Me and my money…what a complicated mess

Turns out that trying not to spend money is a whole lot easier said than done. So far I have gone off course though the money I set aside to save is still being saved and for me that is a step in the right direction. I decided against taking Dave Ramsey’s class since with my work schedule and the holidays, I know I couldn’t commit to full 13 week course which is a shame since I am sure there was something for me to learn despite having read his books.

So I am trying to be easy on myself and remind myself that Rome was not built in day but its hard because on paper I can make budgets that seem so reasonable, so doable yet the reality is shit always happens. I have tried the cash only route as well as sticking to the debit card but truthfully I have yet to find a system that works for me. I do find it works better to take cash with me when I go grocery shopping but carrying cash in general doesn’t always work.

Right now I am focusing on meeting my financial goals for the next two months which includes elder boy’s air fare for both Thanksgiving and Christmas break, paying off a couple sets of back taxes, setting aside cash for auto repairs since inspection time will be here soon and generally with a car as old as ours inevitably something needs to be fixed. There is also holiday related expenses which while we keep gift giving to a minimum and the Spousal Unit and I try not to do much for each other, our focus is on the kids and really on the little one. Lastly there is our trip to NYC to visit friends. I am also trying to stash away a few bucks to do some much needed work in the house since the wallpaper in girl child’s room needs to be replaced since it looks pretty bad.

So I have some goals and while I struggle with the occasional cup of coffee on the way home from work, I am trying to stay focused on meeting my goals. Once the year ends then we will set a new set of goals. I am sure my plans would make most financial folks cringe but I know me and after a year spent studying folks like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, its important for me to find a plan that is realistic to me.

So in case you cared, that’s what’s up with me and my money….besides I figured by sharing this it will help to keep me honest.

So how is it going?

I swear I am not turning this into a financial journey blog, but I have been happy to hear from so many folks in support of this journey as attempt to get a handle on our money. Rather than responding to folks individually I thought I would give an update as well as address some background information that helps to get a better sense of who we are and how we got into this jam since our lives are a tad different from most.

For starters, its going ok. Since my last post, I have made a conscious effort to watch my spending but at the same time we want to enjoy life. Yet we don’t want to spend all our money. So I am putting a lot more effort into being mindful of what the day’s events are and planning in advance so that I can avoid the unexpected expenditures that pop up. The biggest area this happens around is eating out, we always carry water and something to eat for girl child but I am learning to carry something to eat for myself.

Today I had an outing with girl child and we pretty much stayed within the budget only going over by $4. Now I know some of you who are hardcore may be groaning but you have to understand that for me, this is a big step. I also wanted to say in the past I have written down everything I spend, I actually did this at the beginning of the year which is why I know that food is my biggest area where the budget goes out the window.

I am not always clear about this but I am not a SAHM nor exactly a WAHM, my day job is director of a small non-profit and while I am fortunate to have a flexible schedule that means I can do a lot of work at home, I still average 15 hours or so weekly in the office or at meetings. I find that meeting days are the hardest because if I end up in a 3 hour meeting, generally by the time its over I am starving and the coffee I brought is gone. So a great deal of my coffee consumption outside is around my work life at this point. It’s funny because 15-16 years ago that is how I discovered Starbucks; I had an hour commute on the train back in Chicago and by the time I got to work my travel mug was finished and the office coffee tasted like swill, so I immediately latched on to Starbucks. Back then I was doing 3-4 Starbucks stops in a day. I drink nowhere near that amount of coffee now especially as the cost of coffee has risen as my income has dropped.

I also want to say that this weekend, I started making my own signature hot chocolate at home so now on weekends when I need a special drink, I can make them at home. Again, its baby steps.

So why don’t we stay home more? Truthfully because the Spousal Unit works from home, he has an office in our house and prior to me taking my position last fall I was consulting and at my home office. Friends, I love the hubby but when you are trapped in your house all the time with your loved one, you reach a point where you want, no need to leave the house. Oddly enough when I took my job last fall we actually started going out less because having time away from each other meant we were less inclined to feel the need to go out.

Some of our financial issues are directly related to the Spousal Unit being self employed. So why doesn’t he get an outside job? Because he is a journalist/editor and well paying gigs are sparse as hell in Maine, he went freelance when we moved here because after holding the positions he held in the past working 40+ hours a week for local paper not even making 25K was not an attractive option when he could make more as a freelancer. He continues to be a freelancer because even with the loss of clients and income he still earns more than the market pays in Maine.

That said, being a freelancer has its ups and downs, primarily that you don’t always know when you are getting paid. An example would be that he just got paid on a job he did in January/February and its the end of September …this makes budgeting difficult and it was worse when I didn’t work. Thankfully I have a regular paying gig that while I am greatly underpaid compared to what I would earn as an Executive Director in any large city with my background, knowing when I am getting paid helps a great deal.

