Financial Goals: The Long, Short & Middle Of It

I’ve been inspired by this post to list out our/my financial goals. I like the idea of planning out savings the same way you would plan out paying off debts using the Dave Ramsey snowball method.

Hopefully I will remember to refer to this and update as the years go by.

Short Term Goals (anything that needs attention in the next year):
Name: Maintain Emergency Fund
Life Reason: To give us the freedom to undergo hardship without stress
Terminal Amount: $40K (Source: Savings)
When goal needs to be met: Already met

Name: Car Replacement
Life Reason: We have 2 old cars but one is likely to die soon or cost too much to repair.
Terminal Amount: $25K
When goal needs to be met: September 2016

Once a short term goal is funded, you can immediately spend the funds, or save that money toward mid-term goals

Worthy Midterm Goals (anything that needs attention in between one year from and when we retire):

Name: House Down Payment
Life Reason: I would like to own a house that can be left to kids. However I’m firmly believe that most houses are not investments.
Terminal Amount: $200K
When goal needs to be met: 2017

Name: Life Insurance
Life Reason: We have a special needs child who will need financial help after we’re gone.
Terminal Amount: $100K*
When goal needs to be met: 2037-ish
* Truthfully I don’t know how much we need in this account. Several people have told me that the government programs will suffice, yet these are the same people who tend to favor budget cuts in government programs (which would include any program helping the disabled).

Long Term Goals:
Name: Retire
Life Reason: We want a comfortable retirement with ability to leave enough to our kids.
Terminal Amount: $1.5M indexed to inflation
When goal needs to be met: 2037-ish

While we’re okay in terms of emergency savings and our car goal, it seems highly unlikely that we can meet the 2 biggest goals — house down payment and retirement.  I am assuming that the house value will have to be a part of retirement or inheritance for kids.

 

 

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There Will NOT Be A Revolution

Despite the title of this blog, I want to assure the upper-classes that the middle-class are highly unlikely of ever staging a rebellion.

Here’s Why:

French revolution

French revolution

1) We middle-class would very much like to join you in the upper-classes.  Some of us don’t even care how we get up there.

2) We don’t want to get our Khaki pants dirty.

3) We don’t like to protest unless we can do it from the comfort of our homes, preferably behind a computer or an anonymous blog!

4) We still believe in upward mobility even if stats tell otherwise.

5) We have good credit.

6) If you throw us a stick once in a while, like a 1-3% raise, we’ll be happy.

7) We still think that we can afford to own a home.

Russian Revolution

Russian Revolution

8) We are too busy and tired from trying to stay afloat on stagnant salaries.

9) We naively believe that if we pay for more lessons, SAT prep courses, and private school, our middle-class kids catch up to your kids, who get even more lessons, prep courses and go to more elite private schools.

10) Did I mention that we would really like to join the upper class?

Note: You probably should look out for the lower classes though.

A Week In The Life Of Special Needs Parenting

Every week, my spouse and I face a mountain-load of paperwork related to managing a special-needs household.  Below is a sampling.


Monday

Spouse handles medical appointment for one kid.

I schedule extra service hours for this Wednesday.

Tuesday

I take a day off from work.

I attend 3-hour parent training seminar required by Regional Center

I pick up dental referral form for one kid

I email back and forth with Service Provider re; insurance denial for one of kid’s services

Spouse and I participate in a therapy session with kid.

I fix a mistake that I made earlier in one of our service provider’s schedule.

Spouse sends in medical supply order and questions to service provider

Wednesday

Spouse brings kid to hospital for check-up.

I research and complete paperwork for a government program.  I hope I get all the necessary forms!

I call Insurance about a denied claim.  Hear a message saying they’re too busy and to call back another day. Search for most recent approval paperwork!

Spouse completes paperwork for IHSS.

I discuss upcoming vacation time with a therapist.

I notice a possible error in schedule for next week and note to bring this up with provider.

I print and save copies of lab results for one kid.

Thursday

Spouse discusses parent training schedule with consultant

I TRY to submit information online for a government program. I get an error message and contact the agency for help. I would have submitted the old-fashioned way but I cannot find a paper application anywhere on their site.  During this research, I also notice that there are a few additional supporting documentation on their site that were not required in the online application.

I email important documents to kid’s doctor for his signature.

I email insurance about the denied claim.

I call provider about services that is supposed to start for one of my sons in April.

Friday

I email Regional Center about services that is supposed to start for one of my sons in April.

Weekend

We realize that we have 3 special needs related meetings next week.

Add stuff to the To-Do List:

  • Get ready for IEP by reviewing progress reports and decide strategy.
  • Get paperwork ready for foundation meeting.
  • Set a schedule for weekly parent training for both of us
  • Email provider about not being happy with one of the therapists.
  • Find out if one of our recent appointments qualify for a claim with AFLAC.
  • Note to self: Research if we should continue paying for AFLAC insurance.
  • Must follow-up (again) with IHSS
  • Must follow up with kid’s doctor about completing form.

Some weeks are definitely more hectic than others.  It was a fairly slow week at work so I was able to tackle multiple projects.  Many times, I’m just too busy at work to do much else. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for it to take-up 2-3 weeks for me to follow-up.

All of the above must be taken care of while we manage a household with two young kids, freelance career and a full-time job! We could not do this without local family support (thanks Mom!)

News: Free Tax Help For The Middle Class

The IRS has a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that offers free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individual.  Although I wish the income limit was higher, $53,000 or less certainly qualifies as middle-class!

To find a location near you, do a search with the word “VITA” or use the IRS website.

