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The Privilege of Distance Learning

As another week of distance learning draws to a close, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. I’ve never looked forward to the weekend so much. I don’t need to set 5 timers on my phone to make sure everyone gets to their class meetings. I don’t have to argue with anyone about what a complete sentence is. I don’t have to worry about our toddler popping into Zoom meetings, possibly naked.

I’m also breathing a sigh of relief because three teachers at their school have already been diagnosed with Covid. I hope they recover well and it doesn’t spread much. But I’m also glad I don’t have to worry about exposure, or have my kids adjusting to substitute teachers a couple weeks into the year.

Distance learning is stressful. I can’t get much done around the house OR errands during the day. Keeping the toddler quiet and out of the way is almost a full time job by itself. Let alone helping a first grader log into meetings, type in Google docs, and stay on task. And helping my very math-minded 3rd grader tackle language arts or answer social-emotional screening questions that he just doesn’t connect with.

Overall, I’m very impressed with their teachers. They’ve done a great job of explaining how to use each app, trying to set up a classroom environment virtually, and they have paced ramping up the work pretty well. I do not envy their jobs.

As frustrating as distance learning is, I have to remind myself what a real privilege it is. I cannot imagine having to manage their learning if I was working from home. If I can barely get the dishes done right now, how would I be productive at work? I’m also grateful that we had the option to distance learn. It was a tough decision, but at least it was a decision. If we were both working outside the home, or even possibly from home, there would have been no choice.

And while parents continue to work or choose to stay home with kids for lots of different reasons, I’m grateful that decisions we’ve made over the last 15 years, as well as many unearned advantages, have paved the way for me to be home right now. I’m so thankful that we’re not having to choose between work and health. I’m glad that the stress of distance learning is not exacerbated by losing a second income.

It’s crazy how even in the best possible circumstances–Neil working from home, no loss of income, no underlying health conditions, me being at home full time–this pandemic is still pretty tough. Once thing I’ve noted lately is that I just need to get more creative as we adjust our schedule to this new normal.

I used to exercise during my toddler’s nap time, when the big kids would have screen time or just play. Now I’ve realized if I want to work out, I need to do it in the morning before school. (We’ll see how long this keeps up!).

If Neil and I want to have more than 2-3 waking hours a week of kid-free time together, we need to get babysitters. We’re also trying to enjoy about 20 minutes of conversation after dinner rather than just rushing off to the next activity or chore.

Our social life has to move to after school hours as well. We added a once-weekly after school option for our play group, which is doubling as a social “recess” for the school-age kids. My neighbor and I alternate watching each other’s kids for a couple hours each week for some focused spiritual time. Even loud chores like vacuuming and dishes (I’m so loud no matter how hard I try) have to be scheduled around class meetings.

I could go on, and I’m still figuring things out. I’m trying new ideas for motivating and keeping the kids on task, giving them breaks, and rewarding good attitudes. And I’m learning how to “be a person” even with everyone home most of the time. My most frequent prayer these days is simply for sanity!

How is pandemic schooling going for others? How have you tweaked your schedule due to pandemic life?

5 Ways to Help During the Pandemic

Now is the time to help.

I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has at times tempted me to just hunker down with my family and forget about the outside world. Between moving and crisis schooling, and now facing what feels like an endless summer vacation, it seems there’s little time to think about anyone else.

Yet volunteering and charitable giving are more important than ever as people face unprecedented needs. Even when I fight the urge just focus on myself and my family, the pandemic has changed our ability to serve outside our home. Volunteering in places like schools, nursing homes, churches, and prisons is often not possible, or may look a lot different. Here I’ll share a few creative ways I’ve seen people safely lending a hand.

But to be honest, I’ve hesitated to post this, because I have struggled with making the time. I wish I would have called my family more. I wish I would have been more consistent about involving my kids in service. I have vacillated about how to proceed with the children’s ministry I lead. And I’m never confident I’ve been truly generous when faced with the overwhelming needs in the world.

However, I want to keep fighting the good fight and helping where I can. And I’ve been very encouraged to see how communities have pulled together and shown creativity during this time. So check out these ideas for serving during the crisis, and we’d love to hear the cool ways people are helping out in your community!

