Monday, February 28, 2011

34 days

I already flipped my calendar over to March. Two more months!

What I’m looking forward to: having more energy to play with my kids.

My daughter and I built forts out of empty moving boxes last night and had a snowball fight with crumpled paper. It was awesome.

What I’m leaving behind: endless reams of paperwork

Frugal Lessons from Grandma O

I didn’t appreciate my Grandmother’s frugal nature when she was alive. I would complain about the gifts bought from discount and second-hand stores. I never appreciated how these little things that she and my grandpa did really added up in the long-run. She was a little girl during the depression taking care of her siblings after her mother left. She knew what it was like to have very little so she made every penny count. So here it is. Grandma O’s lessons in frugality:
  • Don’t buy it if you can do without it. Grandma and Grandpa never had new furniture. Any new furniture in their house was given to them used as a gift.
  • If you have to buy it, buy it on sale and buy a lot of it. Grandma loved a good sale. When she found something on sale, she bought a ton of it. The lady stored canned soup and soda underneath her bed.
  • Spend some money on little indulgences. Grandma loved chocolate. I think that is where I get it from. She always had sweets around, little snack-size Kit Kats were one of her favorites. She would buy them and stash them around the house. I never left Grandma’s house without a goody. I think because she did spend a little on her favorite things she didn’t feel deprived.
  • Gardening and canning is a good way to provide fruits and vegetables all year long. Long after my grandparents cut way back on gardening due to their age and health, they could eat from a stockpile of things like canned green beans and frozen jams and jellies. I was really sad the day that my family ate the last jar of grandpa’s green beans. They were so delicious.
  • People need investments of time not money. This was obvious in my grandparent’s lifestyle. They would spend weeks visiting us, calling every week and talking to each one of their grandchildren, and generally pouring their time and energy into their loved ones. I never ever got the impression from my grandma that she was too busy for me or didn’t have time to spend. They kept themselves in great shape so they could keep up with their grandkids. My grandma was playing basketball with us when she was in her 70s.
  • "Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today” was my grandmother’s favorite expression. She usually used this to goad us into cleaning our rooms or other less desirable household chores. As I’ve grown older, I can see how this philosophy underpinned her frugality. When something needs to be done and you procrastinate, what can happen? A bill doesn’t get paid; groceries aren’t purchased so you eat out; or you don’t call a plumber and the toilet overflows. These are sometimes costly repercussions to procrastination.

I’m sure there is more. My grandmother had a profound influence on me growing up. I wish some of this would have rubbed off on me a little harder when I was younger.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Downsizing Your Stuff

Instead of the post I had planned about the monthly budget audit, I'm writing today about downsizing. I've been spending much of my time this weekend packing for our impending move. Part of that process has involved sorting through all of the girls' belongings. They are moving from two separate rooms to sharing a room in the new house. This means that we have to turn two rooms full of stuff into one room. My oldest daughter is a pack rat and keeps everything so this has been far from a simple process. Here is what I've learned about downsizing stuff this weekend.

1) Sort everything into a keep pile, a donation pile, and a trash pile. Look at everything and make a decision. Don't just assume that you'll be keeping something. You might be dragging stuff around because you got it as a gift but maybe it has no real value for you. Be ruthless.

2)Force yourself to make choices. My daughter has a huge stuffed animal collection. I would present her with two stuffed animals. She got to pick one to keep and one to give away. You might need to do this for yourself too if you have large collections like books, dvds, et cetera that you need to downsize.

3)Don't spend too much time thinking about things. Your gut feeling about whether or not something is important to you is probably the right one.

4) Keep your new space in mind. We're getting rid of some of the toys that we just bought the girls for Christmas just a few short months ago. It is a little disappointing that we just bought these toys but if we have no place for them in the new house, then they need to go.

After all, things are just things. So don't sweat the small stuff.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Less like home, more like a house

We're moving two weeks from today into our new home. Until this morning, there was not a single box packed in my house. Oh and did I also mention that I will be out of town the weekend that we move, and my husband is currently out of town this weekend? I have this weekend and next to get my house packed up and ready to go. I also have to prepare for a girl scout weekend camping trip, which I am chaperoning while my husband and loved ones move my house for me.

It is all a little overwhelming. I think I'm in the pre-freak out phase where everything still seems copacetic. Sure, I can do all that in two weeks. Plus, take care of my youngest daughter who is sick right now. Thank goodness for mums and dads. They came down to bring me boxes and help pack this morning. In just about five hours, we sorted through and packed both my daughters' rooms and a lot of the dining room and kitchen. We packed out five bags of goodwill donations and another five bags of trash, all mostly from my oldest's room. She is a pack rat.

Since my parent's left, I've been looking around my house from the vantage of the sofa because man packing is tiring and thinking about how it looks a lot less like my home and a lot more like the house that we moved into a year and a half ago. After all of my worrying about moving and leaving this house, I think I was really just worried about leaving behind my home. It still feels like home here especially snuggled under a blanket and listening to the fire hiss and crackle. The storm has just slightly abated and the rain stopped. Out my large plate glass window, the trees in the front yard are shivering. The apple trees have flowered. We won't be here to enjoy the harvest this year. We'll be living in our new house. That is quite all right with me. They'll be great things that I'll love about our new house too. There is a cherimoya tree in the backyard. I can't say that I've ever had a cherimoya, but I hope I like them.

Budget Auditing

I've been fairly disciplined lately about setting up our budget every month. I have a basic budget with categories that occur monthly. I simply change it each month to add in bills/expenses that occur on a less than monthly basis or fluctuate. I then try to estimate our income as best as possible. My husband works varying hours after school and his paycheck adjusts based on that.

While I've been good at setting the budget up, I've probably been half as good at tracking my expenses and hardly ever audit it at the end of the month to see if we stuck to the budget. Since budgeting will soon be vital to my success as a stay-at-home mom (Yikes! I think that is the first time I've used that word.), I need to get into the habit of giving us a month financial check up or post mortem as the case may be.

I think it is important for us for a number of reasons. While we're good at capturing expenses in the big expenditure categories like gas and groceries, those little things like a $1 at redbox seem to fall through the cracks and don't end up recorded in our budget. On a side note, I do everything manually. I keep an excel spreadsheet with three columns for every month. One column is anticipated expenditures, the next is actual expenditures, and the third is remaining expenditures. I leave the first column intact throughout the month. I change the second and third on about a weekly basis to track what we've spent and see what we have left. My primary goal by doing this is to keep our grocery expenses in check and also keep our cash flow situation good. If you have another system, you may need to adjust it so that you're able to do a monthly budget audit. My budget audit is a fairly simple but sometimes lengthy process depending on how well I've kept up the budget spreadsheet.

1) Go through the online bank statement and check register to verify that all of the transactions are accounted for in the budget spreadsheet. (Inevitably there are some cash withdrawals that I can't track to a particular budget category. My husband and I aren't perfect. We don't tend to keep track of very small transactions so we have some cash leakage through the month)

2) Update the actual expenditures category in my spreadsheet.

3) Compare your expected vs. your actual expenditures. There are going to be variations. For instance, my husband had an emergency root canal this month. I didn't budget for it so we have an additional $300 in our medical expenditures than was anticipated.

4) Highlight trouble spots and try to figure out if these are one time unexpected expenditures or if they are a result of overspending.

