Category: Family & Friends

From spouses to spit-up

How We Spent It 3-31-2016

how-we-spent-it

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

2016-3-31

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:

2016-3-31 ynab

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??

Why Can’t I be **THAT** Mom?

You know the one. List in hand, she totes around town running errands and stopping in to help at her kid’s school. She is put together and wears just enough makeup that everyone knows she didn’t wake up at the last minute. Not too much makeup, though because that would mean she was trying too hard.

That mom who knows the perfect present for every birthday party. The mom who knows which teacher loves chocolate, which loves coffee, and which loves both. The parent who knew what camps to put the kids in and was completely certain her kids were emotionally ready for what she signed them up for.

A mom who made sure her kids could swim while they were still in utero. Safety first!

I’m supposed to volunteer at the school and I’m having a full blown “maybe I should go to the ER but I know I’m not dying my heart is playing tricks on me” panic attack. Why can’t I just show up and be awesome. I’m sure the teacher doesn’t even need me to be awesome. I could probably just stand there like a statue and it would be more helpful than not being there.

Since we bought the second car (aka Mr. Brickie’s car) I’ve changed a lot of things and it’s only been a month! I do 90% of the shopping now. I drive my youngest to school so her big sisters can walk to school. (Kindergarten is its own building in our town.)

I pick up prescriptions and I do actually run quite a few errands so Mr. B doesn’t have to.

I guess I thought the momentum from doing all these things would launch me into the realm of being able to volunteer at the school. It does not seem to be working. I feel I may have made a gross miscalculation of my own abilities.

Frantically, my brain scans for excuses that I won’t be caught in at a later date. “I really wanted to but I died” probably won’t cut it. The worst part is if I had just kept my mouth shut I wouldn’t have volunteered in the first place. I could have just stayed the silent majority of moms who don’t volunteer. I could still do it. I don’t know how.

I’ve managed to turn a bunch of wins (errands, shopping, etc.) into meaningless nothings next to this big letdown of being nothing more than a person who doesn’t keep my word.

Now that I have my very own daytime car I feel like I have to do all the things all at once all the time while the kids are in school or I’m wasting the gift of having a car with me during the day.

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.

The Day I Changed Personal Finance Religions

There are several religions within personal finance.

  • You can’t take it with you when you go!
  • Build wealth, leave a legacy!
  • Think and Grow Rich!
  • Build a Business!
  • Leave Below Your Means!

There are different ways to get where you’re going and each way has rabid fans that will tell you their way is the only way.

  • Snowball Method
  • Avalanche Method
  • Invest single stocks / Invest in index funds / InvestInvestInvest
  • I’m sure there are a lot more I don’t know the name of!

When I started on my personal finance journey, all I did was write down our bills on a piece of paper and show it to my husband. “No wonder we’re constantly behind,” I said, “we don’t make enough to pay our bills.”

It was a light bulb moment in our lives. When I look back I think to myself, “How could we not know our bills? How could we not know our monthly income?” It seems so easy and elementary now, over ten years later.

I’ll never forget the shock of that moment, though.

Back then I was always anxious. Not “I feel a little nervous” anxious, but “long-tailed-cat in a room full of rocking chairs” anxious. I have prescribed medication for my anxiety disorder, but rarely use it. I find that my learned coping mechanisms work better and better the more money we have in the bank. (Shocker, right?)

Sometimes when things got really bad I would turn on Christian radio and listen to the way they talked. The lilt of the preaching was calming. (There has to be some kind of study on that. They all talk the same way, it has to be for a reason.) There was this guy talking on the radio about his book Financial Peace and I was like, “Woah. Those two words together are an oxymoron!” Yes, I literally said that in my car. I was parked in front of a friend’s house waiting for her to come downstairs so we could go to lunch together or something. I called the number and donated $10 to some clean water mission in some other country place and for my donation they sent me the book.

I still have the book. It changed everything.