Be a Pen Pal

This pandemic is affecting the elderly disproportionately, not just in health outcomes, but in loneliness and isolation as well. We absolutely need to protect the elderly physically, but we also need to look out for their emotional health, because it’s so tied to their overall well-being.

Help the elderly stay connected by becoming a pen pal, phone buddy, or even visiting through a window–all options our church’s nursing home ministry has utilized. If you have young children, draw cards to send to a nursing home.


During our state’s stay at home order, we moved our Bible study online. Sure, online meetings aren’t the same as being face-to-face. But everyone agreed it was far better than nothing. In addition to continuing our study, we were able to enjoy others’ “company” afterward. Whatever type of meeting you might do, meeting online, even if less often, is a great alternative to simply canceling.

The same goes for friends and family. My kids really enjoyed seeing their friends via Facebook Messenger video chat, and my family also enjoyed group Zoom calls when we missed occasions like Easter and my sister’s birthday. At times I felt a real aversion to online meetings, but whenever we did “meet” it seemed to lift everyone’s spirit. Be the one to initiate that positive connecting.

Lately we’ve found safe ways to meet outdoors, and that’s made for a great summer. In fact, we should be outside this much every summer. I think we’ll continue to meet outside with a camp fire in the fall for as long as the weather permits.

Food Bank

As people struggle with unemployment and kids can’t look to schools for meals, now is a great time to serve your local food bank. Whether you give time, money, or food, your donation is sure to make an impact. Try organizing a neighborhood food drive. Even young kids can relate to the importance of food and participate by helping box up food to drop off. Or donate money directly online if you’re more comfortable with that. Lastly, you can contact the food bank about their need for volunteers. Just remember to inquire about their Covid safety measures before you go.

Care Packages

During the “lockdown,” our church organized a care package initiative. The packages were sanitized, personalized, and distributed to neighbors and nursing home residents. They were warmly received; many people expressed their appreciation at the thoughtfulness.

Care packages would be a great way to cheer up just about anyone–a health care worker, other essential workers, a family member, teacher, elderly neighbor, or family with young kids. Snacks, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, books, or small activities such as card games, crosswords, coloring books, or bubbles are just a few ideas of items you might include.

International Charities

While serving in the local community is so important, let’s not forget that Covid is ravaging parts of the world with far fewer resources and options for social distancing. We recently learned that the pastor of a church we used to sponsor (they are financially independent now) was diagnosed with Covid. This was shocking since the church is in a very remote mountain area of India. The fact that Covid has already reached such an isolated corner of the globe, and one still deeply affected by poverty, is sobering.

If you’re able to donate financially to a charity that provides for emergency needs, now is the time. Many great organizations have created Covid relief emergency funds. We have long-standing relationships with India Gospel League and Compassion International. \

Now it’s your turn: what creative ways have you seen or found to help out during the pandemic?

New House Pics!

People asked for pics of our new pad. Here they are:

Living Room
We call this the “smart living room”
Yes, I already broke a cabinet.
Dining Room
Our room
Our giant, mauvelous 90s bathroom
Boy’s Room (has never been this clean before or since)
Girl’s room (during rare moment of tidiness)
Kids’ bathroom
3 Seasons Room
Sunset view from the front porch

Any suggestions for our upcoming DIY kitchen remodel?

Mint Mobile Review

About 4 months ago, I decided to switch from my Verizon WiFi only plan to Mint Mobile. I knew Verizon charged more than other companies, and although I’m usually one to seek a better deal, my previous experiences changing cell phone companies was a huge hassle. I also had great cellular service with Verizon and every time I thought about switching I’d hear bad reports from a friend of service elsewhere. But Neil encouraged me to look into it since the cell service space has changed. About time, right?

I knew Verizon charged more than other companies, and although I’m usually one to seek a better deal, my previous experiences changing cell phone companies was a huge hassle. I also had great cellular service with Verizon and every time I thought about switching I’d hear bad reports from a friend of service elsewhere. But Neil encouraged me to look into it since the cell service space has changed. About time, right?

I referenced Clark Howard’s web site and chose Mint Mobile because it was compatible with my existing phone. At $15 a month for 3 GB of data, the price was right. I also read the review on the same site. Mint shares TMobile’s network, which I was a bit nervous about since friends in my area had complained about that service. But I was willing to try it.