5) Adjust budget for next month if needed.

I'll be going through my budget audit tomorrow. I'll post the results of my audit as an example.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Walking as an Exercise in Frugality

I love to walk to places. I love to walk my daughter to school. I love to walk to the grocery store, to the library, the park, the coffee shop, and any place within a mile or so of my house. I'm blessed to live in a great area with plenty of places within walking distance. I also live in a warm climate where I can walk the whole year long. It is one of the things that I look forward to once I've quit my job. I'll have more time and flexibility in my schedule to substitute walking for a lot of the short car trips that I make.

This morning, I walked the mile from my daughter's school to our new house. It was a pleasant walk with only gentle slopes unlike the ski slope that I walk down from my current house. I pushed my littlest in the stroller and talked to her and just greatly enjoyed the fresh brisk morning air. We then walked over to the grocery store to pick up some odds and ends for tomorrow since my family is coming for the day to help me pack. Then, we walked the mile or more back to my current house. It took just over an hour. I got some good exercise, my daughter got some fresh air, and I ran an errand. It's good for my health, good for the pocketbook (no gas or wear and tear), and good for the environment (no carbon emissions). It's a win-win situation.

It does strike me as odd that so many people choose to drive to make those short trips. I know several people who live within a short distance of my daughter's school who make those 1/4-1/2 mile trips with a car instead of walking. According to U.S. Department of Energy, short trips from a cold start uses as much as twice the fuel as a multi-purpose trip with a warm engine. This means that these short trips are expensive and bad for the environment. Whether or not you care about being a good steward of the earth, it is just bad economic sense to get in the car to drive 1/2 mile when you have a pair of good working legs or a bicycle.

This may not apply to everyone. There are many people who do not live within walking distance of stores and civic places. However, I hope that like me there are people who make the conscious choice to live within close proximity of these places. I've always lived within walking distance of a grocery store. It's something that I decided early on was important to me. Chances are that if you live within walking distance of a grocery store that you are also within walking distance of other places too. If you've made that choice, you need to make the effort to replace short auto trips with walking or bicycling. It's good for you, and it's good for your pocketbook.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Face to the Sun

It was chilly this morning as I waited for the elevator at the parking garage this morning. When I walked to the edge near the railing and lifted my face, I could feel the sun warming me. I closed my eyes. “This is how flowers must feel”, I thought.

I’ve been anxious to leave my job and start my new “real life”. So much so that nine more weeks seems like an eternity. As I lifted my face to the sun this morning, I realized that there can be beautiful happy moments now. I shouldn’t wait until everything is set in place for me to drink in life. I can appreciate it right now. Yes, I’m still stuck from 8:30am to 5:00pm in my drab grey cubicle. Right outside my window though is a splashing fountain on a rooftop deck and people walking to and fro down a tree-lined street. There is beauty around me. There are people that I care about nearby, my coworkers, dear friends whom I’ve spent so much time with over the past six years. I only have so much time left here with them too.

Even though it’s a cold morning and promises to be colder still as a storm comes through tomorrow, I think I’ll still look for the sun, lift my face and appreciate the beauty that is all around me.

35 More!

Numero Sei
Being present in the moment and not divided between the needs of family and work.

What I’m leaving behind:
Sitting in a chair for eight hours a day

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I read an interesting post today by a new-to-me blogger. The Wisdom of a Crowded Rink talks about how we always seem to waiting for the right time to do something. He gave some examples about going on a diet and starting an exercise regime. He then goes on to talk about how sometimes the best time is right now. That if we wait for the crowded ice rink to clear before going skating we might miss out on a the opportunity to learn and grow by seizing the moment. I couldn’t help but apply it to my own situation. There has never been a “perfect time” for anything in my life. I got married, had my first daughter, graduated college, started my graduate program, started my career, had my second daughter, got a promotion and just recently finished my graduate degree. None of these things happened with any great timing. In fact, my life seems to be guided by oddly- timed happenings.

My decision to leave my job is one of those oddly- timed happenings. Conventional wisdom would say that I should keep working, pay off debt, save for a house, and then save for my daughters’ college educations. In fact, just a few months ago that was exactly my plan. It was a great plan. It would set us on a great financial path. But it didn’t consider anything else besides our monetary needs. My family and I have needs and desires that are not quantified. This is not a “perfect time” in my life for me to leave my job and for our family to move to one-income. We still have some lingering debts, and the job market is quite shaky (there is a good possibility that it would take months for me to find a new job and probably at half the salary).

However, what time in the foreseeable future would be a good time? After I pay off debt 1-2 years from now? It may not be a good time financially for us to lose half our income but it is a good time for us in many other ways. My littlest daughter has 2 and ½ more years until school, just 2 and ½ precious years that I could be spending with her instead of her spending it in daycare. My older daughter is a couple short years away from adolescence. My husband’s career is on the upward swing and demands more of his time and energy. I’m the mom, the anchor of our family. My job is sapping me of my energy, my emotional strength, and my passion for life. I care less about it every day and every day I want more and more to be there for my family. What better job could I ask for?

So, I'm seizing the moment. Perhaps like Johnathon Fields, the blogger, mentioned that I'll get a few dings and bruises by running out onto the crowded ice rink. However, perhaps I'll learn and grow in ways that I never though of. At least I won't be sitting on the sidelines watching the ice skaters glide by and wishing I was gliding right alongside.

36 days...

Numero Cinque
More time for sewing, knitting, gardening and reading! Spending more time outdoors! I might actually get a tan this year.

What I’m leaving behind: being stuck inside an office all day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My new (small) place

I posted yesterday about a potential rental house that my husband and I were going to look at. We walked through the house and were generally pleased with everything: a good-size living room, one larger bedroom (good for the girls to share), and a decent bathroom. Then, we got to the kitchen dining room combination. You can probably fit both into my current kitchen. Yes, they are small. The house has a great yard, large garage for storage, and a wood-burning fireplace. The only big drawback was the small kitchen and non-existent dishwasher. We left the house and all I could think about was that tiny kitchen. All the other great things about the house seemed to pale in comparison to that small space. My husband was all for it. All he saw was that two-car garage, and then he was sold. I was more hesitant and needed to think about it for awhile. I had a case of the “grass might be greener”. I was ignoring all the great positive things about the house in the hope that there might be another house out there with a decent kitchen and dining room. Once, we’d made the decision to put in our application on the house, I was happy. This house meets pretty much all of our criteria and then some. Yes, we won’t be having dinner parties, and I will be back to washing dishes by hand. At least now I’ll have the time to wash the dishes.

We’ll be moving from our current 1800 square foot house to a 975 square foot house in March assuming that our credit checks out OK today. It’s exciting. It means that we’re one step closer to our goal. They even offered to knock another $50 off our rent for taking care of the yard. All in all, we’ll save $365 a month over our current place. That will go a long way to closing our budget gap. There is a lot to be thankful for. God provided a nice house in a great location that meets all of our needs. Maybe it doesn’t meet all of our wants but I think we can be really happy there. Now to start packing.

37 days to go!

37 days remaining in my working career (for a while anyway).

Numero Quattro
A slower pace of life, time to savor quiet moments with my kids instead of rushing off to the next thing.

What I’m leaving:
An hour that I spend in the car each day commuting to work.

