The Shock that Shouldn’t Have Been

shocked woman computer

I often debate with myself on what’s right to share on a public platform and what isn’t especially after one of my Aunts told me she worried about our generation’s penchant for “oversharing” and the trouble that causes. And she’s right, you know?

There are things that come up that I want to talk about but I don’t because I feel like it’s too much, too private. And there are things that come up that I do share because even though I do feel they are pretty private, they’re important to talk about, especially in regards to single parenting. It’s those posts that vary– some are easier for me to write and share than others. I have written, and deleted before publishing, many posts on this blog.

I was going to write this post on Wednesday when it happened. Instead, I reminisced about my childhood and at the same time I made a private post on Google+ and got some support and encouragement that way which helped deal with the initial sting of it. But the situation is having longer lasting effects than I thought it would and is, although difficult, worthy of being discussed publicly.

On Wednesday, an email came in from K-Fat (Kids’ Father).

Hey, I’ve been waiting on my tax return for a couple weeks now and I called to check on it again today and I was told my entire refund was taken for child services.

Mute, I’ve been counting on this money to get back on my feet with rent, car payment, bills, etc… and get you sorted out. Can we please split the refund. I need this money to survive. I appreciate it.

K-Fat

The email triggered a tsunami of reactions. I had actually just finished when one of my closest co-workers happened to walk into my office, took one look at me, and said, “What’s wrong? What happened?”

In December, I got a letter from the IRS telling me they had gone ahead and received the notice from Child Services to proceed with this method of enforcement. They also told me the letter I got was a copy of the notice that was sent to K-Fat. When I read the letter, I had two thoughts in my head: 1) He’ll probably have his tax return rigged so he gets nothing back OR 2) He will ignore this letter and when they do garnish his tax return he will ask me to return it. He has asked for child support payments before when they were ones he had not planned for.

Even though I had gone through that thought process in December, my stomach dropped to the floor when the email came in. Not only that but, I haven’t gotten any kind of payment from Child Support and when I checked the account online, the only payment they show as being received is the infamous $100 payment from January. I didn’t see it coming.

I could not reply to the email. I dragged it to the folder I keep all the emails from him and left it there. I’d occasionally go back and read it because I am masochistic that way but for the most part, I just let it sit and discussed the email and what my response should be with those close to me.

He texted me yesterday informing me he had sent an email. I still didn’t reply.

This morning, when I started writing this post, he texted me again

You’re not even going to respond?

I am. I’m just really not sure how because that email really gets my emotions cooking.

My dad has given me, what I think the best response is. It pays to have a psychologist in the family. He suggested I respond with something along the lines of:

It has taken me some time to respond because I am surprised and disappointed by your request. Child Support has not sent the kids a payment since June with the exception of a $100 check in January. If the IRS did garnish the return, the kids have not received it. I would think that someone who has been unable to contribute to their children’s well-being in a dependable and meaningful way for eight months would be relieved and happy to finally have the chance to do so. No, I will not violate the court orders and return any part of any child support payment.

I dread responding. I know that I am right. I do not feel an ounce of guilt in using every cent of that money, whatever amount it may turn out to be, for my kids and my kids alone. And yet, I dread it because I fear what his response to my response may be. And maybe I dread for nothing. At this point, gauging from his last text message, he must know the answer will be no. But I feel like he has become even more desperate, more irrational. I fear this may come out to the kids and that they will lay the blame at my feet. Like they did with the thermoses.

On Wednesday morning, I packed the kids’ lunch boxes with a sandwich and  snacks and, as a treat, chocolate milk boxes my mom had sent just for them. Usually I send my kids with thermoses filled with ice cold water. So hooray treats! That day, their father picked them up and took them home. The next day, he took them to school. My mother was told after school by Daughter that they were not given anything to drink for lunch that day. “Oh? What happened?” my mother asked. “Mommy forgot to pack the thermoses,” Daughter replied.

Mommy. Forgot.

Later that night, the kids were with my Dad and it came up again– Mommy forgot the thermoses. My dad said, “Wait a minute. Mommy packed your lunch boxes?” He basically went on to explain that when the kids are with my parents, my parents are responsible for caring them. That if they are at my parents’ house for a sleepover and I didn’t send the lunch boxes, my parents have to figure out how to fix that problem. They could call me and ask me to bring them, they could find a different way to send the lunches, or they could give them money so they could buy lunch at the cafeteria. It’d be their responsibility to take care of the lunches, not mine and if they did not send the lunchboxes, it would not be my fault, it would be theirs. He explained the same thing applied when the kids were at my house. Their dad is not responsible for something I do or don’t do. Eldest objected to this way of thinking at first insisting that if I had sent the bottles, their father would have sent them drinks. My dad kept talking with them and when it seemed like they understood, he asked them if they understood that, if they were ok with that and they said yes.

