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Commuting Blues = Early Retirement Goal

It’s Sunday evening, and there’s a lovely view outside. The snow is falling, and since it’s been falling for a few hours, everything looks like a Christmas card. This is the kind of scene that makes winter look inviting. The caption could be, “Get out your toboggan!” Or, “Time to get your skis on!” Or, “Walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

But for me, and for thousands like me, the message is this: “Tomorrow’s commute to work is going to be brutal! Leave at least an hour early.”

3 commutes from hell in one week

The second last Tuesday before holidays, I left the house at 7:20, trying to stifle a nagging thought at the back of my mind that I’d blown it: I was going to be late for work. The snow was falling rather gracefully, so I tried to convince myself I could still make it in to my job – at a high school – by 8:00. In a burst of proactive decision-making, I chose a different route – one my colleague had sworn was always reliable. Within 10 minutes, I knew something was up.

It took another two hours for me to find out what that something was: a lane closure at about the half-way point, caused by an accident. I pulled into work at 10:15, my soul sucked dry by the 3-hour commute. “I NEVER want to go through that again,” I thought.

The next day, a Wednesday, snow still falling, I was on the road just after 7:00 … And I walked into work just before the 9:00 bell.

Thursday, I left for work at 6:45. “Not taking any chances,” I thought. But even then, my normally 40-minute commute to work more than doubled to an hour-and-a-half.

FIRE types blast commuting

Early retirement bloggers have nothing good  to say about commuting. They live close to their places of work, and they bus, cycle, or walk to get there. In a post from 2011, Mr. Money Mustache itemizes the evils of a 40-minute commute over the long-term – wasted money, wasted time, stress, danger … And he doesn’t even include snow storms.

Whenever conversations about work-life balance arise, I speak as the FIRE types do, and argue for intentionally setting up close to work to avoid long commutes. But for me, it’s too late. The costs, financial and otherwise, of moving out of our home don’t make sense – especially since DH is established here in his home business. And the idea of trying to find work at a school closer to home? I am so much happier at my current school than I have been at any other. That counts for something, and I’m not willing to give it up – especially this close to retirement.

Retirement miscalculation & MMM’s less-$-needed

I recently realized a huge oversight I had made in calculating my retirement year and income. The upshot of it was that while I correctly identified June of 2019 as the earliest I could qualify for a pension, I overestimated that pension by $8,000 annually. My pension income would actually be only half of my current income if I took that 2019 retirement date. “You might have to work longer,” DH said. I agreed.

But when I was sitting in traffic for 3 hours that Tuesday morning, I thought it would be worth at least $8,000 per year NOT to have to commute anymore.

Another Mr. Money Mustache concept is this: if you get used to frugal living, not only can you retire earlier thanks to more money saved and invested, you can also retire earlier because your expenses, having become lower with a simpler lifestyle, can be funded with less money.

My financial freedom date: still June 2019

My $8,000 per year miscalculation is no small deal, but I believe we can set things up so that the lower-than-anticipated income will be more than enough. If we play it right, I should be able to say “Good-bye” to the morning commute in another year and a half. That thought helps me face it for the short term.

As the snow continues to fall outside, I’m mentally preparing myself for a very early start tomorrow morning. My plan is to leave by 6:15.

Do you have a long commute to work? Is there something you can do to change it? Or do you feel stuck with it until retirement? Could you live on 50% of your income in retirement? Your comments are welcome.

*Images courtesy of Jeremy Jenum via flickr and




2018: Our Year of Debt-Freedom

DH = dear husband

As I looked ahead to our journey out of debt in May of 2012, I wrote, “According to my rough calculations, it will take just over five years for us to get there.  But I’m not very good at math, and I know that the unexpected will happen, so I’m not committed to the timing – just the direction of the journey:  out of debt.”

We’ve been following Dave Ramsey’s steps to debt-freedom, and in his book The Total Money Makeover, Ramsey says it takes the average household seven years to get there. As we progressed along our debt-repayment in those first couple of years, it became clear that we were falling in line with that 7-year average. Our projected debt-freedom date: June 2019.

