How to Increase Your Net-Worth by $86,000.00 in 10 months

How We Increased

How We Increased Our Net Worth by $86,000.00 in Ten Months

Quarter 1 of 2018 Update – Day 2763…….264 days in.

No.  That is not a typo…that’s the number.  $86,000.00.  I was in disbelief myself when I did the calculations.  I believe I actually said, out loud, Holy Smokes Batman!!!

Now before I get into the meat of how we accomplished this almost supernatural feat….Let me say this, it is NOT lost on me, read that gain…it is NOT lost on me, that that number is more than a huge chunk of Americans (the world really) makes in a year.  I absolutely do not take for granted that my husband and I are very fortunate to have incomes that put us pretty high up there on the income scale.  I also recognize that, even before we factor in our incomes, we start out in a place of privilege and opportunity.  I do not, however, feel guilty about what we earn.  We have both worked our butts off to get here.  Both of us come from very simple beginnings and what we have accomplished in our careers was accomplished through our own blood, sweat and tears (Not so much blood, but some sweat, and a LOT of tears).

I also, STILL, believe in the American Dream (but that’s a soapbox for another day).

….You’re still here?  I haven’t lost you yet?  Good, because I firmly believe the lessons we have learned on this journey to Financial Independence are for EVERYONE, irrespective of incomes.  It’s more about YOUR income, the percentage of YOUR income that goes to debt service and the percentage of YOUR income that goes towards savings for retirement.

When I first found the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) community last March we were drowning in debt, mostly due to our student loans.  Ironically, we had been Dave Ramsey fans for years.  I even led Financial Peace for many of those years.  The problem was our student loans were so large (think several hundred thousand dollars large) and it was taking so long to make any significant gains – that over the years we lost motivation and the life-style creep came back.  We also had not saved anything because if we were following the “Baby Steps” we could not move on to savings until we paid off our debt.  We became discouraged.  The older we got with NO retirement, the more anxiety we both had about what our future was going to look like.  Finding the FIRE community gave us hope when we had none.  Whereas before, we were resigned to die with our student loans, we now had HOPE that we could not only pay them off, but save for retirement at the same time. HOPE. Hope and a PLAN work magically together.

What was different?  Dave Ramsey’s principles are sound – but as I have discussed before, they are also not perfect, nor do his principles translate to every situation.  Ours included.  We were middle-aged with no retirement and debt in the six digits, several times over. What finally clicked for me was that, given our situation, it was OK to save AND pay down debt at the same time.  It was also possible to increase our percentage of savings significantly – far more than most Americans – and still live happy fulfilled lives.

Hearing from others who had a savings rate of 30%, 40%, 50% and some even more than that, not only intrigued me, but it inspired me.

Now that we were inspired and FIRE-ed up, we began drafting a plan.

We started by evaluating where we were, then focused on areas we could cut expenses DRAMATICALLY, then looked at how we could increase our savings, and, finally, discussed ways we could increase our incomes.

If you want to change your circumstances as well, look to these three areas: expenses, savings and income.

  1. Expenses

One of the best ways to immediately create more cash flow is to see where you can trim your discretionary spending.  The following are some common areas you can find savings.

  • Food budget
  • Eating out
  • This includes COFFEE! I grind my own beans daily and its AMAZE-BALLS!
  • Transportation expenses
  • Insurance (can you get your rates lowered, do you need to shop around?)
  • Cutting cable
  • Bottled water/water delivery service
  • Cell phone plans
  • Kids extra-curricular activities (The buggers will live.  Put them in something that doesn’t costa a small fortune. Remember, it’s temporary.)
  • Gym memberships
  • Make-up
  • Personal services (hair, nails etcs..)
  • Reducing housing/utility expenses

With some of this savings, you should be fiercely paying off your consumer debt as quickly as possible. Once paid off, the amount you were previously spending on debt service can now be allocated to savings.

With the reduction in many of the above expenses for our household, as well as paying off several lines of credit and one of our cars, in ten months we were able to reduce our monthly expenses by $3,300.00.

This reduction in spending allowed us to not only make significant progress in paying down our debt, but also, increase our savings significantly.

From May of 2017 to the end of March, 2018, we reduced our total debt by, $25, 351.89.

  1. Savings

One of the pitfalls of living paycheck to paycheck and spending everything you earn, is that when someone tells you that you need to save money, your brain says, “I can’t afford it.” And when you believe you cannot afford it – you remain stuck.

Believe it when I tell you this is a false mind-set.  You CAN afford to save money.  In fact, putting money into retirement is the FIRST thing you need to do, before you spend what you earn.

After cutting our expenses significantly.  Curtis and I decided to test the above principle to see if we could still afford to pay our bills if we maxed out our retirement.  Can you guess what we found out?  We absolutely COULD afford it.  We still had enough money to pay our mortgage, feed our family of 8 AND put extra towards debt.  It was almost like magic.  I am still not entirely sure how the math worked, but it did.

The best way to put money into retirement is to make it automatic.  Either,  set it up to take it out of your paycheck or set up automatic withdrawals with the investment provider you have chosen.  That way, it is done and you don’t even need to think about it.

What Curt and I decided was, and it helped calm some of our fears, that in the worst-case scenario, if we could not make the budget work AND max out our retirement accounts, we would reevaluate how much we were saving and reduce it, if absolutely necessary.  We have not had to do that.

