Tag: union

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!

A Reliable Indicator of Financial Stability and How We Spent It 8/21/2015

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I’m not great with writing headlines. I know the “rules” (I have for years) but just can’t make myself write, “This Mom Has Medical Bills…You’ll be Amazed How They Make Her Feel!”

Technically the medical bills are for the children. There are the two dentist appointments that were over $350 this month, the bill from the pediatric neurologist for our percentage after insurance, and money we still owe the pediatrician because the billing department lied when they told me how much I owed and, WHOOPS, we really owe more.

Then, Friday afternoon, Middle Sister’s glasses fall off her face, broken. They just gave up on life. So I had to run out and order a new pair for her and that was another $83. Medical has been out-friggin-rageous this month.

Add that to the almost $500 we spent on school supplies (over $250 on fees) and it’s been one hell of a money-drain of a month.

Here’s how we spent it for this week.

We have the usual Gas, Groceries, Restaurants (of course restaurants doesn’t mean an actual restaurant since I only put 40$/wk. in there, but if Mr. Brickie wants to stop at 7-11 for a pop on his way home that needs to be accounted for in advance.)

Set aside are also $20 for Mr. Brickie’s Union Dues and the $184 for the NIPSCO bill. I love having gas & electric on one bill. So much easier.

Mr. Brickie’s birthday present (a beer tasting and babysitting money so we can both go) was $150. His birthday isn’t until September 20th but I’m trying to be prepared in advance. You know, keep the budget right and not do last minute spending. I also put $100 back into the emergency fund. I drained it before and am trying to build it back up. It’s only at a little over $200 now but that’s better than the little over $100 it was last month.

Since there will always be ways (like broken glasses!) to spend money last-minute no matter how well we have budgeted, I consider buying Mr. Brickie his birthday present a month in advance normal life planning. I have no comparison so if it’s not normal then so be it.

There was no overtime this week and we thought Mr. Brickie was going to training next week but it turns out they need him on the job site and the guy in charge of the training is fine with him skipping this one one and coming in for a week of training in October instead. So we won’t be missing a paycheck the first month of September AND October is a five paycheck month so we won’t even be missing a paycheck when all is said and done!

It feels good to have the budget under control to the point where a bad thing happens and I can fix it. When Middle Sister’s glasses broke last year it took us two months to replace them. It felt awful. Terrible, terrible awful.

Feeling moderately annoyed and a little nervous about having to buy glasses OMG RIGHT NOW THIS MINUTE because school just started and Middle Sister needs to see the far-away things in the classroom is not only a relief it is a joy. I would choose being inconvenienced every day of the week over not knowing where the money is coming from for this, that, or the other thing.

For those of you who supported us when we had a fundraiser last year to move? I paid it forward a little this week. I sent in a box of fruit snacks and a box of Goldfish crackers (Costco sized boxes) in to the kindergarten and told the teacher that people helped us when we didn’t have a way to give our kids school snacks and I wanted her to have the snacks for kids in the class that didn’t bring one. She was really happy.

Thank you for helping my family get to a place where we can give snacks to children who don’t have any. Giving feels amazing.

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Great News That’s Not Set In Stone Because What Is?

That union meeting on Tuesday was fantastic.

I wasn’t there and I didn’t even hear all the stories because Mr. B was so tired when he got home. I heard the most important thing – well, two things – I needed to hear.

  1. That BA was dead serious (his words) about making Mr. B a BA.
  2. There is no residency requirement.

So, excuse me while I do the cha cha slide all over my living room.

Of course, things change and we can’t know the future, but for today my fears are calmed…okay, for a few days because why not feel good as long as you can squeeze the feeling out of a hope-spike?

He’s finally someplace (besides our bedroom OH YEAH) where he’s being noticed for his talent and hustle. He’s finally not being underestimated and – even better – he’s being appreciated and everyone knows his name. He’s the up and comer.

I don’t even know how to express how it’s all making him feel.

The most important part of how it’s making him feel is probably the doing of everything. He’s become more confident in all areas and he works even harder on job sites because he wants to get to that journeyman level and see what shakes out more than anyone, including me.

