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I didn’t get to expand nearly as much as I wanted in my post, Paying Off Debt. In my effort to share some solid financial insight from Phylicia, absent was my own feelings about money, and how it fits in my life. Money has been a struggle for me much of my life. When I was growing up, money was scarce. Money and material things eluded us and I don’t remember thinking much about money, the absence of it, or the absence of anything. There was no confusion about it, because it didn’t exist. There were no extravagances about which I had to reconcile. If there were Christmas gifts, they were donated to us, but I don’t know from where. We never belonged to a church, even though my mother was very religious. One year I received a Barbie doll wrapped in newspaper. That wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I recall the instant I realized that the Barbie doll was used. Her hair wasn’t golden and didn’t fall straight down her back. Instead, it was sparse and wild. Nor did she come with any clothes. I don’t remember feeling another gift as distinctly as I remember that one.

As I got older, and I was in a foster home, things seemed much brighter, and more confusing. Christmas in my foster home was a big big deal, and a real thrill. With no less than eight kids in the home at a time, and every child designated at least five gifts, the tree overflowed with colored packages that glistened and summoned my name. But none of the packages bore anyone’s name. They were color coded, and because we weren’t allowed to rummage around under the tree, it was easy to pretend the whole inventory under that tree was for me. We all undressed those gifts with our eyes. I recall willing a pair of culottes, or a David Cassidy album to be my gifts.  I’d gone from not anticipating anything to having high hopes for specific items on a wish list.

As a young adult I got myself into deep trouble with a couple of credit cards. And, as an older adult, I got myself out of deep trouble from those credit cards. I recall vowing to pay off the credit card that had maxed out at $10,000. When that happened, I planned to reward myself with a dinner at what was then called Atwaters, atop the 30th floor of the U.S. Bank tower in Portland. I imagined sitting at a window table, overlooking the city, enjoying a medium rare Rib Eye steak, proud of my accomplishment.  But when I made that final payment to the credit card company, a $50 meal had no appeal.  I probably treated myself to homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy, enjoying an episode of 60 Minutes. That was an ideal Sunday night for me.

I could have paid the $50 for a meal in an esteemed restaurant. But I’d learned that my income didn’t support such an expense, and I was living a lie if I pretended it did. That issue is really at the crux of my decision making now. It’s not so much about the money that is spent on something, but it’s the amount of money I’m spending, in proportion to my income, and my giving. When banks consider lending money to a borrower, they call it Debt to Income Ratio. What is my debt compared to my income, and does it make sense for me to increase my debt, based on my fixed expenses, like my home, a car, insurance, healthcare, my kids, etc.?  I can ask the same question of myself that the bank asks if they are considering loaning money to me. Unfortunately, banks didn’t do a very good job of this formula several years back, and a lot of people received loans that shouldn’t have. This mentality influenced decisions that were made in my marriage and contributed to a catastrophic outcome.

When we encourage our kids to purchase items that exceed their income (or even ours), it’s creating a habit that could be very hard to break and we’re delivering a very confusing message. They don’t have the financial demands they will have as an adult. It’s easy to spend their babysitting money or our money on anything they want, when they don’t have the obligations of supporting themselves. But if we can teach them now how to live within their means, we’re helping them avoid the prison so many people face (as I did, when I had a $10,000 balance) of being held hostage to debtors.

Not only do people become hostage to debtors, but bad credit closes doors, and good credit opens doors.  Six years after my divorce, I was able to eek out a good enough credit score for a lender to take a risk on me so I could buy a home. I pay a premium for that risk, by paying a higher interest rate than someone who has a more impressive credit score.  With every mortgage payment I make, my credit is improving.  The bad credit score I inherited from my divorce stifled my ability to buy a house in the conventional sense the previous six years.  Finally after six years and now a few months of paying a mortgage, things are improving.  A good credit score is purchasing power.  A bad credit score leaves one feeling powerless in their ability to move forward regarding the big decisions, like a car, a home, and insurance.

I do believe it’s a confusing time in American culture. People often refer to the simple life of people in third world countries, and the happiness that people experience without the material things and conveniences we take for granted. I believe that’s true. But I don’t think third world country people face the decisions that we do every day, to have or not have, to buy or not buy. They simply live the life they’ve been handed, while we’re trying to live a life with values of a third world country, within a first world country economy, complete with award winning marketing strategies. It’s a lot to reconcile.

