November 2008 - Posts - Workin' It
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Workin' It

"Workin' It" is the blog for working parents who are committed to the frugal lifestyle. This blog addresses some of the issues working families face in keeping their lifestyle frugal, including childcare, work expenses, and the constant trade off between time and cost. The author and her husband, both law school graduates, work full-time; the author has a law firm, and dear husband a property management business. They also have an eight month old. Despite all that we have on our plates, we're still committed to living life frugally.

November 2008 - Posts

  • Child Care...

    It's a killer. I was reading an article about child care costs, and I almost peed myself. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, child care is in the five figures in some states. It's a sword of Damacles over the head of most parents in this society, particularly single parents or parents who have to work. This is something you just can't scimp on, but how do we come up with $10k/year?

     A lot of times, you can't. And so you have to find another way. 

    Growing up, my parents did what's now called "split shift" parenting: Mom left for work at 7 AM and got home by 3 PM; Dad left at 11 PM and got home by 7 AM.We had aunts, family friends, and neighbors to keep us if something called away one of our parents during "their" shift.

    Now that Hofpapa and I have the Hofbaby, we take care of our munchkin through a variety of means. We're both self-employed, which means that with discipline, one of us can usually work while taking care of the baby (although I don't recommend it long-term for mental health). We live close to family, which means I have a bevy of cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course, grandparents to call on if I have to attend to an emergency in one of my cases. Soon, little guy will be big enough to put in our synagogue's excellent pre-school (which is a steal compared to daycare). However, we know our situation is not the norm; most families don't have the relative flexibility of having two self-employed parents. For those families, an affordable, reliable form of child care becomes even more important.

    For an increasing number of families, extended family is now filling this niche. It's probably the most ancient system of child-care known to man; mom has baby, mom's sister (or mother-in-law, or whomever) watches baby while mom prepares mammoth-chops. And as long as your family is dependable, it can be a wonderful solution.

    But what do you do if you don't have family around? Or a wonderful church-family to call on? You improvise. You create family that you can count on. We've spent more days than you can imagine with friends' children, and they've done the same for us. One of my most beloved and admired friends is a single mom to four; she's teamed up with another mom, and they split-shift parent each other's kids. It's grueling, but it frees up about $35,000 per year between the two moms. In the summer, community organizations, schools, and religious organizations offer a number of day-camps for low- to no-cost.

    If you have someone you can trust, a nanny is not a bad idea, particularly if you can get a college student (or even a single mom) who will watch the kiddos in exchange for room, board, and reasonable pay. 

    People are fleeing the costs of daycare, but the kids still have to be cared for. While it's a challege that faces any family with children, it's particularly acute for families with two working parents. As there's less disposable money available, we have to find new solutions; for most of us, the only way out is with creativity, love, and sacrifice. It's going to mean less "me" time, less dishwashing/checkbook balancing/TV watching time, more tired time, more trading what we can do for what others can do. But then, isn't that what being a parent has always meant?

  • It reminds me...

    That it's not so bad; it's not so bad.

     Admission number one: I am, by nature, a pessimist. 

     Admission number two: I am even more pessimistic, indeed, even cynical, when it comes to matters financial.

     So as I was musing over the world, wondering what brilliant wisdom I might share with you, I assumed that I would go with my typical sturm-und-drang. After all, the world economy isn't just ill, it's hooked up to a ventilator with the family asking the court if they can pull the plug. It's hard times all around; folks are anxious, food pantries are struggling to keep the shelves full, and more and more of us are pounding the pavement and keeping our fingers crossed. Even when Mama and Daddy are both working, it's still hard times. I was gearing up to talk to all y'all about how we're going to pull through, day-by-day, because there just isn't any other choice.

     Then these words showed up in my e-mail:

    "I need to be reminded to look for the good in my life and in the world—to count my blessings." 

    And dear friends, we have a lot to count. Even as we look for ways to pinch a penny til it cries, and try to remember how Great-Grandma made it, we have things a lot better than Great-Grandma could've imagined in a lot of ways. The blessings most of us here have to count include:

    1. The fact that we're here, learning to be frugal. That alone puts us miles ahead of a lot of the world, which is buying Lotto tickets and praying. By developing skills and knowledge, we keep our little boats afloat. By sharing what knowledge we've gained, we even help the tide rise a little! And unlike Great-Grandma, we can pick the mind of strangers thousands of miles away withuot even a penny for a phone call (heck, without even paying for Internet service if we use the library!). 

