Managing the holiday season sanely

It’s hereeeeeeee…

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.

Pizza and a movie night

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).

Saturday morning reads

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.”

Meal planning for non-planners

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.

Layoffs are inevitable, your reaction shouldn’t be

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.

What makes a good life?

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:

Here is a Link to video but if you have more time you may want to explore the entire happiness playlist.

Tablets, and e-readers, & TV…oh my!

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.

Articles: reducing your online time & addressing stress

If you are looking for some interesting reads on stress reduction and reducing the time you spend on your phone and online, I suggest the following:

The Binge Breaker: Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.

Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?): Switch multitasking for monotasking.

My Distraction sickness: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.

Neuroscience Says Listening to This Song Reduces Anxiety by Up to 65 Percent: Sure to both stir your soul and calm your nervous system.

Why One Neuroscientist Started Blasting His Core: A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system.

Shuffle your thoughts and sleep: Traditional ways of tackling insomnia are largely useless, says Oliver Burkeman, but this is different.

My favourite quote from the above article is:

“Attention, as you’re doubtless aware by now, is a finite resource. This means it’s important to steward it carefully; if you let yours be seized by panicky headlines, there’ll be less left over for what matters.”

Own your attention, take back your time

This was literally my teens and early 20s

How does one who works in social media step away from social media? With great difficulty, actually.

This morning I was thinking about the internet of aulde: back in the day when I used to hangout on local BBSs, freenet, usenet. I was young and full of punch and I got into debates with people with alarming frequency (youth+time+lack of knowledge). Can I remember the subject of even one of those arguments over 20 years later? Nope. I can’t even remember any of the arguments I had over livejournal in the 2000s – and I had some fairly prolific debates there as well. I am even sure that if we picked out all the comments I had made over time, more than half of them I wouldn’t even agree with today. Still, I have continued the great debate over social media as an adult and I don’t think I can even remember the arguments I had last week, let alone last year. I am at the point where I am questioning the value of these discussions in relation to my overall life satisfaction.

On one hand, I am the kind of person who is compelled to correct someone who posts incorrect information over social media. No person X didn’t do that. No, grapefruit juice doesn’t cure cancer. No, this is clickbait garbage. I find the internet so infuriating in that aspect: so many garbage websites spreading misinformation, bad political conclusions, and downright lies. It drives me batty. However, in order to counter a lot of these arguments I have to click and read them, which is exactly what they want. The internet has become a place where your attention has been monetized, where every click is another dollar in the pockets of the people who just made you angry and wasted five minutes of your life. So I wonder again: what is the value of this to my life?

XKCD draws a picture of me

I love the Internet. It’s given me friends, relationships, entertainment, a career, a way to connect with people far away. But the Internet giveth and it taketh away. I love that I have a little world in my pocket where any question can be answered with just a few clicks. Conversely, it is convenient way to procrastinate, it eats my time because it’s a default thing to do, and it is constantly there to ring and beep whenever my work needs me.

Most content consumption on the internet isn’t conscious consumption. We talk about “wiki-spirals” where you go to look at information on one topic when suddenly you find yourself sitting in the dark at 3am reading about the reproductive processes of the African lemur. That time, washed away. Most of us have done it because it’s so easy to do.

Technology was supposed to empower us, but for many it has power over us. The world is clamoring for our attention and we have to learn to shut it out.

I talk a lot about how my time is worth money. I create intricate calculations on savings rates and inflation for financial independence but yet I can swipe for an hour without even realizing I am doing it. That time is an infinite resource and while it may be cliché, I will never get that hour back. Some things have value for me (blogs, articles) but many don’t (listicles, memes) and being clear on the difference is a skill I need to hone.

My time and my attention belong to me and I need to stop giving it away so freely. I need to cultivate more judicious use of my time and my attention. The problem is that in a world where an entertaining listicle is waiting for your laughing pleasure, it’s hard to get out of the habit of the two-minute entertainment minefield for the mind. I am as guilty as anyone of reaching for my phone the moment that the anxiety of boredom appears on the horizon. At the bus stop: phone. At the doctor’s office: phone. Eating my lunch: phone. That’s why it’s not surprising that people prefer being shocked over being alone with their own thoughts.

Shocking? Not really.

Mr. Tucker and I discuss this often, mostly because we both have jobs where we can be pulled into work with a ring or beep on our phones. Still, we are working towards culling our internet and phone use in the following ways:

Not my circus, not my monkeys: Recognizing I don’t have to feed into every argument with every fool who posts their silly opinions on the internet. I don’t have to allow comments with no added value seep into my life and control my time. I don’t even need to respond to everyone who shoots their ire in my direction. This is not a video game where if I defeat these monsters eventually I will get to the big boss of the internet and win the game forever. There is no end to it all, so put a stop to your investment in it.

Turn off your notifications: heck, if you are feeling edgy, you can stick your phone on airplane mode for awhile! But at the very least, go through your settings and block notifications for everything that isn’t super important leaving only the things you really need, such as phone calls.

Content begets content: I am slowly learning to be less prolific over social media. I don’t need to share that article. I don’t need to update my status. I don’t need to document every aspect of my life. When you are constantly posting, people are constantly reacting. When you post, even if you turned off all your notifications you know that there is probably a comment or two you need to respond to. If it’s a controversial or political post, you know there will be responses and it will gnaw at you until you check and respond to the comments. Rinse, repeat. You will never get out of the spiral if you are constantly posting, no matter how great the information is to compel you to share it with the world.

Work is work, home is home: While we will still have to be available for work sometimes, we don’t need to have our work phones right next to us. Mr. Tucker has specific ring tones for work emergencies, and I can keep my work phone in another room and only check it periodically. For personal use, I put my phone in airplane mode and stick it where I can’t reach it. My time at home after 5pm is time with the family to eat dinner, play games, and to hang out. Even when the kids are in bed I am training myself to work on reading, writing or other hobbies rather than consume internet content.

Yep. I have two phones, one of which is a Blackberry of all things

Learn to adjust your attention span: I am frankly amazed at how short my attention span has become. Years of toggling between windows and watching various social media feeds has made it that I can only concentrate on one thing for a short period of time. Also, I already had attention problems so it has made it worse. Instead, I am training myself to work through the anxiety of concentrating too long. When I recognize my attention floating, I don’t just give in, I force myself to double down and concentrate for another minute…two minutes…three minutes as I slowly train myself to continue for longer periods.

Learn to relax: I know it’s hippy froo-froo to suggest meditation but honestly, it is a good way to reduce anxiety and to clear the mind. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest using your phone but there are a plethora of great apps and podcasts out there that will guide you through the basics of meditation. I’ve found it’s helped me to stop ruminating about things that make me anxious and in turn that has helped me sleep at night.

Explore boredom: Boredom makes us anxious. It makes us pick up the closest thing to us (our phones) and relieve the anxiety. However, boredom is a gateway to creativity. I remember being young and when boredom would hit (*cough* pre-internet) and I would find something to do. You just have to work on the initial hump, which is the barrier to creativity: getting started. I often will sit and flip through things on my phone while sitting next to a bunch of personal projects (such as my knitting) that are immensely satisfying but that always seems like a hassle to start compared to swiping.

