Tag: budget

Hair Dye Conundrum — August Budget Done In Advance

Today’s big conversation in my house was my daughter’s hair.

It’s a light brown and she wants it to be black. She’s been telling me she’s goth for about a year now and black and red are her favorite colors. The black hair request was not a surprise. My feelings about the request went about like this…

  • My daughter is going to look like Wednesday Aadams! WooHoo!

wednesday-aadams

  • It’s only hair. But wait. Would I be this supportive if she wanted pink or purple hair? Am I only supportive because she’s picking something I think is fantastic on a personal level?
  • She has picked a “normal” color “found in nature” … does that make it more acceptable?
  • Are my reservations based solely on what other people will think of me being the mom who let her daughter dye her hair?

She had spray-in black hair for Halloween last year and could not stop looking at herself in the mirror. She loved how it looked. So I’m not shocked by her request. This is probably the first time I’ve looked at my situation and my instinctual choice, I feel, goes against the normal grain of society. “No died hair until 13!” my brain screams.

Facebook has been, overall, blissfully supportive and some very respected people agree with me that it’s only hair.

What do you think? Let me know why you think so, please, because that truly helps me make a logical argument in my own brain. Thank you.

On To The Budget!

I have our August budget sketched out. It’s more like a flow chart, because there are a couple things that can be changed if necessary. This month the six-month auto insurance payment needs to be taken care of. I have it set to auto-bill on the credit card so my goal is to pay off enough space on the credit card for the insurance to safely bill. Right now there is $232.83 on the card. I also have to take into consideration the $40 a week that bills onto the iPass toll account.

Here is the current plan for the next five paychecks. I still don’t know how much his check will be next wednesday so when you see ??? listed, it means the amount left over after designated bills are paid. I’m assuming a $750 paycheck because that’s about what he makes now with all the overtime. If overtime stops, that number drops like a rock. With is raise, it could be higher. Stuff isn’t super stable right now and when that happens, you do the best you can with the information you have.

July 30th – Pay past due ComEd ($133.85), past due Nicor ($26.36), and Net10 ($95.00). Leftover to Credit Card ($289).

Aug. 6th – Pay minimums on Macys.com, Kohls.com, Walmart.com, and Amazon.com (Total $100). Leftover to Credit Card (≈$450).

Aug. 13th – Car payment ($495.12) and leftover to credit card (≈$50).

Aug. 20th – ComEd & Nicor (Whatever the current bill is, don’t know yet) with leftover to Credit Card.

Aug. 27th – Put aside cash for Net10 ($95) with leftover to credit card ($450).

The entire balance on the credit card is $1020 and this plan has a payoff on the card of about $1439 but then there will be the $461 charge for auto insurance and the $40 a week for iPass and at the end of the month my domain payments and hosting ($14.95) go through. So I’ll end the month with a balance but a small one.

Alternate Bill Payment Option

On August 6th, I could pay off the two lowest-balance credit card balances (Kohls $182.97 & Macys $81.98) which would lower the overall amount that goes toward the big credit card but would eliminate two credit card balances totally. I think it’s just playing with numbers at this point and probably doesn’t matter.

Also, I could switch the payments on Aug 13th and Aug 20th if I need more cash sooner on the credit card for the auto insurance payment.

I absolutely know that my readers who are Dave Ramsey fans are cringing and probably peeking through their fingers at my plans of using credit cards to further my financial goals. I guess we are just going to have to agree to disagree that no matter how poor I have been I have been I have never gotten out of control with credit. I have argued myself that it only takes one mistake to drop into a whirlwind spiral of failure and late fees. I agree.

What Do You Think?

Is it better to pay down the big credit card all at once or knock out the smaller credit cards so there are less cards overall to deal with? This is just an opinion question so if I take your advice and mess something up I certainly won’t blame you. I just trust my readers (I have very smart readers. I’m lucky.) and would love to know your thoughts.

