Tag: budget

Paying Ourselves Back and Injury Progress

My tooth is fixed. It chipped again four hours after the repair appointment but it’s a small chip so I’m leaving it be until my follow up in two weeks. I think my bite is back to where it was before I started this whole extensive dental process so leaving it alone is the extent of what I’m comfortable doing right now. She asks me at the end of every appointment if everything is okay and I don’t understand how she doesn’t understand that it takes a few days for the jaw to realign and settle to see if it’s really working out. Plus she always has me check my bite while I’m laying back in the chair…when my jaw is settled back…so every time I bite myself because no one chews while they’re laying on their back.

I’ll have her maybe buff the sharp corner the tiny chip made. That’s it.

I think it’s time to find a new dentist. *sigh*

Tennis has been straightened out but the coach keeps forgetting to show up with the rackets we said we would buy for the girls. As long as they have loaner rackets, I don’t care, but it would be nice for them to practice with one another at the local tennis courts this weekend and that’s going to be impossible without rackets. They’re cheaper through the coaches vs. anywhere else, which is why I’m even bothering to wait.

In money news last week was stressful because we got the check a day late and my budget is basically done to the minute. I did have some leftover money that was supposed to go back into the rent savings to replenish what I took when I paid off the Macy’s card. It’s hiding in an “Other” category in the budget just in case. Hopefully his check comes in the mail today so it will be available tomorrow and I can deposit that “Other” money into savings and then put this week’s money that’s to go back into savings in that “Other” category.

I know it’s silly to have (basically) two buffers in the budget but things keep creeping up on me and I’ll be damned if I count wrong and have all my savings accounts shut down for doing 6 withdrawals in one month. I’ve been too addle-brained from stress to count on my memory or any other system that will keep track of the number of withdrawals. I think I’m at 3 right now. I figure there’s no need to push it when a bridge buffer is easy to handle with the budget program.

I’m still a little unsure how to handle five week months. The last day of the week is the first day of next month. If the check comes late and it clears on the 1st should I be using that for July expenses? If I do that turns July into the five week month so it doesn’t really matter either way, I don’t think.

We both know it’s best to wait until the mail comes to make that decision. The extra check is going toward rent savings anyway.

Next month we are back to being able to live off of three out of four checks. Summer activities killed me this year. At the end of summer I’m going to add up everything we spent and when I’m done crying over my bad money choices that made me feel like a good mother I’ll put that as a goal for next summer so it’s not a scramble.

Mr. Brickie has to go back to work sometime. He has an appointment today with his orthopedic surgeon. His surgery cut is healing beautifully and he doesn’t really wear the cast that often except when he drives or sleeps. He is hopeful the doctor will tell him he doesn’t have to wear it anymore after they do the x-ray in the office today.

I’m thrilled because his healing means he’ll be back to work soon. It will make everything normal again. Plus that healing means we are that much closer to finding out what the settlement is going to be. I’m thrilled the insurance paid him enough to live on. I didn’t know a settlement was even a thing until someone told him about it at his union meeting. I didn’t know until then there was such a thing! Now I know it’s based on how much use he’s lost permanently in his wrist and that means the settlement can fluctuate between, “Oh, hey, let’s take a weekend vacation to a local hotel with an indoor pool and order room service.” to, “Oh hey, let’s pay off all the debt except the student loans and have a fully funded 6 month emergency fund, too.” So here’s me, basically using the emergency brake in my brain to keep myself from counting different amounts of chickens before they’re hatched. It’s difficult because trying not to think about things is darn near impossible.

Is it any wonder I’m having trouble sleeping?

Tennis Kerfuffle and Tooth Update

Okay. So I wrote an insane $410 check (on 5/23) to the tennis people because Big Sister really wants to be on the tennis team in middle school so I put her in for two hours of lessons a day for two sessions of two-week sessions. The other two kids were in for an hour for two sessions at a 10% discount. Sessions were $54 each.

When people tell me they hate word problems I honestly wonder how they get through life at all because my life is one big math word problem.

That means Big Sister was $54 x 2 hours x 2 sessions = $216
Middle/Little Sisters were $54 x 1 hour x 2 sessions x  = $216 – 10% ($21.60) = $194.40
A check was written for $410.40

Last night I got a call from the coach asking if we could move Big Sister from her second hour time to her first hour time not realizing she was in both. So we cancelled the second hour and I said refund and he said credit but we still needed to buy rackets so I figured we would talk to him about our credit covering some rackets.

