Monday, September 30, 2013

End of the Month

It's the end of the month. And in the spirit of my dad's 70th birthday today (shout out to BDA and the best daddy a girl could ask for), I will do the responsible thing and calculate how much we have spent in each category and plan ahead for October finances. See? I've learned a lot, Dad, thanks. Now if only money really did grow on trees.

Overall, in our relative frugality of September, we spent ... $7,088. 

What?!? Is that right?!? You must be thinking. Me too. Seriously. So here's the breakdown.

Mortgage 1453
Bills 741 (including a quarterly water bill and our shared AT&T bill)
Credit Card Debt 2000 
Credit Card Interest 13
Groceries 500
Food Out 169 (including some spent on food during Indy travel, but mostly comprised of my $3 coffee/candy/soda habit and the more-frequent-than-we-thought pizza habit)
Beer/Booze 65 (including PBR from groc and Alex's monthly GWAC)
Gas 287 (167 for Suby and 120 for Volvo)
Health 10 (my refill Rx)
Gifts/Office/Hobby/Entertainment 404 (both our dads birthdays and a wedding gift in here)
Personal 276 (Alex got a haircut, I got mine cut&colored, and there were some random toiletries purchases)
Baby 823 (daycare and diapers)
Charity 70 (Race for the Cure, and the only money we give these days)
Home 150 (early in the month Ikea runs, and then just randoms like light bulbs, etc)
Work/Professional 127 (Rach and I are working on getting our own business and we got a PO Box and a business book to help us get started)

More than 7 Gs!?! That's a shit ton. Even if I take out the two grand we put toward paying off our consumer/credit card debt, that still leaves us with more than $5,000 in monthly expenses. In a "frugal" month, no less. I didn't get new Toms that I want. I'm holding off on buying Francie rain boots for a Xmas gift. I said no to Alex paying to get the lawnmower fixed.  I said yes to an extra shift at Legacy. Not so frugal after all, eh. But, as I would tell my patients, it's less about what's been done, and more about a plan for moving forward. 

So what's the plan?

Fuck if I know.

Dad, are reading this? For your birthday, want me to FINALLY learn all that financial crap you've been unsuccessfully force-feeding your kids for the last 25 years? It's time for a financial meeting of the minds. Don't die until I figure this shit out. Seriously. 70 is old, but you're a young 70. Plus, you'll make one hell of a grumpy old man, and you're just now in your prime for that. Love ya xoxo.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

18 Months


At her 18-month appointment with the pediatrician on Friday, she weighed in at 22 lbs and just under 31 inches tall, placing her in the 25th percentile for both. I had to complete another one of those "Ages and Stages Questionnaires," which never fails to induce anxiety about my kid's development. I just beebop through the months, not too worried about anything other than correct carseat installations, choking hazards, and the occasional germ, and then Wham! I'm asked about specific problem solving skills, fine motor movements, and 2+ word combinations and I'm all abuzz with nerves because the Bean "sometimes" draws a straight line when given a pen, and other times just scribbled back and forth. She "sometimes" will turn the clear bottle upside down to get the Cheerio out after being shown. And she has never repeated "mama water" or "daddy chair" after me. Lucky for us, we have a pediatrician that sings our daughter's praises and makes us feel like she's just as healthy and normal and wonderful as we think she is.

I did take a few iPhone photos of the pages of the questionnaires, just for posterity.

The Bean at 18 months? She is still obsessed with babies, but could mostly care less about dolls. She has a new affinity for brushing her teeth with her big girl toothbrush. Her poop is still mushy and stinky and I never get those easy turds during diaper change any more. She just learned to say "uh oh" and it sounds so cute coming out of her mouth when she drops a pretzel or a block. She knows her body parts and her animal noises and the names of most fruits and likes to talk about them. She follows directions well, and even seems to understand temporal directions (e.g. "First take a bite of banana, then I'll give you this waffle"). She says "yeah" more than "nooooo." Every morning before daycare she says she doesn't want to go, but then she willing goes into Jessica's arms without so much as a whimper. And then when I pick her up after work she is excited to see me, but none too eager to leave school. She's obsessed with closing doors and giving other people their shoes/slippers and ordering them "on." I sometimes catch her quietly practicing the names of all the people she knows, "mama, daddy, 'ish' (herself), Mimi, papa, dah dah (Nesta/dog), BiBi (BDA), Kuh (teacher Jessica), mama, daddy, mama, daddy, mama, daddy, ish," etc. She recently started refusing requests for hugs and kisses - she only likes to give them out as she sees fit. She still suffers from separation anxiety, but has had a whole slew of new babysitters in the past month (started daycare, my dad watched her, a complete stranger in Indy watched her, our adult neighbor spent an evening with her, and we paid a different teen neighbor to babysit when we took my dad out for his 70th). Each time she has cried hysterically for about 20 minutes, then warms up to her sitter. She is solidly in 18-24 month clothes. She tells us when she's pooped, but then refuses to have her soiled diaper changed. She has again started coming to our bed in the middle of the night/early morning, but is so nice to cuddle with and doesn't usually ask for milk. Uncle Brian came for a visit, and if they weren't related, I would describe the Bean as having had a crush on him, or that she was being coy and flirting. But I guess that's weird to say. She tries to go up and down stairs like an adult,  but doesn't have the size or the motor capaci to do so. She's a great helper - getting the mail, carrying a bag, returning a spoon to its drawer, picking up blocks or spilled Cheerios.

