Tag Archives: Winter

Plan: Balance Transfer That Debt and Get Through Winter

First, I want to congratulate Mr. Brickie on becoming an 80% apprentice! He had to take a test that consisted of building a wall and he failed it twice (once he was sick and once he was overconfident) but the third time was truly the charm! That’s the last test he will have to take before becoming a journeyman. Now it’s just a matter of working the hours and taking the training classes. (If all that is gibberish you can see more about how his bricklayer apprenticeship works at this link.)

So it’s great he got a raise and is now making a serious hourly rate that makes me blush to say out loud. Still, though, regardless of hourly rate a bricklayer has to work to get paid and now is the time of year where I try really hard not to whine about winter and the totally predictable lack of work Mr. Brickie is experiencing.

But wait! It’s different this year!

How, you may ask?

He’s working just enough that we don’t get unemployment.

Now, this is great on one hand because our tax return is hit hard when we use unemployment benefits (even though we have taxes taken out of his unemployment check it seems that 10% fed and 3.25% state isn’t enough) so getting through with a $200(ish) check every week is super unfun but I’m trying to think of how great it will be at the end of the beginning of 2018 when I file taxes and don’t have to put in unemployment benefits.

Does it sound like I’m grasping a little for a silver lining? I am, a little. Winter is always tough because we want to save and we want to have a savings account for this time of year. We do. January is when I sit down and make a plan for the year. As you know I’m a firm believer in spending the tax return before we ever see it so there is no temptation to spend that big check on something fun when we have responsibilities that need to be taken care of like rent and several small but annoying medical bills that have popped up on Mr. Brickie’s credit report.

This year’s big success is that we used ZERO credit cards for Christmas. I’ve been trying to achieve this goal for a couple years and this year we did it. Hooray!

This means every extra penny we make this year goes toward those darn credit cards. It’s time to pay them all off and get right with the balance sheet. If you like my page on Facebook you may have seen me talk about shifting 11k in debt from the Discover card to three other cards to take advantage of 0% offers and buy time to pay them off interest-free.

So, without further ado, here is the list of my credit card balances as of right now (balances include 3% transfer fees):

  • Chase Freedom $33.35 (This is the 5% gas rewards card. I pay it off weekly with the gas budget money.)
  • Costco Visa $2,220.16 (0% until Sep 2017 – This is the first one to be paid off.)
  • Citi Diamond $3,620.64 (0% until Dec 2017 – this card was only used for dental work.)
  • Chase Amazon $2,395.70 (This is one of the Discover xfer cards 0% until Feb 2018)
  • My Quicksilver $4,999.62 (Discover xfer 0% until June 2018)
  • Mr. B Quicksilver $3,999.49 (Discover xfer 0% until June 2018)

Don’t cringe. Don’t be sad. Don’t get mad. I didn’t use the cards to take vacations or buy drugs. We have a frugal lifestyle and I truly think I can get rid of this debt by – at the very latest – February of 2018.

I’ve even talked to the kids about it and they’re on board with a razor thin lifestyle to pay the cards off, too. They know the more we sacrifice now the better things will be in two years. Last time I asked them to tough it out for two years we moved and they are so much happier here, so this time it was easier for them to trust me.

I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to let us down. I wish I could feel more secure in when things will be paid off but it’s almost impossible to do a proper financial forecast. The winter weather makes the paycheck lower and although he will start working full time again once the weather is getting nice he could get another promotion as early as June but maybe later, so there is no way to reliably have an idea when milestones will be hit in terms of paying down debt.

Last fall I was toying with the idea of sending the older two girls to fancy summer camps this year that teach things like electrical engineering and mobile app development. We’ve tabled that idea and they’re only going to go to the local nature camp. I refuse to increase our standard of living to match his paycheck or we’ll never get ahead.

Sometimes I think about how much farther along we would be if Mr. Brickie hadn’t broken his wrist. I’m sure he does, too. Five months out of work…who would have guessed that was in the cards? But the thought quickly passes because I felt about his injury the same way I feel about winter. Yes, it’s tough, and yes, it’s mentally exhausting but I love spending time with him.

What’s that people say about time or money? You have to spend one or the other? In our case it’s either we have time together or we have money and both are important to our long-term survival/success as a couple and as a family.

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 To Make Christmas Break Work (kid edition)

Tomorrow is going to be the last day of school for the kids until 2011.

I’ve amused myself for the last week by telling people I’m so over things and won’t even bother doing them until next year. From eating sushi to saying certain phrases I’ll just be all, “I’m over it. I’m taking the rest of the year off.” It’s not really laugh-out-loud funny, but it amuses me and I’ve heard a couple of my friends start saying it so it’s catchy.

Wow. I’m dreading two weeks with my kids out of school so much I’m avoiding talking about it on my own blog. Be that as it may I have been compiling a list of things I can do with my kids to keep them (and me) amused during holiday break.