Following all the above principles, we have increased our retirement accounts by $22,994.57 in just 10 months!

  1. Income

Sometimes, you cut all that you can cut and it’s just not enough to get your savings or debt repayment where you need or want it to be.  If that is the case, you have an income problem that must be addressed.

First evaluate – is there any way you can increase your income?

  • Overtime
  • Extra-shifts
  • A side-hustle
  • Second job
  • Are you due a raise?’
  • Can you negotiate a raise?
  • Career change
  • Position change

Your income is your greatest asset.  It can also be a hindrance if it is not sufficient to cover your needs or prepare you for your future.

In this instance, we took my husband’s annual raise and put it into savings – we did not spend it.  We intend to do this for every raise from here on out.  He also began lunch duty coverage – the school district pays him an extra couple hundred dollars a month and it does not add any hours to his work-day.  Also, I began a side-hustle (that will hopefully become a full-time gig) in real estate.  The commissions I earn from my real estate business will be used to pay off our debt at a faster pace.

These increases have helped us achieve some of the above numbers, but we have also taken some time to put some of our money into projects that have increased the value of our home.

We do NOT view our home as an investment, but it does factor into our net worth.  Could our home value change depending on what the housing market does in our area? Absolutely.  Which is another reason why we are very thoughtful about what repairs and improvements we make to our home.

We were very fortunate to have found our home when there was still a slight depression in the San Diego housing market.  We also were able to buy a fixer-upper in a really great neighborhood, which was also pretty lucky.  (or Divine providence – whichever floats your boat.)

With every repair or upgrade we make to our home, our guiding thought is, “will this increase our home’s value?”  Second, we try to do as much of the work as our skill and middle-aged bodies will allow.  Finally, we have gotten pretty good at finding really good deals and never paying full price for any of the materials or appliances we have put into the house. Negotiating with contractors has saved us thousands.  My mother-in-law used to say, “closed mouths don’t get fed.”  If you think a contractor’s bid is too high, ask them to reduce it.  Worst they can say is no.  But if you don’t ask, you will always miss out on savings.

Since purchasing the home in 2016, a conservative estimate of its current value puts us at about $140,000.00 in equity. (Crazy, right?) If you have the patience to buy a fixer-upper, the sweat equity you put in can reap amazing rewards especially in a seller’s market.

We are mindful of market fluctuations and that we are not guaranteed any of the equity we currently expect to get out of our home, unless and until we sell it (and the market doesn’t crash). But still pretty exciting, nonetheless!!!

The increase in our home’s value since October of last year, makes up the remaining  $38,000.00 of our increase in net worth since starting this journey ten months ago.

So, there you have it.  That’s how we achieved an increase in our net worth of $86,000.00 (Well, it’s really a reduction in our negative net-worth, but who cares….we are $86,000.00 better off than we were last May and that’s pretty spectacular!).  

If you need help budgeting, or want to bounce ideas of how you can increase your net worth, shoot me a message!  I am always down to chat finances.

Love and Prosperity, 

Your Girl.FI.day

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Flipped @ Forty – Turning Our Finances Around at Forty…Again.

Flipped @ Forty Finances PINTERESTPhoto by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

I sometimes feel our history with our finances mirror the story of an addict.  You hit rock bottom, you sober up.  You work really, really hard towards getting your act together.  Sometimes there are set-backs.  Other times, you fall completely off the wagon and are in full crises mode once again.  But eventually…hopefully…there is recovery.  Long lasting recovery.  You will always be an addict. You will always be faced with the temptations that could lead to a relapse.  You will always have a tiny bit of fear of the “what if”…But if super dedicated and committed to recovery – you can enjoy the life you have always wanted.

Financial recovery.  That’s where we are.  At 47.  Recovery from several years of financial relapse.

They say, (whoever “they” are) that your attitude about money begins in childhood.  What you were taught, what you saw, how money or lack thereof, affected you.  And I would say this is true.  Both the Hubbs (HB) and I grew up without a lot of money or guidance about money and debt.

For most of HB’s childhood, after his parents divorced, he was raised by a single mom. His mom worked really hard and long hours to take care of herself and her kids.  They were not poor – but it was hard.  Money had to be stretched.  Conversations about money were limited to how they needed to make more of it.

I watched my parents work their way out of poverty.  On my dad’s side of the family, I saw first-hand what poverty looked like.  It was a source of pride that my dad had gone to college and had “made it”.  My mom’s parents, on the other hand, still shopped at dented can stores, stockpiled canned goods, and brought us over government cheese and peanut butter.  At the time, I did not quite understand the significance of that.  I do now.

But there were never any conversations about money in our house, except when the request to buy something was met with “we can’t afford it.”

When we married at age 25, while still in college and expecting our first child, neither HB or I understood the importance of savings.  We also did not understand that it meant more than just working to draw retirement or until you could make it 62 ½ to collect social security.

For a long time, I believed college was an impossibility because we didn’t have the money.  That was one area HB had some advantage; he received a football scholarship from the University of Nevada, Reno.  I had all but given up on college until, through coworkers, I learned about student loans.  And so, began the cycle of taking out as much as I could get in student loans each semester, without really understanding the consequences of how much I was taking out, or the importance of only taking out what I needed.  I can’t tell you how much of that money was blown on non-essentials…the thought of it makes my stomach turn.