I love her.

Sometimes I'm at a loss of jest to sum up my favorite person, so I think I'll let her daycare, Blue Skies and Butterflies, do it for me (isn't that the!?!) Here is what Jessica put on the wall for when other teachers are covering.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Baby Ben

A couple of weeks ago we took a quick trip to Eugene to meet baby Ben Waldman and visit with his mama, Anna. We also had a moment to catch up with Amy and Peter. It was a smooth drive bith ways, timed for sleep, and the Bean was in love with the "beebee," of course. Pictures, thanks to Amy.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Laura +Garret

Dear Bean,

You missed your shot. Seriously, you had a chance to have nearly 400 admirers smile and coo at you as you walked down the aisle in your white satin and toulle dress, your baby feet bare, carrying that cute white flower ball/pom. You would have loved the attention. You did so well at the rehearsal, leading the older flower girl, taking her by the hand, encouraging her to take the steps. But then, on your big day, you blew it. You decided not to nap, ate orange cookies that you drooled on to the front of your pretty dress, and then threw a toddler tantrum in the atrium of the beautiful Catholic church. God was not pleased. And neither were your parents egos. The photographer did manage to capture a few perfect photos, for posterity, but we'll all remember what could have been.


P.S. #flowergirlfail

We spent the better part of last week in Indianapolis for my cousin, Laura's, wedding. She and Garret made quite the handsome couple, ever stylish in their rehearsal and wedding day attire. The MOH and Best Man rocked the toasts, and the open bar fueled several fabulous hours of getting our groove on.

It was so nice to get to spend some QT with the Fergs, my mom's side of the family. I used to spend at least two weeks per year at their house in Zionsville, a suburb of Indy. I was last out there four years ago, when my aunt and her friends hosted a bridal shower for me. Prior to that, I hadn't visited since driving through on my way to Block Island. Fortunately, I have gotten to see some of the family in other locations - my cousin Adam, lived in San Francisco when I was in Tahoe. They all attended my wedding. Laura moved to Portland more than a year ago, and her parents visited right after Francie was born. Needless to say, it was fun to show Alex where I spent some of my most memorable times as a youth, and to take a walk down memory lane. Mostly, I was excited to show Alex in person the crazy big pantries that are common in Zionsville. Every cereal imaginable. Seriously, even Cookie Crisp. Ad I loved those flaky rolls that you could peel apart. My cousin Ben reminded me that now that I'm 31 I can, in fact, buy all that packaged junk food myself. But it just can't hold a candle to my 10 year old excitement at eating in Indy, free from my mom's soy nuts and carrot sticks. And as usual. I took plenty of photos to document the fun time we had.

Thank goodness for "Beebee" on the plane - he entertained while I worried about keeping the plane afloat.

Midwest pantry. For reals. And this ain't nothing, because the Fergs don't even have any kids living at home anymore.

Food like this. No joke.

Tea party with BDA.

Uncle Jeff, Adam, Aunt Carol, Ben and gfriend Mallory, me and the Bean.

Hey Kinny, the phone's for you.

Cuzzie-uncle Ben.

Cuzzie-uncle Ben.

Laura and Garret rehearsing.

Mama and Bean.

So good.

Rehearsal. Photo credit to Adam Ferg.

Flower girl.

"Hersh" aka hairs.

Mama and Dadddy kisses.

Getting primped.

Early signs of a meltdown.

What could have been ...


Big pimpin. Al rocks a zoot suit.

They even had their own sign. And so did Metal Fest.

With the bride and groom.

Cuzzie-uncle Adam, Lady J, and the Bean.

Just a little light catholic reading she picked up from the church.

I wear my sunglasses.

More Adam. Photo cred at Adam.

Driving Miss Francie,

Airport "hahk" (aka hike).

Noise Complaint

"I'd like to file a noise complaint. There's a crying baby. It's really disruptive. Could you send an officer to check it out? Maybe he can just rock her or soothe her. Yeah, she's my baby. But she's really loud."

