Managing expectations

Bryan and I spend a lot of time talking about managing expectations. It’s become a good foundation for our everyday lives. It’s much easier to deal with “disturbances” when you know they are coming. For instance, if I’m planning on cooking a meal when I get home from work it’s easier to manage the boys if we both how the evening will play out. Preparing the meal begins around 5 and the food might be ready around 6. There’s going to be a toddler underfoot who wants to “help” (or “make” his own meal, probably sketti). There will most likely be a baby who decides he needs to eat at 5:30. So, if we know what to expect, we can deal with “issues” in a calm, nice manner. If I come home at 4:45 and announce that I want to make supper, I can potentially shatter an evening. Maybe Bryan wanted to go running and was thinking we’d eat leftovers. Because supper works better with two people around, one of us has to sacrifice. That means one of us gets disappointed. With me, disappointment can ruin a day. We talk a lot about managing expectations because we want to be considerate of each other. We don’t want to put all the weight on the other. We want to share in our responsibilities and we can do a better job of that when we know what to expect.

We’ve also come to realize that a toddler’s world revolves around expectations. We may not know what they are, but Maximus does. And he has strong feelings about what those expectations are. It starts in the morning. The quickest way to shatter his world is for the wrong parent to greet him. You can watch his face crumble as his disappointment is expressed in tears and wails. “I want mommy!” I’ve been the recipient of a lot of, “NOOOOO! I want daddy! No daddy work!” It’s all about expectations. At bedtime we try to prepare him for the morning, “I’ll see you in the morning.” We taught him the days of the week so he knows when to expect to go to daycare and when we stay home. He knows that “on Saturdays we stay home and we eat pancakes.” And, “on Sundays we stay home. Me, and Quinten, and mommy, and daddy. WE STAY HOME!”

There is a fine line between telling him what’s going on so he knows what to expect and his inability to relate to time. For instance, daycare drop off tomorrow would go smoother if we told him that my mom is picking him up. He’ll be excited to see her. But, without any sense of time that will create an issue. He’ll be waiting all day for her to show up. So, we pretend that it’s any other day and Bryan will pick him up. Now, this could backfire and he could get upset because he expects Bryan to show up. In this instance, we take a chance and assume he’ll be super excited to see my mom. Because, where my mom is, my dad is usually quick to follow. 😉 No, really, he’ll be just as excited to see my mom. The natural question after seeing my mom is always, “where’s grandpa.” It would be the same if my dad showed up first.

In the heat of an epic toddler tantrum, it’s hard to remember that being a toddler is hard. It’s a constant state of growing – physically, mentally, and emotionally. In a world where adults rule, I can only image the disappointment that Maximus can feel on a daily basis. Most days, it’s hard enough being an adult. Take away my ability to choose what I want to eat (and when!), what I want to wear, and when I need to go to the bathroom. All of a sudden those tantrums don’t seem so bad. It’s about the only way he can do what he wants. Maybe I’ll take an extra long breath the next time it happens, because I should expect them to happen and I should give him a little slack. After all, being a toddler is hard.

Not a mad toddler, but a mad baby.

Not a mad toddler, but a mad baby.

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Why I love Him

Life has been pretty crazy the past year so this year I made a goal to read at least 12 books. It’s embarrassing for a reader to set a goal that low, but that’s all I can commit to right now. In January I read The 5 Love Languages. I had no idea what to expect and at times felt like it was for those suffering from marital problems. Overall, it was good and I learned some great things from it. It gave me the idea to publicly thank my husband. I appreciate and love him so much, but I don’t always do a good job of communicating that outside of I love yous.

Bryan, you are an amazing husband and father. I am reminded of this daily and am forever drowning in love for you.

