Category: Hodgepodge

Housekeeping and Going Forward

dishesSo a few housekeeping updates….

  1. Facebook still thinks the new name is a spam website shilling goodness knows what. I’m not sure if I even care, but you won’t see my links online unless you like the Money Siren Facebook Page. If you don’t, I’m not going to be personally offended.
  2. I’ve been on hiatus because there is a local group of women (read: one really, really petty/pathetic little girl who influenced everyone else) I was acquaintances with recently and now I’m not and, while I don’t want them to know my business, I also don’t really want to be silenced because some women don’t like me and are judgmental. I blocked them on Facebook but they’re gossips, so…they’re only here to enjoy anything that could be seen as negative. They can enjoy their asses off while my spouse puts me first over prior partners and I think about people with my own mind instead of going along with the group. (See: schadenfreude)
  3. I’m going to start being pretty raw. Cussing will happen. I don’t care. I’m over caring. I have a husband with a great job and great kids and a wonderful life. You want to hate on me for being poor or fat, that’s your problem. I’m over it.
  4. Since I’ve decided it’s okay for my 8 year old to know my budget, the whole world can know it. You don’t like it, fuck off. Because that’s my blog now. A whole lot of public fuck off. Except for those of you I love, whom I consider loved and adored and unfuckoffable.

Any questions? Email me or send me a Facebook message.

We good?

Alright, let’s get on with this money shit.




Christmas Financial Planning

christmas-moneyWe have gone into Christmas lockdown of the finances. Yesterday marked 100 days until Christmas and that means it’s time to save now so I don’t become a credit card wielding idiot come December!

I generally spend about $1000 on Christmas. I don’t know exactly how that happens, but this year I want to be really careful and try to make lists of what to get the kids in advance so I can spend less and have more under the tree. Last year I got the bigger gifts but then it seemed like it wasn’t going to be enough and we went to Five Below to try and make up the difference and viola! $1000 for three kids under 10 on Christmas gifts.

Last year I gave the two older ones a choice between a Nintendo DS and an American Girl Doll (because both wanted both and I nearly collapsed) and one chose one and one chose the other. The AG Doll hasn’t gotten much play but that DS is passed between the girls constantly. Oh, see, I should get her some DS games.

The list is always the worst part. I want to give them everything that looks cute and have a huge pile of toys under the tree. Of course, the only times I’ve ever seen that done the kids don’t actually appreciate much of any of the stuff under there because it’s juts overwhelming. They have most of what kids could want as luxuries (bikes and games and video game systems) and I don’t know what I could even get them this year that wouldn’t be excessive.

Maybe tablets? Is it too soon for tablets? Are they too young?

Maybe I should just do a handmade year. Make DIY DIY craft boxes or something.

Whatever I decide to do, I have to start now to fund it when the time comes. With 100 days left it’s about 13 weeks to Christmas which means I need to set aside $77 a week toward Christmas in order to make sure I have enough when the time comes. Starting with tomorrow’s check. Okay, now, to be clear that’s going to be a huge percentage of his weekly check. Well, huge in my mind. 17.5% is a crazy amount to take out of the paycheck on a regular basis, but honestly this is one of those decisions where it’s all about the priorities.

Every year I say, “Next year I’m going to use SmartyPig and do an automatic withdrawal and then if I save just $20/week I’d have $1000 for Christmas!” Or if I saved $39/week I would have $2000 by December 25th. I don’t think I’d spend that much on Christmas gifts, but that would also cover those two January birthdays that come all too soon after Christmas.

Here are some ways we plan on cutting back so we can put that money away for the kids:

  1. Craigslist – We are selling anything that’s not nailed down (as long as it does not have a lot of sentimental value or serve an important function) and putting the money in an envelope marked “snowflakes.” Usually, snowflakes refers to extra money that gets thrown at debt during the second Dave Ramsey baby step of paying off debt. In this case I figure it’s easy to repurpose the meaning for Christmas snowflakes. Because sometimes I like to say things that are cute. I can’t be all bloody vampires and angry judgments. I have depth, y’all.
  2.  Extra Clients – Mr. Brickie has two jobs and clients on top of that. He’s also going to a training for a third job next month. With him having all those jobs and schedule transitions on his plate, I have to keep things held down at home. This is really not something in my comfort zone, but I’m making a sacrifice by focusing on laundry and homework instead of writing and working online. He’s throwing himself into work to score more clients while I’m throwing myself into homemaking.
  3. Starbucks – This one is difficult. I love Starbucks and as a temporarily displaced rich person (that’s what we’re calling poor nowadays, right?) I have to cut the treats. Even though I only go to Starbucks about once a month, that’s one time too many.
  4. Eating Out – This is another one we only do once a month as it is, but that’s $30 a month that can go toward Christmas. If we have a hankering for eating out, I plan on asking Mr. Brickie what he’s in the mood for and then picking that up and making the same thing at home. There’s nothing we get from a restaurant we can’t make at home.

Really and truly, I don’t know if those cuts are going to be enough but it’s 100% better than not doing anything and not thinking ahead! As much as I truly hate giving credit for all this to a bearded dude and some elves, one day they’ll look back and know how much effort and time I put in. If they don’t, I did, and as long as I can look at myself in the morning and know I did my best, that’s enough for me.

Ultimately, I consider myself lucky. I only have two people (and one white elephant gift) to buy for in addition to my kids. How many people do you buy for?

Also, if you have kids do you have a certain number of gifts you get each one?