Eldest apparently wasn’t.

Last night during dinner I was telling the kids how I saw this cute thing I wanted to do where you dye the bottom tips of your hair a pretty color like pink or blue or purple. Eldest got very angry. Plugged his fingers into his ears, balled up, and covered his eyes with his knees. I tried to get him to stop and to just talk about what was bothering him. Daughter and Baby were looking at the pictures I had pulled up on the Nexus to show them what I was talking about and they were exclaiming about how awesome they were which made him angrier and before I knew it, big fat tears were rolling down his cheeks, he was refusing to talk to me, refusing to look at me and I sent him to his room. We kept having a huge back and forth as I had to go in there to get Baby’s things for the bath and it was just not good.

Later when I had calmed down, and talked with my dad some more (if he charged me, I’d be bankrupt) I went back to his room. I basically told him there was no way he was so upset about something like hair. And to prove my point we drilled it back with a bunch of questions. Ok he doesn’t like funky hair colors and he’s not thrilled that his mom wants to do something to her hair he doesn’t like but that was not the reason for the tantrum. He said it was the only thing that he really hates that has happened in his life and it’s the divorce. He hates that it happened and some times things happen that make him think about it and he can’t help it and starts to cry because he never really cried about it when it happened. And that’s why he cries so easily. He said his dad and I don’t even talk to each other. That we could at least be friends. He said it doesn’t seem right that I was with his dad and now I’m with somebody else. He said he doesn’t like that he doesn’t see his dad that often.

Speechless. I tried clobbering together some inane responses that felt so hollow to a kid in such deep hurt. I also asked if maybe he’d like to speak to someone about the whole thing. I explained what therapists were and what they did. He was weirded out by the idea because, as he put it, They would be a stranger. But he warmed up to it and I did mention his grandfather does that for a living and he could always talk to him. His grandfather doesn’t tell me what they talk about. So, I don’t know. Maybe my dad will talk with him and evaluate the need for an actual professional to step in.

And this is what is playing in the background as I have this email pending in my inbox. My kids know their father and I are not on good terms because we don’t speak to each other on the phone. They probably feel the tension acutely when he and I are forced to be in the same room together no matter how much I think we’re hiding it.

And this came on the heels of Baby getting upset because he asked me if I loved Daddy and I honestly responded, “No.” I explained that we were parents and it was different but there wasn’t love there and boy did that go wrong. It was in the car and Eldest and Daughter were there. They didn’t say anything, but they were there listening and seeing their little brother cry.

Why does it feel like things are falling apart now? This has been something we have been dealing with for five years. Why now?

Could it be the finances? That’s the only thing I can figure. There must be some really crazy tension on both ends because of finances. And maybe they are thinking things would not be so stressful if their mom and dad were together instead of apart. Which I know that isn’t true, but how could they? Especially the youngest two who have very little memory of a life with both parents together.

And now I’ve been put in this ridiculous situation by their father with this ridiculous email and I’ve got my kids on my mind and I swear to god that I really wish, I just really really wish, that I could say “Keep your f@%^&# money” and be done with it.

But I can’t. And even if I could, I just shouldn’t. The money, it’s the kids’ money. It’s their money and they have a right to it plain and simple.

In classic avoidance style, I am going to wait until 4:59 PM to send the email from my work address which I do not have access to until Monday. Not that it will stop him from responding to me in other ways but at least it delays one until Monday. If he responds at all. Which I doubt he will.

And so there you have, my overshare of the year. Internet, give me strength.

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Child Support Surrealism

This is me calling Child Support Enforcement. This is after speaking to the rep and waiting for the supervisor. Can you read my mind?

This is me calling Child Support Enforcement, on hold for a supervisor. Can you read my mind?

To call or not to call, that is the question.

Oh Miami Dade County State Attorney’s Child Support Enforcement Office, I just can’t decide if you improve or deteriorate my quality of living.

I called them today. I’m still unsure whether or not that was a good idea. I’m still unsure whether or not my calls actually matter to anyone other than myself. I’m still unsure whether my calls affect anything else other than my sanity.

