Monday, November 25, 2013

Penny for my Thoughts?

I hate to say it, but I'm broke.  Today, I am completely and totally broke...well, I think I have some pennies in a jar in my kitchen.  If I'm lucky enough to have quarters, I'll do some laundry tonight when I get home.  Now let me say that I make about $45,000 a year, before taxes, which isn't too bad.  A lot of people live on a lot less than that, and I'm usually not totally broke.  Right now, though, I'm still struggling to recover from my honeymoon.

We never go on vacation.  I think our last real vacation was when Starren was two, and it was a weekend trip to DragonCon in Atlanta.  Not a long trip, or one that was particularly tough on my wallet.  But a couple of months ago we went to Arizona, and it was amazing.  I loved it, and I want to go back.  If I could go to Phoenix every year, it would be bliss.  If I could live there...

Yeah, no...I'd probably die from the heat.

Still, it was epic.

And it was epically expensive.

And our car died.  Tragically and suddenly.  There was a lovely memorial service.  So to rent a car and still make the trip, we had to take donations AND borrow money from people.  (Thank God I don't know a loan shark, or I might have been sorely tempted...I wanted to go that badly.  Wait, are loan sharks a real thing, or just a television thing?  I might be watching too much Leverage or Law and Order or something...).  Plus we got behind on bills, skipping this one here and that one there for a month or so just in order to be able to make the trip.  Why?  Because we were presented with an opportunity and we took it kinda hastily.  Well, really hastily.  If we'd had a year to plan and save, I wouldn't be having these problems right now, but we didn't.

So now I'm broke.

As of this paycheck the bills are finally ALMOST caught up, but I still owe some people money, which I need to pay back before I do something crazy like take on a car note.  Plus I've been stuck on this loop since the trip, this loop which is forcing me to pay my rent about three days late, and that leaves me paying the rent plus about $100 in late fees.  My apartment manager is thrilled, I'm sure, because it means he still gets his money, almost on time, plus extras.  Yup, extras.

I hate it.  I mean, we don't do extravagant.  Phoenix and I don't do shoe shopping or pay hundreds of dollars for purses.  Hell, we only buy clothes once a year or so.  Starren has cute clothes and we keep hers updated, but then, she also needs a new size every few months right now, so it makes sense.  Kid grows like a weed.  We don't have flat screen televisions or expensive game consoles.  We don't even have cable.  Right now, we share a cellphone because we realized we just never really use more than the one so paying for two didn't make much sense.  We don't spend money on cigarettes or even wine because we drink alcohol so rarely it's laughable.

But we're broke.

Money has been tight before.  It's been a lot worse than it is right now, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it at the moment.  I mean, we've never been able to do such lavish things as get proper dental work.  I've had four root canals, for instance.  Now, when you get a root canal, they tell you that with your insurance, it's a better option than pulling the tooth because you can save it, and it won't cost you much more.  What they neglect to tell you is that you'll have to have a crown to really save the tooth.  And even with insurance, a crown is upwards of $400.  So I've paid $200 each for four root canals, and I haven't been able to afford the crowns I need.  Now two of those teeth have broken right down the middle and I've had to have them pulled anyway, which means I spent $900 when I could have had them all pulled for $200, total.  Well, I've had one of them pulled.  I don't have the money yet to pull the second one so I still have a broken tooth just dangling in my mouth.  It's even odds whether I'll have the money to save the other two before they break.  Without insurance, it cost $300 to pull one of Phoenix's teeth a while back, a tooth that could have been saved with a root canal and a crown, but that would have been about $2500.  So yeah, money is always a little tight.  We're not going to Europe anytime soon, for instance.

But we've always had enough to pay the bills, and it just pisses me off that right now we don't.  I had this idea that it would only take me a few weeks to catch up, and by mid November I would have a car.

Oh, boy, was I wrong.  Like seriously, bloody wrong.

Vacation was at the end of September.

It'll be January before I'm caught up and my money is back to what it usually is.

