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It’s time for me to go through our expenses with a flea comb and figure out what we can get rid of.  This is nothing new, as we have been slowly cutting back for a year now.  J got a pretty good severance package and we had some cash savings that combined with the unemployment ensured that our lifestyle didn’t have to change much in the first year.  Of course, we always assumed that another job was right around the corner and never would have dreamed that our unemployment would have lasted this long.  After our severance was gone and the savings began to dwindle is when we started to get real nervous, and now that we are facing a total cut off of all income, it’s a full-blown panic.

Our student loans have already been in deferment for about a year.  We still are accruing interest, but at least we don’t have to pay them now, and that saves us about $600 dollars a month.  Our retirement account has started to pay about 25% of our mortgage.  It takes some of the pressure off, but I hate so much that we are dipping into any of it.  Every dollar we take out of there means four fewer dollars we will have later on.  Each year that we dip into it mean an extra two years we will have to work, assuming we even start making as much money as we were before.  It also assumes that the markets recover, which it is harder and harder to believe will ever happen.  The long-term unemployed can expect to earn about 20% less over the course of their careers.  That is a big hit.

J and I have always been frugal, and have always lived within our means, which I hope will be our saving grace now.  We have one TV, a 1750 square foot house, two beater cars with 120,000 miles on each of them.  Aside from our honeymoon in Quebec, we have never taken an international vacation and only one domestic vacation per year.  We don’t have any credit card debt.  Our biggest expense next to the mortgage is food, so that is where I will be making some deep cuts, while still trying to eat healthy.

Here are some other items that are on the chopping block:

  1. Cable.  This one seems obvious, but we only had basic plus HBO, so I was holding off on it for a long time.  Our “Triple Play Package” is $110 per month, plus $17 for the HBO.  I am going to call them and ask to get rid of everything, and downgrade our internet connection to the basic (read: slow) $25 per month.  That will save us $100 dollars a month.  I will keep our Netflix unlimited streaming package at $8 per month, though I hear its going up.
  2. Cell phones.  I’m sort of dreading this one.  We have a family plan, and I use a smart phone.  Our plan is $60 a month, plus $10 for the extra line for my husband.  We never go over our 700 minutes.  My unlimited data plan though is another $30 a month.  I got my phone for inventory tracking, order and credit card processing at farmers markets and craft fairs.  I’m in love with it.  I’m so reluctant to give it up.  I’m going to look back in my records and if I have at least $30 in credit card orders per month that I process on my smart phone, then I’m going to keep it.
  3. Food.  This is the big one.  I’ll be talking a lot about this.  I’m the primary hunter and gatherer in the house and always looking for more ways to save.  The warning is that we do not eat the standard American diet.  I (and by extension, the rest of my family) don’t eat gluten, grains, legumes, processed sugar (and minimal natural sugar) or industrial vegetable oils.  For ethical reasons, my husband wont eat CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meat and for health reasons I strictly limit it.  He and the kids will eat some grains, but we just dont have much in the house.  What I never have in the house are processed foods no crackers, cookies, goldfish, pasta, boxed mixes of any kind, chicken nuggets, etc.  We make everything from scratch, and only use fresh ingredients.  To say this will be a challenge is an understatement.  I do a lot of food preservation projects like fermenting, freezing and canning.  I always want to learn more, too so please pipe in with any other techniques you think I should look into. I really need to learn cheese making. Unfortunately we aren’t great gardeners.  Our garden this year, and last, produced nothing but copious jalapenos.  I’m not complaining.
  4. Utilities. Our house was built in 1830.  This sort of makes things tough.  Winter is coming, and we have two little kids so we can’t exactly leave the thermostat at 50 like I used to do.  We recently had the basement insulated, we have a smart meter to watch our electricity usage, and we keep insulated blinds drawn all night in winter.
  5. Household Expenses. You know soap, detergent, cleaners, diapers and wipes, paper towels, plastic bags, sippy cups that are always getting lost, socks, gas, underpants.  I need to find alternatives to all the above and more.  Except the underpants.  I think that will be the last thing to get downsized.

You might be wondering why I don’t have a job.  I was lucky to be able to leave my job when my daughter as born so that I could be home with her.  I’m a Social Worker and I specialize in the treatment of psychological trauma.  I worked with kids and adults who were survivors of sexual violence and I loved my work.  The thing is that no one else does.  We were always the first to get our budgets cut, and the last to get funding.  Despite my Masters degree and year of specialized postgraduate training, I made about 25K per year.  It just didn’t make sense to pay for full-time childcare for that kind of paycheck.  I kept meaning to go back to work, but other things kept getting in the way, like illness and more babies.  There aren’t many temporary social work jobs out there, and I don’t want to commit to clients if I’m just going to have to quit after J gets a job.  A typical social work job isn’t going to pay enough to cover full-time daycare for two kids.  In fact, I did work briefly selling my soul for a crushing job that paid 45K, and after health insurance and daycare, I brought home $230 a month.  Pretty bad.  When J can make three times my top pay scale, it behooves us to just get him working.

