Recovering From Unemployment Part 2: Delayed Gratification

Needs Wants

Delayed gratification is just a fancy word for patience.

I don’t think that anyone is born with the immediate skill of patience; rather it is perseverance developed with experience and a true desire to mature and grow.   I certainly do not come by this skill easily, and tend to want what I want when I want it. (What?)  I am the main spender in the family as I do all grocery, clothing and heavy machinery shopping.  (Just kidding about that last one.)  And while my husband definitely cannot be trusted to walk into a store without “accidentally” buying a can of Pringles or something, the blame for our grocery budget busting definitely falls on me.  I am a marketer’s dream!  $3 tank tops?  Get one in each color!  That gum I tried but didn’t like is packaged in a new container?  Try it again!  10-pack of toilet cleaner?  I won’t have to buy any for a year!

You get the picture.

It took me a long time to realize that people on a tight budget don’t have money for any of those things.  It wasn’t until I sat down and put our finances on actual paper to see that we needed to get frugal, fast.  Being frugal isn’t something that has ever come naturally to me.  I’ve never been a saver and I’ve never been very wise with money…until now.  Unemployment has been very good for me in that aspect, and I can honestly say that I appreciate the years of financial struggle that aren’t quite over because they’re definitely helping me grow wiser in this area.

Here’s a few tips if you have found yourself in the position of not quite recognizing need from want:

  • Have you existed without this object in the past?  Then it’s a want.
  • Can you exist without this object for a week?  Then it’s a want.
  • Will it affect your health to go without this?  Then it’s a need.
  • Will it cause major contention between you and your spouse to go without?  Then it’s a need.
  • Do you feel like it would make you happy to have it?  It’s a want.
  • Does your kid tell you he/she will love you more to get it?  It’s a want.

It’s been a rough learning curve for me, honestly.  It didn’t happen overnight that I was able to go to Sam’s Club and only get what I needed and what made sense to buy in bulk.  (Toilet paper, yes.  Toilet bowl cleaner, no.)  And I still struggle to walk through any grocery store and not pick up something I don’t need…but I can do it.  Some expenses are easier to define.  When a family member needed some major dental work done, it was easy to see the need.  When my beloved 2000 Honda Odyssey died and needed a $1900 transmission rebuild, it was easy to see the want.  Obviously the dental work needed to be done.  And unfortunately, just as obviously the transmission did not need to be rebuilt.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, I don’t need my own car.  We’ve done the one-car family thing twice in the past, we can do it again.  If all goes as planned I will have saved enough to buy a newer model (hoping for 2007 or better) van in two years anyway, and I get really excited thinking about that!

Truly, this has been a good thing.  We’ve downsized not only the size of our house, but also the clutter, the unnecessary spending, and best of all that guilty feeling that accompanies the wanted item.  We’ve maximized our quality time together as a family since we don’t go out much anymore.  I’ve even minimized the time I spend doing laundry since I stopped adding multiple $3 tank tops to my closets!  I’ve also really learned the true meaning of being grateful, and while I still have to work on the skill of saying “No” to wants,  it’s easy to see when I look around me that I am blessed with all that I need.

In my next guest post, I’ll tell you some of the character-building things and ways to cut corners I’ve learned over our years of unemployment.  I think you’ll be able to see why I’m grateful for those years, as well!

In case you missed it, read part 1 here!

Featured Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parenting Moment – Our “Current” Reward System

Kid with Money

I could have called this a parenting tip or parenting advice, but that would mean I know something more about parenting than anyone else reading this. That certainly isn’t the case.

We’ve got two daughters, ages 6 and 4. One day they returned home from shopping with mom and announced that they were each getting a LeapPad. I guess the guy at the store told my wife that they would be extremely discounted in the next few weeks because a new version would be coming out for Christmas. Anyhow, we can’t let something they’re so excited about come without somehow turning it into a learning opportunity.

The reason I called this our “current” reward system is because, like most parents, we’ve probably tried a hundred different ones by now. This one has stuck for more than a few days, so I figured it was worth sharing.

So, we started with a goal in mind: a LeapPad (or Kindle Fire for the 6 years old). We told them that in order for them to be able to get their prize, they had to earn 100 kid dollars. I was able to find some great printable play money at freestuff4kids.net. We started printing out several sheets on 1, 5, and 10 dollar bills. Each kid got an envelope to put their money in as they earned it.

We’ve tried giving the kid’s money for doing different tasks around the house before. It didn’t last long since they didn’t have a specific item in mind to use the money for. Besides, they technically didn’t lose anything if they decided not to do what we asked them to do. They never had the money in the first place, so it was no real loss.

This time, we told them that they have $5 at the beginning of every day. When they choose to fight, take something from their sister, hurt each other, or do something else they know they shouldn’t do, they lose one of those dollars. On top of that, they also lose a dollar if they come downstairs after being put to bed. They’ve went to bed more than once with all $5, only to lose a good portion of them in about 30 minutes.

