Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Enough About Cars Already!!

Ok!! I forgot all about the Jetta. I am sure I forgot because it was one of the most impulsive car purchases we ever did. That is of course until we made the impulsive car purchase one night after dinner after we moved to San Diego and I got my first teaching job. You know the feeling,…we thought we were loaded because someone told me I would be making 22,000 a year. That combined with Pete’s salary we thought we owned the world and we instantly needed another car to go with the new job. Never mind we had not collected one red cent from me teaching and we had already spent more than ½ of it.

I am getting WAY ahead of myself here. I realize from the way things look right now Pete and I were not exactly the sharpest tacks…especially when it came to car purchases. And for the life of me I am not sure why we felt the need to keep swapping out cars. Neither of us are big car people. We are not the type who asks for new rims for Christmas..so why the need to keep swapping cars?? I think when you are first getting your feet planted in the world as an independent adult the fastest way to show people you have arrived is to actual have a nice car to arrive in.

I have since LOWERED my standards GREATLY and now drive a 2001 Suburban with 115,000 miles on it that we have owned for 7 years. We are growing out of it quickly and things are literally falling apart on a weekly basis but the car runs like a champ, is very reliable and I feel like she is part of the family. She has brought home 4 of the 5 babies I made (none in the car..hehee).

Anyway, off the whole car thing for a moment. Let’s get back to 1998 after we bought the Jetta where soon after Pete got accepted into flight school. At the very same time he was supposed to be checking into Pensacola his ship was being deployed for another 3 months and they would not let him leave until after they returned from deployment. But you see I was a girl on a mission at this point in my own life. Because falling in love with Pete put me behind in my own schooling I was now focused on wrapping up this teaching degree that I had taken out about 20,000 in student loans for. I wanted to finish my degree while Pete got his wings. I applied to University of West Florida and decided I would leave right away, while he was on deployment, set up house until he was able to come. I always have a solution and it usually requires one of us to do something VERY quickly. That person is usually me!! Hey, God made me that way…I move fast and sometimes make lots of mistakes on the way. Other times I am moving so fast I have no time for mistakes. You be the judge this time!

A few things stand out to me that happened in P’cola that pertain to our Financial Love Story. I will say this before ending , we had no investments, student loan debt adding up , a leased car, a wife who like to spend money. I mostly spent money on having a good time. I wish I could say I was spending money on fine jewels and high fashion clothing. But as I look back at some of my pictures during this time period it looks to me like I was eating and drinking all of our money ….(notice how there are NO pictures of me during this time period).

That’s all for now. Let me know what you guys are thinking…

Monday, March 29, 2010

Have We Got A Deal For You

So as you can imagine Pete's memory is a bit different than mine.  I could care less about gas prices.  Getting rid of the Jeep because my hair was always a mess and a cat peed in it one night was all the motivation I needed to live in the luxury of new car smell...I will let Pete tell you the rest...

I think couples make the majority of their worst financial decisions when they make their first car purchase. They get rolled over by the purchase of the car and that hubris never seems to go away. Borrow more money? Sure, why not? Everybody does it! Does what? Borrow money until the cows come home. That purchase is so important because it sets in stone the myth of how debt is needed in your life. I overheard someone once say, “yup, got a new car! Just can’t seem to get away from car payments”!

You would hope that be the second or third go around, the wise Pete would be a bit wiser. Alas, tis not to be true.

Back to the story. Well , after yet another grueling day of filling up the tank with $45 in gas, we both decided that the Jeep was not practical. Practically speaking, that was an understatement. Getting around in car that was 6 feet off the ground is great when you are an Army Sergeant in Post WWII reconstruction Berlin; it’s not so great when you live in the relatively domestic, rubble-free thoroughfares of .com-San Francisco.

Anyway, we hung out with a couple that made a wee bit more than we did. She was a nurse, he was a slightly senior officer on the cutter that I was on. Often, the four of us would go out to dinner, movies, cocktails and more, and, on one particular and fateful night, we all pulled into a Volkswagen dealer.

