Happy August!

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I’ve used You Need A Budget for a month and it’s been wonderful. I thought I was doing fine with my spreadsheet and my forecasting and all those changes. I felt like having to track every single penny would be awful and make me feel strangled with details. On the contrary, it feels like we could do so much  more with the money we had. I can look and see exactly how much we spent on groceries in July without calculating anything.

It’s great.

There is a change I made to Wednesday’s How We Spent It. I took $40 off of the overpayment to Capital One and added it to a brand new “Other Kids’ Birthdays” category. There are two birthday parties in August and making sure we have those covered will ensure we can send the kids with a gift. We can even pay with a credit card like Target for 5% off and when it goes on the card, I pay immediately with the money in the category. No more revolving credit trap.

Mr. Brickie says there may be rain next week Wednesday which means no work for the day. He wants to maybe go do a side job after work for two hours a day to build up an extra day’s pay. I told him that as much as I would work him into the ground because I’m not him and that’s easy for me to ask for, I have a conscience and don’t think that’s a good idea while he’s working six days a week.

He’s feeling good working six day weeks, but if he passes the point where he no longer feels good he can’t scale back. So it is better to take the Wednesday off and relax during this overtime period to make sure he stays rested and healthy.

It killed me to say it. I don’t want to make him feel like getting excited about paying off debt is bad, but I can’t risk his health. He’s working 48 hours a week. Bricklayer work. Outside. In the heat.

I have to keep him healthy for the rest of summer. He has a whole month of at least 48 hour weeks coming up in August heat. There’s no way I can let him do 10 hour days on top of that because that will take away from his relaxing time, his sleep time, everything.

He’s more important to me than debt payoff. I mean, it’s a classic goose with the golden egg scenario. Appreciate the golden eggs, don’t get greedy and kill the goose.

He said he would think about it. He thought I would high-five him and holler, “Yes, please!” and I think my reaction confused him. Understandable, because it certainly confused me!

We fluctuate now. We have these moments of peace where we aren’t stressed out and worried about money and our future. They’re pretty fleeting but they exist. Those moments are also addictive. We want more of them and we want them as soon as possible. He wants to just go whole hog and I feel like I have to be responsible and keep the slow and steady wins the race perspective.

It’s going to be so nice when we are down to the one card. I told Mr. Brickie if we had eighty-three cents left over at the end of the month I would send it to the card. There wouldn’t be any question of, “Where should it go?” because there is only one option.

Oh, to be debt free. Ah, well, we’re getting there.

Last night I had a dream I ended up with an unexpected windfall of 2 million dollars. The whole dream was about trying to give away 1 million as $14,000 individual gifts (so I wouldn’t incur further taxes beyond the taxes I would have to pay from the windfall itself) and how I would get the money to people. It was a really good dream.

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Bigger and Maybe Longer Windfall & How We Will Spend It 7/31/2015

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It’s Wednesday. I’m early on the How We Spent It so it’s really a How We Will Spend It. We get checks on Wednesday but they’re dated for Friday but CapitalOne360 lets me deposit on Thursday and clears the check on Friday which is fantastic, by the way. So I have the check and am posting about it today even though I’ll deposit it tomorrow and it will be technically spent on Friday.

Whew.

Timing is the most difficult part of personal finance for me.

That being said, let’s begin!

Wow. Wow! WowWowWow!!!

Remember in the last post where I said that Mr. Brickie’s boss was happy with him and there was this vague, out-there possibility he could get bumped to 70% with a raise?

It was on this paycheck. It already happened, we just didn’t find out until today. That whole conversation was to prepare him so he wouldn’t be shocked when he saw his rate was ≈$4 higher per hour.

Holy Crap!

So his 48 hour check (yea! overtime!) was $1171.93 – the first time he’s made over a thousand dollars in a week since that one week he worked 60 hours last season. I’m totally blown away.

BUT…

It’s only for this company. He is still a 60% apprentice officially until he has the hours to be 70% for real in about two months. Mr. Brickie thinks this is an incentive for him to stay with this company because bricklayers are becoming hard to find and when bricklayers become hard to find, good quality bricklayers get paid not to leave for another company that might be closer to home or whatever. (Lucky for me, Mr. Brickie has been going to all those union meetings since the beginning where the old timers talked about the “good old days” during those lean years when he started so he was able to remember some of those stories for me!)

It feels wonderful. I feel like we have been given such a gift. Yes, it was his hard work and positive attitude that got us here, but he had to be at the right company at the right time around people that noticed and were willing to pay him more for that hard work.

I want to climb on the roof and scream #SOBLESSED all non-ironically and then laugh at myself for doing it. Mostly because you know I would actually scream, “HashtagSoBlessed!!!” as all one word. I mean do it right or don’t do it at all. Of course if I did I would probably fall off the roof and become one of those living warnings of what not to do when something goes good in your life.

The goal with the money bump, of course, is to pay off credit card debt.

Friday when this check clears I’m paying off the amazon store card and then starting to pay off the oh-so-old capital one platinum card that’s at just under $1200. If I can get that paid off then I’ll move on to the “put my bills on it” amazon visa card.

The overtime most likely won’t last past August 19th (it’s a school gig and that’s the first day of school) so I’m trying to cram as much debt-reduction as possible into one month’s worth of supersize checks. If my (never been right before because something always comes up) Excel forecasting spreadsheet is right I should be able to get the CapOne card paid off by the third week of August.

