Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of Year Questions and Answers

The Art of Simple posted these questions for children to answer during winter break. I've been sending one question a day to the girls - I'm not making them send me the answers or anything, but just to take a few moments to reflect. Still, it seemed good blog fodder so I'll answer them, too.

What was the happiest part of 2014? The first that springs to mind is the unexpected great time we had seeing Pippin at the Pantages. I impulsively bought tickets at a great discounted price. This has not ever been a favorite before, but we had a great time. Also,  The Sound of Music Sing-Along at the Hollywood Bowl. Being surrounded by friends and strangers that truly love this musical, booing the Nazis, hissing at the Baroness, and the ever-present smiles on the girls' faces. And seeing Into the Woods on Christmas Day at the movie theater...and then going home and watching the DVD of the original Broadway cast and singing along.

What was the saddest part of this past year? Definitely the Thanksgiving episode of the X Chronicles.

What was one really hard thing you did? Step down from the Board of the community theatre. And produce this summer's show. I would not have made it through that without Kimie, and I remain forever grateful for her and just wish I could be half as good a person as she is. It's hard to step back from something I fiercely love, but I know it was the right choice.

What are you the most proud of accomplishing in 2014? Switching from smoking to vaping. I'd tried at least three before I found the one that made it possible: Halo's Triton Tank system. Also, being able to move and lease a car without incurring new debt. Also, paying off half my credit card debt.

How do you think you have changed in the past year? I've downsized my commitments so that I can have more time and opportunities to enjoy both solitude and being with my girls. Sylvia's senior year is not flying by for me because I'm present with her for all of it.

What have you been hanging on to that you are ready to get rid of? Ugh, I still have my old desktop PCU. I finally got rid of the monitor before we moved, but the PCU still sits there. It really, really needs to go already.

Are you sad to see 2014 go? Or are you ready for the new year to be here? As usual, I'm ready to see this even-numbered year go already and start the odd one! 

What is one dream you hope comes true in 2015? I just want for Sylvia to have a great start to her post-high school life. She's still figuring it out, and I hope that the start of her adult life is one of great beginnings.

What character quality could you work on next year? Patience.

What is one new skill you want to learn? I want to be a better cook. I discovered Budget Bytes this year, and it's really helping. I want cooking to be less stressful for me.

What excites you about 2015? What makes you feel scared? Sylvia's high school graduation. Sylvia's high school graduation.

How do you think your life will be different one year from today? How will it be the same? I don't know where Sylvia will be. No matter where she is, no matter how we celebrate, we'll always be a family, and we will always love each other. I know which friends I'll still have, and I know which friends I may not see very often, but are still ever-present in my heart. I know that I'll have challenges to overcome, problems to solve, and moments of laughter, love and joy.

If you're so inclined, answer the questions for yourself, too. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My First Year with YNAB

Thanksgiving last year was when I started YNAB, and I am so happy I did!

In the past year, I've met the following financial goals:

  • Got buffered, meaning I'm living off of last month's paycheck. I am officially off the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, and it makes a huge difference! Like, being able to change the day I go grocery shopping without having to wait for the next paycheck.
  • Paid off half my credit card debt! I didn't think I had done that much, since it was more important to me not to incur any new debt and I wasn't really focusing on the old debt. I'm pleased with the progress. 
  • Bought the Newsies tickets. Believe it or not, it was a goal of mine to have the funds available the moment tickets were available for purchase. Mission accomplished. 
  • Purchased renter's insurance. There is a sense of comfort in knowing that the few assets I do have are covered if the worst happens. And when I finally looked into it, I was pleasantly surprised to realize it was less than my Netflix subscription. 
  • I was prepared for every annual bill - car insurance, Costco membership, Amazon Prime membership, car registration. Nothing surprised me this year. Along with that, I was prepared for every birthday and other gift-giving event. 
  • Moved without incurring new debt. And moved to keep my monthly rent from increasing. 
  • Canceled cable. And so don't miss it. I'm all about the binge-watching these days. We're still following a few shows through HuluPlus, but I spend most of my viewing time on Netflix or Amazon, watching a series from beginning to end. I also spend a lot less time watching TV, and more time listening to podcasts. 
  • Paid for every car repair/maintenance without incurring new debt.
  • In fact, haven't incurred new debt in close to 2 years now. 
But not everything's perfect, not even financially speaking. I am nowhere near where I should be in terms of emergency savings and retirement. I really have nothing to put towards the girls' college education. And now that I've bought the Newsies tickets, my theatre ticket category is sadly at zero. Plus, Riley would very much like to go on a school field trip to France her senior year. I can't seem to get that category going.

