Friday, August 24, 2012

Embrace Your Inner Telemarketer

Since the advent of caller ID, we all do it.  We screen our calls so we don't have to talk to bill collecters, in-laws, or most often - telemarketers.  I have often fantasized about putting my daugther Hannah on the phone whenever I see one of them is calling.  Then I think of the prattling on and on, and ultimately I take pitty on the poor person on the other end of the line and decide not to.  Afterall, they're just doing their job, and really listening to my daugther go into excruciating detail about why violet is her favorite color is mine.

Since becoming a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom) I have slowly begun to train myself to tap into my inner telemarker.  With less income coming in, it's now my mission to staunch the flow of money going out.  After making our first family budget (hey better late than never) I looked at areas that could be cut.  Then I honed all my persuasive skills and picked up the phone.  I knew that if I didn't want to pay as much for some of my regular expenses then I had no choice, but to ask.  Not being my strong suit - asking for things I want - I let my inner telemarketer take over.

First up was the most expensive item on my list - #1 The Mortgage.  This being the worst time to sell my home, I knew that left me with one choice - refinance.  Since we bought our townhouse eight years ago at an interest rate of 5.875% and with rates being so low now I knew I could cut our payments if I could get a lower rate.  So I got on the phone.  I called banks and submitted my information for free quotes online.  I eventually got a call from a mortgage broker willing to give me a rate of 3.5%, which will save my family approximately $260 a month.  So I have become my family's broker to the broker if you will.   I have been working with him since June, and although we missed two closing dates in July, I'm still calling my broker like he's my new best friend.  Even when he has no news to tell me about the status of my loan, I know I will not let him forget my name.  My family could use that saved money to pay off other debt more quickly and provide some much needed wiggle room in our tight budget so if I have to be a bit persistent and yes, annoying even to get it, what's it really costing me anyway - some time.  Well worth it, if and when this loan ever goes through.  Sigh.  I'll call again next week just so he remembers I'm waiting.

#2 Debt Consolidation - After finally fessing up about the real credit card debt we have I got on the phone with my bank - Hudson Heritage FCU.  I heart them so much.  Thankfully, even though we had a lot of our credit lines close to tapped out, we were able to get a debt consolidation loan with a pretty low rate - 8.9%.  Compared with the 14-19% interest rates on our credit cards, there's no denying it's a sweet deal.  Not only is our payment pretty much the same as what we were paying for the minimum payments on our cards, it's gauranteed to be payed off in five years, a feat that would take a small miracle if not for this loan. 

#3 The Cable - I thought about dropping cable altogether, but ultimately our cable bill includes our phone and Internet and we have limited options up here in the mountains, otherwise known as Sullivan County.  Since I pretty much hacked dining out and entertainment like movies out of our budget, I knew I'd be hard pressed to keep a sane family without cable.  So here's what I did - I decided how much I could afford to spend before I got on the phone.  I told them what that number was and discussed options that might be cut out to bring it down to that payment.  I wanted to pay $100 a month for phone, Internet and cable, not the $153 I was spending.  I told them if I couldn't get the payment down to that number than I would have to cancel it altogether.  It was not that hard at all.  In light of losing my business, they found a special incentive program that would give me all three for $99 a month plus taxes for the next year.  With taxes it's about $118, but still much easier to afford than the $153 for the exact same service.  Guess what's on my agenda for July of 2013- oh yes I'm getting on the phone once again before they can raise it again.

#4  Miscellaneous expenses not in the regular budget - Ok so these things will not individually make or break your budget, but add them up and it does make the effort worthwhile.  I got on the phone this week and booked my FREE haircut for my daughter Hannah at JC Penney Salon in Middletown, which they are giving away during August for school age kids.  It saves me a little bit of money and a trip down to Newburgh where I would normally take her.  Gas money saved is definitely a bonus.  I felt a little guilty, because I could technically afford to pay for it, but I'm developing a new mantra- "If I want to be financially independent, then EVERY penny MUST count."  I also plan on taking advantage of Shop Rite's new program, which offers free prescription multivitamins for children.  With two kids and $5 co-pay for each prescription that's $10 a month or in other words $120 a year we'll save. 

I find that if I look at little savings multiplied over the course of a year, it's hard to deny that they can make a significant impact on a family like mine.  So for now I'm going to keep scouring the Internet looking for new ways I can lower my bills and save my family money.  I guess you could say that's my job now, well besides wrangling two kids, a husband, house oh and when I remember to - taking care of myself as well.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Would Grandma Do?

