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.