Personal update: changing directions

So this is the entry where I lay out all the ridiculous stuff that has happened this fall. As you know, we were merrily swimming along saving for our goals to buy the house we live in and to buyback 3.5 years of my pension. We had started to work on a new video project together and life was pretty good overall.

Home

Of course, “the best laid plans of mice and men go awry” as Burns pointedly stated all those years ago. At the beginning of September the owner of our house decided to renege on our agreement and – probably thinking they could get more for the home – hired an assessor to look at the house. So partially because we don’t want to live in the chaos of someone else’s whims and partially out of anger, we started looking at houses. It was then that we discovered that we could get much nicer homes in our price range that were turnkey, unlike this house that requires about 100k of work.

In the end, after weeks of looking, we found a home that ticked off almost all the “want” boxes for us: turnkey bungalow, in our price range, backing on city park (with a small community centre with activities for the kids), a finished basement with an office for Mr. Tucker, a wood burning fireplace, hardwood floors, a modern kitchen with a gas stove, and the pièce de resistance – a completely landscaped backyard with a fire pit, a gas BBQ, and (my dream house goal) a pool. The only con: it’s in a different neighbourhood than the one we currently live in, which is sad for me because I have a fairly established life here. Still, we can’t have everything we want and our new home will be right next to the new lightrail project so it will soon be easier to get to work.

Unfortunately, this little piece of heaven comes at the price of a small mortgage and we will have to scrounge up some new furniture as most of the stuff we currently use came with the house we live in (and we moved from 510 square feet, so we didn’t – and still don’t – have a lot). Luckily, our mortgage is only 1/3 of the cost of the home and we estimate we can pay it off within three years.

In the end, right after we decided to buy our house, the owner of our current house came back and told us that they had received the assessment. The verdict? $17000 over what we were willing to pay. Interestingly enough, about the same amount we have put into this house (new plumbing, new doors, a complete HVAC system with HWT and AC, new garage door, full backyard landscaping). I think they were expecting a lot more and so it looks like they will end up moving back into this house and we will get the keys to our new home on December 8th.

TL;DR: we bought a house, never make deals with flaky relatives.

Health

My orthopedic surgeon broke up with me last week, which is typically a good thing. After a full ankle reconstruction it’s good to have a much stronger base now. I will miss the doctor though, he was truly a great doctor and great human being. If you need a dude who specializes in orthopedic trauma of the foot and ankle, hit me up: I know a guy.

Unfortunately, I had to call my neurosurgeon and I have an appointment to discuss the increased tingling and pain in my arms. I hope I am just under a lot of stress but I had a fall in the summer where I hit my head and I wonder if that is causing the issue. The day after I made the appointment I fell again on my way to work and I lacked the strength to push myself up to standing.

So I continue to work on it, do physio, and hope for the best. I know intellectually that the best case may be the ability to stop further progression and I may never walk properly again. I am trying to make peace with that but I still want to push physio as much as possible and see what I can get back. With the broken ankle I haven’t been able to do as much as I want, so I hope going forward that will change.

Oh, and I got a new GP who is great and who is following me for a bunch of issues.

TL;DR: I don’t watch medical dramas because I am my own medical drama.

Work

Things at work are decent and I recently got a new director and deputy director who are both amazing. I have learned so much from them and they truly are incredible leaders. Still, the work means long hours and high-level issues and I find a highly politicized environment exhausting. It’s much better than it has been though now that our team is larger.

Still, I need to move towards a permanent position, which became apparent when I was trying to get a mortgage. I continue to try and work on my French and I apply for as many competitions as I can. Since our new house is a bit further out from the core, I am also specifically looking for jobs closer to home.

TL;DR: I like my work team; I am working towards getting something permanent.

Finances

I met my goal of buying back my pension! So as of today I now have 5 ½ years of pensionable service paid up. When I calculated it, it is equivalent to having $500 a month (in today’s dollars) from age 60 on, and is transferable to Mr. Tucker should I pass away. So the $18300 was well worth it should either of us live 5 years after age 60 (let’s hope!).

We also met our goal to save for the house but as you know, things have changed. I have made peace with not being 100% debt free and have a plan to pay our small mortgage off quickly, so that works.

When we went to go for our mortgage we discovered that due to Mr. Tucker’s job at a US company, they couldn’t include his salary in our calculation. What this means is that the entire mortgage is resting on my salary & they had to stress test me for the condo I jointly own as well (if the other owner should die, they need to make sure I can pay the bills). Thank goodness for having no debt and lots of savings! Otherwise we would have never been able to make this all work.

Even after all that, we continue to mostly live off of my salary and save Mr. Tucker’s to mitigate his tax burden and to pay off our mortgage. We may have to dip into his salary occasionally as we figure out how things are going to go over the next six months or so but overall we are still doing well. We have also taken the opportunity to do up our wills and organize all our legal and financial holdings.

The issue of the condo will also need to be worked out in the new year. I am not sure if I will rent it or sell it but until we move and the holiday season is over I don’t want to make any decisions.

TL;DR: having our finances pretty much in order has helped us weather the awful events over the past 3 months.

Conclusion:

When everything fell apart this fall, Mr. Tucker was my rock. He took care of me when I was unable to take care of myself, he took care of the kids, and he was a steadfast partner while we navigated the stress of my relative’s change of heart. One of the reasons we bought where we did is because Mr. Tucker fell madly in love with this house and it would be a wonderful spot for him (as he works from home) and the kids (who can now walk to school). Commute-wise, it isn’t great for me until the lightrail comes in a few years from now but I have planned my commute and it adds only 10 more minutes a day. Considering I also periodically work from home, it is still manageable.

This holiday season will be incredibly busy between the move, job applications, light renos in our new place (mainly paint and refinishing the hardwood in two rooms), and the fact that we are hosting both a Solstice celebration with our friends and our family’s Christmas dinner. I am not going to lie – it will be a lot. I just keep looking forward to our new home and hopefully by January we will be settled in, our finances and legal stuff will be in order, and I will know more about where my job is heading. I took a week off at Christmas to spend with the kids & get our house in order and I am generally positive despite the fact our life is a whirlwind of appointments, meetings, and chaos.


(shamelessly stolen from DR)

Winter Solstice has typically been an evening of rebirth for my friends and I and while we have had a hiatus for the past few years, it will be nice all of us will be getting together. Friends from as far as England and California will be joining us (and Buffalo! And Windsor! And Montreal! And Toronto! And Philadelphia!) and I feel like this year I really need my chosen family more than ever.

Hopefully over the next little while I will be able to update here more often with more relevant stuff other than these personal life updates. I have a lot to say about how expensive it is to be disabled and how expensive moving is, for example. So thanks for tuning in to this personal update and I hope to soon return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Managing life’s roadblocks

We’ve all been there: roadblocks in life, roadblocks in work, roadblocks in love. These often-sudden changes are those that completely knocks you off course, knocks the wind out of your sails, and then leaves you picking up the pieces trying to find another way to reach your goals*.

A month ago, Mr. Tucker and I encountered one of those roadblocks that affected our living situation. We have just spent a couple of weeks frustrated and scrambling and only recently have I been able to step back and see things clearly. Without going into detail, having your goal wrenched away from you by something out of your control is enraging. Still, I noticed that the more we hyper-focused on the negative part, the worse we felt. Nothing was being accomplished and our anger and sadness was only fueling more anger and sadness.

Sometimes you have to actually say to yourself out loud, “STOP.”
Stop this right now.” You need to force your brain to do a 180 and start focusing on all the positive things or else you will stay in the feedback loop where everything is miserable. I know some people who are constantly hyper-focused on the worst things, and let me tell you: they aren’t fun at parties.

So how did I drag myself out of my funk?

I concentrated on things I could control: I don’t get angry at the weather for doing weather things just like I can’t control other people or situations. However, I am in charge of managing my life in a million and one little ways. Every aspect in our lives is running smoothly, so concentrating on this one thing is giving more energy to this change and since it won’t have any effect on the outcome, it’s a poor return on investment.

Here are a few things you can control:
– What you eat every day
– How much water you drink
– How much excessive you get
– How much sleep you get
– How much time you spend with people you love

I know that self-care sometimes seems like a tired old trope but when you are low on energy or desire to do things, sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other is a huge accomplishment.

I rounded up my wins: Sure, thing X probably isn’t going to happen and I am hugely disappointed about that. Still, we have managed to save over $50k already this year and are close to meeting our goal! I was recently nominated for an award a work, and I find my work fulfilling and I enjoy my colleagues. I am married to the most amazing human being who is a wonderful husband and father (and who makes my heart skip beats even after 15 years), and my children – while often frustrating in their own right – are smart, funny, inquisitive, talented and happy human beings I love spending time with.

I found journaling those wins also helps. There is something about putting the pen to paper and seeing those good things in writing. Writing it down makes it feel more concrete.

I found a workaround In many situations one path is closed off so you are forced to turn around and go in another direction. Lamenting that loss is normal but eventually it becomes wallowing. Finding another path to focus on will help ease the pain of the one you lost. Mr. Tucker and I decided that we’d put all our energy in finding a solution rather than cry over how the universe threw us a curveball

So despite how horrible the past month has been, Mr. Tucker and I are a rock-solid team and have actually found an even better solution than we’d originally thought. It’s sad that it took a lot of unnecessary pain and energy to get to this point but in the end we will be in a better place moving forward.

Of course, having said all that you will have to watch this space for what the future holds. Major change is afoot in our lives and I am excited to share all the details with you, shortly.

*Metaphor level: EXPERT.

August savings update – End of summer edition!

Note: Our financial goals for 2017 include saving $18300 to buy back my pensionable years for my defined benefit pension as well as save $50000 which will make us mortgage-free at the beginning of 2018.

It’s time once again for our goal-reaching roundup! If you remember, last month we had saved $38 477 – more than half way to our goal! This month we’ve climbed again and I am super excited.

In August, Mr. Tucker and I really hunkered down with our spending – and we aren’t done yet – we’ve been relentless in our desire to cut our budget down. I think we still have a bit to go because I feel like we still live a pretty great lifestyle but we see places to save in a lot of our spending categories. I think overall I would say that we have been less wasteful in August, partially owing to the fact that being wheelchair-bound has made going out and spending money difficult!

