Bad Money Management & Wake-up Calls

Rocky is always so happy to wake up!

DH = Dear Husband

Waking up: Rocky’s way vs. mine

I always know when our dog Rocky has woken up. Thump, thump, thump. It’s the  sound of a happy tail in the confines of his cozy crate.  I’m usually the first to see him, and I get the full benefit of his adoring gaze as he wags his enthusiasm for what is to follow. Am I going to go outside? Am I going to get breakfast? Oh, this is just too good to be true! His day is entirely predictable, but he wakes up and embraces it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up like that. I drift pleasantly enough through semi-consciousness, but once I hit that fully wakened state, there’s an immediate back-pedal reaction. Nooooooo! Not yet. A few minutes more… Sometimes, I trick myself back into that fog between sleep and wakefulness, and on rare occasions I manage to sink right back into sleep. But inevitably, I have to resign myself to consciousness.

Waking up to my financial state

When it came to waking up to my finances, I was much, much more stubborn. I remember significant wake-up calls in every decade I have lived. Life lessons with the clear moral to be wise with my money. But for some reason, I ignored each one and remained in denial. I kept hitting the snooze button . . .

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Debt-Reduction Website: fruclassity.com

What’s with the sudden fearless revelation?

DH = Dear Husband

I’m considering that image and thinking, I look tired! And my hair is frizzy and my chin seems big. Well, I AM tired. And my hair is frizzy and my chin is big (so is my nose), but it’s time to get over all of that. Big changes in my blogging life have come about.

“Fruclassity”

If you’ve been reading at this site for any length of time, you already know the story behind “Fruclassity”. I wrote a post last July about Mr. Money Mustache’s subculture of Badassity. “Is It For Me?” was the question. The answer was “No.” On occasion, I can pull off a feat of stick-it-to-the-man hyper-frugality that defines Badassity – and I’m mighty proud of myself when I do. But on an ongoing basis? No. At least not yet. In that post, I wrote about one such feat, but I had to contrast it with the indulgence DH and I had enjoyed the same week in using a $100 gift card to a high-end (at least in our books) restaurant. It was so delicious, we allowed ourselves to go over the $100 limit. Not so badass, right?

Laurie from The Frugal Farmer commented on that post:

“Ok, LOVE this!!!!!! We live the same way, and I think we should figure out our own name for it. :-)

To which I replied:

“Thank you, Laurie. OK, so our subculture won’t have a swear word in it. Agreed? How about Fruclassity – for frugal yet classy?”

The Ten Commandments

Laurie liked both the word and what it stood for. In October, she sent me an e-mail saying she’d been thinking seriously about Fruclassity. “How would you like to work together and take that term and run with it?” I didn’t know what running with a term looked like, but I was certainly honoured, and I was definitely in. Laurie came up with the idea for us to write a series of “commandments” which we’ve called The Ten Commandments of Fruclassity. (They’ve been somewhat modified since Laurie originally posted them.) We each started to write about specific commandments and how they applied to us.

Jay $ and fruclassity.com

I received a very excited e-mail message from Laurie in November. She said that Jay $ – of Budgets Are Sexy and Rockstar Finance fame – had contacted her after reading one of her posts about Fruclassity. He “LOVED it (said it was a ‘brilliant concept’) and said that we should pick up the domain just in case we decide to take this further than a series.” Laurie bought the domain name fruclassity.com immediately, and we started to build a vision for our web site.

Our vision

Laurie and I have a lot in common in terms of our experience with debt, and there was a real flow in our back-and-forth discussions about what we wanted to create. We envisioned a web site that:

  • targets people struggling with debt who want to turn things around
  • gives these people a safe place to discuss money matters in spite of the larger culture that makes a taboo of money-talk
  • helps people get past the debilitating shame that many feel when they take ownership of their financial state (Laurie and I both know what that shame is all about. It is NOT fun or constructive.)
  • recognizes the vast differences in people’s incomes, expenses, ages, and values
  • unifies people who often feel there are barriers between them because of different incomes, expenses, ages, and values
  • points out solutions in terms of budgeting, tracking, becoming more frugal
  • prepares people for the long-term nature of financial change (It takes the average household 7 years to get out of debt.)
  • provides a community for people as they pursue long-term financial change
  • makes people aware of the side-benefits of minimalism and simplicity that come with frugal living
  • provides a counter-weight to the messages that bombard us all on a daily basis to Buy! Borrow! Because you deserve it!
  • challenges people to step up
  • allows people to start from where they are

I could go on and on – even more than I have. I think you get the idea.

MMM’s blessing

But what about Mr. Money Mustache? Would he be annoyed by this modification of his badass vision? Wouldn’t he see Fruclassity as being too “soft”? The possibility weighed on me so much that I sent him an e-mail telling him about our plans. “The essential point is that Fruclassity doesn’t exist without reference to Badassity,” I explained. “That’s why your OK is important to us.”

Would he approve? I was astonished to see his reply within minutes:

“Hi Ruth / Ms. Debtfree, nice to hear from you! OF COURSE your idea sounds great to me. I am highly in favor of made-up words being used to spread good ideas. I hope you have as much fun with Fruclassity as I do with Badassity 🙂

cheers,

MMM”

Join us

I’m going to keep chronicling our own journey out of debt right here. But I wanted you to know about fruclassity.com, and I hope you’ll visit the new site. Jay $, who has been advising us, mentioned it in his post yesterday at Budgets Are Sexy, and Laurie and I went into overdrive trying to make the site viewer-ready for the curious. We’d been working on it all week (March Break for me), but yesterday was especially busy. No wonder I look tired.

