Oneburnedoutmama is making a comeback

I’ve taken a sabbatical for far too long. The good news is that nearly eight months off has restored the tank of ammo which includes observations, experiences, life changes and of course interactions (and altercations) with my favorite cast of hovermoms. Check the site over the next few weeks for lots of updates. Oh how I’ve missed you!

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Bugeting for Life With Kids

In an effort to staunch the financial bleeding, spending has come to grinding halt in our house. We are so tired of seeing a two-figure balance in our checking account THREE DAYS AFTER WE GET PAID. We finally got mad enough to do something about it (besides scratch our heads and wonder why we got that last overdraft notice).

Mind you, we’re not cutting back just for the sport of it. Everything is more expensive today. If you don’t watch your pennies, you could be wasting money that might otherwise be working for you in some other area of your life. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing for too long. We just don’t have a lot of spare change these days – money is tight. Therefore, I’ve spent the last month employing some money saving strategies that actually work.

For all of you hard-working moms and dads, try one or two and I promise your belt will feel a little looser:

  • Step One: Organize your accounts. Go to www.mint.com and sign up for their free money management program. It is secure, easy to use and oh so eye-opening. Once you load all of your accounts (including checking, savings, credit card, mortgage, IRAs, 401(k)s) you will have a crystal clear picture of your net worth and how much you’re spending by category. The worst part? The hour of shame, disbelief and – ultimately -  self-hate once you realize how much you’re blowing every month. Don’t worry, though…those emotions will keep you hyper vigilant in the difficult weeks to come. This is where it gets tough, so read on.
  • STOP GOING TO STARBUCKS. One latte per day = $3.55. That’s $106.50 per month, $1,278 per year. They are laughing at you over there at the Starbucks corporate office. If you must, buy an espresso machine and make your lattes at home. It will pay for itself within 30 days.
  • Unplug your stuff. We put all the plasma TVs, computers and laptops on power strips. Simply switch to “off” at the end of the day (or whenever you’re not watching/using) and stop those little power vampires from sucking you dry. Unplug your phone chargers, toasters, electric toothbrushes (plug in overnight once per week and you’re fine) and all the other stagnant appliances. Keeping them plugged in is drawing electricity and you are being charged for it. Why?
  • Kids don’t need 30 minute showers. ‘Nuff said.
  • Replace all your bulbs with fluorescent. The bulbs are more expensive but they’ll pay off in energy savings within the first couple of months.
  • Turn your water heater down. It’s probably up too high anyway. Going out of town? Put it on the “vacation” setting. It will shut down (but the pilot light will stay on). Why would you keep a tank of hot water warm if you’re not going to use it?
  • Stop eating out. We spent an embarrassing sum of money on restaurants in the first quarter of 2012…so embarrassing that I’m not going to tell you how much. Suffice to say that we have nearly eliminated restaurants from our budget to mitigate the shock and dismay. While our grocery bill will increase, our overall food budget will be cut in half. We will have a higher level of low-level boredom from the monotony of eating at home every night, but the upside is we have a better chance of not living in a trailer once our kids are up and out. I cling to this.
  • If you do eat out, go somewhere that’s offering a deal. Sign up for email clubs and frequent diner’s programs and they’ll email you coupons once a month. Don’t worry about that smarmy feeling when you present the coupon. It will pass. The schmuck in this situation is the guy behind you who isn’t getting his second entree for free.
  • Wash clothes in cold water (except for underwear and yucky, sweaty sports stuff). You will save a fortune on your electric/gas bill and your clothes will last longer. Oh, and fill up the machine. Please don’t wash two shirts just to empty the dirty clothes basket. That fleeting sense of accomplishment is costing you.
  • Use the ATM at your bank, otherwise your bank will charge you a fee on top of the fee you’ll be charged by the bank that owns the ATM you used. I’ve seen fees as high as $8 for one ATM withdraw – and it’s perfectly legal. Banks can charge you whatever they want in fees. If you need the convenience, switch to a no-fee checking account. A lot of the online banks (i.e. etrade) offer this.
  • Unless you drive a Porsche, Rolls Royce or some other fancy car, you DO NOT need premium gas. Go for the mid-range gas or – better yet – regular.
  • Call your credit card companies and negotiate a lower rate. If they won’t give you one, transfer your balance to a card that offers 0% on balance transfers (watch the transfer fee, which is usually around 3% of your balance and know going in that you need excellent credit). You should then wrap your credit cards in poisonous snakes and barbed wire…avoid using them at all costs. You are being robbed.

By now you are asking yourself, why is she talking about budgeting? This is a parenting blog! Here’s why: broke parents are stressed parents. Burnout occurs at a faster, more consistent rate among families with tight budgets. The kids begin to look like little dollar signs. It’s easy to forget that, in order for kids to be successful, we have to invest in them. This means paying for activities, school supplies, hobbies and other pursuits. If we’re blowing our money on superficial things (like restaurant meals and $35 pedicures), we’re in effect robbing our kids of experiences they want and need to evolve into smart, well-rounded, independent adults.

