Category Archives: Budget & Finance

Update on 2014 Goals So Far

march-calendar

Whew! January was one heck of a month.

We scrambled, we worried, we fretted all over the house. Money-making ideas were batted around left and right and center. We researched ebay, etsy, craigslist, and other options of doing things to bring income in for winter.

Honestly, the best thing we did was write.

I wrote articles, Mr. Brickie wrote articles, and we banked cash in Paypal.

It looks probable at this point we will be able to pay our bills in February. It’s not 100% yet, but it’s looking good. The car payment is always the kicker.

I also have to do the taxes today. It is a time I both love/hate because with the kids and the working and the not having a lot of money we usually qualify for both the child care credit and the earned income credit.

This may be the last year we qualify for the earned income credit! I will be excited to see it go. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t give it up in a heartbeat in exchange for making enough in income to not qualify. Income is always better.

I have, of course, a list of things we have to buy with the income tax return. Not a big list, there’s not going to be that much. Credit cards that I opened in a panic right before Christmas so my kids wouldn’t be totally denied gifts are going to get paid off first. Then I’m buying tires for the car because it’s winter and they pretty much have no grooves left and riding around on almost-bald tires is really, really not smart.

Oh, and let’s not forget I have to save first month, last month, and a security deposit if this whole “fixing the mortgage” thing doesn’t go through. I swear, just when I think it’s official and we’re going to be foreclosed on and have a sheriff at our door throwing us on our butts we get another letter asking us to get in touch. We do, and some other process starts.

That can’t last forever, though, so I want to make sure I have enough money in a savings account that we don’t end up in a homeless shelter even for a minute. I’m just being practical. Or I’m being totally pessimistic. Either way, it’s going in savings so I can sleep at night!

Other than writing the only other thing I’ve been doing to add to the piggy bank is mTurk. It’s a crowdsourcing program through Amazon.com and I basically take surveys for money. I know, I’m making it sound like a survey site, but there are other tasks as well like transcription and article writing. The pay is horrific in most cases, so don’t go there excited that you’ve found a way to pay your bills. I use it for stuff I can’t afford like when I had to buy a new keyboard for my laptop because mine was broken. It’s the emergency-stuff that’s not really an emergency fund.

Mr. Brickie doesn’t have the patience to be a turker. I can’t complain. He has done the bulk of the January writing and I could not be prouder.

Well, to be perfectly honest, it took a lot of talks and pleading and manipulation and smiles and frowns and going barking mad to help him see that him doing the bulk of the writing in January was really just the best idea in the whole wide world.

As for me, I’ve got a new partnership set up as someone’s copywriter and I look forward to seeing where that takes us. I set up an about.me page but I don’t think that really highlights my skills.

In the meantime, I’m researching how all those super-successful bloggers are doing things and looking for ways to improve my reach. My biggest problem is that I’m not a niche blog. I talk about finance and relationships and food and health and wellness and everything else. I don’t really want to have six blogs so each one can talk about that ONE thing and nothing else.

I guess I just think that defeats the whole purpose of having a blog. My blog is a pretty accurate representation of who I am and I’m looking for friends. Like minded bloggers and people I can feel safe with. People I can smile when I see the name on my Facebook feed or read about their latest adventure. I’m looking for people and I don’t think I’m going to find them with six highly niched blogs.

Maybe I’m wrong. It happens once in a while.

What do you think? Is your blog in a niche? Where do you put the thoughts that don’t fit? Do you think I could just get away with a really great category system?

The Weather Problem (or, he has a job so can’t get another)

winter-trees

This is my first winter as the wife of a bricklayer.

Since this follows the rainiest, no-workiest year of bricklaying ever the work leading up to this winter was spotty until he found His Company. (His Company is a term I’m using to mean the company he is the #1 apprentice for and will work as long as there is a job. It’s a good place for an apprentice to be, especially with a company that has regular work lined up.) Obviously circumstances could happen that could make it necessary to work for a different company, but his goal right now is to work through his apprenticeship and become a journeyman working as exclusively as possible for this company.

Since he has only been working fairly regularly since June and was in training for ten weeks before that his unemployment is crap. It won’t even pay the car payment.

I’ve been doing what I can with writing articles and doing some crowdsourced projects, but it’s created the old “when I work and you don’t we are both crabby” problem we’ve experienced a few times before.

The Problem

Even though we recognize there is a problem and we know how to fix it there is this mental block. He can’t get another job without burning the bridge when he quits. No one will hire him knowing he will be gone come Spring. He also has the pride that comes with having a job he loves and is good at. He has the pride that comes from going to the Union meeting and having people tell him they’ve heard nothing but good things. He has the pride that comes from choosing a career.

This makes him almost impossible to deal with because “all the other bricklayers” have saved up and get unemployment during the winter. There may be a little pouting but it’s that macho pout that looks more like an angry glare if you don’t know better. I may have also poked him in the belly to make him laugh to test the theory. I do not fight fair.

