Combatting the Mid-Winter Blues

Hello everyone in the midst of winter! It’s February here in North Carolina, and though the ground isn’t covered in four feet of snow, I’m still battling the same seasonal affective disorder as years past, thanks to the endless rain and lack of sun. So, in honor of this auspicious time of year, I thought I’d republish a reminder of things I’ve done in the past to get through the very hardest parts of the winter. 

If you’re in the thick of bleak midwinter (and possibly staring down several more weeks or months of frigid temps, snow, and ice), hang in there! I know how you feel!

Midwinter is always the time of year that gets to me in New England. We’re in the thick of the cold and snow and, despite being teased with some 50-degree days recently, we’ve been staring down -4 for the past week. A blizzard with 18 inches of snow is coming tomorrow.

This time of year causes certain problems.

One, I find it almost impossible to drag myself out of bed for a run if the temps are below 15 degrees F (if that sounds horrible to you, believe me, it does to me too). I do not take running lightly. It is critical to my being tolerable to the rest of the human race, so imagine how fun I am to be around in the winter. Two, Spring feels forever away. And I need the hope of Spring.

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Setting Better Goals for 2019

Each year, I write out a set of goals for the coming year. I’m usually finished by mid-December.

This year, however, after reading a lot on how goal-setting can be counter-productive, I’m writing my 2019 goals a little differently (and it’s taken a little longer, too!).

Our Focus This Year

“Unfortunately, goals can focus attention so narrowly that people overlook other important features of a task,” say the authors of a Harvard Business School working paper on the unintended consequences of goal-setting.

For the past several years in New Hampshire, we were laser-focused on financial goals, perhaps to the detriment of other parts of our lives, like friendship.

Especially after we set our goal to become location independent and double our net worth, most of my yearly goals related to saving and investing more.

After all, we were just a few years out from starting our financial journey by paying off our debt, building up our net worth, paying off our debt again, and doubling our net worth.

The authors contend that goal-setting makes it difficult to deal with randomness and change, something we definitely noticed last year. After all, a mid-year move to North Carolina wasn’t on our yearly goal sheet! We realized that said move was way more important than words on a piece of paper and adjusted accordingly.

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The Best Souvenir You Can Bring Back from an International Trip

This weekend, Mr. ThreeYear came back from spending a week in Brazil. He brought back the best souvenir from his trip, as usual.

He’s been on a lot of work trips, and while he doesn’t always bring back souvenirs, he did this time. It was his first trip to Brazil and he wanted to make sure to bring back something special.

What did he bring us? Well, I’d argue it’s the best possible souvenir you can bring anyone from anywhere in the world.

And he got it all at Walmart.

A São Paulo Walmart, of course.

He brought us…

food!

Brazilian coffee–yum!

Specifically, he brought us non-perishable food: Brazilian coffee, of several different strengths, chocolates, cookies, and snacks.

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What Will Tank Your Frugality, Fast

Earlier in the school year, Little ThreeYear was really struggling. He has some learning issues, and moving to a new school almost put his brain on overload. The problem was, he couldn’t focus on anything, so he focused on absolutely nothing, and refused to do his work.

During those difficult few weeks, I wrote these words.

You want to do anything you can, anything, to lesson their struggles. Even though I know that some struggles are good for a child, I’ve watched my son’s square peg be wedged into school’s round hole for ages now, and it hurts. It hurts to watch him cry out, “I hate school! I hate everything about it!” It hurts to know that he’s just not happy and will never be happy being forced to sit and do endless math problems in order to prepare himself for state mandated testing.

Another part of me knows that there are things in this world that you just have to suck it up and do, and school is one of them. Yes, it’s hard and purposefully dull and boring, to prepare you for employment. I hated parts of school even though I was an excellent student, Mr. ThreeYear hated school (and wasn’t an excellent student). We both made it out okay.

But on the other hand, a small voice inside me keeps asking, “but wouldn’t he thrive in an alternative environment, like a Montessori school?” Junior ThreeYear is a maker. He builds and plans buildings, Lego sets, paper dolls, forts, comic book series. He can focus for hours on a project involving any of those things. But he completely tunes out his teacher and stares off into space during math, to the point where he struggles to complete a few problems. It drives his teachers crazy. I understand; I’m a teacher. I also know he’s not doing it on purpose. He just isn’t interested and can’t make his mind focus. 

He has counseling, he has meds, he has OT tools. None of it is working.

So now what? What do we do now? Private school is not in our FI plan. It’s expensive. Can we afford it? Yes. Should we afford it? That’s the nail-biting question. I don’t know. We go back and forth, “this would be an amazing experience.” “What if he doesn’t do well here either? What a waste of money.” “You and I sucked it up and got through it.” “Will he be prepared for high school?” “Will we be able to save enough for college?” “I’ll have to go back to work earlier than I wanted.”

Shortly after I wrote this panic-stricken missive, I sat down with his teacher, the vice-principal, and a wonderful counselor who’s been at the school for 30 years. The counselor introduced a small little “tweak” in Little ThreeYear’s day that has produced a dramatic turnaround in his productivity.

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5 Lessons I Learned from Changing Careers in My 30s

Several years ago, when I was 36, I was offered a job at my local elementary school. It was perfect for a lot of reasons: it was part-time, it was teaching kids English (which I had majored in in college), it was at my kids’ school, and it paid well.

