Attitude of Gratitude: Spring

Although it cannot compare to my favorite season, spring in Maryland has a special appeal. We are past the worst of the brown muddy season of March and now plants are sprouting, flowers are blooming, and trees are starting to fill out with green again. Mornings are hazy and misty and cool, but by afternoon we can feel the warmth summer will bring. Bodies ache for hours outdoors and the sunlight starts to bleed into the evenings. Spring turns me a bit philosophical. How can it not?

Few parts of the world have as long and beautiful a spring season as the mid-Atlantic U.S. (Korea did, and they sold themselves as a land of four seasons!) However, spring is also a transitional season. Transitions can be as difficult as they can be beautiful. Spring reminds me to appreciate the journey and the change as much as I do the destination. Renewal and growth are always possible. Just as winter will come every year, so will spring.

Spring forces me to reconcile with the idea of time as a cycle and not linear. We move forward in time and things change, sometimes permanently. I will not get younger. My children will never be seven and three again. The people I have lost will not return. And yet, life continues. Flowers will bloom again. Other children will be seven and three. The earth will break and heal and break again. Eons later, humans will be an extinct species for the next intelligent life to discover. For now, I will enjoy the things that I can.

I do not understand the passing of time because I am a being that exists forever in the now, but I believe I understand it because I have a consciousness that remembers the past and has hopes for the future. I am pausing now to appreciate the unknowing and yet the certainty of returning to spring again next year.

I will dig in the dirt, breathe in the air, and experience thanks for the Earth in this moment and this season.

Free Fun Family Apr 5 2019

Welcome to the weekly update! (You can read how my updates, started on Sundays and moving to Fridays in the first one).

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The garden keeps growing! I’m very excited for our CSA to begin in May, but for now, the YMCA’s Produce Market is filling a fun gap and adjusting my cooking/grocery shopping around in season, available fruits and veggies.

We’ve been pretty good about packing meals/snacks when we go out for a walk or to visit a place most of the time, but this week I made myself become aware of my slowly-creeping-spending on coffee/treats/snacks while out and about. I need to run every purchase I make through the values-alignment standard. Honestly? Dunkin Donuts, while delicious, doesn’t make the cut.

Fun

Outdoor walks are a wonderful way to spend time together as a family. They are also wonderfully frugal fun! Finally the great weather has returned to our part of the world consistently enough to make my children suggest we spend time outdoors. Our HOA repaired the tot-lot (playground) closest to our house (just in time for pool season in a month–yay!). We’ve enjoyed the blossoming flowers and emergent wildlife in our neighborhood. Spring is grand!

Our snake friend agrees with the positive assessment of the weather!

Family

J had two accomplishments this week: he competed at the state level for Destination Imagination and passed his taekwondo test for green belt. Furthermore, some part of his reader-brain switched on, and I cannot seem to sate his voracious consumption of books. He especially loves Dav Pilkey’s works at the moment (Captain Underpants and Dog Man). Thank goodness for public libraries where we can check out endless books. I cannot fathom the cost of raising the reader I’d like to raise if I had to buy all of the books he needed.

Other

I’ve been researching intermittent fasting as a means of controlling my blood sugars and simplifying my dietary habits for a few months, but have been on the fence about trying it. Last week, I had to fast for bloodwork labs and realized I wasn’t starving like a crazy person if I skipped breakfast. I have continued mostly eating with the 16:8 model of IF since that time (a few days I haven’t, a few days it’s been more like 14:10, but pretty good). I noticed that I feel more appreciative and mindful of the food I do eat, that the hours before breaking my fast are quite mentally acute, and that it has helped me control the quality and amount of my food more than other “diets” I have tried. I like these results, so I will continue to examine its effect on my blood sugar control and weight management.

Debt Elimination Update–March 2019

March was the month of illness and Destination Imagination coaching/parenting (this post is coming, but first I need to recover from States on Saturday!). Both Min and I had our birthdays (we are now 45 and 38–wow!) We spent a lot on gardening and paid for the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share we will enjoy this summer and replaced my cell phone. In short: March was exhausting, fun, and expensive!

However, we continued to make progress. With a three-pay month for my second job, March ended up ok financially. We’ll need to reign in the spending for April, but it should be manageable to do so.