Monday, February 21, 2011

House & Home

I've been spending a lot of time writing about moving to a new house. I released my self from the self-imposed pressure of finding a new place last week because it was stressing me out. Yes, the sooner we move, the sooner we can save more money but it isn't critical that we move right now. I did look at an apartment-townhouse although small it would be doable. It also didn't meet one of our three requirements: laundry in unit. We decided to keep looking. The other day a listing for a house popped up. It's right in the area that we want to live near the village just a hop skip and a jump from the new library, police station, fire station, grocery store et cetera. It is two bedrooms and one bath. It has a garage with laundry hookups. It is a bit small-not quite 1,000 square feet but not much smaller than the apartment that we looked at.

It caused quite a stir in me because I had almost resigned myself completely to the idea that we would need to move into an apartment. When the house listing popped up, it got me thinking about the wants vs. needs and the status symbol that a single family home is. I live in an area where attached housing is subpar not just in terms of desirability but in terms of the quality of the housing (cheap construction of the 60s and 70s with few amenities) also. This house is more expensive than the equivalent apartment (if you take the laundry out of the equation). It is $1500 a month vs. the $1295 for the apartment. However, it does include the laundry hookups. We estimated that we would spend about $20 per week ($80 per month) on coin laundry at the apartment. We would also need to pay trash pickup at the house. So, the difference is $155 for a yard, a garage, the convenience of laundry, and the prime location. Oh yeah, and for the status symbol. It wouldn't entirely close the gap of our finances but it would save us about $315 a month over our current house.

We're going to look at the house this morning. I hope we really like it. It would be great to have a grassy yard again for the kids to play in. There is even room for a veggie garden. Something I would miss not being able to have in an apartment.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When being frugal isn't so easy...

I occasionally give in to temptation and spend money. In the not-so-distant past, it didn't seem to be that big of a deal. If I spent more than I intended that just meant we didn't save as much that month. We were still living below our means even when we weren't terribly careful. Now, when I spend money that I didn't plan to it means that we'll have less to save as a cushion and it makes me question whether or not I (as in myself, me) have the discipline to stick to the tight budget that we'll have once I've quit my job. Those are not two things I particularly want right now. I want to feel confident that we can budget successfully because quitting my job is scary, really scary. I don't want to have doubts about our ability to manage our budget. It is going to make it just that much harder to take the plunge. The second part of that is jeopardizing our savings. It is critical that we build up as much in savings as possible. For one, as soon as I quit my job we're going to be in the hole each month if we haven't found a new place to live. Secondly, my husband is a teacher. He only gets paid eleven months of the year. We need a full month's worth of living expenses saved up for August. Yeeks! I'm depressing myself with all of this. So, as you can probably tell, I have a bit of guilt. Guilt number one: coffee on Saturday morning. I was out in front of a grocery store selling girl scout cookies with my daughter. It was cold and rainy. I splurged on a coffee. I told you it was my weakness. We were out of milk this morning so I ran out to the store to pick up a gallon. I also bought bacon, cinnamon rolls and orange juice. Then, I was out shopping with a friend today and spent three dollars on drinks for me and my daughter. They are just little indiscretions but they do add up. I spent about $13 between yesterday and today in frivolous purchases. It's easy to see how this spending thing creeps up. I'm determined to do better. Here are some ways that I feel that I can improve to control my spending:

1) Cut down on the coffee. Coffee is a simple thing really. A couple dollars here or there but for me it can really add up. I need to cut down to no more than one coffee out per week. Once I've had it that's it.

2) Avoid the temptations. I need to stay away from places that tempt me to spend on things like that.

3) Be honest with myself. A penny spent right now is a penny not saved. If I'm serious about wanting to quit my job, I need to start living the lifestyle.

I hope next week I'll do better. I'm a frugal work in process.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mom's Night Out on the Cheap

Yesterday was my day off. It was a busy day with my daughter's award ceremony, a work conference calling, catching up on my cleaning, and my daughter had three friends over after school. I had plans that night night to see a friend sing at a local coffee shop, then head off to a local bar/restaurant for drinks and fun with three good friends. More often than not in the past, I would have decided to make a fun night of it and spend loads of money to blow off steam from the week. Yet, I only spent $16 yesterday, the whole day. How did I do it?

1) Set the intention. I set the intention when I decided that I was going to go out that I wouldn't spend much money. I planned to have just one drink at the bar, and I stuck with it. I think that this is really important. Your plans to be frugal or careful with money can often by unsuccessful if you haven't committed to do it. You also set your expectations so that you don't feel disappointed or deprived later on. This is especially important if you are out with friends who are spenders. My friends ordered food at the bar, and I didn't feel bad not partaking because I hadn't expected eat out.

2) Eat at home. I made a good filling dinner early on in the day so that I wouldn't be tempted to eat dinner out or buy snacks. I love my crockpot on a busy day.

3) Pay with cash. I got out cash so that I didn't have the temptation to use the "free money" on the debit card.

So how did all add up?

I splurged yesterday morning on a Mocha before going out with my friends. Its my favorite splurge. I'll admit that its pure luxury. Perhaps, that is why I love them so much.

$3.60 Mocha

I also bought the cheapest thing on the menu at the coffee shop while listening to my friend sing.

$1.65 Tea

My drink plus tip.

$10 "Art Snob" (Actual name of the drink. It contains whiskey, ginger ail, bitters, and something else). They pour their drinks strong so it was more than enough to keep me going the whole night.

It was a great night. I had free entertainment watching my friend sing at the coffee shop. More live music and drinks at the bar. I was out for four or more hours. I enjoyed it immensely. Yet, it didn't break the bank. I also don't do this every weekend. It's probably a once a month or less occurrence for me. Well worth the money for mom to have a night out.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How much money does it take to raise a child?

I was a proud mom today. My daughter won the Peacebuilder award for the quarter. She has won the award every year so far. She is a naturally good, peaceful, loving child. I don't think I can claim much of of it for my parenting skills. It is simply her nature with a little bit of nurture, perhaps. I was struck as I watched each of the kids walk forward as the principal called their names that most of the kids who won weren't the ones wearing the most fashionable clothes, or the ones from the wealthiest families.

We often hear about the costs of raising a child these days. I've heard numbers ranging from a couple hundred thousand to over a million depending on whether you include the cost of college tuition. The common wisdom seems to be that kids are a money suck. They need recreation, lessons, nice clothes, tutoring perhaps, and lots of other pricey things to be successful in life. I suppose it all depends on what your barometer of success is. If you measure it in lifetime earnings, then, perhaps, you do need all of those things. If you measure success by whether your child grows up to be a useful productive member of society who embodies the values you have tried to instill, then perhaps not many of those things really matter at all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Value of Work

Think about the basic needs of human existence: water, food, clothing, shelter, and love. Now, think about the people who provide those necessities of life in modern times. Think about the people who make sure you have a reliable, clean supply of water; the people who grow, harvest, and even cook your food; the people who sew your clothing; the people who build and maintain your house; and the people in your life who provide love and care for you: your family, your children’s teachers and caregivers, a nurse at the hospital. I could go on. The point is how many of those people make a six figure income? How many of them even make a livable wage?
Now shake that out of your head. Think of the people you know who make a very good living now. In my experience, I can think of consultants whose billing rates exceed $250/hour, lawyers, and financial executives.

