stopping to smell the orchids at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory (yes, we all love plants haha)
Hi friends! How’s your Monday going? If I’m being honest, last night after I got home late from work I was dreading the morning. Joel left at 5 am for work, so it was just me getting everyone ready, making breakfast and walking to school. But, miraculously I woke up before my alarm (and the kids amazingly) naturally and was able to enjoy some moments of quiet and a quick meditation before I had to get up and move. I made jam, made Carmela’s lunch, and walked her to school. On the way back home, Vin and I stopped at the store and picked up some bulk granola- the store by our house actually has a healthy one in bulk which is nice when I forget to make it. So many bulk snacks have crap ingredients unfortunately.
Today I wanted to touch on finances. I did a little insta story a few months back about personal finance and I was surprised at the number of responses I received! I feel like money is such a taboo subject, I was always taught never to talk about it, which made it all seem like this mysterious black hole. I just want to share my back story a bit about it in the hope that it resonates with you somehow!
When I moved out I basically had no idea how to budget or just manage my money in general. I always lived from paycheck to paycheck for years, until I had Carmela. I was a single mom coming from an abusive relationship (yes, Carmela’s biological father is not Joel, and he is not in the picture at all) and lived with my parents for the first 9 months of her life or so. Things got to a breaking point with my mom and I moved out into a crappy apartment, alone, just me and Carmela. I literally did not even own a bed, just some clothes and a few necessities. I realized I really needed to figure some stuff out if I was going to support myself and Carmela, alone. I wasn’t (and have never) received child support because I never wanted Carmela’s dad to be able to get back into her life. Even though I had multiple police reports filed against him, the police would literally laugh at me after each incident and tell me “why didn’t I do something about it?” instead of calling 911. ANYWAYS. This is so hard to even type out, but I’m trying to be more open about this part of my life to show you guys things aren’t always rainbows in my life. The easy and the challenging, it’s all life. Life is messy and that’s ok, as long as you keep growing and learning. Long story short, I started to get my stuff together regarding finance.
grateful for these guys every day.
My mom had always taught me to save some of my money, but I was saving something like 5% before, because that’s all that was left after my “necessities”. But, learning some tricks I was able to get my savings rate way up, and now we save about 40% of our income: 20% to a savings account, and 20% to a retirement account. This didn’t happen overnight, but gradually I picked up and relearned lifestyle habits that I remembered my grandparents always doing, too. I learned to live simply, and to actually enjoy and prefer living this way over a material posession, consumer based lifestyle.
I’m hoping to write more blog posts with more detail on certain areas (if you guys are interested?) so let me know where you need further clarification or if you have any other questions. For now, I just want to touch on some basics that have helped me save a bigger proportion of our (very modest) income.
Reusables over disposables. When I went came across zero waste years ago, I realized I was already doing some of the lifestyle steps simply to save money. Single use products like paper towels, plastic water bottles, paper napkins, paper/plastic plates, tissue, tampons/pads, even diapers are SO much more expensive than their reusable counterparts. Reusables may have an up front cost, but over time they pay for themselves over and over again. To me, buying single use is like throwing your money in the trash- not to mention the environmental costs too. I talk about this reusable approach: in the bathroom HERE, in the kitchen HERE, the fridge HERE, and I even have a really old post about baby wipes HERE.
Cook at home, real food. Whenever possible, cook at home, using real ingredients. Bulk dry beans, rice, oats, flax seeds, potatoes, and other plant based food staples are super inexpensive. It doesn’t need to be fancy at all, so don’t get intimidated by the idea of cooking if you don’t have much experience. Find a few easy recipes that you really enjoy eating and are fast- this lentil soup and this hummus pasta are go-tos in our house- and rely on them. Also, bring food with you when you leave the house, ESPECIALLY if you have kids! (Check out our on the go food/drink kit HERE.) Having snacks (almonds, dates, an apple, banana are all easy to grab) on you at all times helps you not get hangry and wanting that $12 acai bowl. I always pack a lunch for Carmela for so many reasons- but also it saves us a ton of money. Also, zerowastechef is a great resource for no fuss, simple, cooking at home recipes.
