Drowning financially due to debt and job
March 10, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Financial life in chaos. Now what?

Another day of savings/checking down to zero and totally sick of it.

I make close to six figures. However, I also pay 90% of bills from my check (utilities, groceries, doc bills), including $300 min payments on a $15k credit card. Mortgage $1,680 (including taxes). In short, two of the biggest bills.

Spouse makes about $30k with owning their own business but it's not growing. The business has been in maintenance mode or losing money. It's not that they're not trying but it's a discretionary income-reliant business. Clients are slow to pay or are dropping. I rather not outright say the business (search engine possibility) but it's in the animal industry with things that swim (hopefully that's enough info).

We have a child and we were spending $800-1200 on nanny care. No, we don't have family options and day care wasn't in the cards per pediatrician (he was sick a lot and we needed him healthy). So now, spouse stays home 3 days and pays worker to do the job. He then works 2 days so he doesn't have to pay worker. The goal was to save money on the nanny but also give me lump sums so I can pay down my cards. Well 3 months into it, it isn't happening. They're paying off other bills or something comes up so helping me out gets pushed off farther and farther and our debt, bills, bank account to zero is a non stop cycle.

He's been doing this for almost 10 years and has tried all sorts of angles including cutting ties with partners so a 50% profit share and overhead isn't happening anymore.

We're drowning. I think it's time for a part time job. They say no way (thinking nights won't pay enough). Won't do weekends either since they cherish their weekends.

So I said figure out how to keep the business with the worker but it's probably time to reenter the 9-5 work force. No luck. Two resumes went out. Nothing. I can also tell they don't want to "quit' and reenter the work force. All I hear is "this is the economy, even union workers are out of work." Finally, no college degree makes finding a 9-5 job difficult.

I barely see our child during the week due to my hours/commuiting (2 hours tops) and honestly, I feel that this financial burden isn't because of me. I did everything possible to get us out of debt but possibly screwed us into deeper debt and now I can't figure how to get out of it. We cashed out on a refi, I let them pay off all their cards.

I can't save anything from my check. I did an Excel budget to know where things are going. Med bills are coming in from child's hospital stay. I tried debt consolidation--I make too much. I asked about bankrupcy options for the card--again, I make too much.

This is taking a significant toll on my mental health. I wasn't raised to take on debt but ever since I've been married (almost 10 years) now I constantly swim in it. I'm at wits end thinking if this continues, we won't have a retirement, no savings, how the heck am I going to buy another car down the road when this one breaks? I'm putting away 10% of income for 401k, gifts from child's bdays, etc is all I can rely on for a college fund.

I don't know what to do? Divorce? Sell the house ( a complete failure to me and spouse refuses)? In this economy, I can't make any more money. I think they need to pony up and get a second job, new job, something---but they refuse. So what does someone do to get out of this?

Yes, I made mistakes in the past financially but the last 2 years, I've been hard nose to the grindstone on a budget, cutting costs, not spending unless it's necessary. What does someone do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I made mistakes in the past financially but the last 2 years, I've been hard nose to the grindstone on a budget, cutting costs, not spending unless it's necessary. What does someone do?

A marriage is about compromise and working together. Your marriage sounds like it's got neither of those things right now.

I would suggest speaking with a marriage counselor to understand how to get your marriage to the point where you're on the same page with respect to your finances. It sounds like both partners blame the other for their past/current role in the problem and you need to get past the level of resentment I see in your writing if you have any hope of coming up with a solution that makes you both relatively happy. Good luck!
posted by Hiker at 8:13 AM on March 10, 2010

It sounds like this is more of a relationship question than a money question. Have you had the talk where you tell "them" that if you can't reach some compromises on these financial issues (i.e. getting a freaking job, even if it's "beneath" them), you're considering divorce?

I'd rather not work at my current job either, but I don't have a safety net, or the perception of one, to make it feasible to say "no way." Let him know that you both don't have a safety net either--and to the extent that you're it for him/her, you're almost done.
posted by availablelight at 8:15 AM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

First, I think that you're a case for Suze Orman. Or if not a super famous on-TV financial planner, at least a real-life financial planner.

