I’m Stitchin’

For those that know me well, you know that I am not a fashionista by any means. I’m the girl in college who had enough hoodies, jeans, and sweatpants to get me through two weeks of classes before having to do laundry. I’m queen of the pony-tail, tee-shirt, and nike ensemble. In the last five years I’ve also added mommy-yoga-pant uniform to my repertoire as well. Shopping is something I love to do, but buying smart items that actually go together with the other pieces of clothing in my closet is something that I SUCK at doing. I have ZERO fashion sense. And I end up blowing tons of money on items that do nothing to complete my wardrobe.

I’ve finally gotten to my post-baby goal weight, I’m feeling great – sleep deprived – but great, and I’m ready to step up my style a notch. I don’t have a huge budget, so don’t expect to see haute couture up in here. We’re talking an Old Navy, Target, and Ann Taylor LOFT outlet kind of budget. However, I am also willing to pay a little more money for quality items that I can wear in a variety of ways. This my lovelies, is why I’m trying out Stitch Fix. Have you heard of it? I’ve been eyeing it for the last year as I sat on the couch hugely pregnant, dreaming of my post-pregnancy bod.

Haven’t heard of it? Let me tell ya about it! Stitch Fix is a personal styling experience. It’s twenty dollars up front for a styling fee, but you get to take that amount off of what you keep. If you keep all of the items then you’ll get 25% off of your purchase. You can also get it on demand, monthly, or every few months. You do NOT have to make a monetary commitment to use it until you actually schedule your Stitch Fix to be delivered.

If you go to the Stitch Fix website and sign up, you will fill out your style profile where they ask about your sizes, style preferences, what you like to flaunt and what you like hide, and how you like your clothing to fit (this part is totally free). You also get two opportunities to tell your stylist about what you are looking for in your fix and to tell them more about yourself. For example, in my latest fix, I asked my stylist, Melissa, for fun printed tops to transition into spring, white jeans, and a longer necklace. I’m including my preview pictures and I am so excited for them to arrive next week! OH! And your stylist stays the same, unless you ask for a different one, so they really get to know you and what you like or dislike.stitchfix2

Stitch Fix will send you five items that your stylist picks for you. (My five for March are right above) Try them on. Style them. Decide what you want to keep and what you want to send back within three days in the prepaid bag. You only pay for what you keep and your $20 styling fee is subtracted from that, or 25% and $20 off if you keep it all.

I didn’t get to take pics of everything that was sent in my first fix, but I ended up keeping two out of the five items. A pair of dark skinny jeans and a coral colored cardigan. I liked all of the items sent, but they just didn’t fit the way I had hoped they would. You can see the style guide insert of what they sent to me and how I could possibly style the pieces – a great tool for the fashion challenged gal that I am!first-fix

If you are looking for a different shopping experience or just don’t have time to get out there and shop because you are a full-time working mom, or you just don’t like shopping, you should give this a try. Click on the Stitch Fix Link below and fill out your style profile and schedule your first fix! I do get a $25 dollar credit for referring you, so thank you a bunch if you do decide to try it out.

Sign up for your first fix by clicking HERE!

If you have questions, feel free to comment and ask away! I don’t have a ton of experience with the service yet, but from what I’ve experienced so far, I’m impressed!

Stay tuned for my post next week about how my March Stitch Fix turns out with actual pictures of me wearing the clothes – whether they look awful or not!

A Swaddling Situation

I swear something happens to children and their sleep at four months that makes you feel like you live in a circus. A circus that performs at night. All night. I think swaddling is to blame, or at least I’m blaming it on the swaddle.

Little Luke has gotten too big for his swaddling apparatus, so he’s become quite the Houdini at night. And it’s seriously crazy how much that swaddle messes with his sleep and mine! He does great for the first four hours of sleep, and then apparently it is escape time. I am PRAYING that Amazon Prime comes through for me and his new arm flailing security sack is on my doorstep when I come home from work.

Here is how last night went – I hope to NEVER repeat it again!

11:30 – I hear the sound of a rustling baby on the monitor, so before he can fully wake up I jump out of bed and hurry to his room, quietly open his door and sneak in to settle his flailing arms into his swaddle sack. Plug him back up with his paci and thank the Lord he didn’t wake up too much.

12:38 – He goes from sleeping to wailing. Again, I roll out of bed, walk across the house and re-swaddle and the paci is gone. Nowhere to be found. So, I feed the kid. I replace the MIA pacifier. Get it out of the way now so hopefully after this feeding I can sleep until 4:30am. He eats, we cuddle, life is so sweet and precious with his baby snuggles and sounds. He is happily swaddled by 1:15 and life is good.

2:38 – CRYING out of nowhere. I roll over and listen, surely he’ll just fall back asleep, he doesn’t need the swaddle. He has to learn how to sleep without it, right? No such luck, I go in and this time his swaddle thing is completely off of him. So, I wrangle him back into it and go to find the paci. DANG IT. I forgot it disappeared. So now I’m army crawling around the nursery looking for it. Under the crib, in front, behind, across the room, in the middle of the room, under the dresser. I’m on my hands and knees looking EVERYWHERE. Nope. Nowhere to be found. This means I need to hunt down another one that goes to daycare and is on one of those tether things. I have no contacts or glasses on and it’s pitch black as I attempt to get the paci off the tether and into the room with the screaming baby. I get back and he’s already unswaddled himself, so I give him the paci, and re-swaddle him TIGHT. He is not going anywhere! And I get to bed. SIGH.

