Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Raising Readers

I love reading. I've always known that I wanted to raise my children to be readers. It's a great frugal form of entertainment, and the most critical skill for success in school. In my career as a high school English teacher, I have helped convert hundreds of reluctant, phone-addicted high schoolers into teens who voluntarily read novels. I've convinced students that Will Shakespeare was a pretty cool dude. Yet, when it came to my own children, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to equip them to view reading in the way that Harper Lee once described in To Kill a Mockingbird:

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

In the library, pre-Covid; still one of our favorite places to hang out!

Luckily, I need not have feared. My son just finished a five book series of 500+ page novels he received as a Christmas present and my daughter is making her way through several different series. Their most recent test scores from school peg their reading levels at 3+ grades above their actual grades. They are readers! Helping my kids become readers was easier and more enjoyable than I could have possibly imagined. I come from an education background, so of course I advocate that families read to children early and often and model literacy. Turns out, that actually works!

Lazy summer deck reading.

As a parent (who feels like she's making it all up as she goes along...), I've also discovered that reading to your kids stops meltdowns in their tracks and provides instant family bonding.  Here are some specific ways to develop young children's literacy:

  1. Make the time. Before I had kids, I was understanding about how hard it was as a parent to make time for reading. After all, I love reading, and I don't always make the time to do it. Parents are even busier, right? Y'all--I timed it. Reading one of those little board books takes less than five (yes, FIVE) minutes. And often it's the five minutes during which my child is most cooperative, loving, and attentive. No one screams. Everyone cuddles. Five minutes. It's better than meditation--no lie. How do you not make time for that every, single day? If I hadn't read to my kids, none of us would have made it past age two.  My worst nightmare is a bedtime without books. *shudder*

  2. Make books accessible.*  Studies show that being surrounded by books in childhood promotes literacy.  We own a lot of children's books (way more than adult books, thanks to my decluttering efforts). Most of them were gifts or hand-me-downs, but books are the main "toys" we have purchased for our children. However, you don't have to own books to surround your children with books.  Our local library lets patrons check out unlimited items, doesn't charge fines, and allows you to renew materials online. We usually have at least 60 books checked out at any one time--and only like 3-5 of them are for the adults. You can also buy used books or source them through Buy Nothing and Freecycle.

  3. Make it a habit. Every time my kids beg for "one more poem" or to be allowed to choose one more picture book or read one more chapter in our novels, I feel like I've won the gold medal of parenting. However, that joy comes from many, many times of being willing to read the same book over again, or pause and read whenever one of my children asks. We treat nagging for books different than just about every other kind of nagging--we indulge it.

  4. Give kids choice and agency. Sometimes, I get lucky and my kids are interested in the books I enjoy reading, and we'll have great fun with the works of Roald Dahl, Narnia, and Mossflower. Other times, they want to read endless, technically-oriented volumes about Pokemon (J) or the terribly-written picture book re-telling of Disney princess movies (H).  When the kids are interested in something (be it Kung-fu Panda, or space, or unicorns), we ask the librarians if there are any books about that topic and use Goodreads to find similar recommendations.

  5. Model reading books. I think many adults read more on screens (Kindle, smartphones, etc.) than they did just a few years ago.  However, children don't know whether you are reading on your tablet or watching a video.  Be intentional about modeling your reading to your children. Min had to get some Korean books so that the kids could see him reading on paper, not just on the screen.

Snuggly winter couch reading.

Some other tips? Teach letters and sounds, but not to the point that you are sacrificing story and fluency. Readers read content, not phonics.  Don't freak out if your kid who loves listening to you read doesn't transition to reading independence right away. It will happen eventually. The boy who just tore through those 500+ page books didn't read anything but Dog Man independently well through second grade.

* Not every family can afford books. I encourage using the library to fill in the gaps, but that's not always enough.  While compiling this post, I did some research into charities that provide books to kids. I elected to make a donation to Reach Out and Read, an highly rated organization that encourages literacy by integrating books into pediatric care.

We also donate monthly to our local library. We get way more value from it than we do from any streaming media service.