I am back at work now – in a wheelchair until Tuesday when I will finally brave crutches at work. To be honest, has been challenging as I try and settle back into a routine both in terms of my job and in terms of home. With the kids starting school on Tuesday (and all their activities) I hope that we all get into a flow that works. My goal is to be back taking public transportation as soon as possible, which will save us a lot of money on gas and wear and tear on the car. Since Mr. Tucker also drives me back-and-forth, it will also save him loads of time in the morning and evening. Let me tell you, friends: you do not appreciate the value of having a normal life until everything is upside down and nothing is normal.

Still, perseverance is key to any good plan and there are plus sides as well to having been off most of July and half of August: when you don’t go out, you don’t spend. My grandmother used to always say, “If you want to save money, stay out of the stores!” Even window-shopping leads to higher rates of spending as you see all the things you can’t or won’t buy.

So August was a good month. Without further ado, I present to you our savings thermometer:

That’s 70% of the way there! Only two more good months like this and we will have all the money we need to accomplish our goals. Of course, I only have until November to buy back those 3.5 pensionable years so we’ve definitely cleared that. I just need to get my physical to prove that I will live at leave five more years (as per the buyback rules) so let’s hope that is good news or I have bigger problems than buying back a pension!

So that is where we are as of August 2017. Hopefully fall sees us hunkering down even more and ramping up the savings. The strong Canadian dollar will reduce the rate at which Mr. Tucker gets paid – which stinks – but that also reduces our tax burden next April so there is that (ok, I’d rather have the money, now hah!). That will continue to be an issue for us moving forward as Canada’s economy continues to be strong in relation to the US economy. While sometimes you can win in the exchange game, there is a lot of fluctuation as well. You have to be willing to ride it out and roll with the punches, which we do by not relying on that money to pay our monthly expenses.

Back to life, back to reality

Life update: So five weeks into my convalescence and I can finally go back to work and on with my life. My regular doctor wasn’t there but the fellow was and she thinks I can start walking assisted with crutches and the walking cast. This is a huge jump for me and I am excited but also apprehensive.

What was interesting was the fellow saying, “You know this surgery is very rare.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well usually it doesn’t get to this point.”

It figures that my only superpower is screwing myself up really badly.

However, I will be back at work Monday morning, which means I won’t be burning through more leave. I am also looking forward to having a sense of normalcy to my life. When you are wheelchair-bound and stuck at home life can be pretty depressing. I’ve read a lot of books and done a lot of writing (and played way too much on social media) but the days bleed into one. With a swollen foot, there is a lot of lying down. It’s not as fun as if I was mobile and could work on a bunch of things or go a bunch of places.

Mr. Tucker and I have done two major things this month. The first one is that we have completely cut out alcohol. Anyone who knows us knows that no one enjoys a good libation more than we do but we found our productiveness has been low. I also really wanted to hyper-focus on healing, and let’s face it: alcohol is a toxin; a delicious toxin but a toxin nonetheless. So at the beginning of August we completely removed booze from our lives.

A post shared by Tucker (@workingundertime) on

To be quite honest, I don’t miss it. Frankly, I was a little worried that I would miss it a little too much but nope! I have friends who do a “Sober October” every year as a safety measure to see how difficult quitting booze is, then on Halloween they have a huge party with drinks. The litmus test is whether or not they miss it a little too much. Having never done a Sober October, I was wondering as well. Looks like alcohol can play a reduced part in my life and I won’t miss it. Who knew?

As it turns out, not having my evening glass of wine has made me a lot more productive, I sleep better, I wake up easier, and my bank account is a lot fatter. Alcohol is incredibly expensive – especially in Canada where there is no Two Buck Chuck to be found. Of course, I’ve funneled a lot of that coin into more tea but even a lot more tea is cheaper than a little alcohol. Mr. Tucker has just taken his love of seltzer to new heights.

The second major thing is that we have started working on a side project that I think may end up falling firmly into the category of “side hustle.” I mention this because last year I wrote that I don’t side hustle. It’s a bit of an art project but it could potentially make a bit of coin if we put our backs into it. We are playing it by ear to see if it’s something we will enjoy working on even when I am back at work but time will tell. We both aren’t willing to sacrifice family time for it but if we can get it done during the fringe hours it will be a fun adventure. Of course everything is on the down-low until we figure out the logistics but stay tuned!

A post shared by Tucker (@workingundertime) on

So this weekend will all be about getting organized. Mr. Tucker will still have to drive me to work on an adjusted schedule, which not only sucks but is also expensive. However, I am investigating alternative transportation and I hope that soon I can take the bus again. Work clothes need to be organized, food needs to be prepped to account for me being back at work, and the house needs to be tidied. Oh, and of course we’ll be working pretty hard on our new project.

So that is where we are at personally! My biggest “what if” is the ongoing healing process. I have months of physiotherapy ahead of me to get back as much movement and strength as possible but we continue to forge ahead. Our finances are on track, the kids are healthy and happy, and Mr. Tucker and I are busting our butts to make the best life that we can for all of us.

Are credits and benefits on your FIRE radar?

If you are Canadian and have small children, you probably receive one or more benefits from the government. If you are a family who makes under $220000 a year chances are you are getting some form of the Canada Child Benefit.

The fun thing about the CCB is that unlike the GST, it’s based on net – not gross income. So you can theoretically get your net income down enough even if you make a substantial amount of money. For example, if you have accumulated contribution room in your RRSPs, or if you have deductions from a small business.

When I first started thinking about Financial Independence (seriously thinking about it, not reading Your Money or Your Life at 20 and then forgetting about it) I based our numbers on our spending. So – as most people know – the 4% rule would mean that a family who needs $40000 a year to live on will need $1,000,000 saved to be able to live off of. Or, more simply $40000 x 25. I am not going to get into all the assumptions here about the 4% rule but I encourage you to read more at Investopedia.

However, this is an incredibly simplistic model. So while I don’t want to go deep into the various situations (because wow, there are so many) I found myself playing around with the CRA’s Child and Family Benefits Calculator for fun and I thought I would share some numbers with you.

A fun thought exercise for families

Let’s pretend that you think you need $40000 a year of income to support your family and achieve financial independence/early retirement. Do you really need ONE MILLION dollars? Maybe not.

If we plug the numbers into the calculator & assume that each parent withdraws $15000 a year, the numbers look like this*:

Scenario 1:

Income: $30000 ($15k each adult)
Benefits: $15516.80
Total: $45516.80

So that extra $5000 can cover the tax you would owe on anything above the $11474 Basic Personal Amount (untaxed amount). Someone smarter than me will also point out that with kids as dependents, this will probably be a wash. So take a vacation if you’d like!

So what would you need to save to bring in that $30000 a year? $750000. That is $250000 less than the one million you thought you needed.

Scenario 2:

Income: $24000 ($12000 each)
Benefits: 16090.76
Total: $40090.76

Given the parameters of the basic personal amount above, hitting $40000 on the nose with a combination of investments and benefits is possible on a lower amount. What would you need to save in this instance? $600000.

But what if you don’t have children?

Assuming the same two scenarios above, you’d be eligible for all the other credits except for the ones aimed at families with children. Here we will do the math for people who are childfree, and those whose kids will leave sometime after they’ve FIREd (uh, new verb!) Let’s see:

Scenario 1:

Income: $30000 ($15k each adult)
Benefits: $1791.92
Total: $31791.92

Assuming that you think your children cost about $8000 a year to raise, this amount may be good enough for you when they fly the coop at 18.

Scenario 2:

Income: $24000
Benefits: $1885.88
Total: $25885.88

Yikes! At least in our case, $25885.88 would not cut it. I don’t think we could get our expenses that low. Maybe other people can? I can’t say. But I am 100% sure that my kids don’t cost me $14k a year in expenses.

Caveats abound!

Of course, a myriad of things can happen between now and when your kids are 18: the primary one being a change in government. The Liberals brought in the tax-free CCB to replace the taxable UCCB when they took power so who knows what the future holds? Governments change and the tax code and other policies change along with them. Currently you aren’t taxed on dividend income $35000 and under but given the shake up that Finance Canada is discussing in relation to businesses, that could change at any minute.

One of the interesting things to keep in mind is that when you reduce your spending by $10000, you have to save $250000 less to reach financial independence (in this scenario, it scales down as you scale down the amount). So maybe spending less is easier than saving more.

Obviously, relying on that money would be a gambit for sure. However, if you lost a salary and you only have $600000 saved, knowing you can rely on those benefits rolling in can mean the difference between scrambling to find work, or knowing you will be ok. Obviously, the challenge is that these benefits are calculated in July based on the previous year’s income. But you have an emergency fund, right?

In the end, this is a fun thought exercise to look at your financial situation from another angle. For myself, I had never included these benefits in any of my calculations, nor have I done the math for when the kids leave home, or for things I know we will inherit. Part of that is because I firmly believe on relying solely on my own, personal savings and investment strategy. On the flip side however, it means I am ignoring some situations that are really likely. This is why it is important to play around with math and see what the possibilities are.

*In all cases I assumed $4500 in property taxes, and nil to all other questions except my children’s real ages: 7 & 9.

It’s only $20

I have a family member (who shall remain nameless) who I used to go shopping with at Costco. It was a social event combined with a grocery run and we had a monthly standing date to head out together. The problem with shopping with other people however is that they often influence your purchases. So while I may not pick up some widget when shopping on my own, when shopping with a friend I may be more likely to pick it up.

This person was particularly bad for my wallet because every time I picked something up she would say, “It’s only $20!” If I protested she would make a lengthier plea for her case, “You should treat yourself! You rarely buy anything for yourself!” So I would buy the widget and be down another $20.

Does anyone want to guess how many widgets I remember today? Yep: 0.

This is not an argument against treating yourself. While some people enjoy an incredibly lean existence by not spending except for in extreme circumstances, I am not that person. However, I want to be conscious about my spending and I want to make sure I get value out of the dollars I am shelling out. It’s about maximizing the pleasure you get from your purchases instead of just blindly buying something because you saw it and decided you needed it THAT SECOND. After all, you are an adult, not a kid at the impulse buy section at the checkout.

People who know me may laugh right now because if I have one motto, it is “throw money at the problem.” But throwing money at a problem requires you to actually HAVE money, and having money means not spending it on stupid crap because you are an impulse shopper with a monkey brain.

