Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What Goes Down Sometimes Goes Up

For about two weeks, I managed to get my total indebtedness, including my mortgage, under $100,000. Then, in order to handle all the expenses that May threw at me (property taxes, high school graduation, college tuition, summer camps) I borrowed an additional $1800 from my HELOCC. By month's end, I had paid some of that back, but overall, I have increased my debts by $1,136.88 and now my total is once again over $100,000. To be exact, I owe $100, 941.42.

Grace is NOT a happy camper at the moment.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Baby Turned 18 Today!

My fifth and final child turned 18 years old today.

Empty nest, here I come!

Although the nest isn't exactly empty. The baby doesn't graduate until next week, and I've agreed that she can stay home up to one year while she figures out what she is going to do with the rest of her life. But she has a six-week job with the National Forest Service (building trails and cleaning up campgrounds) which will get her out of the home, some fast cash for summer, and an inkling as to whether community college or a job is in her immediate future.

Financially, there are plusses and minuses to having no minor children. My household budget immediately goes down by $485 a month, which was the adoption subsidy I have been receiving since I adopted this daughter ten years ago. Her medicaid card is cancelled as well, but fortunately, I can cover her through the health plan provided by my employer at no extra cost. That does mean I will now have co-pays for her monthly medications which will add, maybe $30 a month to my costs.

I will no longer be providing an allowance or buying clothes or make-up. This was part of the agreement we arrived at in negotiating free room and board for a year.

I still have tuition payments for another year, due to the very nice deal I made with her private school at the beginning of this year when she did not receive the tuition assistance I'd been expecting. But I will not have the multitude of other school expenses such as daily lunches, athletic events, outings, yearbooks, photos, dances, and bus passes.

If she goes to community college, I will have tuition and books to pay, but we're talking $1200 a year as opposed to the $17,000 a year her high school cost.

The truth is, she is anxious to have her own money and to move out. The other truth is, not every young adult is a candidate for college. I suspect she is not. But I've been fooled before. My oldest daughter, who, like this child, suffers from fetal alcohol effects, graduated high school, got a job as a grocery clerk, and then decided, at age 30, to go to college. She completed three years and would have graduated, but the internship she had between her junior and senior years became a full time job that she still has and loves at age 40.

As with many things, I still have to wait and see.

But it is with some joy that I can say, all my daughters have survived their childhoods. Now I'll see what this one does with her adulthood.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Social Insecurity

I've never been one to believe the hype surrounding a possible demise of our Social Security system. But I've operated more on faith that our government would not allow the system to go under, than any personal understanding of the economics or math involved.

So, thanks to Bob at The Platinum Years Network, I was glad to see this article by Dr. Irwin Kellner.

It's always nice to have some numbers to back up my gut feelings.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Forget the Bag Lady--I'm Afraid I'll be Lillian

The Oregonian newspaper, out of Portland, Oregon, profiled 64-year-old Lillian Witherspoon. Having suffered a stroke and heart problems, along with asthma, Lillian is struggling to make do with Social Security of $750, a widow's pension of $86, and whatever she can scrounge babysitting or delivering newspapers. One small thing, like a check overdraft, can throw her into a financial tailspin.

I read once that many women (But not men. Who knows why?) harbor a deep-seated fear that they may one day become a bag lady.

I'm pretty sure that will never happen to me. But I do have fears that I could wind up like Lillian. All my current plans for retirement are based upon the assumption that I will work for another ten years, that I will have my home and my debts paid off, and that I will have saved money at an accelerated rate in my 401K during that time.

But what if I didn't? What if I had a stroke tomorrow? It's certainly possible. My father had a heart attack at age 58 and a stroke at age 68. All my mother's maternal aunts as well as her own mother died of strokes in their sixties. Or what if I'm in a car wreck and injured too severely to continue work?

I wish Lillian all the best. But I also wish she didn't scare me quite so much.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Prom for Pennies

A bit of hyperbole in that title, but having reared four daughters to adulthood and now coming down the home stretch with daughter #5, I'm here to say that senior proms are among my least favorite graduation events.

Everything about a prom costs money, big money.

This year, I'm in no mood to spend it.

The first piece of good news is that my daughter's school does not charge for prom tickets. But tickets to the dance are just one of many prom expenses--there's still the dress, nails, make-up, hair, shoes, dinner and transportation.

My daughter's first choice of dress was a lovely rose-pink sheath that costs a mere $300. That was about $250 over my personal budget for a dress that would be worn just one time. VERY reluctantly, my daughter agreed to check out high-end resale shops. We trudged all over town last week-end to no avail. But two nights ago, we decided to try plus-size thrift shop (my daughter wears a size 16). Lo and behold, there was the perfect sphagetti strapped light blue gown that looked wonderful on her, and the price was $39. We stopped off at K-mart to buy a pair of white flat, back-strapped flipflops on sale for $7.

The kids wanted a limo to cart them around from restaurant to dance (with numerous stops in between to show off). On an individual basis, the cost would have been prohibitive, but by sharing with nine other prom-goers, the cost was $79.

Make-up could be done at Nordstrom's for $50, but my daughter checked with our neighbor, an esthetician at a local spa, to see if she'd be interested in helping out. Indeed she would. In fact, she agreed to do both make-up and hair for each girl for $25 each.

I asked about pictures, but all of these kids have digital cameras and none of them felt the need for expensive "official" pictures.

And finally, the pre-prom dinner? One of the young men's parents who run a catering service offered to cater a formal dinner for all five couples at their a very nice home at no cost.

So, my total prom expenditure was$150. Pretty good, when the average expenditure in North Dakota (North Dakota for Pete's sake!! Let's not even think about the west coast!!) is at least $300.

If $150 doesn't sound cheap to you, you don't have daughters in high school!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

God Bless the Mothers. And the Sisters

It was a good Mother's Day, notwithstanding that my own mother has been dead for the past 18 years.

Four of my five daughters made brunch at my house. (This was a consession to my budget. Last year, we went out for dim sum--my daughters paid for me and I paid for them. Hmm--something seriously wrong with that picture!)

But one of the nicest surprises was when my sister and I had our weekly telephone call. I did, in fact, ask her if she would cover my grandson's summer camp. She agreed. Then she inquired as to what kind of gift to give my 17 year old for graduation. I told her I was getting my daughter a laptop computer, but that the graduate could really use the Microsoft Works software package (which runs anywhere from $119 to $149) since computers these day come with a rinky-dink word processing program when the kid really needs Microsoft Word. Instead, my sister proposed that SHE buy the computer and I buy the software. That really, really works for me!

So I'm feeling much better about my finances this month (even though I still have that $1800 loan). And I'm feeling good, indeed about mothers, daughters and sisters!

Friday, May 9, 2008

One Giant Step Backwards

I promised myself that this would be a "warts and all" blog as I wend my financial way toward retirement. So stand back for the warts portion of the program!

Yesterday, I borrowed $1800 from my HELOCC to help meet this month's expenses. It may or may not cover all the extra expenses. I can justify $358 of it because it is for property taxes on my rental. The HELOCC, while on my residence rather than my rental, was originally set up to meet deferred maintenance costs on the rental. At 6.75% interest, the HELOCC is my cheapest way to get a loan.

I understand the danger of paying bills with a second mortgage where my home is at risk, but my combined mortgages are around $80,000 on a house that is worth over $400,000. (I'm always amazed at that figure for my beloved circa 1929 home that I purchased for $95,300 in 1993--I like my house a lot but I can't say that I'd personally ever pay nearly half a million dollars for it!)

I have decided to ask my sister for assistance with my grandson's summer camp ($595). He's 15 and having some problems at home. I think 4 weeks away will be good for both he and his family. He's a good kid, and his issues are normal teen problems, but because he knows he's smarter than his fetal-alcohol damaged mother, it makes for a rocky adolescence. The same issues came up with his older sister, whom I now support in college, so I know both my daughter and my grandson will get through this intact. Still--some time apart is a good idea. At any rate, my sister, who is rich and childless, will often come through for my grandkids.

So that's the plan--go deeper into debt and hope to dig myself out by summer's end.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Poverty Does Not a Nicer Person Make

I do know that "poverty" is relative.

I also know that by any measure other than my own, my life hardly qualifies as "living in poverty."

Nonetheless, this month, the demands of property taxes, six extra people (an adult daughter with boyfriend and their four kids) in my home, my youngest daughter's high school graduation, my granddaughter's college tuition, my grandson's summer camp and that same youngest daughter's clothing and equipment costs for her summer job (building trails in our state park system) mean that May is not only tight but it is likely I will go into more debt covering all those costs. The baby emergency fund was used in April and has not yet been replenished.

That's not good. But what is worse is how I'm handling it emotionally.

I am stressed and I am onery.

I suppose another person might handle it better when they don't have funds, even minor funds for minor pleasures. But I find it affecting so many other areas of my life. It takes away some of the joy I have with my kids and grandkids. If they want ice-cream, it's not their fault that I don't have the ready cash. When my 9 year old granddaughter brings home the summer day-camp brochure and asks if she can attend a couple of sessions, it is not her fault that I don't want to hear about it.

When my best friend calls and suggests brunch, I decline. She reminds me that I have declined for the past three weeks. Ultimately she pays, and we have a good time, but now I owe her.

I wake up in the middle of the night, obsessing about a pending debt. I dread opening my mail at home for fear it will be some bill I've forgotten.

When I am paying off debt and I can see it go down, the deprivations don't bother me nearly as much. But when I'm just treading water, and I'm getting hit with all kinds of expenses that I did not anticipate or for which I did not set appropriate amounts aside, there's no feeling of satisfaction. It just bums me out.

And when I'm bummed out, it colors every other thing. For example, I still have my trip to Japan in October planned. The tickets have been purchased and it's too late to back out now. The truth is, my finances should straighten out around August or sooner, and I have budgeted for this trip, but I don't know that I will have caught up on the increased debts by then. It's hard to get excited about something that far off (which will have expenses of its own) when I'm struggling here and now.

Yet in the end, it's not the anxiety or situational depression (which, in spite of the tone of this post, isn't all that deep) that bothers me--it is the frustration and attendant crankiness. It's not like I'm buying plasma TV's or eating out at gourmet restaurants. There's no one to blame except my younger, non-saving self, no one I can point a finger at. It's just life, in all of its unpredictiblity.

Still, it's also true that misery loves company. Have I made you miserable yet?