Category Archives: money

Be Prepared

I walked into work Tuesday morning to find that a survey team from a national  healthcare accrediting organization was on campus. The people at Myjob have been preparing for this organization’s visit for the better part of a year. The organization comes every 2-3 years to inspect the hospital for re-accreditation. Even though we expected the survey team in the fall, my boss said they could come as early as late spring or early summer. My boss has been preparing his team for this visit since October.

I am glad we have been preparing for this event. I have learned a great deal more about healthcare and what it takes to run a hospital. I have learned that it is better to be proactive than not. It is better to anticipate possible scenarios than to sit back and “let it slide”.

One thing I have learned, especially through my divorce, is to be prepared. I can honestly say, I was not prepared to divorce and then to deal with all the emotional, physical and financial flotsam and jetsam that accompanied it. Sure, I knew it was coming – I knew that several years before it actually happened. But I was still not prepared.

I wrote about this subject in a post entitled, “Storm Warnings”. However, I’d like to apply a little of what I have learned in preparation for this healthcare accreditation organization visit.

1.  Categories: Organize your divorce preparations into categories – financial, household, relational, work-related, etc. Sit down and make a list of these categories, then add the following: under financial – income, budget, savings, retirement, emergency fund (even though you may get alimony, don’t count it as income because it’s not going to be around forever and you don’t want to become overly dependent on it); under household – will you sell your home? Move into a new home/apartment? Need to have a yard sale? Need to replace household items? (hint: estate sales are good places to get household items – furniture, dishes, etc. if you need to set up a home.); under relational – How soon will you tell people of your (impending) divorce? Who will you tell? How do you break the news to important people in your life (children, parents, siblings, etc.)?

2. Rank: Once you have your categories and have broken them down into sub categories, give each sub category a ranking from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) in order of priority. What things will you take care of first? What things can wait? Work on the #5’s first and cross them off your list when done. Number fives should be things like income (how are you going to support yourself?), housing (where are you going to live?), and debt (pay off old debts and don’t create any new ones until your are financially stable).

3. Finish: Once you have finished an item, cross it off your list. If you are really good and make a spreadsheet, hide that column/row when you’ve completed it. Once it’s done, it’s done.

4. Document, document, document: Keep a copy of all your records. Keep a phone log of your conversations with ex or of any electronic communication with ex. You may have to produce this information if it comes down to “he said – she said” in court. Be aware that unless you inform someone you are recording the conversation with them, that communication may be against the law. A good rule of thumb regarding keeping records and documents is 10 years. Instead of tons of boxes full of paper crowding up your spare bedroom, scan documents and store them on a flash drive, backup hard drive or on the ‘cloud’.

Everything we experience in our lives in a learning experience. We can take what we learn in one aspect of our lives (ex. work) and apply it to other aspects of our lives (personal). The thing is we should never stop growing and learning. And, yes, we can even learn from an unpleasant experience like a divorce. Stay tuned. . . .

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Don’t Despair

My choice of radio program for news and current events is NPR. Recently, they did a piece on life expectancy and how that has changed in the US over the past 20 years. The research quoted in the piece concurs that the life expectancy for whites is decreasing, especially among poorer whites. That information can be discouraging. While reading that piece, I also read a companion piece entitled, “Explaining the Forces Driving the Middle Aged White People’s ‘Deaths of Despair’. The information and research presented is quite sobering.

Granted, the study dealt with white people, but other races may also feel the same way – that a lack of steady, well-paying jobs for those people without college degrees can cause distress and depression in their lives. I can see how this – the lack of meaningful employment – could cause such despair. I saw that in my ex when he lost job after job after job – and he had a college degree!

What is one to do in a situation like this? You’re middle-aged, don’t have a college degree, but need to be able to support yourself. Many divorced or divorcing women find themselves in this situation. Along with the divorce comes lack of self-confidence and depression. May I suggest the following?

1. Consider community resources: Look into the community resources where you live. Changes are there are low-cost or free (re)training classes in several skills – clerical, retail, etc. Take advantage of what is available to you in your community. Your local YWCA may also have resources available for women returning to the work force.

2. Consider a temporary job: Placement services are always looking for temporary workers to fill in where needed. Your local university and civil service (city and county government) also have temporary job pools available. Temporary opportunities are a way to get your foot in the door for a permanent job.

3. Consider online or evening classes: Many community colleges have evening classes that cater to the working adult. Speak to the financial aid department and find out what kind of aid is available to you in order to assist you going back to school to hone current skills or learn new skills.

4. Consider a support group: We were not meant to walk through life alone. Find a support group of either divorced women or women (re) entering the workforce. By being a group of similar-experienced people, you will find out that you are not alone in your pursuits.

Start out slowly, setting and accomplishing small goals. One example is to improve your keyboarding skills or note-taking skills. Celebrate the small victories you have. Those small victories will go a long way in building self-confidence. Don’t despair. There is hope, there are resources, and there is a way to be able to stand confident again. Stay tuned . . . .

Rollercoaster

I remember when a theme park close to my home built a new rollercoaster. It had several loop-de-loops in it and ran fast. My children couldn’t wait to go on the rollercoaster! After much coaxing, they got me on the ride with them. However, I closed my eyes and screamed when we went on the loop-de-loops! I have always been afraid of heights and the rollercoaster scared me. My children said, “Aww, come on, Mom! That wasn’t scary!”

There are many times when life can seem like a rollercoaster – scary and not fun, ups and downs, twists and turns, moving so fast that you find it difficult to hold on. Your divorce recovery can feel the same way. I remember feeling happy that I was finally liberated from ex, but unhappy that my life was in such turmoil.

Some people don’t assess the risk of a rollercoaster before they get on the ride. They are all out gung-ho to feel the excitement of all the twists and turns, the stomach jarring drops, the negative G turns. Going through a divorce can be like that as well. You just want to be rid of that extra weight (ex) and you don’t give much thought to the ‘ride’ itself – the emotions you will face, finding your new normal, etc.

How does one assess the risk of divorce?

1. Are all your eggs in one basket and is he holding the basket? If he will not let you participate in the family finances or doesn’t allow you to see the bills, especially the credit card bills, there’s a good chance he is hiding something. Open up your own checking account. Open up your own credit card. Separate your finances and establish financial stability in your name only. Do not cosign for anything for any reason. And by all means, do not give him access to your accounts!

2. Who does the ‘lion’s share’ of work around the house? I found myself mowing the yard because ex would get ‘heart palpitations’ if he mowed (and his family has a history of heart issues). He complained about having to load and unload the dishwasher when I went back to school at night. Laundry went undone unless I did it. I was the one who cleaned the house, washed the cars, raked the leaves, etc. And I was working and going to school full-time, besides being a full-time Mom.

3. Are bills missing? Are there odd charges on household bills – cable, etc.? If you have any cause to question, question. Trust your gut. Chances are, he’s up to something.

4. If you feel that your marriage is headed that direction, get professional help: Marriage counseling is a good place to start. However, that’s not always successful. Professional help not only includes a good counselor, but also a good lawyer. Most lawyers will give you a free 30 minute session in order to help you determine a course of action. You need to protect yourself.

5. Protect your assets: Find out if your state has a community property law and what that would entail for your personal and shared assets in a divorce. Make sure the divorce decree spells out in detail who is responsible for what, how long, etc. There was one issue that was not intimately spelled out in my divorce decree and ex found the loophole. He shoved my face in it and left the state owing me more than $21K in alimony.

In my experience, divorce was the roughest when I was not prepared. I was not prepared for some of the actions ex took, even though they didn’t surprise me. I truly felt like I was on a rollercoaster. Divorce is painful, there’s no mistaking that. Hindsight is always 20/20 – we look back and see the red flags in our marriage and think about how we should have been more proactive when our gut told us something wasn’t right. If you are going through the rollercoaster of divorce right now, buckle up and make sure you are protected. Stay tuned . . . .

Unexpected Sinkholes

Normally, I don’t post twice in one day, but . . . . it seems I’ve done that quite frequently! I live in a part of the country known for its karst topography, or the numerous limestone caves. Limestone is a sedimentary rock. Millions of years ago, this part of the country was underwater, which accounts for the limestone. Limestone is made out of the shells of sea creatures which contain calcium carbonate. As rainwater falls, it picks up carbon dioxide and forms a weak carbonic acid. This acid eats away at the limestone, producing caves and sinkholes. Some sinkholes are harmless, but others cause quite a bit of destruction (Google ‘sinkholes’ and you’ll see the recent ones in Florida as well as the giant one in Guatamala City several years ago).

We got word today after lunch that our grounds manager discovered a sinkhole. Luckily, it is not as big as one we had a couple of months ago that closed several lanes on the freeway. We’ll see if this one expands or if it is fixable in its current state. We should have expected this because of all the rain this part of the country had over the last weekend.

Whether you are divorced or not, you will run across sinkholes in your life – things that threaten to shut down or sideline your forward progress – illness, financial problems, job issues, relational difficulties. When the sinkhole at Myjob was discovered, we called out the appropriate personnel – the Department of Transportation, the utility provider, and the management at Myjob. Each person has their own sphere of responsibility in resolving the sinkhole issue.

When you face a sinkhole in your life, call out the appropriate personnel or experts to help you shore up that weakness: illness – seek medical help or professional help if you have mental issues; financial – seek out your banker and sit down with them to determine your best course of action; job issues – talk to your boss or someone in your Human Resources Department; relational difficulties – speak to a counselor who specializes in relationship issues. And pray, asking God for wisdom in dealing with the sinkhole. The sinkhole is not permanent, but if you don’t deal with it when you first notice it, it will only get bigger and cost more to fix. Dear one, give yourself grace as you deal with the sinkholes in your life. They are a learning experience. Stay tuned . . . .

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions – Finances

Let me begin this post with a disclaimer: I am NOT a financial expert nor do I have all my ducks in a row financially. I am still learning about finances post-divorce. Let’s learn about this together, shall we?

1. Make a budget and stick to it: This is the number one thing I have been told over the years, even when I was married. I have what I like to call a “scaffold” budget – I have all the categories in place but don’t have all the details filled in. I have enough information to fill in my budget, but I still have to flesh it out. There are many budget resources online – they go from uber simple to insanely complicated. Find the one that is right for you and start your budget. It will take you a few months to get your budget to be more solid, but you will learn about what you spend your money on. If you need help, go to your local bank. They have people there who will help you with your finances. Take it in bite-sized pieces.

2. Do not live above your means: You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses, you don’t need the latest and greatest and most updatest of anything, you don’t need to impress anyone. You have just been through a kn0ck-down-drag-out emotionally and financially. Don’t jump back into a financial mess. Shop the sales rack at the clothing stores, use coupons at the grocery store, get a grocery store’s ‘rewards’ card and use it to save on gas, etc. You may be living with the bare minimum until you get back on your feet. That’s okay. Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.” Think about that.

3. If you must have a credit card, use a secured card with a low APR: You can find these all over the internet. Be purposeful about paying your card on time. A secured card uses money that you put on it (pre-paid), not money that you don’t have.

4. Pay bills on time: I have learned the hard way that if you don’t pay your bills on time, a) your credit gets socked and b) you rack up more $$ in late fees. Pay your bills on time. The late fees are not worth it. Pay off your smaller bills first, then turn around and put that money on a larger bill. Paying off the smaller bills first cultivates the habit of paying bills. It also makes you feel good when you pay off a bill and it’s motivation to pay off others.

5. Pare down: Assess what items you are paying on monthly. Do you really need cable? Internet? Fake nails? Many of the little ‘luxuries’ will need to go away until you get back on your financial feet. Learn to live with less. I have not had cable for a while. I get the basic TV channels with my ‘key’ antenna and I read a lot. I keep my heat at a lower setting. (Of course it helps that I am always hot anyway!!)

6. Shop for the future: What does this mean?! When you go grocery shopping, stock up on non-perishables that will last a while – like rice and beans. Buy produce on sale. If your grocery store has a 10 for $10 sale, take full advantage of it! It’s tempting to go to the grocery store on a daily basis, but that doesn’t save much money. Plan out your menu for several days or weeks and shop accordingly. I always keep a package of rice and a couple of cans of beans on hand. If I am at the end of the month and down to my last couple of bucks, I will break out the beans and rice. It’s kind of boring, but at least it’s nutritious and filling.

7. Shop wise: Look for sales. Don’t impulse buy. If you want something, wait 30 days to buy it. If you still want it, buy it but do so with cash. In that 30 days, a) the item may go on drastic sale, or b) you may change your mind and not want the item after all. Before you purchase something, ask yourself, ‘Is this a need or a want? Will this change my life for the better or my bank account for the worse?’ Limit eating out. Invite friends over for dinner instead and have a potluck. If you do eat out, take your leftovers home for another meal.

8. Know what your bank balance is: Balance your bank account. Know that some charges on your debit card won’t hit your account right away, so you will need to make sure the money is there when the charges do hit. If you have a hard time balancing your bank account, use your bank resources. The folks at your bank will help you balance your account. They are there to serve you. If your bank seems to be too big to give you individual attention, find another back. Credit unions are good financial institutions to deal with. I have banked with a credit union for several years and have been pleased with the service I have gotten.

9. Save a little at a time: I have a change jar at home that I put my spare change in. That jar has saved me many times! My 401K contribution is taken out of my paycheck before it is directly deposited in my checking account. If you want to start saving money, put aside something small, like $5 or $10 a paycheck.  If possible, have that amount deducted from your paycheck and put directly into your savings account. Increase it when you feel you can afford to. Don’t worry about the amount you save, just start saving. Be intentional about developing a savings habit.

10. Celebrate your financial victories: I hate leaving lists of things greater than 5 on an odd number, so I will finish this list with celebrating your victories. Don’t celebrate by spending money, but by doing something that makes you feel good about yourself – take a walk in the park, post signs where you can see them that say, “You did it! You __________ (fill in the blank with your accomplishment)!”, share your victory with a close friend, make yourself a ‘Congratulations!’ card and mail it to yourself. Get creative!

Be diligent about your finances. If you’re not a math person like me, you can learn to be a math person! One does not have to have a PhD in finance in order to balance one’s checkbook and save money! If you have a friend who is really good with their finances, ask them for their help. What do they do that you can learn from? Above all, stay positive! You will experience failure, but that’s okay. You are learning and growing and that’s the most important thing. Stay tuned . . .

 

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

The New Year is always  a time to make resolutions – what do you want to do different this year? Many people set lofty resolutions thinking, “This is the year I will ___________”. However, a couple of weeks down the road, the resolutions get tossed aside and the rest of the new year becomes one great big guilt party because we couldn’t keep those resolutions. We feel like a failure, disappointed in ourselves and feeling like we let others down. Maybe it’s time to learn how to set resolutions you can keep. When setting your New Year’s resolutions, think about the following:

1. Is it realistic? You want to lose weight. That’s always a great resolution. However, wanting to lose 50 pounds in one month is not so great. It’s unrealistic and it’s unhealthy. Start off with something you can do, like loose 2 pounds in a month. You may say, “But if I don’t push myself, it won’t happen.” Start off small. As you develop the habit of eating right, saving money, etc., then you can start to push yourself. My boss always says, “We gotta eat this elephant one bite at a time.”

2. Is it in character for you? Examine your motives for your resolutions. Are they for personal gain, to help others, etc.? Wanting to take a risk is fine (like learning to skydive), but if your resolutions are merely to satisfy others who think you should be doing x, y, and z, take a step back a refocus. Your resolutions should be for your benefit, not because others tell you that you need to do something.

3. Do you have the resources to do it? You may want to save $100 a month, but if you are a single mom with one income, that may not be so realistic. Start off small. Save $10 a paycheck, walk 1 miles a day, volunteer four hours on Saturday, etc. NOTE: Starting off small will develop a habit. It is better to start off small, to take small bites, than it is to go in way over your head and choke because you bit off too much.

