Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A painful lesson in frugality - a blessing in disguise!

I recently learned something the hard way: my family can (almost) get along on MUCH less income than I thought....the "hard way" because I experienced a sudden, unexpected and scary drop in income. "Almost" because there are some medical bills I couldn't pay, but I suspect that I might figure out a way to pay them if our financial problems persist much longer!

For those who don't know, I've been working part-time since April 5th of this year; my employers have been incredibly kind and generous, allowing me to work 100% from home over the Internet. They've even accepted the fact that I've moved 200 miles away to the cooler, cloudier climate of the Central Coast of California, where my lupus flares have been less frequent and even my Lyme disease symptoms seem to be more controlled.

My work hours have dropped from 40 to 24 per week, but the state disability checks make up for that, paying me for all of the hours that I'm no longer working.

Just a side comment's really great to know that a program that I've been paying into for all these years actually WORKS the way it's supposed to! I remember looking at those SDI deductions on my paycheck stubs in the past, resenting the fact that my hard-earned money was being taken away, but now I'm incredibly grateful that they did take that money and put it away for me!

OK, mid-July suddenly my disability checks stopped! They sent me my "final" check with a letter that explained that if I was still disabled, I needed another statement from my doctor so that my benefits might be extended. So I gave a copy of the physician's statement form to one of my doctors....should be a straightforward process to fill it out and send it off, right? Doctors do this all the time, after all!

Well, unbeknownst to me, this particular doctor happened to be moving to a new office right around the time I gave him the form. And apparently the form was LOST during the packing process!

I was patiently waiting and waiting (well, perhaps IMPATIENTLY waiting and waiting) for some indication that my benefits had been extended....I called the SDI office from time to time to see if they had received the paperwork, but the answer was always "no". So after a couple of weeks I called the doctor's office and asked for a copy of the form that they sent off to SDI. This was how I found out that it had disappeared during their office move....they had no copy in my chart, no evidence of the SDI form anywhere.

At that point (after I calmed down) I gave copies of the SDI physician's statement to TWO of my doctors, because I wasn't going to put all of my eggs in one basket again! Then I waited another two weeks, since it can take up to 10 business days for SDI to "process" the doctor's statements.

FINALLY, yesterday I was told that, yes, they DID receive one of the forms, and that I needed to submit all of my timecards from 7/14 onward so that SDI can send me my missing checks!! I've been extended to December! Hallelujah!!

Needless to say I filled out and faxed off those timesheets first thing this morning! :)

However, during this time that our income was so severely reduced, I was absolutely AMAZED to see that somehow I was able to pay our regular monthly bills AND still buy groceries, prescriptions, diapers, etc. As I mentioned, there were a couple of large medical bills (over $100) that have to wait until I get my retroactive disability payments, but I've paid the rent, I've paid the utilities, I've paid my student loan payment.....I would never have believed that I could do this on less than 2/3 of my regular pay!

Yes, we did have to tighten our belts and pay less than I would have liked to pay on various credit cards (I like to pay a LOT more than the minimum whenever possible). We also ate a lot of simple, inexpensive meals such as scrambled eggs, bacon and my homemade almond-and-coconut flour biscuits, chili, baked beans and gluten free franks....well, you get the picture.

Also, as a Christian, I have to point out that the Almighty must have been at work here, stretching our funds. :)

But it was such an eye-opener, such a revelation, to discover that we could actually make it on so little money. I think I needed to know this now, because if I go on full-time disability my income would drop to 60% of my regular full-time pay. This proved to me that we could do it....and we could even do it comfortably if we found a cheaper place to live!

My aunt June once told me that the one economic factor that makes the biggest difference in your budget is something that YOU can control: housing costs. You can choose to live in a less expensive home. You have no real control over grocery prices, gas prices, utility rates, etc., and you can only economize so much on those items. But it is possible to economize significantly on rent or on a mortgage by simply choosing NOT to live in the most expensive place you can afford.

Yes, this time of reduced income has been really, really tough. But it was worth it to learn that we can survive if I go on full-time disability! I hope I never have to do that, but it's still an option that's on the table.

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