Thursday, October 16, 2008

Family survival guide for today’s economy

Things are hard for most people right now, and it looks as it is only going to get worse. People and families need help to survive this so called economic downturn. (Recession in any other language.) Here is a guide to help people survive. The keys are Prioritizing and budgeting combined with change and sacrifice.

Prioritize. You need to know what you are willing to give up and what you are not willing to give up. What is important to you? You cannot budget if you don’t understand what is important and what can be sacrificed. For most people the priorities are:
Rent or mortgage, food, essential bills, health insurance, car payments, car insurance, gas, clothing, personal hygiene and then entertainment and luxuries at the bottom. It is OK to have a non-essential item in your budget. It is your quality of life we are dealing with. What is important to you is not going to be the same for everyone else. Once you know what you value, what your goals are then you can start figuring out how to budget your goals.

For a lot of people what they prioritize is going to be completely different then other people. One lady I know wants to be able to go out and have coffee with her friends several times a week. She knows she cannot go out for meals anymore but she still wants to be able to go out and socialize over a cup of coffee. For my husband getting the credit card bills paid down, and keeping his credit good is his priority. For me it is keeping food on our shelves and making sure our kids have snacks and a drink box for school. Everyone values different things and that is OK, make sure when you are prioritizing you are honest with yourself and pick the things that you really value not what you think you should value.

Budgeting. Once you know what you need to have in your life you can make a budget. First you need to know what money you have coming in, where money is actually going verses where you need it to go. You need to understand where your money has been going so you can make changes. The best thing to do is write a list of your bills and when they have to be paid. Figure out what bills can be paid when, with what paycheck keeping in mind the need to buy food and other things. If making a budget is difficult for you there are a lot of agencies who will help you make one, some are free, others will charge you. Find out what is available in your local area. There is no shame in turning for help with your finances. It does not mean you are a failure, it just means you are like most people and need guidance from a third party that is not emotionally invested in your finances. If there is no one available locally there are quite a few sites on the Internet that can help you create a budget.

There are many different ways to live with a budget successfully. One is to pay the important items as soon as you have the money even if it is not due yet. This way you don’t have to worry about it and you will not spend the money on something else. Another is post dated checks, if you are the type to remember them and not end up with NSF charges because you forgot you wrote them (that’s is me). A good system is the cash in jar or envelops. When you get your money it is taken out of the bank and divided into envelopes. Each envelope has a label on in it showing what the money is for. Only the amount you need is put into it. So if you have budgeted $100 for food each week, then that is all that goes into the food envelop. For a lot of people it is easer to follow a budget when it is cash on hand. What you have is it, you can see it and touch in and feel its loss when it is gone. You just don’t get that with Interac. Find the budget system that works for you.
Stop using credit cards. You are only barrowing money that you will have to pay interest on. Often times this is where people get into trouble. They owe so much that all their money goes to the credit card and then they have to use what is on the credit card to live. As tempting as it is, do not use the credit card. Start using money and pay down your card with what you have left.

Change and Sacrifice. Unfortunately with today’s economy the only way to get through it is to make changes and sacrifices. That is what the prioritizing was all about, figuring out where you were going to have to make changes and what you had to give up. Change is hard on all of us but it needs to be done now before things get even worse. Identifying where your money is actually going verses where you need it to go is a huge part of making changes.
One of the biggest money suckers is on the go food and drink. Figure out how much money you spend on coffees, teas, pop, snacks, lunch out, dinner out, or delivery. It is actually kind of scary how quickly that all adds up. For a week keep every receipt and each day keep track of what you spent on each item. At the end of the week add it all up. How much did you spend on coffee, tea or some other drink in a week? What about snacks? Stop buying stuff on the go, instead find other options like taking a lunch and snacks. By changing this one thing you can save a lot of money.

How do you change from buying food and drink on the go all the time. Start planning. Make your lunch the night before. Start making dinner larger and take leftovers for lunch. By snacks foods or make snacks and take them with you just in case you get hungry. Start taking a thermos of coffee or tea. Bring a water bottle with you. If you like water fill it up at a tap instead of buying bottled water. Buy the big containers of juice crystals, gateraid, ice tea or apple cider and then make it in your water bottle. It is all about planning and thinking about what is going to cost less.

