Bad Decisions I Have Made

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Yesterday, a reader (Hi Kay! I appreciate you!) asked me if I was overpaying my car payment because it seemed high.

It got me thinkng … I started blogging about finances after I made a pact with myself to stop doing things that were horrible, bad decisions. I’ve still made bad decisions since I’ve been blogging. The big ones were last Christmas when I got more credit cards to use for one holiday and looking for that post made me realize I glazed over the truth. I see myself saying I got an Amazon store card, but I ALSO got a Walmart credit card at the same time. I paid them back off after Christmas last year with the tax return.

This year I got all three kids a group gift for Christmas and then gave them stockings that were donated by a friend of mine. The group gift took one of my credit cards from 0 to max balance! Luckily, it was the card with the $300 balance. I got them the Skylanders game and we wrapped all the little people individually so they all had stuff to open. While $300 probably seems like a lot it is also the least I’ve ever spent on Christmas for three kids. So it’s an improvement for me.

That leads me to telling you about the most recent very bad financial decision I have made. I got the two older girls Kindle Fire tablets for their birthdays in January. I realized it was never on my radar to blog about and then I thought about it a few days ago and told myself no one would be interested. This morning I realized it would be stupid not to tell you I bought my kids VERY EXPENSIVE gifts for their birthday.

Maybe it was becuase I wanted to wait and make sure they were “worth it” before telling you about them.  Maybe telling you about the reading and spelling scores going from Fs to Cs and Bs thanks to educational apps will make it sounds like a less-awful decision. I don’t know. Every time I look at them I feel a little sick but I know that my girls have benefitted from them immeasurably and then I try to tell myself, “Hey, it wasn’t laptops, right?” So then I’m rationalizing my decision. I don’t know if the Kindles were a bad decision or not. I do know I saved $70 on them because I was like, “Sure I’ll apply for the card I won’t get since I just foreclosed on my house.”

Then I was approved. It’s a fee-free card with 3% back in Amazon credit so if I do keep a credit card this will be the one. I set up all my bills that could be put on the card onto the card (Internet, auto insurance, cell phones, renter’s insurance) and have a line item for that amount on my budget that’s {$240 – Credit Card Bills} and it’s actually scheduled for next week’s unemployment payment.

The month we didn’t have food stamps (EBT, SNAP, whatever) was a hard one. We found the local food pantry so several meals were covered that way. We had rice and pasta and ate everything in the house until all that was left was a loaf of funny wheat bread (I just had a slice for breakfast) and ramen noodles (which we will have for lunch) and then tonight I am so lucky we got the food stamp card so Mr. Brickie can go out in this weather (ugh this weather) and stock us back up on our staples. I will be so relieved when I can get back to making real food from scratch but until then we eat what we have and we are grateful for it.

All this to show you what might be my worst financial decision ever. The thing is, when I look at my credit card statements there are very few things that I don’t remember buying and usually when I don’t recognize one it’s Mr. Brickie getting gas. When I splurge I get a $19.99 Whirley Pop to make popcorn because I don’t have a microwave and pop popcorn about four times a week for the kids to take for snacks or to have when they want a snack. Or I get a $10 8″ frying pan because that way we can make five grilled cheese sandwiches at once and eat as a family. I know, it could sound like I’m explaining but it could also sound like I’m just rationalizing.

It’s a fine line I guess.

Life Expenses In No Particular Order
Payment Total Owed Estimated Payoff
Car $495.12 $6,839.49 April 2016
Utilities $195.00 n/a n/a
Rent (Savings) $260.00 $2,340.00 by November 15th
Auto Insurance $88.38 $444.74 renews May 2015
Cell Phones $88.96 n/a
Internet $37.99
$1,165.45
Credit Cards Listed In Order of Payoff
Payment Total Owed
Macy’s CC $25.00 $86.12
Target CC $25.00 $217.68
Amazon Store CC $35.00 $537.72
Walmart CC $25.00 $755.23
Capital One CC $35.00 $1,180.07
Amazon Visa CC $25.00 $2,328.11
$170.00 $5,104.93 <– embarrassingly large number
Money
Cash $81.00
Checking $262.03
Rent Savings $260.10
Emergency Fund $214.88
$737.01

So my emergency fund is looking a bit wrecked because of car problems, but also that direct sales thing where everyone gave me cash, I had to pay with a card, and that’s where the $81 in cash is coming from that’s on my desk.

The IL Tax Refund is going to pay off the lowest two credit cards and the rest will go back into the emergency fund. Then, when I get paid on the 9th from Scentsy that will also go back into the emergency fund and that will bring it back up to about$ 875.

I took my eye off the ball.

