Category: Budget & Finance

DMV Data Breach! Time to Destroy the Credit Cards?

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So, about this California DMV credit card data breach, huh? (That link goes to the Krebs on Security blog, which is now my favorite blog on earth because SECURITY.) There was, apparently, a private note sent from Mastercard to some unnamed people talking about some unnamed place but Krebs (who is Sherlock, natch) solved it. Brian Krebs is awesome and I don’t know how I didn’t know about him before. Read the first paragraph of this story about him and you will be just as sucked in. I promise. If you’re as into heroin and poop-on-porches as I am, you’ll love this guy!

What I really mean, of course, is that if you are as fascinated by the gross and dirty underbelly of the Internet as I am you will love this guy. I think you do. I know I do. We can learn how not to get scammed by learning how others do it. I mean, of course we’ll use our powers for good. Of course!

I guess no one really thought of the DMV as being “safe” in terms of credit card security. I think it just seems like a place where there are so many people and things are moving fast enough and the people are sitting right there at the counter that it would be difficult to get that information.

This Reminds Me of When Our Information Got Stolen

When Mr. Brickie’s card got fake-swiped at the gas pump (I totally tried to find the post to link it here because I’m a professional blogger but I couldn’t find it even using Google and the search box and so I guess by professional I mean “professional amateur”) we got a call from the company so we could let them know we weren’t popping out to buy groceries in Ireland even if the card thought we were.

You can tell if someone has had their information stolen at a gas pump. They’re hitting, bumping, or trying to pull off the swiper before they put their card into it. Velcro-attachments mean they’re sturdy, but not sturdy enough because they need to be pulled off at the end of the day so the thieves can drive off with their precious information.

After that, I actually felt more secure about using the card because the bank had our back. They were watching out for us. We got a call once because we swiped our card in three states in one day. We live in Illinois and drive through Indiana when we go to Michigan. I was mildly annoyed because I felt like they should have known based on our history where we spent our time and that it was well within the time period of us being out for the day.

That was my a-ha moment. When I felt annoyed that a computer somewhere didn’t know my habits well enough. If you asked me, “Hey, do you want all the information about you in a computer somewhere?” I’d be like, “No, thank you.” unless it was medical, of course, because then it’s all kinds of Let’s Make a Deal.

The alarm in my brain that was telling me to run because a computer knew just enough but not too much? It’s a thing in my head that happens when I start to feel too comfortable. My brain assesses the situation and decides if it needs to throw off an alarm bell in my brain. This time it did and the thought followed, “I have to get off of this hamster wheel. Something bad is going to happen.”

My family – because they are kind – call it intuition.

As for the credit cards, I can’t bring myself to actually get rid of the little plastic beasts, but at the same time the 5% off just for using the Target card, well, I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore. Yes there will be a little extra hassle of having to keep my receipt on me to return something, but okay. (Let’s be honest, I’m not shopping much at Target in the first place. I’m at Aldi for my food and if I’m getting kitchen stuff or little things for my home? Goodwill, Value Village, or one of the four dollar stores in my immediate area is where I’m going. When I am in the position to buy things that are high quality I won’t be at Target anyway.)

The thing is, if we are already at t he point where we accept our credit card (or debit card) information has been stolen and used to buy groceries in Ireland (or whatever it might be in your case!) and that part isn’t a shock anymore…that’s when I truly believe it is time to get out.

Let’s Be Realistic About Credit Cards

I don’t advocate getting rid of all your credit cards. I keep mine in a little zipper pouch next to my “in cash” emergency fund in a hidey hole. I had no credit cards at one time and it felt no different than having credit cards I’m not using now. Well, except for the ease of renting a car or getting a hotel room. Getting those with a debit card is much more of a hassle because of the hundreds of dollars of holds that can be placed on a card.

Credit cards aren’t drugs, you don’t need to flush it all down the toilet to keep it out of your nose. I don’t keep them on me, however, because if my purse is stolen I want to have to deal with ONE card being stolen not all of them. (Quick sidenote: If credit cards ARE like drugs for you then YES you do need to flush them all by cutting them up and trashing them. Only you know your situation when it comes to the plastic stuff. I can’t make that decision for you. I think there can be a solid path to financial solace that does not have one-size-fits-all answers.)

People Who Use Their Credit Cards to Get Cool Free Stuff

Oh! The people who are all “I use my cards for awesome perks and game the system so it totally doesn’t game me” are getting blowback. It’s starting with an American Express policy that you can’t get the bonus points or whatever if you apply for the same card again ever. I totally assumed this was already a thing and even though my credit score is in the 600s and I would never have qualified for any of those fancy cards now I kind of feel like I was left out of something cool since when I do have good credit I’m not going to be messing around with stuff like this anyway.

It’s because I’m risk averse. I hate risk. Having a credit card is one level of risk, carrying it with you is another, having a balance is a third, and carrying a balance is a fourth. I feel them exponentially, but again, I’m not sure how you jam with your cards and your risk and whatnot. I just don’t like that much risk, because being careful is what’s kept rice in our bowls and chili in our crockpot.

House Not-Update

I expect my credit score to bottom out completely if the house stuff goes bad. We never got notice of a new court date. I really expected it since the judge said we would have another court date in March, but everyone keeps telling me Chancery Court isn’t like the other branches and it just takes forever.

So we are still hovering here in between everything and nothing. We are grateful for every day we don’t have notice to go back to court. I look at the temperature and think, “This could be the week that foundation gets poured.” I try to be hopeful about Mr. Brickie getting back to work because this mantra that repeats over and over in our heads is, “Any day now….any day now….”

Some Resources and Reads About Credit Cards

Want to read up on credit cards? Here are some recent articles from Bloomberg that cover everything from data breaches to giving money to the homeless with a credit card. (The homeless dude in Sweden has, like, the NICEST winter coat, doesn’t he?) Fascinating stuff.

The Points Guy is a blog about maximizing credit card points.

The creditnet Credit Talk Forum is a great place to learn about repairing your credit report and improving your credit. They are also great at answering questions you might have about your situation, whatever it may be.

CreditBoards is the other forum for credit repair and credit improvement. I know there are a billion more, but this one and creditnet are ones I lurked on for months and learned from.

I’m not turning my back on the debt-free dream, far from it, it’s still where I want to be. In the meantime I’m using my credit card for “auto pay” bills like the cell phone bill and the garbage bill and the Internet bill. That way I don’t have to hunt down what is due where and I can just make one payment to one place. The credit limit isn’t high enough to put the car payment on with all the other bills, but I think that’s for the best, really. As much as I dream about only ever having to deal with just one bill, in reality that might not be the very best plan.

I’ll revisit the whole paying bills in one place auto-bill stuff later on when we are more financially stable. It’s nothing but a pipe dream right now.

Better Safe Than Sorry

The bottom line is be careful. There are places where it might be perfectly safe to use your credit/debit/whatever card as long as you may live. You may be a person who habitually loses cash and if that is you, well then, you shouldn’t carry cash as much as someone who doesn’t lose it all the time.

But even though there is no one-size-fits-all answer, do me a favor and try to use cash a little more than usual this week. Just give it a try and see if it works for you. If you’re super-used to using a credit card or debit card getting out cash can seem uncomfortable.

I went shopping with a friend of mine a couple weeks ago and she whipped out a checkbook at the supermarket. I almost DIED of embarrassment. I was 100% sure the cashier was going to laugh her out of the store. I mean, a checkbook? Why not just give the woman an IOU, am I right? (you’re probably yelling at your screen right now telling me what an idiot I am)

You’re right. I’m an idiot. Not a fuss was made, not an eye was blinked, and her check was taken with no problem.

I mean, it made sense when I looked back on it. They wouldn’t still be sending the handout thingys in the coupon envelopes to get Garfield checks if no one took them anymore. It’s just so rare that I use a check I kind of forget they are used to exchange money for goods and services anymore.

We started using cash more often a few weeks ago. Mr. Brickie admits it’s more of a hassle at the gas station for sure, because he’s too embarrassed to have to go back in for change so he never fills up the car with gas now. But he likes knowing his card can’t get swiped again if he’s paying with cash money.

We are trying to find the combination that works best for us.

As always, I’m super curious about what works best for you!

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How and Why One Mom Started Vaping (an e-cigarette love story)

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After re-reading this post for typos and grammar, I feel it sounds like an advertisement or “sponsored” post for vaping or a vape company. It is not. This is an unpaidfor piece based on my experience for the purpose of helping someone who might be int he same position I am right now and wondering if the change is possible and how difficult it might be. I purchased (and was not reimbursed for) the products I talk about owning in this post.

