Tuesday, March 28, 2017


We are, by choice, primarily a one-income family. While I have always done *something* on the side (Google researching, Google ratings job, online counseling, working in our clinic, teaching summer camps, running groups, etc.), Mark is the main person bringing home the proverbial bacon and I am the main person home with the kids and sort of managing our lives in general.

When we are feeling connected and in a good rhythm, Mark and I are an incredible team. Doesn't matter what we're working on together, I feel *super* happy (almost weepy even) when we're working on it together - projects, planning, cooking, you name it. This teamwork also means we pick up slack for one another - when one is busy/stressed, the other tries to do more, and vice-versa.

When it comes to finances, it's about the earning as well as the spending/saving. I'm pretty conscious of the fact that anytime we spend money, it basically means work for Mark, so I don't take decisions about money, small or large, lightly (though he'd like to see me relax more and not stress so much). We view my being home with the kids as an investment not only in them but in our sanity for a little balance in our lives. We are fortunate to have this option, but while that means we do okay, it does not mean we roll around in money all day. It means we have to be even more careful about our choices.

So, here are 10 things we do to try to save money:

1. We don't waste food. And when I say we don't waste food, I mean we don't waste ANY food. We don't eat out a lot (I mean we love to eat out, but again, it's a way to save money, so while this is one of our favorite treats and we do indulge, we cook and eat home most of the time). When we do eat out, we bring home leftovers. One of my superpowers is that I can make leftovers of all kinds stretch and I can reinvent entire meals of leftovers.

I recently looked in the fridge and saw leftover fried rice, leftover white rice, spinach that was getting older, and shredded cheese that was also getting older. I pulled out all of those ingredients, started stir frying with the right seasonings and sauces, grabbed some tortillas, and voila . . . I made delicious cheesy, spinach enchiladas! The kids devoured them and have been raving about them and asking for more. I made it up so I wouldn't have to throw out old rice, spinach, and cheese. (For the record, by "old," I don't mean bad-for-you old; I just mean older.) I seriously turned Chinese into Mexican.

2. I only treat myself to a really nice cut and color at a salon (and a chain salon at that) once a year around my birthday. AND I use coupons. There are women who go to fancy salons every 3-6 weeks and spend hundreds of dollars each time. No judgment from me - everyone spends money on that which they value. Well, as much as I like to look nice, I personally don't value spending thousands of dollars a year at a hair salon. The thought of it stresses me out. I get one really nice cut/color treat a year and the rest of the time, I cut my own bangs and color my own hair using an $8 kit. It always looks nice and saves us hundreds, nay, thousands of dollars a year.

3. I hate clothes shopping. Hate it. The stereotype of girls who go shopping for fun? Does not compute. Again, to each their own, but shopping isn't a pastime for me; it's something you do out of necessity because your old clothes have worn out. I'm not saying this is ideal. This is not an area where I make myself do this. It's easy because I tend to naturally put off clothes shopping because I think it's such a bore and a chore. I don't look like a vagabond or anything, but yeah, I have a pair of shoes right now that are completely split on the bottom and the stitching has come out around the sides (so you can see my socks from underneath the shoe and from the side, too). At this point, I'm riding it out, because spring will be here soon and I won't have to worry about winter shoes for at least 8 months. Whenever I do need to get some new clothes, I tend to resist by saying, "But I swear I just bought new clothes," to which Mark responds, "You bought that shirt in 2004." And he's right.

A picture of us from 1992. I think I just donated that sweater a few weeks ago, in 2017.

4. We've been together for 25 years this fall and we just bought our 3rd used car (and even then, Jim was kind enough to help us out significantly). Now, full disclosure, we're car shopping to replace the old van now. We knew that both of our cars needed replacing and, like clothes shopping, we have put it off. Well, we put it off so long with our Saturn that it just went kaput. We're trying to get ahead of that with our old van so that we can at least get some trade-in value on it toward the purchase of its replacement. The timing has just worked so that both cars have needed replacing at around the same time. We're trying to stretch it out a little just because that's a lot of expense at once. (Also, we hate car shopping.)

