single mom looking for thoughts or opinions

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single mom looking for thoughts or opinions

Postby momofmy2 » Wed Oct 31, 2007 1:55 pm

I am a single mom from PA. I have been seperated/divorced for almost 4 years in which time I went from horrible credit and a couple thousand dollars in credit card debt to pretty good credit and my credit cards are paid off. I have funded (along with my employer) a 401K. I finished my BA and started a new job in July. In the school venture I have accumulated 21K in students loans.

I have 2 daughters, ages 10 and 8 and we are holding it together financially. I have questions.

I changed jobs and now work at a university with some nice benefits including free tuition for my daughters and myself should I become interested in obtaining a masters degree. My new job only increased my pay by 2000.00 a year - just enough to cover the child care cost of morning care for my daughters.

I am currently not contributing to my 401K, but will start next July when they match my contribution. I have a bit in savings - only about 6 weeks of living expenses.

We are trying to live on a budget, however eating out is a HUGE issue. I travel 1 hr to and from work everyday and every weekend to visit their father (he's sick and can't come get them). Because childcare is so expensive it is not reasonable for me to take a part time job. Moving is also not reasonable because I pay the lowest rent I have found within an hour of my job that is in a decent school district. I've asked my employer for a pay increase with no success. I have committed to myself that I would give this one year, however I'm concerned that the pay is so low. I absolutly love my job. It is an awesome fit for me personally and professionally.

The question I have - is it better to find a corporate job that will pay more (hoping for 40K) or stay at my current job (little less than 30K) and make it work?

A couple of factors - within 2 years my child care cost will be gone (the girls can catch the bus on their own without a babysitter). Student loan payments start to kick in within a month or 2. My car payment should be paid off within a year (160 per month).

At some level I think I should just "give up and go home". My family lives in rural Ohio - cost of living at least 1/2 of what it is here...but lower income and few jobs.
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Postby JerichoHill » Wed Oct 31, 2007 2:23 pm

My first suggestion is a question: Do you have a crock pot? If you do, that can help make meals alot easier.
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Postby Ryuns » Wed Oct 31, 2007 2:32 pm

Universities are excellent for the benefits. Unfortunately, cheap child care and subsidized alternative transport are two that we get at the uni I work at that you apparently can't take advantage of. Free tuition is one that you probably won't be able to take advantage of (for a while) since your daughters are young. With a degree, you may be able to find a higher paying job. A higher paying, geographically closer job would be a HUGE boon financially it sounds like.

It sounds like you're really satisfied with your job, but I think you may be able to sacrifice a bit of joy at work for a shorter commute, if that makes sense. I imagine you've looked into alternative transportation. My uni subsidizes vanpools to most of the major commuter towns. Some people do work on their laptops from the van, then count that as comp time. Brilliant!

As a final question/suggestion, are there opportunities for advancement at your current job?

Congrats on making things work as well as you have!

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Postby sandycheeks » Wed Oct 31, 2007 2:47 pm

My gut reaction is that you sound like you're doing great compared to your postion a few years ago!! ((( ))))

But to address your financial concerns: First off, PA may not allow you to "go home". If dad doesn't agree with the move, you'd likely have to go through additional court proceedings possibly including a custody evaluation for which you may have to pay. Not to mention lawyer fees unless you are comfortable being a pro se litigant. This is a huge stressor emotionally as well as potentially financially.

You've got a low car payment, but how long is the term?

Child care does decrease as time goes on and 2 years isn't that long, relatively speaking.

I understand the eating out issue if you are talking about weekday convenience. Picking kids up from after-school care and getting them to their extracurrucular activities doesn't leave a lot of time left for homecooked meals. Try to cook at home on the weekends. Make your crockpot your best friend. Cold PA winters lend themselves nicely to warm hearty crockpot meals.

Your pay does sound low for a bachelors degree, but I don't know the COLA in your area of PA. The tuition benefit can be huge, if you plan on pursuing a masters. But given the age of your kids, it's not that big of a selling point for your kids tuition yet.

Even though your employer is not matching yet, can you start a small payroll deduction to the 401K just to get in the habit?

If you love your job, I think you should try to make it work. Lots of people are miserable in higher paying jobs that they hate.