How Many Jobs Can One Husband Have?

you-better-workRight now, my husband has a total of 4 jobs.

Sort of.

I guess to start, I should make it clear that about a year-ish ago we decided we needed to make a change in how our household runs. My husband had this marketing and social media experience and he had clients but wasn’t super-happy and clients would kind of walk all over him because he’s a nice guy. Nice guys are great for husbands, but not so great entrepreneurs. (You can disagree, that’s fine, your mileage with nice guy business owners may vary!)

We looked at who was going to work and who was going to focus on the kids and – surprisingly – he wants to be the worker while I focus more on raising up the kids. While we share responsibilities on both sides, we both feel better knowing our primary directive because it helps us always stay pointed toward our team’s true north.

I did a lot of research and really thought about our ten years of marriage. When was my husband happy? What was he doing when he was happy? The answer was pretty obvious. He was happiest when he was doing things around the house like replacing windows by himself, moving out refrigerator and extending and redoing the plumbing in the kitchen by himself. He’s welded, plumbed, changed, caulked, foamed, drywalled, framed, painted and almost anything else (except electricity) a person can do to improve a house.

So we started this year-long application and training process for the two unions in my area that were hiring. Bricklayers and Millwrights. There were paper tests, there were interviews, and there was a training program where three people didn’t make it all the way through because they couldn’t pass one of the tests during training.

So, Mr. Brickie is (you guessed it) a bricklayer. He really enjoys the work but there just isn’t any work right now. I’ve done research, he’s made calls, and there’s nothing right now. The kicker with this job is that if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook it shows a FORTY PERCENT increase over the next five years. I researched it before Mr. Brickie even put in the initial application.

While he’s gone though all this, he also got tested, interviewed and accepted into the Millwrights. They just aren’t going to have the training until October. I thought this was a good plan because not only is Mr. Brickie excellent with machines, the one person I know personally who is in this Union is working overtime regularly. I think that’s a good sign.

His third job is online marketing. He has a few clients and he works on their stuff. He only works through referrals.

The fourth job he started on Wednesday. He scored the job on Craigslist (of all places!) after applying for a warehouse job, looking into a courier job (that turned out to be a total scam – he listened in on the interview before his and left before his turn…with his application), contacting a couple former employers to see if they needed part-time help, he was hustling.

So now – for a while anyway – he’s a painter. He and a team paint houses that have been foreclosed that need a fresh coat of paint so they can be resold. He can work all the overtime he can handle. They seem flexible. Hopefully they are flexible enough that he can take a few days off in September for his continuing education with the Bricklayers and his October training class with the Millwrights.

It’s a lot for him to juggle, and I’m trying to do my part by keeping the house clean, the kids bathed and fed, and making sure he has a meal ready when he gets home at night. Serious 1950’s style, my friends.

But it’s worth the hustle. He plans on keeping the painting gig as much as possible even if he gets called in for another bricklaying job. I hope so, too. As much as I love him working overtime, you can’t beat that every hour he’s working as a Bricklayer he’s working toward some amazing lifetime benefits.

Our debt is pretty stable, I did put our car insurance on the credit card which is very un-Dave-Ramsey of me. But after this half-week of work, next week I’ll probably be able to pay that off with his next check. Of course I dream of being able to pay off our car. That’s always the real dream, because I hate that I got a car loan in the first place but that last car with the frame broken in two places scared me so bad it was the only thing I saw as logical at the time.

We have been checking Craigslist for Ford F-150 trucks. Ones from the 70’s and 80’s because pre-technological-revolution-of-cars those things run forEVER and I want him to have a beater truck he can drive to jobs and whatnot that can be repaired over and over and over again.

I’m going to go do some calculations and put them in the budget spreadsheet. I’m wondering what our six month projected income is at this point. I don’t go out farther than 6 months because that seems like I’m begging for trouble, but it only takes a few minutes to throw together a hypothetical 6 month plan and then I have direction I don’t have to think about in the moment when I make decisions based on family income.

I just remind Mr. Brickie to take his multivitamin and get enough water. He needs to stay healthy and happy to get through the next couple years. They’re going to be grueling. (But, hopefully, very rewarding!)

I’m trying to get team approval for putting our numbers out there. I’m not being purposefully vague, I just want to make sure we’re in agreement before I get specific.

Bitcoin (or, I’m not a gambler but I wish I were sometimes)

IMG_1388The number one thing to know is probably that it’s too late to be an amazing BitCoin speculator unless you have a knack for that kind of thing.

I do not have a knack for gambling.

I panic in casinos and feel overwhelmed by sadness when I watch others gamble. Then I try to run away until I’m invariably reminded by the person I’m with that drinks are cheap and there’s a dancefloor where people who have already been drinking for hours are dancing to a Prince cover band.

Nothing in this world is better than people drunkenly dancing to a Prince cover band. Nothing.

I have been pretty skeeved out about gambling since way back when I’d whine and ask if I could just keep the money my grandmother gave me instead of having to play the games at the carnival. She would say, “Take a chance!” and I would tell her (again) about my horrible fear that there was no possible way to win. (Later, I found out this was true, as many carnival games are rigged.)

Of course there is an exception to my anti-gambling (for me, I don’t care if you gamble) stance. Back when the economy crashed in ’08 I had a couple bucks lying around and when the auto industry was in a shambles I picked my pony and bought some Ford stock. I tripled my money and my only regret was not putting everything we owned into it at the time.

