Archive for the ‘couples and money’ Category

July Grocery Spend

August 4, 2007

I just went through Quicken and looked at our bank statement and calculated how much we spent on groceries in July. We spent $704.92 on groceries in July. This seems like a lot but it works out to $176 a week or $25 a day which is $6 a day for each member in our household (not including our cat).

This is less than what we had spent in June and May. I think we were closer to $1000. Eee gads.

I think part of the reason the spend has gone down is that we’re trying to avoid the fancy grocery store and just go to Trader Joe’s, Ralphs and farmers markets.

The amount may have also gone down because we were out of our house for several days for fumigation. This meant we spent a bit more than usual dining out. Probably $150 in dining out for the four of us.

I don’ feel like we’ve made real progress. I supposed though that being more aware of our spend is a step in the right direction.


Blogging for Debt Reduction and Psychological Well-Being

August 3, 2007

I stumbled upon an article in Psychology Today called “The Decline and Fall of the Private Self.”

The article is all about how blogging and online communities like my space have changed our culture’s sense of privacy.

While I am sometimes shocked and embarassed by the amount of information people can share about themselves online I find blogging anonymously to be immensely therapeutic and helpful.

A few quotations from the article that I enjoyed:

  • Telling secrets has been shown to have a positive effect on the person who’s doing the confessing, because keeping them requires a lot of mental work.
  • Sharing the secret, though, “unprimes” the information, freeing the mind to focus on other things and breaking the cycle of worry.
  • Recording concerns in a journal or similar medium can be particularly effective. “When people write about secrets, they report feeling better; they acknowledge the events and can organize them,” says Jamie Pennebaker, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. In one study, he asked subjects to write for 15 minutes a day for several days. They showed positive changes in immune function and psychological well-being. Other research shows that when couples are asked to keep reflective diaries in which they write about their relationship, they stay together longer.

I would agree that blogging about our financial stress has helped us stop avoiding it. I also feel that by sharing the blog with Noma it has strengthened our financial relationship as well as our overall relationship. We’re addressing issues and working on them together.

A Second Chance with Money

August 3, 2007

For years Noma and I were excellent about managing our money. When we met we were both making under 25K and living in NYC (this was a while ago). Noma worked an extra job to make enough money to invest in Microsoft stock, which he later cashed in to help with the down payment on our home. He also ate rice and beans so that he could save 2K so that we could go to Europe together.

We didn’t have any credit card debt until the last year or two when it seemed to have sprouted up from no where. It was like we grew extra heads overnight. How did this happen?

The problem was that we were living on one salary with very high expenses and such hectic schedules that I don’t think either one of us even knew that we were carrying so much debt. I knew that we had put some expenses on the cards but I hadn’t been watching it build up. We have only ourselves to blame and yet I do think the credit card companies make it very difficult for a person to see their debt. For instance, I recently had to call American Express to understand what my minimum payment should be…this wasn’t listed on my bill.

Anyways, my series of revelations this week about our financial situation has spurred us on to action.

As Noma mentioned I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before…I think the biggest reason we didn’t think about it before is that being mindful about one’s financial situation takes a lot of time and attention. We’ve been neglecting our financial health for too long.

We’re lucky enough to have invested in some mutual funds a while ago. In looking at our situation we’ve decided to sell these and take the money to pay off our debts. We’ll then be at zero debt.

I will feel incredibly relieved when we can do this. We will have to save about 3K to pay for the capital gains taxes but even so we’ll be able to pay off our debts and have a bit to put into the emergency fund. Do I feel great? Yes and yet I also do not want to rest on these laurels. From the moment we hit zero debt I want to make sure that we are managing our finances better. I’m hoping this experience will have scared us straight. I can’t say I have 100% confidence because of all of our expenses. We may need to make some childcare changes. We need to make some difficult decisions.

Once emancipated I want to stay that way.

10 Tips for How to Survive Birthdays

August 2, 2007

Our son is the youngest in his class. All of his preschool buddies are turning four over the summer months. And so birthday season is in full swing.