Besides.  I was going to be a lawyer and earn A LOT money.  Imagine my shock when I learned my starting salary at my first job as an attorney only paid $42,000.00 a year.  Far from the six figures I had been banking on and clearly not enough to pay back the balances that were now well over six-figures.

Long before this time, HB had also lost his scholarship due to an injury and began working to support our small family.  At nights, he attended private universities to get his teaching credentials and master’s degree.  Again, we borrowed as much as they would give us and he quickly racked up six-figures as well.

Then life kind of took over, and we began pursuing what we thought was the American Dream.  Who knew that it was bought on credit.  We bought our first house, almost entirely mortgaged.  That’s what you were supposed to do right?  Graduate and then buy a house. This was followed by two cars – both financed.  We “needed” them.  We were both professionals now and our family was growing.  I couldn’t drive my two-door Honda Civic anymore. I was a lawyer now.

And then we needed to get “things” for the house.  Houses require things.  Financed furniture. You can’t put old furniture in a new house! A pool…in ground, with custom waterfalls and mosaic turtles swimming on the bottom!  Of course…This was Phoenix.  You can’t live in Phoenix, without a pool.  People die there without them.

Yes.  It was a slippery slope.  Totally our making. No one else was responsible but us. But it soon became too much and we were barely treading water in our fancy-schmancy pepple-tec pool.

But there was a solution.  Bankruptcy!  I jest. It was not a solution.  It was a Band-Aid.  It relieved some of the pressure – but it didn’t solve the underlying issues of spending and of not saving for our future.  After the bankruptcy, we quickly charged up our credit cards, AGAIN. There were more things that needed buying.  Repairs that couldn’t wait.  This went on for several years and then crises hit.  We were “victims” of the real estate bubble.   Suddenly we had two houses that both were valued at half of what they were mortgaged for.  We were over extended.  Ultimately, we lost both our primary house and the investment property.  (Which it never really was – because it never made us any money.)

Shortly after the market crash, we were very fortunate to discover Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University through our church.  His books and classes were exactly what we needed, at that time in our lives. He helped us learn what a budget was.  Helped us understand the importance of an emergency fund and of living within our means. We did everything he told us to do.  We followed his baby-steps.  We made significant progress for several years.  But we never made it out of Baby Step 2.  For YEARS that’s where we remained. It was discouraging and eventually, the momentum gave and, though we didn’t increase our debt by much, we didn’t make any progress either.

There were some relapses.  Not anything like what we experienced during the market crash.  But there was some life-style creep too.

We had purchased another home.  Relocated to a new city.  Added to our family.  We were both making really good incomes.  But there was no real hope of ever getting ahead.  The balances on our student loans were SO BIG.  And they just seemed to get bigger due.  We were resigned that this was going to be our lives.  Paying off debt and never being able to save for retirement.  The debt was going to follow us to our graves.  We wanted more for our lives – but we had no belief of how that was even possible.

Then, over the course of a few years of searching for a way to get out of this rut, I discovered this crazy-weird-almost cult-like FIRE community . (Financial Independence/Retire Early) It was almost like a religious experience.  My eyes opened wide and I began devouring every article, blog and podcast I could find.  I have discussed that more extensively in a previous post.

I think most addicts will tell you they remember a moment that changed everything for them.  It was almost like that.  Finally, there was hope.  There was a way to achieve what we wanted.  A mind-shift.  We began to see things from the perspective of what we COULD do to change our circumstances and not limit our thinking to what obstacles were in our way.  That was the key.  Not just having the knowledge of how to achieve what we wanted – but the BELIEF that we could.

Since then…(It has been almost exactly a year), we have made incredible-unbelievable gains.  I have seen the numbers, and I can’t barely believe them myself.  If there were any doubt left in me before that we couldn’t do this…they are gone.  We CAN do this. We ARE doing this.  Next week, I will explain how we have increased our net worth (reduced our negative net worth – more correctly) by $86,000.00 in ten months.  Come back and see me – I hope will come into the light as well.

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirlFIday

 

 

 

 

 

Flipped @ Forty – Family

Flipped @ forty family PINTERIST

Photo by mohamed taher 

Anyone want a 3-year old? The one I have is part Tasmanian devil, apparently. That or channeling Linda Blair (Millennials and younger, look that up.). So far this morning (before 8:30) there have been 3 time outs, screaming hysterically because we are going upstairs to play. The torture! Throwing a tantrum in his room because I shut the door until he can calm down then screaming and kicking “I WANT IT OPEN!” He peeks out after being quiet for, literally, ONE SECOND. After which, I tell him to wait a little bit until I come get him. He immediately screeches, you know the one – the glass shattering high pitched shrill one, then attempts to slam the door, unsuccessfully, as it slowly swings back open. Promptly followed by screaming and kicking, “I DONT WANT IT OPEN!!!!”
Fun times at the Mays house. Day drinking is “a thing” right? I may have to try to like wine.

Looking back, the four older kids were SO EASY. The two Littlest Littles, I tell you….I’m noticing more and more grey in my hair. They are all named Ezra and Isaiah. Who thought it would be a good idea to start over at forty?  Me, you say? Well, then.  Some of you need to check your “friend cards” for not warning us at least.

This time around it was supposed to be so much easier.  (Bwahahahaha! The joke’s on us.)

It ain’t easier and it sure ain’t prettier.