I was on hold for 27 minutes which I guess isn’t bad compared to the record of one hour and one minute hold time in December. This time, it was Warren on the line which brought this to mind

Empire Records

Empire Records

Warren let me know that the gorbellied common-kissing jointhead (thanks Will) went into the Enforcement Office on January 23. He went in to negotiate a lower payment to have his license reinstated and was denied because when they pulled him up in the system, he had multiple child support obligations.

Pause. What!?

Apparently there is a note in the file that they denied him renegotiation because he has other cases that are delinquent. As in other children.

Now listen ladies and gents, this clouted fat-kidneyed boar-pig maybe a compulsive liar with a penchant for pulling cons, but if there is one thing I am 99.9% certain about him is that there are no other children. Previous pregnancies prior to mine? My understanding is yes and that it was terminated. Warren was all skeptical of me and my insistence on this and I knew with this horrible cold feeling in my gut this must happen all of the time, so I dropped it.

Warren said they were still waiting on that Income Deduction Order to go into effect. He also reassured me that they made sure to tell him he had to continue making child support payments until the Income Deduction Order went into effect. Ohmygodthankyousmuch for telling him that!! I bet you anything you guys changed his ways and made him realize what a horrible misunderstanding it was!! And clearly it worked well because I have gotten zero payments except for the $100 payment he made that day to get his license reinstated.

So you know, I had to wait until March but then not really because at that point they would send a follow-up letter giving the company another 20 days to comply and do you guys know what they do after that? They… send another letter… giving them another 20 days to comply. And then they would go and try and find a different employer he might be at. Oh and by the way, little known fact here– when an Income Deduction Order is pending, like this one, all other enforcement efforts stop. In other words, even if he doesn’t make the payments he was instructed to, they cannot proceed with enforcement until the total 100 days have passed.

So I’m all dismayed and stuff and about to hang up and then I’m like, “I need a supervisor please.” And then Warren was like, “Not a problem but I need to explain to the supervisor what the call is about” which I think is their way of asking “Sh!t am I in trouble? You’re not gonna tattle on me are you?” And then I was all like, “I just want to go over this enforcement stuff and the thing with the multiple obligations stuff or something.” “Oh ok sure” which means “Oh my god I’m not in trouble thank you lord jesus”.

So then, I got put on hold again but was so dismayed I didn’t even care about how long it was for and took that picture up there instead because I felt like this was crazy and worth documenting and it wasn’t even that long really before Ray was on the phone.

Do you remember Ray? I remembered Ray. Ray was the supervisor I spoke to the day I had a horrible experience with one of the customer representatives who was just telling me complete and utter nonsense and acting like she knew exactly what she was talking about when it was obvious she totally didn’t. Ray was all like “What the hell is going on with this case and why are people telling you crazy stuff!?!?! I will fix your case!!!” Which you know, A for effort on that one Ray but…

“Wow this case has only gotten $100?” he asks me. Yup. Ray turns out to be my senior case analyst and I really like him because he digs and finds things out and makes me feel like someone is actually caring about my case and is going to help things get done but it also makes me completely curious just how the hell these people do their job because no one knows what anyone else is doing and yet it seems like fifty million people can affect one particular case.

So Ray gets caught up with the case, because let’s be real– the guy hasn’t looked at it since the day I called him in November for sure. And then Ray lets me know what really happened. Are you ready? Are you sure you’re ready? Do you have a tasty snack? Do you want to get a cool beverage, or a hot one if you’re freezing your bum off somewhere?

And get ourselves a snack!

And get ourselves a snack!

Ok

On January 23, the beslubbering beef-witted barnacle did indeed come to the Child Support Enforcement Office. They updated his information because he informed them the Employer information they had on-file (yes the one with the pending Income Deduction Order) was out of date and he gave them new Employer Information. He said he needed his license back. They told him that was fine, he just had to pay $1028.00. He said he didn’t have that kind of money. They said too bad. That’s where the story should end. Right there. But it doesn’t.

He explained that he has a new job but that without a valid license, he could not have this job. He probably explained what the consequences of not having a job would be as far as possible future child support payments go. Maybe he lamented the economy and told them about how much horrible stress he’s been on lately and how absolutely dreadful he feels about not being able to support his dear children the way he wishes he could, nay the way they deserve.  I don’t freaking know. But whatever he did, he convinced the person to take it up with a supervisor, who is not Ray because these negotiations happen “downstairs” and they are not involved with them, and then he convinced the supervisor to help him out.