 

He wants me to not work so much. He knows I’m happier when I’m taking care of the kids and managing the household (finances, organization, parenting, etc.) and he’s happier when I’m doing all that because he feels everything is in balance. Unfortunately, I have this panic that lives in my soul. The panic of knowing unemployment isn’t enough and I don’t know if I can make enough to keep the whole house running and if I do make enough that means I’m spending no time with my kids. None. I give up all the things I love.

So my problem is trying to balance doing enough work to pay the bills while still having time left to do all the other things I need to get done.

The Solution

I don’t know. Do you have one? As far as I can tell “suffer for a couple years” is what apprenticeship is all about. I mean, if he was a young pup living with his parents being young the apprenticeship wouldn’t even be a hardship. It’s not something designed to take care of a family on, even if his lowest apprentice wage is still far and away above minimum wage.

He is doing some work. He did a lot this morning before I even woke up and he let me sleep in, so I’m certainly not in a complaining mood today. It was a nice break and I had good dreams so woke up in a great mood. I just wish I could wake up with some kind of inspiration that would give me the answer for how to get through this winter.

I know that the way to avoid this next winter is to save some out of every paycheck to add to the unemployment when it happens next year. I just don’t know if we will be able to save enough in addition to paying off the credit card debt we have now. I mean, we owe around two and a half grand in credit card debt total, it’s not a king’s ransom, but since we have to save first/last/security with the tax return, I don’t know if there will be enough left over to pay it all off.

It would be super nice if it was, though.

In the meantime I’m taking care of balances and he’s working on getting the car payment together. We have some paperwork from the mortgage company that we have to address. I’m hoping he will take care of that. I really don’t want to deal with it.

It makes me very, very sad.

Our Next Steps

The only goal we really have is to get through winter. I am reading One Thousand Gifts and it is reminding me to be thankful regardless of if the situation is easy or difficult. Yesterday I read Hunter S. Thompson’s advice for living a life you love or having a purpose or some other thing and it reminded me that I get to wake up next to my husband every morning and that’s exactly the kind of life I adore.

So I’m also happy.

Basically I wander around my house being a giant mood-swing. When I notice I’m doing this I warn my husband by saying, “All work and no play makes jack a dull boy…” Because nothing says, “I love you, honey” like quoting horror movies while your’e acting all weird and broody!

Most of my problems are the “should” variety. I should be working more, he should be working more, we should be doing better, we should be working harder.

I’m shoulding all over our lives.

He checks Craigslist and the job boards daily. He’s stopped in at local businesses asking if they need help through the winter. We aren’t sitting around doing nothing. Not by a long shot. He does not want to sacrifice his integrity by lying about why he wants a job to a Walmart or Meijer and then have to call off if there is one good weather day and he goes back to his “real” job. Because we can’t sacrifice this long-term job opportunity for a few weeks of stress relief at minimum wage. It would be a very bad idea.

Do you have any suggestions?

Merry Christmas and Stick Around for 2014

Finance-Small-CircleI’m working on my writing style being less “lecture” and more “oh girl I have to tell you something” in order to not sound like I’m trying to tell anyone else how to live. I never, ever want you to think I’m trying to tell you the best way to do things for you or your family.

Our stories are infinite and have an infinite number of choices. Oversimplifying someone else’s life is a fast track to being judgmental and wrong. (See, that was telling you what to do. But I’m telling myself, really.) Even the poorest, dumbest person I could picture in my mind has a deeper life than we could imagine. Every person has a range of feelings, emotions, moments they cherish, moments that make them cry in the dark.

While I’m thinking of it, here are a few posts you might enjoy:

Of course there is one of my favorite blogs, Poor As…Folk. I make sure to read this one on the regular. Everything from policy to recipes are on this blog.

My friend Michelle picks a word for every year. Mine is “Debridement” you can click the word for the long definition but the short definition is the cutting away of dead flesh so a wound can heal properly. I’m streamlining my life. I do not need thousands of friends, I do not need family members who only know how to take and even when they give it is for selfish reasons. I do not need to be judged except by friends who do so for my best interests. Want to pick a word? Here are some tips and some other words that aren’t nearly as creepy as mine!

My New Year’s Resolution for 2014 is to be kind. I want to make less assumptions and take people for what they are. I want to be more relaxed and just kind of “lazy river it” through life for a year. I’m so tired of fighting and scraping and making seven hundred plans so there will never be a gap in our security.

I’ll happily warble more about debridement and kindness and resolutions after the holidays pass. I’m kind of excited to look into it. Also, I want to talk more about having grace in a non-religious, everyday context.

I know it seems kind of weird that my resolution is to be kind while my word of the year is to cut away dead flesh. The thing is, when you keep people around you that have you “on guard” all the time, you can’t be open and relaxed enough to be kind. You’re always on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Also, if it seems that weird, we just need to get to know each other better. I’m like that. 

Bottom line I’m going for a kind but firm approach. It’s the way I parent and that’s turning out pretty good so far. Why not apply that to my life?

I hope you have an abundant and stress free Christmas.

Because I may be poor and I may not know if I’m getting my Food Stamps next month but by golly I’m going to have a completely drama-free holiday filled with love, happiness, and no judgment. Talk about something worth it’s weight in gold. I truly hope, from the bottom of my SOUL, that you have the same with your people…whether they be family, friends, or a group of strangers meeting for the first time.