But secondly, it sounds like you need to be making some major changes though. Here are some thoughts.

Money, outside of your spouse:

1. You may be eligible for debt consolidation even though you make a lot. Did you try multiple companies? I use MoneyManagementInternational as per AskMe's recommendation.

2. Are you absolutely sure that your child is "too sick" for daycare? I don't want to get up in your business, but this sounds fishy to me. 2a. Can you nanny share with another family to bring down the cost?

3. Is your house beyond your means? Really figure out if owning your home is the best financial situation for you right now. It may be possible that renting is a better deal for you right now.

4. Don't worry about your kid's college fund. He can take out low interest loans for college. You can't take out loans for your retirement.

5. Only contribute to your 401k as much as your employer matches. The rest should go to paying off your debt.

6. When people say that they are penny pinching, make sure that you really are. Can you go to 1 car? Public transit? Move closer to public transit? Move closer to your work place? Sounds like your commute sucks.


Now, dealing with your spouse. I hope that he (she?) is an excellent provider of childcare because otherwise he (she?) is sounding like quite an a-hole right now.

I'd be careful with divorce, at least financially, because it sounds like s/he could collect alimony from you.

Maybe instead of running this fish business, spouse could go back to school? If s/he doesn't have a BA, s/he is certainly eligible for financial aid and loans. Make sure that s/he takes them out in his/her own name. This will also give him/her more options down the line - whether that be for contributing more income for your joint life or his/her solo life. Also, in my experience there are a lot of secondary benefits to being a student. For example, you would be eligible to live in family student housing (this may sound awful, but it is SO CHEAP!), eligible for reduced pay childcare, etc.

If I were in your shoes, I'd really consider sending him/her back to school.
posted by k8t at 8:25 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Give the partner a copy of all the bills, records etc. and lock them in a room with the open Excel spreadsheet on it. Tell tem they can't come out until they make it balance.

Sometimes, one partner handles most of the finances and the other does not clearly know what's going on. Maybe your partner needs to see it all in black and white to realize what the scope of the problem is?
posted by JoannaC at 8:25 AM on March 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

You may need a couple of professionals here. I think you need one for finances. Spend the money on a good, recommended financial planner, and I really think you will be surprized at what options you have. Next, find a couple therapy person. It doesn't sound like you are communicating how you feel fully (understandable, and not a dig at you!) and it doesn't sound like your spouse is communicating very well, either. Sick kids are very stressful to any marriage. Please work through that!
posted by kellyblah at 8:43 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about an au pair instead of a nanny? The au pair lives with you, and in exchange you spend a ton less money. Or what about just a straight barter arrangement of a room for childcare?
posted by Ashley801 at 8:48 AM on March 10, 2010

The OP sounds like the wife, and the husband is the one owning the dying business. Take your husband to a financial planner. Put him in charge of figuring out the solution. Consider selling/renting out the house and renting a cheap 2 bedroom for you guys?
posted by anniecat at 8:52 AM on March 10, 2010

For the benefit of people who don't want to do the math, I eyeballed this and came out with:
(Assumed salary of $90,000/yr in takehome pay)
-$20,160 mortgage
-14,400 max nanny
-$3,600 credit card min payment
-$12,000 bills, estimate
-$6000 misc. expenses
$33,840 TOTAL after expenses, end of year

Your husband's business is sinking, pardon the fish pun, but it's HIS. Don't pony up household money for his business expenses if he isn't paying for household things, just to keep him afloat. Set him free to run or fail his business as he sees fit, extricate your money from it entirely, and now breathe, because you have around $33,840 per year to get you along after you've paid your expenses. Imagine, if you can, that you're a single-income household. It's just you, anonymous. Your paycheck.

Small steps, anonymous. You can do it. Lots of people do. One thing at a time.