So, don’t you dare believe all these moms and dads who post pics of their perfect children and lives…this is the real stuff. The nitty gritty – Calgon take me away – crying in the closet – I need another Xanax – stuff.

Starting over at 42, having already gotten my two oldest children almost to the finish line, I don’t know what I thought it would be like.  We never had the traditional get married, buy a house, have babies timeline. When I was a new mom at 25, I was still in college and working.  We were broke and struggling.  Though I would have loved to have showed up and helped out in my daughter’s class, and gone on field trips and finger-painted in the middle of the day, if Momma didn’t work she didn’t earn any money.  She couldn’t ditch school either.

Those were some lean times.  I feel guilty sometimes that my now 22-year-old got the shaft.  I joke, she grew up with us.  But it’s the truth really.  We had NO IDEA what we were doing and we were doing it alone, without parents nearby. We were flying by the seat of our pants.  Those were the years that if we didn’t donate plasma, we didn’t have gas in the car to get to work to buy the food or pay the rent.  Plasma donations are what made our budget, if you could call it that, work. We would not have made it without it.  But we learned to do a lot with a little.  I could make $20.00 feed us for a week.  Not the most nutritious meals – but it was sustenance and that’s all we needed. We look back to those times and know we could survive just about anything.

And I know that about my daughter too.  I like to think that having grown up with us and struggle with us, has contributed to the vibrant and independent woman she is.  Of course, I still worry about her and I still carry some of that guilt. And because of that, I tend to say “no” far less than I probably should. But that’s normal, right?

My now 16-year old son was born during the time when my husband and I were just starting our careers.  He got to see us achieving, what we perceived as, the American Dream.  The new mortgaged house, in suburbia, two financed cars, we finally got a dog – she was free at least.  His life was much less chaotic.  There was no moving every year or two for cheaper rent.  He is my calmer child.  And that makes sense.  Life was calm then.  For a time.

Then there are the Littles.  We were both 42 when we became parents all over again.  First with Jake and then Aydyn, Ezra and Isaiah – all at the same time.  We had four little ones age three and under.  Three of them in diapers.  We had cribs everywhere. Toys everywhere.  And laundry.  Always laundry.

I like to say it was managed chaos.  It’s still managed chaos.  Some days, it’s much less managed and mostly just chaos.  Even with all the chaos – being a mom all over again in my, now, mid-forties, as opposed to my mid-to-late twenties -it’s quite a different experience.  Certainly, our external circumstances are different.  But I am also different.  WE are different, both as individual parents and as a parental unit.

Our focus has shifted. We are much more “present”.  More confident in who we are as parents.  We do not have the undercurrent of worry anymore. We are more intentional about taking the time to enjoy being parents, a luxury we did not have the first time around.  The benefit of perspective and life experience is pure gold.

That’s not to say we have got it all together.  It’s just different.  I am still awkward.  I’ve never felt I was part of the “super-mom, mommy and me, PTA” crowd.  When I pick up my boys and see all the fit 20-something mom’s in the coordinated active wear, delivered monthly, and messy buns, I feel out of place.  When I am in the check-out line at the grocery store with my boys, I am thankful when they call me “mommy” – ensuring I am not mistaken for  “Grandma.”

My bones and muscles get sore much more quickly.  And It seems really, really unfair to have age-spots appearing and greying hair while my youngest is still in pull-ups.  It should be a rule that can’t happen.  Those things should only happen when your children reach a certain age – no matter how old YOU are.

And then there are the days like today, where all HELL has broken-loose.  (Not H-E-double hockey sticks – but HELL, all caps HELL.) These are the days where I question what business I have being a 47-year old mom of preschoolers.  A day when in the midst of questioning my abilities as a Momma, I’m met with parenting suggestions from someone who does not have children – and it almost sends me over the edge.  She meant well and is a fabulous woman – but it’s comments like hers that underscore my own insecurities as a parent.  Days when I am doing it all wrong.  That something must be wrong with ME, that my kids aren’t the Angels that everyone else’s kids appear to be.

Where there is the slightest fear that I might be raising little serial killers.  It certainly appears that way when the second I am taking a business phone call and have to step out of the room, the two Littlest Littles proceed post-haste to actually attempt to murder each other with their bare hands.

(That’s sarcasm folks.  Don’t get your panties in a bunch. My kids are fabulous and well loved.)

And then….divinely inspired kind words float through the time and space of the Interwebs and my mom-tribe encourages me….  “You are not alone.” “Been there.”  “It will pass.” It’s like fresh air.  Calming my trembling spirit.  I am truly not alone. And we are certainly not the only ones who feel as if they are failing at this parenting gig most days.

Age has given such perspective in so many areas of my life.  In my career, in relationships.  I am so much more forgiving.   Willing to freely share what I know with others.  A desire to reach back and grab as many people as I can on the journey.  So why is it so hard to be that confident as a parent?

We are certainly not perfect.  Not by a long shot.  But there are perfect moments.  When my four-year old climbs up into my bed to give me a hug and squeezes me as hard as he can.  When my seven-year old excitedly shares with me a book he wants to get at the book fair, remembering that I told him it was one of my favorites as a child.  Sitting down for dinner and looking across the table and seeing all of my children together enjoying just being together.  It’s the moments that make all the difference. Oh, how I would love to freeze each and every one of them so I don’t forget them. Forgetfulness….another side-effect of aging (sigh).