So now that I'm staying at home with my kids I have plenty of time to reflect on my life - during that hour to three of pure peace that moms cherish - nap time.  I've often wondered if my grandmother would be proud of me for FINALLY staying home as she suggested in the not so subtle guilt trip way she was famous for.  In the days after my daughter was born my grandmother uttered the words that would change my life - "Why don't you stay home? You wanted that baby so much."  She saw the world in a completely different way.  She saw opportunities when I saw obligations.

I've decided that in my pursuit of happiness I'm going to try to see my life through her eyes, well the best I can figure anyway.  We're not talking old school, we're talking old world.  I would often sit in her kitchen while she reheated leftovers in her heavy cast iron skillet while the microwave (a model about a decade behind the times by the way) sat untouched in the corner.  I watched her hang clothes outside to dry while her dryer sat cold in the basement.  These were wonders beyond my imagination as a child.  I mean, why do things the old fashioned way when there were all these modern conveniences to make life easier, better?

I wished I had asked her then, but now I see her wisdom.  In our effort to make life easier, we have created a whole lifestyle that keeps us running in place, a treadmill we can't get off or slow down.  We overlook and waste much of what we have, and the worst crime of all - we don't appreciate all the opportunities we have.  We forget that before the manufactured "spring breeze" scent added to our detergent to make our clothes smell sweet, there was fresh air and sunshine.  Now I hang my clothes out to dry whenever nature cooperates and I know there will be people who wonder why, but I know it's because mother nature has given me this gift and why use up more of her resources, like the very expensive propane needed to bake my clothes in the dryer, when I don't have to.

I often think back on how my grandmother could make leftovers taste better than the original meal.  I mean if you've never had fried macaroni and cheese from the skillet then I truly feel sorry for you.  It's fantastic.  So that's why her easier to use microwave barely ever got used.  She knew that if leftovers tasted just as good the second time around they'd definitely be eaten and my grandmother didn't like to waste food because she knew a thing or two about being hungry.  I remember my grandmother saving even a small bowl of cream of wheat for the next morning's breakfast.  Most of us wouldn't think twice about throwing it away, wanting something different or fresher to start a new day with, but then again most of us are lucky enough to never have learned what it really means to be hungry.

My grandmother has told me stories about being alone in war torn Germany during World War II with two small children.  She said that food was so scarce she was still breastfeeding my uncle at the age of three.  She talked about how people ate whatever food they could find and even things most of us would never consider food at all, like bugs.  She said she was lucky to have some sour soup at one time when most had nothing.  She recalled my uncle crying from hunger and her feeling so utterly helpless since there wasn't anything to give him.

So now when I look in my fridge I don't sigh and say, yuck leftovers and throw them out.  I see an opportunity to make another meal for my family.  Although my family has experienced a loss of income now that I'm staying at home, I know I am lucky that I don't have that fear of telling my crying, hungry children that I have nothing to give them.  I have opportunities that I know my grandmother didn't at that point in her life.

I recently found my rear tire flat on my way to the grocery store and wondered where we were going to get the money for a new one.  I found myself remembering my grandmother's Buick Skylark.  I think she had that 1970's model my entire life, spending thousands to fix the transmission when most people would just call it quits and find a new car.  We ended up just getting the tire plugged.

My grandmother had the distinct advantage of growing up in a simpler time, where everything was not manufactured to be disposable.  She kept her possessions clean, in working order, and thus she was able to keep things for a long, long time.  That's why she is the keeper of my childhood.  Her house, her things, her love - these were the things that NEVER changed in my whole life. 

Five years ago, I told my grandmother that I couldn't possibly stay home with my child, that we needed my income to survive.  Now I realize how utterly foolish I must have sounded to her, what did I really know about "survival" anyway. The sacrifices I'm making for my children are meager compared to the ones she made for hers, but she gave me this amazing gift of perspective.  I didn't see it five years ago, but better late than never.

Martha Fredrick, my grandmother, mentor, friend, and the voice in my head pushing me to be a better person.

I would give anything to talk to her one more time, but unfortunately time can't be refunded once it's been spent. So every time a new challenge presents itself, I'm going to ask myself four simple little words - What Would Grandma Do?  I hope I can find her voice in my head when I need her, giving me strength and showing me opportunities the next time I only see obligations.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

When Bigger Is Not Better and Free Is Expensive

So my husband and I had this great idea to take our kids to the Bronx Zoo as a part of our staycation this year.  It was the first trip for all of us so I was really excited.  Being on a budget, I thought it was great that Wednesdays are free days, well better known as suggested donation day for those that have more wiggle room in their budgets than we do.  Unfortunately, to see many of the exhibits we wanted to see we had to pay extra for the "ultimate experience."  So for this we shelled out a little over $50, which sadly is a bargain compared to what they normally charge.

Well it was an experience alright.  Now I truly understand where the expression "that place was a zoo" came from.  There were literally more people than animals and I hate to say it but there was far too little use of deodorant for such a hot July afternoon.  My need for personal space and fresh air made me feel very claustrophobic at times.  We waited through lines at many free exhibits only to find no animals that were willing to venture into public view.  Maybe the heat and smell were getting to them as well.

We spent hours walking around lost and desperate to cover the vast expanse of park that separated the exhibits.  We missed a lot but did managed to make it to about 3 of the 6 total experience exhibits we had paid for.  The gorillas were cool and my kids did get a kick out of the 4D Dora movie we waited half an hour to see.  My kids had a good time, but I think the hubby and I will look for a zoo a little smaller and closer to home next time.  We had an experience that was ok, but definitely not the "ultimate experience" we paid big bucks for.  It goes to show you that sometimes bigger is not better and "free" is anything but.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Making The Most of What I Have

A few months ago I wanted a bigger house in a "better" area.  The grass was greener and I wanted it.  Now I'm staying at home, raising my kids in a single income family and I'm learning to want exactly what I have.  Most people forget what they chose and why they chose it, so they move on to the next want and it keeps going on into forever.  So staying at home means cutting costs and choosing to remember and appreciate what I have.

My husband and I bought our 1,800 square foot townhouse when we were 25 and 24 respectively with no help from anyone- something I'm still proud of.  Do I wish we had 3 bedrooms instead of 2 of course, but I know there is a whole finished basement with full bath that could easily be an enormous master beenroom with the addition of a closet.

I live in a beautiful mountain town with absolutly bupkiss in the way of big business so the nearest shopping center is like 45 minutes away.  Good thing I've discovered tactic #1 Shopping at Home

No I'm not talking about shopping online.  I'm talking about looking around the house for those items I need before I have to go out and buy it.  People have been super generous with hand me downs so when the kids need clothes or shoes I shop through my reserves in their bedroom and nearly all the time I find I don't have to buy a single thing.  So now I use that rule when it comes to almost everything.  Out of handsoap, well I have dishsoap, I have bodywash I don't particularly like, problem solved.  I keep small reserves of personal hygiene items I get super cheap because I combine sales with coupons.  Out of bodywash, check the cabinet, no need to drive to the store.  We're going to the beach this weekend, sure beach toys are cheap at the dollar store but in 10 minutes of looking outside and through their toys I found several beach toys we already bought our kids and beyond saving a few bucks I won't be adding more clutter to my house, which brings me to my next money saving tactic -

#2 Organize your home.  Since I find myself with the time, I try to make it my mission to organize one section of my house at a time.  I hunted down all the medicine from various locations around my house - on top of my fridge, and under two bathroom counters and organized it in one location and you know what I found, multiples of all types of medicines.  It seems like every time someone gets sick the first thing we do is run to the store to get medicine.  We would have saved a ton of money if we knew what we actually had at home first.  With everything in one spot we know we only have one place to look for medicine and can use up what we have before spending any money on more.  So I'm working on organizing more sections of my house.  Next up and a bit scary is the junk drawer.  The catch all of all lost and miscellaneous items.

If I don't have something and can't borrow it, I employ tactic #3 Figure Out How to Get It For Less.  This doesn't just mean clipping coupons, it means only using a coupon when it's an item you'll actually use in the next few months and the item is on sale for a good price and stocking up with enough till it goes on sale again.  This is how I never pay more than $1.50 for a bottle of laundry detergent and never pay anything for toothpaste.  Then when we use up a bottle or a tube there's another one waiting and I don't have to pay full price.  I'm not talking crazy stockpiles just what you can actually use in the next few months.  I'm finding that with a little searching you can find coupons for most anything.  I even found a coupon for my birth control.  Beyond coupons there is always borrowing, bartering, and buying used.  Craigslist and Ebay have saved our family money and sometimes we've been able to get new items in the box for half what they cost in the store.

The way I see it if you work hard for your money then you should work just as hard if not harder to keep it.  I also believe that if we spend more time wanting what we have then we won't spend money on the next want because it's a treadmill you can't slow down so I've decided that I'm just going to walk my neighborhood instead.

