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My Best Thrift Store Run Ever

I don’t usually post stuff like this, but I just have to bargain brag about my recent thrift store haul. Because who doesn’t like to hear the story of a good deal? #poppin’tags

As spring finally made its way to the Great Lakes, I realized I couldn’t get dressed. I had mix-matched thrift store stuff and hand-me-downs that just couldn’t be worn together. Sure, I had a few go-to basics, but I was sick of wearing the same beige fleece every day. And I’m pretty sure my husband was, too. (Though he never said it and he wears a beige fleece all the time too!)

Whenever I did try to “dress cute” I ended up looking like I was going to church. (And we don’t even “go to church” or dress up for our Bible studies.) I’m not into trendy looks and have declaimed the Futility of Fashion here. I’ve had some requests for writing about capsule wardrobes as a frugality approach, but I am not the person you want to be taking fashion advice from. But there comes a time when I want to look like I’m from this decade and 2019 seemed like a good year to catch up.

In fact, I spent my childhood purposely trying to dress a different decade or even century. There were the prairie dresses (which apparently made a couture comeback over the winter), the plaid skirts, and the saddle shoes. I was regularly asked if I was Amish or Catholic, despite being a public-school-going Protestant.

Fast forward twenty years and I just want to look normal. But the nerd is baked in so hard I always come up with “teacher” or “Easter church-goer” when getting dressed. So for inspiration I googled what grown ups, particularly soccer moms, are supposed to wear.

Of course there’s a lot of ridiculousness out there, but through a little perusing I came up with a shopping list of items I thought would allow me to make many more outfits with my existing wardrobe. My list was: denim jacket, zip-down hoodie (how did I not own one of these!?!), open front flowy cardigan, twill utility jacket, and cute tee (in order of priority). I also wanted a cap since I have sun-sensitive skin and eyes. While not looking like a freak wearing my beach hat all over my not-beach town.

I knew the thrift store was just the place for these items. I also know my tendency to obsess about getting a certain thing once I get it in my mind. And I didn’t want clothes of all things to consume me. So I did something I’d never done before. I prayed before I went in the thrift store. I earnestly prayed that I could find some of the things I was looking for quickly, but also that I wouldn’t be consumed with thinking about clothing.

In one hour, while shopping a large thrift with a baby, I found every single thing on my list for a grand total of $28. In addition to what I was looking for, as I walked past the shoes, I found a great pair of high quality “mom” sandals, and a nice pair of “dressy” nude flip flops. Both very useful additions to my shoe collection.

Here’s a pic of my haul:

Details: Gap cardigan $4; Gap hoodie $5; Old Navy utility jacket $3; J. Crew denim jacket $9; Merrell sandals $4; Bebe flip flops $3; neutral cap $1.50. Plus a cute baby hand! Not pictured: cute tee $2, which I somehow already lost while on a retreat. (These are the prices before using a $5 off coupon.)

I wore the denim jacket on a date last night and it was a hit with the hubby. Weird because I’ve never worn one! I guess anything is better than a beige fleece. Note: I bought his jacket as his Christmas gift 16 years ago!

Still nerdy, but I’ve come a long way from the prairie dresses.

My best advice for thrifting is to find a good thrift shop, learn how their discounts or coupons work, and go with a list. It’s too overwhelming to look for a lot of different categories, but when I’m looking for a particular item I can usually find it. Also, know what categories are good to find at the thrift store, and what is better to go retail. I don’t have good luck with jeans there, and I prefer to buy athletic shoes new or like-new so they’ll last longer. Tees can also be hard to sift through since you can’t tell from the side whether graphics are on the front.

I’ll never be fashionable, but I feel like I can now put together “normal” enough looking outfits without much thought. I’ve had some great thrift store finds over the years but the efficiency and success of snagging so many items I wanted in such a short time, and for such great prices, was unprecedented. The Lord provides.

Now I’m dying to hear about your best thrift store finds, clothes or otherwise. And do any ladies have some frugal fashion tips for the rest of us? Do tell!

