Cheryl Kramer eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at work. She and her family plan a vacation several months or longer in advance and skip trips some years. Kramer meticulously analyzes what she spends and saves.
During the class on budgeting she teaches at Housing Assistance Corp., she extols the virtue of people being honest with themselves. Write down those $5 sandwiches or that $8 glass of wine. Keep track of where the money's going.
Remember the larger goals, she often tells those that attend her class. The same principle applies whether it's buying a house, keeping the house, getting out of credit card debt or making car payments.
"You are the one to decide," she said. "You have to have that commitment."
Kramer, manager of the housing consumer education center at HAC, doesn't urge people to follow in her specific financial footprints. She doesn't tell people how much to set aside for entertainment, clothes or any other category.
"I don't teach anything with a wagging finger," Kramer said, who leads other classes as well including rebuilding your credit and first-time home buying.
Instead, Kramer focuses on how setting up a budget and being cognizant of spending can help someone reach a bigger goal.
"Everybody has to think a little proactively about the process," she said.
HAC holds the free budgeting class about four times a year, she said. The next one is scheduled for June 24.
Often, people don't think about their small purchases, like a daily coffee, and how they add up when not keeping a budget. By detailing what one spends money on, people can visually understand how much those small purchases are costing them.
"Those couple dollars add up to a lot of money for a lot of folks," she said.
During a recent class, Kramer said its good to tell other people your long-term financial goals, such as buying a new car or paying for college tuition.
"I think it's good to share your dreams," she said. "They hold you accountable."
Some people overextend themselves to save money or pay off debts. That can leave them scrambling to find funds for everyday living or paying for emergencies.
"Don't set that bar so high," she said during the recent class. "Don't overburden yourself."
Marstons Mills resident Jill Quin and her daughter Ali Quin were in Kramer's class last week.
Jill Quin and her husband, Jack, faced "a little rough stretch" seven years ago after he lost his full-time job as a manufacturer's sales rep.
The pair sold a vehicle, stopped going out to eat and cut other costs. "We basically stopped spending," said Jill Quin, a real estate appraiser.
Last year, the couple paid off the last of their debts beyond their regular mortgage payments.
Now, Jill Quin said, the challenge is balancing saving with spending on things that add to life, such as vacations.
"It's finding what makes you comfortable," she said.