One way that worked for me is re-evaluating how I judge the value of something. A hamburger meal is not $5.00 to me but a bag of milk or two meals worth of hamburger. Don’t think about it as only $5.00 but what could you buy instead. It is funny how things value change when you don’t think about it in terms of money but in terms of what else you could get for the same amount of money.

Figure out what is the best value for your money when shopping. Big rule of thumb is it does not matter how much you saved on something if people will not use it, wear it or eat it. Make sure you are getting value for your money. A good example of this is no name pudding: No one in my house like the taste of it, so it is not worth it for me to buy it, even if it is a dollar cheaper. Going with no name products can save you money as long as it actually gets used. Look for sales, coupons and value priced (no-name or store brand) products, do the price comparisons because even when something is on sale does not mean it is the best deal. When I shop if it is not on sale I will usually not buy it, however if there is an item we use on sale I will often buy as much of it as I can, depending on how good the sale is.

Turn things off when not in use. This was a hard one for us. We left the T.V. on all the time, even when we went out, same with some lights. We have had to force ourselves to be more aware of what we had on and to turn things off. In Ontario the hydro company has just installed smart meters that will track not only how much electricity we are using but when. Soon they will be changing the billing process so that what we pay will depend on the day and time that we used the electricity, any where between 3 cents/kWh to 9 cents/kWh. This is going to change how we do things.

Buying secondhand before new is also a way to save money. There are a lot of secondhand stores around, though you still have to shop around. Garage sales, Mom to mom sales, kijiji, craigs list, and the classifieds can save you money. Going to clothing and furniture exchanges is also a great way to save money and help others. The idea is that you bring what you don’t use anymore and drop it off, and take what you can use. This has been great for kids clothing as kids tend to grow out of things faster then we can buy them. See if your local area has one, if not see if someone is willing to start one, often church’s, community centers or food banks are willing to have them. Freecycle is an online clothing and furniture exchange. Each local community has one for their area and it is done all by email. It is incredibly helpful. If possible start using the food banks. Even if they don’t have much to give it still frees up some of your money for other things. Sometimes $5.00 makes a huge difference.

It is going to take a lot of work on your part to make changes that you can live with. Things are going to have to be sacrificed. As money becomes even tighter we will have to give things up just to be able to continue paying bills. By prioritizing first you will know what you can and are willing to give up. The sooner you make the changes the better it will be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is giving up a child for adoption giving or selfish?

When my mother was pregnant she was told to have an abortion by her own family. When I was about to be born they told her to give me up for adoption. What was wrong? She was not married, so the solution was getting rid of the kid. For some people that is the quick and easy way to solve a problem. It is not an easy thing to do for some, at least not for that reason. Giving up a child for that reason is being selfish. Not being married is not why people give their child up for adoption.

Why do most people give their kids up for adoption? They are poor and unable to take proper care of their child and want a better life for them. The parent is too young to have a child of their own and no one to help them. The child is not healthy and the parent cannot cover the medical or the emotional costs, such as a child with Aids or handicapped in some way. Another reason is to protect the child from an unsafe environment, be it because of an abusive partner, or even being an unfit or abusive parent themselves, being on drugs or living an unsafe life such as prostitution. It is less selfish to remove the child and give them up for adoption then to keep them in that situation. If you cannot put food in your kid, or cloths on them, or a roof over them is it selfish to keep them or to give them up so they can have a better life?

There are some incidences were people can see giving a child up for adoption as being selfish. A person is finding it too much or too hard taking care of a child, or they just do not like having kids. Is it wrong for some one to recognize that they are not ready to be a parent, that they do not want children at this point of their lives? Is it selfish to have the child and give it up for adoption? Should they keep the child and feel resentful and angry about having a kid. To be honest I would much rather see the child going to live with some one who wants a child then to be stuck with some one who is just no capable or willing to take care of them. I have always had the opinion that if you do not want your kid it is better to give them up then to hurt or kill them. There have been too many cases of people killing their children so they could have a different life.

Abandonment is not ok. It is selfish to leave your kid alone on the street, or home with out any one to care for them, if you don’t want to take care of your kid any more do the decent thing and do it legal. Take the kid to children’s aid or who ever in your area helps kids. Give up your kids the right way. Don’t put them through abandonment but work with in the system to give your kids a better life.

The problem that happens is that people are giving up their kids after the cute baby stage. Damage has already been done if they cannot connect to the child. It is harder to find people to adopt non-babies. Every one seems to want the newborns, not the almost a teen. These kids end up in the foster system and even if they get adopted they end up with a lot of emotional baggage. It is better for the child to be given up for adoption at birth, but we all know life is not always easy.