I am sure the car lot flies could smell the fresh meat (and impaired judgment) of the twenty something’s that just dropped out of the sky. The more affluent couple were pulled one direction, and Lisa and I another. We were shown a Jetta. It was very Euro-cool. Sleek, but boxy-sporty, but rugged. And, here’s the kicker…It came with a free snowboard. Talk about status. We wanted it and Volkswagen was all but thrilled to oblige. So we went through the motions of getting the car, sitting in it, test driving it, opening the trunk, and getting pulled into an office while someone went to get our licenses back. While we were stuck in the blasé deal making room, Lisa and I heard a round of applause! Lo! There were our friends, new Passat keys in hand, with a semi-circle of applauding, rabid, grinning car salesman surrounding them.

I wanted the Jetta and Lisa wanted the Jetta (and the applause) but it was too expensive, especially since we were upside down on the Jeep. “Why not lease?” the demure salesman implied. Lease? I’m not so sure…my dad always said that is a bad deal. “hmm, too bad. Here are the keys to your jeep.” Wait a second…not so fast…what is this lease thing anyway. “It is a way to own a car but, er, pay less for it.” I was hooked. I started to visualize Lisa and I, snowboards externally mounted, piping hot cappuccinos in the cup holder, zipping up the well groomed but twisty highways on our way to Lake Tahoe. Meanwhile, as I day dreamed, the salesman droned on and on about residuals, mileage, and other stuff that I really didn’t care about and wishing that he would just get on with it and give me a pen to sign something. Anything. Just give me the car.

As we drove home in that zippy little motor coach, some of that stuff started to sink in. “What was that about mileage?” I asked Lisa. Not sure, something about 17 cents a mile if you go over our limit. “What is our limit?” I don’t remember…whoa, check it out! Heated Seats!

Well, we were in the hot seat alright. And it was getting hotter.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hiding My Shoes

I totally knew what the interest rate was, I just did not care. I wanted the car and I wanted it right then and as soon as I found a way to get it I did. I quickly learned that I could do almost anything I wanted while he was gone. The term “living pay check to pay check” was not even applicable for me during this time. Pete was gone, I was having a great time in San Francisco and I did not even have to work that much for it. I scored!! I paid the bills on time, used my waitress money for bridging gaps whenever I ovespent and did whatever I wanted and the thought of saving money was not even on the financial radar screen.
When he did come back everything stayed the same as while he was gone except now we spent money together. I still did all the bills, we still ran out of money before the month was over, and never saved a penny. Pete never really knew what was going on because either did I. The most I ever did to keep track of the money was call the bank every few days to double check on how close to nothing we were getting. I remember never really worrying about anything because I could always pick up an extra shift if we were really tight and wanted to go out. I sensed Pete would be annoyed if I bought a lot of clothes or shoes at one time so I did what any financially sneaky wife did, I just hid things and hoped he would not notice. Not exactly a recipe for building a strong marriage. The thing is I did not know any better. I had been working since I was 15 and nobody ever taught me how to manage money. I liked having money and I liked spending money. I never really got any more attached to it that that because it never stuck around long enough for me to grow fond of it.
The subtle and insidious thing that was going on during all of this was the resentment that was growing between us because of all of this. I was not aware at the time but I viewed Pete as “not being a man” because he was not engaged in our finances (the silly thing is I was barely engaged in our finances). I thought he should take charge and step up but he wasn’t. All the while he was resenting me because he never felt like we had any money and he was bustin’ it on the ship and making a Coast Guard name for himself and I was nickel and diming him to death….oh how the love grew.

After 1 ½ years in Alameda things were about to get even more complicated for us. Pete got accepted into flight school, his ship was deploying for 3 months and I was starting the teaching program at University of West Florida. All of this had to be coordinated, financed and figured out the problem was I was still running our financial show.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Teasin' From The Fellas'

I wish I had all the time in the world to spend writing this story.  I love to think back on all the hit and misses of our Financial Love Story...but for now here is the guy who is at the heart of all my stories.....

So that is the Jeep story. I will admit, however, that the “gang” on the boat had quite a laugh at my predicament. Generally, the first question people asked after I told them about the new jeep that I just purchased in the middle of the South Pacific, was, “She did what?” Then they proceeded to ask many more questions, ranging from the simple (did she get a good deal?) to the more, ah, complex (what are the terms of the note?)

