Posted in Family, Home

Budget Limbo: How LOW can we go?

Christian & Grandy setting up the backyard tent

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)…

Christian & Kapena sliding on a two-man tube

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.

Elena Grace, swimming-pool butterfly…

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

Boboo took Kapena on a campus tour of University of Idaho. Highlights, of course, included the football facilities!

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.

Sewing collaboration: Christian pins the pattern pieces & Elena Grace cuts them out (because Grandy doesn’t have “Lefty” sewing-scissors he could use)

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.

Elena Grace, Christian, Kapena, & Keoni roasting marshmallows on Grandy & Boboo’s patio

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.

A sticky S’Mores kiss… (photo taken by Elena Grace with her iPhone un-phone…)

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:

  • the boys spent a morning fishing with my mom’s law partner, “Firefighter Bob”

    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…
  • my dad’s OldTown canoe, coming home with us for a restoration job… This beauty is about 80 years old!

    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”…

  • Elena Grace and Grandy hit the library immediately after we arrived…

    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.

still relaxed…

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.


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

29 thoughts on “Budget Limbo: How LOW can we go?

  1. Comes to show that $ doesnt buy happiness! We shall drink the hawaiian style lemonaid that we have made from the lemons Ke Akua has given us! I love and miss all of you my Tylah Boys!


  2. Kana – I love your blog. I love that you write about real things like not having money and juggling to make ends meet. I think, in fact, that you do a great service to humanity in general because of the way you present this ‘struggle’. So often people who are struggling to pay bills etc are characterised as ne’er do wells who would be fine if they’d just try harder and be more responsible. You – and your family – are the polar opposite to this.

    You are hardworking, creative, responsible, smart and well-educated, you love your family, look after your children – and put their welfare first. You are kind and helpful to your neighbours and – did I mention – work like the clappers! I know you guys have had problems in the past but having the guts to take on your ‘issues’ is just another thing to add to the list of what I admire about you! And I’m not just ‘saying’ – I really mean it.

    I have no doubt that you will prevail. Well done. You are definitely winning.


  3. No matter how much we make, we all should take stock of our lives as you are doing. We spend too much on non essentials. You have it all – a loving marriage, fantastic parents and happy kids. What more is there? I say a prayer every day, “Thank you God for all the abundance and prosperity in my life.” It’s true, we’re surviving on one income now as I try my hand at writing fiction full time, but we’ve never been happier. Thank you for sharing your life – it’s important stuff!


  4. Kana: Talk about lack of money all you wish. I enjoy it and appreciate it—big time.

    I love your attitude and the way your family works together to problem-solve—like it’s a challenge, not a hindrance.

    Great post!


  5. What a great set of thoughts and ideas. I am so glad you guys chose another outlet, instead of the risky hot kichen. I am cheering for you.


  6. I smiled when I read this.. I’ve been in your position so many times. We’ve turned off cable, computer and phones before. It’s amazing what you can do without when you have to. I too live in a trailer as we lost our house due to medical bills. It was weird at first but I’ll be honest it’s the best thing that could have happened to my family. As for your sewage problem you need to go to the city! That is not ok around your kids! I hope you hubs feels better soon. Thanks for this post. It really encouraged me.


  7. Kana,
    Those are impressive numbers. We are desperately trying to reduce our cost of living by trying to remove the unnecessary, not the easiest task for this clown who likes the [costly] superfluous. Your post has inspired me to challenge myself to a new budget, one in the means of our resources… I might just have a post about it this week.
    Le Clown
    PS: There’s love in your pictures. It’s magnificent.


  8. What an absolutely beautiful post, Kana,, filled with real world struggles but also love and the joy, power and importance of family. You’re a wonderful model for us all. Thank you {}


  9. The last “Leap of Faith” we both took was when you came to pick me up and take me home with you from Rehab. And this was after knowing me chronologically for less than a month. That life-changing decision, I must say, has worked out quite well. Ke Akua skids our Okoles on the ground sometimes; however, he doesn’t drop us on them.


