Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Tribute For Shelley

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

I am interrupting this personal finance blog for a tribute to my cousin Shelley, who was found dead in her home Saturday.  She left behind a terminally ill husband who is in the hospital.  Shelley was only 32 almost 31.  I don’t have details yet, as I didn’t get the email until after work and my mom was sleeping by then.

When we were kids, Shelley, her brother Mikey, and I would play on Grandpa and Grandma’s farm.  I remember the time we convinced Uncle Bob to use his pocketknife to cut us some straight green branches, then we pulled Uncle George’s fishing line out of his tackle box and made bows and arrows and chased the younger cousins around the farm.  It was great fun, until we actually hit one of them (my brother).  Then my mom and Uncle George came out wanting to whoop us, but Grandma saved us by saying we just needed work and handed us buckets to go pick blackberries (and not come back until we were good and scratched up with full buckets). 

Shelley lived her whole life in Missouri, whereas I moved around a bit: Kentucky, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee.  It’s been over two years since I last saw her, and had been thinking over the winter that I needed to get her email or phone number from my sister to catch up with her again.  Now I regret not doing that.

I can afford to pick up and head to Missouri for the funeral, since I have just under $3,000 in the emergancy fund.  My big concern is my classes, as we are down to only two weeks before finals.  As y’all know, organic chem is kicking my (donkey).

This is in stark contrast to February of 2004, when our cousin Eric died at the too-young age of 19, and only three weeks after I redeployed from Iraq.  He was the only other member of our generation of cousins to go into the army, and left behind a young pregnant bride.  At that time I didn’t have an emergency fund, and was probably in no shape to drive on the American highways without a tailgunner anyway.  With the passage of time, I have come to regret that I didn’t make his funeral.

Now my big decision is whether or not I can afford to take a few days off class this close to finals.  Right now I am leaning towards “Yes” and making plans to head for Missouri.  It’s too late to call Shelley up and catch up on what’s going in our lives, but at least I could get a chance to say “Good-bye and walk in peace.”  The family will miss you, Shelley.

Teenager on a Food Budget: Week Three

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

I was just too tired last night after we got home from Wal-Mart to blog, but last evening was the Teenager’s third week on his grocery budget and my reaction this week is mixed.

Once again, the Teenager did not spend his entire grocery allocation and says it was 100% intention this week.  In fact, he didn’t buy much for food at all, only getting milk, cereal, apples, chips, and a couple other things.  I asked him about that in front of the checkout lanes, and he said he was good on pasta and sauce at home.  He declared he wanted to do a midweek grocery run and was saving the rest of the money for that.

I had a few misgivings about that in Wal-Mart, then the thought occurred to me after the Teenager went to bed: he may prefer to do his grocery shopping at Kroger.  When we hit Kroger for week two he had much more food in his cart as Kroger carries a better selection of things for vegetarians, especially in the store brand.

I should probably mention that the Teenager does NOT shop with us.  He grabs his own cart and heads off on his own, and doesn’t seem inclined to ask advice or even be within two aisles of our cart while shopping.  In fact, if we head for the dairy case in the back, he will start in produce.  I doubt if he would take advice given as advice, so I just ask him questions when I see him.  He calls me on the cell phone when he is done checking out to see where we are, and waits for us at the door.

If you’d like to catch up on this story, here are the previous posts about my experiment of putting my 14yo son on his own grocery budget:

As always, comments, suggestions, and criticsms are welcome.

Week Two: Teenager on a Food Budget Experiment

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I know somewhere out on this great internet is someone waiting eagerly for this update LOL  What a beautiful fantasy world I live in, huh?  This evening was the Teenager’s second week of grocery shopping for himself!  I am happy to report that I think he did better this time :)  (For new readers, I have put my 14 year old son on a food budget of $35 per week and am allowing him to do his own grocery shopping.)

  • He did not spend the entire allocated weekly amount.  Instead he bought $25 worth of food, leaving him with $10 for a mid-week grocery run should he need it.  If not, he is free to roll that money into next week’s $35.
  • Yes, he bought a full gallon of milk this time!  He is free to drink milk at every meal, at snack, and drown his cereal in it if he so chooses.  Don’t laugh too hard: it IS a possibility.
  • Since he still has fresh fruit left from last week, he did not need to purchase any this week.
  • He bought those fruit and grain bars to take to school or for snack.
  • He bought Kroger’s version of Spaghetti-O’s (yuck) which I had been refusing to buy for him.  Personally, I prefer real pasta.  It tastes better and costs less, but I have told him this before.  He says he likes the Spaghetti-O’s.
  • He bought stuff to make his own quesadillas.
  • He bought his own doughnuts.

