Monday, January 25, 2010

Money Monday: January 25, 2010

As January is coming to a close, we’re finally starting to see some of the payoff for all the crazy we’re inflicting on ourselves; with both of us doing the heavy-duty commute, the level of insane has reached epic proportions. Through November and December, I felt like I was constantly having to tell myself to be patient. So many days off, so many expenses, miniature paychecks…it felt as though the money were just pouring through my fingers like sand.

I was ready yesterday to start giving myself the patience lecture yet again. Expenses were ridiculous this month, we’ve got a lot of digging to do before we see any daylight anyway, and, well, you’ve just got to stay the course and all those other positive, upbeat sort of hang-on-a-second…

For the first time in more than a year, I’m starting a new month with the entire month’s budget already in the checking account – which means that the income we earn in February gets to stockpile in the savings account for a while instead of zipping through our hands so fast we get blisters on our check-writing fingers.

Now, the biggest factor contributing to this miracle of you mean I have ACTUAL MONEY LEFT OVER?!-ness is, of course, the fact that I now have a full-time paycheck again, but that wouldn’t add up to diddly if it weren’t for the other half of the equation, which is that we are continuing to live as if we didn’t have this second income coming in.

Usually, any increase in income will see a proportional increase in spending. It’s just human nature, I think – we hope for better things, always, and we see that pay raise as being that better thing, arrived at last.

We feel wealthy, so we spend. Even if we said we wouldn’t, even if we said we were going to use this raise to build up savings or get together a downpayment on a house or pay off debts or whatever…there’s just something about that extra money in the checking account.

I can’t pretend I don’t feel it. I’m out in the Real World again, marching up and down Market Street, seeing other people’s Cool Toys and wishing I had something cool like that, deciding that I “need” this or “deserve” that.

Maybe I could take a little vacation this year…maybe I should get myself an iPhone…you know what’s better than one pair of boots? TWO pairs of boots!...a makeover, a wardrobe change, a live-in nanny and housekeeper and a much bigger house to keep them in…

I have no idea how long this contract will actually last, or what will happen afterward. I don’t want to risk becoming dependent on the income, to increase our spending until it matches this new bounty and then be all upset when it suddenly gets yanked out from under me.

Soooooooooo… I’ve based all of our budgeting on just my husband’s income, which means that right now we’ve got less than $300 a month for everything that isn’t a recurring bill.

Yeah. Not going to work out too well, long term. I suppose it might be possible to feed, clothe, transport and entertain a family of six on three hundred bucks a month in California…but I’m really not too game to try. We’re cruising by right now on Christmas present clothing and leftover food, but the day is rapidly approaching when shoes will be worn out (what’s up with that, anyway? I swear to Dog, Captain Adventure can go through a pair of shoes in less than two weeks…wears the toes right on out of them…argh…) and the pantry will be truly bare – I need to have more cash available for Food and Such.

We’d have it now, if I put my paycheck into the main pot, stirred well and spent it if I had it.

But then, we’d become dependent on it for certain. We’d “need” that money just to get by, and I’m 110% sure that we’d find ourselves spending princely sums on everything from food to swim goggles, and then saying, “But we hardly spend anything!” and wondering where it all goes.

Instead, I’m holding my paychecks physically apart. They go into an entirely separate account at a different bank, and they pay for just two things: Work-related expenses (childcare and train tickets, for example), and whatever the #1 Goal currently is.

Right now, I’m building up savings; sooner than I thought, I’ll be cherry-picking debts out of the mix. The first one will give me an extra $275 a month in the “real” budget; it’s still not a whole lot and there isn’t a whole lot of goin’ to the movies in the budget, but it’s a lot more feasible…and because I’m not increasing our spending to match our new income, I should be able to pay it off in about three months and grab the next one – which is another $300.

Two months later, I’ll move on to the next and put another $200 back in the general mix.

And so on, and so on, for as long as the income lasts…the important thing being, when it does come to its inevitable end, we won’t be screaming in pain because we neeeeeeeeeeed! that paycheck to keep the ballet lessons going, the steak on the table, the weekly shoe odyssey, not to mention the cruise we’re planning to take this summer!

All along, we’re living on just the one income, with the comfort-level on it increasing only at sustainable levels.

It’s not always easy to do. There’s a lot of stuff I want to buy, and it seems like something new pops up every single day. It’s hard, right now, trying to keep the spending down that far…harder still when payday rolls around and I feel that surge of Wealthy hit.

Surely I can afford a little pecan tart and perhaps a tall latte from Starbucks today…certainly I deserve a LITTLE something for all this Crazy, say, maybe, a pair of BROWN boots… (I found a pair of great knee-high black ones at the Famous Brands shoe outlet right before Christmas? Fifteen dollars. Woot!) (…but now, I want brown ones…) (seriously? what is it about boots?! I’m not a big shoe person, but I am attracted to boots of all kinds, from cowboy to ridiculous stiletto-heeled monstrosities…)

ANYWAY. It’s yet another case of trying to make sure I get what I really want…which come right down to it, is freedom. I don’t want to be a slave to my paychecks. I want to want to work, and if I don’t want to, I want to have the ability to say, “It’s been swell! See you later!” and jump off the treadmill.

Right now, I really don’t have that. I pretend I do, setting our budget so tight and insisting that we’ll make do (undoubtedly with many bailouts from my purportedly set-aside paycheck – let’s face it, $300 a month? Not too likely to make it through February on $300, folks…shoot, I am now the proud parent of two Girl Scouts and HEY! LOOK AT THAT! IT’S COOKIE-SELLIN’ TIME!!!!) (I am dead meat, people. Seriously. Pray for me.)…but we can’t make do.

The windshield cracked on the car last week. Where would I have gotten the $100 copay – because I’ll tell you what, even with all the food leftover from the holidays, I still burned through that $300 in the first two and a half weeks and was fudging like crazy for the rest of the month.

One doctor’s visit, just one, and that other $200 and then some, is gone.

One two night hospital stay was over $1,600 out of pocket – after insurance had whittled it down from over $16,000.

Yeah. Right now, we neeeeeeeeeed my paycheck.

But I can change that…one resisted box of Thin Mints at a time…

(you have no idea…my daughters, all cute in their little vests…with the little forms and the pleeeeeeeeease, mommy? It’s for courage, confidence and character!”…oh…dear…)

(“In late-breaking news, a mother of two Girl Scouts spent $18,000 on cookies this afternoon, and then gorged herself into a coma trying to hide the evidence from her husband! Film at eleven!”)


Steph B said...

Thin Mints. Yum.


caitebee said...

"One two night hospital stay was over $1,600 out of pocket – after insurance had whittled it down from over $16,000. "

Ok- I'm Canadian and no matter how long I have to wait at least I don't have THAT on my bill. The ability to go see the doc before something ends up like this - priceless.

The number of times I've been to emerg with my kid... I'd be living on the streets after selling the car. Thank you gov't that I can afford to do preventative and maintenance health care.

I might not get my mortgage as a tax deduction but I think I keep the health care. I really don't understand why the people in the US are fighting this. Doctors still make more money that I do.

Threeundertwo said...

Stay strong! You're doing a great job and it will feel so good when that debt gets whittled down. There will be time for thin mints and iphones in the future.

Ms. Packrat said...

Hey, console yourself - Girl Scout cookies have been adulterated with HFCS and other cruddy ingredients and are no longer the deliciousness they used tobe.