Friday, October 28, 2011

5 things I'm doing, and 3 I'm not.

It definitely feels like winter is on it's way today!  It's dark and cold outside, and there was not a lot of sleep to be had in our house last night - perfect day to catch up on some work inside.  Nick normally has Friday off, but this week he is in first aid training today and tomorrow, so it's just me and the kidlets with a messy house and a lot of work for me to do.

The things I AM doing today:
- Working, working, working.  We're going to a Halloween event tomorrow night so I want to get ahead of the work game so I'm not overwhelmed tomorrow.
- Cleaning out the fish tank and packing it away.  I sent our gold fish to live at a new home this morning where they will be loved and cared for.  They were being a bit neglected around here.
- Catching up on laundry and cleaning my laundry room
- Cleaning out our basement fridge and getting it ready to go to the dump.  It's been working only intermittently lately and we really don't need two fridges.
- Tidying the playroom and culling the kids toys while they nap.  I've been paying attention to what they play with and what just gets dumped on the floor, so I'm going to make our lives easier and clear out what's not being used.

Things I am NOT doing today:
- Getting dressed.  I'm declaring a pj day since we're not going anywhere - why create more laundry?
- Making lunch.  Seems like a good day for cheese, crackers, and fruit.
- Stressing!  There is lots to do but it will all get done in its own time.  I'm going to enjoy the process of simplifying around here and not worry about what still needs to be done.

I hope that everyone has a peaceful and productive Friday :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simplifying Halloween

Holidays have always been a spending a pitfall for me - Halloween is a big one (often worse than Christmas).  Growing up my Dad always had the "go big or go home" approach to the holidays.  On Halloween the entire family, including the dog, would have costumes (usually elaborate home made ones my mom laboured over), we would have multiple carved pumpkins for each person,and  a realistic graveyard transported to our front yard - it was completely over the top.... and I LOVED it!

I too adopted this approach to the holidays once I had my own to take care of.  I defined myself by the amount of effort and attention I put into celebrating these holidays.  At last count I had 7 large rubbermaid totes of Halloween decorations.  But this year, I'm not doing it.  We didn't decorate a single thing, not a single tote left our garage.  Halloween is a few days away and I still don't know what I'm wearing.  If it makes me happy to do it, then why aren't I?  It started out as a bit of an experiment, did this way of approaching celebrations really make me happy, or was it just habit to go overboard?

This year we decided to take the kids to a local Halloween party over the weekend, and we are largely going to skip trick-or-treating.  We'll take the kids to a few houses on Halloween, but just enough so that they can consume the small amount of candy in a few days, and then we'll be done.  We aren't decorating our house and we aren't handing out candy.  The not handing out candy decision wasn't an easy one because traditional wisdom would say that you have to give in order to receive, so isn't it wrong for my kids to collect candy if we're not giving it out?  I struggled with this for awhile and then thought of all the years I handed out candy before I had kids (or when my kids were too small for trick-or-treating), and all the years I will hand it out after my kids are too old.  Right now I think my focus needs to be on celebrating with my own family, which is why we're taking the focus away from the trick-or-treating aspect.  I'm also discouraged by hearing of how many people throw out a large amount of the candy they receive because it's "too much".  But if it's too much, then why collect it in the first place?  It seems like such a waste of money and resources to collect more than you intend to consume.  I think it's a good learning experience to say to kids, "Wow, that's a lot of candy!  I think that's enough, don't you?"  It's easy to become greedy when people are handing out something for free you enjoy, but at some point I think you have to learn to stop yourself.

I guess we will find out in a few days how our experiment in simplifying Halloween goes.  So far though, I'm loving it!  No decorations cluttering my house, no extra stuff to dust around, and nothing to put away at the end of the season.  The kids and I have been reading Halloween books and making crafts and thoroughly enjoying the season together.  We're planning on having a big garage sale in the spring to sell of all of the excess.  It feels good to find some space and enjoy the holidays rather than stress about them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Working as a team

Any financial expert out there will tell you that the secret to a happy financial life as a family is working together as a team, but sometimes this is easier said than done.  There are loads of blogs out there that will give you tips to get your partner on board with you, but ultimately for us we both had to come to our own decision that we wanted to change how we were living our lives.

Over the weekend Nick came to his own, "A ha!" moment.  Last night he said to me, "I've made the decision that we really need to take this environmentally concious lifestyle as far as we can."  I felt like shouting "Halleleujah!" from the rooftop.  He sat down and watched the same documentaries as I did and came to the same conclusions - things have got to change.  We're not under any delusions that changes happen over night, but it's a day by day effort to work towards the life that you want to live.