Possessing beautiful things isn’t bad. But debt isn’t of God, and when we live outside of our means, we aren’t living within God’s will for our lives. Proverbs 22:7 says “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

Proverbs 22:26-27 says, “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.”

I know first hand the truth of that. I recall a friend who lived in a very modest home and was frustrated at what she didn’t have in comparison to what others did have. On the other hand, I was intensely envious of her small home, with a husband who refused to spend outside of their means. At the time of that conversation, she had a home and I did not. My bed had been snatched from under me.

God’s point is, buy it if you can pay for it. That translates differently for everyone, because everyone’s financial situation is different. Sometimes I will shop at Goodwill. Sometimes I will shop at the Loft or Nordstrom.  I won’t go into debt for anything (excluding my house).

I could pay $9.99 for these. They were the perfect compliment to a blue and burgundy striped top I wore with some black slacks.

I paid $9.99 for these at Goodwill. They were the perfect compliment to a blue and burgundy striped top I wore with some black slacks.

I like nice things as much (and sometimes more) as the next person. I am seduced by the clothes at Nordstrom like everyone else. But I don’t like the clothes at Nordstrom more than I like my home, or my car, or falling to sleep at night when I hit my pillow.

Bradley gave me a compliment last summer that surprised me. “Mom, it makes me feel good that you are careful with our money.  It makes me feel safe, like we’re not going to run out or anything. You could pretend that everything is the same and act like we can do whatever we want to, but you don’t do that.”  The reason I was shocked was because Bradley has criticized me for being cautious and using coupons, or insisting on getting deals on something before I make a purchase.  When he’s been critical of that, I’ve been defensive and frustrated that he doesn’t understand that it’s not being cheap, but rather prudent.

Bradley had been watching me. So much, that at times, it caused arguments and frustration.  We weathered the arguments though and another message emerged.

I don’t want my kids to think I’m cheap. I want them to get a thrill out of a new piece of clothing or event. But I mostly want them to understand that we spend, we save, and we give, what we have. We don’t spend, give, or save what we don’t have, and it’s not because we’re cheap. It’s because no matter how cool those new shoes look or that purse feels, we’re living within our means. What they practice now they will practice when they are on their own or raising their own family. And their children will learn from what I am teaching my children. I think that’s how it works. I’m praying!

It’s been eighteen days since my last blog post. It feels like forever, but WordPress spells it out. Eighteen days. And as I ready myself for bed, longing for a goodnight sleep before the workweek begins again (my employer gave us President’s Day off, Yea!), I know that sleep will win out over posting a well written blog. Even with a three day weekend, other things took priority over writing. Writing takes discipline I’m not finding right now.

The last two weeks have been exhausting as I attempt to juggle work and manage parenting, home, social life, yard care (like a total makeover), etc.  I remember my prayer for 2015. It was a hopeful prayer.  I will always reach higher than my ability, so when I fall short, I’ll still attain a reasonable amount of accomplishment. But the effort can be exhausting, and I must incorporate God every step of the way. Otherwise, I subject myself to unbalance and confusion. As hard as it is for me to prioritize, because everything seems important, the one thing I get right, is beginning each day with my heavenly father.

But because I have a hard time prioritizing, I seem to put a little energy into every area, which is both satisfying and frustrating. I’ve put energy into my yard, my home, my kids, my friends, exercise, my prayer life, not as much into reading God’s word, and certainly I’ve put energy into my job. No energy into my writing. Nothing is complete, but everything has been touched.

A couple of weeks ago I had our deck worked on, and during that process, I had two of the dog kennels removed. What I’m going to do with that space now, I’m not sure. But something has to be done. The back yard is unsightly, and I so want the yard a livable space for spring and summer.

Most of that is removed by now, but still lots of work to be done.

Yuk! I long to have a livable outdoor space!

There is no time for me to write about any one thing in depth tonight. I could write about my job and the hurdles I face, or about Valentine’s Day, or about my kids and the parenting stretches, which can all be engaging. Instead I’m going to post a link to another blogger’s insights into paying off debt. I loved her expression of devotion to paying off debt, as it relates to her commitment to God and to her marriage.