You’ll notice a “Join the Fruclassity Movement” tab on the site. Consider putting your name to it. If you’re trying to get out of debt or you want to support people who are doing so, join us. And tell all of your friends and family to do the same : )

If you only have time to leave one comment for me today, please do so at fruclassity.com where our first post is from me and tells about the debt story that DH and I have been living. It’s a brand new baby site – just a few hours old now. It needs a little love. This is all a very big deal for me. Thank you for your support : )


 Your comments are welcome. (But today, they’re even more welcome at fruclassity.com.)

 

 

In Debt & Waiting for Inheritance: Not a Proud Moment for Boomers

The boomer generation started out so … groovy.

(Thank you to Travis at Enemy of Debt for hosting my post this week about our ongoing struggles with house-cleaning. Ugh!)

DH = Dear husband

A boomer trend: waiting

Les Kotzer is a Toronto lawyer, and when a woman in a fur coat came into his office with her well-dressed husband, his automatic impression was that the two – both in their late 50s – were well off. After finding out that the fur-clad woman was a substitute teacher, he asked her husband about his profession. “Harry’s not going to tell you this, but he’s a waiter,” answered his wife. When Kotzer asked at which restaurant he worked, she corrected his misconception. “Oh, Harry’s not that kind of a waiter. He’s waiting for his inheritance.”

I was fascinated in a morbid sort of way by the cover story of Maclean’s magazine this week. Photos of people not much older than I am, and their happily aging parents, a little younger looking than my mom, brought it close to home. Images of elderly parents, blissfully unaware of their children’s thoughts as they wait not-so-patiently for the transfer of wealth that will happen when mom and dad pass on.

Boomers’ impact over the decades

Hippies

The boomers have always been just ahead of me as a generation. I have childhood memories of going downtown with my family and seeing hippies. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Young men with long hair. Young women with flowing skirts. Tie-dyed t-shirts, head bands. They clustered together in public spaces outside with a peaceful defiance and were, in my eyes, groovy.

Yuppies

As I approached my twenties, the boomers were redefining adulthood with their yuppy culture. Images in ads of the well-dressed, high-living, glamorous yuppy captured my imagination. The lifestyle of my parents, in comparison, seemed flat, dull, deprived. I had some awareness of the influence of ads at that time, but little awareness of how profoundly I personally was being influenced. I wanted what those yuppies had. The clothes, the big house, the travel, the fine-dining … My loftier plans to end poverty and generally save the world were rather stifled by the needs of my less acknowledged ambition to yuppify.

“Waiters”

And we all know where that got me: in debt. What I didn’t quite grasp before reading this article in Maclean’s was that I’m sharing my plight with my role models. But I sure don’t want to share in the coping strategy that many boomers seem to be using to deal with their debt problem. 50% of Canadians nearing retirement expect to carry their mortgage debt into their retirement, and there is no shortage of consumer debt among them either.  “. . . [T]he average person aged 56-65 is carrying $27,000 in consumer debt, such as credit cards and car loans. They’re going to need cash to maintain their standard of living, say experts, and their desperation is starting to show. Court files are replete with challenges to wills involving claimants nearing retirement age, while the sheer nastiness of family battles is on the rise. ‘There is a degree of entitlement there,’ says Megan Connolly, a Toronto wills and estates specialist. “It’s this attitude that . . . what’s my mom’s is mine.'”

Guarding against a bad trend

It’s a sad closing chapter for a generation that started out so cool. Of course not all boomers are in this situation, but the trend is disturbing to say the least – something to watch out for. Have I ever thought about a future inheritance in a way that shows I’m relying upon it? I would have to say that I have. In our worst years of job loss, career uncertainty, and financial stress, my future inheritance had the comforting promise of a safety net. Nothing in line with the nastiness described in the Maclean’s article, but something to take note of nonetheless.

When DH and I started our journey out of debt, mom was rendered speechless by our total of $257,000 in the red, and she thought debt-repayment for us was a hopeless goal. “Just wait,” she once said during the early days of our journey, in the sense that it wouldn’t be so hopeless one day. I knew exactly what she meant. My mother is at perfect peace with her own mortality, and she’ll occasionally refer to it. But after almost three years, DH and I are nearing the half-way point, and mom, who never fails to ask, “So how’s the debt?” is impressed.

“I want you to stay alive,” I said to her recently, in a rare burst of frankness on this sensitive topic. “I want you to be there when we make our last payment. When we become debt-free.” “Well!” said my mom, her voice charged with new optimism. “That’s something that’s worth living for.”


Gillis, Charlie. “The Inheritance Wars.” Macleansca. Roger’s Publishing Ltd, 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/the-inheritance-wars/>.


What do you think of the “waiting” trend? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Dad’s Frugal-Intense vs. Mom’s Frugal-Lite

Mom and Dad in our last family photo


(I stepped way out of my debt-reduction comfort zone this past week and wrote a post about marriage over at Kay’s Lifestyle Voices site. That was harder than I would have guessed! Please consider checking it out and giving your feedback.) 


DH = Dear Husband

We’re in the 34th month of our journey out of debt, and I still find myself having “Aha!” moments. This week I had another one.

Two brands of frugal: -intense and -lite

I don’t know about you, but when I think about “frugality”, I think of doing without and toughening up. We used to hire cleaners for our house, but we’re doing without, and we’re (I’m) doing our (my) own house cleaning. (Sometimes). We used to spend over $200 per week on groceries, but we’re doing without, and we’ve cut that bill down to $150. We used to eat at nice restaurants occasionally, but we’re doing without and spending way less – and way less often – on meals out. We used to go on mini-get-aways the odd week-end, but we’re doing without and staying put.

