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The struggle to become a saver

22 Oct

After a few nights of Nyquil, I seem to be back on the right track. I am starting to think my flu like feeling was less about having the flu or a cold and more my body’s response to the high levels of stress I have been dealing with. I find that sometimes it takes getting sick for me to prioritize and take care of myself, in theory I love the idea of daily self care but at times it’s harder to fit it into the schedule.

This morning found me thinking about money, it has been a while since I have talked money here. I have a confession; I think I am a spend-a-holic. On paper I write the most magnificent budgets, they come across as practical yet in practice I struggle. It seems every trip to the grocery store inevitably costs more than I budget and well an extra $50 here and $50 there starts to add up. I will say though that this month I have accomplished one goal and that is very little eating out. When I feel the urge to eat out I ask myself do I really need this. Will that meal make me feel great or is the bigger issue that I just don’t want to cook? If what I really want is to simply avoid cooking, I have been using up my stash of soups and chowders I keep in my freezer. Tasty, good for my waist line and even better for my budget. The results so far are that I have been able to add a little extra to the savings account and I realized that I have not raided my savings account in several months. Baby steps, that’s what it’s all about for me.

A few days ago one of my employees called me up and decided to forget the boundaries that should exist between employer and employee and long story short, she is grappling with serious financial issues. I had no real words of advice other than if need be I would be happy to assist her with a budget.  Another employee just bought a brand new car that truthfully I wonder how she will afford knowing that she is already tight on cash. Yes a car in Maine is mostly a necessity but a brand new car is not a necessity. Hell, as the Spousal Unit and I are learning even relatively new cars require maintenance hence last month’s unexpected $1200+ in car repairs not covered by the limited warranty we still have on our car.

I work with people who deal with financial scarcity day in and day out; almost 20 years ago I dealt with that same scarcity. The type where you are hoping and praying you can keep the lights on until your next check. While I still have a ways to go financially as far as digging out of debt, I have learned to take care of my 4 walls and keep a little cushion so that an unexpected $100 bill is not a crisis. So many times with the clients that I work with it is truly the little things that take an already precarious financial situation and turn it into a full blown crisis. One of my tricks to building a cushion has been rounding off numbers. We have a number of automatic withdrawals such as Vonage, Netflix, etc. Over the past 7 years I started rounding upwards, a $25.52 bills become $30 and so on, by doing this I create a cushion so eventually you create a decent cushion. I am not by nature a saver and grew up with parents who didn’t teach me about money so I am learning as I go along.

I have also realized that not all bargain style shopping is a great deal. Thrift stores are a great source of savings yet if you go all the time and buy items you really don’t need simply because they are cheap, well you are wasting money. I have taken recreational shopping/looking out of my schedule. It seems to be working. I admit I still struggle with my daily visit to Starbucks or other coffee shops though I try not to frequent these places on the weekend when I have the time to make my own drinks at home.

This past weekend found me dreaming of places I would like to visit, it has been a long time since we have been able to travel anywhere as a family. In part because travel especially from Maine is costly (I swear travel was cheaper in Chicago) the other factor in our not traveling is tied directly to finances, at one point there was no money to travel but also bad spending habits have created a situation where travel is difficult. Yet raising my child in Maine, I see that it is necessary that we travel so that my daughter is exposed to many different types of people and cultures. Much like we find the money to do necessary maintenance on our house, I now feel we must find the money to travel at the very least to see friends and family.

I think having goals with my money makes it easier for me to make the sacrifices necessary to be a good steward of what I do have. Anyway excuse the ramble but with the year soon drawing to a close I am thinking about the changes I need to make when it comes to me and my money. What about you? Do you struggle with money management? If so what are you doing about it?

Last night CNN aired a program Black in America 3-Debt and while I only caught about 40 minutes of the show it was um…interesting to say the least. I think as Black people we get so caught on short term financial goals (new pair of Louboutin’s, etc) that at times we miss the long term boat. I mean if your house is about to get foreclosed on, maybe it’s a good time to downsize your entire lifestyle. Anyhoo, that’s a whole other blog post.

PS: While I am saving, I am still a fair distance away from being able to buy a much needed new computer, consider contributing to the BGIM computer beg-a-thon. It is still happening. At this point if I can raise even half the cost of the computer, I may be able to handle the rest myself.  Just a reminder, as always no pressure.