We got this car in 1998. It went kaput in 2016. That's 18 years of reliability!

5. We do a lot of things ourselves. We do a lot of home projects ourselves - electric, plumbing, repairing, etc. We research how to do it and then we do it. We do hire professionals when necessary, but we have always done a lot ourselves. Same with cleaning. We have never had a cleaning person (though we've talked about it many times and it often sounds like a huge help). We just can't stomach paying someone to do something we can do ourselves. It's good for the kids to know how to clean (which is why when we DO talk about getting one, we figure he or she can come once a month and we'll clean once a month, so every two weeks the house gets clean but we do it half the time) and we're capable, so we do it. This does mean that sometimes there are longer stretches than we'd like when we don't get to cleaning it the way we'd like it, but such is life. Priorities. It's neat and clean and sanitary and we don't live in a museum. It works for us.

6. We use our library. A lot. We always have and we continue to do so. It is our first place to check when we need or want a book. We all love books and yes, we buy them, too, but it adds up, so the library is a wonderful resource. There's not a doubt in my mind that, especially as homeschoolers, we've saved tens of thousands of dollars by using our library. We do purchase a lot of our own supplies and curricula for our kids' education, but we try to use resources like the library whenever we can. They know us there. We all have library cards. We request items online. We write dates on the calendar. We get email reminders. We have a special basket in our house for library items (so they don't get mixed up with our items). It takes a little more effort, but it is totally worth it and saves us a bundle! This is also how we watch a lot of movies and TV shows - the library has an extensive library of DVDs that we can borrow. Such a great resource!

7. Simple pleasures. Our family thrives on these, somewhat by necessity but also by choice. We talk about this a lot. We do a lot of running around sometimes due to the nature of homeschooling and teenagers, but it's balanced by lots of down time at home. Some of our very favorite things are meals together (this has always been a big priority for us), watching TV shows together, adventures together, playing games together, listening to podcasts and audiobooks together, getting ice cream, working on projects together, celebrating birthdays together . . . you name it. We can make an event out of anything and we love to simply ENJOY ourselves. We have nights where we spontaneously get appetizers and have a bunch of midnight snacks while binge watching Netflix or some political humor shows like The Daily Show. We have lazy days where it's hours before we're out of our pajamas and we're talking, eating, and playing games for a while. We have Sunday morning cuddles in our bed, playing with Scout and relaxing before we get up and ready and do our weekly planning along with a fun breakfast. This past week, we celebrated the first day of Spring with an annual tradition of getting free Rita's Italian Ice (it's not Dell's) and I learned that Dairy Queen does free ice cream, too. Score!


We enjoy one another's company and value our relationships. We invest in them and put effort into them, because it's important to us. We talk a lot about both friendships and family relationships - they are a two-way street, both giving and receiving. I've been making a conscious effort these past couple of years especially to not keep chasing down affection or attention from others. If they're not interested, I'm not interested. It's not complicated. Relationships take effort on everyone's part - it's important to be present, to be interested in one another, to support one another. It's obvious when someone is interested and when they are not - just look over years of evidence and you know.

Many of our friends here are busy with their extended families and visits from grandparents for birthdays, recitals, and what not. That's not really a thing for us super often. Our friends go on big and small outings and annual vacations organized and funded by their kids' grandparents. That's also not regularly a thing for us (though we did do a big Florida trip in 2009, thanks to Jim, and a big family reunion in CA a year and a half ago, thanks to Gary and Vivian, and both were lovely). Our vacations and trips tend to be smaller most of the time (though we hope to do some bigger trips one day) - we do a lot of day trips to neighboring states and local exploring adventures. We do little getaways and road trips. We've done some pretty cool things, to be honest. It's nice living close to DC, NYC, and New England. Plus, we live in a gorgeous state and in a lovely small town. Every thing we do can be special with a little effort and thoughtfulness and creativity. Just this past week, we did a college visit in MD and took some time to explore Annapolis, MD, and we had such a good time. We did a fun progressive dinner, got Kate a pencil from the college she visited, and Max got some comics at a comic book store. Little things, but fun and special things.

