Posts Tagged ‘finances’

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Cost-Sharing

April 6, 2012

A dilemma!  I will ask the internets!

When both my girls hit 6th grade, I bought them a laptop.  David and I are laptop people, and we don’t have a central place in the house for a desk top.  It seemed like the right option, and theoretically, I haven’t really regretted that choice.

But being a Mac family, it was no small investment.

Lemon has now had hers since 2007, and Mouse since 2009.

Lemon’s shows some wear.  It’s clunky, it keeps running out of space.  It’s not that much newer than mine, which I just replaced this year.

Mouse’s, however, still seems so new.  It’s a white one, but the smaller, sleeker shape.  It always seemed faster, lighter, smoother.

A couple of months ago, Mouse had some friends over.  They were in her room, hanging out – every now and then you’d hear uproarious laughter – as per usual – no big deal.

But after they went home and she dug into her homework, she called me in — “Moooooommmmmm?  Something’s wrong with my computer.”

In the top right corner of her screen, there was a big smear, and a couple of lines coming out of it, running down to the bottom of the screen.  My first thought – “Did you spill nail polish remover on it??” (she’s addicted to doing her nails)  “No!!!”  I looked again, and couldn’t tell it wasn’t a surface issue, it was something else.  “Did you step on it?”  No.  “Did you drop it?”  No.

“Well, I guess your screen is messed up.  You’ll live.”

Yes, I am a very sympathetic soul.

But over the next few weeks, the computer revealed a few other problems.  The trackpad wasn’t working so well — hers is the kind where the whole trackpad is smooth, and you’re supposed to be able to click anywhere on it.  But she couldn’t.  There was only one spot where she could click that it would work.

Then, it seemed like the screen casing had come apart (on the opposite side of the smear on the screen).  The screen would go white, unless you pinched the screen at a certain spot.

Then, nothing would work unless you pinched the screen – not the trackpad, not the keyboard – nothing.

Then, the trackpad wouldn’t click at all.  This development happened during my first week of the new job, and it was the first time that the computer seemed to have been rendered useless.  My solution at the time, so that the computer was not useless while she was working on a large school project, was to go to the Apple Store and buy a mouse.  We then used the mouse to navigate to the settings, where we made the touchpad tap sensitive, rather than needing to click down on it.  Then we didn’t need the mouse anymore.

My intention was to return the mouse within 14 days for a no-questions-asked refund.  However, it is sitting on the shelf in my living room, laughing at me.  (Through the box.)

Well, this week, the screen-pinching became ineffective.  The computer was again rendered useless.

Throughout these months of the decline of the computer, David and I have been pretty unsympathetic to Mouse’s plight.  We KNOW she dropped or stepped on the computer.  She can swear up and down as much as she wants that she did NOT!  It was safe, she took care of it!  But we don’t believe her.  We’ve had too many computers over too many years to believe that a computer was sitting happily and protectedly on its desk and all of a sudden – BAM!! – a giant BLOT appeared on the screen, and all of the internal parts seemed to stop working AT THE SAME TIME.  No.  The computer was dropped or stepped on.

Her room is a mess.  She has clean and dirty clothes all over her floor.  Even though she has a desk and a beanbag chair, she does everything on her bed.  Her nails, her homework, her internet surfing, and despite the rules, snacking.  So she finishes her homework or her surfing, and she shoves her computer aside.  Her friends come over, they sit with her on the bed, they chatter and do their nails on her bed, and someone shifts to the right, and BOOM – the computer’s on the floor, on the corner, creating a blot.

OR — she puts her computer on the floor, and then takes off a shirt.  She throws the shirt.  It lands on the computer.  She cannot see the computer.  She steps on the shirt — “what’s that cracking noise???”

These behaviors are things that we work all the time to curb.  It’s like talking to a concrete post.  Seriously.  She has to spend at least 30 minutes a day cleaning her room, and I go check on her room, and it looks fine, and then 30 minutes later — the place exploded again.  David likens her room to the Charlie Brown character PigPen.  It’s like a dirt magnet.

Anyway.  David took the computer to the Apple Store.  They took one look at the blot on the screen and said, “Oh, that’s an impact point.  This has been dropped.”

An aside:  They also thought the trackpad issue was related to consistent overheating of the computer, causing “bulging” that pressed against the trackpad and kept it from working.  That annoyed me.  David said, “we need to make sure she doesn’t watch videos on the computer, because it’s overheating it.”  Look, she shouldn’t be watching videos on her computer. It’s not why she has a computer, and when they watch t.v. on their computers, I get VERY ANGRY, because we have t.v. rules in this house, and you don’t just get around them by watching whatever you want whenever you want on your computer.  HOWEVER – she should not avoid watching videos because otherwise her computer will overheat and bulge.  Isn’t that Apple’s problem?  Isn’t that — wrong?  I mean, everybody buys computers these days assuming they can watch videos – whether t.v. shows, movies or youtube videos – on their computers.  What the hell?