The joy of being you (the reader) instead of me (the writer) is you get to armchair quarterback what I’ve done and what I should do going forward. I wish I could go back and unpay those bills from Illinois and just let the gas and electric companies chase me and call me and have that $800 go toward the credit cards. I think, though, if I had I would wish I had done things the way I already did.

Sometimes choosing a path doesn’t mean choosing the better path it just means moving forward.

I am going to get through this. The kids are already signed up for an activity this summer and that’s paid for thanks to their amazing sponsor who I am a huge fan of. I will spend my time and energy on that with the three girls and every overtime check Mr. Brickie gets this summer is going to pound out those debts because we are THIS CLOSE to being out of debt. Overtime checks at his new 60% apprentice level will be big and I LOVE paying bills.

So stick with me through this mucky, dark, gross winter of discontent and poor decisions and you will be able to watch me make good decisions as soon as I can actually afford to.

Also, Miss Kay reminded me of something I want all of you to know….I welcome questions and don’t mind answering them. If you’d rather keep it private than put it on blast in the comments just shoot me an email at jennydecki at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it in a post.

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Working | Expenses | Winter | Where’s My Brain At?

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Last Wednesday we got Mr. Brickie’s unemployment check for $752 and we spent $496 on our car payment and left $256 in the bank.

I had that Scentsy party and sold a whole bunch. Since it was my launch party, I got the hostess stuff from the party, which included 3 half-price items. I wanted to put $130 in savings toward the rent but spent it on Scentsy. Okay, I didn’t spend it all on Scentsy. The three half-price items were about $50 and I spent about $50 on chips, dip, and drinks for my friends who came over. So it’s deductible, but I still spent it on Scentsy-related stuff.

I’m really (amazingly, bafflingly, overwhelmingly) conflicted spending money on stuff when I’m still poor. It’s not a regular expense, though, and Mr. Brickie was really supportive and the conflicted feeling, I think, will keep me from going overboard.

My Illinois tax return status changed yesterday, too, and it says they’re processing my return. I can top-off my savings account once it comes in. We had to use part of it to register and get plates for the vehicles in our new state because we didn’t want to get a ticket and then we had to use part of it because the car battery died and we had to buy a new one.

It was probably not a wise choice to pay off the bills from the old house. I should have let those sit until we were in a more secure position but I got cocky and felt $1000 would take care of us, but then *poof* there goes almost $500 on license plates and a new car battery. Thank goodness for the emergency fund.

At Mr. Brickie’s union meeting Tuesday night they talked about the Jobs Report and the sheer number of jobs that are waiting for the weather to break to get started. He keeps checking in with the company he last worked for to make sure they know he’s available. It never hurts to remind people you’re around!

In the meantime, Mr. Brickie is doing little side jobs painting and I’m keeping track of those payments for next year’s taxes. Between tracking the side jobs and now tracking the Scentsy stuff (stamps, notecards, other expenses) I have more spreadsheets than ever dedicated to not screwing up my taxes!

The move from Mr. Brickie being here 24/7 to being back out of the house is always an interesting transition. Maybe it makes me a crappy wife, but I really ENJOY having the chance to miss him a little while he’s gone. I have a chance to be home, hang out with my youngest, listen to the radio, and write.

Even though he’s been home so much we have bickered so much less than we did last year. We are finally at the point where we are becoming more secure and that lack of panic means less lashing out. Less lashing out is a cycle we are both really pleased with. I mean, we didn’t fight all the time or anything but I’m a nagger and he’s a forgetter and we’ve both worked for 12 years to be where we are now and it’s a good path heading in a calmer direction that we both enjoy an awful lot.

I know this update is disjointed but my mind is kind of all over the place today. I’m trying to get my money ducks in a row and the direct sales thing has me thrown for a loop because I am so worried it’s going to turn into a money pit and I absolutely refuse to let that happen. Oh! I actually set myself up to miss the first possible “award” from the company because the “award” was being “allowed” to buy a $200 enhancement kit. I didn’t want to even have the choice because it didn’t seem like a good deal. So when I realized I couldn’t get it because the date had passed I wondered in passing if I could call and convince them to let me buy it. I looked up YouTube videos on what was in it. I worried about it.

Then I reminded myself that I made a decision from a position of mental clarity and strength because I knew I’d panic and worry I was “missing out” on something. I took a few deep breaths and thanked myself for taking care of me. (Everyone talks to themselves like that, right? It’s normal. I swear. I think…)

I just feel like in the last few weeks everything has kind of become loose. I like to keep my finances and my financial plan very, very tight and locked down so when it feels like any part of it is floating rather than being chained to the floor, I start to worry. It’s not out of control and there is still savings but things are not as clear as I would like right now.

So, basically, guess what I’m doing today? That’s right. Go over everything and make sure it’s exactly how it should be at this time and making sure I have a good handle on where the money is going and where it needs to go and how it’s going to get there.