  • You share in all family chores. If I’m not feeling well or am stressed out, you do more than your share of chores. You let me lay on the couch after The Sleepless Nights. Not only do I get to veg out during kid hours, but you vacuum the house, clean the kitchen, and do laundry. You find a way to make the house cleaner because you know it will also make me feel better.
  • You give the best hugs. Strong, solid hugs that make all my worries disappear.
  • You provide for our family. We may be a dual-income family, but you are the main provider in the planning sense. You make sure our finances are in order each month, make sure we’re setting our children up for a good future, make sure weare set up for the future, push us to save money and stay away from debt, pay the bills, write the daycare check each week, and make sure I’m a part of the decision-making.
  • You push me. To be a better person, to be more, and to accomplish my dreams. You push me to try new things for hobbies or fun.
  • You grocery shop. You take my list or come along with me. You saw that it was another thing I had to do and you started helping out. You also cook when things are too crazy. You take my meal plans and make the food. When supper is over, you clean up the kitchen. You ensure we have a spotless kitchen every night before we go to bed.
  • You love our babies and you play with them. Snuggling them, making funny faces, coloring, giving piggyback rides, wrestling on the floor, or playing hide-and-go-seek.
  • You let me sleep in on the weekends. Since Maximus was born, you’ve gotten up with him and taken care of him while I sleep. You tell me to take naps and are ok with me going to bed earlier than the nursing home people across the street. You understand that I need sleep and you sacrifice our only free hours to let me do it.
  • You change diapers and give baths. You never complain about doing either. You change just as many diapers as I do, sometimes more. You get up most nights to retrieve Quinten from his room so I can feed him.
  • You get my stuff ready in the mornings. You put together my breakfast or lunch bag. You fill up my water. You get all my pump parts and put them in the bag. Then, you put all my stuff in the car! If we ride together, you carry some of my stuff into work.
  • You sing and play music for our babies. You sing your music, other people’s music, and silly kid songs. I could listen to you play the guitar for hours. You taught Maximus rhythm at such a young age; he’s got more drumming skills than I do!
  • You support me in everything. From breastfeeding to exercising to eating healthy. You support me because it’s important to me and you believe in me. You encourage me to try new things and join groups and committees. You go to events that don’t interest you, but you do it for me.
  • You remind me that it’s ok to feel stressed out, but it’s not worth it. You tell me to take a breath and forget about it. You find a way to help me deal with it whether it’s a can of pop or a break on the couch or giving me my phone and telling me to zone out. You send me text messages like this, “I love you and hope you have a good day.”
  • You encourage me. You remind me of my strengths and tell me I can do anything. You compliment me on the things that are important to me.
  • You make me smile and know how to be silly to make me laugh. Sometimes you’re silly to lighten the mood and other times I laugh just because you’re a funny guy. You know how to make Maximus laugh, too.

These are just some of the things you’ve done recently that have reminded me why I love you so much. This list will continue to bend and move as the years go on and our life shifts. I am so lucky that I get to travel this journey with you. The I love yous seem weak in comparison, but they mean all of this.

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We’ve been waiting for this

Spring is starting to show in Iowa! I’ve lived here my whole life, but every year the winter gets to me. I don’t do well with being cold. It makes me want to hunker down under sweats and a warm blanket and be lazy. Spring and summer, well, they motivate me. I want to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine. I want to soak it all in. {Note: if I want a picture, I will use it even if you ruin it. Ah-em.}

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Temperature ranges this week have been 20s in the morning to 40s in the afternoon. We’ve got high hopes of hitting 60 in the next few days. My excitement is hard to contain. I can feel it in every step. The happiness is bouncing around in my head. There is so much excitement and anticipation. So much that I keep wondering what exciting thing is happening during the evenings. Then, I realize nothing is on the schedule. It’s the weather that is doing that to me! After a bad winter, a weekend of 50s and 60s doesn’t seem possible. Playing outside! Sidewalk chalk! Walks! Bikes! Grilling! There’s so much to look forward to and we can’t wait.

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Last night was a little crisp, but we ventured out on our first walk of the season. As we talked on the way home from daycare, Maximus got really excited about taking Wrigley for a walk too. As soon as we got home, he got Wrigley’s leash and hopped in his cart (aka, an umbrella stroller) and off we went.

