Eli, media mogul

you crazy moms
you crazy moms
My pal Rachel Calderon over at News9 featured Eli being adorable and cute, along with a story about stuff we’re doing to plan and save.

But srsly I look at the video and I just keep rewinding to him getting on his beloved truck.

Ooooh so cuuuuute.

For real though: Rachel worked up a 30-day financial challenge series for her station and asked us to participate! She reads my blog (Hi!). She was having a hard time sourcing a family finance story, probably because the only time people want to talk about money is when they’re showing it off! PAHA!

Not us! Oooh let me take you to Goodwill in the ’97 Ranger we bought with cash. Maybe after we get back we can have some Ramen! Yes? No? Doesn’t work?

Thank God Rachel knows what she’s doing, or who knows how this story would have turned out.

My family’s part in all of this was to do some number crunching, share the numbers with a financial planner, take to heart any criticism, listen to tips and implement them.

It was great to have an expert cast her expert eyes onto my budget and an expert journalist cast her eyes on our story. And it was easy, oh so easy — maybe too easy — for me to blather on about our goals on camera.

Rachel did a great job telling our story and included in it context and additional facts about financial challenges faced by families with chronic disease.

Here’s a link to the piece.

I’ll let you read and watch Eli being adorable surrounded by some facts about money.

In the mean time, we’ve begun rolling out new financial plans as we roll on into 2015.

We’ve implemented a few, but not all of them.

A few of our savings/spending goals are:

-Space out auto-deductions into savings account throughout month; save more to account for occasional purchases like clothes, electronics, gifts and auto repairs. Use cash for those occasional, yet expected, costs.
-Save more for fun dreams, ie, we want to take my kids to the ocean in ’15
-Invest in fun for ma and pa; it’s OK. It’s really OK.
-We’ve knocked out our December and Christmas budget; creativity in gift-giving shall commence now.

First of all making a budget, and second of all sticking to it, is a challenge.

2015: Bring it.

I try to write about our effort to save, survive and thrive each Monday in the category Money Madness. Cold, hard green. Bookmark it bay-bay.

What are your savings and investment goals leading into 2015? Leave a comment below or send a note!

xo

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C-ya, slummy, and 5 other matters of madness and cash

Oh hey yah, it’s been a while since I wrote about cash.

Let’s see…During the month of September we were like a germ bag circus.

The month of October, we had an opportunity to move away from slummy the slumlord, owner of giant dread tree in backyard he refuses to cut down.

And why clean the house when you can just transfer your stuff into a new one?

We got so busy, the laundry pile so huge, and this move has been so overwhelming, and I ate so much pizza, I kinda felt like this guy:

bleeeeeh
bleeeeeh

Bleeeeeeeh!

It’s been just over a year since I spearheaded the family effort to not be financial dum dums any more.

I just re-read my original post in which I was like: chronic disease. Top American dream killa, frack you. Here it is. That’ll get ya caught up.

A year on, are things easier? No.

However, we are making better choices and slowly, slowly (possibly too slowly) our lives are changing.

Below is a list of ways my family has changed for the better and what I feel we can do to improve.

Good thing bad thing, the list:

1. No more-ish boredom shopping
I (vastly) stopped shopping ‘because I’m bored.’ I gravitate toward shiny, pretty things so that was good.If I want to look around in a tantalizing store out of boredom or need for escape I will leave my cash n debit in the car. Mark…just…never buys anything for himself, so no worries there.

But can you (yes, you, Juliana) do better?: I go to Goodwill in search of treasure for kicks, I won’t deny it. By “treasure,” I mean, I bought a giant porcelain rubber duck for the kids’ bathroom. Also, I am obsessed with globes and found a pretty sweet one from Haiti. Who doesn’t need a giant duck and a Haitian globe? Don’t judge me. Aw crumbs it’s all money down the drain.

2. A pat on the back for saving
Saving while attempting to afford childcare for Eli and Laila is flippin hard. Even as we cut a check every week, the numbers staring back up at us are just…stunning. Because of my son’s chronic illness (cystic fibrosis) I have refused to put him in daycare. We have a nanny I love but she’s pricey to the tune around 2K/ month. That’s one big ass pile of cash for we little people of little consequence and modest means. My dad Big Al recently chipped in, because as opposed to last year when we had part-time help, we now have full-time help due to the demands of our work schedules. I feel like the biggest of all big huge losers for admitting this.

