A Mother’s Struggle Between Work And Kids

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The following was written by Mrs FFB.  As you may remember, before the school year started we made the decision that my wife wouldn’t return to work (in education) and instead stay home to raise the kids.  Below is her rationale.  Enjoy!

I remember when I was in college and I had this end term goal of having a career, making my own money, buying my own things and being a “professional” woman.  The thing is, ever since I was a little girl, I also always had a dream of being a mom. I never knew or could ever even imagine how these two, opposing aspirations would collide with each other in my future life.

When I was in college I had this assistant teacher position in a nursery/daycare. I remember working the “extended” day which ran until 6pm and feeling so awful for these young children who were still in the daycare center.  I was so judgmental of these mothers: “This is wrong!”, “How could they leave their babies here until 6pm!” “A young child should be in their home during this time of the day!” I was real heated about this topic. ….Little did I know at the young age of 19 years old, that this would be my life one day.

So I graduated college and nabbed myself a teaching position for September. I was so excited about this upcoming career and making “good” money (up until that point, I had made minimum wage working the daycare).  It turns out that I was pregnant and expecting in January but I didn’t care and wasn’t going to let the pregnancy get in the way of working. I didn’t tell the principal during my interview that I was pregnant and just showed up the day after labor day all prego.  Luckily, I wasn’t really showing, but by October there was a buzz going around the school and I finally told the principal but assured him that I would return to work in 6 weeks.

I had no idea what I was in for. When my daughter was born, I fell in love times 1000 and I couldn’t bare the idea of leaving my little baby.  So I took off the rest of the school year and returned to work that following September.

That September became the beginning of a long, hard phase in my life: working mom (and for a few years -single, working mom).  My daughter was 8 months old and I had a stay at home friend of mine babysit my daughter.  The problem with this friend was that she lived really far and out of the way.  So I had this awful drive to her home each morning.  Not to mention that I barely had any sleep.  I remember nights when my daughter would just wake up and stay up- we’d watch Elmopalooza! in the dark wee hours of the morning.  Then I was expected to be a completely functional teacher for a very challenging class.

When my daughter turned two I enrolled her in daycare. So this was my life for a number of years: late to work every morning, trying to get a difficult toddler ready to leave the house, driving haphazardly to the daycare, rushing her into the daycare and then running out to my car and racing to get to the school.  On top of all this stress, I was going to graduate school and because I was a poor single mom, I worked afterschool too.  There were some nights when we didn’t get home until 10 pm.  Then we’d have to get up early and do it all over again.

It was very hard and depressing, so not what I thought motherhood would be like.  So when I was engaged to be married (with the wonderful FFB, edit) and knew that I wanted to have more children, I vowed and proclaimed that I would stay home at least 2 years with my child due to the trauma I experienced with being a working mom with my daughter.

Four months after we were married, I was pregnant.  It was one of the happiest, most pleasant phases of my life.  I actually was ok with going to work at this point.  My daughter was a bit older, in first grade now and I new that I was taking a long leave of absence.  I literally worked up until the day I delivered the baby.

Somewhere during the childcare leave, I started to feel pressured to return to work in September and against my original plans to stay home for at least 2 years, I decided to go back to work… again.  It was the year of hell.  My son was 8 months old and I put him in daycare.  I remember bringing him to the “wobbler” room and thinking about how surreal it all was.  8 babies sitting in little high chairs and wondering about how well a daycare worker, who is paid minimum wage, was going to care for my son.  I felt so bad and guilty.  Not even 2 weeks into daycare, my son got sick.  Then he was sick every single week with some kind of cold virus.  Either he was just getting a cold or getting over a cold.  I was constantly at the pediatrician’s and at one point he was even on a nebulizer for respiratory distress.  It was so horrible to know that I needed to stay home with my sick son but also face the repercussions of being absent from the job.  I felt that my son was more important so I would always stay home with him when he was sick but i still found the whole scenario agonizing and extremely distressing.  I hated having to call into to work, over and over again as it turns out – 17 times! After a while, i just accepted the fact that maybe I would get fired or get written up or something.  I didn’t even care at that point.

I was so spent. I too become sick often and was severely sleep deprived. I sucked at the job cause I was so distraught over my decision to return to work, taking care of a sick baby and lack of sleep.  It was just terrible. One morning I was so tired and in such a rush that I crashed our car in the garage!  I knew that things were really bad at this point.

So I persevered and made it until the end of the school year and had this long summer vacation to look forward to.  I pulled my son out of daycare and enjoyed every second with my children but then we got to the end of August and the anxiety of returning back to work started to over take me.

