If money doesn’t buy happiness, then what does?

I think it’s safe to say that not having enough money causes major stress in the average person. This is me, raising my hand and saying that I am absolutely one of these people.

It is in those moments when I thought my check would be bigger, my bills would be smaller, or that the unexpected expense that was so unlikely to happen happened, that my body mounts a full physical response. Skyrocketing heart rate, sweating all over, and a stomach tied up in knots, just to name a few.

Not having enough money is such a stressful and sad feeling. So, it would almost seem fair to say that if the opposite of sadness is happiness, then the opposite of having no money should be having lots of money, right?

Now I am not opposed to having lots of money. More money can mean more choices, and having choices is a wonderful thing. What I think is even more powerful than having money, however, is having peace.

Given my body’s extreme reaction to monetary uncertainties…creating peace for myself has a lot to do with money, but also with many other things that money simply can’t buy.

Let’s talk about the money piece for a minute.

In our house, we aren’t overly concerned with having a lot of money but more so with making choices with the money we do have that bring us more feelings of peace. It might sound a little contradictory, but I actually feel more at peace when we have less money because I know where our cash is going, and it isn’t going to expensive handbags or a new jet ski.

It eases my mind to know that we’re saving and investing for the future and paying more on our monthly mortgage payment in an effort to be fully debt-free sooner rather than later. Complete and total debt-freedom will be our happy place, and therefore, anything we do to get us closer to that goal is just inching us up on the happiness scale, and what a wonderful thing that is.

Living well below our means is another thing that brings me immense happiness, and not because I love wearing last year’s sandals, but because wearing those old sandals means I get to use the money that I would have otherwise spent on new ones and instead put it towards saving, investing, or paying off our mortgage even faster.

Now we’re not in the camp with so many other frugality bloggers who have managed to live on only a small fraction of their earnings while saving the rest. We’re a family of 4 earning above the national average but well under 6 figures. We invest at a rate of around 17% of our take home earnings and pay an additional $350 toward our mortgage principle each month.

Because we chose to go small on our home, and thus our mortgage, we were able to put down a larger down payment and do a 15-year loan term. One of the few good things that came out of the housing market boom for us was low mortgage interest rates…

Our focus now is paying our mortgage off early. We won’t kill ourselves trying to pay it off in 3 years, but it will be paid off by the time our kids are 10 and 12 years old. And let me tell you friends, I’m not mad about that.

I wholeheartedly believe that life is for living and when you have to live too lean for too long, I think the stress of that would trump the strides you’d be making toward quicker financial freedom; hence our tactic of taking it slow and steady. Now if we were bringing in $200,000 a year in income, that would be a whole different story…

The idea here is to work with what you have and to make the very best decisions that you can with it. And if you don’t like what you have – you’re not making enough money, you hate your job, or whatever it may be, you have the power to change that. Challenge yourself. See if you can figure out a way to make a little more money, save a little more money, or simply spend less. Because after all

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

-Benjamin Franklin

However, a well laid out plan on the path toward financial freedom is only part of the bigger picture.

I may be strange, but money just doesn’t drive me the way it does many others. Is it a key piece to living a life filled with choices? I think so. Does it buy all the happiness one could ever want and need? I’m not so sure. If that were the case, then I think it would be safe to say that celebrities and famous people would be the happiest people on earth. As beautiful and amazing as many of their lives look on tv and in magazines, I just don’t think we can come to that conclusion.

So, what contributes to our overall happiness and feeling of peace outside of our spending and saving habits? For me, it’s things like being around other happy, content people, experiencing new places, being out on water, enjoying a perfect meal in or out, and sunsets. All the sunsets.

I believe that finding peace is a mindset that you have to put energy into every day, and it will take continued effort to maintain once you’ve achieved it. There will be days, lots of them, when someone tries to steal your peace. It might be a total stranger, or it might just be your own kids… I wouldn’t know anything about this though because my two little wild beasts are about as peaceful as they come. So. Very. Peaceful.

Tantrum-throwing-toddlers aside… Having the right mindset is important but it’s got to be backed by something. I don’t know about you but telling myself every day that I’m at peace when my life is actually in shambles has never been something that’s worked for me. At least not longer than about the 5-10 minutes after I’ve attempted to convince myself. And personally, I’d rather use all that mental bandwidth in ways that might actually help me achieve my goals instead of using it to try and deceive myself into thinking that I’m achieving them.

This is where a solid financial plan comes into play as well as figuring out those other all-important things that money can’t buy and immersing yourself in them as much and as often as you can.

Speaking from experience, I will say that keeping your focus on the things that money can’t buy while you let your financial plan slowly and steadily do what it was implemented to do, will help take the sting out of not having that new jet ski parked on your driveway right now…your turn will come. Believe me.

And in the meantime, you can sunset-watch your way to financial freedom while eating backyard meals with the people you love being around the most. Not a bad way to go, in my opinion.

Besides, I’d rather enjoy my future wealth with a head and heart full of peace anyway. How about you?

Why dads should be home too

Logistics and history both indicate that dads must leave the house in order to work. Drive to the workplace, make a living, provide for your family. Those are the “ins and outs.” It’s what our grandpas did. It’s what our dads did. That’s the “norm” that society has followed for decades upon decades.

And while I do agree that dads need to work (unless you don’t need to for unique reasons of your own), times are very much changing and dads paving their own way, following their own passions, and doing their work from home or simply on their own terms is more than acceptable in today’s day and age, it’s actually admirable and even enviable.

What dad wouldn’t want the flexibility to be around on weekdays to participate in the baby stage of endless snuggles and colorful toys, or the kid stage of ballgames and spring break campouts with friends, or the teen stage of summertime car projects or…? The possibilities are endless and as diverse as each and every one of our precious kids.

“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”

-Charles R. Swindoll

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to make more deposits?

I recently read a casual, yet enlightening post called “Pizza Delivery is for Millionaires” by Mr. Money Mustache that I want to share with you here. In it, he describes an average day in his life and the simple perfection that he’s achieved by doing things a little bit differently. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

How to be frugal without pinching pennies

I think this might be one of the topics that gets me the most excited. I’m a dork, I know, but I also know how simple and straightforward it’s been for me to keep a good handle on my finances since I started making money (And I’m talking about early money, as in babysitting money…), and I want to pass it along in the hopes that it might be beneficial for you too.

