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Lessons I’ve Learned being Poor

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We hear all the time about the welfare state, and the generations of people living on welfare, etc.  And being a conservative, that has always driven me batty.  “I’m working my butt off to support my family with no assistance, and these people who are perfectly capable for working, just sit on their butts and collect a check which I worked for.” –has been my attitude on it.  And this even coming from a social work background.

Now I certainly know that there are people who truly need the assistance, they cannot work or what they can do would not be able to support them.  I get that.  But having been in and around the social work field since the early 90s, I can promise you that this is not the majority of welfare recipients.

But now I am one of those people.  We are receiving SNAP (food stamps) and Medicare.  I do not qualify for any other assistance due to the adoption assistance for the twins…$1372 per month. (This number is public knowledge and every state sets their own rates, you can read more about in on the NACAC website.)

It was a VERY humbling experience to apply and have an in person interview for these services to be awarded.  I had to prove everything…my kids, my income, my bills, my job loss, my bank balances, etc.  I am not sure I have every felt so much shame and failure.  But I had to do it, I have four children to take care of.  And the only way I got through it was by telling myself – I have paid into this system since I was 15 years old AND this is not a long term solution, just short term assistance.  But frankly, I am so embarrassed to go buy groceries and have to use the SNAP card.  And while I pray that embarrassment never goes away as that is certainly a lesson in and of itself for me, I am educating our children at the same time and teaching them not to judge people in these situations, as I have for so long.

Needless, to say, we cannot live on $1372 per month, especially when rent on our 2 bedroom, 900 square foot apartment is $1435 per month.  So I’m having to continually seek additional assistance (in addition to my job search, odd job, etc.)  And it’s in seeking this assistance that I have learned ALOT about this “system” of ours.

I don’t want to write a book here and I could not about my experiences the last couple of months, I do want to give you some highlights.  And maybe some food for thought as you think of your charity choices.

  1. EVERY SINGLE place I’ve applied for help has turned me down.  The most common reason…I haven’t received an eviction notice.  Something is wrong with this picture to me.  So you want a single mom of four to be put out on the street before you step in?
  2. YOU CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE and receive assistance.  I did not buy my kids Christmas presents. Every dime I get, I put toward bills.  We ate ramen for most of the month of December SO that we could have a great Christmas dinner.  Yes, that might have been my receipt with a couple of steaks at Christmas time…but if you looked at the rest of the month it was sandwiches and ramen.  So when I’ve gone to get help, don’t have an eviction notice and my utilities are just a week or so late…yup, no assistance for you.
  3. NO ONE EATS expired or weird types of food.  We have been blessed beyond measure with food.  Thanksgiving basket from a church, turkey from our neighbor and boxes and boxes of cranberry sauce and yams.  I am so guilty of this.  When one of my kids activities required a canned food drive, I would find whatever we wouldn’t use in our pantry, no matter how long it had been there and send it.  Gross!  Now I have received those foods.  My kids won’t eat them, I won’t eat them.  So when you are going to give to a food pantry, give them money…they can buy fresh food, food that people will actually eat.  I have a big box in the back of my car of food to donate…because we don’t eat it.  But I hesitate to send it back because I hate for another family to get a whole box of cranberry sauce and yams!
  4. IT IS REALLY HARD to get ahead and by ahead I mean paying your bills on time or at least on time enough not to accrue late fees, when you can only get help when you are SO far behind.  Since I’ve known I had this part time job for months now, I also knew that if I got to my start date being so far behind on bills, I would NEVER catch up.  And while I knew I wouldn’t make enough to cover all the bills, but I figured I would be able to at least “borrow from paul to pay larry and vice versa every month.)  Do you get what I’m saying?  But if I am even one day late on my rent, there is a fee of over $400 added on.  And with other bills the fee ranges from $5-25.  So I knew I needed to stay as current as possible.  And by the grace of God, awesome friends and community and family assistance, thus far I’m pretty close to on time (4 bills currently in arrears, 2 due to dog bite medical treatment/insurance fiasco,) but I know not everyone in my situation can.  So if you want to help someone who is struggling, don’t give them “stuff” or gift cards and I know most don’t want to give money…but you can, absolutely can, pay a bill for them.  It won’t take too much time out of your day to make a phone call or take them to a payment center and pay it.  No expectations, no strings, just pay it.

I won’t keep preaching.  But I can tell you this, I have changed significantly since starting my BAD journey a couple of years ago now. But these last months have made a forever imprint on my life and my attitudes, I have learned so much about the populations that I have wanted to serve my whole life.  And I have learned so much about the systems, they are dealing with, I am dealing with.  When I am through this phase in my life, I can promise that I will be paying it forward like a crazy person AND more importantly I will work to help improve the systems/services that are supposed to be “helping” these communities.  I think for the most part, they are just holding them down…the responsible ones that is. And I promise you there is more than just me that falls into that latter category!