After a friend of mine made an enlightening comment to me about why wouldn’t I just return to work when my son was older (since my leave permits that), then why wouldn’t I just do that?  So I started to really sit on this idea.  Why was I so afraid to follow my dream of being a  stay at home mom?  There is my whole life to work but only like 4-5 years of a child’s life when they really, really need their mothers.  So why was i doing this to us?  Maybe I wouldn’t have any more kids and I would’ve missed my only chance to do the “right” thing (for us).  I missed out on all those years with my daughter and was doing the same damn thing, 7 years later to my son.  Now when my daughter was little, I was a single mom and didn’t have a choice.  But now I had a husband and our financial situation was solid, so why not just try it?  “I could always go back to work the following year,” I pleaded with my husband.

I have to tell you, I am so happy now.  I can wake up in the morning.  I don’t curse the sun for rising like I used to. I no longer have grim thoughts of despair about the day ahead of me, ” how am I going to make it through the day,” “why can’t it be Saturday,” “I am sooo tired, I can’t do this,” or my favorite –  “what if I just quit and not even call or show up?!?”  Now I wake up get my daughter ready for school and I don’t have to drag my 23 month old son out in the wee hours of the morning.  He gets to bumble around HIS home, eating breakfast at his leisure.  We got to the park, we do errands, we make meals, visit other stay at home moms… Life is truly wonderful now!  I am so happy and so is my son and daughter!  I realize now that when they would give me a hard time in the morning, they were just reacting to being rushed and all the stress I would put on them.  Now things are so pleasant.

We had to make a lot of changes to accommodate to one income and we certainly aren’t living the lifestyle I imagined we would’ve been at this point in my life, but we are happy now!

photo credit: maessive

Medical Treatment And Your Credit

Human face anatomy

It’s a common theme on the news and in the papers, the cost of virtually everything is going up and more and more families are finding it harder to keep up with monthly expenses, let alone what happens in an emergency situation, especially a medical one. As health care costs rise and medical insurance costs increase astoundingly fast, a medical emergency can complicate the finances of any family.  It is especially tough on those who require prolonged medical care and prescription medication.

What happens when you need to seek treatment but do not have the money to cover the costs? For many, a seemingly easy fix is to pay on credit in order to get immediate attention but financially it may not make sense, especially if you do not have a cash plan to cover the monthly costs. In addition to failing health, you may be faced with long-term financial stress. By charging your health care costs to a credit card, you are going to end up forking over much more money than you otherwise would have to thanks to increased costs and potentially over the limit fees for any missed payments.  Credit limits will also take you only so far.  For prolonged treatment, your credit limit may quickly be maxed; not to mention the changes being made by the credit card companies which are reducing credit amounts and increasing interest charges.

If you have a credit card that offers a cash back rewards program based on purchases made, it might be beneficial to use it for the money coming back to your account or your wallet. However, that alone is not a reason to use your credit card for medical treatment. There are more viable alternatives for paying for medical care. If you are unable to come up with the cash for payment, perhaps the following list can help you find other options.

Start An Emergency Fund

Even if you don’t anticipate an illness occurring (who does?), you can make a point to have a small amount of money each month transferred to an interest-bearing savings account, where it can grow and be available for medical emergencies. With insurance, there are many times that the costs not covered can still run high and it can be a great relief to have access to cash in the event a medical situation arises, especially one that requires a hospital stay or long-term medication.

Check In With The Government

There are many medical assistance programs available in communities and on a federal level to help supplement your medical payments. Many people will not consider asking for assistance whether due to pride or just lack of knowledge. There are also many clinics that base payment rates on your income and expenses. You can often get quality medical care for a fraction of the cost if you make the effort to seek out additional help.

Payment Plans With The Treating Facility

Most health care providers will offer some options for a payment plan, depending on your need. Even if you have to make payments for a long period of time, you will likely end up saving money by eliminating interest charges like those tacked on to a credit card. If you don’t have insurance, or find that your insurance does not sufficiently cover all of your costs, the balance amount can be paid down over a period of time without collection action, provided you continue to make regular payments

Medical emergencies and unexpected illness are stressful enough. It is better to be proactive and prepared for the unexpected than to rely on your credit card to get you through your situation. Adding financial stress to physical stress can often be a fatal combination. As health care continues to be a major issue for many in the nation, it may continue to get worse before it gets better. No one can prevent an emergency but by proper planning, one can be prepared for it.

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Tisha Tolar is a freelance writer providing content for CreditCardAssist.com, where she regularly writes about credit cards, rewards programs and general consumer finance issues.

