Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Man, I'm Broke Today: When there's a crisis

What do you do when the poo hits the fan?  When the transmission in your truck unexpectedly dies or the sewer line breaks or you need a root canal (not covered by insurance) right now or that pair of orange platform shoes is calling your name from across Nordstom and you might actually die if you don't purchase them?

Most of us have been there. And many of us don't have loads of cash sitting around. With median income hovering around $50,000 in this country, many can't afford to have more than a little in savings. And if we all saved as much as some experts recommended, the economy would collapse. Doesn't mean we should all think it's our duty to spend loads of money on crap, but still.  Somebody needs to (so rich people, get spending so us poor people can save a bit more without feeling guilty!  Otherwise, we'll have to continue spending 110% of our incomes to pay for golden parachutes!). 

Ryan and I are facing a bit of an issue right now.  We have qualified for a weatherization program (different from the one we got rejected from in October), but guess what stands in our way?

Asbestos. Yeah, we've talked about it in the past, having our ceiling tiles tested.  You see, asbestos is usually okay if you leave it alone, as long as it isn't deteriorating.  But we were planning on demolishing at least one ceiling, so we needed to know what was in those tiles (luckily, it was just cellulose).  However, we ignored the asbestos we suspected was in the basement all over the duct work.  And so we were disqualified from any work at all because of the toxic stuff down there.  

Did I mention asbestos abatement is really expensive?  It's a big pain in the butt, for one thing, because you have to treat the work areas like hazardous waste sites reminiscent of the plastic tarped tents in the movie E.T. (except they don't actually bring an alien to put in the freezer...unfortunately).  And the process requires testing as well as "safe" disposal of the stuff.  You can't just throw it in the trash.  We're talking mega bucks to cover the cost of professional abatement.

Getting the duct work that clean and asbestos-free cost us millions!  Well, not that much.

Anyway, back to how we face financial challenges such as these.  I have a few ways of dealing with it.

1) Taking the short view.  

---Was there anything I can immediately cut to open up a few bucks in the budget?  Why, yes.  Ryan and I had plans to go out for Restaurant Week.  We canceled those plans, saving about $100 (this event is annual, so we splurge just once a year on it).  We could also cut back on groceries for the next two weeks so there was a little extra cashflow.  And finally, we cut back on our energy drink consumption (sorry, Ryan, no more coffee). 

2) Creative maneuvering with the budget.

---Can I push back any bills at all?  Sometimes, you have a grace period on a bill, your mortgage for instance, so you don't have to pay it on the due date, but actually a couple of weeks later.  You can also try calling creditors to see if you can skip a payment (I think that's drastic, but sometimes, you gotta do it).  These suggestions only work if you have the money to cover the payment later!

Right now, because of biweekly paychecks, we are ahead on one large bill, so we could actually just move the payment ahead a month without ramifications. 

3) Finding things to sell.  

---That old-fashioned boob tube you keep in the basement might sell. Old electronics in general usually have a market.  Unused kitchen appliances, furniture, old lingerie, whatever you have lying around you don't need.  Get it listed on Craigslist now. Price to sell.  Just an FYI: You cannot sell your children or their services online.  In case you were wondering.

I am NOT for sale, Mommy!

4) Picking up more hours at work.

---This one is tricky.  Not everyone has access to overtime or hourly employment in the first place, but some do.  You could also advertise your services (babysitting, gardening, document editing, knowing everything) to pick up extra cash.

5) Using credit wisely.

---Right now, I don't have to use this step.  We have enough in savings plus my creative accounting to cover the cost.  However, if there were an emergency, and I had exhausted every other method of making money appear, I'd use credit.  Sometimes, a home maintenance vendor will not accept a credit card, so what do you do about that?  You can charge groceries and other bills, freeing up the cash you've set aside in the budget for that line item.  If you choose this route, immediately make a plan to pay it off.

6) Asking for an advance on the inheritance.

--Just kidding.

And then finally,

7) Taking the long view.

--Is there anything you can do to make sure you have savings for the next crisis?  Saving a lot is very difficult when money's tight, but there might be something you can permanently cut back on so you can sock away a few dollars.  Cell phone plans (some people spend hundreds!!  We pay $50/month total for our smart phones), French cheese, Amway products, sparkling wine (tough, I know), grooming (although I consider Ryan getting his eyebrows trimmed a necessity).

If you're getting a tax refund, consider popping it all into savings.  That's not really any fun, but you'll feel peace of mind knowing it's there if you need it.  And if you get an enormous refund due to overwithholding during the year, consider changing your W-4 so that you don't owe, but you don't get a big lump sum back--instead you'll get it in your paychecks (if you're American, that is. Sorry Canadians and others, I don't know anything about your tax systems).  I'm a little anal about this, and calculate throughout the year to make sure our tax situation is all in check.  

One big check later, our house is now certified asbestos free.  The basement looks so shiny and beautiful that I think I might finally get my chance to appear in House Beautiful (call me, okay?).  Now we'll hopefully get the house all sealed up and weatherized.  Once the work is done, I'll report back.

What do you do when a large, and unexpected, expense comes up?  Sell the Van Gogh?  


  1. Congrats on being asbestos free!!!

  2. Great post. Lots of good info. And I'm so glad you are all finally asbestos free and weatherized. I know that's been a big deal for a long time. You must be poor, but relieved.


  3. When we had asbestos to remove, I got a number of quotes from different certified asbestos abatement contractors. They varied widely: the lowest was $1800, the highest $5000. I hired the lowest and things worked out fine. They were all certified by the state so I wasn't expecting problems and we didn't have any.


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