I’ll tell you up front that I ran a deficit in November. Happily, I was able to cover the shortfall with savings and anticipate a rosier December. Here’s how it broke down:
Support, minus my share of utilities for old house: $634.29 (this number excludes $183 that went to the XFP’s share of kid spending, which I do not count as either income or expense)
Library take-home pay: $1338.69
Substitute teaching take-home pay: $254.68
Christmas money: $200
Selling snow tires on Craigslist: $100
Total income: $2527.66
Home supplies and furnishings: $158.47 (includes an electric blanket for me, counter stools from Craigslist, and a variety of miscellany)
Laundry: $45 (still have several loads left on the card)
Bike supplies: $25.97 (I keep bleeding on this category! This is new tubes for me–3 for the price of 2–and lights for Big Brother’s bike, minus some Amazon credit I had lying around)
Car things: $1072.90 (Junkyard OEM wheels to put my snow tires on, plus I went $700 over my budget from the Frugal Patriarch)
XCel Energy: $17.45 (includes start-up charge)
Internet: $9.95 (OK, it’s slow and not that reliable, but I LOVE charity internet!)
Annual life insurance bill: $116 for $100K coverage
Groceries: $221.26 (Finally some improvement in that category!)
Gas: $62.65 (Because I absent-mindedly put a full tank of gas in my car right before I traded it in!)
Boys’ allowance: $9
Work childcare: $8
Kids’ health: $175 (That’s half of a $250 ER copay plus half of $100 in babysitting for the lady who came to pick up Little Brother while Big Brother and I stayed there until 2 AM. BB’s tongue is all better now but it sure was grueling. I expect a bigger bill later.)
Coffee shops: $17.18 ($13 below my average! Look at me showing some restraint!)
Sewing supplies: $17.44
Artificial Christmas tree: $39.14
Miscellany at Target: $16.48
Annual rec center membership: $221.40 (WOW that’s a good deal!)
Shredding at Office Depot: $2.97
(Note that the figures above do not include the ten thousand dollar gift which which I paid for almost all of my new car.)
Well, that’s a little alarming, a deficit of over eight hundred dollars. I had to just about drain all my savings categories. Obviously, having large car expenses was a major causative factor there. My earning power was limited by last month’s fall break (couldn’t sub) and a variety of ill-timed illnesses that fell on days I normally would have subbed or done on-call. I have sick leave at my regular job, but that wasn’t what I was missing. Ouch.
Fortunately, December is a three-paycheck month and the month in which I get my wellness bonus from my employer, so hopefully if I get my average hours-per-up before Christmas, I will be able to put on Christmas and still wind up in the black. And there are things I could have not skipped buying in November had I realized how short I was going to fall, so I think I’ll try more of a zero-based budget throughout the month. There is cause for caution, but not panic.
How was your November?
This post contains affiliate links. I checked out the book referenced from my local library.
The only way to learn how to manage money is to have some money to manage. That’s why my boys, who are now four and five, get an allowance (two dollars per week).
(While I certainly do not embrace Dave Ramsey wholeheartedly, I got some good ideas about managing allowances with kids from his book Smart Money Smart Kids. In my house, the connection between chores and allowance is looser, but hopefully enough that the boys get the idea that money comes from work..)
As a general rule, they waste it. That’s how they learn, I suppose. It does bother me when their spending creates waste, as when they buy junky little toys that break, so I often try to create learning opportunities involve them purchasing their own consumables (markers, tape, construction paper, bubble liquid–things with which they tend to be profligate). The past couple of weeks, we have come across a couple of excellent non-wasteful learning opportunities for little tykes and their money.
Or as Little Brother calls them, “Smith stores.” I popped into a large one recommended by
the XFP with quite a list of things I wanted for the kids and my new apartment, from “stock pot” and “ice bin” to “snow pants.” (All of which I found.)
It was allowance day and the boys went two different directions with their money. Little Brother bought one thing, a stuffed turkey from the Thanksgiving section. I think it’s meant to be a decoration, but he sleeps with it and kisses it and whatnot. He seems pretty satisfied with his purchase.
Big Brother bought a pre-assembled bag of Halloween nonsense, tiny decorations and party favors and whatnot. Well, at least it’s all pre-owned junk instead of new manufacturing. He managed to break one of the items before we even got home and hasn’t used or played with any of it. There’s a lesson for him here, although I suspect it won’t sink in for quite a while.
The Fall Festival
Their school had a PTO fundraiser. For a dollar, you could get four tickets and then use them to buy things like a turn in a bounce castle (two tickets) all the way up to a pumpkin you could paint (ten tickets).
