The Dog Ate My Wallet

The Dog Ate My Wallet

Personal Finance in a World of Excuses


Working Again (almost)

I just wanted to let me readers here (the few of you that are left) know that I will be returning to work next week. After 9 months of unemployment (pretty much exactly), I have a new job.

I will be back up at our University and working as the Administrator for an academic department.

Now that the stress of the process is over, and also, now that I will be back on a regular schedule, I expect to be posting more often, starting with some tips on the job hunting process, and also sharing stories of the ups and downs.


Spending Almost $10k in 6 weeks, while on the Dole

From June 16 to July 31, we spent almost $9,500 dollars outside of our regular budget. I have been unemployed since January 10. C has not worked since May 2009. And I do not regret any of it.

I will admit, my stomach dropped as I watched our savings account balance fall more in those six weeks than it had in the previous 5 months of unemployment combined. And yet, our balance remains at about half of what it was when we started. (Okay, confession, while it is at half of what it was when we started, it is really at just over a 1/3 of what we had- our tax refund this year was HUGE due to the adoption credit.)

What made us spend that much money? Most of it was planned expenses- C’s last quarter of tuition (he is DONE with school in one week!), home study/agency fee for adopting a second child, and bunk beds for our daughter’s room so that we have the bed space to adopt another child. Those account for over 2/3 of the money (about $6,700).
The rest was money we could not afford to not spend. C needed a root canal. We have individual dental insurance, but we have to pay a fixed amount for each procedure, and root canals and crowns are not cheap. Then we needed break and axle work done on our VW wagon (which has almost 200k miles on it). Not cheap, though also not an amount I would blink at when working, for the safety of our family.

I will be honest, every time I used to hear the advice- have an emergency fund with six months of expenses in it, I would laugh. I would think- that is just not doable, and not the way to have my money working hardest for me. The interest I am paying on my debts is higher than the interest I am earning in savings. If I have that much money sitting around, why not work on paying off debt? (Okay, I do not actually know if the money in the account would have covered 6 months of expenses all on its own. I get unemployment, and we have a few other income streams- not huge income, but supplemental.)

And, again in all honesty, we did not have that money sitting around for emergency fund purposes. It was in liquid savings because we were hoping to be able to move this summer, without selling our current house. The money was in liquid savings because it was meant to be part of a down payment.

Still, having that money there has allowed us to weather almost 8 months of unemployment in a single stretch, while still moving forward on our life goals, and not having to stress about how we are paying the mortgage or putting food on the table. We did not even have to skimp on our daughter’s birthday. (Though part of that was that we had some of that large tax refund put on an Amazon gift card, because Turbo Tax then matched it 10%. We put enough on the card for Turbo Tax’s contribution to about double what we actually paid for Turbo Tax. We knew it would be enough to cover C’s books for two quarters and birthday for our daughter.)

Some of our ease of survival comes from being prepared- we knew our budget, and knew where we could easily cut back, in addition to the Amazon gift card. Other parts come from luck- having that money in liquid savings. But most of it comes from good planning and communication between C and I.

When you have a financial crises (and I think 8 months of no one in the family working qualifies), nothing will help you get through it like having a partner on the same page as you are.


Job Search Data

Part of the point of this post is that tomorrow I am attending open session interviews with Tableau, the company that makes the program (Tableau Public) I used to create these little infographics.
I also thought it might be interesting to other people who were currently searching for jobs and struggling with long-term unemployment (or at least longer term than they’d like) to see how someone else’s job search was going.

The first graphic is pretty basic- just the number of jobs I have applied to and the number of 1st-4th round interviews I have then had.

The second graphic then breaks out that information by organization I have applied to.

The third removes organizations, but puts in the month/year information, so you can see how my job search activity has changed since I first learned I would be losing my position back in December.




9 Months Unemployment on 6 Months Severance and Doing Just Fine

Since May 2013, I have spent six months working, and almost nine unemployed. Two of those months were last summer, but I have had almost seven straight months of not working as of right now. Was this intentional? Not by any means. It never occurred to me when my boss and I made the mutual decision for me to leave my last position that I would spend this long not working.

I have been struggling with situational depression and doing my best to keep positive and not settle for the next thing that comes along. Of course, I am not working because nothing has really “come along”. The one saving grace in this mess is the fact that financially, we are doing just fine, and can survive a few more months of no one in the house working, despite the fact that we spent almost $10k in the last month.

