Married Life


Well, folks, baby Zeke (Ezekiel) has finally arrived (May 20) and your home-couple, Boaz and Ruth, couldn’t be more thrilled!

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In the past five weeks, we’ve been establishing feeding routines and learning how to deal with the unexpected joys and difficulties of parenting a newborn that needs us 24/7!

A lot of friends have wondered how we’re making it work financially with a baby, especially since my job at a private school as a marketing assistant doesn’t pay millions and Boaz only made something in the low-4-digits this year as a grad assistant and while working another part-time job.

For those of you contemplating young parenthood, I thought I’d put together a post with a few tips we’ve learned along the 9-month-plus way:

  1. Save Early.

Can’t say it enough. Boaz and I made sure when we married that we’d try to not touch certain funds in the event of a baby; I also set up a monthly automatic transfer in my bank account that was pretty modest, but which, over the nearly four years of our marriage, helped grow my savings account in a way that didn’t pinch later.  I’m glad we have it now, since the medical bills are sure to be insane, despite my ‘natural’ childbirth in the hospital (meaning, no meds, no epidural, no surgical/device interventions… you’d think it’d be cheaper, right?  Still had the baby in hospital…so, no. #AmericanHealthcareProblems)

  1. Don’t Snub Heirlooms or Hand-Me-Downs.

Grandma has held on to that cradle for a reason, and so long as it isn’t unsafe by modern standards, make use of it; we certainly did! (By the way, Ababy.com actually will cut a custom mattress to refurbish an old cradle!) Same goes for that friend at work whose children have outgrown their old clothes, toys, books, and other reusable baby accessories. Don’t turn them down, because your baby really won’t care whether he or she spits up on something old, something new, something borrowed (but washable), or whether it’s pink or blue.

  1. Second-Hand Furniture Saves Cash.

Somewhat in keeping with the above, keep an eye out at consignment stores, Goodwill, and garage sales in the months leading up to your baby’s arrival. I bought a diaper changing table with a few scuff marks on it that at one time came new from Target… for just $25 at a consignment shop where all proceeds from sales go to charity.  Hard-surfaced furniture like this is easy to re-sanitize and clean for use again.  Remember, too, that the timeline of use for baby furniture is pretty short for most parents: why blow $100-200 on a diaper changing table that will only get used for about 50-60 months between two kids (if you plan on having two?).  Even the “look” of furniture that’s wooden or hard-surfaced is flexible; if I want to, I can paint it later to better match a nursery “theme.” I already added storage baskets to its shelves to give me more space to organize, and I think they make it look pretty cute.

  1. Remember that Friends and Family Love Gifting (Prepare to be Showered).

Lots of women freak out thinking about all the things they will need to buy for their baby.  But, like all new brides, they should relax a little: surpassing even wedding showers, your gal pals and lady relatives boast a fascinating passion for buying cute (and necessary!) baby things for your baby shower.

  1. Control Your Maternity Wear Spending.

I was exceedingly blessed to be working in a school full of female faculty when I announced my pregnancy. I had a math teacher show up at my desk, who, realizing we were close to the same pre-pregnancy size, offered me the use of her maternity wardrobe, realizing that, since she and her husband were likely “done” and her sister-in-law (for whom she’d kept the wardrobe around) likely might snub some of the non-namebrand items, the best use for it in the meantime might be to loan it to me for the few short months in which I’d need the clothes. Awesome!

I wound up only needing to purchase a pair of jeans, a few sweaters, and my own maternity underthings (maternity and nursing bras and larger-waisted panties), in addition to a larger pair of shoes(!) to get by for the rest of my pregnancy, and I did this through both a local Goodwill with a maternity rack and through Target’s clearance sales. Even if the “look” I sported wasn’t quite me, it was still professional enough for work and I felt very comfortable – and grateful—to not have to shell out more money to make outfits appropriate for work wear.

Oh, and I should mention: for workout wear and sleepshirts, I raided my husband’s wardrobe for undershirts, jerseys and even his basketball shorts.  It amused him to see some of his larger stuff go over my huge belly, since I kept working out up until my 37th week.  My old yoga pants also went surprisingly far into my pregnancy with me, which was a nice surprise!

  1. Pregnancy Education and Fitness Can Be (Mostly) Free.

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    Exercise is important for both the birth and recovery. Here we are about 75 hours after the birth, on our first walk together. I was tired, but it was good for me and for him.

When you’re pregnant, you’ll get a lot of invitations from hospitals and even gyms (how do they find out?) via mail and other means that ask you to attend their Childbirth Education/Newborn Care Education/Prenatal Yoga/Prenatal Cardio classes.  These classes can cost an arm and a leg.