The New Amerikka

17 Sep

Perhaps it’s because of my professional work, but the latest report that poverty is on the rise in the US doesn’t surprise me at all. One in seven Americans are below the poverty level, for many reading that figure was a surprise. Why? I suspect that for most of us clinging to the illusion that there is still a middle class in this country and living in spaces with people who still plop down $4 for a Pumpkin Spiced Latte from the local coffee emporium and are seen carrying the latest piece of iGadgetry it may be hard to fathom. Yet as someone whose work puts them down in the trenches, I see folks daily struggling to meet ends meet. I see members of the formerly middle class asking for help with their kid’s school supplies, asking for help for food and the list goes on. It’s not just in Maine either, the shelter where I served as a program director back in Chicago now has a waiting list. A waiting list for a homeless shelter! Where does a homeless person go once they lose their housing and the shelter has a waiting list? Food for thought.

The truth in my opinion is that America is literally in the midst of a shift, the gap between the have rocks and the have no rocks is not a gulf but a fucking ocean. Shit, it might even be two oceans. As a provider of social services, I am inundated daily with people who have needs that the current social service net does not begin to address. Even small non profit faith based agencies such as the one I head are simply being overwhelmed with needs we cannot meet. I chuckle when I think of this because conservatives often say agencies such as mine should be the ones to help those in need yet we are woefully underfunded. Perhaps they think the angels and fairies are the ones that replenish our coffers. Interesting tidbit from 15 years in this sector, but at many of the small agencies that I have worked at both in Maine and back in Chicago the staff salaries weren’t much above poverty themselves. I used to have a coworker back in Chicago who often ate at the shelter we worked at because he often ran short of food. Yet people like him are never counted in these poverty rates.

Today’s post really has no point, but between the report that poverty is on the rise and interviewing folks for an opening at my center where multiple applicants told me they were nervous about taking the position should it be offered because it might impact their unemployment compensation benefits. I really have been wondering what the hell is happening to this country? So many of us are just struggling to survive and racked with fear that one wrong move might turn us into the real poor. For many if we at least have a roof over our heads, food on the table and the occasional want we like to believe that we have access to the American dream yet a nation where there is 1 job for every 5 applicants does not sound like a dream but more like a nightmare.

At the end of the day while the talking heads want to put the blame on certain political parties truth is in some ways we have all contributed to this new America. An America where we value low cost and quantity over making sure our neighbors are taken care of. I am not that old, yet I remember a time when a hard working person didn’t need a college degree to make a living wage. I remember the days of my grandparents who worked in plants that paid true living wages and benefits, I am also old enough to remember when we allowed the powers to be to take those jobs and send them elsewhere. So is it really a surprise that now the poor get poorer and the middle class get poor too? Only folks truly doing well are the few who hold the bulk of the wealth in this country.

It’s okay to be mediocre

12 Aug

We are living in crazy times here in the US, many of our fellow country men and women are struggling to survive to the point where just keeping food on the table is a struggle. Yet at the same time many of us are still playing our role as the ultimate consumers. Fancy meals, coffee drinks (yeah, I am guilty of this one), standing in line to get the newest and latest iGadget, all the outward signs of success. I often wonder how many of us can really afford these things? Make no mistake, I know not everyone is struggling but most of us are living in denial. If we lost our jobs and didn’t find one in six months or so our world would collapse.

Yet despite the grim statistics that in this new America a permanent underclass is being created where a good 10% of us at any given time will be jobless and many more are underemployed. We still cling to the dream that we must achieve success and that well… success will include climbing the corporate ladder or maybe the non-profit ladder or owning our own business. Success is often defined by what we have rather than by who we are and frankly I think that is fucked up.

Social media allows me to stay connected enough to remind me that the second reason why I chose to move to Maine was that I wanted to get off the hamster wheel. Prior to our move to Maine and the eventual downsizing of our life, the Spousal Unit and I worked hard to the point early on we had a patch where work was fucking with our marriage. A boss who does not give a damn that your wife is sick has a funny way of creating tension in a marriage especially when your presence is requested on a Sunday just so you can sit in the office and be on call for a client. When the Spousal Unit was fired from his lovely well paid position at a Big 4 firm, it was the beginning of a turning point in our marriage that turned out to be preparation for life in Maine. Yet because we made the conscious decision that our marriage and family was more important than anything else I suspect its one of the biggest reasons that we have weathered the financial storms of life.

