Monday, May 18, 2015

Its...personal

In my quest to become less stupid about money, I familiarized myself with a whole new corner of the internet---personal finance blogs. I was particularly drawn to the super-frugal, early retire in your 30s type of blogs. Not that I want to retire early (ha! I didn't even start a real job until my 30s, no interest compounding through my 20s for me) but the idea of financial independence and the freedom that it brings is enticing.

I could do the things being espoused on these blogs! Get cheap cell phone plans, shop at Aldi's, clean my own house, eat rice & beans every day, DYI home repairs, never eat out, go camping for our only vacations, keep it cold in the winter and warm in the summer, skip kid's activities, shop thrift stores, forgo pedicures and cut my own hair. Take that money and put it straight into our retirement funds and then...

And then what? Retire 2 years earlier? Revel in my account statements? what would be the purpose of cutting out every item of discretionary spending? Its not like I could retire in 5 years or even 10 even with the most extreme stinginess.

When you delve further into it becoming financially independent at a very young age requires either a really high salary or a really really high savings rate (actually, probably a combination of the two). Living way way below your means. To the point where it actually hurts. I'm Ok with a little hurt---for a limited amount of time. I can make sacrifices and tough it out to get to a goal achievable in the near future. But not indefinitely. Certainly not for the entirety of my kids' childhood.

It was really important and eye-opening for me to see how little others spend; I always thought we were frugal, but we really aren't anymore. I'm glad I read those blogs, because I needed that mindset switch to realize that a lot of what we used to think of us "necessities" are nowhere near. That our life is chock full of luxuries that we didn't even notice. That we could sacrifice a lot of things to meet a savings goal. That "retail therapy" is easy to fall into and frankly, doesn't help. We questioned our spending, cut some things that weren't increasing our quality of life, and are more mindful about where our money goes these days.


Obviously, I like saving money where it doesn't hurt. Like when we refinanced our house---I certainly don't hate paying less to the bank every month! I like bringing my own lunch to work, its yummier & healthier (and saves time!) in addition to the cost savings. We cut cable years ago and never missed it. There are lots of things I do not spend money on. But I also love paying to have our house cleaned every two weeks, and the one time we paid a guy to paint our house was amazing, eating at restaurants occasionally is a true joy in my life, and I want to go on more real (i.e. not staying with relative) vacations.

When to save and when to spend---its a line we all have to draw for ourselves and one that it makes sense to rethink every couple of years, as our lives & priorities change. And because its so individual, I really don't see the place for the type of judgement I saw often on those blogs*. Its called PERSONAL finance for a reason, right?

*Assuming not in credit card debt, saving reasonable amounts, not doing truly stupid things like gambling or getting ripped off, etc...


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sleep is for the...well someone who isn't me apparently

So. B was up from 12:30-4:30 AM last night. Yes, my five year old. I dunno what was going on, he had a stuffy nose, but no stuffier than every other night in the past 5 years. He kept waking up crying, and then bounding out of bed and running downstairs and then calling for me. G dealt with him from 12:30 to 1:30 when B said he wanted to sleep in his bed and so G came up and fell hard asleep. I kept hearing him running through the house, crying, and looking for me though so I put him back in bed twice. Finally I decided to sleep with him in the guest room and it was the same routine. Sleep for 5 minutes. Get up, whimper, get out of bed, and ask if it was wake-up time yet. I finally woke G up at and had him deal with B so I could at least get a couple of hours of sleep. Of course, L was woken up by the whole thing and came to join me, so the "sleep" consisted of fitfully dozing while he kneaded me in the stomach with his feet. Then G thought it was a good idea to wake me up and ask me a million questions at 6:15. He later said he thought it was 8 AM. What.

B was a mess this morning, obviously, crying at the drop of a dime, and puffy eyed. It happens to be picture day at the school and we'd already ordered some pictures. I guess they will just be awful unless someone manages to get him to smile. I will then pay that someone a lot of $ to have them follow us around and cheer B up, he's a grump at the best of times. We did have some (delirious) laughs at breakfast this morning, so there's that. We kind of felt all in it together, which made it better. Its the worst when its just me and G is all "what's wrong with you, oh yeah, I forgot you didn't sleep well". 