I bought each boy 12 tickets, using their two dollar allowance for that week plus one extra dollar. Big Brother immediately ruled out pumpkin painting as too expensive and went straight to the low-cost bounce houses. He spent his tickets on the two bounce houses plus a trip through the Haunted House (eight tickets). Now, here I was stumped. See, Little Brother had spent five tickets on a balloon flower and did not have enough money left for the Haunted House, but Big Brother wouldn’t go through alone and I could hardly leave a four-year-old standing outside by himself. So I bought Little Brother some more tickets, figuring that Big Brother was of a better age to understand budgeting anyway. Actually “grace” is one thing Dave Ramsey talks about in the book; he advocates having your kids’ back sometimes (obviously not always, because then they would not learn that money is finite, but once in a while like this).
They were, unsurprisingly, terrified by the Haunted House. As we walked to the car, Big Brother said that next year, he would rather paint a pumpkin. He was reflecting on his spending choices and thinking about to extract more happiness per dollar–I’d call that a win for a five-year-old any day!
How do you teach your kids about money?
Thursday, I stopped by the courthouse on my way to work and finalized my divorce. The whole process was, despite the mountains of paperwork, surprisingly brisk. About four months from first serious discussion to finalization, and the hearing lasted all of twenty minutes. The judge commended us on our “professionalism” and the care with which we had filled out our forms, gave us some orders he had typed out based on them, and sent us on our way. I was at my post at the library when the doors opened for the day.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we have finished tying up our loose ends–far from it. Now that the XFP and I are officially separate legal entities, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of where I am financially–and some remaining pitfalls.
Frankly, disaster looms on this front. We had a contract. Buyers backed out fairly quickly–changed their minds about the neighborhood. Got another contract, cash from an investor, almost immediately, with a 21-day close. I moved out and signed a lease on an apartment. Then the investor changed his mind, too. (We got to keep $500 of the earnest money that time, which is better than a nail in the foot.)
We have both signed leases and have rent to pay, so now it’s a race to see if we can find another buyer before we default on our mortgage. Fingers crossed. We are getting a lot of showings and a fair bit of interest and we still have room to drop the price, so I am optimistic about our chances. Our arrangement calls for me to receive the first two thousand dollars of proceeds with the rest being split, so hopefully I’ll get a little money out of it.
Exchange of retirement accounts
We accidentally made a settlement that we can’t implement yet. The XFP agreed to transfer some of his 403(b) to me. However, he had borrowed against it, and so his bank will not divide it. I will need to monitor the XFP’s progress toward the loan; since all indications so far are that he is acting in good faith, I’m willing to be a little patient. (The plan is to pay it off with the proceeds from the house, assuming there are any.)
This is a big question mark. Can the almost 18-year-old Auto Paragon last a few more years if I sink some money in it? Is it reliable enough transportation for a single mom? It seems to be making a peculiar noise and the transmission could be going bad. I will bring it to Dave the Acerbic Mechanic for his assessment. If his opinion is unfavorable and the proceeds from the house are adequate, I might consider replacing it. (I am imagining something similar to the XFP’s 2008 Fit.) If he thinks a moderate cash infusion could keep me driving in reasonable safety (if not, by any stretch of the imagination, in style) for a bit, then I’ll have it fixed up.
Currently, it has bits of tape and cardboard and scraps of packing paper all over the floor, the ottoman is blocking the patio doors, my dresser is wedged unsatisfactorily into the children’s closet, and my daybed/the couch (thanks again, Grandma FP) is covered by a mismatched full-size quilt that I’ve owned for twenty years.
I’m working on it.
I’m also working (in the form of trying to save money and increase my earning power) on getting us a place to live, in the future, where I don’t have to sleep in the living room or go outside to do laundry.
Well, it could be worse. I have $600 in my HSA that I could access at any time (by submitting the receipts I have saved). My intention is to build this up as an investment instead, but it provides a little extra security.
According to YNAB, I hang on to each dollar for an average of 36 days before spending it, so I am not living on credit card float–pre-YNAB, I’m not sure I could say that. I have seven hundred dollars earmarked for paying the lawyer who helped me with my divorce paperwork and I may be able to add a little more at the end of the month. For good measure, the Frugal Patriarch* is, I hear, sending me a check to help jump-start my new life, and that will provide an extra cushion.
I also have nearly twenty thousand dollars in personal retirement savings, not counting the share I hope to receive from the XFP. It’s not much, but it’s more than nothing.
Lots of balls in the air. Lots of question marks. But I have a lease on an affordable apartment, a car that runs, and enough money to cover a couple of minor emergencies. That’s a start.
