Tightening the purse strings

When I was little, I’m not sure about the details, but true or not, this is what I remember.  My Dad worked full time as a mechanic and my Mum was a full-time housewife.  I know she worked part-time, but I’m not sure if was when I was a child or not.  She was always at home when I wasn’t at school, anyways.  My Dad used to give my Mum money for housekeeping.  I’m not sure who paid the bills, but the impression that I got was that my Dad was in charge of the money.  Here in Japan, where the man is basically still “the boss”, is almost always the main breadwinner, often paid more than women in the same job, allowed to get away with being a lazy bum at the weekend because he works his bum off in the week, you’d think it would be the same? 

Nope, not at all.  This is one of the things I secretly love about Japan.  I say secretly, because I don’t want to let on to my husband that there is another way.  Women and men know their place in this society pretty much.  Roles are accepted, tolerated, never questioned, as society teaches.  A woman takes care of the home, children, finances, and the husband slaves away at the office and brings home the bacon.  I’ll not get into after hours drinking/playing because we could be here all day otherwise…So since Y and I got married, we have been sharing our finances, and I have been in charge of them.  It was fine at the start, because I earned almost twice as much as Y (he would never admit that to anyone).  He was just starting in his career, and I was in middle management.  We had no children, and were basically rolling in cash…ahhhhhhh, those were the days!  Now that I don’t work, and we have two children to support, things are a lot tighter.  I’m generally not one for talking about money, but just to illustrate, our child care bills alone are around 20 percent of our income..which is fairly excessive, I think.  Now I work, but only once a week.  I teach a family of four every Sunday for two hours, and I get 40,000 a month for it.  Y often says that there are ways to save money to enable me not to work if I didn’t want to.  But to be honest, although a life of luxury and being a lady what lunches appeals to me, being a stay at home Mum on a tight budget is pretty depressing.  I keep fairly busy.  I like a tidy house, have to run errands,  cook, play with my children, plus when they are poorly, or something happens at kindergarten, I’m “on-call”, so to speak. In practical terms, having one parent at home would be better.  I live in the same town as my MIL and SIL, but they both work full-time.  MIL will retire from next April though, and is happy to help with the children if needed, so that’s good to have that support. 

So the reason why I’m holding off work now even though both children are now full-time at nursery, is because of our trip back to the U.K.  From the end of June until the end of September, we’ll be gone!  Not Y of course, just me and the children.  I told my family of four about this holiday plan before I started teaching them, and they were fine about it.  But to simplify things, I stopped advertising my services while I know that I’ll be going off for a long time soon.  The family were fine about it, but others might find it odd for me to advertise when I already have plans to leave.  When I come back, the man that I worked for before would like to find me more kindergarten work, I will advertise for more students, and hopefully get more work there too.  There are a few full-time teaching jobs around, but the hours are so unsuited to working mothers, and I know that I’m only going to be able to work part-time, at least while the children are small.  If I can get just an hour a day that would be perfect!

Well on to the point.  About every three months or so, Y suddenly has a cash panic attack.  He’ll read a book about “the correct way to save” or “how to plan for the future” and grill me about how much we need to save for the future, usually ending in me yelling at him that I save a tiny amount once a month and we have no way to “put away for the future” otherwise…This particular argument stemmed from him seeing the bank balance.  He hasn’t seen it for ages, and despite me telling him so, he didn’t truly grasp it when I said we were living beyond our means.  So he started grilling me about the budget, where the money goes and if he can see the receipts.  This made me really pissed off.  I hate doing the budget really, because I’m crap at maths..truly crap.  But I like to think I have the basics down.   I have to admit, I do get overwhelmed by spontaneous demands, such as tax that just comes from nowhere, PTA payments, residents association payments.  It all does get a bit much for me sometimes, but him asking to see the receipts sounded more like a trust issue than anything else, and that got me annoyed.  He gets 20,000 a month to do whatever he wants with, and I don’t ask to see HIS receipts…  When I first started handling the money, Y was positive that he would prefer me to do it, because he said otherwise he would just spend it.  So once again (as I said, this happens regularly, and Y has a bad memory), I sat down and copied out all the information from the housekeeping book for last month.  AGAIN, he said, “wow, it’s so neat, I had no idea you wrote it all down so nicely”.  I said nothing, although inside I was thinking, “you big fat liar, this exact same thing happened three months ago, and you said the exact same thing.. do you have Alzheimers!??!”  And then I just told him that I’d had enough, and if he wasn’t happy, then he had to do it himself.  But that he’d better not mess it up…

