Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ella's 2nd birthday

A cool part about having kids at a young age is they come into your life during different phases.  Sure, this is true of every family, but it's especially notable when you decide to get married and have kids jut out of college.  Ella is the baby who has endured something with us.  She's moved apartments and states with us, she was the one who made us into parents and endured all our first-time parenting snuffs and successes.  She's the baby who endured postpartum depression with me, the one who made me smile despite the deep pain I was fighting to overcome.  She's the baby we really budgeted for, the one who has very much only gotten what she's needed and no more.  She's been with us for nearly the entirety of our marriage, through which we've faced challenges and yielded much growth.  I've always carried a little twinge of guilt with me, that Ella hasn't been showered with all extravagant outward signs of love that some little ones experience.  She never had a freshly painted nursery waiting for her arrival and her newborn wardrobe consisted of my top drawer in my Ikea dresser.

I say this because we tried to make this birthday a little extra special for her this year.  She didn't get a first birthday; our apartment was packed in boxes as we moved just a couple days later.  This year we baked a tall cake, we bought balloons, and we bought her a new table for her play area.  She got a treat on our usual morning coffee run, we spent the day opening and playing with presents from those who were generous enough to send her happy birthday love in the mail.  And, to top it off, her cousins came over in the evening which is seemingly all Ella wanted.  It's all about that cousin play time for her. They blew bubbles and played with puzzles and ran around. 

On Ella's first birthday, I went to bed with a full heart.  Though we weren't able to give her a party, we said I love you, hugged her extra tight.  And I know that's what matters.  But this year, I went to bed with an even fuller and happy heart because we got to witness her run around with all that 2-year-old birthday joy.  And she was happy, really happy.  It was her day, but we got the best gift.

A pink cake.

Extra bright birthday smiles!

We didn't know how she would like her balloons...

But she loved 'em!

Her new play table.

Eating her lunch on a paper plate ('cause she loves them).

And the best part of a birthday?  Left over cake.  Ohh yeahh.

(Vlog of the day coming soon!)

Monday, April 25, 2016

From the weekend

Allergies, Ella's birthday, and transitioning Ella from her crib into her toddler bed explains my absence over the last week.  I've felt under the weather and exhausted thanks to both the record pollen count and sleeping with toddler feet in my face.  Any energy I've mustered has been put into keeping my sink clean and my children fed.  But tomorrow, I'm planning on making bff's with an allergist, so life will once again consist of clear eyes (literally) and a more regimented writing schedule.  So stay tuned for a post on and a vlog from Ella's birthday!  For now, here are a few pictures from our weekend.

Ella's really into sitting lately.  Any chair, bench, or couch she comes across she stops and takes a seat.  We've learned to avoid the furniture section while out shopping.

Something else Ella is into lately - holding her little brother's hand.  Sometimes she gets frustrated when he takes his hand away, but she's learning how to really make him smile.

And something I'm into always - a decaf, vanilla almond milk latte, half the sweetener.  Thank God we live in Portland, a place that is known for its baristas saying, "we only serve alternative milk choices here."

Monday, April 18, 2016

From the weekend

It's another year of unusual weather for Washington, so I hear.  85 degrees in April?  These breaks from the rain have been seriously nice, and we've been spending all the time we can outside.  A trip to Portland, a trip to the park, donuts, iced coffee.  Hello, warm weather!

Rain = this?  We'll take it!  So much green, so much beauty.

Breakfast out!  I try to make a full breakfast for us during the week, so I love the treat of breakfast out on the weekends.  Seen here: Ella taking pictures of me, a much-needed distraction as the hungry little one waited for her food.

I spy with my eye...two cousins playing!

Break for snack time.  These two.

Ella found a stick and looked like the littlest member of Hogwarts carrying that thing around.  (Note to future self: Halloween costume idea?)

Sweet, little Rylie!  Ain't she a cutie?
Some late night editing action.  I took some video of our afternoon trip to Portland and made a little vlog our of it.  I've been wanting to do video for a while, and tapping into my (very) old editing skill set was good times.  Look out for it tomorrow!

