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.