Category: Budget & Finance

On Broken Bones and Broken Finances

Finance-Small-CircleOh my friends. We have come so far. Financially we have struggled. Lately I’ve been feeling a little weird because all this normalcy and regular bill and debt payment made me feel shy and like maybe it was only interesting to write about things being bad. I was assured by many kind and loving folks that it’s okay to celebrate stability when you finally have it.

Well, I guess when I had stability would be the appropriate tense. I did enjoy those two months in the sun, though, I really did.

On Monday, Mr. Brickie fell off a ladder and broke his wrist. He was being super safe, the ladder was not rickety, and he was almost at the bottom after taking care of some bolt thing. The ladder kicked out from under him and he fell on his right side. He texted me before driving home, “Hurt my wrist at work, should be okay. On my way home.” I figured he sprained or tweaked it a little and made sure we had enough ice in the freezer to make an ice pack of some kind. No problem.

When he got home his arm was hanging by his side, he couldn’t move it, and it was very swollen. I told him he needed to go to the ER and he said, “Yes, I would at least like to get it checked out.” Neither of us thought it was broken. Him because he didn’t think it hurt enough to be broken and I was just wishing the break away with all my might because you can’t lay brick with a broken wrist and we just got to this place where we’re stable and boring and were even doing better than we have in years and it couldn’t be broken it would be too awful.

The x-ray confirmed it, however, and he got his temporary splint cast until we can get to the orthopedic surgeon for a full diagnosis and permanent cast.

First off, I’m thankful for worker’s compensation and knowing we don’t have to pay for his treatment. I’m less thankful for all the hoops I feel we’ve had to jump through the last couple days to get a claim filed. The company he is with is new and I think this might be their first worker’s comp claim and, as such, they aren’t a whole lot more sure of the procedure than I am after a Google information binge. We should have what we need this morning, I hope. Then we can get him a cast and on the road to mending for good.

As for the finances, I have a little over $200 in my Digit account I can withdraw if I have to. I have the $555 in the emergency fund (yes, I do wish I had prioritized the emergency fund over debt payoff right about now) and I have no idea what his worker’s comp payment will be or when it starts. I assume we will find that out when the adjuster calls today. From what I’ve read it’s 2/3 of your after tax income based on the last 52 weeks of work. With rain days and winter off and a couple pay raises there is no reliable way to calculate that number. I mean, I do have all the paystubs but that seems like some serious overkill. I took the number from our tax return ($33k) and did the calculation with that. It’s not after tax but it’s also not accounting for a raise so maybe it’s close? I don’t know.

I’m working with the assumption that it will be eight weeks before he’s back to work. I will update my assumption when more facts come in. Eight weeks seems like a safe, middle-of-the-road starter assumption so I can at least start making a plan. Having your bills written down or in a spreadsheet really helps when you need to know the bare-bones of what you have to have to survive. (Bare bones? Really? Now is so not the time for awful puns…and yet…here we are.)

Tomorrow he will receive a full paycheck and the rest of this month’s bills will be paid. The last check of the month (next Thursday) will only have one day of work on it, but the whole thing was slated to go into savings accounts (rent savings and insurance savings) so I can make those up with the emergency fund or by not paying into them until he’s back to work.

I hate to put off rent savings, but I know myself well enough to know we can prioritize it once he’s back at work. We have until November 15th to come up with that money so it’s not an immediate priority. Right now there’s $485 in that savings account so I’ll try and avoid using it but at the same time I’m not going to feel bad if I have to use it to keep the lights on.

I thank everything good and holy that this happened:

  1. In spring.
  2. On a job that’s going to be years long so he has something to go back to when he heals.
  3. On a crew that considers him a real part of the team.
  4. On a crew where several guys he works with have called to ask how he is and making him feel better with their own broken bone stories.
  5. On a crew where everyone tells him they look forward to having him back.
  6. With a company that has changed when and how ladders are used so this doesn’t happen to someone else. It’s a small thing but very telling because it shows they view this as something that can happen to anyone and aren’t “blaming” him for the accident.

I’m trying to find my comfort in knowing this is temporary and I’m trying very hard to be thankful it’s only his wrist. It could have been so much worse but it wasn’t because he prioritizes safety and always faces his ladder so if he does fall he doesn’t fall off the edge of a building…because this happened on the second story and if his ladder was positioned the other direction he would have fallen two stories instead of three feet. He could be dead.

So….yeah…I’m kind of a messy jumble of emotions and emergency planning.

What the Middle Class Looks Like: Lice

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I am not 100% sure if we are middle class, but I think we live like we are. We live in the Midwest (so we aren’t paying LA rent or Alaska milk prices) and my husband is in a union so health insurance is an included part of the package and not a deduction from his check or something we have to pay for separately. The “Middle Class Mondays” series covers things I’ve always felt would be different when we had what I consider “enough” money and how those experiences compare to how things used to be for us or how they compare to how things were when I was a child.


