Frugal Food Resolutions & Memories of My Father

Christmas turkey doing its job in the creation of broth.

DH = Dear Husband

DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

My father’s last Christmas

DH and I have been hosting my extended family’s Christmas dinner every year since 2007. My parents held the big holiday feasts for many years even after their five children had become adults, but as Mom and Dad aged, the next generation started to take up the torch. Up until 2006, one of my sisters (I have three) almost always hosted our family’s Christmas dinners, but she couldn’t bring herself to continue with the tradition after that year. Christmas of 2006, my father was in the last stages of his battle against cancer. He was very weak. My mother later spoke of the determination he had stubbornly exerted to be present for his family on the occasion. Wrapped in a blanket at the table, and needing to lie down on a couch long before the dinner was over, he quietly talked with his children and grandchildren, one-to-one, on what was to be his last outing.  He passed away in the first week of January, 2007. “I can’t do it,” said my sister tearfully over the phone as plans for our first Christmas without him unfolded. “All I would be able to see is Dad in that blanket. Can you host this year?” We did, and a new tradition began.

Bone soup

As I grew up, I loved everything about Christmas. The anticipation surrounding the holidays would start in November when my mother began writing hundreds (literally) of Christmas cards. Mysterious shopping bags would accumulate in my parents’ bedroom closet, and we’d be forbidden to enter. Then baking would fill the house with tantalizing aromas of chocolate, shortbread, squares, and tarts. The tree, the lights, the wrapping of presents, the singing of carols . . . It all built up to a magical  Christmas day, complete with stockings by the fireplace, gifts under the tree, and all hands on deck for the turkey dinner.

Boxing Day would be mellow and lazy for everyone – except my father. I have an enduring image of him at work on the turkey carcass, which he would take out of the fridge early in the morning, picking off every bit of meat possible. Before long, the bare bones would be in our big silver pot, covered with water, simmering on the stove for hours and hours. There were vegetables to be chopped, spices to add, lentils to soften, dishes to clean. The making of bone soup took up the better part of Boxing Day. And Dad would oversee it all with a keen vigilance as the rest of us came and went, helping out here and there. For the remainder of the holidays, bone soup would be a part of every day’s lunch or supper – particularly great after a ski or skate.

Too busy to make soup

When we started to host Christmas dinners in 2007, I thought, I’ll make bone soup. But I didn’t. My few attempts at soup-making had met with limited success. DD2 had thrown up after my last effort a few years earlier, and the general wish seemed to be in support of my disposing of the carcass. I needed a break after all. It would be too much work. There was an appeal to that notion, and combined with my lack of soup-making confidence, it led me to toss seven turkey carcasses in seven years.

Resolution for 2015: Frugal food

My New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to lower our grocery bill by $25 per week, and I’ve been trying out recipes with beans, fish, cheaper cuts of chicken, broth. So bone soup has a new claim on my interest. By the end of Christmas day, I was completely exhausted, and I fell asleep in the family room while everyone else played ping pong and pool in the basement. There was no way I was going to get up bright and early Boxing Day to do anything productive. But there is no rule stating that the soup has to be made on Boxing Day, is there? I lazed around on the 26th, reading and watching DVDs. It was lovely. This morning, the 27th, I took the plunge. I picked all the meat off of the bones. I covered the carcass with water in our big silver pot and turned on the stove. I chopped vegetables, prepared rice (some day, it will be lentils), washed dishes, added spices.

It took the better part of the day, but there were breaks as the broth simmered, and gradually, the smell of Christmas past took over our kitchen. I am armed with another good recipe for frugal cooking in 2015. And although we have been without him for eight years now, I felt close to my father today. He would be pleased to know that we continue to celebrate Christmas together, and that we take good care of Mom. He would be proud of the young men and women his grandchildren have become and are becoming. He would be satisfied that the universe is now unfolding as it should – because the Christmas turkey, once again, is fulfilling its function in the creation of bone soup.


I was having technical difficulties when this post was published, and comments weren’t possible. They are now though, and your comments are welcome.

 

 

Christmas Burnout (but still Christmas)

Our tree. Still undecorated.

DH = Dear husband

DD1 = Dear first daughter

Home business & Christmas rush

Since DH launched his home business in the fall of 2009, the Christmas season has been the Christmas rush. It has never stopped being a welcome phenomenon financially, but each year, we’re struck by how thoroughly it takes over our lives. Last year, DH’s business peaked in November and kept him working at warped intensity into January. This year, for some reason, it’s peaking now, and he’ll be crazy busy right into February.

Energy depletion

Here’s the thing about being married: you can’t help but share in the psyche of your spouse. Despite the fact that yesterday was my last day of work until the New Year, I’m not able to sleep. At 2:30, I woke up. At 4:00, I gave up on the hope of slipping back into slumber. And here I am. My kitchen clock says 4:34. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to sleep-in with sweet “The holidays are here!” bliss – apart from the fact that I’m married to a man who still has staggering amounts of work on his plate. And while DH is mercifully sleeping right now, he’ll be in his office before too long.

