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Missed Opportunity

February 12th, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Twice weekly I sit on a bench in a hallway, waiting while Daisy takes a dance class. The bench is quite long - room for many parents - it sits like an old church pew. Earlier this week while I sat waiting a child came by with his mom. "Hey, look, there's money!" he exclaimed as he looked under the opposite end of the bench from me.

I tried to watch without staring as he pulled the change from under the bench. . . two pennies and a nickel. He and his mom had quite a discussion about his keeping the money, and after asking me if it was mine (I was the only person sitting on the bench at the time) she convinced him that he could keep it.

After he left I thought, I'm looking under the bench the next time I come to dance.

********

I chose not to take the "job" I was offered in November - I just didn't feel comfortable with the group. A friend of mine left her one day per week job and was going to recommend me for it, but that didn't work out either.

My pursuit of goals fizzled out at the end of last year, and hasn't really picked up this year. I have hard time emotionally during December, and it usually continues through mid-February. Additionally, a family member died right before Christmas.

Mr H's coworker retired; Mr. H is likely to get some kind of a raise. I believe he and his boss are negotiating it this month.

I listed an item on Craig's list only moments ago. I tried selling homeschool materials on Craig's list a few times but didn't get any takers.

Still feeling like I need to get my head together!

It's Mine if I Want It

October 27th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I think.

I had an interview - and I use that term loosely - with the person from the non-profit group who is looking for a secretary. We introduced ourselves and she got right into the details of the job. She had a list of the various responsibilities by month, and for each month she said "Oh, and I also do this" or "I don't do that". She's been doing this particular job for 10 years, and she's so used to it that she's not terribly conscious of the details.

The job has one evening per month during which I'd need to be available to take minutes. The rest of the duties could be done with a more flexible schedule.

Pay is $150 per month. I asked her how many hours she worked per month, and she had no idea. I asked her what kind of a commitment they wanted and she said a year. I asked her if she wanted a copy of my resume and she said no. (Good thing I didn't spend any time updating it! But I might want to do that for the future.) They have no idea who I am, my background, etc. . . and I've only been involved with the social group for a couple of months.

The pay isn't huge. . . but combined with other small opportunities that come my way it would suffice. The family I tutored with is still interested. . . I think things haven't settled down enough for them to have me back.

I will go to the group's meeting in a couple of weeks and make my decision after that.

Job Possibility

October 13th, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I've been keeping my antennae up (figurative, not literal) for job possibilities. I think the time has come. I'm not super-excited about getting back into the work force, but I'm not super-excited about the possibility, no matter how remote it seems right now, of poverty in my old age.

At this time I'm not interested in full or even half-time employment. I'm interested in working 10 or fewer hours per week at something with flexibility - ie, it can flex around my schedule. I'm less concerned about how high my pay would be, and more concerned about how energy sucking it would be. I look at this as how to start getting my foot back in the door, to have work-type references, use existing skills, etc.

A possibility arose this weekend. I don't even know how to describe this opportunity. . . it's a secretarial-type position with a local non-profit. . . I guess that's the most concise description. . . and I heard about it during a social group event I attended with Daisy. For this opportunity I whipped out one of my business cards*, handed it to the person making the announcement and told her I was interested. We'll see what happens.


*A few years ago I saw a business card for a stay-at-home mom, and I thought, I've got to get some of those! Over time I'd find myself giving out my phone number, email, etc and hunting down a scrap of paper to write the information on. A business card would make this so much easier! So I made some for myself using MS Publisher and my ink jet printer.

Catching Up

September 18th, 2009 at 04:15 am

I spent the financial part of my day balancing my check book and updating quicken.

Next steps are reconciling Checkbook One - tomorrow - and then figuring out how the money was spent during July, August and the first half of September - tomorrow and Saturday.

How's that for geeky excitement? Smile

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

September 16th, 2009 at 04:35 pm

What I did with my summer vacation:

* Daisy finished school and we had to keep ourselves busy. And we did. We visited with friends, went places and did VBS.
* Daisy and I traveled. We were gone for two weeks, at the end of July/beginning of August. We went to my hometown, about two thousand miles from our current home. . . and in the middle of no where. It's seriously hard to get there except by car, even harder than in was in my youth. We had a great time. (For those curious, my mom paid for the trip.) Mr H doesn't really like to travel and he stayed home.
* Mr H and I had another fruitless discussion about retirement savings. He did remember our "appointment" but the discussion went about like the last one did. I am working on an alternate strategy.
* Mr H and I came to an agreement on and switched our health insurance. Our discussion opened with Mr H saying, "All of our options are okay with me except for this one with a Health Savings Account. I don't know anything about them and I don't want to learn about them." Should I laugh or cry? With gentle prodding Mr H did learn about Health Savings Accounts and that is the policy we now have. At the moment, the difference between what the old insurance cost and what the new insurance costs is going into the H S A.