One decision that we had already made was that we were going to limit the kids Christmas presents and instead have a family weekend together.  The family weekend we were planning to take involved driving 3 1/2 hours away to West Edmonton Mall to stay at The Fantasyland Hotel and spend the weekend at the amusement park and water park.  Nothing about this weekend was sustainable or frugal.  Would the kids enjoy it?  Of course they would!  Would it represent the lifestyle we want to cultivate for our family?  No.

Instead of having a commercialized weekend away, we are going to set aside a weekend in January to spend together as a family.  We're going to purchase some used cross country skis or snowshoes and get out together in the mountains.  We'll visit the public wave pool and play board games together at home.  And all of this will be much cheaper, more relaxing, and will support the future we want for us as a family.

I can't even convey how amazing it feels to be having these discussions and making these decisions together as a couple.  There is no debate, just open, honest discussion and we are both coming to the same realizations.  I couldn't be happier!

Friday, October 21, 2011

(re)Defining myself

I'm finding myself daunted with ideas right now, like I'm standing at the crossroads and I need to decide which path I'm going to take.  I feel like I don't know who I am, or if I ever have.  I've always been kind of a chameleon, taking in others ideas, trying them out to see if they fit.  My parents gave my sister and I a lot of independence and never really encouraged us down any one path.  My mom wouldn't even sign us up for activities unless we specifically asked, which as a child of the 80's meant that I did bowling and roller skating lessons (not skills which I can say have really come in handy over my life).  As a teenager I played a lot of sports, but I'm not sure if it was really a passion, or if it was just something to do to pass the time.  I can't say that I miss sports at all now that they aren't a part of my daily life.  I started a lot of post secondary programs but never actually finished any of them, I just couldn't commit to anything because it didn't feel like me, but who am I?

Part of my toxic relationship with money over the years can be directly related to this quest to figure out who I am, who I want to be, what do I like.  I have never done anything half-assed.  When I decided to learn to crochet I bought every book on the subject, skeins of yarn, every crochet hook known to man - only to discover I am terrible at crocheting and found it incredibly frustrating.  Same thing when I when Nick and I decided that we were going to make fitness a priority and were going to exercise at home - we bought a professional grade recumbent bike, weights, resistance bands, work out DVDs..... that fad didn't last long, I cannot stand exercise DVDs and feel silly doing them at home.  I thought I wanted to be a scrap booker so I bought loads of paper, scissors, adhesives, and a Cricut.  I think I have finally hit that point where I have realized that who I am cannot be defined by what I buy or what I own.  Who I am has to be defined by my actions.

So this brings me to my latest interest.  Over the past few months I have poured over minimalist blogs, soaking everything up and feeling so at peace with this idea of less stuff, less time spent working, more family time, more peace, more space.  I have been watching a lot of environmental interest and sustainability documentaries on Netflix while I'm working away, and I keep nodding to myself thinking, "Yes!  Yes! THIS is what I want for my family!"  I want to declutter myself and not go back to adding to the "stuff".  I want to work hard and pay off this debt and stop the cycle of spending.  I want to make thoughtful decisions about where our money goes, how we spend our time, and what impact our decisions will have on the world around us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Need more storage? Clear out instead!

I got it into my head last month that I wanted to do something different with the kids play room.  They're starting to get a bit older and they play differently than they used to.  The space just wasn't working for us any more.  My kids aren't really big on toys, they prefer playing games and doing crafts, and our space didn't reflect that.  In setting out to change the space I decided that I needed 2 things: a table and chair set, and a cupboard to store craft supplies.
I searched the local classifieds and managed to find a great table set within a week, and for only $50!  Awesome - used and fairly inexpensive - my plan was coming together!  The cupboard was proving more elusive though.  We made the decision that we'd probably have to buy new, but if I was laying out the money I wanted it to be perfect.  I searched every home improvement and general purpose store and finally found what I wanted at Home Depot.  But I didn't buy it.  I wanted to wait awhile and be sure that it was what I wanted.  And then yesterday I had a realization - I didn't need yet another storage cupboard, I needed to clear out my crap!
As I sat at my desk yesterday I realized that I had a cupboard to the left of me that was half empty with a disorganized mess of office supplies, and a cupboard to the right of me that was full of my own personal craft supplies that I haven't opened in probably 6 months.  Behind me sits a sewing cabinet full of projects that I intend to do, but with what time?  I spend most of my time working or with my kids and husband, not sewing.  The kids  have a closet in their play area filled with games and puzzles that is poorly organized and barely functional, and a book shelf where books are tossed and messy.  We also have 2 cupboards beside our TV full of CD's and DVD's we don't watch or listen to because we have everything we want in digital format.  So why did I want to add to all of this?  For someone who is striving for a more simple lifestyle I feel like a failure.
So out of those feelings of failure, springs inspiration!  I am giving myself 2 weeks, and in that 2 weeks I tend to clean out all of these storage spaces.  I am going to rid myself of craft and sewing projects I have no intention, desire, or time to complete.  I am going to rid myself of CD's and DVD's that we do not use that we only keep because we can.  I am going to donate puzzles and toys the kids have outgrown (I do this regularly but each time I am more ruthless than the last).  I am going to completely eliminate the bookshelf in the play area and sell it.  I am going to completely clear out the closet in the play area and convert it into a closet to store clothes waiting to be ironed, our ironing board, and steamer.  The area next to the desk in our living room is no longer going to be stuffed to the gills with the kids craft supplies - I'm not entirely sure what I will put there, I'm waffling between desk storage or my own personal craft supplies.  This should be fun!