In many ways we have reached the point where we are okay having less, that as long as our basic needs (and I admit we are defining basic a bit broadly), are met that we are fine. In a world that says mediocrity and settling is bad we are at the place where we are ok with settling professionally and even financially when our personal life is so rich. It’s funny because the past few months have been some of the best times personally for us as the kidlet has gotten older and a bit more predictable (i.e. regular bedtime).

Last night before I drifted off to bed, I told the Spousal Unit that I was content with our life and he replied that he wished he could do more for us, like rehab this 127 year old dungeon we call a home. I won’t lie, it would be lovely to just hire contractors to fix this place but I am happy to just have a home and more importantly a home that is paid off, the rest will come in time.

To my young readers and maybe not so young readers, I guess what I am trying to say is life is too fucking short to spend your time chasing shit that won’t really make you happy. Sometimes we set goals of things we think will change our life and guess what? Those things often aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Instead happiness must come from inside, true its hard to be happy when your belly is empty and you are sleeping on a park bench but the fact is if you got a place to lay your head, food, and more importantly you have good people in your life that is the shit that matters.

I guess in some ways this may seem strange coming from someone who is holding a beg-a-thon to get a new computer after all if I had a better job I could just go out and buy the damn thing. But while that would be nice, the fact is even this blog is a labor of love that I could not do if I were tethered to some high paying gig, thus not having the chance to meet all you fabulous folks who read my ramblings. So don’t let others define who you are by what you have or don’t have, know that you are fabulous no matter what!

Online begging…yay or nay?

10 Aug

Fair readers, I need your advice and input. If you read my previous post you are aware that a nasty virus seems to have rendered my trusty 3.5 year old laptop not very usable. I was already on borrowed time with my baby but now it is literally knocking at death’s door. Boo hoo. I have a mini netbook I bought a while back but as I have learned it’s too damn small to be useful for daily work and writing, or maybe its the fact I am getting old. Therefore my age is preventing me from seeing the screen well. I don’t know….

In any event I need a new computer, I use my baby for work and writing, both the blog and my columns that run in the local paper. Obviously I don’t get paid for this blog but I do get paid for my column so a fully functioning computer is essential. Now I have not talked frugality in a while but lets just say slamming down at least $1200 for a Mac is not in the budget and probably won’t be for at least another 5-6 months.

I had pretty much resigned my self to the fact that it would be a while before I had a new computer until I came across a well-known blogger who is holding a fundraiser. Actually I know a few bloggers who have used their blogs as a vehicle to solicit money and then it hit me…hey I could do that? I have to be honest though the idea leaves me feeling a little uneasy. On the other hand I have thrown spare change at causes and I know a little bit of change from a lot of folks can add up.

So I am asking you, what do you think about bloggers and others online who hit you up for money? Is it tacky or a great and ingenious way to avoid debt for a good cause?  Better yet if a sista went that route might you considering helping out? Or maybe I should see if the local strip club needs a black woman with a potbelly.

Get a job!

4 Aug

Being unemployed when you don’t wish to be unemployed is generally one of those things that ranks up there as being a life shattering event or at the very least pretty damn uncomfortable. I know because I speak from experience. It was on July 3, 2007 I was let go from my teaching gig and to say I didn’t see it coming was an understatement. I had been teaching business classes at a local for profit career school, the type that many non traditional students tend to go to when they are looking to change careers or upgrade their skills. The department that I was a part of,  was deemed to be unprofitable so the powers to be decided to kill it and well that left a sista without a job.

The timing could not have been worse because just a few months before I was let go, the Spousal Unit lost several of his freelance clients and my salary had been plugging in the cracks. Thankfully I was eligible for unemployment insurance benefits but they were roughly about $850 a month which was substantially less than I had earned as an adjunct teacher but hey I was thankful for what I got. That said, after taking a few weeks to be depressed and lick my wounds I got on the grind and it took damn near 17 months to land a new job as the director of a small non profit that paid less than my teaching gig. I went back to work a few days after the United States elected Barack Obama, as I joke there was a spirit of change in the air because my Black ass being hired to run an agency that deals with rural poor whites was definitely a conversation starter. I can’t even tell you the number of times I was introduced as the new director and there was an uncomfortable or curious pause. Thankfully everyone got over it and almost 2 years later I am still at this job.

