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.

Advertisements

And here we go

This is a money post. And it’s not a pretty money post. It’s actually one of the worst kinds of money posts I’d ever want to make. So you know, if you’re not in the mood for that on a  Friday, feel free to skip out and look at something else somewhere else. No offense taken, seriously!

Today marks the day I am officially, totally, and completely broke. Almost every single August bill is paid for except two. I think I can cover one but I’m not sure about the second one. I get paid once a month, on the last day of the month, and that paycheck covers most of my bills. Actually it used to cover all of them but recently my car insurance and my electric climbed up so it doesn’t cover everything anymore. I have absolutely no idea if or when I will see another child support payment. Last week I’d sent him a stern email that was very polite but expressed the direness of the situation. He never replied. I actually haven’t heard a peep from him in over a week. But the kids are really excited because he got a puppy. Just this week.

I could go on. I’ve heard a lot lately about the extravagant purchases he’s been making ever since he quit the job that had an Income Deduction Order garnishing child support from his paychecks. I could tell you all about those but frankly they make me sick and really angry and it just doesn’t help me in my current situation. At all.

So I won’t.

Today is the day I start living solely on credit. I have two lines of credit that I’m planning on depending on– Target and Chase. They both have high APR’s but Target’s is lower and you also get 5% off your purchase which helps barely mitigate the APR ouchies. The Target card will be for life’s necessities that can be bought there like upcoming school supplies, certain clothes items, etc. Chase is going to be for everywhere else. Oh yeah and it’s going to be for the Orlando trip as well.

Yes. I am making a very dumb decision. I am still taking my kids to Orlando next weekend for their birthday gift. They received money for the trip for their birthdays. They got small birthday gifts to save money for it. And I did have every dime of that trip saved up for. Until the money dried up.

I can’t take it away from them. I just can’t. A friend gifted me the tickets to Universal. I have to pay for Magic Kingdom and for the hotel. I have the money that was given for the trip. And the rest is going on the Chase.

As absolutely illogical as it may sound to many, it’s worth it. I can pay for that trip for the next 18 years and it’ll be worth it. But to take it away from them? Less than two weeks away? I can’t do that. I simply cannot do that. Maybe I lack a spine. Maybe I’m just dumb. Maybe I’m materialistic and don’t really get it. At this point, I honestly don’t care.

I am in the dark as to what the future holds. School starts for me on the 22nd. Stallion starts school the 29th. Stallion is trying to get a second part time or a full time job and is willing to go to school almost full time and work more hours. I honestly sat down and considered a part time job for myself. But I don’t see how I could do it. The next four months are my busiest months of the year work-wise. People have suggested freelance writing to me. I think that is awesome, I do; but I have no clue where to start and not get taken advantage of and honestly, I don’t have that much confidence in myself. Especially right now when I feel incapable of making a good decision.

The state got in contact with me. They have enforcement orders for him. I don’t really know what that means or how that works. They mentioned something about their first step being to try and track down the employer listed but I warned them that itself is a very bizarre thing. The company has a website but it doesn’t exist in the state’s business listing. And every business in the state has to be in there. And the address for his employer is the same address as a different company that does the same thing. But at this point, it’s their turn to play detective.

The website says this about enforcement:

Some of the ways we get parents to pay are:

  • Notify the parents when they miss payments
  • Suspend Florida driver licenses
  • Take IRS tax refunds
  • Take Florida Lottery winnings if over $600
  • Take support payments from workers’ compensation and reemployment assistance (formerly unemployment compensation)
  • Tell employers to take payments from paychecks
  • Place liens on the parent’s car, boat, or other property
  • Report past due support to credit agencies
  • Place a hold and take money from bank accounts
  • Take the case to court because the parent did not do what the order says
  • Work with the court to issue a writ, also known as an arrest warrant. If you would like to see if there is a writ on your case, please use the Department of Revenue’s Writ Search Site.
  • Collect Medical Expenses Not Covered by Insurance

I don’t think he’s hiding money. I don’t think he’s making money. I think he quit a job that paid him enough for child support and living expenses plus gave him medical benefits and other perks because he didn’t like the amount that was leftover after child support. So he got the idea to go into business for himself. And I don’t think he’s doing too well. And he didn’t save up a dime to do it, he just jumped ship and did it. Maybe he got fired. Who knows?

What I do know is the income is gone. Pretty much the way I imagined it would go. It’s happened before and I have tried so hard to protect myself for when it would happen again. And I think I did a pretty good job. The last month child support was being paid regularly was in April. So I got through a few months you know? That’s something.