This society seriously undervalues the essential important work of life and overvalues those things that provide very little comparable value. What would society look like if we placed an economic value on the truly important things? Would the people picking tomatoes in the fields be earning the equivalent of what an investment banker brings in? Would preschool teachers who care for some of the youngest most impressionable members of society be esteemed like cardiac surgeons?

38 days remaining!

Numero Tre
What I’m looking forward to:
Time to cook healthful, delicious meals for my family without sacrificing precious time with them.

What I’m leaving behind:
Politics: office politics, union politics, management politics, local government politics, real estate development politics, community politics. I’ve had it with them all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

39 Days! The countdown continues.

Numero Due! (Let’s see if I remember enough Italian to actually count to forty)

No more tough drop offs at daycare!

I realize that is isn’t exactly a positive thing about staying home it’s more of a negative thing about having to work and leave kids at daycare but since I had to leave a crying two-year-old today who had big fat tears falling down her cheeks you should really give me a break.

I’ve also decided to list forty reasons why I’m quitting my job (today will count for yesterday since it happened yesterday and is really probably five or six or more reasons why I need to quit). My mother, who is as wise as mothers come, said that I need to document all of my reasons for leaving so that after I’ve left and things get tough I have something to look at and remind me why I left in the first place. I said she was wise. So with everything positive thing about staying home, I’ll be posting something about why I’m leaving.

I’m leaving because I HATE (The obtuse capitalization is not an exaggeration) being abused by community members at my job. My job requires me to attend and organize several community meetings per month as well as regularly be available to address questions/concerns from community members, the public at large, developers, real estate agents, appraisers, et cetera. You get the picture. In my experience, working for the government paints a big red bullseye on your chest with a caption below that reads, “Please take out all of your anger, frustration, and general disappointment with the world, the nation, your city, and personal life on me. As a faithful public servant, I’m not allowed to fight back or really defend myself. I must stand here and listen to you, then politely provide a response if warranted.” I’ve had that bullseye on my chest for over six years now. It’s been about five and a half years too long. The reason I bring this up is yesterday I had one such community meeting, where I and a few other public servants attempted to hold a meeting to get input on something. People were rude, interrupted the speaker, got up in the middle of the meeting, and hurled insults on the work that had been done. To top it off at the end, one particularly cantankerous person came up to me and discussed how he was giving me a hard time. When I asked why, he replied, “Because you deserve it”. On that final note, why wouldn’t I leave?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

40 days & 40 great things

40 days of work left! Hurray! I'm going to celebrate the countdown with forty great things about not working and staying home with the kids.

Numero Uno: I get to wear flip-flops every day if I want.

Stockpiling vs. Hoarding

It seems that two tenets of frugality are to buy cheap in large quantities and save what can be re-used. I have no problem with either. In fact, I’m trying to see how to incorporate more frugality into my everyday life by doing these things and many others. However, I have some concerns about it. I’ve read blogs where people profess to have more toothpaste in their hallway closet than they could possibly use in a lifetime. Can this seemingly benign and beneficial habit turn into something more sinister? Can stockpiling turn into hoarding? Where is the fine line? I know that I’m not in any danger presently of falling into the trap as I just discovered that we’re down to our last two rolls of toilet paper in the house. But what is a good balance?

I also must admit that I have a strong distaste for clutter and keeping things. I’m somewhat of a minimalist. So, when I see a recommendation to rinse out baggies and re-use them I automatically think about the mess of having a zillion used, washed baggies lying around my house. The same could be said of many other things that more frugal-minded people would balk at me throwing away. I’m not opposed to re-using bags or many other things. I simply hate clutter and really like things to be organized and put in their spot. A nice new box of bags is something quite easy to find when I need them and fits easily into my cupboard.

To me, both stockpiling and re-using things go hand in hand because all I see are massive quantities of stuff that I have to store. I live in a large house right now. We have more than enough storage for anything that I might like to keep. However, we’re planning on downsizing in the very near future. How do people stockpile when space is at a minimum?

I’ll be looking into the answers to these questions and posting about them in the future.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day on the Cheap

A few years ago, my husband and I decided that greeting cards were overpriced and underwhelming. Do I really need to pay someone five dollars for a piece of paper and some words to tell someone something I should be perfectly capable of doing without said piece of paper? So, without really deciding, we simply stopped by each other cards for most things. So what will we do for our Valentine's Day celebration? Last week when I sorely needed it, my dear husband bought me my favorite See's candy. It was perfect. Today, I'm making my husband chocolate lava cakes. One of the desserts from an expensive restaurants we used to go to for special occasions. The total cost:

$8 for a box of chocolate for me

$8 in ingredients for chocolate lava cakes for him.

For little more than we would have spent on two cards, we got each other something that we can enjoy for more than just the minute it would take to read the card. We'll also tuck the kids in bed early tonight and enjoy some time together just the two of us. After all, what more does any of us really want than something sweet and time with their sweetie on Valetine's Day?

Meal Planning: Time Waster or Money Saver?

Following the scores of home economists out there that proclaim meal planning as the surefire way to keep your grocery bill in check, I've tried to pick up the habit to save money. Unchecked, our grocery bill has at times ballooned into $800 or even $900 a month at the worst. This would include just food and sundries like paper products, toiletries, and diapers/wipes. Our eating out is budgeted separately. We would often do weekly trips to the club store and a specialty fresh food store each week. I dare someone to leave a club store without spending at least a $100. You can see how things got out of hand quite easily.

As I said previously, this isn't my first attempt at meal planning. I've done it before with great success on my food bill but it is so time intensive that I usually give it up when life hits bumps in the road-a sick kid, a stressful week at work, a weekend away-these were all legitimate reasons to forgo the planning and wing it at the grocery store. My last attempt I tried to combine meal planning with couponing. I highly recommend that you attempt one or the other first and not try both at one go. It felt like one great circular loop as I tried to match coupons with sales with recipes that my family would eat. I'm sure that there are very practiced couponers out there who do both with ease. It probably took some practice to get that good. Let's just say at this point, I'm a dilettante-couponer and a hard-core-meal-planner.

My problem with meal planning, perhaps why it is so time intensive, is that I haven't built up a great repetoire of easy, quick, and healthy recipes. The trifecta of recipe perfection that one of my favorite food bloggers wrote about on her blog cheap, healthy, good recently. So a great deal of my menu planning time is spent perusing the web for recipes that use ingredients that are on sale. Primarily, I focus on recipes using produce that is on sale. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, there was a great deal on winter squash at my grocery store. My primary experience cooking with winter squash has been making baby food or simply roasting it as a side dish. I wanted to find ways to use it as more of a main dish since I try to limit the amount of meat that we eat both for health and money reasons. All told it took me about an hour yesterday to plan our meals and put together a list. This entailed looking through the grocery circular, pouring over recipes, and figuring out what to have on what day (this is important because my husband cooks two days a week and he needs simple things to make or we end up with takeout pizza), and then finally compiling the list.

Was it worth it then? Was an hour of my day worth the meal plan and shopping list preparation? Let's use the opportunity cost of my hourly pay, which is between $30-$40 per hour as a comparison. I wouldn't have been working at this time anyway but it's an easy measure of the worth of my time.

