Posted on October 21, 2016
Short answer: kids and a husband.
Long answer: I know that there is a lot of emphasis on side hustles in the FIRE community and I completely understand that. What is better than retiring early? Retiring even earlier! It makes complete sense to me that people would want to actively seek out ways to make even more cash they can stash.
But it’s really not my thing.
A couple of years ago I did have the opportunity to work part-time from home doing some consulting work while I also worked a full time job. I just couldn’t do it. At the time my kids were 2 and 4 years old and between work, commuting, the kids, and all the wonderful things that happen in life, I just felt so exhausted by 8pm that I didn’t have anything left to give. I really envy people who can do all these things, and then when their kids are in bed give even more, whether it be to their art, a side hustle, or to volunteer work. I don’t want to take away anything from these people, they should be super proud of themselves for having these goals and working towards them.
Truth be told, I love the idea of side hustles. I read articles about people like Sean Cooper and my first thought is, “WOW, what an incredible accomplishment! Congrats to that guy!” (of course, not everyone is as keen to heap on praise). So please don’t conflate my lack of interest in side hustles with snubbing them. I think they are a worthwhile pursuit, in the same way going back to school can be: short term pain for long term gain. It makes sense to me, and if you can do it, that’s amazing.
For myself, I am a mixed bag of interests that all sort of float around this idea of personal finance. I read the The Complete Tightwad Gazette when I was 18 and Your Money or Your Life when I was 20, then I cut my teeth on the The Simple Living Guide in my early 20s, so I am no stranger to the statistical outliers of the personal finance game. But if you notice from the above, those three books alone all have similarities but also differences, and that is mostly how I feel about my view of FIRE.
For us, I am willing to cut our expenses to the bone and look for alternatives so that we can save as much as possible. I’ll happily eat beans and rice, and wear socks and a sweater inside in winter. However, I am not willing to give up my evenings cooking with Mr. Tucker while enjoying a glass of wine, helping the kids with their homework, or playing board games as a family. To me, there has to be a balance between today and tomorrow: I am fine with making smart decisions today to reap the benefits in the future, but I am not ok with completely sacrificing today. My kids are only going to be young for so long and I don’t want to miss these moments when they happen. Sure, I could work after they go to bed but KNOW THYSELF: I need some time to decompress after the day, work on personal stuff or catch up on reading, and I need to go to bed early to have the energy for the next day. That’s just me.
I will be the first to admit that the harp was not a frugal choice.
You do you
We all have to choose the levels that work for us. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is perfectly acceptable to figure out what your levels are and live with the results. Besides, everyone starts their FIRE journey at different starting lines: some people are younger, some are older, some are just starting their careers, and some are mid-career. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the way we run this race and while some people will cross the finish line sooner, almost all of us cross the finish line before people who stick with traditional methods.
Mr. Tucker and I both make really good salaries, have a good – but frugal – lifestyle and an ability to cut our expenses to the bone without feeling the pinch. But cutting expenses for a middle class family of four looks very differently than cutting expenses for a single person. While we don’t mind doing the myriad of things we do to save a dollar, we also spend money on things other people – other families, even – do not. Our kids both take music lessons because we put a high value on music in our family and were not capable/willing of teaching our kids. Other people will balk at that idea, because music isn’t a priority, or they will learn music from some youtube videos then teach their own kids. I consider this an awesome way to go about things but it isn’t for us. So we still keep music lessons in our budget because it’s a priority for us. It also satisfies other values in our lives, such as keeping money in our community and supporting local artists.
We understand and accept that when we spend money on lessons for our kids that we are subsequently taking our dollar bill soldiers out of commission from helping us work towards early retirement. We are ok with that and feel the tradeoff is worth it for our family.
You can’t have it all
Of course, when chasing FIRE you have to be judicious in your use of all your resources and cut what you can down to the bone. It’s nice to review your financial situation and know that you can still retire in 5-10 years even if you have some fun along the way. It’s another thing to review your budget and decide to keep a 5000 sq ft house, two expensive resort vacations yearly, music lessons, dance lessons, premium name-brand clothes, eating out at lunch every day, dinners out on the weekends, and high-end alcohol and THEN complain that you don’t understand how other people can retire early.
That’s not being smart with your money, that’s whinging.
Win/win: a friend needed storage for her piano, we wanted to borrow one!
The reality is that we all have choices to make and goals to set. If you want to retire in 10 years but when you crunch the numbers and it tells you that you need to work 15 years, then it’s time to cut. If you are unwilling to cut, then you need to admit to yourself that early retirement is less of a priority to you than the things you are currently spending money on.
Our quality of life is enhanced by music lessons, so those stay in our budget and we plan for them. But when we keep one thing in, another thing has to go. By carefully analyzing what is important to us we can get maximum value from the money we do spend on stuff and experiences.
Conversely, I am not willing to side hustle so that means I either have to strip our budget down or find cheaper versions of the things we need. Mr. Tucker and I are constantly reviewing our expenses and trying to find cheaper versions of everything from cell phone plans to quinoa. Almost all of our attempts to scale down have had either minimal or no impact on our quality of life – but they have reduced the time we have to spend working. I guarantee it, once you actually put the thought and effort into reducing the costs of things, you will often find those things weren’t as important as you once thought. I just tell myself when I reduce that I will always be able to bump it back up if I don’t like it. Nothing is forever.
One-size does not fit all
I don’t like financial advice (or any advice, really) that it dogmatic: THIS IS THE WAY AND THE LIGHT! Yeah, no. But I also don’t believe that a> complaining about things solves problems, and b> criticizing people for doing things differently from you is ok.
In the first instance, your entire life is going to be full of people who (you think) have had it easier than you, or who weren’t as affected by the economy as you, or who just generally have more luck in general. It sucks, and I get it. We all encounter these people in our lives and it’s demoralizing to watch them ride the wave to success while we struggle for our piece of the pie. Honestly though, what can any of us benefit by complaining about it? Does bitching about it make your life any better? No, it does not. It doesn’t because now you are wasting precious time and energy out of your day hyper-focused on something you will never, EVER be able to change: other people. You can change yourself however. You can stop ruminating and put that energy someplace else, maybe even someplace where you can have more success.
Secondly, none of us are going to do things the same way 100% of the time. I will not side hustle at this point in my life but when someone else does and is successful at it I am not going to criticize them. The article above on Mr. Cooper is a great example of this: he busted his butt and achieved something great. So naturally people who didn’t make the same choices as him feel some personal affront at his success. Why? What compels people to jump on their high horses and pick apart someone else’s success? Jealousy. Jealousy is a wasted emotion. It contributes nothing to your life and like complaining, has no value-added. In fact, Mr. Cooper’s side hustlin’ his way to mortgage freedom has ZERO impact in my life, except that I thought it was a cool thing to do and read about.
Finally, it’s important to live with your decisions. I choose family time and a higher quality of life over making more money and retiring a bit earlier. I made these decisions based on our financial situation and our values. I own this decision and I am comfortable with it. If we had less money, we’d have to chop more, if we wanted to retire earlier, we’d cut those music lessons. Maybe you make more, maybe you make less, maybe you have kids, maybe you don’t but the point is that it doesn’t matter. We all have to make choices with the resources we have available to us whether those resources be time, money, or energy so make choices you can live with.
Eventually we all ride off into the sunset
Posted on October 16, 2016
Sometimes you ask and the internet provides. When considering a used car, most of us are pretty clueless as to what to look for before you buy. Obviously, hiring a mechanic who can check out the car is the best court of action but there are things you can actually check yourself. I came across this image on reddit from a guy who asked his mechanic brother what he should be checking and I found it a helpful list for the average person.
Further down the post is a pdf from another guy named Chris which is a checklist for things to look for. He even has a handy video:
If you are currently on the hunt for a new used car, you may find the entire thread a worthwhile read.
Posted on October 13, 2016
A rainy view from my office window
Since today is a miserable day outside I thought I would engage in a little mind exercise. Often, we get caught up in the busyness of every day life and think things like, “man, if I only had an extra day,” or “I can’t wait until I retire so I can do project X!” But the problem with this kind of thinking is that we aren’t exploring the things we can do RIGHT NOW to make our lives better and more enjoyable. Constantly thinking your future self will be happy after you achieve certain milestones ignores the power we have over ourselves to be happy today.
An interesting exercise is to compare what you think a perfect day will look like today compared to a perfect day in the future. So for me, let’s assume it’s a weekday because I will compare a perfect day today to a day in the future in which we retire early. It’s also during the school year, as the summers would look completely different.
