Financial Disaster Recovery series # 1 -Budgeting

Your finances are a mess. You can’t keep up with bills, there isn’t enough income to cover bills, you’re late, and getting shutoff notices and have no money for anything remotely fun- no eating out, no fancy foods and coffee. The internet loves Dave Ramsey style advice, but that advice is out of touch with the reality of the disaster budgeting. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and not plan, and just run around putting out fires like crazy, and get nowhere.

What I want to do, is try to outline how I got myself out of disaster. I had been missing work due to migraines, and I was covered by FMLA, but the time was always unpaid. I was losing 20-40% of my take-home pay, and struggling to make ends meet. I was late paying rent 5 months in a row(which also added fees I couldn’t afford. I was down to a day before being evicted, when I paid the last late one, and finally was able to pay on time. I was driving Uber to try and make up the lost wages, but that paid less than half of my job per hour, so it was rough.

Depression and stress made it even harder, but I did finally get out, and back into the black, once I pulled up my big boy panties and got to work on goals rather than just fighting every fire that came up. I left some fires burn to the ground. I chose which fires to fight, and made sacrifices. You will too, but only you can decide your path.

Before the method – a note- Do not get payday loans to try to get out of disaster, they cost a fortune and will only delay your actual recovery! Sell things you don’t NEED. Do you need 3 TVs in your house? Do you even have time to play that PS4/Xbox etc? Tablets, Jewelry, Decorations, etc. You can buy this stuff back later, at the same relative cost as you sold it.

If you have to get money quick, take some non-essentials to a pawn shop, the finance charge is usually way lower than payday loans, but still, this should be a last resort, same-day emergency only.

Ok, so on to the method. My first major goal was to prioritize what bills got paid and when.

Prioritizing where your money goes.

Budgeting out of disaster, looks very different from budgeting in normal financial situations. When you don’t have enough income to cover all the bills on time you need to dig deep and prioritize.
It won’t be the exact same for everyone, but I’ll add reasoning to my list, so that you can think through your own situation and adjust accordingly.
Second, you likely will hurt your credit significantly through this process. But you can’t really use credit for things like buying a house, when in disaster. You can repair later, and I plan on making a guide for that too, but there are decent ones out there.
Stop paying all unsecured credit. Call them and tell them you are in financial hardship. Most will work with you, extending payment dates, etc.

#1 – Transportation

You have to be able to get to work. Whether that’s a car, bike, bus, etc. It’s possible that you could be walking distance from a job, but it wasn’t really for me.

#2 – Nutrition

Notice, that I did not say “food’. Eating nothing but Ramen noodles or dollar cheeseburgers will only make your future harder. But, I’m not saying to go Organic Gluten-Free etc either. Find bargains that provide nutrition. Clearance deals, check the deli and produce sections early in the mornings for deals on food with expiration coming up soon. Walmart sells these footlong sandwiches, and I often find them for $2.50 on clearance in the mornings. Veggies like carrots, cucumbers, green beans are cheap and provide some great nutrition. Plan on eating at home almost exclusively.

#3 – Communication

You need to be able to talk to employers. But you don’t need a fancy phone and top tier phone service to do so.

I canceled my T-Mobile account, after being with them for 11 years. I had a balance on my equipment that I will have to pay down, but after I’m back at normal. I went to Boost Mobile, and saved 65% over T-Mobile. The data was advertised as 4g LTE… but it was the slowest 4g I’ve ever had. But the calls worked just fine.

#4 – Housing

Dig deep and check your options to move to a smaller, less expensive place. I went from a 3 bedroom to a 2 bedroom in an economically disadvantaged part of town, and saved over $500.

I would think it through long and hard before breaking a lease though. That will make your future housing options very limited. If that isn’t an option, get a roommate to split expenses.

#5 – Utilities

If push comes to shove, it doesn’t make sense to keep the lights on in an apartment you are going to lose. If it gets that bad and you’re in shut off notice territory, start looking for other options. Call each Utility and tell them you’re experiencing financial hardship and ask if they have any assistance programs. Usually, they will at least let you push out your payments, but often they have resources that they will direct you to help cover the bill. Many local churches also off assistance, of course, they will want to talk to you about your relationship with Jesus Christ, but they do help people. In Austin, you can dial 311 from your phone, which is city services and they will refer you to local support.

Most utilities have a reconnect fee if you get shut off. Pay very close attention to this. You’ll have to call them and ask for shutoff dates usually, and I would call them the day after a due date that went by unpaid. I failed to track this close enough and got my power shut off, and it cost me $225 to get it back on, $75 for the reconnect fee, and they then insisted on a $150 deposit. It hit super hard and made recovery much much worse.

#6 – Non-essentials

Here is the hard part. Cancel all subscriptions that you do not NEED. Especially ones that are distractions from meeting your goals. IE, Netflix, Cable etc. Stop paying anything that’s not essential, until you are caught up. Keep a list of these bills, so that you can address them later and also prioritize when to pay something.