Up until this month, I’d paid way higher than minimum amounts on my credit cards. And when I used my Express card for work clothes, I paid the full amount off. But now, it’s back to minimum payments only. And I’m turning off my retirement contributions to get me about $190 a month.

The light at the end of the tunnel is a dim speck in November. Because you see, I should make my very last car payment in October. So that should free up $400 a month and it should also allow me to get a lower insurance. Oh and there’s Tinsel. She’s pretty heavy and should cough up a few dollars. That might be helpful for Disney actually.

So, three months I have to depend on credit. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe some kind of child support will come in. Maybe Stallion will get more work. Maybe I’ll get more work. Maybe the Lottery fairy will leave me a winning ticket under my pillow.

Maybe I’ll wake up and it’ll have been a really really bad nightmare.

I know this is long. And I really don’t expect anyone to actually read all of this. I write this for therapy more than anything else. And that’s why I’m going to say one more thing.

I’m not giving up on myself and my financial goals. I’m not going to embark on a shopping bonanza to end all shopping bonanzas. I’m going to cover our needs for three months and one biggish want. It’s less than $1k so it’s ok to call it biggish, right? Whatever, it’s still a selfish want and I know that and I’m going to have to deal with it.

What hurts is knowing that three months could easily set me back three years.

And ok, yes the fact the kids’ dad is who he is and how he is hurts too.

And that I still need something from him to survive. That I am not 100% independent. We’ve been separated for three years and still… That hurts.

I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from everyone on here in the past. I really hesitated coming here to begin writing this but I felt like if I just kept this secret, I wouldn’t be true to me. And I wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors either. Yes, here is more proof that divorce does not get easier after a few years pass. And I’m not sure I can argue it’s gotten better because it hasn’t. Communication is the worst it’s ever been. Believe it or not, now is when I get upset when my kids leave me for his house. Because before I used to trust him as a father. Now I don’t.

Would you trust a man who puts his children on a big and fast boat with no life jackets on? You should see how Daughter came back from his house a few weeks ago– her face swollen with some sort of allergy. Baby came home with sneakers two sizes too big that his little friend that lives on their block gave to him. He’s sent the boys to school without underwear. Their clothes comes back reeking of cigarettes. Baby asks every day if he’s going home with Daddy and if the answer is yes he cries and clings to me and says that no he doesn’t want to go, he wants to stay with me. And some times it’s Daughter that asks and gets very sad when the answer is yes, it’s Daddy’s turn. Eldest is the only one that seems unfazed. He actually seems hurt by his brother and sister’s negative reactions. Baby now tells me he’s going to miss me. I remember the divorce class teaching us, DON’T SAY I MISS YOU. What do I say then? “I love you. Call me whenever you want.” “But Daddy forgot your number.” “Daughter knows it. And Eldest too. They will help you.”

And all that heart wrenching knowing they are going with this man who shows through his actions how very low on his list of priorities they are.

Something’s got to give. I just hope it isn’t me.

 

REALLY good Julep deal & Shopping Spree Total

For everyone curious to know how much I spent at my 12 item Express shopping spree…

$244.80

That means on average, I spent $20.40 per item. I don’t think that’s pretty shabby considering the kinds of clothes I got. And now I’ll just wear them until death does us part.

Speaking of deals, I’ve got a good one for you. Julep is offering the introductory box for their Maven Subscription program for one penny and that comes with free shipping. This month’s intro box comes with two polishes and a pedicure cream.

How do you get it? Easy peasy.

Step One: GO HERE

Step Two: Take the fun and frivolous Style Quiz, enter you email to find out your Style Personality, and see the box they’d send you. You can also go ahead and check out the boxes of the other styles and if you like one of those better, you can grab that one instead. In my case, it pegged me as an American Beauty but I was all about the Bombshell. So I added Bombshell to my cart and removed American Beauty.

Step Three: Sign up and check out.

When you’re done, you are now a part of the Julep Maven Subscription Program. And honestly? It’s a pretty good one. The way it works is like this.

On the 20th of every month they send you an email showing you your next box. By default they show you the style of the intro box you ended up with. If you love it, you do nothing. They charge your credit card on file $19.99 and send you your box.

If you don’t LOVE it,  you can log in and see the other styles. They even link you to a post on their blog that shows the colors for each box on nails. Next month includes a lip gloss and they took pictures of a girl wearing each color too. I really appreciate this because I feel like it’s full-disclosure and they’re not trying to pull a fast one.

So once you’ve checked out the other styles you can:

1. Choose a different style to send your way. This style will be your default next month.

2. Choose any of the styles and send it to a friend or family member as a gift. I love this for birthdays or other special occasions.

