Our teeny, tiny budget (kind of like a little baby unicorn)

As I mentioned in my last post, we had to find some ways to adjust to the reality of our lost income when I stayed home to provide care and education for our youngest adopted daughter. I have to admit that I had some pie-in-the-sky ideas about how my days would go and how I would be working part-time from home doing what SAHMs do when they need to bring in money. Soooooooo naive.

The reality is that I had no idea how much time therapy was going to take and that my daughter’s complete hatred of education was not limited to mainstream classrooms, that I had so little extra time, and I had to make some tough choices.  

  1. We went back to paying the minimums on the cards in most cases. When extra $ showed up, we threw it at bills as soon as we could.
  2. We set up a fund-raising website. In the state of California, homeschool requires the parent to set up a private school. So we did and we did something that is really hard for me – we asked people for money. Now, I only did that for about a month until I just got too embarrassed and I stopped, but we did net $400 from the effort, which really helped with school supplies and field trips.  
  3. We cancelled and cleaned out our storage unit…kind of. We’re still working through all of the boxes, but we decided not to pay any extra and to really look at the things that we have. I think it is safe to say that we have gotten rid of over 1/2 of it.
  4. We planted and grew vegetables. It was 40% effective. We had some fresh veggies, and we got time in the sunshine and “fresh” air (we do live in L.A. after all).
  5. We started shopping 1x/week. Which is directly related to #6
  6. We planned every single meal and snack. It really helped to keep costs down, which is something we had struggled with for a long time.
  7. We stopped drinking soda. I haven’t done a real analysis of this, but I am confident that we saved several hundred dollars with this choice. It was tough, but I am really glad we did it.
  8. We went gluten-free. Now, I know this is a little controversial and it is WAY trendy, which we are not, but…we had done a 10-day fast from gluten, and wouldn’t you know it, 3 of our 4 family members dropped major weight and lost puffiness. So, that also means that we can’t eat out very often, and if we do, it is generally a place with fresher/non-processed food. Which is good for our health and our budget.
  9. I got a part-time job. This was not originally the plan, and if fact, when I was approached with the position, I said ‘no’ because I didn’t want to take the time away from my family when we were trying to do some important therapy. But, we pondered and realized that 1 evening and 1 weekend-day each week should be do-able and would really help out with the finances. And it has! 

So, there you go – some of the things we did to counteract our shrinking income!

 

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Been such a long time!

I have a kind of sad history with this blog in that I have had some long periods where I have fallen off the face of the earth and have neglected to record what is going on. It has actually caused me to feel some guilt, which is kind of silly, because what I write here may cause someone to think, but it isn’t the life and death work with which I have been involved with while I have been away.

So, I decided I won’t feel guilty, but I will share what has been going on for the last 15+ months. 

Family

Our two daughters moved in with us in July of 2011. They were in the foster care system and we fostered them for a long time until we were finally allowed to adopt them. They were older and had experienced a lot of trauma, which meant that there were some significant challenges to come for all of us. I am NOT whining, but I can tell you that this has been the most costly and difficult thing that I have ever done. My husband and I have both had to leave jobs, lost friends, income and have found ourselves isolated on several occasions. This is a tough spot to be in when you are trying to reduce debt. When the rest of your life feel constricted, the last think you want is to feel like you can’t provide yourself some self-care because you wanted to pay that bill down by $20 extra. But we still managed to, even if it wasn’t as much as we had originally planned.

School

Well, after 7.5 years of slogging along part-time, I finally (!!!!!!) finished my masters degree! It has been great not to have to pay for tuition any more. And the last two years, we decided not to apply for another student loan, but to pay out of pocket. Which hurt. A lot. But we didn’t incur any additional student debt, which is good, because that bad boy bill is HIGH. 

Work

This has been the biggest area of change. When I was last “current” on the blog, my husband had finally gotten a new job after being fired from his last job when his performance at work was affected by the special needs of our children. He found a position at an organization that really understood where he was coming from and that supported his focus on family over work. His 10 months of unemployment was PAINFUL. But then, when he went back to work, we discovered that our youngest was disintegrating at school. Eventually, the school asked us to come in for a meeting in the Spring of 2013 to let us know that they didn’t want our little 2nd grader there because she was too disruptive for the class. And this is the best school in the district (and they would not give us a permit to go to another district), so my husband and I had to talk and pray about the whole thing. Eventually, we came to conclusion that we would homeschool for the 2013-2014 school year to address the emotional and psychological needs of our little one. Which meant a 58% reduction in income. In your head, remember what E.T. said to Elliot when he cut his finger on the saw blade – “OOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCH!”  Yes, that is what that felt like.

I’ll write more about some of the things that we did to replace income, but it should be clearer that I was away for a good reason and that while it kept me so drained that I couldn’t write, it didn’t stop our debt journey. 

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more soon!

Well, Old Bessie died…

I didn’t really name my old Saturn Bessie, but the name always invokes thoughts of an old, tired workhorse who has gone out to pasture. That’s my car…. (or, WAS my car).