These, of course, were all fair questions that I, regretfully, couldn’t answer. Actually, I wanted to ask them myself. You see, the deal had been made in one of those low rent bland deal making rooms that seem to be the décor du jour in the used car industry, two months after the Post office found me in the southern latitudes. I had already made $700 worth of car payments and didn’t even know about it!

I felt left out. I also felt liberated knowing that she had a decent car because I knew that I had left her with a moldering heap that would have a hard time passing muster even in the environmental wasteland of India. So she got a Jeep. And let’s face it, jeeps are pretty cool. I was also proud of my little lady. A lot of the lads weren’t exactly getting letters saying that the problems at home were “not a problem”. I, for one, didn’t have to worry about that either.

Even though she bought the car that she needed, there are some valuable lessons here.

The simplest first:

If you are going to get into debt, know what the terms of your loan are.

And I mean you need to know everything about that debt. This was the first and last time that we had no idea on what the interest rate was or for how long we were obligated to make payments. All I knew is that we were on the hook for $350 a month. Oh, and don’t let these debt junkies push you around with buying something based on a monthly payment either. Once, we had one guy who would run to and fro to the Great and Powerful GMAC Oz and pitch monthly payments instead of the purchase price. Once we settled, I asked to know the terms…14% for 7 years! For a crummy used car! We walked.

We learned another automobile lesson the hard way when we bought a sporty little VW Jetta 6 months later (the jeep didn’t last long with us).

Another lesson?

This one is more subtle and insidious. Lisa now had the reigns of the Melnick financial “empire” for the next 5 years. I never looked at the money and I pretended not to care.

Men, you need to be involved in the financial matters of the house.

I’ll leave you with that one to cogitate. I think you will be surprised.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some Tears And A New Jeep

…so where were we? Oh yes, kissing my handsome sailor goodbye, trying not to look like a blubbering fool while standing and waving goodbye to all those Coasties.

After Pete sailed away I was left in a new town with an old beat up car, very little cash (being a wife was making it hard to work crazy waitress hours and go to school), and 1 friend. My saving grace during that whole first year of marriage, Melodie! Where would Pete and I be without her? I am not sure I could have endured that first year if not for her. She was a seasoned Coast Guard wife and she was glad to show me the ropes.

We hung out all the time and sometimes would hang out with another wife whose husband was gone. She had a baby so we were not always sure what to do with that (the whole having a baby out with us crying and stuff), so sometimes we just didn’t do anything. My point is I had two Coast Guard wives teaching me how to be a Coast Guard wife during a time when no husbands were present.

Now, on to the lamp and the Jeep….

One day about a month after the guys had left the three of us went shopping. I wondered around a store and came upon a Tiffany Lamp that I fell in love with. I was having a hard time leaving the lamp behind because I did not have enough cash on me to pay the $40 asking price. The girls made their way over to me and asked,” What’s up? “I confessed, “I don’t have enough for this lamp, but I love it.” They both try to hide their giggles, “Didn’t Pete leave you with money? You know you can buy things with his money. You guys are married now, it’s both of yours” I reply, somewhat stunned, “He left me with a check book to pay the rent and right before he left he gave me a debit card with my name on it but I think he only wanted me to use that money to pay bills with. I can’t buy a lamp with his debit card.” I will forever remember that instant, which was the moment where my world stood still…Could I use his money? I instantly felt like my mom…using my dad’s money from his work because it was “their” money. Was this OUR money? I decided to go for it. I picked up the lamp and took it to the counter to pay, fully expecting the clerk to deny me the right to purchase this lamp because the debit card said Lisa #$@^&%$ and I was not her for very long and I was not sure if I earned the right to use “our” money. The sale went through and I left their feeling like a real wife. I made my first purchase with “our” money. It was fun, and I am reluctant to admit that the flood gates were instantly opened…..