And do you know what?  I feel relieved.  A little worried that he will mess it up, but also confident that if he does, he won’t mess it up too much, and to be honest, he’ll probably do a better job than I have been doing.  So from next month, he’s giving me 60,000 yen for the groceries.  And has said that if it’s too much, that I can keep the extra.  Ha ha, tempting, but I don’t think I will.  I’m fairly confident that I can do a months groceries for 40,000 though, so the extra can go into the savings.  I think I can focus a lot more on the rest of the stuff without having to worry about the finances.  Sound stupid?

I’ve been reading stuff about families of four living on a 20,000 a month food budget, but I really don’t see how that could be possible…if you are one of those people, I’d love to hear how you do it.  The prices for meat they show in these magazines are cheap as chips too, I’d like to know where they shop! 

Today is the first day of my budget plan.  I know it won’t start until next month, which means from 21st May, but I’m trying to get into good habits and was really surprised when today’s full shopping basket of planned meals for this week was only 3,980 yen.  I think I’ll probably have to go back to the shop for milk mid-week, but that’s pretty good right?  Of course it won’t be that little every week.  It all depends on buying staples like rice and sauces, etc., but I’m quite excited at how we can improve the budget, even if I will be earning more later on in the year, it’s always good to be economical.  So what are your good money-saving tips?  Help me to be frugal!!

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5 thoughts on “Tightening the purse strings

  1. WOW! 3980yen for a week! I spent 5000yen today for just 3 days (but it included enough fruit and yogurt for Noah for almost a week). Including nappies, toiletries/washing stuff and rice I think groceries for us come to about 55,000 a month. I have TRIED to limit that but it never works.

    I have to get better with money. Both Shun & I manage the money I guess but I keep the bank books but when it comes to payday on the 25th whichever of us needs money first is the one that takes out the money for the month (so if I don`t plan on going out that day Shun will take it out on his lunch break)…..Shun gets 30,000 plus Teiki (train pass) if he needs it. He will tell me if he is taking out more for example for a special nomikai or wedding or hair appointment (like the other day he had his hair straightened so he took that money out)…..I get 100,000 to pay groceries, bills, doctors stuff if needed (and I give money to Shun if he goes to dr or dentist) and anything I need to buy for me or the boys. Money I earn at baito is essentially mine but if Shun is running low he grabs money from my purse (after he asks)……Rent, mobile phone, electricity come out normally (internet too) and anything that has been put on credit. I pay gas and water at the conbini.

    We don`t save much each month. To be honest it depends on the credit cards- but I try to transfer money to savings each month but it not a set amount. We pretty much save Shun`s bonus`s though…..

    I hate money. Like your husband mine has a freakout every 3 months or so. I am bad with money though so I can understand his freaking out……I wish I could be better about writing everything down but I suck at it. I have tried but it never lasts. I am not a good housewife when it comes to money…

    My husband has never asked to see receipts (and I have never asked to see his) but ther have been many discussions about what I spent “my” money on. And whether the boys needed those new pajamas (um yes!) or books (probably not!)….

    Oh and I love the new blog layout.

