Thursday, March 1, 2012

Making Ends Meet

A work opportunity for the fall has just presented itself to me -- nothing big, but bigger that the $0 I am currently bringing in -- and for a very few minutes I considered it.

Then I thought: what happens if the fall brings another crisis?

The shorter days tend to cause Benjy heightened depression and anxiety. He misses school, or goes in late, because I can't get him to raise his head and face the world. He wants to hurt himself, or to end his life. At least, he has in each of the past several autumns. It's not limited to the shorter days -- last spring he was a wreck too -- but it begins with them.

So a job starting in September would be a disaster waiting to happen.

Am I resentful? No, not really. More like resigned. These are the cards I drew. My sister, who died at 36, drew worse ones. And as I've said before, I like not working. Until I get bored, or tired of being poor -- poorer, that is -- I'll just carry on taking care of family and household, putting out fires, and writing when I can.

So, how do we manage on what is, for the town where we live, a SMALL yearly income? I've been thinking about that recently. We've tightened our belts for sure, but in some areas we are actually spending more.

Belt tightening:

Food -- we NEVER get take-out or go out to eat anymore. I look for what's on sale. I only buy store brands (when possible). Sometimes, it's frozen rather than fresh. (Veggies and even meat. You can get frozen salmon fillets for about $1.99 a pound -- and they're frozen fresh, so they're fine. Frozen chicken breasts have been more hit or miss -- but also cheap.) Beans, people. I have a GREAT vegetarian chili recipe! Pasta is out right now because I am going the low carb route -- but in general it's a cheap way to eat if you can find ways to keep it interesting.

Entertainment -- What??

Clothes -- Savers, baby! On a generous day, Target.

Household items -- Craigslist is my first stop. Also good: Needham "transfer station" (Read: dump). They have a take-it-or-leave-it area. You can get some good stuff there. We have friends who have furnished their entire house from the dump. No kidding. There's a Family Dollar store near Benjy's fencing club, and I am going to check it out on Saturday. And good old TJ Maxx has good prices on housewares ($6.99 tablecloth, anyone?) and things like coffee (fancy brands you never heard of for 4 bucks) -- not to mention the coolest, poshest soaps and toiletries for a steal.

Areas where we are spending more (or the same as when I was working):

House cleaning -- Well, we still have someone cleaning our house twice a month. Terrible, I know -- and we may have to cease and desist. That'll be a last resort, though, as I DESPISE cleaning my house.

Cell phones -- We said ta-ta to our old dumb phones and got a couple of iPhones (last year's 3Gs, for $0.99 each at AT&T -- but the data plan costs more by about $40 per month).

Cable -- We were possibly the last folks in America to cast off our old TV and buy an HDTV (although it WAS refurbished. Still pricey). Now, cable costs us more.

Tutoring -- Saskia just started with a math tutor. That's costing us $200 per month. Ouch!

Fencing -- Benjy has FINALLY found a sport he likes and can be successful at. And is getting regular exercise beyond pushing a mouse around. How can I say no. Damage: $125 per month.

Most months we only break even, but we sure do feel virtuous. We're aware of where our money is going for the first time ever. We even keep a monthly expense spreadsheet. And have made -- and adhere to -- a budget.

(Wait -- have our bodies been colonized by aliens?? Responsible, financially savvy aliens??).

And so far we've not bounced any checks! The jury is out on whether we really will make it, but at this moment, my money's on us.


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  2. Nope, not the last people to buy an HDTV. We have a 13 year old 175 pound Sony 27 incher which works just fine in my opinion. No HDTV until it breaks. I've cut my housecleaner down to 1x month (which I can't really afford either), but it makes me happy and I HATE scrubbing. In fact, this morning, I attempted to bake a cheesecake. The filling spilled when I put it in the oven and I spent, I kid you not, an hour scouring the oven of the remnants so there would be no fire or smoke that would make the alarm go off and freak out Andrew. New clothes? What are those (at least for the adult here)? Food? Whatever's on sale. Lessons for the kids. None. The girls want to ride horses but that nearly bankrupted me when we tried it (and I realized their dad was going to contribute $0). I am enjoying the inter-library loan program and praying my laptop and all other electronic devices stay working. Did I mention the DOR just audited me, the single mom who makes like less money than the federal poverty guidelines? Always fun around here, too.