When I was in Junior High we lived in California. A little town that no one has heard of if you didn’t live in it or near it.  The most exciting thing that ever happened was a drug lab a few doors down and across the street burned to the ground one day.

It was the kind of town where a guy with no legs would sit in his wheelchair on the porch morning and afternoon waiting for me to walk by on my way to school so he could shoot rubber bands at me. Across the street from him was a large, barren yard with three very angry large dogs that would bark and jump against the rickety, old chain link fence every morning and afternoon as I walked by. I quickly learned to walk in the middle of the street, but if a car came by I would have to choose the fence that didn’t seem stable with the very angry dogs or getting welts from rubber bands on my arms and legs.

You know, that kind of town.

The Junior High was mostly in a building but there were also trailers out back to deal with the overcrowding that was a serious problem.

When a lice outbreak hit, it was rough on everyone. My mother yelled about how expensive lice shampoo was and how long my hair was and how awful the town was but she bought some and took care of my hair. I’m sure it cost her in some other area, because we didn’t have extra money ever when I was a kid. That’s where the yelling came from. Something unexpected can turn your world upside down without having to be something large like a broken-down car.

The house with the angry dogs? They had two boys and a girl. That family decided the best route for lice removal was to shave their children’s heads. There was no way they could afford lice shampoo. The next day at school the girl was wearing a ski cap. In California. In May. I felt terrible for her. It’s the first time I really remember feeling terrible for another human being. She was so unhappy.

Here in the present day, my youngest got lice from kindergarten. I called our family doctor and she called in prescriptions for Sklice. Sklice doesn’t burn, doesn’t smell bad, and you put it on dry hair. You don’t even have to comb the bugs and eggs out (but I do anyway because I’m good at doing it without hurting the kids). I found a coupon online that I printed at home reducing the price of the bottle to $10/ea.

The problem is the doctor’s office phoned in a prescription for regular Nix on accident and when we discovered the error (CVS called us to let us know!) the office was closed. I had to treat the kids so I went to CVS and bought the normal stuff off the shelf and treated the kids and us that night for about $60 total. The next morning I got a call from the doctor’s office apologizing for the mistake and letting me know the problem had been corrected and the right prescription was ready at the pharmacy.

Even though we had all been treated already I went and picked up the prescription stuff because it can’t hurt to have good lice stuff in your bathroom closet, right? So I got the four prescriptions for another $40.

At no point did I complain, yell, wail, gnash my teeth, or freak out. I just got the stuff and did the thing and sent everyone back to school the next day. We treated all the stuffed animals and comforters and couch cushions (they fit in the washer, hallelujah) and that was that.

Last week we got another note that the class had lice again. I trimmed my youngest daughter’s hair, did another treatment, combed her out, and she was done. Again. There is a lot of hassle involved in washing all the things but I have a washer and dryer right here in the basement of my housepartment and so it’s not that bad. I don’t even pay for water in this building so the hot water to sanitize everything isn’t my problem except the gas to heat the water.

Two entire lice treatments were covered by the $100 buffer I keep in my checking account. Not even the emergency fund. The “just in case we go over” money. The first time one of the kids got lice a million years ago I was so much more like my mom. Where will that money come from? How are we going to make this work? Why is this happening to us? It was overwhelming and stressful.

While the annoyance of having to do all the lice things was still there, the stress was not. It amazed me how different the experience was when that expensive shampoo doesn’t break the bank, even when you’re buying it for three kids and two adults.

Even now after round two I still have one more full bottle of Sklice in my bathroom closet. I’m looking forward to summer because I feel like my kid’s kindergarten is a hotbed of lice right now. My stylist says it’s been absolutely awful everywhere this year. She would know. Also, I’m not going to lie I did start out looking for a service to take care of the whole situation for me but I don’t care if there’s a money back guarantee, I trust my combing skills more than someone else’s … even if it is their profession.

So that’s the transition. From catastrophic life-event to something you keep extra of in the bathroom closet, how a school lice outbreak affects a family is so much different here in the middle class.

How We Spent It 4-14-2016

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I am totally late posting this.

We spent this week’s check on bills. Except for the buffer refill which was money we spent the week before on going out as a family to a wrestling event. As you can see with the haircut line item, I’m trying to predict expenses better so I don’t have to keep refilling the buffer. (If I haven’t mentioned it lately the $100 buffer is money that sits in the checking account making sure we don’t overdraft. It was a Mr. Brickie request.) I am running out of ways to make bills interesting because they’re totally not. They’re a slow, steady drip of water from a midnight faucet in the back of the brain that never stops.