  1. Art. From painting to crayons to markers to pencils to chalk, I’m going to have time set aside every day for art. A roll of butcher or easel paper is perfect to sprawl on the kitchen table and tape underneath, leaving my table free to be drawn on, without actually getting, you know, drawn on.
  2. Crafts. This one is tougher for me because it requires a lot more supervision than your standard coloring book and crayons. I’ve found that Elmer’s Glue will come off of anything and glitter will come out of nothing. So glue is “in” when it comes to craft supplies in my house and glitter is definitely an “out” – I have better things to do than find glitter in my youngest daughter’s junk when I change her diaper after the older two have had a full day of crafting. (True story, and the one that got glitter banned from my house.) But it’s pretty easy to take some cardboard and make a stand-up animal or really big paper doll that you can make clothing for from construction paper.
  3. Dance Time. I don’t know if other parents do this, but we occasionally set aside a half-hour to an hour to put on kid radio on the television and let the girls dance. We clear away the coffee table and push furniture to the outsides of the room to give them space. We’ve also done this with CDs when we didn’t have a television provider that had channels of music.
  4. Food Time. This is another high-supervision activity to avoid ants or other things-that-like-floor-food out of your home. But letting kids make their own lunch can be a time-consuming and fun activity. Start with crackers or bread. We use Brownberry 100% Whole Grain (look for the wholegrains.org label!) and cut it into pieces. Then the kids use kid-sized spoons to spread peanut butter or nutella or jelly or whatever from these little tasting bowls – also known as pinch bowls – we have. It keeps the peanut butter out of the jelly and also helps with portion control. Not portion control so they don’t get fat, but portion control because my kids will put eight pounds of jelly on something and then not be able to eat it because it’s too much sugary-goodness for them to handle. We also had them make cookies yesterday. A spritz cookie recipe is so easy to throw together and let the kids stir (or turn on the KitchenAid) that it’s crazy not to try it at least once a year.
  5. Cleaning. With star stickers or movies or a million other rewards, we find that cleaning isn’t something that’s too difficult to get our kids to do. Your mileage may vary. My kids get bummed out when they have to clean their own bedroom and playroom, but ask them to clean something in the living room, kitchen or the bathroom and they feel like big girls and love to help. So we save the bedroom and playroom for the “before bed tire you out with your whining and your boredom and when you’re done bed will look like party central” chores and save other-parts-of-the-house cleaning for during the day when we can make it fun for them.
  6. Outside. I hate the cold and am not the mom that is going to be all, “Hey kids, want to go sledding?” But I’ll happily spend an hour watching my kids play with snow in the front yard. My husband is out there with them, of course, but if I had a place to watch them in the backyard I’d have no problem letting them go out into my fenced backyard unattended to play in the snow. Just make sure to have your kids come inside every ten to fifteen minutes to check them for blue lips and chattering teeth. Have cocoa on hand for the chilly after-party!
  7. Write A Book. If your kids are just scribbling and have given up on coloring and just seem…bored…you can have them write a book. Little ones can write a picture book and you can write in captions. Bigger kids can illustrate and write their own book. A couple bucks, a three hole punch, and some yarn or ribbon can see your book laminated and bound, ready to be put away and remembered fondly when your kids are 30.
  8. Decorating. One of the things I want to do when none of my kids are destructive toddlers (only two more years to go!!) is give the girls a special “kid tree” they can decorate with all the homemade ornaments they bring home from school and they can make at home with yarn and construction paper and maybe a piece of cardboard to keep the construction paper hanging right. My tree is a work of art that I adore, and I am not going to sacrifice it to school ornaments and have it looking like nick-nack night at the preschool. I have no problem if you love your garage-sale looking tree and I get that it makes your heart swell – that’s fine – I’m just not that person. I am a director and I have a vision…for my tree. LOL
  9. Exercise. I don’t know about your kids, but mine will do some Leslie Sansone Walk Away the Pounds with me in a heartbeat. They’ll try to do more difficult exercises like Core Rhythms but they lose interest fast because they can’t keep up. If your kids are older set it up as a contest to see who can go longer. Who cares if you lose? You wore your kids out, and that’s always a bonus!
  10. Video or Board Games. As long as they’re part of a healthy school-vacation diet of activity, there is nothing wrong with adding in video game or board game love. It’s a tool in the toolbox and anyone who thinks they’re inherently evil probably misread the bible and thinks money is the root of all evil, too.  

I manage to interact with my kids while going to school, working from home, and sporadic blogging. I have all the faith in the world that you, too, can take a few of these suggestions and incorporate them into the next two weeks of long, long days.

p.s. If you’re a parent that cannot wait to spend two full weeks with your kids, I think you are a rock star.
p.p.s. Yeah, I totally used affiliate links for most of the products. I heart Amazon.