I received a text from my husband as I was on the way home from work on the second week of March. It said, “the Saturn is stuck in 2nd. Luckily, I am almost home.” [CLARIFICATION: This is after two years of constant repairs and the last major issue being that the computer was no longer talking to the cooling system (a $1,500 repair) and the car was overheating every time it was turned on and it kept blowing holes in the radiator and cooling tank . We were filling it full of water every day just to get it to run, and there were some transmission issues cropping up at the same time, but we were trying to eke out every last mile because we knew that the repairs were hovering around $4,000 and we just didn’t have the cash.]

Yup. It was truly stuck in gear and after arduously pushing it in reverse down our driveway, we finally got it to the mechanic and awaited the call…

…time of death 12:57pm.

When the mechanic says, “We had to restart the diagnostic computer two times to get all of the error and repair codes from your car because there were so many that it overloaded the system. We’re not going to do any work on your car because there really is no point,” it is time to turn off the machine and say good-bye.

After 10 years, 11 months, 190,000+ miles, we wish you well Bessie!

And HELLO Sage!

I DID name the new (to me) car this time. My kids thought it would be cool 🙂

We shopped and did research for 4 days and Carmax was the one who came through for us again. We got a low-mileage, older car (still under warranty, though) for under $15,000. It doesn’t have a lot of frills compared to most cars out there, but it is the nicest car I have ever had (Power windows!!!), so I am pleased. So, please welcome our new arrival, our 2009 Hyundai Sonata.

And $15,000 of new debt (pppfffffffftt)…

UPDATE: Thanks to Beth, I realized that I hadn’t given the full picture about the state of the car. It had no trade in value and it had major electrical, transmission and cooling system issues that were beyond what we could afford to repair. I’ve clarified above – thank you, Beth! 🙂

Saving $$$ on Kids Clothing!

So, in the quest to find ways to both save money AND positively impact the environment, we found ThredUp! It is a great way to buy clean, used kids clothes that have gone through a good screening process. 

We’ve been really pleased with the quality. My first order was $39 for eight pieces (and that includes shipping & handling). Plus, they include a bag in each order that you can use to send back your own gently used clothing for credit or cash!

Here is a link if you want to take a look: http://www.thredup.com/r/JED7Z2 

 

Affordable Meal Planning

I’ve posted about meal planning and food costs before because it is our #1 money pit budget-wise – well, “actual-wise” really…

I added a new banner advertisement on the right of this blog because it is something that we have used for health and to keep costs down.

A few years ago, I wrote about e-meals (then it was called e-Mealz) and we were excited to try it out. It was a GREAT time saver, and we found that it did keep us more on track when we were disciplined enough to actually buy all the ingredients in one day and plan during the week. But then we got kids…

And it went on the back-burner.

Then, I started back on Weight Watchers and used the Portion Control version. But then we found out that we had to move to a non-processed diet to help our kids with their special needs.

And it went on the back-burner.

But then…they came out with their “Clean Eating” plan and we were back in business!!!

So, here I am to remind you about them, because I am so pleased that they have adapted so well to what the consumer needs, all while keeping costs down. Click on the banner below if you want more information, and if you try it out, let me know what you think!

eMeals - Easy Meals for Busy People!

Hey! I’ve Missed You, too!

Hello everyone!

It has been TOO long!

I have much to share about the last 16 months as that is how long it has been since I’ve managed to eke out any details from this rollercoaster life of mine, but I will just start with this:

  • Our foster daughters moved in a little over a year ago
  • They have special needs and it has pretty much consumed us for the last year
  • My husband lost his job at the beginning of the year (more on that later)
  • I had been on a reduced schedule (~55%) for the last year – I went back to full-time at the beginning of July
  • We have been struggling along on 1/4 of our normal salary, so we’ve made some steps backward to make ends meet.
  • Because of the consuming nature of older, special needs foster kids, we went without a formal budget for a year. Oh. My. Goodness.
  • I am back and we’re ready to re-embrace our accountability to ourselves and to YOU!

How have YOU been?

It has me thinking…

Today, on the way to work, I was listening to a report on my local public radio station and it caught my attention when I heard that,

“In the coming years, a lot of people will still be paying off their student loans when it’s time for their kids to go to college,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org and Fastweb.com, who has compiled the estimates of student debt, including federal and private loans.

The article from the NYT/msnbc.com talks about how Student Loan Debt is now outpacing Credit Card Debt in the US economy. I can attest to this, as we currently have more SLD than we do consumer debt.

And after working for non-profits for the last 9 years, with no plans to move back into the private sector, I know that it will be a long road toward paying my loans off, even as I continue to take my classes in the evenings.

But I’m starting to think that we should be move vocal about disputing the idea that SLD is “good” debt…I think if we are honest, we can admit that it is a form of indentured servitude that keeps us striving for better paying jobs (let’s ignore the fact that adjusting for inflation there have been no increase of earnings for the lower 90% of US earners in the last 30 years) instead of working for organizations and companies that may contribute more to society and the development of culture. Sure, they say that degree earners make more money than those without, but they don’t say that they are happier and that doesn’t mean that every field that requires advanced degrees will pay more.

I’m sure there is MUCH more to say about this, but I’m still just mulling it over at the moment, so I’ll end it here…

But I’d love to hear what YOU think.