Investmama's Blog

Thoughts on what keeps me sane and better yet, fulfilled, as a parent and spouse

From 6 Figures to 0 Figures – A Wife’s Guide to Making Unemployment Fun September 8, 2009

Filed under: Money — investmama @ 4:15 pm
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Well, my husband and I are coming up on our 1 year anniversary of having no income and that qualifies me to explain how to have fun through one of the scariest, most uncomfortable experience two adults with three small kids can have.

This is not just a regular kind of fear, like anticipating a spat with a department store clerk over a return or having a close call on the freeway with some road-rager, this is a much more real kind of fear.  It is in the category of survival fear, like rushing your wheezing kid to the ER or not knowing where your traveling husband is at 3 am when he was supposed to be home at midnight.  And it is soooooo uncomfortable, I find myself practicing Lamaze breathing, as if I were in early labor (I wouldn’t compare it to full labor – I won’t even go there!) or someone were forcing me to get a tattoo of a monster truck on my neck.

Now despite the daily fear and discomfort, I have discovered what has kept our family happy, close and having fun this year, well most days, in any case and I want to share it with all the wives and mothers out there who join me in my daily quest to have some fun no matter what life’s challenges are.  So here’s what’s worked for me:

  • Budget like crazy, cut back in every way I can (because I’m a control freak and I know that makes me feel better):
    • Cut housekeeper down to twice a month (because I still suck at dusting, windows and changing the beds)
    • Go to grocery store once a week, that’s it!  I used to panic when we were down to the last bag of goldfish or last box of oatmeal and go 3-4 times a week to replenish.  Guess what?!  My kids survived when they had to eat cereal instead of oatmeal.
    • Pack lunches at home for everyone to go to school, work, even when we run errands or go on a road trip I am the master at packing meals, snacks, drinks to last us 8 hours or more.
    • Use what we have at home instead of buying anything.  I must have a 3 y ear supply of bar soap (though I love liquid soap, oh well!), a 6 month supply of shampoo samples, tons of cleaning supplies, clothes, shoes, even gifts for adults and kids.
    • Make a budget and then put in receipts to see if we are sticking to it.
    • Buy generic.  All of my wrinkle-fighting, moisturizing, smoothing, cleaning, toning products used to cost me $20-45 a pop.  Now I’ve discovered the joy of plain wrap skincare at $5-$15 a pop (try Target or Walmart).
  • Work the system.  Learn all about government programs to help the unemployed, uninsured, and financially squashed.
    • We filed for unemployment insurance after much heartache and deliberation 6 weeks ago and have yet to see a check.  But we haven’t been denied benefits yet, so I’m holding out.  By the way, skip the heartache and deliberation, if you have no income and you’ve paid into the system – file a claim!
    • We’re signing our kids up for Healthy Families health insurance asap!  I mean, I think we qualified even when we had an income – what have I been waiting for?  Almost 7 years we’ve been paying $800/month plus deductibles and copays for a similar family health plan instead of $30/month for all 3 kids?!?  Check it out at:  http://healthyfamilies.ca.gov/Plans_Providers/
    • There’s quite a few programs to check out as part of the stimulus plan, but as far as I know we don’t qualify.
    • I have yet to check out food stamps – still waiting for our need to outweigh my pride.  But I’ve choked down my false sense of pride and found two sources of help that will make this very uncertain time a lot more bearable (if they approve us…).
  • Have fun for free, or at most do something really cheap.
    • No more eating out, so in order to get a night off of the kitchen, I buy frozen pizzas and we have family pizza party once a week.
    • No more expensive family outings for bowling, fairs, movies, etc.  We go to the park A LOT, do free activities through the city library, schedule playdates at home, rent movies, and do every craft you can imagine and make a huge mess, because that’s the fun part.
    • Only vacation if it’s driving distance, the lodging’s free and we have a kitchen to make meals.  We had 4 vacations this summer, all staying with relatives, and we ate home made meals better than 75% of the time.  Also, we went to the beach, to free factory tours, free kids movies and my cousin’s swimming pool for some more free fun.
    • Cocktail hour.  Everyday.  At home.  Whatever’s in your wine rack or liquor cabinet, and no, it doesn’t have to be 5 o’clock.
    • Sex.  Everyday.  At home, any room, anywhere.  Whenever the kids are asleep or zombied out watching TV.

The truth is that this time of not-knowing has been hard, so, so hard.  And I’ve had bad days, quite a few, and a lot of bad moments.   A lot of my bad days are related to the picture I’ve painted of myself as a SAHM Princess.  On a bad day, I ask my princess-self: how could I, the diamond earring-wearing, SUV-driving, college graduate who used to earn 6 figures, married-to-a-hunk who used to earn 6 figures be in this situation?  My desperation gets embarassing, I mean who tries to clean up after dinner with no lights on hoping to cut the electric bill by $2?  Reality, though, saves me from myself.  The reality that I created this situation, I chose this path and this is my opportunity to cherish what money can’t buy, to live each day to it’s fullest in the simplest, best way I can.

 

WHY ARE MY KIDS SO GOOD? August 31, 2009

Filed under: Kids — investmama @ 10:01 pm
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Not that my son didn’t tell my assistant she was fat, wipe his boogers on the wall (3 walls, last week), or try to punch a kid on the playground during his 3rd birthday party at the park.  And that’s just my son, my two daughters each have their own list of horrifying, impulsive and/or gross misdeeds (“mommy, I touch my poo”, need I say more?).  When I say “good”, I mean an underlying desire to be good in their parents’ eyes, a willingness to help each other, an empathy for another’s need.  They are kind to others, respectful of adults and able to apologize for their mistakes.