When hubby and I hit the doughnut case, we were happy to see it still had doughnuts in it, so we picked out half a dozen.  After we checked out, I asked hubby if we should share with the Teenager and he said he didn’t see why not (we’re not completely heartless after all).  Imagine our amusement when we pushed our cart alongside son’s cart to see an identical box in his!  We had a chuckle (but we can be easily amused I suppose).

Over the past couple years, I have emphasized to son the importance of NEVER ever going grocery shopping when hungry.  In fact it has become a ritual to eat out somewhere before going to the grocery store.  It just occurred to me, that all three of us (myself, hubby, and son) shopped last week on empty stomachs.  This evening, we stuffed ourselves before ever stepping foot into Kroger.  That might have made a difference along with last week’s experience.

So for the second week into this experiment, I am quite pleased with the results.  Son says he is enjoying it as well, as it gives him the freedom to choose his food along with the bonus of getting experience with an important life skill.  Hubby says he is enjoying the peacefulness of no longer listening to us bicker and fuss about food bought or not bought.

Teen on A Budget: The Milk Update

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Those of y’all following the teenager on a budget saga remember Monday my son only bought a half gallon of milk, smugly convinced HE wasn’t the one who was drinking all the milk in the house.  It didn’t take long for him to realize just how wrong he was about his milk consumption.  Hubby and I have been watching (with amusement) this situation to see if the Teenager could come up with a decent resolution on his own, since the boy only had two dollars left over from his allocated grocery money.

We adults know that if you don’t have sufficient funds in the grocery category, some money gets pulled out of discretionary funds (also known as “fun money”) because food is always more important than nonessentials.  Hubby and I have been watching for some sign that my son has learned this.

Thursday my son asked if I would take him to the post office so he could mail a gift (long story, don’t ask).  I instead volunteered to take him to the grocery store so he wouldn’t have to suffer the shock of how much a convenience store charges for milkMy son replied that if he bought milk, he wouldn’t have enough money to mail his gift.  Since I disagreed with the boy’s order of priorities, I didn’t take him to the post office (and he did not want to go to the grocery store).

Yesterday, my son purchased a bowl of milk from me, carefully doing the calculations starting from the price of a gallon and dividing by how much milk it takes to fill his (super-sized) cereal bowl.  He was a bit dismayed when I rounded that figure up to 85 cents.  I offered to take him to the convenience store if he preferred a real-life example of something called “convenience markup.”  He declined and gave me three quarters and a dime.

I also offered the Teenager the opportunity to do extra chores to earn some milk money.  He knows that extra chores equal extra pay, and that payment is often immediate in those cases.  My baseboards are still dirty, so I guess the boy is just not that interested.  It’s a shame, because cleaning the baseboards is worth between $3-5 depending on how thorough he is.  He could buy an entire gallon of milk if he expended one hour of work.

I could bail him out, but I think that would send the way wrong message to the Teenager.  Yes, I am his mother and I do provide for his food, shelter, clothing, and schooling.  However, my son himself tells me: “Mom, you’ve made your mistakes already.  Please let me make my own mistakes so I can have some kind of experience.”  This is usually in response to my pleading for the boy to learn from my mistakes so he doesn’t have to repeat them.  What can I say?  My son is hard-headed (my mother insists he is just like me in that respect).

So far I have resisted the urge to bail the boy out of his short-sightedness, and refused to indulge his skewed priorities.  He DOES have the money to buy himself more milk, but simply won’t.  He DOES have the opportunity available to do extra chores for extra pay, but so far has not taken initiative.  So his other options are to do without or buy milk by the bowlful at a convenience mark-up price.

Did I mention my son can be stubborn?

Now, I have seen a bit of commentary on a message board calling me a bit harsh for doing this.  I did stop and think about that criticism, but as noted above, the Teenager has the money to buy his own milk, but wants to spend it on something else.  He also has the opportunity to earn money for it, and is simply not interested.  Finally, I really don’t think the boy wants me to bail him out of this.  Judging from his remarks, I think he’s got quite a bit of teen male pride tied into this experiment and rescue-by-mom goes up against that pride.

Basically I’ve just expended a lot of typing to get around to a simple question: do y’all think I am somehow being harsh by not bailing my son out of his milk dilemna?

