How To Budget, When Broke.

The emotional state of the unemployed mind
is the equivalent of Bill O’Reilly uncensored:
highly petulant, often illogical and forever frustrating to the world at large.
I was spending time with a close friend of mine recently. (She reads my blog so I won’t use her name). We were in the kitchen preparing a meal and having one of those lovely chats about nothing in particular and everything under the sun. The kind of random conversation that comes from years of true friendship. I observed while we were talking that she used a paper-towel to temporarily cover a plate. The sauce seeped through the paper-towel in patches and I recall my stomach made a low rumble of appreciation. Then my attention was diverted as the conversation resumed. A short time later however, meal contentedly consumed, (sauce and all), she proceeded to take the paper-towel wash it, rinse it and hang it over the oven handle to dry. And in that moment I loved her a little more, because I knew for sure, she was one of us. The broke on a budget.
The emotional state of the unemployed mind is the equivalent of Bill O’Reilly uncensored: highly petulant, often illogical and forever frustrating to the world at large. The one constant concern in that ever shifting brain, is money. Where will it come from, will it be enough and how soon can you get it?

Because while you stopped working, the creditors didn’t and apparently neither did the mailman. The bills keep flowing  in from an open tap while the cash lies cremating in an expansive desert. And although the often insensitive people at the phone company may disagree, you still have to eat somehow.

By now you should be collecting unemployment benefits and notified and negotiated with your creditors. We talked about this before in Becoming Fearless. They’ve made adjustments to help you where possible and you’ve been juggling those payments best as you can. But there are things you learn only from experience, so here are a few things they didn’t tell you about managing the little money you do have, while you have it.

Pay your credit card first. Wait 24 hours so they record the payment. Then spend every cent you just deposited to pay the bills. This works best if you pay before the due date. You won’t have a late charge and there won’t be a non-payment fee. (Don’t quote me on this. Seriously. Don’t.)

Pay in full. If there is anything you can pay off fully, any small debts, clear them and get them out the way. The accomplishment will make you feel motivated and you’ll also have less to worry about.

Unsubscribe. Cable is not essential. Neither is your annual subscriptions to glossy magazines. None of them. For that matter, if you can get your local classifieds and top stories online, a daily newspaper is over rated. If you absolutely have to feel the paper in your hand, have a friend (who works) bring the extra newspaper home from their office. You’ll be a day behind but a few dollars richer a week. Then be sure to recycle the newspapers to make money on the recycling. You can get to your next eye appointment (once you are working again) a few hours early and read the glossies at your leisure there for free. Or again, ask a friend. (Assuming you have a friend who can still afford to buy magazines). But go ahead and cancel all the extra stuff you don’t need.

Wash the paper-towels. It’s the little things on the grocery list that add up pretty quickly so cut wherever you can. Some are pretty obvious, (replace expensive brands with cheaper ones), some take good old-fashioned street sense. Don’t cut toilet paper off your shopping list entirely (really, don’t) but re-think how much you use if you’re buying it weekly. If two squares will do, why use four? (Don’t answer). And you just need a pea sized amount of toothpaste, not a strip. Stop buying shaving cream and use your hair conditioner. Your legs will even look better for it. Do the little things. Easy does it. Use less, buy less, save more.

Savour the bitter taste of mauby. (Moo who?). You don’t need fresh juice or soda. Yes. I heard you gasp, sputter and moan. But you still don’t need it. I am not unreasonable so I won’t say just drink water forever. (Tap of course). But to be honest, soda is unnecessary. (I am sorry Pepsi. Apologies Coke). Get your caffeine fix from coffee if you have to. Canned juices can be just as refreshing as fresh. Plus they don’t expire and can be stretched with water. If you’re worried about the nutritional content, do your online research online before hitting the supermarket. But otherwise, a dash of mauby syrup, add water, stir and sip your way to savings.

Along that line, I recently read that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh. While fresh is still preferred, if it’s a difference of more than a dollar, frozen or canned will do the trick. Not to mention, you have a longer expiration date to play with so your dollar literally lasts longer.

