Family Rhythms

I have been thinking a lot lately about what the future of our family will look like over the years to come. I dream about major moments like a first tooth and building our dream home, but mostly I wonder about the seemingly insignificant moments of everyday life. The daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly ebb and flow of our lives. What will our mornings look like? How will we mark the transition from Summer to Autumn? How will we remain connected as we navigate life?Β There are so many memories that are yet to happen which I know will sadly get lost in the hands of time – yet, if there was something to cling to, an anchor if you will, maybe these memories will burrow a little further into my recollection reel.

Enter: rhythms and routines (which I use interchangeably).

As I have gotten older and started a family of my own, the idea of traditions and rhythms and routines really intrigues me. I love the idea of introducing a singular, or a series ofΒ  events to anchor our lives. Little things that we anticipate with eagerness, enjoy in the moment, and then reflect on with all the warm and fuzzies. I want my babe to look back and remember the simple and most likely mundane things as special memories that we have created together.

From my research, and from my own experiences, by their predictability, routines provide stability and security to children. Routines can also help make everyone feel more connected to the family unit as their contributions are purposeful and meaningful. When things are running along smoothly, it also means less stress, more efficiency and more time to spend on other enriching activities.

Some ideas I am mulling around for our own rhythms and traditions:

  • Homemade birthday cakes each year.
  • Morning and evening rituals based around nourishment, family contributions (chores) and preparation for the day/bedtime.
  • Friday night movie night.
  • Dinner at the kitchen table most nights. Technology free.
  • Weekly library trips and nightly reading.
  • Experiences (or things that assist an experience e.g. a bike) as birthday/milestone presents rather than material objects such as plastic toys.
  • A seasonal nature table.
  • Reoccurring meals like Taco Tuesday.
  • A slow Christmas morning at home with breakfast before the festivities begin.

I know what you’re probably thinking. These ideas sound lovely and all but what about that little thing called life? How on Earth are you going to maintain all this? I know it’s probably impossible and I am not so naive to think that we will do all of these, all of the time and everything will be perfect. Of course our lives will change and some rhythms will stay and some will go but for me the intention of connecting our family is what matters.

I guess the above ideas also give you a little insight as to how we want to live our lives. We have family values that underpin everything that we do (some very high level ones are documented here), and help guide us when we need to make decisions.

I’m not sure how to start these off, or whether it’s too early to start introducing rhythms (Finn is almost 5 months old) but I’m going to start anyway. Watch this space!

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Slowing Down

I have moments where I feel very anxious. Quite a lot of moments, actually.

I worry a lot.

I am always rushing.

I live in fear of being late or disappointing someone.

I find it hard to switch off.

I struggle to have a conversation because I am thinking about my response and all the ways it could be perceived.

I get overwhelmed easily.

… and being a sleep deprived new mother has only made it worse.

I wish I was calmer but I’m not. I have to work at it and it’s really difficult. However, a few things I have been experimenting with over the past five months have really helped:

Minimise phone time and social media. This is such a major thing for me. My husband even calls me “Sammy Face” because my mobile (a Samsung) is always glued to my face. I recently installed a time tracker app to see how much I really use my phone and to be honest, I thought it would be way more. I average 10 hours of phone time a week (including 2 hours of Instagram) but that doesn’t even include laptop use. It didn’t seem like much to me but when I worked it out, it’s actually 17 percent of my time per week… way too much time, especially for someone complaining how tired they are (oops!). To reduce my phone time I’ve set usage limits through the app: 5 minutes of Instagram and 30 minutes of Chrome per day; plus I’ve set up unlock and overall usage alerts. Some days I dismiss the reminders but most days I take note, and put my phone away for the rest of the day.

Yoga. I’ve always loved the idea of yoga but to be honest, finding the time and energy to dedicate to my practice has been hard. That was until I had my baby and badly needed some gentle exercise to recalibrate and have some “me time”. My physio recommended an app called Down Dog which is super easy to use and I like that I can set different lengths of time to practice depending on how much time I have available (10 minutes is better than nothing right?!). Flexibility AND a calmer mind… yes please!

Meditation. When I struggle to go to sleep because I can’t turn my mind off, I turn to guided meditation to help me relax. My favourite meditations are the free ones from Wabi Sabi Well but there are thousands of meditations on YouTube, it’s just a matter of finding something that you vibe with. I’d love to be able to sit in silence and quieten my monkey mind but I just suck at it. I’m pretty sure that means I need to practice even more but for now I am sticking to the guided meditations to help clear my mind.

