Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Review and Looking Ahead to 2014

I hate resolutions - but I do love a good excuse to look back and look ahead.

I have two teenaged girls now and don't talk about parenting them here on the blog as much as I used to, but suffice it to say it's much of the same. Some days, I feel like we're doing great, and others I worry that I've completely failed them. Most days, however, I recognize that we're all just human and I'm doing the best I can as a mom, just taking it one day, one problem, one hour at a time. So every year, my parenting review is much the same - mixed. As long as we get through 2014 without me feeling like a complete failure as a parent, a mixed review is the best I can really expect for the new year.

This was a rough end-of-year for my family. My uncle died and I just got back from his funeral. I've never seen my grandma in so much pain before and that was difficult. I saw men in my family that are almost always so even-keeled break down in tears. I will miss my uncle very much, but I am comforted by the fact that he's no longer in pain. Thanks to Sylvia, we all had a "uniform" for the funeral in memory of my uncle's favorite outfit. Seeing us like that reminded me that we are indeed a force that cannot be denied, despite any pain or trivial battles, and we will continue to be strong and united for whatever 2014 brings.

I always feel at the end of a year that I did not spend enough time with the friends I truly love. This year is no different. Having said that, there are always opportunities during the year that bring me new loved ones and reunite me with old friends. The best I can do is continue how I have been - saying yes when I can, and remaining open.

2014 will be the last year of school - for now. January - May will be busy completing that, and then June - August will be crazed with producing the musical. I need to remember to take breaks when I can, and try not to complain too much.  I love school, I love producing, and even though neither of them are easy, that's why they're so rewarding.

I am learning that balance means some things have to go by the wayside every so often, and priorities constantly need shifting. I just hope for a year where I succeed at that more often than not.

My best wishes for a 2014 that is filled with love, laughter and music.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Financial Update: 2013 Review and 2014 Goals

So 2013 was the year that I began to take control of my financial situation. While we have been emotionally thriving as a single parent family,  financially it's been a paycheck-to-paycheck slog.

In March, I started a new plan. When I first started, I thought it would take me until this month to pay off my high-interest credit card. Instead, I did so in September. Looking back, I think the reason I didn't feel elation was because while I had made significant progress, I knew I was somewhat stuck.

I started seeking out more personal finance info and in November, came across You Need a Budget. The first few times I read about it, I thought, well that's great, but I have a budget. But, as the founder always says to wrap up his podcasts, I hadn't budgeted like this.

As of January 1, 2014, I will be living on last month's income. And I still have a Baby Emergency Fund, as I have come to learn is a Dave Ramsey recommendation of at least $1000. (Still not a Dave Ramsey fan, but since I already had that - I considered at least one goal complete.)

This Christmas was the first in 10 years where nothing was put on a credit card. And everyone seemed happy with their gifts. I also did something I would not have even considered just a few months ago.  I canceled my DirecTV.

It's just been a couple of weeks, but the girls and I are all quite content with the decision. I did subscribe to HuluPlus, but even with that, I'm still saving over $75 a month.

I am un-stuck.

There is still a long way to go. Sylvia has started driver's ed, and insurance will be a new (expensive) bill soon, there is still the low-interest credit card debt of about 8 grand to pay off, and I need to accrue more Rainy Day funds for car repair, unexpected expenses, and also to fund fun. 

So the 2014 Goals, financially speaking, are:

1. Let the emergency fund continue to build and forget as much as possible that it's there. A (very) small portion of every paycheck goes directly into my savings account so I can't really touch it without transferring funds. That helps.

2. Continue to live on less than my income and focus any "extra" funds towards the car maintenance and car insurance Rainy Day funds.

3. Continue to pay the monthly minimum towards credit card debt, plus 1/3 of any income outside of my weekly pay (child support, tax refund, etc).

4. 1/3 of any extra income will go towards car maintenance and insurance funds, and the last 1/3 to the girls and fun. 

That's it. I was going to add more, but I want my goals to be reasonably achievable. As each month passes, I will check my YNAB reports, category balances and see if there are any other cuts I can make to the budget, unexpected expenses that need to be added to the plan, and adjust accordingly. I look forward to this time next year to see where I am.

If you would like to buy YNAB (or download a free trial), please use my referral link. You'll get a discount and I'll get a referral fee. (The link is also on my home page.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Obligatory 2013 Holiday Post

A year ago, I looked forward to the odd year. And it was. Different and fun and crazy and good.

It was also a year of tenth anniversaries: 10 years as a single parent family, 10 years with my employer, 10 years since we moved back to L.A.

10 years ago, I had no idea I’d be celebrating my 40th birthday in New Orleans with my parents – and we had a blast! NOLA is one of those places I’d always wanted to go, and it ended up being so much better than I imagined. I definitely want to take the girls – in 10 years, maybe.

10 years ago, I thought my theatre producing days were behind me for good. Now, here I am, having produced Oliver! for The Stepping Stone Players last summer and getting ready to produce Peter Pan in 2014. I love being around theatre people again – and I remember why it was best to not produce theatre for the last 10 years. But being able to share this experience with Sylvia and Riley…it’s really quite special.

Sylvia is 16 now, and she is keeping as busy as ever. At LACHSA, in addition to Fashion and her other Visual Arts classes, she’s also taking Film and Ballet. She’s also still assistant teaching at her dance studio, and has begun driver's ed. (Eek!)

Riley is in 8th grade and we’re exploring her high school options. She’s back in Leadership and also learning photography, art and cooking. She hates when I say this, but she really is a top scholar, and is now a recruit in the police department's cadet program. She may be 13 now and growing up on me, but she remains the peaceful sane rock of the family. Thank goodness! Oh, and in case I haven't mentioned it yet, she’s taller than Sylvia now.

I am incredibly grateful for everyone who has offered their friendship, advice and encouragement these last 10 years. We are very lucky to have really special friends (both online and IRL) and family that let us know they believe in us even when we’re having our doubts. It has not always been an easy road, but it would have been so much harder without you.

Wishing you a cheerful and cozy holiday season and a wonderful 2014!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Loving the Keurig

I wanted to wait a while before I posted about the Keurig that I received for free. There was no obligation to post about it.

I wanted to wait to see if I didn't just love it because it was a new free toy, or because I really did like it.

Now, I should preface this by saying, I have gotten a little less snobby about coffee. In really examining my financial situation, I'd already started to move towards lower-priced grounds than my usual Starbucks. So I can't guarantee that it tastes as good as coffee made in a traditional brewer, but I have not personally noticed a significant difference.

Keurig was kind enough to send me a variety of samples of K-cups, which helped greatly in determining which I would continue to buy. I also bought a refillable K-cup so that I can continue to use the grounds I already have on hand.