When it comes to gambling (which the stock market IS) I am the master of hindsight and could-have would-have should-have. Another prime reason why I don’t gamble – I’m a really sore loser, even when I’m winning. Then I took my $500 in winnings and – you’re going to love this – I bought Facebook stock during the IPO. I know, see, now you understand why I don’t gamble! I sold before I lost too much of my profit and, overall, came out $300 ahead between the two transactions and the taxes on my capital gains. Which is good, because we later needed this money to survive.

(This is where I wanted to insert a picture of Marge Simpson pulling the emergency fund jar out of her hair, but I went on Google Images trying to search for that and for the first time ever I seriously considered turning safe search on. I had no idea there was so much Simpsons porn on the Internet.) rule34

The worst part? This experience will totally not keep me from being surprised the next time I look up something TOTALLY INNOCENT on the Internet.  

So, do me a favor and pretend you remember the one episode of The Simpsons where Marge pulls out this huge jar filled with money from her hair. Thank you. Now we can all be on the same analogy page. That example illustrates pretty much exactly how I hoard money in my PayPal account for emergencies. PayPal is like my very own Marge Simpson rainy day fund. Also, I’m reflecting on how much time it took to make that point.

Okay, moving forward.

This guy on Reddit bought $30,000 in BitCoin when it was worth $14 a coin. There are several updates to the original post and it’s really interesting. He sold some when the market went higher to pay off the debt of the credit card, etc.

See, that’s the kind of thing that makes me armchair quarterback my decisions and think, “Maybe gambling isn’t so bad. Plus, I can live on the stuff in the meantime because it’s money, right?” Well…maybe if I lived in San Francisco where Kashmir Hill lived on BitCoin for a week. Here in the Chicagoland area, well, here is a list of the places in Chicago you can shop at with your BitCoin (Updated June 13, 2013).

You might starve, but you can wear your band tshirt while printing out fliers for your band before you collapse from not being able to buy sustenance! It’s an interesting concept, and if there was one place on earth that I could actually shop at with BitCoin, I might buy one just to see what happens with it. The prices, however, fluctuate wildly and it’s really far closer to a wild speculation than an investment at this point. As I’m pretty sure I’ve demonstrated copiously in this article, I’m risk-averse, so I’ll be staying away from it for now. That being said, if I can find a retailer that accepts it…it just might be worth a small risk.

If you are interested in the buying and selling of bitcoins, there is a multi-part article on ZDNet that explains how to do exactly that. You can find Part 1 of How to Buy and Sell BitCoins right here. Part 1 is the theory of buying and selling and then in Part 2 the author covers how the theory actually works in real life.

What is your opinion of BitCoin? Would you buy it? Have you bought it? Had you even heard of it? Do you think it’s the currency of the future?

I need to add here that during the writing of this article, Mr. Brickie kept yelling from the other room, “BitCoin is illegal, it is not a real currency! The Feds are going to crack down on that so don’t you dare buy any!” Because he cares enough to want to keep me out of prison. So romantic! stay-safe-love-jenny-siren

Are Rich People Refusing to Vaccinate?

needle-alcohol-swabsIn a recent article titled Why Do Rich People Refuse to Vaccinate Their Kids? there is a point made about parents in the upper echelon being more likely to refuse vaccinations for their children.

Nina Shapiro, a professor at UCLA is quoted as saying of the people who are making the choice to not vaccinate:

“I’m going to be pure and I want to keep my child pure”

Um. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s a really horrible way to share that sentiment.

There’s this whole thing where people who have more money tend to be more educated – unlike me, it doesn’t usually take them a hundred years to get a bachelor’s degree – and when you’re more educated you tend to do things like:

  • Research purchases like food (and you can afford to go organic or grass fed if you want)
  • Determine that while you cannot control things like war or global warming, you can make a choice to feed your children food you deem the healthiest available.
  • Research ingredients in vaccinations and do more research on the ingredients you don’t understand.
  • Take your research and determine solutions based on the information gathered from sources you and your friends and family deem reliable.

This isn’t because they’re smarter, it’s because the main thing that school teaches (especially good, expensive schools) is critical thinking. The main hallmark of critical thinking is questioning pretty much everything. Then they discuss their findings with the rest of their peer group and all pretty much come to a consensus on the issue.

If you go to a parent mixer at that school mentioned in the article above where only 20% of the kids are vaccinated, I can tell you right now, no one is going to stand up and tell everyone they should shop at Kroger instead of Whole Foods. They’d be glared out of the room and probably shunned. Saying you eat organic and didn’t vaccinate says YOU CARE ABOUT YOUR KIDS in the way everyone else you know does. You are saving them from the world and from horrible things you can do nothing about like oil spills in the ocean.

It’s not just rich people, it’s anyone who thinks critically. I know a lot of poor people who are capable of some serious critical thinking. I mean, you have to be a problem solver and be able to analyze to figure out how not to be homeless when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, right? When you don’t have a great education and fabulous connections through your family and school, you have to find other ways to make your money and pay your bills.

So you go from, “I want my food to be pure” to “I don’t know what is in those shots and my friends think it’s safer without them” plus the most important add-on, “I have access to healthcare if my child does get sick.” That last one there mitigates a lot of fear that most people would have about not vaccinating. There is a trust in the medical system that if your child gets sick, there’s a cure for what ails them.