Know your personality type. I only recently learnt that I am an introvert (INFJ to be more specific). This was pretty shocking at first because my whole life everyone has been telling me I’m extroverted, but when I read through my personality report it was like a thousand mini lightbulbs were going off (“Oh, so that’s why I get exhausted after social activities”…). I need time to pause, reflect, create and rest. Without space, I don’t feel like my best self and I can almost feel the cortisol coursing through my blood. To make things easier on myself, I constantly review my agenda and see if I’m trying to fit too much in. Do we have too many activities planned this week? Wow, November is looking really busy, let’s hold off on some things until December. Last weekend we had a lot of social outings so let’s stay in next weekend and recalibrate. It’s a balancing act between external pressures and internal needs

Plan ahead. I recently posted on Instagram about a trip into the city I took to visit my work (and by visit, I mean show off my baby to my colleagues of course) and it was really stressful. Upon reflection, the main reason for this was my lack of planning. I usually over-plan everything to save myself the stress of last minute rushing but every now and then I try to be spontaneous and just do things with minimal or no planning. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and this was definitely the latter. I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety if I had just thought through things a little better (like leaving the house earlier and pre-empting an unhappy baby in the car). Planning does not excuse the fact that a lot of what I was worrying about wasn’t important (hello, mind over matter) but when things are humming along just as intended it sure does make it easier.

Above: One of my happy places, Noosa.

If there are two things I have learnt about slowing down, it’s that it doesn’t happen overnight and it’s a constant work in progress. I have so many areas to improve and sometimes I forget all my strategies and things get the better of me. But I guess the most important thing is to just pick myself up, dust myself off and keep trying.

Set boundaries. Check your emails less. Say “no” more often. Declutter. Unsubscribe from email lists and junk mail. Let go of toxic friendships. Walk barefoot. Create space in your life.It’s hard in a society that admires busyness but I don’t want to regret wasting time worrying about things that ultimately are not important. I want to spend more time loving my family and making memories and I’m sure you do to!

Our Money and Life Mantras

A few years ago, we discovered Mr Money Mustache (MMM) and I can’t even begin to tell you how much it changed the way I think about finances and life in general. I actually didn’t know what FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early) was until I read the MMM articles, and I definitely didn’t think you could retire in Australia before the age of 65. I was so into it that I read every MMM article since the beginning of time and quickly started making changes towards becoming FIRE and living a life that is meaningful to us.

Since discovering MMM I have been reading and learning about living a more frugal life, collecting lessons for my financial (and life) toolkit as I go. I still don’t really understand the intricacies of investing and don’t ask me about Australian taxes, but I’d like to think we have a solid foundation of essential mantras that guide our way.

Our main money and life mantras are:

  • Reduce expenses and therefore increase savings, because if you can decrease your expenses, the less money you will need. Working out what our essential and non-essential expenses are helps us understand were we can improve. We don’t budget, we just try to spend as little as possible.
  • Aim for debt-free: We are lucky to not have any personal/consumer debt, just our mortgage. If we were debt free, it would HALVE our expenses each year and free up more time and money.
  • More experiences: Family bike rides, home-cooked meals with family and friends, frugal adventures and the like are how we want to spend our time. They are relatively inexpensive but the reward is tenfold.
  • Less materialism: For me this meant choosing financial security over new clothes, regular facials and massages etc. I thought this would be so much harder but when you change your mindset, it’s actually fun (the old me just gagged at that statement). When you aren’t caught up in the latest trends and social standards, and focus on your own life, everything seems so much more joyful.
  • Slow down and enjoy: For us, slowing down is the core reason and main benefit to the above points. We want to make the most of life, savour each moment and live without regrets. Financial freedom is the key to this. The less we have to work and stress about money, the more time that can be invested in other areas of our life, like family and hobbies.

September Savings Rate: 60%

I get stupidy excited about doing our finances each month (I must be missing work and spreadsheets haha).

Each month, I track all of our expenses and income into simple categories and then run a few pivot tables to see our net position. Although there are a number of neat budgeting/net worth tracking websites out there, I do all of this via spreadsheet because the thought of handing over our banking passwords to a website doesn’t sit well with my husband (and also doesn’t cover us if our account gets hacked).

Our income is a bit all over the place with me being on maternity leave and my husband working part time, so I predict that our savings rate will decrease dramatically in the future months as our income drops really low and we start tapping into our savings. This was all planned though. Spending time together as a family for the first year of our babe’s life was really important to us.

This month, thanks in large part to my annual bonus, we managed to save 60% of our income. This is a really great result but given last month we saved 63% with much less income, we can do a lot better. The main reason for this was that I purchased hearing aids and they are not cheap! If I hadn’t needed hearing aids, our savings rate would have been 77%. “Savings” for us really just means in our mortgage off-set account. At this stage, we don’t have any shares or contribute extra to our superannuation accounts).

Here is a breakdown of our expenses:

September Expense Breakdown

Bills usually make up the majority of our expenses each month but thanks to those hearing aids, Health is the biggest expense this month. Items that make up the Non-Essential category are things like takeaway, entertainment (Netflix and holidays), spending money, gifts and house stuff (mainly Bunnings). I also track these sub-areas individually to see where the money is going and where we can make improvements. We keep Groceries, Health, Transport (petrol and public transport) and baby stuff seperate. Some argue that these are Non-Essentials, however they are essential for us and I like to keep them seperate to track at a high level.

I don’t think I’m super pedantic in tracking everything each month. I don’t worry too much about splitting out transactions. For example, if we spend $40 at Kmart and $30 was clothes for our baby (Baby category) and $10 was on storage containers (Non-Essential, House category), I will just put the transaction under Baby as that was the majority of the spend.