$5 saved by using a coupon in the circular

$35 saved from my average shopping trip without a list (I realize that this isn't apples to apples but whatever)

$20 saved by buying everything I need up front for the week and avoiding a mid-week grocery run

$20 saved by having foods to take for lunch to work and avoiding buying out

I'm already up to $80. This is just a generalization but it's a good example of how menu planning can really save over and above just the number at the bottom of the receipt. There is also the added bonus that my family is eating healthy with plenty of fresh produce, and I never waste time wondering what to make for dinner. I don't think its a time waster even if it sometimes hard to use a whole hour during the weekend planning a menu. I have been using AllRecipes to help me plan. You can sign up for free and save all of your favorite recipes. You can even generate a shopping list.

My verdict: menu planning is a great way to save money. Like all good habits, it takes time to stick and practice to get good.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grocery Shopping cont. $89!

I had a bit of a lazy morning today and spent way too much time planning my menu for the week and perusing the store's circular. Here is my weekly menu plan:

1) Sweet Potato Burritos (I make plenty to freeze for lunches too)

2) Chicken Stir Fry with Brown Rice

3) Butternut Squash Casserole with Chicken Sausage

4) Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

5) Baked Tilapia and Sweet Potato Fries

6) Gnocchi, Butternut Squash and Spinach Skillet

7) Yellow Split Pea Soup

For breakfasts, we have the options of cereal, oatmeal, toast, pancakes, waffles, eggs, and yogurt.

For lunches, we have the options of turkey or tuna sandwiches, salads, burritos or leftovers.

I picked two new recipes to throw in the mix. I usually only try one new recipe per week. However, winter squash was on sale for 33 cents a pound, a third of its usual cost, so I sought out some recipes to use the squash. I also bought extra squash to stockpile since it has a good shelf life. I didn't buy much for my stockpile since we I only had an hour to do my shopping because we had plans to take a picnic lunch to the park. I did buy two extra boxes of cereal on sale for $2/box, some quinoa (not on sale but its a great thing to have around), spaghetti, granola bars on sale, extra squash, and extra yellow split peas. All in all, I think I did really well. I did forgo my usual bottle of wine. It's hard to justify spending money on something that is quite obviously a luxury item. I'm starting to rethink that decision right about now. It did make me quite happy to stay under budget and still have a plan to cook nutritious meals for my family. It almost feels like it might be possible to stick to a smaller grocery budget once I've quit my job.

Grocery Shopping Challenge

This month we’re attempting to stick as closely as possible to our new one-income budget. One of my most difficult budget categories has always been groceries. I budget $600/month for our family of four. This category also includes any toiletries, household supplies as well as diapers and wipes for youngest who is not yet potty trained. Trust me; we’re working on it. It always seems like such a large sum of money at the beginning of the month. I typically shop once a week at our local fresh grocery store and then once or twice at the larger club store for things we buy in bulk. I’ve been fairly consistent with my weekly menu planning, which I do before I shop for the week. Already this month, we’ve spent $350. That leaves us with only $250 for the next two weeks. We did visit the club store earlier this month and bought diapers and wipes. However, we don’t have much in the cupboards. I’ve been working hard at coming up with things to eat to utilize what we have, so we don’t have much stocked up. Myy challenge to myself is to stick to the remainder of my grocery budget for the month and add some staples to my cupboard over the next two weeks. I’ll have $125 to spend for my weekly groceries. Think I can do it? I hope so. My new budget after I quit, shaves $100 off of my grocery bill. I hope to accomplish that through shopping more carefully and buying on sale at multiple stores. These are things that I currently don't have much time for. I’ll post my weekly menu and the results of my shopping trip later.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Up and Downs

It's been a bit of a roller coaster week for me emotionally. The happiness that I've felt at the prospect of being able to stay home with the kids hit the practical implications of dealing without a second income and leaving a career pretty hard. Yesterday, having a full day with both kids without the distractions of work or school was really nice. As I watched my youngest trudging around the big fountain at the park with a backpack strapped to her tiny shoulders (she is fixated on Dora the Explorer right now) and my oldest skipping around her golden brown hair shining in the sun, I was struck by how these amazing moments in my life are just flying by me. Sure, we have plenty of time on the weekends to have fun with the kids. We often make that a priority instead of the mundane tasks like yard work and grocery shopping. However, how many beautiful moments like this never existed because during the week we're all off in our separate spaces: work, school, and daycare. In that beautiful moment, I didn't doubt my decision one bit. In that brief beautiful moment, I knew that nothing in life could ever compensate me for the lost moments like these. Sure, there are plenty of other moments when one kid is throwing a tantrum on the ground and the other has wandered away that I find less beautiful. How, can you put a price tag on these lost moments. What is the opportunity cost of investing your life and energy in something else? This isn't just for working moms. It's for all parents. I know far too many other stay at home parents that find plenty of diversions to spend time on instead of their children. So, here it is. This is what I'm willing to exchange for more of these beautiful moments.

  • My Career
  • Financial Security
  • Nice Clothes
  • Entertainment
  • Vacations
  • Some Friendships (work friends and others who may not agree with my decision)
  • My occasional grande non-fat mocha

It's a long list. If you were with me yesterday, you would understand why none of these things matter at all really.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Free Fun Cont. So how did I do?

In my earlier post today, I talked about how my new aim was to find free activities or fun things to do with my girls since I'll soon have time but not money. So how did well did I follow my own plan. Pack a lunch. A+. Even though we didn't have much to make a picnic out of at home. I managed to pack food that each of us would eat. We had fun lounging by the koi pond and arboretum eating our free, well relatively free lunch. Bring yummy snacks. F. We didn't have much around the house to bring for a yummy snack unless I wanted to break open another box of girl scout cookies. I'm already in for five boxes and they don't come cheap. Instead, we bought an ice cream sandwich for the three of us to share at the Science Center. It was $2.22 with our membership discount. Stick close to home. C+. The Science Center is about 10 miles from home. It's not terribly close but it's not as far as the other places I might have gone. We have memberships to the Science Center so we didn't have to pay to play there. The membership is about $80 a year for our family. We probably go at least twice a month so its a good deal. If I prorate the cost it comes to about $3.33 per visit for all of us. I probably used a gallon of gas at $3.30/gallon. All told our little free outing cost about $8.85. It's certainly not as bad as it could be but it's not even close to free. Interesting how the little things add up.

Free Fun

My oldest daughter has the day off from school today. It's just me and the kids. I was trying to come up with some ideas of fun things to do today. Normally, I'd do whatever I felt like within reason. That might include going out to a local coffee shop for an inexpensive breakfast or maybe visiting a local nature center. I was always mindful of the cost but I didn't feel the need to avoid spending any money.

Now, we are trying to stick to our new one-income budget with some modifications. I can't avoid spending on childcare and rent for the house that we currently live even though those expenses will be eliminated or reduced at some point in the future. So, for my day with the girls, I'm trying to find fun free activities for us. Luckily, we live in a great area with beautiful weather year-round and lots of cultural activities, natural attractions and entertainment nearby. It can come at a cost though so we'll have to plan carefully to avoid spending money. My new plan for avoiding spending money when we're out and about having fun.

1) Pack lunches.

This may seem like an obvious one but often a lot of planning has to go into this. You need to have food on hand that is easily transportable and doesn't require refrigeration. This is often a difficult one for busy working families who look forward to the weekend all week long. Planning for picnic lunches can seem like a very small priority. This will be a lot easier once I have more time to plan and shop.

