The Dog Ate My Wallet

The Dog Ate My Wallet

Personal Finance in a World of Excuses

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Peer to Peer Lending – 2013 Annual Prosper Report

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Do you ever have the thought ”I could do X and my spouse would never know”? When it’s about buying yourself a piece of candy at the grocery store, it’s probably not a big deal. We’re at a point right now where I could throw $1,000-2,000 into our Prosper account and C would have no idea. I’m not going to do that, because that’s not the kind of relationship we have, but after doing the research for this year’s update on how our Prosper investments are doing, it sure is tempting.

Year

Account Total

Overall Rate of Return

1 Year Rate of Return

2 Year Rate of Return

2011

$135.00

(10.7%)

2012

$172.50

(9.5%)

27.8%

2013

$226.00

(7.6%)

31.0%

67.4%

As the overall rate of return shows, we’re still down based on the amount of money we originally invested. But that is because in 2009/2010, we pulled about 85% of the money we had invested in Prosper out. Not because the returns were bad (though they were), but because that is when C was laid off. We pulled the money out of Prosper in order to pay off our own debt. It was the right financial decision for us, but it did actualize our losses.

What has my attention now is not the overall picture but the year over year returns. Last year, we were up 27.8%. This year, we are up 31%. Our 2 year rate of return is 67.4%.

This number seems a little too good to be true. And maybe it is.

Year

Charge Offs

Paid in Full

Active Loans

2011

26

28

3

2012

26

28

5

2013

26

29

6

Please note that since I started tracking our Prosper progress for the blog, we have had very few active loans. The first 54 loans (the 26 charge off and 28 paid in fulls) were purchased during our first year investing with Prosper, from April 2007 to March 2008, before the site went dark for about 18 months while going through the accreditation process. We have made only 7 loans since then, meaning that my sample size is very small- very small.

This means my average rate of return over the last 2 years is not typical. It apparently also means that either I have gotten very good at reading the Prosper profiles and determining risk based on my yearly analysis, or that I have gotten lucky (this is the bigger likelihood).

Still, there’s good news here. We have not had a single charge off in the last two years. I actually thought we were going to have one, as, when I looked yesterday, one of my active loans was over 30 days late. However, when I logged in today for all of my numbers, that account had been brought current.

Those six loans are a mix of 3 and 5 year loans, with one or two scheduled to be paid off every year from 2014-2018.

Original Loan Amount

Interest Rate

Amount Paid

Prosper Credit Rating

$75

15.2%

$0

B

$30

30.77%

$10.08

HR

$45

30.77%

$23.05

HR

$40

17.45%

$18.92

B

$60

20.99%

$43.48

C

$25

26.75%

$32.56

D

Total

$275

22.07%

$128.09

(Please don’t try to make the numbers add up to the $226 active total. Remember that the money that has been paid off has been reinvested into new loans, and that one loan was paid in full in the last year.)

Per this chart, I have $275 invested at a 22.07% interest rate. If you run the numbers only to show what is still owed (so currently invested), you get that I have $146.91 invested at 20.02%.

Given my 2011 analysis, I’ve got a pretty good mix. For us, Bs and HRs have the best combination of risk vs return. Bs have slightly less risk; HRs have slightly higher return, but both came out well.

D’s were among the most risk with the least return on that analysis, but since I have already turned a profit on the one D loan I have, I won’t worry if that one goes into default. C loans had only a slightly better risk profile than Ds, and, in fact, the C loan was the one I thought would end up in collections.

If I keep investing in only 2 new loans a year, I will likely stick with Bs and HRs from here on out. But I have to admit, given the rate of return I’m currently seeing, and where we are financially right now, throwing another thousand or so into Prosper does not seem like a bad idea (at which point I would not guarantee a strict B/HR portfolio mix).

Are any of you invested in Peer to Peer lending? How is it working out for you?

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You Can Only Know What You Know

Do you know about Jackalopes?

Yesterday, our good friend Joe from Stacking Benjamins and The Free Financial Advisor hit a major milestone- 365 days in a row of running. First, I want to congratulate Joe on the accomplishment. Doing any specific activity every day for a year takes dedication and resolve. Joe may go by the moniker “Average Joe”, but average he is not. (I would also like to think I deserve a little credit for inspiring him to do this by my getting up and walking every day at FinCon12, since he started this journey shortly afterwards, but that’s probably not the case. Still- Joe, if you want a walking or jogging partner at FinCon13, let me know.) 

Do you know about Jackalopes?

Do you know about Jackalopes?