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photo credit: Patrick J. Lynch

Never Mind A New Economic Stimulus Package – Save Yourself!

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about a new economic stimulus package.  Some are talking about a new one being approved this year while others speculate that it won’t happen until President-Elect Obama takes office.  There’s been talk that a new economic stimulus package would be more infrastructure and not checks as the last package was.  And there definitely has been a lot of talk of whether we even need a new economic stimulus package; questioning if it even makes a difference.  Here’s what I say:

Never mind a new economic stimulus package – Save yourself!

Don’t count on the government to come through with legislation to help you make ends meet.   That attitude will never get you ahead.  You need to take matters into your own hands.  If you are in a bad financial situation you need take control and ownership of the problem and fix it yourself.

Here are 12 ways you can take matters in your own hands and save yourself:

  • Make sure you excel at your job.  Unemployment is the highest it’s been in quite a while and I’m sure there will be many more layoffs to come.  Don’t be the robot at work that does just enough to get by.  Get yourself interested and make yourself valuable to your company.  Don’t just get your job done – get it done well!  If layoffs are coming you may be able to save yourself from the chopping block.  Hey, maybe you could even get a promotion?
  • Build networking relationships with friends and co-workers.  Sometimes, as unfair as it seems, it’s not what you know but who you know.  Keep up with co-workers when they move to other jobs.  They can be your foot in the door if you leave your current job.  Stay in contact with friends as well.  Even if they don’t work in your industry they could prove to be a valuable contact.  Network!
  • Pay your bills on time.  Lenders are getting shy about giving out their money these days.  If you pay late you may find your interest skyrocketing.  Universal default allows one credit company to raise your interest rate if you’re late on a different company’s card.  A late payment can make all of your credit cards have high rates.  If you aren’t paying off your balances every month you can find yourself sinking faster into debt.
  • Put money away for emergency savings.  Really you don’t know what the future holds and as the saying goes: “when it rains it pours!”  What happens if you find yourself out of a job?  Then the car breaks?  Then you need a doctor’s appointment?  Hopefully you don’t need your savings but put yourself in good shape by having savings in place.
  • Make sure your credit report is clean.  Errors on your credit report can be costing you in higher interest rates on your credit cards and loans.  Make sure your credit report is accurate.
  • Check you credit score.  Your credit score is like your code of honor among credit agencies.  A low score means higher interest rates and could also mean you won’t get a needed loan or credit.  Credit scores are also used in housing and in job hunting.  Get that score up!
  • Cut costs.  Remember that emergency savings?  A way to help build that up is to cut costs.  Cut a few corners here and there and you can find yourself with significant savings!
  • Analyze your tax withholding.  Are you paying too much?  Pay what you need to and no more.  Many like to get a big tax refund but you’re better off having that money in each of your paychecks instead.  You don’t earn any interest when the government is holding your money!  Adjust your tax withholding so you maximize your paycheck.
  • Re-evaluate your holiday spending.  The holiday spending frenzy is starting.  Don’t get caught up in the current!  You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts on every person you know this holiday season (here’s a challenge: see if you can keep a $100 holiday).  What really the point in spending so much if it puts you in a bad financial situation?  Budget what you can spend on gifts and don’t go over.  Make sure your budget is within reason of your financial situation (don’t spend more than you have!).
  • Go to school.  Yes, school is an expense.  But taking some extra courses or pursuing/finishing up a degree can help make yourself more marketable to employers.  This can be as simple as taking an advanced Excel course to working on a higher degree.
  • Work on building alternate sources of income.  Try your hand at blogging.  Work on developing a hobby that could earn money such as photography.  Other streams of income are a good thing, especially when money is tight.  And you never know, what you start could develop into something bigger.

It always sounds nice when the government offers to give us money back but we have to remember there’s a price to this.  It could mean less services somewhere else or more taxes down the line.  Remember the money has to come from somewhere!

Don’t hope the government will do something to ease your situation.  Get a hold of your finances and take care of it yourself!

What other ways could we take financial matters in our own hands?

6 Ways Eating Out Less Has Made Our Family Better

As you know we are living off of one income now. It’s been a bit different but I think we’re doing well so far.  One thing we’ve done to help stretch my paycheck is to cut back eating out so often.  I didn’t think we ate out too much before the income switch but now I can see that we had a budget leak that could have been more savings for us.  And we’ve discovered there are more benefits than saving money!