I’ll keep you up to speed on what the new paycheck looks like and how we are paying down debt. Oh, also, you might want to check the sidebar where I have listed all my credit debt. Because financial oversharing is my jam, that’s why!

Oh, hey, also if you know someone you think is on the ball with their budget, feel free to send them over to share their opinion. I’d love to hear it!

The Best Day to Do Your Budget

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I have made so many budgets over the last – eight? – years.

I remember the first time I told Mr. Brickie we had to write down everything we owed to everyone. I’ll never forget the fear of having to write everything down. Of course that first time I forgot a couple things. I will still forget to add the water bill or the garbage bill once in a while because those are quarterly bills.

If you’ve never done a budget just keep reading. If you already know all your bills (and they’re written down) then skip to the monthly budget section. If you’re a rock star that always does a monthly budget just skip down to the third section for the budget spot-check. Hopefully you will find something here that helps your budget!

The First Time? Now.

Seriously. If you haven’t written it down yet, now is the time. Open a notepad file, Excel, a Google Drive Spreadsheet, Word, or grab a piece of paper and a pen. You’re not making something perfect, you’re just getting it out of your head and in front of you. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and don’t forget….

  • Quarterly or other non-monthly bills (water, garbage, auto insurance…)
  • ALL your monthly bills (including cable, games, netflix)
  • Credit cards (store & major)
  • Do you have domains that auto-bill? An iPass that auto-bills? Hosting?

After years of paying things off and whittling away at my little bills, my budget list is pretty short. Every time I was able to take something off the list for good it felt amazing.

The Recurring Monthly Budget? Same day, every month.

No one is perfect. A day or two before or after the “same day” is fine, you just want to check the list and make sure you’re not forgetting anything. You want to take off anything that has been paid off. Also add anything that’s new so it does not get forgotten.

This is the one where you should make sure your partner looks at the budget, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper or electronic, everyone needs to look at it and understand what’s happening with the money. This way there is no confusion later and everyone is on the same page.

HYPOCRITE ALERT!
My husband hasn’t looked at the budget in years. He used to, but he is only wired to pay bills by due date, not priority. Our budget meetings were tedious and frustrating and caused arguments. He just wants enough money to pay for gas, tolls, and the occasional Big Gulp at the 7-11 on the way home from work. Should I be spending that extra Big Gulp $$$ toward my past due electric bill? Hell yeah, I should! Am I going to? Hell no. That man works like a beast and if he wants to blow ten bucks a week on soda, so be it. I do the budget, he doesn’t overspend. That’s our deal.

Weekly (or biweekly) Budget Check up? Any day EXCEPT payday!

The spot-check on your budget happens as many times as a paycheck comes into your home. If you’re a freelancer and you’re expecting a client payment, check the budget. If you get paid twice a week, spot-check the budget twice a week. If you get paid every other week or weekly you’ll have some months where you do it an extra time because there’s an extra check.

When I do the budget on the day I actually have money in my account, I try to put “just a little extra” toward one thing or another and it never ends well. Doing the budget check-up on a day when you’re not spending the money allows you to make the decisions with your head and your logic and not with your heart. Your heart wants to be free from the shackles of all those damn bills and it’s going to try and make you do more than you should.

When it comes to your budget, always trust your head….it will take care of your heart!

My checkup looks a little something like this.

1. Verify I followed directions with last week’s check. (I did! Hooray!)

2. Check what’s on tap for this week. (Car payment.)

3. Is there extra after paying the car payment? (Yes, there will be.)

4. How much? (About $250)

5. How much is still in the bank account from last week? ($40)

6. Setting aside $200 to live for the week (including gas and tolls)

7. Leftover goes to savings. ($90)

So my goal of setting aside $100 a paycheck is not going to happen. I’m close, and that’s great, but I’m a little disappointed. I always want to rush the part where we catch up. I think I’ll be able to breathe once the insurance is paid for another six months. Then I won’t feel like I’m scrambling to make that happen. It auto-bills on the 15th of August so there are still three more checks before that happens.