There is also the rampant fear of autism. You have these well-to-do people who are educated, I think the final step from, “There are trace amounts of mercury in XYZ vaccination.” To, “I’m not vaccinating my child.” Is that if you do vaccinate and your child does get autism, it doesn’t matter if those two things are related, your entire social group is going to look at you as the idiot who broke your baby forever. Because they will. So, it becomes safer to risk polio than risk autism.

That’s the real choice that’s happening in the minds of people who don’t vaccinate.

Do you want to risk your child getting a disease that was eradicated a hundred years ago and that your child probably won’t get because of herd immunity….or do you want to take the risk that you make a parenting choice that makes your child autistic forever and ever, amen?

I don’t think that vaccines cause autism. I am not a doctor, though, so my opinion (should) mean nothing to you. But as long as autism is blogged about and talked about and shared as this massive responsibility that takes everything out of a parent, you’re going to find that people don’t see vaccines as prevention, but as a potential risk factor to ruining their child.

My children are all vaccinated. One of the three is very, very petite and so I put her on a delayed vax schedule. She was all caught up by Kindergarten, but I didn’t understand (and for some reason, my doctor couldn’t explain it and actually supported the delayed schedule) why my itty-bitty daughter was going to get the same amount of dead virus pumped into her as my regular-size daughter. It scared me.

You can also bet your bippy I watched my kids sleep for two nights after every. single. round. of vaccinations. I was so scared they would wake up and the light would be gone from their eyes (seriously, Internet, you drove me half mad during that time with your in-depth, horrible descriptions of children who changed overnight) and they would never be the same again.

It’s not about how much you care for your kids (because whether or not you vaccinate, your reason is that you care for your kids) and it’s not about how much money you have (just because people with money tend to be more educated and the benefit of more education is, in many cases, better critical thinking skills) and it’s not even about the friends you have (I have poor friends who are very well researched about vaccinations that fall on both sides of the fence).

It’s whether you are more afraid of autism or polio/whooping cough/measles/mumps/rubells/etc.

People pick the lesser of two evils.

The lesser of two evils – in this case – all depends on where you get your information. 





Beauty is Embarrassing | Documentary Review

beauty-is-embarrassingI love documentaries.

It’s almost a sickness. If I’ve told you this before, I can assure you, I’ll tell you a thousand more times before you finally decide you can’t deal with the word anymore and, like my friend, you decide we have to call it something different – like a schnorkelbortz – in order to remember it more easily and keep it interesting.

That’s a true story. I call a documentary a schnorkelbortz in regular conversation. “I watched this schnorkelbortz the other day on sleep and it was great!” has actually happened.

Every few months I just decide on a Sunday morning that it’s going to be a documentary day. I warn my husband, remind myself there are kids in my house (so no documentaries on the Red Light District of anywhere, ever) and get down to business.

The first on my list is always a food or religion documentary. How I have not run out of these yet is beyond me. I mean, they are just prolific. Thank goodness because when I run out I don’t know what I’ll do with myself. Also, I’ve decided no more National Geographic documentaries. They make them an hour and a half but I just fast forward to the last 20 minutes and BAM! all the information I need in one compact space. The other hour is stretched out re-enactments. A total snooze-fest.

After I get the regulars out of the way (which I’ll be reviewing in the future) I’m able to branch out for more interesting fare.

Yesterday was Beauty is Embarrassing and it was wonderful.

From his Emmy winning work on Pee Wee’s Playhouse to the work he did that won him an MTV astronaut man for the Smashing Pumpkins video Tonight, Tonight — Wayne White has done more (and in more ways) than I’ll ever even dream of doing. Puppets, voices, drawings, paintings, found object art, mixed media, and he married well.

Because the moments they show Mimi Pond (who, FYI, has the best LinkedIn job title EVER) are absolutely classic. I want to be like her. She is talented, she is beautiful, she is smart, she is funny, she is stylish. You can find her blog (including her first web comic) over here and it’s poignant and a feeling I thought only I felt but someone else put it there in a comic with words and pictures and expressed it in a way that made me laugh and cringe at the same time because it was so real. I look forward to getting hold of more of her work in the future.

That’s not to say Wayne White – the star of the documentary (or is it a biopic?) – is not entertaining. Far from it. He’s got energy and inspiration in bucketfuls. He broke into the art world with cuss words and bawdy humor and his amazing pop art style.

It made me feel like I could never be as good or prolific as he is, but at the same time gave me hope I could actually just do something instead of just focusing on the never-good-enough aspect.

When the movie was over I felt satisfied, but I wanted more. I wanted to have dinner with his family and exchange crazy stories with Mimi. Of course, since I’m not an artist my stories would all be kind of lame and weird – but in my fantasy world I’m charming and witty and we talk about art and design and what MC Escher thought about before he fell asleep at night. All very classy but gritty, too.

…and probably not classy at all, I’m just pretending it would be classy for you guys because I’d hate for you to think I’m not super classy aaaall the time. I mean, then you might judge me with your words and your stares and I’d…wait…what would I do? Hmmm. I wonder… 

So we’re there holding our teacups with pinkies up and doing just fine talking about art and how often we cuss and why it’s all so ironic.


Seriously. Since I watched this movie, everything I see around me, from PEZ Dispensers to Chapstick tubes has become a puppet in my mind. I’d kind of like to make a fortune-telling puppet out of my runes and it would wear a hat and speak with a thick vaguely-European-but-unpinnable-to-any-actual-country Johnny Depp-esque accent and pretty much just tell everyone – after much introspective talking and nodding as they share the situation that brought them to talk to a puppet fortune-teller – that they’re going to die a horrible, violent death at the hands of a marmoset.

