Personal Finance

New baby, new house

We had us a baby six weeks ago. It’s July which means it is almost a year since I got pregnant with our son, and for the past seven weeks, I’ve been on maternity leave and Brandon has been home for the summer. This has been a sweet and exhausting time for our family. Anytime someone asks us how we’ve been doing, we say we greatly underestimated parenting a baby. We also underestimated the amount of stuff that babies have. Babies don’t take up that much room. Fisher Price does.

As we prepared to welcome Baby Seitzler into the world this past year, I brazenly declared that I didn’t think we needed more space, that we could manage just fine in our current two bedroom, one bathroom condo. We organized the second bedroom and arranged the furniture to be suitable for both a baby’s room and a music room. Dresser, mini crib…and piano. Drum set in the closet-turned-music studio. We didn’t even buy that much stuff, but we are still out of space. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, we have all the baby gear we need for this first year and even a little beyond. (Maybe I’ll write a post soon about my favorite baby essentials.)

Sometime last summer, after my mom passed away, we decided to start looking for a house. The Dallas real estate market was just starting to heat up, and interest rates were historically low. We felt like it was time for our family to have a bit more space. We also decided we were ready to have a baby. For several years, we had been saying we’d have kids once Brandon was done with his PhD and when we were more prepared.  Then he finished, and we still couldn’t decide when was the best time to expand our family. After my mom passed away, it was like a switch was flipped and we started asking ourselves what we were waiting for. Life was going along whether we liked it or not. Ultimately, we held off the house purchase for one more year, opting instead to see how we felt about it after Baby Seitzler came along.

Baby Seitzler is here. And how we feel about it is that we need more space!

So, earlier this summer, we started looking for a new house. After two months and four offers on houses we ultimately didn’t end up getting (we were outbid by cash offers), we finally had an offer accepted on a house in Allen, the next city over from where we live now. We move in less than two weeks, and we are so excited to have additional space! Our new home is three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plenty of room for us, our baby and for Brandon to have a dedicated music room. We plan for our kids to share a room while they are little, so we should be able to stay in this house for several years.

I’ve been feeling kind of guilty about the fact that we didn’t have a 20 percent down payment, and so we will have to pay for private mortgage insurance for a few years until we get the amount paid down to 20 percent. I read a lot of frugality and finance writing, so of course I know it’s ideal to have that 20 percent down payment in addition to significant funds remaining in the bank and in investments. We aren’t there yet, but on the plus side, holding off for an additional year allowed us to save more for our down payment so that we didn’t completely deplete our savings for a down payment and closing costs. Since interest rates are so low, people are scrambling to lock in mortgage rates before they go up. And in the Dallas area, there’s very little inventory, so home prices are rising incredibly fast. Homes in our current neighborhood went for $180,000 or so less than five years ago. Now, the average home price around here in $250,000 or more. Thankfully, we are purchasing a home that will allow us to pay extra each month toward our principal but that is in an area that will appreciate in value as our community continues to grow.

Family, Holidays

3 Ways to Holiday with Intention

Well, Christmas is now behind us! Every year, I worry not about how to afford Christmas gifts but about how to keep things reined in so that we are able to focus on the true meaning of the holiday. I feel fairly certain most people would love to be a bit more intentional with their holidays and to gain a little more meaning and purpose out of these celebrations. While I must admit that I am always a bit relieved after Christmas is over (like I successfully navigated an obstacle course or something), I am also aware that there are takeaways every year, things I can do to ease the stress of the season and derive more meaning from the various events.

Here are a few things I did this year that contributed to a slightly less stressful holiday.

1. Request items I actually need. One of my biggest stressors every year is the gift-giving expectation. Each year, I get a little annoyed that gifts are an expectation that simply won’t go away. I recognize that other people enjoy giving and receiving gifts (as do I!), but I’m also keenly aware that there is very little I actually need. I enjoy selecting gifts for others and especially love finding an item that I believe a particular person will use and enjoy, but I always feel a little guilty about the gifts I am given because, again, I know there’s not too much I need.

I feel overwhelmed already with what I have and deeply privileged that I can look at my household and my closet and say with confidence that I have more than enough. So, when people ask me what I want for a gift-giving occasion, I always seem to scramble around for something that seems gift-worthy or just say that there’s nothing in particular I want.

This year, I realized the folly of my ways and made mental note of things I did indeed desire to receive, knowing full well that my family members WANT to give me gifts. I am only doing a disservice by not giving any ideas. I took a lesson from the Frugalwoods who have posted several ideas for gifting “frugal weirdos.” I noticed that they weren’t ashamed or embarrassed to ask for things they truly needed or wanted, even in the household goods department. I finally realized it is most definitely OK to request items like stain-free plastic food storage containers and stainless steel kitchen prep tools to replace old ones that are past their prime. So, that’s what I did! I wasn’t specific on brands or colors, and my family members indulged my need-based requests. Quite frankly, the items I received are downright luxurious…the kitchen tools are certainly beyond anything I would have purchased for myself and will last forever. Frugal win!

2. Keep your gifts simple. Brandon and I opted not to exchange anything epic this year. We didn’t set a spending limit, but we discussed the fact that there was really nothing either of us needed. We’ve both been in a de-cluttering mood lately, anxious to do a better job of curating our wardrobes and home purchases. My wardrobe is a perfect example of this. I probably wear roughly one-third of the clothes in my closet. For now, I’m keeping some of the superfluous stuff knowing that I may get more use out of it as other items wear out.