The $15/month is an introductory price. All plans are prepaid in 3, 6, or 12 month increments. The longer the period you prepay, the lower the per month price. Mint does offer a 7-day free trial period. I highly recommend making calls during this time to make sure the service works well for you. I did have some dead spots in my home and poorer call quality at times, but once I turned on the Wifi calling setting I’ve had much better results.

Mint Mobile’s web site is extremely user-friendly. and straightforward. The sign up process was so easy. After confirming that you can get service and your phone is compatible, they will send you a SIM card in the mail. It arrived quickly and came with clear instructions. The app is also very easy to use and I love that everything is online and I don’t need to go to a store.

After the 7 day free trial, the 3-month prepaid plan begins. After the 3-month period, I decided to prepay a year’s plan for a total of $180. For 3 months, the price would have been $75 total, and for 6 months it would have been $120. Plans with more data are available, and you can always purchase add-on data if you need.

One AMAZING perk Mint offered from March through June 14 was free data upgrades. This was very in touch with real needs during the pandemic, and we made use of this while staying away for a week after listing our house. A cabin we love doesn’t have Wifi, but the kids were still able to do distance learning for school, and we attended our own Zoom meetings by using my phone as a hot spot. Thank you, Mint! I was also impressed that I was getting any service (data or cell) in a cabin in the middle of the woods.

Long story short, I would recommend Mint to anyone looking to save money on a cell phone plan. I’m paying half of what I was at Verizon and that was with no data! I knew better deals were out there, but hesitated because I didn’t wan’t bad service or a big hassle. Fortunately I’ve experienced neither. And I feel better about using a company that is more straightforward (I had an issue with Verizon customer service not being up front), and that offered real help during an economic crisis.

If you want to switch to Mint, I’d appreciate you using this affiliate link. We’ll both get a $15+ discount if you do. But trust me, I’d never recommend something I didn’t really like! If Mint doesn’t appeal or work in your area, check out more low-cost cell companies at Clark Howard’s site.

Has anyone used Mint? What other good cell deals have you found?

You Need Life Insurance Yesterday

Perhaps it’s a bit obvious to bring this up during a pandemic, but it needs to be asked: do you have the right life insurance? Who needs life insurance? How much life insurance is enough? And where should you get it? Let’s tackle these questions today.

Who Needs Life Insurance?

The purpose of life insurance is simple: to relieve the financial burden of a death. This is especially important when it comes to providing for dependents.

The most basic life insurance covers the cost of end of life services. A simple cremation and funeral service costs several thousand, and a full burial and funeral service runs upwards of $10,000. If you’re young and single with no dependents, covering end of life expenses is all the insurance you probably need. These policies may be called “Final Expense” or “Burial and Funeral” insurance, and are inexpensive. A totally acceptable alternative to such a policy would be to have $10,000 in savings to cover these costs.

However, if you are married and/or have children, you need much more extensive life insurance. You need to not only be able to cover funeral expenses, but also to make up for lost income and/or services.

How much is enough?

A good rule of thumb is to purchase a policy for 10 times your income. So if you earn $50,000 you would want a $500,000 policy. This is paid out to the beneficiary over a set period of time, such as ten years. You can also take into consideration if your expenses are much more or less than your income.

What about stay at home parents? STAP absolutely need life insurance. Stay at home parents provide valuable services like childcare and housework. To replace replace these services would be quite expensive, easily $25 per hour or more. Consider how you’d cover the cost of childcare and household services like cooking, cleaning, and laundry. A common estimate is that it would take $25,000 – $40,000 per year to provide the services a stay at home parent provides.

What type of policy?

Equally important to the amount of insurance is the type of insurance policy. There are two main structures to life insurance policies: whole life or term. Whole life insurance covers you for life. So if you die at age 30 or age 90, you will receive the same benefits. Term life insurance covers your benefits for a certain period of time, often 15-20 years (though longer is available). While it’s tempting to get a policy that will cover you for a lifetime without the price going up, term insurance is the way to go in nearly every case. Here’s why:

Whole life insurance costs a lot more per month–often 10-12 times more. As you can imagine, insuring someone over half a century or more is going to be more expensive. So you’re really overpaying for something you aren’t likely to need for a long time. Additionally, most people don’t need life time coverage. You need coverage for as long as people will be dependent on you, and until you are self-insured (own adequate investments).

