5 Frugal Moves in the last Year

We didn’t even budget until last summer when we started saving up for our land.  We were so mindless about our spending because we didn’t really have a goal.  Now we have a HUGE goal- to build our own home and to give Joe a few years sabbatical to do so.  After analyzing our spending that first month, our eyeballs popped out and I may have cursed.  We needed to shave off thousands annually in order to invest for the future.  While we’ve cut down on the little things (no more coffee shops, acai bowls, eating out all the time, expensive musicals and concerts, etc.)  it’s the big changes that make the most difference.

Here are 5 frugal steps we took this past year, in order of impact on our bottom line.

  1. Fired my housecleaners.  This saved us almost 1800.00 this year.  Having maids come every three weeks was a lovely post-partum gift to myself, but it had to end.  I worked up the courage to fire them last summer by a) relaxing my standards of cleanliness, and b) finding better cleaning products that make cleaning an easier habit.  Now the house isn’t ever sparkling clean, but it doesn’t get filthy the way it did 2 or 3 weeks post-maid.  As an HSP, I am my own filth-o-meter and tackle messes when they bug me. But I only clean about 15-20 minutes a day, which is totally doable.  I’ve embraced the idea of “clean enough”.  As for products, I’m loving Norwex envirocloths and glass polishing clothes. They deep clean using just water. Water is free!!!  I also purchased the e-cloth microfiber mop.  Mopping my kitchen, bathrooms, and main traffic areas takes less than 10 minutes now, so I have no excuse but to do it once in a while.   Piggybacking on this one, we also fired the gardeners to save 600.00 this year.
  2. Played the miles card game.  We’re finally in a place financially to play the miles game without racking up debt at insane interest rates.  This means paying our balances in full each month via automatic payments.  After just 3 months, we’ve scored 700.00 in travel credit, and will add 1000.00 more credit in a month or two.  That’s enough to cover our 4 flights to Oregon this summer, plus rental car.  I wish I’d started racking up miles long ago.  We used the advice in this post to get started.

    Our Oregon trip last year should have been free!
  3. Joined a homeschool charter school.  In exchange for work samples, activity logs, and meetings with a teacher each month, we are given funds to pay for books, school supplies, lessons, classes, memberships to museums, zoos,  our local mission, and more.  I pretty much don’t buy Sisi anything out of pocket anymore.  It all comes from the charter school.

    Our charter school purchased our family membership to Mission San Juan Capistrano. We bring picnics and chill in the gardens regularly.
  4. Shop used clothes.  I started this for ethical reasons, but we save a bundle on clothing shopping used (almost exclusively, barring undergarments and my husband’s clothes.)  Here’s my shopping strategy: My favorite is thredup.com for myself and the kids.  I put anything that catches my eye into my cart.  Narrow it down to my favorite 10-15 items.  Have it all sent to me (free shipping!).  Try it on, mull over it for a few days and see if it fits in with my (fairly minimal) wardrobe.  Send back what I don’t want (usually 80% of the items!) for a refund.  I’m left with a few items in great condition that have already proven they stand up to washing and normal wear.   I haven’t set foot in a mall in a long time, which is crazy because that used to be one of my favorite places to take the kids!
  5. Took up hobbies like embroidery and map-making.  These hobbies provide me with cheap entertainment, are very therapeutic, and make cute handmade gifts for friends.  I’ve also vowed never to buy cards again.  Instead I’ve stocked up on blank white cards and envelopes so I can quickly watercolor a pretty design.

    My second project ever! A very colorful H for my friend Helen on her birthday. There are lots of little symbols tucked into the design (can you spy a surfboard, sun, lavender sprigs, boat, anchor, and horseshoe?) I love embroidering for friends because I can’t help but think about them and pray for them while I stitch. So it’s truly a labor of love, although a little wonky and imperfect for sure.

I have more frugal moves in the works- switching our cell plan to twigby, getting rid of the tv and netflix (!!!) and meal planning to cut the grocery bill down even further.  Food is by far our biggest expense.

Strawbale House Workshop in Arizona

Deciding to build your own strawbale home is a calling.  The first strawbale building I walked into really did call out to me.  Those absurdly thick walls covered in mud plaster, the delightfully lumpy edges and curvy planes said to me stay awhile, touch my surfaces; this space is for living, breathing, daydreaming.  I walked into that gift shop and knew I could never settle for dry wall, plywood and 2x4s again. I took Joe to see it and he also fell in love instantly. When he realized that plaster coated walls are termite resistant, fire resistant, do great in earthquakes, and do a darn good job of blocking out EMFs and wifi, he was completely sold and we began making a plan.