I pray you are blessed by your God(s) and I hope you are as happy as you can be. Truly.

Merry Christmas.

“Teacher Gifts” would Bankrupt Me!

Last night my kids wrapped teacher gifts for their teachers.

One gift for the main classroom teacher and one for each math teacher because they both go to math for an hour a day. Also because they are math teachers and I think that deserves a yearly prize because it’s awesome.

My kids were wrapping and having fun and using all my Japanese Washi Tape (<– Look! I figured out how to use Amazon affiliate links!) and I was starting to feel bad. I knew they had more teachers and here I was only taking care of one more than the bare minimum. In what I can only call a moment of total insanity I got all bubbly and asked the kids, “Hey kids…how many teachers do you have a week?”

They went down the list and it looked like this:

TEACHER-GIFT-HELL

I left off room moms and the other volunteers because I was like, “Oh, let’s not go all overboard, now.”  I also only added the one vice-principal because I’ve interacted with her many, many times. I totally left off all the main office workers and the janitor (who gives out Pokemon cards and really kind of deserves a gift because he’s a cool dude.) There are probably at least twenty people not on this list who I could give a gift card and they would feel they were getting recognition they deserved for their hard work!

So if I wanted to get everyone the bare minimum (A $5 Starbucks “Have a cuppa on me” card) I would have to buy the Super Size Value Pack with (hold on, it’s early and I totally need a calculator, I’ll be right back) 32 gift cards.

HOLY CRAP! That’s $160 in gift cards! 

I can tell you right now I didn’t spend that much for both of my kids on Christmas gifts this year. I’m sure as hell not going to plow out that kind of cash on people I’ve never met but happened to apply for a job that got them in front of my kid. Who is spending hundreds of dollars doling out gift cards like Santa? I cannot even imagine.

The thing is…I wish I could. I think it’s an important job and it is important to recognize the job these people do with children every day. Celebrate the gym teachers, because they play games like Pass the Bacon with the kids. No, I’m not kidding, that’s a real game. Celebrate the art teachers because deciding to be an art teacher these days is pretty much akin to buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best because of how school budgets are all over the nation. Celebrate the computer lab teacher because she saves you from having to try and teach a child with the attention span of a hyper puppy how to use a mouse without yanking the cord out of the computer.

The librarian at my 2nd grader’s school is honest-to-goodness one of my favorite people on this EARTH. I adore her. I’m pretty sure when I’m 90 and someone tells a story about a random librarian, she is the one I’ll be picturing in my mind. She is everything I’ve always dreamed of in a librarian and I have a total mental crush on her.

Your (and my) Tax Dollars at Work!

I got notes home from both classrooms. If you have kids, I’m sure you’ve gotten these notes as well. “It’s that time of year! Please send in money so we can buy a gift for the teacher!” This year both notes had the amazing distinction of not having an AMOUNT of money to send in listed. So I guess you just send in whatever. I spent a few minutes wondering what the lowest amount of contribution I could make would be to get a signature on the group gift, but then I asked my 3rd grader if she knew what her teacher liked.

“Cheez-Its and M&Ms!” was the immediate reply.

I saw the clouds part and heard the angels sing! You don’t have to send in five bucks for some totally unknown gift when I can (oh yeah, are you going to pick up what I’m about to put down here?) use the Food Stamps to score my kid’s teacher gift. So I got to be that fat mom people hate in the line at the Walmart using her EBT card to buy MFing Cheez-Its and M&Ms. If you were behind me in line you probably thought I was a horrible person and that my big plan was to go home and eat that madness while watching some reality TV and washing that box down with Diet Coke while putting down those reality show women like it was my American DUTY!

Or maybe you’re a decent human being and had no opinion on what I was buying. 

Either way…those Cheez-Its are wrapped and on their way to a (hopefully) pleased teacher.

Our tax dollars being used to make a teacher feel appreciated.
You’re welcome. 

Come to find out her math teacher loves granola bars. I was straight gleeful at that point.

The other kid had a tea drinker and a 100% blank slate of, “She doesn’t ever talk about anything but math.” (but she doesn’t talk about math enough to know what kind of math-themed gift to get, either.” So they get tea sets because if the one teacher doesn’t want it it’s in nice packaging so she can regift it. I couldn’t use Food Stamps on the tea sets (duh) but I did manage to spend a lot less than if I just started sticking five dollar bills in all the room mom envelopes.

I hate participating in the group gift no matter what condition my finances are in. The room mom sends out one envelope, gets all this money back and then buys the gift and presents it to the teacher like it was her gift. I remember the one time one of my kids had a great room mom. Yeah. That was nice. Now it’s a contest to see which helicopter mom can make her blades whir fastest to get the gig.

I was a room mom once. For five minutes. I was told the woman who didn’t get the gig (first come, first chosen, this was not by merit or I’d have never gotten near it) was crying. I was like, “Oh, wow, I do not even want to do this and only did because I was worried no one else would. If there’s someone crying over this she is welcome to it.” What I saw as an obligation this woman saw as…I don’t know what but losing it affected her. Not being room mom affected me too. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders knowing I would never have to plan a craft.