But we can do better?
With my pop’s recent big-hearted move, I hope to squeeze more into a savings account. Other changes we made to afford our childcare tab include enrolling Laila in a public school, canceling cable (boo hoo first world problem), paying off Eli’s medical bills from two surgeries with a sense of urgency and sticking to a budget at the grocery store each week. We also took on extra work, which brings me to…

3. Extra work…yaaaaay…kind of, because who actually wants to work more? NO ONE.
A good thing about sharing what’s going on in life is that people step up. Around Christmas last year I started waiting tables to kick down Eli’s medical bills. So holding two jobs plus being a parent 24/7 felt, well, exhausting and stressful, which I wrote about. My excellent friend Lee (Hey Lee!) kicked me a good contact for freelance work and I quit job 2. I’ve only had the chance to write a few articles but it helped kick-start a savings initiative. Then my pal Erika offered my husband Mark, a teacher, a copy editing gig for a curriculum company he does at night. Why are we working like this? For one thing, we have not received meaningful raises in years, which has had an increasingly negative impact on us as our expenses continue to rise. I’ve not received a raise since I moved to Oklahoma three years ago in January. My husband’s raises (OKC Public School) are like a bad joke. HAHAHAHA except no one’s laughing.

But can we do better?
Right now, like, as I’m typing, in this moment in time, no. Because we like to sleep. Wait, then why are we still tired? Because we are trying. It is statistically more likely that opportunity will present itself and your life will improve when you try. So we’ll just keep trying.

4. Budgets
We’ve had them! Like, half the time!

Do better: Have a monthly budget. It really does work to keep one in line financially.

5. Housing
We moved to a new house.

Can we do better?
I don’t really know. We are renting. Maybe that’s stupid. But I believe in having enough cash for a big down payment at least and a stockpile for fixes and the unexpected, and we just don’t have that now. I think we are doing better, because we are living in a bigger, nicer, safter and more energy-efficient place and it’s just a little bit more per month. Plus OKC is one of the lowest cost-of-living metros in the country.

And I don’t have a slumlord any more.

Victory is mine.

I try to write about our effort to save, survive and thrive each Monday in the category Money Madness. Bookmark it bay-bay. Thanks for reading!

What kind of financial improvements are you trying to make in your lives? What have your successes or failures been and how long have you been givin’ it the ‘ol college try? Leave a comment or send a note. xoxoxoxoxox

family

The little green truck

I took a break from everything to spend time with family and just sort of rejuvenate in these last few weeks.

I needed a rest of mind, body and soul.

HA!

Continue reading The little green truck

7 ways to knock out back-to-school shopping for $150 or less a kid. Supplies, hair cut, clothes, all of it!

Last week I gave Laila a back-to-school budget of $150 and vowed not to exceed it.

That’s harder than it sounds. Shiny, pretty back-to-school things are everywhere. A few increments of $20 or $30 and you’ve blown the budget on stuff that’s probably not going to fit in six months to a year.

I realized right away I’d have to think and buy differently this go-round with my daughter’s wardrobe upgrade.

Here’s what I forced myself to do to stay on track.

Continue reading 7 ways to knock out back-to-school shopping for $150 or less a kid. Supplies, hair cut, clothes, all of it!

The first thing I did during my week-long spending freeze was sign up for a massage

I’ll never forget the day I was cruising around Ann Arbor, MI with my mom when we passed a place called “The Relax Station.” It’s a drop-in massage parlor. Not of the “happy ending” variety like those in my ‘hood, entered and exited by old dudes in the evening hours, run by the Asian mafia and staffed by sex slaves, etc.

No, no this was a legit little place that takes walk-ins.

“Ooooh, massages! Julie let’s get massages.”

Continue reading The first thing I did during my week-long spending freeze was sign up for a massage

The one-week spending freeze and 7 other budget ideas

There we were, toting the kids in our wagon, rolling, rolling toward that debt-free pasture in our dreams. Ya!

We got stuck in the mud.

Sorry, Oregon Trail flashback. Although it would be more likely to be caught in a March blizzard or sink while forging a river.

Hey look, a land run monument!

Ooooklahoma
Ooooklahoma

We never made a budget for April. April? Pls. Budget went up in sweet, spicy steam with my Mayan Cocoa and cayenne latte. May through today — same.

