Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lessons Learned

Several years ago, Brother and his friends were at the local watering hole when they met an incredibly nice guy. He was from Myrtle Beach-- a place where we practically grew up. This guy had a large boat docked at Barefoot Landing. Brother got his cell phone number with the promise of a fishing trip next time we were up there.

NICE guy.

The guy loaded everyone up in his suburban for a "sober up" at Waffle House before depositing them back at Brother's house and heading off into the night.

The next day, Brother called Mom and told her all about this nice guy he met.

What was his name, you ask? Oh... it was Chris Stanko.

Not ringing a bell? How about I let you know his real name: Stephen Stanko.

The guy who murdered two people in Myrtle Beach, traveled to Hometown to hide in the masses, and was arrested two days later after a nationwide manhunt? Yeah... that guy.

And Brother had his cell phone number in his pocket.

He called Mom (he calls Mom a lot) and said something so profound, so valuable, so important-- that I feel compelled to share that here: "Mama, I really hope that Wife learns a lesson from this."

Me: "Yeah, don't talk to strangers. Learned that one in first grade."


There are lessons we learn when we are kids that are assumed to only be there for our youth. If you don't talk to strangers, how can you make friends? That being said, these basic life lessons should always be in the back of our mind.

Why do I mention this?

Is she going to regale us of a life lesson she taught her first grader?

Um... no. I wish.

Remember being young and the doctor said not to put things in your nose or in your ear? Probably not-- I certainly don't. It's one of those things that adults teach children, eventually becoming part of the subconscious. I don't need to tell Birdie that she can't fly-- she just knows. Bennie? Well- she likes to run around and jump off tables screaming "TUPE-ER GIRL!"

Don't put things in your ears. Don't put things up your nose. Keep toys out of your mouth. These are things we tell kids who can count their age on less than four fingers. At some point, it becomes unspoken...

Until you are 35.

Last night, my ear was hurting. I have had ear pain off and on my whole life- it's not unbearable, it's mostly just really annoying. I discovered several years ago that a single drop of lavender oil cures it immediately.

We are slap out of lavender oil.

In the cabinet, I see "Sweet Orange" essential oil. Oil's oil, right? Some people cure swimmers ear with minced garlic and olive oil. At least this was not going to be the start of an Alfredo sauce. A drop in... a drop out. I sit back down on the couch next to my snoring husband. Within about forty five seconds, my ear started to burn. It was about this moment that Husband awoke from his slumber and I started to see stars.

Fast forward past seeing stars and the moon, uncontrollable crying, getting dumped in the bathtub to rinse out my ear and Husband not quite understanding (a) what has happened, (b) how the oil got in my ear, (c) where the oil came from, and (d) why we have the oil in the first place.

This would be a great place to tell you why we have the oil... I use it in the kids' homemade play dough.

Off to the emergency room we go- I, writhing in pain, barely able to speak am trying to hiccup out my social security number.

"Mah-mah-mah name is Wah-Wah-Wife and I need to to to to see Dr. D on the PEDS side"

"date of birth?"


"M'am, you are 35. You are not a PEDS patient."

"I knowwwwwww," I howl.

"When was your last menstrual period?"

"I don'tttttttt knowwwwwww. It's my EARRRR, I puh-puh-puh this in it,"

"A clip? You put a clip in your ear? Why did you put a clip in your ear?"

No longer able to talk, I pass off the bottle. The two nurses look at the bottle, look at me, back at the bottle, and back at me. One pulled down her glasses to read the fine print.

"What's this for?" she asks.

I cry. (Not at all because I have no idea what the purpose of the oil is other than it smells nice in play dough.)

The other nurse turns around from her triage chair and looks at me. I close my eyes and cry harder.

My blood pressure is through the roof. Husband follows the sounds of my cries and uses his badge to get the room where they have hidden the idiots who think essential oils are perfectly safe. He confirms what I said about being a PEDS patient.

"Sir, she's 35."

In my heart, I want to scream- NO KIDDING I AM 35. But, I clearly did something that a 3 year old would do, maybe a 5 year old. Can you just release me so I can go be with my people and play with my dolls?

At this point, I have blacked out from the pain and "come back to" in the PEDS waiting room. There are six other families waiting over there-- a little kid about Bennie's age, happy and cute, a high school senior in a wheel chair, a newborn with an oxygen tank, and another small child. They were all licking their wounds silently.