Okay – enough of that aside – let’s get back to blaming Jules.

Total estimate?  $530.

$530.

Before David went in, we decided that we would fix the computer if it came in between $300 and $500.  To me, $530 fits into that range.  Which is weird, right?  Why make the range if you’re going to just say “well, close enough.”  But it was how I felt.

But one of the items on the list was to replace her keyboard.  Because she’s picked a few keys off.  I said NO WAY.  We aren’t paying for that.  She PICKED THE KEYS OFF.  She can keep them off.

So, great.  $440 is the new estimate.  (At least now we’re really within our range.)

We left the computer behind, and hope to see it again soon.

But now what do we do?

The child is 13.  She does not have a job.  She does not babysit.  She gets an allowance – when I remember – of $40/month.  She doesn’t spend it well, and never has enough money.  We’ve been working with her on the fact that she wastes her money on candy at CVS (amazing that the child is as ridiculously thin as she is), and then wants to go to the movies with her friends and comes to us with her hand out.  Or they’re all going out to lunch, and she doesn’t have money.  I am a sap.  I will hand over the 4 $1 bills in my wallet.  David is not a sap, and will not.  I am (pre computer) increasingly less of a sap, especially with Ye Olde Pay Cut.  (Goddammit.)  I’ve been a bit more intentional about the allowance situation.

So what do we do about the $440?  If we make her pay it from her allowance, she won’t get allowance again until April of next year.  That isn’t going to work.  If we keep half of her allowance, all of the above issues are just exacerbated.

Do I make her do chores?

What we already did was to set some stricter rules with the computer.  It stays on her desk at all times.  No more using it in the bed.  Desk, plugged in, at all times.  David thinks we should also say her friends can’t touch it, but I disagree.  That’s just an annoying rule with annoying policing requirements put on both her and us.  I think keeping it on the desk will be sufficient.

A friend thinks we should just let this be a wake up call.  Let her know this is her one-time fix, and next time, she’ll need to work something else out.

I find myself wishing we didn’t fix it.  I wish that I took my old macbook from 2006 that was about to explode when I bought my new PowerBook with my severance money, and brought it back to factory settings, and made her use that until the imminent explosion takes place.  But I guess I can hold onto that option in case she breaks it again.

This is what I am thinking about doing:  Telling her that part of why it happened was because of the chaos in her room.  Make her give up this weekend to SERIOUSLY taking care of her room.  I’m talking cleaning out shelves and baskets, cleaning out the closet, going through clothes, shoes, etc.  Making drawers neat and organized.  Getting rid of the crap that this pack-rat child won’t typically get rid of.  And put it on her to keep it that way.  And if she does not, THEN withhold part of her allowance on the weeks that she doesn’t.

This way, we are kind of looking at a solution – forward-looking – giving her an opportunity to earn the repair, but will have set repercussions if she doesn’t do it.

The downside to my plan?

She’ll never do this without me.  I will have to do this project with her.  It will be MY weekend, too.

The upside?

I’ve been planning to do it for months, but just haven’t gotten to it.  Now I can force her to be more engaged in it, and get it really taken care of, and hopefully give her the motivation to keep up with things, through her precious allowance.

David is not going to like it.  He thinks we are spending the $$, she needs to contribute $$.  That she either needs to start babysitting, or cat sitting, or something-sitting to earn money, or she needs to give up at least half of her allowance.  He wouldn’t insist on the entire thing being paid by her, but maybe half.

In the meantime – today is Good Friday, and the kids don’t have school.  I think this is weird.  Even when I went to Liberty Freaking University, I had classes on Good Friday.  I think that the reason is because in my corner of New England, we have a large Jewish population, and we end up with days off from school for a few of the Jewish High Holidays, and to do that and NOT do Good Friday would be … inequitable?  Or maybe it’s because Boston has a large Catholic population, and we just follow their school calendar?  I don’t know.

But the kids have the day off.  Mouse and her friends decided last night to see Titanic 3D.  No one was thinking about the computer (David brought it to the Apple Store on Wednesday) when this plan came up.  I thought to say “Mouse, you don’t have any money, and I don’t have cash on me.”  But then I had the brilliant idea of buying her ticket on line, with her allowance that is due today (payday).  So I did.  David knew about it, said nothing (except, “don’t forget to buy her ticket!”)  They went to the 9:30 show, and David picked them up at 12:30.  When he got home, I’d been asleep for almost 2 hours, and so he emailed me.  I found the email at 5:30 when I got up for my morning run.  “So, wait — she gets to pre spend allowance on a movie — allowance that’s supposed to go toward her computer??”

But but but!!  He didn’t think of it last night!  And we never came up with a PLAN!!

So now we’re working on figuring out a plan.