Obviously I will have to put my awesome future food subscription on hold because I need that cash for debt payoff. I cannot justify $255 extra dollars a month no matter how much I love it. I might be able to get by with 2 weeks worth a month and if I can we might be able to squeeze that into the regular grocery budget. We’ll see. If nothing else at least I know it’s awesome and it works and in the future when we’re more financially stable, I can revisit the whole idea.

So…on to how we spent it…

July 31st $1,171.93
Groceries $150.00
Gas $80.00
Restaurants $40.00
Amazon payoff $379.80
middle sister dentist $275.00
ipass $160.00
Capital One CC $87.13

As you can see we have those Middle Sister cavities to fix in August that I need to fund with this 5th check of the month so we’re putting aside that $275 to cover those out-of-pocket costs.

If something unexpected comes up, I will steal from the restaurant category. I know we shouldn’t even have a restaurant category while we are getting out of debt but you know what? We are going to eat out once in a while so it’s better to accept it than not budget for it.

A refresher on apprenticeship: Apprenticeship starts at 40% and goes up 10% every time you
1) work 750 hours
2) Attend union meetings
3) attend training sessions

100% apprentice = Journeyman = Journeyman wages. The percentage is the percentage of the prevailing journeyman wage you make. So, if journeyman wage is $50/hr. a 40% apprentice would make $20/hr.

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Planning and Lamenting and a Mini Windfall! 7/28/2015

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We received a check from our former home insurance company for overpayment. Windfall! I used it to pay off the Walmart store card. This Friday when we get a check + overtime I’m paying off the Amazon store card. That will leave us with just the two credit cards.

It looks like Mr. Brickie is working Saturdays through August 19th. If he does, I should be able to pay down the Capital One card by about $500+ because all the extra is getting thrown there. I’m excited to see what his paycheck looks like this week because it might actually be over $1k and that would be so awesome!

You Need A Budget has given the Mr. and me a way to see where every single penny was spent in July and he’s been a champ about logging transactions he makes (gas, soda) in the app so it’s categorized. Being this diligent about where our pennies are going makes it seem like we have a lot more pennies.

I still use the Excel spreadsheet for forecasting but now I can look at what I planned vs. what actually happened and make better changes in the future based on what our family actually spends.

In work news, yesterday Mr. Brickie said to me, “I’m really hesitant to tell you this…..”

I was like, “OH NO WHAT ARE YOU FIRED?”

He laughed and said, “No…but the supervisor says I do work better than my percentage and he’s going to talk to someone about that.”

I said, “What does that mean?”

He said, “It means that IF he remembers and IF the guy he talks to passes it up the chain they COULD decide to bump my apprentice level early. It’s a thing.” (Quick Reminder: Those apprentice bumps come with a $4/hr. raise.)

Holy crap! Of course, it might not happen so I’m not getting excited, but even just knowing that someone feels he’s doing such good work means the world to me because that makes Mr. Brickie feel so appreciated and special that he’s happy and works even harder.

If it did happen it would be a hell of a boost. Going the way we are now (without a magical, early bump) it looks like he’s going to promote to the next level (and raise) at the end of September. A couple months head start would be a really big deal for our family.

I’m not betting on it but I’m so, so proud of my husband. He works so hard and always gives his best. Sure, he forgets stuff sometimes. Sure, sometimes it’s important stuff and it drives me nuts. Even when he drives me nuts, at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade him in for anything.

Oh, the other thing that’s happening with the “bonus check” at the end of the month? Setting aside $275 for Middle Sister to get cavities filled. I’m pretty crazy about making sure we all brush and floss twice a day and Middle Sister was slacking. We had a talk and I showed her the budget and showed her what couldn’t be funded because she felt two minutes was “too boring” to brush. I told her to count dollars with every brush because this could have been prevented. The same thing happened to Big Sister last year and she hasn’t had a cavity since. My fingers are crossed. (We would all brush together but we have a very small bathroom. The three girls can’t even brush together, really, without being totally squished together.)

I’m excited to see how much the check + overtime is. I can do approximations with calculators online, sure, but when overtime is involved it gets a little funny. I do my best and try to underguess. It is always easier to find a place to put extra money. If you plan and get less it’s much more difficult to cut back.

It’s summer. Time to catch up on some things! The “wish upon a star” goal is to have the cards and car paid off before the tax return but the “might actually be able to manage it” goal is to pay off the cards before the tax return and the portion of the tax return that doesn’t go to rent will pay off the car. I’m aiming for the wish upon a star goal because better goals get better results!

A major part of how we do is going to be based on how much overtime Mr. Brickie gets, so I can’t get too attached to any goal because it’s up to the weather, the project manager, and other things that aren’t in our control.

I’m a little nervous about Christmas, but if we have to have one more low-rent Christmas like we did last year then so be it. I’d rather get the finances under control and have money for the kids when they really need it later instead of digging ourselves deeper over some toys they won’t remember.

I’m trying to let myself off the hook so I can stop worrying about Christmas in July. I realize that’s a little over-the-top, even for me!

