The Importance of Self-Care

Two weekends ago my husband and I were in recovery mode.  We had spent the first part of the week on vacation in Chicago, but our vacation was unexpectedly extended by a trip to the emergency room for our daughter.  Luckily, she stabilized quickly and she was released two days later.

However, there was a lot of stress associated with this event.  We were worried about our daughter.  We had lots of instructions regarding what medications she needed to take after she was discharged, and she also needed to be seen at home for follow-up care.  We didn’t have a place to stay; our hotel was sold out.  (Luckily the hospital let us stay there in an unused overflow area.)  It was uncertain how we would get home, because we canceled our flights and couldn’t re-book until we knew when she would be released.  We also had to find a new place for our dogs to be boarded and coordinate for my friend’s dad to transport them to the new location.  In addition to general life stress, there was also the worry of the large medical bill and the extra costs for having to extend our stay.

Even a couple days after she was discharged, when the weekend rolled around, we were still recovering from that stress.  My temper was short and I was frustrated.  On Saturday I told my husband that I needed to go for a run the next morning to clear my head.

I needed to take care of myself, so I could take care of the others who depend on me.

Running Away the Stress

I’ve been a runner for a long time.  There are many reasons why I do it:

  • Physical health – to keep my heart fit and to burn calories to keep my weight in a reasonable range
  • Goal achievement – that sense of accomplishment you get when training for and completing a race
  • Mental health  – to deal with anxiety, and to keep my mind sharp and focused
  • Emotional health – to manage stress, worry, and uncertainty.

That Sunday morning run did wonders for my emotional health.  Simply put, going for that run made me a much more pleasant person to be around.  I cleared my head of stressors and frustrations and came back a more patient mom and wife.

My Self-Care Bag of Tricks

Do you have a bag of tricks you can rely on when stress is mounting and nerves are fraying?  Here are some things I’ve learned over the years that work for me:

  • Exercise/Outdoors time:  I don’t always have the time or energy to run; a simple 10-minute walk around the neighborhood can do wonders.  Five minutes of stretching or yoga can help too when I’m short on time.
  • Sleep:  With a toddler and an old dog in our house, there have been a fair number of nights of disrupted sleep in the past 18 months.  It’s become shockingly apparent to me this year how much sleep impacts me.  When I have a night of poor sleep, the next day I am more anxious and less optimistic, and my ability to make complex decisions is slowed.  Being well-rested is a daily goal for me.
  • Nutrition:  Too much caffeine, sugar, or alcohol generally makes everything worse.  Healthy foods make me feel better.
  • Relationships:  Spending time with my spouse or catching up with friends gets me  out of my head and reminds me to enjoy life.

Financial Impacts

Those things I listed above?  There is very little incremental cost involved in incorporating them into my daily life.  Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive.  But it is important to figure out how to make it a priority – especially when dealing with a stressful life event.

How do you practice self-care?  Do you have any tips and tricks to share?

Friday’s Frugal Five – A Holiday and a Birthday

With the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, my birthday yesterday, and my husband currently between jobs, I decided to take this week off work.  Here’s what we’ve been up to, and how we’ve kept it frugal:

  1. Last Friday we drove 2 1/2 hours to my mom’s house.  She lives on a farm in the country, so we never spend much money when we visit; there just isn’t much to spend money on!  Despite the very HOT weather, I went for one long gravel road run on Saturday morning.  In the afternoons our daughter played under the trees in the shade and blew bubbles, splashed in the kiddie pool, and played in a sandbox.  Mr. FIREDup also enjoyed taking outdoor photos during our visit.  Unfortunately my daughter and I have both been battling colds, but other than that it was a really nice time.  We came back home on Tuesday morning.
  2. Since it was already a short week, we took advantage of one of our daycare’s policies.  If your child is out the full week, they only charge half price tuition.  Given how much our daycare costs, this was a nice little amount we were able to save this week, and we also got to spend the whole week with our daughter.
  3. Yesterday was my birthday!  We didn’t do anything too exciting.  We did go out to lunch and used a BOGO (buy one get one free) coupon for Philly cheese steak sandwiches, so our total bill for the three of us was only $10.95.  Then we stopped by the Starbucks two doors down and I took advantage of my free birthday drink coupon.  I decided to try out the Nitro cold brew with sweet cream.  It was pretty tasty, and since I wouldn’t buy it that often given the price point, it was a nice treat.
  4. Yesterday also marked our daughter’s first library visit.  Where we live has both a city library system and a suburban library system.  I’ve been using the city library system for the last several years, mostly to check out e-books.  It’s been several years since I used our suburban library system, so Mr. FIREDup and I both signed up for new cards and checked some books out for our daughter.  I also picked up a booklet that outlined all the programs going on in the library.  I was absolutely blown away by the number of things they have to offer.  There are summer reading programs for small kids, school age kids, AND adults, in addition to tons of free programming for both kids and adults (including several entrepreneurial related topics).
  5. I took advantage of a couple of gift cards this week too.  My mother-in-law sent me a gift card for my birthday that I used to offset the cost of a couple of new items for my wardrobe.  We recently got a new dishwasher, and as a part of the deal they were running at the time, they were offering a rebate for the installation cost.  We got the rebate in the mail recently and I used it to pay for a lunch that we purchased while we were out exploring the city this morning with our daughter.