 

 

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Happiness and Headaches

February 1, 2012

Happiness

  • I’ve accepted the offer from the new job.  Man, does it feel good to know that I have landed without a gap in employment.  Hooray!
  • The new job agreed to my starting AFTER February vacation week, so I don’t have to be in stress-mode while Mouse is home from school and her friends are all away. Lemon will be traveling with her crew team, and we are not traveling without her.  We thought about it last February, when it was freaking cold out we didn’t yet know that I’d have this transition forced upon me.  But since today – February 1 – it was 60 degrees outside – we aren’t feeling too bummed about the change in plans.
  • The old job owes me 3 weeks’ vacation pay.  I didn’t know that until yesterday.  That will be a nice chunk o’ change. I am seriously considering a late-June re-do of last year’s vacation.  The house itself is very affordable, we will drive rather than fly, and we will all be happy with cooking in the house.  It could be great. It could be perfect.  Just what we need.
  • I’m home a lot. I don’t have much work left, and most of what I do have can be done at home.
  • When I’m home, I get to hang out with my kids.  And I like them.  And I have fun with them.  I love how much they make me laugh, I love how much they find what room I’m in, and hang out with me.  I love that Lemon came home today and laughed from the door way, yelling (to me), “Honey, I’m hooo-ooooome!” And that she then met me at her sister’s basketball game, and we went out for a sushi “snack” afterwards, chatting all the while.  Where are the nasty teen years?? (Don’t answer that.)
  • Mouse had a doctor’s appointment (annual physical) yesterday.  I picked her up early, we went and grabbed some burritos, and then went to talk about how damned healthy, tall, athletic and smart she is.
  • My girls are really enjoying each other lately. I may enjoy that more than them enjoying me.
  • Tomorrow is mine and David’s 5th wedding anniversary.  When we went away for our birthdays this year, we realized that it was also our 10 year “dating” anniversary.  He got a haircut today, and he looks super-cute.  Also, he probably noticed today at the basketball game that I raided his sock drawer, but he didn’t complain.  He’s a great guy.

 

Headaches

  • I had a 3 day headache.  For real.  Like, my head hurt.  An Advil fixed it, but I had to complain, because it just fits here so well.
  • While I had posted previously that the Ex “was less resistant” to the idea of kicking things back to the level they should have been at all along, I was being overly optimistic. We are going back and forth with proposals.  He’s dragged the sharing of travel costs and tax deductions into our discussion, and he pisses me off.  Then he throws in his usual condescending asinine comments (i.e., “I am very sympathetic to the financial and professional difficulties you face at the moment . . . “), and I want to rip his face off.  For reals.  I still think we can reach an agreement, but dealing with his bullshit in the meantime drives me bonkers.
    • I wanted to retort that while I am facing a paycut, it was something I always knew was coming, AND!  Another thing!!  This is not a “professional difficulty,” at all!  This is a very logical and typical move at this stage of my career, and is resulting in increased experience!  You dummy!  Instead, I ignored his blah-blah, and responded only about the issues at hand.  So, ha!  You cannot rattle me!  [except that, really, he did.  because he’s a jerk.]
  • Also, the Ex just canceled the girls’ summer visit again.  So now David and I will both be working, and I think that the girls will be home.  Without much to do.  Last year, with me making gobs of money, we filled the time with crazy-costly camps (no, really — the girls were in camp with the grand-daughter of the owner of the Patriots, and with the daughter of the owner of Newbury Comics … we paid dearly).  This year, Lemon will likely be looking for someone to pay HER, and Mouse will be, uh . . . .
  • Just after I came to terms with my reduced salary, I called the H.R. person at the New Job to find out about health insurance details.  They were bad.  Very bad.  I almost cried.  I didn’t know what to do – I was totally unprepared for the costs.  I know I’ve been spoiled and spoiled and spoiled, but this was a blow.  I have since spoken with some people that tell me that while the number was double what I pay currently, on a salary that’s half of what I currently have, it’s “normal” and “fair.”  Fortunately, they told me that AFTER I decided to negotiate this point with New Firm.  So, this maybe should be up there in “happiness,” because it looks like there will be movement on the issue.

So, thanks for reading!

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Pre-Acceptance Freak Out

January 28, 2012

Friday was a busier day than I anticipated. I thought I’d have my 10 am informational interview, and then a restful day at home, maybe with a phone call or two.

But my 10 am “informational” interview felt more like a real interview, and then I checked in with a friend who works at that firm for a while.  He ended up being close with one of the associates at the offer firm, so he put us in touch to chat.

I went home, spoke to this associate for an hour, and then called next week’s firm to see if I could move things up, and then had real work to do, and then decided to engage in negotiations with the ex to get child support up to snuff. Then I freaked out, a la paycheck calculator.

Here are some of the results:

  • Associate at offer firm gave a very nice and candid view of the firm. I ended up even more excited to work there. It was good.
  • Next week’s interview can’t be moved up: the firm is in talks with a senior person to come in as a partner. They were thinking if he does come in, they’d bring me in as a junior person to support him. But timing can’t be rushed, and the area isn’t my first choice (and isn’t – really – what my resume indicates I would do, so …. ????). I’m keeping the Thursday lunch on the Calendar for the sake of the “longer view.” it’s not going to be an option for me right now.
  • The Ex was less resistant than I anticipated. I’d done a good job for the past year or so in prepping him for the reality that I would not be at big firm forever, and therefore wouldn’t be able to continue to discount child support forever. I think we can avoid court.
  • But the paycheck calculator was mean to me. 