Every day for an entire year, Joe got off his couch and went for a run. And like any good blogger, he then wrote a post about it. (Though if he’d been a really smart blogger, he would have turned this into a side income project where he documented his runs every day, too, and then sold it as a book.)

 

But this post isn’t about tenacity or dedication or perseverance. It’s about a small line in Joe’s post about the his best day of running: “Within half a mile a little thing ran across the road in front of me…..a jackrabbit! I’d seen them before, but never up close.”

This line surprised me, and honestly, made me feel a little sad for Joe. You see, unlike most PF bloggers, Joe is actually a little older than me. That means that he went the first 40 years of his life not seeing a jackrabbit, which I find nearly inconceivable and a little sad.

I grew up in eastern Montana. I lived in a neighborhood of a dozen houses, where everyone had at least an acre, situated between a hill and a river. Across the river from us was government land. It wasn’t a wildlife refuge or anything, but people were not allowed to hunt there. I would often wake up to deer and bobcat tracks in our yard. There were snakes and skunks and more jackrabbits than you could count.

Jackrabbits were a fixture of my childhood. So much so that it would never occur to me that someone could make it into adulthood without seeing one up close. And yet, it happens.

Which brings me to the point of this post (I took the scenic route)- You can only know what you know.

Some people grow up with jackrabbits. Others grow up with Sesame Street. (In my hometown, PBS was only available via cable, and we lived too far out of the city limits for the cable company to offer service. We had only 3 channels, and I still probably spent more time watching TV than I should have.) Some people grow up with both but never got on an airplane.

Experiences that we might think are ubiquitous are not. We cannot hold others accountable for knowing what they do not know. And more importantly, we cannot hold ourselves accountable for what we do not know.

Especially as you look at retirement planning, how many times have you thought to yourself “If only I knew then what I know now”? How many times have you made a mistake with your money and learned a harsh lesson from it? So many times, we want to beat ourselves up for not knowing what we didn’t know.

It needs to stop.

Instead of wishing the past were different, we instead need to focus on the present and the future. If you have an idea of what you might not know, then seek out more information. Educate yourself. But, like it or not, humans in general learn by experience, by making mistakes. So make the mistakes and use them to learn for the future.

It may be sad that you did not see your first jackrabbit up close until you were 40, but at least on the day you do see one, you know it’s something special. It makes an impression, and now, you know.

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My Latte Factor® Story

I live in the land of Starbucks, lattes are everywhere.

I live in the land of Starbucks, lattes are everywhere.

I live in the land of Starbucks, lattes are everywhere.

The Latte Factor® is an idea/phrase that came from financial advisor David Bach. I mention this because I think you might not know. Despite having heard the term and seeing the idea both praised and debunked,  I did not know who to attribute it to until I looked it up for this post.

The main idea of the Latte Factor ® is that by giving up your daily latte habit, you could save an extra million for retirement, per year in your 20s. (Due to expected returns, the results decrease as you get older since the money is invested for less time.) This idea has been shredded by so many people and so thoroughly that I’d be surprised if you had heard of the Latte Factor® and not also heard it was bunk.

But I am here to tell you that I believe there is a Latte Factor®, and that it can matter, it can matter quite a bit, just not in the way Back presented it.

As with all things, this is a matter of scale. If what you are worried about is your retirement savings, your daily latte is likely not the problem. For me, the Latte Factor® was not about saving for retirement, it was about making ends meet on a monthly basis. And that’s a much different story.

Back in 2009 I was working a good job, with a great boss. But I had graduated with my MBA a year earlier and had not gotten a post MBA job at that point. Between C and I, we were making about $95k/year. Almost every day, I went to the cafeteria with my co-workers and got a venti, non-fat, no water chai. Many days I also got an asiago bagel, toasted, two cream cheeses and a jelly. Other days I’d hit the vending machine in the afternoon for a Coke (it took cards, so I didn’t even need cash to get my caffeine fix). On average, let’s say I was spending $5/day (and this is being nice to myself) on my chai and junk food habit. In a four work week month, that’s $100.

Let me also be clear that this was not my breakfast. It was not the only food I was eating that day. I ate breakfast at home. I had tea bags and sweetener at my desk. I brought in my lunch and snacks. What I got at the cafeteria was food simply for the sake of eating, not due to hunger. These were dollars spent on empty calories.

But it did not matter. Sure we had debt, but we could make all of our payments. We didn’t really have savings, but we had plenty of room on the credit cards, and we paid more than the minimum each month. We had paid off C’s student loans early, and once every couple of years or so, we would get the credit cards completely paid off. We were good. We were so good that we were considering forgiving a rather large debt C’s mother owed us specifically so that she could afford to move out of our house.