I am not proud to admit this but I laughed most of the time while reading the book. Live on less than you make? Easy for this guy to say. What if I make no money? How do I live below zero? I kept the book and didn’t really commit to it for years but kept going back and reading it because I knew there was something to it, even if I couldn’t tell exactly what the something was.

I didn’t have Dave Ramsey on the radio yet and had never heard him say, “You don’t have a budget problem, you have an income problem!” which is absolutely what we had.

It took us a long time to figure out our income problem. When we did figure it out the solution was horrible. We would lose our house, have to move, uproot our children. We did all those things. We were so broke we had to be those people that had an online fundraiser.

I laugh when people say online friends aren’t real. My online friends saved my family. I’m not overstating it at all. They saved us.

We all sacrificed. We all sold things we would have rather kept (yes, including the children) and even though the kids were scared they kept a brave front because even though they trusted me, they also knew I couldn’t stay strong if they showed weakness. They comforted one another at night when they couldn’t sleep. They talked through the stress of moving with each other.

I feel both pride and shame when I think about that.

Since we have moved here we haven’t eaten out a lot, we haven’t done but a couple things that cost a dime. Most of our summer was spent at free events.

I don’t want a pat on the back or comfort, this is just how things have been. It’s how they had to be. We were in scorched earth survival mode. It was necessary. Now that Mr. Brickie is a 70% apprentice we have passed the magic invisible line between surviving and starting to thrive,

It leaves us at a crossroads.

We could continue on at this scorched earth level that has become our normal or we could start to incorporate some balance in our lives. I don’t want to be old, broke, and afraid but I also don’t want to be that old lady that has a bunch of money in the bank but never spends it on anything fun.

Balance. I’m not good at it by nature. I would, however, really like to try it on for a little while and see how it feels.

So we are turning away from scorched earth and the snowball method and the baby steps and blazing our own trail. One that includes investing in an index fund in a Roth IRA as well as going on vacation. One that allows for a second car, but one that gets paid off in two years or less.

Let’s see if I can do it. A new financial religion. One I haven’t read about online or seen talked about in a blog. Something new.

The only way to know if it works is to try it out.

I’m very nervous.

Avoiding Pitfalls: New, Bright and Shiny Things Don’t Make You More Betterer

Today I made a very difficult decision to not buy a flat iron. I’m 40 and my hair has seventeen inches of roots (that is an exaggeration) and greys shooting through and I’m tired of my hair not looking pretty. I want pretty hair.

My cousin and I went to see a movie today (The Boy – it was good) and after it was over we stopped at Sally Beauty Supply because she needed some hair dye and I found this straight iron on sale. It also came with a free matching brush and a high heel flat iron holder. No, I don’t need a brush or a high heel flat iron holder. I don’t even need a straight iron. I don’t use the curling iron I have now, why would I use a flat iron? It doesn’t matter because it’s on sale and it has polka dots and I just know if I buy this flat iron I’ll use it every day and be so happy with my new, smooth, lovely, pretty hair.

We both know that’s total bull, right?

My cousin offered to let me try her flat iron before I committed to the purchase and I wanted to say no because I wanted THIS flat iron. The one I was staring at. The one I was practically drooling on. The one with polka dots. The one that would make my hair pretty!

When I was young I thought having just the right pencils, paper, and folders would make me a super-student. I never had the right pencils, paper, and folders so obviously that’s why I was not a super-student already. Duh.

Getting a gym membership is not going to make me go work out.

Getting a budgeting program is not going to make you spend time budgeting and focus on your expenses.

My budget started on paper. It moved to excel. If I hadn’t had excel I would have kept writing it on paper. If I had never gotten You Need A Budget, I would have still budgeted on excel…or paper. If you want to do a thing the tools aren’t going to stop you.

If you try, I’m sure you can find a million exceptions to this but I’m making a general point that if you weren’t going to workout at home, you probably weren’t going to workout at a gym. Maybe that’s just how I’m wired and this isn’t some deep, universal truth.

Maybe you would have been a straight A student that became a Nobel Prize winning scientist that cured cancer if you just had a Pilot G2 instead of a sad little Bic pen. I’m not curing cancer even if I have a pen made of gold that uses melted platinum ink. I’m not a scientist. I never will be. No pen will change that fact.

