Doing What’s Best for Our Kids

As single parents, we continuously strive to do the best thing for our children.  We provide clothing, shelter, food and education for them; these are required by law.  We also do our best to give them fun things; birthday parties, trips to the zoo, and movies with lots of popcorn.

I know that traditional parents do all of these things also, but it’s a little tougher for single parents.  We do it on our own, with fewer resources.  But the bottom line is that we want what’s best for our kids.

Sometimes, the thing that is best for our kids may be hurtful to us.

My son and I moved to Texas from Colorado in 2005.  He was seven, and just starting first grade.  His dad stayed in Colorado, and then moved to Minnesota, which is where he grew up.

For ten years, it was just the two of us.  I had a full-time job, of course, so I could pay the bills, but I always did my best to know what was happening in his world.  I was in contact with his teachers, I took him to every Cub Scout meeting, basketball practice and the games, and helped him with his homework every night.  I was lucky, because I worked with a bunch of engineers who explained how to make a fast Pinewood Derby car.  We still have the trophies!

I was there when the Lego Deathstar that was almost finished crashed on the dining room table, and he collapsed into tears.  He was ten.  I was also the one who helped him put it back together, and searched for the exact piece that he needed.  I think there were over 3,000 pieces for that thing!  But when it was complete, that project held a place of honor in our home for a long time.

So now, at the age of 17, about to start his junior year of high school, my baby boy has decided that he wants to live with his father in Minnesota.  Throughout his teenage years, he’s been a bit difficult.  He’s done things he shouldn’t do, and suffered the consequences of breaking the house rules.  And I’ve heard several times that teens who are misbehaving do extremely well and turn themselves around in a new environment.

I support this decision; I really do.  But I am going to miss him like crazy!  He has promised me and his family in Minnesota that he will behave; he will help them without being asked, he’ll get a job right away, and his grandparents won’t have to spend a dime on him.  What I want to know is, “Why can’t he behave like that for me?”

Personally, I think I deserve really wonderful behavior from my kid.  I’m the one who’s always been there for him.  The other side of the family, not so much.  I’m the parent who should be reaping the rewards of a studious, productive, independent young man.  He should be offering to cook dinner in my house a couple nights a week, instead of up there.

It’s pretty annoying.

But then I take a step back, and I try to look at the long-term possibilities.  My goal as a parent is to raise a functional, self-sufficient, productive adult.  I’ve done my best with him for the past seventeen years, ten of which have been without his father.  The kid has only a couple years left of being a kid.  He’s in the home stretch.

If, at this point, he feels that some time with his father and paternal grandparents is what he needs, then I’m not going to complain.  I believe with all my heart that dads are extremely important when raising children.  This will be good for everyone.  Including me.

 

Au Pair – Alternative Childcare Solution

This is a guest post by Leah Enters, of Au Pair Care.  While I, personally, have not worked with this particular organization, I have used au pairs for childcare in the past.  When my kids were younger, it was a great solution and I highly recommend it.

And now…..(drum roll please)…..here is our guest post!

The Au Pair Option…Is it the Right Choice for You?

Are you looking for reliable, flexible and affordable child care? According to Child Care Aware of America, the nation’s leading voice for child care, states, “Nearly 11 million children under age 5 are in some type of child care setting every week. On average, the children of working mothers spend 36 hours a week in such care.

About one-third of these children are in multiple child care arrangements. Parents have a hard time finding child care, a harder time affording it, and too often it is of dubious quality.” Consider hosting an au pair. An au pair is a young adult from another country who lives with your family for a year and provides in-home childcare (like a nanny, but better)! Au pairs work up to 45 hours per week, in exchange for the opportunity to live with an American family.

Au pairs provide live-in childcare, offering greater flexibility and are able to care for your children at times that accommodate your family’s individual schedule. Au pairs can fulfill a variety of roles that help your family thrive and grow. Hosting an au pair from a foreign country is surprisingly economical. On average, AuPairCare offers the cost at about $350 per week for a full-time, live-in au pair, no matter the number of children. An au pair working a 45-hour week will cost you about $8 per hour.

There are many benefits to hosting an au pair. Au pairs provide families with flexibility. Many au pairs work different schedules every week depending on the needs of the host family but of course with a week’s notice. Au pairs may even travel with the family and often view this as a plus. Oftentimes, hosting an au pair may lead to a lifelong bond between the family and au pair. The au pair becomes like a member of the family, developing deep, personal relationships with the children, parents, and their extended family.

Au pairs also provide parents with a unique experience by educating their children regarding their culture, due to daily exposure to a second language and the traditions of their country. On the other hand, au pairs also experience America, learning about our food, history and our culture. AuPairCare offers au pairs from over 40 different countries, including Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Africa, China and others. An au pair from AuPairCare received the Au Pair of the Year Award in 2015.