I like feeling tough. My dad was tough. He grew up on a prairie farm during the Great Depression, with only the basics at the best of times. Scholarships were his ticket out of poverty. Physically strong and athletic, academically rigorous, socially aware and contentious, my dad was adamantly frugal with a sort of reverse pride about it all. A bit of contempt in his attitude towards his “softer” fellow men I must admit. I suppose I feel a bit of an “atta girl!” pat on the back when I tough it out.

But here’s the thing. I’m not really that tough. I’m a product of my mother too, after all. Like my dad, she grew up in the era of the Great Depression. But she was a city girl. And her family had a live-in maid. AND a house-cleaner who came every Wednesday. Her name was Jessie. I just found out about that a few days ago. My mother’s hush, hush disposition towards certain topics is giving way to more disclosure now that she’s 90 years old. There had always been a bit of teasing towards my mom for having come from some privilege, and there were jokes about household staff, but I didn’t know it was beyond anything that I have experienced myself – house cleaners doing their wonderful work every two weeks. A stay-at-home mom, a live-in maid, and weekly cleaning service? OK.

My mother’s lifestyle changed dramatically after she married my dad, but she never complained. It wasn’t in a stiff-upper-lip way of not complaining – stoically suffering in silence. She didn’t suffer. She really didn’t miss the privileges of her upbringing. Perhaps she knew that they hadn’t afforded her any more happiness than she was enjoying as an adult having to live within her means.  But she was never “tough”. She indulged thoroughly in the charm of life – just not by spending money.

Our frugal groceries: both -intense and -lite

My big New Year’s resolution this year has been frugal grocery shopping. I set the limit of $150 per week, and so far, so good. My first forays into the grocery store this year were characterized by a fierce determination. Calculator in hand, I weighed the vegetables and bananas and studied comparative prices with great focus. I was tough. Atta girl! But in the last few weeks, I’ve forgotten to bring the calculator. And I haven’t bothered to weigh everything. And I’m still coming in under $150.

I actually LIKE this frugal grocery thing. I love the abundance of food that happens when I slow cook large quantities of chicken, beef, beans, pork. I love the high quality hanging out time that takes place in the kitchen as people linger to talk or just share the space while I chop or stir or clean up. I love the enthusiasm with which these new old meals are anticipated, and the way they draw us around the table together again after years of separate eating and separate diets and separate schedules.

My dad’s frugal intensity is present in the time and work devoted to preparations. But my mom’s frugal-lite is also present. In the slowed pace and the casual chit-chat. Something of great value that we’ve done without for far too long – until we started doing without. A few weeks ago, on a Saturday when I was cooking up a storm, DH came through the door and stopped in his tracks. “Hmmm!” he said, eyes closed and nose in high gear. “It smells like home.” We’ve been living in this house for almost 17 years. But I knew what he meant.

Moving forward . . .

Each one of us is a product of two parents. I have approached our journey out of debt almost exclusively with my dad’s frugal-intensity. And there’s been a lot of good that has come of it. But I’m going to embrace my mom’s frugal-lite as I move forward, and I suspect the combination of these two brands will prove to be better for us than either one on its own.

But what about house cleaning?

I’m especially curious to see if it will have an impact on house-cleaning. Is there a frugal-lite side benefit here? I think there must be, but I haven’t found it yet. I really do miss our house-cleaner days. I really am jealous of my mom’s mom. Where is MY Jessie? I really do feel like we’re doing without – and that I’ve got to toughen up. Or not. Maybe what I’ve got to do is open up to the frugal-lite side of cleaning – whatever it might be. I’ll share any discoveries I make. Stay tuned.


 How have your parents influenced your attitudes towards frugality? Do you operate with the frugal-intense or the frugal-lite brand? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Debt Reduction: Isolating a Bad Spending Habit (and taking it down)

Packing food to avoid huger-spending.

DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

DH = Dear Husband

“odd happy buzz”

DD3 fainted during her high school band practice two and a half weeks ago, and in the fall, she suffered a concussion. No band for a while, no sports. I thought that would do it. But her symptoms were a bit worse a week later. The doctor at our clinic recommended a trip to the Children’s Hospital for a proper assessment, and she advised us to go through Emergency since it would otherwise take too long to get an appointment.

There’s no telling how long a wait is going to be in a hospital emergency room, and as I was getting ready to go the next morning, I caught an odd buzz of happy anticipation in my head. Fainting. Concussion. Symptoms worse. Long wait at hospital. What was there to be happy about? I focused in on that vague buzz, and this is what it said: You’ll probably have to wait so long that you’ll have to buy lunch for you and DD3. Maybe even a snack after that.

New wake-up moment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about “waking up” to my bad habit of spending discretionary money on take-out food. Often, as I noted, it’s connected with an admirable burst of generosity – wanting to treat a friend or family member for one reason or another. In this case too, there was an element of “admirable”. Poor DD3. What a drag for her! She’ll like a little lunch and snack as a treat. Really? Was I only thinking about DD3?

A new wake-up moment. I generally can’t justify spending on take-out food for myself. I’m trying to be frugal after all. So a sneaky little strategy has developed in my subconscious to allow me to satisfy my addiction: I treat others to little meals or snacks (notice it’s always “little” – because that makes it OK), and since I’m there, I order for myself too. I’m trying to be frugal, but I don’t want to stifle all of my noble generous impulses, right? Ha! Busted.

The makings of an uber-frugalite

So I decided that DD3 and I would have a very big breakfast before driving to the hospital. Fruit, eggs, toast, beans, meat . . . That would fill us up. But who was I kidding? We would get hungry within a few hours again, and this was likely going to be a whole-day event. I packed nuts and cheese and  fruit and veggies and crackers and energy bars. “I can make chicken wraps,” DD3 suggested. There! Even my daughter was catching on to this frugal approach. I love good ripple effects!