This will not be easy. I’m nowhere near having to make huge changes, like moving out of my house or selling my car, but the series of little changes are going to hurt. 


A friend joked today, “you won’t be able to run out and get the newest iPhone and iPad anymore!” not that I’d need a new iPad. Mine is great. But if the iPhone 5 comes out ….  


No, seriously. The clothes budget will be an issue, the food budget will be affected. Things like $200 athletic fees for sports will start to hurt. 


We like Calistoga Springs sparkling water, the orange flavor. David tends to buy a case of it now and again, bc it’s cheaper by the case. I was having a glass last night, and wondered “can we keep buying this?” I asked him how much it was, and he really didn’t know. “do you think we will have to look at things that closely?” he asked.  Yes. Yes, I do.


I may need to have Lemon quit her voice lessons.


And the  there’s my other hold out – Third to house and car – the housecleaners. A $200/month expense that I just can’t imagine giving up. I’d rather cancel cable. Having a lower income doesn’t mean I have a lesser job. (Odd as that may be, but the reality when you start out in BigLaw). I don’t have any more time to scrub and polish. The housecleaners don’t tidy – they keep up with the floors, the bathrooms, the dust bunnies under the radiators. And they force us (because all of our personalities require force) to keep up with our personal messes on a twice-monthly basis, so the dust and grime underneath the clutter can be addressed.


Before we had them, I was a sad lady. A mad lady. Weekends were unhappy times because I was resentful that I spent the week working and then the weekend cleaning. So maybe I’d sit on the couch and pout, instead of cleaning, and things were yucky. Then we’d plan to have friends over, and I’d have no choice but to tackle the weeks’ (or months’) worth of grime, and I’d go on a rampage. Cleaning and bitching would go hand-in-hand. I would, essentially, turn into my mother. And like the generations before them, my kids and husband would hide in corners somewhere or leave the house. 


I can’t think of anything other than these housecleaners that has increased the quality of my life to this degree.  Maybe my iPhone. Maybe – but it may have detracted, really, because of the, well, distraction.


So I will tenaciously hold on.


And we will tighten the belts and see how it feels.


And David is still on the job market. It was easier for me because the legal market here is picking up, but other markets are still slow.  I also am currently employed, and he, in contrast, has been managing the home for the past 5-6 years. He got a masters in that time, too, but even that is somewhat in the past. And in the time that he’s been looking, he kinda caught pneumonia – so, things have been slower.


Once he’s settled, I think we will be even closer to ok. 


And so – there I am. Freaking out, but still optimistic. Could be worse, right?


I could have to move … And I do not.

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Want, Need, Wear, Read – What we did

January 3, 2012

As I’d mentioned previously, I caught wind this fall of the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” gifting philosophy.  Kind of simple, yet really useful.  Of course, we likely always give our kids gifts that fall into some combination of these categories.  But having the categories clearly stated at the outset helped David and I to frame our ideas, and helped us to function with an actual list, instead of just throwing money around willy-nilly.

When we first heard about it, we thought, “okay, 4 gifts per kid, one per category.”  But that’s not what we ended up doing.  It was hard to do that for a few reasons.  First, I wanted to give them more than 4 gifts.  Second, it was tough to keep balance between the girls.  Lemon wanted either a set of Harry Potter DVDs or an electronic keyboard.  But Mouse wanted a make up caddy (I so hope she grows out of this phase . . . ).  So, $70-$100 for Lemon, and $25 for Mouse.  Not fair!!

So David and I thought – okay.  We’ll EACH get them one gift from each category, and make sure things balance out around the whole.  It ended up working out pretty well.  (Of course, us “each getting one gift” is a fiction – since it comes out of the same budget. And while he did find ways to even out Mouse’s wants, he wasn’t thrilled that Lemon ended up with both the keyboard and the Harry Potter DVDs – even though both combined came to well under $150 thanks to some amazing sales).

One little cheat I had was their stockings.  I added an extra thing here or there that was more substantive than your typical stocking stuffer.  Mouse had a pretty nice wallet and a watch.  Lemon had a similarly priced necklace.  They both had movie theater gift cards ($20 each) – and, of course, Broadway tickets to see Anything Goes.

I also had a last-minute cave.  The girls and I really enjoy the t.v. show Gilmore Girls.  So far, we’ve seen one season, and ended up watching it by “renting” episodes via iTunes.  Not cheap.  It annoyed me.  They want to watch season 2, but we haven’t kept up with our hard disks from Netflix, and it’s not available by streaming, and I refuse to keep “renting” them, and if I were to “buy” them through Netflix, my hard drive would explode.  Out of curiosity (because we were talking about ordering disks from Netflix to watch in CT), I checked the price for the entire series on Amazon, and it was . . . lower than expected.  And because I have Amazon Prime, I ended up accidentally clicking the “quick purchase” (or whatever it’s called) button, and waa laa!  An unplanned “want” that wasn’t on the list.  “But it’s for both of them!  It’s a joint gift!”  I whined at David (after the fact).  Despite the caving, it is still remarkable that this was the only instance.