Taking NOH8 pictures in DC
8. Annual off-season beach trip. This is probably one of our favorite times of year. We go to the beach in Delaware on the off-season and take Scout daily to hang out on the beach with us. We rent a beach house, eat food, take books, collect sea shells, play frisbee, listen to music, eat good seafood, play games. It's lovely. And we go to the same place every fall. Because we go off-season, we're able to go on the cheap. We love that we have a regular place to visit that is familiar and a fun tradition for us. It lends a nice rhythm to our lives. We've recently started adding a shorter spring trip as well where we explore some new beach-y place somewhere else. The past two years, we explored Cape May, NJ, and Lavalette, NJ. Both were so much fun!! These trips are an inexpensive way to have some nice mini-vacations and some great family time.



9. We live close to a lot of what we do. We've always been anti-long commutes and business trips. While we do drive a ways now and then for these trips and various homeschool opportunities, we generally don't do a lot of day to day driving if we can help it. We like living in a small town where we're close to most everything we do - work, groceries, kids' lessons, etc. We homeschool and run our own business. That may come with some challenges, like anything does, but it does afford us a lot of flexibility and freedom, too. And we take advantage of that as often as we can!

10. We are open about our finances with our kids. We talk openly about money and costs and budgeting and saving and investing and all of that stuff. We try to strike a balance teaching them to be wise and also to enjoy. I have a tendency to stress about finances quite a bit (honestly, not a day goes by that I don't think about finances - every single time we spend money on anything, I'm doing math in my head about what that means for us), but I don't want to pass on an unhealthy emotional approach with regard to money, so I tend to work on that and work on having a balance. Mark is good at helping me with that. It's hard not to stress about finances sometimes just because life is expensive! But life is also about enjoyment. Balance.

We're coming up on paying for college for these two kids (technically, we're already paying for college!) and we're open about explaining what we can and can't do. We want to give them everything, but the reality is that we can't do that very easily. We want them to go wherever they want and I hate that sometimes that's limited by cost, but such is life. I feel for them. This is a pretty lousy time historically to be dealing with college costs. They're higher than ever. So we talk a lot about options. Unfortunately even the state schools in PA are super expensive and other parents have told us you're better off going to a more expensive, private university that awards more financial aid than going to a state school that offers none. We're just starting to scratch the surface on all of this. We've always saved at least a little bit so there's some money put away for college, but not enough to pay for it all. Both kids have always worked in the family business and both have gotten regular jobs at the age of 14. We work. We save. And we learn to balance that with some spending, too. It's a process and a balancing act.

Guess who just got hired for his first real job!!
 So, there are 10 ways we save money given our living situation. I'm sure there are more, but those are the first 10 that came to mind. We love our life. We say that a lot because it's true. We love our family and home life and feel lucky to have the situation we do. We are fortunate that I get to stay home and we also work hard to make that a reality. You know, people talk a lot about moms being home with little kids, but I've heard it suggested (and agree) that while that is important for early bonding especially (and it is), teenagers also need their parents and I love that I'm home with them and that they can talk with me whenever they want. They can sit and cuddle with me and share their thoughts and excitements and struggles with me. I love that we value our relationships with one another so  much that when we say "Family First," it really is the guiding principle in our life decisions as much as possible. I don't think having a stay-at-home mom is a deficit. I think it's a surplus. There's so  much good that comes of it, even if it means looking for ways to save to make it happen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happy International Women's Day!

It's March 8th. International Women's Day. I thought I'd come up with a list of qualities I admire in women and maybe even the people I know who embody them.

1. Builds others up - I've come to appreciate women who take the time and energy to build each other up instead of tearing each other down or being critical. I think I took for granted the idea that all women are catty or petty, or that gossip was just the norm, but it's not. I've had friends for over 10 years who personify this kind of empowering thinking and I notice that I feel different around them than I do around those who are always tearing others down. Being around women who don't participate in gossip and who can call a spade a spade without tearing others down unnecessarily makes me want to be a better person myself, too. Some of my favorite conversations with others are those that are about anything BUT gossip. It feeds the soul and the mind and I like that.

