We Didn’t go to London

When we bought this house 10 years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into. As young professionals with two incomes and no kids, we had saved a fairly sizeable nest egg. We planned to buy our house, do some renovations, pay off the moving expenses, and then take a trip to London, England a few months later.

Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.

home improvement renovations moneyIt turns out that renovations don’t work like I had anticipated. For all the schtick about getting a written estimate in advance and planning your expenses and so on, the truth is that renovations just get bigger and bigger as they go. Contractors find unpleasant surprises when they remove your old bathtub. Materials don’t arrive on time. The retailer decides to increase the price on that bathroom tile you looked at two months ago. On and on it goes, until you’ve spent twice what you had budgeted and it’s three months after your anticipated completion date and the end still isn’t in sight.

We didn’t go to London.

It’s now almost 10 years to the day since we took possession of this house and started our renovation journey, and this morning I called up a local contractor and gave him the go-ahead on more work on our house. After we almost bought a house in our neighbourhood last month, we’ve been keeping our eyes on the local market and visiting some open houses. We haven’t seen anything else in our price range that really tickles our fancy. So, instead of moving, we’ve decided to invest in the house we already own. We know we like the neighbourhood, all of our stuff is already here, and we can side-step the expense of taxes and realtor fees and all that jazz if we just stay put and do some work to make our current home more liveable.

As I stare down the home improvement barrel once again, I’m reminded of the first time. I’m working more right now, my husband is in line for a promotion, and soon my son will be going to public school (which is free) rather than daycare (which is not). I’ve been contemplating a trip with my kids. Not to Disneyland, this time, but to someplace more ambitious. Today, however, I authorized a whopping deposit on my credit card. That trip won’t happen. My daughter probably won’t be going to day camp all July, as I’d been contemplating. All of those little expenses are going to be eaten once again by the renovation monster.

This house I live in has seen a lot of my life. I’ve spent more time here than in almost any other house I’ve lived in. In a year or so it will surpass the place I think of as my childhood home. This is the place I painted and landscaped and installed baseboards. This is the place where I found out I was expecting two babies. These are the floors where my children took their first steps. These are the rooms that have provided a landscape for my life for a decade now, and these are the rooms that my family will fill for the foreseeable future as well. It is my home in every sense of the word. This is the place I was sitting when I got the news I was being laid off. This is the place where I write.

Instead of traveling, I invested in my home. Instead of buying clothes or fancy new cars or going back to school I invested in my home. Its walls are my London, and its bathroom tile is all of the other things I could have bought but didn’t. And, truthfully, I don’t regret that. When my daughter tells me that she loves her home, and I remember all the times we’ve shared here, I know it’s been worth it. Creating a place for my family to be is maybe the most important thing of all.

My problems are first-world problems. Which is to say, they’re good problems to have. Trying to decide whether I’m going to spend my money on a new ensuite and an updated sunroom, or a family trip to Hawaii, means I’m really very privileged. So I can only feel thankful, as once again I wade into the waters of home improvement, and hope that this time I can swim through them smoothly.

Podcast: Talking Money with Sierra Black

strocel.com podcast sierra black money

Money. It’s one of those topics we’re not supposed to discuss in polite company, and the reasons are really rather obvious. No matter how much you have (or don’t have), money pushes a lot of our buttons, and triggers a whole lot of emotions. But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore it – particularly not when you’re sharing it with someone else, like your partner. This is even more true when you’re trying to live a more purposeful life, because that often means deliberately choosing to spend less time earning money and more time doing things you enjoy. You need to do that mindfully, but how? When I ran the Crafting my Life online class I decided to talk to writer Sierra Black about it, and I’m sharing our conversation on today’s podcast.

In addition to her blog ChildWild, Sierra has written extensively elsewhere, including on finance sites like Get Rich Slowly and Wise Bread. As someone who turned her own finances around, and who is willing to talk about that experience online, she seemed like the perfect candidate. She didn’t disappoint me. In fact, speaking to her spurred me to make some positive changes in my own financial life.

During our podcast, Sierra and I talked about making mindful choices around spending money. I asked her for tips on broaching the subject with your partner, and ideas for making positive changes in your own life. Sierra is a freelance writer, and so we also discussed how she balances work and family, and sets her own rates, as a work at home mom. She also talked about how she teaches her own kids about money, and creates good financial habits.