And all the other times, in between “the moments”, I am grateful that I have my own tribe of “super-mom’s” on stand-by to reach back and carry me forward.  It almost makes me forget about my age-spots and grey hair.

Love and Prosperity 

Your Girl.FI.day 

Flipped @ Forty – Flipping the Script on my Career

Flipped @ forty.png

Gosh, when I was 16, forty was Old!  Not just old…but Ooooooooooold.  And here I am, not just forty, but on the upswing to fifty.  At the  time I am writing this, I will be celebrating my 47th birthday next week.  It’s almost incomprehensible to me.  And it makes me appreciate the cliché that, age is just a number.  I get it now.  Like, I really, REALLY get it.  I would never go back to twenty. Or even thirty for that matter.  Because, for me, life really started getting exciting at forty.

But it didn’t begin there.  In fact, in several areas of my life, the beginning of my forties began with a lot of heartache, despair and a feeling that I just didn’t know where or who I was anymore.  I understand why people have mid-life crises. Because that was me.  I didn’t go out a buy a convertible Camaro (Red.  With a back stripe down the hood and a black top with black leather interior – I didn’t get it, but I certainly did think about it an awful lot.) Instead, I got a red convertible Beetle.  The car I dreamed about when I was 16 years old but could never afford. I named her Lola Beatle and she was my mid-life crisis car. Have you gotten yours yet?

In this series of posts, I would like to share with you how I was able to flip the script on my forties.  My hope is that if you are at or near your forties and feel that it’s too late to start –you will realize that your forties do not have to be the beginning of the end, but simply the beginning.

For me, for my family, we started over in three significant areas of our lives in our forties.  We started our family over at forty, we began to really turn our finances around in our mid-forties and I started a new career recently, nearing 47. These were all BIG changes.  Changes many would never make at this stage in life for a lot of reasons, fear, complacency, or simply not knowing how.  Change is hard.  Change is scary.  REALLY really scary sometimes.  But doable.  SO DOABLE.

In this first post, I want to share how I started my career change.  Out of all of the areas of my life this is the one that took the longest.  It was a seven-year journey, full of hills and long, deep and sorrow-filled valleys.   The journey was long, but the moment I knew I needed a career change is vividly clear.

At the time, I had just begun a law partnership with a someone I considered one of my best friends.  Mistake number one.  We were two very different people and, while that was great for a friendship, not so much for business.  We were six months into our partnership and my family was on a short vacation in San Diego.  I was sitting on a beach reading a book and something in the book caused me to recall a negative comment my partner had made to me about our choice to adopt.  In that moment, I knew that I had to leave the partnership.   That our differences in family commitments, personal beliefs and business dynamic were already so far apart, that it was not going to last.  That the sooner we dissolved it, even if painful, the better.

And it WAS painful.  My partner did not understand, though I tried to explain.  She was hurt.  And I get that – I would have been too if the roles were reversed.  She had no idea it was coming.  Sadly, we never recovered.  And even now, it is a loss that still hurts my heart.

At the same time, I began to be dissatisfied with practicing law.  I was in the beginning stages of burnout.  Though I was making a decent income, enjoyed my colleagues and running my own practice immensely – I knew that the end of the runway was coming.  What followed was four years of soul-searching.  Knowing that I needed to find a new career – but unsure of what “that” was.  I combed the internet for careers.  Thought long and hard about what I thought I was good at, what I thought I wanted and I arrived at entering corporate America as an executive.  I was certain I would be successful and if I played my cards right, I would land a position in a company that allowed International travel – which was a huge bonus.

I was accepted into the Executive MBA program at my alma mater, Arizona State University, which had an International component and I began my studies.  It was exhilarating.  I enjoyed being in a learning environment – I thrived engaging with my classmates, many that were already executives and feeling that I belonged.  I had found my place.

The year prior to my entry into the MBA program we adopted our first foster-child.  He was almost two years old when I began the program.  I was in my second month of the program when our world was rocked upside down with the news that my son had two little brothers in foster-care – it was a sucker punch we never saw coming.  CPS wanted us to take them.  It changed everything.  They were 13-months old and a brand-new three-week old baby.  When they asked, there was no hesitation.  Our choice was clear, we had to take the babies.  Our son deserved to know his brothers and they deserved to know him.  The whole adventure of their arrival and departure was one of the most precious and grief-filled periods of my life and too much to go into detail here, this is, after all a post about career-change…(you can read about it, though, if you want to HERE.) but I digress…

Getting the babies meant I had to choose.  And I chose them.  There was no other option.  I could not run my law practice, care for three babies under 2 and also continue pursuing my MBA.  Though the choice was clear, but I was still devastated.  I was SO SURE.  I was SO SURE I had found my path.  I had prayed and prayed for answers and so when I was accepted into the MBA program – I believed that was the answer.  It was not.  That realization was painful, so very painful.

Our lives were consumed with the babies and after the babies left, two more babies came to us by the grace of God.  They ended up being THE answer, but I was still so filled with grief about the loss of Jaycob’s brothers and having to give up on my MBA, that I did not know that my boys were going to lead us to the answer at the time.  (If you are lost about the growth of our family – I know, it IS complicated – start here and read all 6 parts.  It will all make sense.)