Wake up early; enjoy a cup of coffee and some journaling
I pack lunches for the kids and I, and make breakfasts before getting them up & sitting with them while they eat
Take the bus to work, earlier because I am planning on working an extra ½ hour a day (a compressed day) to take off some extra vacation time
(Mr. Tucker gets the kids on the bus)
My workday is busy but manageable and I eat a delicious meal I brought to work and then go for a long walk at lunch
I get home around 5pm and help kids with music practice and homework while Mr. Tucker makes dinner
After dinner we enjoy a cup of tea and play some games or read a book together (assuming this is an evening with no activities)
After the kids are in bed, Mr. Tucker and I tidy and prep for the next day
After chores, we connect over a cup of tea, work on personal projects, watch a show or read for an hour or so
We go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep
Wake up early; enjoy a cup of coffee and some journaling
I pack lunches for the kids and make breakfasts before getting them up & sitting with them while they eat
Do a few chores at home, to get ahead of the day (instead of cramming them in on weekends)
Head off with Mr. Tucker to get some exercise, such as a walk, a bike along the parkway, or over to our local YMCA
Have lunch together at home
Volunteer or work on personal projects such as writing or music
Get the kids off the bus at 3:30 and help with homework/music lessons
Have an early dinner together before heading out to the evening’s activities or playing games/reading together at home
After the kids are in bed, Mr. Tucker and I tidy and prep for the next day
After chores, we connect over a cup of tea, work on personal projects, watch a show or read for a couple of hours
We go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep
I think what is important is not what is different on these two lists but how similar these two lists really are. Our lives aren’t changing drastically except we will have more room for more projects (both personal and house-related) and volunteering. The weekends we can also spend in family-related activities instead of cleaning and errands.
But this is also an “ideal day,” and as we know, not every day is ideal. Usually we stress out about having to get up, get ready for work, commute (me), work all day (I often work through lunch), and worry about how both our jobs can interrupt our evenings and weekends sometimes. Not to mention all the time we spend worrying about work-related things.
The other thing I tend to do is put off starting projects because I am saving them for down the road. If I think about this, it’s silly to do this when a lot of these things could add to the quality of my life right now. For example, I used to be a prolific knitter and keep telling myself that when I have more time I will dig out my knitting stuff again. The thing is, I do have enough time to take my knitting out again! Not only that, the eldest has expressed an interest in learning how to knit, which would be a fun thing for us to do together (and I have so much stuff that we’d not need to buy anything for a long time!).
As the old adage goes: don’t wait for that mythical “someday,” it may never come. While I am planning to make it come sooner rather than later, I still shouldn’t put off the things in my life that bring me joy now. This is in part why I am doing a lot more blogging lately, and signed up to get back into harp lessons (which is now on hiatus until I can walk again). There are a plethora of things that I like to do with my time that cost little or no money; I need to find a way to slowly reincorporate them into my days now that the kids are older and I have more personal time.
We’ve all heard the stories of people who wait for their lives to start until after they retire. The person who waits to travel until retirement but is physically unable to manage the places they want to explore, the person who drops dead a month after retirement. All these stories should be a reminder to us to not wait, to do the things we want to do when we have the chance to do them. It doesn’t mean we have to do everything at once and cram it all in, but as we all know there are no perfect moments, so carve out some joy whenever you can.
Posted on October 9, 2016
I’ll be honest, 2016 has been a difficult year for our family. Despite the fact it started off fairly well: finally a diagnosis for my issues, a great new job, fun travel planned, it didn’t go as well as I thought it would. Breaking my ankle and the ongoing issues associated with that has made this year not only difficult health-wise, but also incredibly expensive and stressful.
As a friend recently pointed out, I do have a lot to be thankful for. I have amazing kids, the gold standard of husbands, a great job with benefits and work flexibility, a roof over my head, food in my belly, and an incredible support network of family and friends. So on Canadian Thanksgiving I want to recognize that despite some downs there are an incredible amount of ups in my life, too.
Mr. Tucker: finding Mr. Tucker and marrying Mr. Tucker is pretty much the smartest thing I have every done. He’s an incredible husband and father with the patience of a saint. He’s the glue that is holding us together right now with his sheer commitment to maintaining our life as normal as possible as we get through 2016. On top of all that he’s incredibly handsome, a mean Yahzee player, and his love for cooking means we eat great meals most days of the week. Considering this is the same man who I leaned on as I hobbled through Italy and who pushed me all over Walt Disney World in a wheelchair for a week, I’m pretty much convinced I am the luckiest woman alive.
The Sprout and the Bean: oh man, I have such great kids. Sure, they are still kids who act like kids but they are healthy, happy, helpful people. I just am so grateful that I am able to raise such bright, talented, good-hearted people. They have helped a lot over this past year and have been patient as our life got chaotic.
Extended family: I am so grateful for my parents, Mr. Tucker’s dad and my brother. My dad has helped immensely with getting the kids off the bus and having them over so Mr. Tucker and I can have a break. My mom took the kids overnight last night – and often also babysits – to help us out, and as we all know, they took the kids for two full weeks when we were in Italy earlier this year. Mr. Tucker’s dad often pops in with treats and he helps often with landscaping and our more ambitious projects – such as our backyard project this summer. My brother also came over and helped with the backyard and will often take the kids overnight. We are spoiled with the amount of support we have from our families and it has helped us immensely, especially this year.
Friends: Man, I do have the loveliest friends. I’ve been so grateful to surround myself with a community of people who have supported our family through good times and bad. From card game nights, to the amazing get-well gifts, to just being there for us in good times and bad, I have been lucky to cultivate such an amazing group of human beings that I can rely on, and who can rely on us.
Work: I have mentioned this before but I absolutely adore my career and am so grateful to work in a place where management is supportive of a good work/life balance. I am also grateful for Mr. Tucker’s career, as both of our salaries are decent enough to be able to save for the future and still have a great quality of life. Although things can change at any moment, I hope that for the next six years our work skills and salaries will increase allowing us to save even more.
House & Home: we have a great house in a great neighbourhood with most amenities walking distance, and public transportation nearby. There is a lot of green space and a wonderful park that has a wading pool in the summer and a skating rink in the winter. We are a half-an-hour away from amazing ski hills and hiking trails and only 5km away from two beaches in the summer. We have great food on the table, and clothes on our backs and generally with a little planning never have to worry where the basics of life are coming from. If we play our cards right, we could also be mortgage free in 2018. That’s a huge thing to be grateful for.
So while the day-to-day bustle of life can be incredibly overwhelming – especially this year as I heal – I am so grateful for all that we do have. Pulling the focus away from feeling bad about my predicament and instead reflecting on the fact that it is short-term allows me to have a better perspective. There is so much good happening in my life that it is important to recognize it, and what better time to do that than during Thanksgiving.
Have a great long weekend, folks!
Posted on October 7, 2016
I am sick. The kids are sick. The house is a mess and things are all over the place, disorganized. Work has been an absolute gong show and it seems like the list of tasks I have to accomplish both at home and in the office are a mile long. It’s making me incredibly flustered and frustrated and both Mr. Tucker and I are feeling overwhelmed.
(she says she is “too busy”, as she sits down and writes)
Seriously, I feel like a bag of smashed buttholes
It’s easy when I am overwhelmed to throw my hands in the air and start making bad decisions because they are easier. It’s easier to take the kids through the drive-thru for dinner, it’s easier to buy my lunch, not fold the laundry, or drive instead of walk. But it’s exactly when things are at their worst where I need to double-down and say: enough.
It’s much harder to stay the course when you are under pressure either with work, with family/friends or with your finances. In fact, long-term stress such as being poor can affect your ability to make good decisions. While obviously I don’t suffer from that level of stress, I think most people would be able to see how stress can lead to poor decision making in their own lives. When faced with a myriad of mountains we have to tackle during high-stress periods, it’s easier to let the good things slip. We may eat more sugary or fatty foods, spend more money, or let our good exercise habits slip.
Unfortunately, the high-stress periods are the times where I really need to DOUBLE-DOWN on good habits. When I spiral during periods of high-stress it may take me weeks to come around to getting back on track, well after the chaos has ended. It makes more sense to actually push through the terrible period and keep with as many good habits as I can because reigning in one or two bad habits it much easier than reigning in five or ten.
So I am really proud of Mr. Tucker and I for getting through this crazy week. I may have had to take days off work due to illness, and I spend most of the day sleeping off this flu but we still stuck as closely as we could to our normal schedule. The floors are filthy and the laundry is piled in heaps on our bedroom floor but we didn’t succumb and eat out this week despite exhaustion and illness we didn’t bail on the kid’s activities at all.
But this is really what needs to happen. When you are at your weakest, when you are the most tempted to make bad decisions, it’s the best time to dig deep and try and give a little more. I know that sounds like a weak platitude you may see in a Facebook post but in real life it makes a lot of sense. I am pretty sure if I kept count, I made most of my bad decisions during times of high stress. Digging deeper doesn’t mean I will make 100% good decisions even during stressful periods (you’ll notice that I didn’t spend a weeknight folding laundry, for example) but I made good decisions where it counted: we didn’t spend money unnecessarily or get drunk on Tuesday night which would have put us even further behind in financial and health goals.
So finally it’s Friday night – pizza and a movie night in our house – and Mr. Tucker and I can sit down and enjoy a well-deserved beer and a slice while we hangout as a family. It will be especially sweet knowing that with the extra day this long weekend we will be able to get our lives pretty much back to normal – and then some. After a week of vacation followed by a week of illness and stress, Monday will be a good Thanksgiving indeed.
