There are two good personal finance/frugal living books that have come out recently. I have been using the YNAB app for just about two years now, and I have learned a lot simply from using it. The book however, is absolutely stellar. I would choose this to hand to anyone lost in the money mess first over anything else, any other book, absolutely first. This is not this quick discussion of debt and then eighteen chapters on investments and retirement accounts and things that most of America can’t even contemplate right now book. It’s the real deal, right in the nitty gritty, say this is your goal, here are some things to think about, what happens when a medical emergency decimates your finances (HMM, sound familiar?) and how can you move forward, how to really manage your money, book. So much common sense, written in approachable, non-judgmental style. Absolutely recommend. I would recommend it over Dave Ramsey’s body of work every day of the week. (Not to say that I don’t like Ramsey, but it’s often felt like to me that there aren’t much practical helps for when you are pre-pre-pre-Baby Step 1 and are dying under the weight of your debt.)
Meet the Frugalwoods is by Elizabeth Willard Thames. I don’t quite remember how I first ‘met’ Elizabeth, but I think it was a ‘spend-nothing’ challenge group on Facebook. I have never strayed out beyond that one little group- I didn’t realize she had a blog or a significant social media presence beyond that group, and it flits in and out bi-monthly or so…I just don’t engage with social media and blogs like I used to. Imagine my surprise when I saw new book at the library! It’s an interesting read. She clearly comes from a place of privilege and she readily admits this- both her and her husband were raised by parents that gave sound financial education, and by the time they decided to start on their ‘frugal’ adventures, they were already saving over 60% of their combined income and had been major savers since before they even got married. That just isn’t the mainstream access point for the majority of America. It just isn’t. Most are living paycheck to paycheck up to their eyeballs in debt working at a job they hate, sick and tired, and don’t even realize there is another way and their parents are in the same boat, and had no better financial education, either. That being said, she readily acknowledges that and the book is still very interesting, and you will walk away with plenty of ideas to try, which was why I was attracted to her spend-nothing group on FB in the first place- I don’t do everything she and her husband discuss, but I always walked away from the conversations with simple next steps for my own needs and finances.
I’ve been having a sort of ongoing conversation about Slow Fashion over on Instagram lately. There is a part of me that has always loved the ‘hunt’ of finding clothes for a few dollars on the clearance racks or at Goodwill, but lately, I’ve begun to feel uncomfortable with even that. My dear friend Tonia has been talking to me about the ideas of slow fashion and mending for years but it didn’t really start to click until this last year. Perhaps it is a function of growing older and growing comfortable in one’s skin- I know pretty well what my style is, what clothes flatter my figure, what colors I love. My closet has grown to reflect this paradigm shift. Imagine my discouragement when I realized that quite a few pieces have become damaged this last year when I did my bi-annual closet cleaning!
I know that in past, I probably would have given up most of the clothing for lost and consigned them to the rag basket. Thanks to great IG accounts like Katrina Rodabaugh and Elise Joy, I felt much more confident about the needed repairs. They both have wonderful walk-throughs and tutorials in their IG Highlights- worth a look if you are getting started on a similar endeavor!
We had a rather…erm…eventful weekend, and I had a lot of quiet time on my hands on Sunday afternoon. I was able to repair six pieces of clothing yesterday afternoon, and one more this morning. I still have two pieces that need more major reconstructive/thinking work, so I’ll have to save them for another quiet moment. I have about six pieces of knit clothing that have either been damaged in the dryer or might (!) be moths, and I am going to use some of Katrina’s great visible mending ideas to fix/refashion those pieces a little at a time. They will probably make nice handwork while I listen to lessons from the children this fall.
More than anything I am very grateful to know that this is yet another area of spending needlessly (heedlessly?) that I can step out of, saving both the planet, people’s livelihoods, and my pocket book.
Here’s some of the projects, below, from my Instagram Highlights, with notes on each repair.
Came across this quote of St. John Chrysostom in Elissa Bjeletich’s great book, Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home and had to copy it out by hand. I think I will take it as my mantra for this school year.
“Things take the time they take.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?”
― Mary Oliver
I got to thinking this morning while refreshing our master closet that while Mary may have been talking about the existential realities of the soul, this poem is also quite true about the work and art of making a home. It always takes so much longer for me to find a comfortable rhythm in a new season, a new place, a new home, than I ever think we’d need. Until the rhythm is found, everything feels off. Often overwhelming. I struggle to master the balance of the needs of the home, the needs of homeschooling, the needs of family until I find it. And then…it just clicks. Things run so much smoother after that.