Re-Doing the Budget. Once a Year.

Going through this post and what I’m doing right now, it dawns on me that I need to re-do my budget for what we are currently making. I am so busy digging us out of a hole I forgot to make a plan for what happens when we can see the road again! Nothing wastes money like not having a plan and today I’m going to get on that and make a brand-new budget and see where we stand on things like the payoff date for the auto loan (Exactly 2 years left. Huh.)

I want to have a plan for how much is getting paid off and when. I won’t be able to do anything really solid until next week when we see what that promotion and raise look like after taxes and everything. But I’d rather work with the numbers I have and then change them – I love Excel SO much – than not know at all and just be like, “Oh, I’ll get around to it when I have all the information.”

It’s like using a primer before you paint. Get the general numbers as best you can and then you can paint over that with the real stuff once you get it.

High quality budgeting takes multiple coats. LOL

July Net Worth & Budget Update

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Okay, so first I have a question.

If you’re in foreclosure how do you calculate your net worth? Do you get to cross of that line item entirely?

Did my debt just go down astronomically? Did my net worth increase? Did my paper net worth increase but my personal net worth go straight into the toilet?

Before I just keep rambling, I’m going to Google it. Let’s see what “How does foreclosure affect your net worth” turns up!

foreclosure-net-worth-venn-diagram

So that was disappointing.

Now I feel like the only person who tracks their net worth who is in foreclosure.

Oh well. Let’s update the budget. Guess what? I have another graphic. We’re picture heavy today because pictures are fun.

priority-budget-list-July-2014

I pulled this from my post on priority budgeting with irregular income (if you haven’t read it yet you might want to, it was really helpful for me) and we almost had a roadbump in the path today. When I finally got Mr. Brickie’s check this morning I threw some math together and looked at my sheet and almost decided to change how the list was prioritized.

As I put in the numbers from #3 up there into the bill pay on my bank website I had a passing thought, “I should just pay the whole thing. It’s not that much.” Less than $100 on the Electric and less than $30 on the gas bill. What kind of a difference can $130 really make?”

I have finally learned that when I have thoughts like that I need to step away from the computer (and risk everything logging me out due to inactivity) and try to figure out why I’ve changed my mind. After thinking about it quietly for a few minutes I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a combination of trying to use the snowball mentality to catch up on bills, but also these thoughts I have like, “It’s only a little bit of money. We’ll have more in a week. If it’s not in the account, we can’t spend it.”

It’s also the reason I make my lists in advance before I have the money. When I have the money I get scared and want to get rid of it and pay something so it doesn’t slip through my fingers and not go toward our debt snowball. Then I have forgotten something.

My husband and I are are different people than we used to be. 

We used to be the couple that would actually be able to say (at least once in a while) we have 24 cents in the checking account, I hope nothing goes through before we get paid again! It was pretty much always under $100. If we had money, we spent the money. We hardly ever did anything fun and lived almost as frugally as we do now. We had a serious income problem.

We learned how to save when we owned a business and had irregular income.

Now we have BOTH of these amazing tools. We know how to live frugally and understand the difference between a want and a need. We are in the process of fixing the income problem right now and Mr. Brickie should see his first raise/promotion go into effect next week, to be realized on the paycheck the week after (the check on the 30th, what a great way to close out the month, right?)

Maybe it seems like we must be irresponsible or have priority issues since our house is in the process of a foreclosure. I understand that. I wish more than anything we had found the Bricklayer’s Union years sooner than we did. Or that I had noticed how happy doing DIY projects around the house made Mr. Brickie and translated that into the potential for a satisfying, well-paying blue collar job.

I wish we had thought outside the white collar box so much sooner.

We both feel okay about what’s happening but trip and fall into a puddle of feeling like a failure a few times a day. Last night, we spent a few minutes with our heads on our pillows before we fell asleep listing the things we are grateful for. Things we never thought we would have in life. Amazing things close to our hearts. It reduced our anxiety and helped us sleep.