I thought the K-cups would be a lot more expensive than the grounds, and they are a little more expensive, but I think it balances out since I don't have to make more coffee than I end up drinking. Even with a small brewer, I would end up wasting about a cup's worth of coffee because it was too old by the time I got to it. Being able to brew a fresh cup every time makes the experience more enjoyable every time, instead of just that first cup of coffee (and, I imagine, would be an advantage for other singles/single parents).

The other advantage is being able to brew tea & hot chocolate via K-cups and access instant hot water for oatmeal or hot tea using old fashioned tea bags. I've heard there's some danger in heating water in the microwave for these purposes. I don't know if that's true or not, but with the Keurig, it can be easily avoided.

As far as K-cup brands go, I do not like Green Mountain brews. To me, they have a distinct, unpleasant aftertaste. I am really liking the SF Bay French Roast brew, and buy that regularly (it helps that they cost an average $1-2 less than the other brands at the grocery store). I also liked Timothy's Rainforest Espresso Extra Bold and Cafe Escapes' Dark Hot Chocolate (I add a little tobasco sauce to give it a kick). Emeril's Jazzed Up Decaf was okay. We were not fans of Keurig's Fruit Brews. Celestial Seasonings teas taste just like their traditional tea bag counterparts (which is a good thing in my book). At work, I generally reach for the Donut Shop K-cups, and they're fine.

I also like that I can still program this particular model to turn on before I wake up so I don't even have to wait for the water to heat before I brew my first cup. This model also has a removable base for my larger to-go cups. 

In addition to the brewer and samples, they also sent me a booklet full of coupons for a 50% discount. If you would like one, please email me at admccaffery at gmail, and I will reply with a code for your use.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Financial Update: You Need a Budget

Instead of blogging about budgeting, I've been searching out personal finance blogs. This one software program, You Need a Budget, kept coming up. I ignored it the first few times because I thought, hey, I have a budget! But then I couldn't help myself. And I'm really glad I did.

I don't want to sound too much like a sales pitch (though that link will get you $6 off and the software is on sale til end of day), but here are the reasons why I decided it was worth it for me:

  • I can see the big picture. Yes, the Magic Little Notebook was great for ensuring that I budgeted enough for all my bills, but it wasn't user-friendly when it came to making decisions about anything left over. With YNAB, on one screen I can see everything and easily make changes as necessary. 
  • I was already following the first 3 rules for the most part in the YNAB method; spending less than what I earn (Rule 1), starting to build Rainy Day funds (R2) and rolling with the punches (R3), but Rule 4 was a brand new concept for me that breaks the living paycheck-to-paycheck cycle: live on last month's income. Of course, this doesn't happen overnight, but thanks to the savings I already have, I believe that I should be fully buffered (using YNAB terms here) by the end of this month!
  • I can enter purchases on my iPhone, my Kindle or in the software on either of my pcs (and I don't have to carry a notebook around). And there's a reconcile feature so that I can make sure that the bank and I match up. I'd been doubling up entries in both the notebook and the check register and then of course, reconciling at the end of the month with the bank. There was a time when there were two check outstanding for MONTHS. I hated that because I always had to make sure I remembered that! With YNAB, once I've entered it, it is gone for good from my available income, and then whenever they did clear the bank, I could just mark them as cleared and move on with my life. 
  • I love their classes and forums! I am not the only one obsessed with budgeting. At the forums, there are a ton of us :) And YNAB also has free classes (including two email courses). I started with their 9 day email course and reading articles and after I took the first class, I could see all the benefits of the software, so I decided to go for it.
  • Once I'm fully buffered, I will be able to stop the madness of dividing each monthly bill by 4 to save enough each week. Instead, at the beginning of the month, I will be able to enter all the amounts, know they're covered, and then determine which of the other categories need a little love.
  • I can change, add, and hide categories. YNAB reminds you that there are lots of expenses that do not come up every month. When you're first starting out, you'll most likely follow Rule 3, which is what I did when I remembered that my AAA bill was due this month. I created another category strictly for AAA and then moved some funds from the Car Maintenance category to cover it. But it was worth creating the AAA category so that I don't forget next year! 
  • I can also create notes for each category, which I'm doing for the bigger annual bills so that I can determine how much I need to budget each month before the big bill (car registration, for example) is due.
  • YNAB version 4 seems pretty new so I think it will be a while before the next version, but I believe they do offer a discount to current users to upgrade to the next version when it becomes available. And they have been around long enough that I feel confident that it will be around for a long time to come. 
  • You do not have to enter any sensitive information. If you would like, you can import bank statements into the software, but you can do it all manually if you prefer (which is what I do). 
  • I can track, budget and run reports all in the same place. I was budgeting one place, then tracking in 3 different places so that I could have reports, too. 
  • My mom will like the way YNAB treats credit cards, too. For me, I'm using the pre-YNAB debt feature, which keeps track of the outstanding balance as I pay it down. But YNAB doesn't insist you never use credit cards again; it just helps you use it/them most effectively.
I've created a Journal in the forums at YNAB (under the name aprilabtbalance), so I will try to keep the financial updates here to a minimum - and maybe find other things to blog about here!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Budgeting Update: Finally Following the Rules

I don't buy a lot of books, but I have never regretted the $6 I spent on The Debt-Free Spending Plan. Every time I start to feel stressed out about my plans, I read it again. And realize that even though I think I'm not guilty of the "shut down" that Nagler often refers to in the book, I did shut down on some parts. So almost every time I read it, there is still more for me to learn and implement. And here's the Full Disclosure about that link being associated with my Amazon affiliate account, which may generate a small income for me...that may be enough to buy another $6 book in two or three years!

While she stresses the importance of ensuring that Savings, Fun and Entertainment are part of the budget, I realized that I only had two of the three. I now remember that I combined Fun and Entertainment into one.

As I continue to pay down the balance on my remaining credit card, I've been going back and forth (in my typical can't make a decision fashion) on how or if to re-jigger the budget as my minimum balance decreases. At the same time, my daughters are getting older and Sylvia is old enough to get a driver's license, but I'm in no way financially prepared for that!

I do feel pretty strongly that since driving is a privilege, not a right, she should be contributing towards these costs, so she's been pounding the pavement looking for a job. At the same time, I don't expect her to cover all the costs.

So, after weeks and about a half dozen ideas on what to do, I re-read the book and that helped me make some decisions.

Because I've been stressing so much about the car situation, I've created a Car Repair line item in addition to the Car line item, which is mainly budgeted to cover gas and parking, but I had also been using it for maintenance. Nagler does state in her book that if your car is not under warranty, then she suggests $80 monthly for Car Repair. Originally, I had thought about adding that when my credit card minimum reaches a certain threshold, but using some Suze Orman advice to address what fears me most, I decided that I would feel better if I did it now. It might not help me next week, when I suspect my car will next be due for maintenance, but getting into the habit now is better than waiting even one more week.