The numbers from our starting point of June 2012:

  • Consumer Debt – $21,400
  • Business Debt – $80,800
  • Mortgage Debt – $155,000
  • Total Debt – $257,200
  • Emergency Fund – Non-existent
  • Investments – Not happening (except for my automatic pension contributions through work)

Our progress as of December 2017:

  • Consumer Debt – Paid
  • Business Debt – Paid
  • Mortgage Debt – $60,000
  • Total Debt – $60,000
  • Emergency Fund – Full
  • Investments – Happening on a regular monthly basis


My mom passed away in November. I remember how heartened and relieved she was when DH and I became focused on debt-reduction. She and my dad (who passed away in 2007) had always been frugal and money-wise, and my many years of financial mismanagement had bewildered and often frustrated them. Our turn-around was of satisfying significance to Mom, and she cheered us on. My sister who lives out west told me that when she would talk with Mom on the phone, Mom would often happily share our debt-reduction progress as part of her newsworthy family updates. I don’t think we ever get too old to enjoy making our parents proud, and a big part of the encouragement I’ve felt over the years in watching our debt numbers drop was in knowing how pleased my mom was about it.

So I write this next part with mixed feelings. The inheritance that I am receiving will move our date of debt-freedom up by about 8 months. Instead of June 2019, it will likely be September 2018.

We can put one lump sum against our mortgage once per year to a maximum of $18,000, and while we had planned to take advantage of that option for 2017, we had no illusions about being able to make the maximum payment. But we have. So to update our update:

  • Mortgage Debt – $42,000
  • Total Debt – $42,000

Of course I’m grateful. Of course it wouldn’t be this way if I had the choice.

Resolutions for 2018

No mortgage penalty

We’re not going to wipe out the mortgage and incur a penalty – no need to waste a cent going that route. We’ll put another maximum lump sum down and pay off the balance with regular monthly payments. That intention in itself is an indication of how far I’ve come. Impatience was a major root of the financial chaos in which I operated for years, and for me, it has been the biggest challenge of our journey out of debt. But I’m not giving in to it. The wisest thing to do is to take our time, pay off the mortgage without penalty, and invest the rest. So that’s what we’re doing.

The moving plank analogy

A less S.M.A.R.T goal that I have is to fine-tune the self-discipline that I’ve been building over these last 5 years. For 2016, my resolution involved a planking analogy. At the end of 2015, we had recently finished Ramsey’s Step #2 (pay off all non-mortgage debt), and were adjusting to steps #3 and #4 (save a big emergency fund and invest regularly). I had found the change difficult. For me, it was more satisfying to attack the debt full-on, with no diversions into savings and investments. I wrote: “I need the core strength – the stability and balance – of patience in my approach to our shifted financial goals. Muscles in the human pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen ideally work in harmony. Efforts towards our savings, investments, mortgage payments, and giving can also progress towards an ideal of harmony. No rush. Slow, steady, progress. Balance. Stability. Just breathe, and hold a little longer … like a plank.”

At the end of 2016, I managed to hold a 5-minute plank. And DH and I also succeeded in reaching a strong, steady habit of saving and investing as well as paying off debt. But I’ve learned something about planking: It’s much better to vary your planking position every 10-30 seconds than it is to hold a single position for several minutes. And I’d like to work that concept into the new steadiness of our personal finances.

I’d like to take another step away from the “all-or-nothing” financial compulsion that I’ve always had. This compulsion has moved from spending-max-out to intensive-debt-payoff to strictly-budgeted-savings/investments/mortgage-payments. The moves have been made in the right direction, and  we have healthier finances as a result. But now, while I want the same level of strength, I also want more flexibility – less “strict”. No surrender to chaos, but more ebb and flow within a strong, steady effort. Less set-in-stone, and more room to adjust … like a moving plank.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Merry Christmas!

Wow! Christmas has taken over big time this year. I haven’t been able to do any blog writing (or reading – sorry!) this past week. I’ll be back at it for the New Year.

If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a wonderful season of celebration.

To everyone, I hope you enjoy some down time, and a chance to meet with friends and family.

See you in 2018!

*Image courtesy of Pexels

New Debt Reduction Analogy: It’s Like Getting Control of a Flea Infestation

This is one of our flea traps – with over 40 caught. (Ugh!)

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear 3rd Daughter

Our dearest Rocky died November 7. When we went to the vet in October to get him treated for fleas, some blood work was done, and it indicated he was having trouble with his kidneys. After another few weeks, he stopped eating and drinking. More tests confirmed kidney failure as well as cancer. DH, our two youngest daughters and I were all with him at the end. Heart-break – which was of course followed by more heart-break November 20. It was so strange that Rocky and my mom left this world within two weeks of each other. They had a very special bond.


The flea treatment Rocky received was very effective. The medication was applied to his skin – between his shoulder blades – and (I think I’ve got this right) it made his blood lethal to the fleas that bit him. So they didn’t. He was comfortable within a day or two.

