Posted on March 18, 2017
I have spoken often about what an awful year it has been for my family and I. While we were managing fairly well for a long time, recently we were suddenly not-managing-well at all. With so many balls up in the air already, when a few more balls were added in, suddenly things started falling down…hard.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is all on my head. Mr. Tucker continues to be the stalwart partner he has always been, albeit with a few more cracks in the façade. The dark, depressing days of winter piled high with added work responsibilities and coupled with work uncertainty & continuing kid responsibilities has left me completely wiped. It seems like these days I can manage the basics of work and maybe one other thing but then I am done for and end up in bed early. Mr. Tucker has picked up the load of housework, childcare, and other life-management stuff while I convalesced in a myriad of different ways. The last two months have been especially hard, and it seems in a lot of ways the small joys have been sucked out of our lives, making the challenges even more apparent. Our entire family is feeling the strain.
Of course, this also means that financially we’ve spent more money than we usually do to fill in the gaps. Late hours at work combined with exhaustion has left us eating out more, working weekends means our house is messier, and we’ve thrown money at a few things that we’d otherwise figured out alternatives for. On one hand, I am super grateful that our finances are organized in such a way that overspending doesn’t put us that behind our goals, on the other hand, I am kicking myself for buying more single-serving foods when we’d bake or make stuff for lunches. Still, we are ahead and since I haven’t updated for February, here is where we sit for savings goals as of Feb 28th:
Not bad, huh? We are 1/7 of the way there and we still have 9 more months to go. Once I do our taxes this month, I will have a better idea of where we stand and what – if any – contingency plans we need to put in place.
Until then, I seem to be coming out of the fog that is this depression and while I will take it for now, I am pretty sure I will learn in April that I will need another surgery and that may throw me back into it. This fog combined with stress has also meant I have bailed on physiotherapy too long, so this week I made the move to get back on it. Right now I am taking pride in the little steps I am taking to improve my life: reading for personal happiness, taking care of my diet, incorporating exercise into my day, and writing again. No promises that all these things will make me happier, quicker but they are baby steps. But sometimes baby steps are all you need to climb out.
Posted on February 23, 2017
One of the ONLY benefits to being somewhat immobile over the past year is that Mr. Tucker needs to drive me to work every morning (his ongoing joke is that he commutes four times a day – to work from home). Why is it a benefit? Because we use that 20-minute commute each way to discuss major topics in our lives. Sometimes it’s parenting, sometimes it’s work, and more often than not it’s money. Commuting to work and being stuck on the way in heavy traffic on the way is a good reminder of why saving and investing is important if you don’t want to commute for the next 30 years.
Naturally, the conversation gravitated towards our evening out last week because that was the last time we had spent any significant amount of money. I was saying that I was appalled that our “pub platter” was $29. To be clear, this is what was on the platter: 5 onion rings, two chicken fingers, three deep fried pickles, five wings, and a smattering of nachos meagerly covered in salsa and cheese, four pieces of garlic bread. It also came with four small sauces. When I related the actual price of said pub platter Mr. Tucker’s reaction was immediate, “THIRTY GD DOLLARS FOR THAT?!” If you think that’s dramatic, you should have seen his reaction when he realized that our pitchers of beer were $24.
To be honest though, I don’t mind spending money on eating out or entertainment if I feel like I get value for that money. For example, a couple of times a year Mr. Tucker and I go out to our favourite taco joint where they make all the ingredients from scratch – including juicing all the fruit for their cocktails. A taco is about $5 and a cocktail with 3 oz of alcohol is $13. If you’ve ever seen those drink equivalency posters you will know that that $13 made-from-fresh-ingredients drink is actually the alcoholic equivalent of two drinks. Way less than a $24 pitcher of beer, which is three drinks.
Their tacos are all made from scratch as well: slow roasted meats, fresh tortillas, zesty sauces. So for $5, I don’t really begrudge it, which is why when I pay $29 for a bunch of frozen food deep-fried and thrown on a plate, it burns.
I know I am kicking a dead horse over here over one night out, last week (can you say “doesn’t get out much?”) but it speaks to a larger conversation about value. Not VALUES, mind you (although that plays a part), but the value you get for the money you spend. As my mother always says, “I don’t mind spending money but I hate getting ripped off,” and honestly that place felt like a total rip off.
Here are some examples:
Winter boots: I don’t buy cheap winter clothes because they tend to fall apart and not keep you warm. My kids wear Bogs boots because they are 3-season boots that can take a good beating from kids and that have a high resale value. We buy last year’s models when they go on sale for $60 or less. I have tried to get by with discount-chain boots at $30 but I couldn’t hand them down, and one year I ended up having to buy another pair mid-season. When the smallest grows out of hers (and gets the hand-me-downs from her sister), I will resell the boots for $30.
Food: we eat almost all our meals at home and I take my lunches to work every day. We also eat a lot of fruit and veggies that I feel are good value for their money even if they can get expensive. Since I know that having a good selection of food reduces my temptation to eat out, I don’t mind spending a little extra on things like miso paste, good olive oil, and an array of condiments.
Bicycles: Mr. Tucker and I both have bikes that were over $1000. His he’s had for 12 years now and that he maintains himself, and mine I just bought two years ago so I could commute to work (and then I promptly disabled myself). Given how long these bikes will last and how we use them to bike around town with and without the kids, I think the price is well worth it. Mr. Tucker also used to be a bike courier so he has extensive knowledge of how to care for bicycles. He’s taken his bike into a shop only once or twice for things out of his scope of knowledge.
Mattress: Mr. Tucker and I bought a Casper mattress a couple of years ago and have no regrets! Previously, we had a $800 cheapo spring mattress that fell apart in two years, so spending $1000 on a mattress was a calculated risk (it comes with a 10-year warrentee). Honestly, given that you sleep on a mattress 8 hours a night, this is no place to skimp! We purchased ours 2 years ago and every single night I am glad we did – it is AWESOME. If you are interested in going this route, here is a discount code for $65 off (full disclosure: I get a gift card if you do this).
These are just a few examples of what I feel is a good deal vs. money spent. While I love saving a buck, we tend to scrimp and save in areas we aren’t as invested in. We aren’t car proud people, so we own a 7-year-old Grand Caravan with a partially missing bumper. We aren’t tv people so we don’t have cable (although we do have Netflix for the kids). Mr. Tucker works from home and is a jeans and t-shirt guy; I wear pret-a-porter clothes so we have no dry cleaning or pressing costs. In fact, we pretty much have all the clothes we need so our only outlay is for kid clothes for the most part.
We’re minivan hipsters: duct taping our car since before it was cool
Naturally, our values determine what we get value out of but this will be different for everyone. Not everyone will pay for harp lessons but as I have mentioned before: music is a priority for us, so we continue to budget for music lessons. But no one can tell you what you should and shouldn’t get value out of, either. We are all different in our values and what we value. As with everything else, it’s important to constantly question if you get value out of the money you spend, or whether or not you should redirect it somewhere that will make you happier. By constantly questioning and not just spending on autopilot we learn to be conscious of how we feel so that we can make better decisions in the future.
What have you eliminated from your life because you found you got little value for money spent?
Posted on February 12, 2017
Because I am middle-aged now, I see entertainment in a whole new light. It’s definitely changed since I had kids, and has even changed since my kids were small. Today, in terms of line items in the budget, the majority of our entertainment budget goes towards the kids and their needs. Mr. Tucker and I rarely go out, and we don’t feel much of a loss from that because we have hobbies and other pursuits we enjoy.
This week we did make the effort to go out and have stereotypical fun. You see, it was Trivia Night at the pub where my stepson and my SIL work and my brother was keen to get the family together to play. For context, you have to understand that Trivia (capital T) is an Olympic sport in our family. Holidays are full of angry words and pedantic definitions as my brother and I jockey for the title of Smartest Sibling (capital S’s) during rousing games of Trivial Pursuit. So essentially, Trivia is our jam. So when he suggested we head out for fun family times at Trivia night, we were on board.
It was a special event for the pub, so the place was absolutely slamming and we barely got a table. Still, we ordered food and drinks, laughed, got most questions right (and some wrong) and even though we were a wee table of six (some were over 20 people) we ended up with a respectable score. It was some fun family times and I don’t regret heading out at all.
Know thy limits
Of course, my brother and my mother headed out after Trivia but Mr. Tucker and I stayed to have drinks with my SIL & some of the staff. We played cards with some awesome people, watched the music set of a super fun duo, and generally had a good time. To be honest, even that could have ended at about midnight and still have been considered a great night out. But it didn’t. Mr. Tucker and I pushed it and kept drinking way past the point where we should have and when we finally left at 2am it was just our little group and the Bar Stars.
Needless to say, the next day was incredibly rough.
A long time ago, Mr. Tucker and I had decided to make better decisions about our entertainment. We found we got very little value in going out to bars until the wee hours of the morning so instead we made better decisions about when to cut our evenings short. I guess we hadn’t been out in so long that we had completely forgotten how to judge: inertia took ahold, we kept ordering drinks well past the point where we were having a good time, and we spent way more money and wasted more time than we should have.
This is just another opportunity to point out just how applicable The Fulfillment Curve from Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence really is. Had we just stayed for a few drinks and a few games of cards after Trivia night that would have been perfect. But we didn’t. We were so excited to have babysitting and a night out that we pushed ourselves to stay and tried to force ourselves to have fun. In the end, doing that actually reduced the overall experience rather than added to it.
I suppose having not gone out in a long time contributed to our entertainment amnesia so I am grateful for the reminder: stop while you are ahead. In a sense the money we spent was a harsh lesson on what happens when you are mindless about your behaviour but it was a harsh lesson indeed: it physically took me a whole day to recover (hello middle-age!) and our bank account took a fairly substantial hit.
