Tag Archives: financial woes

Me and my money…what a complicated mess

12 Oct

Turns out that trying not to spend money is a whole lot easier said than done. So far I have gone off course though the money I set aside to save is still being saved and for me that is a step in the right direction. I decided against taking Dave Ramsey’s class since with my work schedule and the holidays, I know I couldn’t commit to full 13 week course which is a shame since I am sure there was something for me to learn despite having read his books.

So I am trying to be easy on myself and remind myself that Rome was not built in day but its hard because on paper I can make budgets that seem so reasonable, so doable yet the reality is shit always happens. I have tried the cash only route as well as sticking to the debit card but truthfully I have yet to find a system that works for me. I do find it works better to take cash with me when I go grocery shopping but carrying cash in general doesn’t always work.

Right now I am focusing on meeting my financial goals for the next two months which includes elder boy’s air fare for both Thanksgiving and Christmas break, paying off a couple sets of back taxes, setting aside cash for auto repairs since inspection time will be here soon and generally with a car as old as ours inevitably something needs to be fixed. There is also holiday related expenses which while we keep gift giving to a minimum and the Spousal Unit and I try not to do much for each other, our focus is on the kids and really on the little one. Lastly there is our trip to NYC to visit friends. I am also trying to stash away a few bucks to do some much needed work in the house since the wallpaper in girl child’s room needs to be replaced since it looks pretty bad.

So I have some goals and while I struggle with the occasional cup of coffee on the way home from work, I am trying to stay focused on meeting my goals. Once the year ends then we will set a new set of goals. I am sure my plans would make most financial folks cringe but I know me and after a year spent studying folks like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, its important for me to find a plan that is realistic to me.

So in case you cared, that’s what’s up with me and my money….besides I figured by sharing this it will help to keep me honest.

Getting serious about the cash

22 Aug

I vent a lot about my financial woes here at BGIM, in part because in my day to day life outside of a small handful of folks, I really don’t discuss money at least my money or lack thereof. Granted I talk a lot about class issues especially as they relate to the middle and working class but there is a huge difference in talking class as a general topic or as it relates to my work versus a discussion about the dreary state of my finances.

For the past several years, I have watched our income slowly decline…its funny because I graduated with my masters degree in 2006 and when I started the grad school journey the plan was that our income should grow…only problem was that the Spousal Unit’s income started dropping in 2006 and in 2007 the US economy decided to thwart me and I ended up a casualty of the beginning of the recession when the school I was teaching at decided my department should be closed.

I have sat by for a few years praying and hoping that things would change instead they have only gotten worse. We made some changes to our budget since losing several thousands of dollars a month meant we had to cut back, yet through it all there was one line item that until recently I considered sacred. It was the one item I felt we could not give up. What is it? Full time childcare for the girl. Now I have mentioned over the time that my girl is high energy, I love her but I admit I have often been glad we get a break, the old saying absence make the heart grow fonder!

Well mini me aka girl child is now 4, and old enough to go to a traditional very pt preschool, its only 9 hours a week but she will still get some socializing in and I will get a few hours a week to myself. Now how is this going to work with our work schedules? Thankfully unless I am in a meeting, I can actually bring girl child to the office with me since after all, what’s in my office? Kids. At 4 she is old enough to hang out in some of the programming that is offered by my center and being the head cheese also known as the director, there is no one on site that I report to since everyone who works at the center reports to me. Definitely a good benefit.

The Spousal Unit has created a space in his office for girl child to hang out in when he is working and I am not available, also right now there are only two weeks a month that the Spousal Unit is super busy so the plan is to trade off watching her around our schedules. If I have meetings that are not when she is at preschool, he will watch her and when he is uber busy I will watch her.

I have to be honest this new plan is scary since I am not exactly a SAHM, I have a job but I also have no emergency fund and a stack of extra expenses coming up as well as some bills that need to be addressed. One of my creditors, in fact one of the most pressing ones has made me an offer and with the money saved from no longer paying for ft childcare we will be able to get this huge burden off our backs.

I admit when this idea hit me last year I eventually said no, but this year there is a sense that we no longer have the luxury of having ft childcare, not when we have work schedules that do allow for our daughter to be cared for at home.

So while I am nervous about this change, I am also excited to know we have a viable plan for changing our financial situation for the better despite not having an actual increase in salary. I am reminded that in tough financial times, sometimes we have to think out the box and look at what we really need versus what we really want. For too long I have said ft childcare was a need when for the past year its really been more of a want.

Is there anything in your budget that you think is a need but deep down you know its more of a want? If so what are you willing to change?

Guest post: What Is This? Bizarro World?