We are not Super-couple. We’ve never had that seemingly limitless energy that some people seem to have. Superpowers would come in handy right about now. Here are some indicators of our current maxed-out state:

  • We did not go to the staff Christmas party at my work.
  • We did not go to the Christmas dinner at our church.
  • Our social life is essentially at zero.
  • We haven’t done any work-outs in the last two and a half weeks.
  • My blog site is suffering technical difficulties. Contact page and comments not working – and I can’t do anything about it. (Help is on the way. I just don’t know when.)
  • I’ve got a cold.
  • We haven’t gone to church for the last two Sundays.
  • I haven’t sent out Christmas cards.
  • I haven’t read any blog posts in the past week. (Sorry!)
  • I have tried three times to watch a Christmas movie in a cozy-couple or cozy-family kind of way, but I’ve fallen asleep each time.
  • I haven’t done Christmas baking.
  • Our tree remains undecorated.

Lots to look forward to!

But Christmas IS coming. And people don’t really mind getting cards after December 25th, right? DD1 is home! Tonight, we’ll be dining out – the only such event for the year – with our three daughters. Monday, my sister will host the extended family gift exchange. If I get completely rid of my cold, I’ll be belting out carols at church Christmas eve and again on the day itself, all  gathered around the piano after we host the big family dinner. (I love that.) There will be time for visits and skating and skiing. I’ll be able to watch movies from start to finish.

Definitely not without expense, but it will probably be our most frugal Christmas yet. Our gift budget is slimmer than ever. We are not buying take-out meals, as we have through past Decembers, in an effort to cope with the combined business and busy-ness of the season. I miss the social events we’ve given up this year, but I’ve used some of my time over the week-ends to cook meals for the week. All kinds of savings in those last two sentences.

If my comments were working, I’d ask how you determine the boundaries for spending and for going out over the holidays. But as it is, I’ll wish you, instead, a wonderful holiday season of rest and fun and love. And if you celebrate the day, MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Comments weren’t working when I first posted this, but they are now. Your comments are welcome.

 

My 2nd Meeting With Debt-Debs: Finding “Community” in PF Blog Community

When texting, tweeting, e-mailing & phoning don’t work, sometimes you can try knocking.

Worry when a blogger goes silent

I’ve been worried about Debt-Debs. A fellow debt-blogger, Debs took the initiative this past summer to ask me questions and to establish the fact that she and I live not only in the same city, but in the same neighbourhood. We decided to meet and had a great talk at Tim Hortons in August. We started to follow each other’s blogs and to communicate regularly. Debs, a type-A keener, had a huge blogging network and new ideas that made my type-B head spin. I was impressed by her Word Press savvy, and grateful for the help she offered to give me with some of my technical stumbling blocks. We were going to meet for a second time – this time at her place – in October, but I received an e-mail message from her the day before our intended meeting: “Something has come up and I won’t be able to get together tomorrow.  Will be in touch so we can reschedule.” But there was no rescheduling, and the online Debs soon vanished. No more blog posts. No more comments on other blogs. No more tweets.

As a relative newbie to the online scene, this was a first for me, and I felt a dread about it. This can’t be good. Every possibility went through my mind. She’s sick. Her husband has been injured. She’s lost her job. Her marriage is breaking up. There has been a death in the family. I sent a direct message via Twitter. No response. I sent an e-mail. No response. I texted. No response. I phoned and left a voice message. No response.

Navigating another’s withdrawal

She doesn’t want to be contacted. It’s a scenario that is hard to navigate. I’ve been in situations where I really have wanted to be left alone, and my guideline in dealing with the withdrawal of others is to offer support and then accept the response. I generally interpret silence as “No, please leave me alone.” But there’s always that doubt. Does this silence really mean, “You need to ask more loudly”?

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Anne@UGifter:  “I was wondering if you have heard from Debt Debs at all?  There are a whole bunch of us who are worried about her, as she’s disappeared from the face of the (internet) earth. I know you met up with her before, so I was hoping you might be able to text her or something?” I answered, saying that I had tried to contact Debs several times, but that I’d received no response. That made Anne even more concerned. “Oh wow, the mystery deepens even further! I’m surprised she hasn’t even answered calls.  I really hope she’s okay . . . I know a lot of people would be relieved to hear anything, just a confirmation that she’s dealing with life, etc.  For someone so engaged to completely disappear for so long makes me worry.”

Would I be overstepping the boundaries if I knocked on her door? I played in my mind the possible consequences to such a move: Maybe they’ll think I’m overbearing and insensitive. Maybe they’ll slam the door in my face. Maybe I’ll just make them feel awkward and add to their suffering. I was not comfortable with these thoughts, and not surprisingly, over a week passed with no door-knocking. Then Thursday night, I read a post by Cecilia@thesingledollar in which she mentioned her concern for Debt Debs and other bloggers who had “disappeared.” OK, I thought. No more delay. I made a search in my e-mail messages, found her address, and MapQuested directions (which my daughter tells me is terribly outdated – “Don’t write that!“) for what turns out is an eight-minute drive from our house.

Knock

Friday morning, I stopped at a store and bought a blank “thinking of you” card on my way to work. If she doesn’t want to see me, I can at least leave the card with her. Part way home from work, I realized that I had left the card in my office, still blank. Doesn’t matter. I’m going. Once I  exited the highway and entered our neighbourhood, I turned off the radio so that I could get in the zone. Give me discernment. Give me the right words. There were two cars in the driveway. They’re home. I knocked.

