Dollars and Sense

I’ll never forget my first real job. I’m not talking about chores around the house for allowance; I’m talking about the first time someone outside of my family hired me to do a job that I actually got paid for.

My family was living in Bird City, Kansas (a tiny town in the northwestern corner of the state) and I got “hired” to work in a little grocery store just two doors down from where my Mom worked as a teller at the First National Bank. There were two grocery stores in Bird City at the time (which was pretty incredible considering the population at the time was fewer than 500). I worked three days a week for an hour after school stocking the soda cooler. I’d organize the single cans into neat rows, and sometimes make six-packs by popping the cans into the plastic rings. I was paid $1.00, and usually spent 50 cents of it on candy before I left the store. The rest ended up in my piggy bank back home. If memory serves, I was 8-years-old.

I learned very quickly how great it felt to earn money and buy things I wanted. My parents always provided for Lindy and I, and made our lives comfortable, but there was something I enjoyed immensely about being able to watch my stash of cash grow and walk into a store to buy something that I worked hard to save up for.

I quickly graduated from stocking the soda cooler to spending my summers mowing lawns for both sets of grandparents and the neighbor lady who owned the vacant house next door, and babysitting for several families in the neighborhood. I got my first legit, let-the-government-take-half-my-paycheck-in-taxes job when I was a freshman in high school, logging 20+ hours a week at the local grocery store, Hinky Dinky, where I stocked shelves, scrubbed floors, and worked as a cashier, wearing the regulation Hinky Dinky polo and bright blue smock.

Working may not always be fun, but it is always rewarding. There’s always a sense of accomplishment and pride when you complete a task. And if you have a job that you actually enjoy, you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to earn a living and maybe even have a good time while you’re doing it.

Thankfully I married a man who shares my work ethic, and who also believes that it is important to teach our children the value of a dollar and that we live in a world where you are expected to work hard for what you want–whether that be tangible items you want to purchase from a store or more abstract goals you want to accomplish.

We started teaching this to Cadence very early. We enjoy buying things and treating her to thing we know she wants, but we are also very comfortable telling her no. She has chores she is expected to complete around the house without compensation–things like keeping her room clean, throwing her dirty laundry down the laundry chute, and taking her plate to the kitchen after meals. We feel it’s important for her to know that there are some things you just need to do without reward. Other things, like cleaning her bathroom or helping us clean up the yard, we offer her a small payment, which she promptly runs to deposit in her piggy bank.

Cadence has been saving her money for more than a year now. With the exception of a few dollars withdrawn to buy some of the cookies her Kindergarten class made for their Kids for Kids fundraiser (to help buy goats for children in Haiti), she has been quietly adding to her stash and feeling her piggy bank get heavier and heavier with the fruits of her labor (and all the extra pocket change her Papa Duane likes to give her just for being an awesome granddaughter). She finally decided she wanted to empty the bank and count her money and go treat herself to something at Toys R Us, so Stevie and I sat down with her to count all her hard-earned cash.

The one rule we have for Cadence’s money is that she also learn the importance of saving for the future. That means, any withdrawals she makes get “taxed”. Stevie takes 60% to deposit in Cadence’s college fund. The rest, she is free to spend however she wants.

So, we sat down and started, sorting all the coins, and then stacking them. By the time we finished, I think we were all a little surprised to see that Cadence had managed to squirrel away a grand total of $94.10.

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Stevie rounded up Cadence’s cut and handed over $40 for her to go shopping. When we arrived at Toys R Us, Cadence was giddy with excitement at the prospect of having so much money in her purse to pick out whatever she wanted.

Stevie took the stroller to go walk around and keep Henry occupied while Cadence and I meandered through the aisles and explored the possibilities. We looked at Barbies and dress up clothes and craft kits. We checked out some Lego kits. Cadence seemed pretty intrigued with the Lego Cinderella Castle and Avengers Tower sets, but scoffed when I told her the price.

“Those are way too expensive,” she said. “Let’s keep looking.”