    2. Food security. Yup, food security. I haven't suffered a brain injury, and I've seen the cost of milk just like all of you all. But let's think about it historically: Use-it-up cooking, gardening, canning, home-cooking, couponing, bargain-hunting...these are fantastic budget-savers for us. For Granny, they were a matter of survival. Not financial survival, either. Straight up making it to another day survival. Now, all but the poorest of us have a sense of food security that even the richest didn't have a few generations ago. When's the last time America saw true famine? Heck, we've got it good compared to our moms: whereas food took about 30% of the household budget in the 1970s, it's in the 10-12% range now. That's 18% more of our budgets that's been freed up

    3. Some place safe, warm, and dry to sleep. Unfortunately, there's plenty of folks in this world, even here at home, who don't have that much to their name. If you've got somewhere safe, warm, and dry to sleep tonight, you're doing pretty well!

    4. Clean clothes to wear. Same with shelter; lots of folks don't just have to do with old, serviceable, mended-over Goodwill duds; they have to do with whatever they can pick out of the garbage or otherwise obtain. A little bit of patience, some sewing, and $20 will yield you a professional ensemble shopping the thrift sotres in this county (yup, been to court in Goodwill suits before). How incredibly lucky is that?

    5. Work for our hands. Be it a job, a career, minding kids, making a home, volunteering, or some other way that we fill our time with meaning, there's no lack of work to be done in this world. While that might seem like a curse some of the time, I always consider myself lucky that there's work to be done that I am capable of doing: that I have something to give to this world.

    Now that we've counted our blessings, we can go into the day with a little hope to bolster our cold-eyed realism. Because the reality is, while we're very blessed, times are very hard, and probably going to get harder. I've been looking hard and trying to figure out what we can do to make it through these hard times, and come up with a few ideas.

    - Reduce debt. You know that, I know that, and still that credit card is there...

    - Keep yourself marketable. I don't care what you do; whether you're a homemaker or an investment banker (my condolences), you have skills to offer that someone else would be willing to pay for. We don't all need to go into business for ourselves, but we should all be ready to sell our skills if it were necessary.

    - Keep up your connections. Everyone has a community; the broader and more developed your community is, the more folks you'll have to call on if you need a new job, want to sell something, or need someone to teach you how to fix your car.

    -  Only deal with truth. Whether the truth is ugly, beautiful, or almost unbearable, it is what it is. There's incredible power in knowing where you stand, what you own and what you owe, where you've been and where you're going. Own your truth, and you'll have the power to change.

    Is it bad out? Yeah, it's pretty bad.

    But it's not so bad...


  • When you hit rock bottom, you got two ways to go

    Straight up and sideways.

     You could almost reach out and grab the financial stress these days. The GDP took a .3% hit last quarter, the Feds cut prime to 1% (seriously?! 1%?), and most folks feel like tightrope walkers in a hurricane. It's hard not to feel one misstep from disaster when you're leveraged to the hilt, your job is in shaky territory at best, and you've got a mortgage to pay and kids to feed. So what do we do?

     "Don't panic."

     These words are inscribed on <i>The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy</i> for good reason: you CAN'T panic. Panic makes us act irrationally. Panic robs us of our creativity, our cleverness, our foresight, and leaves us scrambling. Not that we should all be la-di-da pie-in-the-sky, but let's be honest with ourselves: lots of us here are frugal because we've been down before, some of us way down. Yet we're still here, and better off than we were before, for the most part. Being poor didn't kill us. Being real poor didn't kill us. Even being hungry hasn't killed us, although it might've made us hungry in the way that fuels constant improvement and better tomorrows. 

     So what do we do? We keep doing what we've been doing, if we've been smart. We bust our humps today and prepare for tomorrow. If we know the student loan debt could sink us, we get a second job and throw money at the debt. If we're living in a house that will be our financial undoing, we mourn the loss and we move. We get roommates, sell cars, plant gardens, turn off lights, hang the laundry to dry, cook dinner, pack our lunches, leave the thermostat off, recycle everything. For the frugal, none of this new. To our grandmothers, none of this was new. A large part of the current economic downturn is due to the fact that we used credit to buy what they bought with work.

     Do I want to work retail over the holidays to pay down my law school debt faster? Not particularly. But, as my daddy is fond of saying, "There's never shame in honest work." Do any of us want to tell our kids, "No, we can't afford that." Of course not. Do we want to give up lunches out with our co-workers in favor of a PBJ at the desk? Probably not. But will it kill us? Will it even hurt us? Heck, it'll probably be good for us; as the economy has gone from ludicrous speed to lurch, folks seem to be turning away from stuff to what really matters: people. Instead of being out spending money, we're home spending time and love. The cost-benefit analysis strongly favors people over crap in my equations.

    So what do we do? We love each other. We take care of each other. We know that even though things are hard and scary right now, tomorrow is just on the other side of tonight. And we know that even if tomorrow is hard, and long, and dirty, it'll be alright, because at the end of the day, we love each other.

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