In the midst of things…

My family and I are in the middle of the 5th month of our spending moratorium. After cancelling our vacation,  we seem to always search for that silver lining. We have our days that we feel sorry for ourselves and mope around the house, whining that we’ll never go on a nice vacation….ok, I’m the one that really does that….but other days we try to look on the bright side of things.

For instance, with our tax refund this year, we were able to not only pay off the credit card but one of our loans that had some old debt on it. We paid it off a year early! And with that bit of extra money, we’re hoping to pay off this new car loan by January.  So what does that mean for us? Does it mean we can ease up on the moratorium and try to have a little fun? Well…not really.

Since we paid off the loan, we were able to loan two of our family members a little money (just $20 or $25) when they needed it and it didn’t hurt us too bad. That was a good feeling, and they both paid us back which is even better! But for the past few weeks, I’ve spend more on groceries than normal. I haven’t been as diligent. I kept saying, “Oh, we’re good! Look at all we’ve done!” And then I felt the squeeze. My husband didn’t work 40 hours one week, we both had doctors’ appointments the next week, two of our cats were due for the their shots…you get the picture.  That’s when Holly started freaking out.

I started getting grumpier than my normal. I started interrogating my husband on what he bought and where. I ate cereal for supper more than once, trying to spread the meals out a little more for the rest of the family. Of course, then I gorged myself on chocolate chips on those nights because it felt good and I needed to feel good. Which made me depressed about my weight, my lack of running and the fact that we were low on chocolate chips.  See that nasty downward spiral?

But then little things started to pop up that made me happy.  Little things that were really big things. Like my mom taking my son and myself to McDonald’s for lunch. We went INSIDE the building. We sat INSIDE! Last week Mom went grocery shopping with me. She actually went INTO THE GROCERY STORE. This is really big. I haven’t been inside a public building with my mother in over a year, except for hospitals and doctor’s offices. When we went into the store, she folded up her walker, put it in a cart, and started pushing it all through the store. And I mean all through the store! It was awesome! Really, really awesome. She recognized a few people, she remembered what was on her grocery list, she knew what was going on. It was FANTASTIC!  True, she was wearing the sweat suit she seems to want to wear all the time and she didn’t have her teeth in, her teeth that were never found, but who cares? She was aware and coherent and cruising along. It was a good day.

Other little things that have made me happy? Watching the Oscars with my brother. It may have been in the hospital, but he made me laugh hysterically, like he always does. And right now, at least this week, he’s feeling better and he’s home. So that makes me happy. Hanging out with some of my family this weekend, just having lunch, chatting, watching The Love Boat–all made me happy. Listening to my child spell words for his father–that not only made me happy but amused the hell out of me. Watching comedians on Netflix, laughing at a joke my husband told, talking with some of my favorite people via email and Facebook–all of that made and makes me happy.

There really are silver linings out there, somewhere. Not for everything for sure, and certainly not all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all sunshiney and farting rainbows, people! I’m not always happy when friends they tell me about their fantastic vacations they’re planning or what incredible (and incredibly expensive) outings they’re going on with their children. I can get downright pissy. But when I come back to myself, I remember that this debt business isn’t their fault. That’s all mine (and my husband’s). And although I might think snarky thoughts and hope they get into debt because of their fabulous vacation, I usually snap out of it and wish them well and try not to be such a bitch.

Then I go off and start looking and searching and hoping for the bright side, the silver lining, the good stuff.

It’s usually out there.

So let’s go find it.

 

Well shit….

Remember how I hoped our spending moratorium would go well and the car would hold out for a while longer? I really should have lowered my expectations on how 2017 was going to go.

See, this is Shaggy Roo. dscn3582

He’s 12 years old but we got him when he was only 2. He has not only been good to us, but kept our friend Sarah safe through two accidents. He’s plowed through snow for me countless times and kept chugging along when he probably should have died months ago. He’s literally only on 3 cylinders now, and we’re just feeding him with lots of oil, hoping he can hold out for at least one more week.