Mr. Brickie originally went through the training to be a bricklayer at the beginning of 2013 and it was a rocky year last year. Now he’s working overtime and the check we got today for $740 means I get to put money away for Christmas <– yes, I actually really did this today! I think I’m going to be able to do cash for Christmas! If we are able to do cash for Christmas, we can then use the entire tax return next year for moving expenses. I know the decisions I make today – sticking with the priority budget – are going to determine what our lives will look like at this time next year…wherever we live.

So, here is what our net worth looks like today:

Liability Asset
House 0 0
Car 10172 9000
Student Loans 61275 0
Credit Cards 1890  Total Debt
73337 9000 $64,337
How much less in debt we are in since the April update: $45,176

So even though we woke up yesterday morning before the mail came and had a house, now today we don’t. Everything I’ve researched on our loan says the mortgage company doesn’t come after us for the balance so we should be able to walk away free and clear. Sure, our credit will take a hit but I’m not going near credit again. Other than the cards we have and the car we have I want to save up and buy the next car with cash.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure I never, ever, ever want to own a home again. I read about Kelly and her decision to never own a home again and it spoke to my heart in a way that made me realize that if people who have money and aren’t in a tenuous situation are choosing to rent then maybe I can trust my own logic and not doubt myself just because of my bank account balance.

I guess my net worth change is good. It’s better than it was when it was over a hundred thousand. It’s all on paper, though. We won’t know if this was the best or worst thing to ever happen until it’s ten years from now and we can look back with the beauty of hindsight.

I think we’re going to be okay, but maybe that’s just my optimism showing. I’m not usually an optimist, though, so maybe the odds are in my favor.

chicken-border-bottom

 

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

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We ended last month and started this month worried.

Very worried.

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

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

Let’s Google It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Fast Things Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the Secret Benefits to Planning with Money

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

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

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

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

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

No Offense

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

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

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

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

bird-end-fin

5 Ways To Be Happy(er) About Paying Bills

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I can’t help it.

Music, coffee, and a smile are how I greet my bills. I’ve always felt awesome about paying bills but took for granted that was a normal feeling. Over time, I realize that many people are so busy feeling the loss of what they can’t do with that money that they are getting the joy of paying bills stolen right from them. That makes me sad and I hope to help out some of those people (maybe even you?) with these tips.

No One is Going to Disney-Land-World with the Electric Bill Money

One bill is not big enough for anyone to take a vacation on. I found myself slipping on this one a little while I paid my six-month auto insurance premium and my main credit card off. “If I just carried all that credit card debt I could have taken the kids to DisneyWorld, man.” I thought sadly. Then I kind of had a moment and swung over to the, “Wait. Then I’d come back with memories, mouse ears, and the same financial mess I left behind.”

That would probably suck at least some of the joy out of those vacation memories. Maybe it wouldn’t for other people, but I tend to regret spending when it is not done from a good place. I want to know when I’m on that vacation – that I’m sure will happen one of these years – I will come home to a clean house and clean finances.

Even if all your bills for one month could get you to Epcot but then come home with two months’ worth of bills and a stack of pictures it might have been better to just pay the bills and postpone the trip.

It Is More Important to Teach Kids Boring Responsibility Than Cram Them Full of Exciting Memories

This is probably more controversial, but the reason I am happy when I pay bills is I make it a togetherness experience for me and the kids. I talk to them about bills and why we pay them and, “Isn’t it nice to be cozy warm when there’s an eight foot snow pile in our front yard?” Oh yes, they agree, it is ever so nice to be warm.

In my fantasies my kids talk like the kids from Mary Poppins with the big eyes and the breathless voices and the English accents. They can also fly and do dishes without splashing water all over my floor. I have an amazing fantasy life.