Get socializing – in person: I remember in high school I would call up friends and see if anyone would like to meet for coffee downtown. We’d all meet up for a couple of hours at various coffeehouses around the city and enjoy some company and conversation. As an adult, I have always felt that I need to bring that connection back into my life. While it’s great to have all your friends in your pocket, by only communicating online you miss the subtle nuance of human interaction: people’s moods and meaning are less clear when you don’t have their body language to rely upon. Body language is often touted as the majority of communication between people, so being together in a room with someone gives you a different way of connecting. If I were to start a movement, it would be the one to bring back the $2 coffee date amongst friends. There is a richness to in-person connect that I feel we should build on.

Bring new hobbies into your life – or bring back old ones. Sit down and make a list of all the activities that make you happy, all the things you’ve wanted try, or things you want to do around the house. Make a date night with your partner that is device-free where you pour a glass of wine and try a new recipe. Find some like-minded people and get together once-a-month. It could be a craft circle, a book club, or just a few friends getting together and going for a hike.

I will be the first to admit that you will tear my access to the internet from my cold, dead hands. But that doesn’t mean that the internet is always serving me well in every occasion. Like most relationships, you have to set boundaries and acknowledge when certain things aren’t working for you. Once you see that you need to change things, start right away. Don’t wait until it gets harder and harder to change your attention span or stop your reliance on the internet for entertainment.

Sorry, you’re Canadian

Growing up in Canada is kind of like being the second child: your big brother the USA gets all the cool shit first while you are stuck shuffling along in his shadow hoping you get a turn someday. Personal finance is no different.

One of the topics that came up en parlent with some friends recently was the yearly amount you need to live on in Canada. In the context of many English personal finance blogs, obviously many of them come from the US. Being the next door neighbour to a country with a population 319 million when you are a country of 32 million people means that most of what we consume in the media and on the internet has a US-slant. We’ve learned as Canadians to change the advice accordingly (IRA vs. RRSP, for example) and make adjustments where possible.

The problem with this though is we get used to seeing various costs come out of US media that we can sometimes feel like underachievers when things cost twice as much here. Blogs in particular are always enlightening when I see grocery bills under $200 a month for a family, or gas receipts for cars at staggeringly low prices. Let’s just face it: things in the US are just generally cheaper, or subsidized (meat, gas). It’s enough to throw any frugal Canadian into an apoplectic fit!

The thing is, there are tradeoffs for both countries. I think day-to-day living costs are fairly low (meat, gas) in the US and high-ticket items (university, health care) appear to be lower in Canada. I also always joke that in the US anything bad for you is cheap, and in Canada costs a fortune but that’s not always true either. Still, there is no Two-Buck-Chuck in Canada, alas.

So imagine my surprise when I checked out this cost of living calculator from Numbeo. Holy CARP! Is Canada actually this much cheaper than the US?

Well yes, and no. Firstly, that data is self-reported, not government data. I figured some of it was suspect when I remember paying practically nothing for eggs in Maine and they have them listed as more expensive than here. Of course, geography is at play here as there will be variances across both countries*. So here is a completely non-scientific look at a few things:


But here are some fun comparisons for a few grocery items, in the respective currency of the country:

I could go on and on, but it is boring so you are free to play with the American and the Canadian sites if you are particularly curious.


Transportation is a huge chunk out of the budget for a lot of families, especially those who have no access to decent public transportation. Fuel is subsidized in the US, which is why when we cross the border into the US we feel like …

So in terms of averages, I was unsurprised to see that in the USA gas is on average $2.22 a gallon or .59/litre , and in Canada it is $105.6/l or $4.22 a gallon. It’s a significant difference that also affects the price of goods as they travel.


The average price for a home in Canada has far surpassed the average home in the US, 41% more, in fact. Last spring, the average home in the US was US$271 803 and the average price in Canada US$383 402. That’s a pretty substantial difference.

The US also has many mid-rage cities where there are tons of amenities but low prices, which seems to be less of an occurrence here (see: small population). Even those small cities such as Hamilton have seen explosive growth and a lack of affordability as Toronto expands out. Even if you take the hot markets of Toronto and Vancouver out of the equation, average house prices are still CAD$332 711 which is still fairly high.

There are tradeoffs

Of course, Canada does have a few tricks up its sleeves in terms of government benefits for people who live on a low income – even moreso if you have kids. When I plug our numbers into the CRA benefits calculator, we can expect $939 – $12430 in yearly benefits, depending on whether or not the kids are still at home.

Universal healthcare is another way in which we benefit, as well as low costs for post-secondary education. I mean heck, if our income is low enough our children will probably qualify for a plethora of assistance with post-secondary (we have money to help them though).

But every day living in the US can be much cheaper. They are spoiled for choice in the retail market so grocery stores slash prices in ways I have never seen here and clothes can be had at rock-bottom prices. Property taxes can be much lower in smaller cities and still have access to the amazing amenities we’d only find in large cities in Canada. I would say that there are generally just more ways you can save money in the US, although not everyone takes advantage of it.

What does this mean for me

Really? Nothing. The reality is that it can be a super bummer to be saving to the best of one’s ability only to discover that due to geographic factors you’ll need twice as much. But lamenting this isn’t going to change the reality that we all have unique circumstances and need to adjust our plans accordingly. The math still works, the possibility to become debt-free or achieve early retirement is still there, it’s just that every path is different.

Of course, someone who lives in San Francisco or Vancouver will spend way more than someone in Duluth or Saskatoon. I remember picking up a $6 pound of bacon in Vancouver 10 years ago when you could still get a pound in Ontario for $2.99. I doubt it’s better today now that rents are sky high. Location, location, location as the old adage goes. For those people willing to move, or who can survive off a jar of PB and a bag of lentils, they will obviously be able to save quicker than someone in a house who eats fresh vegetables.

The key is not to let any of this get you down, the key is to continually play with the numbers and to reduce your lifestyle to a level where it is comfortable, all your needs are met (with a few extras) but where you can save a significant amount of your paycheck. Comparing yourself to others – especially others in other countries*** – will just serve to bring you down when you realize that it’s impossible to have the same numbers. Look more for the hows in the information than the how much and you will be able to adjust the information to suit your own life. In reality the only comparison you should be making are between the you of yesterday and the you of today.

*Disclaimer: this is just for entertainment purposes and is not scientific in the slightest. It shouldn’t be taken as gospel as I’ve just pulled a bunch of info together to get a ballpark idea of comparisons.
**I haven’t compared rents but in my area renting is not that much cheaper in my area, in other areas it’s much cheaper. I am a big fan of renting and think everyone should run the numbers & do what is best for them.
***European readers be like, “You think you have problems?!”