So I put the straight iron back on the shelf. Trying my cousin’s is the best idea and costs zero dollars up front. It’s a good one too so I’ll know if it will work on my hair if I get one of my own. Most likely I will try it and not want super-straight hair and say thank you and not own a flat iron for the rest of my life.

Who knows. I do know that the worst outcome is I save a hundred bucks I didn’t have on a product I didn’t need.

It would be nice if just having a gym membership got me all toned up by itself but I know I have to put the work in. As I finally start to feel like a human again instead of a sick person I’ve tried to stretch more and move whenever I can. I don’t ask people to grab things from the kitchen, I get up and get them myself. I’m trying.

I would love to lift a kettlebell and put YouTube on the TV and do a workout, but instead I dusted my living room, did the dishes, and cleaned the doorframes (according to the dictionary this is one word, who knew?) Slowly but surely I’m creating a home I’m proud of.

Sometimes our passions choose us.

No, I don’t think I’ll be passionate about a clean house forever. I’ll stick with it as a priority until I get a system down that has a routine and doesn’t take effort and then I’ll move on…same as I did with the budget.

I’m excited to be not sick anymore. I think I can get a lot done this year if I can stay well. With the budget as well as with the house and hell maybe I’ll even get my kettlebell back out and work out. I hopped up and did squats yesterday just to show someone proper form so it’s possible.

Waiting for the Deposit to Hit

Listening To: Rizzle Kicks Radio on Pandora.
Thinking About: Paying bills tomorrow.

Last night we went on a date. I know going out to eat the day before Taxmas is probably not the most responsible decision but a friend offered to entertain the kids and we wanted to go out and be almost-well together just spending some time with each other.

I really didn’t know marriage could be like this. He’s a really great guy.

I know most of the time I try to keep this blog to the numbers but you know I have to tell you that most of what happens in this house is emotion. It’s the youngest asking for this, that, or the other thing. It’s the oldest asking for a Kindle book based on one of her favorite video games. It’s being me – the gatekeeper of the cash – and feeling that pang with every question. The pang of, “I don’t know, can we?”

The other day I told my three daughters that I always worry I’m not doing enough for them. After completely overreacting with fake shock and making me laugh they listed all the things I do for them and give them. It became a competition and the three of them were getting louder and talking over each other and trying to come up with the most things I do as a mom that made me the best.

After I got my fill of free self-esteem booster I brought them back around to being serious and said, “But really, on a serious note, I was very proud of how brave you were when you knew we had to move and none of us knew where we were moving to.”

Somber faces all around.

The oldest said, “Well we were nervous but we knew we would all be together and we can do anything because we’re Team Family so when we got scared at night we would try to come up with ideas for how we could help and we tried to be extra good and not fight so you and daddy could solve the problems.”

This is the part where I cried. Wow. These kids, man. They are the most supportive little people I could ask for in my life apart from my husband. They aren’t perfect by any means, they have their ups and downs and they fight and sometimes they get physical with one another and call names and don’t do their chores and aren’t helpful and forget to turn in work and get Fs but when they have these moments I can almost see what kind of grown people they will become and I am blown away.

I should do a whole series on kids and money and how my kids have accidentally become savers. We are going to open savings accounts for all of them this Saturday. One of my greatest achievements as a parent is not having stolen my children’s money no matter how poor I was. I have borrowed their money, don’t doubt it for a second, but even if they had to wait until Taxmas I’ve paid them back.

Now we can get it out of the piggy banks and into the local bank. Then they can actually keep their piggy banks in their bedroom and collect change like they used to before they had large bills in them and I hid them in my basement because I hate having cash hanging around the house.

Mr. Brickie is still on a side job. Probably until Wednesday. Then he’ll be home and next week he has another training class. It’s his Year 3 Quarter 2 training. It’s a three year program with one training per quarter so after this one he only has two left until he’s all done with apprentice training! He goes to all the meetings monthly so all he’s going to have after that is the hours requirement to get to Journeyman.