Adventures In Staying Home

So I've been staying at home with my kids for the last two months and it has taught me a LOT about myself.  After working for the past ten years and simultaneously raising kids, I suddenly found myself unemployed, well for pay anyhow.  With the cost of childcare for two kids and the high cost of gas, it seemed to make more sense to stay at home with my kids and put my frugal nature to the ultimate test.

I find myself simultaneously fighting guilt and enjoying my life in a way I really haven't before.  I feel a bit guilty that my husband is now the sole provider for our family, even though I wasn't making all that much before.  It's hard to change the mentality of a worker, that feeling that a paycheck is the one and only culmination and validation for work.  When people suggest this job or that to me, I feel that stab of guilt all over again.  I find myself feeling the way I did right after my daughter was born, the impending sense of doom that I will have to find daycare and lose precious time with my child (now children).  Let me tell you something -  the guilt that attaches itself to the role of motherhood is a LOT stronger than the guilt I feel for not bringing home my meager paycheck anymore.

Instead being home has given me this amazing sense of peace I didn't have before. I thought I was going to be stir crazy for sure, but there is always something to do.  I'm no Donna Reed don't get me wrong.  I don't spend my day scouring and cleaning and then beautify myself so my husband comes home to a wife in heels and lipstick.  But I think that I'm beginning to redefine work for myself.  My job now is to raise my amazing kids to the best of my ability.  My house is far from perfect but also far tidier than it was while I was working outside the home.  I'm also now fully in charge of all our household bills so I have the unique opportunity to see where every penny of our income is going. 

The first week I was home I set up family budget and over the course of my two months at home I have cut a little more than $1,000 from our monthly spending.  I've consolidated some of our debt and I'm working hard to push forward with the refinancing of our home which will save us a few hundred dollars a month.  Part of this new stay at home gig means that though I'm not bringing in any income it's my job to utilize the income we have in the best possible way.  In my next post I'll talk about some of the ways I'm working on that.  I am thinking of doing some babysitting and freelance writing if I can to bring in some extra income.  Now that I'm home I also see a house just full of stuff we don't use anymore that can be sold for a little extra money.

My daughter starts school in a few short months.  I'm looking forward to being able to take her to school her first day and reassure her if she feels nervous.  I find myself now reaching out to other stay at home moms for the same type of reassurance.  It's a new adventure I'm on as well.  Though it is not without sacrifices, our entertainment budget was the first category that went up on the chopping block, my heart tells me that I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Occasionally I still  look up jobs online and I try to weigh what they would probably pay me versus the cost of working.  Beyond the actual cost of daycare for two kids, gas, work clothes, lunches, eating out or buying convenience foods for dinner because I'm too drained to cook, there is an unspoken price I just cannot bear to pay.  My children are still little, 4 and 2 years old, and I know I will blink and their childhoods will slip away.  Time is what I can't get back.  I lost my dad at 14.  I would give anything for one more day.  I would pay anything for a do-over.  For the time that was wasted, taken for granted and then lost forever.  Time with my kids is not something I'm willing to exchange for a paycheck, one that will most likely be used to buy things that I don't need to cover guilt I cannot bury.

A word of advice for those that would like to make a stay at home mom feel like she isn't "really" working- when I ask you for money then and only then can you chip in your two cents about my choice.  Until then, my bills are paid, my children are loved, my husband has a wife that doesn't want to murder him for not helping me with the housework and instead appreciates him and supports him, and I am more relaxed than I have been in.. well my whole life.  Not that my worrying nature has or ever will go away, but I have made a lot of things happen for myself that I never would have imagined before and my children gave me that gift.  They gave me the undying motivation to make it happen, whatever it is that I need to do to make happiness a reality.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Failure Breeds Change

So when my perfect job-share arrangement came to a crossroads because of a merger I decided to venture into the unknown and start a daycare with a good friend of mine.  To say it's been a challenge would be an understatement.  I, along with my partner, have spent thousands of dollars and over a year of our lives preparing to open our daycare and the last five months trying desperately to keep it. 

Being a former Marketing professional it's hard not to feel the sting of each failed advertising attempt.  The radio ads, newspaper ads, fliers, social media have barely yielded a few kids.  I have spent a lot of my personal money trying desperately to make a new career for myself and here I am two steps back.  I have taken a leave of absence from the daycare in order to give my partner an opportunity to pay her mortgage for awhile longer and buy us the time to try and make this all work out.  But the truth is that neither of us knows will happen.