She kept coming back to the My Little Pony aisle, picking up and putting down a dozen different figures and play sets until she finally decided on the My Little Pony Rainbow Kingdom Playset, with three levels of fun for the small collection of ponies she has managed to collect.

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When she found out she had enough money to buy it, she scooped up the box and beamed. She even had $10 left over, which she tells us she wants to take to school when she returns on Monday to donate to help buy another child a goat, or maybe pick out something for her little brother. She hasn’t decided just yet.

Back home, Stevie and Cadence sat down immediately to build Cadence’s new tower, and she has been playing with it non-stop ever since.

She’s already starting to fill that piggy bank back up. She’s hooked, and her daddy and I couldn’t be prouder.

And who knows, maybe one of these days she’ll take us up on the offer to help us pay the mortgage. 😉

 

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The 3 Reasons I Do Really Want To Win All That Lottery Money

Steven and I aren’t lottery addicts. In fact, we don’t really gamble much at all, which makes it sort of ironic that we were the couple who ended up having a big destination wedding at The Venetian in Las Vegas. Between the two of us, we maybe dropped a whopping $20 total into a couple of slot machines while we were there.

But, there comes a point where even we get sucked into playing the lottery. There’s just something about seeing that jackpot number climb into the hundreds of millions that gets even the most cynical person’s imagination going. We start formulating a gameplan to spend our imaginary riches. We dream of a life free of mortgage payments and student loan debt and trimming our household budget to accommodate the rising price of gas and groceries. We dream of a life free of money-related woes.

When the jackpots reach epic proportions, like tonight’s record $640 million, it always irritates me to see stories popping up like this one…

5 Reasons You Really Don’t Want To Win All That Lottery Money

Really?

I mean, I’m a writer, so I understand getting creative and looking for a fresh angle on a story. Everyone’s writing about the ginormous jackpot and smart ways to spend the winnings, so why not try to come up with a fresh idea. But coming up with a list of reasons why people don’t wanto win $640 million? Even fiction writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling wouldn’t try to spin such a far-fetched tale. Honestly, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to hit that jackpot?

And even if Steven and I still didn’t strike it rich tonight, I thought I’d share the three reasons I do want to win all that lottery money.

1. Our House, In the Middle of Our Street

In a way, Steven and I consider ourselves extremely fortunate. In an economy where it is becoming nearly impossible for the average person to actually get a mortgage, we own not one, but two homes. We bought our first house in Arizona in the summer of 2008. At the time, it made perfect sense. The house was a foreclosure in a great neighborhood, and everyone was saying that the housing market was bottoming out. For the same price as renting, we could be homeowners, so we decided to jump in. Little did we know that just two years later, we would be moving away from Arizona and our lovely house was barely worth half of what we paid for it.

So much for the market bottoming out!

So, we decided to secure a tenant and lease the property until the market recovered enough for us to sell. We never fancied ourselves landlords, but here we are, settling into a new house in Nebraska and waiting for the day we can finally kiss the house in Arizona goodbye. So, what would we do first with those lottery winnings? Pay off those houses of course!

2. School’s Out For Summer

After the mortgage payoff extravaganza, our second agenda item would be to send a fat check over to pay off my student loans. It’s been nearly 10 years since I graduated from Concordia with my B.A. and I’m still paying for it.

Funniest part is, I’ve got a Master’s Degree too, but that debt is all settled up.

Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe that my education was worth every single penny (and probably more). I’m not even sure I could put a price tag on the experiences I had at Concordia. After all, I met some of my best friends and mentors there. And best of all, I met Steven there. So, without Concordia, there would be no marriage, no sassy 2-year-old named Cadence, no lazy hound dog. Hell, I’m not even sure I’d be here at all, so yeah, it’s been worth the 10 years of payments and a whole lot more.

I’d be happy to see that monthly payment gone though. Just sayin’.

3. In A Rich Man’s World

I wouldn’t consider myself a greedy person. I don’t need a lot of money to survive. I like to pay my bills, treat myself every so often to a bag of gourmet coffee or a movie, and have a little left over to squirrel away in the bank for a rainy day. I don’t covet all the newest, most expensive gadgets. I don’t dream of wearing the latest designer clothes. I don’t need to drive a tricked out sports car or live in a massive estate and throw elaborate parties to impress people. Hell, I didn’t even own an Ipod until 2 years ago, and I’m happy to drive around in my $1000 minivan, complete with hail damage and a busted factory stereo.