I’ve just always had this knack for being frugal, but I’ve never wanted to be a penny pincher. Shout out to those of you who do pinch pennies, however. I have a few penny pinchers amongst my family and friends, and they truly are a very rare and special kind of people.

I actually knew a man, a wonderfully kind and quirky gentle soul who knew me before I could ride a bike. He has since passed away, but one of the things that I will always remember about him was how he kept track of every penny he spent. As in, he kept a running total and could literally tell you how much money, down to the cent, that he had spent in any given year. The wild thing was that he was often within just pennies from year to year. Amazing.

Penny pinching to me always felt like there was too much energy expended on counting what you had, and not enough energy given to what could be had if…

I’ve seen many a wonderful article on what to do to save money, be more frugal, and stay on top of your finances. And while much of the information seems valid and could be very helpful, if implemented, it often emphasizes things you should stop doing, like buying coffee every day, going out for lunch, or buying expensive clothes or shoes.

That’s unfortunately kind of a buzzkill. Stop this, stop that… It almost feels like saying to someone that they have to stop eating chocolate in order to lose weight. If chocolate happens to be one of their favorite indulgences and they’ve been told to nix it completely, forever, how long do you really think that abstention is going to last? I personally feel that there can be a happy medium for chocolate-eating as well as money-saving.

Now, I know that it takes a lot of self-control and sacrifice to get and stay in charge of your finances in a world where, according to a recent CNBC article, “64% of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck;” but I don’t think that frugality has to equal missing out or being a slave to your budget. When done the right way, being frugal can actually bring abundance and even excitement.

Side note: A recent Newsweek article states that, “42% in the U.S. earning six figures live paycheck to paycheck.” This goes to show that it’s not about how much you make as much as it is about how much you spend. Or don’t spend.

I’m going to share some things that we also don’t do, but they aren’t what you think.

We don’t coupon. Now I’m not going to say that I’ve never used a coupon before or that I’ve never taken advantage of the digital coupons that are often available through grocery store apps. I’ve done both of these, but it’s just not something that I place high priority on. Too much preparedness required for it when I usually just run into the store on a Tuesday evening and grab what we’re low on or need in order to round out the week. If I happen to see that there’s a digital coupon available that will instantly save me a decent chunk, I’ll download the store’s app while I do more shopping and then swing back by to scan the qr code and grab the item. Easy peasy.

Did you know that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have both been known to use coupons? Maybe I should put a little more effort into the coupon clipping thing…

We don’t budget to the last penny. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good budget. I mean I don’t necessarily love making a budget, but I love knowing where my money is going. I personally feel that a budget where you don’t count pennies is just as effective as a budget where you do. They both serve the purpose of getting you more mindful and aware of your spending. One of the worst things to have an out of sight, out of mind attitude about is your money. It might hurt a little bit (or a lot) to actually know what you’re earning vs. what you’re spending, but it has to be done if you want to take control of your finances and not have them controlling you.

I already kind of explained why counting pennies isn’t something that I like to do, and random things always pop up that can easily derail the exact amount that I had set aside for something. I don’t want to be cheap on an extra special birthday gifting year simply because the pennies aren’t there. I’d rather buy a nice gift, be aware of what I spent, and spend a little less the following month to make up for it.

I will say that for anyone who is terrible with their money, and they know it (you probably know if you are), I would highly recommend budgeting to the penny for a while to get started. I feel like once you know what you have to work with every month, it becomes muscle memory after a while, and you shouldn’t need to work so hard at it, except to do a monthly or twice monthly check in on your bank account to ensure you’re in line to reach your month-end goals.

I remember a time in my life when I had gotten to around 30 lbs overweight. This was really interesting for me as I normally had less than 2-4 lbs of weight fluctuation ever. I wasn’t exactly sure how I had gotten there aside from simply consuming too many calories and not exercising enough. I wanted to get the weight off, so I figured a good first step was to count my actual calories each day for about a week. I didn’t enjoy doing that.

I found it boring and no way that I would ever want to spend each day of my life, but it told me everything I needed to know. Then it just became a simple math problem – Calories in minus calories burned. It took lots of will power and changing some of my bad habits (to my fellow nighttime eaters, I see you). I cut down my calorie consumption, started exercising regularly, and 90 days later I started seeing positive changes in my body composition. Now, I can just feel if I ate too much in a day or if my pants are feeling a bit too snug, long before it becomes a problem.

We don’t walk to work or drive only one car. My husband commutes 30 minutes each way for work so walking isn’t an option for him. I stay home with our kids, and I like being able to take them to the park or over to grandma and grandpa’s house to play whenever we want. We do however try to keep our driving as limited as possible by playing at the park nearest to our house or simply staying home and enjoying our own backyard and playing with the neighbor kids.

We don’t go without cell phones or have a bare bones cell plan. We have, however, gone into the phone store and asked about our usage and where we might be able to cut back in order to decrease our bill. I remember walking out of the store that day with a $70 decrease in our monthly bill simply because we inquired and were willing to not have all the bells and whistles. That’s $840 a year in savings or a small vacation paid for, however you want to look at it.

We don’t go without tv. We have more than one tv in our home and we subscribe to streaming services; only two of them though, and we don’t have cable. We haven’t had cable in many years, and I honestly don’t miss it at all. With two kids under 3, we’re a little low on spare time so a couple of good streaming services is all we really need. We could probably just as easily have only one streaming service and not be missing out on much. This feels funny to say because my husband and I love watching movies. It was one of our favorite pastimes before our sweet little time-suckers came along. I’m sure we’ll get back to our old movie-watching ways at some point, but it won’t be any day soon…

We don’t stay home all the time; we take trips. We love traveling and seeing new places together and as a family. We use airline miles any chance we get (yes, we have a credit card. I’ll share more on that in a minute). We love staying within driving distance of our home as well. 4-6 hours in the car with the kids is about our max, however we did take them on an 8+ hour car ride to Los Angeles for thanksgiving a couple of years ago. That was definitely a memorable one. The things we do to spend time with family on the holidays though, right?

