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?