Additionally, I want to touch on the emotional aspect of moving. Please take into account the effect this may have on your children's relationship with their father (and possibly extended family on the paternal side). I'm betting that you have already given this a lot of thought and chose to omit the details b/c they are not relevant to the financial aspect of the situation (and really none of our business either :wink: )

Really, it sounds like you've come very far in the past 4 years and you should be proud of your accomplishments.

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Postby plonkee » Wed Oct 31, 2007 3:24 pm

I think that it is most likely that you are currently making the best choices, and that it isn't worth moving. If you can manage for a couple of years then you will be ok.
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Postby momofmy2 » Wed Oct 31, 2007 4:14 pm

The girls' dad is terminally ill - 3rd brain tumor diagnosed this summer. He will be moving to Chicago within the next few weeks and his brother has power of attorney. They will not fight me on a move.

They offer a van pool to our main campus but I work at an off site. Our office is moving back to main campus in Dec and I'm hoping the different route will allow an easier commute - but I'm not sure.

Someone made a comment to me awhile back - since the tuition at our school is approx 20K a year. If I stay where I'm at for 15 years, it's like getting a 160K bonus (2 kids x 4 years of college x 20K/yr). That doesn't even include if I choose to get a masters.

On the other side of it, if I leave and get a job paying 40K, I pay more in taxes, still would have to have child care, my commute would still be 30 min (most likely) and at that amount I doubt I would be able to save enough to pay for their college. I would love to be able to have the girls graduate from college with no (or small amount) student loans. They would still have to work for room and board but they would get a private university education with very little debt.

I do receive social security for the girls from their dad. That comes with an automatically 3% increase yearly I believe. If (God Forbid) their dad does pass away (which we have been preparing for) I really want the increase from soc sec to go to savings for the girls.

I also save most of my tax return every year. This year we used it for a very nice vacation (reward for graduation), but normally it just sits in my savings until we need it (summer camp, extra child care, etc).

If I do stay where I'm at, what guidelines should I use for savings? I can't save much - if anything, but I'm hoping to try to save even just 10 dollars a paycheck. I'm also thinking of changing my deductions on my w4. They are taking out way too much for taxes.
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Re: single mom looking for thoughts or opinions

Postby MossySF » Wed Oct 31, 2007 5:44 pm

momofmy2 wrote:A couple of factors - within 2 years my child care cost will be gone (the girls can catch the bus on their own without a babysitter.

I remember in the late 70's, I walked about 2 miles to school by myself starting age 6-7 and many of my classmates did the same. Of course, times were different back then. No one today -- myself included -- would contemplate letting someone that young set off on their own. I wonder if we're just more afraid now or whether times were so tough back then, you had no choice but to let your kids grow up faster.

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Re: single mom looking for thoughts or opinions

Postby consultantjournal » Wed Oct 31, 2007 8:10 pm

What are the advantages to moving back to your home state? Can your family help with childcare? Invite you over for dinner once a week and send you home with leftovers? Give you a night off once in a while? How much less would your income be? How much less would your living expenses be? Could you eventually get a job at a university there?

MossySF wrote:I remember in the late 70's, I walked about 2 miles to school by myself starting age 6-7 and many of my classmates did the same. Of course, times were different back then. No one today -- myself included -- would contemplate letting someone that young set off on their own. I wonder if we're just more afraid now or whether times were so tough back then, you had no choice but to let your kids grow up faster.

Yeah, I walked to school, too. But, back then, there were tons of moms at home and tons of moms walking their kids to school. There were tons of kids walking to school. Elderly people often stayed in their neighbourhoods, so they were watching, too. Back then, if you got hurt, you could run to a house and knock on the door and someone would answer. That doesn't happen very often today.
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Postby momofmy2 » Thu Nov 01, 2007 3:21 am

At home in Ohio the housing would be about the same as I pay here, but I could buy a house (I rent here) and I would be more comfortable allowing the girls to walk to school or stay home for an hour alone. Extremely small town and everyone knows everyone. If the girls needed something there would be at least 3 people who could come to help them immediatly. There are a lot of disadvantages which is why I haven't made the move yet (no structured after school program, no diversity, limit activities at school etc)

Our morning babysitter lives one floor below us in our apartment building and I have considered allowing the girls to stay home for 15-30 min each morning and then going to the babysitter on their own. That would save me a little each week. My oldest will be 11 in April so I thought that might be a good time to start that because she really does need to be more responsible a little at a time.

I"m also considering asking my boss if I can come it later. The traffic is MUCH less later in the morning and that would allow me to get the girls on the bus rather than the babysitter, saving most of the childcare costs.