That was the joke Alex made last night, just before midnight. We'd already been asleep for 3 or so hours. Thing is, I really did call the police in the middle of the night. It was actually a bit of a pain in the ass. I first dialed 911, told them it was a non-emergency, then was re-routed to some answering service that provided me with a different number to dial. Then there was an automated menu, so I just pressed "0" and was then re-routed, again, back to 911 dispatchers.

I called the police for a silly reason, I suppose, but I couldn't get past the slim chance that maybe that midnight machinery was some man chainsawing his wife into easy-to-dispose-of pieces. Seriously, though, the very loud, persistent noise of a small bike engine or chainsaw or lawnmower or something woke me up in the middle of my REM last night. I couldn't fall back asleep, and my mind got to wandering, and it struck me as very odd that anyone in our sleepy little family neighborhood would be running any kind of machine in the wee hours. I thought of a million things it could be, reasonably, and then thought of a million things it was very unlikely to be, but that I would want an officer to know about. Like the chainsaw idea. Or a cement mixer. Or anything else bloody and gory that I might have once seen on Law & Order. I just wanted to report it to someone, in case it mattered. I don't want to be the person that heard the chainsaw that killed the old neighbor lady and didn't do anything about it, you know?

And then the baby woke up, crying her chant of "mamamamamamamamama." I wanted to make a noise complaint about her instead. Karma's a bitch, I guess.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Race for the Cure 2013

If my memory serves me, this was my 22nd annual Race for the Cure. I've completed the Susan G Komen walk in Portland, Denver, San Francisco, Reno, Seattle, and maybe Eugene (memory only has so much capacity). This year I had a little bit of a bad-itude about the Race. I wasn't so much crabby about the early alarm, the crowds, or navigating a fussy baby in the backpack, but for some reason I was rubbed a bit raw about all the CANCER itself. Like, why do I want to spend my free time wearing pink and hanging out with good friends in the spirit of breast cancer? Why do I want to expose myself to survivors, their hair gone, their bodies weak from treatments or metastasis, some ravaged enough to require being pushed in a wheelchair? I don't feel like seeing the 30-something mom with two young children walking the race, wearing pink shirt indicating her own battle with the disease. I don't want to see all the pink "in memory of" signs tagged to people's backs, listing the names of sisters, mothers, friends, daughters, reminding me what I've lost, potentially warning me of what's to come. The bottom line of my issue this morning? Fear. That one day I'll be pushing my own kids along, forced to celebrate the fact that I'm still alive, as though that's not guaranteed. That sounds like it sucks. Cancer sucks. 

Fortunately, Alex, the Bean and I met up, per usual, with the Menne clan, and were also joined by Breezy this year, so I was lucky to be in the company of great family/friends, and chatted my way along the 5K course, with an intermission at one of my favorite bakeries. Plus, I paparazzied some cute pics, which is always a plus.

And the Bean was particularly cute on the MAX, hanging on like her daddy ...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Daycare Days

My heart broke a little when I dropped the Bean off at daycare on Monday. Not because of her little bird-like cries for "mamamamamama," but because of what I saw in the parking lot. Rather, what I heard.

My reflexes to "scary" noises are a little like someone with PTSD. I have a visceral response, like my fight-or-flight mechanism is a little too sensitive. If Alex drops a bar of soap in the shower, I race upstairs to see if he fell, knocking himself unconscious and ready to asphyxiate in a pool of his own blood. When a door slams outside, I can't help but notice my body jump a little, my shoulders tightening toward my ears. Or if I'm aware of someone yelling in the hallway outside my office, I freeze and think about hiding or locking my door, should they be a crazed veteran killer or a terrorist of sorts. Yeah, some might say I'm hypervigilant. Or melodramatic.

So in the parking lot of Blue Skies & Butterflies, when I heard a scathing adult male voice yelling, my first instinct was to get back in the car. I turned to locate the yelling, and saw that it was a man, presumably the Dad, yelling very aggressively at a pre-school aged girl. The woman, presumably Mom, proceeded to walk the little girl into the classroom while Dad shouted meanly, "JUST GO AND CRY ABOUT IT. GET IT OUT!" I saw Mom give Girl a quick kiss on the cheek, ask if she was okay, and then leave. By the time I signed the check-in sheet and walked all the way into the classroom, the little girl was sniffling and cowering in the corner by the coat rack.

My heart broke, and then in a whisper I relayed my eye-witness account to the daycare teachers, in case they knew more about something than I did. I thought about this incident - the dad's mean, mean tone, his shouting volume, and the little girl's crying then cowering response - I thought about her on and off all day. It makes me sad to think that people talk to kids that way, of course, but particularly sad that there's nothing anyone else can really do about it. It reminded me, more than anything, how conscious Alex and I need to be of our words and tones - not when we speak to Francie, because we're both obsessed with her, but when we talk to one another. Just because we're grown-ups doesn't mean we should speak or be spoken to in anything less than kind words and even tones.