I had also toyed with the idea of adding more categories, because I think I generalize too much and then justify some expenditures, and then regret them, or at least question myself about them. But again, instead of waiting until the minimums go down, I was able to split some categories in half so that these "sub-categories" (so to speak) would get some attention sooner rather than later.

For instance, I was really excited about starting a Theatre Tickets fund (i.e., our kind of Entertainment). I had originally thought that I could use the Fun category for that, but we kept finding other fun activities to do. At the rate I'm going ($5 a week), I still won't have enough in there to cover the cost of Newsies tickets when it comes to town, but I will be that much closer, and we can still have some non-theatre Fun in the meantime.

Vacation isn't as important to us. I am perfectly happy to take some staycations for R&R, and the girls travel more often than I do with my parents. But I do think fondly of places I'd like to go again; San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, to name a few, and places I still haven't been to that I would like to visit one day (Hawaii, Australia). But since it's not as important to me as the car and theatre, then I will wait until my credit card minimum meets a certain threshold before I start putting $5/week into that line item.

I have not had a Clothing line item. I figured I could take from other places for that, but again, that's not really planning. Clothes aren't really important to any of us, but are necessary, so that line item is only getting $4 a week and we'll continue to buy on an as-needed basis as we do now. That $4 is coming from the Presents line item, which can now be decreased a bit since I've completed 80% of my Xmas shopping.

I've previously bought miscellaneous household items using funds from either Groceries or Miscellaneous (things in the non-food grocery aisles). I decided there are enough of these type of needs that Household deserves its own line item, and will grow it at $5 a week (which I got from the Miscellaneous category).

My duties as a non-profit Board member sometimes include expenditures that I can't budget so when my credit card minimum balance goes down, I will start a Donations category at $5/week.

As my credit card balance decreases, I will also add New Car and Short Term Savings line items to my budget. I am hoping that the Short Term Savings will keep me from dipping into my long-term savings account as often. As Nagler says, it's important to have these multiple accounts to pull from when the unexpected happens, and so that's what I'm trying to build now that I kinda sorta have my daily budget under control.

*Note: Nagler states that we should open separate Savings accounts for many of these line items (Car Repair, Short Term Savings, etc.), but I find that it's just as easy to track in the Magic Little Notebook - and saves me from worrying about transferring if/when I want to access them. Of course, they might be too easy to access, but I am hoping that having that many more line items means that I will be more interested in building those than depleting them. Then again, I may change my mind again after I read the book another 2 or 3 times!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Balancing Conflict

Clearly, I'm not participating in NaMoBloPo, or any other like-minded acronym, but I have been subscribing to The Daily Post (I know, it doesn't show), which suggested conflict as inspiration (two weeks ago - yeah, I'm behind).

Last week, I took a class on Communication with Style, but didn't really have a chance to digest the info (even though our facilitator suggested we journal immediately, he then proceeded to TALK during the entire time allotment, so I couldn't focus).

I wanted to take the class to focus on conflict. The class was based on The Social Styles Handbook (Full Disclosure: Connected to my Affiliate link which could generate a small income for me if anyone in addition to my mom ever clicked it), which breaks down communication styles into four quadrants: Analyticals, Drivers, Expressives, and Amiables. Not surprisingly, I am an Expresive with an Analytical rising.

Strengths of an Expressive: passionate, creative; weaknesses: lack focus, lacks attention to detail. Thankfully, my Analytical rising generally balances that out with almost opposite strengths, which include detail-oriented and rational. The one weakness which carries through both styles affects decision-making. An Expressive may be too quick to make the wrong decision, while an Analytical will want to know absolutely everything (usually impossible) before reaching a conclusion.*

I can definitely say that making a decision remains a weak point for me in all aspects of life.

I pick my outfits based on which pants are "next" in line from where they hang in my closet. I take that same sort of approach for picking CDs in the car (all home-made shuffles for variety) and recipes. My linear approach frees me from actually deciding since it's been decided for me.

And now that I think about it in terms of conflict, minimizes inner conflict.

In the class, we broke into groups of our dominant style characteristics. We were surprised to realize that all of us Expressives hated conflict and tried to avoid it as much as possible. We agreed that, none of us being in our twenties anymore, we had all learned the hard way what we can be like when we're too upset and had learned instead to just shut down completely.

Of course, complete avoidance doesn't necessarily work, either. As with everything, we - make that I - have to find a balance.

I am learning to take some time to let myself shut down, vent to friends about what's bugging me and let myself go through the worst of the emotions before I attempt to address the issue. Many times, however, the issue has diminished so that I don't really have to deal with it anymore, but then it usually goes and rears its ugly head again and I am back in the same position.

So what I need to work on is to put on my big girl pants already and deal with some of these issues. The two hour class was nowhere near enough time, but in reading through the supplemental materials, I think I might be able to get somewhere if I can focus on these three steps:

1. Determine their dominant communication style.
2. Then, get to the heart of the issue: the why, the how, the what.
3. Flex my style to accommodate theirs. Or, if I can't determine what their style is, then limit my communication to address the why, the how, and the what.

*So that you're not left with only half the quadrant, Drivers tend to be great at getting things done, even if their communication style might come across as rude or abrupt. Amiables like to get along with everyone and help hold a team together, but may not feel comfortable adding their own opinions or insight without some coaxing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Budget Update: Holiday Shopping

I've just discovered that my favorite personal finance book has a blog! This entry covers holiday spending; my approach was slightly different, but I'm in roughly the same place.

We have 4 family birthdays in October, 1 in November, a friend's birthday in December (she's pretty much the only friend to whom I give an actual present), and then of course the holiday gift-giving. So I started thinking about the holidays a few months ago.

Where I did things a little differently is I first estimated how much I was willing to spend on each person, and made that total number my budget. Then I started putting any extra money from 5-week month paychecks (and anywhere else) into the Presents line item, and started shopping.

As author Nagler suggests, sometimes I went slightly over but other times, slightly under so it has worked out well (so far). I have crossed off nearly everyone on my list and still have money in the Presents line item.

The only place I went over was in planning celebrations for the girls' birthdays so I did use some from savings to cover that, but since Presents is now a permanent line item in my budget, I am improving my chances that I won't have to do so next year. 

My sister reminded me about ExpenseRegister, which I'd stopped using a long time ago. Then I realized that it was the easiest way to meet my next goal of tracking. I was trying to do it by keeping a log book, but I was forgetting to do so on a regular basis, or wouldn't have it with me when I wanted to do it. Since ExpenseRegister can be accessed from anywhere (and it does not keep any personal account information), I can easily add expenditures and run reports to see how I'm doing.

