Monday, October 28, 2013

Household Budget Updated

In light of our 1 year anniversary on our debt repayment project I thought I would post our budget again. I'm in the process of thinking about a massive overhaul of the blog to make it more user friendly but in the mean time I have combined our last year budget and this year's budget in one spreadsheet to show the differences. On the whole, our expenses have trended up this year. The few line items in green are where we had some cost savings. Line items shown in purple I want to explore further because I think we can generate some more savings in these categories and empty columns in 2012 meant that we didn't have that item as a budget line in our 2012 budget. Doesn't mean we didn't incur the expenses but that we didn't clearly allocate a budget to them. I'm happy to answer any questions so if you have any please leave them in the comments section.

As far as our family finance approach when it comes to saving, spending, paying off debt.. I think we've learned that for us it comes down to living comfortably and being happy. The whole reason why we embarked on tackling our debt head on was the goal of becoming more financially independent. While there are many things we could do to wipe out our debt more quickly like giving up our cars or even one of them or downsizing our house, deciding not to travel, etc., we've sort of worked our way to a spot where we think we are on good middle ground. It's really about finding efficiencies in our budget  that don't compromise our comfort or happiness on our journey to being debt-free. We don't need luxury cars to make us happy, but we do need reliable, reasonably newer vehicles. We don't need to be wearing sweaters in our house in the heat of the summer but having the comfort of A/C to take off the edge on a hot summer night keeps us happy. You get the idea.. all of this makes it much easier to sock money away toward the debt when we aren't busy feeling miserable, uncomfortable, and deprived.

Our monthly family income has actually dropped by $50 this year - no graduate assistantship finding since I am no longer a student but I did get a raise at work so we bring home approx. $7200 after taxes on an average month. For another example of a household budget at a similar income level you can check out Kelsey's budget. I've been thinking so much lately about how hush hush money always is which is unfortunate because I think we could all be learning from each other a great deal. I'd love to know how our household budget and expenses compare to yours and if ours are ridiculously higher in one area than I want to know your secret!!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Regular Cleaning Routine

I'm always looking to simplify my regular cleaning routine. I don't love or even remotely enjoy cleaning but I do like a clean house and with our bad allergies, we can't get away with just a tidy and going long periods between surface cleans for dust, etc. About 6 months ago I came across this cleaning routine. All you need is a laundry basket, two bags or containers, and your cleaning supplies and you go room to room. I modified this slightly to suit my larger house and get most of the cleaning done at the same time rather than just wiping surfaces. I also bring my bathroom cleaning supplies and duster along. If I really work it, I can get though the laundry basket portion in about 1.5 hours and then the vacuuming/mopping will take me another 45mins-1hr.  I do this once/week and it is the simplest method I've found yet. Since I don't particularly enjoy cleaning. I like getting it all out of the way once/week on the weekends rather than spreading out chores over the week.

How do you clean?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Month 12: The Big One Year Debt Repayment Update

Well, it has officially been ONE YEAR since we decided to hammer away at our $64,000 of debt. See the post on the beginning of our journey here.

Currently our finances spreadsheet says we're sitting at $51,550. This means in the last 12 months, we've paid off $12,450 or just under 20% of our debt. We're about 1/5th of the way to our goal! 

Our original goal was  to pay it all off in 4.5 years. At our current rate it looks like to will take us closer to 5 years but overall, I'm really happy with the progress we made this year. We started off really strong and then lost some steam along the way. Isn't this the case with most goals though? Yet, keeping nearly on track with our debt repayment plans, we've been living our most high frills lifestyle year yet. At first thought, I attributed it to the fact that with my latest raise, my before tax annual income went up nearly $10,000 since last September but when I reviewed the numbers from last year, currently we actually make $50 less/month than we did a year ago. Some of the highlights of this luxurious lifestyle shift were:

- Trading up our old clunker cars. This past year, both of our vehicles were in need of upgrading. We traded them up for sensible, reliable, new to us cars. With this upgrade, we downsized our fleet. I love love love my Prius and DH gave up his dream of having a truck and is really really happy driving his new car.