Point that I am trying to make though is that I lost my job before the official start of the recession and it took over a year to find a job. I actually exhausted my unemployment benefits and started hustling, doing grant writing for small agencies and even doing workshops. I often greatly discounted my prices just so that I could earn some money. But the fact is during that period of time if it had not been for the assistance of my father in law, this blog would be called Black Girl in Arizona because almost certainly we would have lost our house and ended up living either with him or in one of his rental houses out in that way too hot, too sunny state.

If you lost your job though in the midst of the great recession though, chances are you are facing down some real hard times, hell you might even be one of the 99’ers like this woman. In case you don’t feel like clicking that would be folks who have received extended unemployment benefit’s for 99 weeks and for some of these folks the bennies are over but guess what? They still have no job. Not surprising when the fact is for every one job opening there are 5 applicants, mathematically that means there are not enough jobs for every person who wants or needs a job.

However it was after reading this article that I felt inspired to write, since based off the comments and I must say if you have some time please read not only the article but the comments. There are many who feel that any college educated American who is still jobless after 2 years must be a bum. Wow! I don’t know about you but I rarely even see signs at the local fast food joints stating that they are looking for help. The few times I hit up the job sites I see few openings that if I were looking for a job, which would even be suitable for me. Some think if you are jobless maybe you should offer to babysit, or do lawn work…anything to earn some cash. Great idea but generally one needs the aptitude and or tools to hang up their shingle besides in the new era of frugality that is taking over the nation many of us are doing are own shit. Normally at least once a year I hire someone to do the heavy yard work, not this year, the Spousal Unit is doing the bushes. Yep, they are crooked but guess what it saves a few cents.

The sad reality is while some of us are still living in a bubble where jobs and money are plentiful for some of us that is not reality. There are many more folks like this woman and my Dad out there who are literally a moment away from homelessness. Thankfully my Dad’s short term dilemma is solved though right now we are looking at the long term solutions.

What we need aside from the government to really address the real economic crisis on the ground is compassion and understanding that most of us are only a few checks or 6 months away from homelessness. While the hubby and I are doing ok at the moment, fact is our savings is insufficient and since the man is a contract worker at the moment should his major gig end he would not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits and we would be screwed.

To those who say unemployment benefits discourage people from taking jobs, I say really? I remember in late 2007 being newly unemployed, sending out a good 25 resumes a week, scouting the jobs sites, emailing and calling and just being frustrated and bored. So I decided maybe a holiday job at Macy’s would be nice. Well I went to the group interview and was offered a position that paid minimum wage, something like $7.25 an hour at that time, no set schedule (kidlet was about 2.5 at the time and with her in childcare I needed a schedule that worked around that) required I wear certain clothes and at the interview they were trying to convince me and the others that we should open a Macy’s account so that we could use the discount they gave employees. Um…this is a minimum wage paying job, why the hell do I need a credit card? Sadly the younger women in the group interview were eager to fill out the form so they could get a card and charge the clothes they would need to work there. Well I mulled it over but when training day came and after I realized the job would impact my unemployment benefits so I would either make less or exactly the same thing as I was getting on unemployment I said thanks but no thanks.

I imagine to some this admission makes me a slacker but at that point I still had benefits and taking a job that was nowhere near my career field and could put me in a worse financial place seemed like a bad idea. I wanted to work but let’s be real!  Besides what if I got calls for real jobs but was scheduled to work? In my mind I am sorry but it’s a no brainer.

Nope, what we need are some services and systems in place that help the long term unemployed just because a person loses their job does not mean they should lose their dignity. As a nation we have plenty o money to keep fighting wars, how about we bring those troops home and invest that money in the citizens in this country?

What do we owe them?

22 Jul

I have been unusually quiet in this space even by my own standards, I wish I could say it was strictly because it’s hot as hell (global warming is real, we had tornadoes in Maine last night!!!) but truth is I am bogged down with family issues. This is one of those times when maybe I am about to share too much of myself in this space, but the truth is for me letting things out is often healthy. So here goes.

Right now as I type this, my remaining parental unit stands on the brink of homelessness. I am talking the odds are high that tonight he will sleep on a bench or in a shelter. I wish I could say it was because he is a super asshole but really he is not. No, he is just an aging hippy turned preacher turned widower yet a man who instead of planning chooses to live on faith. Long story short when the feds decided to play games with the extended unemployment benefits, my Pops got caught up in that mess. It’s been a month since he last received an unemployment check and living in a rooming house where rent is due weekly this is real bad. Regular laws governing eviction processes don’t apply to him and while I have been able to ensure he isn’t starving, there is no way I can pay my bills and his damn near $200 a week room rent.