2. Is a good listener - Women who pay attention to what's going on in the lives of others and take time to check in . . . that's pretty great. When those in my life take the time to be present, know our lives, and help where they can, even with a text saying, "Hey, I remembered that today is the first day of classes - how is that going for Kate?" or "I know Max entered that X-wing competition. How did it go?" or simply, "How are you holding up?" It's greatly appreciated. Women who say, "I know you're tired and spent. How about I take you out for coffee and some good conversation?" That. That is immensely appreciated. Be here. Be present. Listen.

3. Lightens the load - I've said this before and I'll say it again, these child-raising years are, hands down, the *busiest* years I've ever experienced in my life. It is far more mentally and emotionally and physically involved than childhood, adolescence, college, grad school, working, etc. That is not to say that all those other things aren't involved or don't present their own challenges, but being a parent is not a job for the weary. I've read countless articles about gentle parenting and conscientious parenting. Bringing a child into the world means so much more than feeding and clothing and educating them. That is the *bare minimum* expectation (you know, keep them alive and healthy - duh). While the pendulum could easily swing the other way where parents are enmeshed or over-involved, avoiding that extreme does not excuse one from thoughtfully considering their children's individual needs, sensitivities, and what makes them who they are. It's talking to them, listening to them, building them up. It's coordinating the activities and experiences that feed their souls and minds. It's making sure they are considered in decision making, that they are spoken with respectfully, that they know they matter and are a priority. This takes time and energy. A lot of it. Whenever anyone has done *something* to lighten the load a bit, I'm ready to cry. I think it's times like that I realize how spread thin I often am. I've had times where a friend has helped us get ready for birthday parties or friends who have offered a ride or even a day for my kids to go play at their house so I can have a breather. I've had friends show up to the kids' recitals and plays and ceremonies and games and book signings. I've been lucky enough to have women in my life who have sat at my bedside when I couldn't muster the energy to get out of it due to depression. Women who have made a meal or helped us move. Again, be here. Be present. I don't take that for granted. Most of the women I know have constant hands-on help from their parents with this sort of thing, but for those of us who don't, friends become like family, filling in those roles and helping be "the village." All of us, especially as women, have a delicate balance here - taking care of ourselves and our own sanity while also helping those around us. I've been out of balance on this for many years - taking care of everyone else's needs ahead of my own - but I've been working hard to get a better grasp on this balance and I think I'm making progress.

4. Celebrates others - Oh man, I admire the hell out of women who do this, especially those who do this with their own children. What examples they are to me! Respecting others' own choices and decisions; recognizing that everyone is different and not everyone is on the same life path; seeing that what feeds one's soul isn't necessarily the same thing for everyone - these are ways to celebrate one another. I know so many good women who speak highly of their children and can say they're tired or worn out or losing themselves at times even, but never, ever, ever with an unkind or untoward word about their children. And definitely never blaming their children. They recognize who their children are - the ones who need to wiggle; the ones who need to talk more; the ones who need more hugs; the ones who need more space; the ones who are more sensitive. None of this is stated negatively or mockingly or in a criticizing manner. These things are seen, embraced, and fed. They are celebrated, building up the child instead of tearing them down. Man oh man, I hope I do this with my kids. I give this a lot of thought and I know, even if I'm not always perfect, I certainly try.

5. Shows their vulnerability as well as their strength - I admire strong women, but I especially admire a strong woman who isn't afraid to say, "It's hard sometimes." That's not weakness. Showing vulnerability is a risk and is, therefore, an act of bravery, I suppose. You risk being discarded. But when you connect? Oh, it's worth every bit of risk, because those connections can often be so pure and profound. In fact, being "discarded" helps, too - it's like the trash taking out itself when you see that someone judges you like that and wants nothing to do with you. I have cried in front of my family and in front of some close friends. I've shared my emotional health struggles pretty openly with people, because I hate that mental health stigma exists and I want to help combat it and connect with those who also struggle to let them know they're not alone.

So there are 5 qualities off the top of my head. I'm grateful for the good women in my life who exemplify these traits and help me be a better person. What qualities would you add?