Me? Oh, I was sobbing and making a spectacle. Clearly, setting the perfect example of how to handle these sorts of things. My hair had dried from the bathtub and was standing straight up from where I had been pulling on it. People there for their opiate fix looked at me as if we were comrades. I was thirsty, but couldn't swallow. I was crying, but out of tears. The nurse brought me a popsicle. Husband told me to at least attempt to be quiet.

I breathed through my mouth.

Finally going back, Husband and the doctor talked about what happened. I ate my popsicle and pretended that I was not interested in Mickey Mouse on the TV.

"How did the oil get in her ear?"
"I think she put it there."
The doctor looks at me over his glasses. Why do people feel compelled to look at me over their glasses?

It turns out that Sweet Orange oil is a dermatological agitant and should never-- in no uncertain terms-- ever be applied around the eyes or ears.

Today, Husband was driving back to the hospital and noticed the little bottle of Sweet Orange oil and his morbid curiosity got the better of him. He wanted to know how bad it actually hurt. As he drove down the street, he opened the little bottle at a red light and put a lone drop on his finger. As his finger hovered by his ear, he could feel the heat coming off of it. Before he could even get a hint down his own ear canal as he drove- a horn honked from behind and brought him back to reality.

Wife couldn't even see last night she was in so much pain. Is it really wise to be doing this while behind the wheel of a car? I'll wait until I get to the hospital and try it there...

Great Great Dead Aunt Irene is out to get me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How'd we do?

No, I'm not going to post one of these at the end of every month-- but, until we get more of a system down-- yes, I am.

What I like, actually, what I love, are the phone calls, private messages, texts, and in person conversations in regards to these posts about money.

About DEBT.

Your words make me feel like I am setting an example and am holding me accountable. For that, I say thank you.

So- the question has been begged: How'd we do?

If we you were to ask me February 12 how we will fare the rest of the month? I would have probably used a few words that should not be used in good company.

February was a tough month. However, Husband asked a good question last week: Where did the money go? In those five simple words, we learned a very valuable lesson: Don't ask a question, unless you are prepared for an excel sheet with the answer. I spent some time over the weekend looking at our bank statements to see where the money went.

NOW-- if you ask me NOW, post excel sheets how we did... I am going to tell you something:

We did pretty damn well.

Let's look at some real numbers:

{{ ohhhhh.... she's going to tell us what the loan amount is! ohhhh.... she's going to tell us how much money they make! ohhhhh..... she's going to open the door to my morbid curiosity }}  

um... no. I'm going to use percentages.

Our beautiful digits: Less than 1% was spent on each of these categories:
- eating out
- entertainment (let's be honest, this is iTunes)
- miscellaneous
- laundry service
- babysitting
- Birdie's after school activities

That, my friends and fellow Debtketeers is what I call GOOD LIVIN' {L-I-V-I-N}. Consider this fun little fact about me-- We used to spend 3% at Chick Fil A and an overall of 13% was spent on eating out. How embarrassing is that?!

More good stats: 5% or less was spent in the following:
- Clothing, 1% (it shows, too. Y'all, the Cagle girls need to invest in some new clothes. ALL the girls!)
- Decorating, 1.5%
- Car, 1.2%
- Target, 2%
- Groceries, 4%

Two other categories to note before we get to the BIG ones:
- maintenance, 7% (this includes the yard guys, our amazing Lorie, upkeep for the house, etc)
- utilities, 8%

Our mortgage is 12%. This surprised me, but it's not going to change and it does not bother us.

And... ready for this? Can you handle this? I don't think you can handle this. I am shouting it from the rooftops because it makes me so very proud:


Let me put that another way, almost HALF of what comes home went to the pesky loans. 41.5%!

I had no idea that the amount of money we decided to set aside was over 40% of what we bring home. Do you know how good that makes me feel?

How'd we do? Well, we sucked wind for a good portion of this month. We thought we had failed ourselves because of this. But, at the end of the month- to see why and where the money went, I feel so much better about it. That being said-- we had to dip into our savings a little, which is where the dejection lies. Next month, we are going to pay a little less to the loans to pay ourselves back. Safety first.


Tell me about these excel sheets, please.

* Open accounts online, highlight/copy everything and open excel. "Paste and match style"
* Create new column for notes -- use the following categories/create your own:

-Credit Card
-Eating Out
-Home Brew (Husband builds boats and makes his own beer. He's a modern day renaissance)

* Extend the excel sheet out and put the categories running across the top
* Place the monetary amounts under each category
* Run a sum total at the bottom; copy/paste for each cell
* If there are separate accounts, do this same thing for each account; combine totals on one sheet
* After totals are complete, look at your "CREDIT" and see the grand total-- note that cell. Under for each category. Below the category total, use the following formula: [= cell above (category total)/total credit cell]. You'll have to use the actual cell points, not what I wrote. Example: [=c55/a33]

Seriously, Wife? You really think I'm going to follow all these directions? Can't you just EMAIL IT TO ME?! Yes I can. But, isn't it more fun for you to appreciate my hard work? No? No?