Exit strategy: conversations with my mom

“I wish I had retired later. I find retirement really boring.” My mom said. She was over for her weekly cup of coffee & a visit with the kids and I. Although we keep Sundays as a strictly family day, Saturdays are usually bustling as our extended family usually drops in for a visit at various points in the day. Between music lessons, birthday parties, and visits, it’s always a chaotic day of the week. We love it though, it’s nice to be able to be so close with our parents when so many people live far away from their families.

Still, I was shocked to hear my mom say she wished she had worked longer. I remember when she decided to retire she was working in an extremely stressful environment and had had enough. A pediatric nurse for over 30 years, it was getting more difficult to work the long hours and overnight shifts. When she retired, it seemed like the ideal time for her and with her pension we didn’t worry about her ability to support herself.

My mom is fairly healthy and she enjoys travel, so in the beginning she traveled quite a bit with a girlfriend who also loved to travel. Her girlfriend ended up getting married though and the traveling slowed down. She also used to play cards one day of the week but stopped going when the friend she went with moved out of the city to be closer to her family. Now I guess she feels rather aimless. She still goes out to lunch with friends once-a-week, and will visit friends in Florida during the winter, but I can see how she feels like she needs something extra.

I know she just needs to adjust and add things to her life but she hasn’t done that yet. As people have moved on, she hasn’t added new things to her life. I know she can and probably will adjust, she is just in a rut right now.

What’s interesting is that this conversation occurred because I was discussing early retirement (specifically the fun I have been having with the retirement calculators) and was showing her how amazed I was at the numbers. Since she is in this rut though, all she can see is how boring her life is lately so she can’t imagine why anyone would draw that out. Conversely, I am in a pretty stressful job right now and can’t imagine doing this for the next 25 years. In a way we are both wrong: she won’t always be bored, and I won’t always be maxed out.

The grass is always greener

Most people who seek out early retirement do so not just because they just don’t want to work. I’ve noted (rather unscientifically, true) that most people want to raise kids, travel, volunteer, and have hobbies that will more than keep them busy over the next X amount of years. Mr. Tucker and I definitely could think of a million and one ways to fill up our days because we’ve thought about and talked about early retirement since our late 20s. Despite being derailed by setbacks that pushed early retirement out of our field of vision for a few years, we are back on track and are both looking forward to transitioning out of full time work completely within ten years.

A cautionary tale

In university I spent a summer working a job at a city yard. Basically, we were “on the bucket,” which was short for walking the city with a garbage bin on wheels, cleaning the streets with a grabber. It wasn’t glamorous but it paid decently and was low-stress.

Our day started at 7:30am and I would ride my bike the 5k from my house to the yard every morning. No matter when I pulled up on my old clunker of a bike, a couple of guys who had retired within the past couple of years would already be sitting around drinking coffee. Being 21, I was confused that anyone would retire and come back to their old job everyday, but a few did fairly regularly.

Given the vehemence with which these men (I was the only female) hated their jobs and constantly were counting down their days to retirement, I always thought it was weird that anyone would come back to visit so often. But there was a fairly steady roster of retired men who would come back and grab a coffee with the guys, or pop in for lunch. At the time I was completely confused but now I understand it: these guys had no exit strategy. After 30+ years of doing the same thing every day they didn’t prepare for what they would do when they didn’t have to go back anymore. So they did what was familiar to them: they came back to work to enjoy the camaraderie they had missed when they retired.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone

I often take out way too many books from the library. Curse you, express reads shelf!

The thing is: work is often boring! Coming to work is just a habit that many people who are bored in retirement just haven’t broken. I just spend 5 years working 8-10 months of the year and I can say with absolute certainty that during the months I was off I was at home (and the kids in school), I could fill up a day. There was no end to the things I could do and frankly, I enjoyed it and was never bored.

Mr. Tucker and I have often had conversations of what we would do if we didn’t have to work every day. In these discussions there is no end to what we could do in a day, which is to say it’s mostly just an extension of what we already do. We’d spend more time also doing things we enjoy doing but that we don’t currently have time for, and try our hand at more DIY projects (such as our backyard reno this summer). While some of these plans rely on us being more or less able-bodied, retiring early will hopefully ensure we will be pretty mobile.

Of course, our current plan includes having kids still at home at least for another 6+ years when Mr. Tucker retires, which means our days will still be regimented. They will have school schedules, activities, and possibly jobs so our lives will include that chaos. I also will probably be working in some capacity at that point, which means we will have to work around those hours. We are approaching this goal slowly, one small step at a time.

Still, it’s important to have an exit strategy. I think the best way to do this is to have hobbies and interests outside the day-to-day work/kids/tv/bed schedule that most westerners adhere to. I have found that over time, many people get so busy with life that they set aside the things that make life fun. Both Mr. Tucker and I have an interest in music, writing, biking, skiing, and travel – all of which could fill up a life quite nicely. We also would like to do more of the things we currently enjoy doing – such as drawing and knitting – that we just don’t have time for in our lives right now. On top of these things, we’d like to explore some new stuff we’ve dabbled in and have enjoyed but that we just can’t fit into our lives, like gardening and spending more time volunteering.

If all those things get boring? Well, I am sure I will never run out of interesting books to read (and I have yet to finish every book in our local library). In fact, I would rather be bored in early retirement than exhausted at a stressful job. As much as I absolutely love my career and am so grateful for a challenging, supportive environment, there are a million and one other things I enjoy doing as well.

So for now my exit strategy is to keep up with my interests, look forward to creating new interests, and to explore the million and one things there are to do with my time that aren’t working 9-to-5.

Game changer: make your own bouillon

It’s rare that food things BLOW MY MIND. I have been reducing our food bill for years with a combination of sale purchases, learning new skills, and mostly cooking from scratch. So it’s rare that I consider some recipe or short cut a game changer. If I dig into my memories, I think the last thing that really blew my mind was Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread which busted onto the scene about 10 years ago and still enjoys mega popularity today. If you haven’t tried it, it is definitely worth the effort (non-effort?).

So imagine my surprise when I was flipping through River Cottage Handbook: Preserves and came across their Souper Mix. I swear I must have slapped my forehead and exclaimed, “Why didn’t *I*think of that?”

Essentially, most stocks are just veggies and bones/meat boiled in water to let out their natural flavours. This mix reduces that to its essential components: what if we took out the water and just processed aromatic vegetables into a paste? The result is a flavourful bouillon a million times better than their powdered store-bought counterparts. I dare say (as I am feeling a bit blasphemous) it’s even better than my beloved Better Than Bouillon: the mainstay of so many of our dishes, including my favourite Quick ginger-miso soup

There is indeed a lot of salt in this recipe, much like store-bought bouillons. The science behind this is that the salt limits bacteria from growing, allowing you to store this for a long time. I find adjusting the salt in my recipes help balance the sale in this mix. I am presenting the original recipe as-is:

Souper Mix
Makes about four cups:

9oz (250 g) leek
7oz (200 g) fennel
7oz (200g) carrot
9oz (250g) celery root
2oz (50g) sun-dried tomatoes
2 or 3 garlic cloves
3 ½ (50g) parsley
3 ½ (50g) cilantro
¾ c fine sea salt

Put all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until you have a fairly thick paste. To use: combine 1 tsp of souper mix to 1 cup of water.