I know the holidays are over and I know this is a debt pay off blog, but I will tell you this, if you are reading this, there are others who are a whole lot worse off then you.  I challenge you to reach out, lend a hand, even during your payoff journey. 


Ashley’s Year In Review (2015)

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I know we’re now a full week into the new year, but I always like to look back and reflect on the previous year around this time. So indulge me in a week-late review of some of the big highlights of 2015.

Personal and Financial Goals

The year began (or really was preceded by) setting some big goals. We had one list of financial goals, and a second list of goals related to “growing up” (in my mind this meant doing things like getting wills, life insurance, etc.). By the end of the year we hadn’t quite met all of our financial goals, but we’d made incredible progress. In all, we paid off over $26,000 in debt!!! We did even better on our “year of becoming an adult” goals. We fully accomplished 3 of our 4 goals and are well underway on the 4th goal (see update here). We’ve set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2016, too!

Budgeting

In early January, we made some pretty big changes to the way we did our budget. This eventually lead us to using YNAB for budgeting (we’d previously used an Excel file). I still can’t say enough great things about YNAB. I really think it’s made a huge impact on how well we’ve been able to stick to our budget and, therefore, how well we’ve done with paying off debt (see my full review here).

One of the categories in our budget that we really struggled with this year was our grocery budget. I talked several times about our efforts to make cheap meals, saving money by making homemade yogurt (super easy and so tasty!), DIY-ing pumpkin spice coffee (a personal fave), and trying my hardest to meal plan (which was much easier when I worked from home compared to an office-setting, and I’m still learning to balance competing needs).

I also saved a lot of money on self-maintenance this year. With the exception of 2 professional cut/colors (which I did prior to big job interviews), I’ve saved money in our budget by cutting and coloring my own hair for the past 21 months (but who’s counting? hehe). I’ve even received compliments on my self-maintained hair and really like my new darker color. To be transparent, I did just barely receive a professional cut/color from my Mom as a birthday gift, so this totals 3 professional jobs (only 2 that I personally paid for) in nearly 2 years.

Employment

I interviewed for 3 separate jobs in 2015:  one in January (recap), one in March, and one in June. I was offered the third job (third times a charm!) and accepted the position soon thereafter. I started the position in July and have been very happy in the job ever since (though I have plans to try to negotiate for a title change and more money).

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Gift-Giving

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Before I started our debt reduction mission we really spent a ton of money on gift-giving. Since starting to blog here, I’ve drastically reduced the amount spent on gifts. I now try to spend an average of about $15-20 per gift (though hubs and I set a $50 limit on gifts to each other). I talked about a cheap classroom gift here and waxed poetic about the impact of a hand-written thank you note (as opposed to an expensive flower delivery). I also talked about a cheap going away gift basket, a cheap Mother-in-Law (or grandparent) gift, an inexpensive alternative wedding gift, and relatively inexpensive ($50 limit) anniversary gifts.

Kids Crafts

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The kids did lots of fun and cheap crafts this year. A sampling of crafts include: a  Valentine’s craft, a Mother’s Day craft, and an Easter craft. All of these doubled as cheap cards/gifts for family, too!

Entertainment

Our entertainment budget was really bare bones this year as we tried to funnel all our extra money toward debt. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun! I talked about a free family activity here and a free painting class (courtesy of Yelp Elite) here. I also shared how we got cheap Halloween costumes for the kids and had fun with a cheap-ish birthday day date for hubs’ 33rd birthday.

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Successes

In April we celebrated kicking hubs’ license fee debt to the curb! That left us with only the car loan, some medical debt, and the monstrous student loans to contend with. That same month I did a balance transfer of a higher-interest student loan (8.5%) to a 0% APR credit card to pay off one of my Navient student loans at a lower rate (just paid a 2% initiation fee). I also celebrated when we paid off another of my Navient student loans back in October. It’s no secret that I freaking hate Navient, so I can’t wait to rid them from my life!

Personal

In June I let you know something I’d been keeping a bit of a secret. I have a very close family member experiencing a debilitating illness for which there is no cure. I later told you all that the “close family member” is my father and divulged that his diagnosis is frontotemporal degeneration (a type of dementia). I had a rough time in regard to processing this information. I was painfully honest about the scary feelings and emotions experienced knowing that his health is quickly declining and my siblings and I will be tasked with becoming his caretaker and all of the other financial implications of the situation. I also discussed prioritizing the costs of therapy so I could take care of myself. I never updated, but I did in fact search for therapists but there was only one person who really stood out to me as a good fit. Of course, that person was not accepting new clients at the time and, feeling overwhelmed by life, the new job, etc., I never pursued any other options. To be honest, I do think I’ll try again to find someone to talk to in the New Year. I feel like I am in a much better place mentally than I was when I first wrote this post (or this one, too), but I know my Dad’s health issues will continue to be a HUGE deal in my life and I would like to see someone at least occasionally to help me process everything as his disease progresses.