I have been trying to quit smoking for years.

Even during this horrible winter, I’ve stood in front of my house or right at my back door in flip flops and a coat shivering while I puff my way down another dumb cigarette in a couple square feet of shoveled out clear space. I’ve hated myself, I’ve sworn I’ll never do it again, and I’ve tried to keep it as secret as possible. People tell me awful, private stories of their dead loved ones as I wonder how to get out of the conversation without being completely insulting because it seems like I’m the only one in the conversation that knows I’m not going to become a born-again non-smoker from detailed stories of cancer deaths. I mean, seriously, if horrible stories and pictures were going to get me to quit, they would have already.

Then I talked to a super-amazing Facebook friend about Chantix. I talked to her about the side effects and how they affected her and the people she knew who had used it to quit. She felt – even when she got the prescription – no hope it was going to work. She had accepted she would never quit. As we talked about it, she shared she was over 40 days smoke-free and doing fine.

I decided this was the solution. I became absolutely ecstatic about it and convinced Mr. Brickie to join me on this amazing journey to clear lungs and a non-smokey life. He was really supportive and almost immediately joined me in my hopeful feelings about quitting smoking with this wonder-drug. We made doctor appointments and looked forward to getting our new prescriptions and starting our new lives.

The day of our family appointment (we took the kids in for flu shots and immunizations in addition to the magical non-smoking solution) the weather was insane. It took us almost two hours to get to the appointment that should have been about 25 minutes away. We drove past cars in snow banks and a half-turned-over mini bus (all receiving aid already) on what I was thinking of as an Epic Journey to Stop Smoking (I was like Odysseus of the Chicago Suburbs) and when we got there everyone felt like we had just gone though this harrowing journey. The girls talked about how difficult it was to see through the windows for the snow and we held hands on our way into the office and the warmth and salvation that would be inside.

“What?” the doctor asked when I told him I wanted a prescription for Chantix. His immediate reaction was a puzzled, “What?” and when I went to repeat myself he interrupted me mid-sentence to say, “I heard you, I just…why would you want that?” I told him I couldn’t quit and I was just so done and I needed to stop. He told me there was a black box warning on Chantix and that it made someone schizophrenic and that even if he was still handing out prescriptions for Chantix (which he was most certainly not) he wouldn’t give them to me because I would probably kill my family.

“Uh….I wouldn’t kill my family.” I said.
“Like a mama hamster.” He said.

hamster-bebehs-delicious

I got a little sniffly because I’m sure he didn’t realize he was dashing my very important dreams. Like telling a 12 year old she won’t ever meet, much less marry, Justin Beiber. I totally interrupted him in the middle of his whole “people with anxiety absolutely cannot take that medication even when it didn’t have a black box warning” to whine like a frustrated child when I said, “Then what am I going to do?”

“Get an e-Cig. They have the same quit rate as the Chantix anyway and they won’t make you kill everyone you love.” (My doctor is hilarious and a totally decent human being and even kept me from losing my children and getting arrested that one time. I know I’m making him sound like a jerk but he was laughing when he said the stuff about killing everyone. He didn’t (mostly) really think I’d kill my whole family.)

I was all, “You mean like a blu?” and he was like, “Yeah or whatever, just get the nicotine in without the other crap and even if you can’t quit doing that it’s a hell of a lot better than regular cigarettes.”

I had tried an e-cig years ago when they first got all popular and they looked like cigarettes. It was heavy as all get out, you couldn’t hold it between your fingers, and you had to sort of unscrew the two pieces to be able to take a drag that was remotely near the way it works with my regular smokes. I blew out atomizers (the little heating elements that turn the nicotine liquid to vapor) and it became an unsatisfying, expensive hassle really fast.

I did some research and found that the new e-cigs (or e-cigarettes) have a little hole at the tip to allow for the airflow so you didn’t have to partially unscrew them and you wouldn’t blow out the atomizers as fast. They were a little lighter and with some finagling I could hold one between my fingers.

This is When the Whole Thing Gets Interesting

I was searching for tips and tricks (like I do with any new product) and found out people were replacing the absorbent material in the little cartridge with Lipton tea bags so they would hold flavors not offered by blu. I was curious so I did some YouTube searches on this e-Juice he was talking about in that video.

It was like being dropped into the middle of some Alice in Wonderland scenario where people are puffing clouds like the caterpillar and talking about flavors like Afternoon Tea (flavor: black tea, cream, and sugar) and Unicorn Blood (flavor: strawberry & milk) with the option of having multiple levels of nicotine.

People are smoking out of things that look like mini-hookahs. It’s crazy. The colors and the styles and the YouTube videos of people making their own coils and modifying these things like Xzibit on that show where they put Xbox consoles and big screen TVs in Honda Accords.

Here is one of the beginner videos I saw that made me feel like I might be able to do this thing:

I gotta tell you, there is a ton of lingo and learning it all is tough. But the cig-alike is what a blu is and he shows a lot of different styles and there are a lot of links in the comments so it might help if you’re looking for that kind of thing. Also, you can search YouTube for vape, vaping, vaporizers, and then just put “review” or “beginner” and you can find information that’s helpful.

Back to the multiple levels of nicotine. I think it’s important because when we tried this a few years ago we got the “High” level of nicotine and it gave us headaches (and him a stomachache) almost immediately. It was really a rousing non-success. They even come with no nicotine at all in order to be able to wean yourself off of the drug. I think they came with no nicotine back then, too, but it wouldn’t have mattered because you have to get the vapor in order for your brain to stop bugging you to smoke a cigarette. The smoke, for me, is more important than the nicotine.

One of the most prevalent arguments I’ve run into is that with the fruity, candy flavors they are targeting kids. You know, the way being able to buy whipped cream and birthday cake flavored vodka…oh, wait….that’s right, they aren’t. Also, while I’m not going to tell you that when they’re 18 I want my kids to start vaping (I don’t want them to put anything unnatural in their bodies) but if it’s a choice between tobacco and it’s thousand grody ingredients and vaping there really isn’t a choice.

I was talking to my cousin last night and asked her to visit a vape shop with me (A vapor lounge, it’s called…so chic…lol) so I could check out the flavor bar and try some new flavors. She was a bit hesitant because she kind of got the vibe like I was trying to get her to quit smoking (I wasn’t) but I had a thought and said, “No one likes the taste of tobacco. It’s comforting, it’s what we’re used to, but man, if I could snap my fingers and make my analog cigarettes grape flavored, who wouldn’t do that?”

So she’s at least willing to go with me, so that’s cool. I just don’t like to do new things alone. Mama hamster anxiety levels make it pretty much impossible.

We started with a kit that included a complete little setup and Mr. Brickie and I chose a grape flavor to start our journey with. Try it out without telling anyone so if we hated it we wouldn’t be seen as failing at quitting yet again.

This is the video I’m going to be looking into next if we decide to move on from the eGo-T we are currently using. We have three tanks running right now.

  • The iClear 16 tank has an 18mg nicotine grape flavor in it.
  • The Kanger Pro Tank has a 6mg nicotine level cherry in it.
  • The Kanger Mini Protank II (v2) has a 0mg nicotine-free watermelon flavor in it.

The only one I can smoke as long as an analog cigarette is the 0mg watermelon. The others would give me a headache far too quickly. We got the three levels so we can switch as necessary to make it through the cravings we are anticipating (but may not happen) more easily. The key to success is being prepared, right?

As for Mr. Brickie’s tummyaches, they are gone now. It might be due to how the eJuice is made now or it might be because it has a higher Vegetable Glycerin (VG) content to Propylene Glycol (PG) content. (Video on PG vs. VG | Good description I found on a Website)

So You’ve Been Poor and Smoking? You Awful Person!

I know that being poor and smoking makes people mad.

Many people have done their best to tell me what’s what about how much I spend. I even have a couple apps for that, even though it’s in my budget and I already know the amount.

First, my habit costs Mr. Brickie and I less than a dollar a day … combined. I have been rolling my own for years. For us, quitting means spending more money than smoking. Either in munchie food, soda pop, a nicotine alternative, or whatever other thing we do. Unless I was perfect and amazing and just quit and nothing else changed, even temporarily.

Yeah, if that were possible I would have done it already. Trust me, I tried.

For me, for my husband, we started young and there’s this thing called “addiction” that is so easy to ignore if it hasn’t been personally experienced. Some people can quit and be a little bugged and persevere and suddenly think everyone else can, too, because they did.