Feeling mighty clever, I furthermore planned not to use the hospital parking lot. Instead I would find free parking in the residential streets nearby. “We’re going to walk a bit, so dress warmly,” I advised DD3. It’s been incredibly cold around here lately, and that day, we were at -24 C (-11 F) with a slight wind chill to boot. Food in hand, parking plan in place, decked out in full winter gear, I decided that I had officially become an uber-frugalite.

Love and money vs. Love and time

The day actually passed quite pleasantly. There were line-ups and waiting rooms, but DD3 and I don’t often have long periods of relaxed time together, and we enjoyed each other’s company. We also enjoyed the food in our bag, eating it all up as the hours ticked by. “Any exercise will make her feel worse,” the doctor told us when we finally got to see her. “Keep her home from school for the rest of the month, and she shouldn’t walk to school when she does go back.” Yikes! Perhaps we should have used the hospital parking lot after all. I confessed my frugal parking and subsequent long walk with DD3. “No harm done,” the doctor said. She provided us with a note for the school and contact information for a follow-up appointment, and we were free to leave.

We walked back to the car extra slowly, and had just enough time to make it to DD3’s school before it closed for the day. Her schedule was revamped – no more band, no more music class, extra help slotted in for math – and her forthcoming time away from classes was accommodated with e-mails to teachers and plans to do limited school work from home. As we closed off the day with our drive home, I wanted to take DD3 to Tim Hortons. But I caught the impulse just in time.

That evening, after eating supper, DH, DD3, and I played a few rounds of Uno – not too taxing a game of cards for someone in her concussed state. There was a relief in knowing how to move forward with her healing, and both DH and I were inclined to spoil her just then. And we did. With time instead of money. That’s not always easy to do, and it’s no wonder that so many of us end up gushing our love on friends and family with purchased treats of one kind or another. But on that day, we managed well. I was awake to my bad habits and my subconscious mind games, so I was able to steer clear of the love = spending trap at a time of powerful baiting.

DD3 is doing very well now, and she’s actually looking forward to going back to school next week.


Have you ever “woken up” to bad habits or your own subconscious mind games? Do you ever fall into the “love = spending” trap? Your comments are welcome.

 Thank you to Tonya at Budget and the Beach for giving me the opportunity to write for her site in a guest post this week.

 

Coming out … of the Financial Closet

 Kay is coming out.

I’m really pleased to feature Kay’s story this week. She writes at Life Style Voices, and her style is so quirky and disarming,  it just makes me happy. This post marks a brave move on Kay’s part. She’s opening up about her story of debt and financial distress for the first time. I’m incredibly honoured to host Kay’s exit from the closet. 

Felicitations Fellow Frugal Followers!

This post is a promise fulfilled.

Months ago I commented in one of Prudence’s posts.  Her post was titled:

Fruclassity Commandment #6: Financial Equality in Marriage Partnership

And it was FABULOUS, as always.  In it she included a disagreement she was having with her husband “DH” about expenditures for her mother’s 90th birthday celebrations. Did the event represent “want” spending or “need” spending? You’ll have to go back and read it so that the following comments make some sense, but here they are, copied and pasted for your viewing pleasure:


November 15, 2014 at 9:43 am

Grandma celebration? I’d have to say that’s a “need”. My mom’s 87. They won’t be around forever. If they were closer to 70, maybe we could give this one to DH. As far as money goes, I haven’t shared much about Jay and my financial adventures, mostly out of fear of being driven out of the blogosphere. I may in the future, but only after I’m assured that no one has a stash of tar and feathers. We did everything wrong. Then we’d think we learned. Then we’d do everything wrong again. We seem to be on a pretty even keel right now, but we have a tendency to throw the deck of cards up in the air and have to pick them all up again. Unfortunately, 1 or 2 will end up under the couch and we don’t notice until the next time we play (all figuratively speaking, of course). Love this series, Prudence! It’s really thought provoking.

Reply

November 16, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Thank you, Kay. I actually said to DH as we were discussing the 90th birthday disagreement this morning, “Kay from Lifestyle Voices agrees with me. She says . . . ” In the end, we agreed that all expenses from Saturday (present, food for party, decorations) will come from our shared accounts, and only the brunch from today (Sunday) would come from our respective discretionary accounts. I’m happy with that compromise : )
I’m interested in what you have to say about your history with money management. My prediction is that by blogging about it, you’ll keep your awareness so high that you won’t be as likely to slip this time around. Looking forward to following your progress.


So anyway, in a subsequent email Ms. Prudence asked if I would like to guest post about our journey.  I told her I wasn’t ready yet, but when I was, I would tell my story here, on her wonderful blog.

Well, here goes!  (Still watching for those tar buckets and sneaky chicken feather bags.)

When I first started checking out blogs, I was looking for frugal advice.  I can’t remember what the initial search was for, but I believe I was looking for extreme ways to save money.  I love extreme stuff.  I think it’s fun to see how far people can challenge themselves and if I can pick up even one new trick from it, I’m a happy camper indeed.

Then I got hooked on PF (personal finance) blogs.  It all started with Sam’s site, frugaling.org.  Loved it!  He’s very socially conscious and he had great frugal tips.

Slowly I began commenting.  I’d never done that before and got hooked.  Then I started checking out other PF blogs, and eventually started my own, frugalvoices.com. After a few months, I decided to change the name.  I felt like I really didn’t have enough to say financially, so I changed the name to lifestylevoices.com so that I could spend more time on minimalism and other lifestyle subjects, such as, eventually, vandwelling, all while still enjoying the frugal stuff.