We pre-screen all au pairs and they attend AuPairCare Academy upon arrival into the US. This training covers child safety including first aid and CPR, child development games and activities, driving safety in the USA, child safety techniques, American way of caregiving, and strategies for providing care for more than one child at a time. Additionally, we offer extended training for au pairs whose host families desire them to specialize in caregiving for children under 2 years old. AuPairCare provides matching experts to families interested in hosting an au pair.

Matching experts will assist families with developing good interview questions and are available throughout the matching process. Local Area Directors provide support for both the family and au pair, organize and attend monthly events for au pairs, and host an International Family Day for host families and their au pairs. For families considering an au pair, it takes four to six weeks for au pairs to arrive after a match is made.

If you are interested in hosting an au pair or want to learn more about the program, please contact Leah Enters at 972-955-8937, email Lenters@aupaircare.com, and visit http://www.aupaircare.com.

Single Parents Can WIN with Money!

Helping single parents win with money is one of my all-time favorite things to do, so I had a blast at our latest Single Side Up gathering!  I actually felt that we didn’t have quite enough time to cover everything that everyone wanted to discuss.

We started with the basics:

  • Budgeting is the FIRST thing you need to do. Know how much money is coming in, and how much is going out.  You may need t make some adjustments!  It takes about three months to get really comfortable with your budget.  That’s when it really feels like it’s working.
  • Use the envelope system. Have an envelope for each of your spending categories.  Some examples are dining out, entertainment, groceries, giving, pets, Christmas, birthdays, household, and haircuts.  You can have as many or as few as you like.  Saving for big events like Christmas and birthdays throughout the year is an excellent way to make sure you won’t have to use credit cards during the holidays.
  • Along with saving for the holidays and birthdays throughout the year, you should set spending limits. If your limit is $50 or $100 per child, that’s fine!  Remember, there are other people in their lives who are buying gifts for them.  You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars per child for a Christmas gift.
  • Start with $1,000 in an emergency fund. That may seem daunting, but if you have $1,000 saved just for an emergency, that amount can take care of many things that pop up.
  • Pay down your debt! Credit card debt, medical debt, and student loan debt can seem overwhelming.  Once you have your budget in place, you’ll be able to see how much you’ll be able to pay toward your debt.  Start with your smallest debt – you’ll feel like celebrating when it’s paid off!  Then take the money that went toward that first debt, and attack the next one!  You CAN do it!

We also discussed saving for your own retirement, and saving for your kids’ college.  It’s important that you start saving for your retirement before your kids’ college.  Please refer to the Helpful Documents section of the blog, for helpful tips.

We had a special guest attend the meeting – my dear friend Mallory.  Mallory is a sweet single mom who has taken all of this information to heart, and is attacking her debt!  She is truly on the path to make a better life for herself and her precious daughter.

Mallory recently started her own blog, which chronicles her journey to becoming debt free.

Click here to visit her Mommy, CFO blog!

Home Repair for Single Moms

Many of us on the Single Side Up MeetUp group are single moms.  While we accomplish most everyday tasks without assistance, it’s true that there are some jobs we’d prefer to hand over to a man.  Many of these tasks involve some type of household repair.  Leaky toilet?  Dirty dryer exhaust hose?  Who wants to deal with this stuff?  Don’t even get me started with rats that I find in the backyard sometimes.  Gross!  Disposing of them is definitely a man-job.

At our most recent event, Holly Kreisner, the owner of Mr. Fix-It Fast, visited us and gave us some great tips on regular home maintenance.  Now, these tips apply to anyone, whether you are a home owner, or a renter.  I understand that one of the perks of renting is that you don’t need to take care of most household repairs.  You can simply call the landlord, and he’ll come running.  Maybe.  It’s still really good to know how to take care of some simple tasks on your own.

Holly gave us some great information, including a “Handyman Homeowner Checklist.”  This is a month-by-month list of preventive maintenance items that will help you avoid major problems.

  • January – Test smoke detectors, carbon dioxide detectors and fire extinguishers.
  • February – Have your chimney inspected.
  • March – Check your vents for optimum air efficiency.
  • April – Maintain the caulk around your windows.
  • May – Clean your dryer duct.
  • June – Drain the hot water heater.
  • July – Check your insulation and air circulation in the attic.
  • August – Maintain your garage door.
  • September – Maintain the paint on the exterior of your house.
  • October – Clean the coils on your refrigerator.
  • November – Make sure your gutters are clear of leaves and debris.
  • December – Cover your pipes and faucets so they don’t freeze.