If Rocky had lived, all fleas that were trying to survive apart from him would soon have been done in. Even strands of fur from a dog treated with this medicine carry enough poison to defeat any flea in their paths. As it was, the fleas had no such weapon to confront, and so they were free to fight for survival.

“Our vet told us that fleas die off in 3 or 4 days without a host,” my cousin’s wife said to me. We found out that that was not strictly true. I learned more about fleas than I ever wanted to in what was essentially a forced crash course on the topic. Here are some basics:

  • There are 4 stages to a fleas life – egg, larva, pupa (when they’re in a cocoon), adult.
  • Adult fleas can survive on human blood, but the eggs they produce while ingesting human blood don’t always do well.
  • The pupa stage can last for as long as half a year.

Our flea story

Itchy ankles

Within a few days of Rocky’s passing, DD3 was getting itchy ankles. It didn’t take long to identify the cause: fleas. We assumed the biting would soon stop – since there was no longer a canine host for them. But it didn’t stop. We tried denial for a few more days, but DD3, besides dealing with grief at the loss of her dog and anxiety for her grandmother, was getting tormented by persistent bites. And my ankles were itchy too …

Salt & baking soda (and washing, storing, vacuuming)

Our crash course began, and we learned that a combination of salt a baking soda would kill fleas. “Sprinkle it on all carpeted areas, as well as fabric-covered furniture, mattresses, and box springs.” We used 9 kg (20 pounds) of salt and the same amount of baking soda to cover

  • all of our upstairs carpeting (stairs, hallway, 4 bedrooms)
  • 4 bed mattresses and box springs
  • a fabric couch

Besides throwing out all of Rocky’s bedding, we threw out the old fabric couch and chair he had always sat on. We slept on sleeping bags on top of our salt-and-baking-soda-covered mattresses. Every sheet and pillow case, every item of DD3’s clothing went through our washing machine. We stored pillows, comforters, and blankets in garbage bags in the shed for two weeks. (Fleas can’t survive freezing temperatures.) We moved as much furniture as we could off of the carpets and into two bathrooms to keep things clear for the vacuum cleaner. (Picture bumping into cluttered storage in the bathrooms at night …) We let the salt and baking soda do its work for a week, and then it was time to vacuum. Everything. Daily vacuuming was then necessary.

Flea traps

At first we bought 2 flea traps and rotated them around different rooms in the house to find out where the worst-hit areas were. After we’d vacuumed up all of the salt and baking soda, we wanted to be able to tell if we’d solved the problem once and for all, so we bought 2 more traps. The first 2 were so littered with fleas, we could no longer tell if new ones were being caught. 3 fleas in one new trap. 5 in another. For several days now, there have been no additions. The whole ordeal took a full month.

So how is a flea infestation like debt reduction?

  • At first we didn’t even know we had a problem with fleas. And then when it became clear that something had to be done, we tried denial – which didn’t work. DH and I had “normal” debt levels for a long time, and we didn’t know that was a problem. When our income plunged due to job loss, the vulnerability of our finances became very clear – but we continued to live in denial of it.
  • DD3’s misery, combined with my itchy ankles, became a call to action. We were jolted out of denial. High levels of financial stress likewise served as a wake-up call for us. We took our heads out of the sand and faced our financial situation head-on.
  • “Experts” said the fleas would die within  days without a host. But that wasn’t true. We had to research, learn, sift through accurate and inaccurate information, judge which strategies would be best to solve our problem. “Experts” also have a lot to say about personal finances, and it can be very confusing. We had to research, learn, sift, and judge to set ourselves on a path to financial health. (We chose to follow the strategies outlined in Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover.)
  • It took a lot of focus, commitment, and work to follow through on our chosen flea-destroying strategies. And at times, it felt like drudgery without result. The fleas were persistent! In the same way, we have had to maintain our commitment to debt reduction for the long haul – even through times when it has felt like a hopeless effort.
  • We beat the fleas. We are also beating debt. In the 5½ years since we started our journey out of debt, from our original $257,000 total, we’ve paid off almost $200,000.
  • Fleas need a host. When Rocky was no longer there to bite, they tried us. The fleas loved DD3; they liked me; but they didn’t touch DH. Go figure! Debt needs a host too. DH and I had to change so that we no longer had the composition of debt hosts.

Have you ever had to deal with fleas? Have you even noticed that bugs seem like biting some people more than others? Are you a debt host? Your comments are welcome.