Of course, the evening we planned to make this we didn’t have all the ingredients on-hand. However, this is an incredibly forgiving recipe and we ended up substituting celery for the celery root, and mushrooms for the fennel. We also lacked fresh parsley so we used dry. As long as you stick to the aromatic vegetables you probably will be able to make a myriad of tasty variations based on this basic recipe.

The recipe assumes you will store it in the fridge but we found storing it in the freezer to be a much better option. The mix stays relatively soft due to the amount of salt, and in fact, if you wanted to reduce the salt and up the vegetables (I would try adding onion, personally) putting it in the freezer will help it keep longer. To use we just scoop out a teaspoon and use in our recipes as directed.

Given how fall is in full swing and most of these vegetables are harvested this time of year, it’s a great time to whip up a batch of souper mix so you can enjoy comforting soups all winter long.

Why I am buying back my pension

Fun site for Canadians in certain provinces: all benefits you are eligible for in your region. When I checked it wasn’t updated for this year’s tax season but I am hopeful it will be.

As you probably have read, I have the opportunity to buy back pension years where I worked for the federal government but wasn’t a permanent employee. It actually amounts to 3.5 years (go contracts!). Of course, I am currently not permanent now; I am actually a term, which means I am an employee who can be renewed yearly. I am still entitled to all the benefits of being an indeterminate public servant but my contract may have a chance of not being renewed.

So while I want to buy back my pension, I will wait and see if they will renew my contract in March. The reason for this is that you need to be vested for two years before you can be eligible to withdraw a pension. So since I only started contributing in March of this year, I will have to have another year under my belt before it vests. So if they renew me, I will have those two years locked down. If they renew me and I buy back the 3.5 years, I will have 5.5 years of pension under my belt by the end of March 2018.

Over the years I have heard the same advice about pension buy backs “oh you should do the math, it may not be worth it!” Since the federal government pensions are defined benefit pensions however, I can’t see a reason NOT to buy it back. The pension fund assumes a 5.5% real rate of return so by buying back I am essentially buying a government bond with a guaranteed interest rate. Since it also adjusts for inflation, I don’t have to worry about the state of my investment in this case. I fail to see a reason NOT to buy it back.

Of course, there are challenges here. Firstly, I have the option of taking payment plans (with varying interest rates) or paying in one lump sum. The options are to pay back in 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years (omg!). After I calculated the interest, I realized that borrowing to pay in one lump sum – if you can pay off the amount in less than a year – is cheaper than the payment plans offered by the government. The challenge here is that you need the contribution room for pensions/RRSPs to be able to go this route. Thankfully (or poorly planned, you decide) I do have enough carried-over contribution room to pay the entire amount in one tax year.

Secondly, I need to have a full physical where my doctor makes a best guess that I will live at least another 5 years. This is doubly-awkward: if she says I won’t, not only will I not be able to buy back but I also have a chance of kicking it within 5 years. Double whammy!

Thirdly, I only have one year in which to buy back at the estimate I was given. The government calculates your buy back at your current salary. So even though I am buying back years where I made half as much as I make now, I have to buy back at my current salary because my pension will be based on current salary dollars. Of course, if I miss this deadline the payment will go up substantially. Our union also negotiated new salary rates recently so I absolutely must not miss this deadline or I will see the buy back amount rise substantially.

Of course, I am hedging my bets to get in and get my physical first thing in the new year (now that I am walking & after many hours of physio!) as I have until the end of March to get all the paperwork in. It also gives me time to save up as much money as possible to put towards it and I calculated that I will actually be able to pay about $18400 out of pocket without tossing the balance on my line of credit. The buyback amount? $18318. What are the odds?

Since I plan to work 5-10 more years in the Public Service (renewed term willing!) that would give me a lowball pension of approximately $1000-$1500 at 60* (in today’s dollars), adjusted for inflation. So this makes planning working part-time/early retirement much easier, as once I hit 65 I will have that guaranteed income – and if I die, it will transfer to Mr. Tucker.

Since the public service has all sorts of fun calculators, let’s play with them. Assuming I only work six years from March 1st, 2016 (when I entered the pension plan)and buy back the 3.5ish years I worked previously, let’s see how that pans out:

If I retire at 46 and start drawing my pension at 60*:

If I retire at 46 and start drawing an annual allowance at 50:

The early retirement reduction is 50%

How about if I work a little longer? Maybe I could work until age 50?

Retiring at 50 and drawing a pension at 60:

Retiring at 50 and drawing an annual allowance:

The early retirement reduction is…wait for it…49%**

This is a cute thought exercise but I am not an actuary so it isn’t accurate. Also, since I entered the Public Service after 2013 I won’t actually be able to “retire” until I am 65 (new, fun rules!) so really it will just sit there until I am 65 when I can begin drawing an inflation-adjusted pension. I also put in my current salary but not any raises or promotions I may have in the next 5-10 years, just to keep it constant. Because there is an increase every year on my salary and I feel like a bit of a go-getter, those things are more than likely.

What is interesting here is that if you have a pension coming down the pipe and you are planning on retiring earlier you have two choices:

– Save like you don’t have a pension and when yours does come, it’s a pleasant boon
– You can do the heavy calculations and determine what you need to save to support yourself between when you retire and when you can draw on your pension

I haven’t done the heavy lifting in the calculations department yet but that will depend on how I feel in a few years. Our current plan is for Mr. Tucker*** to retire in 5 years. If I stay in the Public Service I will have more options than he would, work-wise: I can probably do compressed time, drop down to part-time, or take leave with income-averaging for a few years. We won’t theoretically need to touch our nest egg until much later if I explore work alternatives for a bit as all the above options will still bring in enough money to support the family. Of course, no one knows what will happen in the future but our current plan continues to be to save like mad to pay off the house and buy back my pension. After that we will rethink – and recalculate – what our plans are in 2018.

OH, and if I work until I am 65?

*Bridging is for the years between 60 and 65. It stops at 65 because that is when it is assumed you will be drawing from the Canada Pension Plan (and for some, Old Age Security).
** I have no idea why the dates are different here but I don’t think it will make enough of a change to care.
*** Hilariously, we will get a huge chunk back in child benefits and tax credits if Mr. Tucker isn’t working

To every season, turn, turn, turn…those goals into reality

Don’t tell anyone but I love all the seasons. I grew up having all four seasons fleetingly spread across the mere 12 months of a year and I still love them all. Sure, sure, I am one of the complainers: in summer it’s too damn hot, and in winter it can get too damn cold but secretly I love it.

Of course, we are in fall right now: apple picking, pumpkin patches, warm cider, crisp air, beautiful landscapes of yellow/red/orange leaves….oh man, I love fall. I will admit, it has a special place in my heart. Although it may be the harbinger of winter, I do enjoy these days even if they bring with them shorter, darker days. It’s just another reason to start a fire in the fireplace.