- Expanding our non-existent vacation budget by leaps and bounds and had zero regrets. We still don't take "vacation time" off work but we decided on a whim to purchase a trailer in cottage country and many memories were made spending weekends and long weekends up there all summer long.  We spent a couple long weekends up at my in-laws cottage too and got out in the boats. We're also taking a road trip over Christmas holidays to Disney World!

- Managing to do some relatively inexpensive home renovations to make our house more our own. Some of these went really well and others.. well... lets just say are in need of some help (more on this soon).

At times this year, DH and I weren't on the same page at all with regards to our finances. We had some stressful and difficult conversations. While DH was totally on board with our plan to pay down debt, it was mostly around the logistics of our finances where we had trouble. I have always taken on the lion's share of keeping track of the finances. When I was at home and we were living off (mostly) one income, this system worked really well for us. I had a lot of time to meticulously plan things out like groceries and I appreciated the autonomy of not having to ask for money to buy things we needed. Any excess money beyond bills I took out in cash so we knew exactly what was left for any spending. This year with me making a significant income contribution, we divided the bills between us based on what we thought made the most sense - for example, since I do all the grocery and other shopping, it would make the most sense for me to cover that bill, rather than having to shift money around. This meant that DH had to take a more active role in the finances (mainly his own portion) which he wasn't at all used to. It also meant that while most weeks, my expenses were fairly consistent (and my pay nearly always the same), based on bill cycles some of his weeks were really light and others really heavy which required rolling money forward from one week to the next rather than always operating on a week-to-week (0 sum) basis as we had in the past. Couple this with fluctuating paycheques since DH is in construction and things like weather affect his ability to work and long story short, this system did not work for us. We're now looking at going with a system more like the one Kelsey uses which we both feel more comfortable with.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Big Kid Bedroom

When we moved B out of nursery when he was 2.5 years old to make way for N, we had to leave his bedroom very basic. No toys because he'd play with them when it was bedtime and we preferred he play downstairs in the living room where we could keep a close watch on him while also getting other household stuff done. One time he wandered off upstairs with a crayon and coloured on his bedroom wall. Maybe he wanted to personalize it. We also found that books couldn't stay within reach in his bedroom either or they'd get wrecked. When he got angry and had a tantrum he'd knock stuff over or throw toys so the walls were never safe either. He'd also use furniture in his bedroom to climb - up to the window or up in his closet. So until about now (age 5), B has had very little in his bedroom aside from a bed. I'm so happy that my school aged kid is finally past this phase though we're just entering the same phase with N. His room is an absolute disaster but more on that next month when we move him out of the nursery.

For B's room we didn't have a big budget to work with (since we have 3 rooms to do!) so we just wanted to personalize it a bit and add some furniture.

Where his bed was before in the corner by the door, we added a solid wood desk and chair. When we were searching for a desk, this one stood out. A few years ago we bought a solid wood desk from Craigslist for our office which we love so much. The desk we found for B's room (Kijiji find) is essentially a mini version of our beloved office desk. It is a good size for him and he can use it all the way through school. It also offered a place to display some photos and his baseball trophy that were in his closet. Above the desk is his Blue Jays poster which he wanted to keep on his wall despite the fact that it has been taken down many a times and played with so isn't in the best condition. The Children's Solar System poster on the other wall was a gift from my brother. Since B has been particularly hard on his stuff it had once been up in his bedroom but had been tucked away in the closet for awhile until he could take better care of his stuff. Now that he has his desk, he spends a lot of time there colouring and cutting and pasting. Aside from colouring materials, the drawers also hold his library books so we keep them separate from his other books and all of his Nintendo DS stuff.

The painting in the frame on the left was something my dad bought from an art gallery on the East Coast. It is a painting of a boy on a unicorn overlooking the ocean. He bought the painting because the boy reminded him of my brother. This painting hung in my parents house until my mom redecorated just before B was born. When B was born, she offered the painting to us for his bedroom so it has special significance. We chose the colour of the walls for his bedroom to match when we moved into this house. The solid wood double bed frame was also a Kijiji find. We already had a double mattress and box spring in our office which was sitting on the ground and used on occasion as a guest bed. Of the two boys, B was the better fit for the double bed. N will have his old bunk bed in his new bedroom. We had to pick bedding to go with the colour of paint we had on the walls already so the sports themed bedding was perfect. It is actually reversible. The other side is just plain stripes and the sheets are navy. The set also came with a hockey bear which B absolutely loves.  We hung his medals from soccer and baseball at the foot of the bed.

Finally, the coffee table in the corner was in his bedroom before (an extra piece of furniture my sister had) but we cleaned off the top of it a bit. The table holds his books in the white basket and his Lego in the containers along with the mats. We do let him keep the Lego in his bedroom as the pieces are small and you kind of need to see to play with it. Sometimes he'll spend an hour or so playing with it while N naps or while dinner is getting ready.

Total Cost: $195.00

Bedding - $100 (from Winners)
Desk/Chair - $45 (Kijiji)
Double Bed Frame - $50 (Kijiji)

There are still a few more little thing's I'd like to do like put up a cork board for his artwork behind the door and find suitable window coverings. We've managed to go through two sets of blinds in his room with him bending them to look out and cutting them with scissors as an experiment. I'm thinking we might have to go with the faux wood blinds which are a bit more expensive but more durable than the plastic or aluminum and more energy efficient.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Baby #3: First Trimester Recap

Phew! I am out of the first trimester. Big sigh of relief. My first trimester was both uneventful (for the most part) and different from my other pregnancies.

Given that it was my third pregnancy, I didn't have my first midwives appointment until 10 weeks which seemed like an eternity. I guess by now, they figure I would know the drill with taking prenatals and what I should be avoiding. At the 10 week appointment, my midwife said it would be too early to hear the heartbeat with the doppler so I had no idea whether there was even a baby in there (positive pregnancy test aside) until my dating ultrasound at almost 13 weeks. Having had two miscarriages, one before B and then another before N,  I was half expecting to receive bad news but the prospect of having a miscarriage didn't weigh on my mind like it did with the previous pregnancies. Maybe something about the fact that I have been fortunate enough and able to carry and deliver two healthy children. I just figured we'd try again if things didn't work out this time like we did with the others. Nevertheless, it was a huge relief at my 13 week scan when the technician confirmed there was indeed a baby in there and that everything looked really good! 

After experiencing only one week of nausea with B and then only feeling "off" a few times with N, I was surprised this time around to be hit with all day nausea from approx. 6.5 weeks-9.5 weeks. I never actually got sick but I felt terrible pretty much 100% of the time. During this time, I also spent a fortune eating out for lunch at work. Something would seem palatable to bring the evening before or in the morning when I was getting ready and then by lunchtime it would seem completely gross. Consequently I had to wait until lunch time to see what I thought I might be able to stomach at that time. I pretty much lived off of Tim Hortons chicken noodle soup and toasted dry bagel, Subway, and on a good day, the Pita Pit.  At home, I ate lots of bagels, bread/toast, and fried eggs. Needless to say, I have gained more weight this pregnancy than I did with my previous two. I am so happy this passed (and was only a few weeks)! Aside from the brief nausea and weight gain (fat not baby), I haven't actually felt too pregnant yet. 

At Thanksgiving, we shared our baby news with our families. One big difference I've noticed with this pregnancy is in peoples reactions to the news. First reactions have been more surprise than excitement.  Close friends and family knew that we were planning/thinking about having another so they weren't too surprised. After our first baby, people asked us when we were going to have another. When we got pregnant with N, there was resounding excitement from everyone - a sibling for B, how wonderful. 

Though I know most people are well meaning some of my "favourite" comments this time around, even from family have been:

"was it planned?" - as if no one in their right mind would plan three - must have been an accident

"so you decided to try for a girl" - a rationale to justify a third since we have the two boys and no one in their right mind would plan to have a third child, unless it was to try for the opposite gender

"that will be busy" 

I try to take it like a good sport and politely laugh it off. For the record, yes we planned to have a third baby. I came from a family of 3 kids, DH came from a family of 5 (his 3 oldest siblings are half siblings from a first marriage) - not exactly a stretch of the imagination that 3 kids might be a normal family size in our perspective. You bet my father-in-law (father of 5) sure didn't have any of the above "favourite" comments for us when we shared the news. No, we weren't trying for any gender in specific. We'll be (honestly) equally happy with whatever we get. And finally... yes, I'm sure we will be busy with 3 kids, but we enjoy keeping busy. 

We're so so excited for our new addition. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


This year we are not only thankful for a roof over our heads, jobs, food, supportive family and friends, and two healthy and happy boys but also that we have been blessed with a third baby to look forward to welcoming this Spring!

Monday, October 7, 2013

October Goals

September seemed to fly by. Here is how I did on my September Goals:

+ Finally get around to giving B's bedroom a facelift before school starts YES. There are still a few final touches I want to make but he now has a more personalized school aged kid bedroom. Expect a post on this soon. 

+ Rent carpet cleaner and clean the carpets in the house YES. $25 + tax at Home Depot for a 4 hour rental. Didn't get all the stains out (gotta love carpet with a dog and kids) but looks much much better. 

+ Give the house a deep clean (we've been away most weekends all summer so the cleaning hasn't been thorough). Sadly no... but I will get to this with my goals for October. 

+ Prep for academic conference I will be attending and presenting at later this month! YES! It went really well. I was on a "conference high" for the past week.  

+ Book that eye appointment I've been putting off. YES. Made an appointment for November. 

+ Get more sleep, exercise, and eat well. Somewhat. I have been food journaling (weekdays only) since the beginning of the summer. So I know I need to up my fruit and veggie intake, and my dairy alternatives. I've been doing a good job of making sure I get 8-9 hours of sleep too at night and getting a bit of exercise.  

+ Pay off $1000 on our debt. Made it about 3/4 of the way on this one but we did get a new car in September so might have made it to our goal otherwise. 

Goals for October are mostly focused around the home and family:

+ Organize and do a deep clean of the house. A carry over from last month but I'm looking forward to doing lots of purging. This will help me with my 2013 goal of making our house a home. We've been accumulating a lot of clutter. Especially paper clutter. Though it is not exactly house-related, I kicked off this month's organizing by going through and doing some cleaning of my Facebook friends list. Many of the people I had on there (approx. 1/3) were just acquaintances - many from grade school, high school, and university days and many of whom I share absolutely zero common interests with at this point in my life. Each person was a conscious keep or let go. My main question was... do I actually interact with this person on Facebook? If not, then we probably don't share many interests and aren't too good of friends. Bonus is that now my homepage is only cluttered with updates from family and friends I actually interact with/share some interests with.

+ Sort and organize the boys' baby books and photos. I've been meaning to do this for a long time. B keeps getting into his and N's baby mementos. I store them in the top of their closets but he'll find a way to get up there and get to them. I'd love for them to be accessible but I also don't want things to get ruined... dilemma

+ Finalize Christmas vacation plans. We've already done some tweaking to spread out our travel a little bit more on the way home and so we can also be back for New Year's Eve.

+ Get more sleep, exercise, and eat well. This month I'm going to try to do better on my fruit/veg and calcium intake. I'm also going to try to be more active. Speed cleaning sounds like a good start!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On Extra-Curriculars

Good old game of family ball hockey a couple of weekends ago up north
One of my favourite bloggers recently wrote an awesome post over at the Yummy Mummy Club. I had been planning on writing our family approach for awhile and this made the perfect opportunity. How do you find a balance between enriching your child's life with extracurriculars, allowing them to have free and unstructured play, and not burning them or yourself as a parent out at the same time. Multiply the number of kids and this equation can get increasingly difficult, not to mention expensive. 

I was recently scrolling the EQAO (standardized testing) results for our school and found the questions they asked of the kids the most interesting - an overwhelming number of them participated in extracurriculars. Nearly all of those extracurriculars fell under the "sports" category. Undoubtedly a part of this is the federal tax credit for qualifying activities which get kids active. Remarkably few children at our school took extracurriculars in the area of art, drama, or music but I imagine this would be much the same for other schools in the area. The EQAO also asks the child about screen time and parent engagement  - I'd encourage you to search for the results from your school if you live in Ontario. 

Both our boys absolutely LOVE the outdoors. We have no trouble getting either to go outside and play. It also helps that we live in a neighbourhood with many kids and the park/playground is really close. We also have a decent-sized backyard and whenever people have asked what they'd like for their birthdays (both in the Spring) we always answer anything for outdoor play. So, they are quite active. We often like to "let them burn off steam" by playing outside. 

Our family approach:

- We've never done more than one extracurricular at one time for each kid. At this point, N (2.5 yrs) has only ever taken swimming lessons and I think we'll keep it fairly limited until about age 4. We tried B at 3 yrs with soccer and he didn't particularly enjoy it. He was also developmentally very focused on himself still and playing alongside other children rather than with them. It was effectively a waste of both time and money. Since our little guys are very active on a regular basis, I would argue for our family, getting the required amount of physical activity won't be an "issue" until at least age 9-10 when more technology starts infiltrating their lives. 

- At least, once in the Fall, Winter or Spring (usually Fall of Spring to avoid missing too many lessons from ear infections) both boys take swimming lessons. We think of this as non-optional and as a life skill. It costs about $80 for 9 or 10 weeks which isn't too bad. In the past, the boys were lucky to have Grandma take them to their lessons. This gave them special time with her. In the summer, we are usually around pools or water a lot more and they can practice their swimming then with us in an unstructured environment. 

- We also want to try to encourage at least one extra curricular other than sports. B is really interested in drawing lately so this might be an option. 

- Down the line, if either child gets particularly interested in one sport, we will have to weigh our options both in terms of time/cost/impact to the rest of the family. We're all for nurturing interests and talents in each child but also being mindful of the family as a unit. 

On timing... 

Finding a good balance with the timing of extracurriculars has been something that I only think we finally got down recently. Our family rule is that we will spend more than half of the evenings in the week at home together as a family this means no more than 3 nights/week can contain activities for all family members. As our family grows, we will have to be conscious about scheduling so as to not break our rule (adult extracurriculars included!). 

Both boys are taking swimming lessons this Fall and we thought about scheduling them together except one parent has to be in the pool still with N which makes it a little bit difficult if you're going solo and doesn't give the chance to watch B's lesson. Also, most of the lessons are at 6 or 6:30pm which makes getting back for our 7pm bedtime difficult and makes for cranky kids the next morning. Also, after dinner both of my kids are tired and consequently their listening skills aren't the greatest and melt downs are at their prime. Another consideration we have is that while DH is home every night of the week, I often have work meetings in the evening or volunteer commitments. On average, I am out 1-2 nights/week but some odd weeks, as many as 3 nights. This makes it more difficult for evening activities since both kids need to be dragged along and while B is a little bit more flexible with bedtime, often N is falling apart before bedtime. 

Since N is home with my sister during the week, she volunteered to take him to swimming lessons during the week in the mornings when he'd be well rested. This also gives them something to break up their week a little bit. Since this was B's first year of full day kindergarten, and given our past experiences with night time lessons, we opted for morning lessons on the weekend when he is also well rested and it doesn't cut into the rest of our day together. This schedule is working wonderfully for us so far. I even enjoy going to watch the lessons more since I haven't been working all day and stressing to make dinner and get out the door. 

I'd love to hear how others handle extracurriculars!