This Canelo Project workshop was our first step toward making our 5 year plan come true.  Bill and Athena Steen are experts in natural building.  Over many years of trial and error, they have developed a system that is so simple, elegant and doable. No fancy machines or expensive materials to build our “mock house” (a house we built and then tore down for learning purposes.)  Just straw, mud, sand, bamboo, wood, and cement blocks for the foundation. Many of the materials can come straight from your own land and last a surprisingly long time.

Housebuilding always seemed impossible to me- this big intimidating project just for men.  But this workshop stripped away the mystique and showed me that it’s possible for any man, women or child with determination to build a strawbale home.

So yay! Anyone can do this! The materials are quite forgiving and any mistake can usually be undone.  But you have to to be a special kind of human to commit yourself to such a project.  You’ve got to be a little crazy.  Putting up the bale walls was the easy  part- took a few hours tops. The hard part? Mixing up the trays and trays of mud plaster to the perfect tuna salad consistency. Applying the many coats with trowels in just the right way. Sculpting the walls, niches, windows and shelves.  These steps cannot be rushed.  They can take months and months.

Beautiful cob shelves.  The artsy finishing touches like these are what I’m looking forward to.
We destroyed a wall and used the bales and plaster to build a new wall. Next year’s class will tear this one down and create something new.

I mostly took this workshop as a trial run, having never built anything before. I had so many questions, mostly about myself.  Can I handle manual labor?  Do I enjoy the process of building something?  Can I live in a construction zone for a year or two?  Will this be worth it?

This workshop encouraged me and freaked me out at the same time.  I doubt I’ll enjoy living in the midst of half-done projects and construction mess for years. It might be a hard and frustrating season in our family’s life. Truth be told, I’m not really excited about the actual building process.  I prefer small handicrafts (like embroidery) that fit in my hands and can be completed in a few sittings.  Building something big scares me.  And I can only guess how many annoying mistakes we will probably make. This is scary for a perfectionistic HSP who likes stability and calm.

But I also know how much I will celebrate this home that our hands have sculpted, made from the clay of our very own land.  The prize will be well worth the struggle.  We will look back and laugh at our struggles and mistakes. Our kids will always remember building their own home.  They will know that they can do something so big.  Who knows what dreams it will inspire in them.

Joe and I posing in front of my favorite structure on the property- the strawbale playhouse! A kids’ dream and a doable project for anyone.

I want to thank Bill and Athena Steen for opening up their brains, home and hearts to us.  They have built a welcoming oasis out in the middle of the desert. I was expecting a strawbale bootcamp of sorts, and ended up having the most relaxing and fulfilling vacation.  Bill and Athena have added new layers of inspiration to this dream of ours. One day we hope to open up our brains, home and hearts to otheres in much the same way.

 

 

 

My Amish Nights

One of the best lifestyle hacks I’ve implemented over the past two years is to slow things wayyy down after sunset.  Friends joke that I’m an old granny, or even Amish, because we abstain from anything super stimulating at night- no netflix, no music, no bright lights or phones. We even avoid “date nights” or staying out late with friends, choosing instead to socialize during daylight hours. My husband is the one who encouraged these changes.  I fought him on it at first because I didn’t believe him.  My 80 year old mother in law has more of a night life than I do, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me a loser?  But my “boring” evenings have become soothing to my soul.  I’m able to give my body and mind a break from noise, light, technology, and social interactions.  As someone who struggles with burnout and anxiety, these quiet nights are my medicine.

Picture this: On a typical evening after the kids have been lullabied and tucked in, you’ll find us:

  • In our living room with the lights off (Joe actually turns off most of the electricity after dark.).
  • Our phones are on airplane mode or tucked into their radiation blocking wire mesh cages.
  • We have several salt lamps on, because they give off a soothing amber glow, as opposed to standard lights which give off blue light.  Blue light is highly stimulating and can mess with circadian rhythms, hormones, sleep and health in general (If, unlike me, you crave details and want to know the physics behind this idea of blue light, check out this blog post).
  • We’re wearing red head lamps because red light does not interrupt melatonin production.  Joe is probably wearing orange glasses to block any traces of blue lights from his eyes, which makes him look like a Bono wannabe. I haven’t embraced the glasses yet because I’m way too vain.
  • I’m sipping herbal tea.  The fireplace is crackling. Joe is giving our dog Basil a much-needed massage.  She’s a highly sensitive dog.
  • We’re reading, or maybe I’m doing some light yoga, or embroidering a little gift for a friend.

  • While I’m embroidering, we might turn on a podcast to listen to together, and then chat about it afterward.  Our favorite podcasts to listen to together are Radical Personal Finance and a theology podcast called the Glory Cloud Podcast.   I’m planning on listening to Missing Richard Simmons next.   Even podcasts can be a little too stimulating for me at night, so we often choose to read instead.
  • I’m a non-fiction lover, but I read fiction at night to calm my brain down. My typical bedtime books are chick lit (Jojo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, Barbara Kingsolver, and Mona Simpson are some of my go-tos).