My father is a prideful man, so rather than go to his family and by my last count he has at least 9 siblings still alive, he waited a couple of weeks before sharing this news with my brother and I, neither who are in a position to do much. Like I said we are keeping him from starving and I have extended an offer that he is welcome out in my neck of the woods and I can probably pony up the cash for a bus ticket to get him out here but really that is the best I can do.

Having worked with the homeless in Chicago I am quite familiar with every shelter or source of help for folks in Chicago yet he has not wanted to discuss those options, though he did call 311 the city’s homeless prevention helpline though without a guaranteed source of income he was pretty much shit out of luck.

My heart is heavy this morning, but at the same time feelings of anger are creeping up. See, to some degree we have been here before. When my Mom was at the late stages of her battle with cancer I helped my folks out, spending thousands on rent and her insurance. When my Mom passed, I helped out even more. None of that money was ever repaid back and really it wasn’t my money I spent it was money I owed to the IRS. This is one of the reasons I have that pesky tax problem.

See, my natural instinct is to help folks but the older I get, and as my own responsibilities mount its pretty clear that I can no longer dive in head first to help loved ones because in my mind I owe it to my kids and husband to make sure their needs are met. Yet I am struggling with the very idea of what do we owe our parents? Presuming they were decent folks who loved us and raised us, do we owe them anything? Two old friends of mine admit they have always admired the lengths I have gone to, to help family but also admit they would not sacrifice their own financial futures to do so. On the surface that pains me yet deep down I am starting to think it’s true. Part of me feels like due to past help, perhaps I have set a bad precedent in helping. I have family members who assume based on silly superficial shit that I must be well off financially…um, no. I still struggle with money like many I suppose but I also know that I try to stay one step ahead and plan for shit and deep down it bugs me that others don’t.

Anyway that’s what’s up with me. Is there anyone out there that is struggling with family in need especially parents? If so I would love to hear from you.

Whose responsibility is it?

13 Jul

Due to the fact that I am no longer an anonymous blogger, after all in Maine it’s not as if there is a plethora of Black women working as Executive Directors of small non-profit agencies. I am about to share a story but won’t be able to fill in the back story since while I like to talk much shit, I am rather fond of the paycheck I collect a couple times a month. So I apologize that I can not get too juicy with this story but it’s a story that needs to be shared.

I run a small agency that works primarily with low income youth and their families through a variety of services that we offer. The economic downturn has increased our workload at a time when frankly the money to fund such operations especially in smaller communities is drying up. I spend my days plotting to keep the doors open so not only do the area youth have a safe space to come to but so that I can make sure that the college boy will be able to attend college in the fall and that rice and beans don’t become a staple in our house. (Nothing wrong with them, I’d just rather eat them a couple times a week and not daily)

To be honest it’s a hard time to be in the non-profit sector, it’s never been a cakewalk but in the past several years it’s gotten even harder. Which is why I was stunned to find myself in a conversation with someone who is very knowledgeable about the field tell me point blank, they just don’t understand why people cannot provide for themselves. In a nutshell this person told me they think that most poor folks are lazy bums who are coddled. Furthermore that while the work that folks like me do is good; it bugs them how much bureaucratic waste goes on at agencies. To further elaborate this person felt that too many times folks like me (but not me) get hooked on good salaries and don’t do jack. ….Ummmm, wow! I could go on but the takeaway is that there is too much governmental waste supporting bums and maybe if we stopped helping folks they would pick up their own slack.

Like I said, I’d love to give you more details but I can’t. On the other hand this conversation made me wonder what would happen if social services simply did not exist? I wish I had faith that people would suddenly do the right thing and provide for their own families but in many cases, I see people daily who lack the means to do that. Of course there are scammers, over the years I have met many people who burn out of the helping professions because frankly it gets hard to do your job when you see people work the system. But I truly feel that at the end of the day the folks who do that are in the minority, most folks who use government and social services would probably rather not use them.

In a society such as ours whose responsibility is it to take care of the less fortunate among us? Once upon a time family connections were tighter and people could rely on family for help but as our connections to family have shifted often the help is not there. Either people physically are not able to assist or in these tight times cannot afford the monetary assistance.

