Monday, May 18, 2015


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.

-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.

-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.

-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!