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Saturday, May 10, 2014

The house and stuff

As a continuation of the questions that people asked the other night, I figured I'd go with the topic of the house.

Honestly, this whole I Now Own A House thing is still so surreal. I catch myself smiling as I drive down the street toward it, thinking "Hey, that's a pretty cool house over there on the corner. Well, would you look at that? It's mine." Seriously. I have conversations in my head like that on a regular basis.

"I'm going to stroll down my hallway into my bedroom past my walk-in closet and go to my bathroom to use my toilet." Then I sit on the toilet and look around and think "Yeah, I think I'm going to rip this tile out of here and just paint the walls - because you know, it's MINE."

"I think I'm going to rip this hideous bush out of the flowerbed and plant something else, just because I can."

"I'm going to put my garden over there. No, I want my clothesline there. The garden can go over THERE."

It's an odd feeling, this MINE thing.

But at the same time, it brings a whole host of frustrations. I had help with the actual move, as in relocating stuff from the old house to here. But that's pretty much where it ended. The Dude hasn't been able to do a whole bunch because of medical stuff, so the majority of it has been on me. For the most part, I'm ok with that. I'm a bit of a control freak about some a lot of most stuff. What's hard though is when I ask for help, and there's no one there for whatever reason. Tonight, with Alex's help (you know, the 8 year old who just had a skin graft done on Monday?) I was able to move the pool table out of the way so that I could get the floor underneath it painted - I have been trying and trying to get help with that, but .... yeah. It's moved. The floor is primed. I should be able to paint it and get the pool table put back by the end of the weekend, with or without help from a grown-up. I also pulled everything out of Jared's room and primed his floor so that I can get his room done too.

(And before any of my local friends get offended, this isn't aimed at anyone in particular. Got it?)

I still have a ton of work to do yet. I have to finish the basement, which involves a few more steps to getting the floor done, then moving the massive pile of craft stuff out of the living room and sorting it out down there, to actually getting my craft stuff set up so that I can catch up on projects whose due dates passed MONTHS ago - literally. I am desperate to get my basement done just so that I can catch up on everything and get stuff out to the people who are waiting for it.

But honestly, looking around this place makes me realize again how lucky I am. I talked the other night about how I can afford to own a house and even though I know that for at least right now, I don't have to worry about having the money to make the payment every month, I feel a responsibility to make improvements on the house to make it acceptable (in my eyes) for the kids. I have a fear that something big is going to break and I'm not going to have the money to fix it. For example, the central air is acting a little wonky right now - and I'm terrified that it's going to cost me a lot of money when realistically it's probably something stupid. But I'm doing something amazing here - I bought a house. Me. Just me. Alone. It's mine.

And that, to me, is so amazing that I can't even begin to explain. I just can't. There are no words.

At the same time though, while it's mine on paper - realistically The Dude and I bought it together. We looked at every house together and we discussed everything and made every decision as a couple. He doesn't live here - yet - but ultimately, this is going to be the home that we share. He has had a bunch of health issues over the past few months that have put some kinks in some of our plans - but the plans are still there. For now, I am doing the physical stuff - and he is my biggest and loudest cheerleader. We are working toward combining households, but there are so many things that have to happen in order to get there.

Finally for the million dollar question about whether or not we'll ever get married.....I still say never.

(If you want some background on that, you can check out this post and then this post to get the basic understanding.)

Marriage still terrifies me to no end. The Dude and I have now been together for almost 2 1/2 years, and life is good. We don't get to spend nearly enough time together for a myriad of reasons, and I'll be totally honest and admit that I've been picking fights with him - but I'm going to blame it on stress and not seeing enough of each other and stress. I get pissed, I get unreasonable and obnoxious and hateful and yell at him, and he calls me out on it and then we kiss and make up. And then I sit here and wonder "what just happened?" and "why is he still here?" Bottom line is that he IS still here - and that in and of itself is terrifying to me because it's making me think that maybe he really IS planning on sticking around for the long haul.