Until Pinterest delivers, I’m not your go-to woman for crafts. In case you hadn’t figured that out yet.

What level of teacher-gift madness do you subscribe to? Do you give something to everyone? 

 

 

That New Food Stamp Article Going Around (and a work update)

cash-money-bills-rings

A friend on Facebook posted a link to a Salon.com article. I usually hate Salon.com because the articles always feel one step above a blog post article but usually with some wacked-out perspective and awful titles.

This article wasn’t much different. The whole genre of “another person scratching the surface of being a has been and feeling sad about being on food stamps” is becoming played out, even for a person currently on food stamps, and the only reason I was glad I clicked through to read it was one small difference.

It had a great quote in there that covers a sentiment I don’t think gets nearly enough attention.

In the case of SNAP, Milam says there is an incentive to work built into the system, which decreases benefits as a person earns income, but at a staggered rate. In practice this means that someone will benefit more by working and having their assistance reduced slowly (or stopped altogether when their income becomes high enough) than by remaining on SNAP long term. (Click to read the full article: We’re the Face of Food Stamps.) 

I’ll never be able to get all empathy-style for the poor lady who wrote this article who was tragically embarrassed by her running group and couldn’t just be up front and tell them that she’s on the food stamps so maybe we shouldn’t look at that other person we’re talking smack about as a loser.  This quote, however, hit me smack in my heart. We are those people living in the weird in-between place. My husband is working and we get Food Stamps. We simultaneously pay taxes into the system and benefit from those taxes going in so we can buy food with help from the government. 

In addition, because Mr. Brickie is still making 40% Apprentice wages we continue to qualify for Medicaid. Even though we get insurance through his employer. This means that all the copay bills we receive are getting sent back out to be billed to Medicaid. This is such great news for us, because my ER visit would cost us over $500 out of pocket and seriously, if we could afford that we wouldn’t need Food Stamps in the first place.

But this in-between world is frustrating when you try to explain it to people who are either against Food Stamps altogether or feel that everyone on Food Stamps is leeching the system. They don’t even know what to say when they learn we’re paying into the system at the same time we benefit from the system. Mr. Brickie is about to get unemployment for winter and we always have the taxes taken out, even though we are pretty sure we’re going to get it all back in our tax return anyway.

It’s another way that someone decides to put me in the “exception” category and continue thinking about welfare mamas the way they always have, instead of believing that I just might be a much more normal, typical user of the system.

Like I said in a prior post, I’m hoping the tax return is enough to set aside a first/last/deposit as well as pay off all our credit cards. Just in case, I’ve started working online again because if I can just make our car payment every month I know we’ll be okay. My goal is to help keep our heads above water until Mr. Brickie gets to 70% Apprentice. I’ve calculated it over and over and his pay rate when he is a 70% Apprentice is the magic number where we won’t be on any government assistance and we will be able to afford all our basic needs (including gas and tolls for Mr. Brickie to get to work). 

In the meantime I signed up with Amazon Mechanical Turk (a.k.a. Place with the Weirdest Name Ever) and I’m doing surveys and whatnot. Hitting it like I’m mad at it has earned me over $100 in less than a week. I keep on plugging away and hoping that the articles from a certain person come up because he likes my writing and gives good bonuses. The big downfall here is your eyes will cross and you’ll have trouble focusing and you may drool on yourself after your hundredth psych survey. You will find that being asked, “Do you feel others are out to get you?” ten times might actually lead you to believe that someone may, in fact, be out to get you. (Just for a minute until you realize you slipped and fell into a pile of crazy.)

I’ve signed up and submitted a writing sample at WritersDomain.net and after a couple days I received an email saying my writing sample was accepted and I am now officially on the waitlist. So I hope that comes through soon.

I got a referral to another writing company through a friend and found a list online of content mills that I’m going to go through today and apply to any or all of them that sound like they will pay enough and want the right kind of articles that will make it worthwhile.

I feel like someone chucked me in a time machine and sent me back to 2008 when I started writing online from home. In times of crisis, I guess we all go back to the last place we can identify that we were good at something and could build from that place. It’s like my life’s version of a System Restore Point. Or something like that.

If there’s any place you write articles for online, shoot me an email or message me on Twitter or Facebook and let me know. Unless your first thought was, “She should apply for About.com!” If you tell me that mess I will come to your house and poo on your porch. No lie. Keep your unicorn in your garage where it belongs. Don’t trot those rainbow farts anywhere near me. 

Christmas Party Time

Red-Christmas-Ornament

We are in such a weird position right now.

I know how it feels to no money and no hope for the future. That’s something that has happened every few years since I’ve been married. It’s why Mr. Brickie and I sat down and made a plan to choose a long-term career rather than another jobby-job that anyone could fill. It was a quest that took over a year of solid research and asking pretty much everyone – including random strangers – questions about what they did for a living, how they liked it, and if they would choose it again if given the chance.

Then it took another year from applying for the job to actually get hired. We understood there would be some serious sacrifices and steps backward in order to move forward once and for all.

Sacrificing for a long-term purpose is new for me and I’m still not comfortable with the feelings it dredges up just wanting everything to go faster, faster until we are finally in the okay place.

