Hiatus Hijinks

Wow! It’s been awhile. How’ve you been?

That’s great to hear.

Us? Oh, you know. Same old. Trips, new babies, school days, pantry challenges, the magic and hilarity of the everyday.

Mama Might was born out of a desire to share the mutual experience of motherhood, but it turns out that motherhood is a lot of work! So much work, that we’ve found ourselves with little time to write. We wanted this to be a place where we talk about what’s real, and the reality is that we’re all in this same busy season of our lives. So why not talk about that?

Watch this space for regular glimpses into our lives: what we wore (No designer labels here!), what we ate (Who loves a food budget? We do!), and who we are (…evolving?).

Speaking of evolution, we’d like to introduce you to our newest Mama Might co-author, Katie! We can’t wait for you to get to know her.

As always, we welcome contributions from anyone in the Mama Might community. Have a story to share? Leave us a comment here, or get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by! You’re welcome here anytime.

The Easiest Budgeting System Ever

We are now *officially* a one-income family. My maternity leave benefits have ended, and the paperwork now shows that I am no longer employed. Logic tells me that we can surely live well on one income, as long as we have a budget.

Budget. Yuck. Every time we have tried to set a budget in the past we have failed. We did all the right things…

  • We outlined our monthly income.
  • We allocated money for all of our bills.
  • We made sure we were putting money into long- and short-term savings.
  • We determined monthly spending amounts for necessary categories such as food, gas and clothing.

But it just didn’t work. I don’t spend $30 a month on clothing; I buy one good-quality item and then don’t buy anything for a while. I don’t buy just enough food for the week, because I prefer to stock up on grocery deals when prices are excellent, which might mean buying 10 lbs of cheese at one time, or a dozen green peppers to slice and freeze.  So, since traditional budgeting wasn’t working, I started using the simplest money-management system I could think of.

I drew on money maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s rule that says you have to WRITE IT ALL DOWN. That was my starting point. I grabbed a clipboard and some lined paper, because I’m a pen and paper girl. Are you ready for the brilliance?

On one sheet of paper, I made two columns, because my husband gets paid twice per month. Under each pay period, I listed all of our committed expenses that are covered by that paycheque – including bills, donations, investments, and deposits into our savings accounts. Then I totalled each column. This sheet of paper stays on the clipboard all the time.

On a fresh sheet of paper, I wrote the date of the next payday. I noted the amount that would be deposited into our account and subtracted the committed expenses for that pay period. The remainder is what is available to spend. It needs to cover all our variable expenses – groceries, gas for our vehicles, clothes, home maintenance, and anything else we might need to pay for. Each time we make a purchase, it gets listed on the paper and deducted from that amount. Check out an example:Image

At any point, we can look at the clipboard and easily see how much money is available. It’s basic. Low-tech. Easy-peasy. Once the balance on that sheet of paper reads $0, we have to stop spending until payday. It sounds reasonable, right? But it takes willpower. We have credit cards! I *could* keep spending after the money is gone. But then I either have to use the next paycheque to pay it off, or start accumulating debt. I don’t want to do either of those things.

This is a really, truly simple way to track your spending to make sure you are living within your means. It clearly shows that money is a finite resource. It can only be spent once!

You might be wondering how a system like this works for larger expenses. For example, how do we cover Christmas gifts and family vacations? This happens through the magic of sinking funds. A sinking fund is a separate space where you set aside money on a regular basis to cover a larger, irregular expense. It could be an envelope that holds cash, or a dedicated bank account. In our family, we use five ING Direct savings accounts for: Fun Money, Emergencies, Christmas, Property Taxes, and Farm Share. Each month we contribute a set amount of money into these accounts. They are set up to take place automatically, so we don’t even have to think about it. These monthly deposits form part of our committed expenses, so we can be sure to have the appropriate amount of money available when the need arises.

In this busy season of our lives, the last thing we need is a complicated money management system. This is as simple and it works. I’ll take it.

Dirty Floors and All

Early this week, I brought my girls to their swimming lesson. I watched and cheered while entertaining the baby, who just wanted to be set loose to explore and play. Then I washed two chlorine-filled heads of hair and dried and dressed two damp little bodies before bringing everyone out into the morning that was already as hot and humid as the pool deck.

When I got home, I sat down to nurse the baby. While she nursed, I opened my Facebook feed and saw a message from a new friend asking if I wanted to visit with her that afternoon. A wave of panic washed over me as I thought of the cat fur on the furniture, the layer of dust, um… everywhere, the unmade beds, the unswept floors…. You get the idea. I briefly considered taking a raincheque. But before I could let myself chicken out, I responded to say yes.

Normally, I would have then scrambled to clean as much of the house as possible before she arrived. This day, however, I had promised to make cupcakes with my big girls. (Disregard the fact that it was something like 37 degrees with the humidex.) So we baked. I measured; they poured. They helped crack eggs and stir. They watched the mixer turn everything into a glossy batter, they licked the spoons and beaters until their faces were covered in chocolate, and they watched the cupcakes as they baked. Baking with children is not always fun, but this was. And what a mess we made!

While the cupcakes were cooling, we had lunch. The girls settled in for a couple of shows on Netflix. I was exhausted by this point, so I sat down to watch an episode of my beloved Downton Abbey while the baby napped in my arms. Yes, I could have frantically tried to clean, but my little Punkin would have been cranky and tired (since she refuses to nap in her crib), and I would have missed a rare chance to recharge.