3. Skip the month. That’s right, you don’t have to buy the box every month. You don’t like it, you don’t have a friend who deserves it, or you’re just plain broke that month, you skip.

Of course you can always cancel the subscription and stay happy with your one cent intro box but if you like treating yourself now and then, I think it’s worth keeping it. Occasionally, they throw in a free polish. They also offer subscribers a chance to get mystery boxes– $60 or more worth of products for $19.99. I mentioned I had purchased one of these boxes and I received it the other day.

My Pretty Julep June Mystery Box Packaging

My Julep June Mystery Box Contents

My Mystery Box came with:

Julep Elixir Organic Oil, $24

Facial for Hands Glycolic Hand Scrub, $32

Glow on Age Defying Hand Brightener, $32

Megan, $14

Brooke, $14

And a free Julep.com nail file. Retail value of my $19.99 box? $116.

Not too bad huh?

Honestly, at first I was sort of blank about it. I really didn’t know what to make of the box because three of the six items were totally alien to me. But now that I’ve had it a few days and have been using the products, I’m really happy with it. One of the things I’ve been discovering through my De-Frumpiness Project is how luxurious some really small little things can feel.

Do I feel completely fancy washing my hands with a glycolic hand scrub and then rubbing in an age defying hand brightener? Why yes, yes I do. And by the way, the hand brightener feels and smells so nice. Is there something slightly decadent about dropping oil into my hands from a glass bottle with a glass dropper? Um, yeah. Definitely. For me at least.

You have to understand, I’m the girl that recently rediscovered how yummy it is to apply good facial moisturizer ok?

I don’t have a complicated beauty regimen. I’m not even really sure that I have an actual regimen. But yes I am definitely enjoying the couple of minutes every day where I indulge in myself. My nails are chipped? Time to change the manicure! It’s summer, so I absolutely can’t leave without my facial moisturizer with SPF. Floss! Scrub my hands. Nourish my cuticles! Go into fitting rooms!

Slowing down. I’m actually slowing down. These little things are little pauses. Little only for me and only about me pauses. And they’re nice.

 

 

Beauty on a Budget

As much as I have tried to keep my De-Frumpiness Project from deeply impacting my wallet, not spending in this department has been impossible. And you know what? That’s the frickin point.

There are so many ways we put ourselves on the back-burner and spending on other things is definitely the easiest for many of us. In my case, I will justify the purchase of clothing and shoes for my kids when theirs shows wear or is ill-fitting or I just find a really good deal. Not so much for me.

I have found great deals on all sorts of things this year, and even with the De-Frumpiness Project, I have more often than not left the item on the shelf or rack muttering something about not having money right now and then spending the money I don’t have on something else for someone else.

The past couple of months I’ve been forcing that to change. It doesn’t always feel as great as it sounds like it would. Yes, you would think I’d be all excited by the idea of giving myself permission to spend on myself but I just don’t. I stress and moan, “But what about the children?”

Lately I’ve been a bit tough on that whiny part of me and have rebuked her with a sharp, “The children have more than plenty and they don’t even take care of it properly!” Which is kind of true. Ok fine, it’s a lot true. My kids are really lucky because they are part of a very big family that lives in the same city as they do. The very big family is of Cuban heritage mostly and is therefore quite fond of gifts for children. We’re the type of culture that firmly believes if you can’t afford gifts for everyone, at least make sure you get the children gifts. Always, the children.

So my children are inundated. They get clothes and toys and toys and more toys and clothes. Do they get all the clothes they need? No. They don’t get shoes for instance or underwear or socks. But they get a lot of the other stuff– shirts and shorts and skirts and dresses and on and on.

The point is, the kids get a lot more gifts than I do. And that is awesome. That is totally fine. That is the way it should be. BUT that is also the fact I have to remind myself of when I’m talking myself out of buying something for myself that is 1) a great deal, 2) that I can afford at that moment in time and 3) that fills a gap in my diminishing wardrobe. Well, mentally it’s diminishing. I’m having a hard time physically purging my closet this year but that’s another roller coaster post waiting to happen.

Anyhow, here are a few things I have been spending on lately and how I’ve been doing just that.

Clothes: I keep trying Goodwill and keep getting mixed results. Ok, honestly? I don’t find much for me. First of all, the Goodwill by my house is huge in an overwhelming way. It attempts to be organized, but let’s face it, it’s Goodwill. It’s not organized. I just don’t have much shopping time and the past couple of months, I’ve had even less as the kids have been spending more and more Wednesdays and weekends with me instead of their dad (also another post). When I’ve gone and browsed, I’ve found a lot of things that look good until I pull them out and take a look at them. They are the wrong size, stained, faded, or just not what I thought they were when I saw them on the hanger. Repeatedly having this happen to me is insanely discouraging. And when I have found something that is the right size, is not faded, is a good brand, it’s about a couple dollars less than I’d pay for it at a store like Ross.