I can’t write a “do these five things for happy homemaking” post because it just does not exist. No two homes are the same. No two families are the same. You could have the exact same house, structurally, and two families will live in and use that house completely differently. Different rooms and appliances will need cleaning at different times based on who uses them. And the seasons families go through are profoundly different too.
So much of what makes a house a home isn’t even quantifiable in a measurable sense. It’s the way light is set about a living room, the cozy blankets tucked waiting, the books lining the bookshelves, the soft classical playing, that invite rest for a family. It’s not the things themselves: the lamp, the blanket, the couch. It’s the sum of it all, and more.
When I focus on the sanctifying aspect of home keeping, it makes it easier for me to focus on the whole of it. Each day, take it up, work hard at it, let it go. Ora et labora. Work and pray. Threads of a larger tapestry that I may never see in this lifetime. How many roads did St. Augustine follow? So it is with sweeping the floor, and I don’t think the venerable saint would disagree with me.
It has been almost a year now that we moved in to this house, and it’s only this month that I finally feel like I am getting a grasp on a workable rhythm. A year. It’s a bit staggering looking backwards at it. But I didn’t see the year before me, I just kept trying. And now I have come out the other side of it. It’s a lesson I need to carry into and remember in other areas of my life.
I’ve really liked Amanda Watters’ blog, Homesong, for a while now, and her weekly cleaning rhythm printable has been a guiding light for me for a few years. She came out with an editable one, and I’ve slowly been adjusting mine over this last year. I think the thing to note about any sort of home care rhythm is that it should make things easier, not harder. It should get to a point that a reasonable amount of chores are done each day, and no one day is loaded up with so much that you can’t think about anything else. That’s not helpful. (It’s also why I could never understand why people will wait until Saturday to do all of the chores. No wonder they hate Saturday! Ten minutes here and there each day, and Saturday is all yours, no chores required.)
If a rhythm is really working, it will almost become invisible, without any real thought applied to it. It just becomes the thing you do to a point that you don’t have to actively think, okay, now it is time to water the plants. You just walk and do it because your brain has become so used to it. And when that happens, your brain has so much time for other things! More time to read. To homeschool. To paint. Whatever it is that truly brings you joy, you’ll have time for it. Does it take work to get there? Yes. And probably more time and diligence than you think. But once you invest the time, the payoffs are enormous.
I’m hoping to tuck in here a little bit each week-day. I used to write very long form posts, and I’m sure I still will, but I feel like I’m also starting to write to my children a bit. Little bite sized lessons for later, if they find themselves in similar situations. And who knows, maybe someone else finds them useful too?
So how are we doing financially? It’s where I left off, a year ago, and a good place to pick up.
By the end of this month, we will have paid off all of the current medical bills. These are all of the bills we incurred over this last year, especially the ones related to Elliana’s hospitalization in November and her surgery in June.
There were other things as well: one of the big kids had some seriously weird blood work come back during a routine physical that had to be followed up with an abdominal ultrasound to check his liver/spleen, and etc. (He was fine, eventually, but it was a bit of a scare.)
My husband hasn’t ever been in the best of health since his near death from mononucleosis the first year we were engaged. (What an adventure that was. My oh my.) He’s constantly had upper respiratory issues–he was hospitalized five times in our twenties, once in the ICU, for pneumonia– ever since, and it seems like his ‘bucket’ of health overflows quickly because of it. He’ll often catch something the rest of the family has much worse and much longer. You can only imagine how the sudden stress of two chronically ill kids affected him. He’s been running on fumes for three years, probably longer. As you can imagine, that came to a head. He was involved in a pretty nasty rear-end car crash not days after Elliana was released from the hospital in November, and it was the last straw. He had a bad concussion. His body finally said, enough is enough, and he’s been working ever since to get healthier. They had to run quite a few tests (including an MRI and ultrasounds) that weren’t related to the concussion at a few separate points. It was hard not to see the dollar signs just clicking past. That ran from November well into March. He is doing quite a bit better lately, and we’re hopeful that we can get him back to a pre-mononucleosis level of energy and immune-response.