That’s why 15-20 years is a good term length. You pay less because you’re not very likely to actually need those benefits during that time period. Additionally, if you have young children, they’ll be grown and most likely independent in that time period. As your children become independent, your expenses should decrease quite a bit as well. However, if you have one or more children who may continue to need your support into adulthood, this is an even more compelling reason to have a strong life insurance policy in place.

Lastly, you can plan to become self-insured over that 15-20 term by investing in retirement accounts. If you’ve invested consistently and wisely over that time period, your accounts should be generating enough interest for a spouse or other dependent to life off of.

Whole life insurance is an investment product that salespeople will make sound very appealing, so it’s important to understand their pitfalls. Here are some drawbacks just in case whole life is still tempting you:

  1. The investment is not diversified like other investment vehicles. This means the entire investment is with a single company and you are completely trusting that company to perform well. You would never be advised to put all your retirement funds in one single company, so why would you want to do this with whole life insurance, which is sold as a retirement product as well?
  2. Whole life insurance returns are not guaranteed. Salespeople will show you optimistic projections of returns, but the guaranteed returns (if any) are actually very low. The returns on whole life policies assume a long period such as 40 years, and perform lower and are less liquid than other investment options. The fees and commissions are much higher than 401ks or IRAs and will further reduce your returns.
  3. Everything about the product is less transparent. From the fees, the sales commission, the so-called guaranteed returns, to many other misleading claims, the product is purposely not well-explained to the consumer. The confusing nature alone is enough to deter me from this financial product, especially when a better option is available. You should NEVER buy a whole life policy without first consulting a trusted fee-only financial advisor, preferably one whom is not pushing that particular policy. Commissions on these policies are 70-100% of the first year’s premium so agents are highly motivated to sell them.

Bottom line: choose term life insurance. Getting a term policy will require some paperwork and a physical. Your exact price will depend on your age and health, as well as how much coverage you are seeking and the length of your term. We use American General (but this is not an affiliate or sponsored post).

While this pandemic is truly sad and sometimes scary, it would be a silver lining if it motivated more of us to prepare for the unexpected. Sometimes it takes something big to get our attention, and now is the time to make sure our loved ones are provided for.

What motivated you to get life insurance? Any questions about the topic?

Hello from our New Home!

After 5 years of tossing around the idea of moving, we’ve finally made the move. At first, we weren’t sure what we wanted. More land? More community? Then I couldn’t fathom moving while I was pregnant or had a baby. Next, I had my moral and logistical hang-ups: why should we go back into debt and pack up allllll our stuff just to move 1.5 miles? Why did we want more space when many people live in closer quarters? I have a real aversion to excess, and moving felt excessive in every way. But I had a light bulb moment in February that it wasn’t wrong to want more space in a family-oriented neighborhood, and when I mentioned this to Neil, his excitement revealed just how much he had wanted this all along.

He was right. Two weeks after our moving day, we haven’t had a moment of regret. Both the house and the neighborhood are great. Having more space is a welcome change, especially right now when everyone is home all the time, and trying to work. It’s much easier to keep the toddler away from the home-schooling. And there are more areas to play, which gives everyone the sense of a change of scenery. Our new yard is also about 30% bigger, if equally muddy. But with a porch, sun room, deck, and patio we have plenty of outdoor options as well.

The neighborhood vibe is also just what we were looking for. It’s very friendly, and although it’s a hard time to build community, we have been able to visit with a few neighborhood friends outdoors. As a bonus, we have a beautiful sunset view. Although we moved just over a mile, it feels like we’re in a different town. Yet moving such a short distance means we can still see our old neighbors any time. The kids don’t even have to switch schools (if they ever go back).

What’s making the whole thing seem like an even better idea is that we close on the sale of our old house today. Buying a new house is exciting, but selling one feels more worthy of celebration. Our proceeds will shrink our new mortgage once we recast our loan. A recast is basically like restarting your mortgage. Because it’s our second mortgage with the same company, one perk they offer is a free recast. It re-starts the amortization schedule, meaning you start paying the initially high ratio of interest to principle, but since we’ll only be a month into the loan, it won’t matter. This will allow us the flexibility of a smaller mortgage compared with applying the proceeds to the initial loan, which would accelerate amortization, but not change our monthly payment.