But first things first. My main priority will be paying off the credit card debt. Now that I know I can pay off 4 grand in a year, I want the remaining 4 grand gone as soon as possible. Mathematically, I know what I need to pay each month to make that happen, but I still haven't quite figured out just how. So I'll take it one month, one payment at a time. There will be a few 5-paycheck months, a tax refund, and maybe some other windfalls to help me along.

I don't even want to make any other goals until my Pre-YNAB debt is zero. I have learned that I can easily overwhelm (and depress) myself trying to meet too many financial goals at the same time. I'll continue to build my emergency savings and invest in Acorns, but other than that, I have to keep it simple.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

X Chronicles Update

Wow, it's been a really long time since I've had an update on the X Chronicles!

For quite a while there, it was because things were either good or at least not bad. Last year and the year prior, I was getting child support more often than never, if still sporadically. That began to dry out earlier this year.

He made it down for Riley's cadet graduation, which impressed us, but he didn't look good at all. I'd hoped it was simply because of the long drive, but unfortunately, I don't think that was all.

Fast-forward to the girls' birthdays, and Sylvia told me he wanted them to spend Thanksgiving with him in Northern California. I was fine with the concept, but concerned about transportation. We had this conversation in early November, already too late to get any good flight deals. So I made it clear that transportation was his concern. If he wanted the girls up there, he'd have to get them there.

The girls and I both kept trying to find out what was going to happen. After a few false starts, he said he would rent a car. Fine, great.

He said he'd pick them up between 10-11 a.m., Thanksgiving eve. At 9 a.m, he texted that it would be closer to 2. I was annoyed, but whatever. Gave Riley and I a chance to go pick up her new glasses. Around 2, Riley called him and he was still up north, finishing some job. At 3, he called her to say he was on his way. At 9:30 that night, Riley called him again. She could barely hear him over the other noises in the car. So Sylvia calls him, and has the same issue. Turns out he had 3 other people in the car with him.

They are both freaking out over the possibility of driving for hours with a bunch of total strangers. I called him, and I was pretty upset. It wasn't any of his brothers or even a girlfriend. He could only give me the first name of one of the other 3 people in the car. He became belligerent, he was practically incoherent.

Finally, Riley took the phone from me, told her father she didn't want to go anymore, hung up on him, and ran upstairs crying. Sylvia was completely floored that Riley had the courage to do so, and also relieved, and also upset. I called him back, got his voice mail, and said that he could turn the car around. The girls would not be going.

We found out later that most of the rest of his family wasn't even in town, and he had told none of them that the girls were coming. It wouldn't have even been the trip they were looking forward to had it happened.

I should not be surprised, but I just cannot understand that he has not called or even texted either of the girls since. I don't know how he could make it up to them, but I can't believe he's not even trying.

Sylvia said she told a friend that her dad chose drugs over her. I told her that it's not that simple or linear. In his own completely screwed up way, I know he cares for them, but he is totally unable to care for himself, so it's nearly impossible for him to be considerate to others, even if he loves them.

I think that he really didn't think it was going to be a problem. When the girls were younger,  they wouldn't have so much noticed other people, and getting some time with their dad, no matter the circumstances, would make them happy. But they're not so little anymore.

I heard him use his high-pitched voice with both of them in their last calls to him, saying, "I can't wait to see you!" I'm sure he was fully expecting an equally excited response. Instead, they each had this look of disbelief and fury, and answered in a low tone, "'k, bye."

I remember my therapist telling me to think of him as someone who is disabled, which he is. He's fried his brain and body so much, he simply cannot function as a responsible adult. I know that. And it sucks.