Progress from March:

  • Tracking Savings, Spending, and Giving Rates. Although our “Savings” rate at this point is mostly just debt repayment, it’s important for me to start tracking these rates. Right now, I haven’t completely decided how I want to track these things, but I’m mostly focusing on take-home pay (not including my 403 or 457 contributions or “spending” already taken out of my paycheck at this time).
  • Opened a New Savings Account. After debt repayment, the next big goal is to hit a solid cash reserve for an emergency fund. I’ve realized that I am more confident and fiscally responsible when I have a large cash reserve. Our 3-6 month emergency fund will go into this high-interest savings account. For now, we are putting $100/month towards this goal.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of March:
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% through July 2019): $1,300.00
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% through November 2019): $7,855.99
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through April 2020): $7,404.59
    • Roof Loan (SoFi Personal Loan @ 11%): $4,505.25
      TOTAL: $21,065.83
      Amount paid off this month: $1,018.06
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $15,022.95

We continue to cruise along with our debt repayment. Running the numbers for April looks like we’ll be putting in under $1,000, but we should be back to that level of paydown by May.

Goals for April:

  1. Return to frugality with our spending. (Really, this time)
  2. Memorize my choreography for part two of my BANG training and improve my fitness level through training regularly.
  3. Intermittent Fasting (Yes, I’m going there).

Free Fun Family Mar 29 2019

Welcome to the weekly update! (You can read how my updates, started on Sundays and moving to Fridays as of today, work in the first one).

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With the beautiful weather, we’ve been spending a lot of time preparing our vegetable garden. Min wanted to build some raised beds using concrete blocks, as you can see in the picture above. The whole family enjoyed some time digging in the dirt, replanting seedlings and preparing for the end of the frost. While gardening (especially expanding gardening) is not a free activity, it is fairly low cost. Hopefully, we’ll end up with some yummy vegetables we grew ourselves!

Fun

I’ll take this present, thanks!

We celebrated my 38th birthday on Saturday with a trip to my favorite coffee shop downtown. H declared that my “present” was my family. Sounds good to me!

Last night, we went to see the Golden Dragon Acrobats and ran into J’s best friend’s family also catching the show. The tickets were a present from my mother. The performances were mesmerizing, athletic, and artistic. It was a late night for the kids, but worth their wonder and awe.

Family

I continue to be impressed by the programming and variety of spiritual development offered by UUCF. In just two months, my children feel welcomed, affirmed, and empowered by the activities designed for them on Sundays. It’s become something they (and I) look forward to at the end of our week. By participating, I feel a greater sense of peace and connection to my spiritual practice. It’s been one of the best choices I’ve made so far in my commitment to exploring my values for 2019. For a person who has never (ever–not even as a child) participated in a faith community, this is a surprise and joy.

Other

The Destination Imagination state tournament is tomorrow. I am so proud of what my team and J’s team have accomplished. However, I will also be grateful to return to a simpler schedule. I need the time to reclaim my exercise routine and reconnect with my family.

Commandment #3: Respect resources

Last summer, I developed my personal “commandments,” as part of an exercise in exploring my own values and guiding principles in life. I set an intention for 2019 to be a year of aligning my spending with my values, so I think it is past time for a deeper exploration of each commandment and how it plays out in my life. Today, I’ll explore what I mean by “Respect Resources.”

Respecting resources is a foundation of my frugality as an adult. It’s brought me around to a greater interest in sustainability and environmental stewardship, but really it’s a part of my philosophy that is greater than just saving money or the planet.

I’ve always lived a bit too out of touch with the material reality of things. Part of it was my overly-intellectual, nutty-professor self (indulged by a family of similarly brainy individuals), and part of it was the privilege of being raised in an upper-middle-class, suburban area where anything that wore out or was used up could be bought from a store for an amount we could afford (ah… capitalism and economic privilege in the 80s).

It’s taken me a long time to recognize the importance of understanding where things in my life come from and the resources that went into the making of those things. Respecting resources, while certainly related to environmental concerns and issues, encompasses more than just saving gas and buying less plastic junk. It’s my reminder to myself to understand the economic principles that govern objects in my life. To maintain and repair the items that bring me value and to avoid those purchases that support abusive practices (after all, slavery in the US would have died out in the early 1800s–or at least not been so horrific–if the demand for cotton in the west had not been so insatiable). Resources can include time, labor, and expertise, too, but I need to remind myself about the material resources more specifically.

When I was younger, I consciously chose not to embrace environmentalism. Not because it is unimportant or because I was insensitive to the ways in which the abuse of our planet has threatened our abundance as a species and others. It came down to the fact that I felt the sins we committed against each other–those violations of humanity such as war, genocide, poverty, child abuse, human trafficking, etc.–were more essential to address. I felt these atrocities were more pressing, imminent, and tragic than the trees in the Amazon or the ozone hole over Australia. Who cared that a species was endangered when actual, human children were left to starve to death?