Posted on October 5, 2016
Well, we are back from Disney and despite setbacks (me being wheelchair bound and then catching a righteous flu) we are now settling back into our daily routine. It’s always hard to hit the ground running right after vacation but it is even more difficult when you get home and have a raging fever and a cough that won’t quit. I had no intention of taking sick days after our vacation (as it is bad form) but I have had no choice but to take a day and a half because I truly am under-the-weather.
Although that puts some delay in our plan to get back and get organized, I do have to say that Mr. Tucker is an unsung superhero of our time! As soon as we got back home he tossed all the laundry in the washer & headed out to grab a few groceries for the week. He’s pretty much been solo-parenting as I have been sleeping every possible moment I can, so by this weekend I am sure he’ll be beat.
Not going to lie: we totally sprung for the build-your-own droid & build-your-own light sabre stations
The kids had an amazing time and we had an amazing time watching them enjoy themselves. Still, here are a few observations from last week:
1 – The amount of food and food waste is sad: we got the free meal plan with our vacation and even then it was way too much food. Often we shared one quick service (ie: cafeteria style) meal between two of us. In the end, we even left 5 meals on our plan that went completely uneaten. The portions were immense.
The buffets were all meat covered with cheese covered with meat covered with a meat sauce (ok, an exaggeration but not by much) that I ended up mostly at the salad bar. Most of the cooked vegetables were even covered with so much sauce that rendered them a shadow of their former selves. Honestly, I get it: Disney has to serve hundreds of thousands of meals in a week and they need to serve what appeals to the most people. But even with that seeing so much waste left on plates was really sad, which is obviously not Disney’s fault. They even had signs that read “please eat only what you can enjoy” which mostly went unheeded.
Having said all that though, the GIANT BOWL of gummy bears in the children’s breakfast buffet was a bit over-the-top. We had to argue with the kids over what constitutes a sensible amount of gummy bears for breakfast. Sheesh!
The kids enjoyed collecting autographs during our character dining meals
2 – Disney is a pro at accommodating people with disabilities: Despite some major setbacks (the Magic Express lift broke and I ended up having to finagle my way off the bus, and I only got a partially-accessible room), the actual accommodation for transportation within the parks & on rides was on point. With the exception of the People Mover (the only one I could not do) if you can manage to take one or two steps, you can pretty much do almost all the rides.
Disney also has the DAS where you can go and get a special pass if you can’t wait in line. Since it’s done on the honour system a lot has been written about how this can get abused. We did not get a special pass as I can wait, I just can’t walk. Even without the pass, a lot of the access to rides happens via the fastpass line if you are in a wheelchair, so a few times we were lucky to bypass some lines, even when I told the attendant that I could wait in line with everyone else.
Also – and I thought this was the coolest – some rides like The Seas with Nemo and Friends, as well as It’s a Small World have wheelchair-accessible cars that you can access with a chair. For other rides – especially ones with moving walkways – they will stop the ride so you can get on. It’s impressive and I am so grateful: this allowed me to do every ride except one. I was completely impressed by this. Great job, Disney!
3 – Having stayed at a budget resort and a luxury resort the better deal is…*drumroll* …it depends. Honestly, being in a wheelchair made staying at the luxury resort on the monorail so much less stressful than having to bus everywhere, which takes longer. When you are in a wheelchair everything already takes a ton of time so being on the line was a bonus this time around.
The overflowing top hat was a huge hit
Still, I feel I got even better service at the budget resort & the quick service meal options were so much better. The quick service meal options at the luxury resort were extremely limited and a bit frustrating. The pool and play area were 100x nicer at the luxury resort, and the rooms were bigger but how many hours do you realistically spend at the pool when you are generally in the parks during the day? You also only use a room to sleep, so really it’s a bit of a waste considering the budget resort rooms are clean and serviceable. If I went back – and assuming I was able-bodied at that point – I would definitely go budget resort again. You get the same, great Disney service at a fraction of the price. Disney can be as pricey or as inexpensive as you make it as they have figured out how to drawn in people at all different price points. Smart.
4 – Mr. Tucker is a champ: he hates roller coasters and still managed to suck it up and do all of them with the kids. On the day we were at Animal Kingdom it rained and most people left so we were able to do Expedition Everest six times in a row (much to the chagrin of Mr. Tucker’s stomach!). He was amazing the entire trip, and now he has the healthiest cardiovascular system in our city owing to the fact that he pushed me and my wheelchair for miles and miles, up and down hills, and in the rain and shine. What a trooper!
5 – Disney truths: if you bring a rain poncho, it will never rain. If you forget a rain poncho, it will pour.
Packing to come home
Overall, I am glad we had this trip. Sprout is old enough now that she pretends she is not into the fun stuff anymore but it was great to see her eventually get caught up in the moment with the characters when she let herself. The Bean is at an age where she LOVES IT ALL and isn’t afraid to show it, so watching her unabashed excitement was worth every penny to me.
It is good to be home though, and since this weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada, we will have an extra day to enjoy. I am grateful for that because we will use it to prep our winter stuff & to have both sides of the family over for dinner. Until then, we are settling back into our school/work routine as I convalesce from this horrible flu.
Posted on September 23, 2016
We are counting down to our last family trip for awhile: a week at Disney World. Of course, because I love surprises, we aren’t telling the kids until Saturday morning at 6am. Our flight leaves at 9am.
I know that the anticipation of a trip is usually the best part (which is why taking more trips of a shorter duration makes people happier) but when you are traveling with kids, mum is the word. Why? Because even worse than the “are we there yet?” comments from the back seat on a road trip, is the “how many more days?” comments. I know my kids, and they would badger me relentlessly daily with their excitement. Besides, a selfish part of me is looking forward to video taping their reaction when I tell them they are leaving TODAY! RIGHT NOW!
Given that Mr. Tucker has never, EVER been to Disney I ended up spending more than I would have (last time it was $2k for three of us – flying on points) booking a fancier hotel. Still, we did manage to snag a good deal anyway, we just ended up being beholden to a fluctuating dollar that pushed my overall costs up past my budget. BUT…Mr. Tucker is a card-carrying introvert who gets incredibly frustrated in crowds and who happens to not be a huge fan of the Disney machine. Even though Disney has it down to a science and moves hundreds of thousands of people daily as efficiently as possible, I did want to minimize his exposure. So I ended up booking a more central hotel instead of booking at a budget hotel.
The key for Canadians to book a Disney trip with minimal fuss is to watch for the deals that come up in May for travel in September. If you are willing to take your kids out of school for a week, you can save yourself money and enjoy reduced crowds. It’s also the time of year for Mickey’s not-so-scary Halloween party, if you are a Halloween fan. Typically, you can get park tickets, a meal plan, and hotel for about $750 per person, which isn’t bad. We always fly on points, but if you are a Canadian living near the US border, you can save substantially by flying from a US city (Ogdensburg, NY recently had a $49 US deal, which really can’t be beat).
I know that there are travel hackers that can nickel and dime a Disney trip to much lower levels than this but I was unfamiliar with that process until recently. Also, since I spent most of this year in various degrees of immobility, I also didn’t have a lot of time. It’s also the reason why I went through a travel agent this time. I still got the same deal I saw online but she did all the work (including booking the fast passes and character dining). I loved doing it myself the last time but with illness + a full time job this summer, I felt it was best to get an expert on the job to ensure we got the experiences we wanted. She also was able to spend time switching everything around so accommodate the fact I will be in a wheelchair this time around. So all in all, it was a smart choice this time.
The reason we chose Disney this year is because the kids have been saving their money for a while. I also think with the eldest being nine next spring, this may be the last chance we have where she will enjoy the full magical experience at Disney.
On the Sprout’s birthday this year she said to her grandmother, “Oh Nana, I hoped for my birthday I could go to Disney with my Daddy.” When the eldest got money from the Tooth Fairy she put it in her “Save” jar and announced, “I am saving that for next year when we save enough to go back to Disney!” They both spent the summer periodically measuring themselves to see if they were tall enough for Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Imagine their surprise this Saturday morning. I seriously can’t wait, and even the curmudgeon Mr. Tucker has said, “I am getting excited for this weekend.”
Of course, travel is out next year as we double-down our savings efforts to reach $50 000 before December 21st, 2017. We may do a camping weekend or a jaunt to an inexpensive cottage with friends (think: wood structure propped up by toothpicks, near water) but anything fancier is way out of the budget. So in light of that, I am looking forward to this last hurrah for 2016.
Posted on September 22, 2016
As I have mentioned before, I ran a small business when my kids were quite small. By the time the Sprout was born though, it was too difficult to try and do that and run a business. I threw in the towel and prepared myself for being a full-time stay-at-home-mom.
I will always be grateful for being a SAHM. It was wonderful to be able to be there for my kids when they were younger and plan our days with our energy levels and moods in mind. No rushing out the door at 7am to get to daycare, no long commutes with only seeing the kids before bed. I am so incredibly grateful we could do that, even though it was financially tight for our family for a long time.
One particularly difficult winter saw Mr. Tucker’s work environment become more stressful and there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not he’d lose his employment. Being a type A person, this uncertainty made me incredibly stressed out, and having not worked an office job in awhile, I was concerned about my ability to get back into the workforce.