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On Food and Fooding and Always About Money

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Now that we’re off the public assistance and I’ve been tracking our spending with that You Need A Budget program (happy birthday to me!) I’m able to tell you right now we are going to spend right around $1000 for food this month. Right now we are at $713.47 for groceries and $122.05 for eating out. For our family, $122.05 represents eating out four times this month. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. When I see it as once a week it seems both good and bad depending on how you decide to argue it. I’m not sure. According to the May 2015 USDA food cost guideline numbers we are still hitting on the low end of spending for a family of five.

While we were part of the SNAP program our benefits for a family of five ranged from $426/mo. to $892/mo. the changes did not really mesh with income changes so I have no idea about all that. When we moved to our new, more conservative state we received $19/mo. more in assistance than we had been getting in our former state. I was surprised.

Also, our income would have kicked us off the program in either state. It wasn’t because of the move. I feared that might happen before we moved here but it didn’t. Also, the people in the offices here are so nice and so helpful it was downright confusing.

Back to food spending. This month I have budgeted $150/wk. toward food. At the end of the month, the budget will let me know how much I should budget for next month. There is, however, a $255 sneak attack that’s made our grocery spending as high as it is.

The groceries are what they are. I don’t buy name brands and we are about to cut down a lot on breakfast stuff because one of our big expenses this month that will roll through to next month is Soylent.

Yes, Soylent.

You might remember the Kickstarter back in 2013 (I do! I do!) or may have read the book or seen the movie (Fun Fact: Soylent is named after the book, not the movie. It actually makes a difference.)

It’s a nutritionally-complete food replacement.

NOT a diet.

A way for Mr. Brickie to have a decent breakfast. I have been researching it online (especially in the /r/Soylent forum on Reddit) to make sure we do everything we can to make it a smooth transition. Mr. Brickie has been skipping breakfast (bad for someone who has a physical job, no doubt) and, well, I’ve literally dreamed about not having to eat since watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (what? that wasn’t the message of the movie?) so it has it’s uses for both of us.

We will wean on slowly, of course. No jumping in crazy-style. Mr. Brickie will start on Saturday morning in case there are any gastro side-effects he won’t deal with them while he’s at work. I can start Friday morning because the package arrives Thursday and you have to let it sit in the fridge overnight for best results.

I’m not doing it to lose weight, I have been getting out of the house to the park and the pool and playing with the kids to try and stay active and healthy. I want to stop worrying about food. There is not one food I can look at and feel completely good about eating anymore. There’s always some flaw that makes it not a good choice. It’s really stressful. I see it the way I see getting off of Facebook. Walk away completely for a little bit and when you come back you can see things from a better perspective. Get a little distance on the issue.

Plus science is fun. I’m not going to lie. I’m so excited.

I will still eat solid food. After that month I was vegan and then couldn’t drink milk anymore? I know doing something funky can have long-term ramifications. So I will still eat food. Heck, I can even put stuff IN the Soylent if I want to make sure I get some chewing in (to release those lovely digestive enzymes) because it’s not a diet.

I see our grocery bill dropping in the areas of breakfast and lunch, but especially breakfast. I’m terribly picky about breakfast and the whole “can’t drink milk” means cereal is a distant dream of my past. I was eating Costco croissants and muffins but those are too greasy. I just want to not eat but not be hungry. So, no we will buy less of those things and the kids can have cereal and fruit and if I want fruit I can still have fruit and it might just work out.

You will be the first to know.

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Quick Note: July 17th, 2015

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I’m never really sure if the decisions I’ve made with the budget are the right ones.

But it’s almost 9pm, the kids are asleep, it’s finally quiet. There is a storm outside and the falling rain on the window-unit air conditioners is loud but calming and we finally caught the downstairs neighbor at home to tell him to take the battery out of his beeping smoke detector. Well, we asked him to change the battery but let’s be honest it’s probably not getting changed right away. As long as I don’t have to spend another night with a distant *beep* reminder every minute I don’t have much of a preference.

Maybe it’s the rain, maybe it’s the quiet of the kids being in bed but really…I think everything is going to be okay.

More rare a thought, however, is that I think it’s going to be really okay sooner than I originally thought. Overtime means hours and hours mean he moves up the ranks faster which means a raise faster which means breathing room faster.

I’m also looking forward to going to bed because the rain is my favorite thing to fall asleep to.

Pleasant dreams.

How We Spent It | July 17, 2015

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Are these posts becoming boring?

I feel like they are starting to drag since it’s the same thing over and over. We are becoming boring. (Which I’m THRILLED with, personally.)

July 17st $650.92
Groceries $150.00
Gas $80.00
Rent $140.00 Deposited into Rent Savings Account
Gas/Electric $184.00
Restaurant $35.00
Sitter $50.00
Leftover: $11.92  Put into Back to School Fund

So that’s that for the 3rd week (out of five) of July. I’m putting the extra toward Back to School because I need to fully fund that next week. We want to be prepared in advance and use cash – not credit – to take care of those back to school expenses! (Our goal is to put aside $350.)

The restaurant category in the budget includes take out, of course, but it also includes things like soda if Mr. Brickie wants to stop at 7-11 on the way home. The sitter is something that came up recently (we pay our sitter well) and is something we want to keep as a regular budget item filled with enough for a night out just in case!

We are still floundering a bit as we find our footing on everything that needs to be funded. One off expenses here, there, and everywhere seem to keep creeping up and reminding us that we forgot something or another. It’s really overwhelming.