And besides, I do work.   I put my crafty skills to work and started my business.  J helps me a lot with it, and I get to do something I was already doing for people I really like.  It’s fun, but it ain’t gonna save the family farm.

Coming next: Putting Food By: Projects in Food Hoarding.  Let me know in the comments anything specific you want me to cover, and thanks again for coming along.

This is going to be a blog about how I get my family through it.  There is a lot of back story here, so bear with me.  J and I have been together for ten years, married for eight.  In 2006, everything looked great; we bought our dream house in our dream town.  He had a great job as an economic consultant with a great paycheck and I had a great job as a social worker with a crappy paycheck, but I loved it and we were happy.  We decided to proliferate.  It wasn’t as easy as we had hoped, and I had to go through fertility treatments which were emotionally and physically taxing, but they worked and we had our awesome baby girl Hazel in February 2008.

Six months later, my hands went numb.  Then my chest.  Then my back.  I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in September 2008 and it was a very difficult time for us, as one can imagine.  The fear of the unknown is overwhelming, but through it all J and I tried to focus on all our blessings;  Hazel, MS is not fatal, my prognosis was good, we were fortunate enough to have good insurance to cover all the imaging, medications and steroid infusions, and above all we were thankful that I was the one who was sick instead of our daughter.

Be careful when you put things like this out into the universe.

Two months after my diagnosis, MS was the least of my concerns.  We lived (existed?) in Children’s Hospital for a month with our baby girl as she fought to live.  There is no way that we could ever express how grateful we were that we could take her home, that she survived.  We continue to endure Hazels periodic choking episodes because of her narrowed esophagus, but we get to keep her.  She has had surgeries to repair her esophagus, and might have more but we can’t complain.

How much can one family take?  I thought we had paid our dues.  Again, be careful.

I had our son Elias in the winter of 2010.  It was a difficult pregnancy, but everyone came through it unscathed.  We were happy, and looked forward to new beginnings.

J took three weeks off to be at home with us after Elias was born.  He had been very slow at work, but everyone had been.  I remember him being concerned that no one from his office contacted him to say congratulations after the birth.  I brushed him off, but intuition is rarely wrong and three days after he returned to work, they walked into his office and told him that he was being laid off.  They read from a script.  He was downsized. I would try to describe the crushing fear, the panic, the insincere optimism that one feels.  The anger, betrayal, feelings of worthlessness.  I would try to describe it but for the fact that so many already know.

And here we are, a year and a half later.  J still has not been able to find any work.  We have no more savings.  What we do have is a mortgage, two cars that aren’t road-worthy, kids growing out of their clothing, student loans, and a looming heating bill that is quite high in an almost 300 year old house on the rugged New England coast.  We have 6 weeks left of unemployment benefits, and after that is where this blog starts.

For the millionth time in the past three and a half years, I’m a Mama Tiger.  I’m furious.  I am in a state of crazed desperation, and I’m trying to hold us all together.

There are thousands of us in this place now.  Some call us 99ers, some the “Long Term Unemployed”, some people might call us deadbeats (those are people I have no time for).  I have to find a way to make life carry on for my family.

I’m going to blog my way through all of it, and hopefully connect with others in our community.  I’ll talk about frustrations with the system, with Human Resources, with perceptions of the Long Term Unemployed.  I’ll blog about parenting, entertaining kids for little to no money, clothing them and making them feel as though nothing has changed.  I’ll talk about how hard it is to be present in parenting when you’re under so much stress that you feel like your head will burst at any moment.

I’ll blog a lot about food; I love food, and I love to cook and am the recipient of many generations of resourceful, frugal, and hungry women.  I think of food as medicine, and I have lost 40 pounds with 35 more to go on a fairly strict low-carb, lacto-Paleo diet.  We eat real food that our ancestors (theoretically) ate, and I do not eat any grains, legumes, industrial vegetable oils or sugar (OK, maybe some sugar).  This sort of diet is expensive, but it has reduced my systemic inflammation to what I think of as a sub-threshold and therefore kept my MS in an asymptomatic remission without medications so I’m not giving it up.  I have to figure out how to feed my family healthy food on a budget of zero.

I’ll blog about frustration and anger and  depression and fear.  I’ll talk about my favorite deals online, favorite products, and I want to hear yours.  I’ll blog about my failures and small successes.  We don’t have to be so alone.  We can be in this together.  I’m figuring this all out as I head into the wild.

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