4 Aug

Today’s post is brought to you by Deacon Blue of Holy Shit from Deacon Blue, he answered the call I put out a few weeks ago to hear from folks who are being impacted daily by this crazy economy,what follows is raw and open and a place I think many of us are in if we were to be honest. Thanks Deacon for being so open and sharing with us.  If anyone else wants to write about their struggles with the economy, I would love to have a guest post…hit me up at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com.

My dad spent his entire career in blue-collar work, as a union electrician. There is no doubt that he spent most of that career, and all of my truly formative years, in the middle class.

I have a college education that I’m still paying for (and that my mom and dad helped pay for as well), a white-collar career, and I would call myself anything but middle class. In fact, I think this year I officially started skirting the “poor” category.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I’m on a state health-care plan now because my income has dropped so low. My family could, technically, qualify for one of those food cards that replaced the food stamps of old. The main reason I haven’t taken advantage of that is that, unlike with health-care, I still CAN afford food, and I’m not about to take from a program that other people still need more than me.

I find myself fearing at times that my dad, who has owned multiple houses in his life (and for some years has owned at least two, renting out one of them) must think I’m sort of idiot slacker. And he’s made enough hints and mentions that I must be doing something wrong with my spending or budgeting.

It irks me. Sometimes because he’s right. But mostly because he just doesn’t get it. And frankly, neither do many of my peers, some of whom are in similar straits as myself.

As I look back, I can see where shit started to fall apart for the middle class. After World War II, the middle class was created. Men and women (mostly men) who worked good paying jobs and got family benefits and eventually retirement benefits. They were able to buy homes, invest money and send their kids to college.

And then it began to fall apart, as more and more, those college educated kids found that they weren’t doing the jobs they supposedly got educated to do, and weren’t getting paid like their parents were. No, instead of defined work hours and hourly income, decent benefits, and overtime pay, we got salaries and some very fluid and changeable benefits. We had to work past normal work times, often with no compensation at all (except maybe “comp days,” which don’t exactly pay any bills). We were expected to give and give and give, but nobody compensated us adequately for what we did. And as the economy has globalized and now as the economy has begun to flounder, we are also expendable…or held hostage to our jobs, expected to do EVEN MORE, with even less compensation.

In essence, we were sold a bill of goods, and now if we say we don’t want to be worked to death for little pay and sometimes no benefits, we are told we aren’t team players. We aren’t hungry enough. We aren’t dedicated.

Welcome to Bizarro World.

Dispatches from the Formerly Middle Class #2

18 Jun

Sadly I haven’t had any takers for the idea of having a guest post each week from someone who is not coping well with the economic downtown (hey, if you have a story you want to share, let me know). But have no fear, I got off work early and figured in the absence of a a guest blogger, that I would share a story with you that I read about.

This piece was in the NY Times a few days ago, anyway in case you don’t feel like clicking the link and you haven’t read this story. Its basically about how credit card companies are starting to offer settlements on delinquent accounts on a more regular basis. In this piece Edward McClelland a forty-something year old freelance writer ended up becoming delinquent on his credit card (since I am married to a forty something freelance writer, I am guessing McClelland isn’t earning the type of loot he used to) and eventually settled with the creditor for half the bill.

Now for folks who are used to paying their bills and have never found themselves in this situation it may be newsworthy that credit card companies will settle with you but the reality is they have always done this…and no I don’t know this because I am a lifelong deadbeat but my mother was a bill collector so I know quite a bit about how the collection industry works.

See, if you have little in the way of wages that can be garnished and the self-employed generally meet that criteria and you have no assets, creditors really can’t do a lot to you. Yeah, they can sue you but again if you have real property, remember the old saying “You can’t get blood from a turnip”…well the same rules apply to collecting money.

Now in the NY Times piece McClelland in the comments section is being taken to task for what many fine upstanding folks consider shirking his responsibility for not paying the whole bill, but the reality in the new world is that many of us want to honor our commitments but if you don’t have it, you can’t pay it…. I personally like eating and while Visa is important, eating is even important.

Personally I applaud the man for trying to do the right thing in these tough times…as I am learning day by day as I deal with my own financial downfall that many of the things that we used to do are simply not part of our reality.

So here is another weekly dispatch from the formerly middle class.

Stop playing with us

26 May

Am I the only one who hears the news reports about the economy and thinks, quit bullshitting us? Seriously, just this weekend, I was hearing how the “experts” think more people will get out and travel this summer…after all gas prices are cheaper. Gee, its jumped like crazy in the past few weeks to a lovely $2.40 a gallon but hey its not $4 a gallon, so therefore its cheap. Yes, gas is cheaper than it was last year but lets be honest its not like gas is 75 cents a gallon or some ridiculous price. I suspect more people will be on the road but maybe its because after months of living close to the bone, they just feel the need to cut loose for a moment before they go insane. Its the type of logic that a dieter uses after weeks of being good and following the diet and they just need to take a day or two off.