Speaking of fantasies, I know a lot of parents out there (including ME, so no high horses here) that think if they don’t give their kids wonderful memories they are failing. Like, if the kid grows up and doesn’t have some kind of anchor-memory they are not going to remember anything and we will have just been the bland, “They were fine. They loved me. I guess.” parents that don’t have the other adult-children’s friends going, “Dang! I wish my mom/dad/caregiver were that cool!”

Almost everyone I know – myself included – don’t want to be boring parents. We want to be interesting, we know things because of the Internet and want to share them, I may have spent two and a half hours playing Minecraft with my daughter last night. I don’t even like Minecraft but I was determined to find diamonds in the mine because that would be the icing on the cake of her “stayed up late to play video games with mommy” memory. Without diamonds, I felt the whole thing was a waste of getting lost down a mine shaft.

Of course she didn’t see it that way. She just loved playing Minecraft with her mom. I was the one putting the expectations on the whole deal. Don’t do what I did. Enjoy the moment even if it’s not diamond-encrusted. Also, we did find obsidion, so there’s that. (See what I did there? Silver lining!)

So get the kids involved at a level they can handle when you are paying your bills. Soon, I am going to let them pay a bill. I haven’t decided exactly how that is going to work out but I feel it’s important they are used to it by the time they have to do it themselves. I look back at myself and my $15 minimum payment to Sears when I was 21 and not paying it because I needed money to “go out” and I want to kick my younger self and make her pay that card off and start building her credit for later.

Remember Why You Pay Bills In the First Place

When I get crabby about my gas or electric bills I have this thing I do. First I go to the front door and open it. Then I open the screen door as wide as it will open. Then I either freeze or immediately start to sweat. Ta-Dum! I just reminded myself why I pay my bills. When the weather is nice my bills are low and I don’t get particularly bent out of shape about them. But those dead-of-winter prices and height-of-summer prices are a killer. Luckily those are the times where going outside is enough to remind me why I pay for climate control.

If I’m having a really smart day I look at the laptop I’m typing on and try to even wrap my brain around a life with no electricity. Then I freak out and stop thinking about it and move on feeling a lot less bitter about having to fork the cash over for my bills.

If you pay for daycare or preschool, have a few conversations with your child(ren). They will make you smile and you remember you would do anything for them. Same goes for older kids but the older they are the less a conversation will help because they get kinda mouthy as they get older and it might backfire.

If you have a spouse or significant other wandering around you might want to give them a hug. Hugs always make things better.

Remember Your Goals or Get Some Goals

If you think about a vacation or a coat or new shoes or a car or something else you could be spending the money on when your’e paying the bills, odds are good you do not have a budget with goals.

When someone has a budget they know where the money is going and how long it’s going to take to get to the goal. Then, when they pay the bills and put something away in the “Vacation Goal” savings  account (we use Capital One 360 for multiple savings accounts you can name whatever you want) you think about the vacation your’e going to take in the future and it hurts less to see the money from your checking account or from your purse/wallet going toward necessities.

Right now my Vacation Goal savings account has eight cents in it. We aren’t in a place where we can start saving for vacation. I still make sure to look at it when I’m paying bills because soon I’ll be able to put some money in there. My goal is to start saving for my goal. It works for me. It’s not perfect because I long to take a break and leave the house for some extended period of time that lasts longer than day, but it stops me from blaming my bills and that’s really all I need it to do right now.

If you haven’t written down your expenses and income on a piece of paper or in a Google Drive spreadsheet yet, do that. It’s the most basic of budgets and will let you know where you are at now so you can start making budget-based plans and decisions moving forward.

Stop Feeling Like Crap Because You Aren’t Doing Everything You Want

Whether or not you have kids, not doing the stuff you want can make you feel like a loser. I have watched other people having fun many times and wondered what I did wrong that left me in a position where I take my kids to the movies once a year. “Why can’t I just figure life out like everyone else?” is something I ask myself more times than any human ever should. I’m trying to stop beating myself up and focus on what I do have.