Which I can’t even comprehend because I want him to get there (understatement of the year coming up!) pretty badly.

To know we won’t be forced to move into a community where rentals are $1400/mo. for a tiny condo and $2,200 for a little house? We can stay here in our awesome three bedroom with a basement for $775/mo.? That is going to be a huge help toward getting us to our financial finish line.

Oh, you guys, the next two years are going to be SO fun!

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Apprentice Update – 60%

Mr. Brickie is a 60% apprentice right now. That means he makes 60% of what a journeyman makes. Every 750 hours of work (plus two training classes, plus going to union meetings monthly) gives you a 10% bump. There is also a test at the 80% level, I think.

Each bump is a raise of about $4/hr. It is a big deal amount of money.

Right now we are at what I call the “bridge” between the apprentice level when we can no longer qualify for SNAP benefits and the level where we can afford food. We are 99.9% sure we are not receiving any more SNAP benefits (food stamps) because I did the math and we dropped off paystubs yesterday. We are nervous but the paystub drop-off was 100% voluntary because I don’t want to be caught up in fraud, even if it’s by accident or ignorance or “hoping for the best.”

In addition, Mr. Brickie’s next job location will involve a lot more tolls and gas. So we may be stretched razor thin this summer. I just don’t know yet.

Back to the apprenticeship.

This 60% – 70% bridge (in real numbers that are only accurate for this day and our situation are $25.55/hr. vs. $29.81/hr.)

60% → $764.43/week → $3057.72/month (assuming a 40 hour week)
70% → $889.84/week → $3559.36/month (assuming a 40 hour week)

In the example above I calculated taxes using the hourly paycheck calculator (it’s usually right to within about ten dollars) and then took off union benefit payments which for this union on this day are $2.20/hour.

The difference is a jaw-dropping $501.64 per month. Each subsequent raise looks the same. The only way you go above 100% of scale is if you are a foreman or something else within the union. Raises are negotiated by the union and go into effect in June of any given year.

Awwww, remember back when he started and he made $16.27 an hour? When the best we could do was a full time check of $478.52? Trying to figure out how to keep a house with a $1200 mortgage on an income of $1600/month that he only made during perfect weather when there was a job? …awwwww so cute!

Or….aww, remember when he really first started and took an 8 week unpaid apprentice course that paid a  $50/wk. stipend? AWWWWWWW….

Me too.

There has been a lot of scratching and crawling from there to here.

But when your pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is an actual pot of gold, well, like my friend once heard a garbageman say, “You have to dig through a lot of trash to get the fur coat.”

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The Long Term Career Plan (a refresher)

Someone asked me yesterday, “Why do you keep doing this when he keeps being out of work and you keep having to scrape and scramble? Can’t he go back to school and get a career that pays better, sooner?”

I thought hey, if one person is wondering maybe more than one person is wondering. If you aren’t wondering this might be a boring update. My apologies.

Also, as we struggle through another year of “sometimes working sometimes not but probably not come February” I would like to remind my dear readers and myself why this job is not the worst idea I have ever had. You are not the only one who needs reminders. I do. I probably need them more than anyone else, since it’s my job to save during the boom times and pinch pennies during the lean times.

Apprenticeships & Raises

When Mr. Brickie was first out of training and unleashed upon the world as a 40% apprentice he was making about $17/hr. At the beginning of the season this year he was bumped up to 50% and given a raise that reflects that percentage (about $4/hr.) Inflation and time will make the dollar numbers obsolete but not the percentages. It’s a smart system.

At the beginning of 2015 (if this job lasts that long and it should) the Mr. will have worked enough hours to be bumped up to the next level, a 60% apprentice and receive another raise of about the same amount as the last one. I’m sure you’re picking up on the pattern, so I’ll just stop walking through every ten percent increase. It keeps going like that until he reaches 100% and becomes a Journeyman.

But those are the apprenticeship bumps. The union’s way of “working up from the mail room” and paying you according to your skills. At 80% and 100% there is a skills test you have to pass to get the promotion/raise. Everyone does not get a ribbon and not every bricklayer becomes a journeyman.