Even after 2 1/2 years, I'm still getting used to the idea that he's not going to walk away any time soon - but that's still not enough to convince my overly dense head that he might just stay around forever.

One day at a time. It applies to so many things right now.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Take on Finances

In case you missed it, I posted a question on my facebook page tonight asking people what they wanted me to write about. A fairly common theme in the questions related to finances, and how I budget my money.

First off, let me say that I find this question.....hysterical? ironic? surreal? insane?

Let me explain.

For the majority of my adult life, starting in college, I was always broke. I didn't manage my money well at all. If I had it, I spent it - because that's what you do with money, right?

There were a few years, before I got married the first time, when I was somewhat responsible with money. I didn't have anything in savings, but my bills were getting paid and I could go out and buy stuff whenever I wanted to, but that was about it.

Throughout my first marriage, we struggled. The kids came quickly, and so did the expenses. We lived beyond our means, and it was hard to catch up when we fell behind. I have always been incredibly anal when it comes to balancing a checkbook and so ours was always balanced TO THE PENNY - which saved our asses when we had to live for 2 weeks with 38 cents in the checking account. But, I knew that nothing was going to bounce because we had that 38 cent cushion.

Fast forward through a couple more kids and two divorces. I wasn't working, but I still had bills. I sold anything that I owned in order to pay the utilities. I had payment arrangements out the wazoo in order to keep the bill collectors at bay. It was survival of the fittest to the nth degree - but we had food and we managed to survive.

And then my second ex-husband unexpectedly passed away. Through the fog immediately following his death, I was instructed to contact Social Security about benefits for Daniel....and I found out that we both qualified. We were within days of being homeless when we received our first checks - I hesitantly deposited them and paid our rent for the following month, and then sat down with the bills.

With that money, I was able to pay our bills. I was able to pay the rent and the utilities and buy a newer, more dependable van. I contacted anyone that I owed money to and set up payment arrangements and got everything paid off (eventually).

Now, a few years later....I have a system. As I get the bills, they get jotted down in my datebook. Just an abbreviation for the bill itself, and the amount due on the due date. That way, everything is laid out in front of me. Then, when we get our Social Security (towards the end of the month), I sit down and I pay every. single. bill. for the month. I write checks for what I have to and pay the rest online, but after about an hour or so, everything is paid. It's done. And what I have left is what I have left. With that money, I can go to the grocery store or whatever else I need, but I know that whatever is leftover is it.

Most of the time, what I have left has to last for 4 weeks, but every few months it turns into 5 weeks (we get our payments on the 4th Wednesday of the month) so sometimes things get a little tight on the 5 week months - but I've kind of gotten used to that.  I balance the checkbooks every few days, and then I average it out to see how much money I have left "per day" until the next payment comes in - I have a dollar amount that I am comfortable with, and if I go below that amount, then I know that I have to reign in the spending a bit.

I got lucky this year and I ended up getting a much bigger tax refund than I had expected (thank you, full-time crappy job)  and that helped immensely - it all went into the savings to use for unexpected house expenses and whatnot. Any "extra" money that I get goes into the savings - I can still access it, but it takes a little bit of effort because I have to actually transfer it before I can get to it to spend it. If I happen to get any "extra" money - it goes into the savings also. At this point, the savings is strictly earmarked for house and TMOART:14 expenses (if you don't know what that is, you'll have to stick around to find out). And for the first time in my adult life, I am actually looking into investing in some CDs in order to stash some cash just a *little* bit farther out of reach, without being totally unobtainable in the event of an emergency.

In a nutshell, that is my budgeting strategy. It works for us, but it may not work for anyone else. I still struggle with the idea that my bills get paid because my ex-husband died, but at the same time I constantly remind myself that "it is what it is" - and I make sure that I make the best possible financial choices that I can for my family.