Monday, May 7, 2012

Short term plans

Last week I did what I should have done three months ago, and I finished the financial budget for my household. Flying by the seat of my pants and waiting for the trouble to come is no way to live. Especially when you hate dealing with financial matters as much as I do. I'm "in charge" of the money around here, and not knowing where we stand is a problem I have had all my adult life. There have been times when I felt physically sick just logging on to the bank website to check our balance (or lack thereof.) Things are much better than they used to be, but I still have that lingering fear that makes me want to do ANYTHING other than balance the accounts. I need to just get over it if I ever want to sleep at night without nightmares of losing everything and ending up on the street with my kids.

Anyway, I crunched the numbers and took the advice of someone very dear to me who ALWAYS has her stuff together. I used to envy people like her for everything they can do. Then, I realized - if I want what she has, I should do what she does. So I asked her - How do you keep everything in check and have such a beautiful home and your pantry is full and everything? It turns out it wasn't magic or some long lost relative giving her a million dollar stipend. The secret to her success was finding an EASY way to keep track of her money and making sure she was always prepared for the bills and emergencies that came up. It was that easy? Really?

Now, I have been trying to do just that for a very long time. My computer is full of programs that will track and categorize your spending for you, some that will download them from your bank site for you, plenty that give you pretty graphs and charts of what you have already spent, and I have even tried online versions so that I can log in from any computer. The problem I always have is that if I get behind, I will have days, or weeks, or even months worth of data to enter, or at the very least verify, before I can be sure the numbers are true. I don't typically have the time or enthusiasm to mess with all of that so I would fall behind, get frustrated, try to start over with something that is supposed to be so much easier... then the cycle repeats.

It occurred to me that I don't actually need a pie graph to know how much I spent in craft supplies over the past five years. If I ever DO need to know, my fancy program isn't likely to have all the information I need. I would still need to go back to my online account record or go through my statements and actually look. It felt like I was duplicating all the work the bank was doing and all I got for it was frustration. So, last week I let myself off the hook. I stopped trying to use separate programs to track and report on my spending and I got back to basics with what I know best. I kept it simple and made and Excel spreadsheet.

It isn't as though I haven't done this a thousand times before, but in the past I had been trying to make an easier version of something I didn't really need by making a complicated version of something I knew well. So, I scrapped the fancy spreadsheet I had been trying to keep up with and made an easy ledger. Each month has its own sheet. No colors and special formats. Just date, business name, deposit, debit, and  running balance. I update it as often as I need to. If I get really far behind, I will just start at the beginning of the new month. I If I lose a receipt, I go online and get the info I need. I check my balance against theirs and make sure the numbers meet. Each month I enter in the new balance at the top, update the formulas to automatically subtract or add each entry, and viola! I have my own tracker that is simple and easy to use. I only added one more column to categorize it, in case I ever want to check where my money goes. Suddenly, things became far less scary. The first step of tracking my money was started.

To budget for the future, I just took my list of bills and entered them in on their due dates with an estimated amount until I have the bill in hand. I still have to go in and update it as the bill comes due, but I can at least get an idea of what the next few weeks will look like. I went ahead and planned out the next few months so I can get a rough idea of what the future will hold and I was really shocked to find out something wonderful.

I'm not as broke, poor, and destitute as I thought I was.

Sure, my OLD budget said we had enough money for everything, but I could never trust it. Not when my actual statements were so far off. Looking at just the In and Out for each month, it actually looks like we will be able to do what we need and still be able to do a little bit of what we want. I can't even express what a relief it was to see this with my own eyes. It is as if the Universe put a comforting hand on my shoulder and said, "Relax. It will be ok."

What this means in real terms is that I don't have to worry quite so much about not having a full time job right now. Sure, if I get a freelance gig I won't turn it down but with summer vacation only a few weeks away, I was really starting to dread leaving the kids alone when I do start working. Now, I know that my kids should be old enough to be at home by themselves if I were to work outside the house. After all, I was younger than all of them when I started staying home alone and I am fairly certain they wouldn't burn the house down or anything. However, they are USED to me being at home. The kind of transition we would all go through would be pretty extreme, and having that happen right as they are left alone all day, every day... well, I just don't see any good coming from that. If it HAD to happen, I am sure we could make it work. If we don't HAVE to, though, I would rather put it off until they were back in school.

Besides, we have SO MUCH scheduled for this summer already. I would have to tell any employer that I would need to take off roughly a third of the time between here and September. What boss is going to be happy with that? On top of that, I don't think I could physically handle the stress of working, worrying about the kids, and trying to get everything done I need to do. Weekly appointments with Dr The Mann? Forget it. Home cooked meals instead of take out? Not a chance. Regular sleep every night? Not going to happen. My body is just starting to become strong enough to handle BEING AWAKE during all the daylight hours. Starting a job right now would be another exercise in futility.

I do know that without another income, the summer months will be tight with five mouths to feed breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. However, I've learned some pretty good tricks about stretching things and shopping wisely, and how much money is saved simply by planning meals and shopping for them weekly. I also have a really good weekly plan I created a few years back that is full of activities, crafts, and even outings that all cost little to nothing. When I used this plan a few years back, the kids had an AWESOME time and they still talk about how much fun it was. We have pictures and crafts still hanging around and they all proudly talk about things that they learned and places they went that year. I'm going to pull it out, dust it off and try to polish it a it to reflect my kids older ages and new interests.

So, my short term plan is to have a fun, loosely structured summer at home with my kiddos. This may be the last summer that they all WANT to hang around with Mom, so I am going to make the most of it. Also, so that I don't go completely crazy myself, I have SCHEDULED IN writing time for myself, no less than three times a week. I'm hoping to post something here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and if things go well, I will have some really great pictures to show off as well.

I will need lots of prayers to get through it all. I know that the best laid plans never last beyond the first 30 seconds of battle. While I don't anticipate this being an all out war, it will be a bit difficult to keep on task and make sure the kids don't fall over and die (or kill each other) from boredom. I will attempt to post the original schedule in a day or two but, as I said before, I know it will need to be tweaked.
I am asking all of you for any suggestions you have to update my summer schedule with. Anyone who is in the area is welcome to participate in the activities and field trips. Maybe we can have a At Home Summer Group or something. I'm sure I will have at least one of my nephews here most of the time, so any ideas you have that will interest boys and girls who are somewhat geeky will be appreciated.

Deb "At Home" Lollar

P.S. Just to keep all of you informed -
The Most Awesome Spike and her hubby Walrus are visiting for Memorial Day
School lets out around here June 1
Devo's Heart cath is scheduled for June 5
July 25 we will all (hopefully) be taking a week long vacation out of state
At this point, we don't have a date for the Lollar Summer Party but I think it will be sometime in late June or early July.

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