Category: Life

No-Card November

Matt and I are undertaking a challenge this month to quit using our credit and debit cards cold turkey.

A lot of financial advice people suggest using only cash, and when we first started budgeting we tried doing cash only in separate envelopes or jars for different categories. It was too complicated to keep track of though, and too easy to end up stuck somewhere without the cash we needed. As we’ve tweaked our approach to budgeting over the last few years, I think we’ve found a pretty good middle ground in using plastic for convenience but not to overspend.

So why mess with the system that works for us? The thing is, over the last few months we have noticed that the “convenience” of our cards is making it just a little too easy to spend outside of our planning, and it’s harder to keep track of what’s what (should buying lunch come from the grocery budget or allowance?). It just adds up, and we gulp at the bill and pay it off (because we’re still spending less than we make!), but it means our student debt continues to hang over us, and honestly there are other things we’d like to do with the money anyways. Hopefully a month without plastic will help us refocus on our financial goals and recognize areas where we are succeeding or could do better.

How will this month of living on cash not end up a giant failure like past times? Well, there are no guarantees, but a couple factors are different that give me hope.

  • First and foremost, it’s just a month and the point is not to make a permanent change. We don’t want to cancel all our cards, but we want to break the habits that cost us money. By using only cash, we’ll know when the money runs out, and then we’ll stop spending it instead of justifying “oh it’s only a coffee” or “this wasn’t in the plan, but we’re under budget for groceries so far, so everything should balance out.”
  • We are going to keep things simpler than back in the day. Instead of categorizing everything and micromanaging each area of life, I think we’ll stick to gas, groceries, and other (life).
  • We are in a much better rhythm financially than in those early cash-only days. Because we spend so much money at the beginning of the month on rent and loan payments, we used to rely on our credit cards for the first half of the month and then everything balanced out (more or less) when we got our second pay cheques. This month Matt’s loan payments are finally on hold (he’s been back in school since January!!), and that cash should be plenty to meet our needs for the first half of the month. While Matt’s payments are on hold we are planning to body slam my student loan, but we can apply the extra payment in the second half of the month so we aren’t so strapped for cash from the 1st to 15th.

A really big motivating factor is that I only have three more months of work before taking maternity leave (!!!) and we want to make sure our financial ducks are in a row before then. Maybe this month will suck, but worst case scenario we’ll meet our goals for debt and savings, we’ll eat some beans and rice at the end of the month, and we’ll learn whatever we can from why it sucks. Or maybe it won’t be so bad 🙂

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He Rides on the Wings of the Wind

This past week I had a huge crisis that basically put me in a downward spiral to the lowest point I can remember since January. The short version of the story is that the church where Matt works is a hot mess, and circumstances around that have left me hurt, frustrated, disillusioned and spent. I’ve been blessed since January to be attending another church in our community where God shows up for me in so many ways and has brought a lot of healing and comfort over the past many months. As part of that process, I began to experience a renewal of hope for Matt’s church and its future, and our potential future there, and then last weekend those small green shoots of hope in my soul were basically torn up, set on fire and crapped on.

At first I just went numb. I had one good rant/cry and decided I was simply done. Done with hoping, done with caring whatever hellish, self-inflicted misery this congregation put itself through next, done with being pulled from the stable and functioning place I thought I’d reached only to end up back at square one in a ball of snot and tears.

The Bible study at youth group on Friday was led by Kristen and talked about faith. We read the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water and talked about practical ways to make our faith stronger. Matt 14:30 says “when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me” (and Jesus pulled him out of the water). It struck me that Peter’s faith started out strong enough to step out of a boat into a lake when Jesus called him, but when he lost his focus on Jesus his faith couldn’t sustain him. I journalled about this later and tried to figure out how to take my fears off the chaos around me and get my focus back on Jesus. I thought about the good things God had just taught me through a different crisis and tried to figure out how to turn off my future fears and just deal with the present.

But I don’t know where to look for Jesus in my life – every direction I turn shows me more uncertainty, and the future constantly crowds into my thinking: Matt’s livelihood and my spirituality and the relationships we value at this crazy church are all tangled up together and need a common resolution. It’s too big for me to fix, and it’s too big for me to lift up to God, and I just feel crushed.

The Psalm at (my) church this morning was 104, and God used it to ease the angst I’ve been feeling not knowing where to find Him in the chaos: verses 3 + 4 say,

He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

Nothing is beyond God’s use, even the chaos and mess that make us feel like we’re sinking. God is not overwhelmed when we are overwhelmed, and he is not confounded when we are confounded, and he is not gone in the times that we don’t see him.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far, but it’s good enough for now. There’s another meeting next weekend that might change some of the circumstances at Matt’s church, but I’m still done with hoping for any particular outcome – we’ll see what happens when it happens. Prayers are appreciated for Matt and I as we continue to talk with God and each other and feel around for the solid ground we so badly want to put our feet on.

