Yesterday we made the six-hour drive back home from my parents’ house, and we hope that Grandy and Boboo are recovering from the chaos of their week-long house-full of US! The kids immensely enjoyed their week, though of course it went by too quickly for them—sleeping in a tent in the backyard, roasting marshmallows for s’mores, spending afternoons at the fabulous city pool with its water-slides, fishing for bluegill, beginning a new sewing project with Grandy and a week-long game of “Axis & Allies” with Boboo (both of which incomplete undertakings await our return for another visit next month)…
Staying with my parents means a week of unaccustomed chaos for them, but a week of time-out from Regular Life for us. And truthfully, that was precisely what we needed this week.
It took a few days for Keoni to recover from his workplace-heatstroke, and he wrote his resignation letter on the first day of our visit. Given his heart problems a couple years back, and given his pledge to stick around with us for a LONG time, that 118-degree kitchen just isn’t viable as a work environment. He got a respectful response from Chef, praising his work ethic as well as his cooking, and promising positive references… and a Last Paycheck.
I spent most of the visiting-week glued to the computer with a sizeable writing assignment… The kids were bummed that I wasn’t joining in the swimming and activities, but from a practical standpoint, the timing of that big assignment (or rather, the paycheck that will come from it) is perfect.
Resting beside my computer all week was a piece of paper with our budget (such as it is: a 5-item list of monthly bills) scribbled on it. You could say this is my method of dealing with financial “limbo” and the uncertainties about income in the immediate future—trying to plan what we can…
Before I go on… The second-guessing Critic who lives in the back of my head wonders if I spend too much blog-space dwelling on our lack of money. My answer to that voice: Lack of Money is part of our daily life—so yes, the topic finds its way onto these blog pages with regularity. But that’s NOT because we’re unhappy with our life. It’s simply because I’m writing about our life.
Hell, Keoni and I each used to make more than seventy thousand a year, and we were each trying to drink our way out of the lives we lived then. Trying to drink our way Out of Life.
Today’s life couldn’t be more different. Our days are joyful, and I wouldn’t trade even an hour of Today for that previous life with my bank-balance (as well as my mood) in the black.
Among other thoughts this week, I’m bemused to realize how flexible the concept of “necessities” can be, when it comes right down to it. Last fall when Keoni encouraged me to take the leap into writing full-time, not knowing how much money I’d be able to earn that way, it wasn’t because we felt we “didn’t need” that second income. It was purely a leap of faith, believing that somehow we could make it work. It’s true that we did re-apply for Food Stamps at that point (we had qualified for them even while I worked full time, but had chosen to discontinue them because we could get by without them on my regular wages). Otherwise, we were already on the lowest budget we could think of at the time.
And yet… A week ago, our list of monthly bills was a SIX-item list. We keep finding new ways to get creative. Keoni’s resignation was a no-brainer after last week’s heatstroke, but we’re looking once again at diminished income, and uncertainty. So… It occurred to me for the first time that we could do without our monthly phone bill. That’s what I mean about elasticity of “necessities.” Our choice of phone carrier has been been limited because there’s only one company that gets cell reception where we live. We’ve been on that company’s cheapest, most basic plan for our two cell phones, but that’s still $125 a month.
We don’t use our phones much—we both hate talking on the phone, though we text a fair bit—but it’s just not feasible to be entirely without a contact number. We need to be able to take calls from doctors, our pharmacy, the kids’ schools, Keoni’s job application… It was the kids who gave me the idea of an alternative.
My mom and her law partner gave their old iPhones to Christian and Elena Grace this week—no SIM cards or phone service, but they work with wireless internet (like mini iPads) for every other function, and the kids are using them for email, cameras, game-playing, reading iBooks, and streaming music and video. It dawned on me that as long as we keep our internet (which IS on the “indispensable” list, since I work online), we can use our phones with VOIP and texting apps, no paid phone service. Sure, that means we’re limited to using our phones when we’re home or near a wifi hot spot, but you know what? We can live with that just fine. Why didn’t I think of this before now?
This evening I’m looking at our (shortened) list of monthly obligations:
Rent on our trailer, $600. That’s the big one, of course. And at this point I’m holding off on making any more payment until our landlord does something about our septic tank and sewage moat. It’s been several months now since we first started asking for attention to the issue, and last week (armed with the applicable sections of Idaho Code) I mailed two pages of documentation, requesting a response of the “fix-it” variety. Still no response of any variety to my “Poo Letter,” so no rent money headed their direction at the moment…
- Internet, $35. Not bad, considering that it covers my “commute” to work, among other things…
- Electricity, $100 average. Mostly that’s heating cost from winter months, even though we turned the heat off whenever the kids weren’t home. We’re going to work on some weather-proofing before we get to winter again, and in the meantime I’ve discovered the nifty hour-by-hour graphic of usage posted online by Idaho Power—a great tool to help identify (and work on) the “power-sucks” in daily usage…
Car insurance, $24. We’ve been so blessed in so many ways. Keoni’s parents stunned us a few months ago by sending me a brand-new Mac just when my old laptop was dying—this computer is my “office” and has enabled me to keep working from home as a writer… And this week my parents gave us their beautiful ’99 minivan. Wow. Those little words like “thank you“—as important as they are—seem entirely insufficient as a response to either of those acts of generosity. For the time being we’re parking my grandpa’s old Buick rather than keep insurance and registration on two cars (we do fine with just one)—and we’re absolutely loving the comfort and roominess of the van! We drove it home from their house yesterday, packed with the tents they’re loaning us (we’ve promised the kids some camping this summer), and with my dad’s old wooden canoe strapped on top… Keoni wonders if he now qualifies as a “soccer mom”…
And our one remaining expendable expenditure: Netflix for $16 per month. We haven’t had television channels for years, we don’t eat out or go to movies—so this online streaming of shows and movies is our only “entertainment” expense. And one we could drop if need be, though we certainly get our money’s worth of entertainment value from it.
So there we have it. Aside from rent, our lifestyle costs a whopping $175 per month, at least for the regularly billed expenses. Of course are the odds-and-ends like toilet paper, Christian’s lactose pills, catfood, gas for the car (although there won’t be much needed there until Keoni is driving to a job again)… But there’s the budget, more or less.
Mentally running through that accounting this week has helped keep our minds settled in the face of Change. With Keoni’s last paycheck we paid ahead on our electricity bill, enough to carry us for several months. With my next writing-check we’ll do the same for internet and car insurance—and with that we feel “safe,” our Basics ensured for a few months. We’ll trust that my writing-work will be steady enough to have rent money ready when we need to resume paying it… Keoni will be looking for work, and we’re still praying about the Corrections job for which he had applied even before his heatstroke forced the issue…
It’s a game of Limbo, lowering the bar of our expenses while our income-expectations are in limbo themselves… And truthfully, even our challenges still fall in the category of “First-World Problems”—like limiting our phone-use to locations with wifi. In the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly a problem. God’s got our backs.