I’m sad to see Shaggy Roo go for obvious reasons–he’s been with us a long time, been very reliable, haven’t paid a car payment in several years. But also this means that we have to get a new vehicle (which is actually used and the same age as Shaggy Roo). Since we’re only a few months into our moratorium, there is still very little savings…which means a small loan will need to be taken out…which means NO VACATION.

This all came about a week ago. On Monday we realized how bad Shaggy Roo really was, we found out a distant relative/friend/library patron died over the weekend, my brother was ill, and I was still on high alert (i.e., panic) mode about Mom. Needless to say it was not a good Monday.

Yet because of everything else that was going on, it put everything into perspective. Yes, it totally sucks that I had to cancel our vacation. Yes, it bites that we have to get a different car. BUT, we’re here. We’re relatively healthy. Mom took her pills all week last week. My brother is feeling better. And as I stood in the veterinarian’s office this morning (two of my cats need their annual shots), listening to a young man cry over his dog that needed to be put down, I could be nothing but grateful for what we do have.

So now I need your help. Although I’m happy we have each other and we’re doing ok, I need to have SOMETHING to look forward to. It certainly doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, well, it *can’t* be extravagant anyway, but I want to do something with my family this year to celebrate our big milestones we have coming up. I want to do something we will not only enjoy, but remember…and costs very little to do.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions, my friends!

 

 

 

Bah Humbug?

Trying to enjoy the holiday season while conducting a spending moratorium has been an interesting experience. I’ve never felt like buying gifts has been the major part of Christmas for me. It’s the music, the lights, the movies, the food…but it’s also the gift giving. I do like to bake goodies to give to people, but I also like to buy photo ornaments for my family, books and candy for my friends, toys for my kiddo and grown up toys for my husband.

Yet this year, everything is scaled WAY down. Very few baked goods, no photo ornaments, nothing for my friends except a card (courtesy of my friend, Catherine), nothing for my husband except for socks, and my son will get this:

xmas-giftsWhen I first proposed these four gifts to my 9-year-old son, he was totally fine with it. He even suggested what he needed (an electric toothbrush suggested by his dentist). But that was a month ago. Now that Christmas is almost here, my boy is started to get a little  mopey. He’s mentioned the 4 presents idea a few times in passing, almost like he’s preparing himself so he won’t act disappointed. Both my husband and I have talked with him, explaining that gifts are not what Christmas is about, and he understands that. Yet he’s a kid and I’m sure it’s hard not to be disappointed when you usually have a bunch of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning (and not just from us but from others, too).

But it’s also been hard for me. Like every parent, I want to give my kid the moon. I know he doesn’t need everything he wants, nor should he have everything he wants, but I still wish I could give it to him, you know?

Having said all that, I think the 4 presents is one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard. We did change things a bit–like having a stocking filled with food and we added a family outing to the bunch–but all in all it’s the original idea and I think it’s awesome. Not only do we not spend too much money but we’re not accumulating “stuff” and neither is the boy. We spend extra time thinking about the perfect gift for our son and we’re showing him that Christmas, for us, is about being together and enjoying each other’s company.

And possibly eating our weight in chocolate and cookies and ham and clam dip….but that’s a whole other story. 🙂

Happy Holidays to you all! Enjoy the folks you’re with, my friends!

 

 

The Richest (Wo)man in Town

I’ve always known that I have incredible friends. Sweet, hilarious and kind friends. But since my family and I have started our year-long spending moratorium, I never knew how generous they were. Today is the end of week 3 of this little “adventure” (sounds better than suck fest, right?). In these three weeks, I have received offers of clothing hand-me-downs for my son (which I accepted), a future gift of clothing for my son (which I also accepted), and an offer of $200 from a dear friend to help us through the winter (which I turned down but forever grateful for the offer). Then today, I received cash in the mail from a colleague-turned-good-friend. She knows how much I enjoy sending Christmas cards and she wanted to bring me joy this holiday. She said it was her favorite Christmas gift she gave this year.