This morning they had practice and the coach of the older kids wants Big Sister in the class for younger kids because she has no experience. I’m fine with that, but now she’s in the same class as her sisters and there isn’t a second hour option so it looks like this.

Big Sister is $54 x 1 hour x 2 sessions = $108
Middle/Little are $54 x 1 hour x 2 sessions – 10% discount = 194.40
New amount owed is $302.40

That’s a big $108 difference. So I had Mr. Brickie call him and leave a voicemail stating we would come by with a new check tonight. I don’t want to hear a damn thing about getting a “credit” because I don’t trust these organizations to remember I have a credit of over a hundred dollars next summer and if they don’t  guess who will be out of luck because how do you prove someone owes you money when they cashed one check? You have to hope someone remembers the scheduling changes and I don’t hold a lot of hope because these coaches work with kids and here I am with three kids and I can barely keep a train of thought from derailing. If I had to coach large groups of children I’d be perpetually confused.

I wrote the numbers up on a post-it note to give to Mr. Brickie when he goes with the new check tonight. The coach told me last night he hadn’t cashed the checks yet so we are hoping he gets Mr. Brickie’s message he left on his voicemail before he cashes them. otherwise I’ll be expecting a $108 check written out to me before this two week session is over.

This isn’t the longest someone from one of the school districts has held a check before cashing it, but it’s close. I’m not sure why you would leave a stack of checks on your desk for weeks (or, in the case of volleyball camp last year, months) and then think everything is going to be okay when you cash them. I am fine because I keep a budget but can you imagine if you forgot you wrote a check a month or more ago and then it got cashed all of a sudden? It could cause someone serious financial stress. Not cool.

Last but not least, this coach better not tell me they don’t do refunds because that’s not even going to fly. When I signed them up I specifically asked at the athletic department if I was supposed to put my child with zero experience in that middle school time slot and the woman at the desk called the coach and he said yes, so this is officially and 100% not my problem and not my mistake.

I’ll put the refund money back in the rent savings I took from when I paid off the Macy’s card. (The final payment cleared! The Macy’s card is officially out of the rotation! I’m so happy!)

Now I’m waiting for the phone call from the optometrist telling me my glasses are in. It’s coming sometime this week.

 

Is Summer Going Great for Everyone but Me?

how-we-spent-it-workmans-comp

If I don’t get a good night’s sleep soon I may go completely mad.

I don’t know if that will look any different than I do on a day-to-day basis. For all I know I’ve always been mad.

The budget this week is both good and bad. I finally paid off the Macy’s card! I did it by dipping into the rent savings account.. So not my most mature move but I’m hoping it helps me sleep tonight.

I also have this amazing plan where all of the charges from the dentist and optometrist I put on that 21 months no interest card would be paid off if I just need $170 payment every month. I messed that up by making the minimum payment of $40 and putting the rest of the money from the paycheck after groceries, gas, etc. into a hidden category just in case other expenses for the girls come up before the next paycheck comes in.

I know the reason I can’t sleep is because I’m overwhelmed with stress over money. I know I’m spending too much but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing I don’t know if I’m spending money in the right ways but I don’t know what the right ways are. Everyone says I’m supposed to be finding balance, but what does balance even mean?

Tomorrow we’re going to a free event at the park district because I’m also trying to do things with the kids that don’t cost any money. I guess my biggest problem is I never thought summer was going to be an issue financially. It sounds stupid even writing that. Of course summer was going to be more financially draining! The kids are here! They want things like breakfast and lunch.

I did send them out once to the park a quarter block away for the town’s “free lunch for all the kids” program. They loved it. I need to set a weekday alarm to remind myself to send them more often.

Mr. Brickie supported my decisions with regard to paying off the Macy’s card with rent savings. I want to be happy but I think he would support anything if it would stop my hollow-eyed muttering during the day. Not sleeping makes me mutter. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I’m trying not to forget anything but I’m not going to lie, it’s a little creepy.

Here are the current numbers. No Macy’s (hooray!) but still some big balances on the remaining two cards.

I’m not sure if I feel better or not but I don’t cringe as hard when I look at the budget. I feel confident I can refill that savings category. The Macy’s slog felt way more long-lasting.