Any other tips from parents out there? How do you foster a love of reading for your children at any age?

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Food, Exercise, Nature, and Joy: Health in 2022

Last year work, household, caregiving, and grad school obligations became overwhelming. I found it difficult to make time for exercise and cook healthy foods; I also resorted to stress-eating late at night or picking up fast food. I gained about 20lbs before my brain cleared enough in late October to deal with this neglect of my physical state.

Neglected building along my walking route.

I will admit that there was a part of me that had surrendered--an inner voice that told me I would just "get healthy again" after my doctorate was finished. Then, I read the book Die With Zero by Bill Perkins. This personal finance book proposes that many super-saver ways of conceptualizing money for retirement (always "max out" accounts and optimize savings rates) are not the smartest way to approach finances because you could end up very wealthy, but without the time or health to enjoy what you've accumulated. Ultimately, Perkins advocates that money should be used to maximize fulfillment and experiences over time. Although much of his argument would only apply to those with privilege and comfort enough to be saving too much for retirement and there were some ableist tropes that have been called out on Twitter, I found the book shook me out of a money and health script that had me making bad tradeoffs. Perkins framed our mortality and the decline of our abilities and interests with age in a manner that made me realize how problematic it was for me to wait until some other part of my life is done to care for my health. I want to be able to enjoy my life--now and in the future--and neglecting health is probably the main guarantee that I'm stealing from my future enjoyment. (His book also made me relax a lot about retirement contributions and add life-fulfillment goals into my financial plan, which I really needed to do.)

Noticing a woodpecker on a nature walk.

I reckoned with the fact that I'd been "trying" to lose the weight I'd gained without success on my own; I rejoined WW, which has helped me lose weight in a healthy way in the past, I also recommitted to daily movement that I love--choosing to focus on all the ways I enjoy moving (dancing, walking, hiking, swimming, yoga...) instead of trying to force myself to do exercise I thought I "should" be doing (like jogging and weightlifting). I'm also conceptualizing wellness more broadly by paying attention to the quality of my relationships, prioritizing interactions with friends and family that bring me joy, and trying to spend time in nature really enjoying it.

J is very proud of learning how to solve Rubik's cubes after watching Youtube videos.

Even through the holidays and the stress of Omicron, I have been able to reconnect with the actions and habits that make me feel energized and strong. I have lost about 8 lbs., eaten less fast food and snacks, and exercise nearly daily. I feel much better! Right now, I am enjoying the 30 Day Yoga Journey MOVE from Adriene Mishler. On Twitter, a group of mostly women from my personal finance blogger friends keep me accountable as we cheer each other on with the hashtag #pfyogacrew (anyone is welcome to join in the fun!). I'm remembering not just how much yoga is lovely for meditation and stretching, but it really develops strength and stability. I think I would like to keep up with this as a daily practice beyond the 30 Day challenge.

How are you staying healthy through this difficult time?

Monday, January 17, 2022

Colonialism, Education, and Hope: Reflections on MLK Day 2022

"We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my doctoral program, we're learning about the different theoretical lenses that researchers use in educational research. One of the reasons to consider theoretical lenses is to understand that what we believe about the creation of knowledge impacts what kinds of knowledge we can explore as researchers. Since my program is committed to social justice and equity, we include critical theories in our study--including Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Queer Studies. While these concepts have taken some heat from the right, they are really interesting to study. One of the concepts that I've encountered in my studies is the extent to which the lens of settler colonialism permeates the thinking, research, and structures of education.

Although I had a vague understanding of colonialism from my studies of history in school, my understanding was always that the bad parts of colonialism was something that happened a long time ago or in far away lands. Sure, it was reawakened by the Monroe doctrine and then rhetorically evoked in science fiction I loved as a child (THE FINAL FRONTIER!), but weren't some concepts of exploration and discovery the very foundations of science--exploring the unknown?