Pinch the pennies. Remember all that loose change you have been keeping in that old mayonnaise jar? You said it was for a rainy day. Guess what? It’s raining! You’ll have to be brave about this, all cashiers will eyeball you and the bold ones will suck their teeth for you to hear and roll their eyes for you to see. But take your loose change shopping. It’s money and there’s no shame in it. (Well, not much).  Don’t overdo this though, not everyone with take you on, especially if there’s a long line, so some bills are necessary. I am yet to find someone willing to count along with me past $28.73 with nothing higher than a quarter.

I’d love to hear what your record is. And if you have another way to save,  please, do tell.

Reference: Mauby – popular Caribbean drink made from tree bark

Till Debt Do Us Part

Love is blind. Love does not see race, colour, weight, height, physical attributes, bald spots nor chipped nails. And love certainly does not see bank accounts. Well, not the ones in the red anyway.

But if you fall in love, get married, (or move in) and do the ‘happily ever after’ thing, bear in mind that money is a big part of the “happily” in your equation.

It’s important to be realistic when you’re getting together. Their money is your money and your money is their money. (Mostly). But it’s not that simple. Their debt is your debt… see how this is already going downhill?

Before you rush off and get joint accounts with matching cheque-books, lay your bills on the table and come up with a payment strategy. Divide it into short-term and long-term ambitions. You may find out that keeping your finances apart is the best thing for both of you right now, because if one of you has bad credit, neither of you will get a mortgage if you apply together.  You can always revisit this later once you are debt-free.

Once you’ve worked that out, look at your income (cheating is allowed) and expenses together and realistically. If Christian Louboutin’s are more important to you than your cereal brand, but your partner only eats Post yet jogging in something called Beebok isn’t an issue, you’ll need to work a few things out.  Remember, the compromises you make now, will be the fights you have later. So plan ahead. You already know your shoe brand is the centre of your being. Therefore, don’t compromise by agreeing to buy cheaper shoes. The sensible compromise is to buy shoes (gasp) less often. See where I’m going with this? If not, when you decide 4 years in that you want to spend big bucks on designer shoes, after looking cute all this time in the no-name stuff, it’ll be harder to win the you’re-wasting-good-money argument.

In this wonderful age of technology, everything is linked your credit rating. Including your outstanding rewind charges at the video store. I know you are trying to recall exactly what a video store is, (what’s a video?), but $23.85 + monthly interest can come back to haunt you both in 10 years. And if you never watched ‘Return of the Sex-starved Cheerleaders’, you may not want to pay for it. So, be sure to decide upfront what bills are ours, what’s mine and what’s yours. You may need to help each other along some months, but that’s part of being in love.

Your debts out the way, plan a saving strategy. Some experts tell you to do this first. Save now and pay your debts later. I find the ‘experts’ that recommend this usually don’t have debts. But go with what works for you. Either way, save first or save last, but save. You should always have something set aside for when it rains. Save together towards the things you want together, wedding, house, children’s college fund, a yacht, whatever. But there’s nothing wrong with saving separately too.  Your personal desire for new shoes with shiny, red soles, should not result in the cancellation of the family trip to Australia.

However, I don’t recommend saving separately in secret, unless your partner is a poo-head. And if they are, why have you even read this far? Break up already.

Saving is more fun when there’s a goal, so set some. One of the beautiful things about being in love is sharing your experiences with someone else. Splurge sometimes. Don’t look back and think of all the things you would do differently, occasionally just do them.  And remember to take photos, later when your choice in fancy footwear is being questioned and you’re trying to remember why you are with this person, those photos may help you hold on to the good stuff.

Let’s recap then. 

Love is blind. Debt can see you.

Plan ahead.

Avoid or get rid of debt.

Save. Goals make it easier.

Live a little. Love a lot.

And be happy. For ever after.

PS – ‘Return of the Sex-starved Cheerleaders’ is not a real movie. Stop trying to find it.

Extra reading: Unemployment doesn’t need your permission to happen, you may need help coping. Find and read all the posts with the Unemployment tag.

Becoming Fearless

“The worst sorrows in life are not 
its losses and misfortunes, but its fears.” 
– Arthur Christopher Benson 1862 – 1925
What is your greatest fear? Most of us have a few, but if you could pick only one, what would it be?