We all know how this ends: I end up spreading the word that I am looking for any level of office work. Within a couple of weeks I had myself a contract for 4 months.
Back to the grind, now with extra caffeine
Of course, I started at a low salary and to be quite honest, we were only marginally ahead financially after my bus pass and daycare were paid. But I was more concerned about rebuilding my resume than I was about the money. Since Mr. Tucker and I lived off one salary, everything I made was gravy.
The rest is history, as they say. I took the summer off, and then started to look for work at the end of the summer. By October I had a job at one level higher than my previous one. Then a friend who runs a local communications company hired me to do part-time work doing social media. The pay was low, but the experience was crucial and I could work from home. This job made me want to get back into Communications work, so I geared my resume towards that, and reached out to all my friends in Comms, asking them to consider me if they have a contract available. Low-and-behold: the contracts came.
One of my office mates, Palmela (I know, I know, I kill me!)
In the end I have jumped in salary 55% over the past five years by putting out the word, taking the jobs that people offered me, finding out what I wanted to do, and then tailoring my networking to focus on getting those jobs. I also did 5 years of contracts with summers off. Amazing!
But I couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the money. If our lifestyle had incorporated both salaries and we were budgeted to the hilt, I wouldn’t have been as free to take summers off, or to tailor my job search. Had we needed the money, I would have panicked and made my resume more generic, and taken whatever work was thrown my way. When you are busy surviving, it’s harder to make long-term decisions.
Now I am happily in a dream job in my dream career. I have a pension (and I can buy back those years I worked when I wasn’t in the public service), benefits, a great work environment, and an ability to work from home. I couldn’t have done any of this had I not flipped in-and-out of private and public sector jobs, and definitely couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the cash. Even today, Mr. Tucker and I are living on one salary for the most part (but spend a lot more on travel!) and this habit is laying the foundation for Mr. Tucker’s early retirement.
Pay it forward
Of course, having lucked out in my career I am more than happy to help others who are also looking to get back into the working world. Since I have put out the word that I am also always looking for work, more people contact me for contracts than I can take. But, since they know I know other people looking for work, they usually shoot me a note, asking if I am available or if I know anyone. Typically, I can connect them to someone who is looking but more than a couple of times, I have had people hem-and-haw about taking obviously lucrative contracts, and they have lost out.
For example, a childhood friend lost her job earlier this year and took to social media asking people to keep an eye out for some work. She had a family, she said, she needed to work as soon as possible. Since I knew she worked in marketing, I told her about this amazing contract at the government that had a chance of becoming permanent. I had been offered the job but I was already working so I couldn’t take it. I thought it was perfect for her! She needed no French (often an issue in Canadian government jobs), and it paid more than $20k a year than she was making at her old job.
I sent her a quick note asking for her resume and told her that she could probably be working within a couple of weeks – what a relief for someone desperate for a job, right?
She emailed me back and told me she was going to send me a resume & that she was really excited for the opportunity. She promised to get her resume to me the next day. I told my contact I had someone perfect for the job they were looking to hire, and that I would send a resume to them the next day! But the next day I heard crickets and no resume came, so I messaged her. She switched gears and told me that she wasn’t going to send me her resume; instead she was going to take time for herself. A mini vacation. Then after that, she planned to take French classes to help her chances of getting a better job in the future. I was gobsmacked. It was a unicorn of a job, and she didn’t want to even explore it.
I was not going to push, people make their own decisions for their own lives. But I will never help her with work again. I don’t have time for people who are unreliable like that and I don’t want to burn any bridges with my contacts. Don’t bother even saying you are looking for work when you really aren’t, especially if you are in no position to be rejecting work (been fired, long time out of the workforce).
Sadly, a couple of months later this friend realized that she couldn’t live off employment insurance and contacted me again, looking for work. I didn’t know of any contracts at that time but even if I had, I wouldn’t have recommended her. Naturally, she was bummed to learn that the person they did end up hiring for that previous contract also had been hired permanently. An amazing job with a pension, benefits, time off, and work-life balance went right through her fingers because she wanted a mini vacation. In the end, she took a job in retail, making no money with no benefits and shift work because she ended up desperate and had to take the first thing that came along.
Here is the thing, if you are behind the 8-ball and have gaps or issues with your work history, it pays to take whatever comes your way. I always took any good office job that came my way, from administration to communications. My logic was that if it was truly horrible, I could always give notice and leave. Nothing is forever! I only fine-tuned my resume when I was certain I had enough recent work experience to be able to do so. Having started out with a few years out of the workforce, my logic was: beggars can’t be choosers. I even went back salary-wise after a nasty experience at one contract, and an opportunity came up to work at a really cool place came up but that paid much less. I didn’t consider it a step back – I considered it a small bump on the road to a better career. It gave me valuable experience and was one of the references that led to my current job.
It’s all about options
Now I am in a position where I have a set of skills that are in pretty good demand. I also work really hard and have great references. I couldn’t have done that unless:
1 – We were living off one salary already. Having money in the bank means you can step back and build a career. I didn’t have to choose cash over other things such as great work experience or a great work environment.
2 – I took everything I could when I first started out after a gap in my resume from being a SAHM.
3 – I didn’t wait until a financial crisis to react. I took a pro-active view of getting back into the workforce.
4 – Because of the above-things, I was able to start working towards positioning myself as a senior person in my field, which led to my current, amazing, job.
The no-brainer here, of course is: MONEY GIVES YOU OPTIONS*. So you should take advantage of a good financial plan combined with frugality to buy yourself options. One of the reasons I went back to work was due to the uncertainty of Mr. Tucker’s employment. Now I stay in because we can save one entire salary. That entire salary will allow Mr. Tucker to retire early (I hope!) as the interest from our savings should cover our basic household expenses. During this time, I hope my career continues to flourish but even if it doesn’t we will still have that money and it will give us some breathing room as we figure out what to do.
At the point of my career I am in now, I enjoy my job and like going in every day. I currently have dreams to progress further in my career, and I hope I do. Still, it may not always be like this. A change in management, of policy, or direction could make me throw in the towel much earlier than planned. By squirreling away our money for a rainy day, it will give me the option to quit if I want to, and that’s worth its weight in gold.
*Caveat: this example is from a family of four who lived off one salary, which at this point is relatively high. I know someone will point out that this is not available for single people or people with less means. That may be true in some cases, but when Mr. Tucker and I had two small babies at home we were also paying child support for my amazing stepson and his salary was $60k at the time. So if you do the math that is not exactly a huge amount of money for 5 people. Conversely, I know people who make minimum wage or less and people who work only seasonally and they manage to work out options for themselves.
Posted on September 20, 2016
The jury is out on the entire convenience appliance thing. I try and stay away from most “convenience” appliances (ask me my opinion on rice makers…go on…it’s definitely colourful) but you will pry my beloved bread maker from my cold, dead hands.
A quick Ciabatta to accompany our soup & cheese
There was a time where you could get a loaf of whole wheat bread at a reasonable price. Now, you are lucky if you can get a 2-for-$5 deal on commercial loaves. I truly don’t understand it because actual whole-wheat flour can be bought cheaply all year round with the regular price of 10kg at Costco being about $6.50 (and that’s in Canada where grocery prices are ridiculous). So essentially, $6.50 worth of flour makes me 29.5 loaves, or about .22 cents worth of flour in one loaf*.
Of course, I also use yeast, sugar, salt, water, and electricity so that would push the price up, for sure. Given all that, the reality is that I would be surprised if a loaf costs more than $1.50. A quick calculation with my electricity provider tells me that running the bread maker off-peak costs about. 34 cents per loaf. If I run it on-peak, it would be .71 cents.
But where my bread maker really shines is when it is making a bunch of different kinds of breads or doughs. It has a quick loaf setting if you suddenly find yourself needing fresh bread in an hour and a bit (hello, last-minute guests!), it has a dough-only setting I use for pizza dough and pastry dough, and often I find myself whipping up a quick raisin bread for breakfasts, which bakes overnight while we sleep.
(my bread maker even has a mini-baguette setting and has a recipe book full of alternative uses such as pasta and jam – all of which I don’t use).
Need something quick for the bake sale your kids told you about 20 minutes before bed? Look no further!
I know some naysayers are thinking, “BAH! When I was your age I stone ground my own flour, collected yeast from the air, and made it all by hand.” To this I say: congratulations! If I had to do that, I would just buy all my bread products at full price. Other people are saying to themselves, “why not get a Kitchenaid, it does so much more!” I will admit, I have Kitchenaid dreams but when my mind floats back to planet earth the reality sinks in: it costs too much, it’s too hard to store, and it doesn’t bake. Since the last thing we do Sunday night before bed is toss in a loaf of bread. We then wake up to a fresh loaf for the week. I can’t do that in a Kitchenaid.
The other thing is that it proofs dough in a way other appliances don’t, making a finished product that is light and fluffy like store-bought baked goods. When Mr. Tucker used to make our breads by hand, they tasted dense and overly-yeasty by the time they cooled down. I never really grew an affinity for them. But the loaves we make in the machine stay fluffy. They typically also keep for about a week if wrapped(if they last that long).