As for run-of-the-mill job salary payment raises? Those are written into the multi-year contracts signed by the union and those raises go into effect during the summer sometime. So, on top of the apprentice bumps he also gets a raise every year. The raise happens at the same time for everyone and the apprentice promotions happen when you have worked enough hours, been to enough union meetings, and attended your mandatory training sessions.

So while things are super tough right now (that fundraiser money is only for moving so when I talk about finances being tight that’s because that money isn’t spendable)  but I’ll be fine with a partial paycheck in two years. I like to kind of just mention it now and then because I don’t actually plan on raising a family of five on $21/hr. long term. My calculations show that we will have some financial breathing room when he hits the 70% level.

Overtime

Usually, sometime after the season really kicks into gear, there is overtime. This is far more likely to be the case if you are working with a company that works on schools. Schools have to get all their work done in summer and have it finished before school starts.

Mr. Brickie has worked with a local, well-respected company the past two summers and both times he ended up working overtime. Overtime is a beautiful thing financially, but it turns Mr. Brickie into a crabby bear that I want to lock behind a brick wall to muffle the complaints. Instead I smile and I say, “It’s okay dear, you’re just exhausted, what can I get you?” and hope no one is recording video of me being so Donna Reed it would make me sick if I saw it.

We use overtime money to pad the savings account or pay off bills that need paying. Saved overtime money is what got us the second car.

Benefits

One of the big reasons we chose the profession he’s in is retirement. The retirement package of a union bricklayer in our county is insanely good. The few (painful, overwhelming) years Mr. Brickie was a (licensed!) financial advisor taught us that far too many people in this country are unprepared for being old and retired. We have found the solution to our family’s financial problems but it doesn’t happen overnight and we know we are getting a very late start compared to someone who did everything “right” and got that first job right out of college or started in a trade right out of high school, so the retirement package is huge for us. It allows us to know that in addition to regular retirement savings there is this other stuff he’s been paying into since the first day he started working on a job site.

When you start on the life you have always wanted as late as we have, you have to have to take that into consideration when you’re finding your dream job. Sure, things go wrong and retirement packages go bust, but so do stock markets and everything else. We have to plan with the information we have available and two pensions and an annuity (among other things) are an amazing perk. Sure, we pay into those things, but it’s nice to know we’re paying into something toward retirement.

Timing, Luck, and Hustle

Mr. Brickie started with the bricklayers during their worst year since they began. It was the tail end of the recession and there was no work. Then, he started working and we had the wettest spring ever since Jesus walked on water or something so there was really, really no work when work was supposed to start.

In theory, this is great because that means he started at the very, very beginning of what will turn out to be the next boom cycle (economically speaking) and that should last around ten years with a few years on each end of revving up and revving down. With the jobs not being there, neither are other bricklayers (at the meetings, at training, at follow up classes) and Mr. Brickie is standing out as someone that works hard, can be relied on, and someone smart. He is making a reputation by being a big fish of doing good stuff in a very small pond.

At least, I hope that’s how this is happening because I know he is working his tail feathers off, I know he’s smart, and I know when he tells me the things people tell him he is telling the truth. All that to say I know Mr. Brickie wants to do more with the union itself in the farther off future and this early exposure and his work ethic and attitude – that would have stood out anyway – have an even easier time standing out during a time of less competition.

Luck also comes into play in him getting the job in the first place. He applied and was tested for more than one union. The millwrights were also hiring and we were almost positive he would be a millwright for almost a year before the bricklayers called him in for training. He is still on the list at the union hall (as far as we know) to be called when the hiring freeze is over.

Double Awesome Luck™ would have it that Mr. Brickie loves his job and is good at it. Two things you cannot predict until you’re actually out there working. So he makes sure everyone he works with remembers his name and he has a list (backed up in the cloud) of phone numbers and names of the foremen, schedulers, and supervisors he’s worked with. The list gets longer every year and it’s the list he turns to when winter is over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things at work again.