Get a handle on the medical bills for your kiddo's hospital stay. Talk to the hospital about working out a payment plan. Pay them a set amount every month, agreed upon, and they'll stop hounding you.

Map out your debt and start snowballing it to pay it off. Google "debt snowball" to give you an idea of how to get started. People pay off immense amounts of debt using this method and additionally, it is very empowering. I think you need that right now.

Look at your employer match on your 401(k), and only contribute as much as your employer matches. The rest should get put into paying down your debt. Think of it this way: what's the use in saving 10% of your income for retirement if you're going to be paying off debt once you're there with those glorious dividends?

It sounds like your (very sick) kiddo is quite young. Not old enough for school yet. Just... hold off on the college savings. I know a lot of people advise to save save save (!) as soon as your dipstick turns blue, but seriously, you can make a choice to let it lie for a couple of years in favor of getting kiddo off to a good financial start in life. Soon enough, he or she will go to school! No more nanny. Now, imagine putting the amount you spend on a nanny away in a college fund for kiddo every month instead. That is a gift to your kiddo, who you love so much.

I can't speak to how to "make" your husband get a new job, or go back to school, or anything. I don't know how to "make" someone do something. So my advice is all for you: put it all on your shoulders, because you can handle it. You are a person who is skilled enough to pull down almost six figures in salary, who is strong enough to endure the illness of a child, who is smart enough to know that she needs some help.
posted by juniperesque at 8:53 AM on March 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've met two young-ish couples who totally straightened themselves out by taking the Dave Ramsey course. Some Mefis disagree. However, for basic, get-started-today-with-baby-steps financial debt reduction, the Ramsey workshops are a good beginning when you're overwhelmed by debt. Both and and S. Orman do talk about the stress on marriages and families, but you may need more support on that end of things if you can find the time and money for that.
posted by Elsie at 8:55 AM on March 10, 2010

With a combined income of $130K/year and a $1700/mo mortgage, you should be able to make this work. Make sure your spouse understands the budget and knows where the money is going.

Unless your child's medical bills are eating up 100% of your non-bills income, then it doesn't make much sense unless someone is spending money that is not in the budget spreadsheet.

As far as cutting back on spending, the two best things you can do are to stop eating out, and to start using coupons when food shopping.
posted by camworld at 8:59 AM on March 10, 2010

In addition to the stuff above: call the hospital and ask them about a reduced monthly payment plan for the medical bills.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:52 AM on March 10, 2010

This one really hit me: "Won't do weekends either since they cherish their weekends."

S/He cherishes his weekends, you cherish your health and being free from debt. I think your spouse knows perfectly well what numbers are involved, but right now it's not their problem. You are helping them float, which I know, you feel that you should, you're married and all, but no.

I went through this 20+ years ago. My salary paid for everything while the husband ran his business, and made no money. I couldn't buy a pair of sneakers because all the money had to go into the business. I got a part time job - he couldn't, because "what if clients see me, they'll think the business isn't successful" and I still had no money. he ate lunch out - "i'm busy, i can't waste any time" - while he expected me to brown bag it.

I don't think you need financial counseling right now. I think you need marriage counseling, or someone who s/he will listen to and who is truly NEUTRAL. Because I have a hunch that the suggestion to pay someone for marriage counseling will be met with "we can't afford it" or "i'm not going to discuss my business with a stranger" or "i'm not going to talk about my money problems with someone I don't know". If you have someone s/he respects nearby who will take your side in this and say, 'Listen, dude/ess, awesome that you cherish your weekends. Your family is going to go in the poorhouse. Man/woman up and go get a second job."

Two resumes will NOT find anyone a job. Finding a job has to be at least a part-time job. two resumes is disrespecting you and your family.

I second that you separate your family money from his business and nth that you call the hospital about payments. Tell THEM what you can afford. Tell them that you're drowning in debt caused by a family business and you need to half your payment or you're in danger of not paying it at all.

And nth nth that saving for college can come later.