Should we even have safety nets (are they really that safe) in place to catch our less fortunate?

Let’s talk about it. I am not even going to discuss the assumption that folks in social services are paid too much. I can count the number of coworkers I have had in almost 15 years in this field who were only a hair above the clients financially speaking. I am convinced that no one does direct social services without it being a calling, low pay, paltry benefits for jobs that require a certain level of experience and suck the life out of you. Yeah that’s the high life baby!

Unjobbing..what the???

13 Jun

Last night I was wasting time on the interwebz as I am prone to do, when I stumbled on an interesting new term that I just had to share with you. Language is a funny thing; there are so many ways to say the same thing, so I suppose I should not be surprised to learn this term. Yet I think its one of those terms that who is saying it is what makes it somehow seem special.

So if you find yourself unemployed and unable to find a permanent job that meets your needs whatever they may be, ultimately most of us would find a way to cobble together a living. Hell, that’s what I did a few years ago when I spent 18 months as a self employed non profit consultant. I looked at what my strengths were and started marketing the hell out of myself. Turned out I wasn’t half bad but having a spouse who is already self employed, I tend to feel more comfortable having a traditional employment situation.

Well if for whatever reason you find yourself needing to cobble together a living, well you can just call yourself an unjobber. Yes, you read that correctly, unjobbing. In a nutshell unjobbing is described as “Unjobbing is a method to sustain a chosen lifestyle without the primary means of sustaining that lifestyle being a sole occupation in exchange for wages. Unjobbing is a creative choice.”  In other words earning a living however you can without benefit of a single job or jobs.

Now much of the literature that I found in my quick search of unjobbing is related in part to the unschooling movement. I got no bones to pick with the unschooling movement, I know a few folks who have made that choice for their families and for most of them it seems to work. I admit it’s probably not a path I would ever take in part I know myself and I know my kid. We both need a certain amount of structure but I digress.

Let’s get back to this unjobbing thing. For starters how the hell is unjobbing any different than folks who hustle together whatever work they can find to keep a roof over their heads and food on the tables? Really, I am not trying to be snarky. I suppose one could say it’s more of an intentional choice and that people who unjob probably make a conscious life choice to seek fulfillment outside the work world. I can dig it, most folks who unjob generally live outside the primary economic system, many living in the cash economy from what I can tell. Um….folks in the hood often do the same thing but it damn sure is not sold as a lifestyle choice, its survival.

Hell, at various times in my life maybe I should have claimed the unjobber status rather than saying I was trying to make ends meet. I got to be honest, the only difference I see here is that it’s more likely that white folks who hail from a certain background may gravitate to being unjobbers. Whereas persons of color who lack permanent employment for whatever reason might say they are getting their hustle on.

I know this piece might bring out the wrath of the PC police, hey lighten up! I admit discovering this term was enlightening to me. Who knows, I am dealing with some discontent in my world of work, maybe I will become an unjobber. All jokes aside for more information on unjobbing check out this link. By the way what do you think about unjobbing? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Do you have a Plan B?

1 Jun

I imagine that a few of my regular readers are going to write back after reading and tell me what a Debbie Downer this post is and how they will never ever deal with anything that I am about to describe. To you I say goodie gumdrops and come back another day; as for me I have always been a realist and I firmly believe that shit happens. Shit not only happens it happens when you least expect it, so always have at least a Plan B and possibly a Plan C.

Ladies, we all like to believe that not only will we find Mr. or Mrs. Right; but that once we find our soul mate and partner that we will be happy until one of us checks out of Planet Earth. It’s a lovely thought but in America if you are a heterosexual married couple, the odds are you will probably divorce far sooner than one of you passes on.

I have written before about how in the past several years I have watched several good friends go through divorces and in all but one situation the women were on the losing end of the stick when it came to money. It’s no coincidence that the only one that didn’t get totally fucked was also the only one who had not been a SAHM (stay at home Mom), ladies I have to say it once and for all staying at home with the kids as a full time choice with no plan to ever work for cash is a bad idea.

Look, when you are in love and happy you are playing on the same team yet the moment you decide to end the relationship especially if you decide to end it…guess what? You are not friends, it’s a dog eat dog world. I have seen in most cases (there is a current exception) most of these loving Dad’s get real tight with the money and even those who willingly pay their child support its still a shock for Mom. Why? In many cases child support is not going to cover the entire cost of taking care of the child because the courts figure both parents will be providing and that includes providing money. Sure you can get a job but the reality is for most women, even highly intelligent and amazing women, if you haven’t worked in a number of years the odds that you will step back into the world of paying work and earn enough to support yourself and your share of financial support for the kids is really quite slim. It was already slim before the economic downturn and now it’s virtually impossible.

