Tag: finances

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!

How We Will Spend It Tomorrow & July 2015 Net Worth

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Our bank updated the depositing rules and it looks like *fingers crossed* Mr. Brickie’s check is going to (GASP) clear on Friday.

Available cash the same week he gets the check? I am…..amazed.

Thank you CapitalOne360 for getting your depositing act together. This pleases me greatly because it makes all the budgeting nice in that way a five check month does. Where you can use that fifth check and feel really good about making some progress on…something. Anything.

Since June 1st there was a small raise, an increase in union dues, and – I think – we moved into a new tax bracket? (I don’t actually know how to check that.) All those changes resulted in about $18 more in his check net over a check with the same amount of hours from May.

File that under every little bit helps, right?

We have come up with a new overall budget plan here at Chez Decki where the first check of the month goes to the car payment. That way it’s out of the way first. Neither of us are entirely sure this is a good idea, but at the same time it isn’t a bad idea, so we are going to roll with it until further notice.

Check: $738.94
Car Pmt: $495.12
Living Expenses: $250 (gas + tolls + groceries)
Surplus: -6.18 (negative sadness!)

So, living expenses get reduced to $243.82 and we go on with our week.

Next week will be a short check due to rain on Monday and being off on Friday for the holiday. Yes, he gets holidays off. No, he doesn’t get paid for them. It should be fine because next week’s bill is the autopay bills + auto insurance ($225 minimum) so maybe we will have a little extra to send to the credit cards finally!

July 1, 2015 Net Worth

I haven’t calculated our net worth in a while. Assets minus liabilities. Easy peasy. Okay. *take a deep breath and hold it* (just kidding, don’t do that, you might pass out)

Total in savings/checking (including rent savings and insurance savings and what’s left of emergency savings): $2000
Plus the value of the cars: $13,000 (kbb.org) & $500 (for parts?)
Minus liabilities (including student loans): $81,500 (yikes!!)
Net Worth: -67,000 (ish)

It’s still better than it was and honestly that’s not the worst number in the world. I mean we won’t be selling the car so it’s not like that car value is liquid but we’re going to be able to get rid of that in not a hundred years.

Also this probably shows why I set the student loans off to the side as the thing to conquer once everything else has been taken care of. Adding it in now just seems silly when in just a couple years Mr. Brickie will be making almost twice as much and as long as I’m careful with the spending and we don’t raise our standard of living by too much we will be able to take care of those student loans in a couple years from start to finish.

I know throwing the numbers together like that is fairly haphazard but I have the exact numbers in a spreadsheet. I just get a little leery about giving to-the-penny numbers too often. I’m not sure why. I don’t think any of you would try to steal my identity but at the same time it would be silly to trust my exact numbers on the Internet, so I try to keep a balance.

Overall Feeling Going into July

Every time I feel myself chomping at the bit to gain traction (“Faster! Faster!” I cry as I whip the already frothing galloping horses into a panic.)  I have to remember part of the journey is Mr. Brickie’s as he progresses through his apprenticeship. Our once upon a time totally insurmountable income problem has diminished over time to the point of being not only surmountable but something we occasionally get giddy about. The closer it gets the more actual amazement we feel.

Sure, this was all part of the plan but I still can’t quite believe it’s actually working. Did I think it would work? Yes! Did I also feel like that much confidence was misplaced? Yes! The only way to go was through, however, and so through we all went. It’s overwhelming when I stop to really think about what we have accomplished in the last few years.

But now is not the time to relax and enjoy. Patience and focus are what we need to get through this part of the journey. It won’t be as difficult as the last parts (not by a long shot!) but it will still be rough waters come winter if we don’t store some nuts. Seriously, I love a truly awful mixed metaphor. I’m just trying to say that being complacent now could set us back farther than we would like.

We’re in the “just don’t screw it all up” portion of the program. As long as we don’t make any serious blunders we are totally on track to the middle class. Hell, we might already be there for all I know. We are a dollar-ish below average for construction work right this second, so maybe not. We’re close. We’re so darn close.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Independence Day. (In case I don’t post before then. If I do, I’ll just say it again.)

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Our Very First Super Simple Budget

The first time we made a budget it didn’t look anything like the one we have today. It was a list of all our bills, expenses, and income on a piece of paper I tore out of a spiral notebook.

==================================================================

Our Budget (Month) (Year)

Name of bill $xx.xx (Date Due)
Name of bill $xx.xx (Date Due)
Name of bill $xx.xx (Date Due)
————————-
Total bills $xxx.xx

How much do I think we spend on gas? $xxx.xx
How much do I think we spend on food? $xxx.xx
How much do I think we spend on eating out? $xx.xx
—————————–
Total Expenses $xxx.xx

Income $xxxx.xx

Income
– Expenses
– Bills
————-
= $xxx.xx ← amount to put toward debt. (If this number is negative you have to reduce an expense, double-check your bills to see if you can cancel something like cable, or look at making some extra cash on the side to make up the difference.)