We always receive some Christmas money, so instead of adding to the plethora of rarely-used items, we decided to put our Christmas gift money towards the purchase of a new camera, something we can both use and enjoy. It will get lots of use in the coming years, especially because it has an external microphone meaning I can use it for work. Another win.

I know a lot of folks who are very specific with their significant other about what they want. It seems to me that there’s an expectation of a quality or level of gift you are supposed to receive from a spouse, partner or significant other. Some folks do the big gift and then a few smaller items, which can be a good strategy. But, if you find yourself grasping for something you really need for that “special” gift, know that it is absolutely OK to request  sentimental gifts or none at all and instead to focus on quality time with the person.

We each did a couple small gifts for each other, but in a happy coincidence focused on the sentimental. With help from a friend, Brandon built end tables for our living room as a gift for me and also gave me a new pair of shoes purchased on clearance simply because he knows I like to have something to open. I gave him a piano book and two framed wedding photos because in seven years of marriage, we’ve framed exactly zero photos of just the two of us from our wedding. Our gifts to each other turned out to be perfect for the low-key, low-stress Christmas we sought this year. Next year, I hope we will continue the trend.

3. Give some away. We regularly tithe to our church, support a campus ministry and sponsor two children in Ecuador through Compassion International. We added a couple year-end gifts to the mix this year, specifically a to capital campaign at church and a larger than usual gift to the campus ministry. Additionally, we gave to Compassion in advance so that “our” kids could have Christmas gifts. Finally, we chose to give our old camera away. Because it was in great shape, we could have sold it and originally intended to, but upon learning of a need a friend had, it made sense to just give it away. It felt great to let go of that need to scrounge for every penny. When you are willing to live with less, you have the freedom to give a bit more. And during Christmas, when you know others are stressed and experiencing all kinds of life upheavals, it’s incredibly freeing to ease their burden a little bit.

Things I learned for next year:

1. I worried way too much about food contributions to family celebrations. Other people also worried about food contributions. This means that there is still way too much food in our various family refrigerators. Much of it will go uneaten, unfortunately. I always make two pies. Other folk then contribute other sweets resulting in an abundance of junk food that no one wants or needs but feels guilty throwing away. Next year, I’ll stand down.

2. I only have so much time. While I know that it’s not appropriate or compassionate to refuse to give of my time during the holidays, especially as it relates to spending time with family, I went through the past five days with almost no down time and stayed up until roughly 1 a.m. every night. We were constantly at someone’s house until late in the evening and back at it the next day. Next year, I’d like to take time to go home at a decent hour and get more rest during my days off work. If holidays are supposed to be restful, it makes no sense to exhaust myself and overdo the special family time. I’m more enjoyable to be around when I’m rested…and so are other people.

3. I can’t make other people relax. I didn’t necessarily try to, but I also know that we often bear other peoples’ stress without intending to. I learn more all the time that it’s not my responsibility to attempt to fix other people or their situations. That said, it’s difficult not to be impacted by the choices of those close to you, particularly during family events. It IS my responsibility to offer grace, spoken or not, to others. I can’t change their circumstances or choices, but I can respond to them with more grace, even if in the moment I don’t feel I receive it in return. Another lesson learned that probably makes all family interactions much more manageable.

Personal Finance

Fess Up: The neverending grocery cycle

It’s time for a confession.

I am the queen of deciding what I want to eat and shopping for ingredients with no thought whatsoever about cost and little to no consideration for what’s already in the pantry or the fridge. This has led to an annoying syndrome in our house: pantry bloat.

Pantry Bloat = a pantry full of food with nothing to eat. Right now, our pantry shelves are stuffed to the gills, the fridge crowded with bits of things, and I can’t think of a thing for dinner. It’s a vicious cycle and one I am determined to halt in its tracks.

What ends up happening is that we have plenty of groceries at home from which we could procure excellent and tasty meals for ourselves. It’s just that we’re fickle. We love to eat, and I LOVE to cook. And I like to cook what sounds good at the moment. So, if stuffed peppers are on the menu but chili sounds better because it’s remotely cool outside, I’ll go to the store (thereby making a separate, unplanned trip!) just to buy stuff to make one single solitary meal! The meal will be eaten and enjoyed by all, but it means other things will go to waste!

Today is basically the end of October. We have leftovers in the fridge for dinner tonight and meals tomorrow. I don’t think I have another trip to the store in the immediate forecast (which is good since there’s a 90 percent chance of more rain the rest of today and all night tonight). I set our grocery spending budget in Mint this month at $500. Sadly, I blew past it without much thought or notice. We spent $582 on groceries in October, but thinking about the currently well-stocked pantry and the above mentioned pantry bloat and the syndrome of needlessly running to the store on a whim has me convinced that I should try again to stay under the $500 budget in November. This weekend, I’ll meal plan by taking into account what we currently have that needs to get used up first. From there, I’ll shop for what’s truly needed, and the goal will be to get through what we have first. Ultimately, I think it’s reasonable that two people should be able to eat for far less than $500 per month, but we’re taking baby steps here. Stay tuned!