As I mentioned a year ago, our finances have taken such a huge hit. Going into this August, I feel like I am finally breathing a bit easier in that realm. We still have a tremendous way to go, of course. We couldn’t pay for our homeschool curriculum for the upcoming year; my parents assisted us. James’ parents have had to chip in on home repair issues that have come up this last year. We’ve had to depend on not just our parents but extended family members and friends for help with gas and groceries at various points. When the sudden trips to Cincinnati loomed, friends raised the funds to pay for it in about three weeks. The good side of what seems sort of cruddy in this is that we aren’t going into any more debt and haven’t for a bit now. We have quite a load from the kids’ original hospitalizations that will take much longer to pay off, but I feel like things are finally beginning to stabilize and we can begin the baby steps again.
What would I tell myself four or five years ago as I was digging into Dave Ramsey’s advice for the first time?
Rethink your medical budget line. The more annually-related budgeting categories, I’ve noticed, often catch short shrift. Yes, most of us probably think “I need to divide my car insurance premium that I only pay twice a year into a monthly breakdown” for the budget, but it’s the more nebulous things that invariably come up at least once a year (a car repair, home repair, medical expenses) that are harder to understand and budget for.
I’ve found in talking to so many that how their health insurance premiums work and what their co-pay obligations are hardly on their radar, let alone on their budget lines. This is the blessed ignorance of good health. If you and your family are relatively healthy and only visit once or twice a year, maybe a broken arm here, a bad case of the flu there, it won’t ever really bump your radar. I pray that you get to stay in that blissful state of health, but I won’t let you stay ignorant.
I’m not an insurance specialist or educator, but let me tell you what I’ve learned in the school of hard knocks.
Learn what your responsibility is for your healthcare. What is your member (or individual) deductible? What is your family deductible? What is your split on care? 80/20? 90/10, 70/30? As soon as you know what your deductibles are, save for them. If it’s a $300/member deductible and you have eight members, that’s $2400 that needs to get tucked away. This member deductible and the family/group deductible often do not correspond. Know what the difference is between your individual number is and the family deductible and save the difference. If it’s $3000 and you know that individual is $2400 total, you need to save $600 more dollars. Keep making a line for this for at least two years- the first year you will most likely dip into this number, and you want to keep it at a fully funded level which should be reasonably easy to do the second year (unless all heck hits the fan like it did with us!). Your deductible is in addition to your premium- don’t confuse them!
Keep in mind that copays do not apply to your deductible. You might look at that package that comes from Human Resources and think, well, $20 for a primary care and $35 for a specialist is okay, especially if you only have to deal with it once or twice a year. THIS is what can routinely send our family underwater on any given month. When you have multiple family members who are ill and who have to see not only their primary care but also multiple specialists in a given month, that co-pay number can quickly climb into four digits a month and there is no way to budget for them during an emerging health crisis. It’s one thing once specialist visits become recurring and scheduled- you can begin to get a feel for what you need when. But this is rarely the case in a sudden medical crisis. You want to see co-pays as low as possible when you are looking at your insurance. Check your co-pays against market norms to know whether they are reasonable or not. If you have completed all the Ramsey baby steps, I’d encourage you to budget at least one primary copay and one specialist copay each month. You might not ever need it, but if you do, it will give you yet another cushion on top of your deductible cushion to deal with just such occasions as have happened to us. I can’t express to you how fast this happens. They are called medical emergencies for a reason.
KNOW YOUR SPLIT. This is the item you can’t really budget for, but not knowing what it is will devastate your finances in a medical emergency. You also need to know if both your health insurance and your automobile insurance covers ambulance/helicopters. Most do not. You want this split to be as low as possible. If your child is suddenly hospitalized (as ours were) in a non-trauma way, you are on the hook for your split of it. Say a surgery for a kid costs $6000. Your insurance pays 80% of that, and you have to pay the 20% in addition to your deductible. You have to pay $300 deductible, PLUS the 20% of the split before the insurance will pay anything. Trauma is most often covered by your homeowners or automobile insurance, which is also important to know- car accidents, fires, acts of God type injuries are rarely covered by your health insurance and they will make sure you know it and there is tons of subrogation paperwork that has to be waded through. Again, you want to have the lowest split or no split possible. No split insurance plans are exceedingly rare and if you’re that lucky, I’m kinda jealous.
Frankly, I’d love to hear from someone with major medical issues/chronic health issues children that use a cost-sharing program in lieu of insurance. I’ve often wondered what the differences would be.
I’m no expert, by any means, but I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. I’d much rather help you find the experts you need now when it’s all going swimmingly than have you wait until you’re completely underwater like we were. How I wish I had known how byzantine and convoluted medical insurance was then. I would have started to educate myself about it well, then. If wishes were horses.