===================================================================

That’s it. That was the whole budget. When we first wrote it out it was dark, because it was the first day we realized we didn’t make enough money to pay our bills. We were short about a hundred bucks but that was before we added in gas money to get to work.

My biggest problem in the early days was forgetting something was due and “overpaying” a bill because I was excited we had extra money that turned out not be extra.

No one is impressed by my very first budget and it looks so simple it never convinces anyone to just sit down and write everything on a piece of paper. So I’ll never be a guru helping others to budget because it’s too easy. Well, it looks too easy. Like “eat a little less, move a little more” is too easy for people working on nutrition. I’m guilty of that one, for sure! “There has to be more to it. There has to be.” It’s the same thing with the budget! “There has to be more to it!” people say.

There isn’t. Sure, it gets a little more complicated when you have to track how much gas you use in a month, but not that much. (I recommend looking at your debit statement or credit statement to figure this out, it’s much easier than holding on to receipts for a month. How much do we spend eating out? (That’s the royal “we” … my family eats out once a month and it always costs $35 give or take a couple dollars.) The regular monthly expenses are tough, but rounding is your friend. Once you know how much-ish you spend a month on living you can make a real budget you won’t go over.

It took me almost a year to stop making “bonus” payments into credit cards or trying to pre-pay principal on a car note. That’s how it is, though. Whatever your bad habit is? You’ll discover it by writing down your budget and following it for a few months.

I’ve tried online budgeting systems but they’re too complicated for me. I hate the idea of pretend-hiding my money and living on last month’s money. I want to know where all my pennies are. Something pretty? Don’t need it. I keep my budget on a Google Spreadsheet so I can edit it on my phone and so my husband can check it out whenever he wants.

We don’t have regular budget meetings as a couple because he would rather I take care of everything. It works because he is also NOT a spender. He doesn’t come home all, “Oh, by the way I went shopping and spent money on stuff.” Basically, he gets to ignore the budget because he doesn’t do stuff to mess up my budget.

He isn’t working yet this season but he might have a side job lined up. If he does that would cover topping up the emergency fund, topping up the rent savings, and paying our auto insurance for the next six months. We will have to see how everything shakes out. When we don’t know how things are going to shake out I make a plan for each possible outcome because it’s a simple change of the budget once you’ve got the basic habit down.

Have any questions about budgeting? Let me know. Do you remember doing your first budget?

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Praise the Lord and Pass the Wine. (Priority Budget for Unpredictable Income)

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Months.

I’ve been telling everyone and their dog for months that Mr. Brickie would be working any month week day now.

“Soon,” was a constant refrain.

Hope a word used so much it became meaningless.

Faith like a childhood stuffed bunny’s ear rubbed through with worry.

But…it paid off. It happened. He went back to work Friday before last (right before my birthday – happy birthday to me!) and is doing great. Actually, truth be told it’s more than great. He starts working 10 hour days today and the idea of working Saturdays has been broached. So he might work 56 hours this week. Overtime would be a game-changer in terms of financial security. So much of a game-changer I’m willing to use that term which is so not one I would normally use. 

I’ll stop doing my “I wasn’t proven wrong by the universe” dance soon and get to the nitty-gritty of dealing with actual income in a hot minute. In the meantime, thank you for your patience with my outbursts and my joy and my palpable relief at things finally turning around. I’m not a person who is ever truly sure about anything (because I’m a realist) and so this happening was something I honestly almost didn’t expect because I might tell you I’m a realist but really I’m a bit of an Eyeore now and then.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst is a DEPRESSING, HORRIBLE WAY TO LIVE. I wish someone had told me that before I jumped into that rabbit-hole headfirst, for sure. The preparation takes over everything and the hope becomes this small light across the lake on a dock trying to convince you of something that isn’t even real.

Now, on to some budgeting specifics!

We ended the off season with credit card debt, student loan debt, and car debt. The credit card debt is new. I’m not proud of it but I don’t regret it, either. I’m basically credit card neutral at this point. Yes, we could fall into a hole and be stuck there forever and I could also get abducted by aliens and butt probed. We just have to pick our worry battles, now, don’t we?

Irregular Budgeting for Large Bills and Small Income

There is a snazzy blog post on how to budget with irregular income over here. I plan on using a variation on this budget to pay down/off the bills that we accumulated over the winter.

It’s going to go a little something like this. Since I know what bills are due when I can kind of make a list of what to pay off based on priority as well as amount plus a little bit of foreknowledge. For example, I’d love to be able to pay the car insurance in one chunk instead of splitting it into payments. That means trying to free up about $500 on the credit card by August 10th-ish. So, when you see the line item down there about throwing money onto the Credit Card.