That Time I Gave My Baby Doritos and an iPad

Sunset on Campception

Last month we traveled to Florida and camped for a week. People I mentioned this to IRL were like “Tent camping?” Yes. “Do you drive there?” Yes. It’s a little crazy, but it was a beach vacation for a family of 5 during a peak time (spring break) and it came in at $1300. That’s more than we’ve ever spent, and an astonishing amount to spend on camping, I’ll admit. But that includes 10 days of minivan rental, 7 days of camp site fees, and all of our food, gas, camp supplies, and outings during the trip. We enjoyed outings like a daddy-daughter date; a boys’ overnight backpacking trip; a day trip to a teaching zoo; a bike parade; guys night out; and ladies night out. And as always, the beach, Bojangles, and ice cream.

Bat baby loves camping

Our baby absolutely loved camping! I think she took better naps in the tent than at home. She liked the beach, the swing on the playground, watching all the big kids, and just being outside. We definitely had to make more stops on the road trip and this slowed us down but overall she was pretty happy in the car. We called it one hour from our destination because she was way overtired and crying, and we would have to set up camp in the dark, and then get three kids to bed. I’m so glad we stopped. And so glad we always have Marriott points, accumulated from years of work travel, to use for free stays.

The big kids were so excited to play with their friends all day. So much that they were a little under-parented the first couple days. It was all we could do to shove sunscreen, water, and a sandwich at them in passing. Our son and his friends took up residence in the little dell next to the bathrooms, providing a convenient opportunity to check in every couple hours. They were swinging from vines, reading Bible stories, and who knows what else.

The hike in

One highlight of the trip was that Neil took our son on his first overnight backpacking trip. Neil’s brother went, too. For the past 6 or so years, Neil has rounded up a group of friends to backpack with during one night of our trip. Someone dubbed this “campception”—a camping trip within a camping trip. He’s always wanted to take our son, and at the ripe age of 7, he was deemed old enough. This year, Neil calmly informed me, bear bags are now required for campers in the national forest where they were going. While I prayed that I wouldn’t lose three family members all at once, the boys seemed unfazed by the threat of bears. Neil promised to be careful and not leave Swedish fish in his pocket this year.

The only complication was that they needed a vehicle to get there. Usually we unload all the stuff from our car into our tent and I hitch rides. This year that felt completely overwhelming, considering the volume of stuff in both the car and the tent. And his brother’s wife had plans to visit a friend that night so she needed their rental car. They decided to rent a car, so she dropped them off at the rental car place using their rental. Rentception for campception!

Backpacking camp

If you’ve ever road-tripped with kids, you know that the last half hour is meltdown city, no matter how long or short of a trip. This was certainly true on our way home. We stopped half an hour from home to change her diaper at a gas station. She was completely beside herself that we put her back in the car seat. Out of desperation, I handed her a snack-size bag of Doritos, a “toy” she enjoyed one day during vacation. I kept looking back to make sure the bag was still sealed. Then all of a sudden I had a weird noise followed by crying. She’d burst the bag of nacho Doritos and, while she didn’t have any in her mouth, she had some of the powder on her chin and maybe got some on her tongue. She was covered in Doritos crumbs and wouldn’t stop crying even after I gave her water. My older daughter was watching the iPad in the seat next to her and I grabbed it and handed it to the baby in a frenzied attempt to calm her. She did settle down but would not give up the iPad. So the baby was watching TV while covered in Doritos. A proud parenting moment.

We made it home, wiped the Doritos out of the car seat, and I hit a new personal record for number of laundry loads in the two weeks that followed. And as usual we hit the ground running with more projects, which I’ll share soon in our Spring Burbstead update.

Do you have any upcoming travel planned? What are your tips and tricks (or fails) from road tripping?

Would You Rather?

A trending kids’ pastime is asking “Would you rather?” questions. “Would you rather meet Yoda or Harry Potter?” “Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?” etc. I’m pretty terrible at whimsy so these might be sub-par examples, but you get the drift.

It strikes me that personal finance is like one big game of would you rather. Would you rather buy lunch out or invest the $1750 per year? Would you rather live in a bigger house or retire earlier? Would you rather by a new car or travel more?

Of course, this is severely over-simplified. The trade-off in each case represents many would-you-rathers. Maybe it’s something more like: Would you rather live in a bigger house, or have a newer car, or retire earlier, or go out to eat every day, or buy new phones or clothes or whatever you’re into, or rack up the debt….the possibilities are almost endless. And the pros and cons for each point may also carry complexity. 