So I gave myself permission to not care that much about reducing waste, carbon emissions, globalization, or conservation. I cared about more essential, human things (I told myself, smugly). I spent hours debating the causes of the Holocaust, and how great it was that the apartheid in South Africa was ending. I volunteered with homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I began my long relationship with working at the hotline.

Just like my excuses about not contributing financially to charity because I taught in public schools and did a lot of volunteer work, I have come to realize that it’s not so simple as an either-or choice between conservation and humanitarian issues. As I get older, I recognize that the fight for oil (a natural resource) has caused many of our major recent wars. That the suburban development which plunders our lands also displaces affordable housing. That starvation is often caused by the whims of commerce. That poverty leaves humans more vulnerable to the crazy weather patterns caused by climate change.

Part of this wisdom is the same wisdom that has helped me work to maintain my own material possessions and reduce my frivolous purchases. It makes my pursuit of minimalism both necessary and challenging. Respecting resources in a globalized economy is quite complex and challenging, but I try to do my best to keep working at it.

Here are some ways I am intentional about respecting resources in my life:

  1. I have been a vegetarian/pescatarian for almost 20 years.
  2. I buy technology and transportation for longevity and don’t “upgrade.”
  3. I don’t buy many new clothes (thrift shops have always been my jam), and I try to maintain my clothes to last. I wear most things 2-3 times before washing; I line dry a lot of clothes.
  4. I repurpose containers that the food and other consumable goods I purchased came in.
  5. I reduce food waste through meal planning, kitchen scrap gardening, composting, and veggie stock prep.

However, I have a long way to go. I am making steps in this direction by continuing to become more aware and respect the resources in my life.

Happy One Year Blogiversary!

One year ago today (two days after my birthday), I launched Free, Fun, Family. I’ve enjoyed my journey back into regular writing. Thank you for reading!

Some of my favorite highlights of blogging this year:

I started thinking my blog would be a resource for frugality, local experiences, and family fun. My vision was like a cross between Frugalwoods and a hybrid parenting/travel blog with a focus on the personal finance aspects of those things. However, a year in, that doesn’t really seem to fit what I write. This blog has been an awesome way for me to stay accountable for my debt elimination goal and a venue for me to share my thoughts with the world, but I don’t know that my blog has found its purpose as a resource.

Recently, I’ve been shifting into writing about exploring my values–both personal finance and otherwise. I’m enjoying this writing. One of my reasons I released any expectations and goals I had for my blog earlier this year was that the purpose of blogging has never been to build a business or become famous. I will continue to use this space to reflect, stay accountable, share my thoughts, and document my family’s journey (though I’m moving Free, Fun, Family updates to Friday instead of Sunday because I have more time for it then as I move into Spring).

I hope you enjoy reading.

The Personal Finance of Illness

I caught a cold the first week of March that has been a persistent little bugger. I’ve been low on energy, coughing, and feeling generally “blah” for most of this month while still forcing myself to meet the basic needs of my job(s), kids, and self. Also, as happens with young families, every member of my family has gotten some bit of the Ick during this period, requiring additional support from my already depleted resources. As a direct result of my “survival mode” month, my spending is a bit up from where I’d like it to be. I’ve been more tempted to spend on exotic family vacations we can’t afford with this much debt and fast food/unnecessary shopping and have fewer mental faculties to resist those temptations.

When I’m sick, I don’t have as much energy to dedicate to cooking, cleaning, exercising, and blogging–all of which are strategies that have directly helped me save money.

Finally emerging from the worst fog of this round of colds and early seasonal allergies and coughing has got me thinking about how physical health and mental health relate to financial health in direct and complicated ways. I began to take control of my finances at the height of my good health in the last ten years–that is not coincidental.

In the personal finance blogging world, we offer advice to remain healthy because it increases your wealth and saves you money. This is true (and I agree with everything in those articles–I’ve lived them). But the dark side of this kind of advice is a tendency to blame health problems (and the related financial problems) on the individual’s lack of fortitude and virtue. This is problematic. (And probably related to the reason the U.S. still cannot see health care as a basic human need rather than a fiscal commodity or consumer good).

I’ve mentioned before that I have two chronic illnesses–ulcerative colitis (currently in remission, thanks to several very expensive maintenance medications) and type II diabetes (controlled entirely by lifestyle at this time, but will likely require medication as I age). When these diseases flare, I am drained of the mental and physical resources to care for my financial health. I can see the spikes in my debt from when my illnesses were least under control (and the one caused by grief after the death of my father).

Uncertainty over my future health is the major limiting factor to our ability to achieve early retirement.

However, to many, this will sound like an “excuse.” It isn’t. It’s a fact.