*AKA my grandfather. Yes, he refers to himself as the patriarch, and I am sorry if you do not personally know him, because he is a millionaire next door and master storyteller and just simply a great person to sit around with drinking wine and shooting the breeze.
Where do you stand this month? What are your looming question marks?
When I was a teenager, my older sister would sometimes ask me to do something with her–go to the mall, say–when no more-interesting company was available. “I have to do homework,” I would say. Somehow, twenty minutes later, I was always in the car going to the mall.
This story is by way of explaining why I had over $500 in travel expenses this month. I impulsively flew home to spend the weekend with my sister and middle nephew, surprise my mom (successfully!), and attend Sis’s 40th birthday party. It was a tad irresponsible, but, to quote Arlo Guthrie, “You can’t always do what you’re s’posed to do.”
Child support: $350
Spousal support: $383
Take-Home Wages: $1383.63
Dependent Care FSA reimbursement: $138
Selling stuff: $40
Kid reimbursements from the XFP: $116
Total Income: $2272.63
My half of mortgage: $837.67
Total housing and utilities: $1040.89
ATM fees (reimbursable) and divorce-related miscellany: $15.20
Bike maintenance: $82.31 (ouch!)
Apartment application fee: $50
At-Home Food: $283.78
Parking and transit: $29.50 (lots of extra bus tickets)
Total transportation: $68.09
Used bike for Little Brother: $50
Kid clothes and shoes: $74.51 (uniform pants, winter PJs and Halloween costumes)
Before- and after-school care: $73
The XFP’s share of things: $134 (some I have already gotten, some I will get on 10/20)
Doctor visit for LB: $98.36
Total kid spending: $429.87
Adult health (asthma meds): $165.88
Coffee shops and snacks: $33.79
Snacks at otherwise free Corn Maze: $12
Total entertainment: $64.01 (having the house on the market is still keeping this category high)
Haircut for me: $53
Clothes for me: $35.74
Misc. shopping: $8.99 (car charger for cell phone)
Total “me” spending: $96.78
Grand total spending: $2823.22
So, first I need to confess that I am confused about how much my shortfall is. YNAB calculates things a little differently because of the way money actually changes hands. See, I didn’t receive a check or spousal support or write one for the mortgage–the XFP and I just added up everything we owe each other and I wrote him a check for a couple hundred dollars, then I tried to reverse-engineer everything on here. YNAB shows a shortfall of more like two hundred dollars, as opposed to the over five hundred shown here. Hopefully this is something that will become more clear to me as I get the hang of how my monthly finances work.
Obviously, I can’t overspend myself every month. I had to shift around money that was earmarked for other things (eg, paying my lawyer), so refilling those stashes will be a priority next month. My before- and after-care charges reflect an increase in my hours that hasn’t shown up in my income yet, so that’s a factor as well–things should look better next month.
Considering the medical expenses and the amount of fun I had on the trip, I’m pretty satisfied with the month.
How was your September?
The XFP (as I have renamed him) and I, with our children, made up a basically middle-class household of four. We certainly had to watch where our money was going, but we could generally cover our own expenses. On the sliding scale that Denver Public Schools uses for preschool and kindergarten tuition, we were the third step down from the top (monthly income $5,964 to $6,758 for a full-day preschool tuition charge of $390).
Well, things have changed for me. As the head of a three-person household, I am objectively fairly poor (strictly as a measure of income). Remember that sliding scale? Well, we have slid right off the bottom of it. No tuition, no registration fee, no bills of any kind. Poor enough to get reduced-price lunch at school, not poor enough for food stamps. I will probably rent a one-bedroom apartment, because that’s what I can comfortably afford; the boys can have the bedroom and I will be sleeping in the living room.
I grew up in a comfortably middle-class suburban family, but I can remember my father waxing nostalgic about the efficiency apartment he and my mother used to cram into when they were teenagers, how they used to have lawn chairs for furniture. Looking back, this is one of the best things I learned from my parents: that being broke is a life stage to be passed through.
Now, maybe I already went through my broke-young-person phase once, but I’m not afraid to go back. Being willing to accept this phase in my life makes it much easier to cope. Easier to accept help. Easier to stop buying things when I run out of money. If I didn’t accept that this was just a temporary phase that I need to live in right now, I might want to pretend that nothing had changed, that I didn’t really need to adjust my budget or let people help me, and the short- and long-term result would be financial misery.