The killer in me is the killer in you….





Oh, the Places Stress Goes (or, Workable Solutions and Me!)

dysenteryIt’s kind of like Dr. Seuss but totally different.

Because stress makes people – especially already loopy people like me – a little crazy.

Not “be careful” crazy, but if you were on my couch you might have heard me wax poetic about how The Cabin in the Woods is perhaps the best analogy for life ever created. Or how if aliens came down to earth how depressed they might be if they came during a rainstorm. Or trying to figure out how global warming can create drought and record-breaking rain. Or how I want to change my first name because if I ever want to make it big on NPR I have to have a crazy first name AND last name. One just isn’t enough.

You know, normal Jen stuff.

But here’s the thing, this particular spike in stress-related harmless insanity is caused by this … thing … that has invaded our lives.

The past two-ish weeks we have been filling out this amazing little Workable Solutions Packet. It’s where you tell the mortgage company about pretty much everything you spend and on what you spend it and they decide if they can help you keep your house. Page upon page where you have to somehow tell them that the reason you’re as behind as you are (thousands, in our case) isn’t a big deal because going forward you’re a whole new person with a whole new budget and a whole new everything and even though you were all horrible before now you’re awesome.

It’s kind of like someone who thinks you’re ugly and then you go get new clothes and put on a bunch of makeup and then stand there like a pig in lipstick trying to convince someone you don’t even like that you are way better than they thought and not only should they not dump you, they should marry you.

Pretty much against my entire personality because if someone doesn’t like me, I’m cool with that, I’m not super-likable except to a pretty narrow group of people. But here I am, trying to put on a short skirt and stumble around in spike heels to show I really, really can balance on these shoes and you should just marry me already. Oh, and pay for the wedding, too. Then we can stay together forever and live happily ever after.

Okay, enough of the analogy, because it gets gross in my head after that with paper cuts. Ick. So let’s get to a Workable Solution, shall we?

I keep a pretty strict budget, but I have my moments that I cringe about like the $20 in beach food we got while we were in Michigan the other week. Or the $55 in cherries we got at the orchard. (Which is now jam in my fridge, y’all, so it’s not like it all went bad, but DAMN that’s some expensive pie and jam when you break it down!) Because you have to pony up bank statements. This is definitely one of those times I’m glad hubby and I don’t subscribe to porn sites or anything else that would come up as on our bank statement. Someone is going to SEE all that.


But it’s a long, drawn-out process and in the meantime we’re on some magic freezy buttony thingy that keeps us from losing the house. But I am completely obsessing about it every day. I look at my coffee and wonder if I just drank a cup less a day would that somehow magically save my house? (Spoiler: It won’t.)

What’s going to save the house, of course, is more income. That we can prove the “latest possible dates” of the next two and a half years of raises for the husband is what is going to save us.

But I still have to go through the last year of utility bills and you should see my desk. It’s looked like something out of a horror movie based on The Office for almost a month now. I’m kind of a wreck.

I got a tarot reading a few weeks ago that told me I wouldn’t lose the house. Because yes, I’m the person that when I have a chance to get a tarot reading I’m all, “So, cards, how about this mortgage situation?” Makes perfect sense, right? If my cards can’t predict it, well, what’s the point. So I try to rely on that comfort when I’m giving myself paper cuts on the property tax bill or trying to iron out the crumpled up piece of paper that turns out is actually very important and thank goodness I didn’t throw it away and just tossed the crumpled ball on my desk with every other piece of paper in my entire house.

On the super-bright side I’ll be done with this paperwork this week. (Because I put a self-imposed deadline on it! I’m not going to let this drag out! The exclamation points make it seem more legit!) I’m guessing my stress levels will go down dramatically. They better or you’ll find me in a kPin coma, drooling on myself while the kids live on frozen waffles and fruit snacks.

Oh, oh, I completely forgot. The reason I was telling you about the workable solutions thing in the first place!

When was the last time you went line by line through your bank statement?

It was one of the most depressing – and liberating – things I’ve done in a long time. Okay, to be honest I didn’t do it myself. The husband did it and then reported back to me on levels of expense on all kinds of things. It was really interesting to see what we spent money on and where.

For example, I discovered when my car passes that state line into Michigan, I completely forget that the money I’m spending comes from my bank account. I’m free and easy with the cash going wherever it needs to because vacation mentality. That, plus the fair dose of guilt for not having my girls in any summer activities because we are saving money really boosts the spending when we’re out there.

Now that I know – I can do something about it. Budget for those trips and take cash so I know when the cash is gone the spending is over. We already do this when we go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday but now it’s going to happen in other areas, too.

In fact…hold on to your hats…I think we’re going to institute the envelope system. (I hear the collective gasp!) Putting cash in envelopes like my great-grandmother used to do. When the money is gone, it’s gone.

What could be more simple? (…and there we have the kiss of death phrase that will ensure it won’t be simple at all, eh? Go me!)

I will, of course, let you know how it goes with the envelope system. I’m pretty excited about it but also scared and NO, I won’t be keeping the envelopes out somewhere burglars could burgle them.

No matter how stressful this paperwork is and no matter how crazy it makes me, just knowing there is another side to this mountain keeps my spirits up and my determination strong. We are going to get there if I have to drag everyone kicking and screaming one at a time through the rocks and dirt and mud. I’ll throw them over the summit if I have to.

