Financial Blues- With Charts!

I’ve got a case of the Wednesdays. Tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll have a case of the Thursdays. I never get a case of the Fridays.

Ok yes I’m totally cranky and potentially whiny. You’ve been warned.

I told you I finished The Help and loved it. I’ve since then also finished Kiss & Tell. It was ok– different and light. Now, I’m reading Your Money: The Missing Manual and am almost done with that. After that I’ve got Darkfever and PostSecret ready to go and then we’ll just have to see what the heck the library decides to send me. Either way, 22 books done, 38 to go.

I’m a little bummed with money again (always). No, I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff (just a little bit), it’s just that I’ve had to come to terms with Freaking Summer Camp.

Summer vacation is the bane of any single mother’s existence. And if it’s not the bane of yours, I bite my thumb at thee. I thought maybe I’d just pass on the whole summer camp this year and torture the children by placing them in Abuela Camp. But reality has set in and I’m pretty sure Abuela’s not taking campers this year—or ever again for that matter. In all seriousness, the children would probably last two weeks there, max, and that’s only because she gives them unlimited cookie and milk access.  So I thought maybe I’d put them in their school’s summer camp except it’s not the entire summer and it’s not the entire day and they’re already sick to death of the place anyhow.

That’s when I took a deep breath and pulled up the information on the summer camp program they went to last year. It’s going to be just under $3,000 for the two school age kids to go for the nine weeks. According to our agreement, I’m supposedly responsible for $900 (30% according to our income differences) of that. Last year, Ex was pretty good about paying his fair share but I’m not sure I can count on that this year given the erratic behavior of the past several months. Plus, last year we registered and paid weekly. While that was perfectly fine with Eldest’s camp, it was a disaster with Daughter’s– especially towards the end of the summer when it was needed most. It kept filling up before we had the money available to pay for it and it was just a nightmare scrambling to find someone to watch her and she wasn’t happy she was missing “flip class”. In other words, I have to pay Daughter’s registration in full up-front plus the membership fee and the first week of Eldest’s camp—at least $1800. Remember that refund I was all happy about and going to use to destroy some debt? It hasn’t come in yet, but it’s pretty much spent and not on something like lowering debt.

Then again, it’s going towards preventing debt which should count for something. As a matter of fact, I just recalled a portion of last year’s surprising summer camp expense was paid for with my credit card. And even though I’m not using the refund to pay my parents back as I’d initially wanted to, at least I’m not going to have to borrow more money from them. Not to mention that although it is unlikely, there is some sort of one in a gazillion chance Ex might actually reimburse me for some of that like he’s supposed to.

This is where the frustration is for me. When you’re on a mission, whatever it is, any setback is completely and totally overwhelming, frustrating, and disappointing. Really, think about that. For instance, weight loss. Let’s say you’re on this mission to lose fifty pounds—or else. And you’ve been eating well, drinking water, and working out consistently. I mean your day is filled with decisions that revolve around this mission. At first, you totally get results. And it’s awesome as that little ticker goes down, down, down a bit more towards the zero every time you step on that scale. But then one day, it ticks in the opposite direction. You freak the heck out. You’re so upset because of all the damn work you’ve put in and now you have this setback and it’s not even fair! And you don’t even manage to pause and think—wait, this might be muscle mass gain. This would mean not only have you not gained any bad weight,  but you’ve actually made progress!

So it is with this whole summer camp thing. Part of me is explaining (patiently) I should actually be proud of myself for having the foresight to think about this now. Not to mention, this realization actually came about because I sat down and created an annual budget (a first for me). This is a positive thing. Not only that, but I have figured out a way to not incur additional debt to fund this forgotten expense. And I have given myself ample time to not only save money, but to research alternatives. In other words, even my inner Dave Ramsey is saying, “DUH!” and yet…

Another part of me is simply hung up on Debt and how Horrible it is and how I must work hard to Pay It Off Right Now No Matter What and every single Dollar And Cent must go to that Honorable Goal. Because not many money-writing people are single mommies, things like footing the cost of Summer Camp while paying off debt doesn’t get much play. As a matter of fact, without revealing the fact I am a single mom, most people would dismiss Summer Camp as a frivolous expense and therefore not a priority above Debt Elimination.