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I mean, we do the same thing every week. Pay bills, pay down debt. I did charge $555 to a credit card so now I have a new bill. $125/month toward the Citi card to get it paid off in 20 months. I wish I had the money in the savings account to not put it on a credit card, but I needed to get the work done before we got into root canal territory so I charged it.

Since dental isn’t something frivolous or fun I was torn if I should wait or get my mouth fixed.

I was so confused until I thought to myself, “What would I do if it were one of my children or my husband who needed this work done?” If it were one of them I would not hesitate to say, “I don’t care if we’re charging it – it’s your MOUTH.” So I’m trying to do unto myself what I would do for anyone else in my family.

Hopefully I will be able to pay it off sooner than 20 months from now but it’s the plan and the plan can be changed if something else gets paid off sooner.

The charge on the amazon visa is a book I pre-ordered. The money is in the category to pay it off but it hasn’t actually charged to the card yet because the book isn’t being released until May. As soon as it hits the card, I’ll pay that off.

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I also screwed up the Insurance Savings account and missed a month. I put aside $120/mo. and after six months it’s enough to cover the full policy premium payment and renter’s insurance annually. It used to be less but we bought a car last month and while I did calculate how much to save to cover six months, I did not take into consideration the policy would go up $240 for this upcoming six-month period. The insurance savings account only had $252 in it and the payment of $611 is going to autocharge on the discover card 5/18 so I needed to come up with a fix. I took that $252, paid it to Discover and I will make another $420 in payments over the next two weeks. (Next Thursday is a $240 payment, the week after $120.) That will mean I’ve paid down the card enough that when the charge goes through it will be a net-zero balance.

It stinks because the money next week was originally budgeted to pay down the Macy’s card, but insurance is always a priority. I will have to be content with a $15 extra payment to Macy’s next week and I’m trying to feel good because it’s a number bigger than zero. Every little bit helps, right?

It feels like I’m just about to make progress every week and then something trips me up. I know that Mr. Brickie getting a raise in June will make a difference and his promotion in July will make a massive, giant, huge difference. By the end of July he should be making over $5 more an hour than he does right now and that’s all going to go toward credit card debt.

I feel like everything is always on the wire still but we haven’t increased our casual spending at all. We eat out less now than when we had less money and no budget. I put aside $40 a week so we eat out nice once or crappy twice.

I do have about $200 in that amazing Digit account that steals money from you and saves it behind your back. I love the app and was trying to leave that there for Christmas but why am I saving for Christmas if what I really want is to pay off credit card debt?

The answer is probably, “Because you have kids, dummy.” I’m not sure which is the best answer.

If I were really committed, I would have a $0 eating out budget. I know. I get tired, I forget to thaw a thing, I have a million excuses for why I can’t commit at that level. Bottom line is I don’t want to commit at that level. I’m okay with that because $40 a week isn’t the problem.

The fact that I can realize I’m $240 short for next month’s insurance bill and can just reallocate money that was going to go to paying down debt and make a decision to put it on the insurance instead? That’s a huge win. I wasn’t filled with panic and dread, I was mildly annoyed.

If this were last year a mistake that big would mean not being able to pay the insurance all at once. It would be a lot of me crying and hating myself for being such a giant failure. It’s funny, the absence of self-abuse doesn’t really feel like a win because I never really notice I’ve stopped being such a total asshole to myself all the time. “Stupid. Not good enough. Loser.” the chant isn’t there anymore and what’s left isn’t a cheerleader telling me I’m awesome, it’s just silence. Fear, for me, is a loud, mean thing. Confusion is downright cruel in terms of self-talk.

Now there is space in my brain where those hateful voices used to be.

I’m doing my best not to fill the silence with anything new. I want to let the dust settle before I reevaluate my budget position and mental priorities.

In the meantime I’m not going to be angry at myself for buying my daughter a cookbook at the book fair yesterday because she wanted it and I want to start teaching her how to cook. Staying balanced without going overboard in either direction (being too loose or tight with finances) is not healthy. We went’ “scorched earth” when we had to and now we are very careful but eat out once a week and go to book fairs once a year. It’s not a crazy amount of money or change but it’s a little more than what it was.

I want just a few of the trappings that I consider part of the “normal life” I have dreamed of since forever. Nothing too fancy, just an occasional new color of nail polish or night out with my family to the local Elks club to watch wrestling instead of constantly dealing with the grind of barely surviving. It’s one thing to grind when you have to, I lived there for years and we all do what we have to do and I’m proud of myself for getting through it. Living that kind of grind by choice? That’s some monk-level hair shirt action I want no part of.