4. Is it tweakable? My life motto is, “Blessed are they who are flexible, for they shall break and not bend”. You have to be willing to be flexible in your resolutions. You may have a large bill and may not be able to save as much money as you would like. In a situation like that, even saving just $5 is a step in the right direction.

5. Am I accountable? Keeping resolutions is easier if done in community. You have someone to whom you are accountable, who will ask you the hard questions and help keep you going in the right direction.

Finally, give yourself the grace to fail, because you will fail. However, failure doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or the resolution was unachievable. Failure means you are moving. Those who don’t fail don’t move. They don’t take the risk to grow and learn. Failure means you have to step back and reassess – why did I fail? Did I try to do too much? Did I experience a setback that was unexpected? Failure means you stop, analyze and move forward again.

This post is one in a series on “Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions”. Following posts will be about keeping your resolutions regarding weight loss, finances and relationships. Stay tuned. . .

Stress Less During the Holidays

The holidays are usually a crazy time of the year anyway, but being divorced seems to make them even more so. You are short on time and money, you may have to share the holidays with ex or members of his family, you need to juggle time with your children, and you or others may still have pretty high expectations for you. STOP!! Put on the brakes! Because of your divorce, this holiday will be different – that’s the nature of things. Don’t let the holidays add to the stress of your life at this point.

1. Plan ahead: You know the holidays are coming – it happens every year about this time. Keep a list on your fridge of things you need to do, gifts you need to buy, etc. I have a small white board on my fridge. It’s my best organizational buddy! If I know a party is coming up, I bake ahead of time instead of waiting until the night before. Do as much as you can ahead of time.

2. Don’t procrastinate: You know the saying, “Don’t put off ’till tomorrow what you can do today”? If you leave your holiday shopping, etc. to the last minute, you will surely be stressed and hopelessly overwhelmed. If planning ahead overwhelms you, make a list and cross one thing off every day or every other day. Do what works for you.

3. Lower your expectations: All those things you did with ex, all the traditions you thought you had to keep – toss them out the window! Now is the time to make new traditions. Make the holiday what YOU want it to be, not what others want it to be. I don’t put out all my Christmas decorations, nor do I drag out all the ornaments for my tree. I put out the decorations I really like. This year, I decorated Thanksgiving weekend. I normally don’t do that. But it’s my apartment and my decorations, so I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. As a result, I am not rushed to put up my tree and decorations.

4. Make a budget and stick to it: It’s so easy to go whacko crazy with your credit card around the holidays. Word of advice – DON’T! Budget out how much you can afford to spend and don’t go over that limit. You may need to drop some folks from your Christmas gift list, or from your Christmas card list. You may need to go cheaper this year – smaller denomination gift cards or homemade cookies or candy. You may not have a whole lot of money after your divorce. Don’t start out the new year, and your new life, by digging a financial hole you cannot get out of. Don’t live above your means. If your friends and family have a problem with cheaper gifts this year, just tell them, “I need to stick with my budget”. Mary Poppins said, “I never explain anything!” Don’t feel like you need to explain your decision.

5. Take some time for YOU: I love to sit in my napping chair (my amazing $50 estate sale find) with a glass of wine and my dogs snoozing on either side of me. I turn off the lights and turn on my Christmas tree. Sometimes, I will have soft Christmas music playing in the background. I enjoy the quiet, the beauty of my tree, the companionship of my dogs, and the relaxing peacefulness of my home. That time alone is my recharge time. At other times, I may read a book, or watch a movie and knit, but that time is just for me. I find the snoring of my dogs to be quite soothing!

Above all, remember – if it’s not done by Christmas Eve, it wasn’t meant to get done. This holiday is for YOU. Gone are all the crazy things you did or did not do with ex. Want to go somewhere for Christmas? Stay home? Go see a local Christmas play? Light display? Sing ‘Jingle Bells” at the top of your lungs? Do it!! Gone are the expectations for that “perfect” holiday. Take time this season to slow down, to sit down, to take stock of where you are. The best gift you can give yourself this Christmas is less stress. Trust me, you will thank yourself for it! Stay tuned. . . .