Then there is the report I just read a few minutess ago, that consumer confidence is up, folks are starting to shop more. That might be true but I suspect the fact that good weather is here and again folks are cutting loose for a moment, considering that unemployment is still rising and in some states and cities its already in the double digits, I doubt the recession is over.

On the other hand its easy to spin shit and make us think things are getting better. Funny thing is I know very few people who are not feeling the impact of this economy in one way or the other. I was just having lunch with a fellow non-profit consultant who is thinking of looking for a regular gig since her work load has dropped…I know that feeling all too well as the past 6 months has seen all my work dry up and potential new clients can’t afford my rates which are reasonable.

Too many people are struggling, over the weekend the NY Times reported that the newest wave in foreclosures are not folks who got the the sub-prime create a loan with shaky credit but folks who used to have good credit and jobs. Folks who lost a job and realized they couldn’t find a new one that paid at the rate they used to make, folks who have exhausted all their resources and when it came down to putting food in their bellies, and keepsake the phone and lights on (useful things to have when looking for a gig) versus paying the mortgage and starving, they took option A.

After all it takes quite a while to actually be foreclosed on or evicted from your dwelling so you play that mental fuck fuck game thinking your ship is going to come through soon, only it doesn’t and the next thing you know, you are the face of poverty. The new face of poverty or the working class in America is someone who played by the rules…someone who got that degree, figured they work themselves up from the from being a desk jockey in a cubicle to actually getting an office with a door. Only they changed up the rules and there are a whole lot of Americans with fancy degrees who are feeling they were sold a bum deal.

If I sound a tad bitter today its because in some ways this post is about my life and while thankfully as long as I pay the taxes on my house I will always have a place to rest my head, I know for many others that is not the case. Yet at the same time as I think about my rather large student loan debt and those lovely degrees I possess and how they have not translated to financial stability, I get a tad pissed. Truth is my life in many ways was a lot simpler and stabler when I was a simple working person with no degree. See, I could off less without Sallie Mae wanting her money back. I gotta earn more because I have more expenses and even with bankruptcy Miss Mae still gets her money.

No, I get mad these days when I think of how the powers to be have manipulated us in the past (college as a surefire way to economic stability for one) and continue to manipulate us (things are getting better..oh really? For whom?)

So my mood will pass, it always does but lets be aware of how the powers to be and media try to sucker us with their spin…Happy Tuesday!

PSA…Real Financial Advice

8 Apr

Several years ago when the Spousal Unit and I started to experience a decrease in our income, for the first time in my adult life I really had to get serious about tackling our finances. I am embarrassed to admit that for many years I pretty much mimicked what I had seen with my own parents when it came to money, get paid, pay your bills and if there is anything left just spend it. Yep, and I cringe in writing this but for years I never thought about what happens if???? No rainy day fund, no plans for the future just spend, spend spend. Always counting on future job growth and raises.

Early in our marriage we were netting just a hair under 6 figures and in that time saved not a dime and still managed to put things on credit cards. I know, just dumb as hell. I sometimes I wish I could go back in time for just a year, lets just say I would have a nice savings fund. Some might ask how did you get to that point? Like I said, my folks had no financial sense, we never talked money. I do recall seeing them stave off collectors and was an adult before I realized you can pay the light bill before they send the disconnect notice.

However in these rough financial times, I will say that the way I was raised (with little cash) has been helpful after all unlike my good girlfriend who just can’t imagine ever buying second hand clothes, I have no problems with yard sales, thrift shops or things like that. In fact I now prefer buying used over buying new. I get more bang for my buck and often net some unique items.

However in the past several years as I was saying, I had to start getting real serious about our finances, sadly it took a huge loss in income to get real about money. So I started surfing the net and reading folks like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. Now before I start I should say that I think both of them have some excellent nuggets of advice but overall I feel like they are not living where I live or where many folks are currently living. After all at the end of the day, these guys are laughing all the way to the bank on the funds they earn from us buying their products.

That said, the best thing Dave Ramsey says that I agree with is that everyone needs an emergency fund, look…I’m not talking 6 months of income put away. Yeah, that is a great goal but for many us including yours truly, that is not reality now or anytime in the future. Yet we all know situations where the car needs a minor repair or you need to call a plumber out and its a few hundred dollar expense, now maybe you can put it on the credit card and that is most certainly an option. However in this current economy you may not have that available on your card and you shouldn’t count on it being available, after all the credit card companies are reducing their lines. No, this is when an emergency fund is a great idea and really in my opinion what it is designed for.