Of course, we have to consider the cost of the appliance weighed against its lifespan. I got mine as a gift but I have had it for four years and its original price was $200. Naturally, you can reduce this cost by buying second hand or on sale (I am amazed at the amount of un-or-under-used bread makers there are on the secondhand market). But for our purposes, let’s assume that I make a loaf of bread a week, and then twice a week I only make the dough and then bake in the oven (all my breads take less than 30 mins in the oven which the appliance calculator tells me would be .08 off-peak, .13 cents mid-peak, and .17 cents high peak). Since my bread maker has lasted 4 years and I fully expect for it to live for another year, that means that it costs about $40 a year to own my machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted longer, either. My previous bread maker I got as a gift when I was 24 and lasted more than 10 years. But let’s assume a 5-year replacement. I divide it by the amount of times a week I use the machine (two dough-only cycles, one full loaf) that means that it costs approximately .27 per run of the machine. So let me make this simpler through an example.
Friday night is typically pan pizza & a movie night at our house
One loaf baked in the machine, off-peak. We’ve already determined that the flour itself costs about 0.22 and then on top of that I have to add sugar, salt, yeast **and water. Since I can’t nickel and dime myself down that far so I am generously giving ingredients a total of 0.50 cents.
Ingredients: 0.72 cents
Total: $1.33 per loaf
Of course, there are other reasons:
1 – Bread is absolutely fresh, and can be made at anytime. You don’t have to run out for bread last-minute if you run out, which wastes time and gas (if you need to drive).
2 – You can make a wider assortment of things (pizza dough, banana bread, focaccia, baguettes, buns, pastries, rolls) with minimal hands-on time.
2 – You control the ingredients. Often with store bought bread there are a bunch of extra ingredients designed to preserve the bread. When you make it at home, you don’t add those extra things you don’t need. We also make 100% whole grain recipes.
3 – It’s cheaper. It saves $3.50 a week or $182 a year. Sure, it’s not millions but at least you can say it does save!
4 – It’s also part of my strategy to not grocery shop as much as possible. I only have to pick up bread making ingredients once every couple of months.
5 – If it stops you from buying one take-out pizza a week the thing pays for itself in less than a year. A dough cycle is about an hour, so you can whip up a last-minute pizza dinner LIKE A BOSS.
An herb-y Focaccia is great with pastas
If course, while my machine is super fancy and has a price to go with it, you can drop your overall costs by buying a model with less fancy settings. Really, you only need a bake cycle and a dough cycle. I am not saying that it is necessary to buy a bread maker, you could very well enjoy the hands-on aspect of baking, or you like to just stick to no-knead breads. But part of my overall food strategy is to make sure we eat delicious, wholesome food that surpasses anything we can get in a restaurant or take-out. Fresh bread just makes everything feel fancier, and you are saving money in the process. So if you do like fresh bread, do a lot of baking, or if you are like me and just want to shop the least amount as possible, a bread maker can be a welcome tool in your frugal arsenal.
*Flour: 88.5 c in 10kg/3 cups in a loaf = 29.5 loaves
**Yeast: $12 for 93 tsp or 0.13 cents/tsp
Posted on September 19, 2016
Sometimes I go down a financial blog rabbit hole (much like a wiki-spiral) and end up discovering the coolest new blogs to read.
Firstly, lay financial bloggers are my favorite because I love reading about the myriad of ways people go about challenging current conventions. You can see parts of yourself in them and usually you can gain some cool tips and tricks and different ways of looking at various problems. Secondly, they tend to tackle questions that are out of the mainstream, questions you probably had yourself.
So I was incredibly stoked when I came across The Earth Awaits, a tool researched and designed by Frugal Vagabond. For anyone who loves travel or has considered retiring abroad for part or all of their retirement, The Earth Awaits will give you an idea of how far your money will go in different geographical areas around the Globe. You can even eliminate continents that are of no interest to you.
You choose the parameters from the amount you can spend, the crime rate, pollution, the standard of living you want to have, and the website will spit out locations where your needs can be met. There are even advanced settings for people trying to drill down a little further.
I really recommend you play with this tool if you are a lover of travel, like we are. If you are looking for a retirement where you plan to stay in places a bit longer, this tool will allow you to plot out various scenarios that will let you see the world on your budget!
Posted on September 18, 2016
I finally got around to reading a bunch of articles I had saved on my phone. Some are bigger reads than others, some are on the mark, some are off the mark. It’s just a compilation of money-or-life-related reads I have been hoarding for a post.
Given the choice between more time or more money, which would you pick? What Should You Choose: Time or Money?
In a culture obsessed with productivity, the hobby has become the next venture. Our parents discovered leisure. We killed it.
The Danish Way: the world’s happiest people share their parenting secrets.
Maybe by doing this: Volunteering after age 40 ‘may be more meaningful for mental well-being’, you can negate this hilarious hypothesis Stop the CPP before it kills more Canadians.
A long but decent read:The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil? The golden age.
Posted on September 18, 2016
For people who do not enjoy landscaping, we have a ridiculous amount of outdoor space. Our front lawn is huge and our backyard is 30 ft by 50 ft. When our kids were smaller we actually used the backyard regularly but now that they are older, we meet up with friends at the park more often than not.
So it’s no surprise that the backyard fell into chaos. Weeds were everywhere, the patio furniture has been destroyed after years of neglect, and the dog had dug craters to the centre of the earth. When we had first moved in we had tried tilling it and laying grass seed & installing an almost-free patio but we didn’t have enough to level the yard and so it ended up being a mishmash of hills and holes. Since the space was incredibly shady to begin with, the additional disarray made it even less inviting to us and so we spent less-and-less time out there.
Starting from scratch
This summer however we were asked to host a mini-reunion with Mr. Tucker’s birth family as well as host an end-of-summer for our families. Because our house is only 1200 square feet and because it was summer, it made sense to host outside. One problem: the backyard was no place anyone wanted to hang out. So taking a look at the space, Mr. Tucker decided to call around and get quotes from landscaping companies.
Those of you following along at home may wonder why his first inclination was to call around to get quotes. The truth is, given the fact I have been less mobile this summer has left Mr. Tucker with a huge chunk of running the household. Tack on the two of us working full-time plus having to get me back and forth to work, it made sense to at least investigate farming the task out. It was also a good starting point for comparison.
We didn’t want anything fancy, pavers were fine for the patio, the real issue being leveling the backyard and laying sod. Given how basic our request was, we thought it would be somewhat reasonable. It wasn’t. The quote? Ten thousand dollars – before tax.
So Mr. Tucker dug deep and started to do research. We didn’t have time to wait for free materials to come our way, nor time to wait for grass seed to grow. We also had a timeline of three weeks. Often if you have time and patience you can save a considerable amount of money by scrounging and waiting for sales but in this case we needed to throw money at the problem.
Luckily, we did find some great deals anyway. Since we wanted to do a huge patio (10 x 30) that was definitely going to cost, even considering we were going with pavers. We also needed gravel and sand to complete the job. Then we needed topsoil and sod (enough to level a 30 x 40 space) and the tools to complete all the work – oh and it had to be completed with a minimal amount of manpower.
Sweet dreams are made of…
…a massive amount of hard work combined with time. Our project was given a 3-day timeline to include a weekend plus another day Mr. Tucker took off to lay the sod. We had four people drop in/out at various points on one weekend where they completed 90% of all the work.
Friday afternoon: Mr. Tucker had all the tools & the sand/gravel/patio stones delivered. My father-in-law came over and he removed all the tree stumps from the backyard. They moved/tossed the old play sets (too rusted to reuse) as well as cleaned out the yard.
This rental has everything you need to do a patio/lay sod from a stamper for patio stones to a sprinkler and hose for the sod
Saturday: Mr. Tucker and his Dad did the largest amount of the work starting early in the morning and ending late at night.
The first day they managed to dig up the section for the patio, lay the gravel and start laying the stones.
Sunday: SURPRISE! The next morning, we woke up to a torrential downpour but given that everything was rented and time was of the essence, Mr. Tucker and his dad trudged on. Of course, the best-laid pavers…I mean plans…and the original tiller would not till through the hard ground after a summer of drought. Mr. Tucker ended up taking it back and giving up on tilling. We ended up paying extra for that mistake. In the end we just ended up leveling it with a combination of topsoil in the largest holes & a barrel roller.
Working in the rain
The rain stopped about midday when a couple of more helpers showed up. So with everyone pitching in, the patio section was finished and the rest of the backyard leveled with topsoil
Monday: We had the sod delivered and Mr. Tucker, his Dad, and my dad’s girlfriend laid all the sod as well as installed some extra pavers by the door that leads to the garage.
Onto plan B
When all was said and done we had extra topsoil for our gardens, and enough pavers and gravel/sand to do a path alongside the garage that led into the backyard (about 20 ft). Mr. Tucker’s dad also scrounged us up a used gate to replace the crumbling fence that was on that side of the house. Using the old poles, he attached the gate with a couple of dollars of new hardware.