Whether you’re financially savvy, or the idea of talking about money makes you want to run and hide, you’ll learn something by listening to this podcast:

Next week on the Strocel.com podcast I’ll be sharing another interview from Crafting my Life, this time with the amazing Annie from PhD in Parenting. She’s definitely been one of my inspirations as a blogger. I love how she shares her opinion clearly, and without apology. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Embracing a Life of Less

A couple of weeks ago for Enviro-Mama Thursday I talked about Environmentalism and Privilege. Specifically, I discussed the way that some sustainable products and environmentally-friendly choices are much more accessible if you have money. Like, say, buying only organic produce or driving a Prius. If you’re just getting by, some greener choices are out of reach.

As I discussed in that post, other times the greenest choice is also the most frugal choice. Like, say, buying less stuff overall, or shopping second-hand. Both of these actions are light on the earth, and both will also save you money. However, the same choice can feel very different depending on why you’re making it. If you enjoy second-hand shopping, and you’re doing it because it conforms with the sort of life you want to live, the thrift store may be your happy place. If you’re buying second-hand because it’s all you can afford, and you’d really rather be able to just go to the mall and buy a brand new pair of shoes, you’re probably not going to have an awesome shopping experience at your local Value Village.

In our culture (and maybe in most cultures), value and money are all tied up together. When you have a healthy bank balance, you’re said to have high net worth. When you’re shopping, you talk about how much something is worth. More money equals more value, for people as well as things. I’ve been on all sides of this equation, and it’s not much fun. It perpetuates the notion that we attain status by buying status symbols. And buying status symbols isn’t exactly good for the planet.

The fact that you can afford to buy something doesn’t mean that you should buy it. This is every bit as true for “green” products as for plastic tchotchkes with blinky lights that are manufactured overseas in a country with lax environmental standards. Sure, all things being equal, it’s better to buy something that’s created with the environment in mind, but in the end the absolute greenest choice you can make is to not buy anything at all.

One of the things that has helped me on my own personal journey towards living a more sustainable and meaningful life is learning to embrace a life with less. While I may not always be able to buy everything I want, the truth is that I already have everything I need. When I spend my time in gratitude for what I already have, instead of lamenting what I don’t, I’m much happier for it. I’m also far less likely to try to compensate for whatever isn’t going well in my life by spending money. This is another one of those things that is good for the planet and my wallet – plus it’s also good for me.

At the risk of being a little bit simplistic and trite, this act of embracing a life of less has implications in the discussion about environmentalism and privilege. When you feel as if you’re in control of the choices you’re making, it’s easier to make them. When you’re having a good time replacing some buttons on an old shirt instead of just buying a new one, it doesn’t feel like a burden. When you make lifestyle trade-offs so that you can work less, and you really do it with both eyes open, it’s easier to accept that you may not be able to take that big trip or buy the all-natural, hand-crafted, super-expensive, wooden Waldorf toys. When you’re clear on what you’re doing and why, things fall into place more easily.

I’m not saying that it’s okay that pesticide-free produce and non-toxic shampoo are out of the reach of many families. It’s not. But it’s the world we live in at the moment. We can advocate and we can write letters and we can contact our elected representatives. But at the end of the day we still have to make the best choices that we can with what we have. That may mean that we’re not able to do it all. No one person really can. But by doing what we can, and making our choices as consciously as we can, we come out ahead. Not because we have no other option, but because we are working to create lives that are imperfect, but meaningful all the same.

How does your attitude impact your experience of making green and frugal choices? And do you ever not buy something in order to reduce your environmental impact? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how embracing a life of less can make it easier to live more frugally and sustainably.

Podcast: Rachel Jonat on Minimalism and Motherhood

Rachel Jonat is a writer and mother who is currently making her home on the Isle of Man, a self-governing island located in the Irish Sea. Before that Rachel, who is better known as The Minimalist Mom, lived in Vancouver with her husband her toddler. They moved at the end of May, and I had the chance to chat with her as she was packing up and preparing to move her family overseas. We had a great talk about what inspired her to embrace a life of minimalism, how she maintains that lifestyle while caring for a toddler, and what stuff she won’t get rid of.

Rachel Jonat the Minimalist Mom Podcast E-book

I recently had the chance to interview Rachel again for the Crafting my Life online class. She shared her thoughts and experiences around de-cluttering and making space in your life. During our interview, we also talked about Rachel’s new e-book, The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year. She published it recently, and it’s full of ideas for simplifying your life with your new baby. It’s quite a refreshing alternative to the message that we need to buy a whole lot of stuff to prepare for a new arrival. Yes, there are some basic items that babies need, but any experienced mom can tell you about at least one item she bought that ended up being a total waste of money. (Mine? The swing. My babies hated it. It was big and expensive. I regret the purchase.)