I’ll share it in my next update, because of course I’m going to do it on a spreadsheet.

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That Rollercoaster Feeling

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When you check the bank first thing Wednesday morning to check and make sure unemployment was direct deposited.

It wasn’t.

Cue my stomach falling to the center of the earth.

As panic rises, I log into the online system and see that – according to unemployment – the desposit is complete and went to the correct bank account.

Not entirely trusting myself, I check the bank account again both on my computer and on my phone. Just in case.

It’s still not there.

I realize there is nothing I can do until tomorrow because it could still go in at any time today and calling a representative from the bank will yield standard timeframes because I don’t think any bank’s customer service is trained to say, “Government payments go through at 9:15am, ma’am.” Even though that would be bliss.

Yes, we have an emergency fund. It’s why I’m able to form words in my brain and send them through my fingers to the keyboard. It’s the only balm that is keeping me from a full on panic because if you have the right mindset for your emergency fund you still feel like you have $42 in your checking account and a long way to go until spring.

On a personal and petty note, I was really looking forward to doing a “How We Spent It” post today.

I will update this post when unemployment goes through. I hate being left hanging, too.

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Budgeting – The Pouty Phase

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After the phase where you write down all your expenses and income and write up your first budget there is a period of a few months I like to call the Pouty Phase.

It’s the adjustment period between knowing where your money is going and learning not to make impulsive purchases you may have made in the past.

No line item in the budget for Starubcks? You might find yourself pouting when you drive by you local coffee shop as you have to make the conscious choice to not buy your favorite snotty coffee beverage.

No line item for clothing? You might find yourself pouting when your friend posts an amazing deal she found online for something just PERFECT for you or one of your kids or someone you would like to buy a gift.

When you realize you can’t afford things, it can hurt a little (sometimes a lot!) when those things come on your radar and you have to tell yourself, “No.”

I can tell you from personal experience this feeling passes. There will come a time you can maybe smile a little passing Starbucks because you are proud of yourself for choosing YOU over coffee. It’s a subtle shift because many people think they’re doing something special for themselves when they buy that yummy tasty treat.

But there are many ways to show yourself kindness and love. You can find a way that doesn’t cost money. You can enjoy things that don’t cost money. It just takes a few months after you follow the budget to really believe that in your heart.

Breaking up with excess expenses is like a relationship breakup (but a lot less painful, thank goodness) it takes time and understanding to get past the really rough parts and even more time and understanding to realize you’re better off without those expenses.

Because if it isn’t in the budget? It isn’t meant to be.

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Public Aid, Preschool, and Money Planning

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Of all the things we spent tax return money on its the final bills from the old house that feel the best. Traditionally, those are things that we poors tend to just leave out in the real life cloud to gather dust and generate collection calls in a year or so. Knowing that everything I owe is in this one nice, neat little pile here (credit cards, normal bills, student loans) is really comforting. I’m sure if I pull my credit report (we will all do that together after everything else is paid off) there will be medical bills on there because providers really disliked using medicaid as secondary insurance after the BCBS policy that is our primary through Mr. Brickie’s work.

Today is the day we go to public aid and finish applying for SNAP in this state. We’ve been without for a month and that’s okay because we’ve been frugal and also visiting the local food pantry every other month (it’s a great food pantry – milk and eggs and bread and veggies – I’m really thrilled with the selection) but once we get back on the SNAP, we can also go to the local trustees office and see what else the town has to offer.One of the reasons we had to wait was we needed letters from Illinois stating we were no longer getting services in that state. I totally get it, I’m grateful the program is in place so I’m not mad about having to wait.

We are THIS CLOSE to not needing any of these services. My prediction is that this time next year we won’t qualify for any kind of public aid and let me tell you – we will celebrate that day. I will never, ever complain about my taxes going to welfare people or people “living off the teat of government” because I know too many of them and most of them work and are doing their best and are very good people. I don’t care if you know that one person who loves being on public aid and doesn’t care. I think part of being a grown up with critical thinking skills is being able to understand that one bad apple does NOT spoil the barrel when the apples are actually human beings.

Our cars are both registered in this state now and the other appointment Mr. Brickie is going to today is for this preschool grant program we qualified for. There was a lottery and Little Sister didn’t make it but she was waitlisted and her name came up as next on the list. So she may very well be going to preschool soon! I was hoping for preschool at the Y so I could swim laps while she did what kids do at preschool but it’s more important for her to stop feeling the constant jealousy at being the only kid in the house not in school.

Yes, I’m willing to sacrifice personal wants for my child. Please, don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to uphold here. Sheesh, next people will say I’m nice or kind or something. Seriously, I’ll lose all my cloud-street cred.