Little A.  He smiles so much, he brings sunshine to all our rainy days.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Goodbye, Student Loans: Where we've been

The past 3.5 years in planner form.  These hold where we've been, and I love that I have them.
I'm going to start this post by throwing it back to marriage prep and say that, in my opinion, some of these marriage prep exercises could use a serious face lift.  Here's why:

When Tim and I were going through our marriage prep, our instructors told us we "passed with flying colors" that we had "clearly talked about things" and because of their assessment, they weren't thorough.  When it came to the finances part, I felt less like a wife-to-be learning about my partner's outlook on money and more like a kindergartner learning how to purchase some plastic lemons from little Jimmy's produce stand.  If you had 10 extra dollars, what would you do with it? was the nature of most of the questions.  And maybe that's because the people who formed the prep are older and are unaware of the potential amount of debt a young person can bring into a marriage these days. Regardless, with the level of vagueness these questions held, it was hard to walk away with a solid foundation upon which we would build our newlywed budget.

(I should note the only reason why I brought marriage prep into this post and why I write with such conviction on the topic is because finances have been consistently labeled as one of the top leading reasons for divorce.  And because of that, any sort of pre-marriage counsel should involve more thought-provoking, grittier questions and exercises.)

So we said "I do" with little knowledge of our financial future, and we got away with it because we both had jobs.  We clearly weren't going to get married without some sort of financial certainty.  And with combined salaries, we'd surely have no problem paying our bills, right?

Oh, student loans.

Before getting married, Tim and I sat down and made a mock budget.  A ballpark for rent, our car payment, and credit cards gave us what we thought would be the numbers we'd be working with in the near future.  But student loan payments hadn't kicked in yet as we were just out of school, so for whatever reason, we simply forgot about them (yes, insert a thousand shocked emojis).

Luckily, with both of our jobs, the student loan payments were manageable but only barely as we were trying to keep up with Southern California cost of living.  A month into our marriage, we found out we were expecting.  And this is where I became a bit of a finance and budgeting junkie.  Already having so much debt, adding hospital bills to the mix was not an option, so we budgeted like crazy.  I researched down to how many onesies (literally) a newborn needs, looked which baby soap would get us the most for our money (Dr. Bronner's), and found out which off brand diaper was the best (Up & Up) and with each paycheck, bought a little bit of what we needed (I quickly learned babies don't need half of what the baby industry tells us they need).  This took work.  We meal planned down to the amount of lettuce we needed for meals and bought from the bulk section only what we needed. We adopted Dave Ramsey's cash system, we didn't have anything in our apartment beyond what we needed, I bought the absolute minimum of maternity clothes I could get away with, and we had to turn down offers to go out with friends.  But the hard work paid off.  Ella was born, and we were able to pay our hospital bills in full (thank God for insurance).

But the work didn't stop there.

Prior to having Ella, both Tim and I worked, but after learning the cost of childcare for an infant in Southern California and not living around loved ones who'd be willing to watch her for a lower rate, we were faced with another what are we going to do?  We realized my salary would basically be going to childcare and the lifestyle accommodating two working parents (i.e. extra gas, more lenient grocery budget to incorporate easier meals, etc., etc.)  So I opted to stay at home and take on the role of stay-at-home mom and learn how to maintain a family on a budget.  When I made that call, Tim's current salary wasn't enough to meet cost of living, student loans, and family living (shout out to California taxes!), so it was quite literally a little miracle that his company review was right around when Ella was born.  He asked for a raise that he needed to provide for a family under our circumstances and he got it.

Since then, we've made paying off our student loans (and our car) before we're 30 our goal.  And it's a lofty one.  We started at $106,000 and nearly three years later we're around $76,000.  Just this week we reached the goal of paying off our car, two years ahead of schedule.  We've gone from nine debts compromised of credit cards and the car to three debts which leaves only our student loans.  Any bonuses we chuck at debt, any money from raises goes to bigger payments toward debt and we still maintain a lifestyle of buying what we need (though we've learned we need to find a balance -- more on that later). We try to put ourselves in a situation where we can crush debt the fastest which is why we left SoCal and which is why we're trying to move to Michigan.

This is the first part of our story.  You may think it's part irresponsibility with a dose of naivete.  And, yeah - to a certain extent, it is.  What did we know?  I was barely over the legal drinking age when we got engaged.  We were young and a little unaware.  But to be a little fair to us, I don't think anyone goes into a marriage with a 100% hold on finances.  There's an adjustment period that consists of learning each other's spending habits, mindset towards money, and how to best financially approach a situation together.  The beauty in our situation was when we were faced with our oh shit moment, we did not divide.  Though it was (and is) hard, any other course of action except getting through it together no matter what was out of the question.  And because of that, my God have we grown.  I'm now excellent with money. We do not take the opportunities we do have to go out for granted and we've learned what sacrifice - nitty, gritty, newlywed sacrifice - means. We've skipped on celebrating holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.  And I can't count how many times I cried in Tim's arms because we had no idea when we'd be able to afford a plane ticket home. But that's okay.  Because I'm proud of our path.  I'm proud of where we've been and where we are.  I look back on the last three years and just want to straight up cry thinking about how hard we've worked. But the tears lessen knowing that our hard work is paying off and will ultimately get us to our goals. And we'll re-book the honeymoon, that in an effort to save money, we had to cancel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