How We Spent It:
$721.30 incoming from workman’s comp
$82.94 Net10 (2 cell phones)
$40.00 Citi payment
$95.84 Buffer refill because I spent a lot last week on athletic shorts for volleyball and volleyball camp.
$270.00 Groceries ($150), Gas ($20), Tolls ($40), Stuff I forgot but oh I need cash for ($60)
$232.52 Officially stashed in a way-down-in-the-budget category in case I need it but most likely it’s going right back into rent savings. I would put it there now but I’ve withdrawn three times from savings this month and I hate even getting close to 6 withdrawals because I don’t want all my savings accounts shut down.

The numbers look like this: 2016-6-10 ynab

The Emergency fund needs to be at $1000 and the $2250 Rent Savings should (by the end of this month) be at $790.86. I think I can get the Rent Savings back to its former glory by the end of the month. I’m certainly going to try.

Summer is killing me financially. I have to get it under control.

How We Spent It 4-14-2016

how-we-spent-it

I am totally late posting this.

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

2016-4-14

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

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

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

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

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

2016-4-14 ynab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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??

I Gave My Kids’ Savings Accounts to Stop Stealing Their Money

There is nothing easier to grab than cash lying around the house. I *could* put the pizza on the debit card but that takes three days to clear and I don’t like to wait on cleared charges on my budget so I’ll just grab that $20 out of Middle Sister’s piggy bank and pay her back tomorrow.

Uh huh. Sure I will. You and I both know I mean it at the time but I ended up with a bunch of post it notes that showed how much I owe my kids. I started calling them Indulgences because that’s exactly what they were. I needed to fix the problem. It seemed the easiest way to get rid of the temptation – and the post-it notes – was to get rid of the money.

It was time to follow through on the idea I had floated to the kids previously. It was time for savings accounts. The kids have been excited about the idea for the past couple weeks. Ever since the conversation about compound interest and how in the bank your money earns more money.

We collected all the change from around the house. We checked couches, stuffed animals, pillows, and nightstand table drawers. My husband got in on the searching and brought out his poor guy bag of change he’d been saving and taking from since probably college. He’s not the first guy I’ve seen with a giant bag o’ change. I think they start collecting it when they need quarters for laundry and it becomes a catch-all for every penny and nickel they come across.

I was amazed when he brought the bag in and asked, “Are you sure?” because getting him to get rid of the change was like asking him to get rid of a blankie. It was his security. “Yeah, it’s fine.” (the Mr. is terribly eloquent, isn’t he? LOL) and I just rolled with it, not wanting to make it as big a deal outside my head as it was inside my head.

We went to our local bank (it’s actually a little regional bank) and lucky for us there was no wait. One by one my girls came into the office with me and the very kind lady asked them their personal information and signed them up for savings accounts. She explained how they worked to each one and let them choose stickers to put on their little savings passbooks. She made it special for them and the girls felt really important.

The bank lobby even has a cool Nescafe coffee/hot cocoa machine. The output is similar to gas station coffee. Super sweet, frothy cappuccinos (that the Mr. loved) and that almost whipped-tasting hot cocoa the kids adore. The girls split a cup of hot cocoa after they finished opening their accounts. It was a great day for all of us and they all felt really grown-up.

We felt really grown-up, too. It was a parenting bucket list moment for me, for sure.

I do still owe Big Sister $20 because I borrowed it to start Little Sister’s account, and I do still owe Middle Sister $30 because I took it out of her piggy bank and there was a post it note that told me I did, even though I can’t remember what it was for. Now that their accounts are electronically attached to mine it will be a lot easier to pay them back one last time.

Back to Work 2016!

Great News!!!!!!!!

Mr. Brickie just texted me from training – he starts work Friday!! (Training is M-Th)

This is, by far, the earliest he’s started working. Last year he started in April. The year before he started in late June. The earlier he starts, the more hours he works. The more hours he works the more he vests into his benefits and health insurance. The more hours he works, the sooner he will get to the next apprentice level and closer to the goal of being a Journeyman!

Also, the sooner he begins working the more money we make through the year and the more likely it is I will be able to pay off that credit card debt and start on a proper winter emergency fund for next year!

Due to the weather he may not be working 40 hour weeks but if he did he would make $919. So we are absolutely in a position now where 40-hour checks are a lot of income for us. I will lose SNAP benefits pretty much immediately when he begins working (as it should be…I would much rather be able to afford to buy groceries) so we will have to budget $600/mo. for groceries. There will be higher gas costs and there will be toll costs to take into consideration as well. I need one day to figure out how much to budget for tolls and one week to figure out how much to budget for gas.