This doesn't mean I don't still obsess and worry and fret about money and what will happen if my next car service costs $1,000. I still have a long, long way to go. But I'm not so much worrying about the holidays this year, which is totally a first for me!  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One Year Later

I joked to one of my best friends/colleagues that the relationships I have with those at work are the longest relationships I've been in! And also the most fulfilling. And may also explain why I don't feel lonely or empty as a single person.

A friend that has been temping as a secretary (she is divorced and child-free) mentioned that she thought one of the reasons she was enjoying the assistant role so much is because it allows her to take care of someone.

While any need or desire I may have to nurture is totally fulfilled as a single parent, my work life allows me the opportunities to fulfill other interpersonal aspects. I get to carry on adult conversations, I am intellectually challenged, and I am also in long-term relationships with each of my colleagues, clients, and even opposing parties.

Our friendships, our relationships with our colleagues, are often underestimated. But these are the people with whom we spend the majority of our hours, the majority of each week, and throughout the majority of my work life, I create close bonds with those I encounter through my job.

This past weekend was the anniversary of the death of one of those colleagues, who was so much more than a colleague. She changed my life, my daughters' lives, and a dear, dear friend.

I thought I'd be more melancholy about starting another year without her with us. But through this year, I have realized that I learned so much from her, and that her lessons are ingrained in me.

Every so often, I ask myself, what would Bonnie say? And I think I know the answers, and that reminds me how lucky I was to have her in my life! 

In the last few weeks of her life, I attempted to help raise money for her care. We planned a lunch to go see her and give her the donations. I wrote a letter to Bonnie and her husband to thank them for all that they've done for us. When the day came, however, she was unconscious and never was alert enough to read it. I tried to tell her, and I know she knew I was there. But I still wish I'd thought to give her the letter sooner.

When my 10-year work anniversary came around, I wrote thank you emails to those colleagues who also are so much more to me than that word implies. The really good friends had to tease me about being so sappy, but I do feel better knowing that I've said it.

Even though I knew she was dying, I thought I had more time. Sometimes, we don't even get that chance.

The holidays are coming. Thanksgiving is most likely spent with family, but there may be an occasion at work to celebrate with your colleagues. If you're lucky enough to have a true friend (or more) at work, it's a really great time to let them know.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Dear Sylvia on her Sweet Sixteen

In no particular order, here are 16 things I love about you, my 16-year-old daughter:
  1. Your smile. When you are happy, you can light up the whole world. 
  2. Your love of musical theatre. I love being able to talk to you about musicals and share them with you. 
  3. Your thoughtfulness. You have a strong desire to be there for others. 
  4. You are charming with adults. I love that all my friends love you! 
  5. Your sense of humor. You get me, and you make me laugh, too.
  6. Watching you on stage. You shine up there! 
  7. Your passion. You put your whole heart and soul in the things that you love, and you strive to learn everything you can. 
  8. You still tell me you love me every single day. 
  9. Your artistry; in dance, in theatre, in painting, drawing, etc. You are a natural born artist. 
  10. Your strong sense of family. Not just blood family, but friends that are like family to us. You hold those bonds close to your heart. 
  11. You're a born teacher. I love watching you teach, kids and adults. You know when to push, and when to be supportive. 
  12. Your fashion sense! Not only does it look great, you are great at finding good prices!
  13. Your ability to work with what you have. I think I say this in every birthday post, but that's how impressed I am by your creativity! You accept if we either don't have the time or money to purchase something, and you've been having Tim Gunn-worthy "make it work" moments from your kindergarten projects to now!
  14. You are willing to work hard for the things you really want to achieve. 
  15. Your ability to adjust. I know you've had a lot of experience with this, and you haven't always been happy about that, but it's a really great quality that will serve you well. 
  16. Your willingness to try new things. This year alone, in addition to your academics, you're taking classes in film, fashion, dance and art. I think that's awesome!
I love you with all my heart, Sylvia. Happy sweet sixteen! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Dear Riley

On today, your 13th birthday, I am as grateful as ever to be your mom. In no particular order, here are 13 reasons why I think you're awesome:

1. You're just generally a good person that wants to do the right thing, and is willing to take responsibility for your actions.

2. You're funny.

3. You put your arm around me when we're in public (and when we're not).

4. You understand when I need some alone time.

5. You graduated your speech IEP!! I'm so proud of you!

6. You are a good student and teachers always tell me you're a pleasure to have in class.

7. You speak your mind, and you're willing to listen.

8. You know your strengths and weaknesses.

9. You are great with kids!

10. You're great with adults!

11. You celebrate your individuality.

12. You smile every day and generally enjoy your life.

13. While you see the faults with the world and those in it, you still enjoy the wonders of the little things and dare to dream big.

I love you fiercely and completely. Happy happy birthday, my smiling Riley!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Obsessed with Budgeting

*I had not yet completed this draft, when something unexpected happened. But rather than start completely over (and before anything else happens) I'm going to update this post with comments in italics. 

One of these days, I might have something to talk about other than my budgeting strategies. But not today.

Every so often, I go to my now-paid off high-interest credit card account just to see the 0 balance. It helps.

I also re-read some of the book that started this whole thing. I realized I was missing an important element: clarity.

While I have been inputting every dollar into the Magic Little Notebook, I'd tear out those pages when they filled up and kept my eye on the bottom line(s). Now I have a ledger-type notebook where I track every expense in its true budget category and then total the monthly expenditure. It will take a few months of doing this, but then I will have clarity. Am I not budgeting a category adequately? Am I overspending? Even though I never go over-budget, I still borrow from one category to pay for another at times.

I also made a few more changes. Every so often, I would use the Miscellaneous account to buy myself something, but I'd go back and forth from feeling guilty about it to feeling entitled...and then back to guilt. In the end, I decided to give myself a weekly allowance, just like the girls get. (The same amount, even.) And I added yet another budget item for Major Purchases. We still have tube TVs and the color is already out of whack on one of them. Eventually, while we won't need it, we will want a new TV when it completely goes. And what if the refrigerator dies? If it happened tomorrow, it would have to come out of savings, but wouldn't it be nice to have it covered from its own account? It will take quite a few months for it to be funded enough to actually cover a cost like a new TV, but we have to start somewhere. I'm starting with $5 a week. *The TV did completely die. $5 wasn't enough to cover it, and I had to take it from savings, but it validated the need for this new line item.

I canceled the DVD aspect of our Netflix account and decreased the Miscellaneous category to cover these new items. The DVD queue was all made up of movies of my choosing and I've generally used the Misc category for household expenses; now the numbers have just been re-organized.