I discovered along the way that a LOT of PF blogs were about debt reduction and wealth building.  Serious stuff.  Intense stuff.  I was totally out of my element.  And here’s why.

Jay and I have no debt.  No debt whatsoever.  Especially now.  We recently sold our home, moved to Florida, and we’re now renting a home.  We don’t have a car note, no loans, no credit cards, nope, no debt at all.

But it’s not through the intense means so many PF bloggers employ.

You see, back in ’89, we went bankrupt.  Jay was in business for himself and had gotten screwed over by an unscrupulous heating company that he was subcontracting to.  We ended up over $30,000 in business debt.  I know that doesn’t sound like much to a lot of people, especially ones with student loan debt, but to us, it was insurmountable.  We had a 4 year old, I was having health problems that were causing a lot of debt, and we were advised by an attorney that bankruptcy was our only option.  We had no clue.  We weren’t happy about it, but we took his advice.  We gave up our home and moved into an apartment in the city.  My health improved after about a year and we were back on track financially.  Kind of.  We were living paycheck to paycheck, but paid everything with cash for the next 7 years.

THEN, we started getting credit card solicitations.

We had been living so tightly for those 7 years, but we didn’t want to get into trouble again.  However, slowly but surely, we applied for a card, and got it!

For the next 9 years, we used credit cards and made minimum payments.  We didn’t know any better.  We thought we’d learned from the bankruptcy, but apparently not.  So in 2004, after never missing a payment, credit card companies started doubling and sometimes tripling minimum payments on cards, even though people weren’t late.  We were caught up in the crunch.  We had barely been able to make the minimum payments as they were.  We were totally unable to make doubles and triples.  Jay was once again working for himself, but the work had dried up big time.  It was like the world had collectively closed its wallets and started making impossible demands.  We went to the local credit counseling service (over $30,00 in debt once again) and after carefully going over our situation he recommended, yep, you guessed it, that we go bankrupt again.  That was totally unexpected, but at this point we were so far behind and the companies wouldn’t work with us at all.  They just wanted payments in full.  There’s a joke for you.  Let’s see, I can’t afford to pay you AND the other companies the minimum payments, but I’ll come up with the $7,000 I owe you by Friday.

Yeah, that’s how it went.

There is so much stigma attached to bankruptcy.  No one wants to talk about it.  Especially with people who are working their a$$es off trying to get out of debt.  I can only say that in 2005, we went through our second bankruptcy because we just had no clue how not to.  After reading these wonderful PF blogs over the past year, I can see how we could have done it differently both times.  But hindsight is 20/20 for sure.

Having said that, I always want to say to people who are in WAY over their heads, that if you HAVE to go bankrupt, it isn’t as horrible as it sounds.  Yes, it does take 7 – 10 years to get credit again, but the stress that is lifted off you may be worth it.  I can tell you this, we will never (please God) have credit cards or loans ever again and we learned how to SAVE money and stop living paycheck to paycheck.  We have paid cash for the past 10 years and we have a totally blank credit report.  It looks like we’re aliens that just landed on this planet, but not only have we learned our lessons from those experiences, we’ve learned even more from the PF blogs and the brave souls who are digging their way out of extreme debt.

My only advice, if I’m even qualified to give any, is to do what you need to do.  When companies or celebrities go bankrupt (think Donald Trump), no one bats an eye. But let Uncle Charlie do it, and it’s a scandal!  Don’t let other people’s judgments keep you from doing what you need to do.  It’s your life, and you and your family’s happiness and peace of mind are all that’s important.  No one knows all of the intricacies of your situation but you.  The guy in the house, cubicle, or car next to you has no say in your finances.

Unless, of course, you owe him money …


Have you ever “come out of the closet”? It’s a scary move! But no “tar and feathers” allowed here. Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake Up!

DH = Dear Husband   

DD1 = Dear 1rst Daughter   DD2 = Dear 2nd Daughter  DD3 = Dear 3rd Daughter

I committed to only one resolution this year: Keep weekly grocery bill under $150. So far, so good! There was another resolution that I thought about taking on: Build up savings from discretionary fund. But I didn’t.

Our discretionary allowances

Before DH and I began our journey out of debt, we got into the habit of putting aside a monthly discretionary allowance for each of us. Our money was out of control, and we were taking first steps to get a grip on it. The motive behind these discretionary allowances was to put a defined limit on how much we spent on two types of expenditures:

1. Things that we did need to buy, but that had a broad price-range – like shampoo and clothing.

2, Things that we didn’t need to buy, but that we wanted – like gifts, gym memberships, and restaurant meals.

We set our amount at $600 per month each. “That’s a lot!” Most people say. And it is. But believe me, we were actually reining in our spending by setting that amount.

DH’s track record compared with mine

DH and I have had such different track records with our respective discretionary funds. He always carries a balance forward from one month to the next. He has never stressed about how he’ll manage to purchase what he needs, and he has had no trouble budgeting for the wants of his choice. More impressively, he has been able to save up for big treats – like a couple of snow-boarding week-end get-aways. And when I failed to save up (after a whole year) for a trip out west to visit DD1, DH blew me away by giving me the money needed for my plane ticket out of HIS savings.

I, on the other hand, got into discretionary debt almost immediately. After months of intentional discipline, I got myself out of the red, but then I repeated the pattern. Again, I got myself above zero, and this time, I took on a determination to save. I set goals for larger wants, as DH had done successfully – like the trip to visit DD1 (and we know what happened there) and help with my blog. After all, if I could set aside money to get out of my discretionary debt, I could set aside money to build up discretionary savings, right? Somehow, the answer so far has been no!

Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake up!

“Fruclassity” is a term that Laurie from The Frugal Farmer and I coined in our recognition that we weren’t full-fledged “badasses” in the (highly commendable) Mr. Money Mustache sense of the word. There’s an edge to the extreme frugality of  badassity that Laurie and I don’t subscribe to – at least not yet. Fruclassity promotes frugality with a touch of class – for the not-so-badass.

Here is Commandment #1 of Fruclassity:

Wake up and be honest with yourself about where you are financially. Don’t try to hide from it. Don’t pretend it’s not there. Recognize your financial state for what it is.

Applying Commandment #1 to my discretionary fail

There are two applications that I need to make here:

First of all, I have to start by actually knowing how much money I have in my discretionary account. For those of you who haven’t lived any part of your lives with your heads in the sand, this will seem ridiculously obvious. Other ostriches will understand though. The cool dark of the sand is comforting. The act of forcing your head out and opening your eyes to harsh light and painful grit – that’s a HUGE step. I have just checked my onine account, and I have $43 left for February. There. I know.

But I can’t just know now. I have to heighten my awareness of where I am financially at any given time instead of being surprised at the end of every month that I haven’t saved anything – again. While I diligently keep every receipt for money spent from our common accounts, I have never done the same for my discretionary expenditures. DH and I track our common accounts pretty effectively, and it’s paying off. I don’t know why I haven’t been doing the same with my own account. Time to start.

Secondly, I have to do a little self-analysis. I have to be honest with myself about what it is that leads me to sabotage my own financial health – my own integrity. I’ve got some insight into this: If I have a big discretionary expense, I cleverly pay it at the beginning of the month when my account is flush. As if that won’t have an impact on the rest of the month! I knew I had blog-related expenses to pay this month (most significantly, to address the whole “technical difficulties” issue I had for eight weeks), and I paid at the beginning of February – a big drain on my flush fund right upfront.

Another insight: When I’m over my head, as I have been for the past while – with work, parenting, household, and even blog (again, recent technical problems) combining to go off the chart together – I spend on food treats. It’s like a stress-release valve. In the past week,

  • I bought Tim Hortons for DD3 after she fainted during her school band practice and got a concussion. Sympathy spending.
  • I bought Tim Hortons for DD2 and her boyfriend when she ran a track event very successfully after having recovered from months of injury. Celebration spending!
  • I bought Tim Hortons for DH for devoting hours to my blog site and fixing a couple of stubborn problems. Gratitude spending. (Let me add here the fact there was plenty of yummy, prepared food in the fridge at home on each of these occasions.)

tphoto_1_2

Evidence in car

Sympathy, celebration, and gratitude are all good things. But why is my knee-jerk impulse to spend money to express them? (And why always on food? At Tim Hortons?) I don’t have an answer, but I know that being honest is a good start. And that being aware of where I am will be the foundation for getting to where I want to be. When you take my clever first-of-the-month-big-expense strategy and add to it my food-treat-release-valve, you can see why I’m down to $43 with half of the month ahead of me!

I didn’t take on the build-up of discretionary savings as a New Year’s resolution because I didn’t believe I would follow through. I’ve certainly given myself plenty of reasons to doubt. But I want to change that. The way I deal with my discretionary money now is probably the way I’ll deal with all of our money once we’re debt-free, and I want to manage it well. My old bad habits are stubborn, and I’m sick of them. I want to get every part of my head out of the sand. Let the light shock my eyes! Let the grit jolt me out of complacency! It is time to wake up!


A big THANK YOU! to J. Money at Budgets Are $exy for mentioning Fruclassity in his post yesterday. 

And thank you, Melanie, from Dear Debt, for posting my break-up letter to Debt this past week.


Does Commandment #1 apply to you? Can you relate to the whole “head-in-sand” thing? Your comments are welcome!


 

 

Debt Repayment & Impatience: Time for Big Girl Panties

My toilet training days – camping and on the potty

MT = Math Teacher

DH = Dear Husband

Wise when it comes to other people’s impatience . . .

For the first half of the year, my monthly take-home income goes down because of automatic deductions for the Canada Pension Plan. It’s a good thing that will serve us well in the future, but nobody looks at that first pay of the year and thinks, Great! I’m paying into my CPP! It’s more like Ugh! 

I was talking with a colleague – a math teacher (MT from a previous post) – who is trying to pay off his debts (“because of you,” he told me), and he expressed real frustration about that lower take-home pay. “I was on a roll,” he said. “I just feel derailed.” I had all kinds of words of wisdom for him: Debt repayment isn’t a steady thing. There are high expense months and windfall months even with a regular income. We need to expect the lower pay and accommodate for it, and then use the extra income in the last half of the year to full advantage.

“Yeah,” he said, looking at the floor. “I know.”

This guy is a bright light in our school. A professional engineer, he left a higher-paying career to work with teens, and we’re all so glad he did. Yet he feels caught off guard by a drop in income that comes every year. Finds himself fighting off that “I give up!” frustration.

. . . but not so wise with my own impatience

I don’t know about you, but I can relate. I say it without disrespect: There is something childish about a debtor’s impatience. Especially when we’re on board, making efforts to do the right thing, we find it SO frustrating when STILL we run into roadblocks that keep us indebted. I had perspective on MT’s discouragement. But I don’t have much on mine.

Great expectations for December

Through December, as DH took in more business than he ever has, I found myself looking forward to writing that post at the end of the month in which I’d announce how much we had paid off the business debt. Maybe it will be $10,000, I thought. Or pretty close. Maybe $8,000 or $9,000. Or more! Maybe $11,000 – our highest repayment in a single month. I set  my sights high, with DH’s gross revenue warranting my hope. But in December, DH was finalizing his corporate taxes for 2014, and he paid up according to what his accountant had advised in the mad panic end-of-year rush. And that left a little over $5,000 to put against the debt.