When my lovely friend arrived, she helped me clear lunch dishes from the table so the girls could decorate their cupcakes. I didn’t let myself apologize for the mess… The closest I came was admitting that this is the reality of my life with small children. She readily agreed, reminding me that she has many friends with little ones. She sat down and chatted with the girls as they used leftover Christmas candy and birthday cake icing to cover the tops of their creations. (Funny story: Peanut ate the candy and icing from her cupcake and then attempted to trade it in for a fresh one she had already gifted to our guest. Nice try!) We then ventured down to the playroom to draw and do puzzles, despite the toys, crayons, papers and crumbs that littered the floor.

With three daughters age five and under, things are far from pristine around here. It’s true. It drives me crazy, but I’ve come to terms with it. I could spend every free minute doing housework (and I’m still not sure that would be enough!) but I would miss the joy of raising my beautiful girls. If I want to build community and make connections, though, I need to welcome friends into our home… dirty floors and all.Image

Here is a quick look at our recent strawberry picking excursion. I wouldn’t miss this for all the perfect homes in the world!

Enough

ImageBeing a single-income family in a culture driven by dual-income wish lists is going to be tricky. As my maternity leave benefits come to an end, I’m realizing that in choosing to have a parent at home, we are going to live differently than many other families. Our lives won’t be better or worse than those around us – just different.

I want my daughters to learn the value in enough. I want them to understand gratitude. And what better way to illustrate these concepts than to sacrifice material possessions in exchange for deeper relationships and the constant presence of a loving parent?  Their bellies will always be full; they will always be clothed in (relatively) clean, well-fitting clothes; they will always have toys to play with, books to read, and opportunities to learn, grow and engage in the world around them. Will they eat in restaurants every week? No. Will they receive every toy they ask for? Of course not. Will we travel as much as other families? Probably not. Will they suffer because they lack these things? Not even a little bit.

God-willing, my children will never be without enough. And I hope they never want for anything – not because they already have everything they could wish for, but because they have learned to be content with what they do have. Don’t get me wrong, though. I want to be able to give them nice things. I want them to have goals and aspirations. But I don’t want their happiness to hinge on material possessions. I want to teach them, by example, that true happiness comes from being content where you are, as you are.

So why am I concerned with raising children on one income? It isn’t because we don’t have enough, because in fact, we are wealthier than much of the world’s population could ever imagine. It is because of the impact our instant gratification society will have on these girls. I don’t want them to see their friends with a constant array of brand new clothes and toys and feel sad. I want them to recognize that we have enough and be grateful.

I hope my presence has an impact on these beautiful girls. I hope they understand that having Mama home with them every day is worth the sacrifice.

– Alison

My Heart Spoke… And I Finally Listened

Right now, my life is a blur of nursing and diaper changes, snack requests and stories, groceries and laundry. My sweet girls are 5 years, 3 years and 9 months old, and leave me utterly exhausted by the end of each day (sometimes earlier). I’m striving to embrace this season of parenthood, but I admit to regularly daydreaming about the day when a dinner date with my husband won’t seem like such a foreign concept!

A few years ago, I never would have expected to be a stay-at-home-mom. I was working in a full-time, permanent government job in my field of study. I had benefits and pension. And I thought it would be irresponsible to walk away from something like that. So when my first beautiful daughter was born (we affectionately call her Monkey), I took a year of maternity leave and put her in daycare so I could return to work. It broke my heart. The only thing that consoled me was that I was already pregnant with my sweet Peanut, so I knew I would soon be home with my babies again.

When Peanut was only a few months old, we decided to sell our house and move across town to a much bigger home. There were many factors involved in the decision, but looking back, I think we got swept up in the excitement of “new”. The very first night we slept in our new house, I crawled into bed with a knot in my stomach, tears in my eyes, and a startling realization in my mind. I had never before admitted it to myself, but I wanted to stay home with my babies. And we had just bought a house we could not afford on my husband’s salary alone. I would *have* to continue working and put both my babies in daycare. I cried in my husband’s arms and we talked about it until the wee hours of the morning. We decided that I would finish my maternity leave, go back to work, and re-evaluate after a few months.

“If you want to stay home with the girls, we can sell this house and move,” said my darling husband. “It’s just a house.”

After returning to work, it quickly became clear that it would be better for all of us if I stayed home. So up went the For Sale sign, and we started house hunting. In the midst of this, we conceived our third sweet baby, whom we call Punkin (or Punkinator, or Punkin-unkin, you get the idea). So it was decided that I would continue working until she was born.

We moved into a lovely little home when I was 20 weeks pregnant, and set about getting things as ready as possible before Punkin arrived. In September, Monkey started school, Punkin was born, Peanut needed her Mama more than ever as she became the middle child, and it was evident I was needed at home. A few months later, when I was 100% confident in my decision to stay home with these sweet girls, I broke the news to my boss and colleagues that I wouldn’t be returning to work. I was absolutely giddy with excitement! A new chapter, new challenges, new plans to make.

We love our home. It is beautiful and cozy. It is filled with love. Some days it is filled with yelling and tears and too much TV, but it is always filled with love. And I love my new job as a stay-at-home-mom. I struggle, and I still have a *lot* to learn, but this opportunity is an enormous blessing.

– Alison