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Balancing act: Benefits of family life worth the food, utility costs

Published: Wednesday, July 15 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

I recently spent about 3½ weeks as a "geographical bachelor," and it was a unique learning experience, from a financial point of view.

My wife and children left in early June for an extended summer trip to Houston to visit her parents and other family there. Because I don't have infinite vacation time, I had to stay in Salt Lake City.

It's probably just as well that I stuck around and kept going to work every day. As I noted a few weeks ago, bills resulting from my wife's recent hand injury make that paycheck every two weeks very important!

After they had been gone for a few days, I started to notice how much it costs to run a household of two adults and four children, as opposed to a household of one fairly average guy.

None of this should have been a big surprise, and my wife had to spend some money to keep her part of the family going while in Texas. But I still found my financial situation interesting.

For example, we like milk in our family. A lot. We buy it three gallons at a time at our local warehouse store, and we usually go through six gallons a week.

While they were gone, I think I bought a total of five gallons of milk. I used it on my cereal in the morning and drank an occasional glass, but it was nothing like usual. That saved me a good chunk of change.

Other food expenses also went down, though I ate out more than I usually do. I discovered that I'm not much of a grocery shopper. I'd usually make a list with a couple of items before I went to the store, but as I walked the aisles, I would add more convenience foods and treats to my cart than I really needed. Many of them were still sitting around the kitchen when my family returned.

Because I wasn't eating at home much, I also saved money on dishwashing liquid. I think I ran the dishwasher two times while they were gone, while we usually run it about every other day.

Contemplating my decreased use of the dishwasher got me thinking about all of the water I wasn't using. With just one person showering and using the bathroom every day, I figure my next water bill will be low. The fact that it rained almost every day they were gone also should have an impact on that bill, but I don't think I can draw a direct connection between the rain and my family's absence.

I'm sure I'll also see savings on my electricity bill. I use few lights when I'm home alone, and I always turn them off when I leave a room. It's a habit I developed as a child. My children, on the other hand, seem to enjoy turning on every light in the house and leaving them on as long as possible, even if they're not in the same room or city or county or state. I'm kind of surprised they didn't find some way to turn on lights from Texas, just to waste a little energy. (Can you tell I've spoken to them about this before? Yes, I'm a crotchety father at times.)

Pondering all of this, I decided I would be able to live a very comfortable life as a single guy based on my current salary. I'd have a big-screen TV in my basement, a new car in the driveway and a more impressive savings account.

But you know what? I also decided that living paycheck to paycheck, saving for months to buy little luxuries and trying to plan for future college bills is a small price to pay to have a home filled with noise and fun and chaos and life.

Families are expensive. But they're worth every penny.

If you have a personal finance comment or question, send it to gkratz@desnews.com or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.

e-mail: gkratz@desnews.com

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