How to Communicate with Your Kids without Using Cell Phones

Last year was Junior ThreeYear’s first year of middle school. His middle school starts an hour later than Little ThreeYear’s school, so he would head to the bus at 8:40 each morning, then get home at 4:40 in the afternoons.

This system worked beautifully, since the bus stop was just a block from our house, except when the busses were late. Unfortunately, this happened with some frequency. I truly don’t understand why the bus company that the district outsources to can’t get its act together, but I don’t think they pay their drivers enough, so there are often busses that are tardy, bus substitutions, and, during the first week of school, busses that arrive an hour late.

Last year, when Junior ThreeYear was in sixth grade, we did not want to give him a cell phone. Knowing what we know about cell phones, we wanted to protect him as long as possible from the temptation to use a phone during his free time and get on social media. Especially after my experimentation with taking social media off my phone, I wanted to give my son as much social-media free childhood as possible.

Want to keep kids off cell phones but still need to communicate with them? Here's what we did. #financialindependence #fifamilies #relay #republicwireless

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a Luddite and I’m not one of those parents who eschews all technology. My kids have an XBox and a Nintendo switch and access to computers and TV.

But I feel that giving kids a cell phone too early is not good for them. I want to wait as long as possible to put an incredibly powerful and addictive piece of technology in my middle schooler’s life.

So last year, I sent Junior ThreeYear off to school with no cell phone. In general, the arrangement worked well. He tended to bring along actual books and read them on the bus, or borrowed a seat-mate’s Nintendo Switch (hey, sometimes there’s nothing I can do about technology access!).

The only problem I ran into was when the bus was late. There wasn’t a good way for him to get in touch. Sometimes, he’d borrow a neighbor’s phone and call me to let me know and sometimes, I’d call the school.

I also started to run into issues in other areas. He and Little ThreeYear took bike rides down our neighborhood trail, which was great. But they liked to get out at the end and go exploring in the woodsy part of the trail, and I didn’t love not being able to get in touch with them for over an hour (I know, moms these days…).

Or sometimes, I needed to get in touch with Junior ThreeYear about an after-school situation, and had no way to reach him.

watching tv How to Communicate with Your Kids Without Using Cell Phones
The boys watching TV during breakfast at a hotel we went to. Ahh, technology.

Enter the Relay

That’s when my neighbor introduced me to the Relay. Her two oldest kids, both in elementary school, had Relays.

Relays are essentially long-range walkie-talkie devices that the kids carry with them to school. They connect to an app on parents’ phones, so if your child is trying to get in touch, it will come through your phone. You get in touch with your child the same way. The devices also have a GPS feature so you can track your kid.

They’re made and serviced by Republic Wireless, the same company that provides the great, low-cost cell service. I have not been compensated in any way for this review, by the way. I’m just telling you about something I bought and liked.

The devices cost about $50 each to purchase and cost $10 per month each to keep connected, so they’re not especially cheap, but they are problem-solvers for parents who don’t want to get their kids a phone but do want to stay connected.

Mr. ThreeYear and I debated the issue for a few months, then decided to buy both boys Relays for their birthdays in June (we decided to get Little ThreeYear a Relay as well so that his brother would have another person to chat with and so that when he went to tennis lessons, we could connect with him).

Connectivity Issues

The boys were pumped with their Relays, and Mr. ThreeYear and I both downloaded the Relay app on our phones. I already had a Republic Wireless account, so I logged in to that, then set up two profiles for our account, Mom and Dad.

We set up three channels–Mom, Dad, and Everyone, so the boys could talk to us individually and collectively. The boys toggled between channels by using a button on the front of the phone.

The devices worked great when we first got them, inside the house. The boys would press a button, speak into the device, and we’d hear the answering call on our phones. If we didn’t have our Relay apps open on the phone, we’d receive a notification that someone was talking to us either on our phones or on our Apple Watch, and then we could open the app and listen to the message that they’d left (the app automatically records a message if you don’t hear your child live).

Unfortunately, when the boys took the Relays to walk the dog, they didn’t work. Ugh!

I connected with Relays’s customer service by clicking the “Help” question mark inside the app, and Relay troubleshot with me.

First, they sent me new SIM cards for the device because they thought that the devices weren’t working due to an issue with the SIM cards. We replaced the SIM cards, but that didn’t fix the issue.

I got in touch again, and they recommended de-connecting the devices from WiFi. Once I followed the steps they gave me to do that, the devices worked fine.

Good Customer Service

I really like the great customer service Relay provides. There are three US-based customer service reps (the service isn’t that big yet) and the guys are really helpful in getting your problems fixed.

My friend who introduced me to the Relays said she accidentally washed one of her devices, and they sent her a brand new one at no cost. She said she’s called in multiple times (she also had issues getting the devices to work in the beginning) and they’ve been great.

The Bands

When we first bought the Relays, we just bought the devices for $50 each (I actually think they cost $49.99 from Amazon). When it was time for the boys to go to school, though, we decided we needed to purchase the additional bands.

You really need the bands for the Relays to be effective, in my opinion.

The bands are just cases that fit around the Relays and have a hook with a strap that the kids can use to connect the Relays inside their book bags, which is what my kids do, or wear them around their necks, which is what my friends’ kids do.

If your child wants to listen to music on his Relay, he’d need a band as well. The bands cost an additional $15 each.

My kids’ two Relays with the optional bands attached, charging.

So far, this school year, the bands have worked really well. The boys can only use them before and after school, but that’s the same rules they’d have with a cell phone, as well. They work great, once we got the connectivity issues figured out, and now it’s easy for one or both of them to let me know if they’ll be late.

I’ve even taken a Relay out on my runs and they work really well then, too. We make sure the kids have them on “Mom” or “Dad” channel, though, because otherwise, the message comes through to everyone, which is a problem if Little ThreeYear is talking to us when Junior ThreeYear is still in school (although he’s learned to turn his Relay off during school).

For now, this is a great solution for our family. We’ve told Junior ThreeYear that he can have a cell phone when he gets to Ninth Grade, but I’m grateful for this system in the meantime, to give him a few more years without allowing him to be on a cell phone.

What are your thoughts on kids and cell phones? Do you have any experience with Relay devices? What about other non-cell devices? Recommendations?

August Net Worth Update

Happy September! Labor Day has officially passed. School has begun for the kids and me, Mr. ThreeYear is off on his first travel trip of the school year. FinCon, the eponymous financial conference, has started, although I’m not there this year.

A new season has started for many families in the US and it definitely has for ours; I’m now working full time and life is very different in our household.

Last week was my first full week teaching at my new school. I loved it; the kids are great, in general, and it was fun to have such a challenge in front of me. I also got home completely depleted every evening. I know that in time, I will feel stronger and less exhausted. I know this is a period of transition, but it feels hard.

That said, I’ve tried to put into place things that will help me make good choices. I’ve given myself a week to sleep in a bit, but this week I’m getting up earlier. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m going to my office to write, and on Wednesdays and Fridays I’m going to a fitness class. My neighbor, who works at our club gym, started it because I asked her to, so I feel locked in to going each Wednesday and Friday. That’s exactly how I want to feel, so that I will go regularly and not miss a workout.

I’ve started new habits of making lunches and getting clothes out the night before, something I’ve never mastered, so that mornings won’t be as rushed. Seems to be working for now.

Our Progress

While July showed an uptick in the net worth category (68.9%), August brought us back down (66.9%). I’ve now had one full month of contributing the max to my 403b, but that did little to my overall balance, combined with a market downturn. That means I bought low, though, so I’m glad.

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Back to School Savings

On Wednesday, I officially started teaching (although I’ve been in teacher work days for a week and a half). On Monday, the boys return to school. The summer has ended.

In order to get ready for these auspicious beginnings (and because I had no idea how much energy I’d have left after the end of a long day at school–answer, not much), I spent a few days before I started work cleaning out the boys’ closets.

This is an annual tradition at our house, and one that is very much in keeping with my minimalist roots and a good way to sift through hand-me-downs that we’ve stored for the boys’ future use.

This year, Mr. ThreeYear commented that the boys have a lot of clothes, and recommended we reduce the amount of clothes we keep on hand for them.

So as I went through their dresser drawers, I made a big donation pile for anything that no longer fit or was badly stained.