What I didn't do:

* I didn't keep up on my budgeting. I think we did spend some extra money, but we didn't overspend Checkbook One. I had no budget for July or August. I don't really have one for September either, but again, we haven't overspent it. I will have that together before the end of the month. I have some plans in the works with regards to our food dollars so I'll need to get back into it.

Other developments:

* I have decreased my Starbucks trips dramatically. I always knew why I went - to have a positive social contact. (Yes, this is sad.) I decided over the summer that both Daisy and I need to get out more - see our friends more, to do more new things, and to go places regularly where we see the same people. The more social outings we have planned, the less need for Starbucks. Right now my friends are the moms of children who are friends with Daisy. Many of us are in the same larger, church-oriented social circle. Mr H has a much smaller need/interest in social contact; most of these outings occur while he is at work.

Reflections on a year of blogging

April 19th, 2009 at 03:50 am

Well, my blogoversary has passed without much fanfare. I don't post much and I guess I'm kind of a lazy blogger. But even the little I've done in the past year has brought some positive changes in my life.

* While Mr H and I are unlikely to ever be on the same page, we have more productive discussions. I initiate most conversations, but every now and again he'll bring up something related to our financial life. It's progress.

* I've learned that to engage Mr H in almost anything involves stages. First he ignores what I'm saying, then I provoke him**, then he reacts, then I gently tell him that he's reacting and suggest that we look at different options to solve the problem. Then he'll come through. Kind of. It's kind of dysfunctional, but it works better than him ignoring the situation and me finally just solving the problem on my own. (That has been the dynamic for most of our marriage.) Not all of our discussions are this way, but bringing up anything new is.

* We have a budget that balances for Checkbook One. It took several months to get there. It didn't balance, really, for about five years.

* We have a grocery/food budget that balances. We have never spent that little on food. We're eating well. I actually don't mind this part. It's fun to get creative with food, and I have done it for many years. I'm just way more conscious now, trying to use leftovers before they spoil and figure out how to have great dinners with lower cost foods.

* We have an emergency fund, that is designated as an emergency fund. I feel a lot less anxious.

* We have a plan for increasing retirement savings.


Everyone here has been so kind and helpful. I have been so grateful for the support. Thank you all so much!


** Believe me, I really don't want to provoke him. However it seems to be the only way I can get him to engage.

Do we have enough?

March 6th, 2009 at 09:53 pm

Do we have enough in Checkbook One to buy some bird food? Yes, Mr H asked me this last night. Looks like he's getting with the program.

I just finished running the numbers (I'm behind) and we had a $248.72 surplus in Checkbook One for February. Wow, this budget thing is working!

Unfortunately, the temptation now is to spend. I haven't yet figured out what we've spent so far for March, but I have given in to the temptation a bit. It's so easy to get careless. I'm reigning myself in and getting back into "keeping our money" mode.

I have decided that my tutoring money will go towards our annual Memorial Day camping trip. Expenses for this trip include space in the campground (already paid for), ferry fare for two vehicles, extra gas money and extra food costs. You would think that we would just eat normally but no. . . our camping diet includes things like s'more fixings, bacon, snack foods and beer and wine, and those food items add up.

I love camping. I love sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent (even in pouring down rain), I love getting up and making coffee and looking at the beautiful surroundings, I love sitting by the campfire on damp mornings, I love Mr H's obsession with tarps, I love our friends who we camp with, I love my camping clothes (wool sweaters, long johns and rain poncho in addition to other layers). I'm getting giddy just thinking about this trip.

How'd we do in February?

March 4th, 2009 at 09:33 pm

These words came out of the mouth of Mr. H on the first day of March.

I'm shocked and thrilled. Mr H seems to be engaging a little more in our financial life. I didn't have the information for him - we had commitments throughout the weekend that kept me busy. But even with a last-minute burst of spending we are still had a surplus in Checkbook One for the month of February. Yay us!