Many parents I know (myself included) have overdone it for their kids’ birthdays. I think there are many reasons for this including the fact that so many of us work so much that we want to make the birthday a big deal. Also many parents use their kids’ birthdays as an excuse to have a party for themselves. Even those with the best intentions can end up feeling exhausted and broke once all the guests have gone.

Every year I seem to do less and less for our kids’ birthdays and the kids are just as happy and my husband and I always feel like much better about the whole thing.

Here are some tips for how to have a reasonable, affordable birthday party:

1. Determine your budget — Before you come up with a spiderman theme and invite the whole preschool class figure out how much you want to spend. Once you know how much you have to work with decisions about what to do become easier. If you have $100 perhaps you want to just invite a few kids to the park to have a picnic and blow bubbles. $100 may sound like a lot for a picnic and bubbles but buying groceries and drinks does add up!
2. Pick your audience — You can’t please all of the people all of the time. My feeling is that when kids are young you need to be sensitive about who you invite. I feel that if you invite a lot of kids from your child’s class that you should invite all of them. However, if your budget is tight perhaps you could ask your child to just have one or two friends over for a special dinner. Or you could have a family only party. Just try to avoid inviting the entire class, neighborhood friends and family. Pick one audience to minimize costs and chaos.
3. Have Junior Make the Invitations — Why buy invitations when you have an artist in house? If your child doesn’t want to make them then you could make a collage and then use a color copier or printer to make copies. Getting a homemade invitation sets the tone and feels much warmer than a store bought one.
4. Make Your Own Food — Why order pizza when you can save money and provide something tastier? I’ve found making pasta and a salad satisifies adults while sandwiches, grapes and/or pirate booty does it for the kids. You can use a cookie cutter and cut out interesting sandwich shapes for the kids too.
5. Buy Drinks in Bulk — Juice boxes are expensive and create a lot of trash. By the time kids are four they like to drink from real cups. Get some dixie cups and big bottles of juice at costco.
6. Let the Kids Provide their Own Entertainment — Between seeing their friends outside of school and the promise of getting cake the kids will be very excited. There is no need to provide a Snow White impersonator, a reptile guy or even a bouncer. This stuff gets expensive. If you want to provide activities consider old fashioned games like pin the tail in the donkey or setting up a simple arts and crafts table.
7. Presence not Presents — This one is tough for a lot of people. As your kids get older they start to accumulate so much junk that they really don’t need more stuff. Consider letting parents know that gifts are not needed. Some parents ask guests to bring canned goods for their child to take to a homeless shelter. This can actually be a great thing for a kid to be part of — in our consumer focused world parents need to look for opportunities to teach kids to think of others.
8. Limit on Gift Giving — If you don’t feel comfortable showing up empty handed or with a can of pinto beans then at least set a cap on how much you spend on a kid’s gift ($5-15). Or consider having your child make a coupon for a sleepover or a movie and dinner at your house. 
9. Ditch the Goodie Bags — Goodie bags create a lot of waste. Parents spend money on them and the trinkets of crap end up wedged in the backseats of cars or in the depths of a closet. Why create more waste? Kids shouldn’t expect to get a present when they attend a party.
10. Don’t Buy Your Own Kid a Gift — Explain to your child that the gift from you and your spouse is the party. This presents a good opportunity for a child to learn abou how a family chooses to spend their money. If your kid starts to whine for a particular toy then perhaps you give your kid a choice about getting a party or a present.  

For more about birthdays check out these great web sites:

There’s many more but now I need to work.

Friends with Money

July 22, 2007

I recently rented the movie Friends with Money. For those who haven’t seen this movie it’s about four girlfriends played by Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand. I found it a bit unrealistic that these four women would spend as much time with one another as they did considering how different their lives were.  Once I allowed myself to suspend disbelief about Jennifer Aniston being a maid I thought that the characters were very real and believable. The film did a really good job of capturing how our perceptions about what our friends have (money/relationships/happiness/etc) shape our views of ourselves and also the nature of our friendships.

I find it a bit disheartening to think that how much money one has dictates our friendships and yet I think it does to an extent. When I was younger I didn’t feel like I was aware of money and that I found my friends because of shared interests or sympathetic personalities but as I’ve been in the workforce longer and longer it feels like friendships are determined more by “lifestyle” which I feel is largely determined by one’s purchasing power.