It was during that whole tumultuous time that I realized all I wanted was to have more time with my kids.  I missed out on so much with my older two that I knew I wanted it to be different for our little boys.  The quandry was that I was still the bread-winner and our family relied on my income.  The pull to be home with my boys became almost unbearable.  It was then that I began researching how I could both have my practice and be at home.  I applied for a contract that would allow me to largely work from home.  Several months later I was excited to learn I had gotten it.  I was now able to earn the income our family was accustomed to – but also allowed me more time with my children.  It was perfect.  Almost.

We were now at year five of my mid-life career-crisis journey.  By this time, my husband had found a position in San Diego, something that we had dreamed of for years.  We were delighted to also learn that due to his increased income and health benefits, we were in a much better position financially.  And because I was primarily working from home, we were able to relocate to San Diego without a significant decrease in our income.  I continued to work my practice in Phoenix, making the drive between Phoenix and San Diego whenever I needed to.

But we were miserable, not with our life in San Diego – that was near perfect, but with the drain my traveling took on all of us.  I was also at the breaking point.  I was approaching full burn-out and my practice was suffering.  My mental-health was affected.  My children were impacted every time I had to leave.  The travel was straining my marriage.  It was time to do something.

I went back to the drawing board.  I took inventory of my skills and what I wanted out of a career.  Becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mom was not an option, nor a desire if I am 100% honest, though I knew that if I did not figure something out soon – I was not going to be able to make the choice to quit, it would be made for me.  So, I sat again on the beach.  That is MY place. I took mental note of all the things I knew I wanted. I wanted to be my own boss, I wanted a career that I could have unlimited income potential and one that I would not have to spend a fortune going back to school for.

Real Estate!  Becoming a Realtor checked every box for me.  I had briefly been licensed in Phoenix, but had not done much with it.  I knew that I could do it, if I was focused, and cimmitted to treating it as a business. So, I purchased the courses, studied extremely hard and got my license.

I am now six months in to my real estate career and I am seeing it grow every single day.  I am slowly winding down my law practice and anticipate I will be able to retire it after I have completed the handful of cases that remain on my caseload.

I turn 47 next week.  Just a year ago, I saw the end of the runway approaching faster and faster.  I was running out of time and catastrophe was ahead.  Today, I am hopeful.  I am invigorated.  I am excited to grow my real estate business.  I foresee the future we have planned for our kids.  I am home with them and they are thriving.  I am also fulfulled as a working mom, an entrepeunuer.  I get the best of both worlds.  The best ME in both those worlds.  And it’s just the beginning.

If you’re scared.  I know.  Starting over is scary.  Scary hard.  Fo-shizzle!  But – the one thing I learned through this tumultuous journey is this…stand firm.  When your whole world is crumbling around you, and you are full of fear.  Stand firm in it.  Because it will pass.  The fear will subside and it will be replaced with resolve.  And as soon as you find your resolve – then you take action. You are in charge of your life – it is up to you to change it.

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirFIday

Friday Night Under Five – Crockpot Seafood Gumbo-laya

Seafood Gumbolaya PINTEREST

GUMBOLAYA:

Not quite gumbo and not quite jumbalaya….but as tasty and best served over a heaping cup of white Basmati or Jasmine rice.

We made ours without sausage, but I can tell you from past experience, this is one occasion where I almost threw caution to the wind, and added the sausage anyway.  BUT we didn’t – this was seafood only. Don’t get me wrong, it was still incredibly delicious  – just a little twinge of longing for some really good sausage. Of all the meats – I miss pork most.  (wink)

Crock Pot Seafood Gumbo-laya

1/2 onion diced

1 green bell pepper

2 TBS minced garlic

6-8 cups of veggie stock

4 stocks of chopped celery

4-5 diced potatoes

2 1/2 TBS of tomato paste

1 can petite diced tomato

1 TBS paprika

1tsp cumin

1/2 TBS salt

1/2 TBS pepper

1/2 TBS Anthony’s creole seasoning

1-2 bags of uncooked med to large peeled and deveined shrimp

1 bag of scallops

Crab legs/meat

1 TBS flour

4 TBS butter split (Vegan “butter”)

3-4 cups of rice

2 limes

Add all ingredients except shrimp scallops and crab, butter and flour into a crock pot and let cook on low for 5 hours or on high for 3. (If you choose to add sausage it can go in the crock at this point as well.)

Cook your rice. (We use a rice cooker) Once your rice is cooked add the juice of three limes, mix and set aside.

An hour before you are ready to serve, add in the crab.  Then heat 2 TBS of butter on medium heat and put scallops in the pan flat side down. Let them cook for about 2 minuets and flip. If you like you can season them with paprika and salt and pepper. Once scallops are MOSTLY cooked add them (excess butter and all) into the crock pot. Stir and cover. Next do the same with your shrimp but DO NOT cook them all the way. Only cook them about half-way. Sprinkle the flour and (and optional seasoning) into the shrimp and mix well, coating the shrimp. Once the shrimp is half-way cooked, add to the crock pot. Let it sit for another 30 minutes and then it is ready to serve. The flour coated shrimp will help thicken the stew.  Serve over fragrant rice.

There is something about a hot bowl of soup or stew that just speaks comfort.  In our home, weekends are made for relaxing; putting on Netflix while the house slowly fills with the aroma of dinner.  At this moment, I am listening to the rain through my open windows.   The scent wafting through the house makes it really difficult to wait a few more hours to pour a hot bowl of goodness.  A near perfect day, if you ask me.