The only problem with the job was that I wasn’t a teacher.

When I first left college and moved to Santiago, Chile, I taught English as a Second Language to adults for about a year and a half. But I’d never officially taught children in any capacity. So I would be completely changing careers, learning a new job from the ground up.

The Learning Curve is Painful

I don’t particularly like to be bad at stuff. I don’t think anybody does. In school, I was a good student who never really struggled with studying. I never learned the lesson that you have to be bad at something before you’re good at it. But when I started teaching, I had very little idea what I was doing.

I was thrown into teaching two students with no guidance and very little mentorship, so I didn’t know what I should be teaching them. Grammar? Vocabulary? Reading? Writing?

I reached out to other local ESL teachers and sat in on their classes to try and figure out what to do. One teacher recommended several books that I should buy for the classroom. I remember that she said to me, “if you could go through this book with your student before next year, that would lay a great foundation for him.”

The problem was, the book was a very basic vocabulary book. Surely there was something better I could be doing with my time than teaching him basic vocabulary?

I didn’t spend a ton of time teaching my student vocabulary from that book my first year, preferring instead to try and teach him how to write essays.

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The Benefits of Renting Over Buying

Homeownership. An expensive endeavor. But at least you’re not throwing away all that money on rent, right?

Actually, renting makes a lot more financial sense in many cases. But renting doesn’t only have financial benefits. There are a host of other benefits as well.

Keeping Up with the Joneses Isn’t As Much of an Issue

“The neighbors are building a screened-in porch.”

“They’re painting the house down the street.”

“The Myers have immaculate landscaping.”

When you rent, you tend to worry less and compare your house less. It’s a strange fact of life. When you don’t own your home, you don’t attach as much of your identity to it.

Also, since you’re generally not in charge of maintenance and upkeep, you can blame the state of your house on your landlord.

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Moving from the Northeast to the Southeast US

Last year was a big year for our family.

For only the second time in my adult life, I got to pick exactly where I wanted to live.

The first time was right out of college, when I could go anywhere. I chose Santiago, Chile. Spanish speaking country, good economy, I had some contacts there.

After that, I moved where the jobs were. Specifically, where my husband’s jobs were. Georgia and New Hampshire weren’t necessarily his top places to live, either, but that’s where he was offered gainful employment.

If he got to pick? San Diego.

But, the crazy cost of housing. And my family lives on the East Coast.

This year, because he became a remote worker, Mr. ThreeYear and I got to pick where we were going to live.

And we chose to plant roots in Davidson, North Carolina.

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A Year of Good Money: No Spend February

This year, my family is focusing on making better spending decisions. To that end, we’re (I’m) engaging in twelve money experiments designed to help us reexamine our spending patterns and hopefully, get better at them. I’m calling this the Year of Good Money.

Last month, we launched the year off with the “Stop Eating Out” experiment. We pledged to not eat out at all for one month. We’ve always spent several hundred dollars per month on restaurant eating, and that has vaguely bothered me for a while, because I don’t feel like we’re getting as much value from eating out as we’re spending.

In the past five years, our eating out has averaged a whopping $258.40 per month. If that money were going to one amazing meal that we enjoyed with friends, or something of that nature, it would be one thing. But most times, it’s a couple of visits to the Mexican restaurant, a night of take-out, or other underwhelming food choices that we don’t even enjoy that much.

January’s Experiment

So how did we do last month with the experiment? Honestly, incredible! We spent $0 in our Eating Out category. We had one exception when Mr. ThreeYear insisted we go out for sushi, paid for my his birthday money, so we did. I didn’t count it because it was his birthday, and his birthday money.

Other than that, we enjoyed an eating-out-free January, and the best part was, aside from the sushi excursion, no one seemed to miss it.

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January Net Worth Update

Ahh, January. What can I say about my least favorite month? You’re cold. You’re long. You’re at the beginning of the year and don’t really contain any fun breaks or holidays (not forgetting about you, MLK Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day, but you’re not quite as fun as say, Spring Break).

We have made it through our first January in North Carolina, and I have to say, although we didn’t suffer through -14F temps like we did last year in New Hampshire, it was still pretty darn cold most days.

I struggled to keep up with Lucy the dog’s massive energy, and tried to walk her each and every day, even as my fingers and nose protested bitterly in the wet and chilly 20F temps of the early morning.

Our Progress

We eeked out another small gain with our net worth this month. We’ve definitely seen a difference in our net worth growth with me not working (it’s been slower!).

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Want to Get Better at Remembering Lists? Here’s a Simple Hack

Have you ever had trouble remembering a list of three or four things you needed to get at the store, or do at home?

The older I get, the worse my memory seems to get. I was having a really hard time keeping a short list of things in my head, until I remembered an old mnemonic device my dad taught me.

Years ago, my dad read a book about improving your memory. It may have been The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work,  at School, and at Play. In it were several tricks of the trade this memory expert used to recall a list of up to ten items. But there was one mnemonic that stuck with Dad enough that he continues to use to this day.

He’s used it for years to remember short lists, and it’s always been vaguely annoying to me, because it’s so weird. But it works. Probably because it’s weird.

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