It takes less than 30 minutes each month (thanks to some snazzy auto-categorising formulas) but it’s definitely worth it. Knowing where your money is going each month is the first step to making positive financial changes!

Monday Musings

Decluttering is currently taking place in our house as we inch towards our next big goal – selling up and becoming debt-free. As I was trawling through my study area, I found my journal from four years ago. This was a time of mega transitions for me. I had recently left a job that made me unhappy and was in this weird period of limbo and doing A LOT of soul work.

I wanted to share a snippet of what I wrote because it still resonates with me today. I am so proud of the changes I have made and the person I have become. It hasn’t come about by chance though. A lot of blood, sweat, tears, frustration and to be honest, bloody hard work. But here I am and I am forever grateful.

Excerpt from 29 May 2013:

I feel this overwhelming sense of calmness, gratitude, wisdom and peace washing over me. When I embrace the wave of love and joy, the beauty seriously makes my eyes water. I am in awe of this magical feeling. I revere it. I want to swim in it, bathe myself in its glory. I am so happy.

What I love most about this happiness is that it comes from within. I am no longer focusing on external happiness. Material possessions, credentials and other people will not, and can not, make me happy. I am enough. I have enough. I do enough. I love enough.

I listen to my heart. I listen to my body. I listen to my soul. My ego doesn’t run the show anymore. I am free to be. And it feels amazing.

The best thing about a journey though is that it even though you may reach milestones, the truth is that it will never end. I am looking forward to putting more work in, exploring uncharted territories, and most likely getting beat up during the process. Because there is a crack in everything, and that is how the light gets in.

Image: Cotton candy skies at Scarborough, Redcliffe.

 

 

Frugal Adventure #1 – Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

I’m not sure what came over me when I was pregnant to book a trip away when our baby would be only 3 months old… #NaiveNewParent

But the accommodation was already booked so earlier this week, my husband and I packed up our little Mazda2 and with baby in tow, we made the 3 hour journey out to Toowoomba to visit the Carnival of Flowers, which runs for a week during September each year.

Above: Some of the beautiful flowers at Laurel Bank Park

We picked the longest route to get to Toowoomba so we could do some sightseeing on the way. We passed through so many quintessential Aussie country towns and enjoyed a quick pit stop at Somerset Dam. I was a little bit anxious as our little one is not the greatest traveller and usually screams when he’s in the carseat but this time he happily snoozed THE.WHOLE.WAY!

Once we arrived in Toowoomba, we checked in and we were in for a little shock. I really wanted to do the trip on the cheap but our accommodation was probably a bit too cheap for our liking. I’m not a big fan of mouldy air-conditioning units and musty bedding but hey, it forced us to get out and see more of Toowoomba rather than being in the room and it was only for 2 nights (thankfully).

Straight away we adventured out to Laurel Bank Park. The afternoon light was so beautiful, especially as it peeked through the tulips. This was our favourite part of the Carnival of Flowers.

Above: Tulips in the afternoon light, Laurel Bank Park

The next morning we went to the main botanical gardens in Toowoomba, Queens Park. It was much the same as Laurel Bank Park but it was so busy. Everyone was competing for the perfect picture so it was tricky to actually look at the gardens. We found solace in the greater garden lawns under a tree. It was so nice to laze around for a little while with my husband and little babe.

Above: Magnificent trees in Queens Park

For me, a big part of this trip was to slow down and really enjoy the moment. I am always rushing places and get stressed before we go anywhere, even when we don’t have a certain time to get there. It’s so unnecessary and wreaks havoc on my body and mind! I’m pretty proud to report that my stress levels were really low this trip. It took a few different strategies to get there which I hope to share in another post πŸ™‚

So, how much did it cost?

This was the first time we had done a trip like this and I attempted to do it as frugally as possible. I chose a cheap place to stay and baked mini quiches and cinnamon muffins to take for snacks. We made sure we had our own water bottles and even packed our favourite breakfast: oats with apple. I’ve excluded the food brought from home from the cost below because we would have eaten that during a normal day at home anyway.

Accommodation: $200 ($100/night)

Petrol: $34.12 (roughly 3/4 of a tank)

Activities: Free. We enjoyed the free gardens and events during our visit.

Food: $73.60 (P.S. HOLY MACKEREL! Eating out is ex-pen-sive!)

Food breakdown:

  • Dinner Day 1: KFC $19.95
  • Lunch Day 2: Subway $25.45
  • Snack Day 2: Ice-cream cone $5.50
  • Dinner Day 2: Hot chips (to accompany homemade quiches) $6
  • Lunch Day 3: McDonalds $16.70

TOTAL: $307.72

Above: Homemade mini quiches and cinnamon muffins (half with cinnamon sugar for me and the other half plain for the husband)

We definitely could have eaten cheaper and healthier, especially if we had stayed somewhere with a microwave to heat more home cooked meals. I’ll definitely add a microwave to my accommodation criteria for our next adventure (and make sure it’s a place with no mould 😳).

While we were out and about, I noticed a lot of people, mainly older couples, who were eating packed meals. I’m really interested to know how you do frugal adventures and what I can do better for next time. I’d love to hear from you!