$20 is not $20

We often think of money as its face value but while we think we make, say, $50 000 a year, after taxes and calculating commute, overtime, wasted lunch hours & the clothes/makeup/work expenses we make way, way less. That larger discussion I will delve into another time but let’s calculate basic wages after taxes and deductions, assuming my current province of residence. It obviously doesn’t reflect all the possibilities in our progressive tax system but it will give you an idea of why $20 is not $20.

Assuming a regular 40-hour workweek, your gross hourly wage is $24.04 an hour but after deductions it’s only $18.80 an hour. You are essentially paying $5 an hour for deductions. So while you may mentally believe that you make “almost $25 an hour,” the reality is that you make less than $19. To spend $20 you have to work more than one hour to buy the widget. Tack on the sales tax and you are looking at $22.60 – a little less than 1 ¼ hours of work time.

The nickel and dime of it all

This post is really a think piece and not a discussion about what we value as individuals. I know some of you are saying to yourselves, “Cripes Tucker, just suck the joy out of everything why-don’t-you!?” but you aren’t seeing the bigger picture. The idea behind this exercise is to get you to really think when you are making purchasing choices.

Let’s face it as well: $20 is not just a one-time thing. In fact, chances are you are spending this a few times a week on impulse things that don’t really add anything to your life. If you do this three times a week in a year you are spending $3120 or $3526 after sales tax. That is 187.55 hours of after-tax work, or 4.68 weeks – more than A MONTH. You are spending a month of your life, per year, on crap you probably don’t remember at all.

Conversely, I bet some people reading this have little-or-no long term savings, either for emergencies or for retirement. Imagine if we put that $60 a week ($240 a month) away in long-term savings at a meager 4% interest rate:

Any guesses how much that will be over time? Let’s look:

You read that right: in 20 years you will have almost NINETY-THOUSAND dollars for the low, low, price of paying attention to what you really want.

I am not advocating you suck the joy out of life by never, ever spending money. If we are all honest with ourselves we can all think of a time where we made a purchase that we regretted or that was subpar in some way or another. By being conscious so that we enjoy our purchases can turn out to be big wins long-term. So the next time someone tries to get you to buy something you are indifferent about, “Go ahead! It’s only $20! Treat yourself!” you can smile and think to yourself, “Well actually, that may be $90000.”

The psychology of getting on track with groceries

When I was young and poor I got my first copy of the Tightwad Gazette (number II, if I am honest). Hilariously, I had received as part of one of those mail order clubs that were so prevalent in the 80’s and 90s. There were book clubs just like we had Columbia House, for cds. Ahh, memories.

The irony of choosing this as one of my “free” books is not lost on me, however I think in the end I came out ahead. That book spurred a life-long love affair with personal finance. I haven’t always made great financial choices but I always knew I had a secret weapon in my back pocket if I never needed it – black belt tightwad-ery.

When I first got the book I was fascinated – especially with the part on how to save on groceries. At the time I lived in a house with 4 other roommates and we were hella, hella poor (but always had money for cigarettes back then, how?). I figured if I could eat for a lot less money, I would be laughing! So eager to save, I tried to incorporate more vegetarian meals into my diet a la TWG, and bought a bunch of food I hadn’t really eaten before: brown rice, lentils, beans, etc.. I whipped up batches of food, stored them nicely in the freezer…aaaaaaaaaand then let them sit there until I moved out and had to chuck all my hard work and money.

So what went wrong?

Looking back, I moved too fast, too soon. I had grown up on heavy meat and potatoes dishes with a bunch of white, processed food so that is what I was used to. So when I suddenly stocked my pantry with things I hadn’t really eaten before and didn’t really know what to do with it’s no wonder I didn’t want to eat them. I made a bunch of food not knowing how to cook it properly for the best outcome, was disappointed, and then threw in the towel. The thing is, changing habits takes time and while some people like the band-aid approach and it works for them, but other people – like myself – need a more staggered approach.

Today my diet looks a million times different than the diet I had at that time. I eat a lot more fresh fruits/veggies, whole grains, tofu, beans, and rarely eat things from a box, but it took a lot of time and energy to get to this point. It required learning skills over the years and working on one food or skill over again until it became the default. I mean sure, you can do a few at a time but a complete overhaul was too challenging to me because I didn’t understand how to cook the new foods properly so I never truly enjoyed them. Seasoning, cooking methods, and pairing all have to come into play when you are learning.


A loaded baked potato is a family favourite & can be a meal on its own

Everything is an acquired taste

I am not here to argue picky eating, or argue what the best diet for humans is. I know everyone has an opinion on optimal feeding. What I do believe though is that humans are omnivores and omnivores are one step up from scavengers in terms of the ability to consume a huge variety of food & survive. We see this in the fact that humans can actually have terribly unhealthy lifestyles and still live a fairly long time. If you think about it, it’s super impressive. It also explains why we are on top & why animals like the koala – who mostly eat one freaking thing – are at a disadvantage.

Still, looking around the world humans survive on different foods that are available in their particular regions. While we may never acquire a taste for cows blood mixed with milk, people who are raised on it believe it to be delicious. You are what you meet, I suppose. Humans can adjust their tastes based on exposure and most of us have done it to varying degrees our entire lives. This doesn’t mean necessarily that we will get over our life-long hatred of mushrooms but it doesn’t mean we can’t or can’t try. Mr. Tucker and the kids love mushrooms and I have always disliked them. After enough time cooking with them I now like them just fine (although I don’t see them topping my favourite food list anytime soon).

Having said that, I don’t think shoving mushrooms down my throat would have worked. I had to slowly incorporate them into my diet. I started putting them in things like spaghetti sauces and slowly worked my way up to dishes where they were the main event, such as portabella mushroom fajitas. I learned how to cook and season them properly and that was the key. This is also why oysters will never be my thing: generally, they are eaten on their own. I don’t think I have enjoyed an oyster yet and I can’t see that changing much unless I am starving and oysters are the only available food (starvation makes everything palatable).

The point is, don’t just disregard something new if you don’t like it on the first try. If you have a visceral, sick reaction to it – of course throw in the towel. But if it is just something that doesn’t feel familiar, keep trying. There was a point in your life where you hadn’t yet eaten Sushi or Thai food or probably even Cheetos and my guess is that now you enjoy one or more of these things today.

Our problematic food choices

I am not going to go too far down the yellow brick road of discussing the challenges in the typical western diet. Companies know we are biologically pre-programmed to enjoy sugar, salt, and fat-laden foods and they create products that we will love to maximize their bottom line. Certain foods are subsidized, and broccoli isn’t one of them. For the poorer segments of the population, time, access to cooking spaces, and food deserts are huge challenges to accessing a better diet. I know there are problems and they are too large for this small blog post.


Broccoli sale? My friend Justin loads up

Having said that, my readership is such that you are probably middle class and have access to a wide selection of foods – and the ability to purchase them. Most of us have been raised on what they call the SAD diet – standard American diet. As I mentioned above, this is the meat, cheese, and white-bread laden foods of my youth where most things came from boxes or tins and where most recipes started with “open a can of cream of chicken soup.” But most of us were also raised where more and more health research was happening and we know that certain foods (such as fruits and vegetables) contribute to health more so than other foods. Of course, the jury isn’t out on anything yet and people squabble between ketogenic diets, veganism, and everything in between. All that may be up for debate but what isn’t is that we are all looking to get the most nutrition – including satisfaction – from our grocery budgets and sometimes that requires thinking differently.

Building on success

I can 100% say without a doubt that my one bowl of msg-laden hamburger and cheese soaked white pasta a day at 18-years-old was not an ideal way to eat. But running out, buying every “health” food I read about didn’t work, either. We get used to a certain level of sugar, fat, and salt in our diets and when we make a drastic change we often leave the table feeling dissatisfied which – in my case – just led to overeating later. But when I just started substituting certain foods I found as soon as I got used to one change, I could incorporate another, then another, etc. When I decided to reduce the sugar in my coffee, for example, I didn’t just cut it out completely. I went down from 2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 teaspoons, to 1, to ½, to nothing. It took a month but now I no longer need sugar in my coffee. As humans we have an incredible ability to adapt.

Conversely, I did the same thing to incorporate healthier foods into my diet. I switched out brown rice or quinoa for white rice fairly easily because they had similar tastes and textures. Choosing a bean chili over a meat chili was also easy because the flavours are so rich that the mouth feel was similar. Choosing fruit over cookies however was impossible because cookies are sweet & delicious little fat bombs. It made more sense to eat the fruit and then follow-up with one cookie instead of just reaching for 3 cookies. Fruit isn’t the substitute, it’s the building block to fullness: with a stomach full of fruit, I need fewer cookies to feel full.


Loaded black bean vegan nachos

Nutrition vs. cost vs. research

Here is something kind of depressing: new research is coming out all the time so what we think of as an optimal diet today may not be an optimal diet tomorrow. However, let us all be grateful for this: if you are reading this blog the chances are that you have access to healthy food for you and your family. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of humanity and one that many people in the world don’t share. So whatever your particular nutritional goal is, or your choice of diet, or your view of food in general let’s all take a minute so ignore the splitting hairs and have some gratitude that we even have choice.

Also, if you are reading this blog you are probably looking for ways to reduce your food bill and still have a varied, healthful diet. No matter what your particular food philosophy there are some very real ways we can all reduce our food costs by changing the way we eat. Here are a few things that have worked for me.

I didn’t cut food out of my diet, I added better food: the main key for me to cutting out junk food was to crowd it out of my diet, not cut it out. By filling up on high quality foods, I found myself craving junk less because I was full. When I moved to a mostly-vegan diet for example, I just ate so many beans, nuts, fruits, and veggies that I didn’t have room to eat meat and I didn’t miss it.

I work for my junk: I don’t care how good of a deal sale potato chips are, I don’t keep them in the house. Why? Because it’s easier to grab low-quality, high-satisfaction food than it is to make something healthier and more satisfying. I make myself either walk to the store if I want an ice cream, or I force myself to make it at home – which I do with fries. The PITA factor alone helps me avoid these foods a lot of the time. In the end, it doesn’t matter how cheap junk food is, it’s still junk and junk is never a deal nutritionally.