The final thing we have going on this evening is a parent meeting at the school for the 4th grade overnight trip. I’m so excited my daughter is going on an overnight trip. There is a thing that came home in the mail from her school last week about a week long summer camp (did I already tell you about that?) for $80. Shocking, right? It’s federally funded by the Indiana Dunes something-or-other and it’s for all kids, not just the poor ones, to try and increase awareness of the natural landscape and conservation. I’ve also heard it’s an absolute blast for the girls.

So today we are taking care of getting the second car registered, SNAP (food stamps), an interview for a  preschool voucher, and a meeting for an overnight trip for one of the kids. Only half the errands for the day have anything to do with our still-low-but-getting-better income!

Oh! Also, I don’t know if I told you but we got the letter in the mail that Mr. Brickie was promoted to a 60% apprentice! I was super-confused because I keep a spreadsheet of every hour he works and, well, it’s close but my calculations still had him 13 work days away but honestly there is some leeway in the program and for whatever reason he was moved up! That means when he does start working he’s not making $21/hr. anymore, he’s making $25/hr.

It’s going to make a huge difference and, I think, will really give me the opportunity to hack away at debt (especially if he has as much overtime this summer as the Union is predicting) which leads me to a question I need to kind of crowdsource an answer to.

Once we pay off our debt (credit card and car) should I focus on building a 3-6 month emergency fund or should I pay off the student loans? Right now we are on the Income Based Repayment plan and our payment is $0. Mr. Brickie feels we should pay off the loans first but I feel like we could pay off the loans with every single penny if we had a decent emergency fund backing us up. Let me know your thoughts!!

Random thing: Illinois accepted our tax return today so in three weeks or less we will have that refund. I’ll have to decide if it’s going straight onto a credit card or straight into the savings account. Decisions, decisions. (No, we’re not going to do anything fun with it. We’re not quite there yet and I want to keep up the “good decision” momentum!)

Last but not least I’m hosting an online Scentsy party this weekend. So if you’re inclined to enjoy products to make your house smell nice (or in my case mask the scent of a neighbor’s habit) please order through my launch party. Tell your Scentsy loving friends. I signed up to try and basically make enough to fund my own use of the bars since they are the only thing that cover the scent without giving us all headaches the way sprays do or dealing with forgetting to blow out a candle before we leave the house. If you want to participate in the Facebook party you can click here to join the group (I won’t post anything in the group after Monday so it’s not a long term comittment.) If you’re reading this after the 16th and this paragraph is still up, please let me know so I can delete it.

Thanks for your help. I’m really curious to hear what you think about the emergency fund vs. student loan payments.

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Watching the Money Go (fly away, money, fly away)

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There is a pull I feel as I watch my budgeted money drain from my account.

It lives underneath the relief, underneath the feeling of security, and it festers down there. It’s a pull to spend money. The only thing I can equate it to is how someone must feel when they just gave away a whole bunch of chocolate but can’t stop thinking about buying some to eat. It’s a weak analogy, for sure, but I want to do something nice and fun.

The thing is, whenever I *do* get a surprise from a lovely human being (it’s happened twice this week and I’ve been so beyond blessed) both people said to do something nice for myself and both times I used it on the kids. But that itch is there.

At least I’m self aware enough to know that when I tell you what I’m going to spend $30 on and splurge you’re going to laugh. My friend started selling Jamberry nail wraps and I want to support her in her new direct sales venture. I know it has to be tough for her to put in all that time and it would break my heart if her launch party wasn’t successful. She’s an introvert so this has to be tough for her. So I am going to buy a couple of the wraps from her because I’ve known her forever and would support her no matter what she was selling. (You, too, can support her if you like Jamberry nail wraps at http://shinynails.jamberrynails.net/shop ) I assume you’re laughing because even when I give in to spending money it’s something that will help someone else. I feel dumb sometimes that I really don’t think I know anymore how to do something that is JUST for me. I want the best value. The biggest bang for my buck. So why not buy something that benefits me and someone else instead of just buying something that benefits only me?

It feels wasteful.

Oh, I have a question for you. I was thinking about using the term “blessed” two paragraphs above and was on the fence because I’m not a particularly religious person and I certainly don’t identify as so religious that I would wish someone to “have a blessed day” or to every say the phrase “too blessed to be stressed” but I think that the term blessed has seeped into regular english as the feeling of being grateful but in a very specific way. So I’m using it here to represent a feeling rather than trying to say that God called these people to help. I don’t know if God called them to help, they didn’t tell me.

Now we are down to about a hundred left in the checking but I’m not worried because I finally have an emergency fund! That $1000 is going to just sit over there in the savings account. The next How We Spent It will happen on the 18th when Mr. Brickie gets his next unemployment check.