Here is what my payoff list looks like:

  1. Pay $120 on CC to cover automatic payment of tolls. (Already done.)
  2. Pay minimums on Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Walmart ($75 total) & Pay off Target card ($18.29) (Did it today aka Payday Wednesday.)
  3. Pay past-due amounts on Electric and Gas bill. Pay current garbage bill. ($240) (I want to do this today but am afraid with overtime we might need more-than-normal amount of gas cash on hand so waiting until next Wednesday.) 
  4. Pay the car payment. ($496)
  5. Pay the CRAP out of the CC to get down the balance. (Car insurance auto bills to this card on August 15th for around $461.)

The incoming for the rest of the month including what’s in the bank right now is going to be around

Of course, Mr. Brickie’s first raise is going to go through this month so there could be more money. *shrug* I’m not counting on it because this whole journey has been about baby steps and not jumping the gun.

The best-case “I don’t know how to calculate taxes and union dues on overtime money” incoming cash scenario this month is probably $3400. I’m 100% sure this is wrong. I calculated the base pay and then multiplied the projected overtime and subtracted $100 for tax off the overtime of this week since he just started working overtime today (Wednesday) and for the projected two weeks I took off $200 from the projected 20 hours of overtime per week because why not?

So, obviously, when you have hinky numbers you don’t rely on them. This is why I’m doing payments the way I am instead of breaking out the traditional by-due-date spreadsheet. Hinky numbers can spell disaster and overdraft fees if you trust them!

If I subtract 40% off the overtime- which may or may not be accurate – we get a more reasonable $2250.

Ultimately we won’t know until we see it in the bank account. I’ve tried to crack the math on his checks for the last year. I just haven’t been able to figure it out yet. Enough paychecks and I’ll get there but by that time he could get a raise and it changes. *shrug* I’m not sure it’s even worth the effort anymore.

Rain days could also change the bottom line drastically. Monday night there was a storm or rain or something overnight and I woke up in a cold sweat like I was having a night terror – sitting straight up in bed with my eyes wide open – and couldn’t fall back to sleep until I checked the weather in the area where Mr. Brickie is working. Maybe more chamomile tea before bed and less coffee would help with that. I creeped myself out.

You probably noticed the house payment isn’t on there. Yeah. We’re in the middle of court stuff. Payments wouldn’t be accepted at this time and we’re not in a position to put that money into an escrow account or something because we are just not there yet. Things are really dicey with the house situation and it’s being handled by not-for-profit groups, the court, lawyers (not us, them, we can’t afford a lawyer nor do I think we want one), and the mediation department at the mortgage company. Pretty much the very definition of too many cooks spoiling the broth. I’ve mostly resigned myself to moving at this point.

The list above will allow me to make decisions based on the amount of money coming in at any given time. Since Mr. Brickie could not work if it’s raining or work overtime it is more important to have a list like this than pay things based solely on due date. While a bill-priority list might not work for everyone, I have found it to be a life saver. I don’t have to constantly recalculate what is owed where and how much to pay what. It’s done once, and when the paycheck goes in I check the total, subtract $150 for gas and living expenses, and the rest goes to bills.

If I get through number 5. on the list (which might be possible with overtime, a raise, and weekend work) the plan is to go back to the store cards and knock those off the list for good.

For now? I’ll be thankful and thrilled he’s working a 10 hour day today. It’s great news and gives me the hope I so desperately needed for the rest of the season.

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How We Deal With Recurring Financial Disappointment

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My financial disappointment (I call it cash-whiplash) is exactly as confusing as it sounds when I share it with you.

This week could have started on a more positive note. We found out Mr. Brickie is not working this week, no matter how beautiful the weather is. Seems that other job that was wrapping up is all wrapped up and they used a couple guys instead of bringing on the full crew for just a couple days. It makes sense from a business standpoint, but that doesn’t take the sting out of it personally. We monitored the weather like we had a duty to the National Weather Service or something. We were diligent.

I made the mistake of making plans. My hope swam past the buoys and into unsafe territory. Nothing that involved spending money, but things that were less tangible. Like doing the dishes and just being in that head-space where it would be just me and the 4yo at home during the day. I made plans for taking walks with her around the neighborhood to get fresh air. I made plans for what I would make for dinner so it was timed to be ready when he gets home. I basked in the 50’s housewife feel it gave me.

Let’s be honest. It would give me the freedom to write consistently.

Mr. Brickie has a sixth sense that tells him when I’m writing. He can hear the typing – I think – from anywhere in the house and it calls to him like a siren song to come sit by me and stare. His cure for, “Tell me a cool story.” Or, as he likes to call it, “Conversation.”

When I look at him and say, “I’m writing.” (with the universal hand motion indicating the laptop in front of me) he nods and says, “That’s great.” and stays there. Smiling, because he’s a really good dude and feels he is being supportive.