If you don't know where you have been, you cannot see where you are going. The sheets show us where we have been. Next month won't be as amazing but we need to keep a good financial floor first.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dear Irene

Dear Irene,

Dear, Dear, Irene...

Dear, Sweet, Dead Irene.

Dear Sweet Dead Great Great Irene,

Dear Irene,

First, I guess I should apologize. See, I found your portrait in my parent's attic a few weeks ago. You were there with your husband's portrait. Just in case you didn't know, he's dead, too. You look just like your niece, my grandmother-- as an FYI.

You and Herb were dusty and whoever you paid to do Herb's portrait, well, let's be honest-- you paid too much. He looked a little like Adolf in an American Colonel's uniform. Maybe Adolf didn't kill himself after all? Nah-- your husband was far too patriotic. At least, that's what I heard.

Why am I apologizing? You're out of the attic now and you survived the garage sale. Yes, I admit-- I tried to sell you. Does it count that there was no price tag on your glass? Leaning against the trash can in my parent's dew ladened grass that cold morning last Saturday, you stared at me all day long. Were you mad? Was it because it was your first time seeing daylight and you needed sunglasses? I could have fixed that.

In the end, the customers were more appalled that I was selling a family portrait than they were interested in taking you home.

"Can you believe she is selling that portrait of her grandmother?!"

My response: "Actually, that's Great Great Aunt Irene. Make me an offer! Everything goes!"

They were unimpressed. Come on, they were at a garage sale wheeling and dealing over 15 cents. Who should be unimpressed? And, besides that-- how did they know it was the woman that was selling the picture and not the husband?! Maybe I just have that look about me? What do you think, Great Great Dead Aunt Irene?

Well, let's be honest, my dear and dead Great Great Irene: someone stole a shirt from the garage sale. No lie. That's unimpressive. I would have been impressed if someone tried to steal you, though. I would have chased after them. Don't you worry your pretty little head off. Of course, you can be pretty mellow at times, especially when you need to be:

I hear you were proper and did all the right things, so let me be the first to tell you-- smoke something like that in public and you're going to get arrested. That is not polite in good company...

If you're going to smoke...

There, that's a bit more polite. Of course, this is 2016-- and people don't smoke much anymore... but you are trapped in a 1964 portrait, so who am I to judge?

You were saved from the donation box at the very last minute. Both you and Jesus. Jesus saved me, so I saved him. My friend was quite fond of you and I thought maybe-- we could visit her one day. When you got home, I was a little stressed out from a grant that was due and the the house being shown. Great Great Aunt Irene, I loved that you thought it would be fun to put some purple streaks in your hair... and maybe a little hat? 

I thought the polka dots were a nice touch. The polka dots got me thinking... I wonder if you resembled my father and I just couldn't see it? Black hair would help... and maybe some purple lipstick, too. 

Nope. Even with the black hair and purple lipstick, you do not resemble my father in any way, shape, or form.

I am sorry to report that you died in the 80s. While no spring chicken, did you listen to the music and dressed in the styles? An old lady can really rock a side pony tail and big bow if they have the right personality. The green bow matching your green dress is a nice touch. Purple lipstick? It's getting to be a bit much, don't you think, Irene? You were born at the turn of the century- before lipstick was even invented. Of course, you know that.

Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, did you wear your hair in pig tails when you were a kid in Michigan? Did you have bows? I know you had sisters... but did you have bows?

It really doesn't matter- if you had bows or if they matched your clothes. When you're an old lady, you can wear purple bows with green dresses and still pull it off. 

Great Great dead Aunt Irene, you know what I always thought was cool about your generation? All the coordination. People had accessories to match accessories. Purses matched pumps that coordinated with gloves and hats. It must have been time consuming and the effort it must have taken, let alone the expense, to pull it all together-- that is one thing I do not envy about the era which held your youth. But, the style! Oh, when it all came together with such perfection, Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, I do think it's beautiful when it all comes together.

The 60s were in a time before cross dressing was the norm-- not that it is the norm in 2016-- but we do see it more now than you did then. Cross dressing is not something I understand, but you know... you're old, and as you know... you only live once. I love how you tried to express yourself in any way you could. But, trust me, you in a beard is looking better than Herb with half a mustache. 

