While my ability to make long term plans is stymied at present, I do have some short term goals. One of my objectives is to try to save some money. We have a safety net that wouldn’t support a flea and it’s constantly on my mind that it needs to be woven tighter. Once we moved into the trailer, and were somewhat more settled (as opposed to when we lived in the tents), I intended to put aside a little bit each month so we wouldn’t slip through the cracks when we hit the net.
Not only has it proven impossible to save, we continue to fall behind each month. In terms of money and finance my default has been more to estimate than itemize and any accountant will tell you that’s a mistake. I budget for the large expenses – rent, utilities, childcare, cell phone and the storage unit – and completely underestimate how much money goes to gas and food and miscellaneous household items. I totally forget that there are expenses like haircuts and field trips and team photos and the entire school snack that each parent is responsible for once a year. And of course there are the vampire bank fees when my estimation and their itemization don’t match! I also have bills that continue to follow me – legal fees from the process to evict the squatter, medical bills the insurance (when we still had it) didn’t pay – that I mean to address but find difficult to do. The reality is that our monthly expenses, many of which are fixed, are more than my unemployment income. It is pretty much impossible to support a family of 5 on unemployment in California.
Making additional income without impacting (having it subtracted from) unemployment is tricky. So far I’ve relied on eBay to add a few dollars each month (A note about eBay – I hope to list more things soon but don’t have a working digital camera at the moment). Since most of my eBay listings come from things I pick up at estate and other sales and there are listing fees, and I always underestimate the actual cost of shipping, the profit is slim. This month a ‘community garage sale’ will be held at the local fair grounds. A booth can be reserved for $40 and I intend to kill two birds with one stone – aggressively clear out the storage unit so we can move to a smaller unit to save money and also sell some of our few remaining possessions to make some money.
We clip coupons and try to only buy grocery items that are on sale. Sadly space limitations make it hard to take advantage of the cheaper bulk buys. I shop at thrift stores. I try to limit driving to save gas but with kids’ activities 4 out of 5 weekday nights and on Saturday it’s hard to do. We rent movies for a dollar at the Red Box instead of buying them or going to the theater – although since our little DVD player is experiencing issues we may soon be able to save a little more! And we are cutting a few of the discretionary expenses we still have – giving up our discounted YMCA membership (a lifesaver when we were in the tents as it gave us a place to swim and shower) and canceling our sponsorship of the child we support in Vietnam.
This month will be a bit more expensive – we have two birthdays to celebrate, a pressing legal bill, car registration to pay and at the end of February we have to pay someone to pull the trailer out of the RV Park and move it to another location for 3 days. Then we pay someone to move us back for another six months. Assuming they’ll have us that is – another family was evicted last week because the children were too noisy!
As I said earlier, not only has it proven impossible to save, we continue to fall behind each month. I don’t have any credit cards – not anymore. So how are we able to make it? This is where I want to offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped us to cling to the edges of our threadbare net. The good Samaritans who stepped forth when the car had troubles and the laptop died; the secret Santas who showered the kids with gifts at Christmas; the compassionate strangers who send us the occasional donation though Paypal; the Internet friends we’ve made but never met who send a note of support with a Target or Vons gift card enclosed; the local friends who brought us chicken soup and tissues when we were all struck down by H1N1; and the friend who showed up at the girls basketball game and invited us out to dinner afterwards. We make it through each month because we are blessed by your kindness. You are our saving grace. Thank you.
I read a column recently in which the author asked why it took a disaster the proportion of Haiti to awaken our compassion. Why he wondered didn’t we respond to those in need in our own country, our own neighborhoods? I want to tell him that some do.