When I dropped the Bean off the next morning at daycare - she in all her newfound bravery and developing affinity for "koo" (school) - I asked her for a hug and got denied, her arms instead reaching forward for a hug from her teacher. The same little girl that got yelled at the day before, Amaya, offered to give me a hug instead. I might have held on a little tighter than I normally would when hugging a strange kid. Just in case this was her only embrace for the day.

Suffice it to say, the Bean is adapting quite well to thrice weekly daycare. She seems to love her teacher, "Kuh" (Jessica), and talks about "Beebee" (a 4-month old classmate), most evenings. She has not cried the last two days at drop-off, and she's always excited to see me when I pick her up in the afternoons. This week, she hasn't been as quick to want a hug or to be picked up, but instead keeps playing with the toys, and is eager to show me her favorites. If Baby Makena was a toy, she'd definitely be the favorite.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Oh, Target

The first steps in getting back on track to improve our financial health include:

1. Planning ahead for September costs.
2. Tracking our spending, very closely.

So with regard to Step #1, we have planned a very, very tight budget for the upcoming month. Not "planned" as in a one-size-budget-fits-all-months, but planned as in what-do-we-have-coming-up-this-month-and-how-much-should-we-allow-for-it. Here's the most bared down we could get, and this means a cash-only diet because this is about all we have to spare after paying mortgage/bills/etc.

Groceries (for the remainder of the month) = 300
Gas = 150
Health = 20 (I have to renew and Rx and F has her 18-month checkup)
Indy = 300 (my beautiful baby cuzzie is getting married in Indianapolis, the plane tickets have already been purchased, my dad is covering the rental car, and we are lodging with family friends, so this money is allocated for luggage fees, food, a hostess gift, etc)
Paul = 40 (it's his 60th bday, and we will plan to celebrate with him once we are all together again, so this money is set aside for some modest gift)
Al = 40 (same deal, except he's turning 70)
GWAC = 50 (this is Alex's monthly whiskey club
Misc = 100 (for whatever hasn't already been covered or we didn't plan well for)

As for Step #2, we are back on board for tracking our spending closely. We have this real fancy system - I put a blank sheet of white printer paper on a clipboard, leave it on the entry table, and incessantly ask Alex to write down anything he buys.

In the past week we've spent:

$29 Alex haircut
$37 Alex watch repair
$28 Alex shaving cream and sunscreen
$70 registration for Race for the Cure
$66 groceries
$11 diapers
$34 boxes for new office/playroom shelving unit


$3 Jo soda/gum

$47 gas for Subaru
$10 produce/groceries
$22 NW Natural (gas/hot water) bill

$68 Waste Management (trash) bill

$4 Jo Ikea lunch
$4 Jo mexican dinner
$16 Alex pizza
$30 FedEx to mail a box of baby clothes to by BFF
$132 Jo hair cut/color
$38 PGE (electric) bill
($76 Ikea rug return)
$33 Ikea boxes/rug
($20 Ikea return)
$70 Ikea rug (final decision)
$40 Target for rug mat and beanbag chair for F
$12 face wash

$56 Alex at Home Depot for electrical stuff to finish front porch lighting
$10 popcorn/candy at the movies for our 4th date in 1.5 years

$13 accrued Capital One credit card interest/finance charge
$187 AT&T bill for Alex, Jo, and Al
$16 PBR for Alex
$78 groceries


So yeah, you can see that Friday was an all-American-day-of-"errands", but relative to my recent past, I wasn't so bad. Ikea got a few transactions out of me and my credit card, but really I only ended up spending an extra $7. And then there's Target. Oh, Target, you get me every time. I'm thinking you and I are just going to have to end our relationship. We can't even be friends. You're no good for me. Sure, you're exciting, you're attractive, you're a jack-of-all-trades. But you're like really great sex with that hottie waiter from The Brown Dog, and then finding out that he left me a fat bar tab and even took my emergency Xanax from my purse. This is only a hypothetical, for the record. Anyway, Target, we're through. Don't even call me. Or send me emails. I'm just glad we never opened a credit card together.

