Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Currently: January 2021

Happy Wednesday! The first month of the year is almost over. Yay! I don't like to wish time away but January can feel long and cold in the upper Midwest. We have lucked out and had really mild weather this January so we've gotten outside most days this month, but I'm never sad to see January come to an end! Here's what's going on in my life right now.

Reading: The Switch by Beth O'Leary. It's basically a book version of the movie The Holiday (one of my most favorite holiday movies!). In this book, a young woman switches places with her 79-year old recently divorced grandma. Her grandma lives in a rural area of England and the young woman lives in London. It's a romance so you know love will ensue! I continue to read at a crazy pace thanks to all of those middle-of-the-night feedings! I've already read 13 books! Crazy!

Loving: watching Will change and grow and seeing the sibling relationship develop between Will and Paul. Paul is still learning about gentle touch and not smothering your brother. Ha! Will is cooing and starting to give me some small smiles which is so fun!

Feeling: pretty good, all in all. I'm tired but that's newborn life for you. Will occasionally gives me 3+ hour stretches at night so that feels pretty darn amazing. I'm looking forward to adding some exercise back in next month but for now, walking feels great.

 about my return to work which is still 12 weeks away. I think/hope it will be a better experience than my experience with Paul. I really struggled with the return to work after having Paul so it helps to know that the tough stage is temporary and eventually I will struggle less. When I went back after having Paul, I questioned whether I was meant to be a working mother but around 10 months, I felt much better about working and now I can't imagine not being a working mom as I am just not cut out to be a stay at home mom and truly love my job. But I know I will likely have a tough stretch this spring/summer when I go back and will just have to push through it and strategically use vacation time, like I did with Paul.

Anticipating: the birth of my niece! My little sister is due on Valentine's Day and I can't wait to see pictures and hear about my sister's birth experience. It was awesome being pregnant with my sister as we could trade stories and complain to each other. I don't know when I will meet her little girl thanks to covid, but I'm hoping we can go visit them next spring. 

Struggling: with the inability to put Will down much during the day. He's a bit more of a needy baby than Paul was. I use the carrier quite a bit so that helps. I'm reminding myself this stage is temporary and he'll enjoy playing on the floor more and more as he gets older.

Grateful: for the mild weather we've had this month! There have been very few days when it's been too cold to go outside. I will go outside for a walk as long as the feels like temp isn't below 10-15F. I remind myself it may feel cold at first but I will quickly warm up, especially with a warm baby strapped to my body!

Working: on deleting duplicate photos on google photos. When you take pictures of kids, you end up taking sooo many to get a good one. I wasn't good about deleting duplicates in the moment so now I am going back, month by month, and deleting duplicates/screen shots/etc. I have done January 2014-2020 so far. My goal is to work on past months each month, so in February, I will tackle February 2014-2020. I also want to cull each month when it ends, so in February I will cull the photos from this January.

Listening: to podcasts, although not as many as I'd like. But I usually get through a couple on my 50 minute walks. I try to squeeze them in when I can and have used my new AirPod Pros which I treated myself to for my upcoming 40th birthday! I usually don't spend so much money on myself but I figured turning 40 was cause for a special treat. I LOVE them! I have teeny tiny ear canals, but the small bud adapter fits perfectly (they come with 3 sizes). If you listen to lots of podcasts while on the go, I highly recommend them! I got lucky and got them for $209 (regular price of $249) and we were able to use a Best Buy gift card so only paid about $35 out of pocket for them. 

Watching: so much tv! But since I have read a ton of books, I don't feel too guilty. Phil and I finished Homeland last week and now are watching The Queen's Gambit. It makes me wish I knew how to play chess! On my own, I'm burning through seasons of The Great British Baking Show which is so delightful and makes me want to bake alllll the things!

and hoping that my parents will be able to get a vaccine soon. They applied through the Minnesota lottery but this past week, 205k+ people signed up for 8k vaccinations. They will have a lottery each week so hopefully they get a spot soon. They also have contacted their physicians as my dad is high risk due to kidney disease and my mom is one of the primary caregivers for my 97yo grandmother (she lives in assisted living but my mom is one of 2 people who can go into her room when my grandma isn't quarantined. My grandma got her first dose earlier this month - yay!). I'm also wishing and hoping I get a vaccine this spring. My rheumatologist said she isn't sure if I will be prioritized over others in my age group but she tagged my medical record with immune compromised in case they query it to prioritize vaccinations.  