Again I find myself standing on the precipice of change.  It's scary because it's unknown.  But I've already decided (with my husband of course) that should things with the daycare not pick up, I'm not going back to work.  The daycare expenses and the cost of gas would likely devour any income I'm likely to make.  But beyond the practicalities of life, I hear my grandmother's voice echoing across the expanse of my heart, "But why are you going back to work, you wanted that baby so much."  I would give anything to hear my grandmother's voice for real, to tell her what's going on and ask for her advice.  She taught me that choices are a luxury, and she taught me that I had more choices than I realized.

So I've been home for a week now and it's not what I thought it would be.  It's not boring at all.  I find that I don't actually hate cooking and cleaning.   I hated having to cram everything into the scraps of time I'm given during the course of a work week.  Rushing to cook the second I got home from work, filling an entire Saturday doing laundry.  These things made me resent what for all working moms is commonly known as the second shift.  We work all day, get home and work all night.   Moms literally work all the time and so often I just felt rung out like a dish rag.  I felt overworked, stressed out, unappreciated, and resentful of my husband for whom the second shift did not apply. That's not to say he doesn't do things around the house (good God I can hear him recanting every time he's taken out the garbage or unloaded the dishwasher).  The realm of family and household responsibility has always overwhelmingly been mine.  You can understand this when what tasks are done by your husband are often presented with this lovely protest, "But I help you."  Yes help implies that it is extra, not necessary, and yes belongs to me.  But now the second shift has become a long shift with more fluidity and flexibility.

I absolutely hate cleaning bathrooms, but I cleaned all three of mine from top to bottom this week and it wasn't so bad.  I did all the toilets one day, the tub one day, the counters and floors another and it seemed much easier.  I've taken my kids to park, the library and have just spent time being with them.  I've created our first ever family budget, oh yes I can hear the groans.  It should have been done years ago, but it's really opened up my eyes as to what we spend money on.  Make no mistake, work has a lot of expenses of its own.  Now I'm committed to saving money wherever I can.  So as of this moment I don't know if I'm a stay at home mom for now or for the long haul.  I'm just trying to enjoy and be open to change, whatever it brings me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Motherhood Turned Career

I've spoke about my opinion on this subject before, that I think motherhood should be viewed as a career.  Now I've actually gone and done it.  I'm now co-owner of a daycare with my best friend and it certainly is Motherhood times 10.  I now kind of understand what it must be like to have triplets as there are 3 babies to care for every day, plus my two, plus 6 year old twins after-school.

I love that I get to wear jeans and a sweatshirt to work, not to mention the fluffier and funnier looking the socks the better.  I'm the anti-fashionista and I like it this way.  Sure I spend most days with some degree of snot, spit up or other bodily fluid on me, and sure I got an accidental hand full of poop when one of the babies was carefully concealing a poop splosion, but I just can't help but laugh about it afterward. It's not anything different than I've encountered during my four years as a mom.  Even when there are 3 babies crying I have a great friend there to help me laugh off any feelings of being overwhelmed. 

I think it's safe to say that I've slipped into my new career quite seamlessly.  I went from sitting in my cubicle like veal to feeling fresh air (weather permitting of course), playing games, reading stories, and hanging out with some pretty cool little people, not that I don't miss some of the co-workers I no longer see.  As expected, the pay is not all I dreamed it would be, but we're working on it.  All the stress that I had before has melted away and I never worry about getting in trouble for talking to my co-worker too much.  I don't have to sit through any more awkward annual reviews where I try to play up my awesomeness to people who don't really care all that much about me anyway.  Not to mention that every day is take your children to work day. 

If anything it's made me a better mother.  I've really watched and helped my children acquire new skills.  Hannah has started reading and she works on writing her letters every day.  She is using scissors well and has found a love for putting puzzles together.  My son has found new children to give hugs to and play with besides his big sister.  Sure we're on our second nasty cold in two months and both kids got their very first ear infections last week (in both ears), but hopefully their immune systems will be equipped to handle the onslaught of germs they'll encounter when they start school.

I used to think that if I just made more money and had more time off then I'd be happy in my career.  But here I am making less money,working 10 plus hours a day and I couldn't be happier.  I sleep like a baby at night and I never ever worry about what the new day will hold for me.  I know any stress I feel will quickly be replaced with laughter.  I can pull my kids in for a snuggle whenever I want.  I can snuggle little babies and know with 99 percent certainty that I will never again have baby fever.  We do need more kids enrolled because life is still life and there are always bills that need to be paid, but at least know I know that I won't have to pay with my sanity.