It did not take long for me to enjoy the instant increase in cash flow. I still worked, but never hesitated to request a Saturday night off to enjoy shopping with Mel. The only bummer part was my car. I was having a hard time keeping the car running and I desperately needed a new car. Pete was in his 2nd month of being deployed and we were not able to talk for almost 30 days. During this time the car really took a turn for the worse. Every time I went to shift gears I had to pump the clutch 4 to 5 times just to shift gears. My calves were enjoying the new driving regimen, but I was getting worn out. I called our bank to get some quotes on loans. I was just collecting data so when I talked to Pete I could ask him to call the bank and get the loan set up so I could buy a car. Once I was on the phone with Navy Fed I explained my situation. I can’t promise you I did not shed a tear or two because by this time I was feeling the effect of being by myself and missing my guy. The nice helpful bank agent asked me if I had a Power of Attorney, which is customary for deployed sailors to leave for their spouses. I suddenly perked up. I did have one of those. I remember Pete gave me one right before he left and told me this gives me the power to sign for him. Might I be able to fix the pumping the clutch 5x every 3 minutes situation before talking to my “husband” ? Might I be able to get this loan in his name without him here? Might I buy a car with “our” money without even asking him? Yes, yes and yes. The check was mailed to me in the next 3 days. I got a loan for $12,500.

I called in sick to Applebee’s that Saturday, I hopped in the barely patched together car and drove through the Alameda tunnel in my Toyota Corolla for the last time and headed into Oakland to find a Jeep Wrangler with my name (really Pete’s name…but I had the Power of Attorney) on it. You see when Pete and I were in High School he drove a Jeep Wrangler to school. The first night he picked me up, the night I decided I wanted to marry him; he picked me up in a Jeep Wrangler. This was the car I wanted with him. I found one that day, signed Pete’s name and drove away in my black soft top Jeep Wrangler with a lift kit. And then waited patiently for Pete to call so I could thank him for buying me my dream car….

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

There Is Always More To The Story

I have been looking forward to this all day. Ever since Pete wanted to get on board with me to tell our financial love story I have been walking down memory lane and sometimes in the middle of dirty diapers and multiplication memory lane is a peaceful place to wander. I, of course, have more detail to offer. I realize my relationship with our marital money was born long before our wedding night. I won’t bore you with EVERY detail, but I think a few more are necessary.

I left home at 17 and moved to Gainesville FL to live the college life, complete with my own apartment and total financial autonomy. I was the leader of my own pack. I worked 3 different waitress jobs and put myself through school. I was very independent. And then after one hot summer night and a cold six pack of Coors Lite my world changed forever and I did what any self respecting love sick girl would do, I moved back home with my parents and waited for Pete to propose.

Finally during his Senior year, while he was home on Spring Break, he asked me to marry him. After saying “ABSOLUTLEY YES!!!” we soon found out our first duty station would be in Alameda CA. Over the next few months we were planning like crazy…What would I wear to graduation? Where would I go to school? Should we take my grandpa’s free table or his buddies? Very important information to iron out before moving cross country and getting married.

( You may be asking yourself, “Why is she not planning a wedding during this time?”…keep asking, I will fill you in on that story another time. But, for this story, just know we did get married and I will explain the rest later….)

Finally it is time for Pete and I to make our way to Alameda. We hop in my Toyota Corolla with 125,000 miles and 4 bald tires and head west. All the while we were just 2 love sick young kids who were on an extended date. There was no talk of child rearing philosophies, religious beliefs, political views…just talk of snowboarding in Tahoe and hiking the Oakland hills. We arrive in Alameda and my introduction to life as a military wife was immediate. Pete checked in on his boat and came home that afternoon with some news. He would be deploying with the Navy for 6 months to the Middle East, he was leaving in 3 weeks. And I did the only thing I thought was important to a newly married couple…I began fare welling him the best way I knew…..(let’s just say..lots of lovin’)

A few days before he leaves he came home and said, “My CO wanted everyone to leave a Power of Attorney with their spouse. So I got one for you.” After a few moments I stopped giggling over being called a spouse, a small step up from dependant (which is what I am usually called), and realized I was being left very soon by my sweet sailor and I completely forgot the Power of Attorney and what it was for.

