Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I'm going to talk money, so if you're sensitive, look away now...

Money is hard work, isn't it?


It didn't use to be. We used to be okay with money. The Grumpy Old Man used to earn about 35K a year and together with my disability support pension (blind) and family assistance, we made ends meet and more. Our combined income was about 55K. Rent was cheaper back then (three years ago we were only paying $350 a week in rent), and electricity, gas, phone and water were about 144% cheaper as well (yeah, I'm only talking about 3-4 years ago).

These days our combined income is 45K, our rent is $390 per week, and our utilities are more than twice what they were.

I wrote last year about how much we were struggling and how much we were relying on MIL for financial assistance - MIL is an age pensioner herself. Some of my readers thought I was a self-pitying leech of an older woman. This did make me sit up and reassess how we manage our money, the things we thought we couldn't live without, and I made some adjustments.

So far this year we haven't asked MIL for a cent. This has meant the boys missed out on an excursion in the first month of school, and they didn't go to the big school camp this week. I've sold the pram to make sure we could cover the water and phone bill this month (had to pay for a new modem because the old one died and internet access is actually not a luxury but a necessity when your are job hunting).

I've budgeted and budgeted the same money over and over again all year because well, when you don't have much of it, and one child suddenly needs new shoes, and the school sends home yet another excursion/incursion notice unexpectedly, you're constantly having to shuffle money around to make ends meet.

Last week Erik brought home a notice that he has been selected, along with 19 other students out of his 5/6 grade level to attend a special seminar with a local artist. This was a special honour and no doubt he was selected because of his promising artistic ability. The excursion was to cost $37 and we had a week to pay it. We had absolutely no money to fund this excursion and I was heartbroken because I really want to encourage Erik's artistic pursuit because, well, he's very good!

I posted about our dilemma on Facebook and shortly an online acquaintance contacted me and said that she'd just gotten a job that day and she wanted to 'pay it forward' - her good fortune that is. She would pay for Erik's excursion. What an extraordinary kindness! One day, I will pay it forward myself.

But yeah, not even having $37 dollars is hard.

Yesterday, I was up at the school picking up my boys. This week Erik and Luey are helping out in junior school classes instead of going on camp. There is one other child not going on camp - apparently he would rather have an iPad, so is saving for that instead.

Some of the other parents asked me why the boys weren't at camp, I said we couldn't afford $900 right after Christmas (that's $450 per child), it just wouldn't fit in our budget. One mum asked if we couldn't have paid it off in instalments leading up to the camp. I said we couldn't even afford instalment payments (I mean, really, if we could afford those, we would have saved for the trip, right?).

There was this look of utter confusion on the faces of the other mums. It was as if they simply could not comprehend that we didn't even have $900 on a credit card or in a savings account somewhere that we could have tapped into. That is the area we live in. That is why our school gets away with charging as much and as often as it does for incursions and excursion and donations from the parents at the school.

For some people money isn't quite as hard work.

Today I learned about 'effective tax', and it cleared some stuff up for me that had confused me for a while. I often hear people talk about how they're being taxed 37c in the dollar, and I think, like many people do, that means they're being taxed at a rate of 37%. So, they earn 140K a year and only take home 88K a year (which is about 43K a year more than us, LOL). but then I found this chart about effective tax and realised they're actually take home about 100K (so 55K more than us) because their effective tax is about 30%. Many families in our area fit right into this income bracket. Of course they're going to wonder why we struggle to find $22 for a sport excursion with a week's notice or $900 for a camp with two and half months notice.

I know you're all going think, oh yes, but they're paying huge mortgages and they don't get to see each other much because they're at work all the time, and so on and so forth...

Well, this is probably true. At the same time, they take a week or two out of their busy lives to go to Fiji or Thailand - or so it seems, based on every day conversation at the school gate. They go on dinner dates together away from the kids. And if offered the opportunity to swap places with us they absolutely unequivocally would not.

That is the litmus test, really. I've heard the argument that the GOM and I are very lucky and our kids are very lucky because we get to spend so much time together and others would love to go back to simpler times like that, but you see...  They actually have a choice. They could sell their houses and their cars and quit their jobs and choose our life, er, 'style' - and they wouldn't, because it's bloody hard work with no holidays overseas or freedom to paint your walls oranges - if you're so inclined - to make it worthwhile.

We don't have a choice.

And having all this time together when you have no money to go anywhere together, when your children miss out on things like school camps and even regular excursions, when you live with the daily stress of seeing your husband apply for job after job and not even be offered an interview, or (worse, I dare say) get a job then have the offer rescinded on two separate occasions - well, I have to believe anyone who envies our 'freedom' is just plain nuts!

Money is hard work.

But I don't want to end this post on a sour note, because really, I'm okay at the moment with our situation. We haven't asked MIL for any money all year and we've managed, so that is making me feel better.

We had to reschedule the Grumpy Old Man's driving test back from April to May because his new instructor (who said he could have done the test yesterday and been fine because he's such a great driver, woot!) will be away at the time of the original test date. Setting the date back means setting back the likelihood of the GOM being able to get work because he doesn't drive, which is very frustrating... Setting back the time when money won't be as much hard work...

As I say though, I'm okay with that.

I recently heard (on a movie trailer) a quote, which I looked up and found was attributed to a playwright named Carolyn Myers...

"Everything will be okay in the end, if it's not okay, it's not the end."

So, money is hard work, and that's no okay, but it's not the end.


Anonymous said...

Oh Sif, it is so hard, isn't it? $900 is an awful lot of money to us, too! And while it is hard to know that your kids are missing out, hopefully when they're grown up that won't be what they remember. They'll remember that mum and dad were always around and that is an incredibly special gift to be able to give your kids - whether by choice, or not! I suppose the grass is always greener - when you're not working, the job and $ is a much more attractive option, when you're always at work, time at home would be better. It's just finding that balance. We only have 1 child and struggle, and we both work, so I can't even begin to imagine your plight. You're an amazing family!

Blundermum said...

But how can you NOT have $900 available?
It's amazing the different perspective others have regarding money. My daughter had $8.50 in her savings account last week. Yesterday I withdrew it to buy petrol so she could get to school.
I worry about not having emergency funds, which we're told should be 3 months wages, but it's impossible to save when you're in the negatives week after week.
You're doing great! The school shouldn't be running camps if they cost $450 per child, my daughter sure wouldn't be going.

Sif Dal said...

Thanks guys (our internet is shaped at the moment because I'm an idiot so I haven't been getting email notifications - or any email - for days and only just remembered webmail, LOL...

In this area it seems that having access to $900, at least being able to save that much in nine weeks, is considered possible. Mind you, most families only had to come up with half of that because they only had one child in grades five and six, not two like our family (though there was two other families I know of who sent two children on the same camp).

Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, of course. My point was that being at home with the kids all the time when there is much stress in the family is not at all ideal and many times I wonder how much the kids will actually appreciate it considering how much they miss out on compared with their peers (no extracurricular activities at all, no outings on the weekend to tell the class about monday morning, and now they're even missing out on school 'fun stuff' like excursions and incursions)... Does having mum and dad home (when they don't even want to be at home) make up for that?

Good Job!