But settler colonialism asks: "Unknown to whom?" "Explore for what?" "Who benefits from this interaction?" So many of my questions for educational research are simple questions students already know the answers to, but the academy has not included their perspectives in "empirical studies," and so the knowledge they possess about education is not acknowledged. But if every student knows and understands that the system of testing we have right now is torture, then it's fairly presumptuous of us to have to "prove" the harms.

In the last year, between my graduate studies and increased reading of Native American writers (including Angeline Boulley, Tommy Orange, and--my new favorite--Louise Erdrich), I'm starting to see that the harms of colonialism are ongoing and continuous. That many of the ideals I value in American culture--self-reliance, individualism, creative use of resources, thirst for knowledge--are predicated on the fact that my European ancestors saw the world as theirs for the taking and exploring (and exploiting). That my husband's country was shaped first by the forcible colonization of Korea by Japan and then the de-facto Cold War colonization of the American army. That the "adventure" I loved about traveling to different countries and experiencing other cultures came at a cost to the people and lands I visited.

The trouble of course is, I'm not entirely sure what to do with this knowledge. I love to travel, but the more I learn about the carbon footprint of commercial flights, the more unethical it feels. I want to visit Hawaii and Puerto Rico, but the problematic ways twentieth century U.S. annexed these lands without the support of the indigenous populations, in part because they represent a kind of fantastical, exotic travel for Americans, gives me pause. I can't even think about my own time in Korea as an English teacher without understanding the complex ways that was another kind of colonization project, albeit ones Koreans themselves submit to in order to gain global power.

More troubling perhaps still is the colonial project of public education that continues in 2022. Again, Covid has us asking: "What are schools--warehouses for children so their parents can be participants in the economy or places of academic instruction or social welfare programs for reducing inequity?" (HINT: They are all of these things, none of these, and more.) "Who benefits from schools closing? From staying "open"?" And so on. Some of these questions are public health questions, sure, but they have revealed to me a troubling narrative I believe that public education is capable of (and should) "save" children by helping them navigate the norms of our society successfully. And what is that but a demand for assimilation by another name?

I'm thinking about this today, on a great day for reflecting about injustice, because the first writer who helped me understand the deep connections between all kinds of injustice and harms in this world was Dr. King.  His ability to see how the evils of capitalism, racism, and militarism were interconnected to exploit and suppress others allowed me to understand that there is no single injustice more important than others. What I am most inspired by is his ability to not only see the evils in the world, but to continue to believe it could get better. Sometimes, I really wonder if it can.

I don't have any answers here. I try to do what I can, where I can, but times like these, it can seem overwhelming and that there are no good choices. So instead, I will lean into Dr. King's hope and advice for persistence:

"For all of us today, the battle is in our hands. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. We must keep going." --MLK

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Appreciation for the Calm

Starting 2022 amidst the most widespread outbreak of a 2+ year pandemic has ironically led to a slowing down and calm pace for my life. We've been lucky enough to avoid infection thus far, so now that the rates of Covid transmission and hospitalizations are higher than they've ever been, we've elected to reduce the number of activities we are engaging in at present as a mitigation strategy. The kids are still going to school and taekwondo (masked, thankfully), Min is doing whatever shopping we need, and I am going in person to work most days of the week and taking my Mom to doctor's appointments, but we've mostly curtailed other activities. Even though there is no government mandate to refrain, we find it prudent at this time.

Water always makes me feel peaceful. This is the Monocacy River near our home.

For me, this means no gym classes, no dining out, and no gatherings indoors. What's strange this time is that it seems as though very few other people are limiting some of their activities, despite the fact that our hospital is operating in crisis mode and our school staffs are dealing with absentee rates so high that we are discussing possible short-term contingency plans for in-person instruction. The local college I work with has already decided to stay fully remote with virtual instruction through February 6. There's no guidance to help the public in how to navigate what's happening now, and the CDC Director was describing it as "encouraging" that people like me with immune suppression and diabetes are the people that are dying from this round of infection. I digress...

The kids decided to prepare us breakfast for our anniversary (12 years--WOW). It was quite sweet.