I don't think you need a financial course. I think you know what needs to be done. I think you are being fought at every juncture. Hence the marriage counseling, or the intervention of a third party.

Good luck.
posted by micawber at 10:26 AM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Spouse needs to close the business and get the best-paying job he can find. Also see a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and a marriage counselor.
posted by charlesv at 10:27 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Working on communications with your spouse is important. I agree that professional help will be worth the expense. One thing that worries me is that you are asking for a change from him (future/present) as payback for things you have done in the past. This is (blanket statement) not fair - it's trying to hold him to a bargain he didn't know he was signing up for. I don't argue that things are fine as they are, or that you're not doing enough for him, but that you need to discuss and compromise, and although you can use "I'll keep doing X" as a compromise token, "I did X, Y, Z for you!!" is not a compromise token. "Pony up and get a job" sounds like a judgement on him, his business, and his future. How about "a job until the credit card is paid off" or "a job that earns enough to pay the daycare and once the kid starts school you can quit". Telling him he's had his fun, but the business is now officially failed, and it's time to admit it and take on (every entrepreneur's worst nightmare) a boss, this is pretty harsh.

Be willing to cut him some slack as necessary. Say he vanished today - how would that help? (gives you sole decision-making power, removes his food bills, allows you to sell the house if you want) how would that hurt? (removes his child-care, removes his house-maintenance contributions, removes his flexibility with a sick child, requires you to handle everything 24/7). Magically transforming the spouse into a person who is happy to work in an office and bring home $50k to hand to you without spending any on (bad habit) is not one of your options - he is who he is. Compromise is the name of the game.

Assuming you're on the same page, though, cutting expenses is important, and is another thing you'll have to agree on. Having a 80-90k job is socially-speaking a high enough income that you may have felt compelled to keep up a particular lifestyle, but keep in mind, the Joneses are full of crap. Be sure your money isn't getting channelled towards too high of a baseline, and you won't have to deny an occasional splurge. It's a difficult thing to do, to decide to scale down, but try very hard to take a step back and think. Have you got an emotional metric to help you evaluate? mine: "my frugal grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew I was (at the dry cleaners twice a week)!", "did I think ($110/month premium cable) was important when I was in grad school making $20k?"

Good luck with everything!
posted by aimedwander at 10:31 AM on March 10, 2010

I'm loathe to say it, and someone's going to jump on me for it... but does your 401k provider offer loans from your 401k? You wouldn't need to be "approved" to do it since it's your money already, and since you save 10% now you may well be able to cut that back down to contributing only whatever your company matches for the term of the loan -- neatly making "room" for the payback deductions while keeping your monthly contribution "the same", while providing a chance to retire some high-interest debt.

Yes, you do lose out on whatever the difference between the payback interest and 401k growth was by doing this (at least if it's positive); and yes, if you don't pay it back you get hit with tax penalties just as if you took a withdrawal. But in your case... it may tactically be sound, since you'd basically be guaranteeing an excellent "return" on your investment in yourself by paying off those credit cards (I'd negotiate with the hospital).
posted by Pufferish at 10:39 AM on March 10, 2010

Something seems fishy here - I earn substantially less than six figures but have similar expenses (minus the hospital bills), and we make ends meet (barely).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:50 AM on March 10, 2010

You need Dave Ramsey like immediatly! His message is so simple and straight forward that anyone can understand it ie--you and your husband need to be on the same page, you need to do a budget, you need to get rid of his business, he needs a job that actually pays, and you both need to ratchet back your expenses to nearly nil until your debts are paid off (that is what I have learned from Dave). I was just visiting friends who are in basically the exact situation as you are and was amazed at a bunch of things including #1 how hard the wife works to pull in a huge income while the husband spends like he just won the lottery (his business also doesn't make money), #2 how much junk they buy that they can't afford, #3--how much they eat out, etc.
Sorry puffer, I have to disagree--until the spending is under control and the couple is working together on their debt repayment plan, throwing more money at the situation is just postponing the problem.
Get Dave!
posted by MsKim at 10:55 AM on March 10, 2010

Simply enough, you've not provided us with enough information to help you.