2) Bring plenty of yummy snacks.

With two young kids, I usually don't leave the house for any period of time without some type of non-perishable snack like pretzels or trail mix in the bag. Inevitably though my older daughter with the sweet tooth will beg for a churro or ice cream or something while we're out. A churro at the zoo easily costs $3. Last time this happened, I thought why not make some yummy snacks and have them frozen and ready to pop out and microwave before heading to a place with known temptations. I'm going to experiment with a homemade churro, which will probably end up more like a cinnamon sugar bread stick but will still probably hold up as an acceptable substitute. While maybe not the healthiest snack, it will save money and avoid the feeling that we're doing without. Hey, it may even taste better.

3) Stick close to home when possible.

This may seem like a bit of a no brainer too. Except that I live in a large metropolitan area. Some of our favorite places to visit are easily 15-20 miles away. With the price of gas, that is easily a $5 dollar if not more trip. This isn't taking into account wear and tear on the car. I still plan on regularly visiting those places. However, I'll need to think more carefully and strategically about when we visit, try to combine trips when possible, and perhaps substitute some closer places for our old favorites.

Today, we're visiting our local Science Center at my daughter's request. We'll be packing lunch, and I'll try to scrounge up some yummy snacks. We still have to drive but at least I'm aware of that extra expense and know that next time we'll be sticking close to home.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

42 more working days until I'm home

I was a bit glum yesterday and stressed about the financial consequences of the loss of my income. I went to look at apartments. They were OK but definitely apartments. My husband had to have an emergency root canal, which ended up being an inconvenience because I had to pick up both kids and make dinner on a day when he normally does it. Then, there was the financial side, $500 we had to shell out for what was supposed to be a routine visit to the dentist for a cleaning. By the time, I got home and had someone food cooking on the stove, I was starting to feel pretty fragile. I called my mom and nearly broke down. I wanted to talk but more than that I just wanted to hear her voice. I wanted someone to comfort me. “It’s been hard”, I said. “I know”, she said. I lamented my difficult week: the interrupted sleep because of my daughter’s transition to the toddler bed, my house being a mess, how tired I felt, how stressed I felt about my whole quandary, and how unsure I was about everything that we were about to do. I’m sure that my mother has some apprehension about what I’m about to do. She even mentioned that she had tried to stay home a few times and had mixed results. But she supports me and would never say that what I’m doing is crazy or try to dissuade me. That is part of what is frustrating about my mom. I can never get a great read on what she is thinking because often she won’t tell me straight out. She did her best to comfort me and give me some pointers on how to work through my feelings. I have a lot to learn from her still. I hope I can be half as good a mother to my girls as she was to me.

Part of my downward spiral yesterday came because I was discussing my plans with a family friend briefly. When I mentioned that I’d looked at apartments that day because we would need to downsize to a more affordable place, a look came across his face that was a mixture of surprise, pity, and maybe even a tinge of disgust. Don’t get me wrong. He is a great guy, very free thinking and liberal but he saw our decision to downsize as a real negative instead of the positive that I’ve been trying to spin it to myself. I know that his perspective will be probably be more common than not. A lot of people I know will probably think that moving into an apartment is a serious step down in status. While I was somewhat prepared for his reaction, it still hit home. I didn’t really need any more negative feedback because I’m having enough trouble with this decision myself. I think part of my struggle is that there is so much time to think about this. I have another month and a half before I even give notice at my job. I need to stay through April to pad our savings a bit more. I have a month and a half to wallow in self doubt before I take the step to make this a reality instead of my constant fixation. My daughter asked me yesterday, “Are you still going to quit your job, Mom?”. I was happy to say yes and tell her when I’d be home for good.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Work without Passion is Just a Job

I've been really tired this week. I get home from work, manage to get some dinner thrown together and collapse on the couch for the rest of the night. I don't like feeling this way. There's just not much left of me in terms of energy at the end of the day. I've referred to my job before in no uncertain times as "soul-sucking". Perhaps, a more apt term would be "life-sucking". Don't get me wrong. There are many more people that have more physically, intellectually, or emotionally demanding jobs. I hope for their sakes that they love what they do. When they come home from a day of work, I hope they feel a sense of pride or accomplishment in a day well spent serving others or doing what needs to be done. I wish I could feel that way too. I've tried. I think it really comes down to passion and doing something that you believe in. I've long since lost any real interest in the work that I do. I've also stopped believing that the work I do has any real significance. That is a big bite to chew for someone who went into a particular field believing that. I may have been naive. Perhaps, all people feel this disillusionment at some point or another. For me it has persisted. I know I need to leave because there are other people who would gladly take my job and attack the work with a real passion. This also hasn't been a fleeting feeling. I've been thinking and feeling this for about three years. It's unfortunate that I've been able to get this far, even finishing a Master's degree, in a career path that I realize is not for me. Since the average person now switches careers about seven times during their working life, perhaps my experience isn't all that unusual. Maybe what is unusual is that I've kept on this long daily slogging through a career that is not just a job to me. Part of my time off from paid work will be dedicated to finding my passions. This is something I wish I could have done before I spent tens of thousands of dollars on my college education. I look forward to some deep soul searching and exploration. My hope is that one day in the not too distant future, I'll come home from a day of work, tired, of course, but also satisfied that I've done my small part to the best of my ability to give back something to this world.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thoughts for Tuesday

Our housing situation has been on my mind a lot these past few days. What to do? Should we move? Should we try to stay? What are the tradeoffs? Is it worth it? Can we take a few giant steps back in our housing situation? We’ve lived in a house, albeit a rental house, for the last six years. We’ve lived in our current home for a little less than a year and a half. Previous to that we lived in a much smaller, older house nearby. The house was in a great location with a nice backyard but the layout was weird. Only about 800 square feet of it were truly usable. It was also very old and nothing had been updated, and I mean nothing. We had no dishwasher and the kitchen counter space was practically non-existent. We also really had no dining room. But it was cheap. We paid there about the amount that we’re thinking we can afford in a new house. Our current house is great. More than enough room, everything is usable if a little dated and run down. The location is great. But we really can’t afford to stay here on one income.

I sent my husband out yesterday to go look at a townhouse-apartment that looked really good on paper. The only think it didn’t meet of our specifications was the washer and dryer. It is a 2 bed, 1.5 bath, 1,000 square foot two story place with a small yard. I had pretty high hopes that it might work out. It wasn’t exactly in the best location but it is near the large regional park and within walking distance of a grocery store. Last night, we talked through what he saw. He said the place is small but doable. I could tell he was hesitant. When I pushed him as to whether this is something that we should pursue or hold off, he thought we should keep looking. I think that it finally hit him that we are really about to downgrade our lifestyle. Perhaps, he hadn’t quite thought it through in as much detail as I have. It made me feel selfish. I am the one who stands to gain the most from all of this. We’ll all have to sacrifice some for this to work. Moving back into an apartment is a big step. I remember when we moved into our first house. I was so excited to finally have an address that didn’t end in an apartment number. Then, again I thought then what I really wanted was a career and the financial ease of the dual income lifestyle. I didn’t bargain back then my first daughter was only two how quickly time would fly by. How I would soon come to regret all of the time spent working instead of with my family. My husband and I have asked ourselves whether or not we should have stayed in our first little house. It had a lot of drawbacks but it also would have made moving to one income an easier thing.