So they said if he paid the $100 he claimed was all he had, they would reinstate the license. This is the bit where they also explained they would be sending the new employer the Income Deduction Order but that he must make child support payments until the Income Deduction Order went into effect. They probably thanked him for coming in. They probably wished him good luck with this new job and hoped times would be better for him. I don’t freaking know.

All I know is he walked out of there with a reinstated license and put a freeze on all enforcement efforts again for up to another 100 days. For $100. With an arrears amount over $19k and a past due amount that is now over $11k. After going six months without making any type of payment whatsoever.

Did they verify his claim of employment before agreeing to his offer of $100 to reinstate the license? Did they verify the other employer is indeed invalid? No. They don’t do that. They take their word for it.

They. Take. Their. Word. For. It.

They take their word for it!!!!

There are a couple more minor surreal notes to add to this already surreal story.

First of all, I explained to Ray that I know crazy things happen all the time but I was pretty confident that my children were his only children and that I was concerned that note was on the case file because what if it were to start complicating other things? Ray was hesitant and he clarified he could only discuss MY case information with me. But he looked up his social. And guess what????????

My kids are his only kids. So what is that note doing there? Was it an error? Did someone just look up his name, which also happens to be kind of common? Or did he maybe lead them to believe he had other children he was having trouble supporting? I have no idea but someone put a total bullshit note on my case file.

Second of all, he went to the Child Support office on January 23rd. He gave them the information for the new employer which most likely triggered the close of the other employer’s case. They sent the Income Deduction Order today, February 15. Twenty three days later.

He has had a valid license and a new job for twenty three days, has made no payments at all, and they just sent the Income Deduction Order that gets the 100 day process started, today. So he got himself, potentially, 123 days.

It amazes me, time and again, how inefficient something critical can be. I called the company I had information for, aka the apparent now Former Employer (seriously I lost track of how many jobs he’s had since we split). The receptionist informed me that although she was new, she was pretty certain he didn’t work there because she couldn’t find him on her listing. It took less than two minutes. If I was actually calling for someone else as part of my job, I would have left a message with the HR woman she transferred me to just to be absolutely sure and to get some real closure on something.

I love technology. I love automation. I really do. But we must always remember that computers, as brilliant as they are, are actually stupid. And as efficient as automation can be, humans are not automatic. In other words, when applying technology and automation to a human problem, one cannot simply remove a human from the process. My frustration lies with the fact that I am working with a group that does not (for whatever reason) do the work needed to actually address the problem of non-paying non-custodial parents. Every time I call, I am forcing a human into the process. And there is resistance. That is why the first layer is the representatives who answer the phone. My experience tells me they are often poorly trained, have no power, and don’t really comprehend the majority of their job. It is almost as if they are trained to be the buffer against reinserting humanity into an automated process.

This issue burns me up. It’s not even on a selfish, personal level either. Every time I call and deal with the incompetence at the Enforcement Office I am reminded me of the (now cruel) words of the intake coordinator who processed my case in the beginning– “Oh your case is an easy one!” And the fact remains, despite the insanity that I have been going through with this case, there are by far worse situations that end up there. There are non-custodial parents who flee the county, state, even country. There are non-custodial parents with children with three, four, five different custodial parents. There are non-custodial parents who intentionally leave the workforce and go on benefits to not pay child support. And so I burn inside for those cases too. Because if they can’t get mine straight and mine is really not that complicated, then surely there is no way a meatier case ever  gets close to resolution.

And so I hate calling because there is just never a positive experience with Child Support Enforcement. But I also must call because no one at that office cares about my children and their needs and no one at that office is doing the actual complex work that needs to get done to care for the children of this state. So I’ll keep nagging and pushing and escalating. I’ll keep getting worked up and I’ll keep fighting those frustration tears and I’ll keep trying to make a connection with someone, anyone, there.

If you’re thinking about a new bank…

Here is a light post until I get together a proper response to your amazing comments on the $tre$$ post because they were wonderful enough to warrant their own proper response and I’m in a calmer place now too.

So ING Direct is having a big savings sale like they do every Black Friday weekend. The one that benefits you and me the best is the Electric Orange deal. If you open a checking account using my referral account with a $250 deposit by December 15, I get $100 bucks and you get $25. If you open that account by tomorrow and use the debit card ten times in 45 days, you get $125 on the 50th day.