The big one is time. I might not be able to take my kids on a ski vacation, but I do spend time with them, talk to them, and I know they feel heard. That is important to me.

If I didn’t have kids my priority would be spending time with my husband. If I didn’t have a husband it would be spending time with my friends. I’m a very people-oriented person. Of course I want time to read, listen to music, and just dance in my living room but those are all a close second on my list to the people I’ve chosen to have in my life.

While I might not be able to give my kids name-brand clothing, I can give them attention. Even if I tell myself I’m a crap mother for not getting them better clothes, I still know the attention is important. No amount of negative self-talk can convince me otherwise.

Besides, everyone has something they want to do but can’t. Even the super rich have things they want to do that are beyond them. We all have goals, the goals just get bigger and more expensive with the size of your net worth. So don’t worry, you aren’t alone in wanting things that are just out of your reach.

Do you like paying your bills? Do you have any tips, tricks, or ideas for making your bill paying experience more fun?

Budget Update (Feb 2014)

February-2014-Budget

You can probably tell I plan on making this a regular feature. Hopefully I can keep it interesting and fun. Goodness knows I could talk about budgeting forever but I know not everyone is as excited as squishing pennies to death as I am. You are always welcome to let me know if there’s something you’d like to know about my interesting financial situation. (Facebook, twitter…let me know!)

Also, I figure if it’s not fun at least it’s suspenseful, so that’s something anyway.

Our expenses don’t change dramatically, so this may turn out to be a quarterly update. I don’t even know. Also, I wanted to make the budget before I got the Tax Refund because then I get to feel extra-good about myself the next time I put one together. One of the best ways I know to keep yourself excited about finances and budgeting is to set yourself up to win. I would rather do two budgets and feel amazing about the second one than do just one budget and feel okay about doing it.

So, let’s get our not-so-awesome on, shall we?

feb-2014-budget-spreadsheet

This doesn’t include the Xbox Live Gold membership we get once a year. I could not buy it if I really had to skip it, but we use the Xbox for a great deal of our entertainment and I would be hella sad without it. I can usually find a 12 month card on sale somewhere for $39.99 during the year and then I add it on to the current year.

Also, for you math majors out there you can see that what I have right now is officially not enough. We are brainstorming a solution for that. I actually made more than that writing last month and it’s only the first week of this month, but the writing is sporadic and not something I can count on so I thought it would be best to put a lower number there. One I’m sure is attainable rather than the potential income which could honestly be in the thousands if I apply myself and luck is on my side and I can click “accept” faster than the other writers.

I’m also mulling over a potential side-hustle that has nothing to do with writing and plays more to my love of software. I don’t want to say too much and jinx it because the more I talk about something the less likely I am to do it, but I have a few sketches and ideas written out and I’m just the littlest bit excited about it.

Like I said before, don’t worry, once we are through this winter those expenses are going to stay firm except for adding in gas and tolls. Of course, if Mr. Brickie’s next job is where he’s been told it is the gas will be minimal and there will be no tolls, which means we will be able to save money hand over fist.

We all know that more income without increased expenses is a great place to be. I hope to be there sooner rather than later, but really, as long as I get there at all I will be a very happy woman.

I’m excited to look at the budget next month.

 

Professional Advice to Cut the Budget

modem-imageToday Mr. Brickie talked to NACA for his second intake interview.

To their credit, they had all 65 pages of the fax organized and only needed to go through about six questionnaires. They covered budget, expenses, and other financial things. The irony (and I know you are not going to be surprised) is that he used the information we faxed over to answer the questions.

So that was an hour and half that didn’t need to happen. He didn’t mind and was super-polite but still, what is the point of hunting down and sending over all that information if you just have to answer the same questions over the phone? Ah well. Not the worst thing in the world. They got the fax and that is the number one concern I had.

