.... to paraphrase Tolstoy.
My wife and I have been separated but living in the same place for a long time. We did it for the kids, as so many people say, but as our kids become adults (they are 17, 19 and 23, with the 17-year old in many ways being the most mature) I wonder if what we did was the best for them.
When we were in our 30s and 40s we had a lot of friends with kids our age who divorced, starting a many year process of kids shuffling from place to place. But I see those kids and ex-couples now and they have for the most part entered into a new normal with a good level of contenment that my wife and I can't get to as long as we are together.
We have been homeowners, i.e., mortgage payers, for almost 20 years. Most of that time, we have kept separate checking and savings accounts. For the first 10 years or so I paid the mortgage out of my income and we bascially split the property taxes. For the last five to seven years, we flipped and my wife has paid the mortage and half to more of the property taxes.
During this last period, I paid for most of the kids' expenses -- school costs (for a time private school but in the last five years only public high school costs), braces, summer activities, music lessons, etc.
I posted a summary of my budget a couple of posts ago because at some point -- next month, next year, in five years -- my wife will move on. Or, if the kids are all out of the house then -- I will move on. so I needed a realistic view of what I could afford---which isn't much.
In the short term, my wife is around, contributing to the groceries and the property taxes. but that will and should change and I need to be prepared.
.... to paraphrase Tolstoy.
The event that sparked me to look for this blog and start bogging again involves dentistry. I have coverage for me and my family through work. Over the years it has covered regular check ups for everyone, braces for two of three kids, wisdom teeth surgery for a couple of us, and a couple of root canals.
Now my wife and I are in the middle of (her) and facing (me) extensive dental work. The annual benefit is "only" $1500 -- I put that in quotes because I recognize that some people have no coverage.
Yesterday, she realized that she had maxed out on this year's coverage, and owed about $1,000, and still had more work to do.
I'm scheduled to go in for a root canal tomorrow and will need some sort of bridge or something when I'm all done -- again, something that will cost more than the annual benefit.
Needless to say, and based on my previous post, none of this is in the budget. I'm still on the fence about cancelling tomorrow's appointment because I'm facing about a $300 to $400 co-pay that I will have to come up with tomorrow.
You would think that a person could improve himself financialy over five years, but no. I had forgotten that I had started this blog so long ago and it was a little pathetic to see that nothing has changed in five years.
Well, age has happened . . . five years ago I don;t think i posted much about what it felt to be in my late 40s and I could now post a lot about what it feels like to be in my early 50s.
Desperation brought me back here, and the surprise that I had tried a few times to post about my money situation in the hope of . . . well, I'm not sure what I was hoping for.
Perhaps I can make a difference this time around.
The situation at this point -- my wife and I are still estranged, but still living together. She has her own business -- I work at the same place (thankfully, doing new things every year) that I have worked at for 25 years.
My wife still follows the the Laws of Attraction, though I really can't say it has helped her at all -- any success she has had in her business has come about through her hard work, not through a mystical alignment of forces.
Recently, she has been trying to buy a piece of property, as both a place of business and as a placeto move to. It is, of course, a buyer's market, but she does not have anywhere near enough money to afford a piece of property. Since this is a place of business, she is trying to get investors involved.
In an attempt to make a movement toward owning our current home, we recently re-financed. She had been the only person on the note, because when we re-financed last about 7 years ago, my credit score made it difficult for us to qualify.
This time around, I assumed the mortgage, so she would not have it on her credit history (other than her years of perfect payments). I start payments in a week.
Taking over the mortgage is within my means -- the killer around here is the property taxes. The combined monthly mortgage and property taxes is about $2500 -- the property taxes themselves are $900.
I recently put together a budget based on current income and current fixed expenses. Starting with my gross pay -- taxes, 401(k) contributions and loan paybacks, and insurance premiums amount to 39 percent of my gross biweekly paycheck.
Of the remaining monthly net, mortgage and property taxes account for 52 percent.