For now, still solidly in the sacrifice and struggle portion of the program, we apply for government assistance for food and gas and electricity. At the same time we have health, dental, and vision insurance that is paid for through the dues and the benefits program of the job. Well, paid for as long as he works enough hours or we have to pay the difference, but he’s worked enough this quarter to get next quarter’s insurance, so we’re safe for now. (I just realized that not working means we’re going to have another five hundred dollar or so bill for insurance that will be due at the end of February for the quarter of insurance after that one. Thank you for reminding me, blog, I’ll go write that down…)

We are broke but going to a holiday party today where the kids will get gifts – labeled with their names – and see Santa and have a great time.

I am thankful that we are a different kind of broke. That we have some of the perks of the middle class like holiday parties and insurance.

That these perks are reminders that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That our sacrifices this time were not for nothing.

This time it’s actually going to work out. If I know nothing else about Mr. Brickie it’s that he has a great work ethic. So much so we had to get him into a job where the promotions are automatic based on skill and time worked. He’s not a political worker, he doesn’t schmooze or angle for promotions. He thinks his work should speak for itself. This job is perfect for him.

Oh, and maybe it seems silly that the gifts being labelled is such a big deal to me. It is. There was one year we were so poor the kids’ gifts came from the food pantry and the school and those gifts were the kind it’s difficult to be thankful for because they weren’t age appropriate and in one case didn’t fit at all. I appreciated them but it took effort and my unflagging Christmas spirit to make it happen. These are going to be age-appropriate gifts (because they asked the age of each child to do so) and they will be just for them. To me, it’s a whole different ballgame than a big stack of presents that get handed out to everyone.

Maybe I’m just taking my special moments where I can regardless of their actual specialness.

I’m okay with that.

Where to Get Christmas Help, Food Help, and Other Help

a-penny-in-the-hand

So there was this one time that I had to call in and renew my SNAP benefits. There’s this handy dandy over the phone push the buttons thing and it was going great until they got to the “has your insurance status changed” question and I was like “yes” and the automated voice told me the interview was over and to have a nice day and we’d be getting something in the mail.

I guess in most cases, having insurance from an employer means you don’t need SNAP anymore. Makes sense to me. Unfortunately, this is not the case for us just yet because of the nature of the apprentice program. I waited for the documents in the mail (they came in three days) and I filled them out and made photocopies of all our materials and popped them in the mail the next morning. My mail gets to my house late enough that by the time I filled everything out and made copies the post office was closed, or I would have had them back in the mail the same day.

Fast forward two weeks and I get a document in the mail telling me I was denied renewal because I had not sent the documents in. I called the main hotline number and talked to a very nice lady in Springfield, IL who informed me that they are so backed up with mail in that office that there was no way they were going to get to my information in time. She suggested we file an appeal and asked if we wanted to continue receiving SNAP benefits while the appeal was pending.

Uh….YES please. 🙂

So she set it up and, since then, Mr. Brickie has been into the local office to give over current paystubs and information. He is told that he did everything right and they make copies of all our information all over again and tell us that even if it doesn’t get processed right away the appeal would keep us from getting cut off. This last time (yesterday) we were told it would be given directly to a manager and at the most would take a couple of weeks.

We were hopeful things would go smoothly, but nervous, because the system is flawed even when you follow the directions exactly. The risk is part of being poor. You know that even if you do everything right, everything might not work out.

So when I checked my account online this morning I was not filled with shock when I saw that our SNAP was not renewed. There was a sigh and then it was on to Plan B …

How to Find Food Help in your Area

The FoodPantries.org website has a pretty comprehensive listing of food pantries across the US. You click on your state, type in your city, and you get local food pantries and links when available. Please call first if you can to see what proof you need to bring. Some sites want birth certificates to prove family size, others want to see your medical card or link card, and others just need your photo id to make sure you reside in their servicing territory.

Feeding America also has a food bank site locator. When I used it, I got different results from the food pantry website above. This one shows covered areas of the food bank which is nice, because some of the ones on FoodPantries.org do not serve my town – we found that out the hard way. Now we call or email before showing up. (Sometimes showing up worked once, however, so if you go and they say they don’t serve your area, ask them if they will help you out once because you spent time and money you didn’t have getting there. Be polite. It helps immeasurably.)

Direct2Food has a pretty comprehensive search that will give you customized results based on your family situation and lets you know not only what you might be eligible for, but where the offices are located to apply for services, a phone number, and a listing of soup kitchens. I didn’t realize there were four soup kitchens fairly close to my house.

If You Live in IL and Don’t Qualify for Free Food

If you are in the IL area and have too much money to be eligible for food pantries but not enough money to buy enough food for your family, The Power Connection is in Barrington, IL … it is basically a huge day-old bakery with everything from baby formula to parsnips. We have gotten things from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as well as no-name brand canned goods and fresh produce. I also got ten bags of flax seed one time and that’s what I’ve been making my flax seed tea out of since my gallbladder attack. There is a weekly “shop” with a $10 donation, but the every-other-weekly “shop” for $20 is where you will come home with an overflowing cart full of food. They also have a resale shop.