The Advice

Where this story gets a little crazy is in the “budgeting” section. If you have seen my budget, you know we don’t have a lot of expenses. We cut our lifestyle drastically so we didn’t end up in a deep, deep hole by the end of winter. The line items are a little different now because I had a panic attack and ran up a couple credit cards for Christmas shopping and since Mr. Brickie isn’t working we don’t have a hundred plus dollars in toll expenses right now. Plus, we spend almost nothing on gas since we aren’t going anywhere.

So the intake person says we have to look like we are making budget concessions to show we are serious about getting our mortgage right. With the expenses we have she suggested four things very strongly:

Do not buy any more clothes.

There were some expenses for clothing on the budget and she said that had to stop. The items in question? Boots, snowpants, and shoes for the children. Also, one pair of jeans for Mr. Brickie four months ago.

Do not eat out anymore, ever.

The expense in question? A $30 payment for the one time we went out to eat in the last four months. With a coupon. Because I can feed people at a casual dining restaurant and leave a good tip for $30. I’m magic.

Get rid of the Internet.

So, that happened. When my husband informed her that we use the Internet for our freelance businesses she said, “You can go to the library and use theirs.” While he was silently dumbfounded (because who wouldn’t be?) she followed up with, “You have smartphones. Use those.” I am not exactly sure what to say about that except if you knew how much more money we would spend if we didn’t have Internet and the answer to the question, “What do I do with my kids while I’m at the library on the computer for an hour because they have time limits?” isn’t even in the top three of reasons I cannot conceive of getting rid of my Internet connection.

Get rid of hosting.

“Get a free website and free email for your businesses.”

Stop paying your credit card bills immediately.

She said her prior job was as a third party credit card collections person and since that was unsecured debt we didn’t have to worry about anyone taking anything away from us. She advised we call and get them to put us on a payment plan that could be “as low as a few dollars a month” and then use that tax return money for something more important.

Did I mention Mr. Brickie stayed kind and polite during this whole conversation? The man is a saint.

After I picked my jaw off the floor I asked him if he thought the advice was valid about the credit cards. “Maybe she knows what’s what better than I do. This is my first house-issues rodeo, this is her job.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “No. We pay those debts off.” I nodded.

If I’m only making little payments – less than the minimum – for years and years the balances are going to become intense. I mean it will actually become more expensive every day I don’t pay it off. She recommended putting our tax return toward the car. If I could pay the car off entirely, that would be valid advice. But a car payment plus credit card payments or only a car payment seems like a no-brainer to me.

Mr. Brickie reminded me that the woman he talked to was an intake person, not a housing counselor. She was trying to help based on her personal experience and view of the world. She was trying to help.

For that, I appreciate what she said.

But the only way you’re taking my Internet away is by killing me first. It’s my only luxury and I’m not getting rid of it. I regret the two weeks I cut off hosting and quit blogging like you wouldn’t believe. I may not be the best blogger on earth but I can’t stop doing it. I guess that’s almost as good as passion.

We won’t be eating out again for at least four months because we’re cheap and thank goodness for my family I’m a good cook. If that makes things look better for the mortgage company, that’s wonderful.

As for clothing, I haven’t bought clothes since I got that awesome $12 dress from eBay a year ago. Mr. Brickie got a new pair of sneakers for Christmas from my cousin so he’s all set with shoes, too. I did buy him a pair of Levi’s that were on sale for $20 four months ago so we’ll have to cut down on that. The kids clothing, however, is not really negotiable. The last time I replaced their sneakers it’s because one of my kids had a flapping sole and there wasn’t enough shoe to glue it to.

I hope the housing counselor can look at the numbers and see that we are living a bare bones lifestyle. I can assure you the $68 for Internet and the hosting price aren’t going to be the difference between paying a mortgage and not paying a mortgage.

In the meantime, they are supposed to somehow get our loan into forbearance which would halt the foreclosure. It would give us a reduced monthly payment for a specific period of time based on the probability of increased income.

So, we’ll see what happens.

We still need to have a follow up appointment with the downtown legal aid people when they have an opening with a housing counselor and then there’s the court date downtown on Valentine’s Day (I really do love the irony of going to court on Valentine’s Day).