Last night, Mark and I had a budget meeting. Actual meeting, with agenda. We got back on track. An agreement for a one-week spending freeze was one outcome.

Continue reading The one-week spending freeze and 7 other budget ideas

3 ways to shed stuff and save

Mark and I have been brainstorming along the lines of de-cluttering our lives and saving cold hard cash, and here are a few things we came up with that we just might try.

1. Garage sale
It sounds so simple, so quaint: “Let’s have a garage sale.” Anyone who has held one of these events knows setting up a shop in a yard or garage can be a pain at best and an episode of “Hoarders” at worst. Mark and I have been like rolling stones these past few but we’ve gathered a whole bunch of moss: stuff. Kid stuff, sentimental stuff, stuff, stuff stuff. Also, in the past four years, I’ve had two kids and been in more pants sizes than you can shake a stick at. It’s not like I think pants are a hot seller, but I’m saying I have clothes to sell. Jewelry to offer up. Books like Infinite Jest that I’m not going to have the time to read any time soon, so I might as well stop kidding myself, sell my copy and visit the library if the mood to crack that one open ever strikes. We’ll pick a date for early spring and see how this goes.

Shed stuff and save.
Shed stuff and save.

2. 1-week spending freeze
The TLC show “Extreme Cheapskates” gave me this idea. For that show, on which people dumpster dive for gifts for spouses and wipe bums with washcloths to save on TP, a one-week freeze seemed pretty moderate. I saw the episode with a spending freeze a while back. Come to think of it, though, the guy with the idea also ate road kill to save money. Last week, my friend Erika suggested I read a blog post from a gent whose family does a *month long* freeze and give it a try. I don’t see how a month would be possible for my family, but I can envision a week of no spending. For a month, I suppose you’d have to stockpile throughout the year with that idea in mind. It would also help to live somewhere with good public transit and/or biking-to-work options. That does not describe OKC. Any way, I’m willing to try a one-week freeze, though we’d have to freeze some recipes and stockpile diapers to do it.

3. Experience over stuff
This is more of a philosophy, a pre-emptive strike on stuff. Mark and I have been budgeting a little bit each month for our personal discretionary funds — I’m talkin $50 to $100. That means he can’t hassle me when I show up with the occasional fashionable thingy. I can’t get sassy when he gets fancy and … OK, he doesn’t do anything fancy. The poor man just wants to have lunch with his friends now and again. Maybe instead of getting *things,* *I* could save up for an experience — and Mark and I could get to a movie together now and again. We could apply this theory in different ways beyond our meager personal budgets. Tighter budgeting all around yields more savings. We want to carve out cash from our savings for experiences — namely, vacations. Because while we want to save and have more peace of mind about our financial well being, we want to live, too. We want to get out into the world outside our home, where there are no laundry piles or dirty dishes, just fresh air to breath and new places to see and memories to take home.

Thanks for reading! My family is trying to save more and knock down around $40K in student loans and another $5-6K in other debts. I try to write about our effort every Monday in an effort dubbed Money Madness.

How much cash did a garage sale yield for you? Was it worth it or were you driven to the precipice of hell and back? What do you think about a spending freeze — would you try this or is this something you have tried? Are you a stuff person or an experience person? Let me know if any of these ideas worked for you. If you have another to add along these lines I’d love to hear it.

The ledger

One day at a time

Making a budget was the last thing on earth I felt like doing tonight.

A few days ago, Mark sent me a text. And by a few days ago, I mean, roughly 10 days ago, he sent this text:

Continue reading The ledger

Target data breach: just the nudge we needed to return to cash-based spending

We were hit by the Target data breach.

Hackers stole millions of credit and debit card numbers. They made off with encrypted personal identification numbers and things like our names, addresses, card expiration dates and the 3-digit code on the back of cards, according to a USA Today article.

Ya'll are cray cray
Ya’ll are cray cray

Those who shopped at Target Nov. 27 through Dec. 15 are at risk for being victims of one of the largest data breaches in history.

Target, happy place.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

The day after Christmas, three suspicious charges appeared on our bank statement. Each purchase was made via our Target Red Card. A Red Card is like a Target-specific debit card. It’s connected to our checking account, and by using it, we save 5 percent a purchase. The suspicious charges were made the day after Christmas. We didn’t shop the day after Christmas. We go to Target a lot, sure, but would have remembered three swipes. We called our bank’s customer service department and were credited almost immediately.