And then, C got laid off. We went from $95k/year to about $55k/year- almost half of our income. Suddenly, we could not afford to forgive the MIL’s debt. Without unemployment, we could not afford our monthly bills. Our car payment alone was $800/month. Our mortgage was over $1600. Those two things ate up close to 3/4 of my monthly take home pay.

And here I was, spending $100/month on food and drink I did not need. And it also suddenly became harder to give up. I ate when I was stressed or bored. At work, I was often bored, and now I was always stressed. Plus, I was the only person in our house who was working. I DESERVED my indulgences.

$100/month was the power bill. It was 1/3 of our grocery bill. Just like we could not afford to have MIL stop paying us back and move out, we could not afford for me to have a daily chai. It was not about having an extra million come retirement, it was about paying our monthly bills, not losing the car or the house. $100 buys a whole lot more in groceries than 20 days’ worth of tea, bagels and cream cheese.

There was a Latte Factor® and it was the difference between making it or not.

The brand of chai used by most coffee places. I can buy it at the grocery store and make it at home.

The brand of chai used by most coffee places. I can buy it at the grocery store and make it at home.

I never saw the Latte Factor® as a retirement savings plan, even if that was the way Bach intended it. For me, it has always been about being mindful, about paying attention to where my money goes and making informed choices.

One of the things C and I were most proud of during our 9 months of not being able to live on my paycheck alone was that between the unemployment and paying attention to our money, we never had to reduce my retirement savings. So maybe it will translate to half a million down the road.

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What I’m Reading While Walking Around the Blogs

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Alright, after taking August off, it’s time to get back in the habit of walking around the blogs and letting you all know what I’ve been reading. Because it has been so long since I have done one of these, some of the posts I am going to link to are a little old, so maybe you have already seen them, but maybe you haven’t.

DSCF2834The Purpose of a Walk – Rescued Insanity. Kristine has been pretty quiet this summer. I can’t blame her, I haven’t exactly been an ever day poster myself. But it was good to see this post from her in August, so we know she’s still alive.

Good Dogs, Bad Owners: September 2013 – That Mutt. Lindsay moved from ND to CA. Talk about a huge change in attitude and climate, but some things don’t seem to change no matter where you are, and that’s where good dogs and bad owners come into play.

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place. We Need to Talk – My Brown Newfies. I just want to give Jen and Sherman hugs. It is always so hard making medical decisions for another being, especially one that cannot tell us in words what their wishes are. But as the ones who know our pets best, I think it is possible to have an idea of what they would want. And sometimes that means not taking the aggressive route.

Heya-Meet Taya – Heart Like a Dog. Posts like this make me so thankful that we have Old Dog Haven, a rescue that specializes in helping older dogs find homes or just comfortable places to end their days. Taya is young enough to give someone years of love, and I hope very much that through outreach, Jodi and the shelter who is taking this sweet girl are able to find her a good home.

Fitting in Fit Dog Time – Cascadian Nomads. It is no secret that I’ve felt a little pressed for time this summer and that the dogs’ exercise has taken a bit of a hit with that, especially with fewer trips to the dog park. But we’re working on getting on a schedule with a routine that should be doable even in the wet PNW winter. I was happy to see that Bethany and the boys were still able to fit in their exercise while adding a couple of kids to the mix for a week.

*New to Me* Big Dog Discrimination – Back Alley Soapbox. I used to lament at the ill-behaved Yorkies that would get brought into Starbucks when I knew that my Smokey would have been a perfect coffee shop dog. Except that everyone seems to find the little dogs so cute and will forgive an owner for bringing them in, no matter how ill-mannered. And yet, I knew that if I tried to bring my 65lb Pit mix in, no matter how well behaved, people would complain. 65lbs is nothing compared to what Back Alley Soapbox deal with, with 180lb Moses, so I can’t quite feel all of her pain, but I can sympathize.

DSCF2826

Tips for Your First Professional Job – A Young Pro. I love helping people get started in life, and also helping them understand how they can “move up” if that is what they want. These tips aren’t just good for your first job, they are good for any job.

Your Kid’s Hero Should Be You – Money Beagle. I know you’re all sick of hearing about how I am a new parent, but cope, this is my blog, and parenting is on my mind. I love this post from Money Beagle, especially his “how” tips. The hardest for me, but I think the most important- Don’t badmouth.

Why Diversity is So Good for the Workplace – What Your Boss Really Thinks. There’s a part of every hiring manager that wants to hire the person that looks like them, thinks like them, talks like them, etc. It is one of the reasons that having something in common, like an alma mater, with a hiring manager can be such a big boost to your chances. But it is also something hiring managers need to recognize in themselves and move past in order to hire the best candidate. And yes, sometimes that means not accepting the pool you’ve gotten and going out and looking for something different.