To add salt to the wound, I had gone to bed early last night because I was tired and had a migraine. I ended up falling asleep at 10 and I was supposed to sleep until my alarm went off at 5:30 to work out. the work out didn't happen & my head is aching again. I've been surprisingly productive---I'm motivated to get out of here early and got a million things done, but I have a quick meeting at 3:30 so I'm writing this.

The only thing that kept me from losing it as 2 AM became 3AM became 4AM was reminding myself that it was going to be a beautiful day today and if nothing else, I could take some breaks to wake myself up and enjoy it. Also, remembering that I actually do OK after one night of awful sleep. Its the second night that kills me. Oh and we were DEFINITELY going to have dinner out tonight. I am not cooking or cleaning.

So yeah, I boring post complaining about a sleepless night. I feel like a first time mom of a newborn!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

And it goes on and on and on....

So we get back from vacation, and get a stomach bug (yuck) and miss work and I have to chaperone a field trip for the daycare and another grant rejection and etc...

Mother's Day was nice enough. I got my presents early, because none of the males in the house could wait. The boys gave me their gifts Friday as soon as I got home (necklace made of dough beads and a foam picture frame with terrible picture inside from B and a block of wood with a terribly cute picture on it from L. oh and a dying parsley plant in a plastic container from B), and G gave me the photo collage he made as soon as he got it organized on Saturday. The flowers, I got mid-week when he went to the grocery store for fruit. Sunday we went to a local botanical garden with friends. It was lovely, really wild, with fun things for the boys to climb on and around. It was super hot, though, we were all exhausted when we got home. L slept and then the boys watched a movie while G & I had mimosas.

I have 100% stuck to my shopping ban. Not a single item of clothing/shoes/accessories has been purchased for me this year. The key was unsubscribing from all the email lists and, of course, not going to stores. I've got a mental list of a few things I'll buy next year, but nothing is urgent, since I've got plenty of stuff to wear.

I finally went to the school and registered B for KG. I got the school schedule. Whoa. Lots of days off, and KG starts 10 days after Labor Day, not the next day like the other grades. Oops. Need to talk to the daycare about seeing if he can stay that week and a half.

I'm tired. I'm going to bed too late, having trouble sleeping, being woken up by L, and then having MORE trouble getting back to sleep, and then getting up early. Add allergies/sinus pressure/migraines and my head feels really fuzzy and motivation is low. I'm great in the morning, but sometime after lunch I lose momentum.

Its summer hot this week. I dislike summer. I really wanted spring. I had to rush and buy summer clothes for B, and I have to find and organize L's clothes (B's hand me downs, which are...somewhere). I need to do a major purge and organization of kid items, but when?

I'm obsessed with plain Noosa yogurt with granola and berries. yum. I'd gone off yogurt since 2009 when I was pregnant and it gave me heart burn, but now I remember loving TJs plain full fat Greek with granola and berries (plus honey, I used to use that, but can't imagine needing it these days). I'll have to try the TJs again because Noosa is pricey. Also obsessed with this. So tart! The "mini" size is perfect, with dark chocolate sauce on top.

Our trusty in-line double sport tire stroller broke last week. It is a challenge getting L to school or anywhere because he has no stamina and wants to be carried after half a block. I can't carry him very far, even on my shoulders--it pulls my hair and makes my neck sore. We still have the baby carrier, and can do a back carry with him, but he gets uncomfortable and wants to get out after a few minutes. We are looking for a used replacement but haven't come across the right thing and the right price. It was our primary mode of transportation! Its like when your car breaks down, its very inconvenient, but doable for the short term.

Back to work...

Monday, May 4, 2015

My First Family Vacation

We decided to combine work-travel with a family trip when I figured out one of the annual conferences I go to was in paradise. Multiple people gave me that "you are insane" look or told me I should go alone "to get a break"---I started to doubt our wisdom and was worried the whole thing would be a (costly) disaster.