For now, we need to decide whether we find a large apartment that will work for the next year or two or wait and hope that a small house comes up for rent in our price range. I don’t know what the right decision is. I’d hate to move into an apartment and then have a little house come up that we could afford. I also know that if we move into an apartment, it will be that much easier to start saving and adjust to our new lifestyle. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Big Girl Beds and Life Changes

As I was cleaning up my youngest daughter’s room this weekend, I made an executive decision to move her into the toddler bed that has been sitting unused in her room for going on 8-9 months. She loves her crib. She really loves her crib. The problem is that we bought the crib when we lived in a tiny two-bedroom house. Since the crib would be in our bedroom, we decided to go with the mini-crib. After all, my oldest spent so little time in her crib and had moved to her toddler bed shortly after turning one. Well, we learned the hard way that no two children are alike. Luckily, my littlest is tiny. She is about the size now at 2 and ½ years that my older daughter was at 1 (she has a genetic syndrome that causes her to be small). So, we’ve let her stay in her crib as long as she has wanted. I’d probably still let her stay in the crib now if she wasn’t now exceeding the weight guidelines for the crib. Plus, we’ll be moving in the next few months. I have no interest in carting the toddler bed and crib with me to our new smaller house.

As you can probably imagine, it was a bit of a traumatic event for her. She managed to nap in there the first day. When it came time to go to bed for the night, she freaked out. I took her back to bed 4 or 5 times. By the last time, she was shaking. She did not want to go into her toddler bed. We had already moved the crib out of her room so that wasn’t an option anymore. I ended up holding her until she fell asleep and putting her in the crib later. It seems a bit comical to me. After all, going from the confinement of a crib to the freedom of one’s own bed should be exciting right? Except that she has known only the crib since she was a newborn. The bars that seem prison-like to me are comforting to her. She was so frightened of the change to her “big girl bed” that it caused her to shake like a leaf. I am reminded a bit of myself. Just like her, I abhor change. The unknown to me is far scarier than exciting. Even though I as the all-knowing parent (snicker) know that she will be happier in her big girl bed after she gets over the initial fear. She’ll have the freedom to come and go. She’ll be more independent. She doesn’t yet know that though. It’s like my situation. Quitting my job and staying home with the kids feels a lot like moving into a big girl bed. Compared to the familiar comfort of my “prison bars”, it seems frightening. I’m just not sure if I’ll like it. Once my crib is gone, it’s gone. There is no going back. I have a little more empathy for my little girl right now as she goes through one of the childhood rites of passage. I hope one day, just like her, I’ll be happy that I made the change too.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New American Dream cont.

Yesterday, I introduced my new American Dream. A dream of a society where people have time for one another in abundance and just enough money and material possessions for a basic comfortable lifestyle without excess. I was waiting at a red light yesterday afternoon and saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me that read, "Live simply so that others can simply live". It stated so eloquently what I believe is at the core of my "American Dream". Part of us accepting a new more basic lifestyle, is allowing that this has to happen so that others can see an improvement in their lifestyle. This means that others around the world might have enough to eat, or basic medical care, or even an education. We've had so much while many of our global neighbors have had so little.

Back to the intention of this post. I wanted to talk a bit about how we can have this New American Dream. I said yesterday that this cannot happen without government intervention. There are some basic tenants of this new dream that require the government's assistance:

  • Everyone needs a living wage and no more regardless of the type of work that person performs.
  • We need to determine what core industries we need to retain in this country to provide for a self-sufficient future and then develop strategies to maintain them here. This may mean engaging in protectionism of our key industries.
  • Interest income whether personal or corporate needs to be heavily taxed instead of income from wage earners.

It would be a radical departure from our current course. One that I can't help but hope that we have the courage to undertake before we've let globalization ravage us.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New American Dream

I’ve been thinking a bit about this since I wrote my post “Changing Expectations”. We all need to acknowledge that the fantasy of the American Dream is swiftly becoming unobtainable for many, if it ever was obtainable, and is causing others to work harder and for longer hours than ever before. One doesn’t need to look very far to see how that has happened. Jobs that pay a living wage for those without a college education have all but disappeared, as our base manufacturing has been off-shored. One of the last bastions of good middle class jobs, the public sector, is under attack from every angle. As jobs, pay, benefits, and pensions are all under the microscope in these difficult times. Unemployment is over 10% in my State. No one sees it turning to pre-recession levels anytime soon. The truth is that labor hasn’t been in a power position for over forty years. Real wages have been declining since the 1970s. President Obama in his State of the Union address espoused the idea that we need to become more competitive on the global marketplace. Since we are one of the most prosperous countries in the world, what do you suppose that means for the average wage earner? Higher productivity. Healthier profit margins. These just mean that you’ll work for more hours, for less money in the global economy.

Here is how the New American Dream fits in. We can’t fight globalization. We could do a better job of managing it. We’ve already had a lot of collateral damage with the loss of our manufacturing base. Still, we stand to lose more. My proposal is simple on its face. As working people, we can’t fight globalization but perhaps we can minimize some of its effects by drawing up a new charter for our future. Here it is simply: we need to work less and downshift our expectations. Post-war prosperity enabled many Americans to enjoy a good life: a good paying job enough to support a family, a house of one’s own, a little extra money to enjoy life’s little luxuries. I don’t think we should give up on the basics. Everyone deserves to earn a living wage enough to support a family, everyone should have decent housing, and a little leftover to save or spend on a few luxuries. That is not to say that everyone needs a 2,000 square foot house, 150,000 a year, and a boat or a motorhome. Think simply. Think about one parent working with decent pay, benefits, and paid time off, a small apartment or house that is just big enough, and an annual trip up to the mountains to spend a week in a cabin. That might not sound terribly appealing to some people. Think about the time that we would all have to spend with one another, with family and friends. Think about the community that could be built if instead of competing with one another for the biggest pile of possessions, we would share what we had. One might argue that this is a great idea but it isn’t possible to achieve that in the new global economy. Part of that will have to come through government intervention. I’ll address that in tomorrow’s post.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sick Kids Happen

My seven-year-old daughter woke me up in the middle of the night dying of thirst last night. It wasn’t any surprise that when I checked on her this morning, she was feeling quite poorly. She proceeded to vomit bright yellow bile all over the couch shortly after waking. She continued to throw up all morning. I had great plans for today despite a poor night’s sleep. I was planning on doing my usual Friday morning walk and trip to the park, a mad dash to clean up the house thereafter, and a relaxing afternoon with my girls. My plans were swept right off the table as soon as I realized that my daughter was really sick this morning. She is sleeping right now while I wait for a precious delivery of seven up and Gatorade from my husband.