It makes writing difficult.

Okay, scratch that, it makes writing impossible. I can’t tell a smiling, supportive guy who loves me to go away. He’s just as disappointed as I am that he is not working and he wants to be by me to feel supported. I can’t deny that.

This feeling of disappointment is one I am familiar with but really dislike. I don’t want it to affect my overall mood, but putting on a happy face only works for so long and the disappointment takes longer than that to subside. I do not doubt the path we have chosen and I know it will all be for the best eventually, but the closer we get to Spring and work the more difficult it is to stay upbeat and hopeful.

I feel brittle and coarse.

I second-guess a decision I know is right.

Then, because I am a glutton for punishment, I immediately feel silly for second-guessing the decision and berate myself for not trusting the system that has worked so well for so many.

That means the way I thought things were going to go with a few days here, a few days there and some fits and starts before being back to work proper? Totally wrong.

Now we are waiting for enough warm days in a row a foundation for a building can be poured. Once that foundation is all poured and set, then his team will get to work. It is the only thing I knew for sure and I probably could have avoided choking and gasping like a half-drowned person on the disappointment was to keep it reigned in. I should not have let my hope swim past the buoys into the dark water where I spent time planning how to save during the Spring/Summer/Fall in order to be much more secure next Winter.

The new-if-not-improved plan is to figure out approximately how much of a Winter savings account we will need. Then take that number and divide by the number of weekly paychecks that will most likely happen and viola, how much needs to come out of each paycheck is determined.

In case you haven’t guessed it, I find making plans comforting.

For example, if Mr. Brickie gets 30 weekly paychecks and we want $3k in the bank for next winter, that’s $100/paycheck that needs to go into savings.

I don’t know if that’s how it will work, it’s certainly not a perfect calculation, but we will do our best, for sure.

How I Deal With the Disappointment

I give in. I feel the financial disappointment from my toes to my nose. I cry a little if I need to.

Next, I put on some music or put on the Dave Ramsey show on iHeartRadio and listen to other people’s problems and feel less alone in my feelings.

Finally, I look at the plans I have already made and update them. Updated plans keep me feeling grounded and less nervous.

If I don’t feel better after I’ve done these things, I repeat as necessary. Sometimes I’ll take a nap and just let my brain figure things out while I’m sleeping. Brains are good at that kind of thing.

How Mr. Brickie Deals with the Disappointment

Mr. Brickie watches some wrestling or takes out the trash or writes or puts things on craigslist. Staying busy keeps him from letting the feelings become overwhelming.

I can tell how bad he’s feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how far away from the rest of the family he chooses to take on tasks. If he is in the sunroom, shut off in the back of the house behind a closed door organizing shelves and breaking down boxes … I know it’s not good and do my best to pick up the mood of the house and keep things on an even keel.

Our Common Goal

Like me, his main goal is to not take anything out on the kids. They need to see a secure, united front and we are going to give that to them. We both know when we are feeling unhappy that it is difficult to follow the “no snapping or yelling” belief. We have this thing we do where if we are in a bad mood we make sure to take a deep breath the minute one of the kids starts asking a question. That tone of voice that lets you know with the first syllable of the first word there is something about to be asked of you is the cue to just inhale deeply and slowly.

By the time they get to the question mark – my kids are wordy, which makes this easier, I think – we have taken at least one deep breath but more likely we have taken about three deep, calming breaths and can answer in a normal tone of voice even if we have just been thinking about something unhappy or awful.

The Bottom Line

I thought I knew when things were going to go on the upswing. I was wrong. Now we are back to waiting, but in a much better way than we were when we were waiting for Mr. Brickie to find a company to work for in the first place. It’s difficult, but easier than it was last time. I’ve experienced financial disappointment worse than this. Not tons worse, but worse. So it’s not as bad as it could be by a long shot. I am sorry…I’m sure it is as bouncy and confusing and back-and-forth to read this as it actually feels. I’m sorry I’m not being more clear.

I guess that isn’t all bad as long as you can put a check in the “Keeps Getting Better” column.

Sometimes, I am jealous of people who can just have feelings and opinions and believe them and never question themselves. I’m never sure if my feelings are valid. I don’t know if I’m doing better or worse than anyone else. It’s all very confusing sometimes.

Also, the dump of snow that happened last night certainly didn’t help my mood. I’m not crabby, but I just feel a little dejected. I hope your day is going loads better and I’m sorry if I am being a bit of a downer today. It’s not my intent. I just don’t want to only write when the ending is upbeat or what is the point?

If I’m not being honest, why am I here?

Tell me something wonderful. Even if it’s tiny or small or you think it’s no big deal. No matter how mopey I am, a great story from someone else always warms my heart a little.

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