We originally planned to move first and list later. I’m so glad we didn’t. Though it was stressful to get the house ready while homeschooling, the market in our area has slowed somewhat.

This move has showed me that there are things–even expensive things–that are well worth the money. Our proximity to friends, along with how smoothly both transactions went, certainly seems like God’s hand. We are grateful for the resources and flexibility that afforded us this choice. 

Have you ever made a purchase–big or small–that was unnecessary, but so worth it?

Saying Good-Bye to the Burbstead

As I write the last post from the burbstead, I find myself reminiscing. Insert the usual cliches–so many good memories, we brought our babies home here, and had some epic parties, too. (Those were the days!)

Pretend to Be Poor was born here as well. During our decade in this home we went from naturally frugal to more financially educated and strategic as we learned about the Financial Independence/Early Retirement movement. This house will always be tied up with our financial journey, in some ways I’m just beginning to understand.

But first, an update from the home-selling front. The day after our last post, we received another offer, which we accepted. Now we’re just praying that closing goes smoothly.

Homeschooling is going fine, by which I mean everyone is still alive.

The process of selling our home is making me realize just how financially conservative we were with our home purchase, and how much wiggle room that’s given us. There’s a reason mortgage means “death pledge,” but I think we’ve avoided feeling that way about our purchase. Keeping the mortgage reasonable is why we could buy first and sell later, which is making selling during a historic crisis less stressful than it could be. It also helped allow me to stay home with our kids, and to invest more, travel more, and give more. Not being house poor is a great way to “pretend to be poor.”

I hope to share more reflections and other details once our home sale is final. But now to say good-bye to the burbstead, which also reflects our evolving priorities.

We slowly transformed our .28 acre suburban plot into what we came to call the burbstead as we raised chickens, gardened, planted fruit trees, tapped our maple trees, kept bees, canning, and split firewood. While our new yard is a little bigger, we’re leaving behind our maple trees, fruit trees, wood-burning fireplace, fenced-in yard, and our desire to have our grass destroyed by chickens.

Tapping trees
Canning salsa

I’m sure Neil will still grow things; he can’t help himself. He kept pots of peppers and tomatoes on our first apartment’s balcony, and it’ll likely be back to a container garden this year since we’ll move so close to planting time.

Our burbstead hobbies slowly faded as we had more kids. While these hobbies are fun for kids, we had less and less bandwidth to keep up with them. Just as “pretending to be poor” has morphed from me making everything from yogurt to laundry detergent, to us purchasing a larger home, our hobbies and dreams are changing as well.

Homegrown Jonagolds

We’ll also miss the efficiency of our current home. Our first floor hosts our main living area and bedrooms and measures 880 square feet. While we’ve got just as much room in the lower level, it has until recently (can anyone say home office?) served mainly as storage and “extra” space that didn’t run up our utility expenses. I’m looking forward to more first floor space, but less to the utility bills. We’re also leaving behind a high efficiency furnace, a sun room that warms up quickly, and a heat exchanger on our fireplace.

DIY jobs will live on

One question nags: what does pretending to be poor look like as we move to a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood? First, our title has never been meant to be take too literally. It’s borrowed from a tongue-in-cheek ancient proverb which raises a still-valid question: Is it better to live on more than you make, and appear richer than you are? Or to live on less, and seem “poor”? Secondly, having a third kid has really tipped the balance on how much time and effort we’ve willing to expend to save money, something that I’ve chronicled here. And wanting more space is certainly related. Lastly, we’ve honed our vision for our growing family over time, and the new house and neighborhood fits perfectly with that. Fortunately, we won’t need a bigger house forever, and, as an appreciating asset if not an investment, we should one day recover some additional costs of upgrading.

We’ll truly be rocking the suburban life in our new home. But you’ll be sure to keep hearing from us about our DIY adventures and backyard shenanigans, as well as principles and tips for gaining financial flexibility.

How have your hobbies changed over time? What about your financial priorities?

How to Sell Your House While Home Schooling During a Pandemic

The same day we reported our decision to List It, the house we were looking for came on the market. We saw it the next morning and made an offer, which was accepted. At exactly the same time, the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. became evident.

But first, the house. It’s in our dream neighborhood, with just two houses between it and the home of some of our closest friends. There are also many, many other friends and the kids’ friends within walking distance. There’s a great bike & hike path in the neighborhood. The house also checks the boxes of a larger entryway and more storage space for pantry items. It even has a fireplace and a sun room, wish list wants we weren’t sure we’d find. It’s far from updated, but there’s nothing we can’t live with, and with Neil’s DIY skills we can change things affordably over time.

How does one sell during a pandemic? For one thing, we changed our time frame on listing. Rather than wait we decided to list ASAP. So for two frantic weeks, we packed, cleaned, painted, and Neil even installed a wall and a vinyl tile floor to finish the unfinished half of our basement. All while having everyone home all the time, with Neil working from home and me trying to “crisis school” my kids, and with social distancing, i.e. no help and no babysitting. Let’s just say this was not my favorite.

Probably the worst part was having to make major decisions, for which no one had the experience to offer guidance. Do we buy a house right now (this was before all contingencies were released)? Do we list sooner, in presumably worse/messier condition than if we’d moved first? Or do we wait it out, risking a possible housing market crash? Do we want strangers in our home during a pandemic? When the stay at home order was issued, we didn’t know right away if you could still sell your house (our realtor quickly informed us it was covered under essential business in our state). What price should we ask? We also had a carpet order that got cancelled, hence installing the vinyl tile. Turns out home office carpet is not essential.

We decided to move forward since we have no mortgage and can afford to keep both homes for quite some time if needed. We are using a bridge loan, a low fee, low interest loan based on your home’s equity, which is used to smooth the gap between buying one home and selling another. Once our current house sells, we’ll pay back the bridge loan from our proceeds. Then we’ll re-cast our current loan, applying almost all of our remaining equity. We have one year to repay the bridge loan.

During most of the first week our home was listed we stayed at a cabin in the woods to cut down on germs and clutter. It was a great place to social isolate and it was amazing to have a change of scenery, which we never would have had were it not related to essential business. We enjoyed hiking, a hot tub, cable TV, and home schooling via my new cell phone provider Mint Mobile‘s current offer of free data add-ons.

We’re back home and after just under a week on the market, we’ve had good showing activity according to our realtor. We got an offer today, and while it was a good offer on the surface, several details left us wondering if the buyers would be able to secure financing. Since it was an FHA loan there would have been a long wait on securing the loan, and a lot of hassle on our part. Our realtor did some digging and determined that since one of the buyers is unemployed during the stay at home order in our state, the loan would not go through.

I’m realizing we’re going to have to be way more patient than we’re feeling. We’re trying to sell during an unprecedented, uncertain time. I’d really hoped for a good offer during our stay in the woods, but mainly so I can be messy and not worry about germs. The latter is a valid concern, but the former is more about convenience than anything serious. We are limiting showing times and taking precautions such as cleaning before the kids go back inside. Since we move in 3 weeks, we don’t have too much more of this to put up with. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

To top it off, I’m “crisis schooling.” The real crisis in this schooling scenario is my sanity. My kids are extreme know-it-alls (like me). As a former teacher, people seem to think I’m somehow more qualified to educate my own brood. Let me tell you, it is not the same thing. First, I used to get paid. Second, I taught high school. Third, I taught one subject. And lastly, I did not teach anyone related to me, whom I also have to tell to use a napkin, unload the dishwasher, brush their teeth, and any number of other seemingly obvious and routine statements that my kids react to as if I’d cast an Exruciatus curse on them.

Then there are the mood swings. My oldest stares into space until I tell him what to do next, and then cries half the time when I do tell him (he’s getting better, though). My middle one swings between wild enthusiasm and wild defiance. Our very first lesson consisted of me trying to convince her that rabbit is in fact two syllables, not one. She DID NOT believe me. I dropped it, concluding that my kids are just going to be one nine-weeks dumber than they’re supposed to be. There’s nothing for it.

And then, I have a toddler. Like all toddlers, she wants nothing more than to mash keys on a computer keyboard. Most of the kids’ work is done on the computer. So in addition to running between two kids in different rooms helping them sign into 20 freaking different apps a day, I have the babe screaming at the top of her lungs because she wants the computer. And if you’ve ever tried to listen to a video, or read or write or think with someone screaming next to you, you will understand why my kids are going to be one nine-weeks dumber than they’re supposed to be.