Before the kids saw you, I wanted to make sure that you didn't scare them. Sometimes, old people scare little kids. I guess it's the wrinkles? Whatever the reason, my kids love kitty cats; Bennie especially. She likes pink kitty cats and can actually draw one. Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, you'd be impressed with that kid. You'd be impressed with all my kids. Thanks for letting me dress you up for them.

Of course, if you can be a kitty cat... why couldn't you be a dog? Of course... if you're a dog... you could be a Mog! Half Man, Half Dog... you could be your own best friend. Because, after all of this, I have a feeling that I will no longer be in the running for your best friend. It's cool, I understand. I show you more attention than you've had in forty years, even if you don't have much say in the matter as to what kind of attention my family and I give you.

Of recent, my children can be heard saying, "Mama, where's Aunt Irene?" or better still, "Mama, can I please draw on Aunt Irene?"

"Okay honey, but just for a few minutes- because it is bedtime."

So, Great Great Dead Aunt Irene, I guess I should apologize for totally taking advantage of you when you cannot defend yourself. I am also sorry that your husband hit the Goodwill pile-- but I don't think he'd have quite the humor about this that you have. That being said, I totally get it if you end up haunting me. I think I have earned it.

Love to you and looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Your Great Great very much Alive Niece....


Thursday, February 4, 2016

How did we do?

Written at the end of January...

Tomorrow is payday (Thank you, Sweet six pound baby infant Jesus). Husband sent me a text this morning reminding of this noted and celebrated day. As I sit and type, Bennie is playing hooky from school and we are at Chick Fil A, celebrating a mommy-daughter day. She's in the playroom with other kids, sliding and running around. It's cute to watch her.

So, the question begs-- How did we fare this first month of REDUCTION!... ?

How'd we do?

Pretty good.
Pretty darn good.

There were some expenses I had not planned on, things that I knew were coming but had simply forgotten. Registration for the upcoming school year for all three children (to the sweet tune of over $500) and the last installment of Birdie's summer camp tuition, to name the top two. If the camp makes you pay in installments, you know that I choked at the reminder!

We also went skiing-- we knew we were going as it was our Christmas present from my parents, and an awesome one at that. One of the days was so snowy and to truly enjoy the day-- and more importantly-- TO SEE, we needed ski goggles. At that point, having spent the time to get to where we were, Husband and Wife moseyed in our ski boots to the ski shop and spent way too much money on top quality Smith goggles.

And they were totally worth it.

We went out to dinner once. We were going to go out to eat with another couple, but they canceled at the last minute. The babysitter was already in place and the money was already set aside- why cancel on ourselves? Off we went. It made us enjoy it more.

Every other time I did not feel like cooking, meals were already prepared in the freezer, ready for eating. Being prepared has made the biggest difference.

Our weakness-- eating breakfast out-- was resolved with homemade breakfast burritos that were DE-LISH-US! I can happily report that we did not eat breakfast out once in the month of January. Even when my mom called and asked me to pick up biscuits on the way over to her house, I grabbed two burritos from the freezer.

I went out to lunch four times this month, twice while we were on the road and twice as a treat for the girls; one of those four times being right now. When we went out of town to he mountains, we packed sandwiches and drinks.

I switched to boxed wine and froze individual meals for Husband so he did not have to buy lunch at the hospital. Instead of listening to music on my walks, I now listen to Dave Ramsey. Hearing other people making less money, being worse off, and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps-- it gets me excited about taking these loans by the horns and telling those pesky things who's the boss.

Were we perfect? No. We could have done better, but we sure could have done a heck of a lot worse. By the end of the month, we were ready for the glorious pay day, satisfied with where our money went and not overwhelmed with the prospect of tomorrow. We have a plan. We have a goal.

AND WE DID IT. We freaking did it. 29 more months to go.

February will be a little tougher. Husband will get paid a little less this month, but we are still committing the same whiplash payment. Just today, we were talking about making an improvement to the backyard. I asked, "What do we really want? I think we should stick to our ultimate goal and wait. If we can suck it up for 29 more months- we can be DONE and do whatever the heck we want to do. AND, we can do it right." We were both a little dejected looking around at what we wanted to do, but the focus drove us back to what we wanted. We are doing less now so that we can do more later.

I checked in with my partner to see how she felt they did. We both had successes and complaints. At the end of the month though, we both cheered the positive aspects of what we were accomplishing. Having a partner: it makes it easier and it makes me accountable to someone other than myself. Thanks, Pard'ner!