Many women and I have some in my life currently dealing with this instead end up jumping into new relationships also known as the rebound because well, having a man around can be useful from an economic point of view. I know…in perfect world no woman would ever get together with a new guy and think money train. Ideally not, but it happens. Or else I have seen some amazing women have to resort to public assistance which sadly does not offer enough to actually live off of; it’s a fucked up existence. I have a friend who gets less than $20 a month for food stamps for her and her kid because the powers to be consider her child support adequate. It’s a good thing this Mama lives in subsidized housing or else she and her child would be homeless. I have known her 3 years now and she has been looking for work about that long, its rough out there ladies.

Just today it was announced Al and Tipper Gore are splitting after 40 years of marriage. Think about that, 40 fucking years and they decide to part ways. So if you think it can’t happen to you think again. People change, shit happens and ladies a good Plan B is a great thing. Am I saying have a secret bank account? No, but it is nice to have something in your name and I don’t mean being an authorized user on an account. A dear friend of mine learned that after 14 years of marriage she had no credit, see her hubby had handled the cash and while she had a hand in paying bills it turned out everything was in his name. In the end when the divorce was finalized she actually ended up having to sell the car he bought her, this woman had been a loving and devoted wife and SAHM. Turns out had she had a card or two in her name and maybe a little cash of her own, her post married life would have been a lot easier. Thankfully she is establishing her own credit life but it took having her Mom co-sign at 35 to get her a car. This is a woman who I remember telling me her job was her kids and hubby, those kids are still her job but now she hustles nights working to keep bread on the table since Papa’s child support doesn’t even pay her rent.

Upon divorcing women are often thrust into poverty, this is a proven fact not the ranting of a woman with an axe to grind. I am also not saying you must abandon your kids to daycare 40+ hours a week in order to have a Plan B but the reality is as the kids get older it is possible to do something that allows you to earn cash, create your own business, etc. Just do something! The thing is especially for women of a certain age, it’s not always about your honey and you parting ways. People get sick and savings get depleted and your honey can die. This happened to my Grandmother, she was not a SAHM in fact she and my grandfather were solidly middle class, they did all they were supposed to, to prepare for retirement. Unfortunately my Gramps was diagnosed with brain cancer in his 50’s and despite what the insurance did cover there was a lot they did not cover. In the end he died and my Grandma had her life savings wiped out, all she had after his death was the house, thankfully she was able to hold onto that after losing him and all their savings. Thanks to the fact she had been working she was able to maintain her lifestyle granted it was far more scaled back but unlike some she was able to provide for herself until she retired. Also because she lived longer than my Grandpa and had worked she was able to draw her own Social Security benefits that paid more than my Grandfather’s benefits. (Note: if you don’t work you are not earning Social Security benefits, granted it probably won’t exist when we retire but still, the world of paid work allows you to theoretically earn something towards your retirement)

I have seen one too many older women lose a partner too early and be plunged into complete poverty after his death. I actually met a dear friend this way; she was renting out rooms in her apartment to survive. She had outlived her husband there was not adequate insurance to provide for her needs so she lived a good 20+ years after he passed away but she spent them in poverty.

Ladies, have a Plan B, if nothing else for your own piece of mind. Love is grand but shit also happens and I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be holding that bag.

Maybe it’s not quite party time yet

25 Mar

I debated whether or not I was going to write about the health care reform bill and its passage but after realizing that I am probably not the only one who initially was happy about this until I read the fine print. I figured maybe I would share my thoughts on the matter.

It’s safe to say that without a doubt affordable health coverage is a huge issue for most folks, after all not even being gainfully employed means that you will have access to coverage. Hell, I know…the agency I work at is small and barely manages to keep the doors open much less provide me with any health insurance. The Spousal Unit is self-employed and in good years we paid the outrageous costs for self insuring which is not cheap at all until our income went into free fall in late 2007 and we spent a period of time being uninsured. Last year in a fit of desperation I applied for the State Children’s Insurance Plan better known to most as the SCHIP program that provides coverage to kids whose families earn too much for Medicaid but are without insurance.