There are other apprentices who are still working at the same company they were with when they got out of training. There are apprentices who haven’t had a month off here and two months off there since they got out of training. There is a lot of luck at play in what companies get what contracts and how long/often they work. We have gotten a much rockier start than we anticipated but we are rolling with it the only way we know how.

The last luck feather in our caps is the car we bought from craigslist. It’s still putting along just fine with a strong engine and amazing gas mileage. Having two cars has made everything so much easier and allows my girls to be in after school activities. Since we don’t spend money on vacations or voice lessons or gymnastics or anything else you can enroll in? At least they have something extra and special to look forward to. I’m excited about moving because we’ll be less than five minutes away from the YMCA and I have it on good authority the Y is amazing. I’ll be able to go there on my own as well as with my family and participate in programs, pretty much like a park district, I guess.

The Y has a program for low income folks, so I’ll be able to join up almost right when we get there because the membership will be affordable even for my family during our transition from insanely poor to middle class.

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Cautiously Hopeful (peeking out from under my bed)

The fear is constant.

It’s not a big feeling. Not like hearing your doorknob rattle in the middle of the night no matter how old you are and no matter how many times it happens and no matter how much your brain really knows it’s one of the kids trying to get in because they had a nightmare. My lizard brain always knows for sure that whatever is on the other side of the door is going to kill me. Which makes getting out of bed to help the poor half-asleep child open the door and carry them to the bed one hell of a moment of cognitive dissidence.

It’s a little feeling. Little like the feeling of someone breathing on your arm. Which, if you have someone who manages to breathe on your arm – making your little arm hairs sway just a little every time – starts to drive you insane after a while. I will occasionally find myself covering my arm protectively and snapping, “Stop. Breathing. On. My. Arm. You are driving me insane!”

Of course he responds in the only way I would expect. He looks at me like I’m insane. Who yells about breathing and arm hairs? That’s right. Me.

He’s so lucky.

Job Update Finally My Goodness That Took Forever

Mr. Brickie is at the job today.

Let’s all take a deep breath and have a moment.

MR. BRICKIE IS ON A JOB SITE WORKING RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

*rapture collapse*

I told you about needing paystubs right? How we have to be able to prove income with paystubs in order to move? If things got really sketchy we could also do a letter from a friend or other professional person saaaaaying how much we had made working for them during the course of the year but the woman we really want to be our landlady? Yeah, Mr. Brickie talked to her when he thought he’d be back working in a minute. When our timeline was longer and the house we bought for a steal at $125,000 wasn’t sold for $35,000 last week.

Isn’t it amazing and wonderful and horrifying how fast things can change?

So we can’t go back to this landlady with a different story without looking shady as hell and no one rents to people who seem shady as hell. I haven’t looked on Craigslist to see if the four bedroom is still available. If it was it would still be two weeks until I could apply to rent the property so it wouldn’t make me feel better. I’m going to wait and when he has a second paystub we are going to call the nice lady and tell her we have paystubs and an application and we would love to move thank you so very much.

He will get his second paycheck on November 12th. I’m not sure if we’re still aiming for a December 1st move date.

Court Update

The same paperwork that let us know how much the house sold for at auction (and convinced us this is the only way to buy a house ever from now on) let us know our next court date is 12/30/14. It’s the date where the court finalizes the sale of the house to the investor. The one that starts our last 30-day “time to move now right now” alarm clock ticking. It’s possible if Mr. Brickie goes into the court he can get that date extended a month to 2/28/14 but here’s the catch….

Paystubs for renting a house must be the last two most recent.

So we could decide we weren’t moving until the last possible minute but if weather stopped cooperating and Mr. Brickie was out of work for two weeks due to a blizzard we wouldn’t be able to move.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? No way, not going to happen. This paystub thing is going to be a problem ONCE. That’s it.

Our proposed moving date is still December 1st, but it might be earlier. It depends on the deal and the potential landlord/lady, and everything else. Each deal is unique and even though I will sigh wistfully over four bedrooms I’m not married to a house I’ve never stepped in.