Keep Old Friends — They’re Gold
In my own life I know that I’ve stayed closest to the college friend whose life most closely parallels my own — E and I both have kids, we’re both the main breadwinners in our homes and we are both trying to balance family and work. Two of my other college roomates, by contrast have children but one of them has never worked since she’s got a trust fund (didn’t realize this when we were in college because I was clueless) and the other one’s husband is very successful and she doesn’t work outside the home.

It makes sense to me that E and I have a stronger friendship because we have more in common. We can relate to each other. We also have such a long, rich history of friendship together. 

Circles of Friends — Lifestyle = Purchasing Power
Here in LA it feels as though friendships click if you’re in the same circle and that circle is largely determined by how you spend your money (what house can you afford, what restaurants do you go to, what schools can you afford, what recreations do you have time for and can afford, etc…)

Can people who have completely different values about money as well as varying levels of access to money be friends and truly accept one another without judgement or without thinking the grass is greener on the other side?

Again, an interesting thing about the movie was that the three married friends with more money felt sorry for the Jennifer Aniston character because she had no money and she didn’t have a man in her life. While they said they wanted to help her the three women were also envious of Jennifer Aniston’s freedom. Sure she was a bit of a loser but she also hadn’t yet limited herself in any way. By being broke she was in some ways more open and liberated than the women who had their lives “on track.”

Keeping up with the Joneses
I also notice that people don’t talk blatantly about money but people make assumptions. If you’re at a preschool for instance in which 40% of the class drives a Prius or god forbid (my pet peeve) pushes a $800 bugaboo stroller the parents assume that everyone has this kind of purchasing power and people make efforts to keep up. I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve been stunned at how much money has been spent at some of the kids’ birthday parties and all the adults in attendance act like it’s natural. Of course, if you’re friends with the parents, what can you say? So, would it be better if people said “geez, you guys spent a lot of money on your kids’ birthday party? are you really wealthy and are you planning to retire young?” or just act like it’s normal which then creates pressure on everyone else to “keep up.”

More Debt Pride

June 15, 2007

I found out yesterday that I got a 7% raise. The first thing I did was go online to change my 401K allocation and up it back up to 15%. I had to do this before I got used to a bigger check. Pay myself first. Because of cashflow issues I had lowered it to 5% about 6 months ago. I’m hoping due to our new regime of austerity that I won’t have to lower it again. In addition to my 401K my company contributes 15% of my compensation (base salary plus bonuses) to a retirement fund (they don’t match 401K but offer a retirement fund).

We paid $3051.71 to my American Express card. My plan is to now cash in the rewards points on that card and then close the account. Then we can focus on the next credit card.

It’s fun to see some progress. I’ll be really happy when we have achieved goal #1 which is pay off credit card debt. Because I then want to move on to goal #2 which is build up the emergency fund and then on to #3 which is start making some house repairs.

Financial Fizzle

June 14, 2007

My husband Noma has decided that we should be able to survive on $180 a week for groceries and gas. I don’t think this is realistic since we have two kids and the cash got very low last week. The kids aren’t picky eaters but I don’t want to serve them peanut butter and jelly exclusively. And we had a few unbudgeted items come up (lunch at Coffee Table — $20 and ice cream out last night with the family $11).

About a week ago Noma has put all of his credit cards including his debit card and hid them away some where. I handed over my credit cards but I do NOT want to hand over my debit card. I think it’s a bad idea to be driving around town with a car that makes weird noises, two darling kids and a wallet with just $3 bucks, a driver’s license and no plastic. My feeling is that you never know when you might need to pay for triple AAA or something unexpected.

 So, I will not give up my debit card but I have also promised to try to live on the right amount of cash. However, I don’t think $180 is enough for gas for 2 cars, groceries/lunch money for 4 people. Sounds like it’s time for another money date. In the meantime, what do you think? How much does your family spend on 2 cars, groceries/lunch and walking-around-money? Is it less than $180 or more?

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