The girls and I had a long talk over our own version of Thanksgiving dinner. Sylvia and I both told Riley how proud we were that she told him how she felt. And she was proud, too. Riley's most disappointed that he hasn't called because it denies her the opportunity to hang up on him again. I know Sylvia really does want to hear from him, wants him to give her an explanation, but she is also not making the first move.

They both understand, too, as much as really anyone can. They both get that it's not a reflection on them, but they also know how it's affected them. Sylvia and I have talked about her abandonment issues. Riley knows that she's more guarded about letting people really know her. But they both also know that they are loved, and they know I'll always be there for them. And they're even thankful for that.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

They're Another Year Older

I'm late with the birthday posts this year.

Dear Riley,

I'm so happy (and relieved) to see you thriving in high school! Your priorities are still very much in line, you have lots of good friends, and yet you still love to hang out with me. Yes, we have more "moments" than we used to, but they are still far outweighed by the good times we have together.

You are strong, smart, friendly, funny, and your smile still lights up a room. I am very proud to be your mom!

Dear Sylvia,

My 17-year-old dancing queen, you are truly blossoming this year! I'm sure I don't tell you as often as I should that I am well aware of how much you've grown and matured lately.

I've always struggled with how much to guide you, and how much to let you learn on your own, but this year, I can see that you've taken that on yourself. You know that I am always here for you, and you are learning how much you can handle on your own. We are communicating so much better these days, and I am so looking forward to seeing what you do next!

To both my daughters, 

Please don't ever forget that you also have each other, as well as your mom, cheering you on. You are not alone. You will never be alone in anything you do. You are loved by me, by each other, by our friends and family. And you deserve it.

I love you both fiercely and completely,

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Moving On

Hard to believe we managed to stay in one place for 6 years, but we did...and now, the reign is over. I've spent the last couple of weeks packing, moving, getting settled and whatnot.

My favorite thing about our new place is that I have my own washer and dryer! This makes all the hassle of moving totally worth it. Being able to do laundry whenever I want, or more aptly, whenever is most convenient for me, is total freedom!

The new place also just feels more like home. It's ironic that we spent the most time in the place that I never really loved. It was so...pedestrian. It's a long story of why I started looking, but I'm glad I did, and I am loving our new place.

I just realized that I never mentioned here something that I did a few months ago. I got a new car! It's an electric!

One friend calls it my Muppet Car, and that name has kind of stuck.  It was crazy; someone told me about it, and hours later, I'm at the dealership signing papers!

Believe it or not, I did it mostly for financial reasons. The monthly payment is less than what I was budgeting for gas each month, the fact that it's new and won't need repairs - and the fact that it's electric means I don't even need oil changes every few months! Plus, now that Sylvia has her permit, we needed to start thinking about a 2nd vehicle. And the state of CA gave me a nice rebate for buying electric.

That was another advantage to moving: I have my own private garage now for charging - and keeping it safe. And our new location means an easier commute, too!

Another financial change I made: I've started investing with Acorns. This is an app I heard about on Listen Money Matters, and I preferred it to Betterment because - well, frankly, it means less $$. Acorns uses the rounding up method for investing. If, for instance, I spend 11.59 on an Amazon purchase, Acorns will take 41 cents to invest. (Betterment, I believe, requires a minimum investment, and then through its pricing encourages you to invest at least $100 a month.) I've only been using Acorns for a couple of months, but it looks like I'll average around $25 that gets invested each month - and it's a far better use of change than sticking it in a jar! When I was living paycheck to paycheck, I would round up transactions, so this just does that more effectively. (If a purchase is an exact dollar amount, Acorns takes a whole dollar.) Once I've paid off my credit card debt completely, I'd like to start investing with Betterment, but I'm not there yet.

Riley is going to be 14 this weekend, and Sylvia will be 17 next. Sylvia has grown into my favorite theatre date. We went to see a play last weekend, and she's so used to musicals, she wasn't sure how she'd feel about a straight play, but we both really enjoyed it, and had plenty to say about it on the ride home. It was a really lovely evening. 

Riley and I are re-defining our relationship as she becomes more and more a teenager. She loves high school and is doing well there, but she can also turn quickly. I'd forgotten about the whiplash that comes with this age. One minute, they're reveling in the remains of their true child-like behavior, and the next, they're testing the boundaries and impatient for "adulthood" - or at least, what they think being an adult means.

But some things never change. I'm still struggling to find the balance of how much to guide them, and how much they need to learn on their own. I want to give them everything, and I want them to earn and value everything. Sometimes, I'm completely stressed that I have totally let them down, and others where I am so proud and content with the women they are becoming.

And that goes for me, too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

No Day but Today

Today is my 7-year blogiversary, which I have no business celebrating since I've barely blogged at all this year, but it was a good time to get back to it!

I suppose an update is in order. I am happily single again! As one friend put it, relationships - for the most part - result in a net negative. That sums it up for me.

I am also down to serving on just one Board.

I'm in downgrade mode because I want to actually enjoy my life, my loved ones and my activities to a more satisfying degree.

Sylvia is a senior this year. I have moved past denial and total freak-out and am in "just deal" mode at the moment. We have our good days and our bad days as I believe she is also in the "just deal" mode.

Riley is a freshman in high school. Most days, all is well. Some days, not so much.

I want to be there for both of them. Breathe through the bad, and enjoy the good. They are my first priority.

I want to be available to my friends. And I want need my downtime.

This summer, for a variety of reasons, was one of the most stressful in a very long time. I'm ready for fall.

I've been focusing on being quiet, on being still. I want to get back into blogging so that I can remember to step back and get the perspective that this activity gave me.

And as usual, chase that ever-elusive balance. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Update About Stuff

Sylvia has her learner's permit and there is no better metaphor for parenting than sitting in the passenger seat, trying not to let your child see how scared to death you are and helpless you feel while she takes control of her own journey. Seeing the "rookie" mistakes, trying to correct them calmly and every so often, being met with that oh-so-lovely 16-year-old "I know, Mom!" And, as always, trying to balance the amount of times I say something with the amount of times I let her say something to me.

Sometimes I want to act like I'm in a New York City cab - where I just don't pay attention and trust that the driver won't kill me. But of course, under these conditions, it's my job to be the supervising adult so I have to stay alert and...horror of all horrors, relinquish control.

We are both experiencing growing pains. But we are getting through them, and every day, every lesson, we both get a little better.

Still seeing him. Still going well. Still weird, but good.

Got a promotion and a raise.

Still obsessed with budgeting, and so far, the obsession has been paying off. I can see a light at the end of the credit card debt tunnel, and am making small dents into other financial goals. Tiny but durable dents, and that's my real goal here. I'm not looking for big wins right now, just looking to fill any holes from becoming financial disasters.

Still stupid busy, but enjoying almost all of it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Update and stuff

Riley was reading my blog from the beginning last week, and it reminded me of how I've let this blog slip. There are a couple of reasons for that.

The main reason is time. We're up at 5, out the door before 7, gone until 7 on the slow days. I have school twice a week, Riley has her cadet program one night a week, and every so often, there are Board meetings or just getting together with friends. Our weekends aren't much slower. Riley and I are up at 4 on Saturdays for her cadet program, then I'm busy with household chores and getting Sylvia to and from her assistant teaching. And I've been spending Sundays with the guy I've been seeing.

Yep, I'm seeing someone. It's totally unexpected, and mostly wonderful, and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the whole thing. The girls know and have spent time with him, and they're happy for me. But it's just all very weird.

I've spent so much time here extolling the virtues of the single life, and I still believe in those ideals - if you're not with the right person. And I think I just might be with the right person. It's been (as he said recently) a whirlwind. Right now, I'm trying to balance the joy with making sure I don't get ahead of myself. I feel like a stupid googly-eyed school girl and part of me loves it and part of me is trying to keep my feet firmly planted.

This blog has mostly been about being a struggling single mom with a deadbeat and limited future. I don't talk about parenting much anymore, and I'm still single but in a relationship and even my ex has been more responsible lately! Everything is upside down. Or right side up? (Could be? Who knows?)