But now that’s changing. We feel really good about this. When we took our first few puffs of the grape flavor we didn’t touch a regular analog smoke for over an hour. It was a revelation. We were satisfied without smoking. From here out we will probably only buy the 0mg nicotine because we only have the two with nicotine for the occasional craving to just get past it. We have this all planned out for maximum potential success.

That being said I can’t wait to order the juices that taste like Swedish fish and Starburst. You don’t have to be a kid to love candy, just ask anyone who looks at a martini menu!

Other Resources

If you are considering vaping, try to find a local shop by searching Yelp for Vaporizer (You are going to run into a lot of head shops, y’all…just roll with it. Nice people, even if you look like the a minivan driving mom like I do.) and I cannot recommend the E -cigarette Forum highly enough. I’ve learned so much in a short time with them and they are so nice. Seriously. Great people.

The YouTube channels of IndoorSmokers, GrimmGreen, and pbusardo have been so helpful. I’m sure there are others I just haven’t found yet.

On Twitter? Look for #vape #vaping or #ecig #e-cig to find some more information.

Last But Not Least

There are a lot of vaping stores online. Some are good, some are bad, some sell legit stuff, some sell clones or knockoffs. Make sure you know what you’re looking for or do a search for the store name and “review” to make sure you are ordering form somewhere legit that will ship before the turn of the next century. These searches are how I originally found the e-cigarette Forum in the first place. Lots of reviews, lots of people helping people.

There are a few published studies I also read before making this leap. I do not plan on listening to any voices who make their money from tobacco, because I have no use for that kind of bias in opinion. (Of course, if someone from the ACA, the AHA, or the ALA published the results from a scientific study I would totally read it and listen.)

If you would like to check out an extensive list of the studies that have been published on vaping and e-cigarettes, you can visit that site which has links to all of them. If you would like to read up on current policies, legislation, and myths you can find that kind of thing over at CASAA.org.

I don’t plan on taking this thing into stores or restaurants. There is too much controversy and not enough knowledge for me to take that kind of risk. When I go somewhere, I will just leave it in the car and have it outside the car if that’s necessary. I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t be necessary for very long at all.

I really think this is going to work. I am so happy and relieved.

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Getting Fired by Clients & Investing With $10

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I think I may have become a grownup yesterday.

Either that or I’ve ascended to a higher spiritual plain. Okay, probably not. I sat with my legs crossed with my hands on my knees for almost five minutes last night trying to float because I was really getting into the spiritual ascension theory. This is why belief is so powerful, because the only thing I keep thinking is, “I shouldn’t have tried to test it. I should have just decided I am a higher spiritual order of soul now and RUN WITH THAT.”

One of my friends and I have a theory where we think if we just pretended to have all the answers and told people WHAT’S WHAT and derided people who questioned our awesome answers we would be a lot more popular. At least online. I don’t think being that way works in a “real life friendship” sense, but with my anxiety and occasional freak out that will cause me to miss your get together in favor of driving by and having a panic attack I’m not a great friend sometimes. If you invite me somewhere and I’m late? Check your driveway or street, I’m probably sitting in my car willing myself to move and go be a good guest.

Mostly I think I come across the same way online. A few deep, random thoughts and a whole lot of doing the best I can and hoping someone else can learn from my successes and mistakes. I am not going to pretend I know more than I do. I can’t lead anyone out of poverty because that’s where I am. I’m happy if we can walk through it side-by-side though and be equals. It’s all I can do.

Back to being a totally mature human being….

Is This What Makes Someone Grown Up?

Yesterday was kind of a rough day when you do a highlight reel. I lost two clients and got a critique on one of my stories I use as a litmus test to see if someone is going to critique story or if they are going to critique the style of the story. I know, I’m thinking about writing fiction again. It happened because this guy and I had a three hour phone conversation and it made me realize I love telling stories. (I know you know I love storytelling, but…I’ll get back to this down further in the post. Someone told me I can’t keep going off topic in the middle of other sections of posts.)

On the bright side, one of the clients had convinced me to try and write something I do not write and so I gave it a try, she called it “unusable” (I’ve never had that happen. Milestone!) and I am thrilled I never, ever have to do that again in my whole life because now I know the answer to, “Do you write Press Releases?” is “No.”

The other client is a friend and she was subcontracting something to me and her client knew (because my friend is a good egg and has integrity) and did not like my writing style. I am not one of those awesome chameleon writers who have ten different writing styles to choose from. I have, maybe, three. Fun, professional, and conversational. If the client didn’t like it, I can’t imagine how I could do it a different way. But the client wasn’t unhappy with my friend and my friend wasn’t unhappy with me and, really, a situation where two people are not right for each other with no hard feelings is the best possible poor outcome. If my friend needs something in the future she knows I’m here for her and everyone is okay. Well, except her because now she has to do it herself which was a weight I felt happy knowing I was taking off her shoulders. 

I do wish I had been able to help her with that burden.

Common Ground

The press release incident and the style incident (they might both be style incidents, come to think of it, but the press release client did not give me any other feedback) have a lot of things in common. I was not the right person for the job based on how I write and the requirements of the client.

Those situations both happening in the same day was a little overwhelming. Strange, too. Both situations I would probably have been devastated about in the past and used as a springboard to feeling not-good-enough for days. Yesterday I was able to step back and realize that there are things that cannot be changed and doing my best was all I could do.

I didn’t feel heartache, panic, or loss. I felt relief at one situation and sad for the extra time my friend would have to spend on work in the other.

In fact, I have been up two hours and sharing this story with you was a natural priority over checking all my bank accounts and freaking out. There is no need to freak out and there is nothing I can do right now. I checked all my online writing places once this morning and will try again after I hit publish. (Or maybe now, since I’m thinking of it.) Yep, still dry. I’ll keep checking, just in case.

Both the press release client and my friend paid for work they received. So I’m not out anything and I never count on writing income before it’s hatched. I find it works a lot better to be thankful for the extra work when it comes instead of focusing on being disappointed every time it goes.

Let’s talk about something completely different…

Investing Stuff I Found Online

I found this Facebook page from The Penny Hoarder which led me to this blog post on How to Start Investing With Only$100 and I’m going to talk about gambling in, like, two minutes. Stick around.

I used to work for an Investment Bank in downtown Chicago a long, long time ago. I was there for the merger of that awful Santa Cruz organic beverage line with some bigger company, I got a green Game Boy when they first came out in colors when some other company went public. (I was a secretary. We got stuff sometimes. I got a Tiffany & Co. bedside water pitcher and glass once for the office Christmas gift. Red letter day, that was. I owned something from Tiffany’s. Sure it was a water pitcher but I convinced myself it was the coolest water pitcher in the world.)

The other thing that happened was the Google IPO. They didn’t run it but everyone at the office talked about it. It was my Big Miss™ in life. That dutch auction I couldn’t figure out how to participate in. Oh if only I could go back, right?

But one of the links on that blog I linked to is this place that does not charge you to buy or sell stocks online. I find that weird and haven’t read into it a lot more but plan to. I don’t like gambling but the stock market – even though it is gambling – is the only way to really increase wealth. I guess I would mitigate my risk with a mutual fund, but then I saw they have THIS THING:

Participate in an IPO with as little as a hundred dollars. 

Holy. Crap.

So I’ll be keeping an eye on that and trying not to freak out when I get an email letting me know I can participate in one. Also they have stock accounts with no minimum balance (they said you can start with $10!) I have to do some more research on loyal3 because that all sounds too good to be true. Okay, the IPO doesn’t because if you pool money and then loyal3 buys the shares it makes sense. Fee-free stock purchases? That’s the one I don’t understand.

Have you heard of LOYAL3? I need to do more research. Every time I consider buying anything, ever, I’m going to be thinking, “Could I put this $10 into a stock account instead?” That could really make me a paranoid shopper. Yikes!

Storytelling

(This is the continuation of the storytelling stuff  in case you were scrolling down to find it.) While I love telling the story of my life right now because this is kind of the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure™ book I’m in there is another part of me that wants to tell other stories. Stories that are not my own but are my own.

I’m making no sense.

Maybe as a therapeutic way to regain control over some forces outside my front door that are completely beyond my control like weather and work schedules, writing my own stories would give me that sense of peace. Fiction is a way to be honest in the context of someone else’s false life created by the author. (Yes, I’m honest on this blog. I don’t sugar coat, but I also don’t post about my kids’ poop color, so it’s a give and take with level of honesty. I think we’re good at the money-but-no-poop level, yeah?)

But with fake characters they could feel whatever and I could see how the character worked through those issues. Perhaps it would help me find other ways of dealing with in-person issues that arise like they do for all humans.