Mr. Tucker could not care less about seasons. In his mind it makes more sense to live in the Caribbean and if we ever miss seasons, we can come visit them.

Personally, I think I would be a bit sad if I didn’t have the seasons to look forward to. I enjoy transitioning from one time of the year to another. Just like holidays help us mark the days, so do the seasons. It gives me the satisfaction of a year fully lived. Spring is about rain, seeing grass again, and the fresh smell of petrichor. Summer is marked by swimming, watermelon, and the smell of sunscreen. Fall is about walking through crunchy leaves, decorating pumpkins, and the smell of apple cider mulling. Winter is about skiing, building snow forts, and the smell of wood smoke.

“Most everyone’s mad here…You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.”

Our last CSA basket came in this week. It came with 10 pounds each of onions, potatoes and carrots, and of course, a pumpkin. I’ll be sad to see them go, there is nothing better than having farm fresh food weekly. Part of me is jealous of people who live in more temperate climates where they can get local food all-year round but the other part of me enjoys the end of things so we can transition into a new period of the year.

So this morning I sat down with my coffee and booked the kids into skiing for winter. It seemed as good of a time as any to admit that winter IS coming and since you can’t do anything about it, you may as well embrace it. I save money all year round to be able to send the kids to ski lessons so I am happy that I can pay cash for it in November. Of course, I am saving money this year on my ski pass as I am sure my orthopedic doctor would prefer to not have to see me in clinic again!

November will also mark the month where we start saving for some fairly aggressive goals. We will be hunkering down to save more for our house fund so we can be mortgage free in March 2018, and as well I have decided to buy back my pension at work (more on that later this week). So as of right now we are starting from zero with a goal to achieve almost 70K in savings by March 2018. That is 16 months from now.

A pretty lofty set of goals

It seems fitting that we start right when the darkest days of the year are ramping up. I find it’s much easier to hunker down and save when all you want to do is avoid the cold and dark by curling up by the fire with a book. Despite the madness of the Christmas season Mr. Tucker and I have been traditionally better at saving money during the winter months because we don’t ever go anywhere.

So while the fall is traditionally known as the end: the end of summer, the end of long days, harvest and the end of the growing season, it’s going to be a new beginning for us. we have huge goals but I think we can make it. I’ll be posting regularly here with updates on how it’s going, so if you are interested in watching us succeed (or fail?) you’ll be able to follow along. Also, let me know if you have any big goals or dreams planned out for the near future, I’d love to hear about them.

Happy fall!

A tale of three Halloween choices

This is Halloween, this is Halloween!

One interesting thing about living in the social media age is you get a window into other people’s choices. I am always particularly fascinated to see the way people entertain themselves because it always seems so opposite to what I would ever do. As we come up on Halloween, it’s a good time to compare very similar – but financially different – ways people have fun.

I will be honest, being a SAHM for so long meant that we have had to make different choices over the years than people who had more income. We just didn’t have the money to pay much out of pocket for entertainment without sinking ourselves into debt, so we rarely spent money on passive entertainment. We did have time however, so in the past I spent more time coming up with frugal ways to entertain ourselves. Conversely, people with two full time incomes probably didn’t have to think twice about spending money on entertainment because they didn’t have heaps of time but they did have money to spend.

One of the bonuses of this is that my kids don’t have the expectation that they need to be entertained at expensive indoor gymnastics places, kid arcades, or any of the other “family” style businesses around our city. So even though we are now a two-income family, we have not upped our lifestyle to include these things and my kids have not come to expect them. Eating out is a mind-blowing treat to them, and when we do hit one of those “entertainment” centres they have an incredible gratitude as they know what a rare experience that is.

If social media is any indication, these businesses will thrive and thrive because my timeline is full of people paying top dollar for passive entertainment. Since it’s Halloween though, it’s a good chance to compare three ways of celebrating this time of year.

Super cheap: either grow your own pumpkin or buy them when they go on sale at the grocery store. Paint and carve at home using scrounged craft supplies. Who doesn’t love a toilet paper ghost? It’s 2016 and Pinterest is full of a million and one ways you can do crafts with your kids during October to build up excitement to Halloween. Cost: 1-$10

Moderate: hit a cheap pick-your-own pumpkin patch with your kids at a farm inside the city limits (no spending tons on gas!). Pick up some pumpkins, decorative gourds, and some apple cider and take pictures of the kids climbing the hay bales and playhouse the farm has set up. Cost $20, for what you buy.

Expensive: Drive an hour outside the city to a farm that has been converted to an edu-tainment centre full of trampolines, hay rides, a bunch of haunted houses, and various other attractions and then pick your own pumpkin. Cost: $21 – $36 – per person entrance fee ($61 if you want to jump the lines on all attractions!) plus the cost of what you buy.

So essentially, the least expensive option here for a family of four is the daytime price of $84. There is a super cheap option where you have no access to the attractions but why bother if you can’t do anything? Who wants to pay money to look at all the things you could be doing? Your kids will just lose their minds on you.

While you would think we would choose the cheap option, you would be wrong. Since the kids were little we headed out to this small family farm at the edge of the city where we let the kids choose their own pumpkin to carve. We nab some local cider, some small and large pumpkins, and we go home and spend the day drinking warm cider and decorating our gourds. It’s a bit of a family tradition as we’ve done it since the kids were young. All in, we spend about $20 for a couple of hours of entertainment.

A little fall decoration

Holiday traditions are important but don’t have to be costly

In fact, Halloween is the only holiday we celebrate by heading out and spending money for entertainment. With the other holidays we only celebrate with neighbourhood-related activities where we celebrate together as a community at someone’s house. On Easter a friend invites all the kids over for egg decorating, for Christmas our family hosts a chili and Santa cookie decorating party, and on Halloween another neighbour has a potluck at their place before the kids all head out en masse Trick-or-Treating (with the parents gripping their roadies with the strength of Hercules).

To be honest, the way people spend money is none of my business. If you have the means and the desire to blow $100 for passive entertainment, then that is your prerogative. However, I don’t think spending $100 vs. $20 provides so much more of a mind-blowing experience. Kids are usually just happy to get out and spend time as a family so there is no need to pump dollar after wasted dollar into passive entertainment all the time.

Also, let’s face it: people who spend this kind of money are usually doing it often because they feel their families have come to expect it, and it’s normal in our culture to have that level of entertainment. Every weekend there is a new outing, a new restaurant meal, a new way to spend. There is no shortage of ways to blow cold, hard cash and no shortage of companies who will take it. They know there are hardworking parents out there who feel guilty about not being home all week, and they are more than happy to feed into your guilt by selling you “family memories “and “quality time.” But family time isn’t bought and sold, family time is a real effort you spend at connecting. It’s about paying attention to one another, it’s about talking about our lives, it’s about being present. Traditions don’t need to cost a fortune just because some marketing campaign has told you it’s the easiest way. You don’t have to buy into it.