My mother and father-in-law have a timeshare, and we’ve been fortunate enough to use that a few times. There’s nothing like taking advantage of some of the awesome perks that you may already have at your disposal, like a family cabin, time share, or houseboat. It is most definitely still a vacation even when you stay with family or friends. It’s actually better because you are staying with family or friends, and you didn’t have to pay for lodging. That’s a vacation win, for sure.

We love going places, but we’ve also had to pass on doing things simply because our budget didn’t allow. It’s hard when your friends are going somewhere, and they invite you to join, but you have to say no because the only way would be to put the trip on your credit card. That just simply doesn’t work in our house. I’m a firm believer that you should never buy what you can’t actually pay for. Credit cards can be such a slippery slope, but I will tell you why

we don’t go without credit cards. This should actually say “why we don’t go without credit card.” My husband and I both have credit cards that we each got long before we ever knew each other, that we still have, but never use. We do however have one airline miles card that we both use. Before we started renovating our house, we agreed that we would only use this card for buying gas and large ticket items (to get the miles), and we would always pay it off in full at the end of each month.

We bought every single thing for our home renovation that we possibly could on this card because we knew we had the money set aside to pay for it, and we scored some good miles in the process. Not too many things get me as excited as a free flight. That flight money can now be saved or go toward making the rest of the vacation that much more fantastic.

We don’t go garage saleing or thrift store shopping. I know some people who absolutely love doing these things, money aside. These just happen to be things that I personally don’t see a ton of value in. Maybe if I was more interested in having a larger wardrobe or constantly wearing “new” and different things, but that’s just not my style.

Last weekend we took a trip to see my family in Northern California. We had been at my mom’s house for literally moments before my 9-year-old nephew said, “you’re still wearing those shoes? Every time I see you, you’re wearing those shoes.”

First of all, I hadn’t worn those shoes in probably 7 months because they are actually sandals and it hasn’t been sandal weather since September…and secondly, I couldn’t really correct him because I did unapologetically wear those sandals nearly every day of last summer. What can I say, I like them. Here comes summertime again, and guess what? They aren’t broken! What’s that old saying again? “If it ain’t broke…”

We don’t grow our own food. I’m not going to lie though; I love the idea of having chickens that produce eggs, and a huge, amazing garden that grows food. Hopefully one day I’ll have this, but unfortunately it won’t be this year. The list of projects that still need to be completed inside of our house are currently top priority.

We don’t try to do projects on our home that are better suited for a professional. This is actually a good way to lose money if you don’t know what you’re doing. You might lose too much valuable time, money on materials, or cause damage to your home that will then need to be repaired. No fun.

Fortunately, Jeff and I were up to the task of doing a large majority of our home renovation ourselves. If we didn’t know how to do it, we asked qualified friends or took to YouTube for a crash course. I know that we saved loads of cash by doing this, and we also saved a lot of time not having to search for help and then wait for our turn on their waiting list to come. We could have never gotten into our home in 100 days if we had needed to work around a bunch of other people’s availability.

That being said, we did happily hire out our roofing project as well as bring somebody in to cut down a 40+ foot cottonwood tree that was leaning towards our house. We considered the idea of tearing the 36-year-old cedar shakes off the roof ourselves to save a little cash, but the time it would have taken wasn’t going to warrant the money saved. Besides, there were about 1000 other things that we could have been doing on the house instead, so the professional route we went.

I’m sure there are lots more things that I could list, but this gives you a good enough idea of how simple it is to live a frugal yet full life with zero need to count pennies.

In this crazy world where so much emphasis is put on keeping up with those around you, I implore you to remember that approximately 2 out of every 3 people you know would be in dire financial straits if they missed just one paycheck.

My hope is that we can begin to change this one pair of last year’s sandals at a time.

The top 5 reasons why you’re making yourself small in this great big world (and why you should stop it)

Have you ever wondered why we often don’t see ourselves in the same way that other people see us?

I was sitting in bed with my husband the other night having one of those raw, layers deep, I’ll-always-remember-that-one-time conversations. We were talking about life, and work, and dreams, as we often do. He recounted a conversation that he had had with one of his very first bosses, during which, this person said to him, “You know you are destined for bigger things, right?”

It didn’t take long for that man to realize that he had found a gem of a worker and a person when he hired my husband. Now, Jeff didn’t exactly give his two-week notice that day and go shooting for the stars, but he also never forgot those words.

While listening to his recollection of that encounter and feeling the emotion that I could see in his eyes, I too remembered a similar circumstance from my own past. It also occurred in a workplace setting, only this time it was a teambuilding exercise where each of us was assigned a co-worker and we had to pick one word to best describe them, on the spot, while sitting around the break room table. The woman who got me was just a little bit older than I was, had cool tattoos, and I totally respected her. You want to know what word she chose to describe me?

Potential.

Now I knew that I was hard-working, amicable, and kind, but potential. Wow. It meant a lot then, and it’s been over a decade since she said it, and I still haven’t forgotten.

Reflecting back on it now though, I have to laugh. You see, I love movies. Love them. And I’m not ashamed to say that Pretty Woman is one of my all-time favorites. Any idea where I’m going with this yet…?

Towards the end of the movie, Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian, is saying goodbye to her best friend and fellow prostitute. She reaches out to tuck some cash into her friend’s denim jacket pocket and says, “We think you got a lot of potential, Kit De Luca.” To which Kit responds, “You think I got potential?”

Oh man, such a great movie. And to think that Kit De Luca and I share something in common. Funny because I always seemed to envision myself as more of a Vivian…

Why do you think it is that we seldom see ourselves the way others do?

Reason #1:

The bad stuff is easier to believe.”

-Vivian Ward

To my fellow Pretty Woman fans: you’re welcome.

In all seriousness though, it is. The bad stuff is so much easier to believe. Maybe it’s because we’re already living it, or have lived it, so we know how it feels. We know how it feels to fail, to be broke, to be ridiculed. You’re comfortable even though there’s something so very uncomfortable about it. You know you want more, need more, deserve more, and can contribute more, but you’re scared.

Fear is a beast, isn’t it? You know what’s an even bigger beast? You, when you do the things you’re scared of doing. In the words of Matthew McConaughey:

“Instead of denying these fears, declare them, say them out loud, admit them, give them the credit they deserve. Find the courage to overcome them.”

Reason #2: You don’t think you have what it takes.

