Money, Day 1: Remember me?

October 19, 2009 at 11:01 am 1 comment

Pangie has been after me to take up my 21-day efforts again, and admittedly I have tried a few times.  I just reached a point where I had sort of done all of the major things I felt I needed to do, and maybe it was time to coast a little and see how things stuck as a result.

For the most part, they’ve stuck pretty well.  As of this writing I am consistently weighing in at about 160-165, which still makes me ‘overweight’ by medical standards, but is a much healthier and more acceptable weight than 245, to be sure.  I’m still eating light every other day, and still walking (either on my treadmill or out on the street) every day too. My daily goal is five miles, but I settle for 100 minutes regardless of how far that takes me.

My housekeeping habits are also doing pretty well.  Beds get made every day, dishes get done every night and are not allowed to sit in the sink during the day.   The house is cluttered and messy in spots, but when one has four children that’s just how it goes.  Overall, though, it’s much more manageable than it ever was before.

This puts me…what, three or four months after stopping my daily journalling on the subject?  That’s not too bad.  Admittedly, the results would be more dramatic if I were ringing in a year or more later and reporting that I was still abiding by all of my established habits, but we’ll get there eventually.  Right now the only goal I set for myself that I have not kept as part of my daily routine at this point is food journalling.  I think that’s pretty decent.

So… what goal can I set for myself now?  There are obvious variations on the previous themes… making it a goal to plan meals that abide by the Food Pyramind, specifically with respect to Fruits and Vegetables…  That was Pangie’s idea, and it’s a good one, but when I sat down to think about how I’d work the various servings in, I realized I was up against a problem there that has been a thorn in my side for ten years now.

Money.

Because fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive, you see.   Since going on this diet, you’d think my food bills would go DOWN, since I’m not eating nearly as much as I was.  Instead, it’s remained steady or gone up, because restricting my diet to only a couple of things every other day means I want those things to be really GOOD for me.  Ergo: more produce, which is a lot more expensive than canned and processed crap.

So if I’m looking to increase our produce intake still further, this presents a problem.  Money has always been a problem for us… which is probably understandable, as we’re raising four children in the suburbs on one teacher’s salary.  But the truth is, Andy makes a lot of money for a teacher, and we really should be much better off financially than we are.

I have often expressed my confusion over this state of affairs, in fact; I am not a woman of very expensive tastes.   Of all of the furniture in our house, for example, only four pieces we own right now were purchased new, and those were Sauder/MDF pieces we bought right after we got married.  Everything else we own purchased secondhand at Garage Sales or from Cort Furniture, a consignment shop that specialize in refurbing and reselling furniture from rental properties, or was given to us by someone.   Even our refrigerator was a scratch-and-dent model from Sears.   I don’t mind this; I appreciate fine things and like to own nice things, but ultimately I am too practical to get much joy out of owning something fancy that I really can’t afford.

I feel similarly about clothing.  Up until I lost weight, I tended to buy something here and something there from Wal-Mart or Target, or perhaps, if I was feeling generous with myself, something from Kohl’s to celebrate a special occasion.   Then Michelle and Lisa taught me not to fear Thrift Stores and opened a whole new world for me there.  I’m not a fancy-clothes girl anyway; I’m happy enough in a T-shirt or a sweatshirt and jeans most of the time, maybe a sweater if the occasion calls for it.  But I don’t care much about designer labels, and I don’t feel cheated if my wardrobe contains nothing that came from anyplace fancier than Target.  Clothes are just clothes and as long as I look okay, I’m good.

I have never demanded new or fancy cars, and until I started my diet, I wasn’t even a food snob.   Most of my kids’ clothes are hand-me-downs or gifts.  So…. where is all of our money GOING?

To be perfectly honest, I still don’t have a crystal-clear answer to that question.  There’s a lot more to that question, in fact, than I have the time to detail out here, but I’ll probably explain that further as we go.  The point is, I’m already doing the usual ‘cut-back’ things people do when they’re trying to live affordably on a small budget, so why we could never seem to make ends meet was really baffling to me.

In the end, in February I learned that we were something like $60,000 deeper in debt than I knew about.  Andy had rolled at least $4oK of that into our mortgage, which didn’t make me very happy.  We had another $20K on credit cards.  I worked with my parents and used tax refunds, loans and a cashed-out life insurance policy to get rid of all of the credit card debt we were carrying at that time, and now we at least have that monkey off of our backs.  But we’re still contending with the bloated mortgage.   We do, at least, have both cars paid off now, so that’s good…. but this year we have three kids’ worth of tuition to worry about that wasn’t a factor last year, and we have the loan payments and paying back the Life Insurance policy too, so we really just traded some payments for other payments there.

There are two major issues that affect us the most, I think.  One is our health insurance.  Andy’s district is affluent, but it’s small, which means the health benefits package they get is not subject to the usual package discounts afforded to large districts insuring large faculties.   As a result, in order to insure the whole family, including me (which was very important while I was still having kids), we were paying out upwards of $800/mo for health, dental and eye.   While I was still ‘childbearing’, we didn’t feel we could opt for a cheaper plan, either.  So that was a big issue.