Summary

2015 was a wild year! Lots of great successes – Can I get a high five for that $26,000+ of debt that was paid off!?! and some tough times, too. In 2016 we plan to split our priorities a bit between saving for a house and continuing to pay off debt, but I know that we’ll continue to make great progress along the way. I’ve admitted before that I may loosen up the purse strings slightly. I think it’s important to have more regular date nights and such. But I also can’t wait to make some big dents to our debt this year. This will be the first full year of me having a full-time job and income (in addition to my part-time job & hubs’ job). With the additional money we really hope to do some crazy things in 2016. A house, a car (not a new one, but our current one being paid off), punching Navient in the nose, and so on. Great things ahead, friends! Thank you for joining me on life’s wild ride!


A List of Status Updates – Hope

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Well, sorry I’ve been AWOL, but I’m not sure I have stopped to breathe the last couple of weeks and no end in site for this week either.  But I didn’t want to miss another week so pardon the list but this is what has happened over the last couple of weeks:

  1. My parents were here for their annual visit and it was GREAT!  No tension and they were super supportive of our current situation doing a bit of extra Christmas for the kids since I wouldn’t be able too.  They also gave me a little money to put to bills after seeing my itemized list of where I was at financially.  I had asked them not to come, not sure if I could handle the stress, but in the end, I’m glad they did.
  2. Little Gymnast competed in his local meet and did FANTASTIC, bringing home 2nd on floor and 8th all around.  There were 150 kids competing in his session, so pretty big deal.
  3. Princess is in the midst of basketball season now that volleyball has ended, and her choir sang in 7 performances at our church this weekend for over 8000 guests.  Super busy.
  4. Twins are both working almost full time over this break (we finished the semester the first week of December and will go back the middle of January.)  They are also continuing studies for English, Geometry and AP Psych, not to mention getting ready for robotics competition at the end of January.  So while it’s a little less hectic…not much!
  5. No more word on the job front for me as far as full time goes.  But I am looking forward to starting my new part time job the first week of January, it’s all scheduled for me to travel for training.
  6. Amazingly, I have been picking up piecemeal work left and right, keeping me on my toes doing an assortment of computer support, training and website work.

Life is good.  As of tonight, I have enough to cover all my bills for December – woot, woot!

And I have to tell you my faith has made a HUGE difference this past month.  I have really focused on staying focused on being grateful, living by faith and trusting that God has a plan for us.  I have never been through rougher financial times but to be honest, I’ve never felt so secure that we are being looked out for, and that is truly a blessing.

My stories of how and whom has provided for us would blow your mind.  I won’t be buying any Christmas presents this year.  I am very grateful for what my parents have provided and some of our community members are also contributing to make this special for the kids.

I will write more soon, but just wanted to get a note out to you and let you know how we are doing.  Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas season.  We are truly celebrating the many, many blessings that we have every day.


My Stomach was in Knots but it is Okay

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Written on Tuesday…

For the first time EVER in my life, I had to meet with someone and tell them I could not take care of my family.  I had to go to the same building that I visited so many times as a foster parent and later adoptive parent full of pride that I was doing something to give back, something good and right, and admit that I was a failure.  I had to look at a woman in the eye and in essence say “I’ve failed to prepare for this situation by not saving and by using my money un-wisely.”  It was the worst feeling EVER.

And what a lesson.  I hate this situation.  I hate that my decisions brought me here.  I cringe at admitting what a failure I am.  But if the last year and then have taught me anything, it’s that I AM going to do better.

In no way shape form or fashion am I making excuses, but the one thing that helped me get through this morning while I was turning in shot records, leases, bank statements to what turned out to a extremely compassionate worker was that this is temporary.  I will get another job.  I will choose more wisely where my career path takes me.  I will make better money choices, even better than the ones I have started to make.  And more importantly, I WILL give back.

I do not deserve the support my community has given me and yet people have reached out offering Thanksgiving meals, help with Christmas and just words of encouragement.  But I do know that when I am back on my feet, the first thing I am going to do is find someone who has entered a dark time and reach out to them as so many have to me.

I will find out in a few days if/what assistance we qualify for, and I’ve been told that I have 10 days after I get my first paycheck to report a change in status.  I continue to seek the next step in this transition.

(And just a side note: I just completed my first of two phone interviews scheduled for today…and the second interview is scheduled for Friday.  I am counting on God to steer me as I step out in faith to follow what He has for me next rather than what I would choose.  Use me, send me…that is my prayer.)


How Do You Write about Money…

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It’s very hard to write about money and paying off debt when you don’t have any money to pay off debt.  And I’m certain we don’t want to turn Blogging Away Debt into Hope’s Job Search.  So there is the challenge I face as I continue to try to write.

