional -- sanity:
- He would quit his job to take care of our son.
- We would shift our lives from the city to rural upstate New York.
- I would bite my nails for a living.
- And we would come out financially ahead in the end.
I didn't want to admit this at the time, but I felt less confident than I sounded. One part of me did the math and was sure we would end up saving a nice chunk o' money by becoming country mice.
The other part of me developed severe abdominal pains -- true! -- and I ended up having a CT scan less than a week after we moved. Diagnosis: severe financialitis.
Fortunately, I recovered, because it seems that making the big downshift is having a positive financial impact after all. I have to admit, though, that it's not happening in the ways we expected.
Fewer shopping opsI assumed that giving up our apartment in the city and moving to our much-cheaper house in the country would have the biggest impact on our budget. As it turns out, it's more the lifestyle change that has altered our spending habits.
New York City dwellers like to quip that everyone pays a $20 "sidewalk tax" to live there -- because it feels like you spend $20 the second you step out your front door. As my husband and I discovered, it's not a joke.
Even though we live in a small town and can walk to a couple of shops and restaurants, the ratio of commercial outlets to disposable income has plunged. The result: a dramatic drop in impulse buys of all sorts, from bagels to books to "let's meet for lunch" and "don't I need that sweater?"
That's significant. According to a 2006 telephone survey of 2,000 adults by the Pew Research Center, it's not necessarily the big-ticket items that sink your budget. It's the steady onslaught of little ones.
A quarter of respondents said that food and dining out accounted for their biggest spending splurges, followed by entertainment and recreation (17%), and shopping and personal items, like clothes (15%).
(Readers on the message board who saw this survey agreed. One woman shocked her husband by showing him a bank statement documenting the fact that in one month he spent $400 -- all on items in the $10 range, many of which he purchased at overpriced convenience stores in gas stations.)
A twist on income expectationsAnother unexpected financial twist: Although we had expected to lose about $1,500 a month when my husband quit his job to become a stay-at-home dad, we hoped he'd find part-time work and thus we'd keep some of his income.
Again, we were thinking like city folks who take for granted an abundance of part-time and freelance work opportunities. Such things tend to be scarce in dairy country in the dead of winter.
Instead, with my husband working full time on the domestic front -- not only taking care of our son but running the house and being Mr. Fix-It -- I have been able to work more, bumping my monthly income to about $6,000 gross.
I've also committed to a few extra freelance projects that will add more than $12,000 to our income as the year progresses. But because that money won't arrive for a while -- and freelance projects have a nasty tendency to vanish the moment you rely on them -- I'm only counting on my steadiest income.