You make near six figures. So let's say that's $95k. A rough gross-to-net calculator I found on the net suggests your annual net's probably around $68.5k. Your husband makes $30k. Same calculator suggests $23.8k.

So you make $92.2k per year. Subtract $6.8k for your 401(k), then $7.9k for your mortgage, then $3.6k for the minimum on that card.

That leaves us with $74k per year where we don't know where it's going -- yet you're asking us to diagnose the problem with your household's finances.

Quite simply, with the incomplete breakdown provided, we can't.
posted by WCityMike at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2010

Take a serious look at the small business. If it's marginally profitable, okay, but don't put any more capital into it. You have a nice income, and it's reasonable to prioritize spending better. Pay down your credit card 1st, not last. Don't just ask your spouse to pay some bills; explain that you intend to pay down debt, and will be reducing your coverage of household expenses. Spouse can start paying the electric bill, then add the water bill, etc. When I was married, we split which bills we would pay. That way, the electric company had the task of prying money out of him, not me.

Next (biweekly)paycheck, pay at least 100 to the credit card, even before the billing cycle. Then the next month, an extra 200. Your spouse is living a pleasant life because you enable it. Stop enabling it. Being out of consumer debt, and having savings is really, really pleasant.
posted by theora55 at 5:33 PM on March 10, 2010

In all honestly, you need to stop the bleeding first. If I'm reading this correctly, you've been working at this for 2 years and him at the business for 10 years.

First off, if you're losing money, just stop. Cut the expenses, whether this is stop giving money to the business or canceling something basic, like cable. If your spouse complains, tell him to pay for it.

Second, stand up for yourself. I don't understand why he gets to pay off all his credit cards but not yours when you're bringing all the money? If the marriage is truly a partnership, then he needs to pull his weight but if he's coming up with excuses or not getting a job, that's not partnership. At the end of the day, he's not putting his weigh in and you need to stop passively supporting this bad habit. It's been going on for years now.

Third, I would seriously consider a divorce to limit any potential financial damages in the future... or ANY other way to limit your liability at this point. I know this may depend on what state you're in but truly, you need to draw the line in the sand and say, this is my share and this is yours. You said you've been in debt since the marriage 10 years ago, what is going to change if you don't take hard, concrete actions?

Right now, you're making over 75% of the household income (over 100% if the $30,000 is revenue only and the business is at a loss). You're working long hours due to commute, you're barely seeing your child, you're making minimum payments on your credit card WHILE he's at home, not working part-time, and he gets to smooch off of you.

I don't want to sound harsh but from your post, it sounds like the true source of why you're in debt (or barely breaking even) despite a close to 6-digit figure salary is because of his business and because of his unwillingness to help out in the household. You can't stop a sinking boat, if more water is coming into the boat than out. Eventually the boat is going to sink.

(And if I'm misreading this, I apologize and would give a different advice.)
posted by vocpanda at 7:05 PM on March 10, 2010

What about paying yourself first? It sounds like what is really upsetting you is that you're not paying down your credit cards. What's a realistic monthly payment? The paycheck arrives, $XXXX goes off to the credit card company; and you know you'll be done in YY months. Then, your need for sanity is met, and the rest of it (nanny vs. childcare vs. his company vs. eating out vs. weekends vs. cable vs. one car) can be subject to negotiation. As others have said, it sounds like you must have some options.