I pretty much whole-heartedly adopted the idea that one should create a mini emergency fund ($1000)  before proceeding to debt reduction and then slam everything they could at debt. But, it’s not working. Why? Because my mini emergency fund evaporated the first month Ex didn’t pay me. And then, every dollar I could get my hands on went to stopping the bleeding, treading water and then building a buffer against the next shortfall in income. Not being better prepared when times were flush and things were better has put me in an ongoing stressful as hell situation.

So for now I’ve put Debt Reduction on the back-burner. Why?

This can never happen again. No matter how much I cut, as long as I have debt, I need a portion of Ex’s money to cover minimum payments. Without a dollar from Ex, I’m spending more than earning and this is with bare bones expenses going on. So, I’ve come up with my own Mini Emergency Fund Formula: $1,000 for me (head of household) plus $500 for each dependent. This means my Mini Emergency Fund would be $2500. While $1,000 seems like a nice solid buffer to get someone  through while they pay down debt, it’s just not enough when there is more than one person that could have emergencies happen involving them.

Not only that but I’m going to create Targeted Savings Accounts as well. This is something I didn’t think really applied to me because I needed to Get Rid of Debt Right Now or Else. But then, big expenses would crop up that I’d “forgotten” about and I’m left freaking out. I’m tired of freaking out. And quite honestly, I don’t find my Debt that stressful. It’s there. I pay it. It’s the same amount, give or take a few dollars every month. I can deal with consistent expenses just fine. And while I realize I’m going to pay like crazy for interest, I need to have a calmer financial life.

So, there are new financial priorities in my life as of now:

Priority One: Use expected tax return to either cushion against potential income shortfall and/or to fund Savings for Mini Emergency Fund and Summer Camp. This depends on Ex’s payment this month (which as of now is “we’ll see”).

Priority Two: Stick to reasonable budget (still working on figuring out THAT number) and at the end of the month, instead of rolling over money, put towards mostly Savings with some going to Parents to repay that debt (the only exception to my “Debt isn’t stressful” comment).

Priority Three: Eliminate debt with everything leftover once Priority One and Two are met.

Financial Independence isn’t zero debt, fully funded emergency and retirement funds, and living below your means. It involves those things, yes, but at the core I believe Financial Independence is mostly Financial Awareness and Financial Management and Financial Planning and Financial Peace. Yes, I can kill myself to race to be one of those awesome people who get to proclaim “Debt Free!” from the mountains (or palm trees). But I can’t pretend my financial life is void of big-ticket transactions because I’m on that voyage. I’m not talking new gadgets or even upgrading my eight year old 110K miles and counting gas guzzling car, I’m talking essentials like Child Care or Educational Expenses. And when I say Educational Expenses, I’m not talking about private school tuitions. While my children do attend private school, tuition is a gift from their grandparents. Everything else is up to me—field trips, fund raisers, uniforms, and the millions of other sundry expenses schools manage to throw at you during the course of one year. The aforementioned Summer Camp isn’t a fancy program—it’s the community summer camp close to my house and the only one that is open hours a Single Mom needs a summer camp to be open that don’t charge ridiculous costs for Before and After Care (Seriously? Summer Camps from 9 to 3?).

I can’t get on board with the whole concept “money isn’t evil” if it still stresses me the hell out. Until I have some sort of cushion and am able to plan ahead and save for big expenditures or drops in income, it’s going to stress me the hell out. As much as I love so many of these financial blogs and books, few of the success stories resonate with me fully. Single Mom Rich Mom gives me hope but her blog came to life as she approached Financial Independence, not on the insane voyage towards it. JD and Chris are childless. Adam has a child but under school age and has a wife and a life that don’t require paying for child care.