I don’t even start hoping to budget for job income until March – I couldn’t be happier for the surprise.

Our monthly bills and expenses add up to approximately $2300. So if he DID work full time that would free up $1300/month to pay toward debt.

I like to calculate the best possible month (The Model Month) first. Then I calculate the bare minimum and have a sliding scale in my head of what gets paid and how much goes to groceries based on what those two months look like. I also prioritize how I pay things so if something is going to go unpaid it’s going to be a savings account I’m putting money in for insurance, not the grocery budget. (I can always pay insurance monthly if I have to.)

The Model Month is a super-rosy view on the situation considering the view out my window is fairly heavy, thick snowfall. It’s going to be a while before full weeks will be worked, I think. The job should go through fall and that’s always the best news because we won’t have to worry about him finding a new job until probably the end of August. Since he hasn’t been to the job site yet we don’t know if it’s indoors, outdoors, block, brick, or stone. So maybe it’s a situation where he can work when it’s snowing. We’ll see.

Even though I hate the waiting, I’m getting better at it. Funny, having to learn to be calm waiting for him to work has reduced my anxiety around a lot of other things in life, too. It’s like an exercise in how to remain calm in the face of the unknown.

Back to him being an apprentice and working partial weeks….now that he is at the 70% apprentice level, even partial paychecks are better than unemployment for living on. We might not have to go to the food pantry anymore *knock on wood* (I only care because I have never been able to shake the feeling that when my family uses the food pantry we are taking from other families who might need it more) but at this point I just got the good news so I’m letting myself dream big before I pull myself back down to earth to make real plans and start plotting out possible financial futures so I use our resources as wisely as possible.

We might be able to pay cash for Christmas this year. (I said this last year and the year before, too, so I know I’ve hit fantasy football levels of optimism but whatever, I don’t care, I’m happy.) Sometimes even I am an optimist.

I can tell you we are better off than we were this time last year but in some ways maybe we aren’t. I do have more credit card debt overall, not less. That’s negative for sure. I do have a paid off car, though, and that is so important for having traction paying off everything else!

A lot rides on the weather, on materials, on deliveries, and on other factors that go into the logistics of making a building. The longer he works as a bricklayer, however, the more I realize that everyone is really pretty darn honorable. Mr. Brickie hasn’t had anything really shady happen at any of his job sites, no one has asked him to do things that were unsafe or illegal, everything has been on the up and up for years now.

He’s at his required training this week (only two more to go, ever!) and he’s working with stone and kicking butt. He has a natural gift for working with stone safely and quickly…weird how people find hidden talents, isn’t it? You wouldn’t know you were gifted with stone any other way than to become a bricklayer and lay some, would you? (Unless maybe you became an artist that chose to use stone? It’s possible…)

As always, I’ll keep you updated!

6 Ways to Spend Your Tax Return Wisely

This year I spent my tax return on 9 months of rent and paying off my car loan.

A lot of finance people want you to pick that magic number on your deduction form when you start a job so you don’t owe tax but you don’t have to pay tax so you get all the cash you can in your paycheck. That’s great for people who are willing to save money in small bits during the year but even when I was young, single, and making decent money I claimed zero because I’m better at doing things with a chunk of cash once a year than with four dollars a week more. Your mileage may vary but if you’re like me, this might help you out.

If you ran a business last year and found at the end of your taxes you owed the government money this year, I salute you. I’ve been there and it hurts when everyone else is getting a big refund check and you’re writing a check. I wish you well and wanted you to know I know you’re out there since most business owners get ignored or glossed over during this season.

Last but not least, I realize that because of where we are at financially we get a very large tax return ($9200 this year) because Mr. Brickie works but we are still below poverty level so we get a lot in Earned Income Credit as well as the Tax Credits for three kids. Here are some things you can do even if you get a smaller tax return. If you get a bigger tax return, you can do more of them.

If this is your first year doing something boring responsible with your tax return, do one or two of these and use the rest to have some fun like your normally would.