But it was amazing! We had such a great time. Both G and I agreed that it felt like our first real family vacation---just the four of us. I was so relaxed---I haven't felt that "vacation mode" loosening in my shoulders for YEARS. Definitely before the kids were born, maybe even a couple of years before that. There were so many moments: while we sipped our second margarita at the taco place and the boys ran around the sunny courtyard at 7 pm, when we all held hands and shivered as we got into the (cold!) ocean and wiggled our toes in the wet sand, while G and I watched the (so adorable) kids drive around their own toy cars on the track. So many factors converged to make the trip refreshing and fun.

 PLANNING
-Well it was paradise. The weather was guaranteed and it did not disappoint.
-There was lots to do in the city and surrounding areas. We spent 4 days in the city and then drove out to a nearby beach town and then to a theme park resort (the interlocking-bricks one, not the rodent one) for 2 nights/one day.
-We chose our hotels really well. Suites, free breakfasts, mini-fridge, heated pools, close to stuff.
-We brought along the kids scooters, coloring books, pool floaties, and some legos. There was plenty to do in our down time. 
-We planned some big activities but left plenty of downtime. the first day, G took the boys to the park, to shop for clothes (he forgot his swim trunks) and for L to get a haircut. The next day, we stayed at the pizza place for over 2 hours because the owner had a 5 year old kid hanging out there who brought out his toys as soon as he saw our boys walk in and they were best friends 10 minutes later.  Another morning was spent with L sleeping on me while G and B had muffins and ran around near the water.
-The resort/theme park was AWESOME. I had never even HEARD of it, but G wanted to go and we went. The kids were in heaven. The hotel was full of the most amazing details---bunk beds for the kids (plus a trundle, thankfully, since neither kid wanted the top), fun themed decor, a kid-level buffet for breakfast and dinner, kids entertainment every evening, a heated OUTDOOR pool with a shallow entrance, a disco ball with music in the elevators, and (the boys FAVORITE) a whoopie cushion imbedded in the floor outside of the elevator. The park was perfect for preschoolers, I thought. Lots of the rides involved the kids being able to steer/control on their own. There were plenty of rides they were too small to do but more than enough. Plus it was off season---there were NO LINES anywhere. They rode their favorite rides over & over---this is really important for their age---they are in the "do everything you love again & again" phase.

KID FACTORS
-The kids are at a great age for this, finally. No diapers (except L at night) and not a single potty accident. Able to stay up for a grown up dinner time, sleeping mostly through the night---and going straight to bed after a full day without bedtime antics, able to skip naps. Not needing much, if any, special kid "equipment"---no sippy cups, pack n plays, special foods. Playing independently in the hotel, not running (too far) away from us in public places, no eating sand at the beach.
-They were also at the perfect age to really "get it" and have fun. They were excited before, during, and still talking about it 4 days later.

ADULT FACTORS
-saying yes as much as possible. Yes, you can have a popsicle at 10AM. Yes to another one at 3pm. Yes, we can stay 15 more minutes at the beach. And 15 more. And 15 more. Sure, chocolate chip pancakes and chocolate muffins are OK for breakfast. Oh, you want fruit loops too. Why not.
-time off for me (to attend the conference). G was with the kids the whole time, but he didn't seem to mind it.
-Ease with modes of transportation. The first full day, G figured out the light rail and bus system, and found a great playground that they went to every day of our trip. Since the beach was an hour bus ride away, he signed up for Uber and got us free trips there and back. We also used taxis, walking, and finally renting a car to get the 30 miles to the resort.
-Not looking at the budget/stressing about money. This was key. I finally entered all our expenses (at least the credit card ones) into YNAB last night. I did not look at it during our trip. At some point, you have to accept that eating all your meals out (and going for that second margarita, because its vacation, after all) is going to be expensive. We saved a TON by 1) tacking our trip onto a conference=airfare for me and 4/6 nights of hotel covered plus the per diem and by using my (no longer available) airline credit card to get the kids flights for $99/each (>$800/savings) and our 2 checked bags free both ways ($100 savings) and 3) finding "kids free" coupons for the theme park ($170/savings).

It wasn't perfect---there was yelling, there were time outs, and bad behavior. I particularly lost it with B one morning. the flights were---painful and I will leave it at that. I mean, we are still us, even thousands of miles away. But we were also different, somehow, and it was good for us. I woke up the last night running numbers in my head to budget a return trip next year!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What went wrong?

A reader asked me if I could pinpoint what went wrong with our weekend away. It got me thinking. It was definitely multifactorial, but I could think of several reasons.

1) We were both stressed and sleep deprived going into it. Both triggers for pointless arguments and hurt feelings for both of us.
2) We didn't plan the weekend. We assumed it would work itself out because last time we went away, we had an amazing time. And we only had about 24 hours when you take away driving time. But there was just more to do where we went before, this was a smaller city with no real "sight seeing" nearby. So there was a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, or sitting in the hotel room.
3) Because we didn't plan, we never took the time to discuss what each others expectations were from the trip. e.g. I brought my Kindle along and had just started a great book, but I never got to read it. I should've mentioned that I'd like an hour or so to myself to read. I also expected it to be "romantic" (whatever that means) and was disappointed that G didn't seem to be thinking that way.
4) We had planned to meet up with a friend of mine who lives there---they were trying to get a sitter to meet us for dinner but couldn't. So we thought we'd go to their house Sunday on our way home. She was flaky about that plan and kept bringing up Saturday. Long story short, she texted me at 5:30 asking if we could meet at 6 for dinner at a pizza place with their whole family. It was nearby so we headed over and got to catch up some (her kids were SO GOOD they just sat there and ate pizza with TOPPINGS and SOUP with vegetables in it while we talked). G mentioned later that he had actually been looking forward to our initial plan for sushi and was annoyed that I didn't just tell her Sunday was our only option.
5) I also had vague expectations that we'd talk about some issues with our relationship or long term plans on this trip but G didn't seem in the mood to talk about serious things. When we were having a drink at the hotel bar, he wanted to play boardgames that they had there. When we were walking, he would keep looking things up on his phone. When we got back to the hotel, he got on the floor to pet the dog instead of sitting on the bed with me (we brought the dog since we couldn't find a dogsitter) and then TURNED ON THE TV. It was driving me nuts, but yet, I never said anything...
6) I'm not good at communicating. He isn't either, but this was my fault. If I had an expectation or I wanted to talk, I should've said it. Instead I said nothing and ended up blowing up Saturday night (after 2+ rather generous glasses of wine) and STILL not telling him the real reason (I honestly can't remember WHAT I said, it was a blur). We had this stupid "fight" about nothing, I got overly emotional and teary, and the night was basically ruined, and I was angry and depressed and couldn't sleep AGAIN.

He keeps asking me to explain what happened that night and I have no real explanation other than "I went a little crazy". I know it was completely my fault. 

We did have a productive (for us) and less emotional discussion about general relationship issues the other night. I laid out the areas in which either or us was unsatisfied and we came up with some ideas for how to fix them. We'll see what happens. We both mentioned that it seems like we have this SAME discussion every 6 months or so, and nothing ever changes. We should probably do a check-in in a month or so to make sure we are on track, instead of waiting until next October for the blow up.

I stumbled upon a forum discussion the other day (looking for something COMPLETELY different, about IRAs) about what makes people's amazing relationships so amazing. It was really eye-opening. Nothing anyone said was NEW, per se, but it led me to a realization. Amazing relationships are based on inherent compatibility of two people's personalities (unchangeable) and certain "relationship skills" (in part, changeable). The whole debate over whether or not relationships should be "hard work"---the answer depends entirely on whether the couple is lucky/smart enough to be completely compatible. If so, there are minimal conflicts and minimal need to "work on" things. When conflicts do come up, if both people know how to deal with conflict effectively, it also feels less like "work". This includes things like: not getting too emotional---dealing with things logically, communication skills, lack of defensiveness, ability to be open/vulnerable, using humor, empathy.

Where does this leave us? G and I are somewhat compatible. There are a few areas, though, that I wish we were more in sync with. We have to actively work on those areas---requiring compromise on both sides---so each others needs get met. We both have TERRIBLE relationship skills. So trying to navigate these issues becomes a minefield of defensiveness, tears, hurt feelings...and that's when we are able to move past the initial MO of avoidance.