Far from feeling deprived and adrift as I did in the early weeks of March and April 2020, I feel an ease of slipping back into the routines and joys we discovered when the whole world shut down. I find myself grateful for the beautiful nature in our neighborhood on my walks, for the free yoga challenge online, for a wonderful dance instructor still having Sunday Zoom workouts, for more time to play board games with my kids and cook healthy meals. I have enjoyed more time to rest and read, dig into my grad classes, write in this blog.

My little snow bunny.

I feel a kind of contented ease that I don't really recall enjoying in the past. Perhaps, I have just become more comfortable with existing in the present moment and enjoying the company of my family. Maybe I like the excuse to ruthlessly cut nonessentials from my life. Or maybe it was the first huge snowstorm of the year which always makes the world look brand new. Whatever it is, I like it. I'm going to try to cultivate this essentialist approach to my time and enjoyment.

Here's a little hope into the world that we can stay healthy and joyful, even if the world feels like it's conspiring to keep us from those things.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Random Reflections as 2021 Closes

We have come to the last day of a very stressful year--which, coincidentally was the first year of my 40s and another year of very strange world events--from an ongoing pandemic to political shenanigans to climate crises to the dehumanization from the patriarchy, white supremacy, global capitalism, and other injustice. There is much from this year that leaves me sad, anxious, and helpless. I try to focus on the positives--vaccines and books, for example. But I will admit that 2021 on a broad scale leaves even silver-lining optimist Diana feeling a bit stretched to come up with much to say about the positive.

Super grateful for my wonderful family.

On a personal scale, I can find a lot more victories and joys. Here are a few:

Financial: Thanks to the largesse of the US government stimulus money, I finally paid off all my credit card debt. In a further debt victory, the rules for Public Service Loan Forgiveness were changed such that it looks like I will be eligible for full forgiveness of my undergraduate and master's degree loans in full. This has enabled us to increase our charitable giving & direct aid to family/friends, contribute more to retirement funds, and spend without worrying on the things we value. Life without crushing debt really changes your outlook. I also found Die With Zero and I Will Teach You to be Rich to be helpful books for this new stage of my financial journey.

Relationships: It was my first full year thinking of myself as a "caregiver" to my mother whose stroke in August 2020 has left her more dependent on others for help. I am proud and grateful at the amount of care I've been able to provide for her. This shift in our relationship has enabled me to reflect on what is most important and let go of more small slights. I feel solidly like a middle age adult, and I think this identity has a lot to do with it. I have rekindled a friendship with my sister who has helped with the caregiving and let go of the relationship with my brother that has always been toxic and strained.

Bringing Mom on vacation to the beach was a major 2021 highlight!

I also deepened my friendships with the women in my book club and their families (all of whom are mixed race, with one Asian, one white parent, such that our children all look more like each other than we do). These friends have become my go-to people. I am so grateful for this group we have built where I feel accepted and built a close community for my biracial children. have also become closer to a few work colleagues, parents of my kids' friends, dance friends, and neighbors this year.

Although I let my blog Free, Fun, Family lapse and haven't been writing as much, I feel connected to several online communities through Twitter, which is now my only social media besides Goodreads. I do hope to reconnect at in-person events with them in the future.

Professional: I am now through two full semesters of work on my Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership--and I love it! It's got me thinking and trying things in different ways that have already resulted in some pretty awesome collaborations and projects at work. It's also been a great outlet for managing, processing, and reflecting on the trauma of these last few years. I find myself re-inspired for educational work in a time of incredible challenge and difficulty in this profession. Although it can be very stressful at times, I'm so glad I decided to pursue this program at this time. I am also becoming close with a number of people in my cohort.

Bringing dually enrolled English Learner students on a tour of campus--many are first gen!!!

Reading: Thanks in part to my daughter's embrace of The Magic Treehouse series towards the end of they year, I made it to my goal of over 100 books in 2021 (as of right now, I'm at 111 and will probably finish at least one more book today). One of my goals was to increase my usual rate of 20-25% books by writers of color, and 43 of those books (38%) were by BIPOC authors. In reviewing my read shelf, I see that most of my books for grad school and my kids' read-alouds were not very diverse. I can't do much about the required reading for grad school (except continuing to advocate for different authors & choosing diverse authors when given a choice), but I think I need to be more intentional about getting my kids books by writers of color. Especially now that they are both independent readers.