I love my Electric Orange account. If you have problems overdrafting your account, this will help you in a big, big way. They don’t charge you fees per transaction and they have a tiny overdraft limit to keep you in check. This account has saved me again and again and again. And I know I can use $100 and I know chances are pretty good you could use $150. So there you go. I hope this helps you out!

$tre$$

I thought that maybe I had shaken off most of it, but I was wrong. There is nothing like the holidays to stress me the heck out. What can I say? I’m freaking out about Christmas and fighting like hard not to freak out about Christmas at the same time.

Christmas is something I had set aside money for several months ago. But when child support evaporated, so did all of my savings, even Christmas. So now, I’m trying to figure it all out. I’m making things like crazy. Well, that’s not true. I was making things like crazy and then I slowed down considerably and pretty much stopped because I got burned out. I’m trying to start things up again.

The problem with stress is it’s very distracting. You try and focus on something and it wriggles and wiggles it’s way around your brain as it moves towards the center stage of your thoughts.

This year, the kids will be spending Christmas Eve with their father. They come to my house Christmas Day around noon. We are going to have  Christmas Cookie Party that day. I think that it will be a lot of fun. And maybe it will distract the kids from a really skimpy Christmas tree.

This is where I begin to flounder, to worry, to conflict myself. My kids are blessed with a large, loving extended family who will surely shower them with gifts the way they do at every special occasion. They have a ton of stuff no matter how much I have them go through their toys and get rid of things. So there’s a battle in me– I know they don’t need or even want more stuff but I want to give to them. So I feel bad about not having any money to buy much for Christmas this year and at the same time I don’t feel bad about not participating in the relentless consumerism that so deeply affects this country. The kind of consumerism that fuels this kind of irony…

People trample each other for cheap goods mere hours after being thankful for what they already have

So I am struggling with that inner conflict at the same time I am stressing about the usual stress I have been dealing with regarding bills and life’s necessities. This means child support still hasn’t shown up in any way, shape, or form. If I understand the state attorney’s office correctly, that means his license is either suspended or about to be suspended any day now. I haven’t called them back since that last post. I probably will next week. I’m a pest but I don’t have a choice in the matter.

Their father told me he is starting a new job on the first, that they are in the negotiation stage right now. He told me the same exact thing, word for word, a few months ago. If it IS true, it would of course be that just about the time the state attorney’s office should be linking up to the unemployment office to garnish those checks, he would be starting a new job and stop collecting unemployment therefore starting the garnishment process anew all over again. It’s enough to make you laugh the maniacal laugh of loony bins.

Today, I’ll be staying home doing the laundry and working on crocheted gifts. We already watched Elf but it made me cry so I don’t think I’ll be putting on any more Christmas movies today. Today, the kids are going to make their Christmas lists but I am going to do something different. I am going to give them a paper with four sections: Something I want, Something I need, Something to wear, and Something to read. I’ll let them fill each section out with a couple of things in each category and use that as my guiding light this Christmas. I think it’s better this way than a free for all.

I hope you enjoy your weekend. I’m trying to do just that.

Child Support Collection Methods

I read an editorial piece from The Baltimore Sun about Maryland’s efforts in collecting child support from non-custodial parents. Basically, Maryland was frustrated with the results the standard practices were yielding, put some thought into it, and changed things up. And they’re getting results.

I, of course, was interested. Better child support collection methods? Do tell.

This program has been in development for a couple of years and so far this year is showing a 4.8% increase in collections over last  year. Personally I’m not sure that’s a product of better collection methods or an improving economy but after reading the significant changes they’ve made I’m inclined to have a bit of faith in what they’re doing and wish Florida, and other states, would take a look.

What’s so different? A tailored approach. It has occurred to the good people of Maryland that child support collections are not a one size fit all sort of deal. They decided to sort their non-paying, not-custodial parents into two categories: those who can afford it but choose not to and those who would love to but can’t afford it.

Once that categorization is made, the state makes a plan unique to that parent’s situation. The focus on the piece is mostly on those that cannot afford to pay.

In such cases, department social workers could help them back on their feet by offering job search and job-training assistance, helping them sort out hospital and medical bills and counseling services to assist them through the crisis.

Out of $530 million in child support that is due, Maryland has paid out $350 million of it. That means they’re collecting about 66% of what is due. Not bad, but not awesome. I imagine as long as the state continues pouring funding into these efforts, and the economy improves, the numbers will steadily increase.

