frugality

I am talking money and having a pity party, come on by!

Looking back at my life and looking at my own kids, I am more convinced than ever that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is the gift of understanding money and how to manage it. My folks were great in many ways, they taught me many things and imparted much wisdom but when it came to money management, they earned a solid F. My parents lived 31 years together until my Mom’s untimely death in 2004 vacillating between feast or famine when it came to money. They either had money and life wasn’t too bad or they didn’t and life sucked and you were eating tuna fish on stale bread with mustard because they couldn’t scrape enough change together to buy mayonnaise. As a kid, I swore I would be better about money and would always have it, but you can’t know what no one bothers to teach you. The result is my own tortured relationship with money.

Probably the only useful skill that my parents did impart to me about money is not letting myself be defined by money or lack of it, as well as how to survive when money is low. The problem is the older I get, I find myself struggling to make better choices and being clear on needs versus wants.

The past few years have been rough financially and thankfully those hard times seem to be mostly in the rear-view window. Yet even with the new start afforded me due to the painful decision to file bankruptcy and the legal restructuring of the remaining debts, lately I find myself realizing it’s the little things that trip me up. The Spousal Unit and I don’t consider ourselves to be financially extravagant people; our last vacation was a group camping experience with friends two years ago. We own one car, our furnishings and clothing are modest and at the moment our income is above the median, yet we still struggle. Yes, we have a kid in college, and an old house that is forever in need of work. There is also that pesky lack of health insurance thanks to the cost prohibitive nature of purchasing it when self-employed which overall means we have a fair amount that goes out monthly. Since lack of health insurance doesn’t mean lack of healthcare in our case, it just means we pay cash for everything.

Last month I did an experiment where I wrote down every single item we spent money on and I was mortified, but I also realized that living is expensive. Groceries cost more than ever before, medication is sky high and why do kids grow so fast and why is my girl child so hard on shoes?

The reality is some of us are struggling to keep it together, some of us are better off and I admit sometimes when I am in a funk, all I seem to see are the people who are going off on fun vacations and the gals who can afford multiple pairs of Tory Burch shoes.

I admit today’s pity party was brought on by the unpleasant realization that something I really have been wanting is simply not in my financial cards. I had been looking forward to going to this retreat but looking ahead to the next several months, spending an extra $500 is simply not wise or prudent especially with the need for almost $9000 worth of dental work sooner rather than later unless I want to be the toothless Black Girl in Maine.  In some ways, telling myself no is hard, after all I work hard, and don’t I deserve something for myself? Sure, but if it jeopardizes my financial well-being and that of my family the answer is no.

In making this decision I was reminded of my own kids especially my youngest, who likes to spend money and pretty much refuses to save any of her money unless we step in and force her to put some in her savings account. Yet this same child will bemoan the fact that she can’t buy larger items when she refuses to save up. In many ways she is like me and frankly I am more than happy to model some restraint so we can break bad habits.

So thanks for letting me have my pity party about money, after all, I have all that I need in this moment.

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The struggle to become a saver

After a few nights of Nyquil, I seem to be back on the right track. I am starting to think my flu like feeling was less about having the flu or a cold and more my body’s response to the high levels of stress I have been dealing with. I find that sometimes it takes getting sick for me to prioritize and take care of myself, in theory I love the idea of daily self care but at times it’s harder to fit it into the schedule.

This morning found me thinking about money, it has been a while since I have talked money here. I have a confession; I think I am a spend-a-holic. On paper I write the most magnificent budgets, they come across as practical yet in practice I struggle. It seems every trip to the grocery store inevitably costs more than I budget and well an extra $50 here and $50 there starts to add up. I will say though that this month I have accomplished one goal and that is very little eating out. When I feel the urge to eat out I ask myself do I really need this. Will that meal make me feel great or is the bigger issue that I just don’t want to cook? If what I really want is to simply avoid cooking, I have been using up my stash of soups and chowders I keep in my freezer. Tasty, good for my waist line and even better for my budget. The results so far are that I have been able to add a little extra to the savings account and I realized that I have not raided my savings account in several months. Baby steps, that’s what it’s all about for me.

A few days ago one of my employees called me up and decided to forget the boundaries that should exist between employer and employee and long story short, she is grappling with serious financial issues. I had no real words of advice other than if need be I would be happy to assist her with a budget.  Another employee just bought a brand new car that truthfully I wonder how she will afford knowing that she is already tight on cash. Yes a car in Maine is mostly a necessity but a brand new car is not a necessity. Hell, as the Spousal Unit and I are learning even relatively new cars require maintenance hence last month’s unexpected $1200+ in car repairs not covered by the limited warranty we still have on our car.

I work with people who deal with financial scarcity day in and day out; almost 20 years ago I dealt with that same scarcity. The type where you are hoping and praying you can keep the lights on until your next check. While I still have a ways to go financially as far as digging out of debt, I have learned to take care of my 4 walls and keep a little cushion so that an unexpected $100 bill is not a crisis. So many times with the clients that I work with it is truly the little things that take an already precarious financial situation and turn it into a full blown crisis. One of my tricks to building a cushion has been rounding off numbers. We have a number of automatic withdrawals such as Vonage, Netflix, etc. Over the past 7 years I started rounding upwards, a $25.52 bills become $30 and so on, by doing this I create a cushion so eventually you create a decent cushion. I am not by nature a saver and grew up with parents who didn’t teach me about money so I am learning as I go along.