A man opened the door. Debs’ husband – “the Irishman.” He smiled and let me in when I asked for Debs. There was a Christmas tree, not yet decorated, by the staircase. It didn’t feel like a household in grief. “Who can I say is calling?” he asked. I gave my name, and as he went upstairs, I became acquainted with the yappy little dog who seemed very put out by my presence. Soon I heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

“How are you doing?” asked a familiar voice.

No injury. No apparent illness. Clearly still united with the Irishman. Tired. But healthy.

“The question is, how are YOU doing?” I said. And I hugged her.

Debs seemed to be a bit unprepared for my emotion, and I told her that I had been worried. That many people had been worried. She hurriedly explained that the “something” that had come up in October was work-related, and that it had resulted in 16-hour work days and 7-day work weeks. “Can you stay for a while?” she asked. I said I’d love to stay for fifteen minutes or so. “Would you like some tea, or wine, or beer?” I opted for tea, and we sat at her kitchen table.

Our fifteen minutes together turned into forty-five, and I got an idea of the relentless pace that both she and her husband have kept over the last two months. Not a fun time. And not a time that allows for any blogging at all. She has stayed clear of her “Debt Debs” e-mail and Twitter accounts as part of a strategy to cope with the mountains of work she’s had to tackle. We talked about what we like about blogging. About our respective debts. About prioritizing blog activities.  “I remember one guy stopped blogging, and I couldn’t understand why someone would do that,” she said. “But life can throw you for a loop. And it’s happened to me.” I talked about the limits I find it necessary to impose on my blog life. Debs said she has a hard time scaling back on something once she’s become passionate about it. It tends to be all or nothing for her.

“So how is everyone doing?” she asked with a nostalgic smile. It took me a few seconds to realize she meant fellow bloggers, and I told her what I could about those we both know. I asked if I could tell people that she was OK, and while she said I could, she was a bit worried. “I’m sorry I made everyone alarmed! I  just … People are going to say what a b@#!% I am for not keeping in touch!” I assured her that they wouldn’t. I knew how happy I was to discover that she was fine, and I knew that everyone else would feel the same relief.

New beginnings?

Debs’ crazy work schedule is going to come to an end December 31, and she’s considering getting back into the blogosphere in the new year. I encouraged her to do so. “And remember it’s OK to set boundaries on the time you spend on your blog life,” I said. She said she might need some advice about that. Perhaps our next get-together will be at my house.

If any bloggers out there find that they have to step back at some point, consider letting your readers know about it. Behind every post, every comment, and every read, there’s a real person. We care about you, and we really do want to know how you’re doing. And even though our interactions are almost entirely online, we are a community.


Technical difficulties made comments impossible a few days after this was posted, but everything is working again. Your comments are welcome.

 

 

5th Semi-Annual Report: $100, 000 Down!

Double-handed fist pump.

DH = Dear Husband

A six-figure milestone

DH and I went to the bank this morning to deposit the cheque for our November debt-reduction. Our business debt has been undergoing a steady assault over the last several months: $5,000 in August; $4,000 in September; $2,500 in October; and now $3,000 for November. I almost never accompany DH on these monthly visits to the bank, but this time was special. And after making the deposit, we walked across the parking lot to Tim Hortons for a celebratory breakfast . November’s number has brought us to a milestone. We have paid off $100,000 in debt!

Here is our 5th semi-annual report:


June 1, 2012

Debt #1: New car debt – $8,600

Debt #2: Old car & course & dog debt – $12,800

Debt #3: Business debt – $80,800

Debt #4: Mortgage – $155,000

Grand Total: $257,200


 December 6, 2014

Debt #1: New car debt – $0

Debt #2: Old car & course & dog debt – $0

Debt #3: Business debt – $23,500

Debt #4: Mortgage – $133,500

Grand Total: $157,000


 First 5 Semi-Annual Totals:

June 2012 – November 2012: $26,000

December 2012 – May 2013: $24,000

June 2013 – November 2013: $16,000

December 2013 – May 2014: $11,200

June 2014 – November 2013: $23,000


 November’s story

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have been struck by the fact that October and November’s debt-repayments were quite low for this time of year. DH runs a home business, and by far his busiest time takes place through the weeks leading up to Christmas. Sometimes as early as September, the phone starts to ring more often, and e-mail inquiries pile up. By late November, it can be punishing, our excitement about brisk business giving way to a sense of overwhelmed exhaustion. Last year, in 2013, we paid off a total of $12,000 for the months of October and November. In 2012, we paid off slightly more. So while a total of $5,500 for October and November this year is good, it’s not what I was hoping for.

Variable income & expenses with home business

If you run a home business, you might know just how irregular and unpredictable things can be. Sometimes, you hit a sweet spot where business is great, expenses are low, and there are no accounting surprises. At other times, business is slow just when you need to buy expensive new equipment, and the accountant makes a suggestion that, while great for the long-term, involves a few thousand immediately. October and November were months of high expenses, accounting surprises, as well as slower business than normal for this time of year. As we approached the end of November, I kept hoping for that Christmas rush to kick in full force. But it didn’t. DH was hoping that he would be able to meet all expenses without reversing the debt. I resigned myself to a $0 debt-repayment for the month.

