You can't swing a dead LOL cat in the internets without hitting some article about how to slash your spending. Case in point via Google:
Search Term: cut your family budget
Search Term: cut your family spending
Search Term: how to cut your spending
I admit I didn't read all those links, but I am ever so grateful for those articles that don't begin with the sage advice to give up your daily double mocha latte skim with low-fat whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a splash of vodka.
I mean, honestly. When is the last time I could afford one of those? And as for the Vodka? Shit, how do you think I'm coping with all this painful budget cutting?
But while so many of those "helpful" tips appear to be written by people who've never experienced the joy and the pain of long-term unemployment, it's true that cutting cutting cutting is where it's at. When I'm not slashing our spending or trying to raise cash, I'm cutting coupons.
Just call me Lisa Scissorhands.
Some items cannot, however, be cut. Take auto insurance, for example. By law we must have it here in Georgia. So we did what we could - we upped our deductible and cut benefits. We're losing our discount though because we've had to eliminate our renters' insurance and my life insurance policy. And can I just tell you how losing that life insurance policy irritates me? I can't even fall onto my fainting couch anymore and wail, "But I'm worth more dead than alive!"
On top of which, the fainting couch was sold at a yard sale six months ago so I'm truly at a loss for dramatic gestures when the going gets tough.
Anyway, I popped into the insurance office to make our payment on the very day our auto insurance would be cancelled. It was there that I've had one of the most humiliating and frustrating conversations to date.
Young woman, gainfully employed by our insurance agent: So you just want to pay your auto insurance?
Me, unemployed but showered and wearing lipstick: Yes. That's right.
Her: But what about your other policies?
Me: We're going to have to let them expire. We can't afford them.
Her: Why not?
Me: Because I am one of those long-term unemployed people you hear about. I've been out of work since last December.
Her: And you still haven't found a job?
Her: Why not?
Awkward pause while I think about this.
Me: I have my theories. I've applied for all kinds of jobs - about six to ten jobs a week, at a minimum.
Her: Wow. And you still haven't found a job?
She looked at me suspiciously and cleared her throat.
Me: You don't know of any openings anywhere, do you?
I left wishing I still had life insurance and that fucking fainting couch.
****************The other thing that makes this period of financial difficulty more trying is the fact that our kids are still living out there in the world of expectations. See, I can hide from it most of the time, but they're out there with their peers with the iPhones and the movie tickets and the Facebook statuses about going to Six Flags, the corn maze, haunted house and later out for Chinese and it's only Saturday! and the new clothes purchased not at Goodwill, but a real mall.
My chirping that this is all just a fun character building exercise only goes so far.
I didn't let Sophie try out for cheerleader because it's incredibly expensive. When she asked to try out for basketball, I relented. She got cut during the first round. "It's because I'm short," she harrumphed.
"I'm sorry, sugar. I'm really proud of you for trying though."
"I hate genetics."
"I should have married a taller man."
She looked at me, her face like thunder. "Not funny, Mom."
I guess not.
A day later, she asked for money to buy a spirit shirt at school. "They're only fifteen dollars." She preemptively answered my question.
"I don't have any money."
"Can you write a check? The t-shirt people are only going to be at the school today. There won't be another chance."
I thought about this. In the span of twenty seconds I visualized our bank account, consulted my mental calendar, fretted about the state of the economy, cursed the company making the shirts because they couldn't come to the school a couple of days later and closer to payday, felt guilty about marrying a short man so that my kid didn't make the basketball team, remembered that I'd already denied her a new band shirt (Nate's old one was fine), didn't buy class pictures, band pictures, or give her money for the book fair. Finally I calculated the overall risks.
"Fine," I sighed. "But this shirt better not end up costing me forty-eight dollars when I get hit with an overdraft fee."
"Nothing," I replied and handed her the check with a silent wish that the t-shirt company would be slow about making their bank deposit.
A couple of days later, I was in the laundry room. Sophie came in carrying her new t-shirt. "Don't forget you have to turn this inside out to wash it," she reminded me.
I closed the washing machine lid and took the shirt from her outstretched hand. "I won't forget."
"Okay. Thanks. You're sure you'll remember?" She started for the door.
I opened the dryer and bent down. "The shirt cost me almost fifty dollars. I'm pretty sure I'll remember." My voice was absorbed into the warm towels.
********But it's not all bad.
Sophie: Mom, they're doing a thing with 4H where you fill a shoe box with small gifts to give to a kid for Christmas. I want to do it.
Me: Okay. But you realize that you might be one of those kids who doesn't get any gifts this year?
Sophie: I know. So what, I've gotten gifts every other year. I'm going to go wrap that shoe box. When can you take me to the Dollar store?
********Nate and I drove through the Publix parking lot. A middle-aged African American man sat on a bench near the Bruster's Ice Cream holding a hand-lettered sign that read "Please Help. American Vet, homeless, hungry."
Nate: I know.
We left the grocery store with our purchases. I'd written a check for $25 over so I could buy some gas.
When we got the intersection by the Bruster's, the man was still on the bench.
Me: I know.
I stopped the car and fished the cash out of my pocket. I gave Nate the $5 bill and he climbed out of the car, walked over to the man and handed it to him, then waited while the man wrote something down on a piece of lined notebook paper, handed it to him, shook his hand and thanked him.
Nate walked back to the car and stared out the window at the families sitting at the picnic tables eating their ice cream cones. "Those people all just watched me like I was doing something wrong," he whispered.
"I know. I saw."
We drove away and didn't say much for a while.
People, be kind to one another. Try to remember that whole walking in another's shoes thing. Okay?