That doesn’t mean I’ve been striking out in the clothes department completely. I’ve actually scored some major hits– at Ross and Marshalls. Surprisingly, moreso at Ross than Marshalls but I had a great haul last weekend so I can’t complain about Marshalls too much. Although I will complain a little bit. When did Marshalls get so expensive? I was strolling through their shoe section and OUCH. I couldn’t find a nice pair of shoes for under $40.

While Marshalls kills Ross in selection, organization, and brands it’s just not that great in the dollar aspect and that is way more important to me right now than anything else. Why? As much as I am mentally in a hurry to get my wardrobe revamped already, I’m not monetarily in a hurry to do so. I’m not even monetarily able actually. So I have time. I have time to go to the Ross by my house (closer than the nearest Marshalls too and with less nerve-wracking parking than the cramped garage the Marshalls is housed in). I have time to wander the clearance racks. I have time to wander the other racks. I have time to try things on. I have time to not take anything because none of it fits me right. And although that IS slightly depressing I am really tired of not looking quite right in my clothes.

This has actually been my savior. My shape has changed a lot in the past year and a half. While this has wreaked havoc on my wardrobe and my options at home, it has really slowed down my shopping. Before, I used to have the type of shape that was pretty standard for a size Small. Ok so not everything fit perfectly but more often than not things fit the way I expected them to.

Not so anymore. And so this means I force myself into the dressing room every single time no matter what the item is. I never used to use fitting rooms, that’s how standard I was. Fitting rooms slow me down. And fitting rooms make me really question and inspect my prospective purchases. So while my wardrobe overhaul is not going as smoothly or as quickly as I’d want it to, I’m more pleased with where it’s going.

Beauty Products: It is all about the drug store sales. Well, it’s mostly about the drug store sales. It’s almost entirely about the drug store sales. If you haven’t figured this out yet, and you really do enjoy the occasional new lipstick, nail polish, eye shadow, whatever, it’s high time you got on this.

For me, CVS is king. Their coupon policy is easy-peasy. Their ExtraCare Bucks are generous. Their Beauty Club makes it even more generous. The fact they’re all over the place makes them easy to access and you can even shop multiple ones in the same day. I learned all about CVS at Southern Savers. Yes, coupons make CVSing even more rewarding but you can get by without them. You’re just not going to save as much money.

This week alone you can score free facial care products, free deodorant, and free floss (perfect for June’s De-Frumpiness project). You can also get a pretty good deal on razors, face wash, and makeup.

The thing with CVS is patience. Stick to the sales and you’ll be a-ok. Also, don’t be afraid to use their return policy. I had a makeup shopping spree a couple of months ago during a particularly good sale week and bought a powder that was supposed to shimmer. I got home and realized what I got was not what was listed on the rack it was in. The packaging on the products was identical despite the fact they had four different finishes. More than a month later, I finally got the chance to go back to CVS with the product and receipt and was able to exchange it for the right one– even with the first product already being open and used. In other words, be unafraid to purchase makeup you can’t try. If, when you get home, the shade makes you look freshly dead, exchange it for a different shade. Easy!

Walgreens is also quite popular with the savings crowd. I can’t suggest them as strongly as I can CVS because they have so many stupid rules and restrictions with their Register Rewards and coupons it’s a true labor to get things done. My suggestion? Don’t put Walgreens on the list of places you regularly shop at but DO make sure you check out their ad if you find you have to go there for whatever reason (prescription, ATM, medicine, etc.). I had to go to my Walgreens last night for their ATM (ING Direct-friendly!), checked their ad real quick and found they have a deal on Goody hair accessories this week– $2 in Register Rewards when you buy certain $2 hair accessories. That means free hair accessories– IF I have to buy something from Walgreens by June 21st. Turns out I do need some saline drops that never go on sale.So I’m wearing my cute little headband today and in the next few days I’ll go by and pick up the saline drops. Free hair stuff!

Of course, it’s also about keeping an eye out. I ventured into Sally Beauty Supply the other day in search of nail tip guides to find they are having a pretty big sale this month which includes a lot of Buy 1 Get 1 Free deals– even on nail art items (currently a thing). I’d honestly never been much of a Sally girl but rest assured I’ll be checking in on their ads more often now. They have lots of specialty items there you just can’t get at CVS and they’re not afraid to mark them down.