DSCF2835Top 5 Financial Superheroes Who Never Were – Stacking Benjamins. You know Joe is a geek. You know I am a geek. So it should be no surprise that I loved this post- LOVED IT. Who would your financial superhero be?

10 Strategies to Improve Self-Esteem, part 2 – Jana Says. I’ve chosen to link to part 2 because it has the link to part 1 in it. I have said it before and I will say it again. Jana is one of the best writers I know when it comes to talking about depression and self-esteem issues. I admire her bravery and am jealous of her voice. Whether or not you suffer from depression or self-esteem issues, you should read these two posts.

*New to Me* What Fantasy Football Can Teach Us About Investing – Micro’s Missions. I love fantasy football (though I have my worst team in years this season) and I want to learn about investing, so how more perfect could this post be?

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Oh, the Assumptions

DSCF1797

I was going to post something else today, and this happened…

DSCF1797

I was on my way back to my office from a meeting when my cell rang. I answered it. It was from a very nice gentleman at the after school program we are signing SP up for. He wanted to pass on some information to me about needing to contact the district transportation office about her change in bus route after school and to ask some questions about things specifically related to our situation (basically that her CASA wants to be able to visit her at the program).

I got off the phone with him, and my first thought was one of annoyance. You see, I filled out the contact form while C did all the rest of the paperwork for the program. I know very well that my husband is listed as the FIRST contact on it. Also, that he has listed a home phone and a cell phone, while I have listed home, cell and work. And, the other pieces of paperwork turned in with this all have HIS signature. And, he was the one to drop off the paperwork, in person, at the community center today.

Why, I had wanted to ask this very nice man, was I the one they were calling. Was it an assumption that because I was the mother, I would be the one to know these things (or do these things, in the case of contacting district transportation)? Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, but C is the primary caregiver. We list him first on these documents for a reason.

So I had in mind a post to put up here asking others if they ever got calls on things because of gender stereotypes- if the moms all got the calls from the schools, and the husbands all got the calls from the car repair, or whatever. And I am still interested in knowing that.

But then another thought occurred to me. I don’t know if this very nice man tried to call the home number or C’s cell first. C has been running errands and doing some work in the basement today. He often doesn’t hear the home phone ring when he’s downstairs, and he is notorious for not taking his cell phone with him when he leaves the house, let alone just goes down to the basement.

Which brings up the question, was I the one making an assumption? Because I got the call (and answered the call), why was I assuming that the program hadn’t tried calling C first? Am I really so caught up in thinking other people operate by stereotypes that I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt? Do I want to be able to complain about being held to stereotypes, just so I can flaunt how we are not stereotypical? To be able to rail against those who would stereotype me?

It may seem like a silly little moment, but it is one of those that makes me think, makes me examine myself and my reactions. I cannot control anyone else. I can only control myself. But if I do not want people to pigeonhole me, to make assumptions just based on a piece of paper that lists me as the mom, or wife, or whatever, then I need to stop making assumptions about them.

It’s a cycle, and I need to do my part in breaking it.

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Service Fees

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August was a month of car repairs for us. We got new shocks on the wagon (original factory shocks and struts on a vehicle with over 180k miles on it) and our 90k service on the sedan. We save for these things and it doesn’t hit our budget hard, but I always end up with some pet peeves around car service.

In this case, it was the 90k service on the sedan. When I made the appointment, they told me what the cost would be, and I liked that. I dropped the car off, went to work, and then came back to pick the car up at the end of the day. (The dealer is only a couple of blocks from my office.) I got the bill and noticed that it was about $5 more than they had quoted me. $5 is not a big deal, but I still wanted to know where it came from.

There on the bill was the service, at the amount they quoted me, and under that was a shop fee. I asked the girl what the shop fee was and she said it was an industry standard fee for disposal of hazardous waste (oil, anti-freeze, etc) and clean up. I paid the bill, but I wasn’t really happy about it.

Again, $5 is not a big deal. But if this is a standard fee, one you know you’re going to charge me (because a 90k service always comes with an oil change), why is this not included in my quote?  I would not have known the difference between a $126 quote and a $131 quote. But I did notice a difference between a $126 quote and a $131 bill.

Do add on “service fees” bother you? Do you prefer to see them separated on your bill, or would you be happier if it was all lumped together in your fee?