Luckily, most newborn care education can be found free or mostly free online (YouTube does have some available from reputable sources) and through your local library. I found that for childbirth education, dusting off that old card and picking up some of the old tapes on the Lamaze or Bradley Birthing Methods really worked well. Also, there are a huge amount of books out there on all these topics, and Amazon really helped me score some deals on these.

As a couple, we found that going this route gave us great flexibility: my busy student husband couldn’t make a series of classes consistently with me, but we could carve out some time on weekends to watch a chapter or two of a rented DVD together during his downtime. We also read through several books in bed together.

As far as fitness – There are a TON of prenatal yoga and fitness classes on YouTube!  Just be sure that you ask your doctor to advise you about what exercises are appropriate to your stage of pregnancy (hint: if a fitspert asks you to do crunches or other exercises on your back after your first trimester – run!).  I was able to keep up with yoga, walking, and even do some safe cardio (elliptical) and weight training (kettle bells are awesome for the pelvic floor) during my pregnancy, just by making use of the equipment at the school where I work and the mat I have at home.

  1. Shell Out For What’s Most Important – And Save in the Long Run.

    Baby Zeke - Just minutes old!

    Baby Zeke – Just minutes old and super-alert!

There is a very good time and place to spend your money when it comes to preparing for a baby, and that is in preparation for the birth itself!  I knew early on that I didn’t want a C-section delivery if I could avoid it, not only because of the long recovery, but also the sticker shock!  I also had read enough to convince me that an unmedicated, natural birth was the healthiest route for the baby overall – and would have the shortest recovery time for me, too.  But how could I go about securing that, or at least, giving myself the best chances for my best-case scenario?  Anything can happen during birth!

Statistically, there was only one element I had read about that really made a difference in what happened in the birthing room: the guidance and presence of a doula, or childbirth coaching professional, who emphasizes the mother’s emotional and physical comfort and applies evidence-based knowledge about birth positions to encourage labor progress.  A 2011 Cochrane Review (1) reported the combined findings from 21 randomized controlled trials, including over 15,000 laboring women, which revealed that doula-supported mothers were:

  • 28% less likely to have a C-section (with some individual studies reporting upwards of 60%)
  • 31% less likely to use synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to speed up labor
  • 9% less likely to use any pain medication
  • 34% less likely to reflect negatively on their childbirth experience

Those are certainly numbers not to ignore!  So what did I do?

More research – this time, into the work of local doulas in my area, reading review after review and even meeting some for coffee.  To my mind, it would be better to hire a doula to help me (for roughly $1,000), as a first-time mom, to engage in the childbirth process with less fear and with better support, than to simply “go it alone” and rely wholly on the Western-trained US Healthcare system, which has one of the highest C-section rates in the world, and take my chances with a $15,000 C-section bill or the traumatic psychological cost of a childbirthing scenario-turned-nightmare that happens to many women when interventions like Pitocin speed labor beyond the body’s (or baby’s) ability to cope.

Maybe my cost-benefit analysis was flawed, but regardless, I have no regrets.

My DONA-certified (2) doula was an incredible woman with a nursing background who took the time to get to know me before the birth so that we could establish a bond of trust and focus my childbirth preparations on evidence-based practices for labor support and pain management. She came to understand my birthing wishes and was ready and willing to support me in them at the hospital. There were a few times when interventions were offered to me by the hospital staff, with the major one happening when I showed up at the hospital with contractions 3 minutes apart, only to discover that, while 90% effaced, I was still only 2 centimeters dilated (“You could stay, and we could give you something to speed it along…” “No, no thanks.”)  I went home instead, and labored in the surroundings of home, where I could drink and eat when I wanted, shower for self-comfort, throw up in privacy when things got intense, shower again, and have my cat for additional company as I paced and swayed with my husband to encourage gravity to move things along.

When I returned to the hospital six hours later, I only had about 2 hours left to go before a bit more walking (which the staff wasn’t keen on me doing, but my doula monitored me during) got me to 9 centimeters—and through the transition stage, nearly ready for pushing.  The entire time, my doula was providing comfort measures, showing my husband how to help me get into better positions, and encouraging me to advocate for myself and what I wanted in a situation that otherwise may have felt out of my control.

In this scenario, my sense of control took away my fear. The pain of labor also became less shocking, more normalized, more progressive. Like the frog in the proverbial boiling pot, once I was in labor, even though it grew more intense, I also became increasingly more able to handle each new level of intensity. By the time I thought about maybe, just maybe allowing for some chemical pain intervention, the baby was practically crowning, and I was in the home-stretch (literally, stretch).  Again, my doula’s knowledge helped here: after an hour of pushing, she retrieved her rebozo band (similar to a scarf or exercise band), and gave me one end of it to pull on as I simultaneously pushed. With the help of this ancient form of applied mechanical physics, and three more pushes, baby Ezekiel arrived –pink and alert, with a perfect APGAR score, ready to meet us and eager for the breast. I’d never been more exhausted or more glad!

  1. Breast is Best – for Wallet and Baby.

While formula is arguably more convenient, it’s also expensive and doesn’t carry the benefits of real milk… so I’d encourage any budget-conscious prospective moms out there to prep themselves for breastfeeding if possible. And it DOES take preparation. I’m very glad I didn’t just assume that breastfeeding would come naturally to me; I took the time and took the classes and even saw a lactation consultant in advance (through my doula) who helped me recognize a good vs. bad latch, how to correct or modify a latch, how different holds affect a baby’s latch, and even how to make friends with my breast pump.  Days later, when I was in the muzzy, exhausted post-delivery state, when the nurses handed me my baby, I knew what to do to establish good feeding practices from the start and recognize bad ones.  I was happy to know when I was two weeks postpartum that my lactation consultant would still be available to help me (again, through my doula) when I noticed some odd things about Zeke’s latch that eventually led us to discover a tongue-tie, which has since been corrected.

  1. Prep for the Postpartum.

    This is what those strange little placenta capsules look like.

    This is what those strange little placenta capsules look like.

Lastly, when considering the recovery ahead after birth, I thought long and hard about my family’s history with depression and decided to try to prevent Postpartum Depression if I could.  One of the ways I did this was by simply taking daily walks and being sure to spend time with friends and family (this is free); the other way I did this Came with a small cost, but might have saved me heavier costs of therapy and medication: I had my placenta dried and encapsulated to dose myself with during that first month after birth.

Most mammals eat their placentas; so did women in many ancient human cultures. It’s weird but not unheard of–even today.

I’d met many women through my doula who had embraced placentophagy (consumption of the placenta) as a practice and swore by it. Since there are so few actual studies on this practice right now, it was only the very high number of personal anecdotal accounts from people I knew that swayed me.  And I have to say that, beyond the weirdness of it (which is diminished when taking placenta in capsule form), the effects of this nutrient and hormone-rich organ seem to have only benefitted me. My energy has been excellent, my post-birth anemia was checked quickly, and my mood had only very temporary lapses (I cried, I got over it, I went on to enjoy my day). Did the cost of encapsulation ultimately save me some money by supporting my overall physical and mental health? I really do think so.

That’s all of my tips for now. I hope some of these ideas were helpful or inspired you in your own pregnancy or pre-pregnancy journey.  Thanks for reading!

-Ruth

NOTES:

  1. Hodnett, E.D.; Gates, S.; Hofmeyr, G.J.; Sakala, C.; Weston, J. “Continuous support for women during childbirth.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011 Feb 16; (2):CD003766.
  1. Doulas of North America (DONA).

Want to know who my doula was, or need details about any other service I mentioned here? Message me; I’m happy to put you in contact!

Warm-up #1: Resetting the Stopwatch with Kairos Time

Soul Element Exercised: Timelessness

 

“In the spiritual life, God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity. . . . There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and dark. Wait, and He will come.” – Frederick Faber

 

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” – Dallas Willard, on the health of the soul

 

It’s been a shocking two months since I’ve last written, and it shows how much I’ve become locked into the chains of chronos time (gr. scheduled, chronological time). But a little over two weeks ago, at 25 weeks along in my pregnancy, I took my last chance (pre-child) to go on an intensive retreat with 52 students from our Jesuit high school where I work, a retreat called Kairos (gr. “God’s Time”). It was a chance to step out of the office, step out of my responsibilities as a wife at home, and focus on the spiritual needs of myself and the community of the retreatants there with me.gods-time-1

The retreat was an intense four days of talks, reflections, prayer, small group chats, and emotional revelations, from seven in the morning to past midnight each night. Day two included my 25-minute talk as a retreat leader on the topic of “God’s Friendship”, which was simultaneously empowering and emotionally draining. It required me to dig down to things I hadn’t touched in a long time as I rehashed my history, including my faith struggles during my parents’ cancers, the pain and disorder of my father’s loss, and my own intense loneliness as I navigated those years feeling isolated in the experience due to my age and entrapment caused by my dependent status. To make sure the kids listening understood my perspective from these rough years of my late adolescence and very early 20s, I didn’t hold back on those elements; however, the meat of my talk arose from those moments (and I shared most of them) when I realized, sometimes many months after the events, that I wasn’t alone, in any of it, ever.

I won’t share the whole talk here. It was a long one. But I will say that writing it and giving it served as a reminder to me, as much as a revelation to some of the kids, that God is active in our lives in quiet ways, through gentle reminders, circumstantial blessings that are unexpected, and the generous hearts of others who follow an impulse that goes beyond mere human kindness – the kinds of gestures that can’t be explained by anything but the influence and presence of the divine.

