So, What Happened to Us?

I suppose it’s rather ominous that my last post was over a year ago and detailed how me and my family were jumping into a brand new life and starting a business with just a few month’s savings. It’s been a busy year and I’m to jump back into blogging, but should probably provide some update on where we’re at first. Bear with me because we’re going to cover a lot of ground very quickly!

Well.

Our estimate of savings needed was correct! Exactly, terrifyingly correct. Just as we were reaching the bottom of our savings, the business hit critical mass thanks to the amazing efforts of my brilliant, hard-working husband. In the past year he’s turned a fledgling solo practice into a sustainable, stable business. And as I always suspected, he’s so much happier working for himself that every sacrifice to get his business rolling was 100% worth it.

Small space, big view

We spent the last year living in a small basement apartment. Despite its flaws the price made our financial goals for the year possible, and it was in an absolutely beautiful location. We were very lucky to enjoy this beautiful view every day for a year, and it made the inconveniences of a tiny apartment much more manageable!

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Bub enjoying our back yard last fall. We were so lucky to live in such a beautiful location!

Did I mention we had a baby?

Meet Jonathan (AKA Kid or Baby J), born in March 2019. He’s been happy, healthy, and HUGE (compared to our first-percentile Bub, at least!). He even started sleeping through the night at two months! (that’s about 18 months faster than our first!) The Bub loves him and has been a wonderful big brother. This, more than anything else, is the reason I’ve been absent from blogging. Moving, starting over in a new town, starting a business, and caring for a toddler was a piece of cake – but add in morning sickness, and it became a bit much.

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Photo credit goes to my amazing doula, Kara Jo Prestrud of Birth Made Beautiful

Where are we now?

We moved to a house in May (renting), and are pretty settled in after a few hiccups (turns out a new baby and a move are a bit hard for a toddler). We’ve been enjoying having a home office for The Husband, a proper kitchen for me, and lots more space for kiddos to roam inside and out!

What’s with the new name?

I’m back and hoping to continue blogging more regularly. I’ll be making a few changes to the blog – still writing a lot about frugality and simple living, but broadening my subject matter to include more on motherhood, books, and other interests. I’ve named it Very Good Mom Blog because I wanted to convey the quality of my work without seeming flashy (also because I love Parks and Rec).

I’m excited to be back!

(I know I covered a lot of BIG things very quickly here! So, if you’re interested in more details on anything or curious about some things I didn’t touch on, please feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!)

A Peaceful December

Saving for our move has made this December a bit different for us. The Husband wrote last weekend about spending less during the holidays and how it’s reduced stress, and I whole-heartedly agree (also in his post, you’ll see an adorable pic of Little Guy with our Christmas tree). Besides the reduced stress, living frugally this holiday season has made Christmas shopping more thoughtful–and thus more enjoyable.

Our gifting budget is smaller than usual, especially for each other (I’m normally ready to spend our entire savings showering The Husband with gifts). Knowing this, we started thinking about gifts really early. We wrote down everyone we would get gifts for and started brainstorming ideas. I followed items on Amazon to await a good deal and checked out used options like Facebook resale groups and Abe Books.

I love giving gifts so I generally just get everything I think someone might enjoy and end up with a heaping heap of disposable novelties. Fun stuff, but with little lasting value. Do you know what it’s like to buy someone a million gifts and still feel it’s not enough? This year, the limited budget and advanced planning forced me to put careful thought into each gift and make sure it was just right. As a result, I feel great about every gift and am so excited to give them. 

I shopped the local baby resale for Little Guy’s gift, an activity cube which is about $60+ new. I lost out to someone quicker several times, but with patience and some haggling I snagged one for $30. It is in like new condition, and Little Guy will never know the difference! I’m bad at hiding so he’s found it several times, but at least I know he likes it! 

With all this forethought, I am actually nearly done with Christmas shopping. I know, I hate me too. Unlike past years, I got there not only early, but also without anxiety and stress. I only went out shopping  twice, and got most everything online. I do not miss my usual last minute shopping frenzy.

The frugalized Christmas shopping experience made the whole process about doing something kind for the people we love, not about consuming. Our focus has been on the people we’re giving to–what they want, what they need, what would put smiles on their faces–not on spending X-amount of dollars, and it has reignited the joy of the season.

(Oh, and another auxiliary benefit of a frugal holiday season? I’m baking ridiculous amounts of homemade cookies! They’re cheaper than holiday-themed Oreos, and baking is a fun Christmas-y activity that doesn’t require going out. Plus firing up the oven warms up the house, which is great since I now keep our thermostat at approximately Siberia° most of the time. WIN-WIN-WIN!)

The Master Plan

I’ve mentioned some “major life goals” that inspired our newfound financial outlook. One of these goals I covered in my first post–my staying home with Little Guy. Now we’re finally in a place to share our Master Plan more broadly, so here you go!

Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have really wanted to be closer to my family and friends in Minnesota. I’ve missed them over the years, obviously, but when I finished working I felt their absence more than ever. We didn’t want Little Guy to grow up without these people and their support, company, and general awesomeness in his everyday life.

