Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Resolution #1

One of the biggest issues Shawn and I face as a young-ish couple with 2 very young kids is managing our finances. This is especially difficult with only one income -- specifically when you consider that we bought our house and financed our mortgage when we were both working.
Seeing as how that is no longer the case, Shawn's paycheck has an awful long way to go.

Thankfully, he works hard and has managed to keep us up and thriving these past few years, with the assistance of family from time to time and a certain regrettable dependency on our credit cards.

I think we are very similar to other people our age who left the comforts of mom and dad only to expect those same comforts the minute we stepped out on our own. I'm not sure how much of it is wanting to continue the quality of life we've come to expect, and how much is just wanting to be able to give our kids the same type of comforts we had when we were young, but either way, we've dug ourselves a hole that feels at times not at all unlike that of Alice and her little white furry friend.

We put a lot of thought and consideration into what to do after my Theatre position in San Marcos was discontinued. I'd been yearning to stay home with Ryan, mostly because I was fed up with having to learn all about her daily growth and progress from teenagers, and mostly because the expense was sucking us dry. On a teacher's salary, once you figure in the cost of gas, clothing, etc, you're really just working to pay the daycare bill, which didn't make much sense to us. Not to mention, I desperately wanted to just be a mom like my mother was.

Shawn was as eager as I to have me stay home, and after much deliberation we decided we could make it work. And we have, but not without consequence and sacrifice, those favorite pals of ours who never seem to be too far away when you put together the words "money" and "kids".

Even as I write this, I feel guilty knowing how truly fortunate we are, knowing that a lot of our problems come from my impulsive nature and our desire to treat ourselves and our loved ones whenever the urge arises. Not that we make extravagant purchases, but when you add up a few $30 dinners here and several $20 presents there over the course of 3 years, it starts to weigh on you. And your wallet.

Especially when you get a call from the electricity company stating that they've been ordered to come turn off the power unless payment is remitted by 1 pm.

Yep. Never in my life did I think I would receive that phone call, but sure enough, it was waiting for me when I got back from taking Ryan to school this morning. The man was very nice about it, really, stating that he wanted to give us a heads-up in case we wanted to take steps to avoid disconnection, and boy am I glad he did, because when your husband busts his ass for 13 hours a day 6 days a week, the last thing you as the "Financial mis-Manager" want to have to do is explain why he can't get his computer to turn on so he can work some more, or why the a/c (yes, even in December -- Texas, y'all) isn't working, or why all the food in the fridge needs to be eaten tonight or else. Not something I was looking forward to, let me tell ya.

How could I let something like this happen, you ask? How much time do you have?

We live paycheck to paycheck, as I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before, and those paychecks are never ever ever a consistent amount. Shawn works on a salary/bonus basis, and for completely frustrating and unexplicable reasons I cannot even begin to wrap my head around, his company opted to reduce the bonus checks their GM's receive, despite the fact that they're making more money than ever, enough to even allow them to open up a totally different restaurant concept. But that's not really the problem, either.

The problem is that though we could have dealt with a decrease in bonus, it came at the same time as that wretched term George W. ignorantly refuses to use: INFLATION. It's here, It's queer, and we're bendin' over.

I could go on to lament on the trials of the middle class in our American economy, but I couldn't do it nearly the justice my mom could, and anyway, if I'm honest with myself, it's really because I haven't done my job properly. I haven't put my foot down enough when it comes to meals out or movies watched, clothes bought, or money saved. And did I mention Christmas?

I accept full responsibility for my failures, but unfortunately, electricity bills cannot be paid by acceptions of responsibilities and promises to do better. It can, however, be paid with good ol' American Currency, that root of all evil we chase day after day. Lucky for me, I had enough of the stuff to pay the bill, and had actually done so over the weekend through my bank's Bill Pay service. You know, where you put in how much you want to pay and they tell you when it will be due? That one. Happily, I put in the needed amount, pushed the enter key, and was rewarded with the assurance that they would deliver my payment by, oh would you look at that? -- TODAY.

'Cept the Electric Company didn't see things that way. Although the money was shown as having been delievered, they could find neither hide nor hair of it, and until they did, disconnection orders would remain as-is. Lovely.

So I called the bank, asking them what, if anything could be done to speed up that delivery that was supposedly already made but really hadn't been. They, naturally, informed me that it was in the process of being transmitted electronically and would be received by the Electric Company by midnight tonight. Uh huh. So how come it says it's already been delivered, again? And why does it take so long to process? Isn't that the whole point of this whole online banking nonsense we've been bullied into using -- that payments can be made instantly and without all the hassle of checks and stamps and waiting and all that nonsense? Am I missing something?

Apparently, I'm missing a lot. No matter of begging could get them to stop payment so I could just do it directly with the EC over the phone, and no matter of begging could get the CSR chicks at the EC to understand that the money was floating over to them amidst millions of radio-digital-frequency-whatchamacallits even as we spoke, so couldn't they please hold off on that pesky disconnection business? Everyone's hands were apparently tied, I was told, oh, except for the hands of the technician who would be performing the dreaded operation this afternoon.

Could this blue-collar average working-Joe really be the only one between two mega corporations who could anything about the situation I was in? Really? Really??

Turns out, he was. His name is Mike and if we ever have another child, they shall be named for The Man Who Saved The Day. Having exhausted all other avenues, I made a meek call to the number he had phoned from (thank the good Lord for call-waiting, a feature we will most likely have to disengage now that I'm tightening the purse strings) and asked whether or not there was anythinig he could do to help me out.

I explained the situation about the bits of money floating through the air, out of everyone's grasp until 11:59pm tonight, and he quickly said ,"No problem. It can wait."

Really? Really?


Immediately the flood gates opened and I sobbed my thanks, not because I was oh-so-terrified of losing electricity, though it certainly would have sucked ass, but because I hate not being able to control a situation, especially when I'm desperately trying to do the right thing. The fear of that happening had welled up inside me, clawing it's way to the surface and with one phone call to Mike the Power Guy, it's protective bubble had been burst and Good had overcome. Or something.

Bless his heart, I'm not sure he knew quite how to handle this blubbering idiot on the other end of the line, but he did so with grace and assurance that as long as people were willing to work with him, he was willing to work with them.

So here's to Mike, the Human Being who was not controlled by a computer or a 3 piece suit in Manhattan, but by the Grace of God. I wish him only Good Things, and I hope that somewhere down the line when he finds himself in trouble there will be another Human Being controlled by nothing but the Grace of God to help him out.

And yes, I have learned my money-management lesson, and yes, things will remain tight for quite a while more, and yes, Managing Our Finances is right up there on the list of resolutions -- right behind letting Grace, Compassion and Goodwill control my actions as a Human Being.

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