Elusive steadiness through the ups & downs of debt journey

As the days leading up to this semi-annual report went by, I formulated in my mind the post I would write about short-term disappointments and the need to take them in stride in order to succeed in the long-term quest of debt-freedom. I felt heartened by the fact that DH was indeed getting Christmas rush business Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. “Do you think we can pay something off the debt after all?” I asked him yesterday morning before I headed off to work. “No,” he answered. “It’s been a good week, but let’s just wait for the end of December.”

Logically, I think it shouldn’t matter to me whether or not we make a repayment every single month. But there is more than logic going on in this journey out of debt. I feel a real letdown, a discouragement, a loss of momentum when we can’t manage to repay anything. And so I went off to work battling the blahs and doing a little logical self-talk. DH’s business is picking up. It’s great that he was able to pay off all of those expenses. Last year, November was high and December was low. Maybe this year, it will be reversed . . .

When I came home from work, DH’s first words to me were, “You’re going to want to kiss me.” Then he hugged me and whispered in my ear. “3,300. Today.” (Believe me. That’s not a typical daily total.) I kissed him.

I really hope I will develop that steady patience which will see me through the good and bad months with equal serenity. As I’ve come to realize, my emotions have had too much negative sway over our finances through the years. But right now, as I process the sudden switch from an expected $0 repayment to unexpectedly hitting the $100,000 milestone, I’m soaking in the encouragement and catching new momentum. On to the next $100,000!

Have you managed to attain a steadiness despite the ups and downs of your journey out of debt? Is it even possible to be above it all?


Comments are welcome.


 

 

Prudence Debtfree & DH from the Pulpit: The Podcast

I was hoping I would be able to hide behind the pulpit. But it’s made of glass.

DH = Dear Husband

Last Sunday, DH and I delivered the message at our church. Our pastor, who knew about our journey out of debt, had asked us if we’d be willing to share it as part of his sermon series on the renewal of the mind. We accepted, and after presenting last week, we were amazed at the level of response we received. It was like a barrier had been broken. We hadn’t presented as people who had our financial act together. We hadn’t presented as people who had made it to the finish line. We had presented as people who were in the midst of digging ourselves out of a financial hole, and as such, we were people to whom many others could relate. Others who had evidently carried their financial burdens in silent shame. Perhaps especially at church. There was some amazement. “Nobody talks about their debts!” And relief. “I have so much I want to talk with you about. Can we have coffee some time?”

To American readers (and listeners), I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!

Here is the podcast of our message. (I have to admit, I’m feeling somewhat vulnerable putting this out there! If you choose to listen and you have anything nice to say, please leave a comment.)


 Comments are especially welcome this time : )


 

Midweek Guest Post: A Struggle to Enjoy Wealth after Years of Frugality

Sunset in Mexico. One of many trips for FFF and her husband.

I wish I had this problem! Is it possible to be too frugal? Is there ever a time to let up on frugal habits? My financially-free friend (FFF) thinks so.

History of reluctant spending

Old habits die hard

Changing long-standing habits is tough. Anyone who has ever tried to stop chewing their fingernails or spending hours on Facebook, or tried to start going to the gym instead of the couch after work knows this all too well. The idea that I’ve been playing with since being asked to write this entry is that, through my life, the way I have been with money is habitual; a well-practised, well-wired pattern of behaviour that is resistant to change regardless of changing life circumstances.

We hear a lot about the habit of over spending. I’m a reluctant spender. Spending isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally. I’m getting better at it, I’m happy to say. It’s about time!

Growing up, I had very frugal role models in my parents. I learned, through my observations and deductions over the years, that spending a lot of money, especially on self and personal possessions was a weakness. No-name brands were the way to go. Zeller’s jeans were good enough. It was far more impressive to ride a 15-year old rusted Canadian Tire bike than to give in to media and peer pressures to buy the latest and greatest.

So I learned not to spend. When I travelled, I travelled on the cheap. I used the book “Europe on $10 a Day” as a guide, but I made it my own personal challenge to spend even less! I got my first job as a teacher in 1981. Over the next 30 years, my yearly salary would increase from $18,000 to $80,000. I furnished my first “working girl’s” apartment with garage sale acquisitions. Two years after starting my career, I finally purchased something new: a Sony record player. It felt great but also a little excessive.

When my first husband and I went to buy our first home, I couldn’t stand the idea of owing anyone money (ie: having a mortgage). We agreed to buy the smallest fixer-upper we could possibly find close to our favourite part of town but definitely on the wrong side of the tracks, and do all the renovations ourselves. We took in renters upstairs to pay off the small, but necessary, mortgage. After 2 years we sold this house for a lot more than we paid for it and were able to move into a bigger, more comfortable home to start our family.

A slow letting go

We slowly allowed ourselves to start taking holidays and replace second-hand furniture with new pieces. There was a slow letting go of the self-imposed restraint I had come to know so well. I sometimes even ordered something from a menu based on what I wanted to eat rather than what was the cheapest option! It felt liberating on the one hand, but risky on the other. There was still a strong voice within me that cautioned against throwing caution to the wind. I reminded myself to keep it under control.