How? You can say some of it is luck- I got a six month severance package when I was laid off at the end of last April, and we got a very large tax return this past year because of adopting our daughter. In addition, my six months of working were timed perfectly so that I will end up with almost a full year’s worth of unemployment. (Unemployment is figured in a benefit year. I applied last May and received UE for 2 months. When I left my next position in January, I simply reopened my previous claim, and received benefits on it until May, when I reapplied and was qualified for another 24 weeks.)

But going on nine months on a six month severance package and unemployment is not all just luck, especially considering C has not worked since 2009, and we have been cash flowing his college expenses. (He finishes up his combined BA/BA in September.) The work we did to get our finances in order when he was laid off five years ago is the only reason we have been able to get through this time period with neither of us working in shape.

How are we doing it? When I lost my job in January, we only had three debt based monthly bills- our mortgage, my undergraduate student loans, and payments on the new windows we had installed last summer. We own both of our cars outright. We paid off my graduate student loans in January 2013, and while we do use our credit cards, we never carry a balance.

We have a budget in place and stick to it. We have made conscious decisions about where our money is going and are careful with large expenses. All of the money that has been spent recently was either planned (C’s tuition, adoption agency fees) or simply necessary- he needed a root canal.

This is not an easy time. I am a worse mother and a worse wife when I am not working. But at least for now, we do not have to worry about finances.


Affordable Healthcare


One of the issues with being out of work again is health insurance. We have been lucky in that part of my severance package from the lay off last year included one year, employer paid COBRA coverage. Guess what, that one year is up at the end of this month.WaHealthPlanFinder

We got the paperwork for continuing COBRA coverage and learned the premium would be almost $1,200/month, just for C and I. (Pop Tart does not need coverage as she is covered by the state.) I have been out of work since January; $1,200/month is NOT something we can afford.

However, something like this is what is known as a “qualifying life event” when it comes to being able to enroll in (or change yourenrollment) healthcare. So, today I went online to the Washington state health care exchange website to see about getting C and I healthcare coverage. Here is my story.


Let me start by saying that most of the frustrations I had came from me not being prepared. I needed the following documents, some of which I had to search for (and one I could not find, but I had a way around that): current insurance information for C, Pop Tart, and myself, SSN’s for the entire family, most recent unemployment award letter, COBRA letter stating the employer paid benefits were about to end, last year’s tax returns. Let me state that I had none of that with me when I started the process, so I had to keep getting up and finding the information. Naturally, I could not find my current insurance card and so had to call the company in order to get my group number. And the only documentation we have proving our rental income is the tax returns, so that is why I needed those.

To go along with that, our scanner scans to C’s computer, not mine. And it buries the documents in a hard to find place. And for some reason, his computer does not have full access to mine (even though I have full access to my laptop via my tablet), so I could not copy and paste the documents from his computer to mine, I had to email them to myself.

The “big” problem came when I was entering the information about why we are now eligible to sign up. It asked for the last day o healthcare coverage, which is the end of this month. The website then told me that event dates could not be in the future. It seemed odd to me that I would be penalized for trying to plan in advance, so I called the customer service line.

Given that we are not in an open enrollment period, I had no wait. I went straight to a very nice and helpful representative. She apologized for the website’s stupidity but did tell me her system allowed her to put in future dates, so she helped me finish up the enrollment. Then, she logged out, I logged back in and chose our plan.

I chose to stick with the same company our current coverage is through (my old employer, and a managed care organization) so that we can stick with all of our same providers. Given the C has his migraine meds, and I am now on thyroid meds, it just seemed simplest. That, and I like all my doctors.

What I did not do was look at any plans beyond the “silver” plans first presented. I simply signed us up, at a cost of $128/month (just over 10% of what COBRA would have cost) after our tax credit

I did ask if I could decline the tax credit, as I am currently unemployed but am actively seeking employment. She told me no, but that once I became employed, I would just log back on to the system and report the change, at which point it would reassess our eligibility for tax credit. (And even without the tax credit, the monthly cost of our plan will be less than what we were paying monthly on our new windows- and that payment ends this month).

The only other “problem” I have found is that I cannot now go and look at other plans, even though our coverage will not start until June. I tried to log on and look at other plans, but apparently once you choose a plan, you do not get to look at others.