I don’t know if I told you his apprentice level flipped at the end of last season. He’s now a 70% apprentice. I’ve said since he started that 60% would be the most difficult level because we would lose food stamps (SNAP) but not be able to afford food. We went to the food pantry a lot in 2015.

At 60% we survive. At 70% we start to thrive.

I can’t wait for him to start this season because I want to feel it. Deep in my soul that feeling of enough. Not enough to go to Disney or hit Universal or visit Washington DC with the kids….but just having enough for everything we have right now. The feeling of being able to save money. The feeling of buying life insurance in case anything happens to Mr. Brickie so I’m protected from all this getting yanked away from us.

There is a family member we love dearly who was given a prescription she couldn’t afford. I offered to pay for it out of our emergency fund after Taxmas hits because she’s not in a position to do that right now and the timing couldn’t be better because Taxmas. .

In that moment I recognized myself. “There you are. The person you’ve wanted to be forever.”

It wasn’t a big moment. It wasn’t dramatic. It was just, like, oh…hey…there you are. You’ve been waiting to see the light of day for so damn long you wondered if you would ever make it but here you are. Thanks for not giving up on me.

I shouldn’t publish this. I should hold back and turn it into essays full of real, pinkies-up writing instead of posting this hodgepodge of thoughts but you know what, I don’t want to wait. I want to post it now because tomorrow is going to be a glorious day of paying bills and updating YNAB and waiting for everything to clear so I can do it again with the rest of the incoming funds for February.

My favorite time of year has arrived. The blissful few days I feel I’m taking care of my family’s future in a big enough way that it feels like it matters.

The feeling provided by the next few days keeps my soul fed through the rest of the year.

As always, credit for the term Taxmas goes to Jupiter from Poor as Folk

The Recipe for A Life Goal

I asked my friend what she wants for 2016 and she said, “Less problems.” I asked another and he said, “More fun.” When they asked me back (because they have manners, God love ‘em) I said, “I’m not sure yet. I’m listening to see if I want someone else’s goal, first.”

Don’t we all do that now and then? We decide we want to be a police officer or firefighter or doctor because we see one on television or in person or in a book and we take their goal as something we want for ourselves. It’s copy and paste goal setting.

I’m not putting it down. It’s a very effective form of goal setting because it is very difficult to have a goal you can’t comprehend.

So when I was a child and my goal was to have a good life, well, I’m still not sure what that looks like sometimes.

It’s like having a recipe but without the measurements of anything. So I have a shopping list for a good life.

  • Money
  • Love
  • Security
  • Hope

In what amounts or proportions, though?

I was winging it when I chose to add both husband and children to the mix when I was measuring out the love portion. I also added in family and a sprinkling of in-person friends and cups and cups of online friends I could love.

As for money, it’s even more difficult. Am I happy where I am? Is my recipe bitter because it only has one car, a hand-me-down winter coat, and no vacations? When I taste the recipe does it feel like it’s missing something?

Safety is the umami of the recipe. Some people love it, some people claim it gives them a headache because it’s MSG, and I just need a dash. Okay, maybe a few dashes! I do like a little more than a little security.

Hope is tough. If you have a little it goes a long way. If you don’t? Well…it becomes your saffron. The most expensive of all the spices. It is also the most difficult to find if it’s lost. I’ve had more than a few situations where I faked being hopeful about the future because when I can’t muster something I need I pretend I have it and act like a person who has the thing.

I question my own happiness regularly because I’m not sure if I’ve settled or if I’m really just in the middle of a five-year plan or if this is as good as it gets. It’s pretty good.. That critical point in the middle. It’s like being sick for a long time. I had a horrible internal infection in my chest and then various cold and flu symptoms for a total of over three months. I didn’t feel like myself. It turned into forgetting I wasn’t feeling myself and claiming my sick self WAS the real and true version of myself. I got lost and forgot there was a way back.