But when you actually make a financial decision,  the alternatives you’re considering is often fairly finite in the moment. We’re all constantly deciding between spending, saving, and giving. Those are the three main functions of money, and it helps to think in terms of trade-offs between them.

Like the Would You Rather game, there’s often not one right way to do things. While over-spending, consumer debt, and becoming greedy are destructive, many choices boil to preference and priorities. Would you rather buy the bigger home or retire earlier? That’s largely a matter of preference and/or values. And for us, seeking God’s wisdom in big decisions is important.

One problem with Would You Rather when it comes to personal finance is when we can’t see the third option. We easily become blind to one of the three functions of money and fail to consider a whole category. It’s not would you rather A or B, but would you rather A, B, or C?

It’s a constant balancing act, choosing how much of our money to give, save and spend. And there’s no universal formula for it. But if your financial plan is all but missing one of these, or is heavily weighted toward one, you might not be seeing all the options.

It would be exhausting (and impossible) to consider all the possibilities, the would-you-rathers, with each financial choice we make. At the same time, we’ll miss out if we don’t see the options. Because when you don’t see the alternative, you don’t feel like you’re making a choice at all. You think you’re doing what you have to do. Sometimes there’s only one good choice—like paying the electric bill. And sadly there are times when people run out of good options. But for all those gray areas that we encounter daily, let’s try to open our eyes to the trade-offs, the balancing act between spending, saving, and giving.

By balance, I don’t mean to suggest we’re going to get it “right.” But hopefully by thoughtful consideration, we can come to an arrangement that we’re happy with. Weighing these three areas is a helpful way to talk about money if you’re married, and a great lesson in trade-offs for kids.

Just make sure to start it out with “Would you rather…”

What Would You Rather are you considering?

Tips & Tricks for a Thrifty Camping Vacation

Camping is one of the best ways to vacation for less. Campsites are very affordable, even in beautiful, expensive-to-vacation areas like beach towns. A campsite offers a true room with a view, more space than a hotel room, and lots of fun, free or cheap activities for families right within the camp ground.

Of course there are other ways to vacation cheaply, like travel hacking. And we do some of that. But camping is good for the soul. And it’s especially good for kids.

There is a bit of a learning curve to camping. Here are the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over 16 years of tenting it.