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirlFIday

ALDI Meal Challenge – Final Week 4

Aldi Challenge Week 4 (1).png

We made it! A week late, but still here.  Sickness while trying to keep all the various plates I have in the air AND not go completely mad is near impossible.  So as not to slip all the way into the crazy-pond, I gave myself permission to rest a bit this week.  I hope ya’all can forgive the delay.

So, here we are at week four of our ALDI Meal Challenge, and honestly, what started as an experiment, has helped us develop a very good strategy for meal planning while saving both money and time each week.  It also forced my daughter and I to sit down, take inventory of what we had and create a good variety of meal options around that.  I would have been happy to simply see a savings in our grocery bill – but to also reduce waste, eat better, save time and ensure my whole family came together at the table every night, are benefits that compound in value exponentially.

What was also really cool is that I did this with my 22-year old daughter.  She lives with us, as she has just finished an esthetics program and is getting ready to get back to work full-time.  In the meantime, as a trade-off and to contribute to the household she has basically taken over most of the meal preparation in this house. With is SUPER AWESOME for me as I am balancing two businesses, mom-in-chief of Team Mays, this blog and trying to get another passion project off the ground.  It allows us time to bond when we sit down and meal plan together, make the grocery list and shop with one another.  She helps me take pictures of most of the meals and also helps me write down each of the recipes.  So, I really do need to give her a HUGE amount of credit for seeing this challenge all the way through.  Momma thanks you bunches – Baby Girl!

So here is our final meal plan…  Madison did not disappoint this week.  I have a favorite!  The stuffed shells.  100% Vegan and, honestly, I don’t think there was a dirty plate left – they had all been licked clean (figuratively – not literally. Well, not literally for most of us.  I cannot vouch for all of the Littles).

Meal 1:  Honey Garlic Salmon, with Asparagus and Steamed broccoli

Meal 2:  Battered Fish Tacos on corn Tortilla, Shredded Cabbage, Limes, Chipotle Lime-sauce, with beans, rice and fresh salsa.

Meal 3: Stuffed Pasta Shells (recipe here)

Meal 4:  Taco Casserole **

Meal 5:  Pizza Empanadas **

Meal 6:  Super Nachos

Meal 7:  Gumbo-laya **

I’ve said this before, but in case you are new here…I am not a chef or a foodie.  I don’t have ANY aspirations of becoming a food blogger.  I am just a working mom, trying to manage my menagerie.  When I want to make a dish I usually search the internet for a recipe to base most of my ingredients on and then make adjustments depending on what I have or what I think would taste better.  I have tried to provide as many recipes as I can – because I know not everyone is as comfortable in the kitchen as others.  Even so, please bear in mind that most of the time I am just winging it here and the meal suggestions I have – are mostly just that – suggestions,  a guideline for your to create your own meal plan and to do so on a budget.

TACO CASSEROLE:

(This is very similar to the Tex Mex Corn Casserole previously posted with some slight variations in the ingredients and the “cheese” sauce.)

4-6 potatoes

1 can refried beans (pre-heated and thinned)

I pound ground meat (or no-meat crumbles.  We prefer Gardein.)

1 can of corn, drained

1 can pinto or chili beans, drained

Vegan “Nacho cheese”

Shredded Cheese (or Vegan Shreds)

Sliced Black Olives

Paprika to taste

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Cumin to taste

Chili powder to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cube potatoes and boil in water until they are almost cooked through. Strain and set aside.

Cook your “nacho cheese” and “meat” and set aside.

Once potatoes are strained and mostly dry, put at the bottom of a casserole dish. Add seasonings to your liking. Next pour “nacho cheese” over the potatoes. Then layer the pre-heated and thinned refried beans on top. (You can heat the beans up in the microwave and then add a bit of veggie stock and mix to thin them out) Next, layer the cooked “meat”. On top of the meat, add corn and chili beans. Next, sprinkle with cheese and, lastly, top with sliced olives. Pop in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minuets and serve.

Vegan Nacho Cheese

2 tablespoons vegan butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika powder

ground pepper

1 pinch garlic powder

1/3 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 cup veggie stock

Melt “butter” in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Once melted add in all ingredients EXCEPT veggie stock and whisk together. (It will be clumpy) then turn your stove to low heat and mix in the veggie stock, continue stirring with whisk, until nice and smooth. Serve asap.

(if you let the cheese sit it will thicken and will be a little hard to get off the pan.)

PIZZA EMPANADAS:

These are basically mini calzones…Just switching out the dough…

Make an Empanada Dough of your choice. (There are several easy ones if you Google it.)

Stuff with meat (meat alternative), sauce, and cheese (cheese alternatives) of your choice.

You can put just about any filling you like in these.  Ground beef, turkey, shredded beef, pork, even fruits for a yummy dessert.  They are a fun treat and changed up our Pizza Friday!

GUMBOLAYA:

Not quite gumbo and not quite jumbalaya….but as tasty and best served over a heaping spoonful of white Basmati or Jasmine rice.