I wonder if my life here in this little town in the midwest is another version of forgetting myself. Am I obligated to be more and do more only because it’s possible? Is it giving up to enjoy life and not strive for more and more all the time?

How much is enough? Will I know when I’ve gotten there?

When did you know you had enough and everything beyond that moment was just a bonus for your life?

I’m still learning the recipe for my life goal. Even if I’m not entirely sure what else I’m going to add to the mix, I do know I’m going to tend what I have so it doesn’t scald. I think that there are certain delicate things like family relationships and marriages that you can’t fix if you leave them alone too long and let them burn even a little.

What does your recipe for a goal life consist of? Money? Love? Security? Or something else entirely?

A Financial Conversation With Middle Sister

My middle child is a math whiz. I’ve always been more afraid of her than the others when it comes to handing out the raw numbers of our budget because I don’t want her to worry. (She’s a worrier.) Lately, I have noticed she has been asking more and more questions about money and I think she wants to figure out where we are and what things cost and …. I think she’s planning her adulthood in advance.

Yesterday Middle Sister asked how much her father was going to make this week.

Me: “A little over $800.”

Her: “But a couple weeks ago it was a thousand?!”

Me: “He had overtime that week.”

Her: “How much does daddy make?”

Me: “An hour?”

Her: “No, like in a year.”

Me: “Well it’s different every year, I don’t know how much he’s going to make this year.”

Her: “Do you know how much he made last year?”

Me: “Yes”

Her: “Can you tell me?”

Me: “He made a little over $20,000 last year.”

Her: “Is that a lot?”

Me: “It depends on who you compare it with.”

Her: “Well we have shoes and food and do fun things, so it’s enough. That’s what matters, right mommy?”

Me: “Yep, that’s what matters.”

I’m torn. It makes me happy she has good priorities, but makes me sad she even has to think about what really matters at nine years old. They are starting to make connections and while I think we all know that one day they will realize $20,000 for a family of five was not quite what most people would call “enough” they will be amazed (the way all poor children grow up to be amazed) at what their parents could do for them with so little to work with.

Later That Day….

Her: “Mom, remember when my glasses broke the first time and we had to wait almost two months to get them replaced?”

Me: “Yes.”

Her: “This time you ordered new ones and paid for them the same day they broke.”

Me: “Yes….?”

Her: “We make more money now, don’t we?”

Me: “Yes.”

Her: “I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

Me: “You most certainly are.”

I’m not worried about Middle Sister because her plan for life is to work as a bricklayer during the summer and teach elementary school during the rest of the year. It’s actually a genius plan because she will make a lot of money as a summer-only bricklayer that would allow her to boost that schoolteacher salary to something liveable.

What? All the things a teacher has to buy for the classroom every year? I fully intend on paying for every. single. one. She wants cutouts? I’ll buy them. She wants an extra bulletin board? Okay, no problem.

They have been the best kids a poor parent could ask for. Not greedy, not demanding, and so full of love and understanding. When we have money? I will be happy to give them whatever makes them happy. (As long as my retirement is funded first. I’m loving, not dumb.)

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Budget Birthday … Incoming!

Every time birthdays come up I am SO torn.

I want to rent a place and invite the class and have a huge party that my kids will remember forever and cherish.

Then I price those things and my heart nearly stops!

The next (kid) birthday in the family rotation is my youngest. We priced this option and that option and all of them are hundreds of dollars. The housepartment is a good size for us, but it doesn’t really accommodate a bunch of kids. It especially doesn’t accommodate a bunch of kindergarten kids. So I felt a bit trapped.

I realized I needed to talk to Little Sister and find out what she wanted instead of making grand assumptions. So I just asked, “I have an amount of money for your birthday. Do you want me to spend it on the party, or the present?” She said, “How about both?” I said, “Absolutely, but I can get you a bigger present if we just go out and have fun as a family – or – I can get you a smaller present and we can invite your classmates.”

“But I don’t know them mama.” She said.

“That’s true.” I said.