Leveled & pressed
Show me the money
All told, the entire project came down to 1/3 of the cost of the quotes from professionals AND we got patio furniture, a gazebo, and lights for the gazebo as well!
Here is a breakdown of the costs:
It’s obvious that the manpower is the largest cost of any large renovation project. If you are willing to handle the work yourself, you can save considerably. We could have saved even more money had we scrounged/borrowed the tools, had more time to lay grass seed instead of purchasing sod, and had more time to watch for sales. We lucked out on the pavers, which were on super sale, but other than that we had to work with the constraints of time and money. But this just goes to show that when you look for alternatives you can still save money even if you end up paying top dollar for supplies. Sometimes just thinking about a problem a little longer helps you tackle it in a better way.
We started this project with absolutely no knowledge of landscaping. Mr. Tucker and I watched a bunch of youtube videos and spoke extensively with landscaping supply companies to determine what we needed to get the basics done. In the end, we managed to do it all in three days and our costs included new furniture!
I had given Mr. Tucker a budget of about $3000 and so we were not far off the mark. To be fair, he came in under with the landscaping job being $2317.59 but we ended up buying the gazebo and furniture, which put us over by $11.41. We would have been under had we not made the mistake with the tiller ($2945.53). So I am going to be ok with the $11.41 as in the end we got way more for the amount we ended up spending (thank goodness for end-of-season sales!).
We luckily saw a lot of rain after this
The biggest boon from projects like these is the proof that with a little research and a little hard work most projects can be tackled by laypeople. While that doesn’t encourage me to lay the wiring throughout my house, it does encourage us to take on small household projects that can save big bucks. Every single project you tackle may not be perfect and some may outright fail but the savings should be such that you can cover the odd failure.
Since next year we will be staying close to home so we can save for the house, having a nice outside space to host friends will be our primary source of entertainment in 2017. The girls can also spend time outside in the backyard helping with some gardening, playing in the sprinkler, using their scooters on the patio, or just generally enjoying being outside. Our vacation time will be spent staying home with the kids (and save on summer camp!) so our new, beautiful outdoor space will be a great place to enjoy those lazy days of summer together.
The almost-final product
Posted on September 15, 2016
The inventor of the cubicle – Robert Probst – ended up hating his creation in the end. As a Gen Xer, media railed against cubicle life when I was a teenager/in my 20s so now cubicles will get their revenge as open concept workplaces are all the rage. Having worked in both, given the option I would take a cubicle any day. Having said that, not working at an office would be even better.
Posted on September 9, 2016
Some charitable elves from my book club felt sadness at my spilly mug
Strangely, after having neurosurgery AND orthopedic surgery in the spring, just having orthopedic surgery seems like a treat! I ended up having a ridiculous whirlwind of an experience that included messed-up surgery locations, a 24-hour wait before getting my surgery postponed, and an overnight stay in the hospital. Still, I was well taken care of and I came out of the OR feeling pretty ok given the circumstances.
Of course now the real trial begins as I learn to live in a wheelchair again. I am sad all the work I had put into physiotherapy will regress but I am trying to stay positive in the knowledge I can get it back. So now I forge ahead trying to make sure I have everything arranged for our Disney trip. It’s still amazing to me that in 2016 airline customer service still panics at the idea of disabled travellers. Luckily, their medical line was a little more informed and I seem to have that ironed out (knock on wood?).
I am still having challenges with Disney who want to charge me $1000 for an accessible room because it apparently has a view. Seriously, I don’t care if it is a broom closet as long as I can shower in dignity. I don’t give a crap about a view! The travel agent assisting us is still working on it but if worse comes to worse, we will deal with it when we get there. I don’t know what is so hard about getting a bench in the shower & a removable showerhead (that would take care of 50% of clients with mobility issues) but it is what it is.
Like I mentioned before, I fully intend to work starting next week. I feel pretty good right now but I did tell my boss I would let him know if I didn’t feel well. He’s really concerned I will push myself (what? Me? Type A?) I know he’d rather see me home and convalescing but as it is, I am feeling good and I am so grateful to be working half days in the office and half at home. I much prefer using my brain and being useful rather than sitting around. Now that the pain is subsiding, I should be good to go.
Despite this year being the most challenging I have ever faced, I couldn’t have gone it alone. From Mr. Tucker’s unwavering support and hard work keeping the family organized and functional, to my family’s assistance with childcare, I am so lucky to be surrounded by such love and help. My community is also right behind me, with my amazing friends helping with everything from playdates to building me a ramp to my phenomenal book club nerds dropping this off today:
A new travel mug! Warm un-spilled coffee for all! (Don’t know what I’ll put on my Xmas list now though)
Not having to really go alone through this experience is what has made it bearable. While no one wants to rely on others, it’s comforting to know you have people you can rely on. So mad thanks to everyone in my community who have gone out of their way to make sure that Mr. Tucker and I know we have people to lean on. Your continued friendship is worth its weight in gold and I am grateful for your love and support.
Nurture your community, it’s the greatest investment you will ever make.
Posted on September 5, 2016
Picture this…Sicily…1913…just kidding. I am channeling the spirit of Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls. Mr. Tucker and I have been binge watching old episodes for the past couple of weeks (read: I am making him watch them with me). Still, this is a tale from the past so get out the wayback machine. So picture it…Canada…2005…after a stint working in the corporate world and watching my life crumble all around me as the organization I worked for lost its funding, I decided to go an entirely new direction and so I started to clean houses for a living. How’s that for a life story (and run on sentence)?
For many years before we had kids, my income was based upon manual labour, and I loved it. I needed to get as far away from the corporate world as possible when I did and I needed the security of determining my own future (as much as one can) by starting my own business. I loved being a housecleaner. I had the most interesting, incredible clients, I could say yes or no to whomever I wanted and I could make my own hours. What is not to love?
Learning how to make basic meals is a part of this complete childhood
Of course, as soon as you have kids life changes immensely. I managed the business until the second child was born & I realized that I was making more money being a dependent with the kids than I would be by working (particularly because I did everything above-board including carrying insurance and paying all my taxes). It wasn’t until the youngest was 2 that I decided to dip my feet back into the corporate world.
Naturally, having been a housecleaner, I knew the value of having one. Although many people consider having a housecleaner a frivolous expense, I consider it a lifesaving one, especially if your children are young. So soon after I made the decision to head back to work, I made the decision to hire a housekeeper. In fact, my first kick in the butt came the weekend after my first paycheck came in. Exhausted from the work week, we mustered the troops and headed to a restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t muster the energy to face the chaos of the house so that we could make dinner, so instead we threw money at the problem. When the bill came however, the reality set in: I just paid a fortune for dinner and I STILL had to go home to my messy house and deal with it tomorrow morning.
Sometimes you make a mentally positive, not financially positive, decision
Of course, when your children are 2 and 4 and haven’t seen you all week, they don’t want to let you spend the two hours it will take to clean the house. So a job that should have taken us absolutely no time in fact took us almost four hours. No one got what they wanted that day and we all just ended up miserable. It was then that I realized that I could have taken the money we had spent on dinner the night before, hired a housekeeper, and instead happily eaten Kraft Dinner (Mac’n’cheese to you Americans) for supper in a clean house as opposed to eaten dinner out and still coming home to a pig sty. So we interviewed a bunch of potential cleaners that following week until we settled on the woman who would eventually work for us for four years.
I am not going to lie: we had her come every week while the kids were young, and there was nothing more glorious than coming home on a Friday night to a spotless home. Our weekends were our own, with only laundry and meal prep to contend with. As the kids got older, we moved on to a biweekly schedule since the house was less messy. At every step of the journey, a housecleaner was money well spent. No regrets.
Still, there were a few things that started to change. Our housecleaner started becoming unreliable, especially during the summer months. We would have plans to have people over on the weekend only to find out last-minute that she couldn’t make it. Most times she would make up the time the following week but we found it difficult to plan because of it. We tossed around the idea of saving the money and just cleaning ourselves for a while, but never could quite make the leap. Inertia is a powerful force, especially when it means NOT having to do something.
It wasn’t until we had a huge party planned – and she bailed again – that we made the decision to let her go. Since we were left panicking, I sent Mr. Tucker to the store to buy a plethora of cleaning products. That day, the whole family chipped in and managed to clean the house within 1.5 hours. After that, Mr. Tucker and I looked at each other and silently decided: it was time to let the housecleaner go. The cost had outweighed the convenience.
The benefits of chores
“Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success, but ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success—and that’s household chores,” – Richard Rende
You may be amazed to hear that I was not brought up in a household where I was expected to do chores, outside of cleaning my own room (which, more often than not meant my mother just closed the door). To be honest, when I left home I felt I spent a lot of time teaching myself basic life skills and I always swore that if I had kids, that they would learn the life basics before leaving the house.
So no housecleaner + an 8 & a 6-year-old = life skills time!
When my kids were toddlers, we used to put on music and dance around, teaching them to tidy the living room as they went. It wasn’t perfect but it did set the expectation that what you mess up, you clean up.