What the Middle Class Looks Like: Dentistry

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Disclaimer: I am not 100% sure if we are middle class, but I think we live like we are. We live in the Midwest (so we aren’t paying LA rent or Alaska milk prices) and my husband is in a union so health insurance is an included part of the package and not a deduction from his check or something we have to pay for separately. The “Middle Class Mondays” series covers things I’ve always felt would be different when we had what I consider “enough” money and how those experiences compare to how things used to be for us or how they compare to how things were when I was a child.


I have a great dental insurance plan. I know this because my dentist’s office keeps telling me so. It’s been years since I’ve seen a dentist because the last one was a public aid dentist in cook county and I was pretty sure she was trying to drown me in my own spit. (I had to sit up with the drill in my mouth because when I raised my hand she put it down and when I tried to shift she held my forehead.)

Needless to say, I’m a little bit freaked out by the dentist.

Yesterday I got a periodontal cleaning (that deep, under-the-gums cleaning you get when you’re old, not just the scraping off the front teeth one, they numb your whole mouth for this cleaning) and since I was in good shape the dentist decided to get the cavities on the left hand side of my mouth out of the way so she wouldn’t have to re-numb me later.

Eight cavities. Eight.

All the while I was praised by the dentist and the hygienist for how well I had cared for my teeth. I brush 2x a day and floss once – sometimes twice – a day. So while I was not surprised they praised me such consistent praise seemed almost overwhelming.

Then they focused on one another and started talking like colleagues do about kids, school, and life. I was much more comfortable when this started because I didn’t have to participate and could concentrate on being quiet and calm and not a person who freaks out at dental visits.

It all turned out fabulously. Sure, my copay (on an 80/20 PPO plan) was $555 but I had a new card I had opened with 0% APR for the first 21 months on new purchases. That means I have time to pay this off without paying interest. Great! I still need more work to the tune of 10 more cavities, a front tooth cap replacement, and probably some kind of whitening action. I’m getting the cavities finished this year. That means I need to start paying $125/mo. now in order to pay off the whole chunk in 20 months from now.

Almost 10 of my cavities are because my previous (public aid) dental work was shoddy and cavities were actually UNDER THE FILLINGS. So it’s not from lack of trying and lack of care that this happened. Which is frustrating.

So my overall total by the end of next month when all this is done (not including vanity procedures like whitening or tooth straightening which are total pipe dreams in my life still) I will end up owing a hair over $2,500 … for my teeth. With insurance. Very good insurance, according to the dental staff.

We could not have done this any sooner than this year. It wouldn’t have been even a little bit possible. It’s a shame, too, because I have to tell you I absolutely believe that dental should be part of all other medical and get covered like any other regular procedure at any regular doctor.

Mouths are important.

How We Spent It 3-31-2016

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Sometimes it makes me really sad that my plans get derailed by doing normal people things like taking my kids to the dentist.

We used to go to this amazing dentist with a circus atmosphere (yes, even balloon animals) but once we moved it took an hour to get there one way. Too much travel for three little kids. We found a local dentist through a referral who is also a unicorn (small hands with long, thin fingers) and we couldn’t be happier with the office.

X-rays, sealants, fluoride, and cleanings for all the kids (plus x-rays for me) – even with insurance – cost us $198 today. Well worth it, sure, but still painful. My mouth is going to be a years long process because of the deductible + coverage limit per year. I’m fine with that but pretty soon we’re going to have to take Mr. Brickie and his trench mouth in there and then all bets are off and we might look into getting care credit because once you go in there you need to just get it done because his teeth have this tendency to dissolve when things are put on them.

But he’s the one from the middle class family. He got braces and everything. Seriously, don’t judge people by their teeth. You can only control that stuff so much.

Maybe I’ll get veneers so I can have a perfect smile. I could do it. Be amazing in all my pictures from now on. Sounds right up my alley, doesn’t it? (If you ever want to see how *not* into selfies I am you can check me out on instagram. Surprise, my username is jennydecki.) Sadly, veneers aren’t even an option for Mr. Brickie. Ah well, I always tell him, “If they don’t hurt you’re doing better than you could be.” We do need to get him in that dentist’s office, though, and I know he’s scared even though he would refuse to the moon and back that he even cares.

When I was younger and rebellious and conservative and thought everyone could succeed if they just tried hard enough and weren’t lazy (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) I swore I’d never marry someone who had less-than-awesome teeth because I had great teeth and had a good dental routine and the ONLY way you would have janky teeth was OF COURSE if you were too lazy to brush.