Six years ago, I remarried. I feel very fortunate on so many levels, but what is applicable here is that my husband and I have a lot of financial freedom. We are both retired. We have a nice home that is completely paid for. We can travel, pursue our interests, eat out and buy artwork. But old habits die hard. I’m still wired for frugality. I still hesitate. I still find myself buying the boots that are on sale rather than the ones I like best. When shopping for things for the house, I still ask, “do we need it?” The difference now is that I sometimes allow “want” to have importance too, regardless of need. I don’t need to go to Hawaii this winter, but when my husband suggested it, I didn’t hesitate to jump right on board.

What do you think? Should FFF abandon her frugality copletley? Or is it still serving her well? 


Comments are welcome!


 

 

Breaking Debt-Talk Taboo in Church

One of the verses I quoted was Luke 14;28

DH = Dear Husband

“Thank you,” said the woman who was sitting behind us at the end of the church service. “I really appreciate your courage in sharing. I’m sure that what you said touched everyone here.”

“I have so much I want to talk with you about,” said one of the greeters. Her eyes were welling. “Could we have a coffee some time?”

“Thank you for your message,” said the young father of two toddlers. And he told me about the struggles his parents had had with money as well as the plans that he and his wife were trying to sort out.

“Can you send me information about that book?” asked the pastor’s brother as he passed me his e-mail address. I told him I’d be happy to. I had spoken about Dave Ramsey’s book as part of my talk. “It was excellent,” he said – and then paused intentionally, holding my gaze to let me know it was not a trite comment. “It really was.”

DH and I spoke at church this morning. About two months ago, our pastor approached us and asked if we would be willing to give a testimony about our journey out of debt as a full sermon. He was doing a series on the renewal of the mind, and he wanted to touch upon the topic of money. I suggested to him that perhaps it would be better to ask someone else – someone who had long had personal finances all figured out. He responded by saying that most people struggle with money, and that since we had done so much thinking and soul searching about our debt, we were in a good position to share our thoughts and experiences. We accepted. And this morning, we spoke at the pulpit.

Our message will eventually be available as a podcast, and I’ll provide a link to it when it is, but more important than what we said was how people responded to it. Have you ever been to a presentation that touched people so profoundly that they were speechless for a period of time afterwards? It was like that. After he had returned to his seat, DH actually broke the slightly awkward silence with a joke. Chuckles rippled through the congregation, and the pastor finally found his voice. “What can I say but ”Thank you’?” he said. He later explained that he had thought he would do a wrap up for our talk, but that when the time came, he couldn’t find the words.

My writing of a weekly blog post about our journey out of debt has had the effect of making me very comfortable talking about money struggles. I sometimes forget that it’s still a taboo topic. But it is, and most people suffering from financial stress do so in silence. “Nobody talks about this stuff,” said the greeter during our conversation. “I mean you hear the statistics about high debt levels, but nobody ever talks about their own debt. You hear from the people who have paid off their mortgages, but you never hear from the ones who are sinking in debt.”

I had a sense that the floodgates had broken, and that people were relieved – but didn’t quite know what to do or say. I believe that many open money talks took place around the various lunch tables of our congregation after church today. “You were courageous,” I heard more than once. But while the public speaking made me nervous, the topic held no anxiety for me. No courage required.

A man with whom DH had only ever spoken at a surface level approached him to share his precarious employment and financial stress, his eyes welling up.

“You got me thinking of the money messages I received in my childhood,” said the pastor. “My parents always argued about what to buy. I learned that money was something to fight about, and that creditors were to be held at bay – meanwhile, you’d buy boats and hockey equipment …” DH couldn’t believe that even the pastor had been moved by our testimony.

“I wrote down the line that [DH] repeated,” a friend said to me over the phone this evening. “I think I was meant to hear it.”

“Maybe this was bigger than we can know,” said DH a couple of hours ago. I think he’s right. And I’m amazed. I didn’t know that by opening up to present our story, we’d be tapping into the stress of so many – offering unaccustomed relief by a sheer acknowledgement that debt problems exist  – and real people, not just statistics, have them. I didn’t realize, even though we were speaking on a Sunday morning at church, that we were providing ministry.

Do you see that debt struggles have, among other things, a spiritual element? Have you ever felt the relief of knowing that someone else shared your struggles?


Comments are welcome.


 

 

Fruclassity Commandment #6: Financial Equality in Marriage Partnership

DH = Dear Husband

Fruclassity: Frugality with a touch of class … for the not-so-badass. If you’ve been reading recent posts on this site or over at The Frugal Farmer with Laurie, you’re getting familiar with the concept of fruclassity. Humbled by an honest recognition that Mr. Money Moustache’s badassity is awesome – but out of our league – Laurie and I are inspired to define, flesh out, and explore the different facets and expressions of our frugality brand.

Today, I’m going to delve into yet another of the 10 Commandments of Fruclassity:

#6. If you are married, approach your finances as a team of two equal partners. One person might have more money savvy, but to have success in your financial practices and goals, both of you have to be committed to them. The number one reason for divorce these days is conflict over finances, so take this one seriously! Find that balance between flexibility and structure – between tenacity and accommodation. Maintain high levels of detailed communication. Get on the same page financially, and write your story together.