I have also realized that not all bargain style shopping is a great deal. Thrift stores are a great source of savings yet if you go all the time and buy items you really don’t need simply because they are cheap, well you are wasting money. I have taken recreational shopping/looking out of my schedule. It seems to be working. I admit I still struggle with my daily visit to Starbucks or other coffee shops though I try not to frequent these places on the weekend when I have the time to make my own drinks at home.

This past weekend found me dreaming of places I would like to visit, it has been a long time since we have been able to travel anywhere as a family. In part because travel especially from Maine is costly (I swear travel was cheaper in Chicago) the other factor in our not traveling is tied directly to finances, at one point there was no money to travel but also bad spending habits have created a situation where travel is difficult. Yet raising my child in Maine, I see that it is necessary that we travel so that my daughter is exposed to many different types of people and cultures. Much like we find the money to do necessary maintenance on our house, I now feel we must find the money to travel at the very least to see friends and family.

I think having goals with my money makes it easier for me to make the sacrifices necessary to be a good steward of what I do have. Anyway excuse the ramble but with the year soon drawing to a close I am thinking about the changes I need to make when it comes to me and my money. What about you? Do you struggle with money management? If so what are you doing about it?

Last night CNN aired a program Black in America 3-Debt and while I only caught about 40 minutes of the show it was um…interesting to say the least. I think as Black people we get so caught on short term financial goals (new pair of Louboutin’s, etc) that at times we miss the long term boat. I mean if your house is about to get foreclosed on, maybe it’s a good time to downsize your entire lifestyle. Anyhoo, that’s a whole other blog post.

PS: While I am saving, I am still a fair distance away from being able to buy a much needed new computer, consider contributing to the BGIM computer beg-a-thon. It is still happening. At this point if I can raise even half the cost of the computer, I may be able to handle the rest myself.  Just a reminder, as always no pressure.

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It’s okay to be mediocre

We are living in crazy times here in the US, many of our fellow country men and women are struggling to survive to the point where just keeping food on the table is a struggle. Yet at the same time many of us are still playing our role as the ultimate consumers. Fancy meals, coffee drinks (yeah, I am guilty of this one), standing in line to get the newest and latest iGadget, all the outward signs of success. I often wonder how many of us can really afford these things? Make no mistake, I know not everyone is struggling but most of us are living in denial. If we lost our jobs and didn’t find one in six months or so our world would collapse.

Yet despite the grim statistics that in this new America a permanent underclass is being created where a good 10% of us at any given time will be jobless and many more are underemployed. We still cling to the dream that we must achieve success and that well… success will include climbing the corporate ladder or maybe the non-profit ladder or owning our own business. Success is often defined by what we have rather than by who we are and frankly I think that is fucked up.

Social media allows me to stay connected enough to remind me that the second reason why I chose to move to Maine was that I wanted to get off the hamster wheel. Prior to our move to Maine and the eventual downsizing of our life, the Spousal Unit and I worked hard to the point early on we had a patch where work was fucking with our marriage. A boss who does not give a damn that your wife is sick has a funny way of creating tension in a marriage especially when your presence is requested on a Sunday just so you can sit in the office and be on call for a client. When the Spousal Unit was fired from his lovely well paid position at a Big 4 firm, it was the beginning of a turning point in our marriage that turned out to be preparation for life in Maine. Yet because we made the conscious decision that our marriage and family was more important than anything else I suspect its one of the biggest reasons that we have weathered the financial storms of life.

In many ways we have reached the point where we are okay having less, that as long as our basic needs (and I admit we are defining basic a bit broadly), are met that we are fine. In a world that says mediocrity and settling is bad we are at the place where we are ok with settling professionally and even financially when our personal life is so rich. It’s funny because the past few months have been some of the best times personally for us as the kidlet has gotten older and a bit more predictable (i.e. regular bedtime).

Last night before I drifted off to bed, I told the Spousal Unit that I was content with our life and he replied that he wished he could do more for us, like rehab this 127 year old dungeon we call a home. I won’t lie, it would be lovely to just hire contractors to fix this place but I am happy to just have a home and more importantly a home that is paid off, the rest will come in time.

To my young readers and maybe not so young readers, I guess what I am trying to say is life is too fucking short to spend your time chasing shit that won’t really make you happy. Sometimes we set goals of things we think will change our life and guess what? Those things often aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Instead happiness must come from inside, true its hard to be happy when your belly is empty and you are sleeping on a park bench but the fact is if you got a place to lay your head, food, and more importantly you have good people in your life that is the shit that matters.

I guess in some ways this may seem strange coming from someone who is holding a beg-a-thon to get a new computer after all if I had a better job I could just go out and buy the damn thing. But while that would be nice, the fact is even this blog is a labor of love that I could not do if I were tethered to some high paying gig, thus not having the chance to meet all you fabulous folks who read my ramblings. So don’t let others define who you are by what you have or don’t have, know that you are fabulous no matter what!

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