Don’t even get me started on Christmas. We are determined beyond belief not to use credit cards for the holidays. Seriously. Determined. If we pay cash for Christmas we might be able to eradicate all our non-student-loan debt with next year’s tax return. That would put us in an amazing position. Amazing. We could make such progress!

Progress like…

  • Saving for our next car.
  • Fully funding our 3-6 month emergency fund.

I’m sure there are other things like fully funding the Rainy Day Car category or one of the million other savings categories in the budget program. Those up there, though, are the two main goals once we aren’t in a bunch of consumer debt.

It’s this back and forth between where we are at right now and the future. The future projections change so fast it feels like whiplash. This is the first week money I budgeted has some sitting leftover in the category and I put the new week’s money in and I’m wondering if I should leave the money alone and just have a surplus sitting there or move the surplus somewhere else.

I think I’ll leave the grocery surplus (it was only $21 from last week) until the end of the month, and the fuel surplus maybe I’ll move over to the car repairs rainy day fund.

Or I could leave all surplus money where it’s at until the end of the month and then use all of it to pay down credit card debt.

I think I’m being guided by my need for new windshield wiper blades on my car, which is probably not the best way to make long-term financial decisions.

Mr. Brickie is working Saturday as a make-up day for the Monday he got rained out (they call it a make-up day because he won’t get overtime since it’s a replacement for a day they couldn’t work due to weather) and he also let me know overtime is starting soon. So, really, who knows what next month is going to look like in terms of the budget. As much as I want to pay down credit card debt I think it’s best to let it stay stagnant while I fund Christmas as soon as possible. Or maybe not. I hate interest charges.

I don’t know.

I should also pay off the car as soon as possible to free up that huge car payment that will help me pay down debt faster.

I don’t know.

All these paths lead to the same place so, I guess, it doesn’t matter if I don’t know as long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep paying everything down/off. Nothing will make more than a few months’ difference in any direction, will it?

Actually budgeting for a sitter is some kind of milestone, I’m sure of it. Planning in advance? I am beside myself with glee. It makes me feel like I’m being a real grownup in the best possible way. It’s a little embarrassing to complain of debt that needs to be paid off while putting money aside for eating out but it is going to happen and I best budget for what’s actually going to happen instead of hoping for the best and then Mr. Brickie is hot and tired and he just wants to pick something up on the way home for the family and what am I going to say? No?

I could say no, sure, but no way man. I’m about balance. I’ve had my nose to the damn grindstone for so long I barely have a nose OR a grindstone left. If I don’t build some chinese food into the budget now and then the whole family is going to rise up and then there will be anarchy.

You can deny yourself and your children nice things for years. As the queen of hand-me-downs and staycations I can attest to this. Kids can grow up happy without designer labels or flashy vacations. Sure they can. But if they want egg rolls every once in a while? If they want a new game to play? You can only say no so many times. You have to build some flexibility in the budget no matter how much you want to be debt-free because if you have a plan – like ours – that takes time (with apprentice promotions, etc.) in addition to focus and hard work you have to pace yourself.

The future is the goal, yes, but today is also for living. The balance of today and tomorrow is the tightrope I walk. It is a path lined with egg rolls and regret.

Can you tell I’m hungry? How many times can I mention egg rolls in one post? I don’t even want egg rolls. Weird.

Salad Recipe

I’m adding a recipe because I’m hungry and this is what I’ve had for lunch every day for the last two weeks because it’s delicious.

  • One romaine lettuce heart chopped to hell and put in a small mixing bowl.
  • Half a cucumber chopped all to hell
  • Two slices of turkey breast cut into squares.
  • 1 Tablespoon grated pecorino romano cheese (I keep the hand-held crank grater in the fridge in a ziplock baggie pre-filled with cheese chunks for convenience.)
  • A few shakes of pepper.
  • Dressing of your choice (I usually do italian but occasionally do ranch)

It’s REALLY good.

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Finally got YNAB (You Need A Budget)

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Once upon a time I was given YNAB as a gift by the super-kind creator (Jesse). This was many versions ago and while I loved the idea of living on last month’s income there was no way that was going to work for us. Blah, blah, blah excuses, excuses, excuses later I shelved the idea of using YNAB and went back to pens, paper, and Excel. .

The truth was much more simple than all the excuses I came up with. I wasn’t ready to make the paradigm shift to looking honestly at today’s money. I couldn’t. It was too overwhelming. When I purchased (with my birthday money) version 4 a couple days ago I have to tell you I was worried I was going to mess it up again and this time I would have paid $54 for the privilege. (It’s $60 list price but I used the discount code on the YNAB website for 10% off. Also, lot of other bloggers and vloggers and whoever else have affiliate links for 10% off, too, so head’s up that’s a thing.)

I attribute my ability to understand all this not just to being willing to actually look at where today’s money is going (because let’s be honest I was doing a form of that with Excel and have been for years) but also the education. I’ve been through three of the live classes and watched two of the not-live classes and have really been able to understand how to USE this program in a way I wasn’t able to “get” on my own or through the forums. It has a lot of thing built-in that I would have to build myself if I were to accomplish the same thing in Excel and – again, let’s be honest – I’m good at Excel but not “let’s reinvent the wheel” good.

