Category Archives: planning ahead

Does It Add Up?

How often have you said to your kid(s), “That’s a lot of money for a pair of sneakers?” Or, “That’s way too expensive.” Or “We don’t have the budget for that right now?” My question is, do you know for sure? Do you discuss budgets with your kids? Do you even have one?

My ex-wife was all about budgets. She wanted to know exactly where we stood financially and what we could afford at any given moment. My father was the same way. I … was not. As a freelance editor, director I knew my earning potential was in many ways based on howImage much I wanted to work, and I’d always done fairly well so I didn’t worry. Drove my ex crazy. When we first got married, I didn’t look at price tags. I got the one I wanted. I felt, what’s the point of getting one you don’t really like? After the divorce that changed. I was forced to take a harder look at finances and that reality continues to evolve.

I initially flushed out a basic spending spreadsheet that outlined the house monthly expenses. Basically what we had to have to stay afloat. That worked for a while, but then my kids started wanting to go to Target and Justice on a regular basis. They started demanding Nike sneakers, and Abercrombie clothing. I quickly learned that just saying, “That’s really not in the budget,” didn’t register because they had no point of reference. And frankly they didn’t care. They wanted what their friends had, and honestly I wanted them to have it too.

And so, I expanded my budget spreadsheet and went back through the bank statements and added tables that showed how much we spent on clothing each month and how much we ate out. I started to look at how much we spent beyond the necessities and how it fluctuated month to month. These were variables that we could control and I thought it may help the kids have a better grasp of how balancing a budget works.

You can say a million times, “twenty bucks here and thirty dollars here really adds up.” But when you actually “add it up” it raises an eyebrow or two; even when you’re eight. To recognize that the more we spend in one place the less we have to spend somewhere else is a lesson I think every kid should have put in front of them. I will say, my kids are pretty good bargain hunters. And I think their mom and I have done a relatively good job of helping them grow to appreciate the value of a dollar. But this post is more than just about teaching the kids. It’s about having a grasp of your world. Again, as I often write, it’s about awareness.

As a divorced dad, you’re likely going to freak out about money a lot; especially early on. There’s no more chance of dual incomes or working together. It’s all on your shoulders and you likely pay child support and / or alimony along with everything else. To not have a clear vision of what that looks like on paper is to me a great way to fuel your high blood pressure and anxiety. And let’s face it, you have enough variables providing those opportunities. Here’s one you can control simply by forcing yourself to write it down. It leads to figuring out ways to pay $30 for medications you otherwise would have spent $300 on if you didn’t care. It’s about getting budgetcalculatorbetter deals on high speed internet because you suddenly realize you really don’t have a choice. It’s about eating at home more so you can afford a weekend trip with the kids or new sneakers when they need them.

They say there’s power in knowledge. So, educate yourself and if applicable, educate your children as well. It can lead to less stress and a stronger financial foundation for you and your family. So how do you do it? Well, there are a lot of simple programs that can help you do this. Like excel, numbers, quickbooks etc. Or start by writing it all down on paper the old fashioned way. Just listing it out is a start as you can begin to see where your money is going.

The point is, you need to be gaining ground for the future. Like most people, you’re going to have ups and downs. So, do your best to at least know where you stand so you can plan or act accordingly. You’ll make choices based on this knowledge. The divorce in and of itself likely set you back and can make it difficult to make ends meet. Having a good overview of where you stand financially every day may create some initial stress when you see where you really are, but it can be the first step toward plugging up holes and establishing a healthier world for you and the kids. I may even be a great motivator for taking steps to improve the situation. One thing I can assure you, it will likely cause you to feel more in control and less like life is moving forward without you. And I promise, it can also lead to much more enjoyable trips to the mall when everyone is on the same page!


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Losing My Mind (and my keys)

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I’m convinced my sometimes over booked life is turning me into a complete idiot. There are days when it feels like I spend more time retracing my steps in order to remember where I left my pants than I do accomplishing my to do list. We all misplace our keys from time to time but honestly, I don’t know how many times this week I’ve stopped and called myself all kinds of names
memory36969112_crop out of frustration.

I’m proud of what I accomplish every week. It’s a lot. I consider myself incredibly productive. But man, sometimes I just stop and wonder what’s going on inside my brain. I had always had a history of laying things down in odd places and then completely forgetting. I learned over time how to stop, retrace my steps and then figure it out. And for the most part I’ve done a great job of doing it. But then there are times when I actually walk into the kitchen and completely forget why I was going there.

Does this happen to you? Do you forget things?