The interesting thing is how non-terrible this phase is so far. I have enough money for a nice and safe, if small, apartment; healthy food; and occasional treats. I will be honest: When my marriage was failing, I was frightened of this outcome–having to sell my house, sleep in the living room and sign up my kids for reduced lunch. Now that it’s here, eh, it’s not so bad.
I’ve lived a life of pretty exceptional privilege so far and am fortunate enough that I have had the chance to develop the skills and resources I’ll need to work my way up financially. Soon enough I’ll get more work hours, maybe a better job. I’ll get my feet under myself. And some day when my boys are much bigger, we’ll talk about that apartment we used to live in, where we used to curl up on Mommy’s bed in the living room to watch a movie.
Were there times in your life when you were “poor”? How do you look back on them?
I have never lived on my own. Mr. FP and I went directly from the sophomore dorm to our first apartment, the summer we were all of 19 years old. As I recall, we had camping chairs for furniture and a National Geographic map thumb-tacked to our living room wall for decoration.
At first, giddy teenagers in love, we did all the things together. Grocery shopping. Laundry. As the years went on and our domestic responsibilities increased and increased some more, we began to specialize. Laundry was all me. During times we had a yard, that was all him. He set up all the utilities, I arranged all the repairmen.
Well, he doesn’t live here anymore, and I’ve had to learn some new skills. Here’s how it’s shaking out.
Cutting the cat’s claws
Time involved: 5 minutes
Potential for mishap: Medium
I seem to have been left with Kitty Paragon. She is a nice cat and a devoted user of her scratching post, but nail-trimming was never my job. She cooperated reasonably well and only ran away once. However, when I first went to do the task earlier in the day, I couldn’t find her. Still don’t know where she was (she is strictly an indoor feline). I just waited until she turned up, after the tots were in bed.
Plunging the toilet
Time involved: 5 minutes
Potential for mishap: High
I had perhaps trimmed the cat three or four times in the years she has lived with us. Plunging a toilet, never. I am not proud of this, but the one time I attempted it, I became so distressed that I, umm, cried until Mr. FP came and did it. (Let the record show that I do not, EVER, personally clog toilets, but small children are luxuriantly profligate with toilet paper.)
Well, I’m not exactly sure what I did. I wrapped a towel around my person for protection, plunged ineffectually a few times, and eventually it seemed to get better even though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing it right.
Using the trimmer
Time involved: 3o minutes
Potential for mishap: Very high
The actual lawnmower I don’t mind. Our yard is small and mostly dead and we have one of those manual push mowers, so there was no gasoline involved. But I made a hash of the trimming. I invariably either exposed bare dirt or failed to actually trim anything. Mr. FP’s instructions consisted solely of “cut the grass, not yourself” and the few YouTube videos I watched were not very illuminating.
Time involved: 3o minutes
Potential for mishap: Low
Our marital vacuum was a Hoover Runabout that we had owned since 1999 and had never even needed to replace a belt. They don’t make Runabouts any more. I was sad, but it seemed fair for Mr. FP to have it since in our sixteen years of cohabitation, I vacuumed perhaps eight and a half times. I went to Goodwill and researched the models on offer there. For ten dollars, I bought a well-reviewed one that was, at that particular moment, running but not actually sucking anything.
It just needed a new belt (which was entirely missing) and filters. I wonder how many vacuums wind up at Goodwill just for lack of routine maintenance? At any rate, I got it working with a little help from Amazon Prime, but vacuuming does not come naturally to me. I can never figure out what places I’ve already vacuumed and I run into things and get the cord stuck and just generally flail around ineffectually. The carpets looked like they had been vacuumed, however ineptly, and I suppose I will improve with practice.
Well, so far, so good for the most part. I have not had to outsource any tasks that Mr. FP customarily performed, and I feel like a more completely rounded adult human. I can do All The Things. (Incidentally, I’m sure Mr. FP is having many of the same experiences but with different tasks. The children always seem to be wearing freshly laundered clothes, for instance.) In the future, should I be in a relationship again, I won’t have to do All The Things, but it will be nice to know that I have the capabilities.
What tasks have you taken on? How did it go?
I haven’t always posted my monthly spending on my blog, for this reason: I have often been embarrassed by it. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’m a frugality blogger. How could I come on here and admit that we overspent our income for the month… again? I won’t bore you with the details, but the financial dynamic in my marriage was unproductive, and that’s not something I was comfortable exposing to the interwebs.
But… it’s all me now! I did a “fresh start” budget in YNAB, started a new YMOYL “wall chart” (actually a line graph in a Google Sheet), and here you have it, my unadulterated income and spending for August.