I am stunned by the generosity of my friends. I shouldn’t be, since I’ve had the great opportunity to meet and fall in love with people all over this country.  It doesn’t seem to matter what color, religion, sexual orientation, gender or socioeconomic background—my friends are beautiful and kind and sweet.  And I feel unbelievably lucky to be loved by so many good, good people.

But…please know that I’m not writing about our spending moratorium to ask for money or assistance or pity. I write about it because it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like my friends are listening and they’re letting me vent…which is exactly what you’re doing. Y’all listen and sometimes offer advice and I love you for it. It’s my version of therapy. FREE therapy.

As I write this post, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is playing on the television. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Although I love George Bailey and all the good he did for Bedford Falls, look at the people he surrounded himself with–the family he was born into, his wife Mary, his children, his clarence_fg20afriends like Bert and Ernie–all good, good people. When life gets tough, it’s hard to stay positive. But when you surround yourself with kind, generous, good people, then it makes everything a bit easier. It can make life wonderful!

So the question remains. Will I use my friend’s money to buy and send Christmas cards? I did talk to her and talked to my husband, too. I let the money sit on the kitchen counter and re-read the wonderful note my friend sent in my first Christmas card I’ve received this season. And finally….

Yes.

Yes, I will use my lovely gift to send and write Christmas cards and letters to some of my favorite people in the world. Does it feel a little weird and maybe selfish? It does. But my friend has asked me to try not to feel odd about it and I’m going to do just that.

So if you’re one of those folks that typically receive a card from me? Be sure to check out my friend’s blog. You’ll find it listed on the sponsorship blurb in the lower right corner of the card. 😀

Maybe=Hope

This is the end of week 1 of Our Spending Prohibition or Moratorium or Embargo or Ban or Suspension.

Wow. Seriously, none of these sound good, do they?

My family and I are having a bit of difficulty in accepting the limits we’ve chosen. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s hard to stay positive.

And this is only the first week….of a year-long spending moratorium. Only 51 weeks to go!

We have $1 left in our grocery budget until Friday. But we have food and we won’t starve. We may run out of milk, fresh fruit and eggs before then, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. The cats may run out of food before then, too, but I’ve already set aside money for that. And I feel like Wonder Woman for doing it.

Isn’t that ridiculous? But I can’t help it. What makes me feel good about what we’re doing is not the fact that we won’t have any money by Thursday night, but the fact that we’re not borrowing against next Friday’s paycheck today. Because that’s what we’ve been doing for years. YEARS. And so do many other people. And it sucks.

What lots of folks don’t understand is that we’ve never had any money to begin with nor are there many places to cut our budget. We don’t have cable. We have an 11-year-old car with over 227,000 miles on it. We don’t pay for high end cell phone service (I have a Tracfone and my husband has a phone through work). There’s never been an inheritance, a sale of a house, lottery winnings. Nothing. There’s just been lots and lots of borrowing. I’m a huge fan of borrowing books from the library, but borrowing money is a different ball game. And it’s one I don’t want to play anymore. My husband and I certainly made mistakes over the years and spending money we really didn’t have, but I’m not sorry about most of it. When you’re constantly scraping up enough money to just pay bills, sometimes you say, “Fuck it. I want to live!” And you do. You have fun. You spread your wings.noregrets  And often it takes money to do that. I don’t regret the few vacations we’ve had or the time I’ve been able to spend with my friends and family in California, Florida and New York. It was worth every penny and more.

But now it’s time to buckle down and try to claw our way out of this hole. It’s going to be difficult and emotional. In my case, it will also be served with a side of guilt.