And really, who could resist a beanbag chair that makes their baby Bean look this cute?!?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Damning Debt

"Affluenza" = a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more

It makes me sad to think that I, too, now suffer from this epidemic, this dis-ease. I blame society, in part, but I mostly blame myself. Somewhere between buying the house, getting a grown-up job, and having a baby, my resolve to spend frugally evaporated into thin air. And since I've always been in charge of the Closeman finances, when I start turning a blind eye, there's no backup accountability for our bank accounts. The hubby isn't necessarily an over-spender, per se, but he's a blind spender, in that he doesn't pay much attention to either or income nor spending. He's used to me leading the way here. And I don't blame him (much), I definitely set a solid precedent, and he has not previously had reason to be concerned. Before we even started dating, back when we were just friends who worked together at the Sierra Sun newspaper, he mentioned to me in passing that he wanted to travel more. That week, bossy as can be, I set aside two brown paper lunch bags in an office drawer - one for each of us - and told him to put at least 20 bucks cash in every week (I started doing the same, in my own brown lunch sack). Initially, the savings was not for us to take a trip together, but in the meantime, we fell in love and made plans to galavant off to South America together to spend 6 months attempting to learn Spanish in Argentina and Chile. Needless to say, it became my job and only my job to manage the finances, and since I've recently fallen down on said job, we're both paying the price, so to speak.

As one of the simple living gurus herself, Wanda Urbanska, says, "The hardest part of getting out of debt is that you have to pay for yesterday, today, and save for tomorrow."

Which brings us to the big reveal of our current debt status (drumroll, please) ...

... as of this very moment, we have a grand total of $1410.33 in our Bank of America checking account, $300 in our shared savings account, and $300 in my personal savings account. My dad just wrote us a check for $885 for what he owed us from several months of international fees on our phone bill (I at least have that on a lot of my peers, my dad's on our bill, rather than us mooching off him, per usual). We currently owe Capital One $4,627.45 (our credit limit is $5,000). And we owe ourselves another $3,000. Which brings me to our OnPoint credit union bank account. 

Although my parents did indeed help pay significantly for both my undergrad and grad school experiences, they were not able to pay for a four-year private school, a one-year post-bacc, and two-year graduate program. I consolidated my school loans last year and now owe a grand total of about $78,000, making payments at a rate of about $500/month. Following my grandparents' deaths, I inherited some money that is helping to make those monthly payments, hence the separate OnPoint account. It's separate in part because it's not Alex's debt, in part because family money is helping to pay down on those loans, and in part because it's just a bit less confusing to me. We are lucky that Alex is debt-free, mostly related to the fact that he played soccer at the state school, and thus his parents had the money to help pay for his in-state 18-month graduate program.

And then there's the retirement accounts. I'm so ignorant about this level of finance that I don't even know what to say. I do know that I have a Roth IRA that my parents at one point contributed to annually, and now that I have a big-girl job I have some modest retirement contribution.

Oh yeah, we also have a savings account at OnPoint for Francie, which has a whopping $100.23. Lucky girl, that'll get her far.

So what's a girl to do about this debt? This is really the first time in my life that I've actually carried a legit consumer debt, one that hasn't been paid off with some sort of an anticipated windfall such as a tax return or a Christmas gift or following a month of extra work.

According to Ms. Urbanska, the path to simple financial living includes adopting the "frugality mentality." She goes on to make the following specific recommendations for improved fiscal health:

- Pay credit card in full every month; if debt, do cash only diet until debt paid off
- Pay bills as quickly as possible
- Avoid recurring charges
- Delay purchases
- Quash impulse buying
- Rule out recreational shopping
- Say no to kids and friends
- Celebrate small infusions of cash

We used to be the people who paid off our credit card bill in full every.single.month. As of this writing, we have never missed a payment, but of late we have been paying off only about a quarter of the amount due. We are now accruing monthly interest/finance charges, in the ballpark of $9-$15 each billing cycle. And I don't know how our credit has been impacted, if at all.

As for other debts, we have only my school loans and our mortgage. We don't have any other credit cards. Not even a Target card, if you can believe it. We have never financed any furniture, electronics, or even cars. Not to say we haven't been thinking about it lately. It seems like the best way to buy things that we can't afford up front. Like a VW Passat Wagon TDI. Or that luxurious Macy's couch. But, if you re-read that statement - "buy things we can't afford" - that's the telltale sign that we can't afford it. Alternatively, we could put aside the amount of money we could rationalize for a monthly payment, and instead save (what a novel concept), and then purchase the item.

We always pay our bills as quickly as possible. I rely heavily on automated bill pay, email reminders, and scheduled payments in my iPhone calendar to remind me of our regular financial obligations. We have yet to fall down on any of those important payments. And I hope/plan for that to never happen.

Recurring costs don't apply to us. Except the $7.99 we pay monthly for online Netflix streaming. 

Delay purchases? We've fallen down here. Quash impulse buying? And here. Rule out recreational shopping? Yet again. We don't have much issue saying "no" to others in terms of purchases, shared experiences, or loans, so that doesn't really apply. And we rarely get small infusions of cash that we haven't already spent in advance, so that, too, doesn't apply.

But we need to revisit those areas where major changes are most definitely necessary - delaying purchases (alongside saving), and eliminating both recreational shopping and impulse purchases. This deserves a post or a few all on its own.