Even though we did more than 4 gifts, we still felt like using the Want, Need, Wear, Read philosophy helped us to stay sane in our gift-buying, and to make reasonable, well-rounded lists.  Seriously, last year, I just wandered around the mall and bought things that looked nice (ended up heavy on the “wear,” and honestly, it didn’t even turn out that they even wear the stuff that often).   This kept us from doing that (ignore previous paragraph).

We will do it again next year, I’m sure.  Depending on how all this job stuff turns out, we may very well be forced to stick to one gift per category – we’ll see what happens.

Funny thing about this year — I’m sure that we spent well under HALF of what we spent last year (if not 1/3), and still, the girls walked away saying “This was the best Christmas ever!”  Pure success.

 

 

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Birthday Parties Suck.

June 14, 2011

Last month, Mouse turned 13.  I had a frustrating experience planning her birthday party with friends.

We wanted to go to a cabin in Vermont – one that my family has been going to for years upon years – just like we did for Lemon’s 13th birthday.  Mouse had been quite excited for the trip.

But Mouse and her friends, they have sports to play.  Bat Mitzvahs to attend.  And scheduling became, shall we say, difficult.

It became apparent that an entire weekend was not going to happen.  Not with the crucial attendees.

So we had to revise the plan.  Flexibility is key, when parenting teenagers.  Nothing is more important than being flexible.  Head still attached to the neck?  NOT IMPORTANT.

Which is good, because the whole birthday-party planning thing did, in fact, cause my head to pop off in frustration.  Frustration with kids, with kids’ parents, with myself, with my parents, with my kids, with my spouse, with the state of Massachusetts – with everything.

The revised plan is taking place this weekend.  On Sunday.  We are going to an amusement park.  A big, famous amusement park with roller coasters and a water park, and lots of sticky pavement and nausea-inducing rides.

Yee ha.

But hey – wait!  Let’s not get all the way to the Big Day without throwing in a little more frustration? — to wit:

When we made the plan, we had 4 girls on the invite list.  This weekend/trip/birthday folly was always going to be enough of an outing that it was small numbers.  I would have preferred to have 3 girls on the list, but the dynamics of the group are such that it cannot be done.  So when one of them had a big sports tournament or other thing that couldn’t be avoided, it seemed perfect to me.  4 girls.  A nice, even number.

Oops, Mom!  Wait!

“I was walking to school with Friend 5, and I kind of forgot that we weren’t inviting her this year, and started talking about my plans and stuff, and since Friend 4 can’t come, can Friend 5 become Friend 4?  Please?  I really want her to come, and now if I don’t invite her, it will be awkward.”

I run through the issues in my head.  I think about group dynamics.  I think about seats in the car.  I think group dynamics will be improved by the addition of friend 5-now-4, and I realize that regardless of whether or not she is added to the list, our car isn’t going to fit the crew – so I’ll have to work out transportation in some fashion.

So I approved the switcheroo.

About 2 weeks ago, Mouse says, “Um, Mom?  Didn’t you say Original Friend 4 can’t come because of sports?”  “Yep, sure did.”  “Well, today she said she can’t wait to go – and I was confused, so I just played along.”

Original Friend 4’s mom is a friend of mine.  [And no, I can’t just use first initials.  They all have very similar names.]  So I called her.  “No, I really think that sports are devouring our entire life and she has about 15,000 games that weekend.”

I talk to another of the moms from the List.  “Hey, want a hybrid for the day?  So I can shove 7 bodies into your mini van and not pay a rental car company or zipcar to take the kids to the $50/head amusement park?”  She happily agrees.  Perfect!  5 girls, WD and me, fitting into a 7 passenger van.

A week later.  “Mom, Friend 4 keeps talking about my party.  I am confused.”

I again call mom of Friend 4.  “Now it looks like there are 20,000 games that weekend.  I really don’t know why she thinks she’s going.”

This past weekend, “MOM!!  She said something AGAIN!!”

Last night, I sent the reminder email with a list of things that the kids need to bring: “They need bathing suits, but can’t wear JUST bathing suits, because if we’re not in the water park, shirts are required.  They should have flip flops for the water park, but need other shoes for roller coasters, or else they’ll lose their flip flops and drop them on someone’s head.  Please don’t forget sunscreen.  Or towels.”

I sent it to all 5 girls. Meaning the girl who couldn’t come and the girl who was invited to replace the girl who couldn’t come.

Guess how many moms wrote back to say their kids cannot wait and are soveryexcitedohmygodthisisthebest!?  5.  Plus Mouse makes 6.  Plus me makes 7.  Plus WD makes 8.

Goddammit.

So I’m in talks with another friend, because her van holds 8.  She thinks it will be fine to swap cars.  Probably.  She just has to talk to her husband.  Who is out of town.  He may be gone for a few days.  And maybe they’re going away for the weekend.  Not really sure.  But it should be fine.

I think I’ll go reserve a zipcar now …

 

 

Wait!

First, I’d like to just say:

I’ve come a long way from the days of throwing phones into walls because of a lack of grocery money.  But I’ve rounded the corner from that into the days of saving for college tuition.  My financial planner has us saving quite aggressively for this.  At the same time, my kids keep coming up with new camps & stuff that they want to attend this summer.  Result?  I’m freaking broke – all summer long.

So the extra ticket to the amusement park – groan.  But knowing that the kids are so very excited about the FAIR part of the park?  You know, the part where you shell out crazy amounts of cash so they can throw balls into holes and then make ME lug giant stuffed animals all over the place?  I’m not thrilled.  Not at all.

The finances of the whole day are actually freaking me out.

But I know it will be fine.

(I think.)

 

 

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Paralyzed

May 4, 2011

I hate that I have been divorced.  I hate when something happens in a conversation with someone I’ve recently met that requires me to divulge this information about myself.  For example:  “What do your kids do in the summer?”  Or, “Oh, did your husband help change diapers when the girls were little?”  Or even, “oh, you lived in California, what were you doing there?”  Well, I was there while my husband went to grad school.  No, not this husband.  The other one.

It’s not a huge issue in my life, and I don’t try to hide it.  It’s pretty much on par with the way I try to avoid the question of “and where did you go to undergrad?”  Because I’m embarrassed of that, too.

I’ve considered myself fortunate that the Ex and I do not bicker too much.  Whether it’s because we’re adults or (more likely) because he lives so damned far away, I’m pleased that we don’t invest too much time or energy in spatting with one another.

When something does come up, I prefer not to broadcast it far and wide.  I will share with my closest friends, and I will share with WD.  But I don’t bring it up with everyone I bump into on the street, or in the course of typical conversations with co-workers.

I don’t even tend to discuss everything on my blog.  Because the divorce and the disputes therein are not who I am.  They are not a part of what I consider my life to be.

But the most recent thing that came up is weighing heavily on me, and I’m going to use this cloak of anonymity to vent, and to try and think through the situation that I find myself in.  Maybe some of my very few readers will even have some advice for me.  To help me as I wrestle with my options.

_________________________

Last week, WD and I went to talk to a financial planner.  I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s time that we get a bit more organized in our finances.

My life has taken such a non-traditional path.  My trajectory is so different from that of most of my peers:

  • Work hard at building a career while single;
  • get married in the late 20s/early 30s;
  • continue to build your career as well as your financial portfolio;
  • buy a house,
  • have a baby or two,
  • maybe buy a bigger house;
  • tweak your career to accommodate your family, but not so much that you aren’t still adding to that portfolio,
  • raise your kids with confidence that you can pay for their college and enjoy your own self once they get the hell out.

No.  That was not me.  I did this instead:

  • put choice career on hold for the sake of getting married at the ripe old age of 21;
  • continue to put choice career on hold for the sake of having babies at the ripe old age of 23;
  • work at non-choice career to support baby-faced husband as he pursues his choice career;
  • continue to work at non-choice career while said husband decides his choice-career is actually something different, and requires 7 more years of schooling;
  • divorce said husband;
  • continue to work at non-choice career for another 2 or 3 years while figuring out how to be a single mother and to pay off divorce-granted 1/2 of ridiculous debt accumulated during ex-husband’s non-working student days and while paying for full time child care for 2 preschool aged children and for a decent apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the country;
  • decide to pursue choice career;
  • get remarried to a great guy who also did not follow typical life-path;
  • finally graduate from law school;
  • realize your pre-teen and teen children are getting really fucking old, and you have very little savings to speak of because you’ve spent so long hoping that there will be enough money for food.
  • freak out.

And that’s what brings me to a financial planner.  At long last.

I’ve long-ago come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to ever buy a house.  Not in this town I chose.  This town that I’m now pretty committed to, both because of my kids’ community, and also because of my own.  We’re also committed because of the great schools and other opportunities, the location, the culture, the politics.  We love where we live.  So we rent.  For half the monthly cost than we’d be paying if we chose to buy a place with half the square footage of what we’re renting. (I’ve kind of come to terms with it.  I still lust over houses.  I sometimes have searing pangs of jealousy when someone buys a house.  But it’s fine.)

But I’m not coming to terms with the fact that I may not be able to fund 100% of my kids’ college expenses.

When I went to college, my parents were able to pay for 100% of my college.  True, through the power of the purse, they insisted upon that school (or one like it), and they refused to pay for the schools that were academically sound and that I was very eager to attend, based on both finances and on what they perceived as “moral depravity.” (i.e., there were signs up on campus about a pro-choice rally.)   Back then, college cost $10,000/year.   It was not a drop in the bucket to them, but it was not 1/4th of their salary.  It was a single digit percentage.