I’ve picked up additional information from the forums both at YNAB and Reddit (/r/ynab/) and have found that YouTube videos are also helpful for figuring out how to input things and track things and why I want to have categories a certain way.

Moving from Future Focused to NOW Focused

I have a solid plan for the future. I’ll have to revisit and tweak that plan when we start investing but that’s not going to happen for a few years so there’s nothing to do before that time but learn. Learning doesn’t need a line item in the budget, it’s just something I’ll do.

What I needed was a way to put all my stuff in one place and not worry about it being monthly, annual, quarterly or whatever. Stuff like Amazon Prime memberships and car registrations and the other things that were overwhelming to think about when.

Things are still really tight here financially and we can’t fund a lot of those line items yet, but summer has only just begun and there is much income still to come in (even though it looks like there isn’t going to be any overtime for Mr. Brickie this summer – boo, hiss) and now that I have YNAB I feel really confident about where all of that money is going.

In addition to a $1000 emergency fund I’m creating a buffer so I can pay all my bills on last month’s income. I have a little category (I call them buckets) that I pour extra money into in order to build up that one month of expenses. Once I have the buffer and the emergency fund in place the next step will be…um…either a 3-6 month emergency fund or paying down debt or funding Christmas. Probably paying down debt. I know many people pay down debt before doing the buffer or the emergency fund.

It’s up in the air at this point. I figure if I do the buffer I can always change my mind and user the buffer to pay off debt. It’s not like the money goes anywhere if it’s in the buffer. It just hangs out being all secure and safe.

But maaaaaan,  as much as I want to make those awesome debt paydown decisions, seeing the Christmas line item every time I log in is a good, albeit painful, reminder that I have six months to figure out how to stay far, far away from the credit cards for Christmas this year. If I start funding it THIS WEEK there are 24 weeks to get some savings in before the day happens. Yikes.

While I was doing something like this in Excel, the YNAB program was just what I needed at this point in my finance life. It makes everything easier so I can just deal with allocating the money to where it needs to go. Categories that show running totals for savings accounts … I recommend going to YouTube and searching for some videos. If you have questions you can attend a live class and ask your question or ask on the forum or on Reddit or I’m sure there’s an email where you can get support, too.

I feel a sense of accomplishment that I am at a place in my budgeting life where I can use this tool and it makes sense and it’s helping me get the cash allocated in an effective way that lets me relax at night knowing I’ll have next year’s car registration taken care of when the time comes.

Whew.

Money Update

A side-job check ($400) clears tomorrow and here’s where it’s going:

  • Groceries:: $61.61
  • Gas: $65
  • Buffer (to bring it back to $100): $16.53
  • Chase Visa: $236.86 (internet, cell phones, renters insurance, comcast, scentsy website, finance charge)
  • Union Dues: $20

I’m still rocking a zero-based budget which is why groceries is a funny number.

The next check will be a wonky, partial week check from bricklaying and I’m not 100% sure how much it will be. Fluctuating income is tiring. (I am pretty sure that’s the same level of obvious as, “the sky is blue” or “water is wet” *sigh*) But this is the time. The time of the year where we do our best to catch up on everything and get ahead. Even when it’s tiring and even when it feels like we don’t have enough money we’re doing better than we were last year.

Now I have a tool where I can determine if I’m actually making progress instead of just feeling better about paying all the bills. Thank goodness.

All this? All this is so I can be in a position to worry about plots and characters and backstories when school starts. I need to free up the parts of my brain clogged up with numbers and bills and worry and fear. Clean it all out so I have a fresh brain to write with.

Even if I fail, at least I’ve improved where we are at and how we track things. I think.

Or maybe it will show that I’m stuck in a holding pattern that has been years in the making.

Which is, of course, my worst fear.

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How We Will Spend It Tomorrow & July 2015 Net Worth

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Our bank updated the depositing rules and it looks like *fingers crossed* Mr. Brickie’s check is going to (GASP) clear on Friday.

Available cash the same week he gets the check? I am…..amazed.

Thank you CapitalOne360 for getting your depositing act together. This pleases me greatly because it makes all the budgeting nice in that way a five check month does. Where you can use that fifth check and feel really good about making some progress on…something. Anything.

Since June 1st there was a small raise, an increase in union dues, and – I think – we moved into a new tax bracket? (I don’t actually know how to check that.) All those changes resulted in about $18 more in his check net over a check with the same amount of hours from May.

File that under every little bit helps, right?

We have come up with a new overall budget plan here at Chez Decki where the first check of the month goes to the car payment. That way it’s out of the way first. Neither of us are entirely sure this is a good idea, but at the same time it isn’t a bad idea, so we are going to roll with it until further notice.

Check: $738.94
Car Pmt: $495.12
Living Expenses: $250 (gas + tolls + groceries)
Surplus: -6.18 (negative sadness!)

So, living expenses get reduced to $243.82 and we go on with our week.

Next week will be a short check due to rain on Monday and being off on Friday for the holiday. Yes, he gets holidays off. No, he doesn’t get paid for them. It should be fine because next week’s bill is the autopay bills + auto insurance ($225 minimum) so maybe we will have a little extra to send to the credit cards finally!