Pizza Fridays get a little Halloween update

It’s time to start bailing

While I can’t speak to people’s particular situations, I do know that many of us have financial goals we aren’t reaching. If you are constantly complaining that you aren’t getting closer to your financial goals, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Throwing your hands in the air and saying “I just don’t know what is going on?!” when your entertainment/eating out budget is through the roof is like pointing out all the places on a sinking ship where there aren’t any holes. To enact change you need to plug the holes and start bailing but you can’t do that unless you are willing to see the leaks in the first place.

Maybe consider these questions:

Am I doing this to fill a hole? Sometimes our emotions control us and we do things we may not have chosen otherwise. Do we feel guilty for working so much? Working too much overtime? For missing certain family events? Do we feel the need to WOW our kids to show them that we love them?

Are we being manipulated by ads or friends? Are adverts manipulating us into believing that we will be closer as a family if we spend money? Are we seeing our friends doing cool things and posting their pics online? Do we feel that we are missing out if we don’t do similar things? Social media can be a great place to share ideas and stay connected but we can sometimes be made to feel like we aren’t measuring up.

Does this contribute to our goals? I don’t mind spending the $20 because it’s a fun tradition we’ve had for years and it’s a low cost for entertainment. If it was $100 a year, I just would choose something else. If your goal is paying off debt and you are constantly justifying $100 every weekend (or every other weekend) are you truly trying to reach your goals? You can definitely choose to spend tons of money on entertainment and it’s valid to make that choice but if you aren’t achieving any movement in your financial goals be honest with yourself.

Are we getting value for our money? This one is tough because it is different for everyone but I will say in my instance paying $100 to head out to an incredibly busy edu-tainment centre does not appeal to me. When they have a pass you can buy to skip all the lines, you know that it’s going to be packed and you may not be able to see everything you came to see. That seems incredible low-value to me.

Are there lower-cost ways of achieving the same goal? With my example above, you could essentially spend less than $10 on buying/carving pumpkins and doing crafts at home as a family. If your goal is to spend time together, it can be achieved both ways but with wildly different price points.

In the end, we don’t spend a lot of money on paid entertainment on a regular basis because I don’t want the kids to feel the need to be constantly entertained. I want them to have open space at home to relax, craft, read, and hangout after a crazy week of work and school. I want them to have space to use their imaginations, to create, to play. I also don’t want them to come to expect that they should be entertained all the time, or that weekends are the time to blow all our cash on stuff. I don’t want them to become teenagers (or worse, adults) whose expectations are that they are entitled to jam-packed weekends of whirlwind entertainment with an ever-growing list of “wants” because that is all they have ever known.

So I says to the guy, are you just pumpkin me up?

In the end, there is nothing wrong with spending your money the way you want to spend it. If you are getting value for your cash and you want to shell out every weekend, good on you. You may well review the above questions and determine you are happy with the way you do things and honestly, I am happy for you if this is the case. But if you take a hard look at your situation and decide you aren’t getting much value, then it’s time to change. It may be difficult at first when your family is used to being constantly entertained but you don’t need to go cold-turkey. just slowly reduce the amount of money and time you are spending at paid entertainment. Swap the $100 edu-tainment experience for the $20 one. Choose to go on a picnic instead of out to a restaurant. Hit the cheap cinema over the blockbuster cinema. Have friends over for drinks and cards instead of going out to a bar. There are a myriad of creative ways to change the way you consume entertainment. I think you’ll find the more creativity and effort you put into things, the more you will appreciate those experiences.

Incidentally, this year our family decided against even the $20 pumpkin patch experience. With me in a wheelchair, we thought it would be easier to skip it. So we got one pumpkin in our CSA basket & bought a second one from the farmers that supply our basket so both kids will each have a pumpkin to carve. The kids were ok with that.

(The difficult art of) Digging deep

Snow? Seriously? That’s not really helping, actually.

I was fed up before I even left the house today. The first email I received on my work phone at 7:30am infuriated me and left me fuming as I headed into the office. Not the most perfect way to start the day.

Usually at that time I get the day’s news articles sent my way, and I’ll peruse them as I drink my coffee, so “the email” was not expected at all. It’s rare to get anything else at that time because most people haven’t come into the office yet, so to say I was blindsided is an understatement. Oh well, lesson learned: don’t read your email until you get to work!

Of course, this email set the tone for my morning and when colleagues were headed out to the mall at lunch to shop, it was tempting to go along with them and engage in a little retail/restaurant therapy. But I didn’t, I stayed behind at work and ate the food I had brought with me and caught up on some reading*.

It’s times like these that I am learning that I need to dig deep. I need to recognize that no amount of purchasing, no amount of delicious deep-fried vittles, no amount of spending money is going to make a crappy morning better. To shop or to eat ones’ feelings does not going to suddenly make those feelings go away. In fact, the only real solution is the long-term solution: keep saving so I don’t need to deal with a day like this in the future.

Similarly, Mr. Tucker and I instituted a rule about how we spend our weeknights. It’s easy to transition from the chaos of a long work day with a glass of wine: come home after a long day, drink a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, rinse, repeat. But while we weren’t getting rip-roarin’ drunk on the regular, it was It’s still too much to drink on a regular basis and we found our evenings less productive. When we sat down and really looked at it, we decided to save our drinking for the weekends, which saved both money and gave us more energy in the evenings. While it took a bit more time to transition in the evenings without the winding-down wine short cut, our wallets and our health thank us.

Today is Friday! HUZZAH!

Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve fallen into these habits until our drawers are stuffed with clothes we don’t wear, or we calculate how much we’ve spent at the liquor store that month. In our minds we probably didn’t even buy or drink as much as we thought we had but our “once in a while,” suddenly become “more often than not.” Humans are designed to adapt and to adapt quickly but that doesn’t mean we adapt to the right things.

I have been really working on my ability to dig deep when things get hairy. I used to be the kind of person who would throw her hands in the air and justify my actions to myself by saying, “Oh what the heck!? It’s only a $10 bottle of wine!” But the reality is that nothing is every “just a.” Just a bottle of wine is the teaser I need to make it “just a” dinner out, or “just a” new sweater. The reality is that it never really is “just a” this one time. It creates habits.

I am not suggesting we never treat ourselves but we should be treating ourselves in a conscious way. We should be actively choosing these moments, not reacting to bad moments that spur us into bad-decision making. If we can recognize the difference then we have a better chance of reaching our goals and not letting our emotions override our goals.

Waiting – patience in general – is a good habit to cultivate. By waiting to have those two glasses of wine at the end of the work week, I have something to look forward to every Friday. By saving and not spending my money as a way to treat myself during stressful periods, I will be rewarded by not having to work more days in the future. So the next time your job, a friend, or your kids makes you want to scratch the “just a” itch: dig deep. It will be difficult – especially when everyone else is out spending – but by digging deep you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you are one step closer to your goals.