I see one major pitfall in other states adopting this sort of strategy and that is money of course.

Take, for example, Miami-Dade county. When you call child support at the clerks office, you get a recording that informs you a reduction in funding means you can only call from 9-12 Monday through Friday with your child support questions.

The other day, when I was on the phone with the State District Attorney’s office, I was informed that the average case passed on to the State for enforcement can take up to twelve months for the state to actually take it on and begin enforcement efforts. Because I’d already been to court and a child support order existed as well as an arrears amount declared, I might be able to get it going in two months– maybe.

Two months is not great– that is after waiting about a month for my paperwork to be processed and going through the interview. It’s ok but if someone is asking for enforcement, it’s usually because a situation is desperate. So imagine being asked to wait twelve months for enforcement. That’s absurd. And it is only because of a lack of staff. Can I really expect the state of Florida to even consider Maryland’s approach when it is failing to even tread water? Of course not.

Maryland’s efforts succeed because they have manpower. If they increase manpower and reduce the caseload ratios I am sure they’d see even better results. But Florida, and other states, are far from even that stage. And of course, during the time we need it the most.

What are your thoughts on child support collection efforts? Are states doing the best they can and just dealing with crappy parents? Are states overwhelmed in the current economic downturn? What are some ideas you have that states can improve these efforts?

Edited to add: This post has been featured at BlogHer if you’d like to show some support over there.

The Compromise

On Friday, I let everyone in on the stressful situation that is going on in my life right now. And there was this huge flood of amazing support and words of advice and encouragement. Thank you to the Grumpies, by the way, for steering so much of it this way. You two are my Cheerleaders but totally awesome feminist ones.

I have been reading, and responding, to your comments all weekend. You are a very wise bunch. And what I decided was to compromise.

This trip does mean a lot to me. It’s not as simple as Take Kids to Theme Park. It’s more layered than that. And one of the things it means to me is keeping promises. I hate broken promises, I really do. Probably because I’ve been the victim of so many in my own life.

So I thought about it and vented on Stallion in a big, big, big way. I pretty much threw my tantrum with the tears and the boogers and the, “It’s not fair!” Very classy. And after he hugged me and told me it’ll be ok I calmed down and made a decision.

We are not going to Disney, but we are going to Universal. The tickets for Universal are free, they are for both parks, and their confirmation number was sent to me last week. They are there waiting for me. And it is scheduled for the 12th of August, Eldest’s birthday. As I had mentioned, the kids received money for the trip, and my grandmother and mother have told me they will be giving me Eldest’s trip money as well. With that money, I have the cost of the hotel covered, the gas, and I think even the food. The only big ticket item that is not yet covered is the one ticket for Stallion’s daughter which is her birthday present as well. Her mother is giving her money for food so that should be perfect.

As for Disney, it is not cancelled, but it is postponed. I am going to work my little tookus off and see if I can manage to put together enough to fund a trip to Disney in December when it’s all decorated for Christmas. We’ve never seen the park that time of year, the weather will be nicer, and the two littlest ones will get their birthday wishes filled then. That will be the new goal– survive and Disney in December.

Like I told Stallion, the reason this has been so hard for me to let go of is because how long I’ve been working at it– and how close I was. I have been diligently saving and saving and saving. Over half the child support payments have been going to saving up for things like the school’s $2700 registration fee (private school, my parents pay the tuition if I pay the registration) which I paid in full at the beginning of the year. When my tax refund came in, I did the math and put a portion of it into my emergency fund, a portion into my big ticket savings like the summer camp, the trip, and Christmas, and sent a huge chunk to my credit cards. You know, the responsible thing.

And it was working!

When my car broke down in March I had enough money to pay for the repair. When school let out, I had the $3000 to put them in summer camp. When I woke up one morning to find my cat had been vomiting everywhere and had a fever, I had the $450 to cover the vet bill. I think I might rename my cat and call her Disney.

The big thing now is what I am going to tell the children. My kids are pretty young. The youngest just turned 4 and 6 in June and the oldest turns 9 this Sunday. Money is really hard to explain to the youngest ones and unfortunately, they are the ones who wanted Disney. Eldest is the one who wanted Universal as he is obsessed with Harry Potter.

I’m thinking of going about it this way.