July 1, 2015 Net Worth

I haven’t calculated our net worth in a while. Assets minus liabilities. Easy peasy. Okay. *take a deep breath and hold it* (just kidding, don’t do that, you might pass out)

Total in savings/checking (including rent savings and insurance savings and what’s left of emergency savings): $2000
Plus the value of the cars: $13,000 (kbb.org) & $500 (for parts?)
Minus liabilities (including student loans): $81,500 (yikes!!)
Net Worth: -67,000 (ish)

It’s still better than it was and honestly that’s not the worst number in the world. I mean we won’t be selling the car so it’s not like that car value is liquid but we’re going to be able to get rid of that in not a hundred years.

Also this probably shows why I set the student loans off to the side as the thing to conquer once everything else has been taken care of. Adding it in now just seems silly when in just a couple years Mr. Brickie will be making almost twice as much and as long as I’m careful with the spending and we don’t raise our standard of living by too much we will be able to take care of those student loans in a couple years from start to finish.

I know throwing the numbers together like that is fairly haphazard but I have the exact numbers in a spreadsheet. I just get a little leery about giving to-the-penny numbers too often. I’m not sure why. I don’t think any of you would try to steal my identity but at the same time it would be silly to trust my exact numbers on the Internet, so I try to keep a balance.

Overall Feeling Going into July

Every time I feel myself chomping at the bit to gain traction (“Faster! Faster!” I cry as I whip the already frothing galloping horses into a panic.)  I have to remember part of the journey is Mr. Brickie’s as he progresses through his apprenticeship. Our once upon a time totally insurmountable income problem has diminished over time to the point of being not only surmountable but something we occasionally get giddy about. The closer it gets the more actual amazement we feel.

Sure, this was all part of the plan but I still can’t quite believe it’s actually working. Did I think it would work? Yes! Did I also feel like that much confidence was misplaced? Yes! The only way to go was through, however, and so through we all went. It’s overwhelming when I stop to really think about what we have accomplished in the last few years.

But now is not the time to relax and enjoy. Patience and focus are what we need to get through this part of the journey. It won’t be as difficult as the last parts (not by a long shot!) but it will still be rough waters come winter if we don’t store some nuts. Seriously, I love a truly awful mixed metaphor. I’m just trying to say that being complacent now could set us back farther than we would like.

We’re in the “just don’t screw it all up” portion of the program. As long as we don’t make any serious blunders we are totally on track to the middle class. Hell, we might already be there for all I know. We are a dollar-ish below average for construction work right this second, so maybe not. We’re close. We’re so darn close.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Independence Day. (In case I don’t post before then. If I do, I’ll just say it again.)

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Outside Focus – A Birthday Story

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When I’m really stressed out, I try to ignore my feelings.

Sure, I’ll tell you what’s wrong if something specific is going on but you will, inevitably, have to listen immediately to my plan for solving that specific problem. I am a problem-solver of the highest order. Years of practice and execution of plans has made me efficient and confident. There are very few times I get thrown a curveball I can’t hit. It might not be a home run, but it will get me on a base, at the very least.

I’ve spent much of my married life … well … probably much of my life-life but have you ever noticed how it feels like when you get married there’s a kind of starting over that happens? Like, I’m this person now instead of that one (with a new name and everything) and maybe I started judging that as my new and improved starting point to erase the mistakes that happened before. As if this new woman with a new name had a whole different way of dealing with problems and wasn’t just the same person with a different driver’s license photo.

So back to married life and me spending most of it anxious out of my mind. A husband that went from being a pizza guy to a painter to a coffee slinger to a barista to a financial advisor. It didn’t start that way. It started with me working in insurance and him finishing his degree. I was actually that wife that worked while her husband finished school. I had heard about them but never actually realized how that whole thing would look like while it was happening. It looked a lot like anger if you were me. Especially if I came home and Roller Coaster Tycoon was on the computer monitor. I was neither kind nor forgiving early on. Mostly because I was scared out of my mind about the house and the bills and the money and this husband-interloper who felt it was his money too! How dare he! (I’m mocking myself, here, I know I was awful.)

Then he had a degree and we were so happy until it turned out – surprise! – to be totally not helpful at all in getting him a job. So he ended up with a string of jobs he wasn’t too fond of. I was fired from Allstate for being atrocious at customer service and started working from home. Next is the “famous among family and friends” story of the two hours I lasted at the Disney Store in the mall. The only thing I am worse at than customer service is customer service in a crowd.

In retrospect, I should have seen the failure coming a mile away but you would be amazed at what I can convince myself I can do if I just don’t wuss out. If I power through my anxiety and confusion and just do the damn thing, I am sure I’ll be great and of course I’ll get used to the physically debilitating symptoms of overwhelming fear I feel in situations where I have to deal with strangers in a crowded, loud setting. I can do anything! Except then I can’t and I walk out and have a panic attack and I’m sitting on the floor in a bathroom stall in the mall on my phone crying and begging my fiancee to let me quit. The fiancee that may have warned me against taking the job in the first place who was rather confused I needed his permission because we totally do not have that kind of relationship but I just needed to know it was okay, you know? That he would still love me even when I was failing so spectacularly.

Really, I’m so bad at timelines. I thought the Disney Store debacle happened after the Allstate debacle but for some reason I know we weren’t married when I was at the Disney Store so they can’t be related.

This is why I can never write a memoir. I can’t keep track of time.