Well in a fluke move that I don’t understand or as my Dad calls it an act of God, not only was the girl child approved but actually our entire family was approved for state medical coverage. However before you get your panties in a bunch, you will be happy to know that effective April 1 due to increased income we will be rejoining the millions of uninsured though we get a 6 month transition phase so at least I can get my hernia repaired before I go back to being uninsured.

I say all this to say I have been closely watching this discussion because with the Spousal Unit self-employed and me working at a job that does not offer benefits, I was anxious to find out what this all would mean to me. Now I will admit that at over 1000 pages I have had to look at the cliff notes version and I have found several that distilled this down to an understandable and practical level.

For starters single folks earning less than $14,400 and a family of 4 earning less than $29,000 it seems these folks would most likely be routed into the expanded Medicaid pool, I have to say after having spent a year with Medicaid, frankly while it’s not too bad for kids. In many states it sucks for adults, lets see no dental coverage, no vision and the number of providers that actually take Medicaid is shrinking.  I can only hope and I admit maybe my understanding is off so please feel free to chime in, but I see more folks on Medicaid as a real bad thing. Case in point when we were informed that we were eligible for Medicaid, almost 75% of the providers they listed in the booklet that we could sign up with were not taking anymore Medicaid patients. Need to get a referral on Medicaid? Good luck with that!  In the end the physician that girl child and Spousal Unit had been seeing  allowed both of them to stay on as patients since we had been with him for years. I ended up sticking with the sliding scale clinic I had been going to when I didn’t have insurance and let me tell you wait times to actually see my provider are quite high. Again the powers to be are going to have to tweak this big time to handle the rush of new patients in the Medicaid system, of course they have 4 years to figure it out.

Which brings me to another point that an online buddy with Medicaid experiences brought up, generally in order to get Medicaid there are asset limits, so again will the government be tweaking this? Otherwise all those newly signed up folks with shiny Medicaid cards could be in for a rude awakening.

Well now that I have covered the free coverage lets move on to folks who are either self-employed or working at gigs with no coverage, well depending on your income and for a family of 4 we are talking an income of up to $88,000 you are eligible for the subsidies and can buy your coverage in the brand spanky new exchanges that will be put together. Right now if I am reading correctly, you won’t have to pay more than it seems 9.5% of your income for coverage. So if you are Joe and Jane Doe and you earn about $60,000 as a self-employed family you can expect to pay almost $6000 a year for coverage. Excellent!

Well to be honest in a decent year our family income is in that general ballpark and today’s world with the cost of living paying almost 10% of my income for health insurance is not always doable. Hell, it’s the reason we went without for over a year. I can only hope these plans will offer real and comprehensive coverage which might…and I mean might make them worth the money.

Look, I admit there are some positives to this bill, folks can no longer be cut off  because they actually get sick and use the plan nor will folks with preexisting conditions be turned away and yes its good to know that young adults can stay on Mom and Dad’s plan. Hell, Medicaid dollars will now pay for free-standing birthing centers…these are the cool things.

But I have to say that when I saw online friends proclaiming joyously that everyone will have coverage I wonder did they understand that everyone will be pretty much forced to buy some coverage. See, everyone being told to buy coverage thus making us all insured is very different from we all are getting insurance for free. I admit initially I didn’t notice the difference until I saw some buddies of mine who I know are deep into social justice issues, some like myself are front line workers who seemed to not be rejoicing that made me wonder what this really was all about.

Mind you if you decide to opt out of this, you will get fined, oh initially it will be a small slap on the wrist penalty of $95 a year but it will go up with each passing year that one chooses not to become insured eventually to 2.5% of income or $695 a year, which ever is greater.

Now I am not even going to get into how this will affect employers since that would be its own post but I will say I wonder if this will cause a negative impact on future hiring or more employers using independent contractors to skirt the law.

Look, I like Obama,I voted for the man, I think we need healthcare reform but this bill now law seems deeply flawed, I can only hope though as the Spousal Unit said last night that over the years maybe it will be tweaked enough to provide some real coverage. Because right now as it stands we basically just got told we all need to buy some health insurance and frankly the idea of anyone telling me how to spend what few coins I have does not sit well…friend or not.

I welcome your comments, after all with a bill this large it’s entirely possible I missed the boat and if that is the case please let me know. Only thing I ask is that we keep it civil.