DH & Prudence

1. Our dismal starting point: Chaos & control

Before DH and I married, we hardly talked at all about our respective financial plans or ideals. After all, we were in love. Mundane, not to mention taboo topics of income, budgets, savings, and investments had no place in our romance. And love conquers all, right? So we married with our financial heads in the sand. Mine was dug in quite a bit more deeply than his. For my part, I had a warm, heart-felt certainty that some day, I would be a stay-at-home mom of a large family, and DH would climb the ladder of high-tech success. A rather 1950s vision for a self-professed feminist, but I saw the value in having a parent at home, and it was what I truly longed for. It didn’t translate, for me, into the powerlessness of the stereotype ’50s woman. I would be an equal partner as a stay-at-home mom. We’d have a beautiful home, happy community life, and ample funding for travel, frequent dining out, and generous giving to church and charity.

Ha! That’s almost funny.

I didn’t bother to consult DH with regards to these fantasies of domestic bliss. If I had, I would have discovered that his vision was quite different from mine. He looked forward to a two-income lifestyle with one or two children, and plenty of time, money, and energy for the “good life” – as modeled for us by ads featuring yuppy ideals of the times.

In one of my first posts, I wrote about the respective money blueprints that DH and I brought into our marriage. In a nutshell, DH had, without being aware of it, come to an acceptance that money was something to worry about – and to control. So whenever there was a threat of healthy finances, he would spend lavishly to get himself back to the requisite baseline of worry. As for my blueprint, I had learned that money came from “the man” (some feminist!), and that by making a fuss, I could dip into as much of it as I wanted. I spent according to mood and I brought a chaotic force to our finances. So control married chaos; worry married moody. “Carelessly in debt,” I wrote in that early post, “I married a man who was always worried about money and anxiously wanting to control it.  Mind you, he was in debt too.  Eeeek!” One thing we had in common was a taste for the good life. Great.

2. Our unhealthy patterns: Building a weak foundation

I believe that both of us accepted DH’s position as financial manager in part because he, a full-time high-tech professional, was earning significantly more than I was as a part-time teacher. Furthermore, I was not at all inclined to deal with our accounts, and was glad to leave them with DH – except for when he didn’t want me to spend as I chose. There was a constant irritation between us even in the early days, characterized by his knee jerk “No!” and my carelessness. My rare attempts at rational money talk were not trusted. Occasional relief would come when DH would suggest a splurge – which I always eagerly encouraged. A trip out west with the kids. Renovations. A week-end get-away for us.

3. Financial distress: Bitterness & frustration

After DH had gone through the roller coaster of the high tech bust, everything had to change. Now, we were both worried. Our household income plunged, and we agreed on a strategy of frugality. Still unaware of our money blueprints, however, we continued to function according to them. When I think back, we made some crazy big expenditures over those years that we blatantly could not afford: an expensive, time-consuming interest course for DH, a new car for me, and a pure-bred dog for our daughters come to mind. We kept ourselves in awful financial stress through a combination of denial and reaction in our accustomed unhealthy patterns of financial management – even as we “tried” to be frugal. Our marriage became strained to the breaking point. I was bitter about my dashed hopes for staying home with our three children, and I was resentful of the control DH continued to exert – even though I was the one keeping us afloat. DH experienced the extreme frustration of not having the answers.

4. Recognition of a need for change: Stepping up

When DH’s home-based business started to succeed, we could hardly believe it. Were things going to go back to normal? No. “Normal” wasn’t good. We knew that much. I stepped up in terms of my willingness to engage in the management of our finances. DH stepped up in terms of releasing control. We shared ideas and discussed possibilities. We were becoming a team – but in a sloppy, unfocused game.

5. The road to debt-freedom: Platform for an equal partnership

Our game plan became crystal clear after we had listened to the CD version of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. We would get out of debt! And we had a strategy to do so. It is remarkable, now that I think about it, that I was the one who first got excited about Ramsey’s advice – I, who had been so dismissive of finances for so long. And it is equally remarkable that DH was completely receptive when I said, “You have got to listen to this!” – he, who had been so much in control, was humbly listening, willing to learn.

The Ramsey mandate gives us a context for our ongoing plans, discussions, and – yes – disagreements. Right now, we disagree about whether expenses for my mother’s 90th birthday bash should be funded from our discretionary or shared accounts. I say the celebrations fall into the “needs” category. He categorizes them as “wants”. Sure we disagree – but we can discuss it rationally. Our awareness of our own and each other’s pitfalls allows for more effective decision making. When DH wanted to splurge (that old pattern again) on an anniversary get-away, I did not eagerly accept it. I challenged his idea, and we opted for a different plan. And when I’ve wanted to “help” one of our daughters out of her own poor money management, I have not only accepted DH’s “No,” I have learned to be grateful for it.

How about you?

I wonder how much grief we would have spared ourselves if we had done the “mundane, unromantic” work of financial discussion and planning before we married. Have you ever struggled with finances in a significant relationship? Do you know of anyone who actually had this all figured out before marriage? And what do you think? Do my mom’s 90th birthday celebrations fall into the “needs” category or the “wants” category? (I’ll let you know who wins out on this one.)


Comments are welcome!


 

 

Mid-Week Guest Post: At the Border between Debt-Denial and Debt-Reduction

Contrary to CF’s belief, my eyes do not have the power to bore through the back of her skull.

This week’s guest post is written by a good friend from church (one of the two CFs with whom I get together on an almost weekly basis) who was acting strangely towards me when I went to speak with her after the service last Sunday. The message had been on the topic of money, and when I said, “The sermon was good, wasn’t it?” I discovered why she had been acting so oddly. “I could feel your eyes boring into the back of my skull!” she said. My eyes had done no such thing! They don’t have that kind of power. I was fascinated by the fact that she had transferred her conscience to me though, and I was grateful when she agreed to write a post.

Witnessing Prudence’s journey out of debt

My friend Prudence Debtfree asked me to be a guest blogger for her this week, and I was honoured to say yes.

I have watched her since the beginning of her journey out of debt and have had the privilege of learning with her along the way.  She caught the fever of getting out of debt with a gazelle intensity. I, on the other hand, have been struggling with this idea of debt-reduction.  I have become more aware of my finances since Prudence started her journey, but I am slow to adopt that gazelle intensity in tackling my debts.

Taboo on money talk

She has helped me to be more conscious of money and how I am handling (or mishandling) it.  She actually talks about money matters out loud. I’m not used to that! It made me nervous at first, but I am willing to listen and on occasion engage in a money conversation, which is a big step for me.  We didn’t talk about money at home as I was growing up, and it seemed to be a big secret.  For instance,  I was not taught how to manage money, and I got the impression that you should never ask how much someone paid for something (that was rude). Making a budget was unheard of;  following one was a real mystery.  I had to muddle through in my teen years, often spending all my money – as it was all mine, with no bills to worry about. I don’t seem to have progressed enough since then.

Eyes boring through head

I was in church last Sunday listening to the pastor’s message dealing with money issues, and I could feel Prudence’s eyes boring into the back of my head.  I discussed it with her after the service and she said she wasn’t doing anything of the kind.  It was just my conscience deflecting my guilt and reading it as judgement, which Prudence has never given to me.  She has always been kind and thoughtful in the way she has shared information about and struggles with her journey out of debt.

Head half-in & half-out of the sand

I don’t think she realizes the impact she has had on me.  My money awareness is now always in the back of my mind. Prudence was instrumental in getting me to face my taxes and get them done – something I had ignored for a few years.  I’m still part ostrich though, and I figure if I bury my head in the sand and ignore the facts, my debt will somehow miraculously disappear.  That has not been the case though, and part of me knows it will not be the case. I need to confront my “giant” and deal with it head on.

I have to say I am a yo-yoer when it comes to debt.  I get all gun-ho, face it, and deal with the issues at hand.  I’m good for a while, and then I fall off the wagon again.  Some of my successes have included doing the catch up thing with my taxes and getting current (although I have to admit, I have yet to do this year’s taxes – but I intend to get on that soon –  hmmmm…)  I went on a winter vacation last winter, but I actually saved the money and was able to pay for the trip beforehand instead of putting it on credit.  That is something I would not have consciously tried to do in the past.  These small successes have given me the encouragement to believe I may actually be making progress in my journey out of debt.  I am indeed my own worst enemy, as when I am stressed or feeling insecure, I tend to go shopping and buy things I don’t need but are sparkly.  This is a temporary fix, and I often beat myself up later. “Why did I buy this? I don’t need it!”  The next step would be to return these things back to the store, which I have done on occasion (but not often enough), and the final step would be to  get to the point where I don’t even make the purchases in the first place.  I’m the only one who can make the decision and commitment it takes to see it through to the end.

Turtle intensity

Prudence’s subtle impact is making a difference, albeit slowly. Her talks about her money challenges and victories have been heard.  Now I just need a kick in the pants to get going. I’m not sure what form that will take, but I do know one thing….Prudence has helped me to make changes; maybe not like a gazelle, maybe more like a turtle.

Thank you Prudence!


Comments are welcome!


 

 

Fruclassity Commandment #8: Gratitude

DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

DH = Dear Husband

Yesterday morning, I was in a panic. Instead of driving to the high school where I work, I was going to a used book sale with the mission to buy books for our school library. A change from the routine is always a good thing, but the book sale was in a part of the city I wasn’t familiar with, and being directionally-challenged, I was stressed. Furthermore, I had to take a bus since I had agreed to let DD2 use the car. And it was snowing. And I had to dash around the house looking for where I’d stored my winter boots, hat, and gloves. So I missed my bus. Hence, there I was at the bus stop, feeling frustrated by my lack of organization, and disappointed that I might not be at the sale in time for its opening.

I eventually accepted the twenty-five minute wait in store for me, and I found myself soaking in the beauty of the scene at the bus stop. Despite my recent scramble to locate winter clothes, now that I was wearing them, I felt that familiar childlike thrill with the first snowfall. And it was unexpectedly charming to see autumn and winter battle it out. Most of the trees were bare, but a few stubbornly clung to their still brilliantly coloured leaves, defying the advancing calendar and the falling snow. The grass was still a rich green, and it vanquished every flake that tried to cover it – turning it into a glistening dampness. I took out my cell phone and snapped a photo, inspired with a topic for my Saturday morning post. And in the end, I arrived at the book sale just as it was opening.

photo 2

My photo didn’t capture it, but snow was falling as autumn and winter battled it out.