* Walking is out until I can, well, start to walk again next Tuesday

Feeling stupid can make you smarter

I am a strangely private person for someone who is probably known as the most extroverted person in my group of friends. When I started this blog I kept it on the down-low, choosing not to let friends read it. I have since lifted that rule somewhat so we will see how that goes but I am still choosing to be mostly anonymous.

The reason to keep hush about this blog has a lot to do with not only working in social media but also being a huge consumer of it. I think many of us can’t read a post or a tweet without automatically assuming that the writer is discussing us specifically. Or we all know people who feel like tearing everything apart like it’s their job, “But…but…but…what about this esoteric instance that may occur when the sun is in Saturn!” they snivel on facebook after someone posts an article they feel is a personal affront (for some reason?). I know this may be shocking to some: but not everything is about you. And since I couldn’t control the reaction to my blog, I originally controlled the access.

Being interested in personal finance is like putting a giant magnifying glass on yourself because it’s a highly contentious topic. If I discuss our choices and goals, someone else is quick to point out how impossible it is, or makes excuses as to why they could NEVER do THAT. That’s fine, I don’t really care to hear the million-and-one reasons why someone would never make the choices we make. I am being completely honest when I say that is the one key thing about personal finance is that it’s personal.

Still, I think there are some situations that affect all of us whether or not we are willing participants. I think also it’s important to be cognizant about the way things affect us and how things affect others, too. I know some people will get their backs up because ZOMG STOP JUDGING ME but honestly, I generally don’t care what people do with their money but I do think certain decisions are stupid and I am not going to change my mind just because someone’s fee-fees are hurt.

Where you are financially does not dictate your worth, nor does it say anything about you as a human being. However, sometimes we are feeling judged because we have made bad decisions, we know we have made bad decisions, and watching someone else say in a completely different circumstance, “damn, that a dumbass decision,” can make us feel shitty to our core. I get that, but there is no time like the present to change things!

A tale of two minimum payments

Still, some people are so contradictory and they don’t even realize it because they don’t think about it. A couple of years ago I saw someone post on a forum about how they NEEDED to use debt to finance certain parts of their lives. They apparently used their credit cards to take time off work so they could do volunteer work to serve poor communities. If there was no credit, this man claimed, he’d never be able to do the all good work he does. Unfortunately this is ridiculously backward to me. Why? Because credit card companies rely on people who pay their minimum balances to support the systematic destruction of poor people. They over-lend at ridiculous interest rates to people who they know will have a hard time paying back that money. Knowing that most people will desperately try to meet their minimum payments, people of few means will try and keep up as long as they can. Of course, many of them fall behind when faced with an emergency because they are already maxed out. Because the credit card company is happily collecting minimum balances from middle class folks, they are still collecting piles of cash as they start going after the people who can’t pay with fees, higher interest rates, and of course the threatening – and mostly illegal – telephone calls at home and at work. So this person was arguing that they were using a method that oppressed poor people to be able to help poor people. I would argue that playing into the credit game is marginalizing them further. it would be smarter to get the credit under control and find other ways to assist.

I mean, does no one remember 2008? They gave sub-prime loans to individuals who were not mentally capacitated enough to actually sign legally binding agreements.

Of course, the more libertarian-minded of you will point out that most people chose to sign up under those terms and it is their fault if they can’t meet their obligations. But credit card companies aren’t stupid, they have actuaries that calculate the risks of these approaches. Despite the fact that someone who makes minimum wage should never qualify for a $40000 truck loan, they often do. “It’s only $200 a month, surely a successful person such as yourself can manage that, isn’t she a beaut!?”

These companies rely on a certain ignorance from the population to support their business model. They make the terms complex and full of legalese, and when you are in a desperate situation – such as living below the poverty line – you can’t make a logical, free decision because you are grasping at any branch that may pull you out of the quicksand. To argue that it is just good business is to assume we are all standing on the same starting line, which we are not.

So in my view, I would rather not carry a balance on my credit cards knowing that my payments would be contributing to this system. Instead, I use the grace period to let my own money collect interest, and pay it off before accruing interest.

Ok, but what if we all did that…

We don’t. If we did, the companies would start reigning in the bajillion credit card offers there are available every day. It’s a business model that has served them very well over the years and will probably continue as more and more people rely on credit to feed their lifestyles.

The best thing you can do for yourself, your family, and for the world at large is to climb your way out of debt. It may not be tomorrow, it may not even be until a couple of years from now, but the single most important change you can make to your life is to get out of debt.

You can argue with me until the cows come home about how you NEEDED to put stuff on credit for whatever reason but the reality is that it doesn’t affect my life one way or another. In the past, I, too, have used a lot of credit I couldn’t pay off quickly and I will be the first to tell you how ridiculously dumb that was.

How dumb? Generally speaking, a minimum payment covers your interest, plus about 3% of the principal, so here is a fun game you can play at home using a minimum payment calculator. The average interest rate this week according to is approximately 15%, so to pay $2000 assuming that most minimum payments are your interest rate plus that 3% of the principal, it would take you 10.8 YEARS of paying $60 a month and your total out-of-pocket costs would be….


-3,222.34 or MORE THAN 60% of the money you originally borrowed.

Conversely, for giggles let’s put that money in an index fund earning 7% instead!

So basically, you can have $10500 in 10 years, or pay -3222. What sounds better to you? It’s a decision that has a potential $13700 consequence attached to it! Wowzers!

In the end, the gentleman who did the volunteer work could not be swayed by the discussion, which is often the case for people who are looking for validation and back-patting. We all want our friends/family/the internet to tell us that our reasons are justified and some people when faced with the reality end up doubling-down and digging deeper into their own messes. His life doesn’t affect any of us really but imagine had he donated that $10500 to alleviate poverty in his community?

Now let me blow your mind: do the above math taking into consideration that the average U.S household carries $15,675 in credit card debt alone.

Why I don’t side hustle

Short answer: kids and a husband.

Long answer: I know that there is a lot of emphasis on side hustles in the FIRE community and I completely understand that. What is better than retiring early? Retiring even earlier! It makes complete sense to me that people would want to actively seek out ways to make even more cash they can stash.

But it’s really not my thing.

A couple of years ago I did have the opportunity to work part-time from home doing some consulting work while I also worked a full time job. I just couldn’t do it. At the time my kids were 2 and 4 years old and between work, commuting, the kids, and all the wonderful things that happen in life, I just felt so exhausted by 8pm that I didn’t have anything left to give. I really envy people who can do all these things, and then when their kids are in bed give even more, whether it be to their art, a side hustle, or to volunteer work. I don’t want to take away anything from these people, they should be super proud of themselves for having these goals and working towards them.

Truth be told, I love the idea of side hustles. I read articles about people like Sean Cooper and my first thought is, “WOW, what an incredible accomplishment! Congrats to that guy!” (of course, not everyone is as keen to heap on praise). So please don’t conflate my lack of interest in side hustles with snubbing them. I think they are a worthwhile pursuit, in the same way going back to school can be: short term pain for long term gain. It makes sense to me, and if you can do it, that’s amazing.