Reflections on My Mother’s Passing

My mom passed away. When I last posted, just over a month ago, she had been admitted to the hospital after a series of strokes. In hindsight, her final illness was not a long one – two and a half weeks. But while it was unfolding, we were all over the map in terms of prognosis and hope. Even in the final week, I remember being convinced that she was turning around for the better. In the last days, however, it was so clear that no improvement was going to happen, and our best hope was for a peaceful end.

Much to be grateful for

Although it was a time of huge loss and exhausting intensity, I am struck by how much beauty there was in it, and by how much I have to be grateful for.

Most obviously, I’m grateful that Mom lived a long life. She died on her 93rd birthday. And she lived well until the end. Her wonderful trip to Italy in September now takes on iconic proportions.

Mom was at peace with death. When I told her, after the first of her strokes, how sad my eldest was about it, she said, “Tell her I’ve lived a long life. I’ve been very lucky, very blessed. If this is an introduction to death, it’s nothing to be sad about.”

Mom had loved ones by her side through her time in the hospital. My sister who lives out west flew to Ottawa as soon as Mom was hospitalized, and we were all able to maintain a fairly constant vigil. Mom’s fourteen grand-children and two great-grandchildren had a chance to visit – most in person, two via phone. At the very end, she was surrounded by all five of her children as well as one grandchild.

I was treated with great compassion at work. “Do what you need to do. Take the time you need,” the school’s leadership team told me again and again. One day when a colleague asked me how I was doing, I said it was tough and then dryly told her that I was blowing it as Prudence Debtfree. I had no time to grocery shop or cook, and I was eating all of  my meals at the Tim Horton’s in the hospital. Two days later, there were 3 Tim Horton’s gift cards in my mailbox totaling $250. I was moved to tears! I will love my colleagues forever for that kind, kind gesture!

Friends have rallied around with meals, treats, visits, cards, and messages of support. And I was touched by the number of friends who showed up at Mom’s service.

Her memorial service was wonderful. Mom was always very engaged in her community, and although she was predeceased by so many people in her life, the church was packed. It was really uplifting to hug and shake hands with person after person after person who loved her.

I want to be more like my mom

Mom had an enormous capacity for contentment and joy. I remember feeling sad for her when she had to leave her condo in the spring of this year and move into a retirement residence. She had valued her independence, but once the move was made, she was entirely happy in her new home. Her months there were good months.

And in the hospital, that same default to contentment and joy stayed with her. It was a staggering blessing. As the most basic abilities left her, even when she couldn’t speak her love, she lavished it upon us. I will cherish memories of her fixing her eyes on a particular grandchild, and then watching that grandchild light up in the glow of her smile. What a gift!

Love and joy. The first fruits of the Spirit. They were the wellspring of Mom’s abundant life. If you can take 7 minutes to listen to this reflection that she gave in church at the age of 90, “From Loneliness to Abundance”, you’ll get an idea of what it is we have lost – and what it is we’ve been given.

Image courtesy of Max Pixel


October 2017 Report: “Gazelle Intensity” Wanes When Life Goes off Kilter

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

October progress: slow

We started our journey out of all debt in June of 2012, and at this point, over 5 years in, we can see the finish line.

  • $21,000 in consumer debt – GONE
  • $81,000 in business debt – GONE
  • $155,000 in mortgage debt – down by $89,000
  • Our grand total of $257,000 in debt has come down to a $66,000 mortgage

In October, we weren’t able to pay as much off of the mortgage as we had hoped to. After a low September payment, it was discouraging – especially since we anticipate a low November payment too.

Gazelle intensity* wanes

One reason I’m not really worried about our current  spate of lower payments is that we have had great long-term progress, and it absorbs this slow-down blip easily. Another reason is that I’m preoccupied by other things. I don’t know about you, but when there are significant worries in other areas of life, that gazelle intense focus on finances wanes. Don’t get me wrong. I’m convinced that healthy finances are part of a strong foundation for all areas of life. They are very important. It’s just I don’t always have the bandwidth to keep our finances a point of focus. Like now.

My mom’s health

Of greatest concern is my mom’s health. Her blood pressure has gone out of whack again, and besides a trip to the hospital by ambulance, it has meant a battery of medical tests; multiple visits to various doctors; frequent visits from her children; and a constant stream of emails among us, about updates, to-do lists, and decisions to be made.

My mother is 92-years-old and very fortunate to have lived such a good and long life. She won’t live forever, and she accepts that fact with perfect peace. But uncertain health is no picnic at any age. It’s been a roller coaster of crisis, hope, and emotion. Thank God she did her trip to Italy in September. It wouldn’t have turned out well if she’d gone in October.