For now we are going to have to live off of our savings and cut expenses as much as we possibly can. Any suggestions on how to cut when I've cut everything I can think of? We are stilll working on trying not to eat out.
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Postby James » Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:04 am

If you haven't already, make a detailed list (as you go) of everything that you spend money on in a given month. If you have access to Quicken or MS Money, this will help you to really track this stuff by forcing you to enter every dollar and assign each dollar to a spending item. When you run a report at the end of the month you will be shocked at the amount of money you spend on some things. If you do not have access to Quicken of MS Money, you can do the same thing with a spreadsheet, it just takes a little more work to make it tabulate for you at the end of the month.

An example of what you will find by doing this. My family eats out about one meal a week on average. We pack our lunches to work and school. Even with doing this, our dining out budget exceeded our gorcery budget because of the high cost of dining out.

As others have mentiond, a crockpot is great to let you come home to a hot meal. We picked one up several months ago that you can program to come on and off, keep it warm after a certain amount of time, or cook by temperature probe. I will throw a roast in the crockpot at 10:00pm at night before I go to bed and stick it in the fridge. When I get up at 5:00am to leave for work I just take it out of the fridge and turn it on. I get home from work at 8:00pm and have a nice hot dinner. Plus you can make just about anything in a crockpot and it is GOOD eating.

You did not mention what part of PA you are in but is it possible that you could get a higher salary by going a different direction for work? I live along the Maryland/PA line directly in between Baltimore and Harrisburg. Many of the people that I know and work with live in southern PA but work in Baltimore or DC because of the major differences in housing prices Vs wages.

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Postby momofmy2 » Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:48 am

I live in the Philadelphia area and could easily get a job there making a lot more. With taxes and commute, I'm not sure it's worth it to our overall well being...I just dont' know. (that's why I'm here asking a million questions :) )

That programmable crockpot sounds awesome. I have done that in the past - let something cook over night and then heat it up when we get home. That works out well, but I'm not as disciplined as I need to be about doing it.

I need to buckle down and just do some of the things I know I need to do.
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Postby morydd » Thu Nov 01, 2007 8:43 am

Putting $10 a paycheck into savings is a great thing to do. That's what I started at. I'll admit I dipped into that savings more often than I should have, but it got me in the habit. I didn't miss the money, and gradually upped it to $20 then $50. Another thing that may help is if you accept "dinner time" as later in the evening. We generally eat dinner at 9:00. If you keep some small, healthy snacks (trail mix?) in the car for the kids to tide them over till you're home and can put together a quick meal that may help.

The other thing that we found helps is menu planning. If you plan out a menu for the week, then go to the grocery store, you are less impulsive in shopping, and then you don't have to spend the first chunk of your meal prep time trying to decide what to make. We've found that helps significantly as well.

Something else that may help is that at 10, your oldest is probably ready to start helping in the kitchen. If you make cooking a family activity, it can seem like less of a chore, and more fun.
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Postby momofmy2 » Thu Nov 01, 2007 8:52 am

Thanks for the great tips!
My 10 and 8 year old both help a lot with dinner. They microwave veggies, or tear lettuce for salad. They want to help stir the pan of food and sometimes I allow my 10 year old to help with that.

It is a huge help for me to know what we will have for dinner before we leave in the morning. it makes me feel better. We have made a meal plan but I still have to make the grocery list for it. I think you are right, that will be a huge help in budgeting. I've tried to include meals that the girls really like (even though they are not "cheap meals") because they are still cheaper than buying a pizza or McD's.
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Postby googoo » Thu Nov 01, 2007 11:42 am

the first thing you should do is to tally up the numbers for both options (i.e. stay or get a different job), this includes benefits like medical, tuition, etc. would you in fact get more in a corporate job? there are lots of companies who offer day care services. Right now, you do not know what you could get in a "corporate" job, if you haven't been interviewing.

is next july when you start being vested or when matching starts? if you do leave in a year, then are you going to get your employee match?

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Postby ambermae » Thu Nov 01, 2007 3:26 pm

Here is a crock pot tip: instead of buying a more expensive crock pot with a timer, you can buy a low-end crock pot and buy a separate timer for the outlet you plug it into. My grandmother uses that kind of timer for the lamps in her living room. You set the outlet timer to go on and off when you need it to, and dinner is ready exactly when you get home!

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