I believe that the reason our kids are, for the most part, so good is because of the simple agreement we have with them as their parents.  My husband and I put their needs first, and they do what we ask in return.  As parents, we have discerned what we believe they truly need, versus the infinite list of what they want and we also request of our kids a short list of how they need to behave to be members of our family.

What we have decided our young kids need is a safe environment in which they can explore, discover, and act upon the best of themselves based on a deep connection with us, their parents.   So we have a stay-at-home parent (me, their Mom) who’s in charge of their safety, of their routines (to make sure they eat right, sleep enough, stay active and get to the dentist and the doctor) and of creating experiences where they and their parents can see their strengths and challenges.  I’m also in charge of keeping myself sane, so I can draw on a very deep well of patience and humor – because if I’m not enjoying them, then none of this will ever help them.  They need to know that they bring joy to our lives, that they are a light in our home.

What we ask in return is that they bring their best selves to our family and in their daily life.  We ask them to be polite, helpful, and respectful.  This is asking for their best based on what they know they can do, not based on any comparison or preconceived notion.  Our kids get our approval, acceptance, attention and love as much as they need it, when they need it.  And, for the most part, we get polite, sweet kids who are interesting, communicative and funny. I listen carefully to my kids (man, they can talk a lot!), and engage in their ideas (yes, chocolate-dipped carrots sound delicious, of course you can try one).  I also ask that they listen to me carefully and follow through with time-outs if they don’t.  My husband and I provide a full family life based on a loving marriage and a home environment without the distractions of adult drama (e.g, shouting, fighting, moving in/out, dating).   With this foundation, our children are free to develop their own interests, personality, intellect, and ability to contribute.

I see childhood as a time to discover who you are in a safe, protected environment, find the structures that will hold you up in the difficult moments ahead, and understand your inherent, unique value to see how you can make the world a better place.  Our kids have an unquestionable connection to two people that put their needs above their own and a safe, respectful and calm place to grow up.  We have a chance to give back to the world adults who are ready to contribute their best.

 

INVEST FIRST, THEN SPEND August 27, 2009

Filed under: Money — investmama @ 10:53 pm
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In this down economy, tough times magnify poor and good choices alike. Lately, I’ve most noticed how well my husband and my mindset of investing, not spending has served to support us as we struggle to re-start our own business and live off our savings. It’s also made obvious how people who spend first and then invest, or never invest, have gotten into a lot of financial trouble once something big went wrong, most likely losing a job.

We’ve had no income for 10 months now, just counting out the months breaks me into a cold sweat, after my husband lost a job. But we’ve been able to continue our modest lifestyle and preserve most of our nest egg for our future business and kids college education. The only way we know how to do that is by investing first, and it’s something we’ve always done, whether the economy was good or bad, whether we were making $25,000 a year or $125,000 a year, whether we had one income, two incomes or no income (we’ve seen it all), whether we had kids or not (now we have 3 under the age of 7), whether we felt like it or not.

We made a conscious choice, when our first daughter was born, that we were going to live by what we had committed to, and not by what we wanted. What we committed to was simple and beautiful: to be married until death do us part and to provide a safe environment to raise our children. What we wanted was a long list of big and small things, experiences, and desires with seemingly no end – it would lead us to a complicated and stressful life with no big picture. Living by our commitments lead us to a modest, meaningful life full of sacrifice and delayed gratification and meaning; seeing the big picture was easy.

We have not, in our 10 year marriage, had a lot of the things we’ve wanted that money can buy. We don’t have in our budget any money for clothing, dining out, recreation, beauty, gifts or travel – what I call “spending”. Spending is exchanging money for extras, things, experiences and desires that don’t contribute to our family’s long-term well-being. Spending drains one of your main resources, money, with nothing to show for it.

We do have money in our budget for health (insurance, co-pays, prescriptions), groceries (the highest quality of food we can afford, organic is our goal but not always our reality), education (kids go to public school while it is a safe environment, but we anticipate as they get older that that will change), transportation (a safe vehicle for each of us, car maintenance, fuel, insurance), utilities, life insurance (a policy for each of us), retirement contribution, and household goods (the safest cleaners and detergents, energy efficient appliances, and earth friendly paper goods we can afford) – what I call “investing”. Investing is exchanging money for the long-term return of living a long, meaningful life during which we can do our part to make the world a better place. Investing gives you a return for your money – you can’t live long if you’re not healthy, you can’t be healthy if you don’t feed yourself well. You can’t contribute fully to your community and your world without an education – you get the idea.

Now, we haven’t always lived with this strict of a budget, just when we were low on income, which has been probably 6 of the 10 years of our marriage, including this year. But even in the 4 years we were financially more comfortable, our “spending” was very conscious and budgeted. Being entrepreneurs most of the 10 years has also reinforced that we never know what our income will be, so managing our spending and investing first fit naturally into our entrepreneurial mindset.

After 10 years of investing first, we’ve built up a healthy net worth and a pretty good tolerance for life’s rollercoaster – right now we’re zooming down an unexpected loop de loop. I am so proud that for all the pedicures and cute shoes I’ve foregone and the boat my husband’s never had we may not have spending bliss, but we have the freedom to invest yet again in our bigger picture.

 

 
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