DH’s business

DH operates a home business, and there are always ups and downs with it – resulting in variable income, and variable debt-repayment. DH’s business is currently undergoing a stress test. We’re all feeling it. I can’t say much more than that.

My book

I’ve recently put a lot of work into a marketing initiative for my children’s book. I’m at the wait-and-see point now. When you take on something like this, you have to be ready for the possibility that it goes nowhere. And it’s not easy. “Going nowhere” would be a real disappointment for me.

If I look at it  philosophically, I wrote Ella Builds A Wall for DD3, and not for anyone else. Still, I have boxes of the book in my room, and it would be really nice if they sold. If they don’t, I’ll figure out something. Again, not the end of the world. Just a raw, anxious thing.

Our dog

Poor Rocky has had fleas and an ear infection. And blood-work indicates that there’s more on the horizon. In the name of frugality, we have chosen a veterinary clinic that is a significant distance from our home – because its services are reasonably priced. Trips back and forth to the vet are no small deal, and the looming question mark of expenses, even for relatively inexpensive veterinary care, add an element of dread to our concern for Rocky’s health and the complicated logistics involved in getting him seen, assessed, and treated.

To anyone committed to debt-elimination, I would strongly advise not to get a pet. There are too many unpredictable expenses involved. But we bought Rocky years before we started our journey out of debt, and he’s a beloved member of the family. Rocky is 11 years old. It is very, very tough to navigate the maze of decisions coming our way as he ages.

No discretionary log for this month please

I’ve been providing a log of my discretionary expenditures over the last couple of months in an effort to get my discretionary account out of the red. I’m going to excuse myself from having to provide such a log this month. Whenever things are out of balance in my life, I spend more – especially on food. I’ll tell you this much: it happened again.

Sorry for the less-than-perky tone of this post! I try to keep it real, and this is where we’re at.

Do you find that your financial focus blurs when life goes off kilter? Your comments are welcome.

*(“Gazelle intensity” is a term used by Dave Ramsey, whose steps towards debt-freedom we  follow.)

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Mia Madre in Italia!

My mom has taken her trip to Italy! At 92 years of age, it was no small feat. My sister and her husband left with her mid-September for 4 days in Rome and 10 days on a cruise ship with stops at other cities. My sister sent photos and a brief account of what had happened each day. Here is my mom’s Italian adventure.  

Day #1

We’re off!

Day #2

We made it! Tired and buzzy today but curious about our surroundings. Mom and the pasta maker had a cute little thing going on and we all got right into the gelato after navigating with the walker through the cobblestone streets.

Day #3

A big day of touring: a walk to Trevi fountain, a bus ride to the Colliseum (mom, wake up!), Vatican City, the Pantheon. She’s doing great! She even went to the top of the double-decker bus! We could see horror and fear in the eyes of all who witnessed her climb and descent!

Day #4

Today was a big day with our guided tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s. The wheelchair was a blessing. It’s a huge area!

Day #5

This morning we found a great way to show mom the beautiful Borghese Park. It was nice to be in a green space away from the intensity of the city streets.

Day #6

Big transition day today. From Rome to the train to the shuttle bus to the second shuttle bus to the cruise ship. She made it, climbed the gang plank, got the welcome champagne and was overjoyed to get settled out on our cabin deck with her book! I don’t know if she’ll want to move from that spot for the next 10 days! There are definitely worse places to watch the world go by.


Day #7

We cruised through the night to Sorrento, Italy and woke to beautiful views! Mom enjoyed a day of reading, studying up on Italy and resting her weary body. Getting off the boat today to explore involved lots of stairs and uneven terrain. Mark and I went out to hunt and gather photos of Sorrento, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius and brought them back for her to enjoy. I was sorry she couldn’t go as she’s quite fascinated by Pompeii. It just wasn’t doable. She’s fine with it all. Especially after being so physically active yesterday.

Day #8

Beautiful Amalfi. Witness mom; she came, she saw, she conquered, she chilled. What a trooper! We got her to the cafe in front of the church and there she sat for 2 hours! Fabulous people watching.


Day #9

Good bye Amalfi, hello Sicily. Mom was out on the deck this morning as she learned that mainland  Italy was on the left and Sicily was on the right. “Now, is that Sicily?” “No Mom, remember, Sicily is on the right!” We passed through the tiny Strait of Messina and towns on both sides were very close.

Mom stayed on our cabin deck and read and rested this afternoon. It’s fun to come home and catch her reading out loud. She still does it with such energy and expression. I’m sure the people on the deck next door must be wondering who the heck she’s talking to! She’s devouring books. I’ve now coached her on how to read on my kindle as I have some good books there and she’s almost finished all of our collective paper page turning ones!