A journal? Of course I have journals from before we were married…from before we even dated….sure the information is probably in there. But then I would have to read them and there is about a zero chance in hell I’m going to do that in the near future. I’ll let my kids read it when I’m dead and they can marvel at how unhinged their mother really was.

Look, kids! Look at all the coping skills your mother didn’t have when she was young!

It will blow their minds.

I’m trying to get to the good story about the budget. I don’t have a good transition. This will have to do.

I will always remember the day I wrote down our bills on a piece of paper. Then I wrote down our income. (I didn’t even know this was a budget at the time!) The number in the bills column was bigger than the number for income. This is why I’m so understanding of friends I know and readers who have never set up a budget. I remember wondering why I had never thought to do that before.

I mean, I had even read Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey (that I received as a gift from a Christian radio station when I donated $10 to give orphans in Africa a well for fresh water, I kid you not) and I still have that book and I remember reading it and thinking, “This is for people who already HAVE money.”

Figuring out how people made money became an obsession. I wanted to know what everyone did for a living and I spent more hours on the BLS than I care to admit – even to myself. There are so many jobs that people have that no one tells you about. It’s like a secret system where people randomly find jobs they end up at. It felt like a lottery until we found the unions and, eventually, bricklaying. As he went through training I had this feeling that things were going to get really difficult but they would be so much better after the bad part. On the heels of this moment of clarity was when I toldl Mr. Brickie, “I don’t want to work. I want to take care of the kids and, beyond that, do whatever I want with my days. I want to find a job for you that will take care of all of us and I’ll make sure our lifestyle doesn’t surpass that salary. We’re going to find a happy medium. Oh, and by the way? We’re totally going to lose the house in the process. Let’s talk again after you have a few days to be okay with losing the house because I know it’s important to your whole man-pride image.” (We had some conversations about feeling like a failure and what real failure was and taking steps backward and forward in the interim but we were back to focusing on HIM so I was all good with that. HIM is outside of ME so it was a fine thing to focus on.)

Some of you have probably heard me say, “I don’t have a passion.” That’s because I couldn’t afford to have one. All my neurons and synapses were dedicated to not being homeless. They were all dedicated to keeping my family safe. They were all dedicated to things OUT THERE instead of my inner world. How can I decide what I want when I have to figure out how to feed my kids?

So now it seems I’m starting to be able to take little peeks inward instead of feeling like I have to focus on everything else around me and balancing it all so it doesn’t come crashing down like so many spinning plates. I feel calm in a way I didn’t think was possible.

Which is funny because I was told recently (in writing, my reactions were at my screen not in person) that I was going through a transition and I took a mental step backward and said to myself, “Who? Me? You’re talking to me?” Here I am, safe and calm and feeling totally chill and someone is telling me I’m in a transition period? It amazes me how sometimes people with the most book learning are the most unknowledgeable when presented with a real-life case study of someone in a stable place. Also I know this whole paragraph sounds like something I made up. You can just disregard it because it was a long story that ended that way but I assure you none of it was about me transitioning to anything but a deeper state of contentment.

One of these new and fun peeks into myself (sounds dirty but it’s not) let me see that my decision to start actively writing when my kids are all in school for a few hours a day is absolutely the right decision. I don’t have a genre in mind, I’m going to just write for anthologies and submit and see what sticks. I’ll edit and revise before sending, I don’t mean I’m going to throw a first draft at anyone. That would be gross and mean. But I’m going to see where my talent and interests intersect. For example, I know after writing sexy stories professionally for marketing purposes. So I may be very good at that kind of writing, but I do not enjoy writing those stories, so you won’t see my name in the erotica section anytime soon. I’m on the fence about horror because sometimes I don’t sleep well after I write those stories. I look forward to seeing all the different genres I can try to write for and seeing how well I can do.

Even if nothing comes of it just doing it and trying and being free to write what I want and have fun with it means the world to me. It will be like giving my mind and my heart wings and letting them soar free without worrying.

That freedom comes from years of learning how to budget, learning how to make things happen automatically, and having a plan. Also, I’ve learned to be patient. Things don’t get amazing overnight, they take time and effort and hard work. I won’t write something amazing on August 20th at 7am when my kids get on that school bus. I will be able to look back on that date and know that is when I started down the path but that path will start with research, not writing. Also, I have been writing stories in fits and starts for years, so I’m not really starting from scratch, I’m just choosing to be dedicated to it like I’m dedicated to budgeting and finance now. It’s like I’m giving myself a first-day-of-work start date.

Instead of constantly seeing everything in terms of opportunity cost, cause/effect, and problems/solutions, I feel the bonds of my brain cracking, see the dust fall from squeaky, unused hinges as the door to my imagination finally begins to open again. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to focus on, say, the shades of brown on my desk or pay attention to how the light hits my blinds. Daydreams have been my enemy for far too long and I look forward to letting my mind play.

I should probably put this entry aside and edit it later to make sure I don’t sound silly or completely off my rocker. If I do put it in mothballs I know I’ll probably never share it and it will live forever in my Google Docs Drafts folder. So you can have me the way I am. Slightly edited, proofed for spelling (I hope) and mostly raw but free of Salmonella.