The other issue has been just plain sloppy bookkeeping.    If there is one thing I have learned and had to accept about Andy over the last six months, it’s the fact that he is not a leader.   He gives that impression somewhat, because he is convicted about his principles and doesn’t hesitate to make it known when he feels someone (usually me) has violated them in some way.  But the truth is, Andy is very much the baby of the family and is not accustomed to taking responsibility or facing issues.   In our entire marriage, for example, there has never been an argument we’ve ever had that has begun because he was unhappy about something and saw fit to address it with me, or that has ever ended with an actual resolution.  It’s always been me addressing things with him, and him exiting stage right as soon as possible, and then laying low until I calm down and/or give up.   Fortunately, my desire to portray the correct image for our situation is such that I rarely get that upset about anything (and therefore internalize a lot), so until now it’s sort of worked for us.  But that sort of thing makes it hard for me to respect him, and…I largely don’t, now.

Especially since he let us get to this point without telling me.  In fact, he even lied to me a lot… told me we’d gotten less back in taxes than we actually had, or failed to come forward with the truth when I asked to spend money on something he knew I was reasonable to want and could not really deny me without owning up to the reality of our situation.  He also just plain thinks wrong about money… In his mind, paying more for the bigger satellite TV package is smart, because for ‘only’ $15 more, we get SO MANY CHANNELS.    It’s such a value!  But it’s not, because we don’t need that many channels anyway, and $15 here and $15 there adds up.   Moreover, in his mind, debt that has been rolled into the mortgage is ‘taken care of’.   He actually regards that debt as ‘paid off’, rather than just ‘moved’.  I don’t think, by the way, that he rolled that $40K of debt into our mortgage thinking he was successfully ‘hiding’ it from me.  I think he just thought, “Woo!  This will take care of it!” and went with it.   Credit Card debt is bad, after all, but Mortgages are acceptable.  Everyone has a mortgage to pay on.

So here we are.  When all of this came down in February, I declared that he was fired as CFO of our family and that I would be taking care of it from here.  But even as I did so, I pointed out that I am not taking over because I think I can do a better job.  In true point of fact, I am just as intimidated by money as Andy is, and just as careless with it, if not moreso.  The difference between him and me, though, is that when we run into money problems in our family, Andy blames ME.   “We’d have enough to live on if she wouldn’t spend so much.”  “We’d have enough to live on if she would get a job.”  etc.  I guess it’s easy to do, but considering I have volunteered MANY MANY solutions to both problems (and, in fact, I DO have a job) I have a hard time feeling the blame laid on me is really justified.  Again, I am not blowing $200 on a pair of shoes or anything.  At worst I might buy myself a shirt or get a new pair of $17 shoes at Wal-Mart for one of the kids because their old shoes are falling apart.   The stuff I’m guilty of spending too much money on is usually groceries and stuff for the house.

But me, I don’t blame Andy, or anyone else.  I just see it as a problem and it needs fixing.  I just get bogged down because I don’t always know how to fix it, and make a lot of foolish mistakes.  I also view money as largely limiting, and prefer to ignore it if I possibly can…. which makes me a very lousy bookkeeper.  I’m not under any delusions there.

All of that said, though… I felt much the same way about food once, and I have obviously discovered that I am capable of a lot more restraint and smart decision-making than I generally give myself credit for, provided I put my mind to it and work at it a little.   So.. Andy’s out, I’m in, and I’ve already made some big mistakes.   Just this past month, for example, I failed to make note of when school tuition would come out of our account, and as a result EIGHT transactions bounced.  We paid $240 in NSF fees to my bank, and I guess I count myself lucky that that’s all we paid, because the bank did COVER the transactions.  Otherwise I think it would have been a LOT worse.

So…lesson learned.  And my goal for the next 21 days is to log into my bank account and at least LOOK at it every day.  At the same time, I will set up a working budget (I had one from in February, but things have changed a lot since then) and stick to it.  I will divide my bills up between the two paychecks Andy receives each month and will pay certain bills with each.   I will track my balance daily and make sure I know what is going where at all times.

Consider this Day 1 of Money Management. 😉  Dave Ramsey would be proud, yes?

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Cleaning, Day 18: I’m doing Science! Money, Day 2: Getting it Sorted

1 Comment

  • 1. Melalvai  |  October 23, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Congratulations on all the successes! It’s been nearly a year since you started the weight loss, which I think is what kicked off the whole better-habits thing, isn’t it? I’d say it’s been a very successful year for you.

    All the same it sounds like it’s disheartening to feel that you still have a long way to go before…before what? There’s always something we want to do better.

    Money is difficult and scary and overwhelming. Your successes this year should give you confidence that you can do this, too.

    You are so inspiring! You make it much harder to come up with reasons to delay our own self-improvements.


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