I went back to my room that night to find a thick mail packet on my bed. Although most students (despite the secrecy surrounding this retreat) have come to expect that a part of Kairos is getting some letters from your loved ones as an encouragement, I was surprised as an adult leader to have notes from anyone but my husband, to whom I’d shared the details of the retreat ahead. As I opened note after note, I realized he’d done more than just follow an impulse to write me a little something for my Kairos mail; he’d hacked into my email to contact relatives, college friends, and even high school friends. I also opened several notes from many of my coworkers, sometimes surprised by their candidness as they shared their thoughts on their past four-and-a-half years with me.

And as I read past two in the morning in that Spartan little retreat room with one light, I remembered those many moments in my life when these note-writers had shown me that I wasn’t alone. I remembered, too, the intense spiritual talks with some of them that had influenced me in darker times.

Even though I came home on Day 4 from the retreat to almost immediately engage with the real-world and its demands again, the spiritual time-out allowed me to remember, as I embark on this next part of my life journey, this time as a parent at the end of my twenties, that I’m still not alone.

I just had to take the time to remember this truth by disengaging myself from the world’s notion of time and dipping into the non-scheduled space of eternity.

I need to do it more often, and I hope that anyone reading this gets inspired to take off for a little time to themselves to relive moments of God’s kindness in their lives. After all, it’s hard to understand and enjoy that kind of eternal, everlasting love unless we can turn off our calendar apps and schedulers for a little while and experience the time our soul is made to dwell in: an unlimited continuum not measurable with a minute-hand.

Taking that little space to breathe gave me one relieving piece of knowledge: that God measures our lives as a kind of ripening, and not as a rush.

 

Warm-up #2: Cleansing Breaths to Replace “Comparisonitis” with Gratitude

Soul Element Exercised: Peace and Perspective

 

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

 

“To be truly grateful, you must not only recognize the benefits or gifts that come your way, but that they are not just random acts; they are not accidents. They are coming from Someone who has good intentions for you.” – John Ortberg, Soul Keeping

 

I’ve been home from the retreat for a few weeks now, doing what women in their third trimester tend to do: scurrying around completing childbirth education, scheduling prenatal medical appointments and tests, planning for the mountain of work to get done (or leave detailed guides on how to do) before maternity leave, and trying to outfit the necessities in the nursery (oh, and doing taxes, because it’s that time again. Joy.).

I admit, when I sat down in February to figure all this out in terms of my calendar and our budget, I felt frankly overwhelmed, anxious, and at times resentful.

Not that I wasn’t grateful to be having a healthy baby – I was and still am—but I had been running seemingly every day into women who are or have recently been pregnant and who have far more of this figured out, or have had the luxury of more personal time and more financial resources due to their husband’s full-time employment, than I do. These well-meaning women have kindly asked if I’d heard of this class yet, or if I’d joined a prenatal yoga group, or gotten scheduled for massages to help with pregnancy pains, or how often I was able to nap during the day (my answer – never, during the work week).

Pinterest before bedtime didn’t help. I stumbled with a sort of helpless nesting-instinct-driven-fascination onto blogs written by women who have had the resources and time to set up and document beautiful nurseries in well-proportioned houses, and buy adorable and expensive clothes, toys, knickknacks, and doo-dads. I came across scholarly articles telling me that I was a bad mom because I hadn’t also shelled out a lot more money to take this other special class, or have this special test or treatment, before my due date arrived.

I’d shut off my laptop some nights and wander the 20 feet into the single bedroom of our apartment which I realized had been all furnished with hand-me-down furniture that I’d cobbled together into something resembling “cozy”. I had one area by the window where I was hoping to fit in the rudiments of a nursery, and I was having trouble envisioning what would go where in a small room that was seemingly full already.

Even as I shut off the lights, the smallness and the shabbiness of the room still dimly shadowed my mind as I thought back to the sparkling affluence and beauty of the things I’d looked at others enjoying on the web as other couples filled up their big nurseries and big houses with exciting things for their newborn.

And then, on the penultimate weekend of February, my in-laws arrived to offer a cradle that had been in the family for decades. My husband had once slept in it, and other kids on that side of the family, too. And in our tiny apartment, it was a better answer than a huge crib, at least for a little while. It came inside with us from the backseat of their car, out of the cold and snow.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

As I polished up the old wooden cradle and gave it an experimental rock, I noticed some things about it. The first was that it had been well-sanded to a gleamy smoothness before it had been stained, and its components had been put together entirely by hand using a tongue-and-groove design; there’s not a clunky nail in sight. And then, as I looked closer at some of the scratches and nicks in the wood, I recognized places where wedding rings, toys, and maybe other furniture had scraped this cradle as babies were placed in and lifted out of it, from years and years in my husband’s family, in days and nights of loving routine and fretful concern.

