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Budget Busters Chez McHale

Dollars

Dollars

We are once again going through a period of major expenses chez McHale. May has brought with it some major budget busters.

We are still following Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover principles and honestly I would say that now it is an adopted lifestyle. This month it’s been a really good thing.

This month we’ve had a pipe break under the floor in our kitchen, we’ve replaced the hot water tank, and another unit in our complex has required some major repairs which all the owners here have to pitch in for (this is normal in any condo/townhouse).

It has really squeezed us. In fact I’m not sure that we’ve felt squeezed quite so tight since before we started working this plan.

The difference now is that we have an Emergency Fund.

What you may ask is this thing we call an Emergency Fund?

It’s 3-6 months of our household expenses in cash in a bank account that is easily accessible in an emergency.

WOW have we ever been glad to have it this month.

We managed to scrape up enough cash to cover most of the repairs but there comes a point when you just can’t do it anymore. Enter the Emergency Fund. We were able to cover the remaining expenses in CASH because of our little stock pile.

In the days before we paid off our debts and decided to change our financial future we would have paid cash for a lot of these expenses but we would have come to a point when the money would run out and we would have used a credit card or line of credit to pay it.

I am so thankful that we are able to avoid doing so!

The importance of an emergency fund has hit home a number of times over the last year as we’ve seen the local teachers strike for months last spring, another local union strike for 12ish weeks, and watched as more than one family in our circle has experienced significant illness taking their primary bread winner out of work, and forcing the other half to go back to work during the crisis to help pay the bills.

During the local strikes especially I kept hearing stories of families where the sole income earner or even both income earners were employed by the same union – these families lost their entire income during that time. They were then going to the banks trying to get lines of credit or loans to pay their bills for the duration of the strike.

I would not want to be in any of those situations and I hurt deeply for those families. I cannot imagine what they went through.

The problem is that when you take out a loan during a crisis or emergency to get by you deal with the hangover for much longer than you may actually have to deal with the situation because you’ve got to pay it back.

I’m not criticizing any of these families they were all doing the best they could to get by. I’m just saying that as I watched these things happen I realized just how important having an emergency fund really is.

The sad thing for a lot of the families affected by the local strikes is that they were in industries where the jobs are considered very “stable” which proves to me that you never know. If they succeeded in getting a loan to help with their expenses they are most likely still paying that loan back now a year later.

For me watching from the outside it drove the home the importance of the Emergency Fund. There is a lot of security and peace of mind in knowing that if for some reason Curtis couldn’t work for a few months our bills are still paid.

Sure we would have to cut back on some of our “lifestyle” spending but really we can get by for a while without too many worries.

As painful as this month has been we’ve been able to get by. We’ve had to cut out pretty much all of our “lifestyle” spending. We’ve adjusted a few things, but the truth is, that it’s just one month. Looking at our June budget we’re able to replenish the Emergency fund after our little dip and things for the most part will return to normal.

So what about you. Could you pay for a few thousand dollars worth of emergency expenses tomorrow if you needed to or would you be running out for a loan? Have you thought much about living debt free and building an Emergency Fund? If not I would encourage you to do so!

Date, What’s a Date?

Maybe you’ve been there maybe you haven’t, but that moment when you sit down next to your spouse and say “Hi my name is Cynthia, what’s yours?” should really never happen.

You know what I mean. You get busy – in the literal running around after kids, doing skating, preschool, doctors appointments, work, & friends kind of way.

All of a sudden you sit on the couch next to your spouse and you feel like you haven’t talked to them in months. You need to get to know each other again.

Curtis and I experienced this just a few weeks ago.

We were feeling lonely and disconnected from each other. We were starving for some time alone together out of our house without our kids or other people. We wanted to hang out.

We started talking about a date. We realized the last date we had planned was way back in early December and we had cancelled it because the kids were sick. We intended to reschedule over the holidays of course. Prior to that we couldn’t recall the last time we had been out together. It might have been October when my parents were here to visit. It was April. This needed to change.

We had to refresh our memories. We were unsure of what this thing society calls a date really was. We decided to redefine it.