“I would rather just have us so we can go out and have fun together because we never get to go out and have fun together and that would be cool. Also, I want six things for my birthday so that’s going to cost a lot.”

I’m thinking I’m sunk. What six things does she want?? I ask her. Turns out she wants the light and dark expansion packs for the Skylanders game we got them at Christmas. Both sets are a grand total of $60.

Bless the innocent children. Bless them so hard. I seriously thought she was going to ask for a tablet. Bullet dodged.

So now I can do this whole shebang for right around $100 and it’s the birthday she asked for. That’s a pretty big deal for LIttle Sister. She wants what she wants and usually has to compromise.

Kids just don’t require as much as we think they do to be blissful, do they? Some presents, some cake, and some dedicated attention is all she needs to make her happy. Here I am getting all stressed and whipped into a frenzy over presents and guests and her whole classroom and, “Oh no, but these kids will be her friends for life! I can’t mess up the first round of birthdays!” which has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me.

I have that $100 set to come out of the budget on the 3rd Friday of this month. I know her birthday is in September but I’m so nervous about this job ending because what happens if there isn’t another job after this one? Yes, Mr. Brickie getting a higher pay rate hints at jobs beyond this one, but a hint isn’t a paycheck. So I’m going to try and pay September’s car payment by the end of August as well.

As for my daughter and her birthday wish…she is human and she needs to be loved…just like everybody else does. My only job – an easy one, at that – is to ask her what will make her feel loved, then do my best to provide whatever that is in whatever way I can.

Yep, I paraphrased The Smiths up there. Doesn’t everyone listen to The Smiths when they can’t fall asleep when their husband leaves for work at 4:30am? No? Just me? *sigh* I want to be asleep right now.

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Budget – WiFi Abuse – Soylent Update

Mr. Brickie says I’m spending less time looking at and talking about the budget.

I told him I take a vacation from worrying about the budget every summer when he works overtime. It’s the only time I’m able to pay the bills without thinking. I sink down into the feeling like a comfortable chair and take a few minutes to really enjoy the experience of paying bills and saving money. It’s a special feeling. It isn’t excited but it isn’t entirely calm, either. It’s like the fulfillment of anticipation. A kitten in a sunbeam kind of feeling.

A feeling I look forward to having on the regular as Mr. Brickie progresses through this apprenticeship program. The pay raise from his current employer has already done a world of good in making over a hundred dollars more per paycheck a reality, which means it is pretty solid that we are going to pay off the Capital One card before the end of the month.

Oh! The training letter came in the mail! Quick refresher: The training is a M-Th 7am-5pm once a quarter. It is a requirement to get promotions through your apprenticeship. Instead of a regular paycheck you get a stipend based on what year of training you are in. Since Mr. Brickie is in his second year (Y2Q4 to be exact) he will receive – instead of a paycheck – a $250 stipend. It’s a sacrifice and it plays havoc with our budget because, well, it’s not a lot of money. It’s part of the program, though, so he doesn’t complain and he doesn’t skip it and he takes it very seriously.

We are very lucky that he has already taken the Y3Q4 training for his OSHA30 due to a worksite he was on during his first year of the apprenticeship. That means he only has three more trainings after this. I don’t mind the ones in winter so much because he wasn’t working anyway, the summer trainings, however are a tough row to hoe.

I had pegged that last week of the month’s paycheck toward Christmas, which means I’m going to be sad and not even start to fund Christmas until September. Mostly, it means I’m going to have to shift a lot of things around because I also was going to pre-pay the iPass out of that last paycheck.

Well as soon as I know what I’m doing with it, you will too.

At least I’ll be doing it with only one credit card balance. That has to make things easier.

Story Time!

My upstairs neighbor has a couple kids. I think they’re 19 and 20 or maybe 17 and 21 … I’ve had the daughter watch my kids twice (I pay right around $10/hr.) and she did a fine job both times. The son has borrowed a can opener, random things like that. Both very polite.

Once the son asked if he could use my wifi for a school project. I had a router and created a guest network and gave him the username and password. When my Internet started crawling, I shut it off. Then I get a text asking if I can turn it back on because someone has to do something for school. I turn it back on.