A Gallon of Milk Costs More Than a Gallon of Gas

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Today my teenage son made an earth-shattering discovery about life here in America: “A gallon of milk costs more than even a gallon of gas!”  This epiphany came swiftly on the heels of his realization of just how much milk he consumes on his own.  As y’all may recall, last night at the grocery store he only bought a half gallon of milk for himself (details of the teenager’s first shopping trip on his own personal food budget here) and I wondered just how long that half gallon would last him.

Apparently, he realized this morning a half a gallon of milk will not last him long at all.  He poured himself about 6 ounces in a glass, then filled his super-sized cereal bowl up just as he usually does.  He now only has a quarter of a gallon left!  That’s right: his half gallon carton of milk is now half empty.  For those feeling witty, the teenager will not be persuaded it is actually half-full.

It was an interesting (and for me, amusing) conversation as he held the milk carton up for me to see.  I think he is beginning to understand why I was so strict about how much milk he could drink when we all shared a gallon.

“I didn’t think I drank THAT much milk by myself!  I thought you two were drinking it too!”

“No, son, I usually don’t get any milk to drink.  If I am lucky there will be some left for cooking most weeks.”

“This isn’t good, Mom … a gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of gas…” (pausing for thought) “…and I ain’t getting any more grocery money til next week, right?”

I think the first lesson of this experiment just hit home!  After months and months of trying to tell the boy about how grocery prices are rising and how he just can’t eat everything in the pantry and refrigerator unrestrained, I think he has learned the concept on his own in less than 16 hours.  I think he will no longer fill the super-sized cereal bowl to the rim with milk (these cereal bowls are barely smaller than mixcing bowls - only because I refuse to let him use the small mixing bowl for cereal).  I think the tall glasses of milk for each meal and every snack in between may fall by the wayside as well.

I also predict next week the teenager will buy a full gallon, and keep about $5 back from his grocery budget for a midweek milk run.  Of course, I also think my hubby will pour some of our milk into the teenager’s half gallon carton when I’m not looking … but as long as it’s only this week I won’t fuss about it.

This experiment is working out better than I dared to hope!

Related posts about my teenage son and just how much he eats:

Teenager on Food Budget - First Try

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Y’all asked me to post about how my experiment with putting my teenage son on his own food budget is going.  Tonight was our first stab at it, and the testing ground was perhaps the most challenging of all: Wal-Mart.  Yes, I turned my 14yo son loose  on a Wal-Mart with $35 and his own shopping cart!

I would call tonight’s shopping expedition a smashing success.  I fussed at the teenager to make a list, informed him he had to buy his own milk, juice, fruit, pasta, and what-not.  I figure I can cover him on things like condiments and margarine, but he is *SO* on his own with the milk.  Yes, he objected to the milk idea, but I held my ground then pointed out an obvious benefit: with his own milk he won’t hear me throw a fit when he decides to drink a tall glass of it at every single meal and snack time.  I guess it was a huge eye-opening experience for him in the dairy case, since he only bought himself a half-gallon instead of a full gallon!

I know y’all are dying to hear how the kid did: he came in a little better than two dollars under budget for his food!  In fact, before we left he ran and fetched his calculator out of his backpack, with no prompting from me.  After we got back home, he even put his own food away.

If every week is this easy, this may end up being the singly most brilliant idea I have ever had in my entire life!  This shopping trip was free of stress and - dare I say it? - even enjoyable (well, about as enjoyable as a trip to Wal-Mart can be).  I didn’t have to guard my cart against packages “jumping” into the cart.  I didn’t have to listen to “Mom I want…”  And I didn’t have to spend half the time in the store saying “No, no no!”

Hubby is still a bit unsure of the amount of money I am budgeting for the boy’s groceries.  I am trying to reassure hubby that $140 for a month is about the same amount I was spending on feeding the teenager (when I could keep things from jumping into the cart, that is) and is about the same I spend on the two of us adults to eat as well.  I don’t expect my son to be a natural bargain-hunting coupon-clipping frugal shopping machine … at least not immediately LOL so I tried to figure in a bit of “wiggle room” in the amount of money.  I just don’t plan to up it any time soon, so if inflation kicks in the teen will have to learn how to really do some aggressive shopping.

There it is, folks.  Week one of the teenage boy doing his own grocery shopping on $35 per week.  I have to admit, I am pretty proud of him.  When I asked son how he liked the experience, he said he definitely likes this plan.  Now he won’t get any more grocery money until next week … so it should be interesting to see just how long that little half-gallon of milk lasts!

