Saturday morning quiet is where I exist at this moment. My family, including the dog and cat, are resting comfortably in their beds upstairs, asleep after their late Friday night revelry. Alyssa is home for a short two day visit, snuggled up with her mother in her bedroom last night for a pajama party as I ventured down the hallway to bed, a quick “good night” as I stuck my head in to check on them. The MacBook was out and ready for what was most likely a Gilmore Girl marathon. Nate was perched in his usual spot, Xbox blazing and cell phone out as he kibitzed with his teenage buddies. I got out of bed around 5 this morning to shut his bedroom light off, his Xbox controller still in contact with his outstretched fingertips on the bed next to his snoring carcass. He won’t stir until at least noon today. There is probably another hour of quiet left in my morning, the girls and animals likely will emerge from the chrysalis of sleep about mid morning.
Me? I’m plotting my day’s activities as I write. Last Saturday was a ice/snow ride in the woods, today too warm and sloppy for a ride in the woods. Sloppy is not what I prefer. My road bike needs a new hoop for the rear wheel, so it’s not going to come out of the garage. An old Univega hybrid, once the bike I road almost exclusively for my work commute, is hanging from the garage rafters and waiting to be reconditioned. Today seems like a good idea to start that project, perhaps an hour or so ride on that bike is in order. Tax documents also are ready for me, so I may dive in on that chore later on today. Doing the taxes is not something that I loathe, but it’s one of those chores that I like to get out of the way early. With a child in college, the FAFSA requires the information from a completed and accepted tax return, so there is extra motivation to get the taxes done early.
In that Alaska coffee cup is a perfect brew of Starbucks Italian Roast. If the coffee is portioned correctly for the brew, a task I have somehow perfected as of late, the sweetness of the dark roast is further enhanced by the sweetener added. There are two sips left in my third cup of that brew, almost intoxicating to me on a morning like this. When the seal breaks, I will get a head start on my Saturday workout.
This year has already given me opportunity to struggle with a tough decision. That Alaska coffee cup reminds me of that decision, one that I finally made a little over a week ago. “Finally” is a necessary word for this story because the initial decision wasn’t accepted, forcing me to reconsider and make a stronger case for the decision. I debated with myself as well as my wife for more than a month before making the announcement — I am not going to Alaska with my family this June for a wedding.
A few months ago, our daughter was asked to be a bridesmaid by her cousin for her June wedding. We have known for several months about the wedding, excited for Mir’s family and her niece. Inga has lived with us several times over the years, a happy little blonde pixie who I love like she is my own daughter. Her father, Dan, is one of my favorite brother-in-laws (I have four) mainly because our personalities and interests are very similar. When we found out about the wedding, my wife was supposed to be putting away money from her paycheck for the trip and airfare. January came, time to buy the plane tickets if they were going to be affordable, her sisters putting the pressure on her to buy the tickets now.
One problem — my wife has not saved a penny for the plane tickets or trip. I can’t pay for them as my paycheck pays all of our bills, little to none in the budget from my pay to save for a trip to Alaska. I get paid twice a month, the first paycheck going towards the major bills with just enough left for fuel and food, the second covering the rest of the bills (car payment, cell phones for wife/kids, etc). Besides air fare expenses for the trip, there are going to be plenty of expenses for the 11 days that my wife wants to stay in Alaska. Not only is my wife not saving money for the plane tickets, she is not regulating her spending, often going through her pay so quickly that she is borrowing from our joint account (my paycheck.. hers goes into her own account).
The other problem was the time away from work needed for the trip. When I said no to the Alaska trip the first time, which was a few weeks ago, time away from work was the reason that I gave. If I went for the full trip, it would mean 8 working days away from my job. In a three person office, at the height of our busiest time of the year, it would be a bad thing. My boss flinched when I told him I needed to take 8 days in June. He was fair to me, said it was my time to take but hoped that I could at least reduce some of that time. That probably meant going just for the wedding and coming home early, without my family. Unfortunately, the discount plane tickets had to be purchased in pairs and those two people would be required to travel together. After a good deal of wrestling with the details, I decided that the expense and time away just were not justified for a wedding.
I hated making the decision. I honestly did. I like my wife’s family (for the most part) and it would be great to see my daughter decked out as a bride’s maid. Her family feels the same way about me and offered to pay for my plane ticket.
Part of the struggle is knowing that I know there are changes that need to be made in my family if my marriage is to survive. One big change is our finances. Our resources need to be managed better, spending decreased, budget seriously adhered to, debt reduced (not increased). That meant (means) not spending more money on the Alaska trip than is needed. If I do not go, my wife and kids won’t need a rental car or hotel, as well as other expenses reduced. My son likely won’t get to do the fun things with his father, but more than likely will spend more time with his cousins as a result. The girls will be consumed with the wedding details for at least half of the trip. So I presented the hard financial facts to my wife, showing her that best case scenario of savings from my pay would be $400 by June. I would have to turn down the kind offer of her sister paying for my plane ticket. She would borrow the money from her sister for her air fare and for our children’s air fare, something that I have real doubts she will be able to repay, especially if she is going to be able to save for expenses during the June trip.
The second time that I said no, my wife agreed with one condition — I would have to tell her sister that I was not going and would not be accepting the money for my plane ticket. My wife wanted me to email her sister. I thought about her request, initially bristling, but after a little consideration welcomed the chance to explain to her sister why I was not going. I didn’t email her, I called her, explained my desire to convey how serious I am about our family finances. We need to learn to live on what we have. This is an opportunity to convey that message in a way that shows how serious that I am.
This is a decision that really makes me feel like the bad guy. I don’t like being the bad guy. I am one of those people that wants to always be the good guy, enough that I sometimes do not make the hard decisions that I need to make. Before I made the decision to forego the Alaska trip, I called the person I trust the most in my life, my father. Dad listened to me, told me that he understands why I need to make the decision, especially considering all he knows about my marriage. Dad did not tell me what decision I needed to make, but he told me that I was thinking along the right lines, that my reasoning was sound. He said that there are both positive and negative consequences from the decision, thus the struggle, but the potential positive likely outweighs the negative. And he said one thing to me that stuck — Steve, you need to make a decision like this one right now. I thanked him sincerely for the encouragement and for listening to me. My father has learned to listen to me in the last few years.. and he always tells me that he and my mother pray for me each day. If you do not know the assurance that the knowledge of someone praying for you gives you, you are missing something. It is strengthening.
The decision has given the message to my family that I am serious about the money we spend. The past two weeks, I have put together a day to day menu with a grocery list on Sunday. I do the grocery shopping, cook most of the meals. There has been resistance, but the message is being delivered. It gives some strength to my no response when someone, usually our son, wants fast food or a pint of premium ice cream, luxuries far too common for him (as in daily luxuries). The next step will likely be eliminating the funds available in the joint checking account, opening my own checking account and leaving only enough cash in the joint account to pay bills. I am tired of financial stress.
There is a full blog, a ton of information. Now to start on that bike (I won’t be changing out parts — no money in the budget for that!!!).
Coffee is gone. Day is ready for me to move…..