Minimalist Mom's Guide to Baby's First Year E-book Rachel Jonat PodcastI received a review copy of the e-book, and I enjoyed it. It’s not really applicable for me as the mom of a three-year-old and a six-year-old, but think it would have been really helpful when I was expecting my first child. Rachel shares her tips for how you can be a minimalist at a time when most people are out scouring the Babies R Us in search of lots and lots of gear. I remember picking up a catalogue from Babies R Us when I was pregnant with Hannah, in fact, and it had a shopping list that included dozens and dozens of items. I left the store with that catalogue feeling totally overwhelmed and unprepared. An e-book that reassured me that I did not, in fact, need a bouncy seat and a pack ‘n play and a bassinette and a crib and a glider and a swing would have saved me some angst, I can tell you.

I recently listened to the podcast I did with Rachel this spring, and even after hearing it a few times I picked up some new ideas about simplifying my own life. In honour of Rachel’s e-book launch I’m sharing my interview with her again. If you want tips on how to simplify and live a more meaningful life, or you want to know how Rachel eliminated tens of thousands of dollars of debt, you should take a listen:

Next week I’m going to be sharing an interview I did with Susan Larkin of UNICEF Canada. She’ll be talking about exactly what UNICEF does and what makes the organization unique, as well as sharing information on their Survival Gifts program. If you’re looking for a great last-minute holiday gift, check them out, and buy something that will really make a difference. For example, if you can’t decide what to buy for your child’s teacher, you could equip a whole school in the developing world with pencils for $20. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

Now, I want to hear from you. What did you buy for your kids that you totally didn’t end up using? Tell me!

Disclosure: The e-book links are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase the book I will receive a small commission.

Blogging, Ads and Money

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line.

Last week I mentioned that I was planning on writing a big announcement-type post on Thursday for Crafting my Life, but I didn’t get around to it. So, as promised, I’m tackling this today. But before I make any announcements, let me give you a little background.

When I started blogging in 2003 I didn’t really even understand what blogging was. I sort of fumbled along on my own for the longest time. Pretty much only my close friends and family visited, and I rarely received comments. And then sometime in late 2008 things changed. I started connecting with the blogging community, and I finally got it. Blogging wasn’t just about me writing blog posts, it was about reaching out beyond myself to other people.

As I reached out beyond my own sandbox, I noticed that other people were using their blogs as money-making vehicles. They ran sponsored reviews and had advertising and received free gifts. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that, to be honest. On the one hand, being paid for something I was doing already sounded great. On the other hand, I knew I would be very choosy about what kind of advertising I wanted to run alongside my kids’ baby pictures.

After some internal debate, I decided that it would be OK to run ads as long as I retained a degree of control. I settled on the BlogHer Publishing Network, and my ads went up in mid-2009. I liked it because it was easy, and it allowed me to choose what kinds of ads I would and would not accept. At first, I made about $25 a month. It was obviously not the path to riches, but it was essentially free, because I didn’t have to do anything differently to earn it. It was a way to cover my web hosting costs and that kind of thing.

In my experience, blogging is not a way to earn easy money. It’s hard work to build a successful platform, and the relative payback for that work is small. I think that for most bloggers the rewards aren’t financial, they come in the form of community and connections. And that’s great. If you want to build something beyond that, then you can use the platform you build through blogging to launch something else entirely. Like, say, writing a book or creating a business. The fan base you build online can translate into success in other areas.

I kept the BlogHer ads because, as I said, they were basically free money to cover my hosting. But then my revenues started to drop off. I went from making $25 a month to making less than $10, even as my traffic grew. BlogHer themselves said that blog revenue models are changing, and then they decided to change the terms of my contract and I just couldn’t see signing on. I spoke to some other folks about other networks, but I quickly realized that I have a big problem. Strocel.com is my personal blog, so I am not willing to advertise products here that I don’t agree with. And, big hippie that I am, I disagree with a lot of products.

The folks I would be happy to accept advertising from typically don’t have much money. For example, I would love to run ads from other moms who sell their handmade goods on Etsy. Those are my people. But many of them simply can’t afford to fork over cash for ads, and I get that. I tried to run my own handmade goods business, too, I understand that margins are razor-thin, or maybe even non-existent.

It’s something of a conundrum, but I’m going to give it a go. I’ve decided to reduce my monthly advertising rates significantly. In addition, from time to time I’ll be running deals and contests for free advertising spots – but not here. Just drop me a line and we’ll chat.

I’ll try selling my own ads for a while and see how it works. I’ve always found sales kind of intimidating, but I like the idea of partnering with people who are doing awesome things to help them get their message out. I still won’t be making the big bucks, and I’m OK with that. But I’ve also made my peace with the idea that I deserve some kind of remuneration for the work I’m putting in to create this online space. But all the same, I promise I will continue to protect my blog fiercely, because my personal integrity matters far more to me than advertising revenue.