I truly hope it does not surprise you to know I’m deeply ashamed I held those beliefs. I’ve talked to enough people living enough lives from top to bottom to know how wrong I was. I do, however, understand the thought process that leads someone to hold on to those beliefs. I’m not a “my way or the highway” woman when it comes to personal beliefs because there is value in understanding. I’m not sure exactly what the value is, sometimes, but maybe someday I’ll understand why I crave to know others and how they got where they are and why they believe the way they do.

This week was the “extra” check. I set aside $350 for groceries, gas, tolls, and one night of take out food. With the one day of no work last week his check was $758.19

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Walmart is work jeans for Mr. Brickie (4 pairs) because he doesn’t have a pair without holes in them and I was like, “What the what?? No. You do not wait until the last minute to tell me you need work clothing. That is a priority!!” I put it on the credit card so when it shows up on the card (it takes a few days) I can pay it off immediately.

The emergency fund was half drained to pay off a credit card so I’m trying to put a little back in there. I really was most comfortable when that was at $1000 but every time we have a dime I’m torn between the emergency fund and paying down Macy’s.

That dentist bill is a biggie, though, but I have to prioritize the kids health. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night otherwise.

So at this point I consider myself very, very lucky I was able to pull out a credit card this morning, have her charge $194 on the card, and then I was able to come home and set aside the same amount of cash from today’s paycheck so as soon as it goes on the card I can pay it right off.

It’s a whole new world, really.

Plus the hygienist told me I was awesome and my family was awesome which is always a great thing to hear first thing in the morning. It’s kept me smiling since she said it. A great bonus in addition to good dental care, for sure!

Here is where our credit card balances stand:

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It’s a lot but we’ll get there. Tomorrow I’m going to pull down the Chase Freedom $187.28 cash back into my checking account. ($150 for spending $500 in three months, $25 for adding an additional user, 5% cash back on gas.) We used this as our gas card until today because of the 5% back and we put this month’s bills that could be paid on a credit card on this card to hit that $500 limit. Tomorrow the Chase Freedom card will be back in the safe until the next time the 5% bonus category is one we want to participate in because it’s something we would have spent on anyway.

I’ll pull out the Chase Visa next (2% cash back on gas and groceries) and put a little post-it note on it that says “gas/groceries” so Mr. Brickie knows what the card is for and doesn’t have to think about it.

Can you believe tomorrow is already April??

It Feels Like We Are On Our Way…to Something

I made the first extra payment to the Macy’s card (about $116) and with the budget program I’ve been able to keep all the cards paid off as soon as the charges show up. Things are finally starting to hum along.

This last check of the month coming on Thursday is going to be short one day because last Thursday the guys got rained out on the job. On the bright side it’s the 5th check of the month so everything has already been paid. I do need to take a little out for a birthday present but other than that it’s going toward normal weekly expenses and the extra will go toward Macy’s. That payment will bring us under the $1000 mark on the card. It’s exciting.

I’m letting the emergency fund sit at $500 instead of $1000 and I don’t think that’s a smart idea but it doesn’t make me feel all that worried, either, so I’m leaving it until I get Macy’s paid off. I can’t deal with having one extra dollar and not sending it to Macy’s to get that paid off.

Which means the rewards cash I got from that Chase card (about $190) are going to go toward Macy’s, too. Anything to help. We are coming up on getting a bonus from Randy’s new credit card, too ($100) and it, too, will go to Macy’s.

It feels weird using credit card bonuses to pay off credit cards but I don’t care where the money comes from as long as it’s going toward paying off those credit cards.

We spent a lot over budget last week. Snacks, drinks, breakfast with a friend, going out with the kids on Friday night….all culminated in some not great money decisions. It’s not a big deal but I know I need to dial it back come this Thursday. I feel myself slipping into that realm of wanting to do whatever I want whenever I want because it’s such a new feeling but it’s only a little mental slip, I know that’s not going to get this family to a good place so it’s not going to stick around as a game plan.

Even though it was fun for the whole family last week I keep saying “I” because everyone follows my lead. If I’m lax with spending, everyone is thrilled because they trust me and will just assume we can afford it. It’s a lot of power to have and I’m not entirely comfortable with that level of responsibility sometimes. Mr. Brickie will sit and check out the budget with me whenever I ask and he pays attention and cares but when push comes to shove whatever I say goes.

It’s a lot of pressure.

The pressure feels bigger now that the money decisions are more flexible. It’s not about what we have to pay to not lose the house, the car, the whatever. It’s the best choice out of several totally fine choices. Of course, paying down the credit card is always the best decision, but it’s hard sometimes to pick debt payments over taking the kids to a movie.

Maybe I’m not a person who can achieve balance. Maybe I have to put all the money toward debt repayment or I’ll end up messing up all the plans. I don’t know.

Is this what an identity crisis feels like?

Would You Pay Off A Credit Card With Your Emergency Fund?