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The KAMW Parenting Guide: Birthday Parties

Swift- dog_wallet1.jpg

Welcome to The Kid Ate My Wallet (KAMW) Parenting Guide, a place where I talk about some of the financial challenges of being a parent and trying to navigate them without feeling like you should be watching your child’s bowel movements to see if any loose change is making its way out.

This is not a guide for raising your kids. Trust me, if I could create an owner’s manual for kids, I’d be so rich I wouldn’t need to worry about my kid eating my wallet. Instead, these are things I am discovering, as a new parent, that I think might be able to help other parents out there.

Remember, I am NOT an expert. I have been a parent for just over 19 weeks. And I am not starting from the same place most parents are. Seventeen weeks into being a parent, my child celebrated her 10th birthday. So we did not get to this place via the usual route. We don’t have the history, experience, or baggage that most parents have at this point. Maybe it will give me some useful insight that can help others; maybe it will cause me to fall into traps others would easily avoid. Who knows? I just want to enjoy the ride.

 

Birthday Parties

Location, Scheduling, Location

C and I both grew up with the home birthday parties- playing pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs, etc. But we “knew” that’s not how things were done now, so we started looking in to places to have her party. The first thing that hit me was how few kids we could invite for the money the places we looked at were charging. My daughter is a social butterfly with lots of friends. We hit eight kids just counting her, her sister, and the kids from the two former foster families she is really close with. That was the cap for some places. Others capped at ten, which left room for two other friends, but that was it. To get more kids than that in your party, the prices seemed exorbitant.

What we did wrong. We started talking about location in late May/early June, but we did not make a decision or even start putting money away for the expense. We left the location and scheduling to chance. Once we found a place, we did not go check it out in advance- not in advance of booking it, not in advance of the party. We showed up for the first time ever about 10 minutes before the party started.

In addition, our daughter’s birthday will almost always fall the week before Labor Day weekend. Because of other plans (made months before we even had our foster care license), we could not have her party the weekend before, so we were left to schedule it Labor Day weekend, when a lot of her friends were out of town.

What we did right. We ended up taking advantage of a Groupon for a local kids’ gymnastics spot that let us bring in 18 kids for less than the trampoline place (which had been the front runner until then) charged for 10 kids. Our daughter loves gymnastics, and while the place was small, it was really perfect sized for the number of kids we had. The staff was great in doing directed activities and letting them have free time on some of the apparatus.

We had a mixed group, age wise, from 4 to 14. The different activities at the gym – from a rock climbing wall to a trampoline gave enough variety that all the kids were able to find fun things to do. And the parents even got to join in some as well. (I took a couple of jumps on the trampoline and proved to myself that I could still walk a balance beam.)

What we will know for next time. We need to be on the ball about scheduling. We need to schedule the party for the weekend before her birthday, not after, so we don’t run into the issue with her friends being out of town for Labor Day. We also need to get invitations to her friends more than a week in advance.

We need to consider location as part of birthday costs and understand that it is likely going to cost us a few hundred dollars just for the location, at least until she’s at the point of wanting to have sleep overs, where the main activity is gossiping late into the night.

Refreshments

We chose a place that did not provide any food. We brought our own in. This meant we got exactly what we wanted, but there was an added cost.

What we did wrong. We did not plan our day well. I missed the first 20 minutes of the party because I needed to run to the grocery store to get drinks, cups, plates, forks, etc. The location had water, but we did not make water a really visible drink option. And C has no idea how to cut a piece of cake that’s really appropriately sized for a kid, especially not when it’s a CostCo cake.

What we did right. CostCo cakes are always winners. (We had one for our wedding cake, too.) SP got to pick the flavor and design and what it said. We could drop off the order request 24 hours before we needed it. Basically, we walked into CostCo, got our cake and left. There was plenty of cake for kids and adults, and we still took a lot home.

None of the drinks we got had caffeine. Now, that’s a personal preference of mine, but if we’re loading kids up on sugar, they don’t need caffeine as well. They did all have sugar though, because I don’t like giving kids diet drinks. I also got all two liters on sale from the local grocery store, costing less than $1/bottle. We still have 4 half bottles at home.

What we will know for next time. Make water a prominent option, and while it’s nice to give kids choices, we probably don’t need 4 different drink options. After C cuts a piece of cake, he should then cut it in half before serving it to a kid. And don’t plan to pick up anything, except maybe the cake, the day of the party. Be prepared in advance.

Also, and this might just be a me thing, have a non-sugar option for kids and adults to snack on. I think I would have been very happy with a vegetable tray.

Gifts for the Guests

I don’t want to say kids did not get gifts for going to birthday parties when I was a kid, because we did. They were just given out as prizes for winning pin the tail on the donkey, or musical chairs, or being the one to break the piñata open. And every parent I knew made sure the same kid did not walk away with all the prizes. Every kid left with something.