Do you blog? Do you run ads? How do you decide what ads to run (or not run)? And what has been your experience with advertising networks? I’d love to hear!

My Little Luxuries

I do not have sophisticated taste. I tend to choose comfort over beauty, and function over form. I happily buy nearly all of my clothes second-hand – although I do draw the line at anything you could classify as an “intimate” and socks. I guess we all have our limits.

While I think of myself as easy to please, there are some things that I am kind of snobbish about. Things that I will splurge on, or spend more money on to get better quality. Call them the little luxuries that make life worth living.

Things Amber is Really Quite Snobby About

1. Children’s toys. I love waldorf-inspired, open-ended children’s toys made of natural materials. It is the great tragedy of my life that my children prefer cheap plastic beepy things. When I’m doing the shopping, you know that they’re getting something that I’ve rubbed with beeswax polish. Am I creating future therapist fodder? Perhaps, but I know their toys are safe, they won’t annoy me and they’ll last.

Hannah's new play kitchen

2. Sushi. There are places to scrimp, but any food that contains raw fish is just not one of them. At least, not if you have anything against parasites.

3. Butter. Real butter is worth every penny, and it tastes way better than any substitute. It’s not a massive splurge, but I’m becoming increasingly uncompromising in this regard.

He got into the butter

4. Eggs. Issues with dyeing eggs for Easter notwithstanding, I pay the premium to buy my eggs from the farmer’s market, from people I trust. Failing that, I go free range and organic.

5. My iPhone. Is it a necessity? No. Do I love it beyond all reason? Yes. Would I buy another kind of phone? Probably not.

So. Shiny.

6. Name brand painkillers. I know it’s the same stuff, intellectually. But somehow, “Tylenol” just sounds ever so much nicer than “acetaminophen”. You know?

7. Blackberries. This isn’t a cost thing, since I pick my blackberries for free, but I firmly believe that only fresh-picked ripe blackberries are worth eating. Luckily, they grow in abundance along the roadsides here. Any other kind of blackberry just doesn’t taste the same.

Blackberries on the vine

8. Art supplies. Cheap art supplies just don’t last as long, and they’re not as nice to work with. So I buy my kids the expensive crayons and the nice paper. It’s what I would want to use.

9. Bras. Life is too short to wear an ill-fitting bra just because it was a great deal. Although with the way that I cling to long-dead brassieres, I should take my own advice, here.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of for now. I would like to hear your thoughts, though. What are you willing to splurge on? And what do you feel quite snobbish about? Please share!

Appointments with my Husband

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line.

One of the topics that we cover in the Crafting my Life class is money. It’s not exactly the easiest and most fun week in the class, but it is one of the most important. Money, and our relationship to it, shapes a lot of our behaviours and actions. It can make us stay in a job that we hate, it can keep us from having the things we want, and it can change our status in society. Money is tied to value in our culture. Just consider the phrase “net worth“, and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve heard that money is the leading cause of divorce. As someone who’s been married for 10 years, I can see how that would be true. Sharing finances can be stressful, and it can trigger a lot of our issues surrounding security and happiness. If we’re not on the same financial page with our partner, it can be even more difficult. But getting on the same page isn’t always so easy.

As part of the class content on money, I interviewed Sierra Black. In addition to her fabulous parenting blog, she also writes at the financial blog Get Rich Slowly. I wanted her thoughts on how to share finances with someone without turning it into a battle. And she came through for me, with a suggestion to have regularly scheduled money meetings.

My husband Jon and I are usually on the same financial page, more or less. We’re both reasonably frugal people who don’t spend a lot on ourselves. But even so, we’ve had our fair share of disagreements when it comes to spending and saving, like any couple married for 10 years. We can’t be the only ones who’ve started a discussion about something seemingly innocuous, like what the vegetable garden will look like this year, and had it turn into an all-out argument about family finances. It takes up a lot of space and energy, and it’s not exactly my idea of a good time.

So we decided to take Sierra’s suggestion. Once a week, now, we sit down and talk about our money. If something comes up between meetings, we put it on the agenda. It sounds kind of ridiculous and formal to have weekly appointments with my husband to discuss finances, but it really works. It frees up time and mental space during the week, and it gives us the opportunity to both be heard and be sure that we’re on the same page. It’s actually been a very freeing experience, which isn’t what you’d probably expect from a money meeting, but I’m taking it.

While the money meetings are great, our relationship with money remains a constantly-evolving work in progress. That’s the way that life is. And so I’d love to hear how you and your partner have gotten on the same financial page. How do you share money and share a life without creating too much stress? Did you marry someone with the same financial views as you, or are you total opposites? Please tell me!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...