You don’t have the skills. You don’t have ideas brilliant enough to feel like you can make a meaningful contribution to the world. You don’t have the extra money to do anything aside from what you’re already doing. You don’t have the time.

No money and no time are valid concerns for a majority of us. Checking out at the grocery store these days is anxiety-inducing. The 8 random things you grabbed on Thursday evening, to round out the rest of the week, are now adding up to what used to be all of the things that you needed for the entire week. Trust me. I get it.

This morning, I attempted to do some pelvic tilts on the living room floor while my kids played. I got about one-third of the way through when my two-year-old came over and sat on my chest, facing away from me… Since this diastasis recti isn’t going to fix itself, I had no choice but to finish while staring at his little butt as he proudly snacked on almonds and watched his brother play. I’ve all but completely forgotten what it means to “have time” anymore.

Not feeling like you have skills or brilliant ideas takes me to,

Reason #3: You haven’t made the time and/or effort to figure out what really makes you “tick.” The thing that, if you actually knew what it was, would have you on fire to share it with the world.

This seems to be one of the things that really gets us stuck. How are you supposed to make your big contribution to the world when you aren’t even sure what you’re contributing? Here is some of the simplest and best advice I’ve heard:

“You want to be a writer? Start writing. You want to be a filmmaker? Start shooting stuff on your phone right now.”

-Matthew McConaughey

By the way, your “big contribution” doesn’t have to be big by anyone’s standards but your own. Maybe how you’ll contribute to the world is by helping yourself become a better person. Or maybe you’ll end up helping someone else with something. Maybe one hundred other people. Maybe one million.

Reason #4: You’ve tried your hand at what you thought was your dream, but it didn’t pan out, so that means you’re done, right?

Since the ripe old age of 16, I’ve always had a job, sometimes 2. My first job was making pizza at a well-known chain. From there, it was sandwiches, and then on to working as a hostess, followed by serving tables and tending bar. I loved working in the hospitality industry, and I did it all through college. I made a lot of friends and some decent money along the way.

As I entered my mid-twenties, however, I felt like it was time to start looking for more of a career-type job. I lucked out and fell into a position at a prominent surgeon’s office working as a medical assistant. The bummer part was that I couldn’t administer shots, or do anything too official, because I wasn’t certified. So ultimately, I was a restaurant hostess all over again, only this time I was wearing scrubs…

I genuinely thought that the medical field would be a perfect for me. After all, I love helping people. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling like the bad student in class; the one who just couldn’t stay focused and do what they were told. This is funny because I graduated from college with honors. I love to learn. I was actually requesting more responsibilities at the doctor’s office because I wasn’t stimulated enough. I found myself counting down the minutes ’til 5 o’clock nearly every day. No good. (I tried my hand in a few other medical settings, both paid and volunteer-based. None of which felt right).

When I was around 26 years old, an outside sales position for a large wellness company presented itself. I saw endless opportunity for growth and advancement, a schedule that would keep me busy, but on my own terms (more or less), and health and wellness were my ballgame. I majored in Exercise Physiology after all. Dream job here I come!

I started off brimming with excitement and motivation, and I ran hard for about 6 years. Sadly though, that excitement turned into disappointment and that motivation into depression. I think I was in denial for quite some time when I finally reached a breaking point. As much as I so desperately wanted this to be it-my career for life-it wasn’t. I believe wholeheartedly that all of the best things are on the other side of your comfort zone, and I know that’s why I stayed the course as long as I did. I was wildly uncomfortable, so my dreams should have been just around the corner, right?

At the time, I thought it was the sales aspect of the business and the face-to-face networking that were pushing me way out of my comfort zone. Come to find out, I actually don’t have much fear of those things, because I finally understand that what actually had me so uncomfortable was that it wasn’t my own message that I was sharing. It wasn’t my passion. It was someone else’s. (Let’s not kid ourselves though. Networking, public speaking. All of it had me pretty terrified for quite some time. Face your fears though, right?)

I learned a lot during my time with this company, however. Values and skills that I’ve taken with me, not to mention some amazing friendships. And although leaving felt a little bit like a relationship ending, I’m grateful for it and better because of it.

Now, was that my last chance to make an impact on this world? Absolutely not.

I went from doing outside sales in the exploding metropolis that is Austin, TX to being home with my first newborn full-time in a different state and a different town of approximately 9,363 people… Another newborn and nearly 4 years later and it’s taken me some time to realize that, although I am no longer in charge of my schedule (I went from no boss to two bosses…), and I’m not making connections at local networking events, or contributing in a large way to our family’s financial well-being, the work I am doing is paramount.

I have two beautiful, smart, healthy kids; the oldest of whom regularly tells other kids trying their hand at the rock wall in the local park play area, “You can do it!” He’s 3 and already has a heart to see others win. I guess we really are doing something right…

And last but not least,

Reason #5: What if you actually did get everything in life that you ever wanted and more, but it doesn’t look the way you envisioned?

This, to me, feels like one of the hardest things to overcome because it’s an unknown. It hasn’t happened yet. It’s not quantifiable the way money, time, or negative feedback is. And how sad to think that it may not be just a big ol’ pot of gold waiting for you at the end of your rainbow of hard work and sacrifice, contribution and effort.

Mark Manson, a successful self-help author and blogger once said:

“There’s no such thing as some passionate activity that you will never get tired of, never get stressed over, never complain about. It doesn’t exist. I am living my dream job, and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more.”

As hard as this is for a dreamer like me to hear, I appreciate the sincerity and the perspective. It seems that the best way to safeguard yourself against the inevitable “30%” would simply be to stay mindful of its existence. You may get lucky and actually find that pot of gold at the end of your rainbow, but you’ll also find taxes, emails, phone calls, and plenty of other “grown-up things” that will, unfortunately, always be there.

Why not simply keep the focus on narrowing that gap between your life and your happiness as much as you possibly can? Hating what you do 30% of the time sounds a lot better than hating it 100% of the time. Right?

I’ve often wondered why some people go out and conquer the world at 20 while others wait until they’re 40 or 60; or they never go after their dreams at all.

I can’t say that I’ve got all the answers, but I will say this. If you made it to the end of this post, I want you to know that Kit De Luca and I, well…we think you got a lot of potential too.