So overall, a year of growth and development. Much to celebrate!

Of course, what I am most grateful for and proud of is the growth and closeness of my family. This year's struggles have resulted in a closeness and joy. I can't wait to see what 2022 brings for us!
Harper's Ferry visit with my Uncle Tom!

I've been less pleased with my year in terms of health (I gained weight with how stressful this year has been), minimalism/anti-consumerism, and writing (other than school, I didn't do much this fall). As such, these are the three areas I am focusing on for 2022 "goals."

Goals for 2022:
1. Lose the 20lbs I gained in a healthy way (whole foods, less dining out, more movement, smaller eating window/semi-IF). I'm not really all about the weight anymore & care way more about health, but I know that this weight impacts my diabetes control and makes dancing & hiking a bit harder.
2. Avoid Amazon (which we *still* use far too often), minimize Walmart, more food that's local, & declutter--for realsies.
3. Publish once a week in this blog. Sometimes it's gonna be short, sometimes long. But I have to build my writing muscle again, and I enjoy blogging here. It feels low stakes. Please hold me accountable.

Thank you for reading my thoughts, as always. I hope you are well as the year closes. Do you have any reflections or goals for this year? I'd love to hear them.

Monday, August 23, 2021

What a wild summer it has been...

I finished my big debt goal and started my doctorate and BAM--stopped blogging. Whoops!

I earned As in both summer courses and had many enjoyable family (and friend!) mini-adventures this summer, but preparing for the opening of this school year has been rather time-consuming. Now that our district is back in session, I hope to get back on this blogging wagon, if for no other reason than I enjoy writing a log of my life, even if only three people read it (hi, friends!).

Now in fourth and first grades--time has really sped up!

We're still living in the pandemic, of course. Covid-19 cases locally dipped really low this summer, but now with the Delta variant, are shooting back up. It's really challenging to pull back after enjoying the almost carefree summer, especially with school opening fully. We're just trying to mask and limit most travel/dining out, but are choosing to continue outdoor socializing with other families where all 12+ persons are vaccinated. I remain mostly concerned about our unvaccinated children, but remain hopeful that the natural partial immunity children seem to have, combined with mandatory mask mandates at school, will keep them mostly ok. Who really knows? It's exhausting to continue to be so on edge for so long. Finally, I now qualify for a third round of vaccine, due to my immune suppressed self. Hopefully that will keep me protected from the worst side effects of the virus if I do catch it.

Summer camping trip with good friends--so grateful for the pause on C-19

My mother is mostly recovered from her stroke, over one year prior. She is still in occupational therapy and has a vision therapy appointment this week to see if she might be ready to be assessed for driving again! I would love for her to be able to regain some of her prior independence. She is already back in watercolor classes at the local community college and even went out to lunch with friends without my assistance! Such progress is wonderful.

Enjoying the Fireman's Carnival with my best kiddos!

Financially, we're kind of at a good place of allowing a bit of purposeful luxury spending, now that the debt is paid off. We've automated a higher contribution to the IRAs and emergency fund, but mostly are doing well because of YNAB (or, You Need A Budget--that's a referral link!). They redesigned and are even more fun to use, so I highly recommend it as an all-in-one, goal-smashing budget app.

Ready to move into the end of official summer and see what fall brings. Two more grad classes, of course, but also perhaps getting back to a schedule of regular exercise and such.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

FINAL Debt Elimination Update: April 2021

Some major things happened in April 2021, yet the month really felt like it just FLEW by.

April is really the month for flowers.