This weekend, my boy and I were fortunate enough to spend some much needed time with two of our favorite people. We went to the Maine Discovery Museum (after borrowing the free pass from my fantastic library) then headed over to McDonald’s for a quick lunch. I had already planned on this and took out $5 from our grocery budget. I bought my kid a Happy Meal and didn’t get anything for myself. I wasn’t starving and even if I was, I certainly wasn’t going to fade away. Now, if you’ve met my 9-year-old, you’d know that a Happy Meal probably won’t satisfy him, especially after a morning of hard play with a 3-year-old. I actually prepped him before we went, letting him know that most likely that was all we could afford but he could definitely eat something when we got home. He was totally cool with it. But he couldn’t stop himself from eyeing his cousin’s chicken nuggets. He went so far as hinting that if his cousin wasn’t going to eat them, he’d be happy to help him out.  His cousin is a sweetie, and chose the largest of the nuggets to give to my boy. I melted a little at this awesome display of giving, but I also felt super freaking guilty. I’m letting a 3-year-old feed my kid when I could just dip into my gas money and buy my son some nuggets?

Yup. That’s exactly what I did. But neither of them seemed too scarred from it, so I need to stop beating myself up over it. Let it go, Holly, let it go. (If you feel the need to sing here, go ahead. I won’t judge you.)

I think the next two months will be *very* difficult and honestly, when I start thinking about it, I do get mini panic attacks. Can’t breathe well, pain in my chest….ok maybe slightly larger than mini panic attacks. I realized on the second day of our spending moratorium that my kid didn’t have a winter coat. Well, it’s Maine in November which means it will snow any day and it’s damn cold already. Fortunately he has winter boots….but I know they won’t last the winter. In fact, I’ve been putting off having him try them on because I’m afraid they won’t fit. And basketball season starts right after Thanksgiving, which means basketball shoes. Or at least something better than what he has now. And we have a dentist appointment in two weeks. And two of our cats need their shots after Thanksgiving. And there’s too many damn “and’s”!!

So how do we do this without borrowing from next week’s paycheck or from charging anything on a credit card? I’m really not sure yet. I’ll start scouring Goodwill and Craig’s List for my boy’s shoes and coat. I may skip my dental appointment and just take my son. I may only take one cat to the vet. Who knows? Maybe I can squeeze out enough from our grocery budget in the next two weeks to make some of these things happen. Maybe my husband will be able to work a few extra hours to pay the vet bill. Or maybe he won’t. That’s a lot of maybe’s. But right now that’s all we have.

And it’s better than nothing.

 

 

 

 

Our Spending Moratorium

Tomorrow, my family and I begin a one year spending moratorium. Originally I was calling it a “spending holiday” as in, taking a holiday from spending, but that phrase sounded fun and as my husband pointed out, this will not be fun. At all. Yet it’s absolutely necessary.

Like many American families, we have way too much debt. Besides a mortgage we have a smidge of credit card debt, a loan to pay off even older debt, and a home equity loan we used to purchase and install heat pumps. Ok, let’s be honest here. That last loan is really a second mortgage. I just hate calling it that because it makes me want to throw up. Plus there’s the usual monthly bills and essentials like gas and food.  Meanwhile our car is hanging on by a thread, and I mean that literally. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to put any more money into it for the next year, but the way it’s sounding and shaking, I’m thinking it needs to go back to the garage and hope they can fix it.

Not only do we need to pay for all I mentioned, but we’re trying desperately to go on a 9-day vacation next autumn, including a short Disney cruise and 5 days at Disney World. 2017 is a big year for us. The boy turns 10 in the spring, my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in the summer and my husband will turn 50 in the fall. Those are some big-ass milestones and we want to celebrate appropriately!