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If I was a really good Pinterester and we had a mission statement for our family, it would read: Must Go On Walks. It’s our center. It brings us down from the stresses of every day life. It quiets the mind and mouth (and tears!). It’s a breathing period for us all. We share it together, but it’s also a chance for us all to reflect and start again. It’s what keeps us all sane and happy.

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It’s springtime in Iowa. The days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer. You’ll surely see my family walking the streets. The dog zig-zagging his way down the path. The toddler waving at cars and yelling, “hi cars! bye cars!” The daddy protecting us from big dogs. And, the mommy wearing the tired baby bear who can’t keep his eyes open.

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It’s springtime in Iowa and we can’t wait to get out there and play!

Budgeting OUR money

I’ve gotten a few questions about how we budget so I thought I’d answer them on here.

Do you have separate accounts?

We used. Then we took the leap to join them. It’s difficult to talk about finances and “give up your money.” It’s been one of our greatest changes. No secrets or different ways to managing money. We’re on the same page, forced to make decisions together, using up every last penny as a family, and communicating regularly about things that can be touchy.

How do you decide if something is a monthly budget or you save for it?

We play it by ear. If we know we have a large ticket item coming up, then we know we need to put something into the save category. We spend a few months saving up for it prior to when we need it. That means our savings isn’t depleted and we feel good that we planned ahead for it. Example: As soon as we found out I was pregnant, we started saving the money that would cover my unpaid time off and also the hospital bill. We chose to stop putting money into the new car fund and the furniture fund, instead we just focused on the baby-related money. We added up what we paid for Maximus’ birth, how much nursery furniture cost, and then how many paychecks I would be missing. With 9 months to plan, it was easy to save the money in time to buy nursery furniture and pay the hospital bill. Once I start unpaid time off, we’ll transfer that money into our checking account so we don’t feel the pain of my missing paycheck. {As I typed that, I just realized that we’ll be able to move a lot of that money back into our savings account because we saved paychecks, not money needed to pay bills.}

If there’s something that’s smaller like an event or we’re going to spend a decent amount of money on clothes, then we put it into the monthly budget. Most months that’s fine and we can usually put aside our regular savings amount. If it’s a month where we have the big items too, then we decide if we want to lower the amount going into savings that month.

We don’t like to use our savings account as a checking account. The majority of interactions are money going in.

How many savings accounts do you have?

Three.

  1. We have an emergency savings account that is not touched.
  2. We have a goal savings account that is our primary savings account.
  3. We have a 529 college savings account for Maximus.

What is your goal savings account used for?

This is anything we want to buy over the next few months to few years. We’ve put the dollar amount as something over a couple hundred dollars. Right now our goals are a new car, living room furniture, dining room furniture, maternity leave, and hospital bills. Some of these items have full amounts in there and others are works in progress.

Why do you keep a budget?

We wanted to keep better track of our spending, save money quicker, and get rid of our car loan.

When we went through Financial Peace University, we fell in love with the idea of paying cash for any big purchases. We decided that we wouldn’t use a credit card for anything and we’ve stuck to that plan. If we want something and don’t have the money for it, then we just wait. By waiting we are able to decide if we need it. Because we have this savings account, we’re able to decide if we want to rearrange priorities and buy something now or start fresh and save for it.

How much of your paycheck do you put into your savings?

It varies each month depending on what other money we didn’t spend. We automatically set aside 17% of our monthly income. It’s high enough to really save money, but not too high that we don’t have any money to spend during the month. Almost every month we end up saving 25% of our take home.

Do you feel like you don’t have any money to have fun with?

No. We have entertainment money, personal money, and restaurant money. We made a conscious decision to save money so we can live the life we want to live. We have more money to spend now than we ever have before.

Do you feel like a budget constricts you?

No, it’s the opposite. A budget helps us live more freely. We’re able to save money to buy the things we’ve been dreaming of getting, but never had the money for. We’re able to live the life we chose to live. We’re being smart with our money now so we can build good financial habits for the future.

What keeps you motivated?

Bryan stays motivated on a daily basis by listening to the Dave Ramsey show. He pulls up pod casts on his phone so I can listen to them if the questions relate to us.

