Thursday, February 10, 2005

Let's Talk about Money

Tax time is here and that's when I always think about money. Specifically, I think about how bad I am with money. No one ever talks about money, not in very specific ways anyway. No one ever says, "Well, I have $10,000 invested in stocks and here's how I did that." Or, "I have .23 left to cover my expenses for the next week. Looks like mac and cheese and pancakes." I could use some of these conversations. I'm not one of those people who's going to hire a financial planner--though I should--because I just don't know what to do with one. Ironically, I'm very good with my work budget. I have a measley amount now, but at a former job, I managed $1.3 million. No problem. My own money, forget it.

Here's the thing. We make decent money, but we have a lot of debt--credit cards, car loan, school loan. And we weren't so good in our previous credit lives--late payments abound. As a result, we don't save much. A great deal of "extra" money--beyond basic needs like food, housing and utilities goes to pay off our debt. We could skip some gratuitous spending--on books, music, computer gadgets--and save that money for something else, but we don't. We choose not to and it's not a huge amount, maybe $200 or so. I'm not good at belt-tightening unless it's absolutely necessary. Another reason I don't want to see a financial planner, I know s/he's just going to tell me to quit buying books, eating out, etc.

The internet has saved me a little in terms of finances. I've been banking online since 1997 or 8 and have automatic payments set up for nearly all of our bills. It's actually pretty easy to check on what's been paid and what hasn't. So we're not late on payments anymore. And I even have a small amount of money directly deposited into a savings account. But we're still bad at planning. Big things--like taxes. Not only do we pay our income taxes in April, but our property taxes are also due. Because we got a wonderful mortgage deal through the school, we don't escrow our taxes, so we have to plan for those. Which we don't do very well.

So basically, as April rolls around, I start to feel a little ill. Will I be able to scrape enough money together? How long will I have to make these huge chunk payments? Why don't I start saving a year ahead? Oh yeah, cause I'm making these huge chunk payments.

There's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, however. I have managed to save some money (less than $1000), which will either cover income taxes (if we're lucky), city taxes or half of the county taxes. Also, I have been paying down the credit cards, so those payments are getting smaller. I am also nearly finished paying off my student loan and the car loan. In addition, child care costs for next year will decrease by $500/month. That's a huge deal for us! Now, of course, I need to do something good with all this extra money instead of running off to the Carribean. By this time next year, I expect to not be pinching pennies so much and saving a little more--only 8 more years until oldest hits college.

Even when things are more flush, I prefer not to deal with it. I am truly wishing for the Star Trek days when no one uses money anymore. Wouldn't that be a good Social Security plan?