Simple Living With Wanda Urbanska

Originally I had planned to spend each of the four weeks this month thinking about different aspects of simple living, categories including finances, food, technology, and time. Instead, though, I've turned to the pages of the simple living guru's book, The Heart of Simple Living, and her seven tenets:

1. The path to financial independence
2. The path to meaningful work
3. The path to housing happiness
4. Reclaim homemaking
5. Back into the kitchen
6. Beating a path to the garden
7. Reclaiming ritual and community for life

I will instead use her book as an outline for how I will think, and thus blog, about these aspects of simple living. Being that our family's lives seem to have been a bit complicated this last week, with Alex having returned to work + coaching soccer, and the Bean now attending daycare thrice weekly, I haven't kept the pace I intended while pondering these simple living philosophies. It's not that I haven't thought obsessively or spoken incessantly about the financial components of simple living, but I just haven't had the time to organize my thoughts in an attempt at cohesion on paper in the past week. And since I don't want to skip over anything or miss anything obvious while I'm dedicating my "free time" to thinking about these principle, I'm pulling on the reigns and will slow my intended speed. SO bear with me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Full Financial Disclosure

I've been meaning to write this post for months. Seriously, MONTHS. It's been sitting as a rough "draft" in Blogger since at least Christmas. But now with my September Simple Living, it's time to get down to business.

I'm motivated by this topic at the end of every month - after I calculate our (over)spending and plan ahead for ways to cut back the following month. But then, when I'm all done on the computer rearranging my spread sheets and calculating and re-calculating grand monthly totals, I'm out of energy and totally discouraged by the whole thing.

Several months ago we were at our next door neighbor's house - a young couple, in their early 20s, who rent - and somehow the topic of money came up. Alex and I, in our familiar exacerbated tone, whined about how "we don't know how everyone seems to do it." The house, the cars, the kids, the vacations, the stuff.

Lisa and Phil exchanged knowing looks and said something to the effect of, "that's what we always think about you guys!"

With a bit of reflection, I can only imagine what our life must look like to them - owning our own home, having a small child, me not working for several months, a new fence and patio, a nice big truck - and once they helped us move a brand spankin' new elliptical trainer exercise machine into our upstairs bedroom.

(For the record:
Owning our own home? Thanks to a generous down payment from the in-laws as an "investment," we have a decent monthly mortgage.
Small child? The West Linn-Wilsonville School District affords us great Kaiser benefits, and most of the stuff that the Bean has is thanks to gifts, hand-me-downs, or a modest purchase here and there.
Only Alex working fulltime? I worked on-call while I waited for my half-time VA job to start, so was more or less unemployed for 5 months.
A new fence? 2012 anniversary gift from Al, and labor by Alex + dads.
New patio? 2013 anniversary gift from Al, and labor by Alex + Al.
Nice big truck? Not ours. In-laws went sailing for the summer and needed to store their truck at our place, which we occasionally drove when needing to haul materials for fence, patio (see above).
Elliptical machine? Again, gift from Al.
Yes, our nice-looking life is thanks only to our financially-savvy and generous Baby Boomer parents.)

If only our neighbors - or anyone wondering - knew that we certainly do NOT have it all figured out. And if they were to actually review our monthly budget and spending, they'd be less than impressed. Suffice it to say, anything nice we have or own, was a gift. A very generous gift, likely from our parents, grandparents, or maybe even a sibling. Our bikes though, we bought those. That was all us. And same with the cars. But as you can see, they're more or less pieces of shit.

Alex and I often find ourselves "discussing" (whining about) finances - mostly the general state of being middle class - even more than we used to. Mostly because we just can't seem to make ends meet very comfortably these days, and when we look around at all our peers, it seems like everyone else has it all together. We have developed a song and dance, something to the effect of, "Ugh, why are we always so broke?!?" "I don't understand how we both have Master's degrees and financially sound professions but we can't afford our life?!?" "We have modest wants - a home, a comfortable newer car, why can't we get those things?!?" "Everyone else has new cars, nice furniture, lots of clothes/toys/vacations/insert-consumable-here ..."

I grew up in a household where I started my first bank account in early elementary school, had allowance from a very early age, and rarely got my parents to purchase me anything without having some sort of a financial lecture beforehand. "Money doesn't grow on trees." "I'm not an ATM."
Money is fungible." "Time is money." "Pay now or pay more later." "Choosing UPS over PLU is liking wrecking your Volvo every single year." "You'll never have as much disposable cash as you do in high school and college." You get the picture.