I’m going to get there if we get Oregon Trail dysentery. Because I didn’t start as the banker, that’s why! (I have no idea where that tangent came from, I have to go download that game now. I’m sure it’s available free online somewhere since it’s from, like, the 1800s of video game history.)

Do you have any questions about how we budget or what we needed to do to get where we are? Feel free to email me any questions and I’ll answer them on the blog. You can also send questions via FB message or Twitter. Let me know if you want the question to be anonymous or if you want a link back to your site! I’m happy to do either.

Have you ever filled out a Workable Solutions packet before? What do you put for the suggestion for making up the arrears? I was thinking of offering to sell my kids, but I’m pretty sure that would horrify them and make them not want to marry me forever and ever. This is much less a love story and much more Boxing Helena.

In the meantime I’m going to go brainstorm how to make more Oregon Trail related posts. Because awesome, that’s why.



How To Budget When You Are Poor

piggy bank with coinsSo, most of the people I’ve talked to about budgeting over the years tend to fall into two camps.

  1. We have enough money, we’re good.
  2. We don’t have enough money to budget.

I don’t go around offering advice or trying to push information on people, but I use phrases like “It’s not in the budget” or “I’m working on the budget” relatively often so I think people feel they have to say something.

I think they think I’m hinting at something. Like, HEY I HAVE A BUDGET WANT ONE??

Which is not the case. My business is my business, I’m not trying to convert the world.

That being said, I keep it out in the open because sometimes people want to know. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, so I just kind of have to be open to it.

The first group is fun, because they think I budget because I don’t have any money. It’s actually more important to budget when you have money, but I’m not there yet and telling people how I used to have money tends to make me seem like I’m trying to keep some kind of southern gentility thing that I do not have.

So I smile and say, “Okay.”

The second group I can have a better conversation with because once someone knows you are poor and are willing to talk about it you realize you’re not alone and aren’t going to be judged. There are so many very, very smart poor people. The problem is we were all told from birth that we were going to cure cancer and do great things, so when we fall on hard times or end up poor we are smart enough not to let the general population know about it.

We post our photos on Facebook, participate on Twitter, and are careful to be honest but it’s the honest of cracking open the door so you can only see in a little as opposed to throwing open the door and letting you see our full lives.

But when we find someone similar – smart and poor or even smart and middle class – there is an understanding. We know each other as kindred spirits. People who have gotten to the same place I am and we can relate to one another in ways other people might not understand.

When these people tell me they don’t have enough money to budget it hurts my heart, because I want to share everything I know but I know that could be overwhelming and I don’t want to do that to anyone.

Step One – Write It All Down

No, really, you’re thinking, “Duh.” right now and thinking about all the things you owe and if you keep thinking you’ll just stop thinking and go back on Facebook and forget we were even having this conversation.

Don’t do that.

Just take a piece of paper or open an Excel spreadsheet and start writing it down.

Every. Single. Thing.

Monthly bills, quarterly bills, debts, student loans, car loans, whatever it is you owe or pay, you have to write it down. Don’t forget to do your best to estimate gas usage (Check your online debit or credit statements to figure this out) and tolls. Oh, oh, and don’t forget website hosting and domains. If you do have a bunch of domains, add another worksheet to the spreadsheet and get those monthly totals so you can put them in your spreadsheets monthly and not be surprised by that one month you went a little nutty and bought ten domains at once.

I have three worksheets on my spreadsheet.

Bills – Domains – Debts

I like to track my debts for two reasons. One – because I want to be able to see everything at a glance. Two – It feels good to bring those tallies down – however little – every month after making a payment. The car payment is the one I watch most closely.

Step Two – Pick Your Pony

While my car payment is my go-to bill that I cannot wait to get rid of. (More than the rest. It’s assumed you want to get all those monkeys off your back eventually, but you have to start somewhere, right?) I’m sure you have a bill that makes you a little sick to your stomach when you think about it, a little nauseous when you see it in the mail or get that reminder email.

Whatever bill that is, focus on it.

Once you have everything on paper or in your spreadsheet, you’ll have the brainspace available to do that. You’ll be able to focus on one bill because you’ll no longer be THINKINGABOUTEVERYTHINGALLTHETIMEANDFEELINGOVERWHELMED.

Step Three – Write Down Your Income

It’s not just about the expenses, it’s important to find out just how much of an income problem you might be having. A vague idea of your income vs. outgo is not enough in this case. Knowing you don’t have enough isn’t going to cut it. It will hurt at first (trust me, it will hurt) to see that hard and cold number. The one that tells you that somehow you’re going to spend $50 on groceries for five people.

But in terms of income, pick a place on your budget to write down that income.

Possible Setback Moment: “I don’t have regular income. It fluctuates. I just lost my job. I need to check the cushions for change.”
Solution: Stop that. Write down what you know. Estimate what you can. Get through the fear.

Don’t Expect Perfection (for a while, anyway)

See, here’s the thing. The first spreadsheet or piece of paper you write up is going to be crap. It’s going to be absolutely terrible. You’re going to look at it and you might think you have created the worst budget ever.

It doesn’t matter. Really.

It takes months to get your budget to look remotely cohesive. But if you would like to start with something other than a totally blank screen – because goodness knows that is not a fun place to be – visit Budgets are Sexy and grab one of their many budget templates to get you started!