First, my husband is now fully vaccinated, and the kids have returned to school and one activity each in person (H 4 days/week + gymnastics and J 2 days/week + taekwondo). They have missed it so much. While I am still nervous about their unvaccinated status, transmission rates are low and mask/mitigation measures compliance high in my state, which makes the return less risky. The Covid pandemic is by no means over, but life feels a bit more full and less "on hold" than it did at the start of this year. I am very grateful for this progress in our lives. I am trying to let go of the anger I feel for the disgusting misprioritization of resources that made in person schooling unsafe for so much longer than it needed to be.

Second, I have been admitted into Frostburg University's doctoral program in Educational Leadership. I am very excited to begin this three year program, but a little nervous about the intensity. I feel very lucky to have the support of my family, friends, and coworkers as I begin this process. Classes begin in June. Financially, this changes some of my thinking around my student loans. I will be enrolled half time, so my student loans will go into deferment again. Most are subsidized, so they will not accumulate interest, and I will not have to make payments for three years. Additionally, while my employer has a very generous tuition payment benefit for this degree, I will be responsible for about $15,000 in tuition, books, and other expenses. This is more money than I have saved so far for this doctorate, so I am considering taking a Direct Loan for a portion of this expense. I will write more about this decision if/when I get there--for now my summer and fall tuition will be completely covered, so I have some time to think about it. I just feel differently about finishing paying off my student loans now that I'm going back to school.

Happy to head back to school in-person, not so happy to be photographed.

Finally, we have paid off the last of the credit card debt!  WOWOWOWOWOW! Just a little over three years since we looked at that number larger than $30K and almost cried, it's GONE. I wrote about it every month. Sometimes it felt like we made almost no progress, sometimes we got lucky and made huge forward progress all at once. Boy, does it feel really good. NEVER AGAIN!

Since I no longer have ANY credit card debt and am not aggressively paying off student loans, I will not be doing a monthly Debt Elimination Update; instead I will shift to a financial update. I like the accountability of writing it out, & still believe sharing about finances (a normally taboo subject) demystifies the process for others. I hope you will enjoy reading our efforts to save money for different goals!

Financial progress from April:

  • Mortgage Escrow Refund Check and Leave Cash Out. April featured two "windfalls" that enabled us to finish paying off our remaining credit card debt and buy two things that we really value this month (see next bullet). We got the refund from our previous mortgage escrow, and I was able to use my annual leave cashing employer benefit to get paid out for 8 unused vacation days. The next few months will be weird since we've had so many windfalls in this first part of they year. It will feel like progress is slowing, when really, it's just back to normal.
  • Paid upfront a late summer vacation rental & clothing. My mother had a stroke in August 2020 and her recovery has been challenging. We decided to rent a small house near one of her favorite beach destinations over Labor Day weekend for our family, my Mom, and my sister's family to celebrate a) her anniversary of recovery and b) our parents' wedding anniversary (It would have been 52 years!). It was so exciting to be able to pay for us to celebrate still being here. I also bought myself three dresses to make me feel better about going back to work. I love them!
  • Closed more credit cards & set up a default cashback optimization system. We now have a simplified system and can maximize our card cashback benefits. Of course, my credit score is now in the over-800s club, so that's cool.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of April:
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through August 2021):  $0 CELEBRATE--ALL CC DEBT DONE!
    • Grad School 1 (5.5%): $1,463.01
    • Grad School 2 (5.5%): $3,884.93
      TOTAL Remaining: $5,347.94
      Amount paid off this month: $3,083.25
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $38,907.84

From now on, I will be tracking overall debt reduction (mortgage and student loans), retirement and giving contributions, and other stuff. I don't quite know how I want to visualize it, but I know I do better when I'm tracking.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me! It's been wild. Onto new things!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Debt Elimination Update: March 2021 (and Financial Goals for 2021)

I turned 40, both my mother and I are fully vaccinated against Covid, Congress sent us a bunch of money, and the weather is looking up. All in all, March 2021 was VASTLY superior to March 2020. I allowed my blog-business experiment, Free Fun Family, to lapse & it feels good. Kept the domain b/c I like the name. Don't know if I'll use it. Still haven't brought over all my old posts, but I'll get there.