Frogs, clowns, deep water, darkness, public speaking, elevators, peaches (yeah I know, there’s a video on YouTube). We could do this all day and still miss something that affects someone else. I have a few, but the one that really gets me is (I can hardly type the word) centipedes. Shudder. I pause a moment to collect myself.
But such fears seem less menacing when staring the loss and misfortune of unemployment in the face. Not working brings with it a whole new abyss of terrors in the night and in broad daylight too.
The Practical Fear
 How will I make rent? How do I pay bills? What happens when my credit card limit is breached, how will I buy groceries then?
The Relationship Fear
How will this affect my spouse? Can one salary support us? What do I tell the children about that trip to Disney? Can I afford to keep the dog (he eats more than I do)? (Gasp.) What will my mother say?
The Emotional Fear
Where did I go wrong, what should I have done differently? How will this affect my future? Is this my fault? What if I can’t find another job?
The list goes on.
And fear, I’m afraid, can be crippling. It can stop you from sleeping but yet keep you in bed. It can stop you from eating or help you eat too much. You can feel physical pain you can’t explain, your head hurts, your heart aches and your voice shrinks. You can, very easily, lose hope.
Other fears I won’t say are easily overcome. You may not suddenly or easily not kiss frogs, hug clowns, go diving or eat peaches. And as for me, the closest I care to come to overcoming my fear is from 12 feet away with a can of Bop in hand. But this particular predicament we’re in, this can be fixed.
The Practical Fix
Don’t keep it a secret. It may seem the last you want to do is tell people you owe that you’re not working and have no idea how you’re going to pay them.  But if they don’t know you can’t come up with the best possible payment plan together. And that’s just what you need to do. Work it out based on how far your savings can take you. No savings? Give yourself 3 months to find a job and therefore work on a 4 month projection. You’d be amazed to know that some creditors will give you an interest waiver, reduce your monthly payment or extend your payment dates.

Sign-up for unemployment. We seem to find something demoralizing about queuing in line with equally depressed people to get a stamp and money from the government. But remember all those months and years before you lost your job when you paid taxes? Sure you do. That money is no handout, it’s a return on your investment and you deserve it. Work some of it into that payment schedule you’re building but hold some back and save it. Just in case your unemployment runs out before your job hunting does, you’ll need a fall back plan.

The Relationship Fix
Hug your spouse more and say “pig-head” less. You’re going to feel angry. How dare they get rid of you? That’s a perfectly normal feeling. Yell, scream, bang, kick-box, just don’t do any off that to the one person who supports you. This will be hard time for your spouse too.  They will want to be there for you when you want to be alone. They will try to say the right thing when the only thing you want to hear is silence. They will help with the chores more than before and upset you because now you don’t have anything useful to do. Everything they do will be wrong. But don’t say so. Be honest, calmly. ‘Darling I’d like to be alone this evening’ may give both of you a much needed break. ‘Go away bird-brain’ will aggravate you both and right now, none of you needs it.  
Your children understand more than you think. Have you played one of your children’s video games recently? How far did you get? Thought so. Plan what you want to say, write a list if it helps and tell your children the truth. There are going to be some changes. I’ll do the best I can but from now on we’re going to eat Flakes with Frosting instead of Frosted Flakes. Our summer vacation will be postponed, but Mickey will have more time to find pants. It won’t be easy, but children love you no matter what and if you keep it simple, they’ll just be happy for more time with you anyway.
Parents and in-laws, don’t even think about them. They may not admit to it but at some point they’ve been laid off too.  Tell them over dinner, but before dessert, that way if they say anything you don’t like you won’t have to share the ice-cream. Usually though, they are very understanding and by giving them early notice, if you have to move in with them later, it won’t be a surprise.
The Emotional Fix
The Time Machine was just a movie. You can change it a million times in your head, but tomorrow morning when you wake up, nothing would have changed and you still don’t work there anymore. That’s because we can’t chance the past. You already knew that, so why are you holding on to it? Jog it out, stretch it out, cry it out and pray it off, but let it go. It’s taken me 6 months so don’t beat yourself up. Find the books and blogs and friends and eggnog to help, but the final release can only come from you. Know this though, whatever happened, happened. Learn from it and leave it. You’re now wiser than before and the company that let you go, can’t profit from your newly acquired wisdom.  Sucks to be them.