The thing is, once you start and get most things down, you might forget about your budget for a month here and there if you have no reason to obsess over it (I’m the first to admit that obsessing about a budget doesn’t come naturally for everyone.) To counteract the one-and-done super-ineffective budgeting method, I would recommend setting a phone alarm or a Google Calendar alert so that you (and your partner, if applicable) can sit down once a month and revisit what’s happening and look forward toward next month.

Step Four – Look at New Ways To Make Ends Meet

It’s a tough market out there right now. One of the things we found when we looked at alternative options for our families was that white collar work was not necessarily the right choice for my husband. We checked the different unions against the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (super handy resource) and looked at the projected five year outlook compared to Randy’s interest in each field.

If you aren’t sure what you want to do, start searching categories and see if anything jumps out at you!

Oh, also, now that white collar jobs have longer hours with the same salaried paycheck, you might want to look into getting a government job. The official Federal government jobs database is at USA Jobs. Your state may also have an internet jobs listing (Illinois has a dedicated government job website.)

There are a bunch of other ways to make money, of course, and if you have a passion (I don’t) then make a business out of that from scratch and build up some clients and cashflow. I’m just trying to throw things out there other people might not have thought to blog about yet. I mean, seriously, everyone preaches work at home jobs – I’d like to take this moment to propose jobs with benefits and pensions and health insurance and predictable hours and a salary you can send your kids to college (at least a state school) with. I mean, sure, security isn’t for everyone but usually there’s a sturdy partner and an artsy partner and one can get the secure job and the other one can do all the risky, fun things.

If that works for you. If both of you want to sell things on Etsy all day, you do you and do it with all your heart.

So budgeting when you are poor is about being honest, putting it down on paper or laptop, and then making a real plan. The budget makes both short term and long term planning much easier because you can see everything in front of you instead of having to look through the back of your eyes into your brain all the time.

Do you have any fun or practical budgeting tips?




Smart People Privilege and “Will I be Homeless?”

When I was young I had no sympathy or empathy for poor people.

“If they didn’t want to be poor, they would do something about it.” I said.

“Anyone can lift themselves up, adults working fast food are crap.” I said.

I was kind of a jerk when I was young.

My poor, long-suffering great-grandmother tried, oh she tried, to get me to see the error of my ways. Unfortunately, the “every black baby in a wheelchair living in a project getting government cheese could be president if they only had a computer” argument didn’t work for crap. Only in hindsight do I understand why that was such a horrible way to try and convince a smart, young, white girl to feel sorry for the poor, downtrodden black folk.

Because black folk are not poor and downtrodden all the time. Just like white girls are not young and smart all the time.

She tried to use the worst possible example to make my empathy ring true.

Unfortunately, as a former homeless girl, I did not have a whole bunch of spare empathy or sympathy to give to anyone else, because I was waiting for someone to congratulate ME on not becoming a teenage prostitute.

Spoiler Alert: To this day, no one has congratulated me on not becoming a teenage prostitute. Assuming having sex with … well, let’s just say that if you’re a smart-ass and honest about your past you won’t be able to donate blood a time or two. Prudes.

My great-grandmother – as well meaning as she was – tried to get me to give a crap about others with the “it could be worse” argument. A far more effective strategy is the, “it could be YOU” argument. Because the WSJ says that 35% of American struggle to make ends meet each month. All y’all judging the person using the food stamp card for whatever the hell it is they want to purchase (remind me to tell you about the time I had to buy cupcakes and got stink eye and nasty under-the-breath comments) need to realize you are ONE paycheck away from being there. Unless you have parents/family with money, in which case shut up and learn something because your safety net is rare, like that flower that bloomed once every ten years.

People have to stop pretending everyone is like THEM. They aren’t. How dare people think they are!

Personally, right now I wish we were living paycheck to paycheck. We’re just not there yet. We are close, but right now we have a debt to our mortgage company that has me more worried than I’d like for anyone to know about. We have a person in charge of our case and, “My husband is in a union” is a powerful bargaining chip, but it’s not foolproof.

When we’ve made good money in the past, I’ve used excess to pay down debt and thank goodness for it because it may be our saving grace. I mean, sure, we’re probably going into default on our student loans, like, right this second, but that’s our only solid debt (besides the house, car and $1200 in credit card debt…so…maybe not our only solid debt.)

My husband is on this apprentice scale system at the union where he gets promoted up 10% every 750 hours or 6 months (whichever comes first). I am on unemployment and spend my days sending in resumes for jobs and hoping/dreading I get called in for an interview. We are at that point where our mouths are underwater and we are breathing from our noses but we see a boat in the distance that’s coming to save us.

Can we hold on?

That’s pretty much going to be the focus of the blog, because it’s the focus of my life.

Will we lose our house? It’s a total possibility. If we do, where will we go?

All while this is happening I see people bitching about people using food stamps (IT’S CALLED THE LINK CARD, KEEP UP) for buying candy bars and soda, and over here I see people bitching about people using the LINK card at the Whole Foods (I can barely afford this! How dare those poor people buy organic!) and I’m stuck there, swiping my card because the food pantries are stocked with processed foods and things that won’t help my kids grow anything but a damn tumor.

Also, if they think for a moment it would be a good idea to give me crap for being on The Stamps, let me inform them I’ve paid more into this system than they probably ever will unless they’re reading Lean In for more than fun, so they need to back the hell off. (You kind of have to italicize Lean In because then, you know, it’s LEANING! Good times!)