Did this prevent me from becoming the same financial fool as most everyone else in my generation? Not so much (sorry, Dad). But I knew roughly how much money my dad earned when he traded commodities (a lot), how much the Victorian mansion we lived in at the time was worth (a lot), how little he made as a job placement counselor for Portland Public Schools (not much), or that neither he nor my mom worked for several years as they spent down on savings or earnings from various investments. Money was not taboo in my house, and my parents saw the importance of me knowing the cost of in-state vs. private college; how school loans might impact my future; the cost of returning to graduate school vs. keeping the lower paying job I already had; the relative cost of old vs. new cars; that without good health insurance my family could have been bankrupt related to the costs of my mom's cancer treatments. That if the family went to Hawaii for Christmas, we'd have fewer gifts to open, or if I used my allowance on that cute red and navy rugby shirt from Gap, I wouldn't be able to buy the whole Duran Duran album, just the single.

One of my biggest frustrations, when it comes to finances, is that no one talks about it. I don't understand why we can't ask each other how much we earn, share about our car or mortgage payments, disclose our spending habits or shameful shopping debts, or admit when our Baby Boomer parents help us out in major ways. Why do we want to shield our financial life from everyone else, as though it's a private matter rather than a shared, public one. We all make money. We all spend money. Wouldn't it be nice to know one another's financial successes and failures, so that we can learn from them and become a more independent spender, a less consumeristic society?

So in the name of full financial disclosure - albeit with moderate apprehension - here is a breakdown of our current budget.

Money In
We always wish he had more. When Alex and I were more recently DINKs (double-income, no kids), we were bringing home about $5,900 and were more than comfortable, and even able to save money. While I was more or less unemployed and a stay-at-home mom, Alex brought home just $2,700/month. Now, we net about $4,300, and feel a constant squeeze and an inability to save money, let alone pay off our growing credit card bill. Alex earns $2,700/month (after taxes) as a high school English teacher in his 3rd year of teaching, and I net $1600/month (after taxes) for 0.5 FTE work at the VA as a speech-language pathologist in my 2nd year on the job. Our yearly salaries are $42,000 and $60,000, respectively. We can also count on some extra income from my on-call work at Meridian Park, which averages about 8 hours/month at $33/hour, and look forward to somewhere around $3,000 for Alex coaching JV2 boys' soccer this fall. We also rely heavily on that Spring tax return, and purposely claim less on W-2 forms to increase the odds of getting a nice check from the state or feds some April.

Money Out
When we were both graduate students living on parental/school loans, I was basically a budget anorexic. I kept our expenses down so low, and was such a stickler about it. Seriously, I think we spent something like $1,500/month. I really don't know how I did it. During that same era I managed to keep our fabulous Tahoe wedding under our $15,000 budget. Then again, I wasn't on Zoloft yet, so all the anxiety/OCD/disordered/control issues weren't under wraps :) Needless to say, spending has significantly increased since that time.

We wanted to get back on track this year, being that our income was all over the map, and better plan for how we would navigate the changing financial landscape. We started tracking our finances very closely, and this is what I have on record from the previous months:

January - in 2700, out 3383 (minus bills)
February - in 2700, out 2065 (minus bills)
March - in 2700, out 3471 total
April -  in 2700, out1717 (minus bills)
May - in 4300, did not track spending
June -  in 4300, out 4526 total
July - in 4300, have not yet totaled out
August - in 4300, did not track spending

An actual breakdown of our detailed budget is as follows:


Alex = $2800/month
Jo = $1600/month
Total = $4,400/month


Rent/Mortgage  $1,460.00  $1,450.00
Utilities  $250.00  $250.00
Health insurance  $-    $-  
Car Insurance  $100.00  $100.00
Cell Phone  $150.00  $150.00
Netflix  $8.00  $8.00
Car Payment  $350.00  $-  

Groceries  $500.00  $400.00
Gas/Oil  $300.00  $200.00
Auto Maintenance  $200.00  $200.00
Medical/Health  $50.00  $40.00
Childcare  $800.00  $700.00

Wallet Money  $200.00  $200.00
Baby  $100.00  $50.00
Dining/Booze/Food  $100.00  $50.00
Entertainment/Gifts/Hobby  $100.00  $50.00
Office/Household  $50.00  $50.00
House (projects)  $300.00  $100.00
Clothing  $100.00  $-  
Personal  $100.00  $50.00
Travel  $100.00  $-  
Fitness/Sports  $60.00  $-  
Professional  $50.00  $-  
Housecleaning  $200.00  $-  
Charity  $-    $-  
Extra/One-Time  $400.00  $-  

School Loans  $-    $-   (Granny ~$400/mo)
OnPoint Debt    $100.00 ( $3G)
C1 Debt  $-    $100.00  ($3G)
Short-Term Savings  $50.00  $-  
Long-Term Savings  $300.00  $-  
Retirement Savings  $-    $-   (Roth)
Monthly Total  $6,378.00  $4,248.00

So, I DARE YOU, what do you earn? What do you spend? What makes you proud about your financial habits? And what makes you ashamed?

totally stopped at Old Navy on the way home from work today - everything was 30% off for their Labor Day sale - I gathered up a bunch of clothes for myself and the Bean, whittled it down to what I thought was more manageable, and went to stand in the ridiculously long line of back-to-school shoppers. I texted Alex to say I might be awhile longer, felt immediately impatient and guilty, and ditched my shopping bag to head home. Needless to say, we've now made it a whole 24 hours without spending any money.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Enough is Enough?