The two things that make all the difference

And why keeping them front and center in your life will make chasing your dreams so much more enjoyable

Why is it that, to some, a 1,216 square foot home might be considered small, whereas others might view it as plenty of space, and maybe even as big? And why is it that some people always seem to have enough while others never do? I’ve come to the conclusion that, although there may seem like many variables at play here, there are really only two: perspective and gratitude.

You see, our recently purchased home is 1,216 square feet in size. It’s also 36-years-old, on a small lot, and has neighboring homes close by on all sides. Airplanes fly over often. The exterior paint is peeling, the backyard is in need of some landscaping, and there are cracks in the driveway. Sounds like a real bummer of a house, huh? Well, let me share my perspective.

First and foremost, it’s a house! I felt for those trying to afford a home before this whole housing market madness happened. Now? Oh man. So, to be fortunate enough to have a home that we can call our own is huge. The crazy thing is that with the down payment that we were prepared to put down, we could have actually “afforded” quite a bit more house. It was our choice to stay on the smaller side. I love having a clean home, but I can’t say that I love cleaning. Less space, to me, means less cleaning. Less space also means less monthly mortgage payment…

I know that the current trend in home layouts isn’t as much about having an open concept, but more about divided spaces that accommodate for home offices, home schooling, etc. Well, as much as I love my quiet time…oh wait, I have a two and three-year-old at home. What is quiet time again?? Seriously though, I’m currently typing this with my three-year-old sitting next to me. There is no divided space in this house; not in the bathroom, not anywhere, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Our home is older, but its age gives it character; and we have some of the tallest, most beautiful mature pine trees right in our backyard. Trees like that take years to grow. The best part is that we get to enjoy their beauty and their shade, but they actually belong to the property on the other side of the fence, so we don’t need to maintain them. Ideal if you ask me.

Our lot is on the smaller side but there’s more than enough room for my kids to kick a ball around and for us to enjoy drinks and barbequed meals with family, friends, & neighbors.

Speaking of neighbors, who knew that the right neighborhood could enhance your family’s life so much. I’ve never experienced such kindness, generosity, and easy friendship in neighbors the way that I have here. This past weekend, I had mentioned to our next-door neighbor that we had plans of cleaning up some leaf piles and debris in our backyard the following day. He didn’t hesitate to ask when he could help. Not if. Sure enough, that very next day he showed up with a shovel and a smile and helped us fill an entire dump trailer.

My baby loves pointing at every airplane that flies over, and to his ears when he hears one but can’t see it. It’s pretty sweet. As for the peeling paint and sparse landscaping…those aren’t anything that can’t be fixed over a couple of weekends with some trips to the local paint store and nursery. Who doesn’t enjoy a good weekend project anyway? Especially one that can save you thousands of dollars if you’re up for DIYing it. As for those cracks in the driveway…well, driveways crack. You just can’t win ’em all, I guess.

Do you want to know what we see out our living room windows every morning, noon, and night? A picture-frame-worthy shot of some of the most beautiful mountains in the country. We’re at the end of the street so nothing obstructs our view; and let me tell you, it’s stunning. Covered in snow…majestic.

The perspective I have regarding our home holds true for just about every other thing in my life. My husband and I both drive 11-year-old vehicles, but they’re paid for and work great for our family. I feel strongly that a used Ikea tv console purchased from Craigslist will work just as well as an expensive one from a high-end retailer. We actually have quite a few pieces of used or homemade furniture. In all honesty, the perfectly imperfect kitchen table that my husband built in the garage of our previous home is one of my all-time-favorite pieces that I’ve ever owned. Ensuring that it would fit in the space of our new dining room was of the utmost importance to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, new cars and new home furnishings are great. Who doesn’t love “new”? I can say, however, that what I love even more than “new” are the memories and emotions tied to things that we’ve created with our own hands, and the feeling I get every month when I don’t have a car payment to make…

In the words of Warren Buffett:

“I have every possession I want. I have a lot of friends who have a lot more possessions. But in some cases, I feel the possessions possess them, rather than the other way around.”

Give me a cheesy garlic bread appetizer and happy hour red wine on the patio in downtown Sacramento while staring at a stunning black and white mural of Ricky & Lucy on a neighboring building, or pastrami sandwiches and a six pack on Thousand Steps Beach in Santa Barbara at sunset over a 5-course meal in a banquet room any day. (I will never forget all of the tiny crabs that came out at dusk, on Thousand Steps Beach, and started jumping everywhere. There had to have been millions of them! And I was wearing flip flops….)

Things are just things, but experiences are everything.

Let me tell you something about gratitude. Nearly every day, I wake up and have a cup of home-brewed coffee and put on joggers and a shirt (both of which more than likely came from Costco and cost a combined total of less than $20). I may make a phone call to schedule an $18 haircut with my awesome hair lady and I’ll very likely do some dishes in my small kitchen. I am so grateful for all of this, however, because on that day, and every day, I’ll get to cook a hot breakfast for my kids, do a morning craft with them at our kitchen table, build magnet tile castles (and then crash them, of course), play kickball at the park, put my baby down for his nap, and be there to kiss him on his sweet little face when he wakes up.

I feel like, as a society, we’ve gotten off track. These days it seems to be all about more. More money, more fame, more fillers, more stuff.

But what if less was actually more?

Less spending, more saving. Less stuff, more experiences. Less entitlement, more gratitude. Less keeping up, more paving your own way. Less “how do they see me,” more “how do I see myself?”

The other day my three-year-old was trying his new hand-me-down hardhat on for the first time and he had the adjustable head strap pulled down below his chin like he was wearing a bicycle helmet. I told him that wasn’t the correct way to wear it and his response was,

“But I just like to do it my own way.”

Me too, bud. Me too.

This isn’t what I signed up for

Why I want to make a living with my husband and why I think we’re missing out on our dream lives by not teaming up in life and in business.

It was a clear, 86-degree day in October of 2013. I run hot, and on that particular day, I was sweating. Not because I was nervous, but because my dress was heavy, my makeup was thick, and our grand plan of moving our date back a few weeks in the hopes that it would be a cool, fall day just didn’t pan out. I was going to marry my sweetheart that day. The man with whom I had spent nearly every waking, non-working moment since we met in the summer of 2010.