Second, it does sound like you need couples counseling. Of course, that costs money. Check your health insurance. But even out of pocket, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a divorce.

possibly screwed us into deeper debt and now I can't figure how to get out of it

Don't blame yourself. Sometimes, when I'm most mad about a situation (a phone call at work) I realize that the reason I'm SO MAD at them is that I secretly feel like it's my fault, but if THEY WEREN'T SO BAD that one screwup I did wouldn't be causing problems, so I focus on them. If I just forgive myself, I don't hate them for making that thing more visible to me. /overanalyzing
posted by salvia at 8:42 PM on March 10, 2010

follow-up from the OP
Per month bills below. My paycheck per month: 4365.20

Husband's income: totally fluctuates based on clients paying. I have zero clue what he brings in because one check from one client could be $3k. Another time he could run short with only a few hundred here and there. Right now we split bills into 'his' and 'mine'. I am responsible solely for my own credit card and I take care of everything else. He is responsible for his credit card (don't know the balance; might be $5k max), lawn care (seasonal), security alarm, cell phone (business w/ a deal for personal use), nanny care and internet.

Son has viral induced asthma. Get gets a cold, he gets sick and it goes right to his lungs. He's been in the hospital 3xs in one year (severe bronchiolitis, oral steroids, oxygen, breathing treatments. Please don't judge. It was traumatic for me when he was under 6mo). So that's why we didn't do daycare. Ped said day care would result in chronic illness and we felt until he's older, it wasn't worth having him sick all the time. We are reconsidering day care for possibly next year.

The short of it is, yes I pay 90% of the bills, make more, and it's very, very apparent I don't know what the 'f' I'm doing either. I called debt consolidation to help me figure this out and it didn't work. I'm trying Excel sheets to write down everything and still, crap comes up and I wind up with zero. Read Dave Ramsey so principles make sense. How do I apply it. I feel like an idiot.

For his business, I don't pay anything and we keep it separate. I just don't know or rely on his income because we can't.

water 45
gas 75 (on budget plan)
electric 110 (budget plan)
amex 30 min ($1,800 balance 3.9%. I never use this card. Been putting 40-50 down on it)
direct tv 85
groceries 560 (can't get it down past $280 every 2 weeks; use coupons, buy only on sale)
bus pass 24
car gas 50-100 depending on use of car
parking at train 16
earthlink 20 (getting rid of this)
earthlink hosting (25 (getting rid of this)
car insurance 75
life insurance 65
IRA 100 (only i contribute; he can't)
401k 10% of check (only i contribute; he can't)
phone 34
mortgage 1685
chase 350 (50 is over the min)
i don't have a car payment anymore and plan on keeping that baby until it dies (89k, 5 years old. nissan so here's hoping it lasts)
birth control pills 24 (must do brand. generic doesn't work for me)

he's paying out of his checks
nanny 50-80 one day a week (since he's staying home the other days; it fluctuates depending on his need for her)
lawn care 88
comcast 24
brinks security 24
phone--honestly, no idea; assuming 150?
car 300

other bills that come up
pediatrician if we go once a month --20
hospital bill 300
hair cut every 6 months (for me) 60
eyebrow was every 3 months (20)
baby clothes (i buy cheapest, on sale $4 a shirt or pants; he doesn't need until summer)
childrens museum for son $12 a visit (go maybe 2ce a month)
playgroup for him $7 (maybe go 2ce a month if that)

if an obligated party/function comes up we give $50-200 (low end friend bday high end, wedding of someone close). own birthday/anniversary, honestly i don't want anything. husband though wants golf clubs, etc. so usually his gifts are over $100. :(

we go out to eat maybe 2ce a month. maybe buy a bottle of wine or two a month. that's it. we don't go to the movies, etc. husband can get in museums for free so we try to take advantage of that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:49 AM on March 11, 2010

Excluding your husband's income, your monthly expenses appear to be $345 greater than what you make. That doesn't include your husband's income but also doesn't include the random unpredictable $200ish gifts you speak of, nor does it reflect any expenses you didn't provide us (replacement costs when stuff breaks down, etc., etc.). So ... yeah, you diagnosed it right, this is problematic.