Thus, the goal of “finding” some money to not only sustain us while I job search but to also, maybe continue at least paying the minimum debt payments.

So I’m back to finding more things to sell and even downsizing even more.  Prior to the job loss, we were DEFINITELY moving in April so I had a timeline to digitize all my files, update all my scrapbooks and trash the duplicate pictures and finish going through our limited items in storage.  Now that timeline has been moved up since we may move sooner than that depending on what happens with a job for me.

As I’ve been cleaning things out, I’ve found even more items to sell and some or hopefully all will bit a bit more on the valuable side.  The problem…I’m not sure where to sell these items or if I just got the ebay route…how to price them.

So here’s what I’ve collected thus far:

  • Soft sided luggage in like new condition (have a 6 piece set but we really only use the smaller pieces so have 2 large pieces)
  • Care Bears in like new condition (the old pose-able ones)
  • Antique cameras – about a 1/2 dozen of them
  • Some collectible memorabilia which frankly I have no idea where it came from
  • Antique silver ware set that was either my great-grandmothers or even older than that

So I’m going to do some digging this week to figure the best place and price to start selling some of these more unique items.  I’m also working on crafty presents for our homeschool co op teachers, family presents and even some for the kids.

I’m grateful for these ‘chores’ to work on.  They help me feel like I’m still being productive, although the bulk of my time is being spent on networking and job search.

Two more phone interviews yesterday….and several last week.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the right opportunity comes along and that I make good decisions in the mean time.


What to do When You Lose Your Job

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I’ve been attending a Job Transition group since I got the news of my impending lay off.  It’s been great to connect with like minded people (faith based group) who are going or who have gone through similar situations.  This morning the talk to turned to me with questions of healthcare now, unemployment benefits and general “what to do when you lose your job” tasks.

It’s been a LONG time since I was here…2006 to be exact.  Then it was pretty cut and dried.  I applied for unemployment benefits that lasted 4-6 months, paid for COBRA medical coverage for up to 18 months to continue our medical benefits and started a job hunt with weekly reporting to the Employment Commission to continue to receive my unemployment payments.

Now I’m not leaving corporate, I’m leaving contract work so no unemployment as far as I know, no COBRA and I had three weeks notice rather than the single day I had last time.  Very different and not so cut and dried.

So I’m hear asking for your collective wisdom…what do you do now when you lose a job?  Here’s what the Job Transition group advised me this morning….

  1. Apply for unemployment…let them tell me if I’m eligible or not.  At least it might result in some temporary income.
  2. With the new Obamacare, I cannot let my medical insurance lapse or I will face penalty, so I have to do something about that.  And without steady income, well that could be problematic.
  3. There  are lots of alternative resources out there, research them now, apply for help now, just in case, so that I don’t get to the point where I’m panicking and reach the point of no return with certain financial matters…suggestions are United Way (strict guidelines for help that I probably wouldn’t meet at this point,) local churches are not governed by strict regulations, grants for single moms, etc.

So here I am asking for your best advice, what would you do in my shoes?  What steps do I take now?


And the Job Search is On

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First week without a job…it’s a very new feeling after 10 years of working 70+ hour work weeks.  I have really been focusing this week of keeping things low key and not going into panic mode.  It’s a very different routine, and I’m not taking it for granted, trying to enjoy it while it lasts.

Over the last few weeks, I have been knee deep in the job search primarily focusing on returning to the corporate world and with the possibility of moving.  I’ve had four first interviews and received one rejection email.  Things have certainly changed since the last time I looked for a corporate job!

I have been very blessed by a particular reader on this blog and I wanted to take a moment to publicly acknowledge that and thank her…

Faye from LeapofFaye.com reached out to me and offered to take a look at my resume and give me some feedback.  And I’ve got to say, WOW!  She completely re-did my resume and gave me some awesome advice on marketing myself…it was SO needed and I attribute her guidance to the interviews I’ve landed thus far.  And frankly, after 10 years out of the job market…things have certainly changed.  So I really want to thank her for reaching out and giving me a great push in the right direction as I tackle this transition in my life!  Here’s a little bit about her…

Faye is an almost-40-something mother of two (with a third on the way!) who has recently left her high powered 20+ year career in the financial services industry to pursue her passion of writing and spend more time with family – you can follow her experiences in making the leap to self-employment, adventures in parenting, and all her other favorite topics. Check out her site at LeapofFaye.com

So this afternoon, I have a second interview for a part time job that I’m pretty excited about. It will allow me to continue to work from home, have flexible hours and seems like a pretty cool gig. It won’t pay the bills, but would be money coming in, and I’m sure you know, every bit helps!

I continue to look at jobs and have expanded my search area to pretty much Anywhere, USA. I would love to go overseas, but not sure the kids would handle that well at this point.


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