Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Balancing the Emotions as a Single Mom

I think I already mentioned that I joined a private single moms group on FB (email me if you'd like an invite), and there are some themes coming up that I've written about before, but it's been so long, I thought it's a good time to revisit.

Loneliness is just another emotion: it has a beginning, a middle and an end. I know there can be times when it feels unbearable. But you know what? It actually isn't. It passes. Usually when a kid or work email distracts you, but it always passes. Fighting it, however, will usually make it worse. Just sit with it, maybe with a good song, and then get back to real life.

Accept your life as it is today...with an eye for what you want in the future. In the introduction of my eBook, I mention that you need to budget for your life as a single mom. You can't expect that your marital status will change before you have to deal with your debt. Similarly, you can't live your life simply biding your time. First, you have kid(s) to raise. Today, right now. But even more than that, you are free to think about what you want, what your dreams are outside of a relationship. You might not be able to pursue them at this moment, but you can start dreaming!

Seek help, accept help.   This was one that was hard for me, but essential. From therapy to a friend's offer to talk or babysit, accept the help. If you're in a situation where you can't go out with friends due to lack of babysitting (or money), now there's Skype and Facebook and all kinds of "places" to explore from the comfort of your own home. I'm not going to bother finding the link but I skimmed an article about how podcasts are also really good at filling the void of a social life. I think it was written as a criticism of "these kids today," but I see it as a more creative alternative for those who need or want it for one reason or another. (I posted about some of my favorite podcasts here.)

Your kids will be okay. I should add the caveat: if you take care of yourself. It's true that the more okay I felt about myself, the happier my kids were, too. It's not going to be easy, but it's not easy for any any situation. And, of course, taking care of yourself doesn't mean outrageous self-indulgence because that's not good for you, either. No, self-care is looking out for your mental well-being, your health and your wealth. Your kids will absolutely follow your lead. That doesn't mean they will listen to you the first time you say it, of course, but your lessons are coming through...the good and the bad. In that same vein, it's okay to let them know when you're wrong.

Take it one day, one hour at a time. Because really, what's the alternative? It can be overwhelming at times, particularly when you're worried that this one thing will permanently affect your child. And yes, divorce probably does permanently affect your child. But my girls will be the first to tell you that they're grateful for it. Yes, their dad still affects them, but usually, it doesn't interfere with their daily lives. Every family's situation is different, of course, but together, you will navigate it. Because really, you don't have a choice.

Honestly, the first few years, I wasn't sure I was going to make it. But I did, and the girls did, too. And more days than not, we are content with our lives today. And always with dreams for the future.

Monday, September 28, 2015

One of My Favorite Phrases

One of the things I did to lower my monthly bills was to switch to Republic Wireless. When Riley's contract expired, I switched her, too. We decided that Sylvia would get on her own account after her contract expired, and I provided some funds to get her started. She didn't want to go on Republic Wireless, though. She didn't like our phones and that's the one "catch": you have to buy their phone.

At first, she tried to switch from the family account to her own individual account. After at least an hour (!), she couldn't because she wasn't 18 yet. A few weeks later, she said, "fine. I'll use Republic Wireless."

She set up her own account within 5 minutes. A few days later, she had her phone and called me to say one of my favorite phrases: "you were right, I was wrong." She went on to say she loves her new phone. She went with the more expensive phone than what Riley and I have, and that was probably what makes it much better than she thought it would be. Her number was transferred within 24 hours, and she is happy as a clam. Plus, she feels very "grown-up" to have her own account.

And, I might add, she is now paying less for her own plan than I was paying for hers, getting more services, plus she says the service itself is better and works in more places than her former plan.

Before she made her decision, we searched many, many plans and of all of them, we both recognized that Republic Wireless was the best value. I don't get any referral fees or anything for this, but I really didn't write this to be an advertisement anyway.

Mostly, I just wanted to brag that Sylvia said (and repeated) that I was right and she was wrong. Moments like that need to be recorded somewhere!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It's National Singles Week!

Can't believe I almost missed it, but Sept 20-26 is National Singles Week! In the linked post, Bella writes about reasons why this is necessary, in case you're wondering.

I missed it last year, but wrote 2 posts the prior year:

Tips for the Single Parent

National Singles Week 2013

In 2012, I posted every day of the week!

There are others from 2011 and earlier, so honestly, at this point, it's hard to come up with something new to say on this subject! But I'll try :)

Last weekend, Riley and I were rather productive taking care of the household. We installed a new spice rack (it's very cool, it lowers so you can see all your spices at once), and we switched the doors on the fridge/freezer to open the other way. This is something I've wanted to do since we moved (almost a year ago), so I can't claim we're quick with this...then again, I've heard plenty of wives complain about husbands taking their sweet time, so maybe being single has little to do with it!