  1. Pay your insurance. Monthly fees range but are usually around $7/mo. to pay monthly. You can save $84 if you set the cash aside and pay that auto insurance twice a year or your home/renters insurance once a year. (Shop around now and then for better rates, too. You might be surprised at how much less you can pay for the same coverage.)
  2. Make an emergency fund (or fill yours up a bit!) If you don’t have an emergency fund (or it’s not big enough) you can choose not to spend your tax refund at all and set it aside in case you need it. The relief you feel at having backup money might be worth not going shopping for a new pair of shoes.
  3. Pay off a credit card. If you’re working toward being debt-free, pay off a card. This is the first year I haven’t wiped out all my credit card debt with my refund. It made me sad but paying off the car was too important to pass up.
  4. Clean up your credit report. If you have a bill you owed to AT&T or Comcast years ago that’s still hanging out on your credit report and it might keep you from getting a car or a house or an apartment … get rid of it! Call and see if you can negotiate a deal to get the overall amount you owe reduced. A chunk of cash gives you negotiating power.
  5. Prepay utilities. If you know you’re the type of person who can’t have an emergency fund without spending it, send extra money to your gas/electric company or pay a few car payments in advance. It can give you some breathing room to get the rest of your finances on track. Put $20 in an online savings account and practice not spending it. Like exercise, you can’t become a budget ninja in a minute, you have to start with baby steps. Once you can keep yourself from spending that $20, bump the amount up to $40. Eventually your discomfort will fade and you’ll enjoy seeing that number sitting there, waiting for you, just in case.
  6. Get an Oil Change! If there is some routine maintenance you have been avoiding on your car because it’s not that important or it’s just a little too expensive…now is the time. If you google your car year/type and routine maintenance you should be able to find what’s recommended and get your ride spruced up. If your car is already running it’s usually cheaper (and a hell of a lot less expensive) to get that routine maintenance and keep her running right instead of ignoring the little things until they become a big thing that costs a big chunk of cash.

I try really hard to keep it classy and not judge people who buy name brand accessories or phones or whatever instead of doing the above super-responsible stuff for the future. If I did judge it would be out of sheer jealousy and I don’t want to be that person. Seriously, I would be lying if I told you it was easy and fun to pay off the car instead of going on vacation somewhere warm and swimming in a pool with my kids while we relax, laugh, and order copious amounts of room service. I feel like a crap mother most nights because my children don’t directly benefit at all from paying the rent in advance or paying off the car. Sure, you can tell me (like I tell myself) that giving them a stable childhood is the most important thing but you and I both know that’s not something they can feel or touch. It’s difficult to choose the intangible option, even when you know it is the best possible decision for the whole family.

If you need me I’ll be laying out getting a tan next to the pool in my mind palace ordering an imaginary Bellini from my imaginary butler, Jarvis.

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.

Taxmas 2016

I’ve had this list made for a few days but this is the beautiful morning that my bank balance showed almost five figures.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m giddy.

Here’s how we spent it:
Rent until lease renews in November: $6725
Car Payoff: $1871
Emergency Fund: $625 (to get it back near $1000)

Have you ever seen $9221 spent so fast? Yeah, me neither.

I guess I could have spent it on clothes, jewelry, and video games but where’s the fun in that?

We owe the state of Indiana $101 so I’ll pay that off with the next side job payment.

There were so many other things I could have spent it on but paying the rent in a chunk is the most stress-reducing decision I’ve ever made. Getting rid of that car payment will free up $500 a month to go toward debt and rent savings (for the other three months of rent I pay in November!)

In case you were wondering Chase QuickPay™ will only let you send payments of up to $2,000. I just tried to use it to pay my rent and Chase was all, “No, thank you.” I guess it makes sense but I was hoping to get this money out of my account ASAP.

Looking at such a big number makes me fidgety. Not because I’m going to spend it and really, now that I’m using the budget program (I use YNAB) I only really look at the bank account to reconcile so it’s not a big deal. I still want that check cashed, though.

Happy Taxmas. I hope your tax season is wonderful and that you don’t owe. If you do owe, I hope it’s because you made enough money you can afford your rent or mortgage on a monthly basis!

Now it’s time to tackle the Macy’s credit card (interest-free mattress purchase … life changing) and then the two regular credit cards. With no car payment we are going to push to see how fast we can make them disappear!

I try not to get jealous when I see people getting big refunds and spending them on cool stuff. I want cool stuff just like anyone else…I don’t fault people for choosing cool stuff over boring bill paying, either. It’s not easy to always stay on the straight and narrow budgeting path. In fact, it’s really difficult and I have mad respect for people who even try to budget and keep their finances under control.

Have a great rest of the week!