A Car Named Murphy

I blame the car. I’m convinced that it’s jinxed.

It all started last spring, when my husband bought another car. I had no problem with that. We had been a one-vehicle family for six years.* With two teenagers learning to drive and another not far behind them, it was becoming apparent that another car would make life for us much, much easier. So my hubby set out on his own to make a responsible purchase. He spent a few weeks researching models, prices and what was available locally for sale. He finally came home with a used, paid in full, late model, dependable sedan that our teenagers will have no desire to show off or hot-rod. I had no complaints.

Timing could have been better, though. This was the same month as some large, expected expenses: annual home insurance premium, semi-annual house taxes and car insurance, 90k mile servicing for the minivan, summer camp fees for four kids, replacement of our 15 year-old dead lawn mower, two pairs of glasses for myopic teenagers who would like to be able to see when they drive… you get the idea. Even though we were completely prepared for all of these expenses, our checking account balances sunk temporarily lower than my comfort zone.

And then everything in our house started to break down.

First, it was the central air conditioning, which (luckily) was quickly fixed by a repair guy. Fast forward a couple of weeks, when our microwave stopped working on Monday, then our dishwasher stopped cleaning dishes on Wednesday. That Saturday, our clothes washer suddenly decided it didn’t want to spin anymore; naturally, the day before the kids and I were going to pack for a week-long camp and we kinda needed clean clothes. Hello, laundromat! It’s the savior when Murphy’s Law visits your laundry room.

While the kids and I were away at camp, my hubby (a regular Mr. Fix-it) fixed the microwave and the clothes washer. We’re still washing dishes by hand. We’ve found that it’s not so bad when there are six pairs of hands in the house that are old enough to take turns. Frankly, the dishes are cleaner than that durned dishwasher ever got them. Sure, we plan on fixing or replacing it in the future, but padding our cash cushion is a higher priority at the moment. There couldn’t be much else in our house that could break down since we got that second car, right? Nothing more could go wrong… right?

And then the clothes dryer broke down.


I have named that car “Murphy”.

As I whine and complain about all the recent mishaps in our home, and how uncomfortably low our checking account balance has sunk, I must remind myself that we have been very fortunate to be able to cover all of these expenses. Our balance has sunk, but it has certainly not reached zero. We can still cover all the bills. We could even replace our dishwasher and clothes dryer with cash if we really wanted, instead of hand-washing dishes and hanging clothes on the clothesline. We choose to have other priorities at the moment. I must remind myself that there are many people in the world who are not so fortunate.

There are some who don’t have any choice but to wash dishes by hand and hang their clothes, plus much, much more. As my youngest daughter reminded me during her bath the other night, some people in the world must walk great distances to get water from rivers and wells, and then they must carry it home. We are fortunate to live where clean water pours abundantly from the many faucets in our home.

I must remind myself that we have hands that can wash our dishes and hang clothes until these appliances are repaired or replaced. Those occasional, expected large expenses will not come around again for a few more months. We know how to live frugally and know how to keep our expenses low, so our cash cushion can be filled with a little more comfortable padding. We know that this is slump is only temporary.

Murphy’s Law comes into everyone’s life at some point, and he always has bad timing. This is often when many dive into a great deal of debt, charging everything on credit, because they weren’t prepared with a cash cushion (Many call it an “emergency fund”). The car, the insurance premiums, the taxes, the mower and all our expected expenses were not emergencies. Appliances breaking down right and left were.

How much of a cushion do you need? Some recommend at least a thousand dollars. Personally, that is way below my comfort level. Some recommend at least a few months’ worth of expenses. Seriously, I feel more comfortable with MANY months’ worth of expenses available. I’ve been criticized because we could put those funds into riskier, less available investments that could bring us higher returns. Instead, I prefer to sleep well at night, as I still do, even now. Find your comfort level that lets you sleep well, too.

In the meantime, we will be tightening our frugal belts, paying closer attention to how we can reduce our expenses until we have a larger cushion again. Hopefully this will inspire me to write more as well.

Next post will be about how it looks like Murphy (both the law and the car) might be with us for quite a while.

Mother Frugal

*Sort of. We have been fortunate that my husband drives a company vehicle not only during work hours, but to home and back as well. His employer owns it, though, not us.

Lofty, Lost Lists

It’s that time of year again.

It’s time to take inventory of all we have accomplished, both good and bad.  The opportune time to make a fresh start, to begin anew.  This is the time of year to resolve to do something that will improve our lives.

Why?  Because THAT DAY has happened!  That magical day – when, POOF!  Everything can change.  We can begin again with a clean slate.  We can envision all the wonderful changes we could make in our lives.  And because THAT DAY has happened, we MUST make a list, and absolutely we MUST write it all down.  Because if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t mean as much.  Otherwise, your commitment to those changes don’t seem to be so, so… resolute.

Or maybe it’s just another day.  Because let’s face it, you can do all of that on any other day of the year, too.

I used to make a lot of lists;  daily, weekly and monthly “to do” lists, grocery lists, school assignment lists, that four-page typed single-spaced list of home improvement projects with goal completion dates within the year 2009 (yeah, we’re still working on it).

Lists are great tools to help organize your thoughts.  The kinetic activity of writing it down often helps with memory.  It often solidifies inspiritation to complete the intended transcribed goals, giving higher chances of success for some people… who are usually nothing like me.

The problem with my lists of goals is that I have rarely completed them, especially within the allotted time I gave myself.  I would write down every idea that came into my head, and then accomplish only a few of them.  Daily goals were quite lofty, and by the end of the day I would transfer most of the list to the next day.  When I tired of writing the same unmet goals day after day after day, I would finally decide that these things must not really be that important, then crumple and chuck the whole list in frustration.  Benjamin Franklin, well known for his personal goal lists, would be incrediblly disappointed.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this???

Then there is the never-ending joke about the grocery lists I make.  They never seem to make it to the store with me.  Without fail, I will write down the food I think our family needs, and then find myself at the store entrance, fumbling through my purse and pockets, never to find the list that is still sitting on the kitchen table, or on the counter, or on the clothes washer, or on the floor of the garage with a shoe print in size 6 wide.

Can you believe this is coming from the same person who has accounted for nearly every penny coming in and out of her life since 1987?

Okay, so lists don’t appear to work very well for me, and by now you’ve probably surmised that New Years resolutions are a no-go, too.  I’m not alone, though.  Apparently, resolutions made at the new year are only successfully achieved 8% of the time.

Maybe the reason that many of us are so poor about achieving our New Years resolutions is because it’s only one day out of the year.  Maybe our resolutions are so lofty that we would never attempt to achieve them on any other day.  I mean, they sound like good ideas at the time, but when tomorrow comes around…

Funny thing, though, is that I tend to bring home nearly everything that has been written on my grocery list anyway.  It doesn’t matter that it is still laying on the garage floor.  Since I have written it down, I seem to remember better, the important items that I have written on the list that is so far, far away.  I tend to come home, check the list that is still setting on the kitchen counter, and sigh with relief because the important things are already there in my canvas grocery bags;  no real need to go back on a second trip.  Whew!

If you feel like you must, go ahead and write down those goals and resolutions. It doesn’t hurt anything, and it might actually help.  You didn’t have to write them down for January 1st, either.  There are at least 364 other days in the year where you can transcribe your dreams for something better. You could write them down on a different day, like.. say, May 23rd, September 26th, or even January 3rd.

But when the inevitable time comes that you discover you have lost your list, don’t fret.  What was important to you will stay fresh in your mind.  Those will be your real goals, your priorities.  Those are the goals your soul is asking you to do, and are what you are more likely to successfully achieve.

Each day that you wake up, you are given the gift of opportunity to make a new resolution.  Life happens, so goals change.  But you will always remember what is most important for you to seek to achieve.

Mother Frugal

You Might Be a Tightwad If…

microphone-13631966862Ef- Your preschool aged children call that part of the house where cars are stored a “garage sale”.

– Your neighbor recognizes you as her neighbor down the street who hangs cloth diapers on the clothesline (Oops – I’ve been outed).

– You finally replace a box of aluminum foil for the first time in 20+ years.

– You still have a box of plastic wrap in your kitchen drawer that you bought 20+ years ago.

– Most of your wardrobe is from a certain designer brand, but you’ve never stepped foot in that designer brand store because your wardrobe was purchased secondhand.

– You take inventory of you home, and your realize that everything was either given to you, purchased secondhand or purchased at a deep discount.

– You finally update your 1970’s era counter top with an inexpensive laminate finish, even though you have two very nice neighbors with their own granite counter top businesses (Okay, I feel a little guilty about this one, but I wouldn’t have felt right choosing one neighbor over the other, either).

– Your mantra with your kids’ requests at the grocery store (other than “NO”) is, “Let’s see if it’s on sale.”

– You come home from the grocery store with your kids, and a year’s supply of non-perishable items that you use regularly, because you found them on sale.

– You bring home a bunch of metal storage shelves from an estate sale, so you will have a place to store that year’s supply of non-perishable, regularly used items you bought on sale at the grocery store.

– You install a huge antenna and tower behind your house, so you can avoid paying for cable television.

– You have read nearly every single book in your local library’s personal finance section (Dewey Decimal Classification: 332.024, Library of Congress: HG179).

– You go to the local mall, noticing all the new stores and renovations, only to find out those new stores and renovations have been there for over three years (It’s been that long since you’ve been to the mall).

– You start a blog, so you can write about being a tightwad!

Mother Frugal