Start with your $4,365.20.
  • We have shelter: $1,685 for your mortgage, $88 for lawn care, and $24 for security.
  • We have food: $560 for groceries, $40 for two eating-out dinners, and $20 for two bottles of wine.
  • We have transportation: $24 for a bus pass, $300 for your husband's car, $75 for car insurance, $16 for parking, and $100 for gas.
  • We have medical care: $24 for birth control, $20 for the pediatrician, and $50 for the hospital (3 annual visits, at $200 per visit, averaged over 12 months).
  • We have utilities: $45 for water, $75 for gas, $110 for electric, $34 for your phone, and $150 for your husband's phone.
  • We have Internet: $20 for Earthlink, $25 for Earthlink hosting, and $24 for Comcast.
  • We have entertainment: $85 for DirectTV, $24 for the museum, and $14 for the playgroup.
  • We have credit payments: $30 to AmEx and $350 to Chase.
  • We have retirement: $436.52 to your 401(k) and $100 to your RIA.
  • We have miscellaneous: $65 for life insurance, $80 to the nanny, $10 for a haircut ($60 averaged over 6 mos.) and eyebrows ($20 averaged over 3 months).
The result is –$344.99.

I would cut:
  •   $88   – Handle lawn care within the family.
  •   $24   – Thousands get by without home security systems.
  •   $40   – Don't eat out. Eating out is pricy for a reason. Occasionally do a really nice dinner at home (candlelight, soft music, etc.).
  •   $20   – Ditch the bottles of wine. (The $20 is a really conservative estimate, depending on how pricy the wine you're buying is – I assumed very inexpensive wine.)
  •   $85   – Cancel DirectTV and watch broadcast and Hulu.com instead. Keep an eye on the iTunes Store's weekly 99¢ rentals, look at your rental shop's discount bin, etc., etc.
  •   $24   – Go to museums on free days, or investigate other free alternatives (see upcoming.org, meetup.com, etc.).
  •   $14   – Do a playdate co-op with mothers you know – no reason to be paying $168 per year to be handling the clerical end of playdates.
  •   $100   – In a financial situation such as yours, donating to both a 401(k) and an IRA is overkill.
  •   $10   $2.16 – Go to SuperCuts. ($60/6 mos. to $13/6 mos.)
  •   $6.67   – Tweeze your eyebrows yourself.
That gets us from $345 in the red to $64.52 in the black, but that's not much.

Frankly, others might disagree, but in your situation, I'd stop the 10% of your money to your 401(k). Doesn't mean you need to pause, or take a 401(k) loan – just stop new contributions for a while. To me, it's a long-term and very large-scale theft of quality-of-life from the immediate present in favor of the amorphous future ... and in order to build that future, you need to make your quality of life better now, first.

That would puts you from $64.52 in the black to $500 in the black.

What do you do with this money? Among other things, get paid off on debt immediately. Use the debt snowball method. And once you pay off that $15k credit card – which will be easier done with the newly free $500 – you're going to not only have that cash free, you're going to have that $400 free that's currently going towards minimum payments. That means you'll have gone from $355 in the red to $1,000 in the black.

There's still savings to be had:
  • Bundling is your friend. Are you getting life and car insurance from the same insurance company? Are you getting phone, Internet, and cable from the same company? Companies usually give deep, considerable discounts when they bundle services together. Worth investigating.
  • If you're going to divorce, this wouldn't be advisable, but getting you and your husband's phone together on a family plan – if it's not already – would probably be a cost-saver.
  • Others can point you towards where to cut, but $560/mo. is pretty huge for groceries. I get the sense you're a two-adult one-baby family? If so, let's say baby is 20% of the costs – that's still a $15-per-day grocery bill! Start looking at generics, buying in bulk, and use the Frugal Map to find and subscribe to coupon blogs for your site that will tell you about the weekly deals at your local grocery store.
  • Make sure you're not paying more than you need to for gas – use a gas-price-watching site like GasBuddy to fill up at whoever's got the lowest price.
A few notes to wrap it up:

With everything you do, ask yourself: Is there a cheaper methodology by which I can accomplish this? And I mean everything. You're going home and going to buy paper towels:
You: Is there a cheaper methodology by which I can accomplish buying this $2.59 Brawny Mega-Roll?
You: Why, yes, there is – I can buy a paper towel roll from the Dollar Store for $0.33.
Et cetera. Do this for absolutely everything. It is your new second habit.
You: I'm going to get a soda and candy bar from the machine.
You: Is there a cheaper methodology by which I can accomplish having a candy bar and soda?
You: Well, yeah. I can buy a 2-liter of the generic of my favorite soda from the store for $0.89 and pour it over ice. That's 1.3¢ per oz, as opposed to $1.59 for a 20-oz. bottle, which is 7.95¢/oz. – 600% more costly! Or, over the course of the month, the difference between $8 spent on that soda or $48. And I can buy a bag of fun-size Snickers, or a box of generic Wheat Thins (or whatever your snack of choice is) from the grocery store, where the unit price is going to be one hell of a lot less than the vending machine.
Watch your ATM dollars. How much is your bank autodeducting from you at every opportunity? Every stop at a not-your-bank ATM can cost you the price of a fast food meal, depending on your bank – for example, Chase charges me $2 for every non-Chase ATM withdrawal I make, in addition to the $2-3 fee I'm billed from the bank. That's $5. So when I do a cash withdrawal, I much more often do it as a "cash back" at a grocery store or pharmacy, since I don't have a Chase ATM near my house.

There's no amount too small to be worthy of being saved. Get a coin counter and start, every single day, throwing all of your change into it. (The grocery store CoinStar takes 10% of your savings just to count it up.)

With each expenditure, ask yourself, What convenience am I getting as a result of this expenditure? Is it something I'm willing to do for myself instead? Just as an example, for example, parking. Is that something where you could save $17 per month by dropping someone off at the train station and picking them up? Maybe that's too much of an inconvenience and you'll decide that it's worth the $17. But it's that train of thought you should keep engaging in. (Also, with the $24 bus pass, investigate that company/utility's fare schedule – depending on the city, sometimes it's cheaper to get a per-week or per-month unlimited ride pass if offered, sometimes it's cheaper to pay per ride.)

There's going to be a lot of internal resistance. Just as there's no amount too small to be saveworthy, each and every price is something worthy of being looked at – because compounded over time, little amounts become big. As pointed out above, a $1.59 soda bottle from the machine, if bought daily for a month, will be a $50/mo. expenditure. That's money that can go towards eliminating your debt and then towards worthier things. So with all the things that you think, Oh, but that's so small, it's not worth the time trying to eliminate that cost. ... well, think again.

Disclaimer: none/very little of the above factors in any legal consequence, especially any consequence relating to a divorce. Specifically, I don't know how aggressive paying off of debt would or would not influence divorce settlements, etc. It's also written in a vacuum in that it assumes that your spouse will be on board and won't be working against you in this process.

Wait a few weeks for this question to escape people's minds. Then, under your real account, ask people in a separate Ask Metafilter question for recommendations for a good financial planner in your geographic area (or, if it's permissible by the admins, ask it as an anon). I would respectfully suggest you need someone to be your teammate that regularly works with you to make sure you're saving every bleedin' penny you possibly can. In other words, if you look at Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman and stuff and just can't process what they're saying, then you need the services of a professional who can process it (and much more) to help guide you along the path back to financial help. There's no shame in it, as there's hundreds and thousands of people who need the help of financial planners to make the path back to financial stability an easier one. Based on what you've told us about those books and your own home-brewed spreadsheets just not working for you, I think finding a good professional would be a good path for you.

Anyway ... given that this post is now rivaling a Tolstoy novel in length, best wrap it up. Good luck!
posted by WCityMike at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2010 [13 favorites]

Ah, this is fun. Here's what I'd cut:
- lawn care + security + DirectTV $197
- your husband's car $300 (can you bike or walk to the train?)
- try to get monthly groceries down to 460, saving $100

But really, I'd sit down with him and ask what you guys should do.
posted by salvia at 10:33 PM on March 11, 2010

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