    • Thanks Lulu! It’s great to hear about how you organise your finances (I like to think it’s curiosity as opposed to nosiness!)Just to clarify, I spent only that amount this week on the meals. I already had in rice, fruit, sauces, yoghurts, cheese, etc., so as I say, I can’t see it being that much every week! I also don’t include toiletries/nappies/medicine/cleaning/washing stuff in my groceries, I have a seperate category for that, but depending on doctor visits, it’s usually about 5,000 a month at most. Also, the children only get two meals at home on weekdays, so that means lunch is only for Y and myself. I’ve been writing down our expenditure for about 4 years now. But to be honest, I can’t say it always helps to budget better. Although if I don’t catch up with writing the book for a week, I find that I do spend a lot more, so it does keep me a little focused. I try to take out everything we need in cash on pay day and then put it all into envelopes for the things that don’t come out direct debit. Most of our bills come straight out of the bank account. But I DO think our utilites are too high. We pay around 15,000 for gas and 15,000 for electricity per month, 2,500 for water a month (plus sewage fees of about 20,000 a year). Then we have NHK, sky t.v., Y’s parking fee for his office, gym, phones, kindergarten and of course the mortgage. I often feel that our bills are kind of unusually high?! I used to give Y 40,000 a month before H was born. Then it progressively got lower, 30,000 a month, then 25,000, and now 20,000 He doesn’t really need it. He gets a bento daily, so it’s really just for things he wants. In the magazine I read, most of the thrify mothers gave their husbands 10,000 a month, but I think 20,000 is ok for us. I still feel that as he’s earning it, he’s kind of entitled to more of it. I feel a bit like his Mum giving him pocket money though, I have to say. I would like to give myself “pocket money” too though. I don’t have that right now. I think when I’m earning more, it’ll feel more right to do that. As for the bonus, some of it goes on the mortgage too, and then usually one of our cars needs a check up, or we’re paying for a flight home, so that gets eaten up. It just seems that there is never enough!!

  2. hi there just discovered your blog cool. If you have time or the inclination can you write up a menu plan or what you shop for? I am moving to japan in sept and don’t really know what’s a good cheap healthy menu. I know i wont be wolfing down the steak but can’t cook japanese food. So any top housey wifey tips would be appricated. love chickpeas and lentils
    the lentil weaver.

    • Hi! Thanks for reading. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you around too 😉 To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Japanese food. To me, it contains too much sugar, and most dishes use dashi (fish stock) which I’m not really that keen on. I’d say most of my meals are more western. The ingredients for western meals, such as peppers, courgettes, etc., do tend to be a bit more expensive though, so I kind of play about with local ingredients as much as I can. So this week’s menu:

      Saturday:
      Lunch – Tuna and bacon pasta (I’m a veg. lover, so my meals usually contain lots of it) with brocolli, carrot, french beans, tomato paste and chicken stock.

      Dinner – Malaysian curry and tomato curry for the children served with home-made naan bread. This was a big hit! Because my friend had sent me the curry paste, that cost nothing. The other ingredients were coconut milk, chicken, tomato, brocolli, onions, garlic, spices. Plus the naan was yummy! This meal cost just over 100 yen per head.

      Sunday: Lunch – ok, we ate out today because it was mother’s day and my husband paid the bill, but otherwise, I had planned to make home-made pizza for lunch, with home-made tomato and herb sauce, ham, pineapple and spinach

      Dinner – Grilled mackerel, soybeans and rice (this was while I was out at work, but my husband went over to MILs and ate noodles, so this one is saved for another day too.

      Monday: Ginger pork with grilled vegetables (brocolli, carrot, french beans, bok choy and beansprouts) and rice.

      Tuesday: Fried chicken breast pieces with rice and salad

      Wednesday: Pasta bake in tomato and white sauce with loads of veggies!

      Thursday: Sweet potato and cod bake in a light cheese sauce with green beans

      Friday: Chicken and apple meatballs with chips/fries, soybeans and fruit salad

      This week is a little bit of a lazy menu. I also usually try to have at least one tofu meal in a week, but for some reason, it’s not a star in this menu. I do have some in the fridge though, so I’ll have to make some of my lunches with it. I tend to eat egg and rice for lunch, with one or two vegetables inside, usually stuff that the children don’t like so much like bok choy or spinach or green peppers. I think in terms of what you buy here also depends on where you live. I live in Gunma, which is pretty rural (my supermarket prints the names of the farmer on the different veg., so prices are quite competitive and I already have some favourite farmers, ha ha!), so produce is fairly inexpensive, but can be so much more in more urban locations, but then the salary will usually make up for that too of course!

      • cool thanks for that. I always have something mouldering unused at the bottom of the fridge, must start menu planning. I lived in japan before but never really budgeted. It’s going to be a bit tight this time round…

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