So my attempts to blog regularly have been greatly squelched in the past few weeks. In order to remedy this, I will start this entry with a grand confession:
January's finances bombed.
Oh yes, here little Miss Blogger said she would brutally capture our financial successes and failures and I've been hiding from my readers for two weeks.
So let's come clean. This month ended up being a perfect storm of financial yuckiness. Here's how it started.
November and December are expensive months, largely the fault of Thanksgiving and Christmas. November in particular was a disaster.
Turkey Day warranted a long overdue visit to family in Kansas City, as well as the need to get the hell out of town. It was a great trip, we really enjoyed it, and we have no regrets making it. But you can't escape that 13+ hours of driving will result in gas expenses.
Preceding KS was a trip to Milwaukee (a 10-hour trip). It was a leftover remnant of my illusion of going to PhD school. I couldn't back out because I was an area chair (a leadership position) and I had signed up for it over a 1 1/2 years ago so there was no excuse for not planning for it. Mike scored an amazing hotel deal ($50 for a Hilton!), and we packed sandwiches and breakfast. Still, gas was gas.
Also sandwiched in November was a trade show that I attended for work. Now, the company reimburses you for whatever you rack up, but the catch is, you have to have the capital available to do so in the first place. I had previously gone to another show where the hotel was taken care of. Not this time, so surprise! $200 on the credit card for a one night stay at a chic downtown Chicago hotel.
November was a bad month.
December had Christmas, which if you've been reading this, you know we went to dedicated lengths to do homemade gifts. While that was a great venture, it couldn't counteract the damage done in November.
So January comes around and we get down to the nitty-gritty of our finances. We make specific goals. We dedicate to getting rid of all of our credit card debt in 2011. We want to start the year off right. I become an expert bargain shopper.
But January had a hidden snafu waiting for us. Mike's GI Bill. Particularly, when it would show up.
If you're unfamiliar with the GI Bill, it's given to military members as kind of condolence that their military service disrupts the typical time one goes to college. It's also to supplement living expenses the vet-turned-student needs but is now not generating income for.
Mike started classes the second week this month and we thought, even though the government is slow, surely the money will arrive by the end of January. Just in time to replace the teaching salary I no longer have and to take care of February rent.
So we got confident. I made a double car insurance payment ($86) and then slashed a credit card balance in half by throwing $100 on it.
The second week in, we learn that the GI Bill will show up in February. Mid-February.
Being aggressive on those payments shorted us money for groceries. And gee, guess how much went on the credit cards? Yep, almost $200. See the correlation?
So in addition to racking up the credit cards because of my decisions, we were also in the unfortunate situation of not having rent for February. We sheepishly went into our credit union, asked for a personal loan in the exact amount of rent, received said loan, and promptly wrote a check to our property company, which has already been cashed.
If that weren't enough, all of this has been compounded by a growing frustration on my part for not earning enough money. I'm the one with the two degrees, and while I never expected to make good money by majoring in English, I did expect that I could take care of myself and husband. No no no.
I make $1600 a month after taxes and healthcare come out. Rent is $750. Making all of our other obligations and finding money for groceries, supplies, and gas has been a delicate and wearing dance.
It bothers me that I have a lovely job and I can't fully take care of our finances. It bothers me that when Mike gets his GI Bill, it will double our income. It really bothers me that I left a highly stressful and unstable job/s teaching with much much better money and came to a more stable job where I still can't get ahead financially.
In fact, my job is causing us to get behind.
I very much feel like one of those traditional middle-aged guys who's always been the breadwinner and then suddenly is not. I unfortunately do not have the luxury of buying a fancy car or jet-setting off to Europe on a grand vacation.
No, I am 26, just a kid in numbers, but emotionally twice that. And the reality of my responsibility in our two-member family, combined with the ridiculous pressure I put on myself, is wearing just as hard as our finances are.
2009 was a shit-tastic year for us. I worked too hard and Mike couldn't find work. We lived in an apartment that now is fondly referred to as Buzzard Gulch.
2010 came in with mixed results. We had a hard time saying much positive in our yearly newsletter.
Already 2011 is kicking us when we're already down. I don't want January to set the tone for us this year.
Now that I've just hurled a bunch of negativity at you, which I appreciate you letting me vent, know that we're pulling up our socks and taking on February with closed fists.
I've decided that as lovely as the credit card goal is, we're just not going to hit that in any way shape or form. So we're realigning it to tackled 3 out of our 4 cards, which have $100, $500, and $950 on them respectively.
Two are bank cards from different institutions. I want to get rid of the big balance, which comes from a national bank, and then go to our credit union and ask them to consolidate the credit limits. This allows us to dump said national bank, have the primary credit card at a better interest rate, and eliminate an entire payment.
The other goal will be to not depend on the GI Bill. While it's going to amount to $1500 a month (and in one lump sum), I want to pretend it's not there. Granted, half of it is needed for rent, but that other 700 clams, that's what I'm talking about. I don't want to raise our living expenses to match this additional income. I want to always be surprised when it shows up, and throw it at debt and savings.
So that's where we stand. On shaky ground and channeling disappointment into productivity. But at the end of the day, I'm thankful it isn't worse. I have a job, in my field even, a nice place to rent, a supportive partner, transportation, and healthcare. We're not on foodstamps, we're not living in a hole, we don't have kids to feed or parents to house. It could be a lot worse.
In a twisted way, we're lucky. And that's sometimes what you have to hang on to.