The Finals…

In lieu of the Olympics I have  made the following analogy, this little project has become a bit of an ice skating pairs event for Brent and I. Sometimes we are skating smoothly together hand-in-hand and other moments we are spinning in circles destined for dizziness. Somehow regardless of the landing we hold no grudge, offer instant forgiveness- for the detriment of our score based on that one misstep-and move on. Now as we are among the final seconds of our last program, so close to a strong (admittedly not perfect) finish, a loss of balance. Not a complete fall but a stumble…a reminder to that it takes a full 110% the WHOLE presentation for Gold.

 I’m writing this post as a lesson. It’s embarrassing but if I am continuing to be forthcoming and upfront about my experience it is one to be shared.
Lately I’ve been feeling pretty positive about this little project. Thinking to myself, you know we have come a long way. Yes, we still have a long way to go but we have made big leaps. Then the reminder of what complacence does kicks in. Reality. Our achievements, fall backs and lessons are a continued life long stride. Case and point, when we moved into our home we had to finance the floor. We were able to use our savings that month in moving expenses, supplies, etc. but we had to replace the floor, and make a plan to pay it off of course, and relatively timely. With every bit of intention and strategy we embarked on our first big project. Somewhere in a miscommunication between which financing plan we wanted to go with and what we were being sold, lines got blurred. We thought we were paying a low interest rate and what we got was a deferred interest rate. All this time we thought we were paying 5% and just had auto-payments drafted. It’s just a payment we really “had no need to look closely at it.” Mistake number one! Little did we know that we weren’t paying any interest for a specific period of time and that in turn we would then be charged all deferred interest at once. You can imagine my surprise when I saw over $400 in interest fees pending. I called the company and they were able to fix the error, all is well in the world, but it was certainly a heart stopping-throat-in-the-gut catch. That apparently can happen pretty easily…hmmmm (insert my self loathing to have not been more of an innate micromanager). Well, lesson learned!
I don’t hide that I’ve had my share of loan, credit and financing experiences. Brent and I completely own our past financial choices, bad and good. Arguably, I’ve worked the system in a way that has brought up my credit score and paid off lines of credit. I don’t keep open lines of credit “for fun” I try to be diligent and strategic and learned from the beginning to read the fine print, but we all need little reminders and instances such as these to keep us on our toes. It also serves as a reminder to us that as we approach the end of our little project we are not nearly close to being done. This project will continue for us, as will this blog, but on March 1 I will post all of the numbers in black and white to truly assess what it has meant to us and some helpful tips we will certainly carry forward.
ox
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The Obvious

So, of course I have to write about one of, if not (arguably) THE most inflated holiday where budget is concerned. The expectation is so high for Valentine’s Day that it is almost unrealistic. Even if money isn’t an object to you why on earth would you want to spend so much it trying to meet such an unattainable expectation?? And whhhhyyyy do we focus so much of our time preaching about not buying love all year and then on February 14 even the most level headed and practical individual tends to melt into a chocolate coated illusion. Needless to say I don’t buy into it, pun intended. Do I celebrate it? Yes, but I tend to decorate and celebrate for all holidays just for the fun of it. I’m not irish in fact I’m the opposite but I get into it. I like change and I like decorating and being festive so in this sense I, myself, melt a bit.

Maybe my perspective comes from our relationship history or maybe I’m just that person. I did come to the recent realization that I am not, whatsoever, a hopeless romantic. I find proposals a bit corny. I’m not a big fan of grand gestures and it simply means more to me that Brent knows how to make my coffee than buy me jewelry. It’s always been this way, though. When Brent and I started dating we were young and in college with very little money. Our schedules were crazy and we didn’t have the time or the money to go out and celebrate with a schmancy dinner. So we decided to cook together. Something we still enjoy doing today. We went to the grocery store bought cajun catfish from the seafood department (not freshly cut either, the pre-packaged, super cheap ones) and a bag of Rice-A-Roni rice pilaf. We got some fresh strawberries and container of chocolate you melt in the microwave. We spent the evening cooking together and playing Trivia Pursuit. We exchanged cards and that was it. Now you can imagine over the past 9 years our V-day celebrations have varied a bit, I think we have ventured out one, maybe two years overall, but in recent years we have decided to go back to basics.

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I tied this Balloon to Madz bed so when she woke up she would be surprised. Best.thing.ever!

 

We make gifts and cards; and enjoy sharing love as a family rather just with one another. We want our girls to see the love we share and also be a part of it. Understanding that it’s not just about Brent and I-although our relationship and love continues to be the foundation of-course- but it’s about showing them what real healthy love is and feels like. Yes, per usual I was up late last night decorating the house for the festive feeling, but it cost me all of $5. A package of paper doilies, some sparkly confetti, and three balloons all from the dollar tree. Then I used art projects the girls made at school and some materials I had around the house to make it fun. For breakfast we made pink waffles and for dinner, you guessed it, cajun catfish and rice pilaf is on the menu (homemade this time because I have enhanced my rice cooking skills over the years). We maintain keeping money costs for gifts low. I picked up some things from the store I knew Brent needed, hair gel, coffee, etc. and grabbed his favorite chocolates. I recycled a basket I had around the house put all the items in it found an old picture of us and in an envelope wrote out the length of time we have been together in days, weeks, seconds, etc. and wrote “a time to remember.” In the envelope I placed old love letters, our vows, and some fun memories. All priceless.

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For the girls made him a card with handprints and kisses all over it. It was perfect. For each of the kiddos I spent $2.50 on these tin mailboxes that came with stickers and activity sets in them plus a $1 box of chocolates for each of them. I had picked up some tees at at a kids store for $1.99 each and I saved them for today. Done! Honestly, they had more fun with the balloons than anything else, lol. 

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In short, we work really hard to nurture our love and relationship all year-round. Admittedly, we are completely guilty of falling victim to saying Happy Valentine’s Day, but we do this on birthdays and anniversaries as well. It’s just an extra special gesture to act as a reminder for everyone that love is important and we need to take a moment to be gentle, to be kind and to share love. Money does not equate love. Fancy dresses and dinners are fun but aren’t they more fun when they aren’t expected? Isn’t it more enjoyable to go when it’s spontaneous and unexpected? For me, on Valentine’s day I’d rather eat chocolate and drink wine in sweats, playing cards and sharing a couch with just one person rather than a dining room with 50. With this I’d say, make your own moment. Don’t let the expectation of society dictate your actions and therefore expend your wallet, come on, isn’t it obvious? It’s about love not money.

Happy Valentine’s Day ox

The cost of giving is priceless: 29 for 29

So I’ve contemplated whether or not to share a recent adventure I went on. It was one of the most fun and memorable things I’ve ever done but I was hesitant to write about it because I didn’t want to cast a boasting shadow over this little project. With that being said yesterday on my preferred radio station I heard the story of a teacher who took his extra earnings and paid over $400 wiping clean all delinquent lunch accounts for his students. I was so inspired. Hearing his story warmed my heart and it was in that moment that I decided I would write this blog to encourage others to pay it forward.

This year for my birthday I decided that I wanted to do something, but not just anything. I wasn’t sure what it was but I wanted to do something different, something memorable. I only turned 29 so there wasn’t much to celebrate lol. Long story short, I decided to be the giver this year. I went against my own grain and celebrated my birthday all week long completing little tasks in a pay it forward type project, 29 for 29 and let me just say it was the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! Once I made my list of 29 tasks I was just plain giddy. So excited to start this birthday week. At first I thought maybe I could do it all in a day but that simply wasn’t possible so I set out to complete a few each day all week long. Some were for strangers, some for family and friends; some simple, others a bit more time consuming but all of them offering a little piece of joy all their own. At times I felt like Santa, sneaking around with every effort to leave my mark without being seen. I wasn’t able to get pictures of all 29 because of this exact reason but I kept a list for tracking purposes.

  1. Smile at 10 people
  2. Write a letter to a family member
  3. Make an unexpected phone call
  4. Praise a parent with a child in the store
  5. Leave a teddy bear for a child at the fire station
  6. Donate books to a church
  7. Do something unexpected- I brought breakfast to some of my favorite kiddos
  8. Take care of the bill of the car behind me
  9. Breakfast in bed for my family
  10. Say yes to the girls all day long (okay, this was a little hard but it helped to remind me to let go of the little things)
  11. Praise to my team
  12. Do something special for Madilyn
  13. Surprise someone with lunch
  14. Give special thanks
  15. Pennies near the fountain
  16. Leave a “You’re beautiful” note on the mirror in a public restroom
  17. Tape coupons to items in the grocery store (SO FUN!)
  18. Leave change in the kiddie machine
  19. Post-it note of inspiration
  20. Do something for a friend
  21. Do something for someone who would least expect it
  22. Donate clothes
  23. Do something special for your husband
  24. Tape a $1 bill to a vending machine
  25. Coffee for a homeless person
  26. Leave a book for someone in a public place
  27. Make someone’s day
  28. Anonymous note of appreciation left behind for the cleaning lady
  29. Remind someone close to you just how much they mean to you

29 for 29 Highlights

As I said, I loved doing this whole list but  there are a few moments that will forever standout and brings me back to the feeling of completing each task at a time. The first being the mission of smiling at 10 people in a day, this is harder than it seems. Eye contact doesn’t bother me but you don’t realize how much you don’t really look at people unless you make an effort. We are too consumed in everything else we are doing, our phones, our children, fishing through our bags, worrying about this and that. I was walking through the mall doing my best to genuinely smile and brighten every one of those ten individuals’ days but as I passed by a family I smiled at the parents and happened to meet the eyes of the young child in tow. With the smile still on my face she instantly responded with the biggest smile as if my recognition of her made her feel grown up. She was a beautiful little girl with a smile that lit up the room. The whole project made sense and provided clarity (if ever there was doubt) in that girl’s smile.