At the same time, The Husband has always been ready to practice law on his own. He worked for himself by necessity in the past and did amazing, despite having no experience and being unsure what practice area to focus on. Since starting at his current firm, he has really discovered a great fit in elder law and estate planning. He even writes an awesome Medicaid blog that you should check out!

One day we were talking about our life, and we realized we weren’t quite satisfied with it. Where both of us wanted to be long-term was not where our current life was taking us. We wanted to live our life more deliberately, and really thought about what we wanted out of our future. We devised our Master Plan–move to the Twin Cities area (Wisconsin-side) by July of 2018. There, The Husband will start a solo practice as an estate planning and Medicaid attorney.

What The Husband wants, and what I want for him, is a solo practice of his own. We love the personal and professional freedom this will give him, and the opportunity is ripe right now. Little Guy is a very little guy, so we’re not taking him away from friends or switching schools; our expenses and space needs aren’t much right now, and will only grow as time goes on. The risks are smaller now than they will be at any time in the future, and the payoff for those risks is the life we want.

Because we’ll be plunging into the unknown (and unsalaried), we set a major savings goal: three months’ expenses, moving expenses, and Minnesota bar exam fees in the bank in one year or less. Through constant efforts at frugalizing our lifestyle and getting less stupid about money, we are well on our way to that goal after just three months.

We’re very excited about this (somewhat crazy) dream of ours. And I’m excited to share with all of you the strange and sundry ways we’re making it happen.

Surrendering a Salary, in Perspective

It was easy to make the decision to stay home with Little Guy from an emotional standpoint–it’s what I always wanted, and I knew it would make me happy–but the math had me second guessing. Looking at my salary, it felt like giving up so much–but it wasn’t as big a financial blow as it seemed at first glance. Though we definitely come away with less, the lifestyle changes create savings that soften the blow. Here are just a few of my biggest savings from staying home.

Taxes

I’ll get this obvious one out of the way. Taxes cut significantly into take-home pay. There is a certain sticker shock of giving up your salary, but factoring in taxes keeps things in perspective.

Childcare

Without doubt our biggest savings. One-third of my monthly pay would have gone directly into childcare–and my childcare was particularly cheap! There was a cooperative daycare basically on campus where I worked–monthly service hours required of parents kept costs low. Were this not the case, it might have been up to half.

Commuting

My workplace was about twenty-five minutes from home. That adds up at the pump. We also had to have two cars. Now my husband’s job is walking distance from home, and I work at home. We sold our second car for a little extra cash and thus save monthly on car insurance. Plus, having just one car and driving it mostly around town keeps maintenance costs to a minimum.

Convenience

This is a big one that seems like a small one. We have drastically reduced our convenience spending. I am not a morning person at all, and I am exceedingly forgetful. That means I often didn’t have time in the morning to make lunch, and even when I did think ahead and pack leftovers, I would forget them…a lot. I worked directly above a cafeteria, so I always had convenient, overpriced food to rescue me on these days. Then I would get home hungry and tired, and I didn’t always feel like cooking–so we went out to eat, or picked up Little Caesar’s (so temptingly close to us). These days, my husband watches Little Guy after work while I cook dinner. They get some quality time together, I get some alone time to decompress, and all three of us get delicious, healthy home-cooked meals. (Bonus: We are both home at lunchtime, so we can’t forget lunches anymore!)

Groceries

I could probably write 2000 words on grocery savings alone, but I’ll keep it short for now. When I was working, my husband did all the grocery shopping, but I did all the cooking. I rarely made time to plan meals and write him a list beforehand, meaning a lot of guesswork on his part. Often, we had to change plans because I didn’t have everything I needed, or food would go to waste because I didn’t know we had it or didn’t have a plan for it. Also, as stated in #4, I often came home too tired to cook and we would go out, and the planned-for meal would sometimes go bad before we got to it. Now that I’m doing both the shopping and the cooking, we never get more than we need–I have a plan for everything I buy, and I don’t scrap planned meals to go out to eat. I have time to shop mindfully, and even go to different stores to get the best prices.

Laundry

Our apartment, to my great chagrin, has no washer/dryer. Our favorite laundromat offers half-off washes on weekdays, but we didn’t have time or energy to take advantage of this deal. And we hated using our precious nights and weekends doing something so time-consuming and lame as laundry, so we put it off as long as humanly possible every time. Sometimes we bought new clothes (ahem, underwear) just to put off doing laundry, or at least under the reasoning that having more clothes would make it easier to put off laundry at some future date. We both had too much clothing, and spent too much on clothing. Now I always take the laundry on a half-off day, and get away spending a mere $2.50. My schedule makes it easy to make it out once a week, so no more wardrobe padding. (I have culled my wardrobe down to a small capsule wardrobe, which I’m crazy about–but that is another subject for another day!)

Pumping and formula

I haven’t had the best luck with pumping. I worked for a short time after my maternity leave, and it was a nightmare. I was constantly frustrated at not getting enough. I’m almost certain that I would have had to supplement with formula, which is very expensive. There also would have been pumping costs like replacing valves, getting flanges that are actually the right size, and extra bottles and/or disposable pumping bags.