We made ours without sausage, but I can tell you from past experience, this is one occasion where I almost threw caution to the wind, and added the sausage anyway.  BUT we didn’t – this was seafood only. Don’t get me wrong, it was still incredibly delicious  – just a little twinge of longing for some really good sausage. Of all the meats – I miss pork most.  (wink)

Crock Pot Seafood Gumbo-laya

1/2 onion diced

1 green bell pepper

2 TBS minced garlic

6-8 cups of veggie stock

4 stocks of chopped celery

4-5 diced potatoes

2 1/2 TBS of tomato paste

1 can petite diced tomato

1 TBS paprika

1tsp cumin

1/2 TBS salt

1/2 TBS pepper

1/2 TBS Anthony’s creole seasoning

1-2 bags of uncooked med to large peeled and deveined shrimp

1 bag of scallops

Crab legs/meat

1 TBS flour

4 TBS butter split (Vegan “butter”)

3-4 cups of rice

2 limes

Add all ingredients except shrimp scallops and crab, butter and flour into a crock pot and let cook on low for 5 hours or on high for 3. (If you choose to add sausage it can go in the crock at this point as well.)

Cook your rice. (We use a rice cooker) Once your rice is cooked add the juice of three limes, mix and set aside.

An hour before you are ready to serve, add in the crab.  Then heat 2 TBS of butter on medium heat and put scallops in the pan flat side down. Let them cook for about 2 minuets and flip. If you like you can season them with paprika and salt and pepper. Once scallops are MOSTLY cooked add them (excess butter and all) into the crock pot. Stir and cover. Next do the same with your shrimp but DO NOT cook them all the way. Only cook them until they are about half way cooked all the way through. Sprinkle the flour and (and optional seasoning) into the shrimp and mix well so that the shrimp is coated. Once the shrimp is half way cooked, add to the crock pot. Let it sit for another 30 minutes and then it is ready to serve. The flour coated shrimp will help thicken the stew.  Serve over fragrant rice.

I truly hope you have enjoyed both the shopping challenge and the meal options we have suggested.  Feeding a family on a budget can sometimes be frustrating and can get out of control.  What I hope we have shown is that, if you are a bit more intentional about both your shopping, and meal planning/prepping – you can make significant room in your budget – without sacrificing the joy that a good cooked meal can bring!

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirlFIday

Friday Night Under Five – Stuffed Pasta Shells

Pasta Shells PINTEREST

The Vegan version of these shells are seriously OFF.THE.CHAIN delicious.  I was surprised we had leftovers.  We would not have if my daughter had not made two huge pans (pictured above).  It’s when we have wonderful, filling and flavorful meals like these that I know we can live this (mostly) plant-based lifestyle for the rest of our lives.

If you are new to a plant-based diet or simply trying something new.  My advice is to keep trying new recipes.  Sometimes one person’s take on a recipe is just not a match to your taste-buds.  Make some modifications or try a different recipe.  Expand your horizons.  If you had told me, even just two short years ago, we would be eating a predominantly plant-based diet, I would not have believed you.  It is only because we have been willing to try, to venture outside of our comfort zone – that this has worked. You may just be pleasantly surprised if you give it go.

Pasta Shells (Vegan and Non-Vegan Variation)

1 jar of Marinara or Spaghetti sauce

Ricotta “cheese” (See recipe below) (or a 16 oz. container of part-skim ricotta cheese)

Vegan “meat” crumbles (We prefer Gardein Crumbles) (If using real meat – a pound of ground meat of your choice)

A Bunch of Cooked spinach (You can either chop and boil fresh spinach until just tender or buy a small package of frozen and defrost and heat in the microwave) (A bunch as in a bushel not as in A LOT.)

1/4 finely chopped medium onion

1-2 tsp. Paprika

½ tsp. Salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1-2 tsp. Garlic powder (or minced garlic)

Large shells (you can use jumbo shells or manicotti shells )

Vegan Mozzarella “Cheese” (or Mozzarella Cheese)

Parmesan Cheese (Optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Boil large shells in a large pot with a splash of oil in the water so they don’t stick to the pan.

While water is heating and shells are boiling cook your meat or meat substitute. Add a bit of water to keep it moist and season with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and 1/4 a chopped onion. Add more seasoning to taste.

Once the “meat” is fully cooked, turn off heat and mix the cooked spinach with the meat. Once all of that is mixed add-on the ricotta. Make sure all three ingredients are fully mixed. (You can add a bit of Parmesan cheese here or a Vegan parm substitute.)

Once your shells are soft drain the water in a strainer and run cold water over the shells until they are cool to touch.

Get a glass pan and spread half the Marinara on the bottom.

To fill the shells a quick hack is to get an extra large zip block bag and cut off one of the bottom corners. (Don’t make it too small or the ricotta mix won’t come out) put the zip block bag with the cut tip down a large cup. Fold the sides of the bag over the cup. Then spoon the ricotta filling into the bag. Once the bag is full you can use just as you would a “frosting bag” and squeeze the filling into each of the shells.

A spoon works well too – just a little messy.

Use your “frosting bag” to fill your jumbo shells with the ricotta stuffing until your pan is full.

Use the remaining marinara sauce to top the jumbo shells then sprinkle some mozzarella over the whole dish. (Optional: sprinkle with additional parm. or parm. Substitute.

Bake for 20 minutes or until heated all the way through.

Serve with green veggies and garlic or hot crusty bread.

 

Ricotta “cheese”

2 cups boiled/ softened raw cashews

3 TBS lemon juice

1 TBS minced garlic

1 TBS maple syrup (you can also use Agave)

1/4 cup non-dairy milk (we use unsweetened almond)

1 1/2 TBS olive oil

1 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. salt

Basil and parsley for taste

Blend till smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides