Thursday, May 29, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
So…if it’s so easy, why is it so hard? I don’t like to get too bogged down in the “why” of things, preferring instead to be more hands-on, but I must agree with Socrates that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” If I don’t see the things that trip me up, then it’s likely that they will continue to trip me again and again. I need to discover what it is that gets in my way and either eliminate it or use it. I hope to add more posts in the future on this subject, so I am calling this post #1. We will see if there are more!
One of my biggest stumbling blocks is simple inattention. I am easily distracted. I always have been and if I were a Gen X-er instead of a tail-end Baby Boomer, I probably would have been diagnosed in grade school as having ADD. My son has it and I’m pretty sure I know where he got it! This is true for all of the areas in my life--finances, weight loss, home management. Referring to the metaphor in my last post, I chart a course and I begin it well and then, like a child, I blithely chase off the path, distracted by a butterfly.
What distracts me the most is my need to create. Sewing, doll making, drawing, altered arts, calligraphy- whatever it is, I tend to get completely lost in it. I’ll go like gang busters for a week at a time and only do the barest minimum in the rest of my life- dishes and work and maybe a little laundry. Everything else get neglected, but when I am done I have this beautiful thing that will, I hope, bring a smile into someone’s face. I love that I have this gift and that I am good at these things. I love making something out of nothing! I love sharing what I’ve made and getting positive strokes for my creations. It is the most wonderful thing to hear that something I made has given someone a little joy. The downside to this kind of existence is finishing an art project and facing an empty fridge, cranky children, a very messy house and sometimes, an overdrawn checking account. That would usually be the point where I would lay down and give up.
There would be no problem, I suppose, if my husband would just devote himself to all the necessary bits of life and allow me to frolic about in the woods making art! There are only two problems with that scenario: one, my husband has his own butterflies to chase and two, I’m such a control freak that I prefer to be either completely in charge or completely in chaos, while at the same time refusing to hand the reigns over to anyone else. I consider myself to be very fortunate to have a husband who is fine with that!
There have been periods of my life where I have decided that my creating was frivolous and selfish and that I needed to spend more time on worthwhile pursuits. So I would pack up all my materials and sigh, and think, “Maybe when I’m retired, I will have time for this kind of thing.” Then I would dutifully “take up my cross” and be frugal, fit and organized. At first, the drive to do these things well would be enough to sustain me, but after a few weeks, life would become lackluster. The day-in and day-out routine of maintaining a frugal, fit and organized family would wear on my soul. I would sit in my orderly home and watch my family pursue the things that they wanted to do (making messes all along the way), while denying myself the things that I wanted to do.
So, now I am a tiny bit wiser and I recognize that my need to create is exactly that- a need and not a want at all. The trick, of course, is how to balance it with the other priorities in my life. After all, what good is a path if you don’t enjoy the journey? The butterflies bring beauty and joy! How do I stay on my path and still catch my butterfly?
The best solution I have at the moment is to widen my path. If art making is built into my path, then it becomes easier to stay on it. That is where my etsy shop comes in. Learning the concept of snowflaking has really helped me to look at my shop in a new way. When I opened it in August 2007, I had the naïve idea that it would help me achieve financial freedom by someday allowing me to quit my full-time job. I know- don’t laugh! When it became obvious that I could never produce enough quality items with my own two little hardworking, overbooked hands to ever be able to live by them, I questioned its purpose and considered giving it up. I am so happy to discover that I don’t have to do that. The fees on etsy are so small that I needn’t worry about losing money in the endeavor and instead, the few sales I do make will still help me achieve financial freedom by helping me to get out of debt. Now, that is realistic and it provides me with fresh enthusiasm to eliminate my debt and make more dolls.
The other thing I am doing to help me stay focused on my journey, is grooming my path. By that I mean that I am putting a concerted effort right now into de-cluttering and re-organizing my workspace at home. Since my workspace is also our dining room, it is very important that I organize it in such a way that neither function crowds out the other. Too dining room-ish and I can’t function as an artist. Too studio-like and we can’t eat together as a family. I have a built-in desk along one wall, but often find myself working at the table instead. That has to change so that even if I have a project in progress, the table is still available to us for our meals. I believe that whatever the circumstance, we can adapt to it to allow us to still reach our goals.
The last step I am taking in improving my path is posting road signs. Gathering Little by Little had a great blog post about this today. I am a big believer in visual reminders. I especially love the power of words and am incorporating them into my path in a few different ways. First, I have started this blog and since I am already a regular blogger at Tender Arts, it won’t be hard to remember to check in here as well. Second, I will be posting little notes around the house to keep me on track. I am scheduling an email to come to me weekly to remind me to post new notes in new places so the old ones don’t “disappear” in a sea of familiarity. Third, I have long wanted to paint my favorite quote somewhere in my house. Given my renewed enthusiasm for getting out of debt, I think this is the perfect time to do so. Right over my desk at home, I am going to paint these wise words from Winston Churchill:
“Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
to remind me that even if I do stray from the path in pursuit of a butterfly or two, it is important to get right back on it and keep going.