What would be nice about the lottery money though, is the financial freedom it would provide. Instead of worrying when the car breaks down and needs $3000 worth of repairs, we could just get it fixed (or get a new one). Instead of worrying about the cost of preschool and gas and airfare and Cadence’s future college education, we could rest easy knowing that it will all be taken care of. So no, we don’t necessarily want or need the entire $640 million jackpot, but we sure wouldn’t turn it down if our numbers popped up in that machine.

Honestly, after that, I don’t know what Steven and I would do with all that money. We’re not the type who splurge just to splurge. We would probably do a little updating to our home here in Nebraska–replacing the rest of the windows that the former owners didn’t, turning the garage loft into a music studio/man room for Steven, and installing a separate shower in our upstairs bathroom. And maybe, we’d do some traveling, making sure we were able to visit all the friends and relatives we live so far away from and miss so much, and then maybe head over to Italy and Ireland and London and Turkey so we could finally have the honeymoon we never got the first time around.

After that, life would probably just go on as usual around here because, really, we’re just pretty ordinary.

What’s Wrong with the World Today? Two words–Amanda Clayton

Stop what you’re doing.

Look, I can say that and you need obey because you’re reading my blog and in this little corner of the universe, I make the rules. No seriously, stop right here for a minute, because there is something you need to see. Click the link, read the article, and watch the video, then come back, because I have something to say…

Lottery Winner Still Using Michigan Bridge Card

My head hurts.

How’s  yours?

Seriously people, I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty laidback girl. I’ve never been the type who lets a whole lot bother me. If you’re one of the few people who has ever been able to truly get under my skin and actually make me angry, I daresay you probably deserve some sort of World’s Biggest Asshole Award.

I’m not quite sure I even want to know what that trophy would look like. But Amanda Clayton? She just jumped to the top of my list of nominees.

Maybe it’s the fact that I was raised by people who had to work hard for everything they had. Or maybe it’s because I always had to work hard too. Hell, maybe it’s just because I believe that everything in life–from money to respect–should be be earned. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing that gets me fired up faster than people who walk around with a big, fat sense of entitlement.

See, here’s the deal. Somehow, we get lucky enough to get a ride on this planet for a little while. It doesn’t matter if you believe it was God’s will or just a happy accident. However, it happens, it happens. Your heart beats, the synapses in your brain fire, and you breathe in and out. Those, my friends, are the only “freebies” you’re ever given, the only things in this life you should ever expect for nothing in return.

After that, your life is what you make of it. You want something? Stop whining about how you “should” have it. Stop expecting someone else to drop it in your lap and pick up the tab. Stop trying to take the easy road and cheat the system. You want it? Get off your lazy ass and earn it.

I understand that life is full of ups and downs. We all go through tough times at one point or another. But instead of expecting someone to bail you out, why don’t you find a way to change the situation?

Amanda, my dear, if times were so tough and you had bills to pay and no job or income, why the hell would you blow the $500,000 you won in the lottery to buy a 2nd house and new car? I  mean, is one house not good enough? Maybe it would have been a smarter choice to use some of your winnings to buy…oh, I don’t know, maybe GROCERIES, instead of thinking that, somehow, the food you eat should be paid for by the hardworking taxpayers. You know, taxpayers? Those people who actually have jobs and work hard to earn money so they can pay for their homes and put food on their own tables.

I have no problem helping people in need. In fact, I believe we humans were put on this earth, not only to do the very best we can for ourselves, but to do what we can to help others achieve their full potential too. Sometimes, when the bottom drops out and you’ve got no other options, it’s nice to know there’s hope, a way to survive and feed your family until you can get back on your feet and pay your own way again. But knowingly, willingly, and intentionally cheating the system and stealing money out of other people’s pockets? Yeah, I have a problem with that.