Use public wifi to search for jobs. Most apartments have business centers for residents, that have Wifi, Computers, and printers if you don’t have your own. I went to Taco Cabana from 4-7 for Happy hour. I’d buy a $.99 beverage, and use their wifi for a few hours. There are apps to find public wifi as well. You can almost exclusively, job-hunt and apply for jobs with a smartphone. I almost never used a computer, except to re-write resumes. Small edits, I would just do on my phone.

Coming up next – Making a budget spreadsheet.

Next, I’ll go over my method to track daily, your bills and income. This lets you see into the future and plan, but also keep track of the essential bills so you don’t rack up fees, as I did with my electric.

Aligning the universe!

I took a little break to set up my world for focusing on programming for the next 3 months.  I have finally broken from the bottom of the barrell and starting to see light!

A new Desk, re-arranged the room, got some new deco to amplify my vibe.
I bought a current-generation laptop, a Dell Inspiron 15 7000, which is a huge improvement over the 2011 Mac Book Air I was using. 900×600 is way too small of a resolution to get anything done!
This baby is 4k! I can fit soooooooooo much on my screen without alt+tabbing.

I also bought back into codecademy Pro, I want to run a few projects, and have its App, which has review questions and practice nodes, so that I can keep keep learning and working on it,  while away from the computer. If you want to check it out, here’s a link:

codecademy / PRO

There are a few topics on Rideshare, and budgeting that I want to make videos for, but I don’t expect to spend a lot of time on that over the next few months.

My favorite app based banks

There’s a new(ish) breed of bank accounts popping up, online-only app-based accounts that run on your smart phone and do not have brick and mortar locations.

USAA was like this for me forever, so I’ve been using app based banks for over a decade now.

I’ve tried 3 of what looked like the best and and 1 banking app that’s setup to give your teenagers a debit card.

We’re going to look at an overview for Chime, N26, and MoneyLion. I’ll cover Current, in another post or video.

I’ll make detailed reviews of each here shortly.

Chime is easy to use and navigate. Links to most major banks using Plaid’s secure service(but not all, I can’t link it to N26). But it’s biggest feature that gives it a unique edge, is the ability to make cash deposits. Any greendot location(CVS, Walgreen’s) can deposit**for a small fee**. As someone who does random side jobs, being able to deposit cash is nice.

N26 is… special. I’m drawn to it’s saving “spaces”, which are like sub-accounts. You can choose to include the balance on each space in your overall total, or hide it. I find it missing some key features I require. You can’t link other Banks. You can transfer in, if you link N26 from another bank, but that’s it. No cash deposits. Quirky perks based on weird subscriptions.

MoneyLion roars! By far my overall favorite. A full featured and rich experience, the only thing that it’s missing is cash deposits. You can mobile check deposit, link to other Banks, see your credit score and more. MoneyLion nudges you towards microinvesting, and offers a network of credit card options(which is as good as it’s bad). The plus account is $20a month, but every day you log in, they deposit $1 into your investment account. Up to the cost of the plus plan. It also has a mirco loan built in for direct deposit users. It will let you borrow 20% of your monthly deposit average, and pay it back out of your next. No fee.

Overall, I’ll be using the MoneyLion as my primary account. But both N26 and Chime fit a niche need too. Chime is simple for those who don’t want frills, and has key features like account linking and cash deposit. N26 can help you look at saving in another way.

In the next day, I should be putting out video reviews, with screenshots of key features, so if you want a little more information, stay tuned.

If you want to try one, sign up here, for a bonus:

MoneyLion – $10 for trying the Plus program, ( it’s not required, but the plus account is where the Instacash and $500 personal line of credit come in).

Chime – get $50 when you get your first direct deposit!

Ñ26 – Get $5 back on your first purchase of $10 or more on your N26 debit card.

Winning as a parent

What does winning as a parent look like? Is it when your kid doesn’t throw a fit in the store? Or acts like a little, calm grown up while eating dinner at a restaurant? An Advanced Reader in Pre-School?

Those things are great things. They’re achievements. And I’m not going to knock achievements. But, I am of the opinion, that they are not the whole kit and caboodle of making a great kid.

For me, the things I’ve felt the strongest WINs with, are when I see them surpass me.

I grew up on a dairy farm. I was totally what we now call ‘economically disadvantaged’. -A pretty euphemism created so that those above you can disassociate the reality of poverty.

I was lucky, among my siblings, I was the caboose. The last of the offspring for my parents. My next closest sibling was 6 years older than me. When I was born, my parents had less mouths to feed, as the others had grown and left the nest.

Even so, I felt the tight strings of a single income family, making a living in agriculture. I am ever so grateful for all my parents did for me. Every last bit of it. I do not sit here today, feeling I missed out on a damn thing. However, as a teenager, having my first car be a beat up banana yellow Chevy Luv.. felt humbling. My peers all had Hondas and Toyotas, I had the smoking banana.

Onto landing this plane.

The next generation for me, to my daughters, finds me a single father, scraping the bottom of just-barely-not-being-‘economically disadvantaged’. My younger daughter lamented to me, that she wished she had more of the ‘cool brands’ that her friends wear. Most of our clothes come from Target’s clearance rack, garage sales etc. But the way she did it, without whining. It wasn’t a complaint, it was a graceful expression of desire without faulting the lack of.