This was the question of the week.

We have our baby emergency fund of $1,000 and I was batting around the idea of using the emergency fund to pay off the $315 balance that remained after the balance transfer.

I let it go and felt it didn’t matter either way. I thought the best decision was to let my subconscious ruminate on it and when I got a flash of inspiration on why one decision was better than the other I would do whatever that flash of insight told me to do.

That decision cost me $70.

I didn’t take all aspects of the situation into consideration. That little bit remaining on the card was racking up interest! Leaving my emergency fund untouched is a nice thought but in retrospect the better option would have been to pay off the card.

While I can’t go back in time and do anything different, I can change it up today and I went right into the bank account, made the transfer from the emergency fund, and paid off that damn card! A $70 mistake, but one that cannot repeat next month because that card is paid off. Now we can focus our efforts on the two balances left. The Macy’s card and the Discover card with the balances.

I’m not as good at making these kind of “not life or death” decisions. I put off the decision and have to learn from small, painful mistakes.

Your mileage may vary (of course!) but the lesson I’m taking away from this is clear: Don’t grip money so tightly it costs you more money!

How We Spent It 3/4/2016

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I’ve been really nervous about writing this.

I feel like we went from not having enough to having more than enough.

My friends, I have to tell you…I’m not sure how to write a blog that isn’t about being desperate and poor. I don’t know how to write about NOT going to the food pantry and figuring out how much to donate TO the food pantry. Even though we expected this and it was always part of the plan I never really thought about it because it was too scary to even hope for.

Sure there is still debt I have to throw all the extra income toward, we aren’t rich or anything, but we are in a position I don’t think I’ve ever been in my whole life. I’m 40 and this is the first moment I don’t know if I’m comfortable sharing how much we make even though I’ve never had a problem with it before.

Because this is the first time I feel like sharing his weekly paycheck could be seen as bragging. I know that some of you who live in upscale areas are going to laugh when you hear me talking about how much he makes and then actually see the number.

It’s a lot for us. Especially in the last five or so years. It’s the number that would have kept us in our previous home but we got here too late.

But now it’s here and I have to figure out how to write about it without sounding weird. I feel weird, so I’m afraid it’s going to come out in my writing.

Paycheck Received this week: $920 (a hell of a bump from last year’s $764/wk) seriously…if you’re looking for a career change and you are of sound body…the trades are the way to go. Mr. Brickie has never in his life felt this kind of job satisfaction.

Groceries: $138.50
Gas: $60
Car Payment: $284
Minimum on Macy’s (mattress): $27
Minimum on Chase Visa: $161
Minimum on Capital one CC: $46
Union Dues: $20
Prescription: $20
Indiana State Taxes: $102
Check for camp: $61.50

The balance transfer hasn’t gone through yet (Chase Visa + Capital One CC = Discover card with no interest for 18 months) so I’m paying the minimums on the cards this month while I wait for the balance transfer to go through..

My YNAB (You Need A Budget) categories look good, I think paying off the credit cards might be possible by June. I’m going to take a hit to the emergency fund on Monday because my car needs a new front axle (I finally got the dealership to call me back – there was a recall on the not-my-car and they were swamped) so Monday I’ll get the car all up to snuff and I’m not sure how much it’s going to cost. Somewhere in between $700-$1000.

I’ve started thinking about fiction writing again and would love to brush up on some things via a Coursera or edX course or seven. I think I almost have all this finance stuff automated enough that it won’t require a constant babysitter like it has for the last umpteen years.

I don’t feel free, exactly, but I feel like I can breathe a little. I’m scared “the other shoe” is going to drop any minute but occasionally think maybe it won’t. Maybe all these good decisions and sacrifices and everything else will come together and we won’t have any more life changing financial disasters. Knock on wood.

It will feel manageable and attainable!

While I do have hopes and goals for what date I would like to see the goals happen by, the most important thing I have is a prioritized list. No matter when the Macy’s gets paid off, it’s still #1 on the list. Then the Discover is #2. Christmas comes in at #3 and paying off the car comes in at #4. The big #5 is to save a six-month emergency fund and save up $5k to buy in to Vanguard Admiral shares. After that maybe I’ll pay off my student loans.

It’s a pretty short list.

I’ve spent so long dreaming of not being poor and now I’m in a place where I don’t think I am anymore. Taxes showed we were finally above the poverty level for 2015 so does that mean we’ve finally made it to the lower-middle class? Is this what making it feels like? You just have to get out of poverty by a couple grand and viola you’re middle class?

According to this income calculator from the Pew Research Center we are still in the lower category and will be until my family of 5 hits $50k.

2015 indiana lower class

BUT we are in the middle class globally. I’m not sure that’s a comfort. Here’s that global calculator if you’re curious where you or your family weigh in.