Conversely, Mr. Tucker has taken the kids skiing for the day and I will be home alone where I will sit in front of the fire with a pot of tea and my library books. It will cost me nothing to enjoy this time and I bet it will be the highlight of my week. Our priorities change as we go through life and my ability to enjoy peace and quiet has far surpassed my enjoyment of being out with a lot of people. That’s not a judgment on what people find fun but more of a reflection of self-knowledge. If you aren’t thinking about what will satisfy you, you will never be satisfied.
And on that note, time to put on the kettle…
Posted on February 6, 2017
WELP I realize my plan to write twice a week has been thwarted by a recent addiction to both Letterkenny and Sherlock but since I’ve nailed those both out, it looks like I am back in the blogging game.
Our goals are still on track despite the fact that we’ve eaten out a lot more lately due to
sheer laziness desire AND too much beer has also been purchased BUT we have had unforeseen bonuses which has us on track to have almost $9300 in the bank by the end of February. Not bad.
My term at work has been extended for another year, which means most definitively – even if I never get extended again – I will walk away with 5.5 years of pensionable service in 2018. Of course, this depends on me buying back those years come November but that is the goal and I plan to reach it.
In other news, if you have not signed up for the Rockstar Finance forums yet, PITTER PATTER! I will be modding the Great White North Club over there so feel free to pop in, ask your Canadia-related questions and join in the conversation.
Still, Mr. Tucker and I are heading out for a DATE NIGHT this week – which we never do. It’s Trivia Night at the stepson/SIL’s workplace and my brother wants to go. As I always say: other families have Festivus for the airing of grievances but Little bother Tucker and I have TRIVIA. We are both fiercely competitive about which one of us is the smarter sibling and usually Christmas rounds of Trivial Pursuit end in harsh words being spoken. We’ll be on the same team this week though, so I pity the competition. The next day we’re all heading to the fancy cinema to nurse our hangovers with the new John Wick movie and pitchers of Caesars.
Have a great week, kids
Posted on January 18, 2017
When I was 24 and had just started my first “corporate” job the women used to ask me why I never wore makeup. I used to laugh it off and say “I have to be making at least $40 000 before I’ll wear makeup to work!” While I’ve way surpassed that salary, I don’t bother wearing makeup because it’s just another task to add to a list of things that takes me forever to do. I am all about streamlining most processes and while not wearing makeup is a great way to save time in the morning, optimizing your work wardrobe is even more important.
When I first decided to go back to work I needed a wardrobe that could stand a long bus commute in four-seasons but that was flexible and didn’t cost a lot of money to maintain. Anything “dry clean only” was out, as was anything that needed to be ironed or have any special washing instructions. At the time both my kids were under four-years-old and I didn’t have any interest in adding more to my bulging chore list. So I started from scratch and went from there:
1 – Take stock of what you own: Most of my wardrobe consisted of things a new mom and a person who cleaned houses would wear – because that was my life! I did have a few serviceable pieces from the past that still looked good but not much.
2 – Figure out what you need: I didn’t just say to myself “I’ll spend $300 on a new wardrobe” and then went shopping. I tried to figure out what I could manage bare minimum without looking like I wore the same thing every day.
3 – Consider ease of use: While most people may think this is weird, I tried to figure out what would take me the least amount of time to assemble in the morning. Thinking about it, I hated that in the past I would try on clothes, reject them, try on something else…ad infinitum. When you have to figure out a few components of a wardrobe, I felt it was too time consuming. The idea of fishing out socks, deciding on pants or a skirt, and then finding a shirt…seemed like more steps than I needed. It was easier to just buy dresses and tights: two steps in the winter, one in the summer.
Now, I have never been much of a dress person, it’s not really my style. If you were to see me when I am not working, you’d note that my fashion sense tends to be of the jeans-and-t-shirt variety. But it occurred to me that if I stuck to basic colours I could get away with 10 dresses and 5 pairs of tights in the winter, and in the summer it would just be dresses and sandals/shoes. It doesn’t get much easier than that. So with that in mind, I created my base.
4 – Shop: Being a bit larger than average has some challenges, especially where I live as there aren’t as many stores that cater to larger women like there is in the US. So knowing that I created my stacked game plan in order of cost-effectiveness:
Check out thrift stores: I got some great pieces by checking out the local thrift stores. People have a tendency to gain weight rather than lose it, so the thinner you are, the better chances you have at finding great pieces that still look good after many washings.
Shop discount retail: When I first started working we used to go to the US every summer and rent a cottage for a week. I would take advantage of the great selection at Target (before their ill-fated foray into the Canadian market) to get some great pieces at rock bottom prices. They always had my size and their clothes still look great five years later.
Shop sales at mid-range retail: one of my favourite places to shop is a Canadian outfit called Ricki’s (I get no kickbacks, alas) because their clothes fit right, they are extremely high quality, fashionable, and last forever. They also have great end-of-season sales. I know I can take advantage of the web sales and the clothes will fit great. Old Navy sometimes has some great pieces and their sales are decent but I find their clothes are often ill-fitting. Find stores whose clothes fit right for your body type and then take advantage of their sales.
Fabrics: fussy fabrics aren’t worth your time. I have often come across pieces of linen, silk, cashmere, and cotton that I love but there is no way. Those fabrics are not easy to care for and I only want things that I can throw in the washer and dryer that come out looking great. I loathe ironing so anything that requires a pressing is off my list as well.
5 – Accessorize: I’ll be honest, I am not one for earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and scarves. I tend toward being super plain and that is a style choice as much as it is easy for me to not have to deal with. Still, I do need tights, sweaters, shoes, and blazers so I am sticking these under accessories as they can be repurposed for various outfits.
Stick to to basics: My core accessories three cardigan sweaters in brown, grey, and black. I have tights in brown, grey, and black, and I have shoes in … you guessed it: brown and black*. I really try and spend the extra money on wool or thick cotton tights if I can find them because they last for years, and I never buy nylons because they don’t last. In summer when I need to wear shoes and not sandals, I just keep slip-on socks for dress shoes in my office. All my dresses look great with one or more of these combos and so the entire process of getting dressed requires very little thought on my part because it all works.
I also have a couple of fancy blazers (all thrift shop finds) for days when I have important meetings. My current boss taught me this awesome trick of always keeping a black blazer in your office in case you are caught off-guard by a high-level meeting. If you dress business casual like most people do that black blazer should look great with whatever you are wearing. This tip has come in handy for me a few times!
Finally, I do have a pair of beautiful wool legwarmers that come in handy during our frigid Canadian winters when I have to walk 10 minutes to the bus stop. If you live in an area with chilly winters, I can’t recommend them enough if you have to walk or take public transportation to work (you winter bikers are better served with snow pants as you have different challenges!).
There is a great Simpsons episode where Marge finds a deeply discounted CoCo Chanel dress and ends up running into some elite women from her past who note how great she looks and invites her to the country club for dinner. Of course, she only has the one dress so every night she alters the dress into a new outfit so she can keep up appearances. It’s a great episode because it delves into the folly of trying to impress people who really aren’t that important. But dressing for professional work is a trickier beast, unless a> you are like Mr. Tucker who not works in IT (not known for its adherence to fashion) but also works from home so he only has about 5 pairs of jeans; or b> wear a uniform to work.
Most of us want to look tidy and professional and some of us want to do this without thinking about it much, if at all. I know other people who adore fashion and accessories and really enjoy the artistic process of dressing well and to them I say: great, I am so glad you love that! You do you! But for the rest of us who are looking for a way to dress nicely without a lot of work and effort, taking some time to build a system is the easiest way to manage it. I know I can grab any dress in my closet and look great in under two minutes – less in the summer – without breaking a sweat. If you bike to work, having a lightweight and portable dress that you can roll up into a ball is super easy. It won’t come out all wrinkled when you put it on at work and doesn’t take up too much space in a backpack or paneer. By having the full 10 dresses you guarantee that by rotating them they will look great for years before you have to replace them.
Now that I’ve built this system, I haven’t bought a new piece of clothing in over a year and a half. Everything I do have looks great. With 10 dresses, 5 pairs of tights, three cardigans, and two pairs of shoes you have everything you need to look good over the course of the month with only wearing the same dress twice. People at work will be none-the-wiser and you can be satisfied in knowing you look great and for very little money.
So repeat after me:
Ten dresses, three pairs of tights, three sweaters/blazers, and two pairs of shoes is all a woman needs for the perfect work wardrobe
*I will admit to having fancier shoes I keep at home but my core work shoes are these two pairs of flats.
Posted on January 14, 2017
Like most people, we’ve tried to do all the right things, adhering to the standard personal finance advice: save for retirement, pay off your debt, take advantage of benefits such as retirement matching, save an emergency fund…blah blah blah. Sometimes we’ve hit the mark and sometimes we’ve made mistakes but in general we’ve at least tried to accumulate some savings and keep our debt non-existent.
When Mr. Tucker first got a job that wasn’t hourly and that paid a decent amount, it coincided with the birth of our first child. We moved out of our inexpensive condo downtown and into renting the house we currently live in. I had to reduce the hours I worked (read: baby happened) but we also didn’t want to spend everything we earned. So Mr. Tucker and I made an appointment with a financial advisor at the bank and set up an RRSP with a monthly withdrawal rate of $500. Over the years we have accumulated/paid off debt, skimped and saved, and sometimes spent with wild abandon but we always, always, always had that $500 come out of our account automatically for retirement.
Knowing what I know now, the fees on those investments are ridiculous, so in 2017 we are moving them over to another company, whose investments have a low MER (Management Expense Ratio) and better performance.
Mr. Tucker and I have our goals, yes, but we also plan to clean up some other aspects of our financial life. So last night we discussed it and I created a spreadsheet to track our investments to see how we were doing in terms of savings.
To clarify, Mr. Tucker had an RRSP with his previous company that seemed to do well, so when he moved on to new employment we just left it there to grow. He also has stocks from another company he worked for, his private RRSP, I have an RRSP, and of course we have money allocated for savings. So we logged into all the accounts, checked the amounts and plopped it into our new fancy tracking spreadsheet.
What an eye opener!