I'm reading an interesting book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's apparently on the best seller list, and discusses why some people are super-successful in what they do. There are lots of interesting observations made, but the one I am finding useful at the moment is the contrast between Chinese rice-growing farmer's proverbs and Russian peasant's proverbs. (It's on page 237.) Here is one listed as the Chinese farmer's: "If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy." Here is one attributed to Russian peasants: "If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it." Do proverbs express what the cultural beliefs are, or do they shape the cultural beliefs, or both? In a way it doesn't matter. Gladwell discusses the cultures that produced both of these proverbs and how the proverbs might have developed.

I'm not a Chinese farmer and Mr H isn't a Russian peasant, but I think the two proverbs above express our very different attitudes towards life. I am working to make things happen and Mr H is waiting for something to happen that he will then react to. In a way we both have a self-fulfilling prophecy - things happen because of my efforts, but to Mr H it looks like things "just happened". It's become clearer to me over the last year that Mr H really doesn't see much of connection between his efforts and his results.* Which is fine, except when we try to work together. . . which in a marriage is pretty much all the time in one way or another.

Mr H handles Checkbook Two and I handle Checkbook One. I've written quite a bit in the last 11 or so months about Checkbook One - with persistence and changes to some parts of our financial life it's finally not being overspent. Part of these changes involve some real effort on my part to not just spend money randomly. Mr H has noted that Checkbook Two is running a bit low. He's concerned. . . but I'm not seeing much effort or involvement on his part to figure out and solve this problem.

I can't change Mr H's very deeply held beliefs. . . that I'm not even sure he recognizes as having. But I am going to continue to point out cause and effect in our lives, to the best of my ability to do so.

*I should qualify this. It looks like he does see this in very short term efforts, things that can be completed in four hours or less.

January and February Update

February 26th, 2009 at 04:56 am

We spent a little over a month being sick here in the onion patch - all of us, Mr H, Daisy and me. I finally went to visit my doc and got antibiotics. Normally I'm not in favor of that stuff (plus a doctor visit isn't cheap, even with insurance) but I could feel the difference within one hour of taking the first dose. So it was a good decision. Being sick put me in a stupor. It wasn't a terribly productive month.

Checkbook One had a small surplus in January and looks to have the same in February. That will be three months in a row now that Checkbook One has not been overspent. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

We had a windfall and now our EF is funded for six months. That would be six *tight* months, but I feel relief about our EF.

I've been soliciting Mr H's feedback on the budget for Checkbook One. Usually he doesn't give much. One day he expressed frustration "because the money's already spent". I went back and tried to figure out what he meant, because isn't that the point of a budget - to prioritize and spend your money on paper first? I never did get a clear answer, but I suspect he wants to spend money on some items and doesn't feel like he can. I added a "wish list" to the bottom of the budget page. If there's a surplus we can look at spending money on those items. Some items Mr H would like are on that list.

I've made good progress on Goals 2 and 3, but none on Goal 4.

Mr H and I have had many, many short and sweet financial conversations in the last two months. The all start with one person stating something they want or something that needs to be purchased and the other person asking how we will pay for it. Fortunately they have been civil and productive discussions. It's definite progress for us.

Budget Update and Goal Update

January 24th, 2009 at 06:28 pm

I've decided that updating the budget for Checkbook One on Thursdays works well. So far so good. We are still under or at budget in all categories for Checkbook One. I think we'll even make the budget in the grocery category this month and not be 21% over.

I've moved what used to be Goal 1 off to a page. It is fun to look at past accomplishments but I don't want to get stuck there!

Goal 3: Decrease food costs. I've given it a dollar figure. Some people here might wonder why the budget is set at $650 for just three people. Two reasons: It includes personal care and cleaning supplies (and also any eating out), and I value organic and locally produced food and that adds up. To bring the costs down I've done things like look for sales on food that we typically buy, change some things about our diets (oatmeal instead of cold cereal for example), and figure out how best to use meat and dairy products which seem to be the most expensive categories in the food budget. Last year's average was higher than this, so it's definitely an improvement.

Future goal: Develop a source of "egg money". Here's a definition I found of egg money:

Before World War II, most eggs were produced by small flocks that scratched their way around the barnyard. The farmer's wife usually supervised the operation. The money received from the sale of the eggs was considered hers. Source: http://www.georgiaeggs.org/pages/eggmoney.html

I started tutoring a couple of weeks ago. . . and I really like it! I'm tutoring math with younger children using materials I'm already familiar with. I'm not charging enough, and both my client and me know that. But as I told her, she's helping train me so we're both winning. We will re-evaluate the fees in a month or so.

While the definition of egg money posted above has it under the control of the farmer's wife, I asked the farmer what he thought we should do with the money. He had no opinion. So I suggested that a percentage of it be set aside for taxes, 15% for the EF or retirement and the rest in to Checkbook One. He was agreeable. It's not a whole lot in to the checkbook but it might be enough to fund our summer camping trips.

2009 Goals Update

January 19th, 2009 at 04:30 am

Mr H and I had a discussion about the EF in December. We agreed to take some of his bonus money and add it to the 4496.85 already in the Emergency Fund. We later discussed what type of account to put this money in and decided to put it in a three month CD. While it's possible we could lose some interest if we had to tap in to the account, it wouldn't be a huge loss. If we don't have to tap in to it the account will earn better interest than a money market account would.

So, Goal 1 (emergency fund to 8625.00) on my list is completed, six months ahead of schedule!

Goals 2 (budget for checkbook 1) and 3 (decrease food costs) are in progress, with more progress on 2 than 3 I'd say.

Goal 4 (stay away from coffee shops) has had minimal progress. I was given a Starbucks gift card which has helped our bottom line but not my coffee-out habit.

Goal 5 will probably get moved elsewhere, but I may blog about it from time to time.

I will add a goal of earning part-time or sporadic income. This has been in my head for a while, but strangely it's also under way. I was asked by a friend to help tutor some of her children.

Checkbook One Conclusions

January 17th, 2009 at 03:01 pm

I've been giving some thought as to why we suddenly didn't overspend Checkbook One in December. I have been concerned about this problem since I started blogging here in April, but feel like I have been chasing my tail trying to solve it.

I've come to the conclusion that it's just perseverance in trying to figure out where we went wrong each month and correct that. (Having bad weather for about two weeks which limited us leaving the house also helped. When you don't leave the house you don't spend money or use up your gas.) So, I suppose it's not really sudden at all.

Our top three problems with Checkbook One were the credit card, spending during the week between the time that Mr H got his check and the new month started, and not having a spending plan that works.

Credit card: Although we pay off our credit card every month, it's psychologically hard to write a check for one-quarter to one-third of the amount in your checkbook at the beginning of the month. Our credit card usage increased over the years as stores stopped taking checks. I got a debit card a while ago, and Mr H got one a couple of months ago. Where we regularly used to put gas and take-and-bake pizzas on the credit card we now put them on the debit card. "Pay as you go" is working better than "put off the paying until next month". Don't people spend 23% more when they use a credit card?

Spending during the week between the time that Mr H got his check and the new month started: Okay, that was me. . . and it wasn't THAT much. . . but enough to kill the budget. I wrote about this last spring. I called it "The Dead Zone". My brain kind of went on holiday during that week. What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking, and that was the problem.

Not having a spending plan that works: There are so many ways to write a budget. For this checkbook and us, having a limited number of categories and looking at the amount left in each category weekly, on Friday, seemed to do the trick. We have the following categories: Grocery/Personal Care/Cleaning, Gas, Church Contribution, Bowling, Master Card and Everything Else. (Regular bills like mortgage, insurance etc are paid out of another checkbook.) The Everything Else category scares me - the dollar amount is limited and it covers a huge number of other categories like clothing, gifts, office supplies, household items and yard and garden. But lumping these into "Everything Else" works better than trying to allocate a few dollars into each of the sub-categories. Or at least it did this month.

January is looking good so far.

Bonus and Budget Update 12/18

December 20th, 2008 at 01:54 pm

My mom visited this last week and it curtailed my blogging. Fortunately (for me) she didn't have any comments about my spotty looking carpet.

Mr H received a bonus check the day before she arrived. At his work place they have something like a profit sharing bonus that usually turns out to be a significant amount of money. I'd guesstimate the take-home amount of it this year is equal to one-fourth of Mr H's annual take home pay. "What would you like to do with this money, Mr H?" was the first thing I said when he told me he'd deposited the check. "We'll talk about it after your mother leaves," was his response. We agreed on a date and time, and this conversation sat for a week.