Oh, and for those that think we shouldn't have any Netflix account whatsoever (or immediately buy a new tv), I get it, I do. But I also get that complete deprivation does not, in the end, work for me or my family. We all enjoy Netflix at the end of a long day, and it's a relatively cheap form of entertainment. It's $9 a month. I may not be rich, but I can afford that. While I may have had to dip into savings to buy the new TV, it helps tremendously when the 3 of us can't agree, or just need some alone time. For our peace and sanity, it was totally worth it. And I bought the absolute cheapest (and smallest) new TV I could find.

I've changed my mind about 27 times on what to do each time my credit card monthly minimum decreases by $20. I'm committed to putting that first $20 monthly into the Car category so that I can slowly continue to build that back up again. After that, I think about adding new categories like short-term savings or vacations, or adding to other currently existing categories, but I keep re-thinking it. It will probably take a few months before that will happen anyway, and hopefully by then, I will have the clarity from the long term tracking notebook to make thoughtful decisions.

The really good news is that I have put together a Presents budget for both upcoming birthdays and Xmas, and I'm fairly certain I will be able to fully fund the budget without dipping into my savings! (See? I don't even mention the credit card anymore!)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ten Years

It's my 10-year anniversary with my current employer.

I remember at my job interview with the HR rep, she expressed a concern that I wouldn't stick around. Judging from my history at that point, I could understand that. The longest I'd stayed at one job until then was just over a year. But I knew then and I know now that I want to stay here for as long as they'll have me.

When I first got here, I was going through a divorce and living with my parents. I had left a job in a field that I love but with a nightmare boss and barely earning enough to get through the week, let alone save for the future.

This job and my colleagues kept me going through the roughest times of starting life over. They were there for me every step of the way - professionally and personally.

While it's not always easy to get up in the morning, I am (almost) always happy to get to work. I am so fortunate to work with people that are smart, funny, kind, generous, and respectful, and to work for someone who values those qualities, and was willing to take a chance in both hiring and promoting me.

I have learned a whole new field in the last ten years. I have learned the value of Sondheim's words "It's not so much do you what you like as it is that you like what you do." ("Children and Art," Sunday in the Park with George) Even though I'd heard that phrase since I was in junior high, I didn't quite understand what it meant. I thought the emphasis was on what "you do," and didn't consider the people factor.

Don't get me wrong, I like what I do, too. I find it a lot more interesting than I ever thought I would, and every day offers both familiarity and unpredictability to keep it interesting.

But there's no way I would like it as much as I do if it weren't for the people. They are amazing mentors when I need them, and they also trust me enough to let me work independently.

I get so frustrated when I hear stories of bad bosses or hostile work environments. I know it doesn't have to be that way because where I work, it simply isn't that way. We are a team, committed to providing the best possible service we can - and also enjoying ourselves whenever we can. We all help each other, we value each other, and perhaps most importantly, we respect each other.

I am so grateful for the honor of working here for the last 10 years. I hope for many more decade anniversaries! (Or, okay, maybe just a few.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Financial Update: Two (small) Steps Forward

I expected to feel elation. Joy. Or even relief.

I paid off the high-interest credit card. I got to click that button that says to pay the entire balance. I've been thinking about this day for weeks. In the days preceding, I was looking forward to the glee I expected to feel when it was done.

Instead, I felt (as the song goes) nothing. Except curious why I didn't feel more.

Maybe because last time, I felt too much elation and then deep despair when I had to use it again. While I feel fairly confident that won't happen again, I think that must be it. Not fear necessarily, but a need to keep vigilant.

There are a lot of family bdays coming up, and then the holidays. And the Car account, while not completely empty, is not quite plentiful, either. 

And a few weeks ago, I did something that might sound crazy. I finally upped the amount of my retirement contribution to get the full 4% match my employer offers, and that decreased my weekly take-home pay by $26. When you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, that makes a difference.

I've been avoiding this for too many years, though. I was losing a lot more money in the long run than $26/week. Still, the reality of the harsh difference reminds me that I still have a long way to go until I feel financially secure.

While in years past, I would've taken the amount budgeted for the high-interest credit card towards paying the remaining credit card, in my new plan, that's not the recommended path. Instead, I am using some towards building a Presents account, adding a little more to my grocery budget (a line item where we've been most likely to go over), and a little more to the Fun category.

See, here's the thing about only paying the minimum and not adding to the credit card balance. Eventually, that minimum decreases. At that point in time, I don't actually decrease the budgeted amount towards the credit card so that even this month, I'll be paying slightly more than the minimum. And my X has been a lot better lately about sending me child support, so I use some of that towards credit card debt which also helps.

By adding budget items, I am more likely to stay in budget and not add to my credit card. Especially with all the gift-giving that will be going on in the next few months, I will probably still dip into my savings, but at least it's not the credit card. I have recognized that my grocery budget wasn't high enough, so I'm funding that more appropriately. And, yes, I'm even treating us a little bit by adding to the "Fun" category (only $3 a week, but proportionately, I'm okay with that).

Progress may be slow, but I have now accomplished two important financial goals. By paying off one credit card and meeting the contribution match, I am starting to step slightly beyond merely paying bills on time. I am starting to build a financial future. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tips for the Single Parent

In 10 years of single motherhood, there are lessons I have learned. Some of them, granted, everyone has to learn for themselves, but I also appreciated others before me who taught me by their own experiences. So while we celebrate #National Singles Week, this one's for my fellow single parents:

Don't look at single parenthood as a transitory state. Whether it may or not be is not the point. The point is, you and your child/ren cannot stop living life while you are a single parent. And this is one I learned the hard way. I kept waiting for something to happen until eventually, I realized that I had to make things happen. So I went back to school, and I researched alternative schools for my girls, and I planned events for the three of us to enjoy our lives now. I think that most days, most of the time, we can each say that we love our lives.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish. There is a lot of pressure on single parents to be and do absolutely everything for their children. You are still just one person, and in order to be the best parent you can be, you have to allow yourself some down time. We can and do perform daily miracles, but we have to know our limits, too. You are not a "bad" parent if you opt out of PTA meetings so that you can be home with your children, or you can't take your kid to a birthday party because of your work schedule. And guess what? You're not even a bad parent if you miss the science fair! I missed one once, and while Sylvia does remember that, she also remembers all the times that I was there. Yes, we want to be there for every special moment, but I reconciled it for myself by remembering that we are indeed separate people. I may not always be there for everything physically, but my heart is always with her.

Your child will misbehave. Because they are children. Not because you're a single parent. I definitely threw myself on the cross more than a few times in the first few years, telling myself that none of this would happen if they had two parents. Which, of course, now I look back and just shake my head. All children push parents' buttons. It's their job! And it's our job to muscle through and deal.