Expensive foods drowned out by cheap food: if you are having steak for dinner and find yourself still hungry, the key is not to eat another steak, it is to have seconds of vegetables, potatoes, or whatever else you are serving. I often make two kinds of vegetables and then have one small “main.” It ensures we are getting the nutrition we need but still walk away from the table feeling satisfied.

Serve vegetables first: I started having a salad course with the kids because when they are hungry and you put mashed potatoes, sausage, and a salad in front of them they will completely ignore the salad. But if you serve the salad first, they will eat that because they are hungry and it’s in front of them. So if you are having a hard time convincing your family to eat their veggies, try serving veggies first and then serving the more calorie-dense stuff after.

I learned how to cook different styles: the internet is a treasure trove of great recipes all vetted by communities of people. Again, when I moved to a mostly-vegan diet I read a lot of recipe blogs by people who cook different regional foods. Exploring how a good curry is built and how to flavour beans properly ensured that the resulting dish was delicious and satisfying. Just replacing ground beef with lentils didn’t make a satisfying pasta sauce until I learned to up my spice game. You are not just looking to replace one ingredient but instead learn a new way of cooking.

When at first you don’t succeed: if you have made up your mind that you hate beans then you will always hate beans. However, maybe you just need to up your exposure. Add small portions of foods to extend the foods you do like and then just keep adding more and more every time you make it. I once read that it can take 15-20 times for a child to enjoy a new food. I don’t see what that is different for adults but in my experience it takes less time for us. So do what parents do: incorporate new foods into foods you already enjoy.

Water is our main beverage: aside from coffee, I mostly drink water. I do also enjoy beer and wine but my kids have the option of water or milk – never juice. Although juice is packaged like a health food it really is straight sugar with a few meager vitamins. You are much better to eat a piece of fruit and drink water than to aim for the same nutritional goal with a cup of juice. It goes without saying that we only drink pop in extremely rare circumstances. If you are having a hard time cutting down your pop consumption, a Sodastream machine may help give you the fuzziness you need & you can wean yourself off the syrups that way.

Eat your food as close to its natural state as possible: not everything needs to be processed. Eat an apple, not fruit leather. The more processed the food, the lesser the quality and the cost for fruit leather is sky high compared to fruit in its natural state.

Frozen food is your friend: In the summer months we have a local CSA that we are a part of but in the winter there is just no way I am going to eat fresh cauliflower when it climbs to $5 a head. Frozen food is often nutritionally superior to fresh if your fresh food has to travel long distances.

Stop food waste: when I first caught the frugal bug I would stock up on sale-priced foods cheaply but then a lot of stuff would either go bad or expire. It takes awhile to get a sense of what your family consumes regularly & how much you should buy but with fresh stuff I aim for what we can eat in a week unless it’s something that keeps, like carrots or potatoes. If I get 10 packages of strawberries at rock-bottom prices but end up having to throw half out because we didn’t eat them in time, I am no further ahead. So don’t buy more than you reasonable need. You won’t hit the mark 100% of the time but you will reduce waste significantly.

Don’t cover good food with junk: the prevalence of horrific food masking itself as healthy is one of these trends that makes me roll my eyes. If a vegetable dish is one part vegetables but the rest is cheese, bacon, and white bread of some sort, it is not a health food. A good rule of thumb when trying to eat healthier is avoid recipes that rely on cheese and bacon for flavouring. Choose spices, herbs, citrus, hot sauces and vinegars for flavour instead. We have cut back completely over time and now eat vegetables without flavouring. I know it sounds strange but you can train your palate to enjoy vegetables on their own.

Hara hachi bun me (please don’t ask me to pronounce this!): this is a Confucian teaching that means eating until you are 80% full. As someone who was raised on huge portions (and restaurants are notorious for this) and who confuses satiated with overly full and uncomfortable, this is a huge challenge for me. I suspect it is for many people. But try and get to the point where your hunger is satisfied but that you don’t feel bloated or tired after your meals.


Our weekly CSA basket in the summer

Finally…

Buy food you enjoy. This is especially true if you are moving from a diet heavy in restaurant or pre-packaged foods. It’s ok to take baby steps towards eating better so just don’t announce one day that you are moving from McDonalds for dinner to a vegan raw-food diet because that isn’t sustainable. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and while I think you can adapt to enjoying a variety of foods over time (yes, even a vegan raw-food meal) it won’t happen overnight. Don’t buy 20 lbs of beets when you know you eat maybe three beets a year. Humans are creatures of habit and find habit comforting. If you slowly create new tastes and habits towards cheaper, healthier foods your body will thank you and your wallet will thank you.

I am sure many tomes could be written on a variety of other strategies to help you with your food budget but as with most things I find the psychological aspect of change always the most difficult. Since groceries are often one of the largest parts of a household budget, it’s worth the time it takes to move towards eating less expensive and more nutritious meals. Hopefully this post will get you thinking about the little ways you can enact change to meet your health and financial goals.


One of my favourite – and filling – vegan sandwiches

Want to save money? Be more like children

Alright, you’ve probably already tuned out because it’s that kind of inspirational porn that is rampant over social media: all talk, no action. OF COURSE little children are carefree; what’s your point, Tucker? Ok, hear me out, people!


Check out Inspirobot for all your meme needs

Watching our brood of children (all seven) play for a week non-stop at the cottage inspired this post. They swam, read books, caught turtles and frogs, went canoeing and fishing, played games of telephone around the campfire, and did crafts (one of the Moms ran a craft class – you know who you are, keener!). For the most part, they didn’t even beg for devices except for a few Pokemon adventures into town and – get this – they got together and made a movie. They determined the plot, the actors, gathered up some props and filmed it on the iPad. We used to act out plays, our kids film movies. Same thing.

Notice how I didn’t say, “childlike.” The reason for that is that child like denotes an immaturity and I don’t think you need to be immature to take advantage of the qualities children have.

I never want to be one of those people who wishes for “the good old days” or who make disparaging comments about “kids these days” because in all honesty, a> today is great, and b> the kids are alright. But I do want to highlight that Mr. Tucker and I often talk about our lives from back when we were young and poor. We aren’t trying to romanticize it (being poor stinks) but when you can’t use money to fill your boredom, you get creative. We reminisce about evenings spent drinking crappy coffee and either painting or playing guitar in our respective crappy apartments. You had no options so you had to find ways to do things without money.

As you get better paying jobs and start slowly make more money, you get lifestyle creep. The definition of lifestyle creep is simple: when you have more money, you spend more money. At first it’s all about treating yourself, then those treats become a normal expense so then you add another treat, and so on. It happens so slowly: one day you are having pasta and red sauce with the dry, crappy Kraft “Parmesan” sawdust (if you are lucky to afford that), and the next thing you know it you are making a Puttanesca sauce with fresh pasta and 10-year-old real parmesan shavings on top. It happens in all areas of your life as well: from the alcohol you consume, to where you live, to your transportation choices. Our lifestyles inflate as our paychecks do, and with easily available credit our lifestyles can even surpass our income.

One day you wake up and you wonder when life got so complicated!? But it doesn’t have to be, you can slowly – or quickly – reduce your spending by being more like children.

Kids – when left to their own devices – will turn anything into an experience. Haggard parents of toddlers know that as soon as they start walking, kids are into EVERYTHING. As they get older and their attention spans lengthen they start being more creative and involved in their projects. Now that my kids are 7 & 9 they are at that age we like to romanticize from our own childhoods: the go-outside-and-come-back-when-the-streetlights-come-on years. Armed with only a water bottle, they will meet their friends at the park after school. On inclement weather days they stay in and play games, do art, or read a book. We only allow our kids tablets and tv on the weekends (and special occasions) so we’ve cultivated this habit.

Parent thyself, parent!

We are hypocrites. We tell our kids it’s a nice day, so they should go outside and play with their friends meanwhile we are pasty indoor-dwellers. We moderate their electronics use but we use our phones almost constantly. We tell them if they are bored to find something productive to do, but we spend evenings glued to our favourite shows. We tell them to eat properly, but we buy junky work lunches from fast food places. We definitely have a case of “do as I say, not as I do” going on.

Let’s face it – as adults we have a hard time saying no to ourselves. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be a culture smothered in debt with our three-car garages filled to the brim like graveyards of hobbies past.

Adults throw money at all their problems even when the problem could be solved by creativity, not by money. When I am out of chicken the solution isn’t to run out and buy chicken at full price for dinner, the solution is to figure out what I do have in the fridge and make that for dinner instead. When I need more exercise maybe the solution is biking to work instead of getting a gym membership.

When you are a kid you spend all day inventing things, running, playing, using creativity to fill the void. You come home to eat and dinner is what is put in front of you, so you don’t question it. You don’t decide it was a rough day at the schoolyard and so you treat yourself to a steak dinner because you are a kid who has no money. You may beg for candy at the checkout but chances are you know you aren’t going to get it. Your expectations are such that when you DO get a treat, you truly relish it.

“I’m booooored,”

I don’t allow my kids to say this. I mean, they can say it but then I make them sit in a chair and stare at the wall for a few minutes. (How is that for boredom?) But I get anxious riding an elevator and whip out my phone to alleviate the boredom. As adults we surround ourselves with constant stimuli because our lifestyle creep allows us to buy all the things we need to not get bored.

But boredom is the solution, not the problem.

As adults we never let ourselves get bored anymore and creativity springs from boredom. What’s worse is that boredom gives us anxiety. The anxiety comes because we feel we should be doing something with our time – maybe work on that book we want to write, maybe take the time to do a budget and get yourself on track, maybe reach out and see a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. But we often get anxious and overwhelmed and so we go for the simple wins: fill that hole with shopping for happiness, refresh social media and compare our lives to others.

We need to stop.

Look at all the things you store right now that you once bought to make yourself feel happy. How do they make you feel today? If spending truly makes you happy, why have you spent all this money over the years and have yet to reach peak happiness? How much more do you think you need to spend to make yourself happy? Is there a finish line?

The reality is that after you have your basic needs met, you need relatively few extras to make you happy. Once you hit that peak, your enjoyment for money spent goes way down. This is obvious when you observe children: they have food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, they marvel in the world around them, they have good friends and time to enjoy them, they solve boredom creatively, they get regular exercise, they don’t default their attention to electronics, they generally get a good night’s sleep. Frankly, more adults should take their cues from kids – not the other way around. When do they do get a treat, their excitement is infectious. If all purchases made us that happy!