I just want hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars to take classes at LitReactor. I’ve wanted to for a couple years now. I’m sure they’re worth the class prices. Ah well, another thought to put on the shelf for another time.

Not to be completely self-centered, but do you think my complete lack of overreaction to losing clients means I’m an adult now? Or do you think that it’s just hidden, waiting for the wrong moment to jump up and make me feel horribly inadequate as a writer and a human being? 

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How We Deal With Recurring Financial Disappointment

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My financial disappointment (I call it cash-whiplash) is exactly as confusing as it sounds when I share it with you.

This week could have started on a more positive note. We found out Mr. Brickie is not working this week, no matter how beautiful the weather is. Seems that other job that was wrapping up is all wrapped up and they used a couple guys instead of bringing on the full crew for just a couple days. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but that doesn’t take the sting out of it personally. We monitored the weather like we had a duty to the National Weather Service or something. We were diligent.

I made the mistake of making plans. My hope swam past the buoys and into unsafe territory. Nothing that involved spending money, but things that were less tangible. Like doing the dishes and just being in that head-space where it would be just me and the 4yo at home during the day. I made plans for taking walks with her around the neighborhood to get fresh air. I made plans for what I would make for dinner so it was timed to be ready when he gets home. I basked in the 50’s housewife feel it gave me.

Let’s be honest. It would give me the freedom to write consistently.

Mr. Brickie has a sixth sense that tells him when I’m writing. He can hear the typing – I think – from anywhere in the house and it calls to him like a siren song to come sit by me and stare. His cure for, “Tell me a cool story.” Or, as he likes to call it, “Conversation.”

When I look at him and say, “I’m writing.” (with the universal hand motion indicating the laptop in front of me) he nods and says, “That’s great.” and stays there. Smiling, because he’s a really good dude and feels he is being supportive.

It makes writing difficult.

Okay, scratch that, it makes writing impossible. I can’t tell a smiling, supportive guy who loves me to go away. He’s just as disappointed as I am that he is not working and he wants to be by me to feel supported. I can’t deny that.

This feeling of disappointment is one I am familiar with but really dislike. I don’t want it to affect my overall mood, but putting on a happy face only works for so long and the disappointment takes longer than that to subside. I do not doubt the path we have chosen and I know it will all be for the best eventually, but the closer we get to Spring and work the more difficult it is to stay upbeat and hopeful.

I feel brittle and coarse.

I second-guess a decision I know is right.

Then, because I am a glutton for punishment, I immediately feel silly for second-guessing the decision and berate myself for not trusting the system that has worked so well for so many.

That means the way I thought things were going to go with a few days here, a few days there and some fits and starts before being back to work proper? Totally wrong.

Now we are waiting for enough warm days in a row a foundation for a building can be poured. Once that foundation is all poured and set, then his team will get to work. It is the only thing I knew for sure and I probably could have avoided choking and gasping like a half-drowned person on the disappointment was to keep it reigned in. I should not have let my hope swim past the buoys into the dark water where I spent time planning how to save during the Spring/Summer/Fall in order to be much more secure next Winter.

The new-if-not-improved plan is to figure out approximately how much of a Winter savings account we will need. Then take that number and divide by the number of weekly paychecks that will most likely happen and viola, how much needs to come out of each paycheck is determined.

In case you haven’t guessed it, I find making plans comforting.

For example, if Mr. Brickie gets 30 weekly paychecks and we want $3k in the bank for next winter, that’s $100/paycheck that needs to go into savings.

I don’t know if that’s how it will work, it’s certainly not a perfect calculation, but we will do our best, for sure.

How I Deal With the Disappointment

I give in. I feel the financial disappointment from my toes to my nose. I cry a little if I need to.

Next, I put on some music or put on the Dave Ramsey show on iHeartRadio and listen to other people’s problems and feel less alone in my feelings.

Finally, I look at the plans I have already made and update them. Updated plans keep me feeling grounded and less nervous.

If I don’t feel better after I’ve done these things, I repeat as necessary. Sometimes I’ll take a nap and just let my brain figure things out while I’m sleeping. Brains are good at that kind of thing.

How Mr. Brickie Deals with the Disappointment

Mr. Brickie watches some wrestling or takes out the trash or writes or puts things on craigslist. Staying busy keeps him from letting the feelings become overwhelming.

I can tell how bad he’s feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how far away from the rest of the family he chooses to take on tasks. If he is in the sunroom, shut off in the back of the house behind a closed door organizing shelves and breaking down boxes … I know it’s not good and do my best to pick up the mood of the house and keep things on an even keel.

Our Common Goal

Like me, his main goal is to not take anything out on the kids. They need to see a secure, united front and we are going to give that to them. We both know when we are feeling unhappy that it is difficult to follow the “no snapping or yelling” belief. We have this thing we do where if we are in a bad mood we make sure to take a deep breath the minute one of the kids starts asking a question. That tone of voice that lets you know with the first syllable of the first word there is something about to be asked of you is the cue to just inhale deeply and slowly.

By the time they get to the question mark – my kids are wordy, which makes this easier, I think – we have taken at least one deep breath but more likely we have taken about three deep, calming breaths and can answer in a normal tone of voice even if we have just been thinking about something unhappy or awful.

The Bottom Line

I thought I knew when things were going to go on the upswing. I was wrong. Now we are back to waiting, but in a much better way than we were when we were waiting for Mr. Brickie to find a company to work for in the first place. It’s difficult, but easier than it was last time. I’ve experienced financial disappointment worse than this. Not tons worse, but worse. So it’s not as bad as it could be by a long shot. I am sorry…I’m sure it is as bouncy and confusing and back-and-forth to read this as it actually feels. I’m sorry I’m not being more clear.

I guess that isn’t all bad as long as you can put a check in the “Keeps Getting Better” column.

Sometimes, I am jealous of people who can just have feelings and opinions and believe them and never question themselves. I’m never sure if my feelings are valid. I don’t know if I’m doing better or worse than anyone else. It’s all very confusing sometimes.

Also, the dump of snow that happened last night certainly didn’t help my mood. I’m not crabby, but I just feel a little dejected. I hope your day is going loads better and I’m sorry if I am being a bit of a downer today. It’s not my intent. I just don’t want to only write when the ending is upbeat or what is the point?

If I’m not being honest, why am I here?

Tell me something wonderful. Even if it’s tiny or small or you think it’s no big deal. No matter how mopey I am, a great story from someone else always warms my heart a little.

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Chat It Up Saturday (The “Is Craigslist Money Taxable Income?” Edition)

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We ended last month and started this month worried.

Very worried.

Now, thanks to a partial client payment that we thought would never come (He’s made four payments over the last year. We keep thinking about cutting bait but haven’t yet.), another blogging gig, and selling a glass desk on Craigslist things are looking noticeably more rosy and it’s only the 8th!

I had a couple comments about people who under-report income. I’m wondering if the money we got from selling the desk is income. We bought it for more than it was just sold for. If a business did the same thing they would be able to report a loss and have that not count toward their taxes. But since I’m an individual, I’m not sure what my responsibility is with that.

Let’s Google It!

The H&R Block Blog talks about Garage Sales, “When determining if a sale must be reported as income it isn’t the dollar amount that matters or how it was sold, but whether the item was sold for more than it was originally purchased. “ So it looks like Capital Gains works the same way for individuals and businesses in this case. Cool. It also has some other situations. It was a good read.

The NOLO.com website (a free law resource website) says the same thing. They even refer to Craigslist as the online version of a garage sale. I can totally see it.

In fact, the only place that says it is taxable is Answers.com and with no source or backup other than a big Yes. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking the tax website and the law website answers are far more reliable. Has anyone ever gotten a reliable answer from Answers.com? I don’t know. Yahoo! Answers used to be crap but I’ve found amazing and detailed answers with sources cited more times than not these days and actually don’t cringe when I see it in the list of websites Google returns as potential places to visit for an answer to whatever question I have that day.

Also, I think it’s completely obvious but just in case someone thinks I should mention it…If selling things for a profit on Craigslist or eBay is your business, the answer is different. I was just looking into this because I wasn’t sure if I should be claiming it as income.

We already claim blogging income and the marketing work income and the other writing income, not just because one of my biggest financial fears is an audit, but also because it’s better for us financially. The more we make this year the higher our EIC (earned income credit) will be. You can’t get tax credits without owing taxes, my darlings. As for the government benefits I help pay for with my taxes, the taxes out of Mr. Brickie’s paycheck when he has one, and the taxes out of his unemployment…SNAP reduction isn’t dollar-for-dollar reduction. So even though I claim more income, depending on the amount, it might make no difference in my benefits, so, personally, it’s better for me to claim every penny. It’s just better for me – and my sanity – to be up front and let the calculations handle themselves.