So what does a spending moratorium mean exactly? Well, no more spending frivolously. I can’t say that I am particularly frivolous with money. I do try to be conscious of what I spend. (My husband, on the other hand, is not quite as conscious. Yet just talking about this moratorium has made him much more so.) I buy a coffee maybe once a week, otberwise I always make it at home or work. I don’t buy books or movies or music. I do buy clothes occasionally, but since my weight has pretty much stabilized, I don’t really *need* to buy anything.  BUT, I do like to buy the occasional gift for family and friends, even when I really can’t afford to. I also go over budget on our grocery bill every single week. I justify the over spending by saying, “Hey. I don’t travel, I don’t go out, so I’m going to buy whatever I want for food to have in the house.” But now that has to stop.

I want to feel like we’re not drowning. I want to feel like we’re in control of our lives even a little tiny bit. And I want to go on that damn vacation. I want to escape this life for just a little bit and try to enjoy ourselves, but I want to do that without this heavy burden to carry. A burden I realize we created but one we are ready and willing to cast off. No matter how painful. And I *know* this will be painful.

dollars_beltins

Does this mean we’ll stop living for the next year? No. I will still buy running shoes every six months so my feet don’t fall off. I’ll still buy my husband another pair of work pants since I mistakenly bleached his other ones. We’ll still give our son his allowance each week as long as he does his chores. And we will all still go see the movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in December because it would be insane not to. (It’s the one movie we’ll see in the theater this year.) But it does mean that if we run out of coffee on Wednesday, I won’t pick it up until Friday.  (Let’s all hope this doesn’t happen because it will be disastrous for everyone.)  If all of my underwear or socks have holes in them, I will keep wearing them until they disintegrate. As my kid grows out of clothes, we will not go to department stores but to Goodwill and thrift stores to find something he can wear.  The moratorium means we’ll all need to plan better, live with what we have or find very inexpensive alternatives for what we need. Which is what we should be doing anyway, right?

This also means no more gift giving or a drastically reduced version of it. Each child we typically buy gifts for will each get $5 and possibly a book for both Christmas and their birthdays. (Our own kid will be an exception, but he is aware that he will need to save for most of what he wants.) All of the adults in our families will get a pat on the back, a heartfelt note of how awesome they are and possibly a homemade goodie. And Christmas cards? Well, this one is really difficult for me. I *love* sending and receiving Christmas cards. I will still send some, but only to those not online. That’s literally only a handful of folks. I may post my holiday letter on Facebook so the usual suspects can still read it, but they just won’t get it in the mail this year.  This bit of the moratorium is what really hurts me. I know it sounds silly and very corny, but it brings me great joy to send those cards and letters out. I don’t think it’s the fact that I’m telling everyone about what we’ve been up to, although that’s nice, too, but I love hearing about everyone else’s lives and what *they’ve* been up to.  I get all cozy on my couch with a cup of tea or coffee and I read those letters and cards and notes and think about those friends and family that I don’t get to see face-to-face anymore.  I block out a little time to spend with them. It’s like a little gift to myself.

Over the next year, if you ask me to join you for lunch or an outing of some sort, please forgive me if I say “no.” It’s not that I don’t want to, but I just can’t. Most of my friends are totally cool with me just saying that I can’t afford it right now because we’ve all been there or are currently there. I don’t expect people to buy my way into places, either. If there’s something I want to do that I’m willing to sell something or give up food for, then I’ll do it. This is not a cry for donations or assistance. This is just me setting the ground rules for how my family and I need to live for the next year.

This will not be easy. It will not be fun, although it may be more fun for me than for others. I love paying my bills and knowing they’re paid for and we owe nothing else that week. The hard part is realizing there isn’t enough money left for all the groceries you intended to buy….or the wine you really, really need….ok, really, really want.  (cue Spice Girls music)

If you have any tips for me on how to save money or make a little extra cash, I’m all ears.  Admittedly, I won’t do things like get an extra job or do something that will take even more time away from my child. I’m not quite that desperate yet. But suggestions like buying no-brand food items, ripping dryer sheets in half, or baking my own bread (all of which I do) are all helpful. If there’s something you do that has helped you save money, please let me know. I want my head *above* water for a change.

drowning