Thursday, June 20, 2013

Best. Run. Ever!

Yesterday, I set off on my run with every intention of it being an average run. Average in route, length, time, pace....everything. It didn't turn out that way at all! As I ran one of my usual routes, I was feeling more worn out than usual, and I thought about cutting it short. I pushed myself past hill #1, which hit at about mile 2. As I neared hill #2, I wished I would have turned around. I was exhausted, my son was getting over, yet another fever, and my boys would be waiting on me for dinner. I decided I would get up this second hill (because, at this point, it was the quickest route home), then I would cut through the nearest neighborhood and head home.

As soon as I stepped on the little wooden bridge that signals that the incline is about to begin, I heard a skateboard coming up behind me. I moved over to let them pass, but I quickly realized that they were not passing me, they were keeping pace with me. When I turned to take a peek, I realized it was one of my past students, and he was looking at me. Awkward!

6.9 mile run
I said, "Hello." and fully expected a quick "Hi.", followed by him speeding on his way. Once again, did not happen. The boy said, "Hello, Mrs. Brooks! How are you?". I answered by telling him I was good and happy to be out and about. He then proceeded to tell me (me running, him skateboarding, together) how much I had changed his life. How he never liked school until he walked into my classroom. How he was actually excited for high school because of a love for reading, which he said he picked up while in my class. He ended the conversation by saying, "You will always be my favorite teacher!" and speed off.

I was shocked, touched, and rejuvenated. Not only had I run up the dreaded hill without a second thought, but I was in tears, and felt amazing. I ended up running just under seven miles (my longest, by far), with a pace around eight and a half minutes (a great pace for me), and I made it home with more energy than I had all day. I'm so glad I went on that run, that I stuck it out, that I saw that student, that I ran so far and so fast. I'm just glad!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Save for Your Child's Education AND a Vacation on a Budget

5-6 weeks worth of change
My husband and I have worked out a financial plan that will get us out of debt at a very fast pace. It has required some sacrifices, has taught us a lot about what is important and how to be more self-sufficient, and how to live with less, happily. There have been a great deal of unexpected benefits to our system. One such benefit is that we have an easy system for saving for our boys' future education, and either a vacation or vacation home. This system doesn't require any planning, no financial changes, and is the easiest idea to implement that we have ever had!

Here's how you do it: The only rules are that you live off of cash ONLY, and that you DON'T spend the change you accrue. That's it! We have set up an easy-to-use system that works wonders for us. We put a jar in a safe, hidden, and easy to get to, spot. Everyday, we empty our pockets, wallets, and bags of change, and put it into the jar. When the jar is full (it usually takes us a month to six weeks), we count it, sort it into three even piles of change, and disperse the funds into two piggy banks (for the boys), and the last third into a large container which will be our future vacation fund. When the piggy banks get full, we take them to the bank and deposit the money into our sons' bank accounts.

Sorting and counting
It may not seem like a great way to save for such expensive plans, but these plans are long term, and this system isn't as restrictive as signing the boys up for college funds or savings plans through companies that offer such things. We are chipping away slowly, but our boys are three and 5 months, so we have a long time to build up the money. I'm sure we could cut out the vacation/vacation home fund, if we wanted to, but we like the idea of having a family "reward" at the end. It's great motivation!

 It's also a great way to teach our boys about money, budgeting, planning, monetary values, counting, etc. We have made sure that Liam has been a part of every step in this. He helps us empty our pockets, puts the money in the jar, counts the money, puts it into the various banks, and helps us take the piggy banks into the bank when the time comes. I know he's learning great lessons, and so are we.

Depositing the $ into the "bank"
I like that this plan is painless monthly, and it works! Just this time around, we inherited $36 worth of change, that means $12 per "account"! Last time, it was even more. If we were to save just $10 a month per designated fund, we would end up with a $1,200 in EACH account in 10 years. All without missing a cent! Of course, we will probably supplement and add more money when we can, but this is a great way for us to continue to plan for these life events, even while on a tight budget.

Happy saving!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An Unexpected Victory

When I got off work today, I was sad and excited all at once. Today is my last day of teaching this year's group of 6th graders, and it's always a bittersweet milestone. As I walked to my car, feeling a bit emotionally confused, my phone signaled that I had a voicemail. I got in my car, turned it on, and listened to the message. It was left by a women who helps to facilitate the Portland Park and Recreation $5 5Ks that I have been participating in. She began by saying, "I have some exciting news for you!"

My first thought, "They are taking me off the waitlist for the next run, and I finally have a secure spot." That would have been great news, but what she had to tell me was even better! She continued by saying that a women who had crossed the finish line before me, had accidentally finished after only two laps around the park. She then went on to explain, that this was great for me because this woman had been named the 3rd place runner in the women's division. Her mistake meant that I was actually the 3rd place runner in the women's division!!!

My first award for running!
She left me her contact information and told me to give her a call. When I got home, I called her back, at which point she informed me that I not only earned the 3rd place title, but that she had a medal to send me! I'm still a bit in shock over the whole thing. I started this running journey less than 3 months ago, as a slow, sporadic runner at best. I would have never thought I would come in 3rd place in a race!

