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.