So, take advantage of what Phylicia has to offer. In her post 5 Ways We Destroy Debt, she offers an inside look at her and her husband’s money management.  Money is a personal matter, and often people don’t share the intimate details of what they do with their money.  When people look put together, it’s easy to assume they spend a lot of money to achieve that impression. I’ve posted before how much I shop at Goodwill. Having Phylicia spell out the details of their expenses is helpful. Good money management can change your life. Like Dave Ramsey teaches, there’s financial peace in good money management.  I’m not perfect at it. I could improve, in fact. I hope you’ll get some good inspiration from Phylicia. I did.

My view when I walked in the door, and was greeted by our sweet receptionist with: "Do you like your new office?"

My view when I walked in the door, and was greeted by our sweet receptionist with: “Do you like your new office?”

I know that having a job isn’t a big deal to a lot of people. I know that there are good bosses, and corporations and companies that have wonderful work environments. I know having an office is standard for some. But I also know that there are a lot of people looking for work, or looking for a better job, or wishing they didn’t have to sit in a cubicle and listen to their neighbor on the phone or eating their lunch. I have been blessed. I have the great privilege of working at Atkinson Insurance Group, and every day, I really can’t believe it.

I don’t know why that is. I have been faithful and intentional and asked God for the right opportunity. But in truth, there was a nagging voice, with every resume I submitted and every interview I went to, that wondered how I would get a job that could satisfy so many of my personal needs. How would a 54 year old without a college degree and out of the work force for twenty years be granted a job that could satisfy a sense of purpose and provide a sufficient income? And, meet my logistical needs so that I could remain available for my son (and duh dogs)?

Yet, my personal needs have been met, and more. I’m heading into my fourth week on the job and continue to be intrigued by the insurance business. It keeps me engaged and captivated. Our work environment is friendly and respectful, and some days I eat better than my son does, because of some work function that brings in lunch. Last night I got home at 6:30 (that was rare, and it wasn’t because I was still at this job… I was working on a property that I’m managing). I asked Bradley if hash browns and eggs would be okay for dinner. I’d had Pizzicato pizza and salad for lunch, which isn’t fancy, but it wasn’t breakfast!

In the last twenty years I’ve made a lot of decisions. Every second, every day, we all make decisions. We decide what time we’ll get up and what time we’ll go to bed. Whether we’ll pray, read our bible, exercise, what we’ll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or if we’ll eat the candy in the candy jar.  We choose church, or not. We choose to get drunk or remain sober. What job we’ll take and whether to go home after work, or accept an invitation to go out. We choose to retain a friendship, or distance ourselves. We choose to date, or not. Whether to marry, who to marry, whether to divorce and how to manage that. Some of our choices are easy, some are excruciatingly difficult. Our choices point us in one direction, and if it’s the wrong direction, we get to redirect ourselves with a choice that sets us in the right direction. Our choices are our own, and they all point us in a direction that gets us to one place, or another. And then there’s God.

This morning I had an out of the office training session. When I stepped in the office, I was greeted by our sweet receptionist, who stood and with her Vanna White arms directed my attention to my new office. The previous three weeks my co-worker and I had been sharing an office with two banquet tables. Even though I knew the office was imminent, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of it.

I took a picture and sent it to Bridgette and Bradley right away.

Bridgette sent me flowers. I wasn’t prepared for that, either.

I am grateful for more things than I can cite. Among them, for the ability to have made decisions along the way, the easy and hard, the good and the bad, that have led me to this place. I’ve had to redirect a million times, and God has been with me with every decision. Yet, I’m sorry God, because I still, really can’t believe it.

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The building where I work. It’s especially pretty early in the morning.

Yes, I took the State Insurance Exam on Friday.  After my last blog post it was determined that we would be taking the test for certain on Friday at 3:30. Both the other gal who was hired and myself were concerned about this, and our concern increased as the week went on. The pre-testing quizzes were taking us a lot of time between the site not cooperating and having to take the tests over until we passed. There were about 40 quizzes, about 8 of them had 50 questions each.

I can’t tell you how foreign the whole insurance vernacular was to me, and my comprehension was equally shallow.  So much seemed like legal jargon. Everything I read made me wonder what I was getting myself into. The quiz questions were complicated. “Johnny, an uninsured motorist, let Joni, an insured motorist, drive his car from Oregon to Kalamazoo, but before she left, he told her not to fill the tank with unleaded fuel. Joni hit a telephone pole when she was talking to Johnny on her cell phone to tell him that she forgot to use Premium gas. Joni also broke her wrist, and reported to the emergency room after the car was towed. Who is at fault and will insurance, if any, pay for Joni’s broken wrist and Johnny’s car?” For a literal thinker like myself my head spun in circles and triangles, all. week. long. The class we had taken the week before was directed solely at learning the material so we could pass the test. We weren’t allowed to ask questions, so we madly took notes, with little understanding of what the notes meant. I had to have faith that I would figure things out in the end. I had to ignore the little voice that didn’t believe it was possible. I had to eat more chocolate.

