24 February 2015
For several years, I’ve wanted to cut down on our paper towel use and introduce cloth dish towels to our kitchen. I wanted to do this for environmental reasons (my understanding is that cloth is better than paper!) as well as for financial – we were going through a lot of paper towels! We probably used about one roll every week and a half. At about $2 per roll, that’s almost $200 per year.
However, my husband, the chef in our family and the main paper towel consumer, was not on board. Since he does the majority of cooking, I wanted to respect his preference. Earlier this year, however, it occurred to me that even if he wasn’t interested in using cloth towels, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t. (Don’t ask me why it took me so long to figure this out.) I spent $25 at Target for 20 dish cloths and a little plastic bin. The dish cloths got folded and stacked on a cake plate next to our paper towel roll, and the bin went next door for the dirties (so we didn’t have to trek to the laundry room after every use).
Friends, this system is working better than I ever dreamed! I’m glad that we still have paper towels available, because cloth isn’t perfect for everything (I prefer to clean up cat vomit with something disposable!). But just the presence of the cloth towels has cut down both of our paper towel consumption to almost nothing – in the two months we’ve had cloth available, we’ve probably used about a roll of paper towels.
A few other items:
— We’re not doing any additional laundry – we just throw the dish towels in with our once a week sheets-and-towels load. We were already doing this with cleaning rags, and they’re so small they don’t make much difference!
— We started with 20 bar cloths/dish towels. As we became more used to having the cloths available, we started to go through them faster, so we just added five more to the collection a few days ago. I think adding five more (to get us to 30) will be the perfect amount to get us through a week.
This situation was a great reminder of the old adage – the only person you can change is yourself. Or my personal favorite, Be the change you wish to see in the house. We spent so long at a standstill, with him stubbornly on the paper towel side and me stubbornly on the cloth side. In the end, we ended up gladly on the same side because no one was being forced to change. I know I’ll be reminding myself of this lesson in the future :)
Have you tried to reduce paper towels in your house?
18 February 2015
I say “dining room” lightly, because as you know, our downstairs is pretty much one big open space!
We are situated VERY close to our neighbors, so window treatments have to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Our house came with nice blinds, and we usually keep them all the way down for privacy reasons. I don’t mind the look of them, but I would love to be able to keep them up to allow more light in! To do that, however, we need to add something into the mix – and that’s where cafe curtains come in. Though I don’t always love the look of them (they can look a little country), I think they are the perfect solution for this spot.
Cafe curtains would allow us to keep the blinds completely rolled up and let lots of sun in through the top half of the windows, but our neighbors would only be able to see the tops of our heads when the curtains were closed. Sounds good! Here are a few images that have been inspiring me…
Better Homes & Gardens, Anne Decker Architects, Proverbs 31 Girl, unknown
I also found this little video, which has some helpful hanging tips! I think the key to making this type of curtain look less country is to use rings instead of a rod-pocket or tab style.
Now, my decisions:
1. Inside mount or outside mount for the hardware? I think this one is made for me – with the way our windows are built, I think it has to be outside mount. I am eying this set, but I might be able to find something similar for less at Home Depot/Lowes.
2. Curtain color? I want something very light and airy, so there are pretty much two options with our house’s palette: white or pale blue. I am not feeling a pattern right next to the table, unless someone would like to try and convince me otherwise :)
The plan is to buy fabric and either use the no-sew iron-on adhesive technique I’ve used before, or ship the fabric to my sister and see if she’ll sew a few hems for me on her sewing machine!
16 February 2015
Anyone have any experience with cafe curtains? Or privacy from close neighbors? :)
This year, instead of setting traditional goals, I am examining and practicing a fruit of the spirit each month. I explain more here!
When I think about joy, the first thing that comes to mind is gratitude. I think gratitude is the “secret” to a joyful life, because the only possible outflow from gratitude is joy. When I am grateful, I am joyful. When I am grateful, I see the abundance in everything around me. I see that I have more than enough!