If you’re looking for something holiday oriented then you’re going to want to check out ways to get some help for Christmas for your family. That means we need to visit and register for … 

The Charitable Web

Food pantries are great. Food is great. I am grateful. If I was still trying to eat “clean” or “paleo” or some other restrictive, picky way they would be not-as-helpful but as long as you’re willing to eat food with calories in order to not collapse into a heap on the floor, you’ll be just fine. Honestly, even when I was paleo we made it work, so it’s possible to do even with a specific diet, it’s not more difficult.

Among the sites for handwriting, sports teams, music, and infertility there were a couple for assistance. One was financial assistance and the other was specific Christmas assistance. The descriptions in quotes come directly from the subreddit.

Santas Little Helpers Reddit – SantasLittleHelpers is here to bring joy to needy folks and families this holiday season. You can make requests for gifts, cards, make offers, hold contests or anything else that will make the holiday season brighter.

Assistance Reddit / Food Pantry Reddit – While you have to be a registered member for 90 days in order to ask for financial assistance, “All accounts can ask for advice, votes, jobs, food, essentials, used items and bona fide charity sites.”

Charity Reddit – There are a lot of crossposts from these three. Your Reddit account must be over 20 days old to post on this subreddit.

Random Acts of Christmas Reddit – A subreddit focusing on random acts of kindness for Christmas.

Random Kindness Reddit – Posts offering and asking for help.

Random Acts of Pizza Reddit / Random Acts of Cookies / Random Acts of Lunch – When you are using all your money for toilet paper and bills, maybe you could treat your family with the help of Reddit and get some take out pizza thanks to a fellow Redditor!

Random Acts for Pets / Random Acts of Pet Food – I know my Christmas budget certainly didn’t cover my basset hound. While Penny the Hound won’t mind missing out on Christmas (you know, because she’s a dog and she thinks crumpled wrapping paper is the second coming of awesome) I have a feeling my girls will be sad if she doesn’t get anything.

Random Acts of Birthday – This is not need based. Post the link to your amazon wish list no more than a month out from your birthday. Maybe someone will send you something nice! (With any of these reddits that ask for an Amazon Wish List link please do your best to make your choices Prime eligible. No need to make someone pay shipping on your behalf if it’s not necessary!)

Random Acts of Amazon – For real. Get an Amazon Wish List. You might not get anything (hence the “random” in the title) but it can’t hurt and you have much better odds than a contest. Especially if you participate in reddit.

Donate Reddit / Donation Reddit – Two subreddits with the same general purpose.

Free Reddit – A subreddit offering free stuff. A few things I saw were gift cards, t-shirts, and games. Having a Steam account will make this more helpful. A lot of the giving sites that give games give them through Steam.

Gift of Games Reddit – Generous reddit users giving the gift of games. Did I mention it’s helpful to have a Steam account? I think I did. Let me reiterate that. It’s good to have a Steam account. Wondering what Steam is? Or how to sign up for an account? Or how to use Steam? These videos will help.

HelpIt Reddit – (from the subreddit description) “This is the subreddit for helping! We’re Reddit, and we can make big things happen. Let’s get out, get our hands dirty, and help out our communities. There’s a bajazillion people on Reddit. We can show the world we mean business when it comes to being AWESOME.”

Loans Reddit – You won’t get help here unless you’re a regular user of the site and are willing to post with your main username. Otherwise, stick with the Assistance Reddit above. But if you don’t have a good story and are active on Reddit, this might be a great option for a short term loan.

The Salvation Army – Oh, I know they can be controversial but I’m not going to leave off potential help because of it. Maybe I should. If you think I should please feel free to tell me. In the meantime, the link will take you to their Christmas Assistance page and you can see the potential services offered. The site says they start taking registrations in October, so it could be dicey later in the year.

Modest Needs – This is my favorite online charity site. They have a Holiday Grant Section where you can apply for holiday assistance for your family. Since this charity does not give cash directly to recipients, you will probably have to make an Amazon wish list or something similar. Also, keep this site in mind if you have a car that needs to be repaired or a car payment that needs to be made and you just don’t have the money to make it. If you don’t qualify for the holiday grant they may have other grants you do qualify for. The application process will help you get to the right grant for your situation.

Toys For Tots – A tried and true Christmas charity. You can click on “Request a Toy” at the top of the page and either apply online or you will be referred to where you need to go to apply. Applications open around October and close pretty early, so this one you need to set a calendar reminder for and get on early.

Wish Upon a Hero (Hero Network) – Be a hero or ask for the help of a hero. Share your story and get the help you need.

Giving Back to Others (Anyone can do it!)

If you’re poor, you’re probably thinking, “What? Are you kidding?” But you can give back without having to have money. Visit the Favors subreddit and give back with a few minutes of your time. Even if you don’t believe in karma, it can make you feel good to give someone some help after asking a bunch of people for help for you and/or your family. It’s just a thought.

If you have .46 cents and a card not currently being used on your desk, you have everything you need to send a card to someone in the Random Acts of Cards subreddit, so much the better. No matter how much or how little you have, you can brighten someone’s day in a real, tangible way.