First things first: Be (vaguely) Honest. I’m going to explain that I had to make changes to the trip this weekend and that one of the parks is going to be postponed. I’m going to explain I am not making as much money every month as I used to. I might use coins to explain this. Show them four coins and explain that’s how much I was making, take away two coins and explain that’s how much I’m making now. I am extremely wary resistant to the idea of explaining their father’s role, or lack thereof, in all of this because of how young they are, how sensitive a topic it is, and how complicated it may get to explain. Eldest can probably handle it and maybe he and I will have a separate conversation later, if he wants one. I think I’m just going to explain that there were two ways I was making money and because the economy is bad, one of them isn’t making money right now. It might start making money again one day, but I’m not sure when, etc. etc. etc.

I am then going to explain we are going to Universal Studios only because the tickets were free. I did not choose which park we went to. I asked around my group of friends and the connection that came through was for Universal. I want this to be clear because I don’t want them to think I was choosing favorites or anything and besides it’s completely true. If the tickets to Universal weren’t free, we wouldn’t be going anywhere.

I’ll then lay out my plan to try and make more money so that we can go in December to Disney to see the park at Christmas time. And then I’ll ask them to please look at the Universal website with me and try and get them fired up about what we’re going to do and see there.

The bad part is, it’s the youngest kids’ trip whose getting postponed. The good part is, they are distracted easier.

I feel a lot better about this weekend now that I’ve made this decision. One of the things that struck me after reading your comments and throwing my tantrum was the reason I’m so frustrated and angry about postponing part of the trip is exactly the reason I need to postpone part of the trip.

I have been doing things the right way for so long, why blow it? If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s far easier to create problems than to fix them. The right way worked. It did what it was supposed to do– I just hadn’t been able to fund it long enough to cover me more than it already has.

The wrong way, I’ve already done that before. I know where that goes and what it does to a person. So thank you for helping me get to this place I am in right now. I’m not going to lie, I’m still a bit down at the mouth and I would really like to practice some sort of physical violence, but I am trying very hard to pull up and out and I just wanted to thank you all for the boost.

Five Things I learned from Personal Finance Blogs & Books I wish I hadn’t

When I started this blog in October 2009, it was with Single Motherhood in mind. As it turns out, one of the cruxes of single parenthood is finances and so my blog eventually rambled in and out of personal financedom. It was never intended to be the focus of my blog but I have read up a lot on it and I have shared personal finance related stories on here. Sometimes, I learned some great information that has helped me evolve and grow tremendously. Other times, I learned things that started out awesome and promising but have gone completely wrong. So with that in mind, I now present you with:

Five Things I Learned from Personal Finance Blogs & Books I Wish I Hadn’t

1. Donna Freedman’s Coke Rewards Collection Methods

I love Donna Freedman. I admire her and respect her endlessly. I really do. That woman has been through some tougher than tough times and just came out sparkly like a diamond. And I’ve learned a lot from Donna, including about the pretty cool Coke Rewards program that she uses and abuses to earn free trips to the movies. But ever since I found out how Donna collects those Rewards points (hint: she doesn’t consume gallons of the stuff on a daily basis) my entire experience of walking to and from anything has completely changed. I see them everywhere. Sometimes I pick them up but sometimes I don’t. Basically it comes down to how many people are around me. Yes I’m ashamed of picking up trash in front of other people. But if I walk by the Coke Reward bottle cap, the inner war begins:

“Pick it up, it’s a COKE REWARD!”

“Dude no freaking way. I look adorable in my pencil skirt and heels, there are like a gazillion people around me, and there’s not a trash can right next to it. And I forgot the hand sanitizer. Again.”

“But hello it’s a COKE REWARD. If you saw a pile of three pennies, you’d pick them up!”

“Um, no I’m not sure I would.”

“Yeah right! Besides who cares what these people think of you picking up trash- I mean Coke Rewards? I bet most of them won’t even notice!”

“Excuse me but did you miss the part where I look fabulous today? Everyone notices me because I am amazing and fabulous and completely noticeable.”

“Oh get the hell over yourself, turn around, and pick up the trash- er Coke Reward.”

“Turn around? Are you out of your mind? I have to be somewhere like right now. And how crazy will I look then turning around and walking back… TO PICK UP TRASH THAT IS NOT MINE”

2. My FREE Credit Score thanks to CreditKarma

Almost every single personal finance blogger I know has at least mentioned CreditKarma if not dedicated an entire post to extolling its virtues. And sure, it provides information that is useful to know– if you plan on using credit in the nearish future. Which I don’t. But now that I know I can get this information, FOR FREE, I must know it. And it’s a downer of hangover proportions. My credit score is embarrassing and why shouldn’t it be? Ex and I let the house go to foreclosure a few years ago and this past December he allowed our co-signed leased car to get repossessed. My credit score is wrecked for the next decade or so. And CreditKarma reminds me of that– in two minutes and FOR FREE!

