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.

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!

Jesus, Marriage, Personal Finance, Religion

The Supernatural Experience of Giving

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus makes a profound statement: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (ESV)

I have been thinking recently about the intent of his statement. Was it a guarantee that no matter what happens and no matter our good intentions, poverty would always exist? Was it simply an invitation to those present to hang out with Jesus instead of poor people? Or was it a description of the way things are and, digging deeper, a subtle invitation to help change it, to live in light of a greater reality?

I am having trouble finding anything written by frugality bloggers on the subject of giving. From a couple brief searches on a few well-read blogs, I found a couple bloggers who wrote about doing a bit of charitable giving during the holiday season. I saw one blog post that mentioned giving around $2,000 over the course of a year. I don’t think it’s that people don’t give … just that there isn’t as much written about making regular giving part of your monthly budget.

I don’t know where everyone stands in terms of faith, but our Christian faith compels us to give generously. The standard is about 10 percent of our income, a principle based on the Old Testament idea of tithing. The 10 percent figure denoted a sense of ownership, a sort of acknowledgement that one’s income (or harvest?) was the result of divine action.

I don’t think there is a hard and fast amount one should give, but I do believe that there is something completely supernatural about giving away that which you earned. I also think 10 percent is a good baseline, though I acknowledge that not everyone will reach it. It’s completely countercultural to not spend every dollar you earn, but to flat out give it away empowers you in a new way. It frees you from the hold money has on you, from the feeling that your funds control you rather than the other way around. Giving also calms the fear that arises when you think about your financial state of being, especially when you are in debt.

When we were first married and more than $30,000 in credit card debt, we still gave regularly to our church and sponsored a child in a less developed country. Some months, we may have neglected our tithing (especially if we didn’t make it to church that first week of the month), but on the whole, it has been a regular part of our financial lives since the beginning of life together.

There are certainly folks out there who feel like every dollar you have beyond the bare minimum you need to survive should be going toward debt or savings to keep you out of debt. Others seem to think that charitable giving should come in if and when you have met your own family’s needs and then that such giving seems to be sort of a logical means to an end (i.e. a tax write-off or perhaps some sort of emotional payoff, almost as if altruism is selfishly motivated).

I can’t speak to anyone else’s motivations, but I can share that for us giving is a necessary act that arises from living in light of a different and truer reality. Christianity is not only about personal redemption from a sinful state of being but also about redeeming a broken world. Generosity is part of living under the reign of Christ.

This year, I want to increase our charitable giving. We currently give 10 percent away. The majority of that money goes to our church, but we also sponsor a child through Compassion International (child sponsorship has a proven track record of effectiveness in changing a person’s life) and we support a friend who is a campus ministry leader at the University of Texas at Dallas where Brandon went to college. Those things are our baseline. Brandon got a raise and he’ll begin seeing that increased income this month, so I want us to adjust the baseline amount accordingly and then increase our monthly giving.