And that's a wrap! 

What's new in your world? Do you dislike January as much as I do? What are you reading, loving and grateful for?

Friday, January 22, 2021

Finance Friday: 2020 Spending

This is certainly the most time consuming post I write each year, but the most useful for me! It was more challenging to write it this year thanks to our clingy newborn! Baby carrier for the win! 

Here are a couple of disclosures before I dive into the numbers:

1. Housing makes up the largest spending category by far as we ended up paying off our mortgage in 2020. I recognize how incredibly lucky we are to be able to do this at our age. I've received questions about why we decided to do this versus investing the money. The primary reason is that we love living debt-free. Phil and I both work in the same incredibly volatile industry so we have no diversification of income. We both feel fairly safe at our jobs, but you never know what might happen. We take great comfort in knowing our monthly expenses are lower thanks to not having a mortgage. Additionally, we both find the equity and debt markets very over-valued - i.e. it's not the best time, historically, to put a large sum of money into the markets. We still max out our 401ks, put money in our boys' 529s, etc. But since the rate on our mortgage was so low (below 3%) we opted to put cash we had saved towards our mortgage instead of investing it in the market. This is one of those 'you do you' decisions and I am sure there are other CFA charterholders (a designation we both hold) that would make a different decision, but it was the right decision for us! Next year our home category should look much more reasonable! Similar to 2019, I took out the payments towards our mortgage - otherwise that piece of the spending pie would be so huge and everything else would look tiny. By taking it out, this pie is more representative of the typical spending decisions we make each year.

2. This chart does not include savings or contributions to things like 529s, 401ks, etc. 

3. This chart does not include payroll deductions for things like health/dental/vision insurance, taxes (I break out extra payments) or charitable contributions. I could easily add these items in but I haven't in the past. The charitable donation is in my control, but the insurance items aren't so I don't feel it's necessary to include them. I do pay the out-of-pocket maximum for insurance each year thanks to my pricy RA meds, but I use my HSA so I don't 'feel' the expense of those items so it doesn't feel like I need to add them to our spending pie.

4. This chart finally includes all of Phil's spending as he added his credit cards to my mint account mid-year. So next year I will be able to make comments about year-over-year spending. It won't be completely accurate since 2020 spending is missing Phil's credit cards during the first half of the year, but he spends so little that it will still be pretty accurate!

Here is how our 2020 spending broke out, with notes on notable categories below!

1. Taxes were once again the largest spending category by far. And this is what we pay IN ADDITION to what is automatically withdrawn from our paychecks! This is the reality of 2 well-compensated people who are married. The marriage penalty is REAL. We both claim 0 allowances and have to make extra tax payments at the end of the year to avoid a penalty for underpaying our taxes come tax season. We have just come to accept this. I really miss my huge refund checks from my single days. Even though I made a similar amount of money, I would always get a refund, even with claiming 1 allowance! That said, we recognize that we should have a higher tax burden than others so I am not complaining about the amount of taxes we pay. 

2. Home was our #2 spending category even without payments toward our mortgage. This category includes home improvement expenses, furniture, house cleaning, and home supplies like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc. This line item was higher than usual this year as Phil and his cousin built a new deck, we bought a new fridge, and had the interior walls painted last summer. Plus we bought some new furniture at the beginning of the year as we moved into this house in November so had some purchases to make. We bought end tables, stools, a tv stand, and bedside stands - mostly from Wayfair so they were inexpensive, but still costly!

3. Kids is our 3rd largest category, thanks to daycare! I also went to the trouble of categorizing our Target and Amazon purchases this year instead of having a line item for those stores. It turns out we buy a lot from those stores for our boys! This line item is going to get even bigger in 2021 with a 2nd child in daycare, but it's a worthwhile expense and part of having kids!

4. Groceries was the next largest line item. I didn't have a handle on our grocery spending last year since those purchases were on Phil's credit card (he does all of our grocery shopping - yay!). It's nice to see what we spend and I feel good about it. We tend to not eat out much and that was especially the case in 2020 thanks to Covid (we have only done take-out since late February - can't see us eating in a restaurant until 2022 most likely). Phil started going to Aldi this year and that has certainly resulted in savings! He goes there first and gets as much as he can and then goes to a big box grocery store for the rest. We look at the ads before meal planning so we can take sales into consideration when picking out meals. 