We're so close to paying off the debt I set out to tackle three years ago. In fact, with an expected escrow refund check from the successful completion of our mortgage refinance (2.875%, 30 year, baby), we'll have the credit card portion paid off in April. I have participated in a generous state tax credit program for people with outstanding student loans for the past two years (Marylanders: Check it out), so I think it would be beneficial to shift some of the most urgent financial goals for the remainder of this year.

Hiking was great this month. Here is Wolf Rock!

Here are my NEW 2021 financial goals:

  1. Build out the emergency fund to 3 months expenses. We built a full one month e-fund last year to last through the end of debt repayment, but now I'm ready to increase this before finishing the last of the grad loans. Eventually, I would like this to be 6 full months to cover unanticipated employment, home and auto repairs, and potential unpredictable crazy stuff like, oh, say, another pandemic. (Please let it not come to this).
  2. Max out my and my husband's Roth IRAs. I have not been able to do this since back when contribution limits were $2,000 (they are now $6,000 per account) in early 2000s. This will be a stretch goal for us, as we are only just over 4% of the way there at the end of Q1. (Note: I am the only income-earner, so my husband's is a Spousal IRA).
  3. Increase donations by 1% of income. Last year, not including the money we gifted to family members hit by the shutdowns, we gave 4% while paying off debt. I'm aiming to increase this each year until we are at 10%--I only really started giving substantially a couple years ago. Then I'll hold steady until some very long term financial goals are met. (I do include some of this unexpected stimulus stuff as "income" for my percentage purposes).
  4. Stop penny pinching the grocery budget. We love to eat high-quality, local , and organic food. Mingi likes to get stuff that reminds him of home from HMart (the Korean grocery store). I will continue to be extremely conscientious of food waste and unhealthy or environmentally harmful buys, but I already went up one size and egg order for our CSA.
  5. Save for a really nice trip for next year. We want to really travel again when the kids are vaccinated. It's a delight and a joy.
We've also got some long term thoughts now that we are almost credit card debt free. We are interested in slow, longer-term travel, my out of pocket Ed.D. expenses, including a sabbatical half-to-full year, and a kitchen remodel. Trying to decide how to prioritize these goals now.

Welcome, Spring!

I am seriously burnt out at work, so I decided to take some annual leave to coincide with my children's Spring Break. This was a good idea. I also am watching more dance movies. This helps, too.

Financial progress from March:

  • WOWZA Stimulus Check and State Tax Refund. Largest check to date (I hit under the income limit for single full amount, so yes, we got the full amount for a family of four) and my tax refund both allowed incredible payoffs for this month. We also donated a bit more, increased monthly contributions to the Roth IRAs, and bought my husband a back massager that mounts on his chair, like he has always wanted. Good times.
  • Finally signed off the Mortgage Refi. Much lower interest rate and monthly payment. Paying it off early is still a long term goal, but it is not more important than the goals mentioned above at this time.
  • Closed some credit cards for simplification purposes. I used balance transfers to keep my interest low while I paid it off, but now I'm hoping to simplify back down to a handful of cards.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of March:
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% through April 2021): $0 CELEBRATE--one more gone!
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through August 2021): $3,000
    • Grad School 1 (5.5%): $1,485.78
    • Grad School 2 (5.5%): $3,945.41
      TOTAL Remaining: $8,431.19
      Amount paid off this month: $6,339.45
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $35,824.49

Look at that crazy 2021 cliff--the debt is just melting away!

Considering that the entire YEAR of 2020 netted a $3,000 (and 87 cents!) payoff on this debt, a single month paying more than double that speaks to how powerful direct giving can be for individuals' finances. The stimulus payments have met some political controversy over concerns that people who didn't "really need" it might get extra money. And we certainly are in the category of not "needing" this money; however, it made a huge difference to our financial picture and will allow us to help more people through community poverty alleviation and direct giving.

While I'm no Andrew Yang enthusiast, I do appreciate what he did to bring the conversation of Universal Basic Income to the national stage during the his presidential bid. I hope that we in the U.S. can divorce ourselves from the inhumanity of equating income with worth.

Hope you had a good March!