Lastly, there’s the internet. Today I purchased the June Mystery Box from Julep. Julep is a nail care company and every now and then they offer mystery boxes for $60. Each mystery box includes anywhere from $60 to $200 worth of merchandise. This month, you can get a limited edition mystery nail color OR the entire collection of Julep nail polish. Um yeah that’s pretty amazing right? But $60? Ouch. Well, use the code JUNEMYSTERY and your box is $19.99 with free shipping. I indulged. It’s $19.99. I wouldn’t hesitate to spend $19.99 on my kids. Each of Julep’s nail polishes go for $14 each and the mystery boxes include at least three of them from what I’ve seen in previous month’s reveals. Julep is a beauty company to watch. They have a nail polish subscription as well and they occasionally offer the chance to try a box for a penny. I’ve always talked myself out of trying it but next time I won’t, especially if the Mystery Box doesn’t disappoint.

Beauty boxes are very popular right now. I keep seeing mentions of them all over the place. Julep’s the only one though that seems to be willing to offer great deals. I’ve heard great deals on Glossybox but a $21 monthly subscription is out of the question. I might buy myself one month’s box for my birthday in August to try it out and then, if it’s as good as I’ve been seeing I’ll probably use Tinsel’s guts towards the purchase of another one in December or January. The value of the box’s contents tend to be much higher than the $21 so it’s worth it if the money is set aside for it. Definitely a great Treat Yo Self type of purchase, eh Nikki?

So there you have it. Some of the ways I’ve been spending on myself this year. I wish I could say spending and not stressing but it’s just not true. I still have issues spending on myself and I wonder if in a way I always will. I didn’t have this problem when I was single (no kids, no nobody) but as soon as the loves of my life started making appearances, this went out the window and what was once a fun thing to do turned into a guilt-ridden experience.

What about you? Do you like spending on yourself? What about on things that are outside the Needs Zone but not in the Communal Wants Zone? Things only you want that no one else would really enjoy?

Keeping the Gift Budget Under Control

Earlier today I read Sharon’s most recent post– just a regular update sort of thing. But this time, she mentioned two specific spend issues she has problems with that I directly related to.  So I’ve been thinking about them all day like I said I would in the comments and I do have some ideas but I wanted to scratch your brains as well. Only one problem per post because these suck up my brain power!

Problem One: Blowing the Gift Budget Every. Single. Time.

Ah, gifts. These are really tough for people with the deadly combination of loving to shop and loving to give. If you’re the type of person who absolutely loves to help someone else shop but fall apart when it’s time to spend on yourself you most likely have a struggle with keeping gifts under budget.

First things first– get a realistic grip on your gift spending. If it feels like the right amount when you spread it out across the year, it’s the right amount. If it feels way too high even when you spread it out across the year into monthly chunks, bring it down. Accept whatever the real amount needs to be.  The bottom line is if every year you look and you’ve spent $1200 on gifts, you need to set aside $100 for gifts period, end of story. No occasions to celebrate in July? Don’t delude yourself into thinking you can use the gift money for something else because you will be pressed in August when you have four birthdays to deal with. If deep down you know the number is too high because you’re just being extravagant to be extravagant, you’ve got to wrestle that demon and whittle it down to a reasonable number. If it’s because your circumstances just don’t allow you to spend as much as you want, you’ve got to accept that too.

Now that you’ve wrestled with the real and true and livable gift budget, I think it’s time we all truly embrace the one solution that just makes sense– the gift closet.

Oh, the groans! I can hear them, you know. But seriously, the gift closet makes sense (and cents, ha). I think it really is time to put this concept to the test. How many times have I gone into the store not looking for anything in particular, finding the perfect thing for so and so, not buying it because there’s no occasion coming up to give it to them and I can’t be giving things just because, to then not find a damn thing when it IS time to give them something?

There are certain things in life that are highly probable at least once a year. This is my list:

  • Your loved ones will have a birthday
  • You will celebrate Valentine’s Day one way or another
  • You may celebrate Easter one way or another
  • You will have at least one person deserving of a Mother’s Day gift
  • You will have at least one person deserving of a Father’s Day gift
  • You will celebrate some sort of holiday in December
  • Someone will have a baby
  • If you have children, there will be birthday parties
  • There will be an occasion you really wish you had a hostess gift for
  • There will be an occasion you really wish you had a thank you gift for
  • There will be an occasion you really wish you had a congratulations gift for

The thing is, these somewhat predictable events will always come around when you have the least money available for them. Not only that, but the stores will instantly hide all of their good stuff too. So clearly, the only real solution I can see is year-round shopping. You can make this as haphazard as you want or as neat and organized as you want. My idea for myself is to maintain some sort of list I can access with my phone so I can check really quick if I’ve already got Mutant Wino’s gifts covered for the year or if something’s missing because I just found the most perfect thing for him at the most perfect price. And even if he is covered for the year, I might get it anyways because there’s next year. As long as the gift closet doesn’t turn into some out of control clutter beast, I really do think this is the answer for us gift-budget-busting gals. The trick is to not put it off. You find something, it fits the budget, it fits the closet, do it. Make it a point to go gift shopping once a month so you’re not tempted to paint yourself into a corner two months from now.