So I put it to you, adults: be more like kids. Get creative with the way you view the world. Stop looking to money to make you happy – and stop comparing yourself to people on social media, that’s a guaranteed way to make you unhappy, and when you are unhappy you spend money.


Hey-o! Look at me, making my own meme-like guide! Pin that sh!t on the fridge, people!

Monthly savings update – July edition

Note: Our financial goals for 2017 include saving $18300 to buy back my pensionable years for my defined benefit pension as well as save $50000 which will make us mortgage-free at the beginning of 2018.

As I previously mentioned, I had yet another surgery which brings me to a total of four surgeries in a little over a year. Go hard or go home, I suppose. Mr. Tucker accuses me of really overworking the “in sickness and in health” clause of our marriage contract. So given this, I have been convalescing at home for the past three weeks – apologies to my facebook friends for being more prolific than usual as I am ridiculously bored and spend way more time on my phone than is healthy. Also, despite some planning on our part, we have also outlaid a ridiculous amount of cash, as with with any medical adventure. Que sera sera.

Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? Our July savings:

Check out that bad boy! In the esteemed words of Bon Jovi:

Except I don’t believe prayer is going to help much if you aren’t laying down mad cash in that savings account. It reminds me of this joke I heard once: a woman was in financial crisis so every night she would pray to god, “Please god, let me win the lottery!” The day of the lottery came and went and she didn’t win. So the next week she prayed every night, “please god, let me win the lottery!” The lottery day came and went and again she didn’t win. The third week unfolded in the same way and when she didn’t win she got down on her hands and knees and screamed into the heavens, “Why god? Why have you forsaken me? I have begged you to let me win the lottery for weeks and you haven’t answered my prayer!” Suddenly, the skies open up, angels are singing and a bright light shines down. A booming voice comes down from the heavens, “LADY, I AM TRYING TO HELP YOU! COULD YOU AT LEAST BUY A LOTTERY TICKET?” Moral: put your back into it, people.

What is interesting about surpassing the halfway mark of our goal is that it occurred to me that another milestone has been reached. When I looked at July’s numbers I realized that it matches up with our yearly expenses. In other words: we are sitting on a year’s worth of expenses for the family on our basic budget: the ability to buy a year of non-work. Obviously, we have other goals at this point – the house and the pension – but it’s amazing to think that we can buy a year’s worth of non-work. So for every year we work and save at this rate means that we can buy ourselves two years of non-work.

Of course, this year hasn’t been typical but no year really will be. Sure, Mr. Tucker got a bit of a windfall from a sale of stocks but we also had larger medical expenses this year. He started a new job that pays more but for this summer at least we had to put the kids in camps – which we hadn’t planned – because of my surgery & his new position. We’re rolling with the punches and still saved almost 40k in six months. That is pretty impressive!

My goal for August is to heal up and to get back to work as soon as I can. I may be in a wheelchair for a while but if I can get my butt working again life can return to some semblance of normality. Still, it’s great to know that at least we are on track with our goals.


For looooooooooove…If I have to live with this ear worm, so do you

Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 2

(see here for Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 1)

It has been a crazy month or two to try and nail this down as we are a bit in flux with Mr. Tucker’s new job and our new government benefit payment amount (which I am shocked we still get, but hey, I’ll take it!). Still, in many ways every month is going to have some sort of issue affecting our budget so giving you a snapshot of today allows me to show that financial planning should be open to change whenever there is new information. So without further ado, how we spend money – pie chart edition:

As I have mentioned before, we live off my salary and save Mr. Tucker’s salary. So the figures above represent the percentages we spend based on my salary alone. It puts us over the “recommended” housing allowance of 33% but not by much. I am sure you have some questions so let’s go through the categories:

Hydro, water, gas (residential) – 8.63%: I suppose I could have done these categories better since I know them and they may not be as obvious to you (duh). So the top three entries are what most people would shuffle under “utilities,” and they represent electricity, water, and our heating/cooling/hot water tank, respectively. We also only get a water bill every second month, so this number reflects the average per month amount/

Housing – 34.53%: this is the rent we currently pay to live in our home. We rent from a relative and by the end of the year we plan to buy this house outright and this category should go down.

Car savings/emergency savings – 6.90%: Car savings represents what we save for maintaining our (paid off) Grand Caravan and our savings for a future car down the road. Our car is 7-years-old this year but since we haven’t driven it a lot (it has under 85000km) maintenance has been low. We’ve driven many of those KMs in the last year due to my current medical issues but hope to reduce that soon.

Groceries/personal care – 13.81%: To be honest, this is what I budget monthly but we also belong to a CSA that we pay for in February and that is filed under the “all from list” category (more about that later). These are our fresh vegetables and fruit from the middle of May until the Middle of October.

Gas – 3.22%: the second (confusing) entry for gas. This is actually gas for the car. When we are not driving my disabled butt around this is much lower (but an entry appears for public transport) but since Mr. Tucker works from home and we are walking distance from most amenities we don’t usually need to drive as much.

Cell/insurance – 8.10%: This category is a one-line entry on my budget because I actually have these amounts come off my credit card and then I pay my credit card like a bill. Because they are constant amounts every month, it makes it easier to lump them together. Currently, it stands for our life insurance, our car insurance, and our cell phones/internet, as well as our YMCA membership (which, after the summer we are going to cancel but for now we get a huge markdown on summer camps for the kids so we keep their basic membership rolling).

RESP – 1.84%: Registered Education Savings Plan. Self-explanatory, but essentially post-secondary education for the kids. This amount will hopefully go up significantly once we pass our first tax year with Mr. Tucker’s new job.

Pocket money – 8.63%: This could probably be renamed “Entertainment,” but for simplicity I have lumped Mr. Tucker’s rehearsal fees for his band in here as well as the money I allocate for fun spending every month. This is because he pays once-a-month. Conversely, I put my dragon boat fees in the category below because the payment is once-a-year.

All from list – 14.59%: If you are thinking this is a strange entry, you are correct. However, it’s my most important strategy for managing expenses that don’t come up once a month. They may come out once a year, or two or three times a year, but if I save for them monthly they aren’t surprises. Here is an example of things we have on the list: extracurriculars for the kids, snow removal, clothing, child care, replacing household items and birthday/Christmas gifts. I have this amount socked away in a savings account at an online bank and when the amounts are due, I just move the money back over to our checking account.

That is pretty much it. I am not the kind of person that needs to have every category meticulously balanced down to the penny so sometimes our entertainment money may go to buying really good steaks for the BBQ, and even though I have a grocery budget monthly our CSA comes out of our “all from list,” category. I don’t feel the need to perfectly categorize every cent into its appropriate field because all I want is a big-number snapshot at how our spending is going. By knowing my averages every month I will also know if any adjustments need to be made. Whenever a category changes (ie: car insurance goes up), I make adjustments accordingly.

What is interesting to note is that I keep all these as averages and so there is almost always extra money in the account from various places. So while our house gas bill during the summer months is $60 it may go as high as $175 during the coldest of winter months. I also don’t budget 100% of my income, which you will see when you add up the percentages.

Real math people will look at my charts and roll their eyes because they are probably the kind of people who need to know where every single cent goes. I am not that person. I just need a road map to make sure I am heading in the right direction. I don’t get panicked by detours because of the easy-going nature of my average categories. When things change, just go with the flow and change with it.

Tracking real money spent

Because a budget is a projection of anticipated spending, I also have a column beside the budgeted amount to reflect the real amount. Here are some numbers from July, in percentages (based on just my income):

As you can see some numbers will be 100% bang on, such as my car savings and Housing number. That number is an automatic withdrawal from my account every month for the same amount. If you look at our Pocket money amount though, I haven’t spent it all because the month isn’t over. So far I have only spent over 1/3 of the money I have allocated. Things like gas for the car fluctuate constantly.

At the end of the year I can add up all my columns when I go to re-do my budget and see the categories I have overspent – or underspent – in and adjust accordingly.

I update this spreadsheet whenever I pay a bill, or at minimum you could update the spreadsheet about once-a-month to ensure you are on track.

So who brings in what?

I hemmed-and-hawed about this pie chart because it’s a bit of a misrepresentation. You see, Mr. Tucker has no income tax taken off at the source so we will be on the hook for that tax at the end of the year. However, because we have so much contribution room in our RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Program) carried over from previous tax years, I think we will be able to get our taxes close to zero for at least the next two tax years. Once that changes, this pie chart will definitely change.

Also, my amount is not just my net, but it is also my net amount after taxes, benefits, pension, and insurance through my employer. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just count total amount coming in every month.

Our government benefits are the amount the Canadian government gives us for our two children based on our family net income. Obviously, the less you make the more you get (you can play with the benefits calculator here if you are interested). What is simultaneously funny and not-funny is that if we bring Mr. Tucker’s tax liability down to zero next year, this amount can conceivably skyrocket even though our gross income doesn’t change.

So if you have kids, the more you save for retirement will a> give you retirement savings that can grow without capital gains, b> reduce your income tax by up to 50% of the amount you have saved, c> help you qualify for more Canada Childcare Benefits. So if you needed a push to get you saving – there it is!

But your chart isn’t realistic!

Nope! I deliberately don’t include Mr. Tucker’s salary because I never want to think of it as income, I want my brain to earmark it as savings at all times. However, for fun I did put together another chart to show you what it would look like with his amount included. You will notice that in this chart, Emergency savings, car savings, and RESPs are lumped in with “savings” so you can get a big picture idea of what our total savings rate is. You will also notice that it doesn’t add up to 100% because I haven’t allocated every single cent & always have a small bit of “give” in our checking account.

The other wildcard in this equation is that since Mr. Tucker gets paid in USD I did his income calculation based on the average exchange for this year. This may give us an idea but until the year closes I won’t know what the real exchange is. So again, I am not looking for perfect here, just an idea. That’s why we call them projections.

What is also not reflected is that Mr. Tucker will see bonuses over the year and I will also get a cost-of-living increase. In the past I have allocated that money to savings or vacation – sometimes both. But because we can’t rely on these quite yet, I don’t add them to our projections.

To be honest, I know some people will look at the way I manage our money and think it is either too easygoing or way too difficult to manage. But remember: a budget is personal. The way you manage your money will reflect your personality. In the end, my personal view on budgets still stands: A budget is a plan you put in place to free yourself from having to think about money.