It'll probably be February before I have a down payment and am able to take on a car note, and I might be happy to wait until then because I'll be able to use my tax return as my down payment.  I was hoping to use it for wedding bands to go with our engagement rings, but maybe it'll be big enough to swing both.  Or maybe the cash rent payments I get from my brother and his boyfriend will stick me in a bracket that doesn't get a return at all.  If I have to pay in, we'll be screwed.  Okay, time to change the subject because I really don't want to think about that possibility, like for serious. 

I'm not whining, and I'm not desperate.  We'll catch up.  I'll have to rely for a while on borrowing cars from other people and bumming rides when there isn't a car I can borrow, or riding my bike to and from work if I can't get a ride (because there's no bus running between my apartment and my job), but it'll be okay because in a couple of months everything will even out and I'll even be getting a 5% raise.  It was supposed to be a 7.5% raise--5% from the personnel board called an incentive raise due to certain things I've accomplished at my job, and a 2.5% cost of living raise from city I work for--but the city totally reneged on that, at least for now.  "I know we promised you a raise in January, and you totally deserve one, guys, you really do, but now we're not really sure we're going to give you one, even though we know we haven't given city employees a raise in ten years.  Oh, and we're not even giving you a crappy little bonus like we gave you last year.  Happy Holidays!"

That might not be a direct quote, by the way. 

 Anyway, a raise!  Unless I get screwed out of that one because they tell me that instead of the 120-something points I've earned on the scale of 100, only 99 are actually going to count.  They've done that before to other people, so I guess I won't get too comfortable until my 100 points are totally confirmed.  It's why I waited until I had 120 in the first place.

That raise was supposed to be what covered the difference in my insurance cost once I added my wife and child onto it, but the city screwed me on that too, because they say the city government is immune to those federal labor laws that were just passed regarding providing benefits to same sex spouses.  The Affordable Care Act sucks for us too, by the way.  Their idea of affordable is $200 a month for Phoenix alone, and that's with just 60% medical coverage, high co-pays and no dental coverage.

Wait, what was my point?

Oh yeah, I'm not whining.  We'll catch up soon; it'll be okay, and I'm lucky.  I have a steady job with a semi-decent paycheck, and I get overtime pay, holiday pay, vacation days, sick days, and 8 hours of comp time for each holiday I don't work, to be used later if I need to leave for two hours to go to a doctor's appointment or something and still get paid for it.  I make twice the current minimum wage, three times that if I'm working overtime.

What the HELL do people do when they make $7.25 an hour???

I make $45,000 a year, working about 55 hours a week, sometimes more.  Someone making $7.25 an hour would have to work well over 100 hours a week to make what I do, and even when I'm NOT behind like I am right now, I still don't have a whole lot of extra.  I work 18 hour shifts at least once or twice a month, and I'm often short on sleep, especially if I'm working a lot of days in a row and I actually want to see my family on those days.  Sometimes even when everything's normal for us our pantry ends up a little lean, especially if I just feel like cutting down (or off) the overtime for a few weeks because I'm just exhausted.

We were poor when I was a kid, and my mom struggled, really, really struggled, to get us above the poverty line.  It was rough.  She was exhausted and way too thin, and the idea of financial security and food for her children was one of many factors that led her into a bad marriage...a very bad marriage. 

I am grateful I'm not in that situation now, and I'm grateful she isn't either.

But a lot of people are, and I can't help but wonder, if I make decent paychecks and am having trouble straightening my finances out after a vacation that I got a LOT of help going on in the first place, how the hell do the people who don't make this kind of money (listen to me...that makes me sound like I'm just rollin' in cash...) do things like pay rent and keep the lights on?

I love you guys, and I feel for you, and I donate when I can because I know what it feels like to be hungry, or to be scared you're going to lose your power in the dead of winter.  Anyone who doesn't have power is welcome to warm up at my place for dinner tomorrow (which will consist of leftover ham and fresh peanut butter cookies, probably), because it's flippin' freezing out there. 

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