Day #10

We’ve left Italy behind for now and sailed through the night to Malta. (Major concern: will we still be able to find gelato?) The sea was very rocky and mom was heroic. Valletta, Malta is beautiful. We scored a wheelchair for the day. She had a whole crew of strong, handsome guys helping her on and off the boat. It’s always a team effort.


Day #11

Corfu, Greece today. We had a beautiful tour of the island and Mom made some new friends in our tour guide, Fofo, and this little 4-legged guy. We stopped for a magnificent mountain top view over the sea but Mom only had eyes for the tail-wagger at her feet. Greek buffet tonight. We’ve (Mark and I) reached the point on the cruise at which the sight of all the food no longer gives rise to excitement, but rather resentment. It’s an evil force that tempts, bloats and sickens if not carefully managed. Mom hasn’t reached that point. Meal times remain a highlight of the day, 3 times a day.


Day #12

Kotor, Montenegro is a beautiful medieval town. Mark and I went climbing the fortified walls this morning as mom read aloud. Later, we picked her up for a tour of the town. There were stray cats everywhere and we’ll have to search Mom thoroughly to be sure she hasn’t acted on her desire to bring one home.


Day #13

Dubrovnik, the“Jewel of the Adriatic”. The history and beautiful buildings were of low level interest for Mom. What really made her day were the critters you see below. She said, “I could just stay here and watch them all day“. She loved them. I didn’t realize how much she adores animals. This and the people watching fascinated her.

Day #14

This morning Mom was recognized for her talent as an oral reader and it was suggested that she remain in the employ of the cruise line as an entertainer…a daily “story time with Granny”. Yes, our cabin neighbours met us in the hallway today and told us how much they’d been enjoying the out- loud reading sessions they’ve been witnessing throughout the cruise. They had been making the assumption all this time that I, the devoted daughter, had been reading to my elderly mother, and were so impressed to learn that it was Jane herself who read with such pizzazz! In fact, Mom always sends us off to the gym or the pool deck so that she can have the cabin to herself. She was completely unaware that a crowd was gathering next door as word spread of her talent.

We approached Venice mid morning. Spectacular! This was the way to approach Venice…opera music playing, a commentary on the beautiful sites and an unparalleled visual feast. Mom was great as we wheeled and traversed bridges in the city today. She’s always game to give it a try, especially if there’s a reward at the end!


Day #15

Big transition day today as we enter the last phase of our trip. We left the cruise ship this morning. Many of the staff call Mom “Mommy” so there was lots of “Bye, Mommy. Have a safe trip. Come back soon, Okay Mommy?” Very sweet. We’re going out for a Tuscan dinner after which mom has an 8:30pm date with a guy who calls himself “The David”


The Last Gelato

It’s our last day in Italy. Mom slept soundly through the night and awoke determined to upstage David before leaving the continent. Her portrait will be transported to the Louvre following an unveiling in the Piazza this evening. The efforts involved were appropriately rewarded with one last giant gelato in front of the Duomo. As you can see, she’s immersing all of her senses wholeheartedly into the experience at hand.


I hope I’m able to do something like this when I’m 92! How about you? Your comments are welcome.


September 2017: PF Mistakes & The Battle vs. Shame/Judgment

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD2 = dear second daughter

Overall progress from June 2012 to September 2017

DH and I have been on a journey out of all debt since June of 2012. We started off with:

  • $21,000 in consumer debt
  • $81,000 in business debt
  • $155,000 in mortgage debt
  • A grand total debt of $257,000

Since that time, we have:

  • paid off all consumer debt
  • paid off all business debt
  • paid $87,000 off of our mortgage
  • Remaining debt – $68,000

Mistake = lower payment in September

For the first 3 years of our trek to debt-freedom, we kept our mortgage payments low and steady as we tackled our smaller debts first. Now that we have no other debt besides the mortgage, we put as much as we can against it each month. DH runs a home business, and so our monthly income varies. To accommodate this reality, our strategy in attacking the mortgage has been to give ourselves some flexibility.

The terms of our mortgage allow us to pay off extra each month to a maximum of doubling our regular payment. We can also make one lump sum payment off of the principal each year.

Every month, we try to double our mortgage payment – which for us means putting down $3,000. If we can’t manage a double payment, we put down as much extra as we can. That means that each month a few days before the payment is made, DH communicates to the bank how much our extra payment will be.

Only for September, he forgot about the long weekend. So he missed the deadline to make the extra payment. For the first time since June of 2015, when we became debt-free except for the mortgage, we paid our basic amount of $1,500.