Pick-me-ups

I was never really happy in the nine-to-five life. At work, I always felt that my time would be better spent with my husband, my baby, my cats, my books, my guitar, my kitchen, my you-get-the-idea. I was fine with the job itself and never felt that finding the “right” career would fix the problem. I never dreamed of being a “this” when I grew up. I dreamed of other things–the friends, family, husband, children, hobbies, travel. I always knew that there was more to life than work and that is what I dreamed of. I needed regular pick-me-ups to deal with my my less-than-fulfilling lifestyle. Hard day at work? Let’s go for drinks. Forgot my book for my precious lunch-time reading? Pick up a new one at the campus bookstore. Late getting home because I had to risk my life driving through a snowstorm to get to and from work, which I didn’t even want to go to in the first place, but didn’t want to waste a vacation day because then I couldn’t take my summer camping trips? Order pizza, the good stuffed-crust kind. Because I deserve it. I bought too much nice clothes, so I could feel good about my looks at work. I bought lots of expensive tea, so I could enjoy a luxury at my desk. I bought lots of expensive gifts for my husband for special occasions because I lacked the energy and time to do things on a daily basis that would mean much more to him than gifts (his primary love language is acts of service). An unfulfilling lifestyle leads to unnecessary expenses and lifestyle inflation. It just does.

It’s not easy to give up a salary, but the loss is never as big as it seems. There is value–monetary value–in having a stay-at-home parent in a household.

Adventures in Insourcing: Bread and Haircuts

Inspired by my steep financial goals and my new favorite blog, Frugalwoods, I had some adventures in insourcing this past weekend. I saved almost $80 for the month by doing things I would normally pay others to do for me. Not bad! I will start with the simplest and end with my boldest move – a haircut from my husband!

First up, homemade sandwich bread! Carbs are my favorite food. So, we eat a lot of sandwiches, toast, and garlic bread in this household. I recently started attempting to make sourdough bread, and was hoping to (maybe, someday) nail a recipe and then make it every weekend instead of buying sandwich bread. The trouble is the learning curve for sourdough kept pushing this goal further and further into the future. And even my best intentions of experimenting on the weekends didn’t work out because of the time commitment of feeding, hand-kneading, rising, and baking a sourdough loaf. All the while, I was still spending every week on subpar, storebought bread. Then I had an epiphany–instead of waiting until some vague date in the future when I might, maybe, possibly perfect my sourdough, I could just throw together a loaf in my forgotten bread machine. I found a great, simple (CHEAP) recipe from King Arthur Flour, and it made us a great loaf for about four minutes of effort–two throwing ingredients in the machine, and two slicing the bread. I estimate this change will save me about $10/mo.

Minimal effort sandwich bread

Also in the baking category, I made a giant batch of sourdough English muffins. Around here, we are about as obsessed with breakfast as Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson, so English muffins are very near and dear to our hearts. I got the recipe from King Arthur Flour (they really do have superior bread recipes!) and halved it a few weeks ago with great success; the muffins looked and tasted as good–nay, better than–store-bought. This weekend I made the full recipe and turned out 33 homemade English muffins. I put enough in our cupboard for the week, and froze 26. That’s English muffins for a whole month! Estimated savings: $5/mo.

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English muffins rising, next to my “frugal rolling pin” (AKA bottle of sweet vermouth)

I used to cut my husband’s hair regularly, but I got pregnant and didn’t want to do anything at all, and then had a baby and didn’t have the time. But, in our new efforts to save, we decided to revive the practice. Dusted off the old clippers, and did a simple long-ish buzz cut. He looks great, we saved about $15, and Little Guy got some entertainment out of the deal.

Now for the big one–my husband cut my hair. Inspired by this post from Frugalwoods, I decided to take a hitherto unimaginable step (unimaginable not because I thought the prospect horrifying, but because I literally could not have imagined the idea on my own). My options up to this point were 1) tolerate my hair being shaped like a house and being a total nightmare to maintain, or 2) pay for my usual $50+ haircut (I always went to an expensive salon because I have curly hair, and the cheaper salons just don’t cut it right, so it was better to spend $50 on a good haircut than $25 on a bad one). Then I discovered this third option, the home haircut. My husband very bravely agreed to try it out. Worst case-scenario is I end up going to the salon afterwards, right? So, we half-read some tutorials, and I showed him what the stylist normally does to do the length and layering, and then we went for it. If my hubby decides to do anything, he does it right; he didn’t grumble or roll his eyes and he wasn’t timid about snipping. We worked together on a little face framing, and did make a little mistake there, but we just rolled with it–smoothed out the choppy, too-short block on the right and cut the left to match. No problem. At the end, he did a length comparison and touched up the crooked areas, and voila! My split ends are gone, I am layered up to avoid the house shape, and we saved about $50. Oh, and I’m completely satisfied with my haircut!

My haircut – totally not house-shaped anymore!

There you have it, $80 of savings in one weekend thanks to a little not-very-hard work, courage, and Googling. In the course of a year, I will usually get two $50 haircuts, and my husband about ten $15 haircuts; that makes $250/year savings on haircuts, plus about $150 a year on the bread and English muffins. That makes this weekend and its efforts worth about $400/year.