Even though it’s been two years since Junior ThreeYear has received any hand-me-downs, he still had one Tupperware bin of clothes left that didn’t fit him yet. He wears a size 14 in pants, meaning the clothes I once packed away for some giant of the future now fit.

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Letters from the Past

Last week, I got a letter from my past self. I wrote it the previous year, on August 5th, 2018.

This time last year, I had lived in my new town a mere month. I had no idea what the future would hold, nor what the school year would be like for the boys, nor how working remotely would work out for Mr. ThreeYear.

But I hoped and I wished. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Future Me, 
What a surprise to get my second letter from the past today! This time last year, I had just come back to New Hampshire from South Carolina. I hoped to have spent my entire trip South there this year. It feels almost unbelievable that we’ve actually moved to North Carolina, that we actually live full time in the South now. We reached our goal a full year earlier. We’ve reached so many of our goals. We paid off our debt. My blog has continued to grow. I am a freelance writer. We have an exciting Disney trip coming up next month. We’ve improved our grocery spending.

In some ways, it feels hard to think about next year at this time. When so many goals and plans have come true, where do we go next? I know I’d like to find a way to make money that doesn’t rob my focus on my family. Is that writing full-time? I hope I’ve figured it out by next year, that I’ve taken my time and figured out the right path.

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Broke to Financially Woke: Guest Post on Peerless Money Mentor

Do you remember a time when you were broke? Not just a temporary “I can’t afford X today,” but a period where you couldn’t afford anything?

It’s hard for me to remember those days, honestly, but I think it’s good to try and remember what it felt like to sweat every purchase.

When I was in my twenties and we were just starting out I remember playing the gas game. I’d drive up to the pump and put in $20 because there was no way I could spare $60 to fill up the tank of my BMW X5. Ironic, right?

I remember having $10 or less in my checking account in college. That happened a lot. I drove to the ATM, would check my balance, then if I had enough ($10 or more!), I’d go join my friends at Checker’s or wherever else we were eating/drinking that night.

While I’m really glad to be on the other side of that now, I think it’s important to remember the Russian Roulette money days, when we had to decide what bills to pay and what bills had to wait and couldn’t imagine ever getting out from our mountain of consumer debt.

Jerry from Peerless Money Mentor has a series on his blog about people who’ve gone from “digging in the couch cushions to go to McDonalds” to “on the way to FI.” So I reached out to him to see if I could share our story in his series, From Broke to Financially Woke.

Jerry is a millennial from Baton Rouge who graduated with degrees in Business Management and IT. Despite his supposed business acumen, he still made the typical financial mistakes and ended up broke. He wised up, started some side hustles like driving for Uber, and began to make better money decisions. He started his blog to document his journey toward FI and help others make better money decisions.

Jerry’s series details the stories of people like him (and me) who went from major debt to financially literate.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

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Quit Like a Millionaire: Book Review

This post contains an affiliate link or two. If you decide to buy the books I recommend, instead of checking them out from the library like I do, I may get some pocket change. I appreciate it because who doesn’t want a little extra pocket change?

I am, unsurprisingly, a fan of personal finance books. I dutifully read anything related to personal finance that appears on the market, usually placing an online hold for the book through my library.

I’ll often read an article about the book then log in to my online library and get in line, so to speak.

Last week, when the book Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required, by Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung showed up in my checked-out books, I was surprised. I’d forgotten I’d placed a hold on it, forgotten what it was about, forgotten who wrote it.

Turns out, the book was written by a Canadian couple who were saving up to buy a house in Toronto then decided to keep renting, pocket their savings, and retire early, traveling the world instead.

The book is primarily written by Kristy Shen. I’m not even sure why Bruce Leung’s name is on it. Shen tells his story, sure, but it’s really her story, which intersects with his, that is the most interesting. And we certainly don’t hear his voice at all in the book.

The reason I’m writing a book review, which I do extremely rarely, is because I found this book to be a breath of fresh air.

Normally, when people write personal finance books or even early retirement books, they say a lot of the same things. They write some very dense chapters on savings rate and investments, and then the thing’s over.

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One Year of Pet Expenses

Thank you for your patience with me, readers of this blog. In part because of my new job, in part because of my 40th birthday, in part because of my family from Chile visiting, I have taken a sabbatical of sorts this summer, and have not been posting as often. I hope to get back to a more regular writing schedule soon. I appreciate you reading!