It Turns Out I’m Crunchy

Our prenatal class started this week, and I am so excited! We got a list of classes in our area from the midwives, and I scoped them out only to find that on a two-sided page of options there was one class that I hoped would be a good fit (financially, philosophically, and geographically). After attending the first class, I think I was right, and I am really looking forward to the next 5 weeks 🙂

The woman leading our class, Shannon, is a doula (a professional birth attendant), and let me tell you this woman is passionate about birth! I think we were all pretty amazed as she described (with the help of a doll and a pink knit uterus lol) the stages of labour, what is happening in the body and how babies are active participants in the birth process. For example, were you aware that during a contraction the top of the uterus (fundus) tightens and pushes down on the baby, and the baby reflexively straightens its legs to push itself down against the cervix/down the birth canal. Apparently there have been cases of pregnant women in comas who have delivered babies without waking up – the body and the baby work together to make birth happen. Mind blown.

The class is not too big – 6 couples – and our due dates range from late November to early February. I like that the class is structured in a way that includes moms and partners throughout, and I loved that Shannon asked all of us what we hope for from our birth. As we went around the circle to introduce ourselves, it was neat to see all these different people and know that we had so much in common (we are all married and expecting our first) but also that there were so many differences in how we’d arrived on this common ground and where we’d be heading after birth.

I, for one, was surprised that we are the only couple planning a home birth. A few of the women said they would rather not have an epidural unless they really need it, but I think we’re all too afraid to say “I will reject any medically unnecessary interventions” because everyone knows that we don’t have a sweet clue of what to expect, and maybe the pain that comes with a natural labour and delivery will be too much to bear, and it would be just so awkward to be that pregnant lady who told everyone how well she was going to handle it and then didn’t.

After introductions, Shannon spent an hour or so giving us 5 minute summaries on a big stack of books about pregnancy and birth – all resources that we’re welcome to borrow if we want to. Over the last few months, I have decided that pregnancy books are not for me – I had borrowed one from a friend, but I found that each chapter (for each week of pregnancy) was packed with so much more information than I wanted or needed. The thing is, week to week is not always long enough to have a whole chapter of new information about the baby’s development, so the authors have to fill the pages with stats on deformities and diseases and warnings of everything that can go wrong. The last straw for me was in the chapter on week 16 when the book basically said,

“hopefully you’ve been sleeping on your side the last few weeks because it’s better for you and the baby than sleeping on your back. Starting this week DO NOT SLEEP ON YOUR BACK EVER OR YOUR BABY WILL DIE. This week is the cutoff and even if your baby manages to survive any back-sleeping you do, you are a crap parent for not being able to manage this simple and critical task.”

Oh, and then in week 22 the authors decided to give me one paragraph on baby’s development and 3 pages on Tay Sachs Disease. If I wanted to read about Tay Sachs Disease (which is really serious, but I don’t have the time or emotional energy to learn about it for no reason. It makes for really sucky filler material) I would google it. And then it hit me – the weekly emails I get about how the Truck is growing tell me enough. If I’m thinking ahead or want more info on a certain topic, I’ll search it up on the internet.

All this to say that as Shannon went through the books, I paid attention but knew that I wasn’t interested in signing any out. However, I was interested to see a few books in the pile that I had read from the library, and even one that I had on hold waiting to be picked up! Little did I know Shannon was saving the two books I’d read and the one I had on hold for the end of her presentation. “These last few are a little crunchy,” she said, and in fact each book was crunchier than the last. What makes them “crunchy” is that instead of summarizing weekly fetal development or the mechanics of labour and delivery, they are more focused on the experience of pregnancy, emotional health, and the personal journey that every woman goes through in every pregnancy. Medically, most births are more or less the same, but emotionally and spiritually it is a different story, so I’ve really enjoyed soaking up these books that are filled with other women’s birth stories and with reflections on how to make the most of this short time.

It’s true that along with focusing on the emotional side of pregnancy, there is also a general perspective in what I’ve been choosing to read that birth is a natural process that usually works as it was designed, especially when it is embraced and supported by the mother and her attendants. Obviously emergencies do come up, and it is a blessing to live in an age with so many means of saving mothers and babies who would not survive natural deliveries for whatever reason. But there is a very widespread perspective in the medical system and in the media (and therefore the culture at large) that birth is always an emergency or at least the brink of an emergency, and it needs to be closely monitored, inspected, measured, charted, analyzed and often rescued.

I do not want to be sidelined for the birth of my own child. A whole other post I need to write is why Matt and I are choosing to birth at home, but it really boils down to keeping our family at the center of this monumental event. Lest I get totally sidetracked from this already huge post, I will just say that I have been totally encouraged and blessed by all the crunch that I have absorbed over the past year (because it definitely started before getting pregnant), not just related to pregnancy but in life in general – washing my face with oil and using baking soda instead of deodorant and shampoo,  washing my clothes with soap nuts, and probably more. Oh! We’re gonna give cloth diapers a shot 🙂 Oh, and I literally do make my own granola. Ehem.

Matt and I were talking about it after class, and it’s so funny because only a few weeks ago I had explained to him what crunchy meant in terms of lifestyle – I think I had used it to describe a bunch of the blogs I read and he was like, what on earth does that mean. Little did we imagine that not only would I be totally validated in our prenatal class but that this label we had been talking about actually applies to us.

Baby Update

Life has been busy, but not in a very bloggable way. I keep getting more pregnant though, which is always bloggable, right? So here’s a quick update as I near the end of my fifth (!!!) month of pregnancy.

Here is the bump at 17 weeks, about to go out to dinner with Matt! My book said the baby would double its weight between weeks 17 and 20…But my belly definitely started to pop before then. This is 19 weeks, rocking my maternity jeans!

And here’s 20 weeks – half way to full term!

This month we had a fetal anatomy ultrasound done to make sure the Truck has all its parts and to establish where the placenta is located. I had a great tech who was very friendly and often turned the screen to show me anything cute/interesting. I got to see nose and lips, feet, and a little belly! She also chased the Truck back and forth to get the perfect picture of its hand (no extra digits there, but we can’t really tell if the thumbs are straight or not… suspense!)

Meet the Truck!

I asked the tech if she knew the gender, and she did! But I used all of my inner strength to stand by mine and Matt’s decision to wait until the Truck is born to look at its private parts 😉 So feel free to speculate, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of being right, and we can’t accidentally give it away because we don’t know either! It is certainly fun to guess, and I know that whatever the gender is, it will just be a mind-blowing blessing when we finally meet this baby who is swimming mad laps in my belly.

Three Things Thursday [Vol. 13]

This week I am inspired by the mad alliteration of Thursday the thirteenth to share three thrifty strategies I plan to put into play this Fall to lessen our living expenses. With a year of maternity leave coming up in 2013, Matt and I are preparing to lose a major portion of my income. Ideally we will fit our cost of living into his paycheques so that my maternity benefits can go to savings or debt and so going back to work can be an option rather than a necessity for me. I’m glad we’re starting to plan now so we have a good number of months to sort things out and adapt as we need to!

1. Meal planning – I love it when I do it, but I hate to do it! However, there is an accumulation of non-perishable food in our cupboards and I’d really like to focus on eating that up. That will mean planning meals around what we have and shopping just to fill in the gaps. Once we get our cupboards back under control I know meal planning will continue to help us shop more efficiently so we waste less food and money!

2. Sort through clothes – One morning this week when I was getting dressed for work, I realized I had the perfect sweater to complete my outfit. I base my clothing choices 100% more on comfort than style these days, so I was excited to feel kind of put together. I quickly tore through three boxes of clothes I packed up last Spring, didn’t find the sweater in time for work and wore my white hoodie instead. Comfort it is! BUT this was a great reminder that it is becoming weather-appropriate to pull out my warmer clothes, and it is also becoming belly-necessary to avail myself of Every. Article. of clothing that I can still wear. If I honestly need more stuff, I am willing to buy it, but I do not want to drop a ton of money on clothes that will only fit for a couple months if I already have pieces that I can make work.

I also need to make a plan for what to do with the clothes I am outgrowing – I’m not sure what to expect from my body after the baby comes out, whether everything will more or less shluurrp back into place in a couple months or whether I’ll need to rebuild my wardrobe. I’m okay with either. Mostly. Becoming a mother is a huge privilege that totally outweighs – literally! bahaha – having a hot body. But I also know that nursing moms can sometimes have a hard time keeping their weight on because they burn through so many calories feeding the baby, and I have always tended to be thin so it won’t surprise me if I end up in that situation. It’s hard not knowing though because I’m not sure whether to purge or store all these clothes!

Part of my plan to cope with this is take the opportunity to find out how small of a wardrobe I can realistically get by with. I am intrigued by Project 333, and I hope that by dabbling in wardrobe minimalism through pregnancy I will be in good shape to either pare down or rebuild my postpartum wardrobe.

3. Budget like mad – Matt and I already operate on a shared budget, but our commitment and self-control really vary month-to-month. We are talking about taking a break from our credit cards to help stay focused and limit impulse-spending, but in past attempts we have never lasted a full month with cash-only budgeting. Stuff always comes up! I think we might manage better if I let go of my micro-budgeting tendencies and we try reverse budgeting against our fixed expenses. Basically instead of planning a breakdown of how we will distribute all our money, we will spend what we have to, save what we want to, and then live on the rest. The downside to this strategy would be (obviously) running out of money too soon (I’m thinking especially in terms of gas and groceries), but it certainly seems like it would be more effective than our current approach of doing our best and usually not having much left over.

Wish me luck!