I thought about the hours spent in previous generations sitting beside this cradle, and all the sudden, all of it – the stuff on Pinterest with that posh designer feel, the anxiety I felt about putting the nursery together in time, the worry I felt about finances being there when we needed them – it just went away.

And I remembered to be grateful for what we already had, which was all that was really going to matter: that this child would be born with a loving extended family and the commitment my husband and I have for each other. That’s all that most babies for thousands of years have ever been able to ask for, and it’s all that any expecting mom can really hope for.

 

But on that note about all this other baby stuff, stay tuned for some upcoming posts about Bringing Up Baby on a Budget….

I have a confession to make.

As a WOPS (Wife of Perpetual Student) and current bread-winner, I shop at the Dollar Tree.

Not the Dollar Store (where things are cheaper, but don’t actually cost a dollar), but at the Dollar Tree where everything, is, in fact, a buck or less.

So what’s actually worth buying at the Dollar Tree, you ask?  Isn’t it all crappy stuff?

Crappy…hmm. This word requires a bit of a mental shift.

Here’s a few things my middle-classist brain had to learn to wrap around:

  • After poking around and hedging my bets, I found a lot of the stuff is surprisingly co-equal in quality to what you’d find in Target within its store-branding or even the standard name-brand.
  • I realized that the kind of stuff I’d buy there is the kind of stuff that are things that aren’t meant to last forever anyway, regardless of where I buy them.  In fact, most of the things I buy there are the things we all use for a few minutes at a time and toss.

With all this in mind, I figured, why not spend just a buck on things like that?  Isn’t that a fine deal? Why spend any more than that, so long as it gets the job done?

So here’s what I typically get . . . And if I know the normal price of something, I’ll throw it in there, just so you can see that I’m not crazy buying this stuff on the cheap:

1. Paper products: 100-packs of napkins ($2.89 at Kroger), paper towels, etc.

2. School stuff for my grad-student hubby: packs of pens, pocket folders, and spiral notebooks, 3×5 cards, even colored pencils and crayons for me!

3. Cleaning products.  Where else can you get a gallon of bleach for $1 to refill your bathroom cleaning spray or add into the wash?  Or a gallon of vinegar for the same? Some cleaners are even name-brands like Pine-Sol (same size is $2.46 on Google Shopping), Comet ($3.99 on Google Shopping) and and Barkeeper’s Friend ($1.99 on Google Shopping). And that’s not to mention the cheap packages of sponges, gloves, dish soap, and scrubby brushes.

4. Bathroom beauty and hygiene supplies, like the ones pictured here on my sink–yep, all Dollar Tree stuff! Why pay more for pink razors, girls? And baby wash is the BEST body wash in terms of gentleness–even for adults!

photo of dstore buys

And I buy much more in this category that happened to be less photo-handy at the moment, like baby oil (makeup remover), hand soap, toothbrushes, shaving cream ($2.99 at Kroger), mouthwash, floss, hair ties ($3.19 at Walgreens), bobby pins ($1.69 at Walgreens), and even clarifying shampoo ($1.99-4.99, depending on brand . . . I figured out awhile back that even fancy shampoo is in your hair for about a minute or two to clean it, whereas conditioner is what actually is formulated to deposit on the hair shafts and make a difference in your hair. I only invest in conditioner!).

5. Random purchase-musts that come up in the holiday seasons or on special occasions and threaten a tight budget. Next month, why go broke spending $5 per bag of trick-or-treat goodies when you can get that bag of name-brand mini-Smarties or Snickers for $1? Why cough up $3 for a co-worker’s birthday card when you can get one that’s hilarious for $.59? Not to mention Christmas gift bags (typically $3.99 for a pack of plain small bags at Target) and tissue paper and rolls of wrapping paper ($3.00-5.00 in many stores!) at a $1 per roll!  And the holiday designs on these are actually becoming progressively more modern and cute… like something I’d find in a big-box store. Their rolls of ribbon are also only $1, as are multi-packs of rolls of clear adhesive tape.

I can often leave my dollar-saving-haven with a bag in each hand, having paid roughly $10 total, and not having to come back for a couple of months.

So, in a year, I estimate that I save roughly $50-80 just by shopping for these things at my somewhat-shady local Dollar Tree.  That’s cash Boaz and I can use towards more fun things in life than just these boring little staples; don’t you agree?

Until next time, your cheap-o friend,

 

Ruth

 

When I first married Boaz knowing that he would soon matriculate into a full-time grad school program that would take three to four years to complete, I admit, I was nervous.