So far this has worked pretty well. Whenever things start to look like they may be degrading, we simply ask them “do you want to lose a dollar?” In most cases they stop what they were doing since they know that means it will take them that much longer to get that special item they’ve been wanting. Hopefully they’re thinking “is starting this fight worth losing a dollar?”

We have run into one issue with our 6 year old. She had a breakdown one evening on our way home from the babysitter because she didn’t understand how close she was to the $100 goal. She knew how much she had, but she couldn’t visualize what that meant. To solve that problem, I made a simple graph on the outside of their envelopes and we started filling it in whenever they get their dollars from the previous day. (In our setup, they can’t lose dollars that they’ve earned from previous days.) That seems to have helped quite a bit since she can now see how close she is to getting her Kindle.

I’m not going to say that this approach is right for everyone. I’m sure there are a bunch of you out there finding all sorts of flaws with this or have your own systems. If so, feel free to leave something in the comments below.

Featured Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recovering From Unemployment – Part 1: Getting Into Debt

IOU Piggybank

Unemployment: One of the most counter-productive methods of saving money out there.  And yet, it’s not uncommon to have periods of unemployment in our adult lives.  Unless you’re leaving one job for another, chances are good you’ll have at least a week or two of unemployment, right?  It can be a scary experience, especially if you have few safety nets in place!

In 2010, our sole breadwinner lost his job.  We knew it was coming, fortunately.  He was a pharmaceutical rep for a small company that was bought out by a foreign company.  It had been undergoing some major changes for years, and there was always the threat of impending job cuts.  About 6 months before the actual cut, there was a rumor that the end was near, and soon the company confirmed this.  Fortunately, we were not in debt aside from our mortgage and my student loan.  We had already been dabbling with moving out to the country, and this news sealed the deal for us.  Our house was a major drain on our finances, and while it was my starry-eyed-newly-married-House o’ Dreams, we both knew that faced with any season of unemployment we would quickly run out of money with our giant mortgage.  It was time to say goodbye to the home we’d loved for the last six years!

Despite a treacherous selling market, despite trying to sell a very unique home for far more than the neighborhood’s worth, and despite selling by owner, our home sold in 4 months.  We fell in love with a beautiful home in the country with a much smaller square footage, and happily, a much smaller mortgage.

By then, Ty had been unemployed for two months.  At the time, we viewed this as a “vacation”.  With all the flurry of selling and buying homes, it was just nice to focus simply on moving.  Our daughter had just turned two, and Ty was enjoying getting a taste of experiencing MY job – the life of a stay-at-home mom!  Once we settled in though, Ty started getting serious about his job hunt.

Little did we know how brutal this would be!  At first, we thought this was the perfect opportunity for Ty to switch careers, but while he applied to plenty of non-sales opportunities he was more than qualified for, he never even got an interview.  So eventually he decided even a job he didn’t love was better than no job, and in the meantime our severance package was dwindling.  He started applying for pharmaceutical jobs again, and began to feel the true sting of rejection.

Let’s fast-forward one year.  Ty had a few unsuccessful interviews, but mostly he felt frustrated over the interviews he didn’t even get.  This was new territory for him, in the past he would apply for a job, quickly receive an interview, and usually walk out of the interview with a job.  He had never not even gotten an interview before!  It was a humbling year, to say the least.

By January, he scored a 6-month contract with a pharmaceutical company and we were able to breathe a little easier for awhile.  We also welcomed our second daughter into the family at the end of March!  We tried to replenish our savings account, and he kept searching for permanent work.  Unfortunately, once the contract ended, Ty would go on over 20 interviews over the next year and a half – all fruitless, frustrating ventures.  We both took whatever odd cash-paying jobs came our way, but it certainly wasn’t enough to sustain us.  By the end of 2012 this no longer felt like a vacation, but rather a very scary nightmare.  Unemployment benefits were up, our savings account was dry, and there was little hope in sight.

Finally, finally…a miracle!  My parents expanded their catering business and needed a manager… score!  Not only did Ty get the career change he longed for, but also an environment that built up his crumbling self-esteem, and perhaps best of all:  A Paycheck.  It’s really amazing what a paycheck can do to your psyche, isn’t it?

Now that we have a regular paycheck, we have some work to do.  Although we had tried to budget, cut corners and be wise during our period of unemployment, we still ended up falling back on a credit card.  Most of the debt came from legitimate budget-breakers like a major dentist bill, replacing a few leaking windows, and several auto repair bills, but honestly, some of that debt came from unwise purchases as well.   So now it is time to completely revise the budget:  we certainly don’t have enough money to live extravagantly by any means, but we DO have enough to LIVE and get out of debt, albeit slowly.

The first step is to make an oath to retire the credit cards.  Those things are the DEVIL.  They are too easy to use, and they make a new pair of shoes seem so much more affordable in the moment!  We decided to take this very, very seriously.  This is a time for delayed gratification.  This is a time for continuing to cut corners.   This is a time for hope!

Stay tuned for Part 2: Delayed Gratification!

Featured Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net