Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Laid Off Spouse Part 5: What about money?

I used to worry a lot about money, sometimes unnecessarily so.* Which is ridiculous, given that I didn't have much need to worry, especially when I was first out on my own, and working my first job. I wasn't one paycheck away from homelessness. I didn't have debt collectors knocking down my door.

It's just how I am. When C got laid off the first time, I worried more than usual, which seems to be the reaction most people have when someone is laid off and income is lost. When he found a job, I worried a bit less...but not much. (We did buy a house soon after he started his new job, which might or might not have been a good idea, but it's worked out and we can't go back even if it didn't.)

During this lay off, I often think, "Come what may!" Why? You might be wondering how we're surviving, especially as new homeowners and going down to one income. No, I'm not paid THAT well, haha. Here are some truths that have made me feel better.

We're holding our own. Our current weekly/monthly income is taking care of our needs. Notice I said NEEDS. Not WANTS. That's important to point out. There are lots of things we want to do, but cannot. Vacation and home improvements are big on our list.

We have savings. The goal has always been, even when we were both working, NOT to dip into it because we want something random. It's always been for emergencies. Which came in handy during this layoff, as I went to get an oil change a few months ago and left with the diagnosis of needing new tires that week. I didn't enjoy moving $700 from the savings to the checking, but on the other hand, I enjoyed it MORE than handing over the credit card and paying it off slowly, with interest added in.

We have no debt beside our mortgage. Part of it is luck or circumstance, and part of it is common sense.

Luck/circumstance--we both graduated with zero student or personal loans. Our grandparents were very generous to either pay for school outright (C) or with monetary gifts while growing up which were invested appropriately (me). I will toot my own horn for a second and let you all know that I also had a scholarship for all four years that, in the end, equaled the full bill for freshman year. So we were responsible only for three years. My mother also returned to full-time work when I was a senior in high school.

Common sense--we don't spend more than we have. And we hardly use credit cards. If we do charge anything, it's because it's easier to put it on a credit card and pay it off when the bill comes in (like a large purchase) or when we're ordering something. I know not everyone has this ability, but we do and since we've seen so many people jeopardize themselves or get tied up in debt, we made a promise NEVER to do this.

Part of it comes from my upbringing. I grew up in a house very similar to how C & I live now, where "you never spend more than you make." You go without if you don't have it, or figure a way to do it cheaper. So while my mom's salary went to my college, which was a bummer for my parents, she was putting money into a retirement fund and was the benefits holder for our family, too. And, they weren't putting themselves (or me!) into debt so that I could further my education. My mom going back to work was a good thing, financially, for my parents. When we had health insurance through my dad (self-employed), it cost my family a LOT of money, especially since my mother has a benign brain tumor (aka, pre-existing condition) and has been living with it for years, with very few side effects. She just needs to take a daily medication to keep it from growing.

Side note: I really don't understand how people who make more than me and live in a cheaper area can have running credit card balances. It's like they have no self-control when it comes to saying no to things--be it shopping, gadgets, trips, etc. Yes, I would like those things too, but I don't like bills. Maybe they look at me and wonder why I'm overweight--is it a lack of self-control with something else? Then again, maybe if I had more of a social life, I would then need to spend more to "do" more, if that makes sense? I guess not having a happening social life is saving me money? Haha.

Anyway, back to where I was.

You're probably wondering, "Okay, so you don't have consumer debt, and you're holding your own, but you're down one paycheck. When both of you were working, you must have been either crazily spending with cash or have been really socking away the money! What's going on?"

Good question. To be honest, I don't know. I've combed through our spending spreadsheets and I don't see much change. The obvious things are that C's car isn't taking as much gas anymore since his mileage has reduced to almost zero, and piggy-backed with that, there's lower maintenance costs. But his gas and maintenance weren't almost his entire paycheck! His work clothes weren't dry cleaned, and he rarely bought lunch.

It could be the little things. But then again, I'm not really pinching pennies here. I'm not saying "no" to an afternoon Starbucks run with coworkers or not buying shoes when I need them. I think it might be that C's lay off came when we had reached the sweet spot of home ownership. We had already bought a lot of bigger ticket items. We had work done on the house that we needed to--either hired someone or did the work ourselves. I can't see anywhere else that our spending has changed. It's strange, especially when you think about how gas and food prices have both increased.

During moments of clarity and optimism, I think "wow, maybe this layoff happened to teach us that we CAN make it on one income, that it WILL be possible for me to stay at home when we have kids." Of course, that all depends on job stability for C, which is a joke these days for everyone. I wouldn't mind working part time, if necessary, but I feel that lately, I've been ignoring my inner voice, that I'm being called to stay home. Obviously I can't respond to that calling right now, as it would be selfish and irresponsible, but at least I know what I want to do. While I might be slightly unhappy because I'm working and am getting very little satisfaction from what I do all day, at least I know WHAT will make me happy. Even if I have to "play house" at night and on weekends.

So, what about money? What about it, indeed. That is not my biggest worry anymore. Stay tuned, the next installment will cover what I am worried about.

*And to be honest with everyone, I still do, from time to time. I blame it on my genes. Not only did I inherit blue eyes from my dad's side, I also got their obsessively conservative nature about money!


  1. It's interesting to hear your perspective on this from the other side of the coin; that is, looking at our spending now that Mike has a full-time income, versus before. We are spending more money than before, but like you, I can't quite figure out how to account for the difference, and I think it must be similar things: We are spending more on gas for Mike to commute to work every day, and we're also using this opportunity to make more one-time purchases for the apartment. We're not eating out more or buying more clothes.

    My fear was that we were going to get used to spending habits we wouldn't be able to sustain when he stopped working again, but based on what you've said here and how it matches my (opposite) experience, I don't think I have to worry too much.

  2. Duh, I just remembered ONE thing that changed our income immensely. My company FINALLY shopped around for health insurance, and found a different carrier with lower premiums. For C & I, the biweekly payroll deduction dropped by 41%!!!!!!!! What we pay is still a lot compared with larger companies, but 41% cheaper is amazing.

    Of course, he was out of work for two months before we saw that savings, as our new insurance year begins July 1, but he had severance/vacation that was equal to 5 weeks of pay, and we did dip into savings a tiny bit.

    Oh and our mortgage will be going DOWN for the next year, so that will free up some money as well.


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