Hopefully this post inspires you to put your own system in place that not only reflects your personality, but that also will give you financial peace of mind.

Happy budgeting!

Inspiring video drops

So convalescing is taking more out of me than I think I would like to admit. So writing is on the back burner for now. Still, over the past two days I have watched two great videos I’d like to share that may give you some encouragement.

First, Peter Dinklage giving a talk on what led him to his current fame and the steps and thoughts that brough him there:

Secondly, I heard about Penny Rimbaud (one of the founders of the punk band CRASS) and how he and Gee Vaucher rented a tumbledown house in London. They kept an open-door policy and soon people had come and renovated the space & the gardens with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers with various outbuildings built as well. People came an exchanged their labour & created an oasis in the process. They keep their lives very simple to be able to concentrate on art. When asked, Rimbaud said, “I don’t think I have every paid tax. How much do you need to earn? £5000 a year? I don’t earn anything like that.”

June savings update & life update

This post should be my budget post, part II. Alas, it isn’t! My apologies but I had to review all our numbers with Mr. Tucker’s new job and since then I have had to revamp my numbers. I am waiting for his next pay period to solidify the numbers and then I will be able to give concrete percentages of where we allocate money.

Since I last posted, we had our week-long vacation at a rented cottage with some friends. For the past couple of years some neighbourhood families have rented cottages all together for a week so our kids can enjoy a typical Canadian adventure: swimming, catching frogs/fish, and enjoying hikes and campfires. Now that the kids are older the adults can relax a bit and enjoy some much-needed respite. All told, it was a great week – and definitely not long enough – I am sure I will have some follow-up comments on that.

I will get to the good stuff though: our June numbers. This month Mr. Tucker had some shares from a previous employer that were sold for various reasons. This added to our kitty nicely as you can see below.

With Mr. Tucker’s new pay structure I actually had to take my third pay in May and organize our finances so we are ahead. Let me explain. At Mr. Tucker’s previous job he got paid twice a month on the 15th and the 30th so I organized our bills into two “mini budgets” twice a month to reflect what bills we paid with what paycheck. In order to keep with this schedule (which works well) I just needed to organize it so that my first pay fell before the 15th as I am paid bi-weekly. So taking my “extra” pay in May to start to get ahead of the game made sense when we are now living entirely off of one salary. So we are always a little bit ahead.

Our plan going forward is to bank all of Mr. Tucker’s salary in a 60/40 split between house/pension savings and his RRSPs, respectively. That will help us save the money we need and reduce our taxes significantly.

In other news, tomorrow is my surgery. I am supposed to be off work for a fairly long time but I only have a certain amount of time banked that I can use. Let’s hope they meet up! I am incredibly grateful that I work a job with a> supportive upper management, and b> a good benefits package. Even still, there will be some expenses that will have to be paid for out of pocket. We have some savings and while my benefits are good, I have discovered that they don’t cover a lot of things disabled people require, which was an eye opener.

I hope my convalescence will encourage me to write more blog posts! I swear I have a ton of subjects in a note on my phone I just never have time to write about them!

At any rate, Mr. Tucker is whipping up a special dinner (which I am trying not to equate to the Last Supper) of all the things I enjoy. I am hopeful this will be my last medical adventure for the foreseeable future. Wish me luck!

Everyone loves to hate budgets – Part 1

My friend Devon asked me to write about budgets so I thought I would put together a wee post summing up my budget theory and discussing the different approaches. There is a LOT of info out there though, so I don’t want to make it too complicated. Before we begin though, we have to tackle the elephant in the room: people hate budgets. They shouldn’t, and I am going to explain why.

People often view budgets as restrictive, like having a old school marm pointing a finger at them from the recesses of their brains saying, “THOU SHALT NOT SPEND MONEY!” This is exactly the wrong mentality to have. A budget – at its simplest – is just a plan. It’s a system you have put together to meet your goals. It is just a tool and like every tool requires an actual human to make it work – for good or bad. My budget theory is as follows (and I suggest you write this down):

A budget is a plan you put in place to free yourself from having to think about money.

Once again, for those in the back:

A BUDGET IS A PLAN TO FREE YOURSELF FROM HAVING TO THINK ABOUT MONEY

Sounds contradictory, right? It isn’t and I will tell you why. Once you set up your budget most things on it can be set-it-and-forget it. Over time you will know what to expect and know where you need to tweak. It is only when you don’t have a plan that you waste inordinate amounts of time thinking about money. Does this sound familiar? “I hope this doesn’t overdraw the account!” “I hope my pay goes in before they cash that cheque!” “I wonder if we will be able to afford to travel and visit the family this year?” When you have a budget you will know the answers to these questions because you will have it all written down. It doesn’t even have to be perfect, a road map is still good even if you have to take the occasional detour.

Budget theory

There are a million ways to budget and they all have commonalities but I don’t want to get caught up in the minutiae here because we are all different. If you are looking for something simple to start with, I recommend Elizabeth/Amelia Warren’s plan from All You’re Worth (a great read, I recommend it highly) called the Balanced Money Formula, and it looks like this:

Must Haves: such as housing, food, utilities
Savings: such as retirement, education, long term goals
Wants: pretty much everything else

It’s a pretty simple way to divvy up your money provided you have enough money coming in for your needs, have no debt, and want to retire at around 65. If so, this formula is for you.

However, if you are like me and are looking to reach big goals (such as saving almost $64k in one year) your budget will look a lot differently. With Mr. Tucker’s new job, our budget currently looks like this:

As you can see, our outgo for Must Haves and Wants are much smaller than our savings rate. That makes sense given our goals and our ability to save one salary and live off another.

Obviously, there are a myriad of ways to calculate your own personal percentages given your own personal parameters. I will say though: be honest with yourself. No one is keeping track besides you so you aren’t fooling anyone.

Budget methods

Cash system

Works well with: people who have a lot of debt or spending problems

I have always been a huge fan of Gail Vaz Oxlade and her TV shows (Til Death do us Part, Money Moron, Princess,). If you haven’t had a chance to watch them, they are still available on Slice. She recommends the cash system to help people climb out of debt and take control of their finances. Also called the envelope or jar system, you allocate your monthly cash to one of these pots and when the money is gone, it’s gone.

To be honest, I haven’t really liked this system mostly because I am a digital kind of girl. There is research saying you tend to spend more when you use cards as opposed to handing out cash as cash seemed more psychologically “real.” In recent years though, I have also seen opposing research saying electronic payments are more difficult. Who knows? For me, the question is about complication: when I pay so much online, actually putting cash in pots was inconvenient and made me give up. Having said that, I think if one were to use a mix of systems – the envelope system works perfectly for things like wants, groceries, personal care, and clothing/accessories to help you stay within budget. Anything where there is a real-world transaction is a good place to use this system – or if you have one particular expense that keeps getting away from you.

Zero-sum

Works well with: consistent income

This is closest to what I use. The idea behind it is that you budget monthly with every cent going to one category until at the end of the month you have nothing left over (or it carries over to another category). You start allocating money in order of responsibility, hoping to hit a good pie chart for your situation. Most are set up monthly but they can also be set up by pay period, or any other time you prefer. I will go through this one in more detail later because it is also the most popular of all the budget systems.

Fluctuating

Works well with: irregular income

If you are a consultant, artist, or have a job with a heavy bonus or sales kickback structure this budget is for you. Not knowing when the money is coming in can be incredibly frustrating but you can mitigate some of that stress by knowing how much your living expenses are. Review your last year and tally up how much you spent and then make an estimated guess as to how much you need every month and base your budget on that. So if your expenses are $1500 but you bring in $2000 in January but only $1000 in February you won’t panic because you know you still have $500 leftover from the previous month to cover it.

People with fluctuating income often work in feast-or-famine mode spending all the money as it comes in and then filling in the gaps with credit until the next big payday. This is stressful and confusing to manage. By creating a budget to reflect your reality I guarantee over time that you will start to see trends and account for them. If you are smart, you will also build up enough of a buffer to be able to know when you can, say, take a larger break away from work for a period of time.

So now that we’ve covered the basics, next time I will get down to the nitty-gritty of our budget.

(to read Everyone Loves to Hate Budgets – Part II click here)

New horizons


Mr. Tucker doing some online training at night (with liquid assistance)

In my last post I alluded to a third reason our finances were all out of whack. That reason: Mr. Tucker changed jobs.

Mr. Tucker had been with his previous company for nine years and when they were acquired he stepped out of his comfort zone and started looking at other options. There was no one thing that stood out to force him to look – he still enjoyed working with his company and liked both the work and his coworkers – but he felt like it was time. At the same time another company was looking for someone with his skillset to take over a really exciting position to grow a team at a smaller company. So the fates aligned and VOILA: new position.

Of course, he hemmed and hawed about it because like most animals we are comfortable with what we know. However, taking risks are also important for growth. With my job being fairly secure at the moment and considering we live off one salary, he took the plunge.

This particular position is a higher level at a higher salary but it also comes with its own challenges such as: we are being paid in a foreign currency and we have to arrange all our taxes. This actually works a bit in our favour as we can use the pre-tax amount to put into our retirement accounts and reduce our tax load significantly (we both have ample contribution room in our RRSPs). Because we are essentially living off my salary – which is a stable amount – we are using his for savings. That will help us not worry as much about the fluctuating currency rates.

The biggest negative is that he only gets paid once-a-month, and while that is not a big deal once we get into the swing of things, it did sort of mess with our budget at a time we had to outlay for summer camps & bear the full cost of my physiotherapy. I mentioned in my previous post that one of the reasons why we couldn’t save as much was because we had planned to stagger our vacation time to cover child care. Unfortunately, Mr. Tucker needs to be available to work this summer so we had to throw money at the problem and pay for summer camps. Luckily, May was a three-paycheck month for me so that helped negate some of the money challenges but for obvious reasons, our savings suffered.

The other thing that kind of stinks is that his previous company paid for a bunch of lovely perks: Mr. Tucker’s cell phone*, half our internet, half of our YMCA membership. His new company is much smaller and we haven’t figured out how that will work going forward. From what I can tell we will have to bear the majority of the costs for these things. On a positive note: tax credits. So we will have to review that next tax season.