Just about one year ago, on August 6th, 2018, we brought Lucy the dog home from the Amish farm.

Lucy is our labradoodle who we bought from an Amish breeder at a farm just an hour away from our house in Davidson, North Carolina.

I resisted getting a dog for years, and with good reason: a dog is a ton of work. Taking care of Lucy has felt like taking care of another child, in a lot of ways. We had to potty train her (housebreak her), sleep train her (crate train her), set up playdates (dog park outings), and find babysitters when we go out of town (pet sitters).

There has been no small amount of expense related to my furry white daughter, as Mr. ThreeYear calls her (as opposed to my hairless Latino sons, I suppose?).

And although I am very firm in my decision that she is the last family pet that we shall have (stating it on the internet makes it official), she has brought a lot of joy to our lives.

In this post, I’m going to outline allll the costs involved in taking care of Lucy for the last year. I will include all the direct costs, like vet visits, food, and toys. I won’t include all the indirect costs, like the cost of replacing my favorite pen that she chewed up, or replacing my sister-in-law’s slippers, etc. We’ll just call those bonus expenses.

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Four Money Lessons from Four Decades

On Wednesday I turned 40. I started this blog with that birthday in the forefront of my mind. The three year experiment was an exercise in using the last three years of my 30s well, in reaching a financial and lifestyle goal before I hit the big 4-0.

To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I went with a group of friends to a Korean restaurant where we rented a private karaoke room. Several friends drove or flew in to Davidson to help me celebrate. I had that perfect, happy feeling of being well celebrated and surrounded by people I loved all night.

Time is a funny thing. The memory of my 30th birthday is so clear, and yet it happened a decade ago now. Junior ThreeYear was two then and now he’s twelve.

Celebrating Junior ThreeYear’s second birthday at our house in Atlanta. I turned 30 a few days later.

I’ve done a lot of living in those ten years. Just ten months after my 30th birthday, we moved from Atlanta to New Hampshire, and then eight years later, on to North Carolina. We had a second child. We sold two and bought two houses in that decade. I’ve run over ten half- and full-marathons. I’ve had half a dozen jobs. We lived through eight New Hampshire winters. We’ve gone on countless trips. I’ve made lifelong friends.

We’ve done a lot with our money in that time–we’ve grown our net worth substantially. We’ve paid off our apartment in Chile as well as many cars and large chunks of mortgage debt. We’ve built a college fund for the kids. We’ve gotten a month ahead with our budgeting. We’ve learned to be a bit more frugal, to spend according to our values.

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Mid-Year Goals Update

In January, I made the decision to set my goals a little differently for 2019. I decided on the top three values for our family for this year, which have changed a bit since we’ve moved, and made a list of daily behaviors I wanted to work on in order to live those values.

Now that six months of the year have passed, I thought I’d report on how I’ve done.

Our Top Values

In New Hampshire, we became very focused on our financial goals. Part of the reason for that was because we didn’t have our family or long-time friends around, so pursuing financial goals gave us something to focus on.

Now that we live in North Carolina and enjoy something like location independence, although I have a full-time location-dependent job starting next month (but not summers!), our values have, admittedly, changed.

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June Net Worth Update

The first month of summer has now passed. For the ThreeYears, it was a whirlwind of swim practices, swim meets, and a job acceptance. That’s right; as of August 1st I’ll officially be gainfully employed (although I don’t actually start teaching until the end of the month).

I also took a bit of a break from blogging. I had been blogging three times per week; that’s a lot of writing. I took a rest from getting up early in the mornings and blogged once or twice per week instead.

While the boys had a great experience in swim team, it reminded all of us that we don’t like to have lots of activities in the evenings. For the first two weeks of June, we didn’t eat dinner as a family once (and we almost always do!).

Our Progress

In June, our net worth came back up to 65.6% of our goal, having gone down by several percentage points last month. Our goal was to reach 100% of our December 2016 net worth by December 2019, that is, to have doubled our December 2016 net worth in three years. While we’re still a long way from our goal and I don’t think we’re going to get there, I’ll start getting paychecks in August, so my 403b contributions will start then. I’m looking forward to making more progress than we would have otherwise for the last five months of the year.

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