Ignore the vampires. In [title of show], there's this great song ("Die Vampire, Die") which describes the naysayers as vampires because they attempt to suck the hope and joy out of our lives. There will always be people who don't get it. Don't waste your time and energy (which are both limited with our lifestyle) trying to convince them to validate your life or your family. There are so many better ways to use that time and energy. Like, playing Words with Friends or sleeping. I mean, almost anything else is a better use of your time!

When it all gets to be too much, get out of your own head. Your feelings are absolutely valid, and I am the first to say cry it out or see a therapist or talk to a friend about how frustrated or lost or alone you feel when you feel that way. But eventually, you have to get out of your own way and the best way to do so is to be there for someone else. And I don't mean your children. I mean, volunteer for a charity.  Or help a friend move or write a resume or just listen to them talk about their lives. Helping someone else is the most powerful reminder of the vastness of the world and our part in it. Single parents have an enormous capacity to be there for other people. And sometimes, we have to give of ourselves elsewhere to be better parents at home.

Finally, don't forget to celebrate! Celebrate #singles week, celebrate getting to work on time, celebrate when your checkbook balances. I mean, don't go overboard and buy yourself a gift you can't afford, but at least smile. Revel in your kid's laughter and the beauty of your child sleeping peacefully and the quiet soft love in holding their hand. Listen to music you love while you wash the dishes and make their lunches. Celebrate their milestones, and your own.

You probably don't hear this often enough, so come back here and let me be the one to tell you, you're doing a great job.

Monday, September 16, 2013

National Singles Week 2013

I'm thrilled to once again participate in National Singles Week (Sept. 15 - 21). 

A few months ago, I had the honor of meeting Bella De Paulo, arguably this nation's foremost expert on singles issues. I am thankful that she always has the info to fight those certain stereotypes against singles and single moms. Please go to her site, buy her books, and learn about why these issues are important in her post kicking off the week.

Singles issues aren't just for people like me that relish in their single lifestyle. Bella's research has shown that more Americans live the majority of their lives as a single person than as a married person. It affects all of us at one time or another so I love being a part of #singles week.

I've already written plenty of times about why I love being single, so I should address when it's not so great. But just like with everything else in life, you don't have to be great at doing everything alone to like being single.

For most people, the scariest part of being single is being alone. I will admit that I still don't feel comfortable dining alone in public and I avoid it. And really, it hasn't been an issue. It's cheaper to eat at home anyway. Most days at work, I bring my lunch and eat at my desk. Which isn't as bad as it sounds. I search for Broadway videos and always end up smiling. Otherwise, I eat lunch with friends or at committee meetings for the non-profits I support.

There are certainly times when I feel like the odd man out. At work, the majority of my colleagues are married. Most of the time, it's not an issue, but there are times when I feel like the odd woman out. Still, they are short-lived and certainly not the only times of discomfort in my life. And most definitely not enough of a reason to search for a relationship that I don't really want.

I suppose the most annoying thing of all is the conception that being single is a transitory state. And I think it annoys me most of all because I was also guilty of believing that for a very long time.

When I first started googling for single mom support groups or single mom bloggers, the focus was mainly on dating sites and government assistance. I stopped using Google Ads and changed my profile because saying I was "single" meant the ads were all focused on becoming un-single. Somewhere along the way, I found Bella and others that delivered what I was really searching for: a community that wasn't trying to change my status.

Other sites celebrating National Singles Week: Onely, The Spinsterlicious Life, and Unmarried Equality.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

6 years later...

I'm still a blogger.

Maybe not as frequently, but I'm still here. 

Today is my 6 year blog anniversary!

I've done several posts already reflecting how grateful I am to be part of the blogosphere, so I won't dwell. I'll just blog.

Continuing my financial update...

When summer began, since I didn't have to allot $$ for the girls' school lunches anymore, I made both a "Sylvia"  and "Riley" line item to my budget. They also get a portion of the child support that I receive from X if and when he sends it. I knew that since I was producing the musical, and still working full-time, I would be gone from before 8 a.m. and get home close to 10 p.m. every weeknight. Which meant there'd be little time or energy left for household duties.

Previously, I've tried to pay the girls per chore, but it was just too much trouble. Instead, we made a deal that they would each get $20 per week for doing pretty much everything I told them to do.

I didn't have to do laundry all summer, and man, that was heaven for me! They also did dishes and other daily tasks, which was a big help. And they didn't use all their cash.

I've sat down and shown each of them my Magic Little Notebook so that they understand how I keep track of everything. They would ask for $10 here and there to go to the movies or eat out, but they both did a great job of keeping their own notebooks to track their "accounts."  Mind you, I did not tell either of them to do so; they just did it on their own. (Proving, once again, they learn from our actions and not our words.)

I also explained to them that some things were going to have to come from their accounts, like new school clothes and supplies. They both did an excellent job of finding things that they really liked that fit within their budgets. They also learned the actual cost of going out after a performance, since I would allot their portion of the bills from their accounts. They grumbled a little at first, but understood. 

I used to worry that I was running out of time to teach them these kinds of money lessons. Turns out that just being open with them about our household finances and involving them did a lot more than I expected. 

Sylvia wasn't crazy about the fact that I did take some of the costs of her art supplies (which ended up totaling $255) from her account, but after reminding her that I spent three times more than she did, she has accepted it. She tends to let her account dip very low, so I've implemented a rule that they can only take out half of what they have. (She wanted to spend her last $20 so I told her she had to wait until the following week when she would have another $20 in there.)

Riley started saving of her own volition because she wants to buy a laptop, so she only takes out small amounts.

We depleted my Miscellanous, Fun and Dining Out buckets almost completely going out with friends after shows and grabbing a bite on the way to the theatre, but we are slowly working, one paycheck at a time, to build them back up. At least it didn't go on the credit card, which again, is better than last summer! We'll see where we are next summer, and just hope it continues on the upward trend.

Thanks for being here to help me celebrate 6 years of blogging! Hope to still be here next year, too.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Financial Update: The Car Saga Part Umpteen

I've written many times before how maintaining my car has been a major stumbling block in my hopes and dreams of getting out of debt.

I've been working my new financial plan for about 6 months now and the real test came last week when it was time for another oil change/maintenance check/smog certification.

After a few weeks of working the new plan, I figured out that any money left over in the car budget every week should stay there. For just these occasions. Since I didn't have to make the commute for the girls' schools over the summer, that money added up. I knew I had over $800 and that would pay for the expected costs (he'd already warned me I would need struts - or something. To tell you the truth, I zone out on the actual words and just focus on the amount, which had been quoted around $500) and my smog check, but one never knows. Or, at least, I don't.