Fruclassity & gratitude

A week ago, Laurie at The Frugal Farmer wrote a post which outlined the 10 commandments of fruclassity. Fruclassity is a term that Laurie and I coined in recognition of the fact that, although we’re both wowed by Mr. Money Moustache, neither of us is inclined to take on the extreme frugality inherent in his subculture of badassity. Fruclassity is frugality with a touch of class – for the not so badass. Commandment #8 is about gratitude:

8. Develop gratitude for what you already have.  Marketing machines aim to make us dissatisfied and to long for something we don’t have.  Consumer spending can be like a drug addiction. Recognize that you don’t need that next “hit” any more than you needed the last one.  Take on an attitude of gratitude for what you have now. If you’re satisfied with what you already have, you’ll be less susceptible to longing, and you won’t spend in your search for that mythical “something” that keeps eluding you.

Surgery gives new sight to a blind man

A year ago this month, an article appeared in our local newspaper about Donald Wellington, a man who had been blind for 61 years and who, as a result of advanced medical treatments, had his sight restored in 1995 . “My eyes are too powerful!” the 66-year-old had reported with the shock of perfect vision at the time. Over the months, he adjusted to visual clarity, but almost twenty years later, it can’t be said that he has become used to it. When asked in November of 2013 whether or not he had travelled since the restoration of his eyesight, the 85-year-old Wellington had trouble answering. He had only been to a few small towns less than an hour’s drive from home. And why hadn’t he travelled farther away? To enjoy the sights of the world that were now available to him? “It’s beautiful here,” he answered. Pointing to a flag fluttering in the breeze he said, “I could look at that all day.”

Gratitude gives new sight to the sighted

It is remarkable that a man resigned to blindness should be so grateful for the gift of sight that he is more than satisfied with the views close to home. But here is something more surprising: People sighted from birth have the potential to see with new clarity – without surgery. Gratitude opens our eyes.

This past summer, I must have remarked a thousand times about how beautiful it was. The grass was incredibly lush, and gardens were gorgeous. “There’s been tons of  rain this summer,” I said in the way of explanation. But when fall came around, the frequency of my remarks held steady. Some friends even playfully mocked me. “Yeah, yeah,” said the colleague I drive home from work. “What a nice tree, and look at that rock, and look at that – uh – bridge.” And yesterday, as winter tried – unsuccessfully I might add – to set in, I was still struck by beauty. What’s going on?

Autumn wins

By the time I had to catch the bus home in the afternoon, autumn had clearly won the battle of the seasons.

Cultivating gratitude … through debt-reduction

In his article “Cultivating the Art of Gratitude“, published in USA Today July 2013, Robert Emmons asserts that when we make the effort to acknowledge and identify what makes us happy, and to express appreciation for it, we develop a gratitude that actually opens us up to a greater reception of these happiness-inducers. And with gratitude, he says, come all kinds of other psychological and health benefits. “Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.” As part of our efforts to get out of debt, DH and I have sifted through our various expenditures to figure out which ones we really need and which ones truly add to our happiness. In determining our value-based priorities, we have eliminated a lot of wasteful spending, and we have been more conscious of what we appreciate. This deliberate awareness has developed our gratitude.

Emmons lists a number of “couterintuitive” findings in gratitude literature. Here is one that hit home for me:  “Remembering one’s sorrows, failures, and other painful experiences is more beneficial to feeling grateful than is recalling only successes. A reversal of fortune–a redemptive twist in your life when a difficult challenge is conquered-primes the pump of gratitude.” It has been necessary for us, in facing our debts, to reflect upon our former bad money habits. To take ownership of how poorly we set ourselves up, so that DH’s career shake-up sent us into years of financial distress. As we have opened our eyes to the hard facts, we have taken on our failures and have started working a reversal. And we can see the difference it’s making! This “conquering of a difficult challenge” has “primed the pump of gratitude” for us.

Two byproducts of my unintentionally developed gratitude:

1. Joy and enthusiasm

So that explains my happy bursts of enthusiasm for the beauty I see in the world these days. Joy and enthusiasm are byproducts of gratitude. I didn’t set out to be more grateful. But gratitude has developed from my greater awareness of what I appreciate and from my reflections upon the failures that we are overcoming. Like Donald Wellington, who gained his sight after years of blindness, I’m seeing with new eyes.

2. Protection against envy and bitterness

Here’s another unexpected byproduct of my newly developed gratitude: I used to long for travel – honestly, like a drug – to the extent that I actually felt a bitter sense of deprivation because first our tight finances and then our debt-reduction didn’t allow for it. I was envious of people who were visiting different parts of the world. But gratitude is evidently protecting me from envy and bitterness. And while I’m sure I’ll be open to more extensive travel, once we’re debt-free, than Donald Wellington has been since regaining his sight, I’m not yearning for it now the way I used to. I don’t feel deprived. I am excited for friends and family who are seeing the world, but I feel satisfied. Because I share Donald Wellington’s view. And it’s beautiful here.


Comments are welcome.