Friday, September 14, 2012

The New Face of Need?

I almost didn't write this blog, because I feel like it's a little awkward. I grew up and was taught from a young age, you don't talk money with people. How much people make, how much people spend... It's rude. And uncomfortable. And rude. So, I was trying to come up with a way to write this blog and make it anonymous, but there's just not a way to do it. So in true Ali... nay, in true Morrison fashion, I'm just putting it all out there. If you're uncomfortable, please feel free to click the x in the upper right corner (or small red button in upper left for you Mac hipsters - the iPhone 5 is coming, BTW, in case you've been underground).

Okay, so here's my awkward announcement. My family is needy. At least, the government would be cool with it if we thought we were. As most of you know, we've recently moved to a one-income family model, as we add person number three to our household size. As we've done that, I've had several people tell me that they "wish they could afford to do that" and several other comments, indicating that people think I make significantly more money than I do. The fact that people I am certain have higher incomes than I did were saying this got me nervous, so I started looking at statistics on income, government aid, and other factors. What I found was pretty startling.

If I took home $30 less per paycheck, our household would qualify for full WIC benefits. WIC provides women and children with free healthy groceries, baby food, formula, etc. There are also special healthcare discounts and benefits for this group. Sadly, we're not that close to qualifying for SNAP benefits where we could just get $400 worth of HoHos and Mountain Dew a month (in addition to the WIC benefits), but I digress. Or maybe I don't digress, because our household doesn't spend $400 a month on groceries, and maybe it might help people on aid to try to live on a budget. I was also kind of horrified that many government benefits count "resources" against you. So a low income family that is able to save some of their earnings is at a disadvantage to a family with the same income level who maxes out their budget. Speaking of budgets, and since this is a full disclosure piece and if you wanted, you could go Google WIC benefits and see how much I make anyway, here is the Morrison three people, one income budget.

Monthly Income: $2,380 (net - with the poor people's holiday of the elusive third pay day factored in)
Mortgage: $456 (escrowed with taxes and insurance - owe $50,262; house worth approx. $55,000 - $60,000)
Water: $58
Garbage and Sewer: $15
Gas and Electric: $102 (budget payments, so the payment is even throughout the entire year)
Auto Insurance: $60 (switched to Progressive - about one step above liability on both cars)
Food: $375 (this is both groceries and occasionally dining out and other household items like detergent)
Clothing: $25
Phone: $95
Health Insurance: $290 (this is private health insurance through my employer for me, Nate, and Blakely)
Student Loans: $106
College Fund: $20 (every little bit will help)
Tithes and Gifts: $200
Gas and Auto: $275 (yay Aveo)
Netflix: $8
Internet: $35
401K Contributions: $110 (My employer matches 75% of that amount)
Car Registration: $15
Amount left for savings/entertainment: $135 (I accredit the small amount we spend on entertainment to the bizarre things that we encounter in our every day lives)

And there you have it. And this isn't a theoretical budget, it's our real budget that we've lived on for the past year (with some flaws and hiccups, of course). But when Nate and I got serious about paying off the debt we owed, we began living the one-income lifestyle. With his checks over the last year, we've been able to:
  • Pay off his Grand Prix (nearly $10,000)
  • Start a college fund for Blakely (nearly $1,500)
  • Supply an emergency fund ($1,000)
  • Purchase my Aveo with cash ($5,000)
  • Increase savings for medical bills and to be able to take time off together when Blakely's born
  • Accumulate no consumer debt
So am I embarrassed that the government thinks I'm right on the brink of need? Yes. But not for our family... for the government. I'm not patting us on the back (okay, maybe a little), but my goal in writing this obviously isn't pride. I hope maybe seeing these numbers inspires someone to start living in a financially responsible way - a gift that will continue to give for generations! Many people are quietly and successfully living debt-free/financially responsible lives, able to give to the needy (not me - the real needy), the church, and other worthy groups, as well as living with less stress, because they are on a plan. I know several families who are a continual inspiration in this area, as I hope we can be too.

If anyone who reads my blog has questions on where to start, how to spend less on certain budget items, or really anything else, I'd love to help. Because if I'm going to be a cheap nerd, I'd like to be a cheap nerd who helps people.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Keep it Simple

A few days ago, Nate and I were discussing our understanding of God. Ya, you read that right. We’re not hot mess hillbillies all the time. Anyway, I was telling Nate how in a lot of ways my understanding of God and his will has come almost 360 degrees.  As I tried to learn more about God and the Bible and the church, and as I accumulated more facts and more viewpoints and more arguments, I began to lose the essence that is God. Now, even though I still have that knowledge and those secondary sources, I retreat back into the simplest understanding of God.

Nate agreed with me and said, “I really think God is best understood by children.” As we kept talking, I couldn’t help but agree. Nate pointed out that children don’t struggle with things like “all powerful” or “all loving.” It’s the adults who push back, with “Then why did this happen?” or “But you don’t know my past.” God, while being all-powerful, all-loving, all-merciful… is also incredibly all-simple. As adults, we live in the age of asterisks. The website shouts “FREE!*” and then tiny print at the bottom confirms all of your fears, that it is not even close to free. When we’re conditioned to search out the “buts,” an asterisk-free God is sometimes hard for us to fathom.