I had an ongoing QUESTIONS sheet of paper.  When we went over it with our boss the Thursday before the test, I had figured out the answer to most of the questions I’d written down. For example, I kept hearing the term, “a covered auto.” My literal thinking brain was working over time.  When I heard the term “a covered auto,” I figured that the auto was covered, as in a protective material or something. I envisioned an auto fitted nicely with a heavy fabric.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that a “covered auto,” is an auto that is covered by insurance. So passing the pre-exam quizzes that were stated like trickster questions was a long arduous process.

The test was at 3:30. I finished my pre-exam quizzes at 4pm the Wednesday before the test. That was a team effort between my co-worker and myself. Once those were done, that gave me only Wednesday night, Thursday, and Friday morning to read the 175 some pages of written notes and try to not only memorize and digest insurance: Property and Casualty, Auto, Homeowners, Ocean and Inland Marine, Workman’s Comp. I was frantic, barely taking a break to go to the bathroom, and when I did, I read my notes on the way to and from, and kept my notes in site while there. Multi-tasking at its finest. This week Bradley was on his own and there was no Farkle.

Friday at noon I picked my fellow employee up at her house.  One minute I was speaking words of peace and encouragement, the next minute she was comforting me. I wanted to cry; I wanted to be done. It wasn’t so much that I felt I had to pass to impress my boss. He was adamant that we shouldn’t stress about passing the first time, that it was common for people to take the test over. I simply wanted to pass so I could move on. I wanted to go to the bathroom unencumbered. I wanted to make a meal for Bradley and play Farkle. I didn’t want Bradley living with an absentee mom, present, but not really. I didn’t want to be a hermit behind an office door, with a singular focus.

My fellow employee and I got to the test site about 3 hours early to get finger printed and then to have lunch while we studied and put the finishing touches on our brains (thank you, boss). We wondered how we could possibly make a difference this late in the game. But we knew that we could pass or fail, by one question, and neither of us could bear the thought of that. I needed to pray before my test one last time. I wanted to pray in union with someone. It wouldn’t do to mutter a final prayer under my breath, so I muttered to Jesus that he would protect me from embarrassing either myself or my new friend, and I asked her if she had a faith. Her answer was longish but clear: She shared enough and I asked her if we could pray. As we drove back to the test site I asked aloud if God would reward us for our hard work, and that his will would be done, and that we would relieve ourselves of the pressure we had put on ourselves. AMEN.

I was surprised when I finished the test with an hour left. I had the opportunity to go back over my questions. With that much time left, I considered it, for fear that I was foolish not to. I went back about five questions, but then decided I wasn’t going to do it. I knew what I knew and that wasn’t going to change. Going back might sabotage my results. I hit the SEND button that indicated I was finished. The test calculated for a minute. I looked at the screen and saw the word PASS. I was stunned.  I bowed my head and thanked Jesus, truly in disbelief.

I walked out of the testing room, beaming.  The proctor congratulated me and showed me my results. I passed by O-N-E question. I am certain it was God’s hand that allowed me to pass it, by one question. Every second I shoved that information into my head paid off, but I know my heavenly father was looking out for me. He knows my limitations, and I was stretching them.

It was with great relief that my co-worker also passed. She passed by more than one. We had articulated our concern about one passing and one not. We were both thrilled to celebrate our successes with a quick drink. We went our separate ways; I went to the high school basketball game. My friends indulged me while I beamed and expressed myself gleefully.

Both kids are away at a church camp. Bradley’s a camper and Bridgette is serving. The weekend was mine. After church today I went to Ross Dress for Less to see if I could get a couple things for my work wardrobe. I really hate shopping. I love clothes, and I love to have clothes. But I don’t like the process of getting clothes.  But I couldn’t pass of up the sales. I ended up purchasing $189.00 worth of clothes (16 items!). I made it home in time for the end of the third quarter of the NFC Championship game. I’m so glad I stopped shopping when I did.