- $200 added to my debt snowball.
- $200 into the emergency savings.
So excited! Speaking of excited, yesterday I found the most awesome free download! It is a Debt Reduction Calculator and you can download it here. You can enter in your credit card balances, the interest rate, the minimum payment and the amount of your snowball and it calculates a payment plan for you. Even better, you can tell it to calculate paying off the smallest balance first or the highest interest debt first, plus a couple of other options. Such a great tool!
I feel like yesterday I equipped myself (new job) for a long journey and then I found the treasure map (the calculator)! So....let's go!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Question, is...where? I don't want it to be easy to access. We have a savings account at Wells Fargo, but I can move that into checking with a few clicks of the mouse. I guess the credit union account would be a good place. We don't have an ATM or anything for that account so if I put money in there, I have to physically go to the credit union to get it back out.
It gives me butterflies to think about! Us? Saving? Get outa here!
Saturday, May 17, 2008
But anyway, the main point is that we do bring in enough money to cover our needs and pay $700 each month towards our debt. The trick, of course, is sticking to the budget. This is the hardest part. All that discipline. It's hard enough for me, but I think it's twice as hard for my husband. One of the best things we've done is to open an additional bank account that is joint, but only he uses. I give him an allowance that he deposits into that account and he can use it for what he wants. It's not much, but it keeps me from agonizing over what I see as frivolous purchases- beer and tobacco. He's definitely the "nickel and dimer" in our family, so it's great to just hand him a chunk every payday and let him deal with his own bookkeeping.
That being said however, I am wondering how it is we do end up in such financial holes. I think it's because of not having anything set aside for big expenses. If I budget a set amount for clothing and we don't buy clothing, it burns a hole until we spend it on something stupid- usually lunch and beers or something. You know- "Well, we have $50 in checking, we could just buy lunch." The problem with that is when the kids outgrow their jeans, we have no money to replace them, so we charge it or when we are maxed out, like now, we get a cash advance. That's a cycle from hell, for sure!
The major flaw in our budget is there is no room for savings. I know the experts say pay savings first, and I guess we do, in a way. Our IRA contributions come out of our paychecks. But we have no emergency fund. That is where I hope to use snowflakes. I do have a little etsy shop that I need to work to keep stocked, I am searching for a second job, I am thinking about marketing some of my skills in my community (calligraphy, sewing) and I've started doing surveys online. Once our debt (currently $20,000) gets paid down a bit, I will build our savings more aggressively. Oh, also, the $700 monthly that I have budgeted for debt reduction is just barely above the minimum payments. That's how tight our budget is! Otherwise, I would pay slightly less for debt reduction and pay some to savings.
So, in a nutshell:
- We must spend within our budget on each category
- We must use our snowball towards our debt
- We must gather snowflakes toward our savings for now
Okay, it's not good, but it's workable and that's the main thing. My biggest fear is that we had reached the point of not being able to meet our obligations. We can, but we cannot be lax about our spending AT ALL!
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I am actively seeking a second job. So far I've applied at eleven retail stores and I have only one interview. I find that so shocking because all of my job experience until the last seven years has been in retail. For seven years I've been in clerical work. How can twenty years of retail not have any value? I suppose it's a combination of a couple of things. First, the stores may truly not be hiring, but I have to say, it used to be that someONE was always hiring. Second, I'm afraid that my current wage may be frightening some potential employers. I need to make it clear that I am not looking to match my current wage! Minimum wage would be fine at this point. Also, I noticed that every retail establishment asks questions about my history as a welfare recipient. Is it a handicap that I don't have a history? Are they trying to hire welfare recipients so they can get tax credits? I need to research that.
Today is payday. I need to sit down with my spreadsheets and my budget and see where I am at. I will probably log in later to give an accounting.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I intend to be completely open about our state of affairs in the hope that seeing my situation in black and white will help me to stay on course with my budgeting efforts. I do find this embarrassing though, so we will see if my pride will let me "get naked" in public! Why attempt this? Why not write in a journal or keep a private file on my computer? Because I think there is strength in numbers. I have stumbled onto this site and I like what all these other bloggers are doing- sharing their struggles and triumphs as a means to teach and encourage themselves and their readers.
I work in a land surveyor's office and during the housing boom that is now sadly over, I saw a lot of people come and go that were splitting their lots in order to make a wad of cash. Like every endeavor, there are frugal ways to do it and extravagant ways to do it. I developed a catch phrase in our office when describing the foolish people that went about their split in the most expensive ways possible-I like to say that they have "more dollars than sense".
Well, I guess my husband and I must be that way too because even though we've had an amply adequate income, we now find ourselves maxed out on credit card debt, upside down on our mortgage and struggling to make our minimum payments. So, my goals with this blog are to
- learn effective ways to manage our money,
- share what I am learning,
- record my efforts to pay off our debts and build our savings.