I just got back from the car repair shop, this time in Bellingham, for the second day in a row. It's way past the kids' quiet time for the day (also known as MY time limit of noise, questions, interruptions, and broken brain synapses), also for the second day in a row. We were out of bread this morning, so I had to make do and pack a too-small lunch for us to eat in the tiny lobby of the repair shop. Boy, have we had a time of it.
The reason we were in the shop was because our back alignment was out of whack, causing our tires to be bald on the inside corner of them. The tread was so bad that on our trip to Peachland, Stefan had to spend some time rotating the back to the front, just so they wouldn't be a road hazard. We still had to get down the mountains! We made it safely home (me, not without a stomachache) and yesterday they diagnosed and then today repaired the back alignment. After a $2,350 repair in February (yes, you really did read that number right), this was just another notch in the stick of how our life has been these past few months. Today's bill would have been less than $400, except some of the pieces were completely rusted and it took them an extra hour (of labor, using the torch, etc.) to even get TO the things they needed to replace. It turned out to be very near $600.
This is how our year has been. One after another. We have had some very generous family members and friends give us money when we didn't expect it, nor ask for it, and that has helped a lot. It doesn't even come close to the tip of the iceberg on of the rotten financial pile that has stacked up around us, without our consent, and with months of living on a shoestring. That shoestring is now threads. We're living on the threads of a worn shoestring!
When Stefan first accepted the job in Richmond, the Canadian and American currencies were dang near equal. The Canadian dollar had been strong for a long time. Around summer-time it really started to drop, and it has been slowly dropping ever since. So what? Well, living in the States, and working in Canada (with only the one income) means every time Stefan brings home his bi-weekly paycheck, just crossing the 49th parallel (ahem, our backyard), we loose hundreds of dollars. In the past 10 months, we've lost over $5,000 this way. Yup, you read that number right, too. We're actually living in a very expensive part of the country, with less than we lived on back in Lincoln, Nebraska, a very cheap place to live. Every month, money we desperately need to pay off things like those silly car repairs literally disappears. Did we mention Canadians have a higher tax rate than Americans? So yeah.
We're paying higher taxes while unable to reap any of the benefits meanwhile loosing hundreds of dollars just by crossing the line.
We've always had pretty straightforward taxes every year, and we get quite a bit back because we have children and have charitable donations. I really wondered how taxes for us would go this year, because of our strange situation. Well, we got our taste of that, too, and it's sour. Our accountant, whom we felt could quite possibly be the worst accountant in the area, charged us $315 (!!!) to have them done, while missing tax day, April 16 (!!!!!) and having them for over two months (!!!!!!!!!!). Add another $110 Canadian charge for the Canadian accountant she works with, so we file with them, and we're up to $425 to find out we OWE over a thousand dollars. Unbelievable. We got a decent (not great) amount back from the US, and we have to pay in nearly $5,000 to Canada because of a rule that because we're not residents and/or Stefan didn't make 90% of his fiscal income (84%!) in Canada, we don't get to use ANY personal deductions. Yeah.
The reasons we're still in America, as opposed to heading over there late February as soon as our 1-year lease was up are the following: 1) I have to finish my permanent residency application stateside if I want the option to return stateside before having the card. If you decide to apply within Canada, you can't leave until that little puppy is in your hand. When all is said and done, this application is in the range of $1,500. 2)Ani has her first dance recital in late May. 3) Lukka finishes up his first full co-op year at Home Connections mid-June. Also mid-June is his wrap-up to his first year in Scouts. We wanted him to have a cohesive ending for school, at least.
So. My medical exam for the application is in Seattle on May 8. On May 9, that immigration packet is going in the mail, and we can breathe a sigh of relief that it's finished. Other than packing up, cleaning, and inventorying everything in our house (at the border they need a list of every item in your house! crazy!), the next step will be to find a place and put a deposit down, and actually do the moving in the last week of June. Finally! We'll be able to KEEP all the money we make. It'll be amazing.
Within the time of taxes being due (we don't have our American money in the bank yet...), immigration needing to be filed, we'll have to get a loan. We can't pay for any of it out of pocket. The last of our emergency fund, actually called My Portland Money, was spent this morning, in a dirty car repair shop. I had saved that money for a trip for over 10 months, scrimping, working, birthday and christmas checks saved, and now it's gone, sitting in the back of our very old and used car. Getting a loan, although we have excellent credit, and very, very small student loans left, feels like we're going in the wrong direction.
We've tried to work so, so hard to become debt free, and here we are, accruing debt because we feel that we have no choice. We have to pay taxes that are exorbitant. We have to have a car that gets us from A to B without fear of an accident. We have precious cargo, after all. We live meagerly, and we are not foolish with money. We know all the tricks and tips of living well on less, we do them consistently! They are built into our lifestyle. Often, people have such judgments about poverty, and I can understand why. When you see someone with an iphone, fake nails, dyed hair, and a nice car paying with food stamps, it's easily to mentally degrade someone who you think is unwise with money. I'm writing this to tell you that poverty can also look so friend-next-door, so normal-people-y. So shocking.
Yes, a lot of people mismanage money, but some people just get beat month after month in a discouraging season of unrelenting bills and circumstances out of their control, that topple the house of cards that can literally take years to recover from--even by doing everything right.
When calculated out that after all is said and done, we're living in a very expensive area, on 1/3 less than what we lived on in the Midwest. That alone bewilders us. We've gone through a year of this before, when Lukka was a baby and I had stopped working. You'd think we'd have enough trust in God to know, from hindsight, that He always takes care of us. Always. I'm reminded that we have clean water to drink (and wash our clothes in), we have enough food, we have warm beds, and we have the luxury of a library down the street, a church practically next door, and my husband has the ability and drive to work. I have the privilege to homeschool, and do it within a community that supports families to do so. The blessings are innumerable, the problems countable on one hand (they just happen to be rather large, ahem). God knows our needs. He has always surprised us. We can't help but completely abandon worry and hand it over, because, frankly, it's all we have left. When you're in that moment of stress, fatigue, and what-now-ness, fear is deep and wide.
I love this quote, from Emily P. Freeman, about fear. "The trouble with fear is it tells you things will always be the way they are now." It won't always be that way, though. It never is. The fog lifts. The storm clouds disappear. The sun breaks through. We stay steady. We stay faithful. We repeat this over and over until we're blue in the face and faint of heart and then we do it again. The other option is despair, anger, resentment, pride, and blame, but those aren't really options, they're giving up. We continue to hang on by a threadbare shoestring, and not loose hope that a new pair are right around the corner.