Note: This is not an April Fool’s joke. The suffering Middle-Class do not play jokes…

HTSMC: Work The Government System

It’s hard to write about government assistance programs without getting into a debate whether there should be a societal safety net or not.  Many people view all welfare programs in a negative light — as inefficient bureaucracy at best or assistance for the undeserving poor at worst.

From my observations, it seems that most liberals / Democrats believe that the government should help all of its citizens. Most of my Republics/ conservatives friends and family members put their faith in the American Dream of “pulling yourself (and your family) up by your own bootstraps”.  They tend to support a program or service only if they know someone who benefits from it.

In an earlier post, I highlighted California’s first-time home buyer programs. Many if not most other states have similar programs available for low- to middle-income households.  I did not end up using this program but I learned that there are many, many national and state government programs out there, even for those in the middle-class.

Before I get into details, I want to “out” myself up-front as someone who has benefited greatly from receiving support during tougher times.  I also admit that we were not the poorest of the poor.  We had a little family help, too.  Without the myriad of government-sponsored programs, however, I know we would be much worse-off today.*

Here is a quick run-down of government services that I’m thankful for:

1. Disability Insurance – In California, disability tax is taken out of every pay check. It’s not a larger amount.  Should you ever become disable, you can tap into these funds and get approximately 55% of your regular paycheck. This short-term benefit made it much easier for us when I had to quit earlier than expected for a difficult pregnancy.

2. Paid Family Leave – I also took advantage of paid family leave benefits after my children were born.

3. Regional Center – I have a special needs child and we’re fortunate that the state offers services for people with developmental abilities such as Autism, Epilepsy, and Cerebral Palsy. Services provided include speech therapy, occupational therapy, respite and much more. They do require that you first try to get services paid by private insurance and Medi-Cal, which is fair.  If private insurance approves services for your child, that means you are responsible for co-pays.  Our ABA therapy alone adds up to approximately $480 per month!  Luckily the Regional Center is able to help us with these co-payments.

baby

4. Medi-Cal – There is a special Medi-Cal program for individuals with disabilities. First, it’s been a great relief to know that my child would get medical coverage even if I were to lose my job. (It may be different now with Obamacare but I haven’t looked into it.)  This program has helped my family by filling in gaps in insurance coverage.  When my child needed an expensive specialty formula, prescribed by the doctor but not covered by most private insurances, we were able to get the formula through Medi-cal.

5. In-home Supportive Services (IHSS) – This is a lesser-known program that works with families to keep a developmentally disabled individual in a home setting (versus being institutionalized).

In all cases, our income was documented to ensure that we qualified for services.  We had to submit financial information and send them a copy of our tax return every year.  I’m not saying fraud is impossible but we were rejected for two other government programs for having a little too much savings. There is also a lot of follow-up by case workers in order to prevent abuse.

It can be intimidating, confusing and frustrating to navigate the system to get government services.  Government resources are limited and you have to act as an advocate to get enough services. We’ve been lucky to have a few good Case Managers at the Regional Center who have helped us navigate the process. However, I do most of the legwork and research on my own and follow up a lot (phone, email, fax, mail, you name it).

As with private insurance dealings, you’ve got to be very persistent and know your rights. Nice but firm gets better results. Tell them about worse-case scenarios.  Do as much as you can IN WRITING. Make copies. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

* I would like to add that funding cuts have greatly affected the quality and quantity of government services available.  It’s a lot of people fighting for a small slice of pie.


This is one in a sporadic series of tips/ideas to help you stay middle-class.  Whether you consider yourself on the lower- or higher-end of the spectrum, you can probably find some useful tips to help you stay there and find save more for retirement even as wages stay stagnant.

How To Stay Middle-Class: Government Help?

This is one in a sporadic series of tips/ideas to help you stay middle-class (HTSMC).  Whether you consider yourself on the lower- or higher-end of the spectrum, you can probably find some useful tips to help you stay there and find save more for retirement even as wages stay stagnant.

Work the System*

Most government programs help lower-income households.  However, even if you’re solidly middle-class, there may be times — due to disability, unemployment, under-employment or circumstance — that you may actually qualify for some assistance.   It is important that you keep abreast of new programs and policy changes that can help you and your family.  I’ve had mixed experiences but during tougher times, the government has actually been a lifeline for me.

The first step is to check your state and local government websites.  There are tons of resources out there and it can be confusing.  However, take the time to familiarize you with different aid programs.  In addition to widely-known programs like food stamps and disability benefits, there are other programs that have more wiggle room in terms of qualification requirements.

For example, when my husband and I were first looking to buy a house, we found out about a first-time home buyer program.  Operated by the Southern California Home Financing Authority (SCHFA), this program provides low interest loans and closing cost assistance in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Maximum Income Limits – Los Angeles County

Type of
Construction – New and Existing
One or Two
Person Households
Three or More
Person Households
 Up to $99,360  Up to $115,920

As you can see from the above, a family or three or more could make over $100,000 per year and still qualify.  That is not luxury-level living in Los Angeles but the cut-off is more generous than many other government programs.  Another option in California is CalHFA, which requires first-time home buyers to take a home buyer education course.

A quick Google search for “first time home buyer [your city/county]” will pull up results pertinent to your area.

The bottom line is that there are programs out there to help the average middle-class Joe/Jane. You just have to look for these and once you find one that works for you, be persistent and ask a lot of questions. More to come…

* I realize that the term “work the system” has negative connotations. I’m not advocating doing anything dishonest.  However, I believe that you need to be the squeakiest wheel (and very informed) in order to get services.