Tagged For Financial Goal of Paying Off the Truck Note

Friday, February 1st, 2008

I got tagged this morning, by Lynnae of asking if I am still on track for my financial goal of paying off the truck note by late March or early April.  She wants to know how that’s going, since she has had mixed success with her goals for the first month of the year.  Take your small victories where you can, Lynnae, and work on the rest this month!  Better to be a little late on your goals than not at all ;)

Now, for my progress: I just authorized a $1500 payment towards the truck note this morning!  I wanted to hit it harder than that, but after the dryer is done I will be getting dressed and leaving the house (before lunch if you can believe that!!) to put new tires on the Pizza Taxi.  Somehow I am not comfortable with the wear bars starting to disappear and all the rain and cold we’ve had this week.  I probably should have done this a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to make sure we had the money with the strange budgeting “problem” I discovered about mid-January.

I think I finally figured out where that mysterious money came from: Until last week I had been grocery shopping sans son and husband.  Well, I took the teenager with me last week and sure enough things magically jumped off the shelves and into our cart when I wasn’t looking!  Until that fateful shopping run I had been way under budget on the grocery bill … as if feeding the boy wasn’t expensive enough by itself!  So the grocery savings account for at least $200 and we haven’t been eating out much last month so there’s at least another $80 … over half of the unaccounted-for surplus.  Add in a little bit of savings at the gas pump because I’ve been putting fewer miles on the Pizza Taxi and hubby has been aggressively price shopping when he fills up the Stupid Tax on Wheels…and I think it adds up to close the surplus.

Sooo…where exactly do I stand on killing the truck note off by my target date?  Well we haven’t done our taxes just yet, so it may die once we get that refund because hubby never adjusted his W-4 withholdings last year.  If we overpaid by enough we can kill that stupid truck note off with one big Miss Piggy style “HEEE-WHACK!!!” and I will be a happy camper indeed.  If we can’t it will definitely be mortally wounded. 

Then it will be onward and upward to my next goal of saving up a fully funded emergency fund of 3 months’ expenses and enough money to replace our ancient central heat and air unit “just in case.”  My target number for that goal is $11,000 plus whatever pitiful interest we are able to earn on that with all the Fed interest rate cuts going on.

A final note: I promised to do a round-up for our mortgage and homeowner’s group writing project, but there is just no way I can top RocketC’s wonderful wrap up so I won’t even try … I will just tell y’all to go read it over at Rocket Finance and don’t forget to read the picture caption for that post ;)  He really did a GREAT job with that post!

The Borrower is SLAVE to the Lender

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Dave Ramsey often quotes the proverb: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”  Last Wednesday while in the post office, my son asked if he could borrow some money until today (when I pay him for his chores).  For the past five days, I have been trying to make this proverb as real as possible to my teenager son.  In fact, after we were done at the post office and got back into the car, Dave Ramsey quoted it on the radio as soon as we turned on the car!

I warned my son: Mom is worse than any loan shark could think of being.  Mom will charge an interest rate that would make payday loan places cringe.  Son will be Mom’s wage slave for a period of five days, unless Mom feels she didn’t get her money’s worth in which case that period of slavedom will be extended.  (Is slavedom even a real word?  Eh, who cares…he didn’t ask!)

To my son’s credit, he has put up with all my demands in good humor.  To my credit, I haven’t made him scrub the bathroom with an old toothbrush.  The dishes have been done, the kitchen floor is clean, and the aluminum cans have been stomped as soon as I mention it.  So how did I accomplish this with a teenage son who tries every delaying tactic known to man and boy when it comes to chores? 

I threatened to get up before he goes to school, take him to school in the cute OLD purple pickup, while dressed in my purple robe and slippers…and make him wear a Roman-style slave placard around his neck that says “I borrowed money from Mom so I am now her work slave.”  Yes, I am actually enjoying this LOL

Hopefully my son is NOT enjoying this!  I want my child to learn on the gut-level that borrowing is bad, so he should only borrow in extreme cases when there is just no other option available.  I don’t want my son to make the same money mistakes I did when I first became an adult and got into debt.  I don’t want him to live crisis-by-crisis and hand-to-mouth.  I want him to be confident and competent with money.  I also want him to know, down on the cellular level, that work equals money and money equals work.

So far my son has kept up his end of the bargain, and not complained about the chores.  I’m not sure if he is developing a sense of pride about it, or if I just didn’t make the chores unpleasant enough.  Perhaps I should have made him clean the baseboards around the kitchen with a scrubby sponge…but then again he has asked to go to his school’s lock-in on Friday night, so I can always tell him that chore will be a way for him to earn extra money!  “Overtime” work equals extra money.  The sooner he learns these things, the better off he will be once he becomes an adult man.