I looked around for a community of other women who had done this—gotten married with their spouse in grad school full-time—and I found quite a few ladies in the blogging community who called themselves “WOPS” (Wives of Perpetual Students). While I discovered a handful that were living in ways similar to mine, I also found many who were not, including several ladies who had gotten pregnant shortly after marriage, worked at their job up until delivery, then had to live off hubby’s student loans or his skinny graduate living stipend while raising tiny kiddos (man, tough stuff). The ladies who were in my boat—no kids yet and working full-time—had great things to say about filling up the time in the evenings when hubby was studying, being intentional about setting aside time to share with him, and being pretty frugal, and I appreciated that. (Visit the WOPS blogroll here.)

Outdoor dates are romantic, fun and free!

Outdoor dates are romantic, fun and free!

But I wished in all their postings that there was more of a single-stop, step-by-step for the financial planning part of this process, a plan that went beyond just budgeting to get by. I wanted a plan that would help us not only survive financially, but also thrive post-graduation by helping us lay the foundation to maybe, just maybe, get a little ahead. On less than the equivalent of one starting teacher’s salary going into my account (with a huge chunk taken out in taxes and to pay our combined health insurance), this seemed fantastical.

 

Until I dug a bit and started reading.

 

And readers, I read, and do read, a lot. Not just advice from other WOPS, but from folks in the financial independence movement. So, for all the other gals out there like me—or maybe just for other people who are working with a small income who want to still figure out financial plan—here are three principles Boaz and I have adopted based on some good advice:

 

#1. AVOID (OR GET RID OF) DEBT. Simply put, don’t put your foot in a hole. Avoid or (pay off any existing1) student loans, avoid credit card debt, avoid a car payment wherever possible by not buying a “new” car, avoid the one-two punch of a house down-payment-plus-monthly-mortgage-payment by sticking with a little apartment or rental unit (emphasis on “little”, since space equals money in the renters’ market). You get the picture—just live well inside your means, keeping a small footprint as your goal. Being young and in love, you don’t need a ton of stuff to be happy, just each other.

 #2. SAVE UP BY CONTROLLING WHAT YOU SPEND AND EARN. Learn to watch where your money goes and how much comes in. As you do, take some of these steps to save.

  • First, tackle your biggest expense by scaling down hubby’s school fees any way you can without hurting his degree attainment goals (graduate assistantships, special merit scholarships, grants, etc., are all great places to start).
  • Next, expend a bit of energy to make a little extra on the side during some of your after-work downtime (I tutored a couple evenings a week this school year) and have hubby do the same during lighter seasons of study.
  • And finally, if you haven’t already, get out your financial scissors and cut the fat out of your lifestyle expenses. This means sticking to a budget that makes room for savings to grow and even enforcing the act of savings (if necessary) by setting up a direct transfer from checking to savings every month. To create budgetary space for savings, try dropping cable TV in favor of Netflix, Redbox, or Amazon Instant; cutting “entertainment food” like takeout or snacky sweets; and minimizing transportation costs by carpooling or biking more places. There’s a ton more I could put down here in terms of steps to take, but for brevity, I’ll leave them for later posts under my “Frugal” category.

#3. PUT YOUR SAVINGS TO WORK.

  • Once you have a little to work with, take a chunk of that hard-earned savings account nest-egg and set up a mutual fund or other high-earning account. Chances are, any money that’s sitting in your savings account at the bank is simply sitting there; at least a mutual fund will put your money to work for you, or switching to a bank like Ally with a high-APY savings account will actually yield some noticeable dividends.
  • Lastly, remember retirement by contributing to a plan. I happen to have an employer that matches contributions if I throw in a minimum amount each year. If you have an employer that will match like this, too, take advantage of it, even if (heck, especially if) you’re in your twenties (compound interest/earnings for the win)!

 

I know this was a rather involved post, but I hope it was worth the read.

 

For more tips on how to cut the fat in your budget or become more money-savvy overall, I strongly recommend checking out these resources:

  1. Dave Ramsey – because he’s Dave Ramsey, and he’s helped millions save up and tackle their debt using the “debt snowball” approach.
  2. Mr. Money Mustache—a guy with a weird blogging alias who teamed up with his wife to save two-thirds of their combined income during their 20s through sheer “badassery”, then used these funds and their cleverly acquired assets to essentially retire at age 30. Badass, indeed.
  3. The Peaceful Mom – a brilliant SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) who raised four kids on her husband’s $28,000 annual salary without losing her mind or getting into debt.

 

*&* A NOTE ON PAYING TAXES AS A MARRIED COUPLE (U.S.)