Unless he gets the call to get back to work before then! That would be our preference, obviously, because work pays a hell of a lot more than unemployment. The project he is slated to go to when the weather clears is downtown so he will be able to continue taking the train to work which is great for commuting expenses and keeping our “commuter car” from getting driven into the ground.

I know we made good decisions and I’m sure the deep, mildly uncomfortable feeling I have that sounds an awful lot like a little voice in my head screaming, “GO BUY YOUR KIDS EVERYTHING!” will pass soon.

Making good financial decisions is a mental muscle that needs to be worked out, worked on, and built up. No matter how strong you are, however, sometimes our muscles quiver and feel like they’re going to give out. I use this blog to keep me accountable. There is no shame in the light. I don’t hide my nail wrap purchase because I’m not ashamed I’m “wasting” that money because the support I’m giving my friend is worth more than money. I don’t do splurges like that often.

Oh! I meant to tell you about the STEAK I had. Neighbor Daughter watched my kids for a few hours and we used a gift certificate we were given for our anniversary to go to a steakhouse and have an amazing dining experience. It was so nice to sit with my husband and just talk about everything and nothing and joke about our kids messaging us on Skype the whole time we were gone. We are really lucky that we had someone watch our children for us on New Year’s Eve (New Year’s Day is our anniversary, so we try to get out on NYE so we’re celebrating on our anniversary every year!) and then again we were able to go out last night. Usually we get out and have a sitter about twice a year, so twice in two months is amazing for us!

Every time we are finally alone it’s a wonderful reminder that we really are part of a team and we are stronger than we were last year (and the year before that, and the year before that) and we are done sinking together and now it’s time for us to start rising together.

There is no one I would rather do this with.

Through all of this mess of finances and bad decisions and weird luck and everything else I’ve never lost sight of having some very important things money cannot buy. Having those things, I think, allowed me to keep my composure and resist the urge to become bitter and blame someone else (or the government, or the man, or the economy) but it has also made me so much more humble and that has allowed me to see the choices of others in a very different light.

People do not make poor decisions because they do not care. I really think everyone truly does the best they can with the information they have.

So the final chunk of money from the tax return will be gone when the landlord picks up his check on Monday and I will be able to throw away that post-it note (remind me sometime to show you what my “budget wall” looks like) and move on from all the old house stuff and start moving forward with traction to the next portion of our financial lives.

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How We Spent It – TaxMas Edition! (big money, no whammies!)

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how-we-spent-it-TAXThere are lots of important things in the world. Almost all of them are more important than money. Love, respect, caring about other people…all of them more important than money.

That being said, tax season is really important to my family. What we do with this chunk of money will speak to all financial decisions through the rest of the year. It’s like the financial version of your significant other saying something stupid and the split second it takes to decide if what comes out of your mouth is understanding or the next step toward a fight.

This year we are in a new state in a new place and I want to make sure we make the best possible decisions. While our foreclosure was emotionally devestating, it was also a gift. A chance for a do-over. A path where this new job turns into a new, modest-but-fully-funded life. One where maybe, someday, we could go on a family vacation. (We’ve never done that.) I’d be happy with a mini-vacation of a weekend in a hotel lounging by a pool.

Maybe next year.

My federal refund is $9,061. A king’s ransom. A huge sum. So much damn money it’s like winning the lottery. You can be sure I have already spent it in a thousand ways in my mind. I’ve taken my family to Paris, Egypt, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. We have stayed in hotels and B&Bs and cabins. We have gone swimming and sightseeing and to amusement parks. I have bought them game systems and bikes and wardrobes.

It’s like a teeny-tiny version of “what would you do if you won the lottery” but every decision is one I could make here in reality. Every joyous moment that would translate into months of pain and fear and not knowing how the bills would get paid.

The most important thing I do with our tax return is spend it on paper before it hits the bank account.

On paper, I have a list of every place the cash is going to go. There will be no new clothes, no trips, and no bikes at this time. No computers, no swimming, and no sightseeing. While I feel a pang at every one of those realizations, I know that I’m sacrificing now for a better life later. Getting my ducks in a row is painful and not super-fun, but it needs to be done if I’m going to give my girls stability when they really need it.

The kids at this age are still fine with books and games and time with mom but soon…soon there will be more expenses and more comittments and I need to be able to take care of those with more than a sad look and an, “I’m so sorry.”

Mr. Brickie is on unemployment right now which is barely enough to take care of the bills even after the rent is pre-paid. That’s okay, though, because everyone is predicting a boom year so he should start working sooner than last year and work more overtime this summer.

A regular budget is almost impossible with his work schedule, so we are aiming for a savings account that will take care of Christmas and the girls’ January birthdays as well as Nov – Feb rent and a “Winter Fund” that will supplement unemployment in winter.

I have a savings goal for the year. Once the savings goal is met then I’m going to move on to paying off credit cards. The savings needs to come first so credit cards don’t get used for Christmas or birthdays this year. I need to break that cycle because it’s a horrible feeling. I barely bought them anything for Christmas so I didn’t have to spend too much but still, a little managed to get to a credit card.

We won’t know if we qualify for food stamps here in our new state until the 9th. My husband has a phone interview that morning and then we will collect our paperwork, turn it in, and hope for the best. I’ve been collecting recipes and planning meatless meals to try and stretch our money as far as possible.

We are doing okay. We will be doing better when he’s back to work.

I feel very mature and grown-up making sure we get those old bills from the old town paid. I don’t want those following me around forever no matter how much I’d rather use that cash to pay off credit cards.

Here is how I spent it!

tax refund spend 2015

I still need to replace the crib mattress (*cringe* I know…) that’s on the bottom bunk with a twin mattress for my youngest. That is the main reason I’m leaving that much in the checking account. Also, softball registration for all three girls is coming up and it will be $130 for all three kids for the season. Yeah, not even my cheap “want to do better” butt can pass up that deal for a team sport experience like that for all three kids. The bike path a block from my house goes right to the softball field. It’s a mile away. We can ride there together.

It’s worth the money, for sure.

OH OH OH I almost forgot to tell you the best thing happened! We had planned to pre-pay our rent since almost before we moved. It seems like a good way to stay stable without worrying about scary things like not having a home. Two days ago our landlord texted us to let us know if we paid a few months in advance he’d give us a discount of $25/mo.! If we paid the rest of the lease to November he’d give us an extra $25 discount. So not only am I paying off my lease to November, I got a $250 discount!

It seriously felt like I won the best prize in the world at that point.

When Mr. Brickie is back at work I can focus on saving for

  • Nov-Feb rent ($260/mo.)
  • Christmas (I haven’t figured this out yet even though I know I should have.) and
  • Birthdays for three girls.

Then I can start paying down/off credit cards from lowest to biggest and rolling the minimum payments into the next one “snowball method” style. Also, we are still expecting about $900 combined from state returns, so that will go toward something, too. Probably fixing Mr. Brickie’s $500 commuter car.

Also? We only owe about $7,300 on the car and the payments are about $500/mo. so I have a feeling if it’s not paid off with overtime money this summer? It’s GONE come next year’s tax return.

I don’t know about you, but I am SO excited to see where we are at this time next year! If everything goes well we might just be spending a week or two in Las Vegas hanging with the girls’ grandmother.

We’re really getting there, friends. Really and truly. I’m so happy you’re here with me for this part. It’s the part we bet everything for years ago. I’m almost crying just thinking of how close we are to real stability.

Thank you so much for hanging with me for this.

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Patience | I Am A Strongman

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Patience is a muscle.

We are born with no patience and squall the moment we have a need. Lucky for most of us there was someone there to provide for those simple needs. Food, clean diaper, close contact, sleep. We cried for these things and they were magically delivered.

As we grew we learned patience. It was a hard lesson to learn because young children want everything right now but eventually begin to understand caregivers have needs, too. The muscle begins to get toned and defined and we are able to wait in line for lunch without running madly to the lunchlady and insisting on being served first. We wait our turn.

I think the most difficult part is when we realize patience is a choice. We can get a credit card and buy something we want right now, or we can save up the cash and buy it in a few days/weeks/months. We can date someone for years or we can get elope in Vegas. Almost every decision we make has an opposite choice that can be made and in many cases one of those choices requires patience.

When Mr. Brickie and I realized we hated marketing and couldn’t participate in an industry we disliked so deeply, we realized it was going to causea huge problem financially. In order to come out the other side unscathed, we needed a plan that involved years of patience. I don’t think either one of us had ever done anything before that required YEARS of patience. It takes years to go from a 40% bricklayer apprentice at about $17/hr. to a Journeyman at over $40/hr.

Years that would see us lose our house and move to a new state. Patience, we learned, does not mean sitting silently in wait like a crouched tiger ready to strike. It can also look like chaos and failure and fear. Patience can involve transition after transition and you weather them all, knowing the goal is still farther down the path and requires still more waiting and breath-holding and furious scribbled charts and lists of incoming and outgoing cash.

In the middle there are other decisions that require patience as a choice. I have not always been successful in flexing my patience muscle. I still have $200 in the savings account from the fundraiser but I signed up for a credit card because after a cash-based low-cost Christmas I had no spendable cash and couldn’t look my kids in the eye and say, “No birthday gifts for you guys, sorry, maybe next year.”