As they got older, we had more of an expectation of tidy. The kids actually are pretty decent at cleaning up after themselves but that is mostly because Mr. Tucker and I have been diligent about staying on top of them to make them do it. We also started drilling in the basics from a young age, starting with the things they had to do when they got home after school. At first, it was just asking them to put their lunch bags on the counter & any communication from school on the table for us to look at. As the eldest got older, she came home to a sign that said she had to do the three H’s: Homework, Harp, Helping (lunchbag). I even posted a sign at her level with pictures to remind her.
Over this summer, I have taught the kids how to fold and put away their own laundry. It is the one chore I hate the most, so teaching them how to do it will pay dividends over the next couple of years. Of course, the youngest is horrible at it but with encouragement from the eldest or a parent, it gets done…in a reasonable time frame.
Then, once we let our housecleaner go the kids had to step up to the plate and help us with cleaning on the weekends. It’s definitely been slow going but I encourage them to finish their work in 1.5 hours (or less). I constantly point out that the quicker we do it, the quicker we get to do fun things but they still insist on the mess-around-and-avoid-tasks method, which is infuriating. Of course, it would be easier to just give in and do it ourselves but by getting the kids into the habit, eventually they will get better at it, making it easier on the whole family.
I have to say, living in a small 1200 sq ft house makes getting all the work done much easier. I tackle the bathroom and the parent’s room, Mr. Tucker starts in the kitchen, and the kids are responsible for cleaning their room by putting the toys away, changing their sheets, and then sweeping/mopping their floor.
Once they are done their room, I am usually done the bathroom so I tidy the dining room while the kids tidy the living room (usually their toys) & we wipe down all the surfaces. Then I put the eldest in charge of sweeping the living and dining rooms, while I get the youngest to help me gather the laundry to take downstairs. I then change our sheets, sweep and mop the floors in our bedroom, & then Mr. Tucker helps the eldest finish sweeping/moping in the living/dining areas and the hallways.
That seems difficult to read, so to simplify, this is what it looks like in chart form:
What about allowances?
My kids are two years apart but they are pretty close and they share a bedroom. I know that current wisdom says to give them a dollar per year, based on their age but for us it’s been easier for us to give them each $6 this year. The money isn’t tied to their chores but they only get paid after they clean the house. Since they have an issue turning off lights, every time I find a light hasn’t been turned off, I dock them .25 cents. The jury is out on whether or not this works, as they seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.
Colour-coded for little people who can’t quite read yet
We also make the kids put their money away: $2 in save, $2 spend, $2 share. I want them to get used to saving money for the future, and we use the share money to sponsor a family at Christmas or for any charity work Girl Guides or their school does. We bought jars from the Dollar Store & had them decorate them so they knew which jar was which and they know they are expected to contribute to every jar, every week. If they have a reduced allowance (those pesky lights!) they have to take it out of their spend jar.
The school year begins
A new school year, and a new sign has to go up in the vestibule to remind the kids that they have things to do as soon as they get off the bus after school. Since Mr. Tucker gets them off the bus in the afternoons, it will be his job to get them into the habit of completing the things on their list. I’ve even come up with a new acronym now that the youngest will also be starting music lessons: CHAMP.
My poster may be silly looking but it gets the job done
This poster has pictures beside it to remind the kids what is expected of them every day before dinner. Since they get home at 3:30 it is more than enough time to accomplish these goals before we eat dinner around 6pm.
Cleaning and chores with kids is an uphill battle. I would be lying if I said it was in any way easy. However, what we are trying to do is lay the foundation of having every member of our family contribute to the smooth running of the household. Also, kids do well when they know what to expect and thrive when they have a schedule. Soon enough they will know what to do when they walk in the door in the afternoon, and know what we will be doing first thing after breakfast on the weekends. As these things become habit for them, we can then add more complicated chores and jobs to their every-growing roster of life skills.
Oh, and on a positive note, we will save over $2000 by cleaning the house ourselves this year. As I pointed out to the kids: that’s a nice two-week cottage vacation, or money for ½ a trip to Disney for the family. When you put it into terms they understand, they are more likely to be able to understand the benefits of doing things yourself.
Posted on September 4, 2016
WELL, because 2016 is going to be the year that I suffer greatly and appreciate my support network mightily, here is some news: more surgery. Tuesday.
So we meet again
Last Monday in physio I hurt my foot and assumed that the broken screws were causing issues, as they sometimes do. When I last saw my orthopedic doctor we knew the screws in my foot were broken and I could have had them taken out earlier. However, they weren’t bugging me and so we agreed to revisit taking them out in the fall. I felt that I had already taken quite a bit of time off work as it was, so I figured we could push it off. Well after the pain I experienced on Monday I managed to get myself a last minute appointment where it was discovered that it was more than the screws and that they had to go back in for another surgery. It was super quick, the timeline being:
Friday: call with surgery date
Tuesday: surgery (Monday being a holiday, after all)
So naturally, it was a whirlwind of having to make arrangements for a myriad of things. My boss was on vacation, so I had to send him an email. My kids start school on Tuesday and since I won’t know until Monday night what time I have go in (yay long weekend!), I had to make arrangements to have my mom stay over just in case. Mr. Tucker and I have to prep for being down an adult in the household, and currently the entire family is working on cleaning the house and getting ready for the school year.
The timing is pretty bad, but I guess when is it a good time to be an invalid?
Suffice it to say I am rather crushed and I would be lying if I said I didn’t randomly burst into tears every time it gets brought up. I will be in a wheelchair for 6 weeks, AGAIN and of course the family has a Disney trip planned at the end of the month. I would be full-on engaging in self-pity all day long if there wasn’t a ton of stuff that needed to be taken care of.
I have no intention of taking 6 weeks off work, despite what my doctor’s note says. One does not social media with ones’ ankles, so Mr. Tucker and I have a plan for him to drive me to work. I figure I will be off one week, go back to work a week, and then take off on vacation for one week. On a positive note, the happiest place on earth is also the place that is the most wheelchair accessible. I won’t be able to do everything, but the kids and Mr. Tucker will, so that is what is important. So thank goodness for small miracles, as it were. Once I am back, I only have another 3 weeks of being in a chair, so at least it’s broken up a bit (much like me, BADDABUMP!).
On a positive note, we still have the ramp that Mr. Tucker built with the help of a friend, it ISN’T winter, I will be an old hand at wheeling myself around, and we have our emergency fund built up enough to cover parking at the hospital, the initial outlay for the assistance devices (and payment for the ones that aren’t covered), and extra gas for the car now that I can’t bus anymore. I can also work from home if need be, so that is a plus.
My only wish right now – I mean, given my circumstances – would to be more mobile this weekend to help the family out more. We did manage to get the house clean today, and we are having a family BBQ tonight so we have to prep for that, but I can’t stand very long, which means Mr. Tucker & the kids have to take on more of the work. Tomorrow our goal is to prep the front vestibule for fall (out with the summer, in with the cold weather gear), finish all the laundry, and get some food prep done to simplify our week this week. Since I have to sit down a lot, I have to plan for extra time to get everything done, or do as many tasks as possible from a seated position.
However, today instead of hyper-focusing on the worst, I will prep for our end-of-summer BBQ with family. It will be nice to have the family come over and enjoy our newly-redone backyard (Mr. Tucker’s summer project, which I will surely blog about soon). I won’t worry about the money or the time or the energy it will take to convalesce over the next six weeks, instead I will be grateful for the relationships we have cultivated as it has given us the unwavering support of our family and friends when we need it most. I will also be grateful for my good job and my awesome boss – Mr. Tucker’s as well. Our jobs have allowed us to save up an emergency fund, as well as provide our family with good benefits, and comprehensive care for when we are sick (sick days, and long term/short term disability). I am grateful that for all the years I could have had this happen, it happened during a year where I had amazing coverage. So in light of that, happy labour day weekend, indeed.
Posted on September 1, 2016
The best thing about working downtown is all the action. There are museums, great greenspace to enjoy, it’s a great place to people watch, and it’s convenient to run errands during my lunch hour. Conversely, it’s one of the worst places to work because you are constantly inundated with the sights and smells of amazing food stalls, cute retail stores and original crafts. In fact, just to get to work I have to walk through a high-end mall that’s full of all the fancy things that money can buy, like this gem that caught my eye the other day.
We live in a world where even our accessories are tired
The price tag? $200. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. For a purse. For the costs of this purse I could go away for a weekend and recharge with friends. The irony was killing me, so I knew I had to post about it.
Spend to save!
Then this facebook ad caught my eye this morning:
Is this a trick question?
This bank technique is to encourage people to spend so that they earn more rewards. Or, I could not spend the $4 on a fancy coffee, and instead keep the money invested, & tote around my .50¢ coffee in a travel mug. You’d earn even more by saving, I am willing to bet.
I am busted and I leak a little but if you hold me upright I still work
(I know, I know, I should buy a functional travel mug. If it makes you feel better, I am putting one on my Christmas list.)