5. Dining out just slightly edged out auto and transport. This category was higher than I expected but over 20% of our dining spending was at coffee shops since I drank a large Starbucks latte every single day during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy which really adds up. This drove my frugal husband crazy but he learned not to say anything. I was in a lot of pain from RA flares and didn't have many treat options due to gestational diabetes so he accepted this as a temporary expense. I can count on one hand the number of Starbucks/Caribou purchase I've made since Will was born so this line item will be back to normal in 2021! We probably order food about 1-2 times/month so we really don't spend much on dining out. Phil buys his lunch on the 2-3 days he goes into the office each week but spends less than $8 so that expense is pretty low. I miss my weekly lunches out when I was working in the office, but will occasionally have him bring me home a salad from my fave place which ends up being $12!

6. Auto and Transport is mostly insurance premiums. We probably drove more in 2020 than years past because Phil drove into work when he went into the office. Pre-pandemic, we took the bus. It's hard to imagine resuming a bus commute for a long time, but maybe by 2022 he can go back to taking the bus. I doubt I will as I think I'll be working from home part of the week going forward (hopefully!). But even with driving in a few days each week, we still don't spend much on gas. This category will be higher in 2021 as we are looking to buy a small SUV like a Rav 4 or CRV now that we have 2 bulky car seats.They do fit in our Camry so we could keep our current car, but we'd also like to have an all-wheel drive car as we've gotten our Camry stuck multiple times when we've had heavy snowfalls. We will sell my Camry and keep Phil's Corolla. I think we will get quite a bit for our Camry as it's only 4 years old and has less than 25k miles on it. When Phil test drove a Rav 4 this month, the sales person was told him our car would be in high demand, especially with our low mileage!

7. Donations and Gifts were split 50/50. My donations used to be a higher percentage of spending but I now primarily contribute to charitable causes through my paycheck since it's easier/automatic!

Other things of note are that shopping and personal care were very low. I can count on one hand the number of times I wore make-up in 2020 and don't expect to wear it very often going forward. This has made my skin VERY happy! I struggle with acne, and had it really bad during Paul's pregnancy but didn't get a single blemish this time around! I did spend some money on maternity clothes, but most were purchased at a pregnancy consignment shop so I didn't spend all that much. I don't expect to buy much for clothes in 2021 either but in 2022, I told Phil I'd like to splurge a bit and hire a wardrobe consultant. A good friend did this and I got to come along on the shopping trip. I'm not great at putting outfits together so I would benefit from having an expert look at what I own, help me determine what to keep, and help put outfits together! I do a lot of zoom calls with clients and would like to look more presentable/polished! But I want to be back at a stable/normal body size so that needs to wait until I am done breastfeeding!


So there you have it! All in all, I feel good about our spending. There are always places that you can cut back, but in general I feel very good about how we spend our money. I know Phil would like us to spend less money because he is incredibly frugal!! But I think splurges like ordering coffees during a difficult pregnancy and hiring a house cleaner are worthwhile and brought me a lot of joy in 2020! We have our cleaners on hold for the first 2 months of Will's life to limit our exposure to others (they do wear masks but a team of 4-6 people come in to clean so we felt it was best to put them on hold). Can't wait to bring them back!

Do you do a deep dive/review of your spending on a regular basis? Besides this annual review, Phil and I sit down each quarter and review our account balances/discuss how we want to invest going forward. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Baby Will at 6 Weeks

Baby Will is 6 weeks! It’s been the longest shortest 6 weeks. Other parents will understand that sentiment. His birth feels like so long ago and some periods of time feel long (like the difficult nights we’ve had) but the time has gone fast at the same time. He's so much more alert than he was when I last wrote an update at 2 weeks! Here is how he is doing at 6 weeks!

Likes: being held my mom alllll the time. This has not changed a bit in the last 4 weeks. The baby carrier is my VIP baby product. He spends hours in it every day! He also likes to lay on the baby gym when he's in a good mood. 

Snug as a bug in a rug in the baby carrier as we head out for a walk!

Dislikes: diaper changes, baths, being held by Phil (eeks, hope he gets more on team dad soon), pooping and passing gas (he strains so much), and the hours of 5-9 each night. 