As much as I would love to boost the income numbers for this year, claiming income (like the Craigslist sales) when you aren’t supposed to can be as problematic on your taxes as not claiming income you don’t have. I think. Don’t take my word for it because I’m not a tax expert. So as much as I would like to claim that as income, I don’t.

Bottom line: We have kicked one more large item out of the house! *happy Snoopy dance* Every time something leaves I feel physically lighter. All this stuff was weighing me down. In my life I have moved more than the average person (but less than a military family) and I can tell you that even if this is my “forever home” I still feel more comfortable if I can move everything I own in 24 hours or less. You just never know, and I like to be prepared.  (Sounds paranoid when you put it in black and white like that. Yeesh.)

How Fast Things Change

We went from having $100+ dollars to make it through the month (which had me really worried because next week looks like it could be a work week and right now it’s a 2hr. round trip commute and a few dollars in tolls every day) but with other sources coming in we are looking at closer to $480 in the plus column for the month. I moved $100 into savings immediately and we are trying to live out of the “cash” envelope we have set up that we keep in a hidey hole like cartoon trolls. It’s cash from selling things on Craigslist. So we might be able to put even more in the envelope at the end of this month. It depends on how much he works and how much he needs to spend on gas and tolls and how much of that cash we need for food.

Now I’m super glad I do that monthly budget post because in retrospect everything makes more sense! 

A lot of what we are going through is less about numbers and more about perspective. Sure, it’s about numbers because that’s where the feelings come from, but worrying about about the next month’s or even next year’s money is something a little (teeny weeny) bit more in our control.

I don’t know. I worry a lot. I don’t want to be a worrier, but it’s so difficult.

Also, here’s a teaser for a post that will happen next month. I think I’m going to re-think how Easter baskets happen this year to try and get more bang for my buck, too. One nice thing and a little basket of candy is what I’m thinking. I’m sorry, I’m totally just thinking out loud here. I saw this cool box of 24 pastels for $10 (including shipping!) and that plus some art paper would be so much more appreciated, I think. Not for all the kids, just for the one who wants to be an artist.

Really, I need to have things for these kids to do that do not involve an electronic screen. They already read, play with ponies and matchbox cars and use their imaginations and play outside. They’re not attached 24/7, but every one-more-thing that’s not electronic gives another option.

Maybe I can look up some YouTube art tutorial videos. Since, as we all know, YouTube is the sum total of all human knowledge. At least, I think it is. YouTube has helped us replace windows, choose paint colors, make cute hairstyles, cut my own hair, and about a hundred other things. It’s magic, I tell you, MAGIC!

Basically, if I have ten dollars to spend I’d rather spend it on art supplies than even more candy. But that’s just me being a Scrooge, I guess.

One of the Secret Benefits to Planning with Money

Okay, I’m putting this at the end because I don’t want everyone to know I just figured this out recently. I’ve done a monthly budget for years on the last day-ish of the previous month. This means a holiday was as much a financial surprise to us as it was to people who don’t budget at all.

Now that I’m trying to forecast finances into the future (With the power of my mind. Seriously, there has to be a better way.) I’m thinking about Easter NOW (over a month in advance – craziness) which means I can set aside enough for gift baskets for the other kids that we usually see at Family Easter. As long as we keep our cash close to our hidey hole and don’t spend crazy cash (and trust me, we have become experts in not spending money) it will be no problem to sock that extra money into the savings account and be able to orchestrate an Easter based on value and not cost and time and  panic.

With a crazy, irregular, fluctuating income you just can’t do that whole, “I’ll put X amount of dollars a week into a savings account automatically!” thing that someone else’s bank might let them do. I would love to do that. I enjoy automating finances like you wouldn’t believe. Both because I’m lazy and because I remember when I worked for Allstate and we would look up accounts and the bills were paid by a service if the person was a celebrity most of the time and I thought, “Wow. You pay someone to pay your bills for you. That is a wealthy person.”

I will never hire someone to pay my bills for me but having them paid automatically says something about the level of financial security you feel that you CAN do that. Like, how cool would it be to have your bills auto-pay to your credit card every month and you just log in and pay the credit card bill once a month. That would be amazing.

It would be more amazing to do that with your debit card, but I get a little shaky and anxious even thinking of it because even though I know there will come a day when I have enough in my checking account I can pay bills automatically (I would love to use You Need A Budget for this. Someday, friends, someday I will use YNAB and it will be SO good.) that time is not now and the thought of anything coming out of my checking account I’m not prepared for gives me the chills.

No Offense

I know that some of my readers are very religious and I completely respect that Easter is a very symbolic and important holiday. As an agnostic, I come at it from more of an Easter Bunny “doin’ it for the children” perspective, but I do not think my way is better than a religious way.

My thoughts about Easter are completely financial for my family but I completely respect a family dynamic that incorporates a “There is more to Easter than chocolate” belief system. If you wrote a post on your blog or just want to share what Easter means to you, feel free to share your thoughts or your link it in the comments.

I’d like to think of this as an interfaith blog. All faiths and even no faith are welcome. We all get out hope and inspiration in different ways from different places.

Have a wonderful day! Tomorrow I am hoping it’s warm enough and not-wet enough to take the kids to the park. Here’s hoping!

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I Am Not Going to Starve or Be Homeless

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I feel like I can’t really say this enough.

There are people who are homeless, and who are going through other terrible, horrible things right now.

I am in a position right now where we do not have extra money for anything and because of winter we do not know if we will be able to pay next month’s bills. We budget tightly and go to food banks for food.  We are also on a path toward a much higher level of financial security.

On a scale of 1 – 10 where 10 is homeless, I’m like a 4, tops.

As much as it would be an inconvenience, I have friends I could live with if I really needed to. I have a family member I could go live with temporarily. No matter how abrasive I might be there are a lot of people who don’t want to see us homeless. I’m very, very lucky. But I’m not even planning on those outcomes because I’ve been working out the most likely probabilities in my head for months.

Here are the most common possible outcomes in the order of probability.

  1. The most probable outcome is we remain where we are. As Mr. Brickie moves up the bricklayer ranks on his way to being a journeyman his pay will increase. Along with that journeyman title and living wage he’ll get in a couple years there is also insurance (we benefit from this already), two pensions, and other nifty benefits. We are sacrificing now so we can win later.
  2. The second most probable outcome is that we will move. Whether or not we get foreclosed on is mainly a matter of timing. How fast court proceedings and things go vs. when he gets raises as he moves up the apprentice scale. It’s something I just can’t know. If we do move, we already know where we are moving to and have checked out both houses to rent and apartments in the area. Researching my Plan B extensively makes me more comfortable with the uncertainty.
  3. The most unlikely outcome is moving in with friends or relatives. This only happens if things happen faster than we are prepared for or some other unforeseen event comes up. This is the rarest of the possibilities.

I have been preparing and worrying about this since before Mr. Brickie became a bricklayer. then I worried while he went through training. I kept worrying as he looked for a company to take him on as their apprentice. I am now worrying our way through his first winter where weather keeps him from being able to work.

As the sun streams through my window and I feel a hint of spring in the air, I feel hopeful. With Tom Skilling (weatherman supreme) saying the current prediction is an El Niño in six months I feel even more hopeful because that will mean next winter is mild and a mild winter will mean more work and faster raises.

If it doesn’t happen that way, I’ll readjust the plan. That’s something that everyone does regardless of where they are on the income ladder, right? I mean, the point of this blog is not to show how sad and pathetic I am. Far from it! I want to show that I’m just a person living my life with my family like everyone else and I’m not anything special. So that others can know that they are not alone or if they are doing great maybe they won’t assume everyone else is just because they are.

I am just another person who used credit cards to fund my children’s Christmas. I then used my tax return to pay them off. I know I’m not the only person in America who did that. I know I’m not the only person in America who wants this past Christmas to be the last time they use credit cards to buy things for their children!

Honestly, I cannot overstate how lucky we are. Even without food security or knowing for sure where we will be living a year from now, none of my children have medical conditions that require doctor care beyond annual physicals. None of my children have behavioral issues outside the norm for their ages. Both of my children are in enrichment classes in elementary school. I have a husband who is dedicated, affectionate, and loving. I have all the OTHER things besides money that people want. I am beyond thankful for all those things every day of my life. The everything else I have is what allows me to write this blog from a place of strength and love instead of sounding like every day is another panic attack.