I guess I have new things to balance now. And I hope to show up here every so often to try and get perspective.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Financial Update: Positive Net Worth

It's that time of year again - tax refund time!

YNAB is rubbing off on me in good ways. Instead of spending 1/3 of the $$ on shiny new things, I put 2/3 towards Rainy Day Funds, and the rest was split between credit card debt and fun $$. Instead of new toys, I'm saving most of the fun money to buy Newsies tickets when it comes to town.

I have met my first three savings goals: living on last month's income, $2k in my Car Maintenance RD fund, and insurance. I now have a positive net worth that has a fighting chance of staying in the black.

Next up: pay off the credit card debt (approx. $7,100 - below the national average, but still way too high, of course). It is conceivable to have it paid off in 3 years.

The YNAB blog encouraged us to answer some questions about our financial future. He uses 40 as the goal, but I'll have to answer for where I want to be when I'm 50:

Make a Wish List

Debt-free (obviously), including student loan debt (I've still a long way to go there, but in almost 10 years from now, I'd like for that to be gone, too).  I don't want a mortgage, either, but that would be the only acceptable debt.

Fully-stocked Emergency Fund - It's still at the "baby" level. I'd like to have at least 6 months' worth of living expenses saved, preferably 8.

Imagine Failure

It may sound negative, but as a believer in the Power of Negative Thinking myself, I get it. It would feel pretty awful if I still had consumer debt 10 years from now. It's not that I'm a big spender, so I think if it happened, I'd most likely have bigger problems. I can, however, spend money mindlessly and a little bit here and there can add up quickly.

The only other reason I would have debt is if I went back to school - which isn't entirely out of the question. So if that were the case, it would only be acceptable if I had a solid plan in place to pay it off. And, of course, no consumer debt.

If I still didn't have at least 6 months' emergency savings, then that would tell me I'd taken on too many monthly/annual expenses. It would be time to make some serious cut-backs again.

Dig Into Why Failure Would Hurt So Much

This one's totally easy for me. I spent quite a few days feeling pretty crappy in Dec of 2012 when my high-interest credit card went from a zero balance to carrying a balance again. I could not believe I'd done that again.

Yet, when I started digging into it, I was able to start making changes for the better. Feeling that crappy was the impetus for the turn-around. But I'm getting far too old to go through that again. If it happened again in the next 10 years, I would be extremely disappointed in myself and wouldn't have much confidence in my ability to dig my way out. Again.

It was only weeks ago that the Car Maintenance fund was down to about $10. Now it's fully funded. It was only weeks ago that my credit card debt looked like it was there to stay for around 10 years. Now, unless there's a financial disaster, I have a plan to pay it off in 3 years. It was only days ago that my net worth was negative. Now, I have a viable plan to keep it that way.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First 2014 Financial Update and YNAB on Sale (Today Only)

Yes, I'm at it again! Well, I haven't really stopped with my obsession with YNAB and budgeting - just trying not to blabber about it as much.

But every morning, with my coffee, I go back and forth from staring at my budget to browsing the YNAB forum. Because I am now buffered (i.e., living on last month's income), there's not much for me to do on the budget on a daily basis, but I still like absorbing it.

I have clearly defined savings goals: the first two are $2k in Car Maintenance and $300 for Theatre Tickets, and both should be accomplished with my tax refund. Of course, the Car Maintenance will decrease almost immediately as I believe I'll need brakes next service, but I'll be so much closer! And while I realize most people wouldn't make theatre tickets a number 2 savings goal, I'm still me and if I don't budget for it, I will get myself into trouble. A budget is, after all, not supposed to control you but the other way around. Theatre is an important value and I don't mind spending money on it.

That's truly what YNAB has helped me do. Not just the software and forums, but the blog and the podcasts all remind me that my money should go towards what's important to me.

We haven't missed DirecTV (and my electric bill went down almost $20 this month!). Oh, I've missed a few things here and there. I'd been listening to the State of the Union in the car, and if I still had cable, I would've turned it on when we got home. I could have found it online, but I didn't want to be bothered. Riley had had enough of it anyway, so instead I spent some time with her - way more fun! I purchased a Roku and subscribed to HuluPlus, so I watch The Daily Show a day late (which usually was the case anyway) and a few shows, I will have to wait until the season is over - but then I can binge watch. And even with the monthly subscriptions, I'm still saving over $60 a month. (Not to mention the lower electric bill.)