Firsts:  He has come along while sledding but is of course oblivious to what is going on since he is in the carrier under layers of warmth. I obviously do not sled with him! I am there to lend a hand to Phil and take videos. We live in a great area for sledding as there are hills just 2 blocks away! 

Feeding: Breastfeeding continues to go well. It is SO MUCH BETTER than pumping!! I have pumped a handful of times but will avoid doing it until I am closer to returning to work. I don’t know how much he weighs but it seems like he is growing well as he outgrew his newborn clothes around 3 weeks due to length! Paul was in that size for 2 months so this kid is so different from Paul!

Sleeping: is still not great. He will give me a 2.5-4 hour stretch at the beginning of the night and then sleeps for 1.5-2 hour stretches after that. Gas/pooping seems to wake him up. His digestive system is still maturing so he really strains to poop or pass gas. I thought maybe it was related to what I am eating but he seems to struggle with it no matter what I eat. I was a bit depressed to look back at my Paul posts and see he was sleeping for 6 hours at the beginning of the night at 6 weeks. Womp womp. That seems so far away for us! But I remind myself we had other challenges with Paul (weight gain). 

Dad:  Phil has been back at work since the week of Christmas. He’s still going on 2-3 days/week which works fine for us since he is honestly not much help during the day since I’m breastfeeding. But he does pretty much everything for Paul! And when he is around during the day he’s great at refilling my water, warming up meals, doing dishes, etc. He has also been cleaning our house as we put our cleaners on hold for the first 2 months of Will’s life to limit our exposure to others. 

Mama: I am feeling pretty much fully healed from my c section. I imagine there is more healing that is happening but I don’t have anymore pain. I have my 6 week check up today and expect to get cleared to exercise. I am taking it easy this month and just going for long walks when the weather allows. I plan to get a beachbody membership in Feb and will ease back into more vigorous workouts then. So overall I am doing well. I just feel really tired and have mastered napping with Will on me during the day. My RA is behaving now that I’m back on my injections so I am tapering off steroids. Getting off those is key as being on prednisone is NOT good if you get Covid! I am still in daily blood thinners injections. I was hoping to be done at 6 weeks but had my evisit with the hematologist on Wednesday and he said I need to stay on them for 6 more weeks. :( I had a blood clot during my last pregnancy and have a genetic mutation that makes me more prone to clots so he feels it’s best to stay on them for 12 weeks post partum. That means I will have been on them for 45 weeks total. I am so glad we are done having kids as I could not go through all of this again. My poor stomach is so bruised!!

Pablo: All in all, he continues to do well. He is very sweet around Will and will ask, ‘are you ok?’ when Will is crying. This week when I was giving Will his bath, he came in and said, ‘I’m here to help!’ I thought that was so cute. He gives Will a kiss on his head each night when he goes up to bed. But he definitely acts out at times. Who knows if that’s related to gaining a brother or just being a toddler! I continue to try to spend one-on-one time with him doing things like reading, playing a game or baking cookies. That seems to really help. The weather has been super mild this month so we get outside after his nap to sled. He has really enjoyed that and it’s an activity that feels one-on-one since you can’t see Will in the carrier. 

We love sledding!

Making monster cookies with mom!

Before Will was born, I told Phil that a baby seemed easy compared to Paul (toddlers can be HARD!) but I am totally eating my words now... It's also a bit more challenging to have a baby during a pandemic as aren't having visitors over so there's no one to hand the baby off to besides Phil. Who knows if that would even help since Will tends to scream for Phil. Ha. But I keep reminding myself that this phase is short in the grand scheme of things and each week should get a little bit easier. And I never take for granted how lucky we were to add a child to our family!!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Best Books of 2020

Wow. What a week. I'm struggling to come up with worlds to describe how I feel about what went down at the Capitol on Wednesday - but surprised is not one of them given the rhetoric of Donald Trump. I'm just glad there will be a transfer of power in the near future. It won't magically solve the issues in our country but it's a huge step in the right direction.

Now back to the topic at hand - reading! 2020 was an amazing reading year! I know some had trouble concentrating on reading in the midst of the pandemic but I read more than ever and finished 107 books, beating out my 2019 reading by 2 books. When I went through my list of books to pick my favorites, I didn't have a number of books in mind for my best of list - so I ended up with an odd number of 11. I didn't want to pare it back or find a 12th book so 11 it is!