If that makes me less inspirational, so be it. I am here to be honest, not try and blow smoke up everyone’s butt and try and show myself to be some kind of impoverished saint. No way. I am just a person who is currently poor and thinks they won’t be forever who is kind of just trying to take everyone who wants to come on the journey.

My readers are the best people. I am lucky to know most of you. But you know … you KNOW I wouldn’t trade places with any of you. No matter how wonderful the life you might have right now, I love my family and I am a junkie for a great comeback story. I like to think that’s what I’m in the middle of right now. A comeback story.

I hope to have you with me once this part of the journey is passed and I refer to things like The Taco Incident as examples of how fear of not having enough shows up in the strangest places instead of being a story of something that just happened. When I have my kids in activities and we are taking vacations and you will all know how hard I worked to get those things.

Who knows, maybe it will help someone else put their own life into perspective and cut themselves some slack and remember how hard they worked to get the things they have. (Wow, that was a really clunky sentence!) Maybe it’s you who thinks you could always be doing more but have already done enough and are running yourself into the ground. Maybe it’s someone you know.

I will always feel the perspective this part of my life has given me is the true gift. I am a much, much less judgmental person now than I was a few years ago. I have more understanding in my heart for the situations of other people. I don’t look at stories online anymore with an immediate eye to pick them apart or be an armchair quarterback for a life I have not lived.

I’m not going to start handing out cash willy-nilly without some facts, though. I mean, I’m not going to go full stupid or anything, but I can give any human the respect of reading or listening to their story with an open mind, regardless of what I choose to do with that information after reading or listening.

How are you doing? Are you feeling overworked today? Or do you feel you still have some pep in your step to get things done?

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The Taco Incident

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We can chalk up this title for being one that does nothing for search engines. I’m not trying to be vague, I just really don’t know what else to call it. It’s what we call it in our house and it was something that happened just this week. It has been referenced a lot, most recently to get me to do the dishes, because we have been known to play a little down and dirty in this house when it comes to convincing the other one to do household chores.

The Backstory

If your read my post about how our SNAP benefits have been delayed and reduced then you know things are a little tense in the house. It’s not tense because we are going to go hungry, it’s tense because budgeting is always my job and as such it makes me a little weird when I have to recalculate something to the penny. Especially since we have a history of Mr. Brickie going shopping and buying something extra “just because” and me trying not to claw his face off because that is not how things work.

Except that is exactly how things work because how things work is a social construct agreed to by the parties involved and obviously even if he agrees to the social construct once he’s in the Magic Land of Buying Stuff™ things just get a little out of control sometimes. I have no way to put this into the budget. So it makes me tense.

The Shopping Trip

We were totally out of SNAP funds but needed a few things from the store. Orange juice, half & half, and toilet paper. I’m not sure if that’s the exact list but the real list was probably almost exactly that. It was a short list and he was just running out really quick and I figured nothing was amiss.

You have probably already guessed what happened but stick with me.

More Backstory

I had said the night before, “I’d like to have tacos soon. We haven’t done that in a while.” <– this will turn out to be my critical misstep in The Incident.

The Big Reveal

He walks in and I see a bag with more in it than an orange juice concentrate container and a quart of half & half. I get nervous. “What did you buy?” I say in my very best, “I’m not mad at you and please tell me it’s a puppy you found on the side of the road because oh my gosh if you bought off the list I will kill you but not yet there is hope I’m remaining calm” voice.

“I bought stuff for tacos!” He says with this huge, awesome, proud-of-himself-for-remembering smile.

I proceed to turn into a screeching harpie (I was going to put a picture in here but every time I do a Google Image search for screeching harpie there are pictures of Nancy Grace and Suze Orman and I die laughing and then feel guilty for laughing because Womyn Power and close the window so I’m not going to post a picture. It’s not a good thing. It’s a loud thing.

His defense? He wanted to surprise me with something nice.

My anger? Is not assuaged by getting me something nice that is not on the list. I feel the gift I have been given is stress.

He is totally not getting it and thinks I’m totally overreacting for ten dollars.

Oh yeah, did I mention the taco dinner stuff cost ten bucks? I went half screaming crazy for ten bucks worth of food.

Let’s be clear. I’m not proud of this. I’m not happy about this. I remember when Jenn posted her story on the Poor as Folk blog she mentioned snapping at her kid for asking for seconds. She got bagged on so hard in the comments by some jerk calling her abusive. I just wanted to just give her such a high five of solidarity because oh my gosh I screamed at my husband for ten dollars of food we would totally eat because everyone in the family loves tacos.

Because you know it wasn’t about the ten dollars and it wasn’t about food and it wasn’t about tacos. It was about fear. 

What I’m Going to Do About It

I did this challenge a year ago called The Orange Rhino and it changed my life. It’s free, it’s a blog and Facebook group and it’s all about not yelling anymore. Even though I really don’t yell at my kids anymore at all I still snap at them now and then when I’m distracted and they do something that needs to not be happening (trying to do cartwheels in the kitchen, for example) and I’ll just bark a quick order.

I think it’s time for an Orange Rhino refresher course! I’m going to go back through her blog and remind myself how much happier I am when I don’t yell or snap. (The kids did it with me and they yell SO MUCH LESS now. It’s really pretty magic, even though it’s really crazy simple.) I want to do more than remember how good being calm feels. I want to exist in that place every day again.

I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that snapping at my kids is like the buzzed driving of parenting. It’s not as bad as full out yelling but it’s still dangerous to their little growing brains. My kids are awesome at handling adversity, but why give them any more than they absolutely have to deal with? I mean they’re already going to have enough to make them “not soft” or whatever it is you have when you grow up with stories of being poor or whatever. They don’t need enough to write a tell-all about their childhood.

For real. If one of them writes an autobiography you will be able to hear me screeching from wherever you are in the WORLD. The same I would expect my mother to if I wrote one.

As for marriage repair after screaming, I’ve done extra dishes and given extra [redacted] and hugs to Mr. Brickie so he feels loved and is not completely determined never to do anything nice for me again. It’s a start. Mostly it was a big wake up call for both of us. He realizes shopping off the list is a big deal for me (yes, I did tell him a hundred times already, how did you know?) and I learned I really need to chill the heck out about ten bucks.

As long as it doesn’t become a regular thing. Of course.

Have you ever freaked out at a spouse’s purchase and realized later you were so totally in the wrong in the grand scheme of the universe? Tell me about it so I feel less alone!

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Angry At People on SNAP Buying Junk Food?

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You guys…seriously. I either need a writing retreat or to be able to hide in the attic or something.

I am doing my best to do a post a day, because I have all this stuff to talk about and my list of posts to write is growing but between only wanting to give you the best quality (I will not phone it in) and acting like a parent (oh! the drudgery!) I have the worst time getting posts written at a decent hour on weekdays!

Then weekends happen and I think SWEET BLISS I will finally get some work done.

Why do I think that? I have to know better by now! The kids are all home and that means my house sounds like it’s been invaded by a pack of howler monkeys in a cage full of heavy metal and cocaine. Which means I am most productive after 8:30pm on weeknights. Sure, my husband wants attention after the kids are in bed, that’s what video games are for. They give him the love that I deny him because I’m a blogger and it’s not a hobby it’s a business.

Actually, right now it’s just a half-built platform. Every post is another stick on the beaver dam of awesome I’m workin’ on.

Today I saw my favorite artist that I actually know post something on Facebook that was lamenting that people don’t think she does “real work” because she’s an artist and photographer and the pictures she paints and the photographs she takes aren’t dark and scary so obviously they were fun to take and, therefore, not real work. (I honestly have no backstory on who said this to her, so all that stuff about why they don’t think it’s real work is made up in my head. I am telling you, I have a great imagination. Especially for fake backstories.)

I thought about the people who think that my writing isn’t work or my parenting isn’t work or….

Worrying About Money Is Not Work

My husband has actually made the mistake of saying this one to me but I think a lot of people don’t give credit where credit is due. This one is for the people who are both on SNAP or not on SNAP but have to budget for food and are feeling strapped and stretched thin.

When you don’t have enough – or barely have enough – to get your basic needs met you spend a lot of time and energy thinking about it. I do not know any poor people that are puppies and rainbows about their situation. They’re either pessimists or realists. Even the ones who are really religious have an increased uptick in how many “trust in the lord” memes are shared, because they have to spend more time and energy reminding themselves to chill and have faith that their decisions will lead them to a good place.