2015 global middle class

I’ll know for sure next Monday what the cost of car repairs was and how much I had to take out of the emergency fund to cover it. I know when you have an emergency fund you’re not supposed to use it for car repairs but I’m paying it back to us on Thursday when he gets paid next and I do another fascinating how we spent it segment.

It still feels like being okay happened all of a sudden when we got the taxes and paid off the Mazda and then he started working so early in the year making money we can actually get ahead on.

Everything feels so different this year. He’s going to work the rest of the year with this same company. Stability is a new sensation we haven’t had in years and I forgot what it felt like. I’m honestly far too scared to even think of celebrating but why is that?

A Balance Transfer to Hit Pause on Interest

I’m a little torn about which card to use next month.

I love the cash back card we have from Chase (the Amazon Visa) but that’s about to get cleared off the books because, well, I did a thing.

We bought a car last Saturday and the finance guy went nuts over my credit score. Turns out it was 721. One whole point above some mythical line in the sand that gives you excellent credit.

I remember from getting a mortgage you can have a grouping of credit pulls in a short period of time and they all lump together and don’t hurt you like it would if you submitted applications for cars or houses or credit cards once a month.

So, armed with my credit score and Mr. Brickie’s I decided to improve his credit to the same level as mine since he’s the one with the income and having him with the income and me with the excellent credit isn’t going to get us as far as both of us having excellent credit.

So I came home and went on what they call an app spree. You apply for all the damn cards over a couple day period. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. You don’t apply for ALL the cards. You apply for the best ones you qualify for. I did a balance transfer onto a Discover card for both my current credit cards so I’ll get 0% interest while I pay those off. I left the Macy’s store card we bought the mattress with alone because it’s $1,300 and I should be able to pay that off by the end of March.

I could pay it off now but our lovely (not new) car needs a new axle and an oil change so we’re looking at a $700-$1000 repair depending on the labor. That eats quite a tidy hole in the “pay off Macy’s” fund but I feel very good knowing I can pay for a large car repair in cash.

I will be adding Mr. Brickie as an authorized user on all the cards I receive and I also signed him up for his own credit card based on his credit level. It has an annual fee ($39) but I credit the last card I got with an annual fee for improving my credit the way it has and that can save us thousands on a mortgage down the road.

I think it’s worth the cost.

Now that the app spree is over it’s time to “garden” where you pay off debt and keep very low balances on your cards (between 1% – 3%) so you are seen by your magic FICO number as a super-responsible user of credit.

I’m considering putting the bills that currently go on the Chase Visa on different cards and then have those cards autodraft their totals on the due date from our second checking account. Then I can just deposit money at the beginning of the month into the second checking account and those payments will come out through the month. Mostly hassle-free and all the bills get paid and all the cards get used.

It might be too complicated to do it that way. We’ll see once the dust settles on all the crazy stuff we’ve done in February.

New car, new direction with money, new credit cards. We could be positively “normal” if I’m not careful. Lucky for me, careful comes very naturally after 13 years of practice and habit. I see a $5,000 credit limit (or $6,000, or $8,500) and it’s just a number that is part of my credit utilization score. I don’t think of these numbers as money or opportunity. I don’t think about what I deserve or what I wish I had.

It’s a puzzle to be solved to save money.

I can’t figure out Kohl’s cash for the life of me but credit scores? I think I get how this works.

Funny sidenote: I had a friend over last week and she was telling me she thought her credit was terrible. I had her download Credit KarmaSesameWhatever and it was a 736 (or 763, I can’t remember) so her credit is even better than mine.

I was super happy for her!

So for 2016, I’m hoping we can get the credit cards paid off for good and do Christmas with cash. It’s more possible than it’s ever been before.

I’ll start showing how we spent it again next month when things are back to normal. Even my budget doesn’t make sense anymore this month. It’s all a jumbled mess of numbers. I know a lot got done and a lot got paid and some got wasted but overall it was a good month packed with payoffs and good choices.

I don’t think it will ever get old paying my rent through November. It feels good.

Oh, the car! We bought a 2016 Nissan Versa. The cheapest new car in America. $14k out the door with bluetooth, manual locks, and manual windows. Yep. Manual windows. Mr. Brickie loves it.

nissan versa 2016

Isn’t it lovely and boring and just….a car. Which is all we needed or wanted. This isn’t our exact car, it’s the same color but ours doesn’t have the sweet chrome trim because that costs extra. He gets to commute in it because it gets 40mpg and even with his local driving he’s averaging 37.5 right now. So gas is much less expensive than when he was driving my minivan to work.

We are probably going to come out ahead between gas savings and the additional $110/6mos. of car insurance. We’ll see.