It’s worth a visit to a tax advisor to see whether filing jointly or separately works out more to your favor when you’re married. Whatever you decide, when it’s over, transfer any tax refunds into your higher-earning savings account or mutual fund.

 

 

How much do you really need to be happy?

It’s a question that I’ve lately been asking myself as I glance around our little apartment that is beginning to feel a little full after three Christmases of marriage and several trips home (which invariably involve our parents trying to give us some of their overabundant stuff).

I thought about it again when one of my slightly-older friends was house shopping this week and bemoaning the fact that within the budget range, none of the prospective houses’ kitchens, basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms, etc., were big enough for their three-person household (that only hopes in the future to expand to a four-person).  As I peered at the listings this friend was considering, my eyebrows inched up when I saw the square footage of these homes hitting the high 2,000s to low 3,000s–quite beyond what I’d ever lived in as child in my comfortable four-person family to my recollection. A part of me wanted to ask if their basement would need to house a boat, a secret laboratory, or part of Narnia (which I’ve read can obligingly fit into a wardrobe). (A/N: Naomi’s memory is better than mine: according to her, the house we lived in when I was a teenager reached into this range of square feet after my dad turned the attic to a master bed/bath; this was also the house that had a sitting room we hardly used except for company that I remember having the chore of dusting.  Apparently, we had space issues, too!)

In reality, my friend’s space “requirements” aren’t unusual. In fact, they’ve become the norm.

While perusing Joshua Becker’s blog, I learned that the average American home has bloated from “1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet today” while “the average size of the household has shrunk from 3.1 to 2.5.”  I can certainly believe this, as well as his shocking statistics on the booming storage space industry that’s doubled in the past twenty years. Driving between our apartment and my grandma’s retirement community this Sunday, we passed three storage facilities. . . in four miles.

It made me think of this old parable from Luke 12:15-21:

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.’ And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

I’m ashamed to say that this scripture was not my tipping point towards examining my own life. Rather, I knew it was time to start cleaning out our 720-square foot apartment after I listened to a nifty TedxTalk over lunch that convinced me in a more concrete way that “stuff” truly does not equal happiness – that instead it actually subverts our freedom to live unfettered lives by becoming a liability in the guise of an asset. It’s all a load of stuff that we buy full-price as a novelty, which then immediately depreciates to “used” status. What underlies this phenomenon is a confusion about value, which I think has become the bane of the shrinking American middle class. Just watch us mindlessly shuffling around in Target, filling our carts and garages full of neat-looking doodads, cute clothes, entertainment, furnishings, and sporting goods that after some wear have no real worth to them, cash or otherwise. They wind up a few years later in a garage sale where we sit all day in the hot sun waiting for some other poor schmuck to buy them, chipped and worn.

Sometimes it’s good to open the garage, though. Take a minute to listen to at least the intro of this TedxTalk talk, which I mentioned above:

 

Did you listen for a bit?

 

Whether you’ve got debt like this couple did or not, the message for you to consider is the same: how much of what you own actually owns you? How much of it is a drain on your time or on your finances, since it requires you to inhabit, hence purchase, more space? Does it drain your energy, creative or spatial, by crowding you? How much of it actually suits you and serves a purpose? How much of it is just a Jabba the Hutt-sized pile of junk you’re chained to, that you drag with you from home to home out of habit? Maybe you keep it in a martyred state out of a misplaced sense of duty to someone who gave it to you who themselves outlived its usefulness?

Maybe because Ruth’s got some stuff to let go of that reminds her of her days when her dad was alive . . . Or maybe because she’s currently feeling like a bit of a nomad until she and Boaz truly settle somewhere . . . But this message hit home.

After all, really, isn’t the noise and clutter just a bunch of human junk that comforts us with our ability to buy it? Something that feeds our vanity and sense of security? Isn’t it kind of a distraction from what really matters? Something that keeps us from communing in quiet with God and nature?

Case in point, here’s a couple that gleefully gave up loads of stuff. And oddly, they seem very serene.

 

 

While going as far as they did isn’t practical, neither is my current closet. Folks, it’s time for a trip to Goodwill and some postings on Craigslist!

So, I haven’t written in YEARS.

But to be fair, it’s because huge things have happened: on August 13, 2010, I accepted a position in fundraising for a private school here in town. On October 7, 2010, I moved out—and closer to work—into my own apartment.

The story I’ve woven here on this blog of my life immediately emerged onto a new path: I was no longer Ruth, living with my Naomi, coping after a loss. I just became a person simply starting over—with Mom across town—and beginning a life on my own. Naomi began a new journey, too, of discovering who she was meant to become in her new life, a story no less important, but in the periphery of mine.

And then my little single-girl in quarter-life-crisis-land-story wrapped up in a strange way: after I reached the end of the allegorical comparison of my life situation to Ruth’s, the ending of my own story wrapped up in somewhat the same way as hers: with a romance.