So much of the BIG advice out there is well and good but for someone in my situation doesn’t yield the same results. Sell my crap? Yeah I did that—to pay for a divorce lawyer. There’s not much crap left to sell and I do try to sell or give away (karmic investment me hopes) the rest of it. Stop buying crap? That ended years ago dude. I mean, yes there are moments I slip up but even when I do mess up and buy stuff, I don’t spend anywhere near what I was once capable of. Lower my expenses? To what point, exactly? My rent is totally reasonable, if not cheap, for my part of the world. Moving is pretty much impossible thanks to not just the fact their father wouldn’t go for it, but also because I can’t give up the support network I have here. It just would cause so many more problems than it would solve. I drive an old car I’m still making payments on but I take care of it and use public transportation to get to and from work. I cancelled my cable when I realized I had to start paying my Auto Insurance (previously having been debited from Ex’s account). I cook at home a lot more than I ever have before and go out to eat A LOT less (I spent $1200 in Food & Dining in March 2009 according to Mint). I do a good amount of couponing with pretty awesome results. I’ve tried growing edible things with minimal success. I’ve lowered my cell phone bill in a big way and plan on doing so again when the contract is up in September. I painfully researched my health insurance options. I’ve mostly switched to CFLs, keep the air conditioning off as long as I possibly can, and try and unplug things as often as my silly brain remembers.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been tracking my spending on Excel since July 2010. Do you know what my Spending percentages are YTD (through March 2011)?

You see what I mean? These percentages are “ideal” by many financial guru standards to some degree or another. And yet I’m getting little fulfillment or even peace from this despite the fact these priorities are incredibly sensible ones—House over the Head, Debt & Savings, and Children are the top three. If I took out the cost of Daycare, my kids would drop below Food which is still a perfectly good place to fall Priority-Wise. And not just that but my expenses since July have pretty much stayed the same with some decrease as this chart shows.

At least I have these numbers. If I didn’t have them, I think I’d despair beyond hope because there’d be no way to prove to myself I am doing the right thing even though it doesn’t feel like it. What I am missing is a representation of my debt over time. EDIT: I was missing. I went and got all the data I could which funny enough was through July 2010 as well. It confirmed what I knew—it’s gone up despite what the first set of numbers shows you.

So there you have it. One more frustrated story of a really tricky path to Financial Independence that is nothing at all like some sort of straight path. I’m going to keep at it. I’m going to even keep at tracking it visually like this because I want to see it, which is as close as I can get to feeling it. That spike in debt was due mostly, if not completely, to the evaporation of Child Support. I have to believe that money will be repaid to me at some point in some way and that I will be able to just continue plowing ahead. I have to hope at some point the path gets a little straighter, a little smoother. I have to hope at some point things start to feel peaceful or reassuring and that the calm starts to creep in bit by bit. I don’t know when, and that’s unsettling, but I just have to hope and believe it will, that’s all.


22 thoughts on “Financial Blues- With Charts!

  1. *patpatpat* The cost of childcare really is insane.

    Hang in there. You really are doing a great job with what you have and you’re doing better all the time. You’ve really got that growth mindset (like the Carol Dweck stuff– you’re constantly changing and improving and not giving up hope) so I know you’re going to do well.

    Child support in this country is really messed up. I hope wages get garnished for you.

    • Thank you 🙂 I love your pats

      Yeah there was a garnishment order filed with our paperwork but it’s a bit mixed up how it works (local vs. state enforcement). Basically, I have to wait and see until about the end of May and then see if it didn’t go into effect, why not and try and fix it. I’m hoping it gets handled at the county level because I’ve heard the state is on a minimum six month delay with the economy going nuts. So if it needs to go to the state, I wouldn’t see a garnishment this year most likely.

  2. MSM, do you have a wage garnishee / judgment in place? And is there any teeth in it to nail the mofo to the wall? Forgive me if I’m projecting here – but… I think what some guys do who aren’t really engaged with their children and don’t realize that they actually are obligated to do crazy things like feed and clothe them – is pay their share at first, then let a month slip and then another month… and then they realize “holy shit, I can get away with this and nothing happens to me!” and then the arrears start piling up and it seems so awfully – you know – BIG. And then they get that odd debt fatigue and try to avoid it. And then can’t figure out why on earth you’re pissed at them. And then some of them start avoiding their children out of embarrassment – ok, maybe that’s projection.

    Are there any subsidies out there for daycamps? Maybe not because of income – but it should be the case given how many kids you have. I know what you mean by the bankers hours / let’s add on $20/day for before and after school camp – and even then you have to risk your life by speeding to pick them up to not pick up late fees. I kind of concluded long ago that day camps must be geared towards either people with amazingly flexible schedules – or parents who didn’t work.

    What about monetizing a blog? If someone like Punch Debt in the Face can make something like $500/month from that kind of – er.. writing and some stick figures, you could blow that out of the water. I mean this in the nicest of ways – you don’t have the luxury of NOT going for every bloody penny you can get. I realized some time ago that I didn’t have the luxury of “doing what I love” without prostituting myself on some level. That’s for women – or men – who have someone to support them.

    • We filed the income witholding order with the divorce papers. It takes about 30 to sixty days because it’s county level. If it doesn’t take, I may have to go through the State’s Department of Revenue to get the “teeth” you mention. You know the worst part is I don’t even get on him that much about it. I just send an email every month or so or about the time he mentions I can expect payment. I’m always very polite in my emails. Basically yes, he doesn’t understand child support, in my house, is actually used for supporting the children. So he takes care of himself first– car payment, rent, restaurants and bars, etc. and then says “Oh I don’t really have anything left for YOU”. It’s the other way around. You pay the kids first and then you don’t have anything left for you dude. That’s why the income witholding is the only way this will ever stop.

      I’m not sure there are. I have to look into it. Most times though, anything that has to do with subsidizing DOES come down to income, and even though my income isn’t high it’s too high for all of those benefits despite the fact I have three kids. Right now, at least one camp I looked into was adding $20 for before care and $40 for after care. It’s crazy.

      I honestly have thought about monetizing but am clueless how to start and honestly lack a bit of confidence in that department. Thank you for the very nice comment though.

      And yes you’re right, I don’t have that luxury. I’ve been doing online surveys a month now and have pulled in about $15 (five surveys, $3 each, 15 minutes max each one). It’s something. I was thinking of signing up with this other system that does little jobs like mystery shops but also inventories and audits and other things like that. Schedules are flexible, you can choose locations close to your house. They pay small– $8 a visit or $12 or something. But, if I can do them nights or days I don’t have the kids, it’s an extra couple of bucks I didn’t have before. I’ve even considered applying for some part time work at the local Target or something. Again, if they can work with a really wonky schedule like mine, it’s a few extra bucks.

      • I’ve been thinking about this some more. You obviously like to blog – and you have A LOT of talent with writing. Although I’m not a big fan (obviously) of doing what you loooove to do and quitting the day job precipitously – maybe if you “modelled” (heheh – pun) yourself after Get Rich Slowly? I’m willing to wager that if you asked, he would mentor you. His staff writers must make something? And somebody must be getting paid something to administer everything for him. What about Donna Freedman? She makes some bucks off of freelance writing and would probably help. Other people that have paved the way are out there so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

        I think the thing with monetize-able blogs is that they’re chock full of boring “how to” articles – totally search engine optimized. And they have a generic name (and a man writing them) – you could make yourself into a man… Personally, I wouldn’t want to write those but they seem to be the cash and traffic cows. Unless you can write like Penelope Trunk – she writes “on the edge” of careers and sometimes you read her posts and think – hmmm that has not a lot to do with careers (I read it and I’m not even interested in careers!), but the writing is so beautiful and tragic and funny that you feel a little thrill when you see a post from her come up in your email inbox. I’ve emailed with her a few times in the past – don’t know why she contacted me, but she did. She would be a kick ass mentor.