I just wish I could give my daughters each a bedroom. It seems it would be an amazing way to take the sting out of having to leave everything familiar. Having one’s own room would be such an upgrade, wouldn’t it?

But even if we have to move somewhere cramped and small for a year, that’s okay.

Changing Web Hosting When I Figure Out How to Not Be Stupid

I’m going to switch to A Simple Orange but I’m trying to figure out the actual switching. I keep reading about ftp and blah blah and I used to be able to work with files but I’m not in that place right now. The breathing on my skin that is the thoughts in my head won’t let me focus like that. I try, trust me, I try and fail many times a day. I get mad and tell myself I WILL get this or that done. I cajole, order, make promises…I’m more stubborn than even I thought.

What I really want to do is just start the new blog and rename this one temporarily so the other one can have the blog name and backdate old entries into the new blog with this name. It seems like it would create a very clean database with no extraneous media or other things and bits that it could live without forever.

A Different Kind of Job Update

A family friend talked to someone at her job who is a bricklayer. He’s a specific kind called a refractory worker. They travel a lot and work a lot.

Today’s downtown job started first so that’s what’s happening now, but Mr. Brickie is still giving the guy a call that the refractory friend of a friend told Mr. Brickie to call for a lead on a job. No one in this house would love it if Mr. Brickie traveled but we are all very good at sucking it up and moving forward. We will give him all the love and support and Skype calls he needs to feel we haven’t forgotten him and we miss him terribly.

That is in the future, however, no need to borrow trouble. A quick story about borrowing trouble would be good here. The way the information was conveyed to us this guy our family friend knows just came back from Williston, ND (the oil boom town) and he was talking about ten guys to a single-wide trailer and other horror stories of the need for workers and the lack of space.

First, HOW have I not heard about this place prior to this?? I read news sites in addition to blogs and games. Lots of them. More than anything else. News is my bread and butter. It is what gets me through the day. Boom town? Nowhere on my radar.

So this whole refractory thing? It’s more of a long term goal after his apprenticeship is over. He is going to ask them if he can work weekends for them in the meantime. It probably won’t happen but they’ll be amazed he asked and that will help them remember him. To get your 80% raise and your 100% raise you have to pass a bricklaying test. If he just went and did refractory work he wouldn’t be learning the skills he needs to pass those tests and become a journeyman.

But we aren’t saying, “No.” for sure and forever to anything. One of the most important things about this part of the journey is being flexible.

Like olympic gymnast flexible.

I am – mostly sometimes every-third-wednesday – up for the challenge!

The Pendulum Swings Both Ways

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Mr. B starts work again on Monday. [updated 11/14 to add: he did not start this monday nor the next monday it was the tuseday after he started working it was a mess.]

I get so excited when he starts on a new job site. The optimist in me blooms and I start making plans for how we are going to get ourselves closer to financial security.

The fundraiser I‘m currently running ran in Oct 2014 will help with that for sure, because the uncertainty of all the ways the next few months could unfold is beyond even my most optimistic projections.

If this blog existed to give advice, it wouldn’t be super helpful because I’m pretty sure not everyone could start a fundraiser. I mean, maybe they could, but again, this was never about advice. This is just documenting a journey so some people can feel less alone and others can feel better about themselves for not being where I am and still others maybe can learn from what I’ve done (successes and/or mistakes) but that’s certainly not what I’m setting out to do.

I’ve always felt we have our own journeys and for me to take my experiences and try to lay those on someone else to tell them what to do in their life would be akin to making random people wear my clothing. They are great for me and I love them, but they will fit few others the way I do and even if they do fit someone else that doesn’t mean it’s a style they enjoy.

….and I think that’s okay. Different styles are what make us all unique and interesting. There are a lot of people who have made far worse decisions than I have and a bunch of folks who have made better decisions. I could have made millions of other decisions than the ones I did in my life. I can’t pick apart my life and think if I had done one thing differently everything would be better because that is something we can’ t know. There are too many variables.