Let’s just say the kids are learning some interesting vocabulary words this quarter.

I can’t even imagine if I was working from home on top of all this. Seriously, I feel for those parents. I’m in the best of circumstances as a stay at home mom, and one who supposedly knows how to teach people things. I’m also so grateful that Neil’s job is secure, that we have health insurance, and that we’ve stayed healthy thus far. I’m grateful that we don’t have underlying health conditions. I’m grateful that we live in a state that took early action to fight the spread. And I’m grateful for the many chances we have to connect with people virtually. We’ll get through this, we’ll move to our new house, and who knows? Maybe some day we’ll even be able to visit our neighbors again.

How crazy is this social isolating / home schooling making you? What are you grateful for in the midst of it?

This is a referral link. If used, we both receive a $15 credit. I highly recommend their service, especially if you need additional free high speed data right now. I’ll write a review soon, but their introductory price is $15/month for a 3 months.

Love It or List It Update

Last summer, we shared about wondering whether to Love It or List It. We also brainstormed ideas to make our home work better for us. We did a minor living room makeover–clearing out large furniture and getting new carpet. We expanded our storage area by making a “shed” under our deck. Lastly, we started using our 4th bedroom on the lower level to better make use of our space.

In addition to tweaking our use of space, I’ve tried to do what I can to build community in our neighborhood, and to schedule play dates with friends from school. But it’s just not the same as spontaneous backyard play.

Eight months later, we are strongly leaning toward listing it, but it has more to do with location than our home. That said, we have a much clearer sense of our wants and needs than we did 10 years and 3 kids ago.

By any standard, we have a nice house in a good neighborhood. But long story short, we’d like to live in a neighborhood with more young families. Our block once enjoyed close community with lots of little kids, but this has proved transient. We really miss that vibe, and I know we can regain it in nearby neighborhoods that are less transient and are home to countless young families, including many we already know.

Will people move away wherever we live? Absolutely. But these neighborhoods were designed with young families in mind, with larger homes, community playgrounds, and walking paths. Google Earth reveals playgrounds and trampolines in most yards. And we’ve been watching home sales in these neighborhoods for years, and there are a lot fewer sales in these areas compared with ours. So we may need to wait a bit to find what we want.

The recent comps in our neighborhood have been strong and therefore it seems like a good time to sell. We’ll pay more for our new home in a thriving market, but because of our equity we can get the kind of upgrade we’d like for a reasonable amount.

This decision has been very conflicting for me, and at times I still wonder if we’re out of our minds. Should we really go through the hassle and expense just to move 1-2 miles? Do we really need a bigger house in a different neighborhood? I’ve concluded that no, we don’t need these, but we would really like more space and more community. One mom from a target neighborhood recently told me her kindergartener goes on a daily walk around the block with her friends. That’s the kind of neighborhood we want to live in, and the type of childhood we want for our kids. I’ve finally seen that it is worth the (one-time) effort and the price to gain these during this season of our lives.

Another thing I’ve wrestled with A LOT is my aversion to excess. I don’t want a too-big house. I don’t want to pay for it, maintain it, or clean it. I love efficiency, and our current home is very efficient. The houses in our desired neighborhoods simply are larger. While I don’t want excess, I can see many uses for more space (and storage!) as our kids and their friends get older.

For a long time I felt like it was somehow morally wrong to say we want more when we already have so much, and others have so little. And greed and materialism are huge risks in our culture. At the same time, I’ve realized it’s not immoral to seek more community and more living space, which we’d love to use in serving that community. And while we won’t be buying another bi-level, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll purchase a house less updated than ours, in order to afford a home in our desired neighborhoods. So it’s not necessarily about getting a “better” house.

What is on my wist list for a different home? It’s pretty simple. Four bedrooms, a larger living or family room, and a pantry. A sun room and fireplace would be great, since those are favorite features of our current house. But I won’t hold my breath. Oh, and not a bi-level. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Financially, the biggest trade off would be waiting up to two more years till early retirement, an opportunity cost we’ve calculated, weighed, and found worth it. Also, a home purchase in these neighborhoods will almost certainly appreciate much better than our current place.