Then I added up the other fixed costs, you know, the things that will generate a phone call or a repossession or a cutting off of service if they aren't paid --
When I subtracted all of that, I was left with $568 on a monthly basis for food, gas money, etc.
I haven't mentioned the kids. Two college age, the last entering college next year. I will save that situation for another post.
We have saved nothing for college. WE paid for one year of the eldest
I did my part over the holiday weekend. I spent nothing on Friday and Saturday. Sunday, I bought the local newspapers and, when a valve under the kitchen sink broke, I spent $6 on a new valve that I installed myself, using borrowed tools. (That's the first time I ever attempted this type of plumbing job, so I saved about $100 minimum doing it myself.) I spent $10 to top off my gas tank yesterday morning. I plan on spending nothing today.
This is NOT the same as bringing in more money, but it is the second best thing.
[for some reason I couldn't edit this post the usual way, so . . .]
Well, I haven't moved an inch in resolving any of my money situations since I started this blog six weeks ago. I haven't even kept up with a committment to continue posting here . . . or to start tracking what I spend.
This year, like all Thanksgivings, I got paid on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Made the week before go by effortlessly -- woo-hoo! I get paid early. "Splurged" and got shoes for all three of my kids. Bought unbudgeted tickets for a holiday performance my daughter is performing in. Made good on a couple of unpaid bills. Paid some current bills.
Thanksgiving morning, I realized I had spent all my paycheck, except maybe enough to but gas for the car for two weeks.
And, of course, the next paycheck, coming on the usual Friday, is two days LATER than this one.
My wife (we're estranged but still living in the same place) is a proponent of the Laws of Abundance, that mystical (though some might say self-evident) approach to money. I've read the books she has pushed on me and I've made faint-hearted attempts to greet each day with an acknowledgement that the world is an abundant place, that every dollar I need is already there in the universe.
But it doesn't last.
What gets me through the weekend is knowing that I have only one unpaid bill that is likely to generate a phone call, and that I may get through the weekend without having to spend any more money.
But mentally and psychically, I feel bankrupt. Which, of course, is the opposite of feeling abundant.
- - - -
An important addendum -- the Friday before Thanksgiving my wife was in a serious car accident. She's fine -- she walked away from a crash scene in which four cars were totalled. Insurance will take care of any lingering health issues, as well as the car replacement. There is the mental trauma she has to overcome, plus the inevitable hassles of dealing with insurance companies and car dealers.
So, the basic thanksgiving this year, especially for our three kids, was that she survived. Material goods and needs pale in comparison.
When I was growing up, my dad worked out of the house, for a paycheck, and my mother worked in the house -- managing the household of nine kids. Yes, we did have a maid for much of my childhood, who did laundry and housecleaning. My mom handled the daily needs of the kids and did all the shopping and cooking.
She also handled the money, as far as I can remember. She may have brought some money into the marriage, but it was likely only capital, like stocks inherited from her father. I don't know this for sure, but I've heard things over the years that made this seem likely.
But she also was the only one who I remember handlling money. She handed out allowance. She was the one who did the shopping, write the checks, and balanced the checkbook. I remember my dad asking her for money for the day. He brought home the paycheck, which she probably deposited. And then he would get his walking around money from her.
I don't know what sort of influence this had on me. I've read recently about how children's attitudes about money are shaped by their parents. But when I think of my parents, I think of how well they handled it. I never remember an argument about money in front of the kids (but they weren't the arguing types even behind cloed doors). They encouraged us all to work as soon as we could and all of us had jobs in high school. Most of us went to college, with generous help from our parents.
I don't remember too many specific conversations about money with my parents. I know they were concerned when I had my heart set on going to an expensive private school for college, but they didn't talk me out of it. I remembrer post-college, when I was working a minimum wage job, having a short conversation with my dad where he warned me about the perils of credit cards, a conversation I didn't take to heart.
So, they say the acorn doesn't fall from the tree, but this acorn rolled far far away.