I remember driving to work one morning. I had just gotten off the phone with my mom and started thinking about the upcoming weekend and everything that had to get done. There were a couple of softball games, a birthday party, a project that needed some extra attention, yard work that needed to get done. Started thinking about an upcoming trip with the kids and then suddenly I realized I’d completely driven past my exit and was heading toward what was an old job I’d had seven years ago.

Stop right now, close your eyes and ask yourself what color socks you have on. Do you know? I’m telling you, our lives as single parents can really put a strain on our ability to keep up with everything. So it’s no wonder we drive off with our coffee mug on top of our car from time to time or go through seven to eight names including the dog’s before calling our kid the right one.

I would love to offer you a cure all. Like, have a place you keep your keys, wallet, phone etc. Put things you’re
DMLgroup.jpggoing need in the morning where you can find them the night before. Do crossword puzzles to exercise your brain. But honestly, I think there are just going to be days (sometimes several in a row), when you’re going to have to be aware of everything going on and give yourself a moment to stop, think and be cognizant of what you’re doing or where you’re putting something down.

It’s so easy to get so lost in our schedules and the hustle bustle of our days that we completely forget ourselves and what we’re doing. I’ve literally put dishwashing detergent in the refrigerator and have gotten out of the shower only to realize I never rinsed my hair. It’s easy to start thinking you have a brain tumor or alzheimer’s. My guess is I just overload myself from time to time and most of what I’ve read assures me that everything I’m experiencing is completely normal for a 40 something with three kids and four jobs. A lot of recent studies also show that stress is a major contributor to memory loss. And Lord knows, if you’re going through a divorce or trying to get back on track, stress just comes with the territory.

So, my only advise is to first stop every once in a while and give yourself a moment. I’ve found exercise helps on many levels. And make a point to try and recognize when you’re in a state of confusion and make an extra effort to be aware of what you’re doing. Slow your brain down a bit and try to focus. Lord knows I tell my kids to do it enough times every day. This is one instance where practicing what I preach can really come in handy.

So anyway … I’m sorry; what were we talking about?


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Holiday Stress – Year Two

If you’re a regular visitor, you’ve heard me state before the importance of focusing on the kids during the holidays. But it bares repeating. Regardless of what holiday it is, as parents we are living our child’s past every day. Every Christmas, 4th of July, birthday, recital, Hanakkah, whatever the celebration; each will be locked stressed-is-desserts
away in our kid’s memory and it’s up to us to do whatever we can to make the memories fond ones.

Let’s face it; the holiday season in particular can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Christmas budgets, work schedules, vacations, travel, getting everything done in time, elf on the shelf craziness, the kids are beyond over stimulated. It’s insanity at times. Now add to it trying to schedule time with TWO families and it only adds to the stress levels.

That’s why it’s crucial that you take a step back and remember what it’s all about. It’s about doing your best to be fun and upbeat. Because if YOU’RE positive, fun and upbeat, the kids will be more likely to follow suit. Countering stress with stress only escalates the problems. And that’s not what you want your kids remembering twenty years from now as they go through old photo albums.

I can pretty much guarantee you that you and your ex are going to have differences of opinions throughout the holiday season. There will be anger, frustration and you’ll be convinced at times that they have no interest in what’s important to you. It doesn’t matter. Your kids don’t want to hear that nor should they. They want to enjoy
the holiday with you and when possible with both you and your ex. Sometimes that’s feasible, sometimes it’s
12-28-09 ornaments118.jpgnot. But what is feasible is you putting on your game face and putting on your big girl panties to make the holiday memories ones that your kids will cherish for a lifetime.

It’s not easy. Lord knows I slip just like you. All you can do is be aware. Just keep picturing the images your children will have in their head of Christmas 2013 and know that you can influence those thoughts. It may mean giving in at times, it may mean holding your tongue at others. It may be something as simple as taking an hour or two to bake cookies with them, driving around looking at holiday light decorations or cuddling up on the couch and watching Elf when they’re with you. The point is to focus on making memories they’ll look back on when they’re older and smile. Let them be little nuggets they hold on to that remind them how special their lives are and how fortunate they are to be loved and how important they are to someone on this planet.

If I sound preachy, my sincere apologies. That’s not my intention. I simply know how difficult these times of the year can be especially when you’re divorced. Know that I say these things to myself daily as much as I say them to you. I repeat them over and over in my head as a reminder of what my focus needs to be and a means of committing to making every attempt to make this holiday one of laughter and joy for the people most important to me; my kids. If I’ve learned anything through the first two years of our divorce, it’s that arguments during the holidays accomplish nothing. Stress causes us to lose our focus on what’s important. The gifts don’t matter, the lines at the mall don’t matter, the stress doesn’t matter, the kids laughing during the holidays does matter. So plan ahead, be reasonable, be flexible and be joyful.