There are other savings goals waiting in the wings. Those categories are currently hidden because I've decided it's better to take them one at a time rather than trying to sprinkle a little here and there. It's similar to why I don't multi-task; one thing at a time works so much better for me.

Except when it comes to paying down debt. While I'm not doing a "snowball" or "avalanche," as many financial experts say, I'm paying more than the minimum. It's been a year now since I've charged anything, and I'm happy and relieved about that. But I don't want to find myself in a situation like I have before where the credit card is my only option. (Interesting that at that time, I wasn't at all ready to let go of the cable. What a difference a year makes.) It's becoming more important to me to pay off that debt nearly every day, but I also have to do what's comfortable for me. My safety net isn't quite as secure as I'd like it to be to throw everything at it just yet.

But it's so much stronger than it was a year ago. I'm loving the progress I've made, and feel pretty good about it.

So today only, YNAB is available for 50% off using this discount. I do not get any referral fee for that discount, but this link has a smaller discount and generates a small referral fee for me and is available every day.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Roller Coaster

There's just no other way to describe things right now. Very high highs, and some lows. I'm not much of a multi-tasker so I'm riding these waves of emotions, dependent upon what's in front of me at the moment. Some is thoroughly depressing, some frustrating, and something really great, too.

Yeah, that's cryptic, I know.

But I was just reading back on my last post and how I just need to deal with what I can. Except it's just not that easy. Some of the things I have to deal with bring me down. Like a lot.

I feel like, before I really deal with some of these things, I need to work on my emotional balance. I'm loving my highest of highs, but then it's just that much farther I have to drop. Still...the happy is really quite wonderful. 

Which oddly, reminds me of something I heard on the radio the other day which struck me as incredibly stupid. An expert on earthquakes was talking about myths and urban legends associated with the quakes (being in SoCal, the 20th Anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake makes the earth shaking all the talk right now).

So she was talking about whether cats or dogs really know in advance as oftentimes people describe their animals acting funny right before a "big one." She was trying to explain that they may feel some of the smaller tremors leading up to a bigger shake and she said it's because their feet are "closer to the ground."

Wait, what?!?

Their feet are NOT closer to the ground. Their feet are on the same ground as humans!

Now, what I think she was trying to say is that the whole of their bodies are closer to the ground, and maybe they feel the smaller shakes more intensely than us. But no, I've never seen paws sink further in the asphalt than my own.

Okay, so why do I bring that up? Because it makes me realize, my own "low ground" is still at the same place. So I get a little higher off the ground with my highs. That's a good thing. The bad things are still going to suck no matter what, so I might as well enjoy the really good things and just deal with the other stuff.

There actually might be an argument to be made that I will have more inner strength to deal with the not-so-great, thanks to the boosts I'm getting from the good stuff going on right now.

So I'll take the roller coaster and enjoy the awesome parts of the ride. And hold on tight for the rest. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Helpless = Lack of Control

Ironic that today's writing prompt in Daily Post's 365 Daily Prompts is "helpless." That's how I'm feeling right now.

I have plans, I have goals and wants, but none of them can happen at this moment. I hate having to wait. I'm impatient and I'm restless and aching to move forward, but I can't. Feeling helpless and not in control do not sit well with me.

I think I've mentioned before that I need to be busy. The busier I am, the more I thrive. Even if it feels overwhelming at times, I know that if I just do one thing at a time, it will get done.

Some things on my list, however, cannot get done right now. When I have to wait for time to pass or someone to get back to me, I somehow think that if I just obsess over it a little more, it will come to fruition. Even though that has never worked for me.

But even as I write this, I am remembering something important. There are some things I can control. There are some things that I can do right now. I have certainly gotten better about being "in the moment," but it's so easy to forget that sometimes. And writing this is meeting one of those goals - get back to blogging more regularly!