Too soon, one early morning in July, I found myself kissing my new sailor husband goodbye. We had been married all of 2 months. There I was 20 years old, going to school at the local community college and now a heart broken, scared, new wife. Knowing my fear and sadness Pete introduces me to another officer’s wife. I instantly realize I am meeting a lifelong friend and I cling to her immediately.

Finally the whistle blows and all families must leave the ship. Before I turn to walk away Pete gives me a debit card with my name on it, “I thought you might need this.” I take the card put it in my purse and that is the first and last financial discussion we have for 6 months.

Part 2

…coming soon

Monday, March 22, 2010

Buying A Jeep From The Middle Of The Ocean

Hey guys.  Guess what?  Once Pete found out I was going to be talking greenbacks with you guys he wanted to have a say in that conversation...so here it goes.  The "He Said" part of our financial story..enjoy

I am probably one of the most boring people to have at a dinner party. Despite being a division III, all American preseason Quarterback, I find talk about sports boring. Flying aircraft in some of the most demanding environments in the world? Yawn. Astronaut Uncle? Glazed eyes for sure.

Ask me to talk about money, religion or politics? By golly, I can liven up a wine and cheese yawn-er-roo faster than you can say, “passez le fromage”.

Unfortunately, most of my opinions about the latter are uninformed, amateurish, emotionally charged and juvenile at best.

That is why I jumped at my dear wife’s invitation to discuss one of the holy trinity of party impropriety…money. Yup, moolah, greenbacks and dead presidents. I’ll take that over the Knicks shooting average any day. Hopefully this will help me sharpen the saw, so to speak, and, as an added bonus, provide some financial entertainment.

On the other hand, as a member of the “not so gentle” sex, it is extremely hard to lay out your mistakes for all to see. So with Caritas in Veritate, some number$ may be changed to protect the pride of this cat, but, despite the slight of hand, I think you will get the gist.

Oh, and don’t think we will just air out our dirty laundry…we plan on discussing some of our atta-boys too. So bear with us as we lay our dollar signs on our sleeves and “shock and awe” you with 15 years of financial hits and misses.

But first, a brief history. I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in May of 1996. Lisa and I were married in July of 1996. I promptly and dutifully went to sea for 6 months in August of 1996. Lisa inherited the checkbook and my (our) pay of $2400 a month ($1200 on the 1st and 15th). That is not a lot of money when you live in San Francisco at the beginning of the internet boom. Our rent was $960. What was left over went to what 21 year old newlyweds do…dinners, skiing trips and plenty of overpriced fermented hops. No investments, no saving, no giving, no nothing…but fun.

Believe it or not, we never felt richer.

I am getting a bit ahead of myself. The point I want to make is that I went off to sea, and Lisa and I never talked about the Pay. No plan, except what I felt (and never said) should be done. I just figured that she would pay the rent and I would come back to a bunch of money in 6 months. Heck, she had a job right?

Somewhere around the Tropic of Capricorn, I got some mail and it mentioned something about my beautiful bride buying a jeep and a lamp. As I sat puzzled on my rack, letter in hand and mouth open agape, with the swaying of the South Pacific gently rocking 378 feet of sovereign US of A, I had to ask myself, “Where the heck did she get the money for a Jeep?”

This is my favorite part of the story.  I can't wait until tomorrow to tell the rest...until then ...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Money, Money, Money

What do most couples fight about? Money, money and sometimes I think they fight about money. Even when 2 people have the same goals, same effort, same approach to money there can still be a money flare up every now and again. Pete and I and our money have been married almost 15 years. When I type that number I have to stop to recount because I can't believe I have been married that long. We have changed, along with our money, so much during those years and I imagine we will ALL continue to change as more years pass us by.
Of the changes we have made together the two I am most proud of are our growth in our Catholic faith and our maturity with our money. As with most marriages money has been a love/hate issue and an issue that never goes away. I remember when we got married in 1996 and Pete immediately deployed with the Coast Guard for 6 months leaving me in Alameda California with a broken down Toyota and a debit card with my name on it. Two things I did not know what to do with. First thing I did was learn how to spend his money!!
This story is far from over...I have a lot more to write on the topic of money. But right now my time is up and I have to go back to my other job...I will be back soon for another installment of Melnick Money Matters...I am sure you are dying to know what goes on in the register of a Coast Guard couple. Trust me , I am dying to tell you!
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

All Sacraficing Aside....