But that’s OK …

I always like to see our debt numbers go down as much as possible each month, so while it was disappointing, DH’s mistake was OK on three different fronts:

  1. The closer we get to ZERO, the more confidence we have in our overall finances. The great thing about confidence is that it allows us to take mistakes in stride with a not-a-big-deal attitude …
  2. … because it’s not a big deal. We will be making a lump sum payment for the year in December, and any money we put aside in September that didn’t go towards that monthly payment will go towards the big payment …
  3. … only we didn’t end up having any extra for September because of over $1,500 worth of van repairs.

So it actually worked out very well.

My discretionary account: hard to release judgment

The other subplot developing in these monthly reports is about progress in my discretionary debt payoff. DH and I give ourselves a generous discretionary allowance each month, and he is way better at managing his than I am at managing mine. While he has saved and even invested from his, I have gone into debt with mine. Ugh!

Willpower hasn’t been the answer, so in the last couple of months, I’ve been trying what I call no-judgment-tracking of my discretionary spending. I just deleted the mark of C that I originally included in the subtitle for this section. I’m SO programmed to evaluate! Releasing judgment is not as easy as it sounds. My goal here is simply to track – NOT to evaluate or come up with better strategies or to seek advice. None of the above works. I know! (This is a very stubborn issue.) My hope is that a heightened awareness of my discretionary spending will lead to my successful management of it – in the black instead of the red.

No-judgment-tracking for September

First item of awareness: I really have a hard time keeping a steady log of my discretionary expenditures. It’s not from forgetting or not having time for it. It’s from shame. But what does shame come from? Judgment! I’ll do my best to stare down that shame – AND the judgment behind it – through October. For now, despite my digging around to fill in the blanks, I can only work with an incomplete record of my September spending.

Some day, I’ll be brave enough to include actual dollar amounts, but for now, here is where the money went:

  • pizza party at a mini high school reunion (We all chipped in.)
  • birthday celebration for DD2
  • birthday gift for DD2
  • tip for hairdresser
  • tip for restaurant server (The meal itself was covered by a gift card given to us.)
  • wedding shower expenses (3 aunts chipped in – and DH & I split my portion. Thank you Kalie and Kay. Your comments led to my discussion with DH about this!)
  • wedding shower gift (Some of us chipped in. DH and I split my portion.)
  • 2 breakfasts bought because I woke up too late to eat before work
  • 2 lunches bought because I woke up too late to prepare a lunch before work
  • took a friend out for dinner to celebrate her birthday
  • baby shower gift
  • charitable giving
  • airport parking
  • several (I’m going to guess 7 ) snacks

For extra detail, you might remember that we give ourselves our allowance when my first pay comes through each month. For October, that won’t be until the 13th, so I had to make sure my September money held out. It didn’t. But the good news is that I was owed some money for a boost that we gave ourselves in the summer (which allowed me to take a trip to Washington DC). So I was still able to move forward.

I put another $200 against my discretionary debt. After 2 months, from an original $1,669, it’s down to $1,286.

More on shame & judgment

You know, when I look at that list of expenditures from September, I find myself thinking there’s not much for me to be ashamed of. I have noticed before that there’s a shame spiral. You make a mistake (like wake up late), submit to the consequences (like pay for breakfast and lunch), go into some denial (don’t track that spending). And since you’re now functioning less mindfully, it’s easier to add to the denial (like buy snacks – and don’t track that spending either).  In its hidden state, all that you’re in denial about becomes more dreadful. It takes some bracing to shine a light on it … but when you do, it becomes smaller – less powerful.

I’m hoping to gain more confidence in my discretionary money management so that when I make mistakes, I can have the same not-a-big-deal attitude that we had with DH’s mortgage mistake. Shame and judgment won’t be part of that confidence building.

Do you find it difficult to track your spending? Do shame and denial play a role in that difficulty? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Letter To Student, Raised Below Poverty Line, at Threshold of Middle Class

FS = former student

I’m a high school teacher, and this past summer I was very honoured to be invited to the wedding of a former student (I’ll call her FS). Even in her rebellious teen years, FS knew how to work hard. A co-op student in the school library for 3 semesters, she always loved books. After graduating from high school, FS worked as a custodian for 3 years before finally chasing her dream and  enrolling in library studies at college.

While pursuing her diploma, FS has worked part-time at the library of a government department downtown, and she has a great chance of being hired there full-time once she graduates next spring from college. FS recently came into her old high school to give me an update on her life: Just before she graduates, she’ll have a baby!