Peace and have an amazing holiday!


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774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep!

774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep.

My head spins just thinking about it. But we did it. Not once but twice in one week as we traveled up to the finger lakes to kick off summer vacation. I only attempt these trips knowing that my kids are accustomed to longer distances. As soon as my oldest was born, my ex-wife and I were hitting the road. We’ve been traveling long distances ever since and as each child joined the caravan, they became more and more accustomed to sitting for long stretches. Based on history, knowing that some great moments are just up the road is more than enough incentive to keep on truckin’.

The funny thing is, we typically can’t drive five miles at home without a meltdown of some sort, and yet on the long trips they typically do great. But even this trip was a record for us and I’m still astounded that we made it home without having to drop someone off in Columbus or Cincinnati.

I remember when I was a kid (he said in his best old man impersonation) we didn’t have car seats, or laws about sitting up front. We also didn’t have DVD players, streaming video and i-pod touches. We rode on the hump, laid in our dad’s lap as he drove, sprawled out in the back seat, played road bingo and punch bug. Dad typically pulled over several times threatening to throw us off a bridge which garnered 20 miles or so until the next round of back seat anarchy.

But now, even with the restrictions of car safety legislation, the kids (and parents) have tools that make the trip a little easier. So as I packed the car for our trip north I thought I had it covered. Snacks, drinks, DVD player, i-pods, headphones, books, games, you name it we had it. Then it happened. As we pulled out of the drive way we realized the DVD player wasn’t working. On top of that my car charger was AWOL. That meant no movies and I had maybe 2 hours before I’d hear, “DAADDD!!! My I-pod is dead!”

A wave of panic rushed through my veins as I tried to assess the potential damage and come up with a plan B. Meanwhile by the grace of all that’s holy, the kids all fell asleep within the first 30 minutes which bought me a couple of hours.

I heard a couple of yawns and saw some stretching going on which let me know I’d soon have a lot of requests coming my way. That’s when I heard one of the kids ask, “Can we watch TV on your phone?” I hadn’t even thought of that! Fortunately I had a full charge and the Netflix app ready to roll on my i-phone. My car stereo has an ‘aux’ plug that allows you to listen to your phone through the car speakers which is an added bonus! And so it was that we managed to make it through the first 1/3 of the trip virtually unscathed. From there we picked up another charger and suddenly the DVD player was a forgotten memory as my phone, little screen and all, became the center of entertainment.

As I mentioned we’ve been road tripping for a long time. So my kids are accustomed to long stretches in the car. We started with little 1-2 hour trips and worked our way up. Now it’s my kids, all 10 and under, who are typically the ones who don’t want to stop. When we stop to gas, they just want to go to the bathroom and get food through the drive-thru so we can keep on moving. Pretty amazing actually. When everyone’s doing well we will do that, but I’ve learned that sometimes we all need a break from the journey and will stop for a longer break while I recharge and the kids decompress.

And then we’re off again.

Traveling with kids can be a challenge as we all know. The trick is to do as much preparation ahead of time as you can. And not just in terms of entertainment and snacks. Mental preparation is almost, if not more, important. Acknowledge in your head from the very beginning that there are going to be trying moments and plan ahead how you’re going to handle them. Promise yourself you’ll keep a cool head and recognize that it’s the circumstances that are causing the issues. That’s not to say you won’t have your moments of “don’t make me pull over!” which you will, but the more you can prepare yourself the more enjoyable it’ll be for everyone. As the dad (or mom) you set the tone.

Some tips.Make sure snacks, drinks, etc. are within arms reach as you won’t have someone next to you to help. Have a “take turns” plan of action for movies, tv shows, music etc. At the same time, depending on how many kids you have, don’t be afraid to double up on DVD players. Borrow a neighbor’s DVD player to give the girls one to watch Barbie on and the boys one to watch Thomas the Train on. It’s more effort, but makes for a much smoother ride.

Above all try to remind everyone about the north star; the goal, the prize! Talk about it with the kids mid stream. “What are you looking forward to most when we get to the lake?” “How many fish are you going to catch?” “Are you going to go tubing this year?”

As frustrating as traveling with the kids can be at times, not once have I ever regretting the trip. The bonding that takes place is irreplaceable. The time spent focused on the kids is priceless. Even the trip itself becomes an event you conquer together. The important thing is that you’re spending time as a family. The trip itself is really only part of a much more important journey. It’s that thought that keeps me throwing the kids in the back seat and taking off for adventures that otherwise would be time spent watching too much Disney. (no offense Mickey).

Every mile is a memory. Every memory is one more opportunity to remind the kids of how important they are and how important your relationship with them is. That in and of itself is worth the trip.

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