Here I am . Glad to be back. I had to RUSH out of town to help my mom and dad move up to North Carolina. I had grand plans of taking my life with me and helping my parents on the side, but God had other plans with my time. But the bottom line is my parents are successfully moved out of a house they lived in for 25 years, doing well in NC and I am back at home looking at a pile of laundry that makes me want to live naked for the next few days.
That may be a bit more visual then necessary, but true none the less.
When I was packing to go to Florida late last Wednesday night I decided not to take my camera. I thought , "I will have no time to snap pictures while I am encouraging my mom to NOT take the ceramic mermaid that she has had for 20 years." Why do I listen to myself. I needed my camera more last week than any other week of my life. So many things came to pass and now all I have is my weak memory to last a lifetime...no fair. I had to say good bye to the house I grew up in. I farewelled my wedding dress. A camera would have been handy. If just to take pictures of my mom and I laughing our way through the difficult days of packing. Her trying to convince me that she really did need to take the 800Th tea cup was an award winning photo opportunity in itself.
And what do you know??? While I was away with my 5 little shadows, shadow #5 started walking and shadow #2 broke her arm. All in a weeks work around here. Hey maybe God really was listening when I said I wanted to embrace sacrifice this Lent. If God is reading I would like to request the following, "God, if you want any more from me, as I expect you will, can you please just let me get a few good nights sleep so I can be ready?" Love, Lisa!

p.s. I have missed this Blog so much...do you miss me too??
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Friday, March 5, 2010

What's New..Friday Update

I realize my blogging has s...l...o....w.....e.......d to a snails pace. If anyone has missed me, I missed you too. If nobody noticed then that reaffirms that life does go on without me getting out a blog post....darn! Where have I been you ask, I have been joyfully going through Lent finding ways to cut back and make small sacrifices.
I struggle with the absolute declaration of any one particular Lenten sacrifice . I have tried and I feel like I have the devil on my back immediately and I usually end up going in the opposite direction of whatever I intended to avoid. So, knowing that about me I have decided to make small sacrifices each day. And for me the easiest way to make a sacrifice (it's all about making something painful as pain free as possible, right???), is serving those around me a bit more pleasantly and being all the more present to them. So this is what it looks like...
Instead of checking e-mail and my blog site while I am making breakfast, I decided no computer at the start of a school day. Instead I set out every ones breakfast, juice and all, and then pleasantly call the kids down for breakfast. This looks a lot more pleasant then the Pre-Lenten morning when I would be so irritated that these small helpless creatures dared invade my morning minutes looking to eat. How dare they awaken and expect breakfast before I have had a chance to read all the JUNK I wanted to?

This ease of service led me to look at my daily quiet time. Is spending my 30-40 mid-day break parked with a laptop in my lap the best use of my time?? Looking at 2 baskets of laundry and school assignments to finish I decided that another sacrifice would be to not open the computer AT ALL during the day!! Instead I catch up on all the household chores that gets neglected while doing school.

I do love computer time. It is social time for me. I do find pleasure in it. But it is a one dimensional activity. I walk away usually feeling annoyed at myself for wasting 40 good minutes with nothing to show. I have cut back to almost no computer time during the school week. I don't want to rush through my time with the kids during the day and avoid my household chores...just to waste time on the computer.

At night instead of getting on the computer I take the time to pray and say a Rosary. For me, these small steps are much more manageable than a sweeping "I AM GIVING UP THE COMPUTER FOR 6 WEEKS ". I know Lenten sacrifices are supposed to be used to grow closer to the Lord and I am feeling the Grace to do that, little by little.

So there you have it. I would like to say that I have been asked to do a reality show on the amazing mothering skills I have and they want to pay me 4,000,000,000 a minute just to share my sage advice. Or perhaps tell you that Pete swept me off my feet and whisked me off to a tropical island and all we brought was sunscreen...but alas, just some good old fashioned "focusing on the family" is all I have to report.
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