This is an abbreviated version of the checklist.  Click here to download the full document.  Feel free to print and share it!

There will certainly be cases where you’ll need to call a professional to take care of a major issue.  As single moms, how can we tell who we can trust and who we can’t?  Holly also gave us a great resource called, “Never Get Ripped Off By a Contractor Again.”  Some pieces of advice include getting consistent bids, establishing a definite timeline, and knowing who is on the jobsite.

Click here to read the entire article.

I encourage you to not be intimidated by home repairs.  There is so much information on the Internet, and there are YouTube videos that can teach you how to do anything.  When I had a pool, I became an expert on replacing PVC pipes!  If I can do it, anyone can!

Your Legal Questions Answered!

We started 2015 with a bang!  Our January Single Side UP! event was one of our popular “Ask a Lawyer” nights.  We had a full house, and our favorite attorney, Courtney Coffin, answered everyone’s legal questions.

Legal help is a huge issue for single parents.  Most of us need some kind of legal representation during a divorce, and quite often afterward, too.  As children grow, visitation will often need to be modified.  Child support might also need to be modified, depending on the parents’ job situations.  But attorneys are expensive!  Even a seemingly easy modification could cost hundreds of dollars.  Legal Aid services are reserved for individuals who basically live at the poverty level.  It’s very difficult for single parents who are trying to save money to find affordable legal assistance.  That’s what makes these sessions so valuable.

Courtney stressed again how important it is to work with an attorney that you can trust, and who is working hard in your best interests.  It is not wise to attempt complex modifications on your own.  Especially if your ex does have legal representation.

But, how can you make sure that you’ve hired an attorney who really cares about your case?  This is an issue that we see often.  Many single parents often feel like they are constantly giving money to their attorney, and not seeing results.  The best thing to do, is to actually take the time when you’re hiring an attorney.  Ask your friends for recommendations.  Perform a Google search, and read the reviews!

Tell the attorney your situation.  If you have a set legal budget, be upfront about it, and tell the attorney how much money you have.  Let them know that you do not have an unlimited amount of money to hand over to them!  And if you are getting a vibe from the attorney that you’re just not comfortable with, it’s ok to move on, and find someone who you really feel is going to be in your corner.  You deserve that!

If you absolutely have to represent yourself in Family Court, you should make sure you’re prepared.

  • Before your hearing, visit your judge’s court room. Anyone can sit in the court room and watch how it all works.  You can observe how your judge interacts with people, the kind of behavior they appreciate, and don’t appreciate.
  • Have all of your documents with you.
  • Dress appropriately. I’m amazed at how many people wear jeans to court.  It’s disrespectful.  Dress up a little!  Your judge will appreciate it.
  • Speaking of the judge, make sure are polite and prepared. Don’t interrupt him.  Answer his questions honestly, and succinctly.

It’s so hard to know what to do when it comes to legal issues as a single parent, but it’s not impossible.  Do your homework.  Talk to several attorneys before making a decision.  Remember, they’re working for YOU!

Single Side Up tried something new for February, and it was a BIG HIT!  On the third Saturday of February, we offered a Single Parent’s Night Out.  This was an opportunity for single parents to drop off their kiddoes for three hours, for only $5 per child.  Then, parents could go enjoy some well-deserved “me time.”  Some parents took this opportunity to go shopping, get a mani/pedi, or enjoy a quiet dinner.

We’ll be doing this again – keep your eyes on MeetUp for all upcoming events!

 

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Resolutions!

I am not a fan of resolutions.  If there’s something I need to change about myself, I’ll work on that any time during the year.  And, really, who keeps New Year’s Resolutions longer than a couple of months?  I see the proof every March at 24-Hour Fitness.  The gym is packed every January and February, but the attendance starts to get back to normal starting in March.  Whether it’s getting fit, losing weight, or making another big change, the majority of people do not keep their New Year’s Resolutions.

So, don’t make any.  What you should to is set goals for yourself any time you think you need to make a change in your life.  Why wait for the New Year?

But, a very smart thing to do in January is to review your financial situation – determine if there are any changes you need to make.  Do you need to reduce your debt, or start saving more?  How about your retirement fund?  This is one area that single parents tend to forget about while they’re busy paying rent and putting food on the table.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to save for your retirement.

So, where do you start?

  1. It’s January, so it’s a good time to start getting ready to do your taxes. I know that they’re due April 15, but please don’t put it off until the last minute.  If you owe money you can send the check in April, but figure out where you stand with the IRS as soon as possible.  You should receive W2 and 1099 forms by the end of January.  You’ll also receive interest statements from your mortgage company (if you own a home) and banks.  Remember, you can deduct childcare expenses and some medical expenses.  Decide if you’re going to use a tax professional, or do it on your own using software such as TurboTax.
  1. Knowing your credit rating is vital. You can download a free credit report three times a year from annualcreditreport.com.  Each of the big three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) will allow you to pull the report once a year.  So, you can get one three times a year.  This website will not show your credit score, but it will list all accounts that you have, and their status.  You need to know what your credit report states – there might be items on it that are incorrect!  That is a pain.  But, you’ll need to start making phone calls, and doing lots of follow-up, to make sure your report is corrected.  It will take some time to get it resolved.
  1. In addition to your credit report, you might want to know your credit score. The website creditkarma.com will give you a good, ballpark idea of your score, but I’ve found that it isn’t necessarily 100% accurate.  Also, the advertisers on this site are credit cards, and they’ll try to get you to sign up for one.  Just ignore these ads, and you’ll be fine.  This site is free, which is really nice.

Once you sort out your taxes and credit situation, start thinking about your next steps:

  1. Budgeting – Start living on a written budget. A budget is simply spending your money on paper, before you really spend it.
  2. Envelope System – I love the envelope system! Stuff envelopes with cash for specific spending categories.  If the envelope is empty, you’re not buying in that category until the next time you get paid.  Have envelopes for Christmas and Birthdays.  This way, you won’t have to stress when these occasions come up!
  3. Dump Your Debt – There’s no good reason to have debt. Start paying them off, smallest to largest.  Get rid of credit card debt, car loans, student loans, etc.
  4. Save for Emergencies – You absolutely have to have money in a savings account, to pay for unexpected emergencies. Things come up.

There’s one more item that I want to stress.

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER TAKE OUT A PAYDAY LOAN OR TITLE LOAN!!

These organizations are crooks that prey upon people in desperate situations.  They charge interest that ranges from 300% to over 900%.  The fees are astronomical.  They suck you in by convincing you that you’ll be able to easily repay the loan, but you won’t.  These places are modern-day loan sharks.  Almost anything is better than going to a payday loan store.  Stay far, far away.

These items are a really good way to start getting your finances in order.  If you can start putting these simple steps into action, you’ve made a great start!  If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me.  I love helping single parents win with money.

Happy New Year!

 

Single Parents CAN Win with Money! Just Ask Cinthya

If Cinthya can do it, YOU can do it!

Those of you who know me, know that I’m a money freak.  When I was divorced in 2005 I was in such a horrible financial state that I promised myself that if I ever recovered, I would never let myself get back there again.  At that time, I had thousands of dollars in debt and nothing in savings.  I knew that in order to build a successful life for my children and me, I needed to turn those numbers around.  The problem was, I didn’t know how!

I discovered Dave Ramsey’s program in 2006, after I had been divorced for about a year, and I’ve followed it ever since.  I will always follow it – I do a written budget twice a month, to coincide with paydays, and I religiously use the envelope system.  These two methods ensure that I do not spend more than I make!

A budget is simply writing down the amount of money coming in, and writing down how much money is going out.  It’s vital to know these numbers!  That way, you’ll be able to determine where in your budget any changes need to be made.  You may decide there are some luxuries that you don’t really need, and you can use that money to help pay down debt, or beef up your savings.

“Budget” is not a curse word!  It’s simply spending your money on paper, before you actually spend it.  I will always do a written budget.  Forever.  I love my budget so much, I want to marry it.

The second method is using the envelope system.  Every time you get paid, you withdraw a certain amount of cash, and stuff envelopes with that cash.  The envelopes are labeled with the name of a spending category.  Some examples are Groceries, Eating Out, Haircuts, Pet Expenses, Entertainment…….Your envelope collection could be large, or you could just use a few.  But paying for things with cash is more painful than swiping!  So many people today are swipe-happy; they don’t feel any money leaving their pockets when they swipe.  And, even better, when that envelope is empty, you can’t spend anything on that category!  So if the kids want pizza for dinner, ask them to see if there’s any money in the Eating Out envelope.  If there is, then call Domino’s – if it’s empty, it’s leftovers for dinner.

I’ve heard many single parents say that they can’t do this.  It’s too hard on one income.  I don’t believe that.  I did it, and I’m just like many other single moms.  My child support payments don’t show up every month – when they do, I treat them like a bonus, not like income that I can count on.  Now, I have another excellent example of a single mother who followed this program and sacrificed for herself and her children, in order to get out of debt.  I absolutely loved hearing this woman’s story.  I hope you enjoy it, too.  Poor Dave was getting a little teary-eyed!

Click here to listen to Cinthya’s Debt Free Scream.

I will have a few free copies of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book at the Family Connection night this Saturday, December 13, 2014.  If you’d like to have one, just ask me.