Are there people on this site who write about the Laws of Attraction -- the notion that thinking and acting positively about money and abundance and thinking and worrying about money and lack of abundance will keep you poor?
I'll admit that I'm very skeptical of the concept. I am by nature an optimist, except when it comes to money, where I see six months down the line and can see what I will be bringing in and what will be going out.
Although I don't look six months down the line -- I usually look two weeks down the line, to the next paycheck, and now, I'm looking two days down the line, when I have to buy gas again and I don'y have the money to do so.
So, what do you usually do when you you are 10 days away from payday and you have 20 dollars in your bank account, not even enough to keep your gas tank full until the next paycheck rolls around?
Aside from the initial negative body reaction when you realize you've underestimated what was in your account by $150, how do YOU react when you are faced with this situation?
This isn't a short-term situation, by the way. The next paycheck, in 10 days, is already almost all accounted for. and I'm already late on paying bills. so, i'm in a hole that's getting deeper.
In recent weeks I've read a bit about how people think about money and how your views about money are shaped by what you heard about money growing up.
Which astounds me, in that I grew up in a healthy atmosphere regarding money, and yet little of that healthy attitude rubbed off on me.
I'm from a large family, in a solidly middle classs suburban environment. Only my dad worked out of the house. He had a basic middle management office job in insurance for most of his working life. What I remember as a kid is that he left the house at the same day every work morning, walking to the train station, and came hom just about the same time.
All but one of my siblings went to school, with my parents paying a good part of everyone's education.
I learned only much later that my mom brought some money into the marriage -- most likely investments that she received from her father. This probably helped with the college cost.
But the day-to-day living costs came outof my dad's paycheck. I never remember any heated discussions about money. I know there were concerns, but we were never hungry and we always had clothes. (Coming toward the end of the large family, many of my clothes until my teens were hand-me-downs, but that wasn't so unusual in large families.)
My parents encouraged all of us to work as soon as we could -- paper routes, baby sitting, retail jobs in high school. We all had bank accounts at an early age. I even had my own stock investment when I was about 10 or 11 years old. A great aunt died and left my mom some money. My parents bought a small amount of stock for each child in a conservative consumer products company.
So, by the time I was in high school I had experienced what it was like to have a bank book, a little savings, and this mysterious stock which I didn't really understand until I was in college.
There was nothing that I experienced, or that I remember, that would have set me off on a path of not thinking about money in healthy and productive ways.
But, as it turned out, since I got my first job out of college 25 years ago, I have basically lived from paycheck to paycheck. Fortunately, I've never missed a paycheck in 25 years. But I've never amassed a rainy day fund, or a college fund for my kids. Credit cards were my rainy day fund.
More about stocks and credit cards later.
As far as I know, all of my siblings are conservative and smart with their personal finance. All are married -- most spouses work. Incomes and lifestyles vary. But all seemed to know from an early age that budgeting was smart and large credit card balances were bad.
I have never budgeted, other than on an emergency basis, i.e., I have $100 to last until Friday and I have to buy gas and lunches for the kids and some school supplies and this and that.
I think it has been 25 years since I had a zero balance on any credit card.
Somewhere, right around the time I finished school, my thoughts about money changed in a bad way. It started using me instead of me using it.
So what brings me to this semi-anonymous blogging site?
I have a good-paying job (above the median), a house, three kids, a hefty mortgage, too much consumer credit, and less than $100 in my checking account.
My wife works -- self-employed -- but our marriage is dissolving, so we have spent the last couple of years trying to keep our finances separate.
Neither one of us can afford to buy the other out of his/her share of the yhouse's equity, so we live together in terse, slightly tense companionship.
I am perputally short of money at the end of a pay period.
I have a 401(k) -- underfunded, but it's there. (I also have two loans from it that I am paying back, so I can't depend on it for any short-term help at the moment).
I pay for the family's health insurance through work. I have life insurance so the family is protected financially if something happens to me.
I have no savings (I have a savings account, but there's 32 cents in it) and a checking account that it down to zero every two weeks.