How is your summer starting off?  What fun, frugal things have you found to do so far?

Don’t Wish it Away

This time last year I was on maternity leave with my newborn.  I am so happy I took the full twelve weeks off to be at home with my baby, but I’d be lying if I said the time was pure joyful bliss.  Adjusting to a tiny human who needs constant care and attention was not easy for me.  I would ask my friend Google:  “When do babies get easier?”  Sometimes I found myself wishing the time to move a little faster, to jump ahead to a time where this parenting thing got easier.

Then I went back to work.  Time began moving rapidly.  My daughter started rolling over.  I thought, “This is fun! I like this stage.”  Then she began sitting up.  That was fun, too.  She started eating solid foods and sitting in her high chair with us at mealtime.  The first time she crawled was so exciting.  Now she is a toddler and working on walking and talking and so many other awesome things.

That “hurry it up” mentality from the newborn days?  It diminishes more and more with each passing month.  Each developmental stage is passing so quickly and my husband and I are trying to truly experience and enjoy each moment while we are in it.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

What does this have to do with Financial Independence?

It’s easy to have a “hurry it up” mentality about financial independence, too.  For many (including us), it’s a goal that is several years away – if not a decade or more.  Sometimes it’s a struggle for me not to wish away today, anticipating some “magical” future time when we will reach our financial freedom goal.

But each of us only gets one life to live, and we don’t know how long it will last, or what detours our path will take.  The thing I’m working on is how to enjoy TODAY, while still making conscious financial decisions that benefit our tomorrow, too.

How do you enjoy the present when FIRE is such a long-term goal?

Life Lessons from my Toddler’s First Birthday

My baby turned one last week!  I’ve been trying to call her a toddler, because she really isn’t a baby any more, but it’s quite an adjustment.  It is amazing how much a tiny human changes in 12 months.

The ‘Party’

When it came time to think about her first birthday party, I knew I wanted to keep it low-key, especially since it falls so soon after the holidays.  The Frugalwoods party for Babywoods’ first birthday was an inspiration and validated that yes, it really is okay to have a simple celebration for your one-year-old.  For me taking this approach was  mostly about simplifying life and not creating unnecessary stress to put on an event that our child won’t even remember.  (Saving $$ was a bonus!)

Our siblings and my mother-in-law do not live close to us, so the guest list consisted of me, my husband, my daughter, my father-in-law, and my mom.  Unfortunately, my mom was sick, but we finally figured out Skype and she was able to join us virtually!

Our party agenda consisted of lunch, opening presents from Grandpa, and of course eating CAKE!  Because first birthdays are all about the cake smash, right?  I made the cake myself…and it was actually kind of fun.  It turned out like a strawberry shortcake since I put fruit on top and made a whipped cream icing.

Parenting and Relationships

A moment from last weekend really made me reflect on how our relationships with our parents have grown during our child’s first year.

My father-in-law is not a man of many words, but I have loved watching his face light up when he interacts with our daughter.  For her birthday, his gifts consisted of some classic books that belonged to my husband as a child, including Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, and The Little Engine That Could.  The titles also included a book of poems.  He commented that he enjoys poetry and hopes it will be something she enjoys, too.  My heart melted a little when he said that.  Not only were his gifts frugal and useful, but they were incredibly heartfelt.

I already had a good relationship with my mom, but this past year I have valued her even more.  My mom was truly meant to be a grandma.  She is a nurturing, caring person by nature and also by career – she works in public health and deals with kids all the time.  Though my mom does not have the financial means to spoil our daughter the way I’m sure she would like to, there is ZERO need from our perspective for her to do so. The best gift she can provide is her time and attention.  Though she lives 2 1/2 hours away, we have focused on making sure we spend as much time with her as possible so that she can see her granddaughter grow and develop.

Fellow parents – what unexpected lessons did you learn from your child/children’s first year?