It is selfish to keep getting pregnant and adopting the kids out because you don’t want to take responsibility. Go on birth control. Other people get pregnant just to sell their baby in the adoption market, to be taken care of when they are pregnant. They have the kid and go get pregnant again and again. I don’t understand how some one could do that, but some do.

So is giving up a child for adoption giving or selfish? Only the person giving up the child knows what their motives are. My opinion is that for the most part it is giving. If the adoption is ultimately best for the kids then it is giving and it does not matter if the parents reason was selfish or not.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Single parent and dating

How do single parents deal with dating and the potential heart break for their children? How hard is it to let someone into your life, and your children’s lives knowing that there is no guaranty they will be there in a year or even next week. I am seeing my friends having to make the decision to date or not. When children involved there is more risk of failed relationships and heartache all around. You also have to think about whom you are letting into your home and life.

When do you bring the person you are dating into your children’s lives? Is it better to develop a relationship with out involving your children or develop one with your children? There are pros and cons for both of these. If you develop a relationship with out involving your kids suddenly you are involved with someone your kids don’t know. What if the person you are involved with does not like your kids. You are in love but they don’t want your kids or your kids hate them. Or on the other hand you develop a relationship involving your kids, your kids form attachments and suddenly things are not going so will in the relationship. How does that affect your kids? Is it worth the risk of hurting your children?

One friend has decided that she cannot take the chance of her children developing a relationship with a father figure only to loose him like they did their father. She would like to date but knows that with three boys, one about to be a teenager, the chance of being able to form a lasting relationship is slim right now. The boys are going to either resent any male she brings into the relationship or try to bond with him to fill the void their Father has left. The potential conflict and pain is just not worth it right now.

Another is currently dealing with the break up of her year and a half relationship, watching her children go through the same pain they did when her and their dad went there separate ways. At lest with their Dad there is the chance of seeing him as he does have visitations if he wants. The problem is that they have seen more of the boyfriend then the Dad in the last two years and have bonded with him. They are having to go through all that pain and feeling of rejection again. And the boyfriend is not going to be coming over for visitations. They keep asking about him, “When is he coming back?” “Why does he not love them anymore?”

One friend gets his son on weekends, and he is stuck between his girlfriend and his son. The girlfriend is somewhat resentful that weekends always involve a third party, that all their plans revolve around the demands of his son’s mother. When they have to pick him up, drop him off. Suddenly they have to take him, or they don’t get him and their plans change. It is a big stressor on the relationship dealing with the disruptions and not being able to be spontaneous. The father is worried about what would happen if they have children. How will that impact his son, and how will his girlfriend treat his son once she has her own kids. It is a huge balancing act.

Then there is the question of whom are you actually letting into your home and giving access to your children. You take a chance every time you involve someone new into your child or children’s lives. Are they really going to have your child’s best interest at hart? There are people who prey on children, are you and your child a target? When you are a parent you have to protect your children, who else will? It can be incredibly difficult when you have children and want to date. You cannot always go off and do what you want or be with whom you want. A person is not just dating you, but your whole family package.

Does this mean that there is no hope, just find a cave and crawl into it until your kids are old enough to live on there own? No. It just means that when you have kids it changes dating and relationships. It changes how you go about developing a relationship and how you deal with break ups. It is not all about you and your feelings anymore; you have to think about your children as well. I don’t know how people do it. I think I would be one to stop dating until my kids moved out. It is hard enough to raise kids or develop a lasting relationship let alone trying to do both at the same time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Define failure

Over the years I have come to realize that our fear of failure has more control over our actions then our drive to succeed. Most of us will go out of our way to not fail. Many will put more effort in avoiding what they perceive as failure then they put into trying to become successful. Our fears are a great motivator. I know that I will go to almost any lengths to avoid what I see as failure, which is also my greatest fear.

My idea of failure has changed over the years. First it was giving in, not surviving, letting my family destroy me, letting them win or being what they expected of me – their idea of a failure. I succeeded in not being a failure; I lived and believed in myself. Then it became a fear of loosing my job, being unable to provide for myself, still connected to my earlier idea of failure. Now my idea of failure is being homeless or not being able to provide for my children or keeping them safe. Again tying into my childhood, but not an unreasonable definition of failure. I am lucky in that I have not found myself in that type of situation, and hope I never do. I don’t know what I am capable of doing to avoid that situation; I do know I would do almost anything to not let that happen. Something like Katrina and its results of being homeless and without a way to provide for my children or keep them safe would be my greatest fear.