One consequence of the pandemic was that I read less non-fiction than years past as I craved more lighter/happier books to offset the heaviness of life. So only 2 non-fiction books made my "best of" list. Both are excellent. Know My Name is the memoir of a sexual assault victim - our book club read this and everyone thought it was excellent. It's a great examination of how we treat victims. So You Want to Talk About Race is the best racial justice book that I read in 2020. Each chapter delves into a common argument when discussing racial justice. The author weaves in her personal experience and helps the reader discuss controversial topics. This is a book that I would like to re-read as there is a lot to absorb/take in.

Lighter Reads

I read and enjoyed a lot of lighter reads, especially romances, but these are my top lighter reads. The School of Essential Ingredients is about a cooking class that meets at a restaurant once a week. In each chapter, we meet a different class participant and get to know their back story. It was a delightful read. Party of Two is the last book in Jasmine Guillory's romance series - I read all of them during 2020 so that whole series goes on my "best of" list. You don't need to read them in order but I think it's best if you do as characters from previous books make cameos in future books. The Boston Girl isn't necessarily super light but it's not literary fiction so I felt like it fit better in this category. It's an oral history of the protagonist's life when she was growing up in Boston. It was a super fast read so if you need a page turner, check out this book!

Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is my favorite genre so it's no surprise that 6 ended up on my "best of" list! If You Want to Make God Laugh is written by a South African author and takes place in post-Apartheid South Africa. It deals with poverty, class, and race and has 3 narrators - 2 white sisters and a black woman. I love multiple-narrators books and this one was very well done. This Tender Land is by a Minnesota author and takes place mostly in northern MN. It's about 3 orphans who escape an orphanage to seek out a better life. It's so good! Such a Fun Age is an excellent examination of race and class. It looks at the dynamic between a wealthy white woman and her Black nanny. The Dearly Beloved features 2 couples. The husbands are pastors at a church in NYC. It looks at what happens when 2 people in a relationship have different levels of faith. Rodham imagines what would have happened if Hillary declined Bill Clinton's proposal. I had to keep reminding myself this wasn't a memoir and was fiction! Lastly, The Vanishing Half is the amazing sophomore novel from Brit Bennett. I will read anything this woman writes! It's about 2 twin sisters who are lighter skinned Black women. One passes as white, the other retains her Black identity.

And there you have it! William is screaming so it's time for me to wrap this up! What were your best reads of 2020? Did anything on this list catch you eye?

Monday, January 4, 2021

What We Read in December

Happy New Year! Aren't we all beyond thrilled 2020 is behind us? 2021 didn't get off to the best start for my family as my dad needed an appendectomy on New Years Day, but I am glad they were able to do surgery quickly as his appendix was perforated and impacting the tissue around it when they removed it. And he only had to spend one night in the hospital. But hopefully this is the only hiccup for January? 

2020 was a record reading year for me as I read 107 books - 2 more than 2019! I did not expect to read so much in December but Will was up SO MUCH and I read while nursing him so I got a ton of reading in. I did read a lot of light books in December because my brain needed easy reads! I'm hoping to tackle some more heady reads in 2021, but probably not until I'm out of this sleep deprived stage!

Mom's Reads:

I didn't have any duds in December! This first collection of books are the ones I liked best out of the 11 (!!) I read! I'd recommend any of these 4 books! The Invisible Life of Addie Larue took the longest for me to read as I started it right around when Will was born. I was getting 2-4 hours of sleep/night for that first week so my attention span for reading was practically non-existent! But had I read it during a less sleep-deprived stage of life, I would have read it faster. 

This next batch of books mostly features romances with the exception of Open Book by Jessica Simpson and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. I enjoyed all of these books, but not to the extent I enjoyed the 4 above. 

Paul's Reads:

Paul received a lot of new books in December between Big Brother gifts and Christmas gifts! I asked him what he wanted for his birthday in March and he enthusiastically said, "BOOKS!" I am so glad we have such a passionate reader on our hands! Here are some of the favorites from the month!

A new "That's Not My" book which was gifted to Will but is something Pablo will enjoy until Will is old enough to enjoy it!

He received 2 Llama Llama books - this is one of his favorite series/authors!

One of several "big brother" books he received. This one is about 2 foxes, which is one of his favorite animals!

"Little Blue Truck Christmas" is easily his favorite Christmas book. There is a tree at the end of the book that lights up. We have all of the LBT books - they are all wonderful!

 How was your month of December? Did you read anything great?