The bank’s minions told us to close our bank accounts and start new ones, just to be safe. Uh…damn.

We also need to cancel our Target Red Card. Too bad all customer service roads lead to …on hold…

It’s all a pain, yeah, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

Continue reading Target data breach: just the nudge we needed to return to cash-based spending

Big pimpin’ on a budget

Budget, fools.
Budget, fools.

A few weeks back, Mark and I finally sat down and made a monthly budget.

To think, it only took us 5 years!

We made an appointment. Then we both forgot about it. Then, we sat down, a week late, and knocked it out.

My news workplace offered a Dave Ramsey (the ‘We’re debt free!’ guy) course to for free, so I signed up. One of the first thing Ramsey recommends is to get on the same financial page as your spouse.

Then he tells you to save a thousand bucks in an emergency fund and make sure you agree as to what constitutes an emergency.

He warned his viewing audience that that would mean a money fights.

At our first budget meeting, Mark and I didn’t really fight. OK, maybe we had a disagreement, sure, but fight’s too strong a word.

We knocked out a budget. Then we “discussed” the concept of “fun” money. We agreed we could each have $100 a month to put toward fun of our choosing.

“My fun’s almost been spent,” I confessed. “I bought two winter tops for work.”

We started to bicker about whether clothes should be a budgeted necessity or considered “fun.”

Then we realized something. We had already made a budget. We had forgotten to add any “fun” at all to the budget. So, we were fighting about dollars that didn’t actually exist.

I remembered I had $50 from my new waitressing job stashed in my wallet. I impulsively got a second job because Dave Ramsey told me to do it.

I mean, it’s not like I “needed” winter shirts. I wasn’t going to freeze without two brand spanking new stylish shirts.

“I guess this is yours,” I told Mark.

We plugged it into the Ramsey budget as “Fun-Mark.”

We next realized Mark had become my pimp. I turned over my cash earnings to him.

All in a day’s work. While I’m out slinging Spaten Dunkels and Bitburgers after my 9 to 5, he’s feeding and putting to bed two adorable-yet-high-maintenance under 4’s. Ya know who pays him? No one. Unless you count as currency Eli’s poo poos and Laila’s schemes to stay up later. Then we’re rich.

The good news is that we agree on core financial things, though Mark is more of a cheapscape minimalist than I am.

What constitutes an emergency? We agreed on three main things: car break down, appliance breakdown, and a medical emergency. And, ya know, natural disasters, but that’s a given.

Ramsey said it’s fine to keep saving once you’ve got a K in the pocket if you want something like furniture, etc. etc.

We want a vacation. I don’t care that we haven’t paid down our college loans and buddy’s medical bills. We need something to look forward to. Perhaps New Mexico. Or the ocean!

I asked Mark what was on his “savings wish list.” I found out one of his dreams was to fix our van door. Yes, we dream big. We have a trashy-looking door I wrecked while I raced to the ATM to get cash for our very first nanny, imposter Mary Poppins. Imposter Mary Poppins faked a lice scare on my daughter’s birthday to get me home early so she could quit. I wanted to pay her extra because I didn’t realize she was a psycho Mary Poppins imposter from hell. Thus, I raced to the ATM. Bolts in the ATM lane scraped the hell out of the van door. It has remained that way since. Classy.

We’d also like a new/used car – a little mini SUV. Something safer than the tin can that is our second car.

Budgeting was a good exercise for us. The course I’m taking makes it easy, with an online budget tool that forces you to give each of your dollars a destination.

It also forced us to review our spending for the first week of the month. We need to stretch a little a lot better, ’cause we blew half of our food and supply budget in a week.

There is room for improvement, but it’s a start!


Having a kid with a chronic disease shook us alive in a lot of ways. One of those ways has been the way Mark and I think about money. Instead of thinking things like “Oh, s***, we’re outta money!”we are making plans and stashing dollars. Along those lines, I attempt to write about money each Monday for a series called Monday morning money madness, which is usually in place by midnight. Check back in! Has the Ramsey way worked for you? Do you have any issues with the program? Any tips for dumpin’ debt and saving more? Let me know!