        I think you should consider whether you want to INVEST in something (a business/the writing) or take what’s really a dead-end, part-time kind of job just to stay afloat. The dead-end jobs are good in the short term, but… anytime you can invest in your future, it’s what you should do – even if it doesn’t pay off right away. Writing though? It’s not a good money-maker unfortunately. So if there’s something else you’d like to do or really enjoy that’s better, that’s what I would do.
        Like my dad always says – go for margin or ROI (return on investment) – and that includes your time.

  3. Reading between the lines here, it seems you really needed to write this. As much as you may love your children, being stuck as their sole supporter is really stressful. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s all that you can do.

    Don’t let the PF guys (and I do say guys here for a reason!) get you down. I’ve been reading an increasing number of PF blogs for the past three years and to me it seems that many have a strong streak of paternalism and preachiness about them. I like GRS because J.D. seems pretty down to earth and humble, but being a DINK gave him a big edge in getting get out of debt so fast. Coming out of a DINK marriage, I know that I didn’t have to contend with nearly as much stress as you in adjusting to divorce; I had no children to support or worry over.

    Kudos for thinking ahead and planning for summer childcare! Great idea to put aside the tax refund for the small emergencies that can derail a tight budget! When you get the arrears — and with your persistence you *will* get the arrears — you can throw it at the debt!

    • It’s funny you caught that because, yeah I really did. I was writing it and working things out as I wrote it and I ended in a generally better place than I started. At least, it got my brain thinking some more and considering possibilities that may not have come up before.

  4. I think Jacq and Linda are making great points.

    An important thing to think about is WHY pay debt down. You pay debt down because the interest rate is a drag on your finances and you’re better off when that is gone because you get to keep more of your money. It isn’t a race or a moral issue. There’s no reason to be preached at about it.

    There’s nothing wrong with you if other things are more important in the short term, especially when you’re in a transitional period. It’s important not to add new debt and to do what you can to chip at it if you can help it, but for a REASON, because it hurts you financially. You are balancing all of your various needs and you’re not going crazy buying Jimmy Choos or whatever. You’re doing what you can and trying to figure out what else you can do.

    Yes, it will be nice when you are debt-free, and if you keep growing like you are you will be. But, you don’t want to be like me and lose your ability to digest red meat in the process (though obviously your situation is more serious than just throwing up after eating a steak). Yes to a fast food fast for April, but also yes to the realization that childcare is expensive and you might not be able to pay debt down as fast as you’d hoped.

    Good luck!

  5. I am right there with you. I have been a single mom for 20 years (married for a short time in there). And with two sons 21 and 15 I have always been in debt and am coming to realize I probably will be until my youngest finishes college. I have been reading the PF blogs for a while now and keep beating myself up wondering how they can make those large payments on their debt and I can barely make the minimum payments. Most of them are 2 incomes and sometimes no kids! They are far from being in our situation and probably could not handle it if they were. Keep on trucking as they say some day it will be easier!

  6. Childcare is my biggest expense and it drives me nuts at how most things aren’t setup for working moms. (Yes, a lot of our camps are 9-2). We have two incomes though, so it’s a lot lot easier.

    If you can’t move, would you ever consider a roommate to help with your housing costs? I can say this because at one time growing up, I lived with 6 other adults in a dinky 2 bedroom apartment. It would be tight, but it’s not impossible. It might really help if you found the right person.

    Like you’ve said, you’ve made great progress. Keep at it. You’ll get there. Of course you won’t get there as fast as DINKS, but it’s useless comparing yourself to them.

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  9. I think single parents are inspirational. But I also am extremely grateful and appreciative that I have a husband who really is engaged with his children and helps out. I’m sorry if that sounds like I’m gloating but your story just makes me appreciate him even more.

    I don’t think I could do the parenting thing alone- especially if I had to deal with an ex that wasn’t doing his share of the financial support.

    Good luck!

    • Oh I don’t think you’re gloating at all. I know exactly what you mean and in many ways I’m grategul to have experienced what I did because if I’m ever blessed to be given the chance to have someone like your partner in my life, I’ll definitely be a hundred times more appreciative and grateful. You can’t have the sweet without the bitter!

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