3. How to hold awesome garage sales

I live in the best location for a garage sale– right on a busy avenue directly across a park (traffic+parking). Once I started reading about all the money people made from them, I knew I had to have one. And I did and it was great selling all that crap from my stupidity of a marriage. And I even made a few hundred bucks!

But then I started wavering about future garage sales. When I want to get rid of stuff, I just want to get rid of stuff. But I knew I could probably sell it and make money. So where would I store it? Eventually I’d end up getting frustrated with the garage sale stuff slowly accumulating and I’d haul it to Goodwill instead. And feel bad about it. No money in my pocket so Goodwill could have some in theirs. And then I’d go through the cycle again.

I ended up having another garage sale when Stallion moved in and that was ok. Yes we made some money but it was seriously exhausting. When my grandmother passed away, it was generally assumed I would hold another garage sale. And I wanted to, I really did, but it felt like it’d be the biggest pain in the ass. So I wavered and hemmed and hawed and eventually just gave everything away again.

The thing is I keep not documenting what I’m giving away for tax purposes because I never intend to give it away and when I do it’s pretty spur of the moment. So recently I came up with a plan that is going to become my standard plan from now on and I’m going to say bye bye to Garage Sales. My grandmother often worked with Mother Teresa’s Sister’s of Charity here in Miami where they have a Women and Children’s Shelter and where they also manage the aid efforts in Haiti. The last couple of times I’ve donated to them have felt unlike anything I’ve ever felt before in my life. If you think giving to Goodwill feels good, wait until you start giving to something that has more of a direct impact.

4. How to coupon for groceries

Let me be clear, CVSing and couponing for groceries are, in my mind, two separate things. I love CVSing and I will CVS for a very long time. But couponing it up at the grocery store? I’m getting over this one in a big way.

It’s not even that I don’t have the space to properly coupon (I kind of don’t), it’s that bulk food buying has not made my life easier.

And now, we have Aldi. Not to mention, all of this coupons + sales math has really screwed with my sense of prices instead of improved them like most people do. Also, couponing and meal planning have never clicked together for me. I know they click for lots of people, just not me. And so I end up with lots of cans of tomatoes and not enough of everything else– especially meat. And the fruit and veggies? I buy a bunch because they’re on sale and we never eat them before they go bad. And I still end up caving in and getting take-out more often than I’d like.

I strongly considered experimenting with bulk cooking but that still gave me bulk food to deal with and didn’t appeal to me either so I’m going to try meal planning and food shopping on a weekly basis instead in a way very similar to what Carla’s recent interview with Simply Being Mum described.

5. Making Money from Blogs

Double-edged sword for me on this one. I go back and forth on this constantly. I really, really do. Right now, my WordPress blog is a free blog so outside of the occasional Amazon Affiliate link, I actually can’t earn money from the blog. I’d have to self-host it and then start figuring out just how to do this. And the thing is, when I first started blogging this was such an easy decision for me because I hated ads. So no ads meant no money from the blog. Simple!!

But since 2002, blogging has evolved and there are many ways to monetize a blog and actually ads have become the way I least despise because at least it’s authentic. An ad says, “Click me to earn this person some money!” and that’s it. You click it or you don’t. Where I really get all mixed up are things like Sponsored Posts and Giveaways, Product Reviews, Paid Guest Posts, and so on and so forth.

I used to do book reviews on here for free all the time and so I don’t think my reviewing a book I was given by a publisher would be out of character for me. And if I used something that I really really loved, I’ve come on here and told you so. But I was never given that stuff for free. Don’t we tend to naturally like things a little bit more when we didn’t have to pay for them?

And this is only half of it. There’s all that stuff about SEO and rankings and these people named the Yakezie that do something that revolves around something called Alexa that turns them into big money ballers. And there’s BlogHer and Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter and it feels like bloggy prostitution or something. But at the same time, it’s a sensible idea– get paid to do something you like doing. And so I go back and forth, back and forth.

 

So there you have it! What have you learned from personal finance blogs or books that you wish you hadn’t? Or just in general, is there something you learned thinking it would be super helpful to only have it backfire on you?