We both stay motivated because we developed a strategy for paying off our house in 10 years!

Lastly, because we want to “live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else.”

#ToddlerFlu

Bryan told me Saturday’s blog post should be titled, “Kid Puke.” {He clearly doesn’t read my blog if he thinks I post on the weekend!} He’s not too bad at writing post titles. It’s direct and to the point. You’re not left wondering what the content will be. Over the years he’s mentioned that we should become a team. He could supply me with content and I could write. Books that is. I’m not sure my brain could handle the things bouncing around in his.

Anyway. That has nothing to do with kid puke and I understand if you click that small X in the upper corner.

Our weekend was full of it. Kid Puke that is. It started at 2 am on Saturday morning. Ironically, or as horrible luck would have it, I finally went to bed at 1:15. And woke up to Maximus screaming in his room. I quickly made it to his room and he was sitting in his bed sobbing. Thankful that the monitor was still in his room, I quietly said one word. Bryan. Here’s a little nugget of information, Bryan always puts on a t-shirt and shorts when he leaves our room. I have no idea why he does it, boxers are clothes, right? Maybe because it’s cold once you open our door. Either way, my husband heard the tone of my whisper and he was there in two seconds, without putting on extra clothes. I think I had gotten Maximus out of bed into the middle of the floor. If I recall, I also starting taking off his pjs. I was in mommy mode before I fully woke up and realized that chances were pretty high that he had the flu and I shouldn’t be around him.

Bryan got supplies to clean up the mess and take over. Bless his heart, he picked up the chunks. EWWW! Maximus was fully awake and had calmed down, but was adamant that he was done sleeping. At 2 am, he put on jeans and a polo shirt. We couldn’t even get him to wear sweats! The last thing we were going to do was argue with a sick toddler at 2 am! There wasn’t a lot of sleep to be had that night. Bryan was up with Maximus about every 2 hours and the longest stretch I got was after I left them. It was a glorious 2 1/2 hours of sleep.

The rest of the weekend is an account that Bryan has relayed to me via text messages from another part of the house. I am so thankful for a wonderful husband who steps up without so much as a word from me. A man who convinces me to leave the house to get away so he can take care of the sick boy and bleach the house. He’s done countless loads of laundry, doing a bleach cycle in between each. He’s done so much disinfecting before I’ve even thought or mentioned it.

Around 8 or 9 am on Saturday, Maximus threw up for the last time. We thought we had been lucky, until he woke from his nap at 2 pm. Sure enough, he’d thrown up again. Unfortunately, Bryan had gone to pick up Quinten’s last piece of nursery furniture and was gone for the next two hours. This was not ideal for me, but I managed to get him changed and disinfect myself before I had to handle Quinten.

You know where this is going, right? He didn’t throw up again until 5:30 that night. We thought we were past it after that. Until he woke up sobbing at 1:30 am. And then one more time around 2:30. Both times he wanted to be sick, but didn’t have anything to throw up. He got up for the day around 7 am. Then, he couldn’t keep water down, again. Rinse and repeat. Bryan was on a continuous loop of Mickey Mouse, Maximus fall asleep, Maximus throw up, Maximus drink water, and start over. I was on a continuous loop of feed Quinten, watch tv, check my social media sites, and start over.

Maximus slept most of the day on Sunday. Much more than he did on Saturday. The few times I walked into the kitchen I saw Maximus laying on Bryan. If he was awake he was moaning and moving around. 😦 We thought we were in the clear, again. Until 3 pm on Sunday when he threw up, again. It’s 10 pm on Sunday night and he hasn’t thrown up in the past 7 hours. He slept until 7 pm and then asked for cereal. Against our wishes, he had two bowls. We hope we don’t see that cereal in the middle of the night. Even though we love Maximus to pieces, we also hope that we don’t see him in the middle of the night. I hope he’s finally kicked this nasty bug.

His face looks so skinny and his belly is gone. I miss cuddling him and being around him in general. He had a few bouts of normalcy this weekend, but the majority of the time he’s been quiet or softly moaning. I’m ready for an active toddler who talks faster than I can listen. And most of all, I’m ready to be in the same room as him without worrying about him getting too close to me!