  1. Grocery pickup: This year, I’m going to do something incredibly un-rugged, and I couldn’t be more stoked about it. I’m doing Walmart grocery pick up for my shopping while on vacation. I think this is a great hack for many travel scenarios. Pluses include: not getting overwhelmed, forgetting a bunch of stuff, and also making unnecessary impulse purchases while trying to shop with three kids and a husband. We’ll save time, and the last thing the kids want to do is go grocery shopping the first day of vacation. While I’m not a huge Walmart fan in general, order pickup is great for these scenarios, and it’s convenient that I can make the order ahead of time, modify it until the night before, and get things like diapers and camp supplies as well.
  2. Coffee: if you think I’m overzealous about camping, don’t get me started on coffee! I need it so bad, especially while sleeping in a tent with three children! There are lots of ways to make coffee while camping, but the easier, cheapest, and least breakable option for me is this $7 pour-over product. Walmart, give me some of those #2 filters while you’re at it. If you drink it by the pot, go for a percolator (non-electric) or inexpensive coffee maker (for electric sites).
  3. Glamping: on some trips, we have electricity. And let me tell you, we make good use of it. For these trips, we bring a small, old “hot pot” a.k.a. a simple electric kettle. We use this for all our water boiling needs–for tea, coffee (see above), oatmeal, ramen, and even for heating the baby’s bath water. And it significantly cuts down the amount of propane we use on our camp stove.
  4. Don’t unpack: We store a camping box or two in our garage, and they’re always stocked with our mobile kitchen, paper products, propane, and other necessities for camping. I also leave little things like a hat, quarters, a deck of cards, a laundry line, a rain poncho, hand warmers, and toilet paper in our duffel bag all year young. These could come in handy on just about any trip so why unpack them?
  5. Beach supplies: the beach is so much more fun when you’re well prepared. We’ve always brought a beach blanket (just an old ugly comforter that’s handy in our car all year for emergencies, picnics, and beach days). Since having kids, we’ve added this nifty beach umbrella to our stash and it is sooo worth it. It’s great to have a shady place to retreat–especially for pale folk like me and the kids. We also bring a puddle jumper, a basket of cheap beach toys, and a good mini metal shovel for epic sand digging. Lastly, I keep a swim bag with towels, swim suits, sunscreen, and goggles packed all year. It makes getting out the door (or tent) to swim so much easier.
  6. Meal swap: we often camp with friends, and usually team up with 2-3 other families to take turns making meals. This obviously reserves more vacation time for vacationing rather than cooking, without having to go out to eat. But it’s also great because it streamlines grocery shopping. We don’t need to buy a ton of different ingredients for different meals, only to end up throwing away extras at the end of the week. This high chair is great for trips because it folds up small and fits on any table.
  7. Packing list: I have a spreadsheet listing all the stuff we need to camp for a week, including grocery items and meal ideas. Though I tweak it from year to year depending on the kids’ ages and needs, it saves time not to start from scratch on my packing list each year.
  8. Road trip ideas: we download audio books, music, and movies for the kids ahead of time via library apps like Libby and Hoopla, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. We also save by packing some snacks and sandwich stuff to augment the fast food stops (because we have to stop at Bojangles on our way south).
  9. Travel hack hotel stops: on our way back we stop at a hotel that we book using hotel points rewards. You can accumulate these by using credit cards, or if you stay at hotels frequently for work and sign up for a rewards program with a particular chain.
  10. Excursions: once a year we camp in Florida, and some friends have taken the opportunity to do a less-expensive, one-day Disney visit. It’s not the same thing as an extended stay inside the park, but it scratches the Disney itch while saving massively on accommodations. We have yet to take the Disney plunge, but Neil took our son to Kennedy Space Center last year, and there are plenty of other great tourist options within driving distance.

I hope at least one of these ideas helps you on your next camping trip! Wish us luck on our first trip with three kids, and please share your tips and tricks below!

Redeeming Money Book Review

In a world of Dave Ramseys and Suzy Ormans bossing you about what to do with your money, it’s nice to read a personal finance book that doesn’t make one single practical suggestion about what to do with your money.

It’s nice, and maddening. All at the same time. Paul David Tripp’s 2018 Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients our Hearts is big-picture, philosophy over practicality. It’s about a book about your relationship with money. And the only to-do takeaway is to consider what money reveals about what your heart truly loves. The intended audience is Christians.

But this isn’t just another Christian money book explaining Bible verses or defining stewardship (although it does). The real thrust is to get you thinking about the gaps between what you believe about money and how you live–and the why behind this breakdown. He looks at this from several angles, including how we spend based on how we view ourselves (identity); how we view this world vs. eternity, and the purpose we’re living for–our glory, or God’s glory.

Tripp breaks identity into four components. He says we’re creatures–not the Creator–and this is why we should view ourselves as stewards, not owners. We’re also sinners living in a fallen world, and this means that the tool of money is used in broken ways, and also that it cannot fix our broken world. He describes this as being sufferers. We can spend on comfort, convenience, and pleasure, but we can’t spend our way out of all suffering. Lastly, we are “saints,” i.e., believers and followers of Jesus can be changed by God’s power to use money in ways that are in line with God’s value and bring Him glory.

My favorite part of this book is how he relates money to satisfaction and eternity. We all want to feel satisfied, happy, content, and this drives much of our over-spending. If we could accept that complete satisfaction will not happen this side of paradise, we may be better able to reign in the spending whilst also investing in God’s eternal kingdom through generous giving.

Though he doesn’t make this connection, this point relates closely to the financial independence/early retirement movement. I’ve thought before about how for those who long for early retirement, what you really want is heaven. You want to be able to do productive, meaningful work with freedom, with ample resources, and without having to worry about significant time restraints. Sounds a lot like eternity to me.

My main critique of the book is that he used over-spending and debt as his examples of misuse of money, without talking nearly as much about the pitfalls of a wealth-building obsession (when that wealth is built but not over-spent). Being miserly, overly focused on saving/investing, or driving too hard toward financial goals such as debt payoff or retirement can be equally dangerous. These could have used more attention, even just as examples and illustrations.