That said, C and I both hate the current trend of giving your guests plastic bags full of candy and cheap plastic toys. We have friends with a pre-schooler and know they do it. We had attended a birthday party for one of SP’s friends and she got the baggie, and we had broken Chinese finger cuffs on the floor of our car, and plastic whistles that kept needing to be picked up so the dogs didn’t eat them in the house.

We talked a lot about what we wanted to do instead and came up with a pretty solid plan- a small stuffed animal for each guest. It was something they could take home that would last, but also would not take up a lot of space. It wasn’t a sack of sugar parents would have to monitor for the next week, and if they wanted to throw it away, then it was only one thing.

What we did wrong. Lack of planning remains a theme. I did not pick up the bags of toys until the day of the party. I then had to get home and go through them to make sure they were clean and age appropriate. (I didn’t want toddler toys.) We scattered the toys on the table right before cake, so in the middle of the party, there was a grabfest for who wanted what, and also time for “buyers’ remorse”.

What we did right. We got the small stuffed animals from Goodwill. We spent a total of $10 on roughly 20 items.

What we will know for next time. We should get the toys a day or two ahead of time. That will give us time to go through and make sure they are clean, in good shape, and age appropriate without feeling rushed. But I think we should wait to give them out until the end. That way, we’re not trying to keep the toys out of the cake, or remember who chose what when they go back to playing. There’s also not kids trying to bully other kids into trading or wanting to switch out multiple times.

But we’re definitely doing that again. It was a winner with both parents and kids.

Parents

When I was a kid, parents of other kids didn’t stick around for the birthday party, unless they were specifically helping out. Now, it probably helped that I lived in a small town, so there was not traffic to consider when dropping the kid off and picking them up, and distances traveled were nothing like some of the families drove to come to SP’s party.

What we did wrong. We did not let parents know, clearly, that they did not have to stay for the party if they did not want to. Most of the other parents there had met before, but we had one mom who did not know the rest of the group. We did not actively work to make sure she felt included.

What we did right. We had a place where parents could participate in some of the fun activities if they wanted, but also a there was room for them to sit on the sidelines and watch. Because we were the only people there, it was never hard for them to spot their kids. And we finally had the chance to meet some of the people who had cared for SP when she first came into state custody. These were people who care very much about her and to whom she is pretty bonded. It was a great way to get to know them while the kids had plenty to do to keep themselves occupied.

What we will know for next time. I’ll be better at making sure parents know they can go if they want to. They don’t have to stick around. For those that want to stick around, I’ll do my best to make sure everyone feels included, just like with the kids.

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What Are You Working For?

Replica Stonehenge, 2013

Replica Stonehenge, 2013

What are you working for? It’s a question a friend of mine recently asked her friends on FaceBook. The answers ranged from the philosophical to very practical. Some people work for joy, others for money. Some work to challenge themselves and others work to pay off debt.

How people answered varied on how they saw the question. I tried to make my answer both practical and philosophical.

When I decided to go to grad school I made the decision between a dream job and a job that let me live my dream life. I work for many reasons, money being a big one, but also a chance to learn new things and challenge myself. A lot of my sense of self-worth is tied up in being good at my job.

In the end, I work for me, to live the life I want to be able to live.

What are you working for? And if you are working toward a specific goal (such as paying off debt), do you know what you will be working for once that goal is met? Or will you then stop working?

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Taking Back Control

A modified nerf gun for our new hobby

A modified nerf gun for our new hobby

A modified nerf gun for our new hobby

This summer, we went a little overboard with the spending. It was not just adding SP to our lives, either. We added a new hobby and have spent silly amounts of money on it (though C also sold some stuff on eBay for around $1500 total to help offset those costs). We also purchased my tablet, less than 6 months after I had bought a new laptop. Went on a weekend getaway where we didn’t stay in one of our timeshare locations (so had to pay for a pet friendly hotel), and just didn’t watch our spending in general.

We did not spend money we could not afford to spend. We really never went over total budget, just switched dollars from one category to another. The fact that C took the spring and summer quarters off from school, and only took one class the in the winter quarter meant we hadn’t spent nearly as much on education costs as we expected, so essentially we transferred those dollars to groceries, eating out, and allowance spending.

It also means that the majority of me severance package has gone straight to savings. Truthfully, we are better off financially right now than we were before I was laid off, with another two months of “double” pay (current paycheck and severance) still to come, so it feels strange to complain. And yet, we have both been feeling out of control with the spending.

This month we’re on a plan to cut back. We still know some expenses will run high as we just had back to school for SP and C starts back full time at the end of the month. We’ll also be paying off end of August credit card bills that include SP’s birthday and our anniversary. I am using my tablet pretty regularly, so we’re probably going to pick C up one of his own. And the first event for our new hobby is this weekend. (For my fellow geeks, we will be participating in a post-apocalyptic, zombie, boffer weapon/nerf gun, camping LARP- though the camping is actually staying in cabins, not tents.)

While this month is a transition month for us, one where we start wrapping our minds around living on a budget again, we intend to be back on that budget come October. It actually shouldn’t be that hard with C and SP both in school full time and me being out of the house 11.5 hours per day. Our biggest problem is likely going to be keeping our eating out/take out budget under control. I think this year may be the year we master crock pot cooking.

But the new budget has been figured out. It takes into account child care and kid related activity costs. (Thanks to help from the personal finance message board I am part of- they kicked me into gear when my first iteration had completely unrealistic numbers.) It assumes higher grocery and eating out costs, but also reduced savings for house projects. Our car insurance has gone down a bit, so hopefully that will help cover some of the increased gas costs we’ll see as C starts commuting to school again.

The biggest change is that we intend to kick cable to the curb. It’s funny in that not too long ago, we increased our package and got a DVR again. But since SP has arrived, we have barely watched TV. J mostly watches Hulu or Netflix, and we also have Amazon Prime.

We’ll be keeping cable internet, and we have to have the house phone for foster care purposes, but we’ll be dumping the TV. We do need to buy a digital antenna, but considering our cable bill is over $200/month right now, I’m not expecting that one-time expense to be a big deal.

 

Simply talking about the budget and then putting it together helped me feel more in control. Just seeing the plan out there (as I have said many times before) puts me at ease. If the plan can’t meet reality, we’ll reassess. If reality changes in a way that the plan didn’t cover, we’ll plan anew. But for now, simply having the plan is enough for me.

I am not trying to rush September out the door (it did just get here), but honestly, I am looking forward to October.

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25 Things

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I often see posts where the blogger puts up a list of things their readers might not know about them. I always love those “getting to know you” posts, and yet I’ve never really done one myself, partly because I feel that I am pretty darn transparent already. Recently though, a 25 Things meme has been going around among my Facebook (ie real life) friends, and I challenged myself to write one. I would say most of the people on FB knew some of what was on my list, but none knew everything (except maybe C).

As I ease myself back into regular blogging, I thought I would start off September with that list, modified somewhat based on the difference between what I share on FB and on the blogs. There is very little “financial” in this post (item #6 is the closest we get), but I hope that getting to know me a little better might help give readers some insight into why I make some of the financial decisions I do.

 

1) I am a writer. I do not say this because I have had pieces published; I say it because I can’t not write. I write fiction (which is hard) and I write what amounts to personal essays (which are easy), also called blog posts. I have three blogs that I currently maintain – one on personal finance, one on pets, and one about writing (though the last one is updated rarely). When I am not writing on paper, I am writing in my head. In fact, I’ve re-written most of the items on this list at least 3 times before actually sitting down to type it out.

2) I think faith is a superpower. And the collective faith of a community is one of the strongest forces this world has ever seen. It leaves me in awe.

3) That said, I am an atheist and humanist. Not because I don’t think there are powers at work that we do not understand but because I think much of the tragedy in human history has been caused by people caring too much about what happens in the next world, the next life. Can you imagine what this world could be like if we took all the energy that people devote toward caring about the “after life” and instead focused it on making this life, this world, better? I choose not to focus on what will happen after I die but instead on making this life the best it can be and leaving the world and the lives of those around me at least a little better for my presence.

4) Oddly enough, I have never been a big fan of John Lennon’s Imagine. Obviously, I agree with the message, but as a song, it’s just never really worked for me. Whereas Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah remains one of the most powerful pieces of music I have ever heard.

5) Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces is one of my favorite books not just on storytelling but on the human condition. If you ever need a reminder that no matter our differences, we are all the same, pick it up.

6) A very large part of my identity and sense of self-worth comes from my career and ability to support my family. Perhaps a bit too much. The one time C started making more money than me, I went out and looked for a new, better paying job. When he completes his PhD in math and goes back into the work force, no matter how good it will be for our family, it will be a very difficult adjustment for me if he’s making more, or even close, to what I make.

7) My older brother has been one of the biggest influences in my life. I am a Raiders fan because he was a Raiders fan. I read science fiction and fantasy because that is what he read. I first played D&D because my big brother was playing it, and I wanted to be able to tag along. He introduced me to tarot, anime, and heavy metal. To this day if he recommends a book, movie or television show, I’ll check it out.

8) I have never read Tolkien- not even The Hobbit.

9) I do not like violence, and yet my favorite sports are all hard hitting, full contact- roller derby, hockey, football. I am constantly amazed at the jammer moving through the pack, the perfectly executed pass through traffic, and those days when the quarterback and his receivers seem to operate with the same mind. I cringe at the major hits, and yet I know that without that threat of violence, I have a hard time appreciating the skill involved. And I find that I don’t know if I like that about myself or not.

10) I had a third grandmother growing up. Her name was Lizbeth. She once took my brother and I to church. We were the only white people there. But she told the world we were her grandchildren, because my father was like a son to her. It was one of my first lessons that families are made by choice, not just by birth, and that love is so much more important that blood.

11) At home, I am messy. I often wish I had a nice clean house, but not so much that I actually do anything about it. I am the complete opposite of this at work. At work, everything has its place. During down times, my desk might get a little messy. But if I have a major project or a busy time looming, I am not able to fully concentrate unless I clean and organize my desk first.

12) I am a flaming feminist. I saw something the other day that went roughly like “feminism – the only place where people get more radical as they get older” and I have to agree. I was lucky to grow up knowing I could do or be anything I wanted to. And as a young woman, I might have told you that we had already achieved equality. I see today that while we are so much closer than we once were, we are not there yet. And it truly seems that the second we stop pushing for that next mile (in order to gain an inch), someone is trying to push us back by a foot. Sadly, it appears this isn’t true only in feminist movement, but in the equal rights movement in general.

13) I love hearing viewpoints that are different from mine or challenge mine because it forces me to think and examine myself. I prefer open discussion and debate in most things and know that my beliefs and opinions have evolved in the past and I hope are still evolving and growing.

14) Because I try to be open and accepting of other people’s life decisions, I often keep to myself when I disagree with statements made by other people. However, I cannot, and do not, tolerate messages of hate or the idea that some groups of people have the right to force their decisions, their version of morality, on to others. I will always speak out against those messages.

15) I own the DVD of The Replacements starring Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves. I have never opened it. But, if I am flipping channels and come across that movie, I will stop instantly and watch it, no matter where in the movie it is.

16) When I was in first grade, I would get home from school to see the last 15-30 minutes of Old Yeller ever day (my best friend’s little sister’s favorite movie). We would follow that by watching Grease two-three times in a row. (In later years, a viewing of Grease was always followed by Grease 2.)

17) When my grandfather died when I was a freshman in high school, I took all of his Sinatra records. I still have them. I might even have a turntable in the basement, too. Musically the biggest divide between C and I is that I am a Sinatra girl while he prefers Dean Martin.

18) We have chosen to grow our family through adoption- both pets and child. This means that we have been dependent on other people making bad decisions. It leads to moments when we curse the former “parents” for the damage they have done, and yet, we must recognize that if they had not made those mistakes, we would not have the creatures we love, which in turn leads to us being grateful for that exact damage. It is not an easy place to be sometimes, and it is why I will never judge someone for not adopting- children or pets.

19) When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I saw both Johnny Cash and Harry Belafonte in concert. These two things alone made living in Reno for 12 years worth it.

20) C and I met while pretending to be vampires and playing rock paper scissors. Last Friday, we celebrated 10 years of marriage.

21) Our room has two dog beds, a cushioned “den” area for June, and a foam footstool right next to the bed for the dogs to sleep on. And yet, I am always sad when they choose to sleep in one of those places instead of on the bed with us.

22) I love algebra and algebraic problem solving. Even when using Excel or a calculator, I will often write out a problem long hand and work it myself.

23) My BA is in history. Most of my classes were in American history, but I couldn’t tell you when the Revolutionary War ended, or even the dates of the Civil War. For the most part, I am content to remember the order in which events happened and roughly what decade they happened in.

24) I would give up the microwave before I gave up the rice cooker.

25) My mother is an amazing letter writer. She spent her 60th birthday with the same friend she spent her 16th birthday with. I, on the other hand, have a hard time remaining connected to all the people who live in the same city as me that I wish I could spend more time with. I have the most amazing network of friends imaginable, and yet I see maybe only 25% of them on a regular basis. I often tell myself I need to work on this, to be more proactive in setting up chances to get together, but then I don’t. And it has nothing to do with them. I make excuses about time and energy and the dogs, but what it comes down to is a fear of rejection, a fear that maybe they won’t like me as much as I like them. It’s silly and it’s unfounded, but it’s still there.