We moved to Maine 7 years ago and when we moved here we thought it would be cheaper to replace our stuff out here rather than paying a moving company thousands of dollars. So we literally moved here with everything we could fit in a 2 door 98 Chevy Cavalier and 5 years ago we bought a house. Turns out replacing an entire house is more than the money we saved by not moving our stuff and even now after 7 years here there is plenty of stuff we have not replaced. I will say that owning a house, we learned early on that you need a certain amount of tools and equipment for home repairs and management. Until we recently we didn’t even have any buddies we could say borrow a drill from thus making it a necessity to sometimes spend.

Our current house looks like a couple of college kids live here since the only new items we bought new were the couch and the old bed, which was replaced by a friends lovely California King pillow top a few months ago(so glad her new partner didn’t wantto sleep on her previous bed from marriage, it was a gain for us), but as I am learning you generally want to have more than 2 sets of sheets and our old Queen sheets didn’t work at all. So even when I avoid spending large sums (price of a new bed) there are still small costs (bedding and we didn’t even buy a new comforter or bedspread opting to use the old one that really doesn’t fit..who cares, no one is seeing).

I am not making any excuses because the bottom line is even in our time in Maine, there has been too much spending but because up until recently we lived a life where we were always waiting to get paid it meant credit cards were sometimes used to pay bills. While I have never been great with money I can say I never used credit cards to fuel a shopping spree instead being irresponsible with cash which sometimes created a need to use credit to pay bills. Currently we only have 1 house card and I have a card from my job otherwise its cash or debit.

As for shopping in Maine, we lack a lot of the cheaper shopping options that I had access to in Chicago. Super cheap shopping is Wal-Mart compared to the numerous ethnic markets we had in Chicago as well as places like Costco and Aldi. We do have one Asian market near me that I use in cold weather months to save on produce cost.

So that’s my entire financial picture in a nutshell as always suggestions are appreciated.

Getting serious about the cash

I vent a lot about my financial woes here at BGIM, in part because in my day to day life outside of a small handful of folks, I really don’t discuss money at least my money or lack thereof. Granted I talk a lot about class issues especially as they relate to the middle and working class but there is a huge difference in talking class as a general topic or as it relates to my work versus a discussion about the dreary state of my finances.

For the past several years, I have watched our income slowly decline…its funny because I graduated with my masters degree in 2006 and when I started the grad school journey the plan was that our income should grow…only problem was that the Spousal Unit’s income started dropping in 2006 and in 2007 the US economy decided to thwart me and I ended up a casualty of the beginning of the recession when the school I was teaching at decided my department should be closed.

I have sat by for a few years praying and hoping that things would change instead they have only gotten worse. We made some changes to our budget since losing several thousands of dollars a month meant we had to cut back, yet through it all there was one line item that until recently I considered sacred. It was the one item I felt we could not give up. What is it? Full time childcare for the girl. Now I have mentioned over the time that my girl is high energy, I love her but I admit I have often been glad we get a break, the old saying absence make the heart grow fonder!

Well mini me aka girl child is now 4, and old enough to go to a traditional very pt preschool, its only 9 hours a week but she will still get some socializing in and I will get a few hours a week to myself. Now how is this going to work with our work schedules? Thankfully unless I am in a meeting, I can actually bring girl child to the office with me since after all, what’s in my office? Kids. At 4 she is old enough to hang out in some of the programming that is offered by my center and being the head cheese also known as the director, there is no one on site that I report to since everyone who works at the center reports to me. Definitely a good benefit.

The Spousal Unit has created a space in his office for girl child to hang out in when he is working and I am not available, also right now there are only two weeks a month that the Spousal Unit is super busy so the plan is to trade off watching her around our schedules. If I have meetings that are not when she is at preschool, he will watch her and when he is uber busy I will watch her.

I have to be honest this new plan is scary since I am not exactly a SAHM, I have a job but I also have no emergency fund and a stack of extra expenses coming up as well as some bills that need to be addressed. One of my creditors, in fact one of the most pressing ones has made me an offer and with the money saved from no longer paying for ft childcare we will be able to get this huge burden off our backs.

I admit when this idea hit me last year I eventually said no, but this year there is a sense that we no longer have the luxury of having ft childcare, not when we have work schedules that do allow for our daughter to be cared for at home.

So while I am nervous about this change, I am also excited to know we have a viable plan for changing our financial situation for the better despite not having an actual increase in salary. I am reminded that in tough financial times, sometimes we have to think out the box and look at what we really need versus what we really want. For too long I have said ft childcare was a need when for the past year its really been more of a want.

Is there anything in your budget that you think is a need but deep down you know its more of a want? If so what are you willing to change?