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The second would be the little project of doing something special for Madz. She loves art and she is always giving us pictures so I decided to return the favor and I did a little role reversal. I made her a picture of our family and wrote To: Maddie Love: Mommy. When I gave it to her she took an extra moment to pause looked at me and said “It’s beautiful! Thank-you, I love you, Mommy” and gave me the biggest hug. It was AWESOME!

Last but certainly not least was the pay it forward act of grabbing coffee for the person behind me. Our local Old McDonald’s has $1 coffee so I grabbed myself one and got the $4 of the person in the car behind me. I tried to hurry away from the drive thru but as I glanced in my rear view mirror I saw her get her card back, which leads me to believe that she got the car behind her. I don’t know if it went any further back than that, but in that moment I started a PIF chain, so cool that I’m still smiling about it. Here are a few more fun pics of this little project.

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In the end, I echo my statements from a few weeks ago, it’s your birthday relish in it and celebrate. It is your personal holiday but I cannot tell you how crazy-good it feels to be the giver on your birthday. In regards to budget, I will say I wished at times that I had more money to be able to do more. It would’ve been nice to buy someone’s full tank of gas or handout grocery cards, and maybe in a few years I’ll be there but getting creative and including the priceless items for those near and dear to me was a great feeling too. I can’t tell you how much this brightened my whole week. It was hard to have a bad day, and with the anticipation of emotion this was a welcomed change of pace. I cannot encourage everyone enough to do something like this of your own. Even if it’s just once. It’s worth it. Celebrate life, whether it’s yours or someone else’s I encourage you to challenge yourself. Spread the only thing that matters, love ❤

ox

I want to really live…

I can’t believe the year mark is quickly approaching on this project! Last night we sat down and completed our tax return and took a moment to reflect. We still have a couple more payments to make before we hit our final calculations on saving but I can tell you that without even doing the math on earning and saving our biggest bank account is education and experience. We have learned so much!

From coupons to budget freezing; scaling down and maximizing use; trial and error at-home remedies and dozens of family date-nights-in rather than expensive-evenings-out… our family has learned to turn the stress of spending a dollar into the value of time together at little to no cost. I can honestly say that this project has brought Brent and I closer, helped us demonstrate (even more) the value of family over money to our children and ultimately helped us to make smarter choices with our money. While we may not yet have the final cost-cuts and savings totals; and sure there were some hard choices made along the way, we are better educated about how we spend our money and what we value.

When we began we were living literally, less than paycheck to paycheck. We weren’t guilty of making horrible choices but we needed to learn to make better ones. What we were guilty of was not paying enough attention to our cash flow. We needed to know where our money was going. I recently read this great article about the value of our income and how we wouldn’t not ask questions about the traffic flow of individuals coming in and out of our home so why would we ever fall into the trap of not asking questions about the cash flow of funds in and out of our bank account? With that being said, being consumed and absorbed by every little cost, for me, was unhealthy. I was obsessing and our communication on finances needed some internal mediation. We needed to find a balance between healthy saving and healthy spending. It remains a work in progress. Another year (or more) in the works for sure; but learning from our past mistakes and evaluating the kind of life we are trying to provide for our family and most importantly, demonstrating to our children healthy money management, is key for us. 

While we wait to see where the final pieces will fall, I share my most valuable lesson and a mantra that hasn’t changed much in this project but has more been validated. I don’t ever want to be complacent with our finances. Comfortable? Perhaps. Cushioned? No. I don’t ever want to get to a point where I lose value of our hard work. I don’t want to live to work. Earning top dollar means very little to me. I’ve always said even if I won the lottery I would keep working, because I love to work. I love being a working mother, I love having this balance. For ME, it is the best way I can provide and contribute to raising our children on all accounts. The thought of losing sight and never having to worry about money? To some this is a huge goal, but interestingly enough, it’s not one for me. I fear the moment I forget the value of a dollar because I will inevitably lose sight of the hard work and lessons that went in those 100 pennies earned. At that point a spiral of blindness will spark. I will start to lose sight of myself, my goals and even that piece of my Dad living at my core because this was one of the first fundamental lessons he taught me. I want my children to share the value and perspective of finding balance and if I am being really honest, there is even a part of me that what’s them to find that for themselves. Struggle a little bit. Know and appreciate all that we have done for them and more importantly find what they are capable of doing for themselves. In the end, we can’t take money with us, and even if we do it does us no good; but we do live with the memories, the moments, the roadblocks and the achievements. And in the end I’d rather provide experience over expectation. I guess to me, that’s really living…