When the budget’s razor thin, ‘ Don’t snack on sh–‘

Mark and I are trying to get our financial life in order.

Often times, we fail.

At the tail end of last month, he got a text from our bank. We bounced. BOUNCED.

Aren’t we too old for this?

I ran to the bank and transferred some cash from our savings account. Ah yes, a savings account! An account that, just a few months ago, didn’t exist. Then I fast-talked our way out of a fee. It was a mini #$%^-up, as opposed to a catastrophe.

The budget process has turned us into hagglers. We haggle with each other in ways I could never have envisioned before we sharpened our focus on budgeting.

No joke — Mark and I bargained over who gets to dye hair this month. He’s got way more grays and one of his elderly co-workers was hassling him, so he won.

We haggle with companies trying to collect some questionable fee here or there. I canceled Weight Watchers (haha! not happening) in November, and then the company kept charging me. I figured it, spent the time haggling on the phone and got a credit.

It’s all being done so we can save more and pay off debt on two salaries that I’d call “not terrible,” but nothing to write home about. Mark’s a teacher in a state that’s 49th for teacher pay. And I’m a journalist in journalism. Ya know, journalism.

But we love what we do and we are trying to make it all work. So I got a job at a restaurant in December. It got us through Christmas, paid off another hospital bill and helped cover school fees for Laila.

But last week, I decided I’d had enough. I quit my second job at the restaurant. There is a side story there.

Immigration and customs agents swooped down onto the parking lot and took away my manager.

I wasn’t there, but the bartender filled me in. It was really a scene, with her running out to the parking lot to demand to know what was going on, unleashing a string of F-bombs after being told by armed agents to calm down. The bartender and manager are best friends. I’m going to have to write about this later. He’s German and has been here since he was 11.

I really like my manager. He was carted off during a sweep and now sits in Tulsa County jail. Drug crimes, but they’re a few years old and he’d been working with a probation officer and paying almost $800 a month in probation fees to the state. I’m worried about him. Locally, he got swept up along with a child molester and someone accused of murder, so says word on the street. After the sweep, about 100 people waiting to be deported for a variety of crimes all get to live in a big jail holding area together. Sounds safe. My manager is a gentle soul. So this worries me a lot. I got upset when I heard the news. I’d become accustomed to his blasting Tupac and Beyonce as we swept the floors, having a chat about Germany over my end-of-shift Malbec, listening to tales of the stray dogs he’s taken in over the years. A sense of grief swept over the staff. Something about this felt final, like death.

So, things changed. And spring is coming. And my daughter complained she missed me. Along with better weather, birthdays, CF fundraisers, a half marathon, a marathon, and a lot of projects I’d like to accomplish journalism-wise. So, it’s time to go back to the one-job working mom routine, which is busy enough.

And that brings me back to our budget.

Mark and I are on ground that’s so razor thin, we’re going to try to budget every two weeks.

We started off doing a Dave Ramsey plan. Then I got so busy working I became a Dave Ramsey drop out. That’s fine, because it all occurred before he started hammering away at donating to church. Maybe you’ve figured it out now by my complete lack of religious talk, but I’m not a church-y person. Nothing against the church, or the faithful, it’s just never been for me. We’d rather spend the tithe money on booze.

Anyway, back to tonight’s budget. I keep getting sidetracked.

This is what I mean by razor thin..........!
This is what I mean by razor thin……….!
Listen — shit’s tight. I try not to swear all the time here like I do in real life because my mother found it tacky. It is, there’s just no other way to say it.

Even though we’ve just been paid, and feel flush with cash, we’re not.

One take away from Ramsey is the zero-based budget, naming every dollar For us, this means we take out a notebook and write down and add up our income, everything coming in. Instead of doing a month, this time, we did two weeks. From that number, we subtract every expense we know is coming in the next two weeks, starting with the largest.

We didn’t just get to zero — we got below! Our childcare costs are high. Laila’s school fees are high, and we have to pay an enrollment fee for next year. She’s in dance. I need new running shoes — the marathon! It goes on and on.

OK, OK, so we take money and start moving it around, cutting here, getting a rebate or a reimbursement there. Can we deal with $150 a week instead of $200 for food and supplies?

That’s when Mark offered “Yeah, Ju, don’t snack on sh–. You’re eating all the cereal. Organic milk’s expensive.”

I didn’t punch him. Rather, I told him to get a second job and stop hassling me about my $%^&$$% snacks.

We have a healthy and productive marriage.

We brainstormed, swore off beer, wine and Starbucks, found ways to make it work.

And, lo and behold, at the end of two weeks, we shall have $8! Weeee!

But, I’ve got a couple of restaurant shifts left, and reimbursement checks on the way that we haven’t counted.

When I say razor thin, that is what I mean.

Then we get paid the next day, and we’ll start the process over.

In the latter half of the month, there is a large (for us) deduction that goes into our savings account. Eli’s medical bills are due. We would like to take two short trips, made possible by the fact Mark’s on spring break, so we get two weeks nanny-pay relief.

Happily, in January, we paid off the second of four large medical bills for Eli with my extra cash from the restaurant. I borrowed another Ramsey idea — the debt snowball — and put what I *would have* put toward the now-paid-off bill toward the remaining bills.

Slowly, ever so slowly, a couple of screw ups on the plains are getting somewhere.

I do have Eli to thank. Laila, too.

Like I said, for us, and for them, Mark and I are trying to get our financial life in order so that later, we don’t have to worry so much.

When it comes to money, we’re learning, and we regularly fail. Then we try again.

The author and her husband are in an attempt to pay off nearly $40K in student loans and 5K in other debts. She attempts to write about it in a series called Monday Morning Money Madness. Follow along! This is sometimes even achieved by midnight each week! Do you have any budgeting tips to share? Please let us know by leaving a comment or sending a note.


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