I may not have had a major medical debt technically, but the choices in my life that contributed to the worst of our consumer debt were often dictated by periods of poor physical and mental health. As the sole income earner, I’ve felt a lot of anxiety around my health because our family’s financial well being is so dictated by my ability to provide. I have a strange relationship with this where I feel shame about it, but also I think it’s stupid to feel shame around being unable to care for myself well.

Health and wealth are correlated, but the extent to which we can influence either is quite a bit less than we believe it to be. I work hard to maintain my health, but sometimes I have very limited control over what my body does. I try to be a good manager of my financial resources, but sometimes my roof leaks.

I’m going to work more on acceptance of myself and honoring my own effort rather than beating myself up over things outside my control.

Free Fun Family Mar 17 2019

Welcome to the Sunday update! (You can read how my Sunday updates work in the first one).  We had great weather in Maryland this week, so we are moving ahead with our gardening project. Min turned 45 on Saturday (he’ll be 8 years older than me for a week–woohoo!), and J’s Destination Imagination team won third place in the regional competition, meaning he will be advancing to states. All of this is exciting, but a bit overwhelming. In honor of the crazy that is my life presently, I took a week off from blogging. However, I’ll share our week’s highlights with you now.

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A huge part of our gardening project this year is experimenting with growing vegetables from table scraps and seeds from food. We are also making raised beds with cement blocks (not free, but quite cheap). The seeds and scraps we’ve planted in the last few weeks are starting to sprout. In a few weeks when they are bigger and the last frost is done, we’ll transplant them to the ground and pots outdoors. We may not get much food this year, but we are learning a lot while keeping the costs fairly minimal. Between the garden and the CSA, we are hoping to reduce our summer food costs while increasing the quality of our diets.

Fun

J and teammates launch their rocket on the catapult they built for their challenge solution

We spent all day as a family at the regional competition for J’s Destination Imagination teams. There were lots of things set up for kids to do that were fun and educational (plus of course seeing performances that were full of creativity and STEAM-y goodness). H had a wonderful time watching the shows and creating her own art.

After the competition, we went to H-mart for Korean food and birthday cake for Min. We sang and had a great family celebration!

Family

Health is the most important foundation of happiness. We’ve been passing the colds around in our household. At any given moment, at least two of us are dripping or hacking up a lung or have a headache. It’s made tempers flare and lowered our ability to keep up with our usual household routines. This week, I’m trying to focus on my health and wellbeing. Good food, good rest, good activity, and good sleep. These things usually help us all feel better.

Free Fun Family Mar 10 2019

Welcome to the Sunday update! (You can read how my Sunday updates work in the first one).  My busy few weeks caught up with my body this week, and I caught a nasty cold that I am just now recovering from–oh no! However, life always moves forward and some cool stuff happened this week, so I will share that with you.

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Preparing containers for gardening.

I feel like I am just bleeding money this month! We paid for a one week summer camp (programming and robotics) for J, gardening supplies, a car registration, our CSA balance, and a replacement for my five year old smartphone. All of these are things we need to do, but after a high spending month last month, it feels like a struggle.

However, I have a lot more perspective about the long term than I did at this time last year when spending rounds made me feel hopeless. One win: for the phone, I took advantage of several discounts to get the model I wanted at about 30% off plus some cash back, so that was a win. It feels luxurious to have a phone that doesn’t die when I get a text message… or try to take a picture… or the battery hits 90% or …

Fun

Well… we had a blast at the dentist. I’ll just leave you with this special picture:

Family

H is struggling with growing up right now. She is less than two months from turning four and clinging desperately to her baby days. She regularly pretends to be a baby and laments clothing she’s grown out of. She is fiercely independent and full of verve, but also a major cuddle-bug and charmer. She would spend hours watching videos of herself as a baby if she could. Yet, this week, she asked when she could have a baby sister to teach like J teaches her. What a kid!

Other

The regional competition for Destination Imagination is this week. (I’m exhausted). Say a small hurrah for the teams I am working with (J’s team and the middle school team from his school I’m coaching). We need all the spirit and love we can get!

Hanging Out with Principal FI!

One of my favorite new personal finance bloggers is the fabulous Principal FI. He has created a wonderful platform to promote and encourage financial success for educators. The blog is turning into a comprehensive resource for all things personal finance in the educator world. And the way he writes about the head and the heart of education and educational leadership is quite inspiring.

Today, he let me hang out with him as an interviewee for his Educators on FI/RE series. It was enjoyable and fun. Hop on over and give it a read if you want to know more of my thoughts about finances, education, and achieving goals. Stay for more of his posts.

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