I’ll tackle paying this off as soon as the credit card debt is gone. We financed it at 5.04% which isn’t perfect but finance said get his credit where mine is and we’ll qualify for any 0% offer we want in a year.

I don’t plan on buying a car next year but that’s GOOD information to have. We could be those people, the ones who qualify for offers on the TV, in a year. Things feel closer than I thought.

Don’t worry, I won’t go buy a pony and fly it to Disney to celebrate. I don’t even like Disney. Ponies, on the other hand…

Time to Buy a Second Car

I was staring at the numbers on the paper in front of me. Sitting on the couch with my legs crossed under me and the yellow pad balanced on my knee. “What am I missing?” I mumbled over and over under my breath. There had to be something. There couldn’t be extra money.

There is never extra money.

Sure, I could put it in a savings account. I have one for rent and I have one for insurance. I could put it into the emergency fund and deal with it later. I could start paying down a credit card. The best answer was eluding me and I felt like maybe I was forgetting something entirely and it wasn’t really time to start paying anything down or putting anything away. I felt like I was forgetting something.

Naturally, Mr. Brickie sees my distress and says, “It’s time to get a second car.”

After I wiped my now-exploded brain off the floor I asked him, “Why now?” He said, “Because we have the money.” I said, “The money for what?” He said, “A second car.”

Of course when I said “The money for what?” I meant what kind of car. New/used/beater/decent/yours/mine/ours/big/small, etc. I was looking for a target … but my husband is a really literal kind of person so he thought I misheard. Actually, who knows what he was thinking but when he’s not sure what to say he’s known to repeat himself.

Plus, he’s not going to pick the car. Who are we kidding?

Now I do have to give him a heap of credit. He has been looking with me on Craigslist for months to learn the market and what brands sell for what and to learn how cars in our area are sold and what a normal price is vs. a too-good-to-be-true price that probably means something nefarious is going on with the vehicle.

He can tell you if a car is over or underpriced on Craigslist pretty accurately. So he does have his niche of knowledge to bring to the table which would be very helpful if we go the used car route.

Based on this knowledge, we started looking at used cars. Small ones that he would drive to work, not one that had to fit the whole family. I could go back to using the minivan for after-school activity pick ups and doctor appointments.

After checking umpteen listings, we decided it would cost between $4k and $7k for a truly reliable vehicle that would last a few years and not leave him stranded on a highway somewhere between his job site and home.

We are also looking at potentially getting a new car. I know people hate new cars and they drop in value blah blah blah but you know what, it’s nice to know that someone didn’t screw up the axle in the first ten thousand miles by hitting every curb known to man, too. As people who take oil changes and other routine maintenance very seriously there is a safety factor to consider with a new car. No one has screwed it up yet. If we were to go the new car route it would be something like a Nissan Versa for $12k. Nothing expensive or flashy is on our radar. We are focused on gas mileage and reliability.

The goal is a $2k down payment that will bring our payment to under $200/mo.Then all the extra will be paid toward the premium. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone else but I know from years of doing this we are not “minimum payment” types and I will absolutely budget to pay this car off. Hopefully in one year but certainly in no more than two.

We haven’t set a date to actually test drive anything, and we won’t buy the first day we go out because I’m not going to get trapped in some weird car dealership pressure drama. I want to make an informed, relaxed decision and I know the Mr. does, too.

This is part of the balance I was talking about the other day in my personal finance religion post. If we were really being intense, we wouldn’t buy a car. We would keep sacrificing. But at what point is sacrificing a poor decision? It’s not a contest to see who can sacrifice the most.

Maybe I’m hitting that same wall that I do in church when people talk about being Christ-like and I’m all, wait a minute…that’s a little extreme. I will take my financial advice from anyone as long as it’s based in logic but there is no need for me to feel like a horrible person and drag a financial wooden cross through the streets barefoot until I get my student loans paid off.

I’m not ashamed of that debt. Maybe I should be, but I’m not. I’m not ashamed of any of my debt.

Debt isn’t real. It’s a construct based on pieces of green paper or little electronic ones and zeros flying from one computer to another. It’s something we all agreed is a thing that exists to make it easier to get along in the world with one another.

We are going to get out of debt because it’s a good short- and long-term decision for the future of my family. But shame? Naw, you can keep it, brother. I have no use for it. It does not drive me. The last time I felt soul-sucking shame is when I made my youngest quit preschool because we could no longer drive her there because the second car died. Student loan debt has nothing on that moment. It never will.

You know what drives my financial journey? Hope. Comfort. Familiarity. Faith. Freedom. Love.

….but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

See what I did there? Oh yeah, I brought it all back around. I feel silly for doing it but in the moment it felt totally deep.