I already KNEW all this on some level, but I'm seeing it more objectively, as a third party looking into our relationship. I see where we were (a really great place), where we are now (not so great) and how we got here (another story for another time), and I actually feel like I have a benchmark for where I want us to be (as opposed to my vague former wishes for "better"). I slept really well last night.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bright Spots

Even the grayest days have some bright moments. I think they stand out more, in their stark contrast, and I try really hard to notice them, to say to myself "this is a good moment". An island in time where the anxiety is gone, thinking about yesterday and tomorrow subsides, and I can just be happy. It may be 5 minutes, or an hour, but it makes the rest of the day easier to get through.

Consistent bright spots:
  • Being outside in nice weather
  • Being outside with the kids in at least halfway-decent weather (the park!)
  • Snuggling with L (he's my cuddly one)
  • Watching the kids play together
  • Finishing a tough workout
  • Finishing a tough project (taxes, a presentation)
  • A good book
A lot of these things, I have no control over. I can't control the weather (FFS, its 40 and rainy today) or my kids' moods. But I can try to get outside when it IS nice, or take the time to hold L in my lap in the morning even if it means being 5 minutes late. I can decide not to waste my evening folding laundry or aimlessly on the internet and pick up a book. I can decide to go to the gym even when I'm really not feeling it, knowing I'll feel better after, or sitting down and tackling the thing hanging over my head even when tomorrow always seems to be the better time. 

I noticed that my list doesn't contain the superficial things I usually think of as "treats" that I try to give myself when I'm feeling down---no good food, glass of wine, TV show, new clothes. I guess those things are mere distractions, and don't really heal the problem.

I'd like to add more to this list---and then fill my life as full as I can with these moments---its nice to know how I can control my happiness to some extent.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Scream Becomes a Yawn

We went away for the weekend, leaving kids with grandma. It was nothing I thought it would be for reasons I can't explain. Instead of being romantic and fun and relaxing, it was tense and boring and exhausting. It didn't help that we were both sleep-deprived and stressed going into it---G was coming down with something, and stayed up 'til 2AM on Friday finishing up work. I haven't slept well in about 2 weeks. It all bubbled up in an ugly and unproductive way. Of all the conversations I'd planned for us to have, the only one we actually had was the one that made it clear without a doubt that we were not having any more children and that I should schedule the IUD I was waffling about next month.

I was relieved when it was time to go home so I could give up the pretense of "having fun". We promised the kids we would buy them a present but could find nothing in the city except overpriced magnets, T-shirts and hats so we stopped by the-big-box-store-that-we-don't-go-to on the drive home and B got them kites.

I was thrilled. They were simple and colorful. It was perfect kite-flying weather---sunny, warm but windy! We got home and immediately took the boys to the park to fly them. All the kids at the park gathered around wanting a turn, all the dads gathered round with advice on how to fly them.

Within 30 minutes they were broken. Later that night, we were assessing the damage, and decided we could reinforce the hole where the stick poked through by sewing a few rows of threat onto it. We tried to rewind the string but there were complicated knots that were impossible to untangle.

That's how I feel these days. In knots that I can't untangle. Everything seems to be piling up into a perfect storm of anxiety, insomnia and dread. Its my mother-in-law still being here (day 16/21 today), and the fact that things always escalate before she leaves, its being on call this week, being hopelessly behind on 8 million things at work, a paper rejected from FOUR journals in a row, a grant around the one project I was excited about rejected, my tech and research coordinator leaving in 3 months, my funding ending in 14 months, second thoughts about our kindergarten choice,  realizing I really truly have no friends to talk to or hang out with right now, the constant rehashing of the same old problems in my relationship 10 years into our marriage, the projects in the house, the travel coming up that I haven't finished planning, the fact that my drawers are a jumble of 80% crap I never wear and 20% stuff too wrinkly to wear all jammed in there and no time to sort it out, the finality of not having any more babies, the thought of the IUD insertion and the pain that may be involved, the many red rows in our budget and no idea how to cut back, and the fact that therapy does not seem to be doing much for my anxiety 6 months into it.

Oh and the not sleeping.

Most of this stuff will work itself out. I just needed to get it off my chest. I'll shut up and carry on*.

*song lyrics NOT from the early 90s!