The greatest strength of the book is that he tries to address the underlying problems, rather than just telling you to make a budget, save for emergencies, or invest in index funds. There’s a time and place for both types of advice, but dealing with the underlying issues of the heart will take you a lot further in carrying out practical steps.

Like all Tripp books, he belabors some points with excessive lists of rhetorical questions and redundant sentence structures. It’s annoying in a literary sense, but I keep coming back for more because his content is good. And best of all, he gets grace–hence the title. I like that he makes a play on the word “redeem,” which we use to mean make something useful out of something wasn’t. But it also has a financial sense: purchasing a slave’s freedom. His overarching, hopeful message is that God in his grace can take any person and any financial situation and redeem it if we will surrender our money and our hearts to Him. Maybe that doesn’t look like you get out of debt fast, or you retire when you want. But He can help us stop being enslaved to our longings and the spending (or saving) that comes with them.

What’s the best money book you’ve read lately? What do you believe is the connection between our money and what we love most?

Nothing Parties Like a Rental (Car)

To rent or not to rent?

To rent or not to rent a car for a road trip? As our annual 2000-mile road trip/camping vacation approaches, we’ve been crunching the numbers on car rentals.

For most of the last seven years, we’ve rented for the trek as part of our frugal approach to car ownership. We drive older cars and Neil does almost all the maintenance and repairs himself. So we usually rent in order to avoid the wear and tear of such a long journey. It’s a strategic move, carefully calculated to save money in the long run. And of course it doesn’t suck to enjoy a nice, new ride on vacation.

Yet our “new” van feels so luxurious and road-trip-ready, we both felt the itch to bypass renting this year. Reality check: our “new” van is actually 13 years old and has around 150,000 miles. Even if it were brand-new, would it make sense to drive it that far?

Here’s how we see it: if the cost of wear and tear on your vehicle is greater than the cost or renting (or even close), it makes sense to spare your daily ride and rent instead. How can you calculate the cost of wear and tear? The government currently pays $0.58 per mile which includes fuel. Subtract the cost of fuel for your vehicle and you have approximate wear and tear. Or AAA estimates around $0.61 including fuel and insurance.

Our van gets around 22 miles per gallon. If gas costs around $2.20 right now, we’ll spend about $0.10 per mile on fuel, leaving $0.48 per mile of wear and tear. So that’s:

$0.58 – (Price of gas per gallon/miles per gallon) = price of wear and tear per mile.

Multiply that by the total number of miles for your approximate cost of driving your own vehicle.

Or if that seems too rich, take a highly conservative estimate of $0.25 wear and tear per mile. Maybe you won’t spend as much on vehicle maintenance because you DIY. Or maybe your own car gets way better gas mileage than what you’d rent. Even with the more conservative figure, it rarely makes sense to drive your own vehicle on very long trips.

For our van, we’d put somewhere between $500 to $960 worth of wear during a 2,000 trip. We can definitely rent a car for less than $500 for our 10-day trip.

While renting a car sounds like an extra and unnecessary expense, it can really reduce the cost of car ownership throughout the year (and over the life of the vehicle). And if you DIY, you’ll also be spreading out the impact of the time you spend working on your vehicle. Breaking down on a long trip is always inconvenient–but much more so if you’ve got to stop and fix your own vehicle, rather than just swap out one rental for another.

And of course it’s quite a luxury to drive a newer vehicle that’s loaded with features. It makes vacation a little more fun. Plus we enjoy not needing to give it a deep cleaning and oil change immediately upon returning from camping and driving 2000 miles with little kids!

How can you save on the cost of renting? We’ve found that renting an SUV is much less expensive than renting a minivan. Until this year, we’ve fit into an SUV. This year with 3 kids plus camping gear we’ll have to splurge on the minivan rental. But using a Costco discount we were able to rent for $420–still coming in under the conservative estimate of $500 cost of driving our car.

In the past, we’ve saved by cashing in travel rewards from renting cars for work, or collected rental car company coupons throughout the year (also from work). Like so many things, it’s best to shop around, look for coupons or promotions, and book in advance.