Sunday night I’m streaming The Wire from Amazon Prime (season 3 – no spoilers! lol) with my husband because that’s what we do and I’m buffering. There is NO WAY I should be buffering with all the kids in bed and all their Kindles and the XBox with them. I check the wireless router and there are NINE devices hooked up to my router that aren’t mine. I pitch a mini-fit (to myself, in my living room) and turn it off again, because STFU with nine – currently connected – devices.

I receive a text at 10:22pm that (some guy’s name that isn’t my neighbor but I assume is her boyfriend) needs the Internet for a school test and she can’t find the name of my Internet on her list.

Since I am a wonderful person, I texted back to tell her my wireless router broke.

I have never even heard the name of the guy she texted me with but damn. Your dating a guy who can’t afford Internet and has to come to your crib to hang with you and your “from the neighbor” Internet?

Nine devices, y’all. Nine. My family of five with an xBox and three kindles (including my pre-backlight reader) is rocking 8 connections max.

If they were legit using it for a school test it wouldn’t have bogged my happy streaming ass down now, would it?

She texted back Ohhhhhh okay (happy face emoticon) and then she or rando guy’s name spent the next half hour stomping up and down the stairs, slamming the front door of the building right outside my front door and leaving the gate to the backyard unlatched which made for some awesome banging during the storm that night.

Which solved the problem of, “How long can we say the wireless is broken?” Because after that immature display by whoever? The answer is, “Forever.”

I think this is the first in a long line of, “Why can’t you share? Your husband has a good job and you have extra money so why not spread the wealth?” problems in our future. I get it’s not important to you to have Internet, but it’s important to me. It saved my life on one occasion and saved me from homelessness on another. It’s okay our priorities are different, I don’t judge anyone for not having Internet, but it’s also not my responsibility to provide you with something I have because you think it’s, “No big deal.”

I also have more in savings right now than most people would. That’s not extra money and it doesn’t make me feel any richer or more well-off. It makes me feel like I’ll have money for auto insurance and rent when they’re due. Just because a bill is paid to a savings account in my name rather than a company or landlord doesn’t make it any less spent.

I look forward to being in a position where I can budget for donating money to good causes and people who have fallen on hard times. It is something very dear to my heart (it was before I needed a fundraiser, too) and knowing how life-changing a few thousand dollars can be to a family in my position means that I know how much every $5/$10/$20 donation means to the family receiving that money.

That is a whole lot different than someone trying to score my Internet when there is a library three blocks away with Internet and probably access to a computer lab if they are in a local school.

I still feel like a jerk. I’m not sure why.

The Soylent Experiment

I only eat dinner now.

Some article came out that compared Soylent to “Slim Fast for bros” and I was infuriated. If Slim Fast had any nutritional value I would have already been consuming it. A reporter that can’t read a nutrition label, well, isn’t a reporter.

I drink 2 12oz. servings a day. That’s a whopping 750kCal before dinner. My TDEE is around 2,400 so that leaves me a lot of wiggle room. I messed up the MyFitnessPal numbers so even though I’ve lost about 7lbs. in the last two weeks, MFP shows I’ve lost .2 – oh well. I feel better and it’s nice to not have to think about food. I would be on this 100% (minus occasional social meals and a nighttime bowl of popcorn here or there) if I didn’t think it would risk giving my daughters a complex about food.

I’m not hungry until dinnertime, either. This stuff works to make you not hungry. The brain recognizes it as food.

Soylent is not for people who love food. It’s not for people who get a rush from crunchy or gooey or lovely textures. It’s for people who feel hungry and think, “I do not even want to deal with that.” Who have no specific food cravings and just want to not be hungry anymore.

I’ve gotten far more good-natured ribbing for this than I ever did when I told people I wanted to be debt-free. I’m amazed that when I tell people about this they take it personally. Like I care what anyone else eats? I don’t. I’m just doing a thing. No biggie.

It’s weird.

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