You didn’t think I could write 800 words about puke, did you?

(At 6 am on Monday, I’m happy to report that Maximus didn’t get up last night! We may be over it!)

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Monthly tracking and budgeting

I love talking to people about Dave Ramsey and budgeting. I’ve been having a lot more of those conversations lately and I think it’s for a reason. Not only is it helping others, but it’s helping me get the “intensity” back. Bryan and I have a renewed excitement towards our budget and our financial dreams. Our financial dreams have been the topic of many conversations lately and each conversation propels us that much further. Who would guess that money could get us excited?! {Not in a materialistic kind of way, but in a way that maps out our plan to pay off our house!}

Here’s what our monthly budget process looks like:

Monthly Spend Tracking

  • At the beginning of each month Bryan tracks our expenses from the previous month. We look at previous months to see if there are trends in over- or underspending. We decide if we need to adjust those amounts or if we need to tighten the shoestrings a little. 
  • Next, we move our goal savings money from our checking account into our savings account. Usually we have to recalculate the amount because we almost never use all the money we budget in a month. Technically, that means we need to keep working on the budget to create an accurate budget. Since it involves us not spending all our money, we don’t worry too much. It’s kind of nice to have extra money go into savings!

After these discussions, I’m usually toast and ready to end the conversation. I love my husband for his attention to detail. I need to change my expectations and know that these will be semi-long conversations.

Monthly Budget Planning

  • After we track our spending, I jot down things that I know are coming up that month. For example, gifts, events, parties, etc. I also look over my wish list of things for the house or personal items. 
  • Bryan takes the first pass at the planning. *See below for an example of our spreadsheet.
  • We sit down and review his pass at it and I add in the extras. Our budget usually doesn’t change too much from month-to-month. If we have extra money leftover, we decide what to move from the wish list or the goal list. We budget all of our money and agree on it.
  • Bryan sends me a PDF file so I know what amounts we agreed upon for the extra spending items.

We never started the envelope system because we felt that we could stay controlled when using our debt card. Recently, we decided to start doing it for fast food / restaurants. We wanted to control our spend because it was our worst offender. So far it’s working out well. With the cash, we can easily decide when we want to eat out. It has finally become more of a treat and we stay within our desired budget. {I hate the idea of eating away our money!}

Something else that we’ve started doing is reviewing the budget each week. This helps eliminate a lot of time for Bryan to track all of our spending each month. Instead, I’m writing down if I spend any money during the week and Bryan looks over our checking account and enters all the current spend. {Yes, my work is repetitive, but I like writing things down.} This does two things: helps us stay on track with what we said we’d spend and also gives us an idea of what we have left to spend. Another benefit is that we may realize we aren’t going to spend all the money in one category. I can look at the wish list and revise where I’m going to spend the money. So, instead of waiting until next month for new ink cartridges, I can buy them this month. {True story. I’m printing a lot of pictures!}

Goal Review / Planning

Once we agree on our budget, we immediately review our goals. 

  • We recalculate our goals savings account and look at our goal spreadsheet. On the spreadsheet, we have the savings amount and also the totals of each of the goals. These are big-ticket items such as a new car, furniture, maternity leave, or hospital bills. Items such as a new storm door or paint come out of our monthly budget. 
  • We get a good feeling for where we are on the big-ticket items and decide if there is anything we want to pursue that month.
  • It also helps us look ahead at items and decide if there is a better time of year to purchase any of the items.

This conversation usually leads to more brainstorming about things we want to do around the house or in our lives. Without a goal review conversation, we wouldn’t be on the same page. It really helps open up the door for communication. This is very important during this phase of life with a toddler and newborn. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to have conversations where one of us isn’t exhausted!

We’ve been using a budget for two years. There was a period of time, when we became lax, that we didn’t actively review our budget. We got into a rhythm and had a feel for how much we should spend. We were in a good spot in our journey and weren’t worried about every extra penny. After a few months, we snapped out of it and realized that even if we had a “feel” or weren’t spending too much extra, we needed to get back on track. We may have not been in need of that money, but we were wasting it. For us, a budget means we spend our money wisely so we can achieve our financial dreams.