Our camping vacation is rather expensive and inefficient in many ways, but our $420 vehicle rental (the most we’ve ever spent) is still cheaper than flying 4 people to our destination. And driving means we can bring all our camping gear, and our camp site cost for the week equals 1-2 nights in a hotel in the same city.

We do hope to be able to fit in an SUV again in a couple years when we’re not bringing a pack n play, stroller, infant carrier, and high chair along. We’ll see if we’re ever able to downsize again!

Have you ever considered renting a car to save money? Do you have any trips coming up?

Finding Our Way Back to Frugal

What was your New Year’s Resolution? Did you break it yet?

I didn’t make any this year, but I do see the value of getting back into healthy habits after eating too many Christmas cookies, staying up late, or spending more than usual during the holidays.

In the same way, we put some of our normal frugal habits on hold surrounding the birth of our third child. There were take-out pizzas and Great Clips haircuts. I bought more convenience grocery items than usual. I bought retail clothes when I didn’t have time to sift through secondhand. We turned up the A/C (it was 95 degrees the week she was born) and used the dryer rather than hanging clothes. Our entertainment spending increased during Neil’s babybatical when he took a month off and treated the older kids to epic fun. And recently when the kids were home sick or for snow days, I enjoyed using Walmart grocery delivery–when free delivery was available, but I still tipped and spent a little more on certain items.

Do I regret any of this? No! But just as it’s easy to keep eating too much sugar well after the holidays have passed, it’s easy to forsake frugal habits forever. Thus a busy time when conveniences are necessary can slide into small-scale lifestyle inflation. And while some increased expenses are par for the course with a growing family, I’ve felt like it’s time to return to some of of our former habits.

Will we retire early by hanging clothes or making homemade yogurt? Hardly. Or budget, let alone future plans, do not rely on the small savings from these tasks. I will gladly abandon them again as needed. But to me there is something healthy and hearty about not losing sight of the types of little tasks that added up to getting out of debt, and getting the investment ball rolling.

Admittedly, I have the time to do some of these things because I’m a STAHM. If I only had a couple hours at home with my kids each day, you better believe I’d spend more on convenience. But if I have the time, and I’m not focusing on career or income right now, it makes sense to save money where I can. It’s also a great way to model throwback thrift for the kids and get them involved. I mean, how many kids know making yogurt or bread is even a possibility?

These habits won’t make us rich, but they do keep us grounded. Viewing small things like a comfy thermostat setting, ordering a pizza, and going on fun outings as luxuries helps calibrate realistic expectations in both us and our kids. When holiday over-spending and over-eating becomes the norm in the new year, it leads to problems. The same can be true of seasons of increased spending if we lose sight of a thriftier lifestyle.

We’ll continue to stay flexible, choosing convenience when that supports our greater values of relationships and following God. And we’ll keep saving big with Neil’s DIY skills, and by avoiding major expenses such as car payments or a big mortgage. I hope these small savings support our overall mindset of avoiding excess, enjoying small luxuries, and building gratitude for the abundance we’ve been blessed with.

What are some frugal habits that you practice? Have you ever 

put them on  hold for a season?

FIRE Safety

Maybe we’re not the best people to take fire safety advice from.

Although it presents less raw danger than a physical flame, FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) is not necessarily safe for the soul. So what is the stop, drop, and roll of the FIRE movement?

Fire safety is drilled in our kids at a young age. Even my preschooler can tell you what to do if you catch on fire: stop, drop, and roll. Kids have fire drills at school and on the bus, and are encouraged to plan escape routes for home. It makes sense that fire safety is a big deal, and that teachers and firefighters know how to make it memorable.

Even if you never plan to retire early, we all need safeguards against losing ourselves as we navigate money, work, and life. That’s why I believe we should all pursue financial flexibility; there’s no benefit to being enslaved by our jobs by over-extending ourselves financially. So, what’s the soul-risk in pursuing FIRE or even financial flexibility?

Last week we talked about Luke 12, where a man retires early and decides to live unabashedly for his own pleasure. The catch? He dies on day one of retirement. It’s a parable, so it’s meant to teach some lessons about relying on God, living for yourself, and the foolishness of putting all your hope in this short life.