So… I have my Insurance license. I do understand what an umbrella policy is (we had one when I was married, but I didn’t understand it), I know what my deductible is, I know what Homeowners is, I understand the concept of Commercial General Liability…

Now, on to learning my job!

I’ve finished my first week on the job, which was spent in school. 120 handwritten pages, and three pens, and this back that doesn’t like to sit all day has survived. I wasn’t crazy about school, but I liked the information (most) I was learning. I could have done without Ocean and Inland Marine insurance, but it’s part of the license exam, so it’s part of the class. Bradley wondered why he has to learn about some of the algebraic lessons he’s learning in school right now, and I can to relate to him on a whole new level.

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I don’t know if I’ve ever gone through a pen! And yes, that is my donut. My diets include half donuts.

I learned that in Oregon’s Workman’s Comp, there is more benefit to the surviving spouse due to death than there is in a divorce. There is even a clause that provides compensation due to what is called “Consortium,” which is the lack of affection (sex) that the surviving spouse will experience. That illustrates several things to me, among them that the sanctity of marriage is regarded and upheld within in the insurance environment, and less within a divorce. I recognize that death and divorce are different, but I believe they are incredibly similar, and possibly, divorce is more difficult to manage than is the death of a spouse. I understand that opens up a big conversation, but I’ll stop there. It’s a fascinating subject to me, and the class kept my mind weaving scenarios in many aspects of life (except for Ocean and Inland Marine).

I didn’t keep my morning schedule as clean as I wanted. I did work out each morning. After the first day I knew it was going to be very important for my body to move and stretch in order to survive the all day sitting. The first Monday had me out of bed at 5 (yes, like my excitement for the first day of school).  I shoved reading the bible, praying, stretching, a walk, and then getting ready and managing the dogs and Bradley. But each morning thereafter was just like the 2nd, 3rd, etc days of school.  I wasn’t able to get to bed by 9.

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I’d get in bed, but stayed up a bit studying. Yes, those are Sees Candies (My favorite. My former mother in law keeps the tradition of always bringing them to me, which I enjoy.) They only accompanied me on the first night of studying, before I realized the wardrobe challenge in getting ready for work. Some people wore their workout tights to the class. I was tempted.

So, in the mornings I’d push the snooze button and all I managed was getting out of bed to get either in a walk or to the gym. The wardrobe was a scramble each morning, too. I may have gained more than five pounds. It’s a bit of an issue right now. It’s not so much that I mind being five pounds heavier. At 54, I am able to accept a bit of weight. The bigger issue (ha, the bigger issue?) is that I don’t want to spend money (or time) to purchase new clothes to support the five pounds!

Time was tight for sure, if I’m trying to accomplish all the things I want to. It wasn’t possible for me. Saturday came with relief. I awoke with a sense that my Saturday was mine. I wasn’t nearly as productive as I would have liked; my house remains undecorated. But my free time was mine to schedule, without the burden of more job seeking, or a pre-occupation with the responsibility to work or look for work. Having an “at home” job for me meant working on Saturdays and Sundays. My time never felt like my own. Free time had a price, because I felt I owed someone (not sure who!) time that should be spent looking for a job. Studying, blogging, hiking, housework, decorating, can all be done without the weight of uncertainty. Dave Ramsey has a class called Financial Peace University. It’s so accurately named.

My exam will be within the next couple of weeks. We’re still sorting out when to take it. I may not pass it the first time which seems acceptable to my boss. But the last thing I want to do is continue in this studying cramming mode. I’m not a good memorizer, so it’s going to take a lot of discipline on my part, more than what comes natural to me. For example, studying in the evenings when Bradley is home requires a complete mind shift. It feels wrong to isolate myself. Each night I’d tell myself I was going to have Bradley make his dinner, but I didn’t do that. Not because I don’t think he can do it. But because I’m his mom, and it’s a gift to him. Life is and will be different. So I want to make up for it in ways that I can and preparing his dinner seems like the least I can do. We played Farkle for about a half an hour one night and I was anxious, but I needed that connection with him. He needs love and nurturing as much as I need a job. In fact, I think what he needs is more important than a job, and that’s why it’s taken me this long to get serious about one.

I studied for 2 or 3 hours each night. This stuff isn’t coming easy to me, so I’m going to have to increase that. I’m comforting myself that once I take my exam my schedule will be more flexible. It may mean rearranging either my exercise or my bible reading though. This is all such an adjustment.

Monday I report to the office!