Even though all the amounts seem small-ish on their own, when we added them all up, we’re set up to hit 6-figures next month. WHAT? Who knew?
We always felt like we were significantly behind on our savings goals but when we actually sat down and figured it all out, we actually were doing quite well. We had done all the right things and took the “set it and forget it” view and it worked. In retrospect I should have done better management investment-wise but there is no reason to beat myself up about the past – we’re working on fixing that now. No point in being upset about things you cannot change.
So if you feel like you are behind everyone else, or haven’t done the right things finance-wise, there is no reason for you to not change that right now. You may realize you are doing better than you think, or that there are things that are within your reach to change. As the old adage says: the best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant an oak tree is today.
Posted on January 12, 2017
Note: Our financial goals for 2017 include saving $18300 to buy back my pensionable years for my defined contribution pension as well as save $50000 which will make us mortgage-free at the beginning of 2018
I socked away our first chunk of change this week on our goal to $68300. It’s larger than we usually would save mostly because I received backpay for a salary increase. So I have demonstrated this in an adorable fundraising thermometer.
I should be receiving another lump sum at the end of the month, which means we are starting off the year on track! I also received a “step-up” or cost-of-living increase (in the government it’s not raises, just increases for inflation) which should be reflected in my next paycheck as well. I am using the increase to contribute a bit more money to the children’s education savings as well as to boost up our entertainment budget by a small amount. I noticed we were going over a bit in discretionary spending and wanted to reflect a more reasonable amount in our budget.
Also, my work has decided to extend my term to another year, which means even if they don’t extend me next year, I will walk away with 5 ½ years of pensionable service, which amounts to a small – but consistent – amount at 65. Obviously my goal is to stay on for more years than that but having done the math it makes sense to buy back my pension.
Mr. Tucker also got news today – his workplace has approved two new bonuses: one for his team for meeting their Q3 goals, and a small end-of-year bonus for the entire company. Since Mr. Tucker is off to New York City with his son to celebrate my stepson’s 21st birthday, that money will help defray that cost. Otherwise, all that extra stuff is going into the savings account. It’s nice that we are saving a bit more than planned so early in the game, that gives us a little more breathing room in case anything happens down the road.
Although I plan to report on our savings account every month, I was so excited to see the first payment go in today that I just wanted to share early. We continue to save for retirement, the kid’s education, emergency savings, and we have car savings but they aren’t as fancy and just kind of mosey along in the background (the best kind of savings!). Besides, who doesn’t love a giant thermometer?
Posted on January 11, 2017
My bank recently sent me some snail mail because I was “PRE-APPROVED FOR A $10000 LINE OF CREDIT!” I have no use for more credit so I just pitched the letter.
Of course, I log into my bank account today and like most people I am used to going through the motions as a habit. So of course from the main page I have to choose to go to online banking:
I mindlessly click through to get to the login page:
Then often after that they have some sort of add for interest rates or RRSPs or any one of the other products they want their clients to be interested in. That’s not a big deal, I am used to those. Of course, I just give it a cursory glance as the house is pretty crazy right now with the kids running around and Mr. Tucker trying to get food on the table so naturally I go to click through…
…and I almost click the accept button. Why? Because my brain is conditioned to think that this is the button I use to get to the next page.
Luckily, I had a moment to think before I realized what I was about to do or else I would have accepted the line of credit (and probably the ensuing hit on my credit report). That makes me SO LIVID! It’s such a cheap, clickbait-y way for the banks to get clients to accept more products. Yes, yes, I know we all have a responsibility to read and be informed but the reality is that they are banking (no pun intended) on the habits of customers or else they wouldn’t do that. It’s super shifty, and is a sucky business practice.
Posted on January 8, 2017
WELP, week one in Resolutionville was a complete fail. I shouldn’t say complete – I got up earlier than usual, but I am not closer to reaching my goal. I know it’s about the baby steps and any move in the right direction is better than nothing but it’s hard to not be disheartened. But hey, if I was good at it, it wouldn’t be a resolution, would it?
Monday will be back to our regularly scheduled programming and I will aim to close the gap between the time I want to wake up and the time I have been waking up. I am pushing myself forward and have no plans to give up just because the first week wasn’t the perfect week I had envisioned. Life changes are a marathon, not a sprint.
Both Mr. Tucker and I worked over the holidays and the kids were off school & cooped up inside. We had planned to have them in the YMCA holiday camp but they shut down due to low enrolment. Sheesh! Since I was the only one on my team working over the holidays it was super busy and so when both Mr. Tucker and I had to work at home due to bad weather AND the kids were chomping at the bit, it was – to put it mildly – absolutely exhausting. I ‘d really prefer to never be on a conference call again while an 8-yr-old skates up and down the hall in her new rollerskates. #lifegoals and all that. I mean sure, we saved a couple of hundred dollars so not all is lost, it was just done at the expense of all of our cortisol levels!
The kids building cities out of LEGO and listening to Mozart (hey man, I don’t know either)
Like most things though, we did get through it. Also, despite the chaos of it all, we didn’t eat out or succumb to any extra entertainment expenses, which I will say is a win. I suppose had I been more mobile I may have eaten a lunch out (or two) but not being able to walk any distance means I have to bring everything with me. I wouldn’t call it a boon of having a bum leg but not getting out in order to spend money is definitely one of the ways that a lack of mobility has an unseen benefit.
Today the house was cleaned, more beer was bottled, yeast for wine pitched. The entertainment portion of our budget is taking a bit of a hit this weekend as we pre-pay for these things but over time it will even out. The great thing about being debt free & having the ability to save such a huge portion of our paychecks (thanks budget!) is that we can borrow money from ourselves rather than from THE MAN at a ridiculous interest rate. So our savings will be a bit lower but it will even out over the next couple of months as we spend less on entertainment.
One of the random wildcards I was thrown this week though was that we may have to buy the house sooner rather than later. It looks like this may happen 2-3 months earlier than anticipated, and I need to sit down and fiddle with the numbers to see what this means. At best, we can manage it. At worst, it screws the entire plan. We could leverage the RRSP Home Buyers Plan but of course, we really prefer not to. There are options but I have to work out the scenarios. Life is full of things that can blindside you so I think it’s important to be flexible enough to change directions when hit with a roadblock. I’ll probably write about it once I nail it out but right now my brain is having a “RUN ALL THE NUMBERS!” Still, we will be mortgage free and own a home in the end so I am trying not to panic.
We did manage to get some quality time in, and I keep settling the CRAP out of Catan…so
Other than that, Mr. Tucker and the kids start skiing tomorrow – my second year of missing our family winter activity due to health issues. On one hand: bummer for me. On the other hand: I GET THE HOUSE TO MYSELF! Having a spouse who works from home full time means that I almost never, evah get a moment to myself, alone. For example, in a surprising move, the kids went over to my dad’s place a few weekends ago. I was so thrilled that I put on a fire, made a pot of tea, sat in my wingback chair and was JUST about to put my feet up and get some reading in when I hear, “WEEDLY WOOOOO, BOM, BOM, BOM” as Mr. Tucker decided to unleash his bass guitar. REALLY? REALLY? As much as I love living in our cozy 1200 sq foot space there are tradeoffs, and those tradeoffs are closely linked to my sanity.
Monday: I meet with the surgeon so they can reconstruct my ankle. We are going to be at almost a year since I fell and wrecked everything. In case I haven’t said it enough: plan for disability! I was a healthy 40-year-old woman so it can happen to anyone and it is expensive! Of course, if you are looking to test the strength of your marriage…by all means…
So how are everyone’s resolutions doing? Any setbacks? Unforeseen circumstances? I hope to hear everyone is pressing on as they OM SHANTI OM their way through the mantra “the perfect is the enemy of the good!”
Posted on January 6, 2017
Amy Dacycyn of the Tightwad Gazette fame once pointed out that most people know how to save money: just spend less than you earn. Everyone knows that, right? The same way, she points out, that people know how to lose weight: burn more calories than you consume*. Organizations such as Weight Watchers have been successful not because they are teaching people something they don’t know; they are successful because they offer people a community. It’s not just any community, either: it’s a community of people who are going through similar experiences. There is value in being able to feel a part of something. That’s the short answer to the question, “why I blog,” but these are the long answers:
I blog to keep a record of my experiences: I have always kept a journal, when I was younger I kept paper journals exclusively but have been keeping an electronic record since 1999 or so. I still write in paper journals for more intimate things but I find for experiences I want to share, electronic is the way to go. I am a compulsive writer so it makes me happy to write.
I blog to keep momentum: I read a lot of blogs on finance as well as on other topics to keep me encouraged. It’s so easy to get distracted from a goal so I find if I keep up with other people who are on the same path as we are, I stay excited about our dreams and goals. Writing my own story down and sharing it encourages me to continue even on the roughest of days (or years, I am looking at you 2016).
I blog to share ideas and encourage others: I love discovering new tips or tricks and I love sharing the ones I discover. We are all on different places on our own personal finance journey so while one thing is obvious to person A, it’s a mind-blowing idea to person B. I love that we can all be in different spots but read the same content and get different things out of it.
“Notice how many of the items you’re told to buy are depreciating trifles, and how strongly you’re encouraged to buy them with debt. That’s no coincidence. Once they get most people on the treadmill, they keep them there for life.”
– Jason Kelly, Financially Stupid People are Everywhere
I blog to be a window on one family: I adore reading about all the different kinds of families there are out there all discussing finance as a way to achieve their dreams. Kids/no kids, country/city there are a plethora of people living in various places all over the world who are using the same basic financial tenets to live the life they want. That blows my mind. While I will only ever be able to speak to the experiences of our family in our situation, I love to see how everyone else is making it work.
I blog because no one talks about money: I LOVE talking about money. I discuss money way past the point where people’s eyes glaze over. I love talking about savings/investments and goal setting in the way people speak about their pets. Blogging allows me to get all the urges to discuss finance out of my system before I hit a party and lose friends with my blathering. I also think money should be less taboo. By not discussing money we’ve created situations where people in trouble are afraid to reach out. No one is alone and we all make mistakes. No one should feel isolated for that fact.