We realized that what often deterred us from going out was cost. I’m not complaining I’m just stating the truth. When it came right down to it and it was time to put a date on the budget page we often chose to spend our money differently. We had a hard time justifying it.

It was time to re-prioritize.

It’s funny I always think of a date in the traditional as seen on TV kind of date – dinner, movie, some other extravagant event, evening, late nights etc. The reality of this is that I’m not a dinner and a movie kind of girl and he’s not a dinner and a movie kind of guy. If that’s what we want we can stay home and enjoy from the comfort of our couch.

When we actually talked about the things that we enjoy doing together, the best times we’ve had and when we’ve connected the best it’s always been when we’re outside.

Having this conversation was one of the best things we could have done because we realized that to us a “date” is a hiking trip, a run, a paddle, a bike ride or some other outdoor endeavour. None of those things cost us any more than the babysitters time.

All of a sudden a whole new world opened up to us.

So. We went out. Our first date in an unnamed amount of time was a bike ride. It was SOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOD! I can’t even express it.

Relaxing together doing something that we both enjoy was amazing. We tagged a coffee on to the end cause really, who can survive without coffee?! And we went home after 3 hours feeling reconnected and refreshed ready for anything the munchkins could throw at us.

That afternoon was such a good reminder to us that we need to make each other a priority. It’s so easy to brush each other off when other things come up but really we committed our lives to each other. When the kids are gone – and one day they will be – Curtis will still be here.

I don’t want to look up in 15-20 years and realize I have a roommate not a partner. That I am living with a stranger.

I want to be that couple who still loves each other dearly after 50 years. Still holds hands as we walk along the beach. Still proclaims that the other is our best friend.

Being that couple takes a lot of effort. To us it means prioritizing the other. Not pushing each other off when something else comes up. The best thing we can do for each other and for our kids is work at our relationship. Make our marriage a priority. For us right now, that means dating. For you maybe it’s something else.

So, we date. Next weekend we’re going on a trail run. I can’t wait!

 

Food Foundations – Back to the Basics

A few years ago I was writing about our experiments with “Real Food“. Basically we were working on cutting out processed food and added sugars from our diets.

Why would we do such a thing? Well, E was having digestive problems, I was trying to improve my fitness and when it came right down to it we realized that we were eating a lot of processed junk.

Fast forward a couple years and add another baby and we’re back at square one.

I would say that we made some significant and lasting changes when we made our initial push to clean up our diets. There have been some things that have really stuck – like always buying the whole food – as in the full fat model. Homo milk, full fat yogurts, cheeses, etc. none of this “light” or “fat free” diet foods.

What we found was that by eating the proper amount of the full fat food we were still able to maintain healthy body weights and we stayed full longer.

I’m no dietitian or scientist, and I’m no expert. I am just speaking from our experience, and we have found eating the whole food has been that it takes less food to fill the void so we ultimately end up consuming less.

Now, let me be honest here. We are far less than perfect. In fact that is the whole point of my post. I’m figuring this all out for us again.

Adding another person to our family threw a huge curve ball to my whole meal planning/whole food/make it from scratch philosophy. I got busy, and I got lazy.

I was still making a lot of things from scratch – I always will. I love baking and if there’s any place I’m going to putter in my house it’s my kitchen. But we had also let a lot of convenience foods creep in. I think the biggest thing that I was finding was that we were eating a lot of “treats”.

All of a sudden we found that E was having digestive problems again and we were repeating our visits to Dr’s, paediatricians, & specialists to treat a problem we had already treated and we had hoped we had solved.

So, here I am again, examining our food, and trying to figure out what works for our family now. Making nutritious homemade meals is important to me, and my go-to sites haven’t changed. I still frequent 100 days of real food when I’m looking for great healthy recipes. I also adapt a lot of family recipes to suit our needs, and being an experimenter in the kitchen I often throw things in a pan and hope it turns out – this has varying degrees of success for me.

I have also recently found the Weelicious website and purchased her cookbook Weelicious Lunches which is an amazing resource because E can look through the book and pick what she wants. I have found that a lot of the recipes include items that you would have around the house without getting into too many odd items. This has really helped to get better foods into both kids, but especially E. At this point L will devour anything I put in front of her.