Still, it was an overall success, and the whole process took less than an hour, with at least half the time being spent by me searching for, scanning, and emailing documents to myself. And, I will still have health insurance on June 1, which is really the important thing


A Tale of Two Mistakes (part 2)

This is what my life has felt like in the last two weeks, but in a good way

The next story comes only a couple of years after the first one. I had left Nevada and was now in Washington working for a small manufacturing company. I had answered a job ad for an admin “who’s not afraid of computers” and was spending most of my time doing tech support and database administration. One of the things I did was create part numbers for new products as well as new materials.

One day, I was working at my desk (which was in a big open area, facing our production line) when one of the company founders, the machinist, and my boss came up to my desk. The founder was not in a good mood. He was working on a new invention, or at least an innovation for one of our products, and had needed a certain screw. The screw we ordered was NOT the right screw. Its thread count was wrong. (I know thread count is what you use for sheets, but basically, on this screw, the threading was at the wrong incline.) Believe it or not, this makes a difference.

They were at my desk because the screw was wrong. The purchaser claimed it was not his fault because he ordered the screw that went with the part number he was given. The machinist was positive he would not have told anyone the wrong specification for the screw. My boss was there as the VP of purchasing and head of research and development (I mentioned it was a small company, right). And they were at my desk because I was the one who had created the part number and therefore entered the specifications into the computer system.

By this time, our founder was frustrated. I said it must be my fault, and give me the right specification, and I’ll change it in the computer system right now, and then our purchaser can order the right screws and get them overnighted, if need be.

The founder and the machinist walked away. My boss stuck around. He told me he knew that could not have been my fault, because I did not know enough about screws to make that kind of mistake (this is absolutely true). He knew that when I created the part number, I only would have entered the information given to me and that information would have come from him (but in this case he knew it had not), the machinist or our purchaser. I shrugged and told him that it was pretty obvious that by that point, our founder was as unhappy with no one taking responsibility as he was with having the wrong screw. It was no skin off my back to claim the mistake, and more importantly, I was then able to fix it.

After that, the founder took a liking to me, and would call on me to help him with projects (there were only two admins in the entire company) when he needed it.

While these may seem like two very different stories, I see them very much the same. In both cases, I admitted to a mistake, did my best to rectify it, and then moved on. The real difference was not whether or not the mistake was mine, but the attitude I displayed (I had learned from the first mistake), and also the attitude of the people around me.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. What is important is how we handle the aftermath. As in so many things, attitude is everything.


A Tale of Two Mistakes (part 1)


We all make mistakes. We make them in our personal lives and in our professional lives. One of the ways I judge people (because we all judge people) is based on how they handle those mistakes. Do they deflect? Offer excuses? Or take responsibility and try to make it right?

In our work lives, it can be scary to take responsibility for a mistake. It could cost you your job; it has me. (Well, not necessarily the mistake itself, but my attitude post mistake.) But the ability to take (or claim) responsibility for errors, as well as the ability to move on from them, is key to performing well and gaining the confidence of your peers and superiors at work.

The first story I am going to tell you took place almost 15 years ago. I lived in Nevada, where either you or the employer could end your employment within the first 30 days for any reason, or no reason, at all. No notice has to be given, no paperwork has to be filed. The position just ends, and except for tax purposes, you never worked there.

I had taken a position at a manufacturing company. I was basically doing data entry, bills of lading, shipping information and such. Two weeks into my being there, one of the senior people in the office was going on vacation. I was trained to do a few aspects of her job, which included scheduling trucks to pick up goods we were shipping. For one particular customer, there was a rule that if an order was over a specific size, we needed to schedule the truck an extra day in advance. I was also told that while the order always looked like it would be that big at the beginning of the week, by the time the trucks had to be scheduled, it was almost never that big anymore, so I really should not worry about it. (You can see where this is going, right?)

Please note that one of the other things I had been told was that overtime was in no way, for no reason, authorized.

While the senior person was gone, it came the day I would need to schedule the truck if the order was over a certain size. But because I had been assured it would not be (or that it would shrink), I did not check it until the end of the day, after doing all the other work I needed to do. Naturally, the order was big enough that I needed to call and schedule the truck. The problem was, that would take at least half an hour, and it was only five minutes from when I needed to leave.

I had been there less than three weeks, and I was left with a decision that required me to break a rule. I had no idea which one to break. I wanted to ask, but the only other person in the office had only been there two weeks longer than me, and she had not been trained on any of this.