So, back to Mr. B. He is going to be doing restoration work. The interview was amazing and they talked for a long time about the kind of company it was and the hours and how reliable the work is. A reliable job site that you go back to regularly is the brass ring. Every job site Mr. B has been on he has given his best and he has a great reference from every place he has worked so far. At first, we thought he was going to go to training next week M-Th and then start at the new job on Friday, but he got a call from the training center this morning and they told him they were giving him an exemption from this training and he could take the next one (which happens in winter, I think) and he told Mr. B to go to the job site and let the Foreman know he could start Friday or Monday. He did and they were thrilled to bring him on earlier.

Thank goodness.

Mr. B works so hard and always does his best. I always feel like I’m the loose link in the chain because I sometimes get confused or frustrated and I don’t have the stamina he does. I needed to take a break from all things fundraising today – only three or four days in – because I was making myself physically sick thinking about it non-stop and wondering if it was a horrible idea and if I’d somehow sold my kids out. I’m very bad at being a consistent optimist.

So he starts again on Monday and we will have a regular paycheck barring adverse weather conditions until, well, we’re not sure. According to the guy on the job site they work longer into the season than most companies and start earlier in the season than most companies. It would be a dream job in terms of steady work. Steady work means he gets his promotions faster. If we are looking at the Mr. B Promotion Tracker that had a promotion date of 12/8 last time we checked it’s changed because of him being out of work those couple of weeks and is now slated for 12/26.

Not bloody likely. So he will either promote to the next apprentice level at the end of this season or the very beginning of the next season. He’s progressing slowly than I would like but hey, we all know I’m impatient! You have to have hustle to succeed as a bricklayer. Okay, maybe if you have relative it’s easier, but from what I’ve seen everyone is willing to help Mr. B because he works hard and does his part to help wherever he can. It’s comforting to know you can succeed even if you don’t have a relative or some other “in” with the Union. You can make your own way.

It just takes some round robin action going through companies while they have jobs until you find one that sticks for good.

I really hope this one sticks for good. Not worrying about his job would be a huge load off my mind.

It would let me get back to worrying about where we’re going to live.

Sometimes I wish I could just hibernate until we get to the part where I get to go on shopping days with my girls and we can hang out in the bookstore and have coffee together and they can gossip about their lives and tell me fabulous stories about school and we can all just enjoy each other’s company. Heck, maybe Mr. B can even be there with us.

That will happen someday, right?

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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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Fighting For The Shore

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Today I got to experience the unmitigated joy of filling out a direct deposit form.

It sounds sarcastic, right? Like who on earth enjoys paperwork? Yep, you guessed it, I do. Especially when it means I don’t have to worry about Mr. Brickie in all his, “I think I left my check in the glove compartment” glory.

The interesting thing about being a bricklayer is that he works with different companies. They all know the workers move around and the company he is with now is known for its extensive blacklist of people they refuse to rehire. It’s a feather in Mr. Brickie’s cap for sure that he is working with them again. It’s generally frowned upon once you are with one company to shift to another company unless there is a day with no work and then you’re a free agent all over again or you can wait for your current company to start again.

I feel this gives more job security than a normal one-employer scenario. If anyone is doing work there’s a chance for a bricklayer to be on the job. A lot of things go into that chance but Mr. Brickie has one thing that very few other people do … the ability to network like a madman. He’s really good at it.

His employer for the vast majority of last season didn’t do direct deposit. We had just switched over to Capital One 360 so this posed a bit of a problem.

Online Bank
+ No Direct Deposit
= Mobile Deposits

While I have never been so thankful for technology in my life, it still takes longer for the check to clear than if it was direct deposited. Plus there was the occasional, “Where did I put that check” delay that comes from having a slightly forgetful husband. No matter what, though, I have to say if it wasn’t for mobile deposit I would probably be one of those people rocking my check at the Currency Exhange rather than deal with one of the big banks around here. Capital One might be a huge company but they’re keeping the ING Direct vibe at the online 360 location and the customer service is easy to access and super nice, so….I stay with them.