Thankfully, it is still a work-from-home position as his new company is in Southern California so our child care costs remain non-existent during the school year. He does work longer hours mostly because he is super passionate about creating excellent processes and building a great team at his new company, so that works out.

So change is afoot in casa del Tucker and I am hoping long-term this will allow us to ramp up our savings even more and reach our goals quicker.

In a strange twist of events, the day Mr. Tucker started at his new job he learned that some remote workers at his old job were being let go. The company is moving to have all their workers on-site. Of course, there is no way to tell if he would have been one of those that were let go but we both feel a huge sigh of relief knowing that we don’t have to worry about that. One friend of mine put it perfectly when I relayed this information, “Well it just goes to show that sometimes not taking risks is riskier than taking risks.”

Ain’t that the truth.

*After I posted this Mr. Tucker informed me that they were no longer paying cellphones for remotes, either.

Savings update – April & May

This spring has been an absolute gong show and for that I apologize. I am still feeling a bit off and work has been hectic so blogging has not been on my radar. We continued to spend a lot more money than necessary in April but thankfully while it’s slowed down our savings rate we are still on track and things are still looking good.

April:

As I discussed in my last post, Mr. Tucker’s company was acquired and so they had to clean everything up before they transferred it over to the new owners. SURPRISE: Mr. Tucker had vacation that they paid out. Now, a couple of years ago the company moved to one of those Silicon Valley take-as-much-vacation-as-you-want models which meant his previous accrual just sat there. We didn’t even know he really had it until they sent him an email telling him they were paying it out. WOO HOO: straight into savings for you!

May:

Technically, today is the last day of May but I know that despite the fact it was a three-paycheck month, we didn’t save as much.

Firstly, we had to outlay for summer camps. Our goal to use a variety of vacation strategies has fallen through due to my surgery and another new thing that I will discuss in my next post. So we ended up scrambling to cover childcare. Now, luckily for us the kids love the local YMCA neighbourhood camps so despite the fact we offered to pay for a more expensive option for a couple of weeks, they chose the least-expensive option. So that worked out.

Secondly, we continued to overspend due to chaotic work schedules and health issues. My physio isn’t covered for this month due to the way my benefits work, so that was also pricey. We also ate out more because Mr. Tucker had to do a lot more work this month. I will 100% admit we could have done better here.

Thirdly…is a topic for a later post.

I will say: because our ducks were all lined up we didn’t accumulate debt and were still able to save, just not at a rate that I would have liked.

So that is where we are at right now! I need to buy my pension by November of this year but it looks like we won’t have to outlay for the house before February 2018, which gives us even more time to save. So even though it’s not been perfect I am happy with the way things are going right now.

You can’t plan everything, but you can plan for something

A couple of weeks ago I was home sick when Mr. Tucker learned that his company was being acquired by another company. All-of-a-sudden it became a flurry of questions and what-ifs. The company was liquidating: people in the US needed to change health care, the vacation rules changed (and old hours paid out), and the general sentiment was worried about what the future would hold.

Of course, being the only Canadian employee, Mr. Tucker was concerned. Despite being relatively inexpensive and well respected, it’s also a hassle to have a separate pay system just for him, they are beholden to the laws of our province (so there is that extra legal layer), and the odd occasion it means he can’t work on certain contracts. But hey, they don’t pay for our healthcare or extended benefits (we get those through my work and told his company they could save the $500 they were spending previously).


Hilariously, his company shipped this plant (illegally!) across the border with a note that said “Let’s Grow Together!” Uh, was that intentional irony?

Having said that, we are in a good place: we can happily survive off one salary, which is no small security blanket, and Mr. Tucker has skills that would see him finding a job fairly quickly. The challenge would be all the perks we get currently, which add up to no small sum! Mr. Tucker’s workplace pays for most of his cell phone and our internet bill, 60% of our YMCA membership, and Mr. Tucker works from home on Pacific time which means he can be with the kids when they get home from school (while everyone in the west is on lunch). Not having to commute or pay for childcare is a huge boon for our family, and if Mr. Tucker had to find another job, those are two new things that we would have to manage time and budget-wise.

Of course, we knew there would be hiccoughs so to no one’s surprise Mr. Tucker’s pay did not go through when it should have. It’s also been an ungodly administrative hassle aside from the fact his new company is trying its best to get that money to him. Because the new pay contract couldn’t accommodate the short notice, his work tried to transfer him the money – the net amount he usually gets – a few days before payday. So kudos for them for trying. Of course now the money is stuck in bank limbo with no bank involved claiming to have the money: the issuing bank says it’s gone, our bank says it’s not received. On the other side of the equation, paying us just the net amount means we will still owe taxes, EI, and CPP so we are trying to get an answer as to how that will work out. In essence: it’s a major headache.


I think I can, I think I can

Now we are almost five days from payday with nary a cent to be seen.

Now in a country where half of people live paychque-to-paycheque & many of my colleagues and friends have been what we have (not-so-fondly) come to call ”being Phoenixed,” a five day hold could be absolutely devastating. So I am grateful that we aren’t in that position. Having said that, there are a few ways that we’ve stacked the deck to ensure a short-to-medium term lapse in pay won’t affect us:

We live below our means: we have made the decision to keep our budget as tight as makes us happy so that we can save an entire salary.

We have savings: we keep an emergency fund of one month’s bills in a liquid account (we also have long-term savings elsewhere, if needed).

We have adequate storage of essentials: our house isn’t a bunker but we do buy in bulk so if we needed to, we could live happily on the food we have stored.

We have a bare-bones budget plan: I have already done an “emergency” budget where I know what I can cut quickly to reduce our expenses even lower (sayonara Netflix!). It’s not a pleasant budget but it would help us weather a storm.

We have family and friends we can rely on: we have a community we could tap into if we were desperate for things such as childcare. Needless to say, we’d also return the favour. Nurturing relationships is how humans have historically been able to survive emergencies.

So while we never know what is on the horizon we can effectively hedge ourselves against the worst disasters. It’s important to always have a backup plan for times like these where, say, a paycheque that is five days late so it won’t start a cavalcade of missed payments and charges. The peace of mind alone is worth having a decent plan for your family. If you don’t have a plan, what’s stopping you?


…and just like that we nursed it back to health. If this plant was a metaphor…

Free Lunch!

HEY GUYZ, LOOK: A FREE LUNCH! Let’s venture in and see what is inside!

As the old adage goes: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Still, that doesn’t stop businesses from offering free lunches – nor does it stop people from attending them. Saying an event is private, exclusive, or that it has limited seating is old hat. It’s combination of Velvet Rope marketing (aka: the cool kids club) and Scarcity Marketing (which motivates people by implying there is a shortage of something which kicks in people’s FOMO – fear of missing out). If you’ve ever bought something that was a “limited time offer” or bought a “limited edition” product, you’ve been manipulated by one of these two marketing strategies.

Hilariously, I received this invitation because I work in Communications and have done business with/attended conferences at that venue. It’s the reason I ended up on the mailing list when I am obviously not the demographic they are targeting.

Man, these people have it ALL figured out: celebrity endorsement, too? So far we have three very effective marketing tools. Of course, Mr. HGTV-show-having guy in no way endorses the product, he just is there to collect a cheque by making a short speech and standing on the red carpet (velvet rope, again) with the Free Lunch Attendees to take pictures. He is also an appeal to authority because not only is he a celebrity, he’s a guy who knows a thing or two about renovations and real estate judging by the shows he has been on (none of which I have never seen but Wikipedia tells me he’s had a few popular ones). What a perfect storm of effective marketing!

Here it is! The great reveal:You, too, can be rich in real estate!

Beginner? No problem!
Experienced? No problem!
Bad credit? No problem!
Risk? No problem!
Flip properties quickly? No problem!

Low risk! No obligation! No high pressure sales pitch! No strings attached! FREE! Only for the select few!

I also forgot to mention that the 50 first people get a laptop (may not be as shown in photo!).

The caveats here are pretty amazing but in the interest of keeping things short, let’s get to the most important part of the fine print: AFTER ATTENDING THE INTRODUCTORY EVENT MOST ATTENDEES DON’T USE THE INFORMATION OR MAKE MONEY. Then of course we go from “low risk” to REAL ESTATE CARRIES A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF RISK, AND IT IS POSSIBLE TO LOSE MONEY IN REAL ESTATE. No freaking kidding, huh?

I will admit, I haven’t been caught up in the real estate hype that channels like HGTV have been pushing with their programming. I have seen a few episodes on renovating and flipping houses but it hasn’t inspired me to do it myself. Still, most of those people featured got into the real estate game early and had a certain set of skills to make their flips or rentals profitable. Still, I know a lot of people get caught up in real estate flipping and I have seen this played out in real life in my own neighbourhood. Our post-war community boasts large lots, solid houses, and a central location. Unfortunately, its location next to a booming community has doubled house prices in the last 10 years, making true deals rare. I have witnessed many misguided people buy houses in need of an upgrade, pour a ton of money into them, and then…watch them sit on the market for a long, long time. The fact is that in order to make money, you have to buy low, upgrade, and then sell high. In a neighbourhood where most houses are about $450k, buying an un-renoed house at $400k, pumping in $50k, and then trying to sell for $550K is pretty impossible. One family I know ended up having to sell their original house and move into their “income” property because it wouldn’t sell.

I am not saying real estate investing is a bad idea – it isn’t if it is done well. Like any new venture, people should do research before diving in (and there are a ton of free blogs out there with great info!). But TV shows who make it look easy are good marketing tools for the average person who is looking to get rich, quick – and that combination makes them a target for scammers. Often, these people haven’t done their research and instead have gotten swept up in the hype and they get taken for a ride.

Of course, I naturally tried to find reviews and comments on what these conferences are trying to sell, and it looks like it could be a longer course or more learning events. Since I won’t attend this FREE LUNCH, I guess I will never know. However, Moneysense magazine has an article on the the true secrets of real estate seminars which may give us an inkling of what to expect.

Caveat emptor, kids.

Unharried holidays

I used to run myself ragged making everything perfect for every holiday. Like many women I had kids and then became determined to give them the same specialness that I had experienced as a child. Of course, the things I remember are not the matching linens or well-placed dinnerware but that did not stop me from trying to make everything perfect to the best of my ability.

Frankly, that was stupid AF.