I was young, dependent on the bus system for transportation, and so I made the decision based on my own personal wants and needs. I chose no overtime, not to schedule the truck, and to hope the delivery went down even further. However, I also made no secret of the decision I made. I told the other senior person the next morning, and I mentioned it to the VP who hired me (but who had also only been with the company for about a month). Neither of them seemed to think it was a big deal.

When the person I was covering for came back, I told her about what happened. She did seem to think it was a big deal, and I was sent to go speak to the senior VP. We talked about how what I had done had cost the company money. I nodded, said I understood, and did not worry about it too much.

Why did I not worry about it? It was a one time thing. I was training on day shift, but in the future was supposed to be working swing or graveyard. This was never going to be a job task that I was responsible for. That, and it had happened the previous week. I was over it. I had moved on.

None of this was a problem until I was back in the office. The other new staff member asked me about it, and I said that I was not worried about it; that I knew I would never make that mistake again, so I had nodded through the conversation, but I was over it.

That attitude (unsurprisingly) was not appreciated by the senior staff person I had been backing up. She went and complained to the senior VP, and that afternoon, we decided my employment there would end.


Let me be perfectly honest with you. I, in general, still feel the same way about mistakes I have made. I make them. I acknowledge them, and then I move on. I do not dwell on mistakes. I figure out how to not make them again and then get on with my work. But that does not mean I did not learn anything from this experience. I learned to be more careful about how I expressed my attitude toward mistakes and who was around when I did so. But I also learned something to look for in future employers, and something to ask in that dreaded part of the interview- do you have any questions for us.

I now routinely ask- how do you, as a company, view mistakes?


Taking Control


I have now been unemployed for longer than I have ever been since I was an undergraduate. I am doing my best to learn from the experience the same way I would learn from other experiences. One of the first things I am learning is that I need to set a schedule for myself. My life works better if I have a schedule. Getting into a routine makes me more productive overall.

As part of having a schedule, and feeling more productive, it has also helped me take more control of my job search. Recently I joined a local, large, networking group on LinkedIn. I have used the connections in that group to reach out directly to recruiters for companies I want to work with, and it has gotten my resume sent straight on through to a hiring manager and an in person interview.

I sent an email to the director of recruitment for a company I have been watching for over and year and would love to work for. That was well over a week ago, and I have not heard anything back. That is somewhat disappointing, but I am also very proud of myself for taking that risk and reaching out.

In addition, more than ever before, I am reaching out to my personal network for help get my resume in front of hiring managers.

I have also started researching organizations I am considering applying to on LinkedIn, and using that information to DSCF3268truly personalize my cover letters. In this way, I am able to truly focus my job search on organizations I honestly want to work for, in jobs that excite my both professionally and personally.

I am still job hunting, but, funnily enough, I am feeling better about the process now, three months in, than I have since I first left my job back in January.


Silly Pet Peeve

This is absolutely a silly pet peeve of mine, but it came up again today, and I feel the need to mention it.

If you are someone who wants to interview me, and you have my resume in front of you, why do you think it is necessary to tell me that I should dress professionally? As you can clearly see from my resume, I am a professional. If I don’t know how to dress for an interview, I shouldn’t be working at the level I think I should be working at.

At the same time, this does give me a clue as to the quality of candidates they normally interview, if it is just part of their standard patter to tell people how to dress. And it could be that these HR folks do a lot of interviewing for entry level positions, where people do need that advice, and not a lot for my level. Or it tells me that the job I’m going to be interviewing for is not actually at the level their help wanted ad made it sound like.

So telling me to dress professionally for the interview does give me plenty of information, but it still bugs me.

Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, if someone tells me I should dress casual (or business casual) for an interview, that doesn’t bother me. But that’s because I assume they’ve looked at my resume and realized that I would dress professionally and are letting me know that’s not their culture.

Funny how we give people credit for things we appreciate and don’t for things that bug us.


Do You Want to Play a Game?

Our mortgage agent sends us these little newsletters occasionally. The most recent one has sections on both talking to your parents about money and teaching your kids about money.
One of the tools for teaching kids about money is, where you can participate in games, or even create private games where you can “compete” against other players.
Here’s the thing- we all know I know almost nothing about the stock market, so I actually think this game would be great for me, not just kids. I would love to have a private game that I played with my fellow bloggers, whether you know a lot about the stock market or a little.
Who wants to join me?