The coffee equation is pretty divisive, I know, and it’s also an overused analogy but that is because it is a good one. I have friends who insist that they don’t give two flips about penny pinching and would much rather not have to think about their spending and instead enjoy all the fancy coffees and artisanal lunches their money can buy. They like to post articles about how not buying lattes is oppressive and sucks the joy out of life. That’s cool, I am not here to harsh anyone’s mellow but for me spending $1000 a year on coffee when I can spend $130 for fancy coffee I make myself at home is ludicrous. It may be splitting hairs to some but if I stick that $870 into an index fund making 7% a year, after 10 years of bringing my coffee I will have $12572. Add in that fact that most lunches around here are $10 and I can make a lunch for $3 or less, that will save me 26,351.06 over 10 years. Bringing coffee and my lunch over 10 years will save me $38392.
THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARSI could essentially take a year off of work by just not buying food at work. Amazing.
Never say never
All this isn’t to say that I never buy things I like, or never eat out, or never pay for entertainment. I do all these things. The difference is, I try and do them consciously and not constantly.
Since it is summer, my workplace is full of students gaining valuable work experience & making money for the first time this school year. The two who sit next to me often buy both breakfasts and lunches at one of the fast food places nearby. Buying a $10 sub every day doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest, however, I have no problem heading to one of my favourite restaurants and paying $50+ for a decent meal. I don’t do it often, and I do try and watch what I spend (I am looking at you, delicious cocktails!) but when I do go out, I make sure to spend consciously to maximize my enjoyment. To me, a $10 sub that can be replaced with a $3 meal is not as valuable as going out every couple of months and enjoying a $50 experience. I’d like to say “maybe these kids get value out of eating out every day, so good on them if they enjoy it and can afford it” but I have noticed as we get closer to the summer the realization that the paychecks are going to stop has settled in. Now they are bringing in their own coffee, sugar, and cream and most of the time, I see them eating their brown bag lunches.
I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.” Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition, fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant…
Nothing epitomizes the punk ethos like $265 t-shirts “crafted of black brushed Japanese cotton-cashmere.” If Henry Rollins were dead, he’d be rollin’ in his grave.
All this to say, the above is just an exercise and the real world isn’t as simple (I don’t actually work 52 weeks a year) and investments aren’t guaranteed. Still, I find it helpful to periodically do these calculations to remind myself that small decisions made every day get big results. Since we buy good food and we cook things I enjoy, it’s not a hardship to bring my lunch every day because it is always delicious.
But this post isn’t about judging people on what they choose to do so much as outline that in 10 years I want to have enough money saved to retire comfortably. Part of that process depends on me making good choices every day. So it’s not so much the idea that I am going to nickel and dime myself to death, instead I am making deliberate choices to choose one equally as good alternative over the more expensive choice. If I make just three good choices a day, I am well on my way to reaching my goal.
It certainly is, ridiculously-expensive-purse. It certainly is.
Posted on August 29, 2016
Ganked from the internet somewhere
Mr. Tucker and I enjoy an extremely compatible marriage. Generally speaking, we are on the same wavelength and that allows us to decisions together with little fuss. Unfortunately, this compatibility can also mean we’ve sometimes made bad decisions – together, happily – but decisions that were still detrimental to us. For example, quitting smoking – it took us way too long to quit together because we spent many years agreeing to give in and smoke when we had a beer, or when we were out socially. One of us would say, “Just the one…” and the next thing you knew, we were back smoking full time. It was never good cop/bad cop with us: no one was ever the cop!
Mr. Tucker and I slipped into a comfortable pattern where our responsibilities were divvied up according to aptitude and interest. He does a lot of the cooking and cleaning; I do the finances and manage the schedules for the family. That is, until recently. I sent an email to Mr. Tucker with the title “You could retire in 5 years,” with a compound interest calculation I did being the body of the message. That piqued his interest! I am guessing that the fact that he was going through an incredibly busy and stressful time at work probably sweetened his interest even more than usual but for the first time in our marriage he wanted to sit down and talk budgets.
Oh the sweet, sweet sound of the word “budget” to my ears!
In all fairness, he let me run with the budget for this long because I enjoy it, everything got paid, and we were saving and having a good life overall. I’d always consult with him for the big decisions and so it was easier for him to just let me manage it. But I think that having me incapacitated this spring nudged him more in the direction of learning about our finances and when I sent him the compound interest chart, it pushed him into wanting to learn more. Here are some compelling reasons:
– If I died tomorrow he would have to take over the finances. It’s in his best interest to learn how I manage things, what we budget for certain things, and to know where our investments and important papers are.
– Although he gets the girls on the bus in the morning and off the bus at night, we both want to have a parent home when the girls are in high school. Our life was definitely much calmer when a parent can take over the administrative life tasks of the family.
– He went and requested the status of his investments from his two previous companies and was pleasantly surprised to see their growth over the past couple of years.
– Given that I am a public servant, my job will have more security and more benefits (including a pension) than his job has, making it more lucrative for me to stay in my position & have him retire early first (caveat: if I become permanent, I am currently only a term). My job also has more options for flex-time and I can do compressed work hours*.
– I was home with the kids for years while Mr. Tucker worked full time. He also works super long (yay IT!) hours and could use a break. That’s an exciting prospect to him.
Our strangely inexpensive beach wedding
But wait! There’s more!
I may have not mentioned it, but we live in a relative’s house and that relative is looking to sell the property when their mortgage comes up for renewal in spring 2018. As this person is older, they are looking to tie up their financial affairs. For a bit of background, I own a condo and they own a house so when they retired and I got pregnant, it seemed logical to switch residences (and mortgage payments!). Because this house has been in our family since it was built in the middle of the last century, it is in a great location, and it’s in a neighbourhood where our family has put down roots, we are definitely keen to buy it! It’s also being sold to us at a good price – lower than market value but still fair – which sweetens the deal.
On top of that, Mr. Tucker and I have a unique opportunity to be completely mortgage-free if we can save $50 000 in 2017. So we are hunkering down more than usual and our goal from January 2017 to January 2018 will be to get that amount in the bank. It’s a lofty goal, and given our other financial responsibilities from now until the end of 2016, we won’t be able to really start until then.
Look for our updates on that, starting in January.
A six-year timeline
Given that we need to spend next year saving for the house, we are giving ourselves a 6-year timeline for getting Mr. Tucker retired. We’ve run the numbers, and since we can live off one salary and still have a pretty great existence, this will be our overall goal. The first year – 2017 – will be for saving for the house, and then the next 5 years will be hunkering down and getting that money in the bank for a 2023 retirement date.
Naturally, this only works if things stay the same or get better. It depends on Mr. Tucker keeping his current position for the next 5 years unless something phenomenal happens such as his company being bought out and his stocks going through the roof. But we aren’t hoping for miracles for this plan, we will use the turtle plan: slow and steady wins the race. A million and one horrible things could also happen but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t have a plan. I am pretty sure no one EVER has said that they saved too much money to deal with the emergencies thrown their way.
A goal without a plan is just a dream
Because I am a super cheeseball (something Mr. Tucker is definitely not) I have set up a visual chart on the back of our bedroom door to mark our progress. Of course – because I am le fromage – I have peppered the door lightly with fun images and sayings we will have to see once a day. My reasoning is that if the chart and goals is one of the first things we see in a day, we may be more likely to make good decisions. I am not above pulling out all the psychological stops to get our brains in gear to achieve our goals.
I will say though, the fact that we have always only counted on one salary and that we’ve always had our investments come out of our accounts like a bill, has helped us immensely. Since we have never used the extra money for day-to-day lifestyle inflation (our money went to travelling as much as possible) we aren’t used to having a huge amount of cash leftover. When we were living on one salary things were incredibly tight because there was not a lot of room for extras, and when I picked up a part-time job we earmarked it for travel, childcare, and (for awhile there) paying off debt. Now that I am looking to work full-time for the foreseeable future at a much higher salary than I have experienced previously, we can take that money and stick it all away, allowing to imagine a future where our money will make money for us.
It’s like the cards know us?
I am sure it will be a rocky road with plenty of challenges along the way but I would rather have this goal than to just take the money we will be making and boost our current lifestyle. In all honesty, I don’t think there would be any value-added in boosting our current lifestyle because we already have so much we pay for on one salary that we enjoy: a YMCA membership (subsidized by Mr. Tucker’s work, and that gives us discounts on childcare & free swimming lessons and activities for the kids and the adults), skiing in the winter, music lessons and Girl Guides for the kids, dragon boat for me, jam for Nick. We are also walking distance from the library, a wonderful park with a wading pool in the summer and a skating rink in the winter, and neighbours who enjoy a night of card games in the ‘hood over fancy dinners regularly. While there will always room for improvement in the savings game, our life is pretty full in terms of stuff and activities.
So hopefully over the next little while I will document our trials and tribulations here. I don’t anticipate perfection but it will at least be an interesting and creative journey.
A fun way to get moving in winter
*This is subject to manager approval but generally means I can work extra hours in order to take more time off in the summer, or take a longer period of time off to travel etc. I also have work-from-home flexibility.
Posted on August 14, 2016
How Feeding Children’s Ambition Only Sets Them Up to Fail – Our culture is rich with esteem-boosting platitudes for young dreamers, but the assurances are dishonest and dangerous
Having no money is no excuse for bad health — 33 ways to upgrade your health for free