My Mother’s idea of failure was to be unable to keep a man, or to be with out a man in her life. My mother remained married to a man who was a drunk, drug user, rapist, and wife beater who tried to kill her, and me, many times over many years. One day I asked her why. She said, “If the marriage failed she was a failure”. She defined failure as being unable to keep a husband. It did not mater that we went without a lot of things, were poor, living in a trailer without water or electricity or that her husband beat her and life was bad as long as she had a man in her life she was good. It was strange to see someone accept all the pain and suffering for herself and child just to keep her husband because to loose him was to fail. And yet for me she was a failure because she did not protect nor provide for her child, whatever man that was in her life was always more important.

I know people who feel they are a failure if they don’t have the big paying job with a great title and the corner office and are willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to get there. Others think they have to be married and have kids before they are 30 or they have somehow failed. I don’t find these to be realistic definitions of success or failure, but then they are not mine. I know more people who define failure as not being there for their children, being unable to pay rent or put food on the table, or letting someone beat or control them. To me this is a realistic definition of failure.

As everyone has his or her own idea of success we also have our own concept of failure. This defines us as much as our concept of success. We are doing ok as long as this does not happen. Where is your line drawn for failure? What in your mind is the one thing that would make you a failure? Is it rational or realistic? I ask this because some people believe that everything is fine as long as this does not happen or they have not crossed a line but the reality is that they are in need of help, are on a downward spiral and should not be waiting until the worse happens before dealing with it.

People like my Mother who though what ever the man in her life was doing was ok as long as he stayed with her, even if he did not care for her, respect her or even want her alive anymore, or tried to kill her child. I see it in others all the time. This idea that as long as some pre-defined occurrence does not happen life is good no mater what is actually happening. It is like the drug addict who say’s as long as I am only popping pills and not using a needle I am in control, or the overweight person who is ok as long as they don’t reach 300 lbs, or the gambler who has not lost the house yet. . All Hell could be breaking loose in their lives but as long as “This” does not happen everything is OK.

Now most of us are not that bad, but we do need to understand what motivates us. Is it the desire to succeed or the fear of failing? I think that both can be a positive force in our lives if we have realistic drives or fears. What we see as success is not always what we see as failure. The idea of success is to make sure something happens, to not fail is to make sure something does not happen. The other questions we really need to be asking are, “If we do not succeed with our idea of success does that make us a failure?” “Or is it that if we can prevent what we perceive as failure from happening we are successful?” “Is success the same thing as not failing?” “Can we succeed in one area and fail in another?” “Are our definition of success the same as failure?” “Are our definitions of success or failure ours or what we have been taught to believe by others?” Most important, “Is our definition of success or failure realistic?”

Somewhere along the way I lost my name!

I know I had one. I remember as a child hearing it being called over and over again by frustrated adults. I remember having to respond to it in school and later it was found on things like report cards, drivers license and paychecks. I knew who I was. My name was my identity. What I did in life, what my role in life changed but my name was always with me.

Then one day I stopped being me. I became Mom, Mother, Mommy, Momma, and so and so’s Mom. Even my husband calls me Mom in front of the kids, the same as I refer to him as Dad, to avoid confusing our children. Other parents don’t know my name, nor I theirs. But as we pass each other from dropping our kids off to school or preschool our children identify us as “that is ______ Mom.” I find myself responding to children as they say, “ Hi *****”s Mom.” When I call the preschool or school I use my name but still have to identify myself as, “I am ****’s Mom”, before they know me.

My identity lost is lost not in a role, not a job or title but a state of being. I don’t always enjoy being a mother but I would not change it for anything. I used to say that what I did, what job I had did not define me, that it was just what I did. Being a parent is part of me, not something I do but an actual change of who I am. Did I think becoming a parent would change me, no, but it did. I identify myself as being a Mom. I am still a business owner, accountant, wife and a strong individual but somehow those are just part of who I am overshadowed by my role of Mom. I don’t think that is going to change. Hopefully I will always be Mom, because as long as my children are alive I will be Mom. One day if I am lucky I will become Grandmother and even Great Grandmother.