It was a backyard wedding in the orchards at one of the most beautiful homes I’d ever been in. Hydrangeas were our flower, red velvet was our cake, and tying the knot was our goal. The day was beautiful and one that I’ll never forget. It was filled with all the love, drinks, and dance moves that I could have ever hoped for. I didn’t take it all too seriously though because I knew that our very best days would be ahead. The days of movies and pajamas, of dark pub conversations about our future and our dreams, seeing new places together, and of course adding our two goofballs into the mix.

We wrote our own vows and I said sweet and silly things like “I hope you’ll continue to do your own laundry,” to which I got laughter from our friends and family. The awesome thing is that he did continue to do his own laundry for a long time after that. It wasn’t until we had our boys and I became a SAHM and the doer of the majority of the household duties that I began doing his laundry. It seemed only fair in my book, and besides, what’s another load when you’ve got two kids?

All laundry aside, despite the vows we said about “doing life together forever ’til the end,” I feel like I’ve been gypped…and not for the reasons you might think. You see, I have a real stud of a husband. I’m not talking tall, dark, and handsome (which he is), I’m talking he loves me like crazy, with zero judgement, even on my worst days. He never stops doing the things that are needed for our family. He’s an active and checked-in father. He can fix literally anything, and if he doesn’t know how, he figures it out. He’s my best international-traveling partner and my best Saturday morning breakfast-cooking partner. He’s a thoughtful friend and a kind stranger. And funny! So funny. He’s the kind of person you want to know, and he’s easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me (and yes, I have two near perfect kids). He makes my butterflies flutter every time he pulls into the driveway. He’s that kind of stud.

Now as sweet as most days are with my two guys, I can’t help but yearn for more time with all three…

At the beginning of 2020, we had just brought our second baby home and were watching with the rest of the world while the housing market started to gain momentum like we’d never seen before. After a few months and careful consideration, we decided to cash in. With our two-year-old and now nine-month-old in tow, we sold our home and moved into a one-bedroom above-garage apartment at my in-laws house. We made a profit off of our home that we were excited about; unfortunately, our excitement dissipated as we watched ourselves being priced out of our desired neighborhood almost overnight.

Our goal had been to stay with my mother and father in-law, for a few short months, during our transition to another home. That short transition ultimately ended up being 14 months long… In hindsight, it wasn’t a terribly long time, but when you’re up and down exterior stairs daily in dusty wind, ice, and snow conditions and you’ve got a couple of babies on your hip and no affordable home prospects in sight…it’s a long time.

What came from this incredibly stressful time (besides some lessons learned…), was getting to experience one of the greatest adventures that Jeff and I have ever been on. A full gut home renovation. To keep our budget intact and our goals in place, we decided to buy a fixer upper and do a majority of the work ourselves. I already knew that we made a pretty good team in life, parenting, etc. What I didn’t know was how great of a team we would make in this business that was fully renovating our new house.

And a business it was. From price-comparing everything to ordering things according to the timeline of when we’d be ready for them. Not just buying things willy-nilly, but really putting thought into the design process and what we wanted the end result to look like. We had about a million decision-making conversations from what shade of light worked best in each room to what color and width the grout lines should be in the shower. We had to come together on every single one of these decisions and let me tell you, it was soooo much smoother than I could have ever imagined. Jeff yelled way fewer cuss words than I was expecting, and although the unknowns behind every corner (not to mention the threat of severely delayed shipping times and crazy price hikes) kept my nails chewed off throughout the entire process, I was surprisingly calm when it came to making those important decisions.

There was just something about getting to come together in such an important and urgent way (we were pretty over the one-bedroom apartment by this point…) and having it result in not only a beautiful, albeit not yet finished and probably won’t be for at least another year, home, but we grew closer as a couple too.

I came away from that experience wondering why we don’t do more life and business together? Not just us, but couples in general. Now, full disclosure here-I feel very confident in saying that a solid personal relationship is the most important prerequisite to a successful business relationship. Adding a baby won’t make things better and neither will adding a business…

Really though. If you think about it, opposites often attract, which can be the perfect recipe for business success. You excel at certain things and your spouse more than likely excels at other things. For us, I had the eye for design and the energy to do some of the nasty grunt work (Why were popcorn ceilings ever a “thing”? Can anyone tell me?), and Jeff had the technical ability to execute all of our visions.

I think another winning combination from marriage that transfers ideally to business is the fact that couples often have similar dreams, goals, & work ethics. Not always of course, but often. When is the last time you met a supremely happy couple where one person is shooting for the stars, goal-oriented, and hard-working while the other person is content to lay on the couch all day? Is that couple going to make it to the rocking chairs on the front porch together in 50 years? Maybe.

This quote, from arguably the world’s most famous and beloved home renovation (and world domination) expert, sums it up perfectly:

“One pretty amazing thing we learned early on was that the more time we spent together, the better our relationship was. We seem to give each other energy. We function better together than we do apart.”

-Joanna Gaines

On our wedding day, we vowed “for life.” What if that doesn’t just mean “until the end of life,” but actually to “do life together.” Now you may be saying, “but you already do “do life together.”” (I said do do. I know.) “You get evenings and weekends and the occasional vacation. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that all there is anyway?” And to that I say, “but what if there’s more?”

Another idea that’s been running through my mind lately-what if the reason why so many couples struggle is simply because they don’t spend enough time together? Get up and out the door early, work all day, come home and do the evening routine, stare at a screen until bedtime, go to sleep, repeat. And unfortunately, this is the ideal unideal life.

We have wonderful, family-oriented neighbors next door who only get one day off together each week. One day. And how about those couples who are like ships in the night, one does day shift the other works nights. Does this sound familiar at all? It’s not a wonder why people fall apart so easily these days. Life is expensive so everyone needs to work. Technology works hard to steal the remainder of our attention. It’s kind of a mess.

The conclusion that we’ve drawn is that we are sick of participating in “the mess.” Life’s challenging no matter how you slice it. For us though, the idea of working toward our dreams and creating our own hand, instead of trying to play with the hand that we’ve been dealt, sounds far more satisfying. Inevitable challenges included.

Together is our means. Home is our goal.