Should I have been patient and made my children understand low budget Christmas AND low budget birthdays? Yes. Very much so. Am I happy I got $70 off my Amazon purchase and now have a credit card that gives me 3% cash back on Amazon purchases with no annual fee? Yes. Very much so. It means the other credit card will get paid off and put in a drawer somewhere because it only has 2% cash back. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m rationalizing my decisions so I can sleep at night or if I actually make good choices. Patience can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re sitting alone in the middle of nowhere and the only voice you hear is your own echoed back to you in distorted, low tones on the wind.

Patience is lonely, sometimes. I can’t go to fun events because my money has to stay in my bank account for rent or a car payment or gas and electric. Now that we are in between states and cancelled our food stamps (SNAP) in Illinois we don’t have an appointment until February 9th with Indiana and we might not even qualify because I’m just not as well versed with the public aid system here in a state I didn’t grow up in or become poor in or live poor in. In the meantime there is the food pantry we can go to bi-weekly and we are grateful, but nervous.

Patience is anxious when you start to make six quarts of tomato sauce with a pound of ground beef so the flavor is there without the expense. It is anxious when you want to sign up for the low-income YMCA membership but have to be patient because you won’t be able to afford even the drastically reduced rate until after the tax refund comes.

It might sound like I hate being patient, but I don’t. It is an active form of meditation. It is a chant in the back of my mind, “Good choices now will give my children a better life later.” If children learn what they live, mine will learn that losing everything does not destroy you. Starting over is not a curse. A budget is like a bonsai tree – shape it and gently guide it but do not be hasty or make large changes suddenly. I keep my budget taped to the wall next to my computer.

Patience is an antidote to financial shame. Spending money I don’t have to go out with friends and family might feel good in the moment but will create shame later because something else will have to be ignored or skipped because I made an impulsive decision. If I keep everything open with my family and even with you, my dear financial friends, then there is no shame because you can only shame me for my secrets. You could judge me if you wanted to, that’s okay. You can even take a moment to exploit my situation to make you feel better about your own. (You know, that whole I appreciate my legs because some people don’t have any. As if a person can’t appreciate legs without someone legless having to help a girl out.)

I’m fine if my situation makes someone else feel better. I’m thrilled if my stories help another person to make a budget for the first – or fiftieth – time. I have to tell you, though, patience can make time just hang and then suddenly you don’t remember any of the waiting and all the little memories are gone, too, lost in the memory of the waiting feeling.

I’ll be damned if I ever let myself forget how low the lows felt and how high the highs felt.

Even if I have to go back and read it to remember.

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Catch Up or Give Up (or Welcome to the New School)

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Since we moved, things have been much different. School, especially, has been a hurdle we all have had to climb much more quickly than we thought. I’m going to let you in on a secret…people in Illinois do not think people in Indiana are getting a kick-ass education. Now, I’m not here to speak to the whole state and I can’t even speak to the whole school my kids are in but I can tell you in the two classrooms my kids are in they are getting an education that far surpasses their previous education.

Which, friends, is a double-edged sword.

I had to give a Friday Night Lights style pep talk (I miss that show forever and always) to my kids at the end of week two at the school. They were overwhelmed, their grades were all crap because they weren’t used to grades at all (previous school gave E for exceeds, M for meets, and P for progressing toward goal) and they didn’t know what to do with the Cs and Ds and even (I seriously almost fainted) Fs my kids were suddenly coming home with.

I steal all my best pep talk jamz from Coach Taylor. 

Even though I was terrified they were going to pull my kids out of the High Ability (HA) classroom and put them into the regular classroom, the first thing I had to acknowledge was that, if they did, that was okay. Don’t get me wrong, I nearly cried when both kids tested into the program because Oldest Sister is strong in reading and weak in math and Middle Sister is strong in math and weak in reading and I didn’t know how it would work if they only tested strong for their preferred subject and when I was informed they were both going to HA I was absolutely thrilled (who wouldn’t be?) and hoped we could bring up their weak subjects without turning my house into Brave New World or The Giver or some other awful place where children only do what they are supposed to and never have any fun.

I realized while I was in my pep talk that it really was okay if they ended up in the regular classroom. Of COURSE it was okay. But only if we made the effort – first – to bloom where we were planted.

Big Sister brought her grades up within a month. The hook of my speech was, “We only have two choices. Catch up or give up.” Big Sister had taken it to heart and I think everyone in her class being really kind and helpful made it easy for her to decide to catch up. The entire district has a philosophy to keep the same class together from 1st grade though middle school, so these kids kind of know they have to get along because they’re going to be together for years. It forms close bonds among children and parents alike because the class has it’s own identity as it passes from grade to grade. So it was fairly easy for her to catch up.