I am the face of poor America, people. I am the face of the LINK card, and the multiple cases of almost-foreclosure, and the don’t know if I’ll be able to pay the car payment and oh by the way the last car we had was repossessed for a day and that really screws up your credit so you should see the interest rate on my new car. Used car? Oh yes, we tried that. Come to find out the one we bought had a broken frame – in two places – you know, a rolling deathtrap. So we bought a new car this time, because I was scared and I cried a lot and didn’t know what to do because DEAD KID FEAR. It’s the only one we have so while my husband goes to work the only thing getting me out of the house farther than a few blocks/miles is an ambulance.

I am just another person – funny and kind and giving and smart and edgy and foul-mouthed – and I am the one who has to tell my daughters we can’t afford gymnastics, dance lessons, art classes, and anything else they want because it’s just not possible right now. They are so understanding, which makes it worse.

Of course, the only reason I can tell you this is because my husband has that mythical unicorn of a union job and in 2-3 years will be making enough that we’ll be able to go to Disney or Cabo or a nice restaurant. I know we’re going to be okay, so I can tell you how NOT okay we have been for the past 10 years. The ups and downs of our lives.

It’s going to be gritty.

Oh, and while we’re at it…this.


If you would like to download your own copy, or maybe get a larger copy, check out the AFL-CIO Facebook page where I found it.

In the meantime, try not to take your smart, got-it-all-figured-out brain and pretend everyone is as smart or as hungry or as ambitious as you. Everyone willing to work a 40 hour week should be able to afford a 2 bedroom apartment. No one is asking for a McMansion. To act like an apartment is some kind of thing you should be a genius to get, well, that’s dumb.

You’re better than that.

When those people act like a temporarily displaced rich person, the rich people laugh and the poor people think they’re a haughty fool. As a matter of fact, the rich people think they’re a haughty fool, too.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
– John Steinbeck

Stop it, stop it, stop it. If they think that other people could be more if they just wanted it enough they are the person John Steinbeck was talking about.

Dumping on the rights of immigrants, poor people, black people, or whatever their preferred OTHER is will never, ever, ever make them a person they want to be.

I’m done keeping it to myself.

Institutionalized racism exists. Institutionalized sexism exists. These things hurt women AND men AND people of every color.

Do I only have analogies? Sure.

Do they want proof? Maybe.

Is it my job to give them sources and references? NOPE. NO WAY. NO HOW.

I’ll do my best, but honestly, if they want to be ignorant and not give a crap about people who are doing more crappy than them, HAVE AT IT. It’s not my job to make them into some kind of great person. If they want to be a turd, by all means, be a turd.

This is just my blog, my platform, and my story.

I’m owning it.

That being said, I’m happy to have conversations. If you know me you know I’m relatively light and funny in my discourse – I’m not going to go for the jugular right away, but a lot of these people need to understand that crap they’re posting on social media is aimed toward ME.


Their fat rules, their health rules, their poor people rules, their race rules.


I am a human being. I am one of billions.

I cannot be the only one.


Tell me I’m not.

Even if they don’t, I’ll keep talking….

Maintaining A Basic Healthy Lifestsyle


When you’re a working parent with kids and a house to look after, maintaining the basics of a healthy lifestyle can be tough. Making sure you manage to exercise, eat well and get some rest is challenging because it relies on routines that can be hard to keep up when family life can be so unpredictable.

So how can you keep on top of things so that your family’s everyday life is anchored on a basic healthy and active lifestyle? The main priorities are eating well, getting some exercise and cutting down on bad habits. Here are a few key tips that can help you and your family stay healthy:

Plan healthy meals in advance

It’s easy to fall back on ready meals (which are notoriously high in salt) and junk food that lacks any nutritional value. But getting enough fruit and veg is one of the most important aspects of a healthy diet, so you should try to and make all your meals balanced. One way to avoid getting into bad habits is to write a meal plan at the start of every week, and make sure you have all the fresh ingredients you’ll need so that it’s easy to throw a healthy meal together quickly.

You can even spend one evening making several meals to freeze, so you’ve got nutritious dinners ready to go for later in the week or month. Try to replace salty or sugary snacks with fruit and keep a carton of fresh juice in the fridge all the time so every family member can get as many portions of fruit and veg a day as possible.

Make exercise a family activity

If you don’t have time to get out for dedicated exercise sessions or visits to the gym, try to work exercise into your everyday routine. Take every opportunity you can to leave the car at home and either cycle or walk to your destination. And when you spend time together as a family try to get out of the house and play games or sports that give you all a chance to stretch your legs and keep fit.

Getting out in the sunlight is good for your vitamin D levels and overall well-being, so just going outside for some fresh air regularly is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In the winter, when we don’t get as much natural sunlight, you could try faking it with SAD light therapy (find out more here).

Leave bad habits at the door

Smoking is one of the major health threats among adults, leading to cancer and heart disease among other risks. So quitting is one of the best decisions you can make as part of a push for a healthier lifestyle. Have a look at the NHS smoke free site for more help and information. It’s also important to keep an eye on your alcohol and coffee intake. You don’t have to completely cut these out, but just make sure you enjoy them in moderation – if you’re relying on either or struggling to cut down on cigarettes, alcohol or coffee go and speak to your GP. They will be able to give you help and advice to create a healthier lifestyle for you and your family.

If you have kids you might also want to consider taking out a life insurance policy, which you can find through a comparison aggregator site. Staying healthy really pays off in the long run and makes for a happier, more active family – so get out there and enjoy yourselves.

This post was brought to you by Beyond Mom’s partner, Compare The Market