We were already in the habit of making dinner at home and having family time together. It was the weekends when we usually ate out.  Saturdays were probably the worst culprits.  We would get up and go to our favorite diner for breakfast.  Then as we’d go and take care of things during the day we’d find lunch somewhere.  This would also tend to be pretty unhealthy.  I’m talking mall food here.  Afterward we’d be too beat to make dinner so we go out for dinner or order in.  Three meals may not seem like a lot but it would drain my wallet pretty quick!  I would usually go to the bank on Friday to take money out for the weekend and often I’d find that I was broke by Sunday!

And that was just eating out on Saturday! I didn’t even get to eating out on Sunday or during the week.  Sundays would usually be breakfast and lunch out again.  During the week we usually ate in but if we were tired we would easily get food out!

Overall we’re really happy with the fact that we have been eating at home more.

Here are six ways eating out less has made our family better:

  • We have more more family time together. When we eat we eat together at the dinner table.  We have more time for conversation to talk about our days.  Our daughter knows that dinner time is “family dinner.”  “A family that eats together stays together.
  • We are eating healthier. Sometimes we would eat out at a nice restaurant with great food but most of the time it would be at a chain type restaurant.  Yeah, we filled up but the food wasn’t really great for us.  Now the food we eat is prepared by us and we know better what the ingredients are.
  • We’re setting a better example for our children. By eating together at home our kids see that we don’t have to eat out for every meal and they can learn how food is prepared.  This will set them up to take care of themselves later on in life.
  • We’re saving money. This is a big one for us.  This is Free From Broke after all!  It’s tough to put a dollar figure on what we’re saving but I can tell you that I don’t have to go to the ATM twice in one weekend anymore!!  We’re finding that although our food shopping expenses have gone up some we still have extra money at the end of the month that we didn’t have when we ate out more often.
  • We’re being more efficient. Now when we go food shopping we know that everything we buy  on our grocery shopping list will be used.  It used to be we would go out to eat and the food we had would spoil.  Even when we ate out our meals were so big most of it would go uneaten.
  • Our home is a home! It’s hard to explain but our home is more complete now that we eat out less.  We’re using our home to it’s fullest extent.  All those things we got for our wedding like salad spinners and cooking sets are being used rather than sitting up on shelves.  It just feels like this is what it’s supposed to be.

It’s a shame it took our going to one income to take advantage of all of these benefits! Imagine what we could have been saving when we had two incomes?!?  Or how much healthier we would have been eating?

We haven’t completely given up eating out.  We still have the occasional pizza night.  And we’ll get together with friends every now and then at a nice restaurant.  But eating out less has definitely benefited our family in more ways than we would have thought!

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What Are Your Kids Gift Expectations?

The boys were a little puzzled about what to do on their last duck hunt

I hear some people complain that they have to buy expensive things for their kids because it’s what they expect.  Some don’t know what they are going to do this holiday season as times are getting tight.  How are we going to get little Johnny the latest (insert expensive popular toy here)?!?

Here’s what I say – Don’t!!

Where do your kids get their expectations from?  Do they get them from friends?  From television?  Those are influences but not the real source.  Children get their expectations from their parents!!

If you make it a habit to buy your kids expensive gifts for every occasion then you are setting yourself up for financial trouble!  The younger you start the worse it will be.  If you are already buying expensive items when the child is a toddler what are you going to do when they get older?  How about when they are in their teens?

It’s tough to tell kids they won’t be getting all the goodies they are used to. But if your spending is putting you in debt or you don’t have an adequate amount for savings and retirement then you better re-think your holiday spending plans!  Make your kids understand that they won’t be getting as much this year.

But all their friends are getting it!! Hmm.  Are their friends paying your bills?  Are they putting money away for retirement.  Are they making sure the mortgage is on time?  I didn’t think so.  Teach your child to take pride in who they are not what they have.  This lesson will be valuable for their entire life!

And you better practice what you preach!! Your child’s expectations come from watching you as well.  Don’t think you’re getting that new flat-screen TV or expensive cell phone while they don’t get the goods.  Parents must set the example for their kids.  We are not our stuff!!

Say that to yourself – We are not our stuff! It’s important.  Get this into your mind set and teach it to your children, not just by explaining but by setting the example.

I’m not saying don’t buy any gifts. But watch what you buy for your kids.  Yes, they love getting stuff.  I know I did as a kid.  But what is the child really getting out of it?  Are they using and loving the gift?  Not just for a day but for months, maybe years?  Or did they say it was their favorite for a few days then it joined all their other stuff in the corner?  Do your kids really appreciate the gift?  If your always buying them expensive stuff then your kids will start to see you a the person who will get them stuff.  Not for the person you are!  Think about that.