I blog because I believe there is a better way to live: 9-to-5 ‘til your 65 sounds like hell to me, so I have never subscribed to it. I also hate consumer culture, large houses, big screen tvs, expensive cars, and all the things we’re constantly told to buy to be good little consumers. I hate the amount of self-storage facilities that are going up in my city stealing valuable urban real estate, and the plastic toys my kids receive that get broken in one day. I hate the messages that we get spoon fed from a young age: you are imperfect, buy product X and you will look just like model Y! Buy this car and you will look like you have made it! Drink this drink to look sophisticated and worldly! Buy your way to being the perfect you that you can be! I just think there is a better way to live and I would rather buy my finite amount of time on this earth back with early retirement than to buy more passive entertainment.
Obviously, not everyone believes what I do, not even people who are similar to me. We are all different and we all have different aspirations and goals. Still, I feel like we can all learn from each other because of this, and reading a variety of blogs as well as writing my own has taught me to respect and learn from others. The world would be a fairly boring place if we were all exactly the same so these reasons – and more – are the reasons why I blog. I enjoy the journey and I enjoy reading the journeys of others.
*Weight loss is actually a pretty complicated thing and while it’s simplified here for the sake of the metaphor, it really has a lot of different components I won’t get into.
Posted on January 1, 2017
Tearing down the tree on NYE
While I think that January 1st is a rather arbitrary date to choose for a new year but so is every date so why not? Considering January 1st is cold and dark in many places of the world, it doesn’t necessarily give people that fresh, new start vibe. My friend Cory claims the new school year is – and always will be – the real marker of the New Year, where for years I felt the winter solstice was a better marker in my own life. The reality is that ANY date you choose to make life changes may as well be the best day for a new year for you. So today? Why not?
This year we marked the last day of the year by cleaning the entire house so that we could spend the next two days basically relaxing and doing some organizational chores. Mr. Tucker and I tore apart our office last week and got rid of a ton of old papers and junk, and now the only thing I need to do is file a few things. Today I even cleaned out the freezers and my first goal for 2017 is to make a plan to consume a lot of this food instead of buying more. I’ve already made a meal plan to tackle that.
So not bad, as far as fresh starts go!
Personally, as much as I don’t want to harp on it, 2016 was an absolutely awful year for me. I know people are hyper-focused on all the celebrity deaths but for me the three surgeries I had completely threw our lives, jobs, and relationships into complete chaos. I wasn’t weight bearing for almost a half year, which put the onus on Mr. Tucker to be the person who took care of almost everything from cooking, cleaning, child care and, of course, taking care of me. Being disabled was also incredibly expensive – and will remain to be – as I have another surgery and a lot of physiotherapy in store in 2017.
Still, Mr. Tucker and I tested the limits of our marriage and I think knowing we got through this past year means we can probably tackle anything. We also had two amazing trips: two weeks in Italy in the spring, and a surprise trip to Disney with the girls in the fall. Even after all of that was said and done, we ended the year completely debt free.
Of course, 2017 is a HUGE year for us financially. Saving almost 70k in a year and a bit is going to be an incredible challenge for Mr. Tucker and I. However, not saving that money would mean we would lose out on two amazing opportunities: buying back my pension & being mortgage-free. A million and one things can happen in a year (as I know) but it’s good to have goals, so as far I am concerned why not make them big goals?
A clean-up work in progress
But wait! There’s more!
In my last post I finished with these words:
“I can’t tell you the amount of times people have said something to me like “I am just not good with money,” or “I can’t budget,” but whether or not you enjoy it is irrelevant: money is a reality of life. We would never accept someone saying “I am just no good at working, so I just don’t do it.”
Smarter members of the reading public may have realized that this applies to more than just finances. As humans, we shy away from pain and are drawn to pleasure but sometimes we lack the ability to see how short-term pleasure can cause long-term pain (this message I try and impart on my kids the most, to deaf ears usually!). One of the things that I, personally, need to work on is getting more exercise. Granted, being non-weight bearing for most of 2016 (and looking to go through it again for a while in 2017) has really shone the spotlight on the lack of exercise I have been getting.
Historically, I have always been fairly active. I have always loved walking everywhere, I was a runner for a few years (before my spinal compression took that away), and I adore swimming. I discovered Dragonboat and completely fell in love with the sport (and the incredible women on my team who amaze me every day). Unfortunately though, when you start to lose your ability to function normally, the natural reaction is to do less, which is the opposite of what you should be doing. So for four years now my physical fitness levels have slowly declined alongside my increasing muscle weakness. That is not good.
So despite the fact I am facing more non-weight-bearing weeks in the coming months, I am determined to do more exercise – even if it’s done lying down. What I really need to do is up my cardio (because my poor heart!) and since I have recently borrowed an old – but serviceable – exercise bike from a neighbour, I plan to push my cardio levels over the next couple of weeks before the next surgery. After, I still have other exercises I have mapped out that don’t require me to put weight on my legs. I have researched a list of some bodyweight exercises I can do at home, which I will combine with a little cardio.
Ready to be taken outside so we can have our living room back
Enter my only real resolution
Time and energy are always challenges, especially for parents who both work full-time (and who try to have lives, ha ha…ha…hah). You get up, get everyone ready for work or school, commute, work, come home, deal with dinner, homework, activities, chores…the list goes on and on. So it’s no wonder that at the end of the day, when the kids are in bed and the work is done, the only thing you can muster is Netflix or some internet usage. Refreshing facebook is my biggest time suck and that is because I have no energy for anything else.
So in 2017 my only true resolution is to get up earlier to put myself first. If I put myself first before the day starts, even if I only get 20 minutes on the bike it’s more than the nothing I am getting now. I am enlisting Mr. Tucker into the early riser army as well (he’s thrilled) and hopefully our mornings will be a lot less chaotic overall.
Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day so my plan is to just start slow and then work my way up to rising a full hour to an hour-and-a-half before I do right now. Hopefully over time I will also add more exercises (on top of my current physio) and my goal is to be healthy enough (and weight bearing enough) to be able to start biking to work this spring.
Yep. That’s it. Of course, when I put it above, it seems like kind of a froo-froo goal, “get more exercise” could mean anything. But I do have a plan to increase the types of exercise and the length of working out over the next couple of months until I reach a peak were there is no value-added for time spent.
Exercise is an investment much the same as money is, except it’s an investment in your biggest asset: yourself. Having 2016 be the year of medical interventions has pushed this reality to the forefront and so in 2017 I am going to focus on making my body as healthy as I can given my limitations. I hope by the spring I will be given the all-clear from my doctors to ramp it up and do even more.
So there you have it: one simple resolution to create a habit that will increase my health in 2017. It’s SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic & time based) so as I track this goal in 2017 my hope is to be continually encouraged by the small successes I have and build on them to achieve an overall larger goal.
A fresh start to 2017
Posted on December 29, 2016
Recently I saw an article headline to the effect of, “don’t do resolutions, make new habits.” I didn’t click and read it but I wish I had. My brain has kept coming back to the idea and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.
A resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not to do something,” and a habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” On the surface they seem similar but a resolution is a decision, a habit is a practice. From what we know about psychology, it’s the building of the habit that would allow someone to keep the resolution. It would seem to me, they go hand-in-hand.
For example, I can resolve to quit smoking but the actions I would take to keep cigarettes out of my hands are habits. Since smoking comes with its own set of habits you need to create new ones and disrupt the old ones in order to let your synapses to make new connections. When I quit smoking many moons ago, I found I had to go without a glass of wine at dinner. Wine was a huge trigger for smoking so I set it aside entirely at the beginning in order to create new rituals, like having a cup of tea after dinner instead. That way I still had a pleasurable ritual, it was just a new one that was less triggering for the bad habit I was trying to break. Of course, many years later now I can drink wine no problem.
When it comes to finances, we all have small habits we can work on breaking. Maybe for you it’s the 3pm hike to the cafeteria for chocolate, or all the money you spend entertaining your kids on the weekends, maybe you eat out too much. For every one of us it will be different but we need to take the same approach to change: make a resolution to change it, and create habits to make it happen.
What happens when a resolution doesn’t become a habit? Failure. It’s fine and good for us to pay off our debt but if we can’t control the bad decisions that got us into debt in the first place, then we will end up right back where we were. Racking up debt and then paying it off is akin to living feast or famine: wouldn’t it be better to just have everything you need all the time? Why go from binging on spending money to not spending a cent when you can spend “enough” all the time? It seems like a lot less wild and uncertain way of living and you aren’t shelling out hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars a year on interest.
As I have mentioned before, even though we are debt free and do have some savings we have an aggressive plan to save money to buy our house and to buy back my pension in 2017. This is an incredibly tight goal for us; it requires us to make a plan – and then stick to it! Of course, we can draw on our experience with debt repayment to create the opposite plan: saving money instead of paying off. So we will start there.
Change your life in five minutes a week! (ha kidding, I’m no motivational speaker)
Make a comprehensive budget: You don’t start a roadtrip without a map and the same goes for any good plan. Your budget doesn’t need to be perfect but it does need to be a plan that can incorporate any roadblocks you encounter on your journey, so it needs to be flexible. My budget includes “spending money” but it isn’t broken up into sub-categories such as “eating out”, “movies”, etc. I don’t know how I will want to spend our entertainment budget say, in July, so leaving a chunk that is our play money is just good enough for my purposes and I can spend it how I want but when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Stay flexible: Keep in mind that a budget should be a guideline, it’s not etched in stone: if you find it’s too hard to stick to, rework it. If you think you could save more, rework it. You should be honest with yourself however: if you are still finding you are falling into the same patterns it’s not the budget that should change, it’s your mentality that needs to. Having said that, when you make your budget you should be realistic in your categories. While I can feed a family of four on $600 a month in our city, had I aimed for $400 I would have set myself up for failure. Setting oneself up for failure usually leads to throwing in the towel altogether, “I’ll just never get it right, why do I even bother?!” You will have to be honest with yourself to admit if whether or not you gave it an honest try, or did you set yourself up so you can say you “tried” when you knew you could never stick with it?