There are some gifts that are classics. There are gorgeous baby items in neutral colors deeply discounted. You can find some great deals on great gift basket shelf-stable items like wines and gourmet foods (check the expiration date before buying). Keep an eye on the clearance section of department stores for discounts on classic home gifts like frames, vases, candles, and so on. Check the kids’ department for discounted books. Toys R Us constantly marks down toys too– maybe avoid the more trendy pieces and stick to classic characters and games.

Even those of us who make things can benefit greatly from a gift closet. How many of us have those gaps in the calendar when no one’s celebrating anything and suddenly it’s everyone’s birthday and right after that is Christmas? Make a gift every month for the closet. If a pattern catches your eye, go for it and add it to the gift closet. You can even turn this into one of those annual challenges!

What do you think? Any strategies or tips for keeping the cost of giving gifts down that don’t include the classic, “Instead of buying a gift, give the gift of time”? Share!

How much do you spend on your kids?

It always amuses me when people with no children ask people with children questions about having children. It amuses because it’s sort of  an exercise in futility and you’ll only understand that once you have kids.

Simply put, there is no way to wrap your head around what life will be like when you have children. Don’t try and argue with it. It doesn’t matter if you teach a daycare. It doesn’t matter if you were the one that raised your younger siblings. It doesn’t matter at all what life has brought you, you will never be the same once you’ve had a child.

This isn’t a bad thing so I don’t know why people sort of panic when you say that. Yes there are certainly circumstances where people lose their sense of identity but we all go through identity crises and most of us go through them at multiple points in our life.

I can’t tell you what it will be like when you have a child. I can’t tell you how things will change. And besides, even if I did sit and list the millions of ways I have changed after having children, you will undoubtedly say “That will never happen to me” regarding all of the not fun stuff.

I was poking around at GRS wondering what the hell happened to JD since his personal blog was alerting me it was an “Attack Site!” with a big red scary banner. I don’t read GRS anymore because I felt the site got stale. I mean seriously how many ways can you talk about investments and cutting expenses and increasing income?

It was whilst poking around I came across the post Ask the Readers: How much do you spend on kids? I like these types of questions because I track my expenses and this sort of question gives my tracking purpose. I should note that because of my divorce, I diligently track my kid-related expenses separately from mine as much as I can.

I was curious about my own spending and looked into it. This year, I have spent $3,000 on my kids. That breaks down to $1000 a month, at roughly $333 each child. I wasn’t sure how I was doing compared to last year so I looked. Last year, I spent $12,331 on my kids so I’m right on track. Now, here’s the thing. This number isn’t a complete picture and it can’t be a complete picture to a certain degree.

Why? It doesn’t include all of my child-related expenses.

What the amount covers

  • Private school registration (My folks help with the tuition)
  • School-related expenses (field trips, yearbook pictures, teachers gift pools, fundraisers, activities, etc.)
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Summer Camp
  • Clothing
  • Uninsured medical costs
  • Personal care
  • Allowance
  • Gifts

What the amount doesn’t cover

  • Health insurance. My insurance would be free if it was just me but I have children to cover and I pay $222 a month for that plus another $32 for dental.
  • Food. I am not so particular as to try and break out the cost of food for the children from my own but for the purpose of this post, we’ll do some averages. I spent $8200 on food last year. We were a family of four. They are three and I am one. Their portion of that is $6150 ($512.50 a month). Obviously, this is a rough rough number because of portions and food out and all of that but I bet it sort of averages out in the end.
  • Rent. I live in a big house because I have three children. This one is tough for me to adjust because I pay very cheap rent for the type of house I rent. $1500 is the average for many apartments so for me to rent a 3 bedroom house at that price is spectacular. I’m not sure I’d be saving much money if I was on my own especially as I’d probably be living in a more expensive part of town like the beach. Where I would save on housing costs would be in the stuff that goes into houses. I’d have less rooms to furnish for instance and I’d also most likely have lower utilities.
  • Auto. Ok this one I know I can blame on the kids. I hate big cars. I love small cars. I had the cutest most awesome little tiny Mitsubishi and it’s loan was ending the same month Daughter was born. We couldn’t fit in the car with her infant car seat in the back. Well I could but no other adult. No it wasn’t a sports car, it was just a tiny little Mirage. That thing was awesome and would’ve lasted me years. It was stick and had no-frills and I took care of it. But I had to trade it in for something bigger. Larger car = larger car payment + larger insurance payment + larger gas payments. Funny enough, my current car is ending its loan this year and its giving me problems. The car is a 2003 Nissan Murano and apparently the previous owner didn’t do a great job maintaining it because it has a bunch of problems in the engine. And as much as I am pining for something tiny again I know it’s not feasible (I would totally drive a Smart Car or a Prius or a Yaris or whatever else is micro). We are now a family of five with Boyfriend living with us and when his daughter comes to visit, we’re a family of six who don’t fit in the Murano. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m looking at minivans. They don’t retain their value which is great for buyers (me) and they’re roomy which is great for families (us). I am trying to deal with the identity crisis this is bringing on, trust me.