Today was also wonderful because I was able to open the Google Drive spreadsheet an add 8 more hours of work to the apprentice tracking I have been doing since the first day he began work last year. Meticulous records seemed like a good idea since promotions are based on a combination of hours worked, training sessions attended, and union meetings attended. (Although we have seen promotions occur without the union meeting requirement so I guess that one is more of a suggestion.) As of today I can – with one click – tell you that he has to work 13 more days to get to that next level. (If he works every possible day that will be 7/17 at the very earliest due to weekends and the 4th of July being an official holiday.)

I cannot even tell you how excited I am. Honestly, I don’t think there are words for it.

We are finally back in the game and he’s got work and a company and possible overtime in the future and I’m just tickled pink to be able to save like you wouldn’t believe.

Even though there are things I absolutely have to deal with very soon like the car insurance we pay in full every six months, the insurance bill we may receive in August, saving for the lean times next winter, and saving up for Christmas as soon as possible so I don’t have to use credit cards like I did last year…we are going to be in a stronger position by the end of this year than we were last year. If we can continue this trend every year it will be a very, very nice life.

We are the tortoise, for sure.

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The Price of Insurance & Saying Goodbye to Savings

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This post is not about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

My husband’s job provides this magical pony of a Blue Cross/Blue Shield PPO that gives us access to pretty much all the care in the world. All he has to do is work 350 hours a quarter.

Unfortunately, winter was winter and this has been quite a slow start to the season in terms of bricklaying, so he’s not working yet. He’s doing odd jobs and whatnot, but no real income right now. So when we got the insurance bill we were expecting it to be painful but we did not, in our wildest nightmares, expect it to be $1866.37 painful.

But it was.

When we started having problems with the mortgage company I set aside part of our tax return in case we had to move quickly. A moving fund. We have just recently had to tap into that moving fund to keep the bills paid and ourselves afloat. There was still money left, though, more than enough to get through this. More than enough to keep the car paid until Mr. Brickie went back to work.

There was just about $1800 in that box buried in the backyard. Just about the exact amount we need to pay for our next three months of amazing insurance.

I seriously just want to hit my head against a wall until it all makes sense.

Thankful. I’m supposed to be thankful. I keep reminding myself if I hadn’t made the right decision when I did, if I had gone to Disneyland with that savings money instead of squirreling it away, if I had taken the kids on any kind of a vacation we wouldn’t be able to pay it.

We might have had to borrow money or beg on the Internet with our little virtual tin cups.

We might have had to try and navigate the Affordable Health Care website, which has been nothing but trouble when I’ve done it for friends and family.

Even if I might personally feel this is a horrible, painful money setback I am still thrilled with the care our insurance provides. The huge network, the low deductibles, the minimal copays and the amazing vision insurance just cannot be undersold.

So goodbye savings account. I will miss you with all my heart and you can be sure I will have twice as much saved this time next year. Because emergencies that clear me out only happen once. I learn from my mistakes and soldier through.

The Initial Plan

First, we were going to save $100 a week from Mr. Brickie’s paychecks. He will get about 32 paychecks before the season ends. That plus the tax return and we have a pretty good winter slush fund. Then, three weeks after he starts working he gets an approx. $4/hr. raise because he will be a 50% apprentice (he’s so close). So whatever that ends up being after taxes and dues will also be added on to the savings.

I’m going to be a hoarder when it comes to cash this year.

The irony is that because of our income (or lack thereof depending on the time of year) we currently qualify for Medicaid as secondary insurance. Of course, no one accepts it and if you tell the hospital about it they talk about you being a “partial write off” because they won’t even bother.

It might just kick in as primary, but I don’t want to take the risk. My kids have dentist appointments scheduled, I have new glasses to get a hold of this calendar year, and I’ve already been in the ER twice this year so….it’s important to me to have good insurance.

Am I just being stubborn? Or is this exactly what an emergency fund is for? I know it should be seen as an expense and we will absolutely look at it that way next year, but for this year…this is what it’s been sitting there waiting for. We can’t possibly get foreclosed on and evicted in less than about a year from right now, so a moving fund is nice but totally unnecessary right now.

So let there be insurance.

I guess.

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