Today, a year’s college tuition is 1/4th of my salary.  Which I know puts me in better shape than most, but the reality is that I do not know how long my salary will stay at the level it is currently at.  I may have a different job by the time Lemon heads to college in 3 years.

3 years.

God.  When I think about how quickly the last 3 years went by …

So – financial planner.

She tells me I need to seriously consider paying for half of their college instead of all.  If I pay for all of it, I can retire when I’m 95.

She asks about grandparents, the Ex – can they help?

Nope.  I say.  My parents are way too stressed about their own retirement, in light of the fact that they didn’t start saving until relatively recently (because of their own kids’ college, etc.), and there is no way they are going to have money to contribute.  The Ex’s parents might have a little money, but not much.

But what about the Ex?

Oh.  He can’t.  He makes very little money.

We move on.

Later, I’m chatting with a friend about college expenses.  She is currently married to a college professor, and is wondering aloud why we both made choices to marry people who make so little money. Why did we not marry investment managers or even fellow lawyers.

While I was chatting with her, I found myself – FOR THE FIRST TIME – questioning the Ex’s salary.  I mean, he’s been a professor for a very long time.  He has tenure.  While still chatting, I employed my sweet friend Google.  After all, the Ex teaches at a public university – his salary is likely public record.

Why is this the first time I thought about this?

I guess because I really did think we were adults.

Google tells me, no.

The Ex makes 2x the amount he has told me that he makes.

2x.

Meaning, the amount he had been letting me believe he makes, and then that amount again.

The amount he had been letting me believe was low enough that I said, “oh, never mind the child support guidelines, I understand things are tough for you, you can pay $300/mo less than that.”

And when he made tenure, and I said, “did you get a raise with that?”  Did he say “yes, approximately $40K!” (And that it was on top of an already-much-higher number than he’d been leading me to believe.)

Nope.

He said, “Only about $3K.”

Huh.  Because according to the website, the first # was the right number.  Not the $3K number.  The $40K number.

And last year, when I kind of put his back to the wall about who gets to claim Lemon for tax-purposes, he surprisingly caved on the issue.  Now I know why.  Because if he fought me on that, and we went to court, he would have to submit financial records, and then I would know that he’s been lying to me.

I was pretty upset.  Not tears upset (I’m not a cryer, after all), but angry.  Because he and I were in the midst of a very cordial email thread (wherein he told me that no, his parents won’t be contributing to college, and either will he), I just told him what I saw.  He basically said, “yeah, well, fuck you” in response.  First, he tried to say that he didn’t tell me because “it didn’t come up.”  Which is, of course, bullshit.  He didn’t just “not tell me” – he lied on multiple occasions.  He let me fill in erroneous numbers for our little child support calculator without correcting me.  He outright lied about whether he’d received raises more than once.  Of course, I obsessively checked my email history to gather proof of these transgressions.

He left it as, “So, have your lawyer contact me.”

And then I slipped into a funk.  For at least a couple of days.  Mostly feeling disillusioned over the fact that I’ve prided myself in being fair, and in being, even, kind.  And in response, I’ve been lied to.

I am no longer in a funk, but I still haven’t done anything about this.  I know now that when taking into account my salary and his salary, he should be paying more than twice the child support he currently pays.  But you know what?  I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want to open up a court file here in Massachusetts.  I don’t want to take him to court, from 1/2 way across the country, to get more money out of him.  Is it my fault he has two new babies?  No.  But I still feel like if I drag him to court to insist on some higher amount of child support (any such increase would, of course, go entirely to the girls’ fledgling college accounts), I’m a jerk.  A real jerk.

I know that when it comes down to it, the court cannot (will not) make him contribute toward tuition.  And even with his true salary being 2x what he had told me he was making, it’s not a huge salary.  He likely cannot pay for half of their college.  So increasing child support to the appropriate level and using that increase to supplement the savings is the most I can expect.  I can probably also extend child support past the girls’ 18th birthdays, until they graduate from college.

But even if I do get this increase … it won’t help tons in the overall picture.  In the three years between now and when Lemon heads out the door, the increase maybe will have accumulated to equal 1/2 year of college.  One semester.  But there’s two kids.  So …. ?

Is it worth it?  I just don’t know.  I really do not want the fight.  I don’t want to be that person.  I don’t want the fact that I have been divorced to take up that much of my time and thoughts.

Not one person I have spoken to thinks that it is appropriate for me to let this go.  Every single person thinks I should take him to court and get the higher number.  Of course, if I were to talk to his mother, or perhaps another divorced non-custodial parent, I would get a different perspective.

Also to note, if I were to get the increase to the levels that the MA guidelines state as the true level, he would be paying considerably less than 10% of his gross salary to child support.  Which means, yeah, he’s currently paying about 4% of his gross annual salary toward child support.