“What are you complaining about?” you might ask. “I know,” I might answer, looking at the floor. $5,000 is a great amount, and it brought us below the $20,000 mark in our business debt repayment. That beast was at $80,800 when we started our journey out of debt, and look at it now: $18,000. But my expectations – backed up by reason – had been so much higher. Taxes!

High hopes for January

“I overpaid my taxes,” DH told me at the end of December. “My accountant found a way to lower them, but I’d already paid. I’ll get reimbursed.” Ha! Good news! I’d hold off on my post about our December payment. I’d wait until that reimbursement came in and we had a solid January payment to make. I imagined what I’d write at the end of January: “Two Big Slices out of Debt #3” / “We’re down to $13,000!” But that’s not what I’m writing. Despite the tax reimbursement, there are business expenses to cover, including travel next month. And extra household expenses to fund. (More on that later). “I’ll try to put something down. Maybe $500,” DH told me yesterday.

Inner-toddler

My inner-toddler is kicking. I’m not proud of my impatient frustration. It’s childish. I know the words of wise perspective that I would give to someone like me: You have an irregular income and irregular business expenses. Best not to put too much energy into big expectations. There will be high expense months along with windfall months. Take ownership of what you can control and leave the rest. Besides, you’re doing well in your debt-repayment. Just keep on keeping on.

Yeah, I know.

“It’s time to put on your big girl panties!”

I have a colleague who is starting her teaching career after years of amazing work experience – including acting and scuba diving instruction. She is unfailingly funny, in a straight-faced deadpan kind of way, and I can just hear her voice telling me, “It’s time to put on your big girl panties!” And I will. Aren’t I supposed to be a grown-up?

So with big girl panties on, I hereby give my end-of-January report: In December, thanks to DH’s high business volume over the Christmas rush, we took a big slice out of Debt #3 – $5,000. January has turned out to be a month of both high business and household expenses, so our repayment was much smaller – at $500. Our business debt – $80,800 in December of 2012 – is now down to $17,500. It’s lower than Debt #1 and Debt #2 – our now paid-off consumer debts – combined. We’re on our way.

There. How’s that? Have you ever found yourself in the humbling position of recognizing a childish impatience in yourself? Does your inner-toddler rage on occasion? Do you need to put on your big girl panties / big boy pants?


Comments are welcome. They’re working again!


 

 

Debt and Mental Health

Mental health needs to be a focus in high schools and in society.

Tragedy and trigger

Yesterday,  a message was sent out to staff at our school reminding us that we had lost a student exactly one year ago. It had been a suicide, and the day, though carved into my memory, was set apart from time in my mind. I had not remembered the date. But when I read the reminder – late in the afternoon – I realized that although I hadn’t been consciously aware of the day’s sad significance, I had been strongly impacted by it.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had confronted a student for not being in class, and her fragility had taken me aback. I was accustomed to attitude from this girl, and I had braced myself before approaching her. Instead, she responded with brokenness, and I was so unprepared for it that I didn’t soften the firm line I had drawn. I felt no peace after she had gone. I briefly consulted someone who was able to tell me that this student was in a particularly vulnerable state. Towards the beginning of the next period, I was free to go to her class to check in with her.

When she first saw me from her desk, her eyes flashed fierce, defensive, and quickly turned away, but she mustered some composure and came out to the hall to speak with me. “When I saw you in the library and told you to go to class, it was clear that you were upset. I wasn’t expecting that,” I started. Defense was receding from her eyes. She was listening. “I didn’t clue in . . .” The words got caught in my throat. What was this? Tears were welling! The student, with wide-eyed surprise, eagerly assured me that she was fine. “Give me a minute,” I said, hoping to muster some composure myself. But it wasn’t going to happen, so I muddled on in my own brokenness. “Nothing is more important to me, if you’re having a rough time, than to know that you’ll be OK. I should have let you stay. If there’s ever a next time, I’ll be smarter.” By this time, the girl was bursting with compassion. “Come on – bring it in!” she said warmly, and she hugged me – told me I was “a nice lady”, and thanked me for going out of my way to apologize. She went back to class with a big smile. And I went to the nearest staff washroom to drain my tears.

There was no hope for my eyes. They were red and puffy, and I went back to my office rather self-consciously. I couldn’t account for my emotional excess. Was I losing it? I was glad and relieved to have set things right with the student, but I had certainly not meant for it to be so dramatic. It was only after this tearful episode that I read the reminder message of the student we had lost. Even for those of us who hadn’t known him, it was a shattering event. A year later, that raw emotion was triggered again – in my case, even without a conscious awareness of the date. My “emotional excess” made sense now. There had been an urgency in my desire to respect and foster the mental health of the girl I had upset.

Debt depression

The conversation surrounding mental health is more open now than I would ever have thought possible. In the case of depression, although huge areas of uncertainty remain, specific symptoms have become recognized, and to the extent that people feel safe enough to acknowledge these in themselves, there is hope. Treatment, though imperfect – whether medical, cognitive, or behavioural – is widely available.

Financial distress, of which debt is almost always a part, can bring on depression. And since money stress exacerbates other stress points – in areas such as physical health and relationships – it can all blur together in a vague mass of awfulness. After a time, the semblance of permanence can develop, allowing hopelessness to set in. And despair is a dangerous tipping point. So if you’re nearing it, take care.