Tomorrow I have to decide if I want to put my 4yo through an assessment through the UofChicago. She’s one of the control group because she didn’t get into the lottery-based charter school. They get to be impressed and have fun with my kid and they’ll give Mr. Brickie fifty bucks for putting her in the study.

They just ask her about shapes and stuff, plus they’ll send me the assessment. I do like having information about my kids academic prowess. I’ll check in and see if he’s in the mood to do it.

 

Update on 2014 Goals So Far

march-calendar

Whew! January was one heck of a month.

We scrambled, we worried, we fretted all over the house. Money-making ideas were batted around left and right and center. We researched ebay, etsy, craigslist, and other options of doing things to bring income in for winter.

Honestly, the best thing we did was write.

I wrote articles, Mr. Brickie wrote articles, and we banked cash in Paypal.

It looks probable at this point we will be able to pay our bills in February. It’s not 100% yet, but it’s looking good. The car payment is always the kicker.

I also have to do the taxes today. It is a time I both love/hate because with the kids and the working and the not having a lot of money we usually qualify for both the child care credit and the earned income credit.

This may be the last year we qualify for the earned income credit! I will be excited to see it go. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t give it up in a heartbeat in exchange for making enough in income to not qualify. Income is always better.

I have, of course, a list of things we have to buy with the income tax return. Not a big list, there’s not going to be that much. Credit cards that I opened in a panic right before Christmas so my kids wouldn’t be totally denied gifts are going to get paid off first. Then I’m buying tires for the car because it’s winter and they pretty much have no grooves left and riding around on almost-bald tires is really, really not smart.

Oh, and let’s not forget I have to save first month, last month, and a security deposit if this whole “fixing the mortgage” thing doesn’t go through. I swear, just when I think it’s official and we’re going to be foreclosed on and have a sheriff at our door throwing us on our butts we get another letter asking us to get in touch. We do, and some other process starts.

That can’t last forever, though, so I want to make sure I have enough money in a savings account that we don’t end up in a homeless shelter even for a minute. I’m just being practical. Or I’m being totally pessimistic. Either way, it’s going in savings so I can sleep at night!

Other than writing the only other thing I’ve been doing to add to the piggy bank is mTurk. It’s a crowdsourcing program through Amazon.com and I basically take surveys for money. I know, I’m making it sound like a survey site, but there are other tasks as well like transcription and article writing. The pay is horrific in most cases, so don’t go there excited that you’ve found a way to pay your bills. I use it for stuff I can’t afford like when I had to buy a new keyboard for my laptop because mine was broken. It’s the emergency-stuff that’s not really an emergency fund.

Mr. Brickie doesn’t have the patience to be a turker. I can’t complain. He has done the bulk of the January writing and I could not be prouder.

Well, to be perfectly honest, it took a lot of talks and pleading and manipulation and smiles and frowns and going barking mad to help him see that him doing the bulk of the writing in January was really just the best idea in the whole wide world.

As for me, I’ve got a new partnership set up as someone’s copywriter and I look forward to seeing where that takes us. I set up an about.me page but I don’t think that really highlights my skills.

In the meantime, I’m researching how all those super-successful bloggers are doing things and looking for ways to improve my reach. My biggest problem is that I’m not a niche blog. I talk about finance and relationships and food and health and wellness and everything else. I don’t really want to have six blogs so each one can talk about that ONE thing and nothing else.

I guess I just think that defeats the whole purpose of having a blog. My blog is a pretty accurate representation of who I am and I’m looking for friends. Like minded bloggers and people I can feel safe with. People I can smile when I see the name on my Facebook feed or read about their latest adventure. I’m looking for people and I don’t think I’m going to find them with six highly niched blogs.

Maybe I’m wrong. It happens once in a while.

What do you think? Is your blog in a niche? Where do you put the thoughts that don’t fit? Do you think I could just get away with a really great category system?