Thank you. To those of you who have shared birthday wishes online, directly, and otherwise. I have to tell you….40 is so much better than 30 was. This might actually be the best birthday I’ve ever had. Not because it’s so amazing, but because it so does not need to be amazing. A bakery cake and my family is all I need today. I can look inside my heart and the emotions are not fear and anger and panic. Today my heart is filled with love and contentment and joy. I have fought for these feelings and they feel like a gift to myself.

What I have is enough.

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One Step Backward, Two Steps Forward (Finance & Fitness)

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I finally got another date night! We got a sitter and Mr. Brickie and I went to a local fest and hung out in the beer tent and watched a couple bands. We ran into people we knew and it was a great night. Seriously, we had so much fun and it reminded me I’m not getting out of the house enough.

Between you and me, I know I’m not going to get out of the house until August when the kids are in school again. It’s okay, there are only (Google prefills the date when I type in “how many” because Google knows I want to know how many days until school starts. Google knows…) FIFTY ONE days left until all my girls are in school.

This day has been a long time coming.

My oldest has sleepaway camp next week, so I have to shop and pack her for that this week. I’m nervous and have watched probably a hundred hours of “What I Packed for Camp!” videos on YouTube. Go do a quick search and you will understand my brain is basically liquified now. Especially the “Here are my four boxes of makeup” campers. Like, no. Just…no. It’s all very cringeworthy, but it’s also helpful, so I keep chugging through them.

There is a lot going on outside and in the lives of people I know and people I love, but I just have this little bubble of drama-free calm here at home. All roads point toward having time to write and take care of myself and the family this fall. We have all worked so hard to have this level of stability for our family. Even the kids did their part and accepted the move with grace (not perfect grace, there was an adjustment, for sure!)  and use email to talk to their old friends and use different means to talk to their new friends.

I’ve been off social media now since the 14th or 15th of June. I should probably check my Facebook profile because I put up a message letting people know (the one time I just deactivated my account people thought I had unfriended them) and, I can tell you that after two weeks? It was a really smart decision and it has been really relaxing. I check in VERY briefly every few days to make sure I don’t miss any huge news or invitations to events. There was a home party I was invited to that I couldn’t attend yesterday because my oldest was SO SO sick and asked me to stay home, so I did. She’s all ten and trying to be grown up 99% of the time so if she wants to cuddle with her mommy because she feels gross? I’m all over it.

I feel so calm these days.

There was a part of me that wondered if I would miss the drama and the stress and the last-minute nature of how our finances were during the transition. I worried I had been scared and planning for the worst for so long I wouldn’t be able to just go with the groove and enjoy it when the easy part came.

Lucky for me I discovered something amazing.

When I’m not stressed about budgeting and finance I CAN turn that focus to something else. I’m eating a low fat diet now to keep my gallbladder stabilized as much as possible. I am finding it pretty easy to stay within my calorie goals for the day and I don’t stress eat. So I’m just using MyFitnessPal to track and I’m trying to get up out of my chair every chance I get. I feel good. I know it’s not sexy or dramatic but I’m okay with that.

It’s so much easier to say no to the “fun foods” when you are in a position where you really and truly know you can have them anytime you want. I didn’t even have funnel cake on our date night to the fair because there will be other fairs. That is truly a mind-blowing statement for me to make. It’s my food thing. I love them, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I’m honestly shocked even writing it. Those are the kinds of changes not being quite so poor has brought on. It’s amazing because I used to think it was a weakness/failing of character/willpower thing, but now I realize that it really was rare we would go to a fair or carnival so damn right I would get the funnel cake. It’s not just the five bucks for the funnel cake, either. It’s the price of getting in or rides or games or whatever else a day at the fair entails. Last night for my birthday date we spent a hundred bucks. Admission to the show, beer, his elephant ear (don’t get me started – there are funnel cake people and bad people and my husband sometimes forgets) and paying the sitter all add up.

Knowing things are just going to keep getting better? That allows me to relax and make better food choices without them feeling like a punishment. It’s also made me a lot less tolerant to people who bitch about the food choices of the poor, but hey, I think that’s been happening for a while.

Mr. Brickie got rained out of his job this morning so he’s driving over to a sidework project he has in the works and is going to work on that today instead. He’s also off on Friday for Independence Day so he’ll work there on Friday too. Any other day he might get rained out he’s going back to it as well. It’s nice to have the cushion of a backup job.

Two more days of softball and then the season is over. Middle Sister’s team came in third in her division. Big Sister’s team came in second in her division. Little Sister’s division doesn’t do tournaments. Middle Sister’s favorite game was against the special needs team because it was all teamwork and having fun with no competition. The games on Monday and Tuesday are just make up games and have no bearing on the season at all. They all had a blast but being out in the heat that much has them on the fence about doing it again next summer. We’ll see. I’m fine either way as long as there is something they are involved in. The more kids they are around in different situations the stronger their skills will be as adults. Mostly I’m just trying to raise kids that don’t want to cry when they find out they have to do a team project in school like I did. Maybe if I just nurture them enough we can bury nature under a pile of kid rubble.

That analogy sounds unnecessarily violent. It’s probably just latent stress from the memory montage summoned up by my brain as punishment for mentioning team projects. *shudder*

This month has flown by. (Not being able to remember a week or so because of that gallbladder thing probably helped. sad-LOL) I wonder if July is going to fly by as quickly?

I hope your summer has been great so far!

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