Steering clear of the sinkhole

You are not alone in your financial distress. It is a widely experienced phenomenon, but since our culture – though opening up in many ways – still imposes a taboo on discussions relating to troubles in personal finance, most people with money stress isolate themselves. That just magnifies the problem. Open up. Seek out a friend or a counselor. Contact your local Debtors Anonymous. Read blogs and participate in online discussions about debt-reduction and personal finances. Just getting it out there and tuning in to other people’s experiences offers perspective. Your financial problems are not bigger than you are.

Read a book about debt-reduction or financial management. I can recommend The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and there are plenty of other titles: Zero Debt, by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox; Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez; Debt-Free Forever, by Gail Vaz Oxlade. Most of us need structure to tackle our money troubles, and different books offer different approaches. Find what speaks to you and what works for you.

The money stress you carry can be addressed effectively. It takes a bit of blind trust and lots of intention to start, but once you’re on the right path, it’s amazing how quickly hope develops and builds, and how thoroughly despair dissipates. Your financial health is a big part of your overall mental health. And nothing is more important, when you’re going through a rough time, than to do what you need to do – so that you’ll be OK.


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Debt and Identity

 Would you grocery shop with this bad boy in hand?

DD2 = Dear second daughter

DH = Dear husband

DFF = Debt-free friend

“such smart moms”

When DD2 was in kindergarten, she came home from school one day with a story of her mishap with the yogurt I had packed for her snack. The container had spilled, her hands and shirt had become messy, and the teacher had to get a paper towel to help her clean up. “Some kids have a napkin in their lunch bag so they don’t need the teacher to get a paper towel if they make a mess,” she explained to me. And then with solemn earnestness, “Aren’t they such smart moms?”

I said something like, “They sure are!” But I was wincing on the inside. My young daughter had found me out. I was not, alas, one of the smart moms.

Sour grapes

There are people who just seem to have an innate disposition towards competence. They always know what to do, and they do it well. Sharp, on the ball, certain. I’ve always regarded such individuals with awe, keenly aware of the relative fog and scattered uncertainty in which I, by contrast, function. Sour grapes have grown over the years and decades as I’ve rationalized: He is having a lot of success, but he’s superficial. / She is able to do three times more than I do, but she’s cold. / Their house is very neat and orderly, but they’re judgmental. Thus I found peace. I may have been a bit sloppy and disorganized – less than stellar in terms of general competence – but at least I wasn’t superficial, cold, and judgmental. Hmmm …

Adventures in grocery shopping

My New Year’s resolution for 2015 has been to spend no more that $150 per week on our groceries, and while I was happy with my success for weeks 1 and 2, I knew that I would face a challenge today for week 3. I had already spent a total of $65 on groceries Friday evening at Costco, so that meant $85 for today’s shop. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it for under $150,” I said to DH this morning as our grocery list kept expanding. But we both wanted to stick to the resolution, so I went shopping with a strategy. I would do my best to get everything on the list, but I’d prioritize and be prepared to forego the purchase of some items if necessary. I brought a calculator. Something I’ve never done before. “Did you bring that big desk calculator?” DH asked me later. I had. “Well aren’t you brave,” he said. Let’s just say I probably didn’t come across as cool at the grocery store.

For me, this was shopping at an unprecedented level of focus and intention. I weighed the red pepper.  I decided that two small packages of chocolate chips were a better deal than one large package. The bananas were over-ripe. I’d pay 10 cents per pound extra at another store. The broccoli was in bad shape, but it was extra-cheap, so I’d get the best one I could find. One bottle of rice vinegar was 20 cents cheaper than another, but it was seasoned, so I chose the more expensive bottle. As I picked up each item, I punched in the cost. I realized, when I was almost ready to go to the cash register, that I wasn’t going to be able to buy everything on my list. I had to have enough left over for bananas at the other store, so my bill at this store needed to be under $80. I put the sugar and cilantro back on their shelves. I would not buy turkey slices. There. $78.61 – give or take a few cents.

When the cashier told me my total, I was surprised. “That will be $81.82.” Had I made a mistake? I’d been so careful. Maybe they’re the ones who have made a mistake. DFF had told me once that if a grocery store charges more than its display price and you catch it, you get the item for free. It was one of many frugal tips of hers that I considered to be beyond me – but here it was, coming to mind. I looked carefully at the itemized receipt. Another first. Broccoli – $2.47. I’m sure it was under $2.00. Chocolate chips – $2.99 each. No. They were just under $4.00 for two packages. “Excuse me,” I said to the cashier, “I think that two of the prices are wrong. Can I leave my cart here and go check?” Broccoli – $1.97! Chocolate chips – $1.99 each! I was right!

“Just take this over to check-out #1,” said the cashier, handing me a slip of paper. Yet another first! Free broccoli. One free package of chocolate chips – and a $1 reimbursement for the other. A total of $6.46 credited to me. In the end, I was able to buy the sugar and the lunch meat. And I came in at a grand total of $148.78. I was SO proud!

A new identity?

If you had told me even a few days ago that I would be able to look at a grocery bill and identify two errors, I would not have believed you. “I can’t retain that level of detailed information,” I’d say. But because I had punched every price into my big calculator, I had gained the recall. It was a moment of uber-competence for me, and while I’m rather thrilled with it, it’s a bit uncomfortable. I’m not judging you, I feel compelled to tell all the people who didn’t notice the wrong prices for broccoli and chocolate chips on their receipts. And please don’t think I’m cold or superficial! As I accept a new and emerging self-concept, I’ll have to shed the prejudices I’ve allowed to develop along with those old sour grapes. Perhaps a person can be on the ball without being superficial. Perhaps people can be organized and competent without being cold or judgmental. It is possible that the fog is lifting. It is possible that after all, I am one of the smart moms.


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