Net Earnings: $1012.79
Selling stuff on Craigslist: $50
Child Support: $350
Spousal Support: $383
Reimbursement: $210 (from Mr. FP for boys’ July health insurance)
Total Income: $2005.79
Total housing/utilities: $844 (This is my share–Mr. FP covered the parts of these billing cycles that dated to before his move-out.)
Home supplies: $83.55 (flannel sheets, Goodwill vacuum, parts to fix vacuum)
School lunches: $41.83 (This is 2-3 months of lunches as the boys are now on reduced-price lunch at $.40 per meal)
Total home/school food: $245.40
Parking and bus fare: $12.55
Total transportation: $57.36
Bike supplies and maintenance: $59.95 (this is a floor pump, Mr. FP having taken his, and new brakes for my bike–parts only, labor to follow in September)
Boys’ allowance spending: $6.78
Clothes and shoes: $49 (new uniforms)
School supplies and swim lessons: $63.87
Total kid spending: $119.67 (Again, this is my share–Mr. FP reimbursed me an approximately equal amount as I had done all the back-to-school shopping.)
Adult health: $8.70
Coffee shops and snacks: $40.07 (Higher than usual because of house being on the market and me having to leave at weird times)
“Out” entertainment: $22.60
Total Entertainment: $86.46
Adult clothing (Thinx): $60
Can’t remember what I bought at Target: $20.42
Total Shopping: $154.15
Travel: $76.38 (My budget for family vacation was $100. That’s almost exactly what I spent–I paid for my own Uber, slipped my niece a twenty for babysitting, and bought some booze, but then my aunt insisted I take a twenty when I got on the airplane. Thanks, Aunt B! Giant thanks to Great-Grandfather FP for the funding and Grandma FP for the planning.)
Cat food: $24.75
GRAND TOTAL FOR AUGUST: $1759.39
First of all, I think that a 12% savings rate on such a low net income is nothing to sneeze at. And I participate in a mandatory defined contribution pension plan at 8%, so my actual savings rate is higher.
That said, I’ll need to be putting away more than a couple hundred dollars a month if I’m ever going to pay off my lawyer, rent an apartment and rebuild my life. So I’ll obviously be working to reduce the categories of Coffee Shops, Frippery, Adult Clothes, and Bike Supplies and Maintenance. All of those categories had non-typical charges in them.
And I’ll need to make more money. I am in the process of signing up to substitute teach and have been picking up on-call library shifts. After-school child care remains a big hurdle–more on that later.
How was your August spending?
There’s always something to wait for, isn’t there? Wanting to meet someone and get married, saving to buy a house, trying to have a baby, waiting to hear about a job, trying to lose weight. Right now, I’m waiting for our marital home to sell so I can rent an apartment and move on, an especially frustrating time because it is taking much longer than we had originally hoped. (Also true of the making of Big Brother, an 18-month waiting game involving charts and Robitussin. Don’t ask.)
The hard part about waiting is to live fully and not, well, “wait” for everything to change. Here’s how I’ve learned how to keep going while waiting for a big change:
Focus on the “cans”
I try to think about what I can do, rather than what I can’t. No, I can’t apply for an apartment until my house sells, and cooking is complicated because I have to keep the house so squeaky-clean, and I don’t want to start a sewing project for the same reason. But I CAN work on things I may not have as much time for once I start moving:
-make some extra money writing trivia questions
-work on my Spanish
-update my blog (hi!)
-take my kids on free outings
I’ve also been doing some unproductive things, too. Like binge-watching the BBC Sherlock now that I have control of the remote for the first time in my adult life. It’s like I didn’t know how to watch television by myself.
Whatever change you’re waiting for, it will probably go better with some extra money, am I right? The delay in selling the house has let my paychecks accumulate a little before I need to put a deposit down on an apartment.
Prepare without obsessing
Poring over apartment listings would not be a good use of my time right now. There are a few little tasks I can get out of the way, though, like packing up my books and getting my finances in order.
(The not obsessing part is especially important when you’re trying to get pregnant.)
Get other tasks out of the way
So… I should really be making some headway on my divorce paperwork. So much paperwork. And it’s so bloody complicated. Also, technically we’re behind on it and might get forced into totally unnecessary mediation.
There are things that suck about being stuck in an on-the-market house, especially with young kids. I haven’t always been successful in resisting the urge, but I’m trying really hard not to gripe about it. It won’t help and will just make me feel worse. I was deeply influenced by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Complaint-free World, both of which make this point.
What it all amounts to is spending my energy on what I can do now to either enjoy my life right now, or improve my life to come. And no matter what you’re waiting for, there are undoubtedly lots and lots of things in those categories.
How do you handle waiting?