I usually tuck myself in before 10pm, and sleep for a good 9 hours.  I’ve mentioned before that HSPs need more sleep!  I wake up refreshed and ready to run my little household. Ready to face the noise, the lights, and the demands of modern life because I know I’ll get a respite from it all when the sun goes down.

I know this seems extreme, but for most of human history before electricity, people used to be forced to relax at night and get tons of sleep.  We’re not weird, we’re just retro.

How do you mellow out after a long day?

 

 

Lifestyle Design for the HSP

I have a mustache.  No, not that kind.  I’m a mustachian, meaning I subscribe to the philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache. Which is this: save a huge portion of your income (50% or more if you’re a badass!) invest that money wisely, and then retire early while living a humble but fulfilling life doing whatever you love to do.

I came upon his blog 6 months ago when I was finally ready to make radical changes. I was already disillusioned by the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that is considered “normal” in southern California (hence this post).  I had already decluttered my house and my schedule pretty drastically.  I had already come to embrace my highly sensitive nature, and the idea that taking care of myself meant saying no to many things-  obligations, social media, mindless consumption, etc.  This led me to the question- what do I want to say YES to?

My answers:  family time, deep (face-to-face) friendships, my Christian faith,  nature and healing, peace and quiet, .

Mr. Money Mustache’s blog has inspired me to make design my life around these YES’s.  If my family can get off the rat wheel, be freed of the bottomless pit of consumerism, allow our money to work hard for us, then we are truly free to design the lifestyle we want (and need).  It’s like hippie meets savvy investor.  This mustache suits me well.

So here is our dream… In 3 years, you will find me on a 5 acre plot of land living in a small guest home (or tiny home or yurt- TBD) while building our dream home.  Joe will take a 2 year sabbatical to build our straw bale house, but we will all help, including the kids, because it will be the world’s coolest homeschool project.  We will grow much of our own food, raise chickens, the whole deal.  After that 2 years of building, Joe will either work a computer IT job remotely from the comfort of our homestead, or start a completely new career doing one of the many things he’s amazing at (too many to list.).  Of course, there are many steps in between.  You can read this Mr. Money Mustache post for the basic steps we’re taking.  

My message to HSPs who feel trapped by a certain lifestyle,  who long for a simpler life that engages all 5 senses without bombarding them, maybe it’s time to dream big and jump off the wheel.

 

 

My Christmas Don’t-Do List

Everyone has limited time, energy, and resources.  We can’t do everything.  Sometimes it’s hard for us conscientious folks to let these things go, especially if they are objectively good things to do, or things that our culture deems important.  Or even things we’ve done every year in the past but don’t have time for this year. That’s why a “Don’t-do” list can be so freeing- by giving ourselves permission to not do some things, we can do other things very well.  This 2016 holiday season has been easy as pie.  My “Don’t-do” list is a mile long.  My “To-do” list is pleasingly short.  And yet everything feels nicely balanced in our household.

My Christmas Don’t-do list *

  1. No Christmas lights on the exterior of the house.
  2. Not a lot of decor inside the house.  We do the basics- a paper banner, a tree, stockings.  I just don’t like the clutter.
  3. No Elf on the Shelf or Santa.  In our home, Santa is a lovely folk tale that none of us take seriously.
  4. No Christmas shopping at malls/stores.  What few presents we buy all come from online stores.
  5. No pretty gift wrapping.  It’s butcher paper with sharpie doodles over here, which I like to think has it’s own special charm 🙂
  6. No Christmas cards.  Never have, never will.  But I do love receiving them.  Very hypocritical of me.
  7. No daily advent calendar activities.  I don’t like the pressure.
  8. No Christmas cookie bake-off.  We eat paleo, so the cookies take twice the effort, twice the cost, and taste half as good.  Not even trying this year.
  9. As evidenced in  the picture below, I don’t clean up pine needles.  I just let em fall and fall.

My Christmas Must-do list…

  1. Nightly Weinachtspyramide lighting ceremony.
  2. Buying a fresh-out-of-the-ground tree the day after Thanksgiving.
  3. Impromptu dance parties in the kitchen at least 3x a week.
  4. Making our own ornaments. This year was salt dough sculptures, and I finally caved and let my kids use glitter for the first time ever.
  5. Low-maintanence magnetic advent calendar.
  6. Almost nightly Christmas devotionals.  If we skip some nights, no biggie.
  7. For our kids’ gifts, we are trying the “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” thing.  It was so easy to shop for them this year, and we actually used our charter school funds for the “educational” toys.