When it comes to this kind of stuff, I really wish I were more willing and able. If you know me or have been reading for a while, you know how much I value my independence! But I don't mind leaning on Riley when it comes to this stuff.

I'd asked for her help with the spice rack, but it was at her suggestion that we tackled the fridge, too. That's the kind of job that once you've started, you can't really quit, and she was the one who kept it going. She did most of the work, too, quite honestly. She definitely earned her allowance this month because without her, there's no way I would've gotten these things done.

There are more times than I'd like to admit where I've had to rely on others to get things done, and I've gotten much better at asking for or accepting help when offered.

But here's the thing: every time I've been in a relationship, I've never been able to count on my partner to be there for me in times like that. They've either not been willing or available to help when I needed it. This was quite a culture shock after growing up with my dad, who was always (and continues to be) there when I needed him!

While it might be challenging to get everything done by oneself, it's less so than expecting help from someone who either can't or won't help.

I wondered aloud during our project what I would do without Riley, and she assured me that she will continue to be available to help me out with things like this even when she moves out! Worse comes to worse, I can always try TaskRabbit.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Involving Your Kids in the Budget

At this stage, my daughters are fully aware of the budget and YNAB, and Sylvia is using YNAB for her own budget. I talked about this in the Conversations About Divorce podcast, but not sure I've covered this here. I know I would not have been able to change budgeting course without involving my kids.

Now let's be clear: this is not about making your kids worry about money or feel bad about what they need, but about using everyday opportunities to teach money lessons.

I don't think there's anything my girls don't know about my money life these days, but of course, it didn't start that way. Here's a basic guide for introducing age-appropriate money lessons:

Pre-school: Choices. You're at the grocery store and they ask for this, that and the other thing in every aisle. Let them choose one item. Of the multiple things they want, they'll have to choose one. You don't have to bring up prices at this point - of course, if they want something outside of your budget, that'll have to be a "no." I always claimed veto power to control this. But overall, at this stage, you just want to bring up the concept of prioritizing and that you can't have everything by giving them the power of choice.

Elementary School: Now, you can introduce the concept of a budget. At the grocery store (or Target or the amusement park): they have $x dollars, and it's up to them how many items they get for that amount. This is when they start learning about value.  My own daughters would make different choices, depending on the situation, but I could see that they were figuring out the value set by the "invisible hand" for the items they liked. This can also work for special events, buying gifts for friends' bday parties or teachers, maybe even helping to plan a family vacation. This is where they start wrapping their head around the concept of money.

Middle School: Around this time is when the girls started understanding the household budget. They would often see it on the computer and they would ask me questions about categories. I would also tell them when there were changes that would affect them, and sometimes they would help me re-prioritize based on new information. Again, this is not about making them worry about it, but understand how to balance it all. For instance, if they wanted to start a new activity that would cost money, they would have to make a sacrifice somewhere else in the budget. This is also when they started paying for their own "wants" out of their allowance, while I continued to take care of their "needs."

High School: Once they have their own job, they should have their own budget. I'm a stickler for making Sylvia save at least 20% in her Emergency Savings. (And this is also when she learned that a broken boot was not an "emergency." Instead, she paid for shoe repair.) I even make Riley save 20% of her allowance. Ideally, they should also start learning about investments and retirement savings, too, but those are more abstract concepts that still may be hard for them to grasp. But if you can at least make savings a regular habit for your kids, that's a good start. Also, Riley and I talk regularly about how to pay for college. It's a fine line between stressing them about college loans/savings and helping them think proactively and realistically about it, and there's only so much information you can work with until acceptance and financial aid has been sorted, but it should definitely always be part of any conversation about college choices.

Most kids aren't getting any financial education in school so it's crucial that it starts at home. Sylvia didn't have an  economics class until her senior year, and Riley hasn't had any to date. Sylvia said she felt ahead of the curve in her class because she was already familiar with YNAB and budgeting.

Not all the conversations go swimmingly, of course, and they're practically guaranteed to make some poor spending choices, but the earlier they learn these lessons, the sooner they can recover. And, hopefully, avoid some of the mistakes that I made!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lunch Ideas

I resisted taking my lunch to work for years. Years. And the first time I tried, I only lasted a week...if that. But I finally reached the point where I resented the cost of buying lunch so much that I was willing to try something new. I went from spending an average of $5-$7 a day on lunch (well over $100 a month) to about $25 a month. 

What I knew from my previous attempt was that trying to think about lunch every single day was not going to work for me.  I decided I'd make a big batch of something on Sundays and portion it out for the week. The thing that doesn't make that too boring is that it changes every week. (Though, admittedly, I was the girl who always had my dad make me peanut butter and jelly every single day for school lunches all through elementary school!)

I'll share some recipes I've collected on Pepperplate, but I started with something really simple that I knew I'd love.  Pasta, artichoke hearts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes. I'd usually just drizzle a little olive oil, but sometimes Italian dressing or a vinaigrette.

Here are some other ideas:

Spicy Panzanella Salad from the Kitchn. Had this last week, and it was awesome!

Quinoa, Black Bean and Corn Salad from Let's Move. I made the quinoa in my rice cooker, and the black beans in the slow cooker.

Summer Nectarine Salad. I think last time, I used tangerine slices instead of nectarines and it was still really good!

Spicy Hoppin' John Salad. This is what I'm eating this week. Love the sriracha in the dressing!

Southwest Cornbread Salad, also from Budget Bytes. I've mentioned before how much I love this site, right?

Antonia's Rice Salad. I totally remember when Antonia won a Quick Fire on Top Chef with this one.

You can probably sense a theme here. You pick a base (rice, pasta, beans), add a few favorite things (cheese, veges, fruit, chicken) and dress it.

Another great site is supercook. You enter the ingredients you already have and it finds recipes you can make! 

(BTW, I don't get anything for recommending anything in this post.)

Of course, you can always change it up even during the week with leftovers. I'm lucky that I have both a fridge and microwave at work so that makes it easier, but I generally stick with cold items. 

One thing I don't change is I always pack tortilla chips. I really don't care what it is I'm eating, I say tortilla chips go with it.

Every now and then, I still just want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Guest Post up at Single at Heart

I wrote a guest post for author Bella DePaulo at Single at Heart.

Monday, September 14, 2015

$450? Okay.

On this blog, in this podcast, and in my eBook, I've told the story of how car maintenance changed my budgeting life.

Last week, I spent over $500 on my car...and not a tear was shed, not a freak-out was had, and I even got a little kick out of knowing this would increase my cash back on my credit card this month!

Honestly, I'm not trying to brag, but to point out that having a living, breathing budget makes all the difference.

I wasn't expecting to need 3 new tires at this service...but the reality is, cars need new tires. This is why I've kept $500 in my Car Maintenance category. The total for the tires, oil change and smog certification came to $452 (this is for my old car, not the new).

The other $101 was for my car registration. That came out of my Car Registration category that gets funded every month, based on the last registration fees for both cars, divided over 12 months.

I got somewhat lucky that this happened this month because next month, I get a 5th paycheck, which will mostly go towards replenishing the Car Maintenance category for next time. Because there will be a next time.

And that's my point. Call it the Power of Negative Thinking or Realistic Budgeting or simply getting through life. Kids need new clothes, holidays and birthdays happen every year, and anything of value you own will need servicing at some point. When your monthly budget reflects these realities, budgeting is actually easy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Totally Easy Savings

I signed up for Paribus about a month ago, and it took just about that long before it found any savings for me. But it did, and Labor Day weekend alone, it saved on 3 purchases for me without me having to do anything beyond signing up for the service in the first place.

It uses fancy algorithms to find savings available on your purchases. You give them access to your email account so that it can find your purchase receipts and if there any savings available that you didn't receive. You link your credit card, too, but of course, the company uses all kinds of security measures to keep that info safe. Also, you should be checking your account regularly so that if any funny business happens, you can fix it quickly.

So it tracks your purchases and prices for that purchase, and it writes an email for you to the vendor to request the savings. Most times, it'll get refunded to your credit card, but once, I got a gift card from a vendor I use regularly anyway so I'll get use out of it. Paribus keeps 25% of your savings, but hey, a small price to pay for savings I most likely would not have found on my own. And, of course that means if they don't save you any $$, they don't get any $$ either.

I love this kind of lazy, no hassle savings. I am so not good at clipping coupons, plus I value my time a lot more than 25 cents off something. I'm also not good at going to sites like eBates or Groupon to check for lower prices (though on occasion, I remember to check

I'm only recommending Paribus because it's so easy to use. Having said that, I think if I get enough referrals, their commission percentage goes down for me.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Where I've Been

I wrote a post for MomsLA, covering the basic steps of budgeting.

On Divorced Moms, I wrote about holiday budgeting.

And I did my first podcast! Mandy at Since My Divorce now has a podcast, Conversations About Divorce, and we talked about back-to-school budgeting.