“It is not enough if you are busy. The question is, What are you busy about?” 
- Henry David Thoreau

My credit card got denied at Target the other day. I had a full basket worth of fun stuff – several cute fall outfits in size 18 and 24 months for Francie (I want her to look so cute at daycare, and her round little belly is poking out beneath all her 12-month tops, thanks to a recent growth spurt); a cool book with farm animal sounds and a magnadoodle to keep her busy in the mornings while we get ready for school/work/daycare; a gift for a friend to say thank you for a nice visit; a few long sleeve tops for me to wear to work and cover the tattoo so I don’t have to ONLY wear cardigans; and various other Target goodies (gotta love those $1 finds in the front entry – they get me every time). My credit card has never been denied before, and I was immediately suspicious that it was over the limit. In fact, I knew that it was over the $5,000 limit. So I tried my debit card instead, only mildly ashamed about the MasterCard, playing it off like it ain’t no thang. And then the debit card didn’t work either. I had just checked online, so I knew that our bank account had a sizeable amount of money (mortgage and several bills were not scheduled to be deducted for a few more days). In the end, it was in fact Target’s problem – they were having difficulties with their credit card machines. But still. My credit card was denied. This was a not-so-subtle sign that I need to get my shit together, and better balance both my checkbook and my consumer life.

I’ve recently been racking my brain for how to earn more money for less work. The American Dream. If I start my own practice, could I earn a higher hourly wage? Would I have more free time to spend with Francie, and less money spent on daycare? How much more do I need to work in order to make a car payment for a new car? How can I afford that delicious Macy’s couch I’ve been pining over?
But these don’t seem to me like the right questions to be asking myself. Sure, they make sense from a purely functional standpoint – money in versus money out. But these kinds of questions, they represent emptiness. And limitlessness. Do questions like this ever stop? When is enough enough?

If you don’t want to work too much, don’t spend the money. Plain and simple.
Or so says someone on the Internet. The same could be said about diet and exercise. It’s not just about pulling in the reins on what I’m actually buying or eating, I'd like to pull in the reins on all the wanting. And it really isn’t just about money. That’s just the most recent incarnation. It’s also about food. About hobbies. About time. Ideas. Knowledge. Adventure. Feeling good. I’ve always been hungry, a seeker, an appetite for life, that’s just part of who I am. And I’ve often hated this part of myself. I’ve always loathed my wanting. At times, I think this need for more benefits me – it helps me get the jobs I want, because I’m assertive and persevering; it has lead me to travel and to experience new places and new people, both internationally and stateside; it makes me a curious person, genuinely interested in other people’s experiences; it supports my hobbies, always looking for good ideas to update home furnishings, find new embroidery patterns, make Alex interesting “honey do” lists.

But more often than not, this sometimes-insatiable appetite of mine has gotten me in trouble. Fortunately, with age and wisdom comes increase in self control. I am much more even-keeled and less temperamental than I was in my early 20s. But still, it’s not as if that part of me has been eradicated, just long since buried under the pressures of being an adult, the responsibilities of being a professional, a wife, a mother, a homeowner. Maybe I’ve changed, or just grown up, but that’s just on the outside, in my actions. Every so often I’m aware of the fact that maybe I’m not so different on the inside. I’m just too busy or distracted to deal with that appetite of mine.

So what is it about stuff – why do we always want more of it – new, shiny things? I’d love to be the person who counts her blessings rather than keeps shopping lists. I want to nurture the part of me that can feel satisfied by rearranging the living room, rather than scouring online to find the best deal for new living room furniture. I want to nourish the part of me that yearns for adventure and new experiences with people and places, but who doesn’t have to buy anything, necessarily, to get there. I can change the habits on the outside, but I'd like to create change on the inside – to quell the want for more- more things, more junk food, more experiences – more more.

My dad once described the Camino de Santiago as a place where he cultivates the mindset of “how little do I need” rather than “how much can I get.” This resonates with me right now – hence my interest in simple living or voluntary simplicity. I want to spend September exploring this, as it relates to finances, food, time, technology, etc.

And while somewhat unrelated, I’m thinking my theme song for the next month – in my quest for simplicity – will be Royals, by Lorde.

But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room,
We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair.”

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