For myself, I am a mixed bag of interests that all sort of float around this idea of personal finance. I read the The Complete Tightwad Gazette when I was 18 and Your Money or Your Life when I was 20, then I cut my teeth on the The Simple Living Guide in my early 20s, so I am no stranger to the statistical outliers of the personal finance game. But if you notice from the above, those three books alone all have similarities but also differences, and that is mostly how I feel about my view of FIRE.

For us, I am willing to cut our expenses to the bone and look for alternatives so that we can save as much as possible. I’ll happily eat beans and rice, and wear socks and a sweater inside in winter. However, I am not willing to give up my evenings cooking with Mr. Tucker while enjoying a glass of wine, helping the kids with their homework, or playing board games as a family. To me, there has to be a balance between today and tomorrow: I am fine with making smart decisions today to reap the benefits in the future, but I am not ok with completely sacrificing today. My kids are only going to be young for so long and I don’t want to miss these moments when they happen. Sure, I could work after they go to bed but KNOW THYSELF: I need some time to decompress after the day, work on personal stuff or catch up on reading, and I need to go to bed early to have the energy for the next day. That’s just me.

I will be the first to admit that the harp was not a frugal choice.

You do you

We all have to choose the levels that work for us. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is perfectly acceptable to figure out what your levels are and live with the results. Besides, everyone starts their FIRE journey at different starting lines: some people are younger, some are older, some are just starting their careers, and some are mid-career. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the way we run this race and while some people will cross the finish line sooner, almost all of us cross the finish line before people who stick with traditional methods.

Mr. Tucker and I both make really good salaries, have a good – but frugal – lifestyle and an ability to cut our expenses to the bone without feeling the pinch. But cutting expenses for a middle class family of four looks very differently than cutting expenses for a single person. While we don’t mind doing the myriad of things we do to save a dollar, we also spend money on things other people – other families, even – do not. Our kids both take music lessons because we put a high value on music in our family and were not capable/willing of teaching our kids. Other people will balk at that idea, because music isn’t a priority, or they will learn music from some youtube videos then teach their own kids. I consider this an awesome way to go about things but it isn’t for us. So we still keep music lessons in our budget because it’s a priority for us. It also satisfies other values in our lives, such as keeping money in our community and supporting local artists.

We understand and accept that when we spend money on lessons for our kids that we are subsequently taking our dollar bill soldiers out of commission from helping us work towards early retirement. We are ok with that and feel the tradeoff is worth it for our family.

You can’t have it all

Of course, when chasing FIRE you have to be judicious in your use of all your resources and cut what you can down to the bone. It’s nice to review your financial situation and know that you can still retire in 5-10 years even if you have some fun along the way. It’s another thing to review your budget and decide to keep a 5000 sq ft house, two expensive resort vacations yearly, music lessons, dance lessons, premium name-brand clothes, eating out at lunch every day, dinners out on the weekends, and high-end alcohol and THEN complain that you don’t understand how other people can retire early.

That’s not being smart with your money, that’s whinging.

Win/win: a friend needed storage for her piano, we wanted to borrow one!

The reality is that we all have choices to make and goals to set. If you want to retire in 10 years but when you crunch the numbers and it tells you that you need to work 15 years, then it’s time to cut. If you are unwilling to cut, then you need to admit to yourself that early retirement is less of a priority to you than the things you are currently spending money on.

Our quality of life is enhanced by music lessons, so those stay in our budget and we plan for them. But when we keep one thing in, another thing has to go. By carefully analyzing what is important to us we can get maximum value from the money we do spend on stuff and experiences.

Conversely, I am not willing to side hustle so that means I either have to strip our budget down or find cheaper versions of the things we need. Mr. Tucker and I are constantly reviewing our expenses and trying to find cheaper versions of everything from cell phone plans to quinoa. Almost all of our attempts to scale down have had either minimal or no impact on our quality of life – but they have reduced the time we have to spend working. I guarantee it, once you actually put the thought and effort into reducing the costs of things, you will often find those things weren’t as important as you once thought. I just tell myself when I reduce that I will always be able to bump it back up if I don’t like it. Nothing is forever.

One-size does not fit all

I don’t like financial advice (or any advice, really) that it dogmatic: THIS IS THE WAY AND THE LIGHT! Yeah, no. But I also don’t believe that a> complaining about things solves problems, and b> criticizing people for doing things differently from you is ok.

In the first instance, your entire life is going to be full of people who (you think) have had it easier than you, or who weren’t as affected by the economy as you, or who just generally have more luck in general. It sucks, and I get it. We all encounter these people in our lives and it’s demoralizing to watch them ride the wave to success while we struggle for our piece of the pie. Honestly though, what can any of us benefit by complaining about it? Does bitching about it make your life any better? No, it does not. It doesn’t because now you are wasting precious time and energy out of your day hyper-focused on something you will never, EVER be able to change: other people. You can change yourself however. You can stop ruminating and put that energy someplace else, maybe even someplace where you can have more success.

Secondly, none of us are going to do things the same way 100% of the time. I will not side hustle at this point in my life but when someone else does and is successful at it I am not going to criticize them. The article above on Mr. Cooper is a great example of this: he busted his butt and achieved something great. So naturally people who didn’t make the same choices as him feel some personal affront at his success. Why? What compels people to jump on their high horses and pick apart someone else’s success? Jealousy. Jealousy is a wasted emotion. It contributes nothing to your life and like complaining, has no value-added. In fact, Mr. Cooper’s side hustlin’ his way to mortgage freedom has ZERO impact in my life, except that I thought it was a cool thing to do and read about.

Excuses, excuses

Finally, it’s important to live with your decisions. I choose family time and a higher quality of life over making more money and retiring a bit earlier. I made these decisions based on our financial situation and our values. I own this decision and I am comfortable with it. If we had less money, we’d have to chop more, if we wanted to retire earlier, we’d cut those music lessons. Maybe you make more, maybe you make less, maybe you have kids, maybe you don’t but the point is that it doesn’t matter. We all have to make choices with the resources we have available to us whether those resources be time, money, or energy so make choices you can live with.

Eventually we all ride off into the sunset

What to check when buying a used car

Sometimes you ask and the internet provides. When considering a used car, most of us are pretty clueless as to what to look for before you buy. Obviously, hiring a mechanic who can check out the car is the best court of action but there are things you can actually check yourself. I came across this image on reddit from a guy who asked his mechanic brother what he should be checking and I found it a helpful list for the average person.

Further down the post is a pdf from another guy named Chris which is a checklist for things to look for. He even has a handy video:

If you are currently on the hunt for a new used car, you may find the entire thread a worthwhile read.


Vice UK put out a trailer for a new Adam Curtis film this week. I think this film touches on a lot of thoughts we have on the world around this so it’s definitely worth the watch: Hypernormalism.

I will say though that a friend pointed out that Adam Curtis is not without his critiques as well. So I will just let you make up your mind.

Happy Sunday!