Every one of the links in this post can be used to receive help or give help. You could take a survey for a graduate student online, adopt a child or whole family or pick one thing from one wishlist or send one card or make and mail a batch of cookies. Whatever place you’re in, you can give to others. This study shows the fast-track to true happiness is giving to others. So do it for them…and do it for yourself.

I will keep updating this list as I find more resources. If you know of any I don’t have listed I’m happy to add it with your named link to a site of your choice (i.e. thanks to @jennydecki for this link)  
Last update: 12/07/2013

 

LIHEAP (or, in our case, The Impossible Grant)

liheapAs poor folks, we don’t participate in things like Black Friday because there isn’t a sale good enough that I magically have a hundred bucks to throw down on some electronics.

I need that money for the car payment. Stupid priorities.

What I do have access to at this festive time of year is LIHEAP. (That’s the low-income home energy assistance program for those of you new to the acronyms.) It’s a program for poor folk to get help with their electric and gas bills. The money is available yearly on a first-come first-served basis with a few application priorities in place.

September: Open to the elderly.
October: Open to people with kids under 13 or 10 or something like that (I can’t remember exactly.)
November: Open to general public.

The thing about the offices – our local office, anyway – is that my husband has been in there three times trying to apply and being turned away for various reasons since October.

A Secret About the Working Poor

It’s really difficult to apply for assistance, even if it’s available and you know you qualify. Twice my husband was sent home from work early due to weather, and both times he waited three hours before being told they weren’t going to be able to take him that day. Today he showed up at 7am to wait for the office to open at 8:30am. If he’s first in the door, his application is sure to be taken and he might get out of there by 10am.  Even though the grant will be worth from one to five days of my husband’s working time, we are mature and know not to risk the job in the hand for the aid in the bush. That being said, if someone called off an already unstable job to apply for a grant that might take care of their energy bills…I don’t see how anyone could judge that. If my husband made minimum wage, that grant could be equivalent  to a week or more of full time work.

So that’s where my Black Friday joke comes from. He’s waiting out in the cold first thing in the morning so he can be first in line to apply for the grant today. As long as the grant funds aren’t gone (The grants do tend to get disbursed pretty quickly. I, honestly, will be both shocked and happy if there are funds still available.)

Government offices have government hours which also happen to be the hours my husband works. He only has today off because they have to move scaffolding at the site so only the laborers will be working today. He goes back tomorrow, as long as the weather holds. Or, as I’ve become fond of saying, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

A Secret About the Unemployed Poor

You have to have a working car and enough gas to get to the place where they take the application. So, even though you might be awake and have the time to go to the office, you can’t get there. That makes it difficult to apply or receive aid. Even if a person has enough money to catch a bus, that bus has to pick up and drop off within a reasonable distance from their home (or where they are staying) and a reasonable distance from the office they need to get to. That can be serious business if there are no sidewalks or other ways to get from the bus stop to the office.

Where there is a will, there is a way only works if you are healthy enough and young enough. If you don’t have insurance or access to good medical care, you’re looking at having a much harder time than someone who eats and sleeps regularly who could just hop on a bus and walk a few miles.

On the spot update: It’s 8:55am and Mr. Brickie was sent back home after being told he was unable to apply at this time. Since the checks from his work are printed (and thus dated) Tuesday night (but not handed out or able to be cashed until Wednesday at the job site) he was told his information was not current and to come back with the current paycheck.  The paycheck he will not receive until tomorrow when he goes back to work and thus totally unable to be at the LIHEAP office to apply for the grant.

So even after making sure he was first in line by waiting outside for an hour before the office opened, armed with all the information he has available, he was turned away.

Thus continues the saga.

On the bright side, since we live in the Chicagoland area nothing gets turned off in the winter so we will have a chance to either apply again or make this up when we have more money. No one is going to freeze. I think that’s why I’m not more frustrated. Mr. Brickie, on the other hand, is very frustrated … having just waited in line an hour to find out that even though he brought in everything he could possibly have right now it wasn’t good enough.

I’m not down about this. One of the upsides of knowing you’re doing all you can is that you don’t feel particularly anxious or stressed about it when little setbacks happen. We could end up homeless, sure, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I have an excel spreadsheet with the calculated date of when Mr. Brickie gets his next raise (which will make us ineligible for SNAP but be just enough to replace it) and the one after that (which will allow us to pay rent somewhere after we move) and all I can do is update those and adjust the plans accordingly. The timeline is tight, but I still think it’s manageable.

If it turns out not to be manageable, well then, I’ll just have to come up with a different plan!

 

 

Waiting, Fantasies, and Poor Christmas (part 2)

mickey-alarm-clockWe start with some great news today.

One of Mr. Brickie’s SEM side-clients – who was almost 90 days behind in payments – sent in a partial payment this week, so that gave us a little breathing room. 11% of the current amount due isn’t anything great, but I’ll take whatever I can get with thankfulness right about now. Plus, the act of the client making a payment at all shows that the client is still active and makes the odds of receiving the other 89% a real possibility come January/February.

In the meantime we’re going to start posting more things on Criaigslist. It’s time to sell everything non-essential. Not just for the extra money – although that will be great – but having less stuff around us will make us feel less stressed. Okay, maybe it won’t make anyone else in my family feel less stressed, but it will make me feel better.

My new motto is, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

In other Mr. Brickie news we are in a tumultuous time with the weather. He was not able to work on Monday but was able to work today even though he did not expect to. He is also probably going to work Friday and Saturday this week. The rumors of another job during the winter are still floating around but have not been confirmed. If he can just keep working, he will get this first bump in apprentice level (from 40% to 50% apprentice) in the beginning of January (sorry if I’ve mentioned it a hundred times, it’s a mantra I repeat to myself often) when that happens he will get his first raise. That raise will be about $4/hr. If he worked full time and didn’t have unpaid rain days that would be an extra $8300 a year.

That is serious cheddar.

My original calculations will have us solvent with all bills and enough for gas and tolls and groceries at the 60% level. So it will be at least six months from January when we hit that level and get another raise of about the same level. (The reason it’s not exact is that the percentage is based of the journeyman rate and that changes year-to-year.)

While my husband only gets paid for the time he works, every hour goes into the health insurance bank, two pension funds, and an annuity fund. We might be poor, but it’s a straight shot of warmth to the heart when you hear the optometrist’s office manager exclaiming to a coworker, “This is the best insurance I have ever seen.” I get why people love their white collar jobs and paid holidays, but that just isn’t where my joy lies. I love skilled labor and think being able to make something is breathtaking. It’s so real and tangible.

I respect academia and do not begrudge people their choice to go to a college or university. I do, however, think people have really lost their perspective on skilled trades, considering “blue collar” work somehow “less than” white collar. I did too. I was very skeptical about unions and bricklayers and the whole nine yards when Mr. Brickie started his training, but at this point I’m so completely sold. I would be just as proud of my daughters if they learned a trade instead of going to college. Sure, both is fine, too. It’s a world where everything is possible. But if they were forced to choose, the only advice I would have is, “Pick the one you think you’ll love in five years. One that grows with you. One that makes you feel special in your heart.”

I can see it from both sides. I see how happy my husband is. I feel the difference in how he snuggles me at night and the confidence that comes home with him from work and turns into a side hug and quick kiss in the middle of the supermarket.

He was never this happy when his main job was search engine marketing. Never. As a side-job he loves it, but as his main source of income he absolutely detested the whole thing. Mostly because people make no sense a lot. Or so I think.

I have to say, the changes in his personality from going blue collar make me certain I could be poor and happy with him forever. Luckily, I don’t have to make that choice. He is doing great at work and will probably be with this company until he is a journeyman and who knows, possibly forever. There are several coworkers of his who have been there their entire career and one son who is second generation with the company. The reputation of the company he is with is that they’re always working on something, so he will be able to semi-rely on regular hours.

Plus my other mantra: The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 40% increase in jobs from 2010-2020. The industry is going to grow and, pretty soon, it’s going to grow fast.

He talked to a coworker of his during a break who said he usually saves about $3k to get through winter. He didn’t always need the money but that was his slush fund. The nods from the others confirmed that was pretty much the rule among the guys.

So we even have our minimum savings goal for next winter.

It will be nice to see snow and be excited he’ll be able to spend a surprise day at home with the family.

In addition to minimum savings achievements and surprise snow days, I have lots of family fantasies of how things will be once we are in a financially stable position. Gymnastics lessons and art lessons and vacations and retirement accounts and museum trips are what I dream of on the good nights. Things we were able to do and put a hefty amount away in savings back when I was working full-time(ish) in marketing. He’s going to make more than I did. We already know how to save because we did it last time we made more money than we were used to.

We may be poor, but we are poised for success.

It’s taken almost eleven years of learning about each other, our priorities, our bad money habits…but we did the work and are happier now than we have ever been. We have a long-term plan, we have purpose, and we have the discipline to go the distance.

As long as we can make it through the waiting part. Which, I have to admit, is much more difficult than I could have ever imagined.

Update on poor Christmas

I only have two people left to buy for. The girls are taken care of for Christmas as well as for their January birthdays. I just wanted to be done with it. Now I am.

This involved credit card debt (yes, I’m a big ol’ hypocrite) and I seriously don’t even care. I got better deals on what I bought than I’m seeing listed for Black Friday pricing and each kid got five-ish things. Nothing is over the top, and most presents were purchased for under ten dollars on Amazon.com … I did get one the Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow for $15 and change, but I already have one in my closet from a PR campaign the girls have never seen. Everyone gets some Nerf for Christmas. They’re going to be thrilled with everything, I’m sure, and while I will have to pay some interest on the purchases, it’s something I talked to Mr. Brickie about and we decided it would be better to just be done with the whole thing and pay a little for the convenience.

We paid out most of our tax return last year to pay off debt, so, again, we know we’re not going to say, “We’ll take care of it with our tax return” and decide to go to Maui instead and hang the credit debt. It’s nice being a person I know I can rely on to do the responsible thing.

It might just be for today, but right now, I’m feeling hopeful for the future of my family.

I scored today’s quote from a post I read about a person moving into a 200 square foot cottage. You can find that article, which is pretty interesting, right over here.