No one else is going to do the hard work for you, in fact no one else cares. The only people you are failing are yourself (and maybe your family).
Measure, measure, measure: Mr. Tucker and I have a chart on the back of our bedroom door that tracks our progress from debt to savings. It’s the last thing I see before I leave my bedroom in the morning and encourages me to think about our goals all day long. So on one hand it’s purely a psychological tool but on the other hand it’s an important chart that shows how we are progressing every month. To see an actual line that goes up every single month encourages us to keep at it, especially when we aren’t feeling it.
I also maintain a spreadsheet that tracks what we spend to ensure that I am staying within the amounts we’ve budgeted in our categories. I only need to really take a quick look on the weekends and update the numbers in my spreadsheet. The entire process only takes about five minutes but then I don’t have to worry about it.
I also like to add our savings progress from month-to-month in other areas (which is purely nerdy on my part). Although we are saving for the house and my pension, we also have education savings for the kids, car savings, retirement savings, and vacation savings. It’s not necessary as the bank generally keeps good records but I find it helps bolster my spirit to see that we have all the bases covered.
Keep your eye on the prize: If there is one thing I want to impart on people it is that the point of budgeting should always be to free yourself from worrying about money. You create it, you control it. It’s not your boss, it’s your servant. Setting up your plan, enacting it, and periodically tweaking it until it works for you is all part of freeing yourself from worry about money all the time. It’s great to have things set up so that you don’t have a financial Sword of Damocles hanging over your head. We’ve all had the experience of worrying if something will bounce. Why live like that when you don’t have to?
Deal with the psychology: do you spend a lot of money on your kids because you feel guilty for being so busy during the week? Do you eat out a lot because you are too tired to cook on weekdays? Every choice we make has an underlying psychological trigger and until we recognize them we can’t change them. Maybe your real goal is just to spend more quality time with your kids or eat healthier, quicker meals. When we sit down and actually think about what we are trying to achieve we will realize that there is more than one way to accomplish those goals. The key is to sit down and break these goals into smaller, achievable parts so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by how much work they are.
Right now it is winter where we live so instead of taking the kids to an Edu-tainment centre and blowing $100, maybe going sledding or strapping on some skates for an afternoon at the park rink is a better way to connect. There is also no rule that says you can’t do the same thing every weekend. The skating season is so short that even if you only skated for half of it, you’d never get bored. So make a plan to sharpen those skates or dig out your sled this week and go outside this weekend. Same goal achieved, less money spent.
If eating quicker, healthier food is your goal maybe spend a lunch hour googling recipes that can be made in under 30 minutes is in order. Once you do that, you will also probably realize that if you take an hour and pre-prep some stuff on the weekend you can have a meal on the table in even less time. Also, we need to get out of this foodie culture mentality. Not every meal needs to be a grandiose affair that would impress Julia Child. Even a simple tomato mac’n’cheese with a salad is a simple, easy and healthy meal that almost everyone will eat. Save your fancy cooking for Sunday night dinners. If you are really struggling with eating out, buying pre-prepped food (like Loblaw’s Blue Menu line, or frozen meals from Trader Joes) and just adding vegetables is still a step in the right direction. I love cooking but I don’t want to sweat over a stove at 5:30pm on a Wednesday. Anything I can do to get a decent meal on the table in record time means there is more time to hang out with the family.
Gamify your change: Place bets with your partner or a friend to see who can bring a lunch to work every day in January instead of eating out. Partner with someone who also wants to get more exercise and make a deal to meet every day for a 30-minute walk, the first one who misses buys lunch. If you want to read more books, use the Goodreads community to keep you on track as you compare yourself to friends. There are a myriad of ways you can keep track and for some people making it public or taking advantage of technology is a good way to help them become successful. Even trying to beat your best by marginal increments is better than nothing. Maybe this month you agree not to spend money on alcohol, or maybe soda is your Achilles heel. Choose a goal and go for it. Switch to selzer or cups of tea instead.
One of my favourite ways to gamify my budget is to see how little I can spend out of our discretionary spending. There is no rule that says you have to spend it all, maybe you will discover you need even less than you thought.
Use scaffolding: None of us will wake up tomorrow just being the people we want to be. Using a series of small steps to eventually achieve a larger goal is called scaffolding. The idea is to build on smaller successes to encourage you to tackle increasingly more difficult challenges. The Couch-to-5K system is based on this idea: by using walk/run system where you increase the running portion every week allows you to build the strength and encourages you to continue.
Enlist a cheering squad: seek out other people who are trying to achieve similar goals and ask them to root for you and to make concessions. Tell them you still want to hang out but that you are trying to
In the end, making resolutions and changing habits is going to be work, so you may as well set yourself up for success, and yes, it means saying no to yourself. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have said something to me like “I am just not good with money,” or “I can’t budget,” but whether or not you enjoy it is irrelevant: money is a reality of life. We would never accept someone saying “I am just no good at working, so I just don’t do it.” You can either take control of it or you can let it control you. That’s a choice you make every day, with every decision. So you will have to decide if you want to live in a world where you hold the reins and you are achieving the goals you set out for yourself or if you are just going to let things go the way they have been. My guess is that if you are reading this you want to enact some kind of change – and I know I do too – so maybe after the dumpster fire of 2016, we can work towards a 2017 of success.
(Now I just need to teach myself how to apply this to a regular exercise habit!)
Posted on December 24, 2016
Look at this haul!
It’s December and that means I am upping my coziness game times a bajillion. Around here in Casa del Bungalowville it’s been all about hot pots of tea and books in front of the fireplace. We’ve been super busy as well, as December is a whirlwind between the holidays and my birthday which heads into the New Year and finally culminates with my brother and fathers birthday.
Despite being mobility-challenged and saying no to events more times than not, there are some holiday traditions that I am not willing to give up, like our Pervy Christmas Exchange. But before I start into this year’s festivities, a little background is in order.
About 10 years ago my friend Mez and I had a conversation about starting a friend’s gift exchange. It was an excuse to pick names, get us all together and hang out all while enjoying food and drink. So nothing out of the ordinary on that front, most people have Christmas Kringle exchanges with their friends during the holiday season. However, after two years of exchanging gifts (the second of which, I was pregnant with the Bean) one of the more brilliant friends amongst us said, “You know, we are all adults with jobs and can buy ourselves whatever we want. Instead of buying each other gifts for keepsies, we should instead buy a gift that reminds you of that person’s childhood self. We will still eat, drink, & be merry but instead of keeping the gift, we will donate it to Toy Mountain.”
Before the opening
And the Pervs did discuss this idea amongst themselves and they thought it was good.
So now every year we still draw names and have a party, and the fun is in the guessing why someone has chosen that gift for you, and who drew your name that year but the gift eventually finds itself in the hands of a child who may not have something under the tree otherwise. It’s a ridiculously fun time where we laugh our faces off and have a lovely get together with friends but instead of going home with one more widget, the host assembles all the gifts and drops them off at Toy Mountain the next day.
In my view, this is win-win. Most adults don’t need more crap but every kid who who believes in Santa should have something to open on Christmas day. We have often also contacted Toy Mountain to see which age groups are lacking toys and so we’ll aim to pick up things for those groups. On the off chance someone goes over our $50 limit, you can always use the battle cry, “BUT IT’S FOR THE KIDS!”
People have come and gone over the years, and we’ve added some new Pervs due to marriage and new friendships but our annual party remains the same. Of course, our 4am ragers have turned into a more perfunctory midnight turn in, but the sentiment remains the same: have a great Christmas celebration that benefits our community. This year marks 10 years of our annual Pervy Christmas ritual and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I’m not, not playing with this toy
I’d love to hear about your fun holiday rituals with friends or family, let me know!
Posted on December 1, 2016
I have lapsed a bit on blogging due to a hectic week. I had my ankle screws out yesterday and it is a lot more painful than the original surgery was, work is super busy, and Christmas is bearing down on us at a fast clip. It’s all a bit overwhelming for sure!
December is always a ridiculously busy month for me. There is Christmas, sure, but my birthday is also in December, and then there is New Years, and then after that my brother and my father share a birthday five days later. So for three weeks in a row during the holiday season it is non-stop celebrations. It’s also a non-stop money pit, if I am quite honest.
This year though I am limited physically for what I can accomplish during this season. While historically it’s been a whirlwind of running around trying to fit everything in time-wise, this year I have had to resolve myself to not being able to do everything I usually do.
When most people are faced with being disabled they have revelations about the importance of slowing down after they have been forced into not be so busy. I joke that I am the opposite: being disabled has taught me that I am a super type A personality who likes to get things done. Not being able to do things hasn’t taught me anything but how much I hate not being able to do things! I have had to change my ways and rely on others a lot more than I am used to, and I am grateful for all the help I have had.
Still, I’ve had to do some things differently this Christmas season and maybe my little adventure will help you cull back the craziness of the holiday season.
I made a list: Santa was right, make your list and check it twice. When you know what your game plan is, it is easier to stick to it.
I bought all my gifts online: I know some people buy more when they shop online but it has the opposite effect on me: I make a list, buy what is on the list, and then I check out. I know if I hit the mall I will buy more than I need so this year I did all my shopping online. I still need a few stocking stuffers for the kids but that will have to be with a well-timed excursion some lunch hour (with a list!).
I asked for help: usually I do all the shopping and Mr. Tucker stays out of it (he hates shopping). This year though we had to buy our gifts for the yearly Friend’s Kris Kringle Gift Exchange Party for Toy Mountain (a post coming on that soon) at a brick and mortar store. So I sent Mr. Tucker out on a mission and he came back with exactly what we needed. It helped that I sent him out with pictures and links. I may have to enlist his help with the stocking stuffers as well. Since he works from home and his company is in another time zone, often he can head out first thing in the morning during the weekdays and nab things before the stores get busy and before he has to be at work.
I say no: There are parties abounds this time of year; for everything we say “yes” to, we have to say “no” to three others. Since this is such a busy time of year we really try to narrow down the parties as much as possible. Given that most of them a> conflict with each other, and b> are adult-only events, we’d bankrupt ourselves trying to hit something every weekend. I am so grateful to our friends who invite us to join them to celebrate the season but a lot of the time it just isn’t feasible to us. I have limited our celebrations to one a weekend, with priorities going to family-friendly events.
I don’t care too much about my birthday: Honestly, if it weren’t for the kids who think the highlight of every birthday should be cake and balloons, I’d skip the whole thing altogether. I like my birthday, I am not scared of getting older or anything silly like that, I just prefer low-key events. In the past we’ve usually done dinner with my brother and SIL but since we are on a particularly tight budget this year, we’ve decided to skip it. Instead we’ll get some food from a local Thai restaurant and then have cake at home.
Our advent game is strong
I focus on events, not stuff: As adults it’s generally accepted that most of us could just buy whatever we want. It seems silly to make lists for each other of things we’d just buy ourselves anyway. Still, my family does love opening gifts so instead I have placed a hard limit on the amount we spend. Instead I like to focus on the events we enjoy this time of year: our friend Christmas party, our neighbourhood cookie decorating party, our virtual Solstice, baking cupcakes for the Mission, and Christmas dinner with family. These are the things I look forward to year-after-year.
Christmas dinner is a group affair: Since Mr. Tucker and I connect both of our families and have the smallest kids, we often host Christmas dinner. What’s nice though is that we will cook the turkey and stuffing but our families usually bring potatoes, buns, vegetables, wine, and pie. That way one person isn’t responsible for everything. Our families also will help clean up afterwards, which is amazing. Since 2016 has been especially bad for us it is nice to know we can rely on their help for the holidays.
I keep perspective: These dark, winter days are the perfect time to remember gratitude and look forward to more light. 2016 was a really difficult year for our family in a lot of ways but there were a lot of good times, too: Nick and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary in Italy, we took the kids to Disney World, they spent a week at a cottage with friends, as well as a lovely group camping weekend. As this time of year is all about focusing on family and friends, I find myself counting my blessings more and more as the year comes to a close. Part of that is appreciating how much we have as well as realizing what we don’t really need.
So while my type A personality finds the inability to do as much as I would like rather infuriating, the rest of me is glad for the respite. In the end Christmas will still happen, the kids will still be amazed and happy, we will all eat, drink, and be merry with friends and family. To be quite honest, that really is what any of us could ever hope for. I wish a happy, healthy, peaceful December to all of you and I hope you spend more time enjoying the season than shopping for it.
Posted on November 26, 2016
Dog has the hardest life
It was a hectic week. My colleague on our small team of two was away for two days leaving me with holding down the fort as best as possible. Naturally, by the end of the workday on Friday I was ready to plop myself down in front of the fire and enjoy a glass of wine.
(To be honest, even if I didn’t work I’d probably plop down in front of a fire with a glass of wine in winter, and lounge out in our backyard with a beer in summer.)
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell
I feel like home should be a place of refuge, a place where at the end of a crazy school or work week you can come home and just be yourself. It’s a chance to be with people who love you unconditionally and who won’t judge you for putting on your plush reindeer onesie and snuggling up quietly with a book for hours on end. A place where you don’t feel obligated to act in a certain way or talk in a certain way, heck, where you don’t have to talk at all. Ever since I have lived on my own I have strived to make my living environment a comforting, happy place that envelops me like a bear hug. The world can be a cruel place but I want home to be a relaxing, peaceful place and I want my kids to know that home is where they are loved no matter what.
Of course, as we all pile in the door after the end of the week we are harried, a bit stressed, and looking to wind down. So in order to transition from outside life to inside life Mr. Tucker and I have had our pizza and a movie night ritual since the kids were both young. It made sense to us that having comfort food and a snuggle on the couch would be the best way to kick off two days of rest.
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
― Robert Frost
Pizza was actually one of the first things the kids learned to “cook.” We let them choose their own toppings and make their own pizzas, which has in turn encouraged them to make other things (the eldest made a carrot omelet for breakfast this week. There is a reason carrots don’t feature prominently on breakfast menus. Yuck). Every small step that kids learn scaffolds onto new skills they are eager to take a crack at and for us, pizza was that first step.
Pizza is also one of the simplest things to cook. Although I won’t shame you for stocking up on $3 sale pizzas from the grocery store you really should try your hand at whipping up a dough. I will let you in on a little secret, too: if you let time do the work, you don’t even have to knead. Just toss this into a bowl in the morning before you leave for work (or even do it the night before, oil the dough in the morning, cover it with plastic wrap and then store it in the fridge) and when you get home you just pour it into a pan, let it rise, and then you are good to top and cook.
I use this recipe which I have adopted from Serious Eats. We have small cast iron pans I found thrown out with their stickers still on (a little rusty, but easily cleaned up!) and this recipe makes one medium pizza and two small ones quite nicely. If you don’t have cast iron, I have also made this on a sheet pan with a Silpat, oiled. If you have a Teflon pan you probably could get away with less oil but it does really give it a great mouthfeel.
Practically perfect in every way pan pizza
2 ½ C flour (USians should use bread flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 – 1 ¼ C water
2 teaspoons olive oil
Mix it all in a bowl and then just leave it for 8 hours. The dough should be stickier than a dough you would knead, so don’t worry. If you forget to do this in the morning, it works fine in the dough cycle of a breadmaker if that is available to you. Then just follow the next steps.
When you get home from work, generously oil the bottom of your cast iron pans (or alternative dish). Optional: sprinkle the bottom with corn meal for extra crunch.
Pour the dough into the pans and using your fingers push the dough up to the edges. It may not be perfect but do the best you can. Tip: if the dough sticks too much, use a bit of flour on your fingers.
Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for at least a half an hour. Longer is fine, up to 2 hours. Give it a couple of more pushes up to the side if it hasn’t filled the pan perfectly, and get rid of any air bubbles. About a half an hour before you want to cook it, set the oven to 400.
Top your dough with sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until bottom is crispy and the cheese is melted. The original recommends sticking the pan on a burner for 1 – 3 minutes if your bottom isn’t crispy enough but we’ve never had a problem.
Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world. – Alan Rickman
With our kids being so young our movie choices are usually pretty basic. That’s not the point though. Movie night is a chance to curl up on the couch together and get lost in fantasy for an hour or two. The kids make popcorn, the parents pour a glass of wine, and we turn off all the lights. In winter, the fireplace is usually going, and during the summer the windows are open letting in a breeze from the warm evening air.
We have Netflix so at some point I went through all the available movies and made a list for movie night. We also will sometimes rent a movie via iTunes or borrow them from friends. Not every movie is a winner but every movie has given us things to talk about. It’s given the kids the ability to formulate opinions (Did you like the movie? Why or why not?) and has contributed to more than one in-joke in our family. It kicks off our weekend of TV and device use, and the kids are thrilled that they get to stay up as late as the adults. It’s become a special ritual for all of us, so it’s rare we miss a date.
When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.’
– Quentin Tarantino
Make-your-own pizzas and second-run movies (uh, third, fourth, fifth, sixth run more like it) may not sound like the epitome of excitement but creating small rituals as a family is so important. When things are overwhelming during the week, it’s something to look forward to. Spending time together – no matter the activity – is a way to show the people you love that you enjoy their company. To give your time to someone is probably the greatest gift, and if you ask me there is no better way to be reminded that you are loved than to have someone dedicate time to you and only you (and heck, pizza goes with everything).
Posted on November 26, 2016
I am still working on yesterday’s post but to tide you over, here is a couple of articles to ponder as you drink your morning coffee.
The hygge conspiracy: last year I wrote Getting Hygge With It but this article explores the dark side of the Hygge movement.”This year’s most overhyped trend is a wholesome Danish concept of cosiness, used to sell everything from fluffy socks to vegan shepherd’s pie. But the version we’re buying is a British invention – and the real thing is less cuddly than it seems.”
Unskilled workers aren’t falling behind, the world is catching up, “The economies of post-war industrialized countries produced a unique set of circumstances that favoured unskilled men. For one thing, women were still largely excluded from the labour market. And the decline in fertility during the Great Depression meant there was heightened competition for a relatively few men who entered the labour markets of the 1950s. This era of low skills and high wages remains powerful in men’s imaginations, even if its lessons have been flatly contradicted by the experience of the past 40 years.”
What if jobs are not the solution but the problem? (warning: language) As my province starts asking questions about a guaranteed minimum income, I find myself following the conversation quite earnestly. “Economists believe in full employment. Americans think that work builds character. But what if jobs aren’t working anymore?”
This is an older article that I drag out every year around Black Friday. Black Friday brawl videos are how rich people shame the poor. “It’s hard to avoid the message of those ads. We’ve been bombarded with them for weeks now, from corporations eager to entice shoppers with so-called “door-buster” deals. And then, once the shopping public falls for them, a privileged segment of the population sits back and dehumanizes them for its collective amusement. Look at these hilarious poor people, struggling to take advantage of a deal on something they might not otherwise be able to afford on items that we take for granted, we joke on Twitter. The message is the same: this is shameful, materialistic behavior. And by pointing it out, we differentiate ourselves, reaffirm our class status as being above the fray of the lowly and desperate.”
Posted on November 23, 2016
Mr. Tucker and I love cooking. There is nothing we enjoy more on Sundays than putting on a fire, turning up a little jazz, pouring a glass of red wine, and then cooking up a storm. Usually we will whip up a complicated dish for Sunday dinner but most of the time we are prepping ingredients to make our weeknight suppers healthy & easier to put together.
Since want to eat a varied and interesting diet, we also don’t want to spend two hours at 5pm on a Wednesday trying to get dinner on the table. We discovered that with a little planning on the weekend we can have a decent meal on the table in less than 45 minutes without resorting to heat-and-serve meals from the grocery store.
We do almost all our cooking and eating at home because if there is one way you can save a metric buttload of cash, it’s by eating at home. Food made at home also tends to taste better and be better for you without the addition of salt, fat, and sugar that many commercial products use to manipulate your taste buds. However, if you let it, cooking from home can be an arduous affair that just leaves you throwing up your hands and hitting the nearest drive-thru. If you are used to eating a lot of pre-packaged food or take-out moving towards cooking from home can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
Soaking beans: not for everyone. Canned is totally fine
Firstly, this requires a system where you figure out what you and your family likes to eat. Don’t make this a pie-in-the-sky exercise where you pretend that all of a sudden your kids are going to love kale on rice cakes for dinner. Be reasonable about what your family enjoys and then write down about 10 meals your family eats on a regular basis. You can switch it up outside of these 10 but you want to have a list of things that you can concentrate on, become an expert in making, and nail out with minimal preparation. For example, almost everyone loves lasagna but it is labour intensive. You are better off learning how to whip up a quick pasta casserole with maybe a few greens chopped in for a weeknight dinner.
Here are some basic ideas (YMMV):
Baked macaroni topped with cheese*
Baked beans on toast*
Baked chicken with BBQ sauce
Beef and broccoli*
Curry* with rice
Soup with biscuits* (we like hearty soups like minestrone)
Pizza (our Friday night go-to)
There is nothing so good as freshly made tortillas
Figure out what dry staples you need for those 10 meals and make sure you always have them on hand. When you see pasta, beans or rice on sale, buy a ton of it. It will get eaten and having those base ingredients means you will always be able to whip something up.
Secondly, keep a pantry where you always have the staples on-hand to make one of your 10 meals and supplement with fresh and frozen vegetables. This is where I have really reined in our spending. I noticed that we would spend a lot in groceries but then a lot would also end up in the compost. I was also overspending at Costco (only a good deal if you stick to the good deals) so instead of going every two weeks, I now go every month and a half, on average. I still spend the same but I buy less extra stuff I don’t need. With just a little planning, we have greatly reduced the amount of food we throw out.
Why yes, coconut milk WAS on sale. How did you guess?
I plan our meals on Sunday around what fruits and vegetables we get in the Good Food Box supplemented by what is on sale at our local produce market (we are currently out of CSA season so this is my winter plan). The three-step process looks like this:
1 – Look in the fridge and see if there is anything that looks like it needs to be eaten quickly before it goes bad. Plan meals around this first. For example: we have some peppers that are on their last legs so I will make some tortillas and make breakfast burritos for tomorrow morning.
2 – Check out the sale flyer at our local produce store**, which is walking distance from our house. This week zucchini, sweet potatoes, green onions and green beans are on sale. So I will build on this and make our dinners focus on those. We also have fixings leftover from burgers we had for dinner on the weekend so those need to be used ASAP. Given these parameters our weeknight meals will look like this for the next five days:
Monday: Falafel with roasted sweet potato fries
Tuesday: Tomato-spinach macaroni bake with salad
Wednesday: Black bean and sweet potato enchiladas
Thursday: Minestrone with 20-minute cheesy green onion biscuits
Friday: Make-your-own pizza night (a staple at our house)
3 – Sunday afternoon Mr. Tucker and I take an hour and pre-prep things to make weeknight cooking easier. It depends on what we are making but I will soak and cook beans, chop vegetables, make tortillas***, and sometimes even cook up the filling – as we will do with the black bean and sweet potato enchiladas. That way we only have to roll them up and bake them on Wednesday night. If you are absolutely married to having lasagna, then now is the time to make it (although you should always make more than one and freeze the other) and stick it in the fridge until the night you want to eat it. We also bake various breads for the week for breakfasts and lunches, our staples are usually focaccia, tortillas, 100% whole wheat and a Ciabatta. If you hate baking, just buy it.
I make granola with instant oats because I am a heathen (and we don’t mind)
Three out of five of the above meals will also have enough leftovers for the kids to take to school for lunch. Pastas, chilies, curries, and soups should always do double duty as lunch the next day, so remember to make enough. On days where we don’t have enough leftovers, the kids may get a sandwich or if they are super-duper lucky: pasta (the favourite of children worldwide). Also think of creative leftover use: leftover rice becomes fried rice with some soy sauce and a handful of peas & protein thrown in, and the kids feel like they’ve won the lottery when that happens!
I know people get super excited over things like once-a-month cooking or dump dinners but these things always seem counter-intuitive to me, mostly because we get the CSA all summer, and our cold storage space it limited. To reduce waste I need to go through my fridge and see what may be going bad so I can use that stuff up asap. Our kitchen is original to our 1950s bungalow and the space where the fridge goes is small, therefore our fridge is small. I also like to shop sales and price match and often the ingredients I need to make a bunch of food all at the same time ends up being more expensive. Still, if one of these methods prevents you from eating out a night or two a month, you are still ahead, so feel free to explore those options if they appeal to you.
However, if I find a good deal on something I will often whip up a second dish and store it in the freezer, especially if it is complicated. Even with the best-laid plans chaos can happen and you may not have time to cook. Last Thursday we all came home utterly exhausted and I ended up working late due to a work emergency so Mr. Tucker just defrosted some tofu-vegetable curry we had and made a big pot of rice to go with it. It wasn’t fancy but it was delicious, nutritious, and prevented us from ordering take-out. Everyone should have a couple of meals frozen for nights like these because they do happen to all of us.
For us, this is the easiest way to manage our dinners during the week to keep a varied, healthy diet that is easy on the pocketbook. The above may seem pretty verbose and complicated but it isn’t. So to sum it up, these are the three steps:
1 – Choose 10 meals you eat regularly, become an expert in cooking them, and always have the staples on-hand to make them.
2 – Plan to use up anything fresh on hand that is going bad, supplemented by things from the store.
3 – Take an hour or so a week to pre-prep what you can to make cooking during the week easier.
Finally, I should mention that I have a friend who ABSOLUTELY HATES cooking (in fact, I have a few of these friends). Her solution to feeding her brood was to buy the healthiest pre-made meals in the frozen food section of the grocery store and supplement with pre-chopped and frozen veggies. Her logic was that even though these things cost 4x (and maybe more) than making these things from scratch, it prevents her from eating out all the time. So even though it is more expensive, it’s much cheaper and healthier than take out. I can’t fault her logic here so if you hate cooking maybe that should be your plan. Still, if you don’t mind a little planning and a little cooking, you can save exponentially on your grocery bill by just following a few simple steps.
So grab yourself a glass of wine, stick on your favourite music, and whip up a few things Sunday afternoon that will keep you and your family happy, healthy, and nourished all the week long.
* These are also things you can make in a slow cooker
** You can hit your closest grocery store. Frugal proponents will point out that shopping this often or relying too much on fresh stuff is expensive. We prefer fresh fruits and vegetables and my kids eat them so I consider them a healthy frugal luxury.
*** I don’t expect most people will make their own tortillas or cook dry beans but even if you buy these things you are still ahead financially.
Posted on November 21, 2016
Last week there was a “reorganization” at my work. In two places in the country thousands of jobs have now been affected. Of course, I have to follow the stories, work late, do my job but I am sad for these people and what it means for them and their families.
I know that announcing these things right before the holiday season seems cruel but I have heard the logic that it prevents people from overspending and going into debt over Christmas. Yeesh! In fact, every layoff I have experienced (four, if we are counting) has happened right before the end of the year. I am surprised I don’t actually have huge anxiety this time of year, come to think about it!
I remember one in particular; I was working in the finance department of a national printing company. I was working full time and trying to finish school part-time, living at home, making about $24k a year. A hush filled the company as it happened, and of course senior management was called in to assure the rest of us that our jobs were safe. Survivor was an incredibly popular TV show at the time and our director opened the meeting with, “Well, if you are in the room today, Congratulations! You haven’t been voted off the island!” I am still horrified to this day every time I think about it.
Realistically, there is no good time for a layoff. No one wants to be told that they’ve been made redundant (the term the British aptly use) and that their years of hard work are essentially unappreciated. There are so many emotions that happen even before we discuss the financial impact and all the feelings that go along with that such as work being part of your identity and daily routine.
I have only had one layoff in the technical sense. I worked for the federal government for almost three years flipping back between contingent employee and contractor. They promised they would compete my job so I had the chance to apply to be an actual employee but that never happened. Then all of a sudden, the program I worked for lost their funding and then had to let go a huge swath of their staff across the country. The last six months I worked for the organization I managed the correspondence where the Minister had to reply to citizens who were upset that they were losing our regional presence. My job was to coordinate the responses to these letters, which essentially involved farming them out to the people in regions to craft a reply as to why they were being let go. The Minister would then sign them and send them off. It was an absolutely depressing job and a brutal end to an otherwise good run.
A friend in Maryland once spoke of a human resources officer that had to lay all the staff off in their satellite office and then lay herself off. Awful.
There is this falsehood that permeates working culture that public service jobs are for life. Yes, it can be harder to get rid of people than it is in private industry but the PS has had its own share of layoffs as well. Those layoffs in the mid-2000s were the first ones I had seen in my working career, and then the previous government began massive layoffs in 2012. In fact, the DRAP – Deficit Reduction Action Plan – saw almost 20 000 jobs being cut as organizations were asked to cut 5%-10% of their budgets. Of course, the work didn’t go away so that work was filled with consultants and contingent workers. In an almost joke fashion, the cuts looked good on paper “we’ve reduced payroll and benefits,” when realistically the O&M budgets shot sky high. It’s all how you want to word it, I guess.
Of course, now I am in a great job in a great location and I love the management and the staff – but I never get comfortable in thinking that it will be forever. I know that these things go in cycles and I could encounter a job loss just as much as anyone else may.