So there you go. This is how much I spend on my kids. And I don’t think the amount spent fluctuates as the ages change, I believe everything sort of evens itself out with certain expenses fitting right in and compensating for the other. Yeah the big ones don’t wear diapers but they wreck their clothes and shoes. They don’t have daycare but they have school and extra-curriculars and summer camps. When they’re babies, they outgrow toys and things quickly but when they’re older their tastes and the tastes of their friends change just as fast.

That being said, I have a feeling this year will see an uptick in how much I’m spending on the kids because I’m receiving consistent child support payments. Last year, I had gone several months in the beginning of the year receiving either very little or nothing at all. We simply went without a lot of things.

One last thing I’d like to say is I’m not arguing the point that having children is expensive. The bottom line is money earned is money spent. What does happen when you have kids is you have way more restrictions on how your money is spent. More of your money is going into resources leaving less of your money free for you to manage as you wish. That is the important thing to think about if you’re thinking about the cost of having kids.

Amounts are pointless. They simply vary way too much by way too many factors. The important thing to consider is how much of your money is allocated to essentials and how much is left over for you to direct as you wish– into accelerated debt repayment, travel, investments, retirement, hobbies, self-improvement, etc. If you are having a very hard time covering the essentials, you are going to be in for a rough ride when children come into your life. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you’d better be ready to cut expenses and raise income. If you can’t do that, you might want to hold off on children. If you are not having a hard time covering the essentials but you and your partner can’t envision yourselves letting go of a lot of the non-essentials you might want to have a serious talk about children or at least be prepared for a series of identity crises. A lot of those non-essentials are going to disappear. I can’t tell you which ones, I don’t think you can either for what it’s worth, and I can’t tell you how many. For some people, it’s been hardly any. For other people, it’s been practically all of them.

Those are the kinds of things to think about if you’re considering children. Forget amounts, fixed or ranges, and just think about your financially dependent life experiences.

For other parents: Have you ever figured out how much you spend on your kids? Did you notice a pattern in spending increase or decrease with age? I haven’t but my three are in pre-school and elementary so I haven’t experienced the full range of child-rearing yet. How many times do you find yourself thinking, “I would totally spend money on that if I didn’t have kids”?

For non-parents: What’s the biggest thing that freaks you out about having kids? Or are you super gung-ho to have them?

Finding Enoughness

75/365 A Measure of Self Worth

75/365 A Measure of Self Worth by ~*Leah*~ on Flickr

Last week, I reviewed Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. It got some good feedback (even from the author!). One of the comments left was this one:

I don’t get it?! what’s wrong with having things and living a happy life?! why do we always have to cut back on things…

And I thought, “Those are good questions and deserve a post reflecting on them.” So here we are.

There is nothing wrong with a) having things and b) living a happy life. However, they are not inclusive of each other. We all know of the people who have lots of things and don’t live happy lives. Need examples? Look at the celebrities who unexpectedly lost their lives to substance abuse– legal or otherwise. And of course not having things doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy life either. If you actually know people who live below the poverty line, you now they are not all living unhappy lives.

The bottom line is, having things is not an indicator of happiness. Personally, I believe everyone has a baseline of happiness that is tied to having things.

Ok, let’s think about food for a minute. Everyone needs a certain bare minimum of food to survive. After you meet that bare minimum, you should take in food and manage it in a way to maintain your body in a healthy way. We all have our own personal cutoffs when it comes to food– that level where you know you’ve exceeded the amount you need to be healthy. The beauty is, we have actual evidence of this right? We have indicators of whether we’re managing our food intake properly. You can be underweight, healthy, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. When you hit the range of excess– overweight, obese, or morbidly obese, there’s only one way to get back to healthy– eat less.