We discussed it the day she left, just hours after she went to the airport. Mr H surprised me: he had a list ready of things he'd like to spend the money on. The Emergency Fund was at the top of the list! It looks like we will complete the Emergency Fund goal by December 31, well ahead of the July 1 date we'd set. I plan to set further Emergency Fund goals though, and Mr H agreed to that. We also tentatively agreed to replacing the sliding glass door, and replacing the carpet in the family room with a hard surface. Mr H can put in the new door and he has some work connections with a flooring company so even with doing both of these projects there should still be some money left. No firm decisions were made, except for the Emergency Fund. For us this conversation went very well.

Later I showed him a Checkbook One budget update. He didn't have much to say, except to note that the money for Grocery/Cleaning/Personal Care category was almost gone. But - we still might squeak by for the month, if we end up spending less on gas. Usually by this point in the month I've transferred $100 - $500 from savings to cover spending in this account. This savings transfer has been going on for years, so to even get this far in to the month without it is a huge development.

My current Goal 1 of getting the EF to $8625 by July 1 and Goal 2 of a Budget for Checkbook One are progressing nicely.

Budget Review - 12/5

December 7th, 2008 at 02:56 pm

I sat down with Mr H on 12/5 and did a budget review for the month of December (so far).

With the budget comprising only Checkbook One, and having just seven categories it's a very limited amount of information. Perfect amount for this type of conversation. (For future reference the categories are Grocery/Cleaning/Personal Care, Gas, Church, Master Card, Bowling and Everything Else.)

I showed him the figures - each category had budget, amount spent and amount remaining. Right away he pointed out that the dollar amount I had started with did not include the Emergency Fund money, but that I had included it on the budget. So we're down to six categories.

He'll be bowling fewer evenings this month because of the holidays. I requested the surplus money go into the "Everything Else" category. Frankly, that category scares me. So far we've spent money on batteries, school pictures for Daisy and a newspaper from that category.

He also noted that the amount we spend on gas should be down with Daisy's school vacation. I won't be driving to school or the extra curricular activities during those days. I haven't paid the master card bill yet, and we've incurred some charges that will be paid from Checkbook Two. He suggested that I just go ahead and pay them now.

We haven't yet gone over budget on any items. It was only the 5th of December, so I should hope not! I plan to take this sheet of paper to him every week.

I guess the frustrating thing for me is that if I didn't bring him the information he wouldn't seek it out. If we are going to stop overspending this account we have very little margin for error, and if we aren't on top of it all the time we will overspend it. But perhaps I'll just be thankful that he engaged at all. That doesn't always happen.

************

The Everything Else category has just $154.55 in it this month. I've projected January and it should have more since we shouldn't have a master card bill next month.

I mentioned what items we've spent this money on this month. Here are some of the items we didn't end up spending this money on:
* Tickets for Daisy's dance performance and the costume fee for that performance. $56. I did some volunteer work for the dance school and didn't expect to be compensated for it, but was given three tickets and had the costume fee waived. Not having to pay for these items was a nice surprise.
* Chicken nuggets at McDonalds. Admittedly this was a completely impulsive thought, but I squelched it. Not sure how much these cost.
* Carpet cleaner. About $20. Our only carpet is about 13' x 10' and old. We are going to try to "clean dangerously" (ie, try carpet cleaning experiments that don't cost anything) before spending the money on cleaner.
* Renewal of annual zoo pass. At $95, this will have to wait.
* Renewal of a magazine subscription. $20. Again, this will have to wait.

NSD's

November 20th, 2008 at 10:40 pm

People, I have a confession to make.

I have a bad, bad habit.

I have an Americano-and-pastry habit. Costwise, I figure it's close to a pack of cigarettes a day. (No, I don't smoke. I just glanced at the price of a pack of cigarettes in a store one day.)

But I'm now at a cross roads.
Do I:
* Keep my bad habit and get a job to support it
OR
* Give up my bad habit (some or all) to support new goals of an emergency fund and a budget that works

I'm going to work at getting rid of my bad habit and replacing it with something else. No, I'm not planning to replace it with another bad habit. (Yes, that was my first thought too.) I'm planning to replace it with another habit that fills the get-out-of-the-house-and-see-people-in-a-friendly-casual-way need.

I've added this as a goal to my sidebar, although technically it's not a goal yet - doesn't have an deadline and is not measurable.