Home to us means no more time commuting, no more leftovers packed for lunch the next day, coffee shared together in the morning instead of taken in a YETI cup and sipped while changing stations and changing lanes. Home means working hard, but on our own terms and toward our own vision. It means the whole family participating in the morning craft activity from vision to completion, not just receiving the final masterpiece when walking through the door at the end of a long day. It means more time and energy for home projects and having the patience to teach our kids about what it is that we’re working on. No more precious energy wasted every day switching from home parent to working parent and back to home parent again. It means our home becomes our control tower.

I feel like there’s currently an uptick in couples teaming up and having amazing success. Think home renovators, cooking show hosts, & musical collaborators. It’s very possible and some people are just going for it. Good for them. Maybe they’ve discovered the secret… For us, it’s about teaming up and keeping family first, always. Because what is success really if your family isn’t at the heart of it?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get what I actually signed up for.

Why you should start chasing your dreams NOW

I stumbled upon a quote recently that hit me like a ton of bricks, and not because it was so profound, but because it took the words right out of my heart and put them on paper:

“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.”

-Alan Keightley

Sometimes I almost feel a little silly, childish, or even selfish having not just recurring but nagging thoughts that I’m made for more-to do more, to learn more, to help more. Silly because I am astutely aware that dreamers these days are rare, and dream-chasers even more so. That’s one thing that saddens me to no end. To see so many amazing people with special gifts that they could be sharing with the world, yet they choose not to for some reason. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that fear is the primary reason that most people don’t just go for it.

I say childish too because once childhood is over, it’s like we’re immediately thrust into this “reality” that says we should go to school, get a job, get married, sign up for a mortgage, have kids, and on and on. (Don’t get me started on “should.” It is one of my least favorite words…) So anytime I have thoughts that don’t fall perfectly in line with that scenario, I feel like a child when asked what they want to be when they grow up and they say “a sparkly unicorn firefighter monkey.” You can just envision the adults in the room patting the child on the head and saying “yeah, yeah, that will definitely happen for you…” (Wink, wink, nod, nod).

And then there’s selfish. What a funny thing to feel when all you want to do is help others. It seriously is all in our programming, our conditioning from a very young age. You see what those around you have done and you just assume your path will look similar. What a selfish notion to think that you might really shine in some way that those around you may not. (BTW, we ALL shine in some way). It feels selfish if we put our dreams above the comfort level of others.

Going back to the Alan Keightley quote. Seriously, go back and read it again. I did. When you come up for air from the pool of life and realize that you don’t have to keep swimming the way that you’ve been swimming. That’s when it’s GO time, and here’s why:

Dreams take time to come to fruition. In 5 or 10 years, you’ll be glad that you got up the courage now. Stay in the place of imagining how your dream life will look and feel when you’re living it. And let’s be real. What’s the worst thing(s) that could happen? Really ask yourself. Time lost? Money lost? Someone doesn’t like what you’re doing? Well, what’s the alternative? Honestly, it’s probably the same exact thing: time lost & money lost. Just imagine the days, weeks, years that you’ve already spent in your lifetime doing things that you have zero passion for. And then imagine the money that could be waiting for you if you were to bring your most kind, caring, authentic, charismatic, passion-fueled self out into the world.

And about those naysayers:

“You’ll never be criticized by someone who is doing more than you. You’ll always be criticized by someone doing less. Remember that.”

-Denzel Washington

Of course, there are the logistical pieces that are both for and against your success. I’m talking about the simple fact that never have we had more access to resources than we do now: educational resources, inspirational resources, you name it. And so much of it is free, or for a very nominal fee. It’s kind of mind-blowing to think that if you have a good message or idea, it can literally be shared on the opposite side of the world in a matter of seconds. Our parents and grandparents did not have that same opportunity.

Or how about those pesky things getting in the way of your success? Your job, family, no time, you’re tired, and the list goes on. Believe me, no one could have possibly warned me enough about the amount of sleep I would lose by having children. Sleep is EVERYTHING. To my fellow non-sleeping parents-I salute you. We’re in this together. Let’s just say it’s a really good thing that the snuggle is real…

All of the magic happens outside of your comfort zone. Isn’t that something we’ve all heard a million times but isn’t it just the absolute truth? Think about all of the things that happen inside of your comfort zone on a daily basis. Did you locate even an ounce of magic in there? Me neither. And not to sound too “free love” or anything, but this world needs more magic. We need happier, more fulfilled, & more excited people doing whatever it is that sets their soul on fire.

Not to go all deep on you here but this one deserves more than an honorable mention. Regret. Ugh, such an awful word, and to think of being at the end of your one beautiful life and regretting that you didn’t at least take the shot. You stayed comfortable instead. It hurts me just to write it.

Why else would you choose to chase your dreams now? You could be the one who sets your family on a whole new path. You could leave a legacy and inspire your kids and grandkids to view their life as limitless and to act accordingly. The list goes on…I’ll leave you with one final thought to ponder. What if you actually did get everything that you ever wanted and more?

-Melissa

Why keeping up with the Joneses is keeping you from becoming the Joneses

They say write about what you’re passionate about and what you know. Well, there is a lot that I don’t know and plenty of things that I’m not great at, but for some reason, keeping a tight grip on my finances has always been second nature for me. I say this proudly for a couple of reasons. Since there are always going to be things that we’re not great at, why not focus on our strengths, right? I think it’s a pretty great rule of life and one of the primary reasons we began The Yume Life Co. More on that later. Secondly, did you know that most Americans go from paycheck to paycheck as a way of living? “Nearly two-thirds of Americans,” according to a recent article published by CNBC.

Now, am I a money expert or an investing guru? No. Do I have a degree in finance? Nope. Do I have all the things money can buy? Ha. Not exactly. Have I had only $63 to my name at one point and had my card declined for insufficient funds on more than one occasion? I sure have. Do I think inflation sucks and that the cost of trying to not only survive but to actually thrive is a serious challenge for most families today? Absolutely. Do I call it a “challenge” instead of a “deal-breaker” for a reason? Yes. Why? Well, let me start by telling you a little story.

I was born to two amazing and loving parents, and although my mom was young, she was so ready and excited to be a mom. She and my dad had my sister and I just 22 months apart and my mom was thrilled to get to stay home with us and do all of the things new mommies get to do. My dad worked to provide for our family and life was pretty good, as good as it can be with the crazy of two babies in the house anyway… What my mom would never be prepared for, however, was what happened a couple of weeks before my first birthday. My dad was in a motorcycle accident that first took his brain function, and a couple of short days later, took his life. My mom went from a happy stay-at-home-mom to two under 2 to a 22-year-old widow, with the sole responsibility of caring for two babies, in an instant.