He’s not really a picture of the biblical Boaz (meaning he’s not my boss, or a kinsman-redeemer in the Levirate sense), but he’s an old flame from college that reignited after I shamelessly took some old advice from the original Naomi:

“Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best dress. Then go down to [the place where he works]…” –Ruth 3:3.

I totally happened to call him and mention to him that I’d be in town near him visiting a friend, and that I had some books he might want, based on some interests he’d recently shared. He then happened to ask me to stop by, to deliver said books, to him at work. I might have worn a really cute sundress and some darling espadrilles.  My friend I’d met earlier might have wished me luck. 🙂

All we did was talk—I didn’t do what Ruth did at her meeting with Boaz, when she actually climbed into bed with him (the hussy!). But our night did wind up with the two of us having drinks together later that evening after his shift and catching up. It had been over a year since he had called me up, out of the blue, just to ask how I was coping after my dad died: an act that took some boldness and sensitivity on his part, since we were then about a year post-amicable breakup. It was an act of compassion that I’d never forgotten.

The rest, as they say, is Old Testament history…

Yep, I got married to my Boaz.  August 6, 2011.

Yep, I got married to my Boaz. August 6, 2011.

 

But I’ll give you the run-down of the story, anyway.

Boaz and I dated through the summer of 2010, and I was, at that time, still casually dating other guys in the rather old-school 1950s fashion as you’ve read here on this blog; I kept busy “playing the field innocently”, with no physical or verbal commitments offered to anyone until I could tell which man would not only stick around, but was also the man who I wished would stick around.

In October of 2010, Boaz asked me, “So, what do I have to do to get you to clear the other guys off your social calendar?”

“You want the other guys off my date book?” I replied, pleased. “Does that mean you want to keep me? Because otherwise, we’ll be wasting each other’s time when we could be meeting our potential mates.”

“It’s not a waste of time if I’m serious.”

Oh, and he was serious.

By Christmas of 2010, we had confessed our love, and he was driving up an hour and a half to visit on weekends (with me driving down sometimes, too), and we established a delightful routine that was broken a few months later in May of 2011, when he proposed to me in a horse-drawn carriage. Yes, this man knew my predilection for Austen literature. It was also reminiscent of our first date in 2007, when he took me on a carriage ride in our old historic college town.

We were mBoaz and Rutharried on August 6, 2011, a day after my parent’s wedding anniversary. (Good thing I was an event planner for my fundraising job; it was sure a quick turnaround from our engagement!)

We honeymooned in Oregon, and two weeks later, he started working on his Master of Divinity degree, and I kept on working at my new fundraising job. Ruth has never really left the field.

I’m four years into that fundraising job now, and been blessed by the overarching school environment at my institution of work and its Jesuit roots and Ignatian spirituality. It’s been a time that’s been full of both work-induced stress and home-life calm and rest. No other deaths, dramas, or traumas have occurred, but the softening changes that come about from the conjugal bliss experienced while sharing my life.

And so, my friends, I’m relaunching this blog in 2014, some five years after its inception, with a new focus: the journey that Boaz and I are taking together as he enters ministry, as we both become workers in a different kind of harvest.

In the process, we’ll check in with Naomi from time to time, who has started over her life in many ways as well. She’s left the house my father died in and moved into a condo (less than a mile from my little apartment with Boaz), where she’s resumed her artwork and has totally redecorated every inch of her new home in her spare hours outside of her part-time work. But it’s been a journey for her, too.

So, some topics of this newer iteration of this blog will include:

  1. More of the spiritual—because those have always been my favorite posts to share.
  2. Some gender politics –because being married brings all kinds of perspectives on the male-female relationship in the 21st century.
  3. Musings on work-family balance, and trying to plan ahead for a future baby (no, reader, I am not pregg-o yet! We’ve been putting it off while Boaz is in school; more on that in my Family Planning category posts).
  4. Living frugally—because with a husband in grad school and me on the equivalent of a starting teacher’s salary, we’ve learned quickly how to live simply and focus on what’s important. And it’s freeing, actually; it’s something we’ll do all our lives.
  5. Reflections on this generation of Millennials—because we are a weird bunch in many ways, and we’re also a group that craves some direction, since we’ve been blown about in a world that’s gone global, and also rather multiple-personalitied and crazy.
  6. Books, pop culture, and other neat things –because I love writing about them and reading your thoughts.
  7. My new obsession: nutrition and health, because we live in a world full of lifestyle diseases, including many cancers—which, as a child of two cancer-stricken parents, I’m trying to avoid!

Looking forward to seeing you here.  Thanks for your patience, and welcome, new readers.

Love,

 

Ruth