Another thing – I do not know that his salary is all he makes.  He also has several speaking engagements per year, and participates in many other professional endeavors.  Those could be supplementing his salary in a significant way.  And since I know that he does not feel like it is his responsibility to ensure that he’s providing Lemon and Mouse with support appropriate to his income, I know he would not volunteer this information.

For now, I have asked him for his last 2 years’ tax returns.  I don’t know if he’ll provide them.  I’m guessing if his salary is it, he’ll send them.  If there’s more, more to hide, then he will not.

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Racking Up the Expenses

January 19, 2011

I was very fortunate, in these bleak economic times, to receive a raise with the new year.  It was generous.  But!  guess what I did?  Well, at least I think I did … I spent it!  here are a few things I have come up with to make it so that I – actually – do NOT really have a raise:

1)  I’ve gone on and on about this.  So it’s hard to feel bad.  It hasn’t even started yet, but the ANTICIPATION of it leaves me giddy.  So giddy that I keep straightening rooms, and sweeping floors, and vacuuming carpets.  Because I know that soon and very soon, SOMEONE IS GOING TO CLEAN MY HOUSE!  Oh, praise jesus.

2)  Lemon is taking Latin.  Only not at her high school (which would be free).  With a private tutor.  At her high school, she’s taking mandarin.  She was thinking of adding Latin as a second language come her sophomore year, but then she discovered photography (an elective at the high school), and wants to continue with that, as well as with drama.  So she asked me to get her some Latin outside of school.  Oy vey [is that Latin?  No?]  I think she’s doing this for 2 reasons:  (1) obsession over the SAT [no, i do have ANY clue where that may have come from.  I do not know ANYONE who may use the word “scholarship” to an excessive degree] and (2) genuine exploration of a love of languages.  She’s done so well so easily in mandarin, and is very interested in looking at more languages in the future.  She has heard from several people about Latin as a root for Spanish, Italian and French, and hopes to pick those up quickly after Latin.  Which of these 2 goals aren’t worth supporting?  Neither!

3)   Mouse’s boobies grew.  Okay – so this was a 1-time expense (sort of), but she INSISTED on an emergency Target run last night.  Despite my obviously-not-a-true-conviction boycott against them (in light of their support of anti-gay-marriage candidates), and despite the ridiculous ice and snow on our New England roads (we were one of 10 cars in the parking lot … seriously).  Because her bras were suddenly too small.  Admittedly, calling what she’d been wearing “bras” was a pretty loose use of the term.  They were more like “cropped tank tops created some time in the 1970s” or thereabouts.  I don’t even know where she got them.  I “found” them in the house.  Maybe. Or elsewhere*.  Like another dimension.  Because I really never BOUGHT them.  So we went to Evil-Town last night, and we bought shitloads of bras from the Girls’ Section, in size L.  We were happy to find ones that were not merely gathered-in-the-center tank tops, but rather had 2 distinct panels.  They did NOT have padding.  When Lemon was at the same stage, all we could find were the “baby” (i.e., gathered tank top) bras, or padded (albeit tiny) “cup” bras.   Mouse was luckier. They are even cute.

4)  Lemon has asked me to find her someone “to talk to.”  She’s had this in the past, when her relationship with the Ex was an absolute nightmare, and i didn’t trust myself to talk to her in the neutral way that I find Very Important from a divorced parent.  She’s asking for it now because she feels like she often gets disproportionately upset about small things.  She has high anxiety.  She still has tantrums.  She’s 14.  I am 95% of the time able to manage her.  But she’s 14 … how long do my management skills matter?  I’m impressed that she can look around her and assess on her own …. “mom, when you asked me if that glass in the sink was mine, I got really upset, and I got angry.  I’ve been at my friends’ houses when their parents ask similar things, and my friends just shrug.  I think something is wrong.  I’d like to talk to someone.”   I made a few calls, I got recommendations.  I let her know what I was doing.  “Mom, I think I was overreacting … I’m fine.  I don’t want to talk to someone.”  A month later, an explosion about a homework assignment.  or about a dinner she didn’t like.  “I think, Mom, I still want to talk to someone.  And this time, if tomorrow I say I changed my mind, can you please ignore me?  And make me do it anyway?”  She starts in the next few weeks.

5)  I am fat.  I have a large ass.  I thought I could run in the winter, I thought I could take care of what I need to take care of.  But I am not doing it.  There’s snow.  slush.  tiredness.  I need to join a gym.  There’s one in my building, steps from my elevator.  i think I need to do this.  For myself, for my resolve (or lack thereof).  It’s hard to imagine a routine in which I have MORE time, but I have to.  I am currently not who I want to be, and I am the only person who can fix it.

So – see?  The raise is gone.

But so many things are potentially in order.

Important things, really.

*Lemon actually has been known to receive “hand-me-down” bras in various stages from her more-endowed (i.e., earlier developed) friends.  So it’s not so crazy that I would find undergarments that I never bought in the house.