I would like to say my change of heart is because I am older and wiser but that would be a lie. The reason why I eventually toned everything down is because I started working outside the house again combined with some mysterious mobility issues (finally diagnosed & treated). It just got impossible to shop, pay for, cook, and clean up after every holiday so we finally started asking for help.

Part of our challenge is that Mr. Tucker and I both come from small families. In his family it’s just his dad, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend. On my side is my divorced parents, my dad’s girlfriend, my brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. So if you followed that confusing familial breakdown two things are pretty clear: we are the only ones with small children, and we are the only people who can feasibly host a dinner. My brother did it for a few years but we always felt badly because that left Mr. Tucker’s family out, so we are back to hosting.

One holiday that was the easiest to switch up was Easter. Instead of a dinner, I finally swapped it out for a brunch. From a logistical point of view it made a lot more sense given the kids spent the day eating nothing but junk from 6am onwards. By dinnertime they were usually absolutely wiped out, which was unpleasant for all of us. It sucked to have our relatives over just when the kids were hitting a sugar crash.

I also didn’t do a full-scale brunch. I pretty much stocked up on hors d’oevres and whipped up small things such as a cheese plate or veggie tray. I had family bring their own contributions: prosecco, OJ, beer, breakfast sandwiches, a ham, and/or whatever small food they wanted to bring. Then brunch was just a question of heating and serving a few things.

The benefit to this set-up is that the pressure was off us. A brunch is more laid back, it was all self-serve, and we spent less time in the kitchen and more time visiting with our guests. It was also easier to clean up as we used compostable paper plates and napkins. There was no elaborate dinner party to clean up after, it was all pretty much easy to host from start to finish.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the elaborate dinner party. There is something just so comforting and cozy about having all my family gathered around my great-grandparent’s dining room table. So for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we still do a sit-down dinner but we ask our guests to contribute. Often we will buy the turkey but someone else will bring a vegetable, the stuffing, buns, potatoes, and wine. So at the very least the financial pressure is off us to supply everything.

I am also incredibly lucky in the fact that Mr. Tucker enjoys cooking so much that he does the majority of the heavy lifting when we do host dinners. Our families also help with tidying up afterwards and so we’ve never felt like we’ve been on the hook for every detail. Having everyone bring something even if we end up cooking it is a better way to manage a large meal. Often we are cooking for 10-12 people so this helps us keep the entire holiday manageable for our family.

I have seen some people online whinge that potlucks are tacky and that if you can’t do everything then don’t bother hosting at all. Ok, fine, but that means our families would never get together as we are all fractured and the only common connection is our family. I don’t think Mr. Tucker and I could have continued to host every family get-together – financially or time/energywise – had we not switched things up and asked people to help. That would have meant not getting together at all during holidays. I feel that asking your guests to contribute and to help take the stress off the hosts is a good balance when the same family has to host every holiday. Besides, when all of us do something it frees up more time to spend actually connecting and hanging out as a family, which is the point of spending time together, after all.

Things I have learned:

– No one cares as much about fancy décor and table settings as I think they do
– Kids will remember that we all got together, not what we served and ate
– There are no points for making stuff from scratch if it means missing out on family quality time
– Potlucks beat not getting together at all
– Most people are happy to contribute and help out – ask!
– Letting go of your own expectations will be the hardest part of change

Being forced to let go of my own “perfect holiday” narrative opened up a whole new world for me and reduced my stress monumentally. I no longer panic if the vegetables are a little overdone or if the turkey is dry. It is never about reaching some unattainable perfection. So go forth and give yourself permission to let go of what you think a holiday should be and replace it with what it really is: a time to get together: to eat, drink, and be merry.


Small food and Mimosas are all part of this relaxing Easter brunch

Life and goal update – March 2017

Better late than never as the old adage goes! March came in like a lion and went out…like a lion. We had our last snow on the 31st, which is fairly late even for our northern clime. Luckily, spring is finally here and so as nature crawls out from beneath the snow, I feel like I should crawl out again, too. So apologies for my lack of updates but hopefully I will get better now that the sun is shining.

In my last post I casually mentioned that I was working on a few things to help my overall health both mentally and physically. I am happy to say that I did manage to find an amazing physiotherapist and I am now going twice a week to work on my movement issues. I am doing much, much better since starting this routine and while I am behind on my at-home exercises, I am still progressing well. I have been lax on the writing but I have started to make a dent in my reading list which gives me a good mental boost.

I haven’t been as great with the food – both cooking and eating – and while I am still getting a good amount of vegetables I am not eating as well as I would like. I need to reduce the easy-to-grab carbs and up the lean protein. We have also been eating out way too often and I’ve purchased lunch thrice last month, which is rare. All this comes down to being better at food prep and so today I will be working on getting our meal plan done so that weekday meals will be easier to manage. I’ll let you know how it goes but generally speaking I know if I pre-prep most things on the weekend, it ensures we eat well & don’t eat out. It’s the busiest season at work and it’s much easier right now to throw in the towel so I need to use as many tools in my arsenal to make sure I stay on track.

I met with my ortho Doc this week and as I suspected, I will need the ankle reconstruction. There are a myriad of fun problems happening in there but nothing is a major emergency so he said I could wait a few months before booking. This is a good thing because this means I can do paddle in the Dragonboat Festival in June as well as be mobile for our week at the cottage in July. His admin assistant will call me with a surgery date after the 9th of July, as per my request, which is amazing. Don’t get me wrong: I am still not thrilled to be out of commission for 6 weeks but at least I won’t miss the highlights of my summer.

Finally, we are still kicking butt in our savings goal so that we can be mortgage free by the end of the year. In fact – and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here – the beginning of April marked some huge things in our savings goals. Still, sticking with March’s update, here is our thermometer:

That’s a 28% increase to our savings in one month. Not bad! I am 19% of the way there. Of course, every month won’t be like this but hey, let’s take our victories where we can.

Although we are halfway through April, I have a few things I want to take care of:

– The other day Sprout said to me, “Mama, you know what? We haven’t been to a dentist in awhile.” Ugh, cue the guilt! She is absolutely right. Since our old dentist passed away I have been pretty lax about finding a new one. A neighbour recommended a new dentist nearby and I need to call and make an appointment. Considering I have benefits that will pay for preventative dentistry it is silly not to go a couple of times a year to get our checkups and cleanings. So my “spring cleaning” list will be to book dental cleanings for the whole family.

– I need to do more cardio. I really want to bike outside but until my balance is better I should stick to the indoor exercise bike. I should be doing at least ½ hour a day of cardio to just get my respiratory system going after a year of sedentary behaviour (half a year in a wheelchair and the other half on crutches will do that). My plan is to bait myself with Netflix shows on the iPad because I find stationary cardio ridiculously boring.

So that wraps up the March update! With better weather on the horizon I hope that it will continue to improve my mood and with it give me the energy to improve my physical health as well.

Happy Easter (musings on living in a great community)

It’s a long weekend here in the Great White North and while I get both Friday and Monday off, Mr. Tucker works for an American company so he’s working both days. It’s interesting to have a family who often has different holidays off but it has worked out in terms of childcare savings, so not all is lost!

As I have mentioned before, we have a great community of active parents who plan various activities. I have my close-knit friend group and we alternate holidays (as you know, I always do Christmas) and Easter is no different. So on Friday I rounded up the kids and we headed over to a neighbour’s house for egg decorating and hangouts. This particular friend lives across the street from the neighbourhood park so the kids went back-and-forth while the parents got to catch up after a long winter indoors. As usual, it was a resounding success and my kids took home some lovely eggs to decorate our Easter table.

Then Saturday morning was the community Easter egg hunt. A neighbour organized it so that every parent put together 10 eggs per kid and hid them in the park at 9:30am so when the kids all showed up at 10:30am they could each find 10 eggs for their baskets. I wasn’t actually going to do it but my friend Sara (rightfully) pointed out that I was being a bit of a killjoy and since she happened to have extra eggs & candy for my kids, we should definitely participate. So we did and the kids had an amazing time running around the park, hunting for plastic eggs.

Never underestimate the value of an engaged community. I landed here quite accidentally but if I knew now what I knew before I had kids, I would definitely look to culture as a determining factor before choosing where to live. We have a fairly robust facbeook community presence & some great volunteers, and these things have made our little area of the world a great place to raise kids. I have known the same families since my kids were little and there is a lot of value in having your children surrounded by many adults they can turn to and trust. These community events are a fun way to get together and celebrate holidays but the larger piece to this puzzle is having this community has given us all a higher quality of life overall. I know I can send my kids to the park and that there will be an adult close by in case something happens. I know they can bike around the neighbourhood and if something goes wrong, they can knock on someone’s door for help. You can’t buy that kind of comfort and security, it’s created when adults get together and choose to be those people.

Is your neighbourhood the kind of neighbourhood that fosters community spirit? If not, ask yourself if maybe you can get the ball rolling on some local spirit-building. Here are a few things you could try:

– If there isn’t a social media presence for your neighbourhood: start one. This ensures that people who work full time also get included in plans. If you don’t know many people in your neighbourhood, maybe put up posters in high-traffic areas (stores, parks, schools).

– Start an impromptu playgroup for kids. Some SAHPs have ones during the week but a weekend get-together at the local park once-a-month can be a great opportunity to meet the people around.

– Volunteer with your community association. Our community association maintains the skating rink and puts on both winter and summer family fun days. (full disclosure, we haven’t done anything this year because of my disability but we usually attend the AGM and volunteer at the rink)

– Start a club: my friend Sara started our neighbourhood book club when her kids were babies. Ten years later and it is still going strong. There is also a walking club that meets regularly as well. For kids, our neighbourhood had a pick-up soccer team that would get together on Sundays that our friends Trent & Krista coached/organized.

– Get involved in your school, church, library, or community centre. There are often knitting groups, choirs, and sometimes sports-related activities that will help you get out there and meet people in your environs.

For me, making friends with my neighbours was a necessity when my kids were young because almost all my friends are child-free – I needed people to hangout with during kid-friendly hours! But making friends with your neighbours will introduce you to people you may never have interacted with had you not been geographically co-located. It exposes you to new ideas, new points of view, and gives you the skills to co-exist with the people around you. In a world where the Internet allows us the ability to be insular, getting out in your community can be a radical act.