Friday’s Odds and Ends: Shopping, Giving, Making a Will

  • I bought zero consumer items on Black Friday.  A handful of things were purchased in store on Monday: some candy for family stocking stuffers, snacks and gift cards for daycare teachers, and a small Crayola gift for my daughter for Christmas.  This was probably 50+% of my holiday shopping – we are keeping it simple this year.  Of course it’s great to save money, but for me it’s also about reducing STRESS.  Figuring out what to buy people, and what they should buy me (and now my child, too!) can be exhausting.
  • Our household contributions to charity have not been impressive this year.  I did, however, participate in #givingTuesday.  A donation was made to the local food bank, an impressively run organization that serves our entire metro area and beyond.  Two sets of infant PJs were also donated to a children’s charity, via their Amazon wish list.  The last time I checked over 2,500 items had been purchased!  Using an Amazon wish list is a pretty brilliant way for charities to receive the exact goods they need, in exactly the right quantities.
  • The hubs and I finally met with a lawyer about making a will.  This is definitely filed under the category of ‘boring adulty stuff,’ but now that we have a child – and  actually have some significant assets as well – it’s important to get it taken care of.  More to come on this topic as we finalize the documents!

How having a child helped us save more money

When I found out I was pregnant last year, I spent some time crunching the numbers and worrying about how we would afford it. Any time I talked to current parents about how they found money for daycare and diapers and such, their answer was typically something to the effect of “it all just works out.”

Now that we’re 10 months into this parenting gig, I have to say they were all right. We pay a crazy amount for daycare, but other than that our expenses have been manageable. In fact, this year I paid off my car (early), and my spouse and I have both increased our 401(k) contributions.

Here are some things that helped us get here:

Baby stuff. I am lucky to have a couple of close friends with kids not much older than mine. We have been the recipients of borrowed clothes, toys, baby bathtub, play mat…the list goes on. We were also very blessed by friends and family at our baby showers as we received nearly everything we needed for the first 6+ months of babyhood. In addition, we have grandparents who have gifted a few toys and clothes and send us diapers monthly from Amazon.

We didn’t go overboard decorating the baby’s room. I bought a well rated, inexpensive crib on Amazon (with my Amazon registry completion discount). My mom gave me a very sturdy old dresser to use, rather than us buying a fancy new one (and we just put a changing pad on top rather than buying a changing table). Instead of buying a glider rocker, we re-purposed an Ikea Poang chair and put a new cover on it.

Food. As a DINK (double income, no kids) household, we went out to eat quite a bit pre-baby. We are foodies. Going out to eat is a form of entertainment for us.  Now that we have a kiddo, it’s often a lot easier to eat at home. We meal plan before our weekend grocery shopping and focus on fast meals for weeknights (which my husband makes) or meals that I can prep on Sundays. I’m pretty lucky – my husband is a good cook!

Our daughter is now at an age where she is eating solid foods regularly and this has really made me look at how we eat. Most of the time she eats what we eat, and if she can’t eat what we’re eating, it’s probably not that healthy. It has made me a lot more conscious of planning meals that are well balanced and nutritional. It’s not particularly easy to find meals that meet those criteria when you go out to eat.

My spouse and I both like going out to lunch during the week too, but we’ve also cut back there. As part of our meal planning I usually target a couple of meals that will make good lunch leftovers.

Alcohol. As a new parent, I’ve found alcohol and sleep deprivation (or disrupted sleep) generally don’t go well together. While I’ll still enjoy a good beer or glass of wine sometimes after the little one goes to bed, the quantity has lessened and it typically is consumed at home rather than at a bar or restaurant where the cost is 3x as much.

Entertainment. We only have one babysitter at this stage and her name is Grandma and she lives 2 ½ hours away. So at this stage of life we don’t do much in the way of concerts, sporting events, movies, etc. We do sometimes have a date night when my mom visits but other than that, our entertainment budget consists mostly of Netflix and HBO Now.

Travel. Some people travel quite a bit with their little ones. I guess one of the advantages (or disadvantages?) of being older when having a child is that we’ve both done a lot of kid-free travel, which makes traveling with a little one sound a lot less appealing. I’m excited to travel the world with our daughter, but for the next couple years it will mostly be road trips rather than ambitious air travel.

Taxes. I contribute the max ($5,000) in a dependent care flex account through work. Even though we’ll spend more than that on daycare this year, it does help offset the tax burden. Knowing we would have a lot of out of pocket spending for medical this year since we had a baby, I also contributed the max to a flexible spending account. The flex account deductions and our 401(k) contributions all reduce our taxable income and ensure we’ll qualify for the child tax credit.

The bottom line is that we are fortunate to have a healthy household income. We had a lot of discretionary spending in our budget previously and we have now become a lot more intentional in how we spend our money.

How have kids impacted your spending and budget?

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