Along those lines, I can be really hard on people who I say are “Team Satan.” Every Christian knows a few “Team Satan” cheerleaders – not that they support Satan, but just that they give him credit for every one of life’s hangnails. I give these people a bad rap because I really feel like this mentality often dismisses accountability, both for us and for others. I also think that giving Satan more credit than he deserves is a dangerous path to go down. But last night, I found comfort in temporarily joining the ranks of Team Satan.

Last night, life hit me like a sack of bricks. And please don’t think I’m whining because I am truly, truly blessed. But making decisions that seem to defy this world’s logic, even when I know that it’s God’s will, has never been my strong suit. I like to make spreadsheets that show in black and white that I am making good decisions. But as far as I know, they don’t have a program like that yet that factors in spiritual callings. As I ran around the house trying to be as productive as possible, I heard doubts, put there by myself and others, echoing in my head.

I heard the voice of someone who makes more money than me saying, “Wow, I wish we could afford to be a one-income family. Maybe someday we’ll make enough money to do that.”

I heard the voice of well-meaning people asking about our move to Bloomington, “So are you moving for… your job? Or… Nate’s job?” And me stammering out a half-baked answer like I’d never spoken before, because I apparently still can't articulate God's calling in our lives.

I questioned myself, “What if you didn’t budget this right? What if you don’t have enough money to live off your savings for the next couple months?”

The doubts went even further beyond that, and I fell asleep sobbing. This morning I woke up with a simple thought: those thoughts weren’t from God, they were from Satan. Yes, I woke up a member of Team Satan, and honestly, that was the one thought that made me feel better. It was the simplest understanding. Until there is Excel: Spiritual Guidance edition, that can factor God’s will into my pivot tables, I have to be able to keep it simple. God is good. He encourages and provides. Anything that doesn’t do that, is NOT from God.

So as you live, live simply. Our God is complex, but not complex to understand. He will provide, and there’s no asterisk after that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Perfect Family

Though I haven't taken time to write about it, Nate and my transition from couple to family has been weighing on my mind a lot. Specifically, how we will transition from a rather quirky duo to a family unit. This is particularly paralyzing when I consider the family I come from. We had our moments, but we were darn near picture perfect most of the time. My dad worked hard and came home each night to a meal homecooked by my mom. My sister and I were neatly groomed and often dressed in my mom's sewing creations. We were generally polite and well-behaved and knew when to be quiet.

Well crap. I don't think I can do almost any of that. Firstly, Nate is staying home, and I'm working. It just makes sense. I'm not going to try to squeeze us into the box of the typical one income family. My cooking? It sucks. I can make crockpot meals like a boss, but that doesn't mean that when a recipe calls for wine in it (which we don't have) that I don't look up a substitute (orange juice - which we also don't have), and then finally just throw some Hawaiian Punch in there because ya know what, that's close enough for our unrefined palettes. I do feel passionately about clean children with brushed hair, but if I had to make their clothes, they would be about six pieces of Scotch tape from naked. And I'm pretty sure that my husband thinks the difference between casual and dressy is whether or not a superhero is included in the ensemble.

I started to think about our transition from duo to family again last night. Nate was teasing me about something before bed as I was digging through our linen closet trying to find my Tums. When he had irritated me thoroughly, I took advantage of the fact that he was just wearing shorts and that the tweezers found my hand before the Tums. When I was tired of listening to him, I wielded the tweezers Zorro style and swiftly plucked a few of his exposed chest hairs, causing him to cry out in pain. Ya, we're going to be that family. His retaliation involved farting on me. When I think about this, I'm mildly horrified for the family we'll become. But I think recognizing that we'll never be the family I grew up in has given me freedom. Freedom to reimagine what a family looks like and what it means to truly be a perfect family.

And a secret that everyone seems to forget is that some family is always doing it "better" than you. Even the family I grew up in had it's moments. We actually were reminiscing (and laughing very hard) about one the other day.

When I was about seven and MacKenzie was five, one of Dad's co-workers invited our family to their Family Christmas Concert. Ya, they had a family Christmas concert. They were a really nice conservative religious family who homeschooled, which involved all of them playing their instruments like Yoyo Ma. Just knowing that, you could already tell they were "winning" this perfect family contest.

Anyway, we come in to their home/concert hall and listen to some lovely Christmas carols by the children's string quartet, led by the Patriarch's hammer dulcimer and their mother on piano. Oh, and they were all wearing matching dressy Christmas garb. Now, we could have quietly taken a loss on that perfect family contest, but MacKenzie had something else in mind, as per usual. As the adults enjoyed appetizers prepared by the Mrs., MacKenzie and I went to play with their daughters who were our age. I remember the daughter my age and I were playing with dolls, but I was also glancing back at MacKenzie and the younger daughter. Now only MacKenzie knows EXACTLY what happened that night. I believe it started with some innocent bouncing on the bed. But everyone at that party/concert knew how it ended. MacKenzie's knee to her nose, a screaming wail from the tiny violinist, and blood gushing all over her Sound of Music VonTrap Christmas apparel as MacKenzie looked on in shock, along with the rest of the invitees as people ran to see what had happened.

I still remember when we left, the family's dad said, "You might want to make sure MacKenzie is okay... she saw a lot of blood tonight..." Ya, because she broke your daughter's nose.

It's moments like that in my family's life that gives me confidence for my own family. I will do everything in my power to give my family hope, structure, faith, and instill values and responsibility. But being the perfect family? I'll just disqualify us now.