I think he was really surprised to hear my sheer delight when the amount came to $620. Not only could I pay that, I can also still pay for the car registration and still have a little left over in the Car bucket! That is the first time in ten years that I've been able to pay a bill like that completely out-of-pocket.

I'm telling you, this budgeting thing works.

Now, I'm still keeping a realistic outlook. I'm already concerned about the next one since I am back to the commute and won't be able to accumulate quite as much in the Car bucket as quickly. And right after that, I ended up having to take $200 out of my savings to pay for Sylvia's art supplies. Every time I get just past one-month's worth of living expenses saved, something happens where I have to dip in there. But last year at this time, both of those types of expenditures would've gone on the credit card.

I have not used either of my credit cards in over 6 months. My monthly minimum just dropped $50 on my highest balance credit card (with the lowest interest rate), and I am less than $100 away from paying off my high interest rate credit card completely. Again, I know, but I think this time it really might be for good.

Another big change. I finally had a friggin' "a-ha" moment which I should've had a year ago. I'm lucky enough to work for a company that offers educational reimbursement. But it is reimbursement. I have to pay for the classes, the books and all that up front, and then after I finish the class and get my grade, I can submit for reimbursement.

In the past, I have used that $$ towards credit card payments and stuff, but then, I finally got smart and put it away in another account entirely and then, used it to pay for this semester's costs. I feel incredibly stupid that it took me this long to figure that out, but at least I did and that's another expense that got put on the credit card last year that I was able to pay out-of-pocket this year. (And this should be my penultimate semester.)

There's more to say about working this plan, what the girls learned about $$ this summer, and such, but this post is long enough as is!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Weddings, Presumptions and Me

When the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, a friend announced that he would be marrying his partner. When I thought about it later, I started to cry. He'd always told me that even though he supports marriage equality, he didn't want to participate in the institution. I realized how he'd told himself that because he couldn't have it so my tears were of both despair for how he'd lived with that for so many years, but of course, also of happiness that he could finally have it.

We spoke of it recently. They haven't set their plans yet, and he's been joking about eloping in a foreign country. Someone else joined us to talk about the wedding, and I was amused to see how uncomfortable she was talking about it in front of me.

I think she was uncomfortable because she thinks that either (a) I don't support those who choose to get married, or (b) that I somehow feel 'less than' to couples. Both of these are just plain false.

Of course, I'm happy for my friend! Happy is too benign a word; I'm thrilled for him. The girls and I have marched in protests for equal marriage rights, I've written posts and letters and donated money. Now that it's finally here, of course, I want to celebrate with those whose lives are changed for the better!

(Which is not to say that I love weddings, but I would go - if it's local. I like wedding receptions. Those can be fun.)

As for the second, that puts me in one of those awkward positions. Being one less RSVP doesn't make me less than, but there are some who will never be convinced that I really do love being single. I think that just comes with the territory and there's little I can do about that.

Someone told me recently she thinks she's enjoying her job as an assistant because she's single, and this type of work allows her to take care of someone. And maybe that's why I don't feel less than. I take care of my kids, I took care of my actors and production team. And my other activities allow me to feel part of things; part of a Board or committee, part of a classroom, a blogger community.

Bella DePaulo has written many posts about how the single family members usually end up taking care of parents or other relatives in times of need. Maybe some do enjoy the act of nurturing, but of course, it would be presumptuous to assume that all single people are looking to feel that way. And I, for one, would be terrible at that particular task!  But I do think that might be a more palatable justification for those who have trouble believing that some out there are really okay with checking the "single" box.

I'm not trying to convince the world that no one should couple; I just want to be a voice out there that says not coupling is also a valid choice.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Plans & Mission Re-Visited

As I begin this process of taking stock (again), I thought I'd take a look at the Plans & Missions I'd posted almost three years ago. I'm re-posting some of it with updates:

1-2 Year Plan: For the most part, keep doing what I'm doing. Continue to volunteer and help out where I can on projects that I care about and believe in. Continue to build relationships and not be afraid to put myself out there. (Yes, I have a big mouth, but in person, it takes me slightly longer to speak up and I'm almost never the first to introduce myself to someone new. I need to get better at that.)

I think I can safely say that I accomplished my plan. I now volunteer regularly for three organizations. Last year, I logged over 100 hours, and this year, I've far exceeded that. I have met tons of new people, and have found that at events where I don't know a lot of people, once I make that first or second contact, then it gets a lot easier for me.

2-5 Year Plan: Begin the legal steps to create a 401(c)3 for the benefit and support of single parents and single parent families. Start small projects to start getting the name out there, and write grant applications.

This has not gone exactly as planned, but I am writing grant applications now. I don't think it's realistic for me to create a non-profit while the girls are still in school. This will have to be moved to the 5-10 Year Plan, at the earliest. 

Before I create a new 1-2 Year Plan, etc., I should check in with my mission statement:

Mission Statement: My life is about people. They enrich me, and I want to do the same for them. And see a lot of musical theatre.

Well, now I'm back in the musical theatre world, and I know I want to stay there. Maybe not always in its current form, but I like how it's fitting into my life now. The rest of the mission statement hasn't changed, and I do believe that I've been living it.

So here are the revised plans.

1-2 Year Plan:  Continue to build my grant-writing skills, continue my involvement with the current organizations, and finish my paralegal certificate requirements. Continue to write this blog and contribute more to MomsLA. Completely pay off one credit card.

2-5 Year Plan: Help the girls plan their futures after high school. Get involved with a legal non-profit to do pro bono work. Pay off the other credit card.

5-10 Year Plan: Start the process for the single parents non-profit with small projects and grant applications. Write a book. Build a vacation fund.

10+ Year Plan: Continue to build the single parents non-profit. Join the AARP and move into a senior community as soon as possible! Continue to work, but evaluate any possibility of retiring in my 70's. Travel.

Even though I didn't write it down for every plan, I do want to continue being involved with at least one or two non-profits a year, and keep theatre in my life somehow always.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Attempting to Find Balance

I gave up even trying to update in July as I knew there was going to be no balance while we got closer to opening the musical that I was producing. We have now closed, and it's time to get back to real life again.

It was an amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, terrifying and wonderful time - and obviously, very emotional. I absolutely loved it.

It reminds me, however, that there are still so many things I want to do, and time is my worst enemy.

I come across things every day that I'd like to try or support or join. I want to do pro bono work, I want to freelance write, I want to see plays and musicals, I want to spend more time with friends that I don't see very often, I want to spend quality time with my friends that I do see but seemingly in passing. I want to spend more time with my daughters, I want to learn new skills, I want to write a book, I want to start a single parents non-profit, I want to re-organize my living room!