What transpired after that falls directly within the category of super-human. With two small children and barely a moment to take a pee by herself (much less grieve), my mom mustered up the courage and strength to put herself through college taking 20-unit semesters while managing a 32-unit apartment complex, so that we would have free rent. You see, we were flat broke and every dollar counted. These were such trying times, yet it was like instinct that my mom knew what she had to do, and she did it.

She found a brand-new program, at the time, that provided free childcare for low-income families and got our names first on the list. She managed to graduate in 4 years with a degree in Child Development and was able to open up her own childcare facility shortly after. This way she could make a living and have a place for us to go after school. So much hard work and sacrifice doing everything from the payroll (she learned to do this to save money) to subbing in regularly for sick or unreliable staff.

Fast-forward 13 crazy and exhausting years and my mom was now retiring in her early 40s from a nearly 6-figure per year income business that she literally built from the ground up. And she paid our brand-new house off approximately 20 years early by that time as well. She was grinding, and kept us first, always.

So, is it actually in my genes or did I just get the most real-life crash course from a very young age on what hardship feels like and what smart money management can really do? Honestly, I think it’s both. If my mom was handed a million or 10 million dollars tomorrow, not an ounce of her would say “go blow it!” And let me tell you guys, the apple does not fall far from the tree…

Alright so that was about the briefest summary that I could possibly muster with regard to some of the most life-altering and pivotal points of my childhood. Phew!… Oh man is there so much more and so much good. I’ll share more another time. What I really want to emphasize here is the ability you have to change your own life based on the choices you make. And I’m not talking about the choices you make here or there, once in a while. You have to make those smart choices much more often than not. (Spoiler: the smart choices aren’t usually the popular choices).

I say, get comfortable being unpopular, or at least doing unpopular things. Is popularity even a thing after high school? Not only do I challenge you to try and get comfortable doing unpopular things, but I’ll also take it one step further and tell you that you’ll know when you’re really getting it when you’re excited to do unpopular things. What am I talking about? Can I tell you how excited I get when we pay extra on our mortgage payment every month? Or how excited I was to tuck a little extra away for the 9 months leading up to the birth of both of our boys because I knew how much less stressful it was going to be to pay the hospital bills when they showed up in the mailbox? Or how about the excitement I feel when I get to cut my son’s hair? We save a little cash, I get to learn and continuously improve upon a really cool art, and I get to bond with my boy. (PSA-choose your bribery snacks carefully. Hairy fruit snacks are no good…)

The list goes on…I haven’t colored my hair in years and years, I cut everyone’s hair in my house, including my own during the 2020 lockdowns, but I’m pretty sure we all became hairstylists that year…We keep a budget, but it’s not down to the penny (I’ll share more about that another time). We pay off our credit card every month, I’ve sold nicer cars to drive worse cars so that I could pay off debt faster, we auto-pay ourselves first every month, and by that, I mean savings and investments for our future and retirement. I co-bought my first house with my mom when I was 26. She had much more to put down on the down payment than I did so we put a 6 year plan in place for me to pay her off a little each month. I had her paid off in 2.5 years. (I took on a weekend bartending job on top of my 40 hour per week desk job). I currently have the huge privilege of being a SAHM to our two young boys and we make it happen on one modest income.

What does Yume mean, you might wonder? It means “dream” in Japanese. Here in our house, we are full of big dreams. We are inspired, excited, and doing unpopular things all day every day because we know what those choices are going to create for us-our dream life. Togetherness, debt-freedom, building a legacy around helping others tap into their greatest potential by focusing on what they are good at. That’s what The Yume Life Co. is all about. Anything is possible and if you don’t yet have control over your finances, you have the ability to change that. Don’t wait for hardship to force you into action. -Melissa

My first post! Aaah, so scary..

As scary as this feels, to write something and then share it with the whole world, it’s way more exciting! There’s something so exhilarating about the idea of getting to expose yourself in such a way that only internet-publicizing can do…and as shaky as this first post is going to be, it feels good to just start. I know myself and how paralyzed with fear I become when I think too long and don’t act. I was always the one in class on presentation day like please let me go first or second and just get it over with!

Anyhow, enough about my fears because oh boy are there plenty of them. Instead, I want to talk about my dreams, because I’ve got waaay more of those. This blog is what I hope will be the start of a long journey right back to where I am now, home.

You see, I have always been a dreamer. By dreamer I mean that I have never been one to sit idly by while life is just happening to me. I’ve always done whatever was necessary to be a responsible, contributing member of society who pays my bills and shows up (mostly) on time. I’ve gone to the schools, and worked the jobs, etc etc. In the back of my mind though, there was always something else. Something else I knew I wanted, needed, and was destined for. Something bigger than all of that.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with going to school and then going to work, or just going to work. I’m incredibly fortunate to stay home with my two toddler-age boys and I watch my husband heroically drive off for work every morning. I say heroically because it’s quite self-sacrificing to work a job that requires you to be ON every day of the week, all year long, year after year, in all kinds of weather, and under all kinds of life’s circumstances. He goes not because he wants to, but because our livelihood depends on it. No pressure. At all.

Although Jeff and I have been married for 8 years, it wasn’t until we had the amazing opportunity to buy and then immediately start renovating a home for our family that we realized how well we work together. The number of decisions that have to be made when doing a full-gut remodel on an entire home is INTENSE. I am personally familiar with every square inch of this house, and I can’t say that about any other home I’ve lived in. My point here is to say that we figured out every single detail together, and not only did we not want to kill each other, but we really enjoyed the process and all of the time spent together even more.

Are we going into home renovating? No. Are we stronger as a couple now that we’ve triumphed over a major goal together? 100%. I always knew that together is how we function best. I now know that together at home is where we need to be.

Our life now is a summation of our childhoods and our choices. We definitely don’t have it all figured out. We’re a work in progress. What we do know, however, is that our choices shape our life. Come along with us as we chase big dreams with the goal of spending more time in our little house, together. -Melissa

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