Ultimately everyone will define “real food” differently, so what I deem to be acceptable at my house may not be what you would choose to feed your family.

Here are the things I have learned about us, and how I define “real food” at my house:

 

  • When buying a pre-made item I want the least amount of ingredients possible on the label. I also want to read and recognize all of those items – if I wouldn’t find it in my pantry I may reconsider my choice.
  • I don’t buy any pre-packaged baked goods, and very few snack items, this is largely due to food allergies here but also because I find they have a lot of unnecessary sugars and dyes in them.
  • I am not willing to spend the money to always buy organic produce. I would love to, but I’m not willing to break the bank on my grocery bill. Fruits and vegetables are the bulk of what we eat and I serve them with every meal. I always pick local produce first, and will buy organic if possible but for the most part local is good enough for me.
  • We will never cut out all sugar, or maybe even most sugar. Ok, I get that refined sugars and added sugars (and many sugar additives) are bad. I work hard to minimize them.
  • I don’t necessarily count a homemade baked good as a “treat”. I use sugar alternatives (honey, maple syrup etc.) on occasion, but I am going to continue to use white sugar in most recipe’s (like cookies). I think this is fine in moderation and a heck of a lot better than the store bought alternatives.
  • I use margarine. I would prefer to use butter, and I tried using butter exclusively for a while but honestly I was spending like $70/month on butter alone just for all the baking that I do. CRAZY. So sorry but my baked goods most often have margarine in them. I am not willing to spend that much on butter and if I cut back on the baking that I do I find we spend a lot more at the grocery store.

All that said, this is a journey for us. Sometimes we do better than others. I do plan our meals so that I always know what’s for dinner making it easy to avoid eating out. We are still experimenting. I find that I am constantly tweaking and making changes to the way we eat, or I plan, or prep to accommodate the stage that our family is in NOW. What worked six months ago doesn’t necessarily work now and what’s working now isn’t necessarily going to work in 6  months.

Let me also say that this is something that we have decided as a family is a priority for us. It may not be a priority for you – THAT’S OK! It has taken me a lot of time and energy to figure these things out for us and they may not be things that you’re willing to spend your time and energy on. We all do the best that we can to serve our families and we all value different things.

So how bout you? Have you been changing things up in your diet recently? What worked and what didn’t? Was it easy? Hard? I’d love to know where you’re at and what you’re doing because sharing ideas is one of the best ways to learn!

To Work or Not to Work? The Personal Perspective

I’ve been a stay-at-home Mom now for almost 9 months, and I am still regularly asked how we made the decision for me to quit working. Let me tell you it wasn’t an easy decision to make and we struggled with it for a number of months before pulling the trigger.

When I first started writing this post I thought I could squeeze it all into one, but the more I worked at it (and the longer it got) the more I realized that to really do it justice I needed to break it up a little bit.

There were two sides to this decision for us, the personal side AND the financial side. Both parts held almost equal weight in the overall decision and I think it’s important for me to share both sides of the coin with you. I’m going to start with the personal side, because in some ways it set the stage for the transition and was what caused us to seriously consider having me leave work.

Before I go too much farther though I have to tell you that although these are the factors that affected our decision for me to stay home, everyone is different. Not everyone WANTS to stay home. So if you are toying with this please don’t simply follow my lead, do what is best for YOUR family and YOUR situation. Everyone is wired differently and things that work for my family may not work for yours.

When I returned to work after my Maternity leave I genuinely wanted to. I enjoyed my job, my employers and co-workers. I just hadn’t anticipated the pressures that would come with trying to balance work and family. In some ways with all the changes that parenting brought about in my  life the work/home balance was probably the one that I least expected.

I had been feeling the need for significant change for probably about a year by the time I finally gave my notice at work. I was stressed 90% of the time feeling like I wasn’t really giving 100% of myself anywhere. For anyone who knows me you will know that I don’t like to accept less than my 100%. I feel like giving less than that is failure. It’s just not my style. When you’ve got too many things on your plate you just can’t be 100% all the time.

While I was doing OK at work (you’d have to ask some of my former co-workers for truthful answers to that but I think I was keeping my head above water). I wasn’t doing great at home. The stress that I was feeling was affecting every aspect of my home life. I was always exhausted, and felt like I was failing at home on multiple levels. I was lashing out at my hubby over silly things, and never felt like I could relax or enjoy my “down time” because there were always things to do.

My days off would come and I would feel like I HAD to spend the entire day at home taking care of things around the house. Cleaning, baking, prepping meals, menu planning, budgeting, shopping, etc. All these things had to happen and I only had 2 days a week to get them done. Not only did I only have 2 days a week to get them done but they were 2 spread out days in the week (like Sunday, and Thursday) so by the time my second day off in the week came around I felt like I was starting over. I was playing a perpetual game of catch up.

I was loathe to plan a trip to the park with a friend because I knew it cut into the precious little time I had to accomplish anything significant at home. I also felt like I was leaving a lot of things undone and that my hubby as the self employed and working from home family member often had to pick up the slack. As a result I felt very isolated and lonely. I was desperate for something to change but I didn’t know what.

It was also never my intention to have a child and then only see her for 1 hour a day and yet by the time I commuted to and from work that was about all I was getting to spend with E every day and it was killing me. I was leaving the house between 7:30 and 7:45 to have her at daycare by 8 and me at work by just before 9. Daycare closed by 5 so my hubby was picking her up between 4 & 4:30, but I was rarely home before 6. I literally came home, we had dinner and then I put her to bed. I rarely got to play, interact, or spend any kind of quality time with her and I felt like I was missing out.

We also felt very isolated and lonely as a family. We knew that we needed to connect with other people, but we felt like we could never squeeze it in. “Friends” were people that we saw in passing on Sunday mornings at church as we dropped off or picked up E from the nursery not people that we actually had time to invest in. We were both socially starved but had very little time to do anything about it.

One of the most drastic changes in our lives since I left work is our social life. We have come to realize that we have some AMAZING friends. People that we would miss dearly if we moved away. Not only do we have pretty awesome friends, but we get to spend time with them without sacrificing time together as a family, or alone for the Hubby & I.

We have both felt extremely well cared for and loved by our friends over the last number of months (which is important when you don’t have any family around to fill that roll). In some ways the support that our friends have given our family over the last number of months has been overwhelming. Not only have we been well cared for but we have also been able to care for some of our friends in ways that we’ve never been able to do before because the pressures of work & home  took precedence.

Our decision for me to leave work was heavily influenced by the personal side of the equation. If I had felt like I was balancing work and life well then the scales would likely have tipped more in favor of me staying at work. If we as a family had felt like it was working well then the decision would have been different. That said, I knew I needed a change. I knew I was stressed and not that much fun when I was home. I knew I was missing out on important events in E’s life, and was unable to maintain important relationships with friends. Some people can balance it well and enjoy it. Others like myself prefer not to. Ultimately you have to do what’s right for your family, personally and financially, and we’ll talk about the financial side in my next post!

Share the Journey not just the Destination

Last week I went to a “Meal to my Madness” presentation by Sandi Richard.  She talks about changing the way that families do dinner not just through menu planning but also by prioritizing the time families spend actually having dinner TOGETHER. It was a pretty neat event and as per my previous posts on Meal planning right up my alley.

Something she said along the way really struck a chord with me. She was encouraging parents (but I think this applies to people in general) to “share the journey not just the destination”. Ok, great, what exactly does she mean by that? Well she went on to say that so often people talk about their GOAL – ie, eat a “sugar free” diet, raise the perfect child, or loose 20lbs, – as if they have arrived and it was the easiest thing they’ve ever done. Ultimately if you want to get right down to it they LIE. Yes I said it in plain text and we’ve all done it so lets get down to the dirt here.

As you listen to your friend you’re left sitting there thinking but WAIT I am trying to do the same thing and I just can’t figure it out. I know it wasn’t that easy so can’t you just commiserate with me or shed some light on the situation a little here? I think we’ve all had those conversations with friends when we were seeking advice for the journey but the friend (unintentionally) makes you feel more like a failure because they talk as though they’ve arrived and it was easy. Even better they act like they have no idea why this is so hard for you. It’s like rubbing salt in a wound and it helps no one. Meanwhile they’re really thinking “how should I know I STILL don’t have it figured out.”

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

I see this a lot in the blog community families that portray themselves as being completely flawless, they eat the perfect diet, have the perfect kids, and never made any mistakes with their money. It has made me think really hard about my own position and the impression that I give as I write. Ultimately my goal is to share the Journey and if I can convince a few people to join in or help them along in their own journey then that’s awesome.

So let me tell you something (if you haven’t already figured it out from previous posts) we haven’t arrived. We’re not there yet. We have some pretty clear ideas of what the destination looks like for us right now and I’ve laid those out for all to see in some of my previous posts but when you read my posts about menu planning, eating “real” food, financial planning, parenting and fitness please know that we are not there yet. We are journeying through life together and what I want to share with you are my successes but also my failures. The last thing we need is another parenting blog toting how perfect my kid is, or fitness blog giving you “5 simple steps”.

All that said, my plea to myself but also to you is let’s be a little more honest with each other as we travel through life together. Rather than minimizing another persons struggle lets try to hold their hand. While I think it’s important to share the DESTINATION. (As in the place you hope to one day end up not the fictitious place you are trying to portray yourself as having arrived.) I also think it’s vitally important that you share the journey so that when you arrive we can celebrate with you.

 

 

Big Changes Around Here

I’m sure you’ve caught this by now, but 2013 is a year of change around here. We’re two months in and I’m hitting that goal list again implementing more big changes in our lives.

Need more time for days like this!

Need more time for days like this!

I have to be honest with you, I didn’t share ALL of my goals in the original post because well, some just weren’t prudent to put out there at the time. One of the “private” goals that I had been keeping to myself was to be able to quit my job and stay home, putting my family first. The time line I had put on it was April 15/13. WELL, this is yet another goal accomplished EARLY. I am excited to announce that March 2/13 marks the last day of my employment. After which point I will be Mommy extraordinaire staying home, and focusing on the people and things in my life that really matter to me.

Must capture more moments like this!

Must capture more moments like this!

Over the last year and a half I have struggled with finding balance in my life and my family’s life. I am out of the house daily for work from 8am until almost 6pm – sometimes longer depending on the season – and E is in daycare for most of that time. Through the winter months I have two day weekends but they fall Sunday & Monday and my hubby works a normal job Monday – Friday leaving only one day a week for family time. Come summer I have two separate days off in the week, Sunday and a week day. It feels impossible to do anything as a family because there is so much that needs to be done. Then when it comes do exercise, or just getting out on my own I am squeezing it in early (like 4:30/5am early) or after work and not seeing E for a full 24 hour period. I often find myself having to give up things and relationships that are vitally important to me to accommodate my work schedule. I am exhausted all the time and feel like I have nothing to give, I’ve been running on empty for over a year now. I’m not complaining, I know that many working families struggle with the same things. I just can’t help but feeling that there has to be another way.

Need more of this

Need to fit in more of this

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed eight great years of work with wonderful employers and co-workers. They have become great friends to us. In a lot of ways they have become like family and I will miss them dearly. As I’ve been working away at tying up loose ends and putting in place the systems the next person in line to do my job will need I have to admit I feel sad. I keep asking myself if I am really doing this. I know they have enjoyed having me there, and I have built relationships that go beyond being co-workers or business acquaintances with my fellow employee’s and a lot of the reps and suppliers that I work with on a daily basis so I do feel sad to leave and I have found myself struggling with the decision from time to time. It feels a little bitter sweet.

Cannot resist this little girl!

Cannot resist this little girl!

But there is just something about this sweet little face asking me to stay home and play with her that makes my heart melt and motivates me to get life in order and re-align my time commitments with my priorities. Then there are the evenings that at 9pm we’re still washing dishes and making lunches and in my heart I know that I have made the right decision. I know that my family will blossom because of it. So I am stepping into change with some trepidation, but also excited to see where the path will lead. Who knows, but I can’t wait to find out!

Hoping to have time for a bit more of this in my life

Hoping to have time for a bit more of this in my life