Here is the mess we're in now.... Expect big changes!

It's not just about the money

It turns out that getting out of debt isn't really about the money for us.  Obviously you need money to get out debt, but it has less to do with that and more about creating a total lifestyle change.  If you're in debt and you suddenly receive a windfall tomorrow to pay it off, will you stay that way long term?  Likely not.  Regardless of how much money you make you won't come close to making a dent in your debt if you don't change your habits.

Looking back on the lifestyle we lead five years ago it's honestly quite laughable.  We furnished our first home with entirely new furniture, paying a whopping $4000 just on furniture for our living room.  We routinely went out for expensive dinners and movies, purchased Starbucks every morning on the way to work, and went shopping to cure boredom on the weekends.  It's no wonder the bills kept rising!  And we really weren't happy anyway.

Our lifestyle now is more about moving towards sustainable living.  I don't step foot in a mall unless I absolutely have to (in fact I loathe shopping).  If I do have to shop I go out with a plan in place to get what we need and try to buy used wherever possible.  I grocery shop with more of a purpose of what we will actually be able to eat and I try to recognize that if we run out before the end of the week we can always go back (it's better than throwing wasted food in the garbage).  Our playroom isn't over run with toys - we try to encourage our families instead to contribute money towards our children's activities that won't cause clutter in our lives.  We don't just get in the car to drive somewhere to get out of the house, instead we treat our home as a sanctuary and we enjoy being here with each other.  My peaceful time away from my kids is an hour a week where I get together with girlfriends for tea at a local coffee shop, no big dinners out or shopping excursions any more.

The little things really do make us happy.  Every time we save money or decide against a purchase I feel a victory inside because we are moving towards the life that I truly want.  Every time we figure out how to do or make something for ourselves and we don't need to buy it, I do a little cheer.  I don't want a life that is dictated by impressing other people or about how much stuff we can acquire.... I want a life that is authentic and built around our values of family and the environment.

We are far from perfect, but the less I worry about money and the more I question my decisions based on, "Does this support the lifestyle we want?" - the better we become.  Slowly but surely we're getting there!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Catching Up

This blog post has been a long time coming - I feel like I've dropped off the face of the earth for a little while. How can it possibly be that I have no blogged in over a month!  It was a needed break, I needed to centre myself and realize why we were doing this journey to becoming debt-free, and what it all meant in the grand scheme of things.

So what have I been up to?

- I've spent a lot of time budgeting and moving all of our finances over to  - I still have my handy dandy Excel spreadsheet to use as a cash flow statement though.  I like to use Excel because it gives me a chart of how much is in our account, and what things are coming out when.  It's nice to know at any given point how much money we have in our account just in case we have to squeeze in anything unexpected.

- I've been working (A LOT).  When I created our realistic budget that accommodated for things like car repairs and savings I came up with a $3,000 monthly short fall  after Nick's pay, which means that I have to commit to earning $1,500 per pay cheque.  This represents about 36 hours of work per week, which may not sound like much, but when I have to squeeze it in between caring for my kids and my home and can't just go to work, it can be difficult.  I love it though, I am so thankful for my job!

- While working I have been watching environmental documentaries on Netflix and am recommitting my family to working towards being more eco-friendly and implementing changes over time to work towards a healthier earth (and a healthier financial future).  Expect to hear much more about this in the future!

- I've been spending a lot of time with my kids.  We've been doing crafts, going to the park, shuttling them (well, Tristan) to activities, and volunteering in their classrooms.  My kids are pretty awesome.  I've realized that I would rather spend time with them than anyone else in the world.

- I've been spending time with my mom.  My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in April of this year and has undergone 6 rounds of chemo.  I am happy to report that chemo is now done!  She's not in remission, but the doctor's have moved her to Herceptin and hopefully that will keep the growth of the cancer at bay.  The doctor's prognosis at this point is 5-6 years, and we are very thankful for that!

So I'm back and hoping to get back in the routine of blogging again!