It's funny! I didn't even stay for the award ceremony, never have, the thought never even crossed my mind! Now, I know I should. Maybe there will be more medals in my future; maybe I should consider myself a competitor in the races that I run. Man. I thought I was addicted to running before, now my competitive nature has been awakened. Runners beware!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Mommy Day

Being a mommy is hard work. You learn to love others unconditionally, you put their needs/wants before your own hourly, you give up free-time, being able to finish a book, movie, or chore without interruption, and  you worry more about how your kids look than yourself. I can't remember the last time I actually took time to pick out my own outfit. I usually throw on the first clean pieces of clothing I can find. I have lost all ability to be fashionable (not sure if I ever was, but at least I tried) and it makes me sad.
After having Liam, I worked hard to lose the baby weight and finally got my body into a shape/size I was happy with. While pregnant with Nolan, I vowed that I would do the same, only much faster. I have once again, worked very hard. I run, eat better/less, and we have become a very active family. If you want to see more about how I did this, check out my post-pregnancy weight loss tips! Nursing has caused me to hold on to the last few pounds, but I'm pretty happy with my progress since he was born 5 months ago.
As a bit of a reward for my hard weight loss/health work, our efforts in budgeting/paying off debt, and just being a hard working mama, I treated myself to a Mommy Day. I couldn't have done it without the support of my wonderful husband who watched the boys, made all the meals, and cleaned the house while I was gone!
My day started with a little bit of a sleep in (I got up at 6 am instead of 5:30. Woo hoo!) Then I went on a 4 mile, morning run. It was fantastic! The weather was perfect, no one else was out and about because it was so early, and I felt amazing. When I got home, I took a much-needed shower while my husband made our family a yummy breakfast. After that, I got ready to head out.
I met a good friend for hours of clothes shopping....for me. I didn't buy a single thing for my boys. Shocking, I know! We also had lunch, and then did more shopping. It was wonderful to be able to have hours of conversation without someone interrupting or needing to be changed or feed. This was my first real break from my kiddos since Nolan was born in January, so I enjoyed every minute of it.
When I returned home, both boys were just waking up from long naps, so they were in exceptional moods. I got lots of snuggles and smiles. Then my husband made yet another delicious meal, the boys went off to bed, and so did I. I was exhausted from my mommy day and couldn't even make it past 7:30. I woke up Sunday morning with a new found patience and felt well-rested, which was great since I had another 5K race to run.
Having Mommy Days is not a selfish thing to do, as I once thought. It's needed, and can help you to be a better parent. Taking time to yourself, and realizing that your needs are just as important as your kids (although you might have to wait a bit longer to have them met), if you want to be a happy mommy. I know having a mommy day will happen once in a blue moon, but I will appreciate the time I get, when I get it.
I know I feel better about myself now that I have the ability to wear nice clothes that fit my new shape, that I can actually look like I care about myself, and that I have had some time for me.

Get out your planner, and pick a date for your Mommy Day! You won't regret it!!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

How to Live Simpler, and Be Happier

When Joe and I decided that I should work part-time and be home to raise our boys more, we knew that we were going to have to make some big lifestyle changes. Not that we were ever "big spenders", but we did shop when we wanted, we bought the groceries that we wanted, we went out to eat pretty consistently, and we took vacations (all be it, small ones) a couple of times a year, without much thought. Those days are long gone, but not because we can't afford them, but because we have a new focus, new goals, and a new outlook on what's important.

When I made the part-time switch, we lost a fourth of our income. It would have required huge changes in and of itself, but about the same time, we decided that we needed to focus on paying down the mountain of student loan and car loan debt that we had built up. We wanted to be debt-free for our boys, for our future. So we created a budget (modeled by a good friend, and financial genius!), started using cash only, and re-prioritized.

Science experiments, instead of TV
Pancake picnic in our backyard

After about six months of putting all of our extra income toward the car (at a rapid pace), we became addicted and started looking into other ways to increase our extra cash, and decrease our debt. I started couponing, which has resulting in a stockpile of food I have only seen in mom and pop stores. This also became a bit of an addiction. We cut out internet, home phone, and cable (only internet has been renewed), and we had a couple of garage sales. I started planning ahead for birthdays, graduations, and other holidays by buying gifts when I found them on sale, whether close to their birthday/holiday or not. We made almost all of our Christmas gifts last year and I made Liam's big birthday gift, saving us hundreds of dollars, and once again, it felt good.

Since Nolan was born, we have made even more financial changes. We use cloth diapers (not exclusively, but it still cuts costs), we make our own cleaning supplies and laundry detergent, we expanded our garden-which we thoroughly enjoyed last year, I'm making baby food in preparation for Nolan's first eats, and we have become experts at finding cheap and/or free activities that are fun for the whole family. I have also become addicted (yes, I am aware that I have used this word several times) to "Buy and Sell" pages on Facebook. My family has purchased several amazing, previously loved, items at shockingly low prices, and have sold enough to, not only balance out our purchases, but some extra as well.

Lunch date with Daddy
Planting basil in the garden
We have learned where we can "cut corners" (which usually means, "make it better than you can buy it"), and we have learned to enjoy it. I'm not only excited to get our bills each month, but I'm excited to see what else I can do, that will make our overall situation more comfortable. It's crazy how much happier I am doing all of these things for my family and for myself! It's nice to feel like you are making a positive contribution to your family's financial future, even though you are making half as much money; that you are making lasting changes, and that your family is better off for them.

So here it is in a nutshell:

-Make what you can
-Grow a garden
-By used/sell what you don't use
-Use cash only
-Make a budget
-Pay down debt, and don't create more
-Use the library, Groupon, and other resources to find fun, cheap things to do
-Enjoy nature
-Get rid of "distractions" (cable, internet-if you can stand it....clearly I couldn't live w/o internet, but I lasted over a year!)
-Use a cell phone, not a smartphone
-Think ahead for holidays, birthdays, other celebrations
-Downsize your closet, your garage, your clutter
*Be happy!*

Doing these things will put you on track financially, help you use your time productively, and make you see what is truly important, your family!