  10. I like that you write about subjects like this, because it’s real. Not just for you, but many of us. We’re in the process of cutting expenses as well, so it was helpful to me to see what you’re doing. Many of the things I am doing as well, and some expenses just ‘are’. (Car insurance and gasoline are big expenses of ours…the price of living in a big city with a big commute.)

    I also like that you are not complaining about the circumstances, but are writing about the joy you have now that you didn’t have before. I’ve seen lots of unhappy and overworked ‘rich’ people and I still have no idea why someone would choose that :)

    Best to you and your family. Keep finding your joy in the inexpensive things :)


  11. Gee, we must have had fun last week. Pictures don’t lie. Come back soon, and bring back those monkeys; the house is way too quiet. Neater, though. :)


  12. Time spent out of our regular routines is so necessary … so glad to hear you had a great time.

    … One of the best things about moving here to out little island is we are now surrounded by farmlands … that are just starting to harvest. Fairly soon we’ll be up to our eyeballs in roadside stalls. Some folk, once you get to know ’em will add stuff that they would normally just throw out, eg overripe tomatoes … Produce that isn’t ‘supermarket quality’ ie perfect, will be going for a song. We are getting our gear together for a time of intense canning, freezing, dehydrating etc. That way we get healthy food throughout the year that isn’t imported from halfway around the world, and doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Also all the roads around here are bordered by HUGE blackberry hedges. Yummmm!


  13. You are absolutely fine. But, to keep that clearly in mind, it takes some work. I can’t tell you how many lists like yours I’ve made—figuring and refiguring. Finally, I have to just let it go. The necessities are covered. The rest will flex as needed.
    We *know* we are safe and held by the Universe, but we forget and the fear seeps in. Then we breathe and remember.
    Keep breathing, Kana-girl.


  14. To add my two cents to to the caring and supportive voices before me, (1) what you are writing about is helpful and of interest to folks; (2) kudos for choosing life over toil; (3) your perceptive, POV and faith is a ray of feisty sunshine in a gloomy economic & spiritual time.

    Yesterday I had a conversation with my 87-yr father about not allowing “Stuff” to rule his life and shrink his world. Threaten his very quality of life. Several times I’ve gone through the exercise of deciding what is worth risking my life for, in the face of a hurricane? It will force one to examine their priorities, that’s a fur sur-r-re.

    Here’s hoping your prayers are answered with blessings beyond your expectations. – Nikki


  15. Budgeting can be a real pain but it’s oh so necessary. I know I for one enjoy seeing your notes about it as it reminds me that there are other like minded folk out there. Besides this is a personal blog! Don’t be ashamed, keep on sharing. * hugs * It’s what makes your blog so enjoyable.
    I believe all of us should budget, even if we have more than enough to cover everything. When a large chunk of your income is suddenly going someplace that’s wasteful it can be an eye opener. It’s part of how you set your priorities too.


  16. I’ve nominated you for an award. Feel free to accept or not. I’m easy going :D! Cheers! & Congrats!


  17. You continue to amaze me in the ways you cut corners and get through roadblocks. True, some expenses you simply cannot avoid. I also can’t believe your low electricity bill compared to ours here.

    You’re right, of course. R-E-L-A-X.


  18. I never, ever consider you to be someone who overly mentions your financial situation — like you said, it’s a part of your life. I would never claim to fully understand, but I completely “get” the quality of life that $70k annually just doesn’t give you. I’ve been blessed, with Scott’s job, to turn my back on MY old career as a healthcare consultant and reinvent myself as a writer, librarian, and, most importantly, mom to my boys and Bailey.

    I’m so glad that the whole family seemed to have a great visit with your parents. I can feel the love they have for you and vice versa, in everything that you write about them. :)

    Great idea about the phones — you should really be patting yourself on the back for making that decision! As far as your Netflix, much as you are thinking, from a cost vs. enjoyment analysis, you should definitely keep it. Sure, every dollar counts, but you just dropped a big monthly expense, so enjoy those movies!


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