When I get pushback on Facebook it’s usually from someone who literally has so much faith in their situation I pray it never changes because they wouldn’t know how to cope. They feel a very human, middle-class version of invincible. It’s odd to watch because you can almost picture the bubble they’re in. I don’t wish anything bad on them, because I don’t like to see people hurting. Also, I’m pretty sure enough people are wishing bad on them in their everyday lives they don’t need me piling it on.

Because the thing is, I get lots of messages from people who are poor and no one knows. I could easily keep it a secret if I wanted to. While our identities may be easily stolen by hackers out to have a good time or make some money, it is surprisingly easy to show the best side of a life in such a way that it seems better than it is.

For example, I could have called my 1958 thrift store kitchen table “vintage” and claim to have paid three times what I did. If you thought I could afford it, you would believe me, because it is vintage, it is in good condition, and I’ve seen them downtown going for $300+ dollars. (Crap. Now I’m wondering if I could sell it. I’m so in love with it though. See, now I’m going to waste precious time and energy wondering if I should get rid of my new favorite thing that brings my family together for a couple hundred bucks. This is stupid.)

Those rabbit holes your mind goes down? They waste precious time and energy. For me, that’s energy that I would probably be spending on building this blog. Thus, it’s detrimental to my bottom line monetarily as well as emotionally.

The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side

There is a little secret I want to share with you about my life. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. There is going to be a gap between where we are now and being “okay” and that gap is steep and dark and it has spikes and water on the bottom. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to look like it’s getting better and that won’t be fake at all. But then… well, we’ll get back to that. I want to get back to the secret of people who are having trouble affording food.

  • Most people on SNAP would love to make enough money to pay for their own food. 

  • Most people with a tight food budget think it would be amazing to have supplemental food income.

The problem is, both groups only add the extra into their equation. Not every single one. I don’t. You probably don’t. Lots of people do. They think, “If my situation was exactly how it is now AND I had another four hundred to spend on food every month I wouldn’t have to worry about making every penny stretch as much.”

At the very same time, SNAP recipients are thinking about having a job that pays enough they wouldn’t need to feed a family of five on a little over four hundred dollars a month. They feel that if they had a good job they would make enough to spend a normal, decent amount on groceries.

It’s like when you were a kid and you fantasized that you were on Supermarket Sweep getting everything you want and just chucking it in your cart willy-nilly from Nutella to Prime Rib. Or maybe you were the kid who fantasized about that five minute sweepstakes winner that would get to take a cart through Toys R Us for five minutes. (My husband was all, “I’d get GI Joe stuff.” I was like, “Whatever. I’d had a route mapped.” He was all, “My idea is better.” Then I hit him. Okay, I didn’t hit him. I just gave him side-eye and changed the subject.)

It’s also like when people wish they were someone else because of their beauty, money, power, or some other perceived benefit. It’s just easier to believe others have it easier than we do because we only feel our pain, our sorrow, and our defeats. We know what we have been through in this life and how we’ve had to pick ourselves up and crawl to a place where we are okay.

Where the phrase ignorance is bliss slides right past me because I’m not smart enough to get it. Yeah, I spend some time in fantasyland on my way to dreamtown where I’ve never known hunger or pain and never had anyone dump me or felt like a monster for breaking someone’s heart. I think we all spend a little time there now and then. If I am the only person, please don’t tell me, I think it might break me irreparably.

That Person Who is Angry at People on Food Stamps Buying Junk Food?

The typical person who is angry is not really thinking of a person buying junk food as a normal person. They are either someone “milking the system” or someone who “doesn’t know any better” as opposed to a normal person buying something crappy for their kids because if it wasn’t normal it wouldn’t be a billion dollar industry.

I know. That’s my whole take on it. Poor people want to be normal and have normal lives. They see commercials where little Jimmy comes home from hockey practice (sports are expensive, I had to pull my girls from all activities that were not free) and have a Hot Pocket. While I, personally, have enough of a marketing background this just makes me hate Hot Pockets, if you don’t have a marketing background or don’t know better and you know you can’t give your little Jimmy or Jane sports you can at least buy them the Hot Pockets and feel just a little less crappy about your life.

Sometimes I wish I could just give in to the marketing and buy my kids Hot Pockets and have them smile and say mmmm because their brains are firing off fat/salt neurotransmitters like the inside of the obelisk in 2001 all “My God…it’s full of stars!” (Only watch the YouTube clip if you’ve seen 2001/2010 or it will just creep you out. 2001 shows the stars but doesn’t have the words and 2010 has the words but doesn’t show the stars so I went with a clip of the words. It’s creepy but I love it.)

Down the Rabbit Hole

There are lots of articles addressing the topic of junk food and food stamps, mostly because there was a bill being bandied about where someone was going to make junk food not able to be purchased with food stamps. While it might be healthier, it’s also kind of dehumanizing. So now you can’t give Jimmy sports OR a friggin’ Hot Pocket. Seriously, is it any wonder poor people are depressed? They can’t have anything they’re being told makes them a good parent. Trust me, when you are on the tail end of having no money, “Love is enough” does NOT help you get to sleep at night no matter how many times you listen to Jeremy by Pearl Jam.

Don’t read any of the comments unless you have a strong stomach. I don’t know if they’re bad because I don’t read the comments on these types of posts because the hateful ones make me cry sometimes.

I tried to avoid any site that was heavily political. I think Bill Moyers is political but I can’t remember. I guess if it’s not overtly hateful and I picked it that might be me and my skewed perspective that then ends up being political anyway. I’m not sure. I can tell you if you are firmly against food stamps the odds are REALLY good you’ll find people who share your thoughts in the comments section.

What About You?

Do you have a story you would like to share about being poor? A childhood story? A current situation? I would be happy to publish it here for you under your name (with a link to your website or blog, of course) or under a pseudonym if you just have a story you want to get out there and share. Send an email to jenny(deletethispart)decki@beyondmom.com (yes even delete the parentheses so it’s just jennydecki) and I’ll be happy to schedule one for you.

You could also share a story about why you feel secure or insecure about money regardless of your socioeconomic status or paycheck. I’m open to all stories so we can kind of learn from one another and grow in understanding.

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March 2014 Budget Post

March 2014

WooHoo! Another month, another budget and probably the first time I’ve actually kept a series alive past the first, hopeful post.

This month looks a lot better than last month. You’ll see just how much better in next Sunday’s post (because in another fit of long-term commitment I’m making the second Sunday of the month Net Worth Day!) and I’ve got this cool little tracker thing I’m going to use when I have enough data to show the changes in our Net Worth. The road from here to there is going to be an up and downy one and it will be neat to just keep tracking through the whole process.

Back to the Budget!

Income
Unemployment $544
mTurk $100
Writing $100
Cash on Hand $342
Total Income: $1,086
Expenses
Car $500
Gas $187
Electric $106
Internet $68
Phones $82
Business Expenses
Hosting $15
Domains $0
Total Expenses: $958
Total Difference: $128 (positive #!!)

We are actually in the positive this month!

The mTurk and writing numbers are approximate in the sense I’m at like $3 on mTurk right now so need to build that up in a big way, and the writing income is already made and pending deposit into my PayPal account, so I could do better there if assignments come up during the month.

Since our income fluctuates wildly, I enter things based on their risk value, which I have assigned in my mind with no particular algorithm other than my intuition and past performance. Mostly past performance. I know there will be things to do on mTurk to boost that number up, there always are. Writing? That is much more ebb and flow and seems kind of random sometimes so I am unwilling to count those as eggs in my income basket unless they’ve already hatched, been accepted, and are pending deposit.

Whew, I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure I took the egg analogy too far. I was picturing myself as a chicken. It got weird up in here!

Oh, I don’t want to forget to tell you…I’m always going to link to mTurk if I mention it in a post just in case someone else wants to make very small amounts of money. It’s not an affiliate link and I don’t get anything for referring you. I just … if you wanted to do it I would feel like a jerk if I made you do a Google search when it’s faster for me to put the link in while writing. So don’t feel obligated or anything, cause it makes no nevermind to me either way.

The extra money is obviously going to be going toward gas for the car for the month. If Randy starts working this month (and my Spidey Sense says he is) then things will be a little more unpredictable.

Beyond gas, we are going to keep every penny on hand in case we need it for food/toiletries. One of the things we make sure not to do is let our expenses expand to fit our income. I think it will be a valuable habit later on if we just keep on doing what we’re doing in that category.  

Other Income Plans

We have current and planned listings on Craigslist and this month we are also going to start selling some things out of the house on eBay. You know, the stuff that can be shipped easily. I’m not selling things we love or my children cannot live without. It’s just the accumulation of living somewhere for eleven years.