And then there are verses like this one: What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:26). You could gain freedom from work, freedom from worrying about money, but lose yourself in the process. Even the popular blogger and early retiree Mad FIentist admits he fell into depression on the intense journey to FIRE (scroll down to Dark Times here).

Like money itself, FIRE isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s a tool that depends on how you pursue it and you use it. Here’s the stop, drop, and roll of FIRE soul-safety as I see it:

Purpose. Many people advise you don’t just retire from something, but retire to something. I believe this should mean more than projects, hobbies, or travel. Life is most satisfying when it’s lived for a bigger purpose. How will you connect your interests and talents with your values and purpose? Finding how these connect before retirement will help you find contentment and fulfillment when you leave behind traditional work.

Practice makes perfect. What do you dream of doing with your time in retirement? Makes sure you do some of that now! This will help you avoid living for the future but missing the present and make sure you’re living a useful life. And it will also hone your dreams and plans and you figure out exactly what your why is for retiring early. Here are some areas worth practicing:

Generosity. There’s no better way to guard the heart against greed than to give charitably and sacrificially. I’m not necessarily talking about extravagant gifts or buying your friends dinner. It’s great to be generous to those you know, but sometimes greater to help those you’ll never even meet. There are no end of good causes and reputable charities supporting them. Read more on the benefits of giving and how to find an effective charity.

Volunteering. Giving your money is not interchangeable with giving your time and talents. But both are undoubtedly important ways to make sure you’re not just living for you and losing your soul along the way. For us, this looks like volunteer ministry such as leading and teaching home group Bible study, serving as elders, and discipling new leaders.

Relationships. Staying connected with people along the way to FIRE is invaluable. Making time for the people in your life ensures you have a healthy family and friendships to enjoy your retirement or flexibility with. It’s part of living for more than yourself. And it also opens you up to the possibility of accountability and feedback along your journey to FIRE.

What else do you see as important for FIRE safety?

It’s a Girl!

Our tie-breaker baby showed up on her due date and girls now outnumber the boys! Of course we are absolutely in love.

Although I was getting antsy for her arrival once we had a working toilet, everything worked out so perfectly. Just the night before she was born, Neil made more progress on the DIY bathroom project and cleared many of the tools out of the bathroom, our bedroom, and the kitchen counter. The vanity drawers and doors went on, and fixtures including shower head and tub faucets were installed. And probably lots more details that I’m unaware of.

I woke up feeling completely normal the next day, hung out at a friends’ house with the kids, and was planning to go to the library for an event my sister-in-law got us tickets too. We were going to go straight there but my daughter soaked her dress playing outside, so we decided to stop home first. As soon as we got there I had a couple early labor symptoms that could mean labor was hours or days away.

I didn’t think this was reason to stay home from the library–it takes a lot to keep me away from the place–but right then my daughter somehow fell down the stairs into the basement (it’s only 6 stairs) holding a full, open canister of peanuts. By the time I comforted her and we cleaned up, we didn’t have time to go to the library.

A little over two hours later I was making dinner and started having contractions. Now, I had experienced weeks of on-and-off early labor contractions, sometimes called prodromal or (inaccurately) “false” labor, which are more intense than the usual pregnancy “practice” contractions, but not as painful like active labor. I had them for up to three hours at a time, and then they would just fizzle out. Considering my first two labors were shorter than average, I was a little nervous that this would make it hard to know when it was the real thing.

But these were different. Not get-me-to-the-hospital-right-now painful, but felt more like I was approaching active labor. I decided to keep cooking because I knew this could go on a while, and they were still five minutes apart. So I can now say I’ve cooked Indian food while in labor. (Neil was grilling the meat.)

After half an hour, we agreed it was time to call Neil’s mom to come be with the kids. As with my last labor, I decided it was not a good idea to eat Indian food, so I stuck with plain rice. I guess turning down Indian food is another sign of labor for me!

It was a little after 5 and she had to come through a congested traffic area on her way to our house. I had two big fears about delivery during the last month: that I would not make it to the hospital in time, or that I would not go into labor on my own and have to be induced at 42 weeks. As we waited for her, I wondered if we called too soon. Obviously we didn’t have to go to the hospital immediately but I didn’t really want to labor with an audience. The kids kept asking if I was okay, so I decided to go in the basement and wait there.