When I first got laid off, my mortgage at the time was $650 and my condo fees were $200 (which included utilities). Mr. Tucker was still working full time, earning way more than we needed to support ourselves, and of course I was eligible for Employment Insurance (EI). So at that point in our lives we had a lot of breathing space financially. However, we also had a pretty high-falluting lifestyle and I had made the decision to start a small business. I was lucky to be able to join a program for people on EI who were looking to start their own businesses. I applied, did the interview, and was accepted into the program. It gave me a second year of EI as well as business courses to help me get my business off the ground. After the uncertainty of full-time employment & being kicked to the curb, running my own business gave me an incredible sense of agency and control.
I worked that business for almost five years until my second child was born and I was forced to pack it in for my next adventure: moving to a larger space and becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mom (SAHM). Mr. Tucker’s career had taken off at this point and he could support the entire family on his income alone. Of course, over the next couple of years we had a rocky time living through one layoff, and racking up some debt but we managed. It was when our youngest child was two-years-old that things at his new job started getting a bit scary with layoffs and reorgs of its own that I decided I had to do something. I could see that Mr. Tucker was a bit worried about being the sole breadwinner that I did some calculations and began to explore going back to work.
The eldest was in school but I had to pay for daycare for the youngest so I made a plan and put out the word that I was looking to take contracts – any contracts – that paid over a certain amount (to cover daycare and expenses). I hadn’t been in the workforce for about seven years at the time so I was willing to take anything. I landed my first contract within a month, and the rest is history. I did five years of part-time contracts, taking summers off with my kids. Mr. Tucker’s worries about layoffs never came to fruition and he still works at the same company to this day.
So why the long post about my life when we are discussing layoffs? Because I wanted to show by example that life after a layoff can take a zig-zag-like trajectory and you can still land on your feet. Below is not a comprehensive list of what I have learned but instead some things to think about, starting today.
Before you are laid off
Live below your means: I know this sounds like obvious advice but I can’t stress it enough. If the reports are to be believed, many people think of how they can fit a payment into the budget, not how much debt they are carrying. That can be a real problem if you are maxed to the hilt with monthly payments and experience a layoff.
Buy less house than you can afford, buy a less expensive (or better, used) car, keep your grocery and entertainment budgets reasonable. We also have a tendency to overspend on our kids. If your kids are used to big-budget entertainment and activities and suddenly that well dries up, you will be dealing with the emotional and financial problems associated with your layoff AND the sadness and disappointment from your kids who don’t understand why they can’t go to the super-duper kid entertainment centre for their birthday.
Have an emergency fund: Even if you discover that you will get EI, there is a waiting period. The bills don’t stop rolling in just because the paychecks stop, so give yourself a buffer that isn’t built on using debt to manage an emergency. One month worth of expenses is better than nothing, each subsequent month you can save is ideal. Anything is better than nothing.
Have an emergency budget: This is the stripped-down version of your regular budget where you just cover the major living expenses: food, utilities, housing, transport etc. No extras. This will be the baseline of getting by. In an ideal world, a middle class, two-person household should be able to cover these basics on one salary alone, or combined with your emergency fund.
Live your financial life like the rug could be pulled out at any time: I am not saying obsess about being laid off on a constant basis but don’t rack up bills and debt that could push you over the edge. If you have to wonder if you can fit a new payment into your budget, you can’t. Hope that you won’t experience a job loss is not a replacement for good financial planning.
Don’t let your job define you: if your identity is wrapped up in where you work or what your job is, it can be harder to take when you lose your job. It’s nice to enjoy your career and feel important but if that is taken away from you, what is left? Concentrate instead on what a good partner, friend, and/or parent you are.
If you get laid off
Deal with the personal: some people react by digging deep and throwing themselves into the job hunt. Other people just load up on booze and carbs for a week as they process what just happened. We all react differently to stressful life events but we do need to be easy on ourselves and realize that our jobs weren’t our worth.
Make a game plan: is it time for a career change? Maybe go to part-time? Have you always wanted to start your own business? This layoff may be the kick in the pants you need to make these things happen. If you have an emergency fund or have your bill covered, now may be the only chance you have to experience “what-if?”
Network, network, network: I’ve already covered networking in a previous post but you should start as soon as you know what direction you are going in. Find people in your field to talk to, if you are starting a business hit up an entrepreneur centre or just speak to people who you know run successful businesses.
Realize you aren’t alone: you are neither the first nor last person who will be laid off over the course of a lifetime. It doesn’t make it hurt any less but knowing that others have been through it helps. Contact people you know who have been through the same thing, they may have some solid advice on what worked for them.
I feel like our parents lived in an age where you entered a company, worked hard and were dedicated, and then worked their way to the top of their fields. They carried that narrative on when they raised us even though the job landscape had changed radically since they had started working. Right now it’s taken as fact that most people change jobs many times in their lifetimes and often we switch careers a couple of times as well. Since graduating from university I have held jobs from cleaning to finance to administration to communications. I have also held seven jobs in five years.
It’s important to stay nimble and adaptable in both your career and financial life. The more you take control of what you have agency over, the less you will be affected by the things you don’t have control over.
Posted on November 19, 2016
Although this study is done with all men, I think it’s still an interesting way to spend 12 minutes while you drink your coffee this morning:
Posted on November 18, 2016
As a follow up to my post Monday about us adults weaning ourselves off the internet, I thought it would be good post about our kid device philosophy. For a really long time I will admit Mr. Tucker and I were hypocrites: not allowing our kids exposure to passive entertainment while swiping away on our phones most of the evening when they were in bed. We’ve recognized our hypocrisy and changed it but I think it’s important for many families to set ground rules for device use.
A friend in Europe recently asked her FB friends what their rules about tv/device use were. Did people curate content? Did they set time limits? Did they restrict it by weekdays/weekends? Naturally, the responses were all over the place, which is normal given how we all have a unique set of circumstances. Still, I will discuss our personal perspective with the caveat in mind that I can’t pretend to speak for others. This is what works for our family and it may not work for yours.
I will be the first to admit that I am pretty hippy froo-froo about things. So much so that our eldest daughter didn’t even see a TV show until I was exhausted during my pregnancy with my second child that I needed a break. I bought a season of Sesame Street for the Apple TV just to have five minutes to myself, and have never regretted it.
When I went back to work, letting the kids sit in front of the TV so I could make breakfast and lunches. It gave me the much-needed time to get things done. Like most parents of small children, it can be an issue of survival when you are balancing between a kid’s needs and the need to get everything else done. However, I started noticing that more and more the kids were being less entertained by the TV. They would maybe sit still for five minutes before the cries of “Maaaaaamaaaaaa” would start and I wouldn’t get anything done.
It was then that I decided to cull the entertainment in favour of boredom. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive but when your kids have a constant stream of entertainment being shoved into their brains, they adapt and start to get bored. The things that once captured their attention becomes the background noise to everything else and they don’t appreciate it. So I made them go cold turkey.
I didn’t ween them off during the time I was working and they were in school/daycare but I waited until they were both going to school full time in September to lay down the ground rules. The rules? During the weekdays there would be no TV, no iPods, no eReaders, and no tablets. I figured things were chaotic enough without having a bunch of zombies come home, toss their bags on the floor, and then rush right to the entertainment. Transitioning when they were just starting the school year helped them adapt as they knew summer was over and the work had begun.
It wasn’t just about not having devices, we were also on a mission to get the kids to take care of a few things when they came home from school. So I made a visual guide with acronym that the kids see when they walk through the door after school: CHAMP: chores, homework, and music practice.
Graphic artist, I am not
For chores, the kids have to put their lunches on the counter, and their agendas/papers from school on the dining room table for us to review. Then they have to take care of any homework they have, and once that is done they both have to practice music for 15-20 minutes a day. So when they get in the door the usually have a snack and then tackle their CHAMP. It’s not perfect, it’s easy for a six and eight year old to find a million and one things they would rather be doing but for the most part they manage to get it done.
Naturally, the kids have access to a bunch of other things to entertain themselves: puzzles and games, craft supplies, books, toys…their imaginations.
Of course, the sneaky reason I have cut the passive entertainment back is that by the time the weekend hits, the kids are super stoked to have unfettered access to ALL THE THINGS! Mr. Tucker and I sleep in a bit and the kids get up, flip on the tv, break out the iPad and self-entertain while we languish in bed a bit. We still do monitor their access: only downloading games we approve of, and curating their TV access but for the most part we just let them have at it. Since they are older they can get their own snacks and play for an hour or two before Mr. Tucker and I get up. Not going to lie: it’s great.
It’s not perfect. There are times where the kids come home, exhausted, and then end up fighting over every little thing. It would be easy to give in but we stand our ground. I am not convinced that device use during the week would change those days when they come home fed up and short-tempered. Still, this format has worked for us because we were dedicated to making it work. The kids know what to expect and we have learned how to manage any issues that come up.
I think also because we are big on connecting as a family during the week, the kids have things to look forward to. We eat dinner together every night, have a games night at least twice a week when we don’t have activities, and we kick off the weekend with movie/MYO pizza night. Then Saturday morning they know that they can have as much online time as they want. These things have become ingrained habits and something we all look forward to. They are used to the rhythm of this routine and so it is normal to them not to have access to electronic entertainment all the time.
Although we have allowed our family to buy the kids small iPod Shuffles and the eldest has an eReader, we’ve really pushed back on allowing them their own tablets. As it stands now the entire family has one tablet we share, and one TV we share (I don’t think any house needs more than one TV, IMO). The children have had to learn diplomacy and divvy up the use of each device. They know if there is fighting and we have to get involved we’ll take away the access and find a chore for them to do. So despite the fact that we allow them unfettered access to these things on the weekend, they still have to get along and make judicious use of their time.
Mr. Tucker and I are by no means Ludittes: we have both benefitted enormously both personally and professionally by the internet and technology in general. However, our parenting strategy is one of in-person connection and a disconnection from technology most days of the week. This strategy works well for our family now but it doesn’t mean it won’t change at the kids get older. While we are open to revisiting our rules in the future, I can’t see us changing much: we enjoy our family time and this current strategy is working well for all of us.