Use cash for things you tend to overspend on. This is really helpful if you’re trying (or have to) stick to a budget. I did this a lot when it was just me and Carmela and I literally could not overspend even a few dollars over my budget. I would have an envelope system with cash for food and go to the grocery store with that cash, so I didn’t overspend. Using a card, we are much more willing to pick up that “extra” that we don’t need- for me its usually things like a kombucha, chocolate bar, or golden milk haha. But if I have cash, it’s easy to see just what I have and know that when that runs out, that’s it. I use this method at the farmer’s market, where its SO easy for me to fall in love with all the fruits and vegetables and overbuy. OOPS!! It goes something like this: Joel: “Did you get three different kinds of beets, and also kale from every single vendor that was selling it?!” Me: “YES, OK?!?! SORRY THEY LOOK SO GOOD”
Experiences over things. Often for birthdays + holidays, we go somewhere together as a family and enjoy time together instead of buying things. Joel and I never exchange gifts, simply because we don’t like to, but also because to me, our relationship is deeper than a material item. You can see my gift giving approach HERE. I want to enjoy my family’s company, not be stressed out preparing, buying, wrapping, and cleaning up after presents. (you can see our valentine’s HERE, our halloween HERE and our Christmas HERE). This has been a HUGE shift for us over the years- I’ve honestly never been a holiday person since I was brought up a Jehovah’s Witness, but Joel was. Year after year we pare down more and more and it feels great to have more time together, focusing on our relationships and time together instead of things. This year we’ve been talking about eliminating gift giving all together in lieu of a family trip. When you buy a lot of little things all the time, you don’t have money for the big things (which are what’s important to us).
Every year for their birthday, I let them choose somewhere they want to visit. This year pictured, for Carmela, it was Muir Woods. So much joy in those faces! Kids crave connection, not more stuff.
Simplify your life. Learn to live with less and enjoy it. Take pleasure in your home and make it cozy and fun to be in so you’re not tempted to go out every night. Apply this approach to everything in your life: keep what you love and what brings you daily joy and cut out the rest. Love a smaller and intentional wardrobe, kitchen + pantry, and living space. Do the same with your responsibilities/obligations, friends, etc. Life is simply too short to not enjoy it. When you’re happier, you’re less likely to spend money on outside things like material possessions. When I feel a strong desire to purchase something, it’s usually because something in my life or inside myself is “off” and i’m looking to avoid that feeling or soothe myself through a purchase. This is annoying, but it’s like that Kanye song “the things we buy to cover up what’s inside”. haha.
secondhand clothes (almost) always.
Save for retirement. No matter how young or how old you are, start saving for retirement, and if you already are, increase your savings percentage. Some really good blogs I recommend to learn more about this are: The Frugalwoods, Mr. Money Mustache, Dave Ramsey’s books (good for people in debt or just starting out), and the book The Simple Path to Wealth. Also THIS Freakanomics podcast “Everything you always wanted to know about money but were afraid to ask” is so, so, so good for an overview of simple, effective finances, I highly recommend listening. My favorite (free!) app to keep track of retirement and finances is Personal Capital.
Buy secondhand + repair when needed over buying new. Self explanatory, but we have learned to wait a bit and be flexible when we need a certain item, searching in thrift stores, Craigslist, Freecycle, and finally Ebay to try to locate it secondhand before buying new. All our cars have been secondhand, too. Something already created uses the least amount of resources, since it already exists! So its the most eco friendly, and also its generally much less expensive. If you have something that breaks, fix it instead of trashing it an buying something new! Adopt a circular mindset. Visit a repair cafe to learn how to fix your item (so empowering, and also awesome to connect with others in your community!). Read about how we buy secondhand clothing HERE.
Examine what you value and what brings you joy- and spend your money there. Don’t be a miser and hoard every dime- that’s no fun either, life is short! We should enjoy it! The joy of saving is so that you can spend money on the things that make your life rich. For us, that’s vibrant food, traveling, and spending time in nature. For others, it may be something totally different- and that’s amazing! Find what your thing is and look forward to budgeting/saving for your goals. It’s so much easier to forgo an impulse purchase if you have a clear picture of your goals.
food is one of our biggest expenses, because I love eating haha. Really though, food and cooking is so important to my happiness, I could pare down here but I don’t want to- and that’s ok.
Honestly evaluate wants and needs. Often, our NEEDS are actually WANTS. With so many online retailers offering near instant purchase gratification, it can be so easy to want something and immediately get it. I often employ a time buffer in between buying things, waiting before I purchase and seeing if I even still want it days or weeks later. Often times, the answer is “no”- I actually didn’t need it, or could find a way to live happily without it. If I still passionately want it, I’ll buy. Otherwise, if the attraction has faded, I pass.
Be grateful and appreciate what you do have. Be aware of your privileges every day that you have food to eat, clean water to drink and bathe in, legs to walk on, people whom you love + who love you, physical or mental health, a place to live, etc. A few years ago I watched this documentary, Living on One Dollar, which shares a little about poverty in Guatemala. Also, this documentary, also on Netflix, examining the subjectivity of happiness: Happy. Love what you already have, realize how rich and beautiful your life and relationships already are, and be here now. That’s all there is, friends.
Vin bringing me the sweetest flowers from the backyard (and kisses).
I hope these tips were helpful (and wanted?), please let me know if there’s anything you’d like expanded on. Enjoy the rest of your Monday! xx