Leger Budget

Leger Budget

What’s your budget process? 

Other financial journey posts:

Baby Steps Four and Five

I’ve talked a lot about our financial peace journey and how we’re following Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps plan. Until yesterday, we were on Baby Step 4. We really shouldn’t have been, but our own laziness kept us there for a very long time. With the new year, I’ve seen and been part of quite a few conversations related to money management and getting out of debt. It’s exciting to see and I wish everyone the best of luck. The Ramsey plan has worked well for us and I know many others who have used it also.

We were stuck on Baby Step 4 for at least a year. The problem started when we kinda, sorta stopped paying attention to Baby Step 3. We were saving but hadn’t decided how much we wanted to put away. One day last spring, we sat down and came up with a number that covered four months worth of bills if we both lost our jobs and eight months if just one of us did. Next {read: months later, more procrastination}, we transferred that money out of our savings account into a designated account that had a little ability to make some money.

With our emergency savings out of the way, we started talking about goals. We created a priority list that included maternity leave, medical bills, new living room furniture, nursery furniture, and a new car fund. We continued putting money away for our goals and started talking about the next Baby Step.

Our company has a 401K matching program and we both put 10% away. We’re maxed out on our current plans so our first road block was determining where to put that extra 5%. Bryan has done a lot of research to determine the types, benefits, and rules to pre- and post-tax plans. He’s the planner and doer in the family when it comes to our finances and I’m the free spirit. So, he knows the specifics and I remember as little as I need to survive in a conversation with him. 🙂 He had finally made the decision on what we should, we just had to make the changes.

Month after month we had the goal of getting that finished and month after month something came up. Wait until that raise goes into affect so we know how much our new take-home is. Let’s wait and see what happens with the fiscal cliff and how that affects our take-home. I’m having a baby and want to get the house in order instead of focusing on FINANCES.

I am excited to say, after way too long, we’ve finished Baby Step 4! Working by the glow of his computer screen, Bryan did one more round of research and updated both of our retirement portfolios. While I fed a newborn, he crossed off another Baby Step. It left us both wondering why it took so long! We don’t know how it affects our paycheck yet, but I’m glad it’s finally done even if that means we “lose” some of that monthly spending money.

Last week Bryan did something that’s kind of illegal when it comes to the Baby Steps. He completed Baby Step 5 before we’d finished 4. Again, Bryan had done an insane amount of research into what was best for education savings plans. He was getting a little nervous about Dave’s recommendation and the impending vote for the fiscal cliff. A Yes vote would take the yearly contribution max and cut it in half. So, he found a compromise between what Dave suggested and what wouldn’t be affected by a Yes vote. {Good thing, huh?} Since the vote, Dave changed his recommendation and it aligns with the 529 account that Bryan opened up.

So, Maximus is going to college! Heh, we were already planning on it and had a general savings* account set up with a monthly direct deposit. But, it wasn’t nearly the amount we needed to be saving per month. Now that’s completed and we can cross that off our mental to-do list! As he excitedly turned to me and announced that Baby Step 5 was complete, I lifted up our second born in a Symba-like style and reminded him that Quinten wanted to go to college too. Tomato / tamato. I say we aren’t done with the Step until we get one set up for Quinten too. 🙂

*Now that general savings account has become the yearly Christmas account! And that makes me so excited. Excited go be making smart decisions for our family so we can live like no one else! That’s something we’ve been talking about doing for years and guess what? We just hadn’t gotten around to it! Do you see our theme? Next year we won’t have to pull the money out of our savings account, which means we won’t have to put any goals on hold.

We lost our motivation and got a little sidetracked on our financial peace journey in 2012, but with the new year comes a drive to keep pushing forward. We’re over the moon excited to cross Baby Step 4 off the 2013 family goals list! I might even give 5 a status percentage. 🙂

What keeps you motivated to continue moving forward with your financial goals?