And we want smart, well-rounded, independent kids.

Because we do not want them moving home after college.

 

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Race To Nowhere: A Review

My friend told me about a screening of the much talked-about documentary, Race To Nowhere, in my community. Have you heard about it? The documentary explores this new age of burned out teens (I can relate!) and the pressure they’re under to “get into the best college”.

I’d been wanting to see it, so last night I hauled my mom and husband over to the local Lutheran church to check it out.

First shock of the night? It was PACKED. I mean standing-room only packed. Mostly mommies (naturally), several clustered together in groups swapping child-rearing war stories. The air was charged with a tangible sense of anticipatory dread…we all knew the subject matter – and worse – we all knew that we’d be called out, to varying degrees, for the push-push dynamic of our parenting style. Many of us felt we were better parents simply because we turned out to see the movie. You could see that smug I’m-an-involved-parent look on many of the mommies’ faces (gag me).

Second shock of the night? The absolute hopelessness conveyed by the filmmakers…the utter lack of faith they showed in this generation of kids to figure out how to cope with the pressures of being a student today.  And worse? The hearty helping of responsibility heaped on the parents to solve it for their kids. I’m not sure what I expected, but given the hype and the general buzz I’d heard leading up to actually seeing the film, it was a bit of a letdown.

Because it was so obvious where they were headed.

The filmmakers attempted to correlate the one- two- punch of pressure parenting and schools that ‘teach to the test’ with the increase in child burnout, which results in stress, lack of sleep and – in extreme cases – teen suicide. The filmmakers appeal to parents, teachers and administrators to ‘fix’ the problem by advocating for the overstressed child, but can it be that simple? The fact is, today’s kids have less to worry about in some ways. I had a job when I was in high school – most kids today don’t have to work. My mom wasn’t at my beck-and-call to drive me to and from school and activities. I had to get creative with getting where I needed to be. In fact, my parents were not involved in my schooling at all. I did my homework. I planned my classes. I chose my activities. There was no such thing as a ‘private college counselor’ when we were growing up. My school counselor was the varsity wrestling coach.

This is radical, but what if the reason these kids feel ‘pressured’ is more about our manic need to control (i.e. coach) all aspects of their lives? What if the puppet strings are strangling them? What this documentary didn’t do was put forth the theory that parents need to release the stranglehold on their kids’ lives in order to allow for a more natural progression. Fire the experts and tutors and private coaches. Stop with the supplemental learning like Kumon and Sylvan. Scary, I know, because it may turn out that YOUR kid isn’t bright enough to take an AP class or get into Harvard. It may turn out that YOUR kid isn’t good enough to be on the A-team or in the Gifted and Talented Program at school.

Here’s a question: so what?

The fact is, some kids are not wired for college. Some kids will end up working at the grocery store or mowing lawns. They may become tradesmen or even drop out of high school altogether. Does that make them less valuable? Less smart? Does that give them less potential to achieve happiness in life?

With all that being said, my main beef about this movie is that it speaks so clearly to me about the bigger issue: we are pussifying our kids. Yes, I said it (and made up a word in the process). Our kids are pussies. They are coached from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed. They are programmed, directed, managed and supervised. We make all of their decisions for them (and please don’t give me that B.S. about how you simply give them choices). They are walking, talking status symbols for us. Our fear of failure is often the driver of our expectations for them, rather than allowing them to dictate their goals and objectives. We fail to see their actual potential, strengths and weaknesses, and what they’re actually capable of. We want a robot. We want the “perfect kid”. We want to post about them on Facebook.

After experiencing something like Race To Nowhere, the knee-jerk reactions of parents is almost scripted. They whisper nervously amongst their friends and family, they begin to act – either passively through deep thought and reflection or actively by contacting the school and issuing a referendum – the emotion crescendos, and then they slowly move back to their parenting ‘base of operations’, which is whatever strategy they follow naturally. Very few parents are moved to the point of long-term, life- and policy-changing action. We are like lemmings – we parent to the prevailing culture. Culture today dictates that kids need to push themselves in order to be competitive and “get into a good college”.

You can dress it up and put heels on it (i.e. watch a thousand documentaries), but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. You will most likely change nothing as a result of watching this film. Just admit it.

My referendum? Stop manufacturing an outcome. Let these kids breathe. Give them room to figure it out for themselves. That doesn’t mean disconnecting entirely, but stop living vicariously through them, and please stop trying to script a ‘perfect’ life for them.

There is no formula – if there was we’d all be doing it. Unfortunately, our generation of parenting is far too fear-based. Don’t play into the pressure any longer.

And by all means, see the movie. I’d love to hear your comments. For me it fell short of explaining the true problem. In a word….US.

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