Now if you are like me and don’t have much cash left over after paying the bills, you may be saying where the hell do I get the cash to fund this emergency fund? This is when cleaning out your house and having a yard sale or listing your stuff you don’t use on Craigslist would be a great idea. Two years ago, I made a decent sum getting rid of the kids stuff on ebay as well as my old Coach purse collection. I generated well over a thousand bucks in about 6 weeks time and while it didn’t go towards the emergency fund (I was out of work at the end of 2007) the money did go towards paying bills. So it was still worth selling shit off. Right now I am thinking of a spring yard sale and this time the cash will go towards the emergency fund, since last weeks plumbing debacle reminded me of why I need one. It was 4 days before pay day and I was running on empty thankfully a good friend was able to front me the cash till payday but its been years since I have had to borrow money and while I was thankful, truth is I don’t want to be there again.

Now other gems of advice that the financial gurus give you seems predicated on having folks who earn enough money like I used to and are just making bad choices with how to spend it. If you are like me and have been where I was until recently and simply did not have enough money to meet all the bills that’s when I find the advice these so-called gurus give to be rather lacking.

Look, the bottom line is you need food, shelter, utilities, transportation and any regular medical needs…these are what I call priority items. Lately I skim the financial boards and am amazed at the number of folks who don’t realize that if you are jobless, Visa and Mastercard are not a priority. Yeah, good credit is important but don’t pay the credit card folks to the exclusion of the folks who keep you housed. That’s just not a smart move. Suze talks alot about the important of a good FICO score, yeah it is important but if you are struggling, something has to give. Call me crazy but what good is having Visa paid but living in a cardboard box?

Also in these current times, we have to look long and hard at needs versus wants….cable TV complete with movie channels is nice, when you can afford it. However I axed premium cable a couple years ago when the going got tough and for the most part don’t miss it. Only reason we have any form of cable is that the company gave us a deal since we use them for internet. which in our case the internet is actually a legitimate business expense since the Spousal Unit needs it for work. Otherwise it would be gone.

I am an avid reader and love reading the newspaper, had home subscription..I now read it online for free. There are all sorts of small items we pay for, we consider them necessities but truth is they are not. Speaking of , I only had Starbucks one time last week, regular readers know about my battle with the Bux….better to use that money on more enriching activities.

So just a little financial advice from someone in the trenches.

Its not that serious

28 Jan

This morning as I do most mornings, I fired up the laptop to read the local newspaper online and check my favorite blogs while sipping my morning joe. While sipping a lovely cup of Sumatra, I ran across this story and this one, in the first story it seems a fellow was so distraught over losing his job that he decided life had no meaning, yet rather than just end his own life, he apparently decided he didn’t want to be alone in death and decided to make it a family affair. Generally they call that murder-suicide in polite society.

 

In the second story which is Maine based, a woman who at one point had been an upstanding member of society engaged in good works as director of a group home, decided to take a walk on the dark side. It seems that since leaving her a job a couple years ago, she decided that prostitution seemed like a great way to earn some cash. Turns out she was wrong.

 

Now as I was sipping the coffee and processing both these stories, I started thinking that the common link between both these folks was cash or rather a lack of cash. On the surface neither shared much in common but in these increasing hard times, I suspect we will see more folks who were average joes resorting to doing some dark shit to cope with the changing economic tides.

 

The past decade has seen such a rapid level of growth and greed and so many have bought into the lie that they must have XY and Z to be successful, folks no longer feel okay just having a functional car, it must be a nice car. Simple shelter and simple meals are also no longer acceptable, one must have a 3000 sq ft house decorated with the latest Pottery Barn or whatever is hot in home fashions. A simple meal of beans and rice shared with loved ones is not enough, instead we must be able to eat out.

 

Yet the reality is even in these tough economic times, even the brokest American is still living larger than someone in a third world country…most of what we consider necessities are in fact luxuries. If you are reading this, it means you either own and have access to a computer, most of us have heating and cooling systems, some form of food….do you get my point? Even at the food pantry I went to on behalf of my job, I was struck with how nice the food was, granted I know pantries can vary greatly. But the pantry was giving out organic fruits and veggies!!!! Organic and none of what I brought to the kids was expired or inedible, I would eat it myself or feed it to my own family.

 

The point is that maybe for some of we can use this as a time to get back to basics and as Suze Orman the financial guru says people first….lets focus on what we have and not on what we lost.

As my Pops used to preach when he was active in the minstry, when was the last time you saw a U-haul truck behind a hearst? Seriously, we enter this joint naked and we leave it naked, all that shit we kill ourselves trying to obtain is meaningless in a larger picture. Killing ourselves and whoring ourselves because we lack……really its not that serious.