Logistically, our plan is to move first, then finish fixing up ours (lots of painting!) and get it on the market. I cannot imagine getting our house ready to sell and show with 3 kids still living here. We’d do it if we had to, but since homes are moving quickly and we can afford to, we won’t do that to ourselves.

Overall, I feel very grateful for our current home and the community we have enjoyed. Making this move from a place of contentment is important. I know a different house won’t ultimately make me happier or make life magically easier. Starting over with new neighbors will take time and effort, and sometimes won’t work out. And there is a chance we won’t find something that checks the boxes in our price range. I’ll be content either way.

Are we insane for wanting to move nearby for these reasons? Any tips on moving with kids?

5 Habits to Improve Your Financial Health

Well into February, perhaps your new year’s resolve is waning. I didn’t make any resolutions this year, but I did find myself wanting to eat healthy and declutter. Maybe I was just recovering from all the Christmas cookies and gifts.

Another popular New Year’s goal is improving one’s finances. Maybe you made a budget or pledged to reduce spending or increase savings. Maybe you vowed to cook at home or pay off debt. Whatever your goal, have you thought about what skills or habits will help you keep that resolution past the first few weeks of the year?

Most people don’t keep their resolutions because new year, new you is unrealistic. I didn’t wake up a different person on January 1, and neither did you. My will power doesn’t magically improve with the turn of the year. We really need to understand the habits and skills that make for success in an area, rather than hoping we’ll somehow have better motivation in 2020.

Let me illustrate. I’m a naturally quiet, even shy person. I’m much more comfortable around my small inner circle of friends. But I hated feeling overwhelmed and intimidated in new social situations. So I started observing what more outgoing people do in these settings, and imitating them. They approach people. They ask questions. They smile. They laugh. They tell stories. I started doing these same things, even though it felt unnatural. And soon enough, even if I still felt a bit awkward, I was able to overcome my shyness.

I bring this up because I believe people tend to have different financial personalities. Some love to spend, others love to save. I see it with my kids. One hoards his money and we have to practically force him to spend some of it. The other wants to spend her money as soon as she gets it, often on junk she will never touch again, and we have to try to talk her out of it or at least make her wait.

So what are the traits or habits of the naturally frugal? And how can anyone learn those skills, even if they aren’t second nature? Here are 5 tools to improve your financial health:

  1. Plan ahead. Whether it’s making a grocery list for the week, or investing for retirement, much of financial health has to do with looking to the future. And this comes easier to some of us than others. Think about your spending pitfalls and ways to plan ahead and avoid them. For example, make a menu and grocery list so you can avoid eating out too much. Make a budget for the year (or month) and determine how much you want to save. Then, set that money aside as soon as you get paid.
  2. Be patient. So much of building wealth has to do with being patient. You wait for investments to grow. You wait for hard work to pay off in a raise. You wait for a great deal on something you want to buy. Instant gratification is the enemy of financial health. When you find it hard to wait, try to remember the bigger picture of the goal you’re working toward. Some people like to create visual reminders to help them see progress while they’re waiting. Others like to find inexpensive ways to celebrate smaller steps along the way. Figure out what motivates you to wait.
  3. Seek alternatives. For any problem you encounter, there’s usually an obvious option to throw money at it. But before you order for next-day delivery, try to learn the Art of the Alternative. Can you fix it? Borrow it? Use something else? Buy secondhand? DIY? Get a second quote? Ask a friend for help? There’s usually more than one option, and a little brainstorming can turn up less expensive ways to resolve the issue. If you do need to go with the pricey option, at least you’ll know it’s the best choice.
  4. Prioritize. Money is always a “Would You Rather?” proposition. There’s saving, spending, giving, investing, debt payoff. There are wants and needs, both for the short and long term. Personal finance is often a matter of prioritizing, and there is usually not one right answer. Budgeting is a great way to decide your priorities and spend accordingly. If you’re not sure how to prioritize, check out Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, talk to a financially wise friend, or chat with a fee-only financial adviser.
  5. Automate. Take the will power out of the equation by creating auto-payments for as many goals as possible. Many apps allow you to allocate money for savings through ACH. Set up auto-deductions from your paycheck straight to retirement savings. Don’t wait to see what’s leftover. Pay yourself first (assuming you can pay your bills, too). Start small if you need to, and slowly increase.

What other habits or skills do you notice among those who are good with money? What habit do you most wish to gain?