Stop the cycle of consumerism that hurts us in the end. You don’t have to buy your kids everything they want.  Let them love you as the great parent you are rather than the person who gets them stuff.  They won’t hate you if you don’t get them all the hottest toys.  If they say they do then think about the values you are teaching them.  We all want to make our kids happy but we need them to grow up responsible too.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Gaetan Lee

Causes Of Poverty – Blog Action Day 2008

Homeless in Sugamo 2

To paraphrase Wikipedia, poverty is the deprivation of common necessities which determine the quality of life.  In our age of Nintendo Wii’s, online banking, flat-screen TV’s, and more, poverty is still a huge problem in our world.  Poverty affects about half of the world’s population.

Here are some of the main causes of poverty:

  • Demographic and social factors: Overpopulation; crime; cultural causes; war; discrimination.

About half of the world population suffers from poverty!

What can we do?

Kiva.org is an organization that provides micro-lending to the working poor.  In impoverished nations it’s very difficult to get loans.  Kiva helps by giving small loans so people can improve their livelihoods.

End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign – In 2000 189 world leaders made a promise to meet the eight-point development goals to help end poverty by 2015.  Check out the goals and what you can do to help achieve them.

This post is part of Blog Action Day 2008.  Blogs from all walks of life are getting together to discuss poverty and what can be done to end it.  Go check out the Blog Action Day site and the participating sites.

Poverty can be wiped out if we want it to.  It’s up to us to push that goal!

Creative Commons License photo credit: jamesfischer

The American Dream Is An Illusion

part of our living room

What is the American Dream to you?

I used to think of it as owning a home, having a good job, and raising a family.  I don’t think I’m far off by thinking that’s what many of us think it is.  Perhaps the conventional thought is the house has a white picket fence with a 2-car garage as well?

But is that what we are actually aiming at these days?

My big issue here is owning a home.  We’re all hearing about financial institutions doing bad because of mortgages.  So what is happening to the people who buy homes?  Foreclosures!

Why foreclosures?  Could be that people bought too much house than they could afford with too little down?

The way I see it, when you’re buying a house with say zero down or even 5% down when will you actually own your home?  This has become a major problem for people.

In my opinion it’s no longer the American dream to own a home.  That’s an illusion.

Today’s American dream is to appear like you own a home.  It’s become more important to look like you have a great big home.  Who really owns these homes?  The banks!

If there’s anything to learn from all of the recent financial bruhaha it’s that most people have to re-think what owning a home really means!

  • An interest only loan or an adjustable APR will not help you own a home.  You’ll get to move into one but you won’t own it.
  • A modest home is OK.  You don’t need a McMansion!
  • Put down as much as you can when you buy a home (remember when you really needed 20%, aim for that).  This way you start off owning a good piece of it.
  • Homes are to live in!  Perhaps flipping a house is profitable for some.  But for most people a home should be where you live not where you speculate.
  • Just because you make enough to cover the cost of the mortgage it doesn’t mean you can actually afford the home!  So many other things have to be considered from taxes to losing a job to how much savings you have to home repairs, and so much more.

I’m ranting a bit so I apologize.

It just seems that there’s so much talk about how banks and such are so greedy that we might be forgetting that it’s people who are living in these homes.  They had a bit to do with all of this as well.  Some people probably got genuinely swindled and some came on hard times.  I understand this.  But many people were just greedy and wanted as big a home as they could get without considering if they could afford it.

I’m going to go a bit further.

The American Dream has turned into consuming as much as you can.  At least that’s what corporate America wants.

One of the biggest measures of the economy is GDP, Gross National Product.  This is driven by us buying more stuff.  When we buy less stuff then the economy stagnantes.  But is it really a fair point to judge the economy by how much stuff we buy?  What’s the end goal?

We can only buy so much stuff without going into debt and I dare say we’re in enough debt already.  How much more debt can we handle without bursting?

We need a new measure.  Maybe we need to look at quality of life instead of a dollar figure put on our economy.  Think of it.  How many times can we upgrade our personal technology?  We can only get so many computers and flat-screen TVs.  How quickly can we really upgrade or cell phones?  But when we don’t do these things, even if we’re already saturated, then Chicken Little runs around saying the economy isn’t doing well.

But how happy are we?  What is our life like?  If we have to work 2 jobs or put in overtime in order to afford all this stuff and their upgrades then is that a good life?  Is that a dream to aspire to?

What do you think?  What is the American dream these days?  Is it attainable?  Is the American Dream an illusion?

Creative Commons License photo credit: hans s

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