From the weekend

This is easily one of my favorite things Tim and I do together.  After a busy evening of having people over for food and chat, Tim and I "debrief."  The kids in bed, we sit in the living room with dim lights and all technology off, and talk about the evening.  As an extrovert with chronic anxiety, I feed off peoples' energy and being out with friends, but after a full night, I need quiet.  And this quiet time is especially sweet with my husband by my side.

There was a lot to sit and smile about this weekend.  Our friends from college came out for little A's baptism and took on the role of Godparents.  Tim's brother was in town as well for our niece who was baptized at the same Mass.  We ate, drank, and caught up.  I made too many desserts (typical), and I soaked in the joy that comes with being around people we love.

Baptism party prep!

Welcome to The Family, Archie!
Late night "gotta get ice cream for the cake" run.

Time to celebrate!

Cousins, poolside.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Goodbye, student loans : A new series

When I shared this last post, I had an "aha" moment of sorts.  I noted that Tim and I are in our "newlywed, student loan paying phase of our life", that this is our story "a story I'm proud of and thankful you read."

After reflecting on it, I thought "what story am I sharing?"  "What story do I want to share?"  In terms of "our story", I document holidays and birthdays and days out at the park, but I haven't documented an ounce of our real story, story line A, the narrative that has shaped where we live, what we buy, that has totally and completely dictated our lifestyle and has been the biggest factor in making life choices.

And that is paying off a mountain of student debt as a young family of four.

In this last post, I also mentioned I write about what I know.  I have (and I do).  I've chosen to be candid with my online presence in sharing and talking about personal growth and challenges. Everything from postpartum depression to the topic of therapy has been thrown in the mix.  But I've decided to take an even further leap -- a leap that will give you a glimpse into the reality of student debt, the toll it can take, and the budgeting it demands.  This might indeed be a reality for you.  To you I'd say, you're not alone.

For some readers, you may find this too personal.  And to you I'd say, maybe.  But the very fact that this is the reality for so many people under (and over) 30, I've realized that Tim and I aren't all that special. More than half of college grads have student loans.  Collectively, we have a trillion dollars of student debt and in 2015 the average amount owed was $35,000.  The burden is delaying home buying and family starting and forcing all energy and resources into paying off education.  And everyone is wandering around trying to find the answers.  This problem is unique to generations following our parents', so they're not really sure what to say.  Politicians are giving high hope and claiming promises.  I look around and I'm frustrated.  Everyone's running around yelling go to college but no one seems to have the answers about how to live once you've graduated. We're there, we're living the post-grad reality.  And this lifestyle that Tim and I are leading is quickly becoming the new normal.  So maybe by sharing, someone else might be inspired to make paying off debt a priority or someone can inspire me to push myself even harder.  By sharing, I hope to keep myself accountable and to be able to look back (while cruising around on my jet ski, of course) and say holy shit we paid off more than $106,000* worth of debt.

So here we go.  (Coming next week: Where We've Been)

When I sat down and took on the finances, six months after getting married, I sat down and added up our debts and formed a plan.  Close to 87,300 was student debt, 14,500 our car, and 2,500 of small debts.  In following posts I will specifically refer to the student loan numbers.  I wanted to include the number reflective of our all our debts in my introductory post.

Monday, April 4, 2016

From the weekend

This weekend was Summer status.  It was hot and sunny and totally beautiful and it was, according to Washingtonians "so unusual."  But we'll take it!  (In the Fall and Winter) Washington very much lives up to the It Rains All The Time stereotype.  So we welcomed the 5 days of consistently sunny skies.  A trip to the park was of course necessary and so was eating too much ice cream from our favorite local ice cream place.  Outings like these are only becoming more fun as Ella gets older.  The last time I was this excited for a Summer was...probably when I was anticipating Summer Break from school.

Sunday brought out our Sunday Best and we decided to hunt down something yummy and take it over to my in-laws.  Good thing we had these cupcakes on Sunday, 'cause they were way too good for a Monday.

Happy New Week to you.  I'll see you Wednesday.