I am reminded of how often in my life, my plans have given way at a moment’s notice for the sake of my children. From the unexpected pregnancy of my oldest daughter to the two months of physician-ordered bedrest during my second pregnancy, I’ve had to change my plans to meet their needs—to put them first. We had a terrible health scare last summer when my youngest daughter suddenly had a lymph node in her neck swell up to over 6cm. We spent many tense weeks going from doctor to doctor, waiting for test results, and living in each moment with the possible threat of lymphoma hanging over our heads. I was ready at a moment’s notice to put my entire life on hold to do what I needed to do for her. It was then that I realized how much more important my children are to me than any other thing in this world. I knew that if something was really truly wrong with my daughter that I would quit my job and spend every moment that I could with her. Why wait until something catastrophic happens? I need to be there for every moment now even the moments when I’m holding my daughter’s hair so that she can vomit. These moments are precious. I’ll never get another chance.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Changing Expectations

Everyone I’ve talked to about my decision to quit and stay home with the kids has been supportive. I’ve discussed it with many of my close personal friends and a couple of my very close coworkers. Now, that my husband and I have determined that we need to significantly downsize our lifestyle to afford to live on one-income, the response has been a little mixed. Something on the order of, “What you’re going to move out of your house into an apartment?” Most people regardless of their professed progressive beliefs seem to think that the normal progression in life and careers and income and lifestyle should not be reversible. In fact, it is something to look down upon. Perhaps, once upon a time in the not too distant past I thought that way too. A dear friend made the decision to become a stay at home mom and could only do so by living in a studio apartment with her husband and young daughter. At the time, I thought she was a little crazy. Now, I understand—not that I’m ready to move into a studio though.

So here is the rub. I’m changing my expectations. I’m trading in a big house and spending money for time with my children. I understand the exchange, but I need to realize that not everyone will understand or even agree with my decision. I can’t change society’s or my friends’ expectations for me. I can only change my own expectations. My expectations for my own life will be a much smaller house or apartment than I live in now, little money for spending or extras, and a few giant steps backward in my career. My expectations will also be that I will have lots of time with my girls; time when I can focus on them without the mental distractions of a career and busy nonstop life. My expectation will be that I’ll pour out my life and energy into them, my husband, my friends and family instead of into a career. Perhaps, to some people who see everything in black and white and only see the numbers, it will seem like I’m losing rather than gaining in this equation. For now, I’ll work on my transforming my expectations and ignoring those of others around me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An Easy Wednesday

On days like today, I wonder if maybe I’m just being selfish by wanting to leave my job and become a stay at home mom. The morning was easy. It’s hard to get out of bed no matter what. But the kids were good. They breakfasted, bathed, and dressed with a minimum of fusses. Everyone got out the door in time. The low pressure tire warning came on in my car, but I had time to stop gas up and air up the tires. I’m thinking hey this isn’t so bad. Are the tradeoffs really so big?

My two year old marched out the door this morning with a smile on her face ready to go “play with friends” as she calls it. My house is a mess of course as per usual by midweek. Last night’s dinner dishes are still strewn around the kitched, six loads of laundry sit in the laundry room clean but unfolded since Saturday. But I don’t much care for housework even when I have the time much less when I don’t. So as I sit here. I know my oldest daughter is in school filling up her mind with all sorts of useful and useless things. My youngest is probably getting ready for snack at preschool. My husband is well into teaching second period. They all have their place. All are safe and probably relatively happy. So what is the big deal? What exactly am I missing out on? Nap time?

As you can probably tell, I’m well into a period of self-doubt. Because when things are going relatively smoothly, what is the motivation for change? I am afraid of letting go of this comfortable yet unfulfilling career that I’ve built. It is my safety net. I’m afraid of losing ½ of our income in one fail swoop. I know what I want but the chasm that divides me from my new life seems so great right now.

Budget Breakdown

I’ve been skimming the web for examples of other people living on one income and in particular on a teacher’s salary. Danny Kofke wrote a book, How to Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) on a Teacher's Salary. His story is a good example for those just starting out as teachers to model. What about the rest of us? Those who started down the road as two professional working couples and parents and made choices based on those assumptions. How do we now adjust our lifestyle to survive on a teacher’s salary?
Here is how our new proposed budget breaks down. Please note that this is a generic budget. My functional budget has many more detailed categories. This is primarily for analysis. I’ve highlighted in green where we have reduced spending with the new budget.

Despite reducing spending in nearly all categories, we’re limited with what we can do because of our student loans, car payment (unless we sell the second car), and the high cost of rent.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


As I finished my last post, I reflected on why I’m writing about this topic. I enjoy writing. I love sharing with other people. My decision to quit my job and stay home with the kids touches almost every part of my life and the lives of my family. It’s a decision that I’ve been building up to for the better part of two years. It took me about that long to get up the courage to get pregnant with my second daughter too. So for me writing about all of this is cathartic. If I didn’t write about it, someone would have to listen to me talk about it. I think I might run out of family and good friends before I was done with it.

I ruminate. I have to pull apart every decision, examine every little piece, and play out every possible scenario. Part of it is my own self doubt. It isn’t uncommon for me to make a decision and then quietly back myself out of it over a period of time.

I can’t silence the voice of doubt in my mind. I still have to work through all of the myriad arguments that contradict my decision. My husband is always there resolute, behind me, supporting me every step of the way, never falling prey to my counter-arguments. He is the one who redirects me and focuses me back on the original reasons for why I’m making a decision. I’ve heard him several times over the past several days tell me, “this is what you want”. He is right you know.

The High Cost of Housing

“The rent is too damn high”, quips one of the more outrageous SNL sketch characters. I frankly have to agree. My search for a new lower cost abode has been fruitless thus far. My must haves in a new house include: approximately 1,000 square feet, two bedrooms, laundry or hookups in the unit, and located within my current area in a relatively safe, comfortable neighborhood. My wants include: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1200 or more square feet, a garage, and within walking distance to my daughter’s school and the village. I have yet to find even a single hit with the must haves within our price range.

The average two-bedroom, 1 bath 1960’s-70’s walk-up apartment with maybe a swimming pool, and coin laundry is at least $1200 per month. Yikes! The salary needed to afford that less than desirable apartment is approximately $50,000 a year. We hear a lot about lifestyle inflation. The expensive vacations, lattes, and designer clothes are supposedly keeping the two working parent family busy. Hardly. It is the necessities: housing, utilities, transportation, and food that is making mom keep 9am to 5pm and a 5pm to 11pm jobs. The latter is the “second shift” at home in case that’s not clear.

I live in the same area where my parents grew up. Just a few miles down the road is a subdivision that my grandparents bought a house in when my mom was a little girl. They bought a brand spanking new 3-bedroom, 1 bath house on my grandmother’s salary working retail at a department store and my grandfather’s off and on again jobs. Fast forward fifty years, my husband and I are priced out of that subdivision even though it has aged, and the houses need quite a bit of work. Did I mention that my husband and I both have Master’s degrees in our fields? My grandmother had a teaching degree that she never used, and my grandfather only finished some college.

Okay, so it’s clear. Housing is expensive. What are we going to do about it? Here is the kicker. I have no idea. My current options are to stay in our current house avoiding the transition costs of moving, or find something that meets our needs but is more than we want to spend, or adjust our needs. I did find a decent looking house yesterday for rent $200 cheaper per month than we are currently paying. The house appears to meet all of our needs except that it is $150 more than we were planning on spending at a new place. It also isn’t half as nice as our current place.

So I spent some time pondering this last night while searching the almighty internet for answers to my quandary, when I ran across this blog: This extremely frugal family moved from a “spacious” 700 square foot home to a 500 square foot home to save $100 a month. It definitely put some things in perspective for me. I still don’t think I want to live in a 700 square foot much less a 500 square foot home with my husband and two daughters. Perhaps, though, the average 2 bedroom apartment isn’t so bad after all.