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Empty nest, full wallet? Not so fast

Karen Queen

After 22 years, our nest emptied this summer when our son finished college and left for the Air Force and our daughter began college.  After wiping away a few tears, I put away the tissue and took out my calculator. How much money were we saving on groceries, insurance and more?

The grocery gain. When both young adults lived at home, we spent at least $700 a month on groceries, with pricey coffee and creamer for my daughter, Doritos all around and sit-down meals every night. Since the groceries weren’t on their dime, we often ended up with moldy, sour or expired veggies, drinks and junk food that someone thought would be a great treat — and then forgot. Whether you count the milk jug as half empty or half full, if it’s been left out of the fridge with the lid off — it’s no good. These days, we buy what we need, eat more leftovers and waste less.
Estimated monthly savings: $200.

Lower premiums. Since our son is working full time, we’re dropping him from our car insurance starting in November when the next six-month premium comes due. Since he’s still under 25, we’ll see significant savings — $386 every six months. We’re also saving $94 every six months since our daughter is at school with no car instead of driving our car daily. Looking ahead, when our daughter is also off our insurance, we’ll save another $57 every six months.
Monthly savings now: $80.

Powering down. Our son loves living cool. Cool, as in setting the thermostat on 65 degrees in the middle of the summer. Fortunately, we have a zoned system so he wasn’t cooling our entire house, but still, I envisioned the power meter spinning fast as I put on a sweater to venture to his room. Now that he’s gone, we keep the AC set between 73 and 78.
Estimated monthly savings: $20.

Gassing down. Gas is another savings. Our daughter drove my car for errands, her job and volunteer work. She did pump her own gas, but she usually paid with my credit card. I’m enjoying having my car and credit card back again and I’m really enjoying the cash in my pocket.
Estimated monthly savings: $30.

Clothes make the savings. We gave our daughter a clothing allowance while she lived at home. We cut that off when she went to college. She’s now discovered thrift stores.
Monthly savings: $50

Not allowed: allowance and spending money. At home, our daughter juggled multiple commitments including running cross-country and volunteering at two churches. She had a part-time job, but we still helped out sometimes with spending money, which she used for “wants,” not necessarily “needs.” Let’s just say, when she walked in the door at Subway, they knew her order. But when she left for college, we told her that all her spending money was hers to earn. I’m sure the folks at Subway miss her, but my wallet feels fatter.
Estimated monthly savings: $75.

Total monthly empty nest windfall: about $455.

But before I got too smug about our savings, I had to be honest. I powered the calculator back up. With an empty nest, we also had more opportunities for spending. Since I knew expenses were lower, it was easy to justify some splurges in the beginning.

We didn’t rush out and buy new cars, a vacation home or pricey home add-ons as some of the people referenced in my story, Empty nest, full wallet: How to do it. But we did loosen our financial belts to travel. We took a trip to see our son in Mississippi and made a side trip to New Orleans where we enjoyed jazz, excellent food and gave our credit cards a good workout. That took care of six months of savings.

I used up another month of savings on a trip to New York for a concert. I was already planning our next jaunt when I started doing the math.

I realized we’ve now spent our empty-nest savings through next February — and it’s only October. Where’d I put that box of tissues? It’s time to retighten that financial belt a notch or two. Until March, there’s no place like home. After that, we’ll let the calculator and our new empty-nest budget help plan our spending.

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