The important thing to remember is this– although there are standard indicators of whether or not you are eating correctly, there is no standard on the exact amount of food a person should take in to be healthy. A quick search on the web reveals the “recommended” number of calories a young woman takes in a day is different than a young pregnant woman. Children at different ages have different recommendations as well. Bodybuilders require a different amount of calories than an average man. And anyone who’s ever even bothered counting calories knows that’s not the whole story.

We know that I have a different metabolism rate than you do so even though we might be the same age, weight, and height I need less calories a day than you do because I metabolize differently than you do. We also know there are different types of calories right? There are healthy calories and empty calories for instance. So you see, what works for me as far as how much food I should eat will simply not work for you.

Money? Is the exact same thing.

The hardest part is determining your financial number of calories. But, it’s just something you have got to do. What do I mean?

Figuring out your own personal “enoughness”.

What is enough house for you? What is enough car for you? Enough clothes? Enough entertainment? Enough education? Enough charity? Enough beauty? What is enough time spent earning money?

We are told throughout our lives, “The sky’s the limit!” and it is, but it’s most likely not the right limit for you or for me or for anyone really.

Determining what is your very own enough is one of the most liberating experiences you can imagine. Just getting started on figuring it all out generates a really calm feeling in your soul.

Why?

We don’t like endlessness. We don’t like not knowing where we’re headed. We don’t like not knowing the plan. We don’t like being at the mercy of others.

When you don’t take personal responsibility for determining your very own Enough, you are putting yourself in the hands of others. And you are putting yourself in the hands of two types of others– the type who are as clueless, blind, and lost as you are and the type who have their own levels of Enough set and they want you to get them there.

Now that I think I squared away the first half of the comment, let’s do the second half–

why do we always have to cut back on things…

Try this little mental exercise for me, ok? I’d say close your eyes but you wouldn’t be able to read the rest of it. So, empty your mind as much as possible.

In your mind’s eye, picture yourself. Go ahead and do a really good job fleshing yourself out there. Don’t do an imaginary you or a fantasy you. Add the pounds. Put some clothes on even if it’s a bit wrinkly. Figure your hair out. Give yourself a facial expression you like. Don’t forget the details– a wedding ring, shoes, glasses or contact lenses, a laptop case or a purse, etc.

Ok now that you’ve got you, add anyone you help support in a significant way. Children, parents, siblings, significant others, etc. And now put yourself in your home. Map out all of your rooms. Drop all of your furniture into them. Fill your fridge up the way you’ve got it right now. Go ahead and turn the TV on. Check the closets. Open the drawers. Have a pet? Don’t forget to set out their food and water.

And just keep going. Think about any car you might have. Think about everything you and/or your loved ones did in the past week. Think of the doctor visits, the breakfasts, the lunches, the dinners, Valentine’s Day, the movie rentals/streaming, the craft projects, the groceries, the clothes you laundered, the floors you washed, the toilets you scrubbed, the ride to and from work, and so on and so forth.

Do you see “enough”? Do you even see abundance? If you are honestly looking at just YOU, you most probably do. When we start bringing in other comparison points, things diminish and lose their luster don’t they?

And that’s the point. Just like your food diet is not going to work for me, your neighbor’s things are not going to work for you. Once you’re at Enough, everything else isn’t going to do anything for you. Just like with food, you can even reach a level of Too Much. And that’s when you start cutting back and doing so joyously.

When you’re losing weight, do you bemoan the pounds as they roll back? Do you suffer anxiety as your clothes becomes looser and looser on you? Of course not! Because you know you are on the way to health.

This ties back to what I mentioned in my review of 7. The unique thing about her approach was she turned her diet into an opportunity to benefit others. And maybe this is something you can try if the idea or act of cutting back in your life disturbs you. Imagine if there was a way doctors could take the weight you lost and give it to someone chronically underweight. Wouldn’t that motivate you to lose even more? The same thing applies with charity.

I’d like to believe that most of us care for people outside of ourselves. That’s the beauty of Enough. When you have Enough, you’re free to give and care for others. You can send your niece to college. You can volunteer at a hospital. You can donate to a food bank or a homeless shelter. You can hire a cleaning lady for your friend with cancer.

We tend to focus on people who have more than us when we seek comparison. And when we do, it’s pretty yucky feeling. We don’t stack up. But if we compare to those who have less, I believe we will more often than not  find ourselves wanting to help and we will always feel grateful, which is a pretty nice feeling.

So there you are. That’s my very long answer to your very short comment. What about you, readers? Do you see enough? Do you see abundance? Do you compare a lot to others around you even in external ways like TV shows, movies, ads, etc.? Are you still working on figuring out your Enough?