FS grew up below the poverty line, and so did her husband. She has given me permission to write this post – which is a letter of financial advice to her. I write it with a great belief in and hope for her future.

Dear Former Student,

Thank you for indulging me and letting me write this letter of advice to you. You are at such a critical time of life – just starting your marriage, just about to start your career, just about to become a mom! The decisions you make now and the habits you form now will have powerful ripple effects into your future – for better or for worse. And I’m hoping better!

I don’t know if you’re aware of how amazing your accomplishments so far have been.

You grew up in challenging circumstances – with a single mom on disability, a distant dad, limited resources … You left home as a teen and made your living through part-time jobs as you finished high school. In your social life, you had more than enough drama, and you acted out plenty of rebellion – as many teens do without anything close to your excuse.

But hiccups and all, you kept moving forward. You worked for 3 years to save as much money as you could before going to college to pursue your dream career. You’re on your way to secure employment – with benefits, a good salary, and high job satisfaction at a place where people value your work ethic. And you met a young man – with a tender heart and a steady character and a great love for you – and you’re starting a family together.

Wow. Wow. And wow!

It will be challenging to start up your career and your family at the same time, but you’ve got a plan, and since you’re someone who stubbornly makes things happen, I believe it will all work out. You’ll have the full-time job. Your husband will be the main care-giver and work part-time on weekends. You’ve already got your breast-milk pump. All set.

You are on your way to the middle class. Welcome. And beware.

First of all, I say “beware” because old patterns die hard. Growing up, you and your husband both had to deal with hardships that were beyond your control. Your troubles were not of your making, but they were your reality. It can be very hard to release an expectation of adversity. It can be very strange to embrace hope. So watch out for old patterns of thought and reaction and habit that you might not even be conscious of. The ones that will try to keep you rooted in struggle. The ones that will work to sabotage your forward progress. Be on the alert for them, and be ready to challenge them and face them down.

And then there are the people in your life who won’t be comfortable with the changes they will see in you. They are used to you being a struggler against the odds who is ultimately stuck. But that’s not who you are. You are a struggler against the odds who is moving in a radically new direction. People don’t like “new”, so be prepared for the efforts of some of your friends to pull you back to the place where they first knew you – where they’re comfortable with you being. Your “new” will be an insecurity for them. A threat. And some might feel entitled to your financial support. Be prepared to assert boundaries.

“the middle class is filled with people who blow their privilege”

Another reason I say “beware” is that the middle class is filled with people who blow their privilege by maxing out through debt. I should know. The marketing machine of Buy-now-pay-later! because You-deserve-it! and Owning-this-will-make-you-a-winner! is extremely powerful.. Very smart people do very dumb things with their money all of the time.

Right now, you say you are living like your mother because she is the “best teacher for how to use the least money to provide the most comfort and stability.” Keep following her example for as long as possible – even when you’ve got that great full-time job. In partnership with your husband, get a solid grip on your numbers. What is your take-home pay? What are your expenses? Create a plan to build your wealth through savings – right from the get-go. If you can only save 3% of your take-home pay, great! If you can save 10%, better! If you can save 30% or even more, why not? Make it a no-brainer. A thing you do by automatic default. Save.

The secret to financial health is to live below your means.

Don’t buy on credit. Use short-term savings to purchase all consumer goods in full. Don’t get a car loan. Save a small car-payment’s worth every month until you can buy your (used) car outright – and then drive it for as many years as possible – while saving for the next one.

When the time comes to buy a house, don’t max out on the mortgage. Choose a home that you can pay off in 15 years by putting no more than 25% of your take-home income towards regular payments. Don’t rely solely on your work’s pension plan for your retirement savings. Invest long-term in your own financial freedom.

“The company you keep will rub off on you – for better or for worse.”

Find role models, and learn from them. Learn from couples who have been happily married for many years. Learn from families that function well. Learn from people who manage their money wisely. Spend time with people who have built their lives on a firm foundation. The company you keep will rub off on you – again, for better or for worse.

FS, I believe that you are undergoing a remarkable transformation. And the life that you provide for your child will be very different from the childhood you experienced. Your hard work, your perseverance, your proactive measures to make things work, and your wonderful choice of life partner all combine to spell out good things. I promise you that a wisely planned, intentional financial management strategy will play into all other aspects of your life – from marriage to parenting to work to social life – for the better.

So all the best to you. Here’s to your family, your career, your future. Here’s to the firm foundation upon which you’ll build your life. And here’s to the day when people seeking life wisdom seek you.

Your old teacher,


Your comments are welcome.