After a few minutes I had a very intense contraction and thought, if they keep up like this I’m going into transition. We need to leave! I told Neil and he called over a friend who was there in minutes and we left. Neil’s mom got there 5 minutes later.

Fortunately we did not hit traffic on the way (we don’t live in a high traffic area, but it was rush hour). And fortunately the contractions were not as intense as that rogue one had been. We got to the hospital around 6:20, got through registration and triage, and were admitted into an L&D room around 7. The nurses and midwife all acted like it was probably going to go fast and they were right. She was born less than 40 minutes later.

I have so much to be grateful for–so much that I do not deserve. I got there in plenty of time, while still having a short and uncomplicated labor. She is very healthy, something I don’t take for granted after a scare surrounding her 20-week anatomy scan. Neil has the month off and has been a huge help both the with baby and the big kids. The kids are in love with her. And the bathroom is totally functional. Neil’s friends came and cleared the tools out of her room, installed the handle on the bathroom door, and mowed the lawn the morning we came home. And left tons of Thai take-out in the fridge. And we’ve had family and friends bring us dinner every night.

I did get a minor infection (mastitis) on the 4th of July and spent a lot of the day in bed with a fever, aches, and chills. It wasn’t fun, but I got into the doctor the next morning, got on antibiotics, and have been feeling fine since.

We’re enjoying our new daughter so much, and I keep thanking God for all the answered prayers and for such supportive and helpful friends and family.

What blessings can you count lately? 

 

What Are You Doing for Others? An MLK Day Message

Image result for martin luther king

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” asked Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957. Is it just me, or does it seems like people’s most persistent and urgent question now is, “What am I doing for myself?”

What am I doing to grow my career?

What am I doing to improve myself and my life?

What am I doing to fulfill my dreams?

While these questions could intersect with King’s foundational query, they often fall short. Statistically, younger generations (i.e., my age & younger) of Americans are demonstrating less generosity and volunteering less than previous generations did at the same age. The ideal of activism often translates into a Facebook posts rather than real-world application.

Personal finance blogs offer many useful tools and advice for improving one’s finances. But why—what’s your why? Is it comfort, security, freedom, flexibility? It’s all still as meaningless as the 9 to 5 we want to escape, if we don’t have a more compelling purpose.

You don’t have to work out that purpose perfectly right away. It doesn’t have to look like a detailed five- or ten-year plan of how you’ll do good in the world. I think it should look like asking MLK’s question of ourselves on a regular basis, though, because we can’t afford to let it go unanswered.

Thankfully, there are many people of all ages who are activists, advocates, volunteers, and philanthropists. But we all know there aren’t enough. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to our society was immeasurable. Yet so much more work remains.

No, you can’t save the world. But you can change the life of one person. Maybe two. Maybe five. Maybe more. The tragedy isn’t that you don’t pull off saving the world. The tragedy is when you don’t even try. It’s not just the people you would’ve helped who miss out; it’s you. You’re missing out on your best possible life, the fulfillment of the most worthwhile dreams.

This past weekend, I was involved with a volunteer appreciation dinner for the adults in our church. We have about 25 people involved in 5 different organizations, serving a range of people in need:

  • Visiting incarcerated youth at detention centers and holding a Bible study.
  • Visiting with and/or mentoring sex-trafficked young women, or those at high risk of being trafficked.
  • Teaching preschool, an after school program, or providing childcare for refugee children.
  • Teaching Bible studies at a nursing home. One group is dedicated entirely to those suffering from dementia.
  • Helping refugees get settled—giving them rides to the SS office or other appointments, helping with paperwork, supplying household items, helping them move, and more.

At the dinner it was beautiful to hear from the volunteers, both about the very valuable, needed work they are doing, and about what they are learning and how they’re growing from it.

I know everyone is busy. We work a lot. We have children in many activities. We have hobbies and side hustles, and television shows to watch and blogs to read. We need to exercise, read, and relax. But what is the goal of all our self-improvement and self-care? At some point we must ask ourselves, for what purpose am I trying to become the best version of myself?

Or, as King put it: “What are you doing for others?”

Jesus also chimed in on this topic: “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35).

How do you think your life might look different if you asked this question regularly? Have you volunteered? How has it impacted you, and those you helped?