Tomorrow I pick up paczki for a friend in California and ship them overnight so she can have paczki on Fat Tuesday. Even though I offered to do it for the cost of the paczki and shipping because I just feel it is sad and not-right a good polish girl should go without good polish pastry on such a special day, she insisted on getting our family a dozen paczki to say thanks! She is a wonderful human being and thanks to her our Fat Tuesday will include ALL THE paczki! I’m very excited about this. The kids don’t know. They are going to freak when they see a dozen assorted paczki in front of them. 

I’m excited for March. I think things are going to go well, but even if they don’t, stick around and you will be the first to find out!

paczki-day
source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paczki

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Why I Do Not Want Your Leftovers

you-cant-eat-pride

I was having a conversation with someone yesterday and he was telling me that he meets a lot of people who say they want to help poor people and people who are in troubled circumstances until you talk about affordable housing and then everyone clutches their pearls and says, “Not in my neighborhood!”

Really, I can see where the pearl-clutchers are coming from. If you write a check to a charity you can feel like you are doing something and then walk away to your safe street in your safe neighborhood and unlock your five locks (he lives in NY) and sink into your chair with your wine and listen to some classical music. (I made up the wine and classical music, sometimes my imagination creates a whole scene. Even now I’m all, “I should add a fireplace into that loft in my mind.”)

If that same person sees someone homeless, they might think they are doing a wonderful thing stopping into a fast-food place or even a bistro nearby and buying a meal for that person. I’ve known people who thought it was a great idea to give their doggy-bag leftovers to the people hanging out on the street, too. (I’ll come back to this one later, stick with me.) 

Here is where a homeless man’s life intersects directly with mine and maybe yours, too.

There are Two Types of Food Giving.

The first type can be clearly evidenced by my really sweet and wonderful neighbor. She brings us leftovers. We love her for it. She brings stuff the kids love like cake, lasagna, and even leftovers from a Pampered Chef party. She brings them not because we need help but she doesn’t like to throw out food and, really, she’s smart and knows my kids love cake and apple tarts and lasagna. I accept these little neighborly gifts, say thank you, and my children are happy. This is the good kind of bringing food over because it would happen regardless of where we were at monetarily. She is giving to us because she doesn’t like to waste, not because giving us half a cake somehow makes her feel like a saint. (If you’re reading this, let me be clear, we love when you bring food over!)

The second type is usually people who have either found out we are poor because of this blog or people who knew we were poor but then something about these stories (or something else entirely) makes them decide I require their charity, immediately. They feel some kind of something that makes them want to help save us. The reason this one is so vague is that the whole situation is weird and chaotic. There is no clear communication and it is done in a very haphazard way.

Now, I understand people have varying levels of preference when it comes to social interactions. Interacting with different types of people can be tough, but one of the things I said in my Food Insecurity post is we are not going to go hungry. We have access to a food bank that gives us high quality food as you can see from our food bank haul picture in this post. I mean, we might be food insecure but I had a Starbucks Morning Bun for breakfast. It was day-old and free, so that makes it twice as yummy. Cross my heart.

I was able to use some of the items we received from the food pantry and have a guest over for dinner this evening. It was really wonderful and I made sure he knew the food came from the food pantry, just in case that would give him the willies. It did not, because he’s not that kind of person, and I think he really enjoyed himself. I know my family sure did. It was connection and it was wonderful and it was more than worth it to serve up one extra plate for that joy everyone felt breaking bread together.

My thoughts on these two types of food givers led me to a revelation….

Another Communication Secret You Will Love (I hope)

I am so excited to share this one.

This works most clearly when you are in a conversation where someone wants you to do something for them or they want to do something for you. It works either way as long as they have initiated the contact. In my case it seems to be happening a lot when people want to do something for me but when I was thinking about it, I noticed it also happens when people want something from you, as well.

You listen for trigger words.

If the person who has called you to give/receive help don’t offer the basic emotional support of, “Hi, how are you. I’m good, thanks. How was your day?” My alarm bells – you have alarm bells in your head, too, right? – go off and I have an a-ha moment and know that the person on the other end of the line and what they are looking for has nothing to do with me and everything to do with some internal struggle I know nothing about.

If there is no kindness, it is not about you. 

Exceptions to this rule: Anyone autistic. Anyone with a psychological disorder that would make empathy impossible. The four people on earth who hate small talk so much they refuse to participate in that, “How are you today?” madness. This is not something that will help us understand every single human on the planet, but I have faith we can use our better judgement on a case-by-case basis.

Your basic general population though? Yeah, it’s game on like Donkey Kong with all of them. When people care about you as a person they are going to act like they care in very obvious, simple ways. I get that there are Five Love Languages (and I have to say I love the Five Love Languages quiz because it was accurate even though we are not a couple that generally gets into things like Love Language quizzes) but human connection is where everything good begins.

I do not know the proper way to confront people who want to give me things I don’t want. Especially food. I would love to go to someone’s house (or have someone over) and have dinner and enjoy their company and have them enjoy our company. The thing is, if I get the distinct impression that is not what the person wants, well, then I find myself not really wanting to break bread with them. 

At that point I would rather spend the dime on the dented can of beans and use spices and have that meager dinner with my family and know that my kids and I are experiencing love as part of a crappy meal than have a lovely spread with someone who is feeling sorry for us the whole time. Or whatever feeling it is people feel when they want to give charity but don’t care enough to ask about my day.

Of course, that’s just me. Different people in different places have different needs and want different things. That’s true regardless of where you fall on the socioeconomic spectrum. It might look a little more obvious with a poor person because people tend to think we will be grateful for any food you bring us. It is entirely possible there is someone out there would love leftovers and prefer their charity not come with connection or kindness. That’s great for them and I support that because humans are quirky and I’m not here to judge anyone else.

It just isn’t how I live or want my daughters to experience the world.

You Can’t Eat Pride

….but you can get sick as hell on bad food you swallowed your pride to get down.

What if the homeless person from my first example at the beginning of this post is a vegetarian? Are they still supposed to be thankful for a burger or chicken sandwich?

Are we all allowed to have ethical beliefs, or are we supposed to check our beliefs and ethics at the door when we fall far enough down the money ladder? I read something like this recently in the preview of a book called Poverty in a Big Way. I could only read the preview because I don’t have $30 to spend on an eBook and although he offered me a review copy, I can’t take him up on it until I know I really have the time to dedicate to reading it. From the preview I can tell you we don’t agree on everything, but there are some amazing points. You can get to the preview by clicking that link up there and then in the picture of the cover of the book in the upper right-hand corner there’s a pretty blue button that says preview.

He doesn’t eat meat. People have been verbally abusive to him because they gave him food (sometimes leftovers) and he says, “No thank you.” polite as can be and then they act like he’s a jerk for not being grateful.

When charity and offerings come from that place? The place where you are obligated to be grateful no matter what because someone offered you a doggy-bag on a whim? That is some really awful charity and I don’t think it’s actually charity at all. I think it’s a selfish act by a selfish person who is demanding thankfulness. Again, gross.

I just can’t help but wonder at what point do you have to give up those things that make us human – beliefs, ethics, thoughts, feelings, etc. – in order to let other people feel good about helping? Can a person in that position who has given up those things even be truly thankful? Doesn’t being thankful require some of those core human beliefs and feelings? I’m pretty sure if a person has to give up all those little emotions and beliefs that make us unique, thankfulness cannot survive. Thankfulness is watered by hope and hope is gone if you don’t even have the autonomy to say, “No.” to things other people want to do to your body, even if it is something as simple as trying to dictate what you put in it for nutrition.

Maybe it seems like once someone is poor enough they should just give up pride. Just that one emotion. The problem with that is it might not be possible to give up pride. Turns out, pride is not some wack-a-doo social construct. This blog post from the Association of Psychological Science (it’s on a blogger account because it’s a 2007 article, they have a much snazzier blog now) talks about a study that identifies two kinds of pride. Basically one is legit pride that comes from accomplishment and one is based in hubris. Ignore the picture of George Bush if you go to the blog. I get that people can’t keep their politics off the Internet (nor should they, carry on, y’all) but I don’t want anyone to think I’m posting because of that picture. I’m not. Also, the comments section on that post is a beautiful thing. About the third one down there’s a story of a baby and it’s just heartwarming. Pride can be heartwarming.

My issue is that with the poor, just like anyone else, no one can really know what kind of pride is leading them to say no.

The way I think I would handle this is to accept a, “No thank you.” wish them a good night, and be on my way. I like to think I would be happy knowing my gift to that person might not have been the food I intended to give but, instead, their right to make an informed choice without judgement or abuse.

That seems like its own special gift, doesn’t it?

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