For the last few weeks, I have been keeping an impromptu gratitude journal. To be honest, while I am trying to embrace the whimsy of writing down whatever I happen to be most grateful for at the moment, sometimes it feels a bit aimless. There are so many HUGE things I have to be grateful for that I feel like I need to write all those down first! As in…
1) My health
1a) Health of husband
1b) Health of family
1c) Health of friends
1d) Health of cats
…and on and on. As a side note, the whimsy has led to some random recordings – why am I thinking about Free Cone Day in the middle of February?? (April 14, FYI!)
So, has cultivating gratitude helped me to be more joyful? Yes, I think so! However, even though many of the things I have written down are not materialistic, almost all of them are circumstantial, and I think that’s not telling the full story. Life Church’s current sermon series is called “God Never Said That,” and I happened to listen to the most recent one as I was mulling over all of these thoughts. In it, Craig debunks the myth that “God wants you happy.” The sermon is definitely worth listening to, but for our purposes, here’s the gist:
— God delights in our happiness, like any good father.
— However, He doesn’t want us to pursue happiness, He wants us to pursue Him.
— The world’s definition of happiness is: better possessions + peaceful circumstances + thrilling experiences + the right relationship + perfect appearances.
— God does not want us to be happy when our happiness is based only on the things of this world.
My husband brings me great joy. My cats bring me joy. Maine brings me joy. My bed brings me joy. But I believe that they bring me joy because they are a hint, a reflection, a reminder of the joy that is God’s love for me. For me, the most profound part of Craig’s sermon was his reminder that we need to lower our expectations of earth, because earth is not meant to be fully satisfying. Things here can bring us great joy, but they’re still only an echo.
A few more things I’m doing to cultivate joy:
— Letting positive, joyful people influence me instead of cynical or pessimistic people
— Being truly grateful not only for the good things in my life, but expressing my gratitude to the one who gave them to me
— Being present and ENJOYING the things, and especially people, He has given me. The more I tune in to the wonder of my life and the world around me, the more joyful I become!
Friends, out of every personality trait, I would wager that joy is the most intoxicating. People are downright intrigued by those who exude joy, because it’s something we all want more of. Be one of those people! Let your joy pour out of you!! In the meantime, I would love to hear: how do you cultivate a joyful life?
P.S. Fruit of the spirit: love
12 February 2015
It’s official: we have booked our tickets to France!! After discussing this trip for two and a half years, and dreaming of it for even longer, I almost can’t believe it’s actually happening. But it is, and plans are moving fast!
Well, plans are moving fast now. I promised myself I wouldn’t get excited until we had actually booked our plane tickets, so in January, John began searching. Depending on the day, he found fares from Raleigh to Charles de Gaulle that ranged from $2,800-$3,400 for two. Did your eyes just bug out? Yeah, mine, too. Having never bought international plane tickets before, we thought that seemed expensive, but weren’t really sure what was reasonable, so we hesitated over pulling the trigger. While we waffled, I ended up reaching out to a friend who had recently flown to Europe to ask what they paid, and once I heard $2,900 from her, I felt better. Side note: financial transparency among friends is so valuable!! John headed back to the travel sites (Hipmunk is his favorite), and lo and behold, we somehow ended up paying $2,300!
Once our flights were settled, we quickly booked our accommodations in Paris (an Airbnb in the 15th arrondisement) and in Provence. But there’s still so much to do! We’ve been poring over travel sites and magazines and soaking everything in. I love the photos on the Haven in Paris blog:
I can’t stand it!! So good. We’ll be there for 8 days and 8 nights in June, traveling between Paris, Provence, and the Cote d’Azur. I’d love to hear your recommendations!
9 February 2015
Well, here it is: the most frequently-requested topic since I started Marvelous Money. I have resisted writing on it since I have not, in fact, had a baby, and therefore feel under-qualified to write about what someone should do to prepare for having one, but the requests kept coming. So, after thinking about it for many months, I figured I would do this:
1. Put my best attempt forward, based on things John and I have thought about or I have discussed with the wise people around me.
2. Ask for your advice in the comments!! People who have had babies, I want to hear from you!
3. At some point in the future, after I have actually had a baby, come back and write a follow-up post. Hopefully I will not be crying tears of laughter at myself.
Alright, let’s do this! My best tips for preparing financially for a baby:
1. Start saving. Just start saving money. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what it’s for, or how much you need to save, or whether or not you’re pregnant. If you’re thinking about having a baby, start saving money. It’s always a good idea to save, but you will surely need it for something if you’re adding a new member to the family. Money is not everything, but generally, the more money you have, the more choices you have.
2. Start, build, or top-off your emergency fund. If you currently have no emergency fund and are pregnant, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to set-aside three to six months of savings in nine months (it took us two years). That’s okay! But just because you can’t do it all doesn’t mean you should do nothing. At the very least, set aside $1,000 to deal with unexpected expenses.
3. Find out what your out-of-pocket maximum is and save that amount. I hear that it’s a little bit expensive to be pregnant and to actually birth a baby. Therefore, it’s entirely likely that you will not only hit your insurance deductible but reach your out-of-pocket maximum. If you have an HSA, your maximum could be thousands of dollars (ours is $4,500). Read up on your health insurance plan and be smart about what expenses you could be looking at.
4. Research your maternity leave. If you currently have a job and don’t know if you have maternity benefits or what they look like, now is the time to find out! How long is it? Do you get paid? Full salary, or partial? What does FMLA leave mean for you? If you won’t be getting paid, discuss with your spouse how you will make up the difference in your household budget – savings? Cutting back on expenses?
5. Try to make some of your income more passive. If you are an entrepreneur or a creative person, brainstorm ways to bring in more passive income during your maternity leave, if possible. This could look like an invitation download if you have an Etsy shop, or an e-book if you blog, or even working ahead (if you sell a product) to have items ready to ship. Not relevant for everyone, but I wanted to mention it!
6. Talk with your spouse about what you want your life to look like. And use that discussion to estimate how your costs might change. Are one of you planning to stay home? For one year? For ten years? How will you make up the difference in your budget? How will your budget absorb the additional expense of a child? Are you on the same page about where you’ll cut back, if necessary?
7. Research childcare options. If you’re planning to have any sort of childcare, what will it cost? Full time day care? Full time nanny? Part time? Grandparents? Request information or ask around and figure out how much each option costs in your area. Brainstorm how you will fit this money into your budget.
8. Make sure you have the important things in place. While not completely financial in nature, making sure you have a living will in place, life insurance coverage, and other important grown-up items becomes even more important when you bring a child into the picture.
Adorable niece! (And adorable sisters, too.)
9. Think simple! Yes, there are mandatory expenses that come along with having a baby – but I think most of the time a lot more money is spent on a new baby than is actually necessary. John gets annoyed at me when I say things like this, because he thinks I’m being naive. Maybe I am, but in talking to friends and observing the world, I think there is a lot of truth in that statement.
My eyes were opened when talking to my friend M. Her daughter was born six weeks early. She had just had her shower the day before; she and her husband were planning to fill in the gaps in the next few weeks to make sure they were ready for baby’s arrival. Instead, they spent the next few weeks in the hospital and never went on that big purchasing trip – they just bought what they needed as they needed it, and most things they never ended up purchasing at all.
From what I hear, babies don’t need a whole lot. They certainly don’t need a fancy nursery. They don’t need a ton of outfits (probably a multi-pack of simple onesies would be fine to start). They don’t need a special blanket to lie down on or cover them in their stroller (you probably have an extra blanket in your house you could use). I’m not saying these things aren’t lovely or useful or that I might partake in them myself – but if you’re worried about the cost of a new baby, I want to encourage you that there are many ways to reduce expenses. Borrow or purchase items from older friends or siblings. Shop consignment sales and stores for clothing. Search Craiglist for used items at a fraction of the price.* I know I will be doing all of the above!
To conclude, there are a lot of big questions, and words like “saving” and “budget” and “thousands,” in this post. Yikes! Instead of being discouraging or overwhelming, I hope it leaves you feeling empowered. I worry sometimes that a future child will derail the financial momentum John and I have worked so hard to build, but I think being brave and thinking ahead is the best way to ensure we have as many options as possible when the time comes. I hope you feel the same way!
Friends, I would LOVE to hear from you!! If you have a child, what, if anything, did you do financially to prepare your family? Does this advice ring true or am I totally off? If you are thinking about having a child, what financial questions do you have?
*Safety standards are updated often, and I know there are certain items (cribs, car seats) that experts recommend buying new. Make sure to do your research!