*Don’t do lists are very subjective.  We will all differ in our priorities and values.  Please don’t think I’m telling you not to do any of those very  good things.  And please forgive me if my daughter tells your kids that Santa isn’t real.  I have sworn her to secrecy, but we’ll see how that works out.

 

Operation Christmas Child Meltdown


My child had a meltdown in the checkout line at Target.  Why?  Because I was buying so many goodies for needy children, and none for her.  I made sure to prepare her before our target run with a little talk about  Operation Christmas Child and why I’m so thrilled to participate in it.  My child seemed genuinely excited to fill a shoebox for a little girl her age, and was very thoughtful about her choices.  “Ooh, I think she’ll like the pink toothbrush  because most girls like pink… except for me.”  But after a while, as the cart filled with sparkly wondrous things, the jealousy and the disappointment (and I’ll say it, the consumerism that plagues all of us  despite my efforts to squash it) welled up in her, and she had a full on tantrum.

There are so many words I wanted to use in that moment.  There was a nice little guilt trip on the tip of my tongue… “Why don’t you appreciate the abundance we have?  Why do you always want to buy things you don’t need?  Don’t you realized how other kids in the world are suffering?  I’m so disappointed that you can’t be a joyful giver.” But thank God I didn’t say any of those things.

You may disagree with my silence, but I don’t regret it.  Have I ever felt jealousy?  Have I ever lusted over stuff I don’t need?  Have  I rejoiced in someone else’s misfortune?  Absolutely.  All the time.  And I’m way older than 5.  I do NOT need someone lecturing and guilting me about my selfishness.  That is never the answer.

So what did I say?  Nothing for a while.  Then when I felt kinda centered, I told her, “You seem really upset and disappointed.  It’s always hard when we want something we cannot have.  But today we’re shopping for needy kids around the world, not for ourselves.  I will not be buying anything for you today.”  That’s it.  She cried the whole way home, then an hour later apologized for getting so angry.

One of my parenting goals is to step aside and allow my children to pursue good things of their own free will, not out of force, guilt, or pressure to please me. I think it’s a hard route to take, and that the good pursuits will take time.  Honestly, guilt trips definitely work on my sensitive child in the short run.  But I’m parenting for the long run.  I figure that the best I can do is be an example of love and generosity for my kids.  I’m already seeing some of the fruit of this “hands off” approach, but I’m sure the best is yet to come.

operation-christmas-child-meltdown

Packing Light: My Diaper Bag

everlane diaper bagBaby in the front, backpack on the back, and hands free to help my 4 year old cross streets.  That’s how we roll.

Keeping track of our stuff- packing it, unpacking it, digging through it- makes me so flustered.  I can be a little scatter brained when I’m overstimulated, so I lose things a lot. I’d rather focus my energy on my kiddos and the task at hand (errands, playdates, whatever) than on my stuff.  Too much stuff just weighs me down physically and mentally.   I love having everything I need on my back so I can pretty much forget about it.thanks for your support!

I chose a super simple zip up backpack from everlane (<–this is my referral link, thanks!)  It is sleek, sturdy, smartly designed, and like all Everlane products, ethically made. Also, it’s gender neutral so husbands shouldn’t mind carrying it around.  I might get one for Joe and the mini version for Sisi!

top: main pocket. bottom: front zipper pocket.
top: main pocket. bottom: front zipper pocket.

Here is what I always carry:

  • 2 water bottles (contigo and contigo kids stainless steel bottles have stood the test of  time for us! Plus, the water isn’t sitting in plastic all day.)
  • lunch box (omie box is amazing!)
  • nursing cover
  • shoes for Sisi (she’s usually barefoot so I am always forgetting to pack shoes)
  • 3-4 diapers
  • grocery bag for dirty diaper
  • onesie (burt’s bees has cute/cheap organic onesies)
  • wipes (water wipes– the best for his bum!)
  • antibacterial wipes (these ones are all natural)
  • wallet, keys, sunglasses, phone
  • tissues
  • mints (special treat for Sisi on car rides and doubles as a baby rattle in a pinch)
  • a few baby toys
no editing at all- this is exactly what was in my bag at the moment.
no editing at all- this is exactly what was in my bag at the moment.

As you can see, it’s just the essentials, and it all fits neatly into my backpack with room to spare.  Now, HSPs are usually thinking a few steps ahead, and like to be prepared.  I keep things like an extra change of clothes for me, extra diapers, sun hat, chapstick, and baby powder in my car because it’s nice to have backup supplies nearby.  But I really don’t need to tote those things around everywhere I go, so I don’t.

everlane backpack
the perfect backback

Update 10/18/2016:  I still use this backback every day, have washed it numerous times in the washing machine (hung outside to dry), and it is still in wonderful condition.  I get compliments on it all the time.