I have about $7,000 in consumer credit (three cards) and a brand new car payment (I just replaced a 12-year-old car that had 180,000 miles on it).
I have a fair amount of deferred maintenance around the house. The basics are OK -- the roof is solid, the furnace is just a couple of years old.
But I can't do simple things like contemplate the $300 it will take to buy a new garbage disposal and get it installed. Or fix up the basement so the kids have a space away from the main floor to hang out with friends. My eldest will start college next fall and we have zero dollars saved for this.
So, that's where I've living now. It's a beautiful long fall weekend and I couldn't even contemplate a day trip out of town because I don't have the money for gas and wouldn't have any money to spend on things like food once we got out of town.
I'm now 48 and I've worked almost consistently since I was about 12. Newspaper route, grocery store clerk, retail clerk, newspaper ntern, law firm intern, freelance editor, bookstore manager, writer/editor for a business publisher.
I come from a large family and working was just expected from everyone. Being a boy in the 70s, there were a few more opportunities to start from. I inherited a paper route from an older brother and then got my own. When I was 15, I got a job at a small local grocery store.
The grocery store owner had dropped out of third grade to sell fruit and vegetables from a cart. He worked for annother man for a while but eventually opened his own store. He catered to an upper middle class clientele in a suburb.
I worked every day after school and all day six days a week during the summer and school holidays. It's still one of the best jobs I had; I worked there until the summer before my third year of college.
The owner would make light fun of my academic interests -- he had made it without formal schooling and thought anyone could, with the right attitude. But going to college was what did in our community.
I worked there at a time when pay envelopes were actually cash in envelopes. I remember the feeling of joy I had getting that envelope every week -- all that money was mine.
I don't remember having a particular savings scheme back then, but I must have saved a lot. ihad only two vices in high school -- books and music. so, i saved a lot, and when I went off to college I had a few thousand dollars saved.
I went to an expensive college, although the cost compared to college prices these days seems quaintly inexpensive. My parents paid most of the cost for the first two years. Between my jobs and student loans, I paid for most of the last two years.
I suppose that one turning point for me and my relation with money was the summer betwen my junior and senior year of college. I was renting an apartment with friends and, when summer came, instead of moving back home, Istayedin the apartment with friends. As it turned out, though I didn't plan it this way, I had moved out of my parents' house for good.
I come from a large family and all of my siblings, except for me, moved back home for a few years after college. But I, with no real plan in mind, had effectively moved out when I was 20.
I had roommates and we lived in typically unluxurious surroundings (for students) but still, I was paying rent and paying utilities and buying food, all while working just a little because I was still in school.
The longest period of time that I lived without a paycheck was the six months after I finished college. I was done with classes in March and graduated in June. I got a job as a clerk in bookstore that September. Well-educated, loaded up with college debt, I took a minimum wage job in the city.
I worked at that store for as long as I worked in the grocery store in high school and college, and it was my second favorite job. I barely squeaked by, but I loved it.
Why is it that the two favorite jobs I had in my life were the ones that paid me the least? And why do I feel, in retrospect, that I was so much wealthier and connected then, when I was so financially poorer, than I am now?
I've spent the morning looking at websites that have affirmations for bringing more money into your life. The affirmations are uplifting and better than reciting just negative things about money.
But it's hard to work past two decades of unhealthy attitudes towards money just in a morning.
What I'm trying to do with this blog is use my writing to tell the history of my attitude toward money, as best as I can remember, as I work towards bringing more money into my life.
I live a solidly middle-class life, looking at just my income, where I live, and my attitudes toward the world. But i've reached the point in my life where I wake up almost every morning with a stark dread of the bills I have to pay and the lack of money I face in paying them.
This didn't happen overnight. But it happened almost from the beginning of my adult life.
My starting point will be the day I graduated from college, 25 or so years ago. I remember standing in my apartment in my cap and gown, almost walking out the door to my graduation, when I got a phone call from my bank.
My rent check had bounced.
This was my first, but not my last, bounced check.