I guess the difference between me and Amanda (well, at least one of the differences because Lord knows, there are many) is that I have a little bit of pride. I’m proud to work, to earn my keep, to feel that sense of accomplishment when I finish a project or complete a task and know that I did it the very best I could. I’m proud to contribute to something that is larger than myself. And I’m proud to pass down a strong work ethic to a new generation, just like my parents and grandparents did for me.

Who knows, maybe it will catch on.

As for you, Miss Clayton. All I can hope is that someone figures out a way to fix the broken system that is rewarding your laziness. Because Lord knows, if I was in charge, the first thing I would do is track down people like you and start sending you bills instead of foodstamps because, if you ask me, it’s high time you get to work and start paying back what you owe.

How We Broke H&R Block

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is not a day in the lives of Steven and Lori Romano that could ever be called mundane. I don’t know what it is about us, but we seem to attract all things strange, crazy, extraordinary, and downright bizarre.

Take our recent tax issue for instance. (If you need to review the full backstory click HERE).

When we left H&R Block a week ago, we weren’t 100% certain how the whole First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit was going to play out, but I have to say, we were bracing ourselves for the worst and getting the money in place in case we found out that we needed to immediately repay the lump sum.

Funny thing was, after spending almost two hours sitting with our tax guy, we still didn’t have any answers about the damn Homebuyer Credit. He tried looking it up in his manual, searching the IRS website, and even tried entering about two dozen different things into the computer, but nothing seemed to work. We went ahead and e-filed our return, and went home to do a little more research on the Homebuyer Credit.

Two days later, our tax guy called. After spending several hours online and poring over his manuals, the best he could tell was that the balance was likely due. Wanting to make sure we were taking the right steps, Steven headed over to the local IRS office to ask a few questions and see if he could get some answers straight from the horse’s mouth.

Of course, the agent that Steven spoke to acted like we must either be a couple of morons or a couple of thieves. That’s right, sir, we’re criminals. Tax evaders. We’re here in your office of our own volition trying to figure out how to give this money back and all you’ve got for us is a whole bunch of attitude and a a half-assed explanation of the forms we will need to fill out to amend our current tax refund.

So, tonight we headed back over to H&R Block with the amendment forms and our tax guy got to work again.

And that’s when we broke H&R Block.

You want to know why our economy is in the crapper? This First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit is a prime example. See, our government is the king of the bait and switch. They decide they want to stimulate the economy and motivate hardworking Americans to buy homes, so they start giving money away as an incentive. When it starts going well, they change the rules, and instead of an actual tax credit, buyers are issued a loan. As soon as people start catching on and home sales start to plummet, they change the rules again. Then, when the economy continues to tank, they start scrambling to clean up the mess and make more of a mess in the process.

See, with all the changes and the backpedaling and the mismanagement, somebody apparently forgot what the rules were in the first place, and our poor tax guy has apparently gotten stuck with what he is saying is the craziest situation he’s seen in all his years in the business. Tomorrow, he and his manager get to call the H&R Block headquarters to discuss what appears to be a very big glitch in the system that literally will not allow us to complete our taxes.

We won’t know for sure what the issue is until we hear back from the folks over at headquarters, but apparently, because Steven and I are being responsible, honest, diligent citizens, the system can’t decide what to do with our First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit. See, they made rules and provisions for people who foreclosed on their homes, people who walked away from their homes, people who died, people who divorced, homes that were condemned, homes that were destroyed, homes that were sold for a loss. But they didn’t make any sort of rules about people who simply moved out.

How does this happen, people? And how does it always happen to us?

All we want to do is pay back the money and be done with this whole mess. But apparently, the government doesn’t want it too badly. If they did, they wouldn’t make it so damned impossible. At this point, we should either be receiving some sort of compensation from H&R Block for being some sort of case study, or a loan forgiveness from the government because it was their stupid rule (or rather lack of rules) that got us into this mess in the first place.

What’s going to be really interesting though is seeing whether or not the IRS even catches its own mistake when they process the return. We filed it last week, so we’ll just have to see what happens when the return arrives.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

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