I'm beginning to think that the best thing I can do with the time I'm now not spending at rehearsals or performances is to schedule myself more rigidly; spend x hours on y activity. Of course, that will only work so much because unexpected events happen almost as often as not that require immediate time and attention. Still, it's a step in the right direction, maybe.

Once upon a time, I'd created a goals list with babysteps on accomplishing them. Of course, that was eons ago so it's time for a re-do. So that's number one on my list of ways to spend my free time.

But tonight we have to strike the set and tomorrow I have a Board meeting so it'll have to wait until Wed., which is also Sylvia's first day back to school.

Oh well. At least it's the beginning of a plan to find balance again! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrating 10 Years of Independence

The Top 5 Surprises from the Last 10 Years of Single Parenthood:

  1. My kids like me, they really like me! One of my favorite things about spending the summers doing theatre with my kids is seeing them from a different point of view. Last year, it was surprising to hear how many times Sylvia talked about me to her cast mates. This year, one of Riley's castmate friends told me, "she really, really loves you." I hope they know how much I love - and like - them. 
  2. At this moment in time, X is doing the best job he can at being a part of their lives. I invited him to come to Sylvia's dance recital and he spent two nights on a Greyhound bus getting here and back to be there for this important day of his daughter's. And X and Sylvia were both pleasantly surprised that I invited him. It would be a stretch to call it co-parenting, but it is nice that he is not completely absent.
  3. How natural and normal it feels to be a party of three now. The world is not designed for odd numbers, but instead of feeling like someone's missing, we just enjoy the extra room. 
  4. How little time I have to myself! Especially in the summertime. Riley says she misses talking to me because by the time I get home after work and then rehearsal, I am just completely done with people. As much as I love, and like, my girls, I need at least an hour with absolutely no one speaking to me before I can sleep. 
  5. How much I love being single. Or, more accurately, how long it took me to realize how much I love being single. I always hated dating. Both times I married, I did so more because I thought that's what I was supposed to do rather than what I wanted to do. And while I did go through a period of being absolutely terrified that I wasn't good enough for someone else to want me, letting that go gave me a feeling of freedom like I've never felt before. I like me just as I am. Which is not to say that I love everything about me, but at the same time, I can work on myself at my pace rather than worrying what someone else. And, as evidenced by the previous point, I really do like being alone. I have amazing friends and family, and I spend most of my time out in the world. I love that I don't have to worry at events whether or not my "date" is bored. I like leaving an event when I'm ready to leave. I like feeling in control of my own life. I am sometimes overwhelmed by being in charge of the girls' lives, but I also like that once I've made a decision, then that is the decision. I love my life right now. 
 I celebrate my personal freedom today. Happy Independence Day to all!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Budgeting Update and Financial Guide

Sylvia and I agreed it was worth it to make her lunch every day instead of buying the school lunch, and start saving that money towards other things. And just in time. Just spent $80 for items needed related to her upcoming dance recital.

Riley still gets her lunch at school, but since the year's almost over (yay!), I am now putting that money towards a "Riley" line item, and will use it for next year's school uniforms and some summer clothing needs. She has also agreed to do the laundry over the summer, and I have agreed to pay her for that. Because it's totally worth it!!

I am getting child support again (sporadically) so I am splitting that money between Sylvia's line item, Riley's, Transportation (I just spent $500 on my car - again - and have already been warned that another $500 will be needed in a few months), Miscellaneous (which is used for household needs and presents), and paying down credit card debt.

My dad advised me to keep track of how much I'm spending on the car over a 12-month period, and then see if it's more or less than a car payment would be. The car is 12 years old now, has close to 150k miles on it, but it is a Toyota so everyone keeps telling me it should last at least another 100k miles. Yes, but at what cost? To be continued...

In the meantime, I was offered the opportunity to review Financial Guide for Single Mothers by the author, Amit Eshet. After 10 years of single motherhood, a lot of the book covered information that I have already learned (and, admittedly, some of it the hard way), but I do think it is a great quick-reference guide, and would be useful for single mothers just beginning their journey.

While I appreciated that Eshet was forthright about most financial institutions being in the business of making money, I was surprised that Eshet did not recommend a credit union in this chapter. I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a credit union that offers me a low-interest credit card, and superior customer service.

Also glaringly missing from the book, when talking about the importance of saving money, Eshet did not point out that it is so much easier to save when you have a portion of your paycheck deposited directly into your savings account. Most employers will offer direct deposit, so it is always worth asking.

While much of the book would be useful to anyone, regardless of whether single or not or a parent even, Chapter Eight: Financial Education for Kids will be particularly useful for single parents. Eshet includes a breakdown of age-appropriate financial concepts, even beyond the age of 18. I wish I'd had this chapter when my kids were younger! But I will hang onto it and go over it with the girls.

I was offered the book to review for free, and the author has informed me that it is currently available for 99 cents at Amazon (and the link above is connected to my affiliate link, so I would receive maybe half a cent?) for a limited time.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Decade of Single Motherhood

It was in May 2003 that the girls and our cat and I boarded a plane, taking us from Rochester and X to L.A., and our new lives as a single parent family.

I will not deny it; that first year of single motherhood sucked a lot.

In addition to starting life over again, starting a new job, moving a couple of times, and dealing with the girls' adjustment to life without father, I was grieving. And making it even harder for myself by feeling like I had no right to my grief.

I had left him. I had moved. Everything had been my decision, so I didn't feel like I could feel bad about any of it.

But I did.

I knew it was the right thing to do, but it took some therapy to know that it was also okay to not necessarily be happy about it, either. That it was okay to mourn the loss of the life that I had wanted, that I had once believed I had, that I knew I would never have. And I had loved X for a long time, and it was okay to mourn the loss of that love that I had felt. And he had loved me in his own way, but I could also mourn the loss of a love that he could never give me.

Of course, that mourning had to be meticulously scheduled. I had to work, I had kids to feed, bathe and raise. I had to keep building our new life even as I mourned the old. It took a while.

And 10 years later, I am loving a life I never knew I wanted. I never knew I could juggle this much. I never knew I could be this close to my girls. I never knew I could have so many friends and so much love in my life.

Somehow I've managed to build this new life and strengthen our family and do it all my way. The girls and I have so many great memories of these last 10 years.

10 years ago, I was lost, angry and scared, but I can't fault myself for any of that. Had I not been those things, I wouldn't have delved into this new chapter of my life. And I know it was the best decision I ever made so that I can be here now. Long-time readers know that I hate to say I'm happy because that's an emotion with a beginning, a middle and an end. But I can say that I'm very happy to be celebrating this decade of single motherhood.

To all the single mothers, please know that you have much to celebrate this Mother's Day. But if what you really need to give yourself is a little time to grieve, please do. Tears are more valuable than flowers any day. The love of yourself and your children will make it a very special Mother's Day no matter what.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!