Middle Sister, on the other hand, struggled. She forgot to turn in a couple assignments and it was the end of a grading period so her report card had two Fs on it. She was getting run down. She had never felt any kind of educational adversity before. Everything has always been so easy for her and it was hitting her hard. She cried. She looked tired all the time. I ended up holding her and stroking her hair a lot when she just couldn’t do one more thing. I asked her if she wanted to give up and every time she would say in this quiet, sad voice, “No mommy, but I do want the hard part to be over now.”

“Soon, baby, it will be over soon and you will be so happy.” You know every time I said that I prayed with every cell in my body I wasn’t lying. I prayed that it would be over soon. That she would catch up before she just couldn’t take one more step. I had her read out loud to me and  I would read her the same paragraph out loud and then have her read it out loud. Back and forth for a half hour a night. I signed up for a free account on www.spellingcity.com and had her do extra spelling practice a half hour a night. It started to work. She brought home a C+ and then a B+ on her spelling tests. She was reading with a little more fluency. She was starting to get a foothold.

Then we had a setback. A big one. They do timed fact practice at school. 100 problems in 4 minutes for now and I think they go faster as the year progresses. Every one would come home with an F or a D- on it. She was stuck. She didn’t know what to do. She was getting bad grades at math. A great deal of her personal identity is based on being great at math. My confident child was handing over papers and saying things like, “I don’t understand. I know all these. I just can’t go any faster.”

My heart broke.

I told her, “Well, you know your times tables, so the problem isn’t your knowledge it’s your speed so I need you to know first, last, and always that how fast you can do math is never a good way to judge yourself. These sheets are to help you memorize the times tables to the deep marrow in your bones, like they were part of your skin, little memories tattooed in your brain forever. This is not a test that judges how good you are. This is a test to help you be better, even if it feels like you’re failing, every time you’re remembering a little more.”

I’m paraphrasing myself and it was kind of a long speech. I talk until I can see the kid’s eyes focus back on me and hear what I’m saying. I may say the same thing ten ways until one of them hits the target and my kid really HEARS what I’m saying. I talk in a gentle, almost hypnotic voice because if I yelled it all none of it would stick. My kids aren’t horses and I don’t plan on breaking their spirits!

So when this came home today:

I’m not even going to lie, I got misty. Like, almost started bawling right there.

I made sure Big Sister heard my speech about the hard workin’ B and how important it was even she got in on cheering Middle Sister and being as supportive as she is able. I mean, she was fine, not mean or anything but I can’t even tell you how happy Big Sister is to be The One That Is Good At School™ since it has been Middle Sister’s title for so long.

Big Sister has bloomed since we have been at this new school and Middle Sister has experienced things that are not easy. Who knew two girls could get so many maturity-boosting lessons in 9 weeks?

Today, I signed them up for a softball camp. Three Saturdays of hitting, stealing bases, learning about sportsmanship and doing whatever other cool things softball players do. There is a big sports culture in this town and even if my girls turn their eyes to books and drawings I still want them to try and experience as much as possible so they have fewer “what if” moments as they get older. Middle Sister is loving the board game club she is in now and has applied for the next session. Big Sister has signed up for a coding workshop that starts in March.

Today is the first day I finally stopped holding my breath because today is the day I know both of my girls not only chose to catch up, they followed through and are going to be okay.

Breathing brings me great happiness.

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Same Situation, Different Year, Different Situation

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This place is familiar.

The place where the taxes are finished and on hold to be sent as soon as the government will accept them. The “pre-spending” list written over the course of the year and ordered most important to least important done. If there is a list, there is no giddy sense of overwhelm and no moment to savor. In order for our financial plans to work we must not forget we are poor just yet. We must keep the mentality of “cannot afford” and “we can’t right now” long enough to make our momentum last.

The place where Mr. Brickie laid off and has it on good authority the next job starts “in a couple weeks.” Last year a couple weeks turned into July. It was awful.

Even though a lot of the phrases and timing is the same this year, it’s also a lot different.

The tax return we are expecting is larger than any I’ve ever received. There will also be a portion dedicated to the emergency fund so I can stop using credit cards for emergencies. If I do not pay off the credit cards with the tax return, I’ll do that through the course of the year.

The job front is different in two respects. First, Mr. Brickie has more contacts and more understanding about how the season works. The job starting is one where the foreman really likes Mr. Brickie. Likes him so much he sent a written recommendation to the apprentice coordinator. Also, Mr. Brickie isn’t going to wait and hope like he did last year. He’s going to get out there and get work.

In the meantime, he has applied for unemployment and that gap in employment he had before he started the training program for becoming a bricklayer hit us hard in terms of unemployment payments. The first time he got $272 every two weeks. The second time he got $320 every two weeks. This time (after the waiting week) it will be close to $800 every two weeks.

I think the difference between last year and this year is really striking.

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