Both of my daughters surpass me, I think in their grace in wanting more material things, yet showing gratitude for where we are. I always wanted the new nintendo thing that was always way out of budget. I can’t honestly say I wasn’t a little shit about never getting it sometimes. And I did get some of them, sometimes, more often than I’d like to think about- because I now know it always came at the cost of something else I never thought about. I can see now that the summer I got my Game Boy, that we mostly went fishing around home instead going camping a few hours away.

So, its a humbling win, when I can see that my children have surpassed me. Some is nature and genetics, but some is environment and what they are taught. And these wins, feel amazing, and I do accept a bit of responsibility for that.

New Direction!

I started this blog just as a way to, document my journey into self taught Web Development. And, that will remain a primary focus of what I hope to do here.

I have also, separately, started a Facebook and Youtube channel in the hope of helping people out there make a little extra money in the wasteland that is the gig economy. That is, the Ubers, and Lyfts, and Instacarts, and Postmates, Bird, Lime etc.

It didn’t feel entirely cohesive, as I wasn’t first and foremost a rideshare driver. This blog didn’t even feel cohesive, as I still know very little to make it worth having a presence on the web. But both of these endeavors were taken in the vein of helping those who come after me. If anything I say, can help someone, that gives my weird little soul some happiness.

Both endeavors also center around taking responsibility for your situation and working to make it better. Even if you don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the answers, I hope I never do. But I’ll share what I can in the effort that someone stumbles a little less than I did.

But what ties them together, for me, what makes both of them take such a front and center space in my life, is being a parent in an age of capitalism and terrible, terrible parenting.

Being a Dad, is hands down my favorite job. Even when it was non-stop poopy diapers. I want to take back up Web Development, to secure a better future as a Dad(and granddad maybe). I took up Uber and Lyft a year and a half ago, to provide more for my kids right now.

So, here it is, Thomas Aurelius – Dad on a Dime. Where I put both of these eggs into the same basket, because for me, I’m a Dad first. I can speak more authentically from this parent-being centered space, than I can from a Web Development space- or a Lyft or Uber driver/gig worker space.

That said, anyone is welcome. No exclusions, all aboard.

Cool Stuff!

I found some cool Amazon stuff for keeping your car clean and tidy!

About React…..

I’m kind of stuck with getting the run build to work right.

I built my app on codeanywhere’s IDE, but now I have found that getting it off of there and into the real world is less simple than I’d hoped.

So, in the meantime, I made a new profile for my side gig, ridesharing. I’ve wanted to make a page to share with riders from out of town, my favorite things in Austin. This has a “best of Austin” linkset, that for now, just links to outside posts, that I agree with their contents. In the future, I want to personalize some of my favorites, while still providing the broad links.

http://thomasaurelius.com/projects/referral/index.html

It has a rideshare section that has some recruitment links, and some of my favorite apps, for drivers and riders.

I hope to get the React App version out soon, as it looks cleaner, no scrolling.

If the React issue takes too long, I will switch the profile page over to some Javascript and just use dynamic html to create a single page app.

Onto React!

I’ve been slacking in updating here, but I have been working on Javascript a lot lately, as well as making a couple new web pages just to refresh.
React is what I’m working on now. I certainly understand the high level flow of React, but I’m still working out exactly how routing and state/props work.

I’ve completed all the freecodecamp.org React modules, but I still want more practice before I add redux to it. Once I have that, I am going to make a few web apps and then start diving into Android/iPhone apps.

I made a random quote generator with just js, now I want to go back and make it using React. -> https://codepen.io/ThomasAurelius/full/ymXoyB

I also made a landing page for Uber and Lyft referrals, I’m going to use a URL shortener, and generate a QR code to link to it, and put it in my car. – > http://thomasaurelius.com/projects/referral/index.html

Back in the game!

Took a short break to address some work priorities, and some family health issues.

I just finished my first, from scratch, Javascript powered game- hangman. Well, finished the prototype… it works. Not flashy, but now I will work on polishing it off. But it does have win and lose logic, random words, and words of varying lengths. I still need to go and make it responsive. I was so focused on the javascript and getting the functionality going, that I didn’t work on any breakpoints.

Hangman

For me, this is a big jump, from the hand holding projects from freecodecamp.org. They were totally useful learning tools, but working from scratch with just notepad and chrome dev tools really helps me understand and think forward much better.

L’eggo my eggo..

I found myself struggling to really understand what I was doing at freecodecamp.org. I was completing exercises… but not feeling like I actually understood what I was doing. So, I have gone back and paid for another month of codecademy. Freecodecamp.org was more of a skills check and less of a learning outlet in Javascript. Codecademy has you build the javascript line at a time, rather than just having you mimic code with a different variable name. I do plan to go back and complete the freecodecamp.org stuff, but once I have a better understanding.

Also, I have been listening to a video by Tony Alicea, about the weird parts of Javascript. the first 3.5 hours are on youtube, the rest at Udemy. I haven’t paid for the Udemy parts yet, but I think I will. His 3.5 hour video, I’ve learned a lot from so far.