5 minutes later – I can’t sleep. I think I swaddled him too tightly. Did I swaddle him so tight he’s going to stop breathing? No. No. He’s fine. But I don’t hear him over the monitor. What if he can’t breathe? UGH! (please tell me I’m not the only mom who worries about this!) Up again to check on the swaddle to make sure he’s not being squeezed to death. He’s fine. The swaddle isn’t too tight, in fact it was almost off of him. He was sleeping soundly. I love when I overreact – at almost 3am!

3:40 – And he’s crying. AGAIN. This time I go in and he’s scooted himself all the way up to the top corner of the crib and ramming his head into the crib because he can’t move up any further. I repeat all the above actions, EXCEPT the paci. This one is gone, too. FOR REAL? What is this kid doing with the pacifiers in this household!?! I’m back to army crawling around the crib to find the dang thing. Luckily he knocked this one just under the crib. But he wanted nothing to do with it. So, human pacifier I became again. But now he’s super snotty and stuffed up and pissed off because he can’t breathe. Nose Frieda here we come. Let’s piss off baby a little more at 3:45 in the morning as I suck the snot out of him. At least he can breathe fine afterwards.

After feeding for the second time. I. Am. Done. No swaddle, in the rock n’ play, in my room. Hopefully I get an hour more of sleep before I need to get up at 5AM.

Thankfully, I did sleep, but 5am came too soon. And Matthew came in at 5:01, right after I told my husband I was going to sleep for just 15 more minutes. Matthew wanted to come “sleep” with me in my bed – which really means can he come in bed and poke me and roll around. Four year olds, seriously.

After last night’s circus, this momma drove to Starbucks for a venti skinny vanilla and headed to work. Made her oatmeal and then spilled it all over herself and the floor. Just great. Thank goodness it is Friday, because I plan to go home and get in my bed, put on Netflix, and NEVER leave…at least until my boys get home and need dinner, my boob, and to play.

Momming. A one woman circus!

Oh, and the paci that disappeared. It was in the book basket right next to his crib. Right under my nose the ENTIRE time.

Run Katie Run

For years I’ve envisioned myself as a superstar runner in a slimming spandex ensemble beautifully running on a wooded path. However, the reality is completely opposite. I have no spandex ensemble and up until just recently I couldn’t even run a mile, let alone gracefully, on a wooded path. I’m not sure that will EVER happen, but it’s okay to dream right?

I’m not sure what this second pregnancy did to me and my threshold for pain, but after having Luke, I decided to run while I was on a walk clearing my head of the chaos that parenting two children has become. I don’t know how far I ran or how fast, but I ran – more like a combination of a walk-jog. All the post-partum gloriousness of leaky boobs and bouncy belly skin sloshing along as I ran, but I did it and I felt free. It’s been awhile since I felt like nothing was weighing me down. When I’ve tried to run in the past, I always quit about a half mile in because I hated the heaviness in my legs and the feel of not being able to breathe in my chest. But my attempts to run after this baby has been different and I’m going to keep going.

My recovery after Luke was awful. My c-section did not go smoothly (which is another story for a different day) and as a result, my recovery was very painful. Even though it was pain like I had never felt before, it made me really understand what physical pain really felt like. Now, when I do a hard workout or run, I have a new frame of reference when I start feeling like I can’t go any further. I’m more capable of pushing through and not giving up when it gets hard – because I now know what HARD is. Pushing my body to be better, healthier, is not hard by any means.

Now that I have multiple children I feel like my mind is that ride at a fair called the scrambler. It pushes and pulls you in every possible direction. My mind never seems to shut off, even when I’ve been up all night nursing my babe, and all my body and soul wants to do is sleep. Exercise in particular has helped this mind scrambling to shut off. On days when I don’t run or exercise, my mind races and races. Running though, it almost feels like meditation to me. I have one goal to accomplish, unlike with a bootcamp/exercise class where I have to focus on the task at hand, and it gives me the time to sort out my thoughts as I trot like donkey through the neighborhood…because nothing about me right now is graceful!

In the past, I “tried” to implement some type of running into my life because in my mind it was a quick way to lose weight. Now that I’m 32 and have attempted to lose weight multiple times, and only doing it successfully once, there is no quick way to lose weight. And running ain’t easy. Needless to say, my attempts at running didn’t last longer than running to the top of my street and walking the rest of the way. I did so much wrong every time I started to run, that I quit before I even got ahead.

This time though, I have a plan. Or will have a plan, because my friend Jen at www.runjen.com is going to coach me through it. She’s like the holy grail of running knowledge and experience, and I am so excited to be working with her to get me on a running routine. I met Jen when Adam and I lived in Greensboro, NC. Our husbands worked together and we became fast friends!

My current running plan has been to lace up my Nike’s, pop in my earbuds, turn on my fitbit and just see what happens. Which is probably setting myself up for failure – like ever other time I ran, except this time I don’t care about losing weight and I can handle the pain of the run. I’m currently able to run two miles. Woop woop! Not far for some, or really far for others. Right now it’s just right for me, because it’s still pretty challenging for me to do. However, I would like to actually know what I’m doing and have a goal. I’m running a 5K at the end of March, so we’ll see what progress the next four weeks of running brings so I don’t completely kill myself when I set out for that run.

As of now, this is what I know. Jen is making me a 12-week plan of awesomeness. I trust her to challenge me and help me through this because I know I’m good at quitting and she won’t let me. I’m not going to quit this time. Why? Because my mommy-sanity needs the time to clear my head of the bat-shit crazy feelings I have balancing all aspects of my life. 

I’m going to keep y’all updated about how this new adventure in fitness goes! I’m sure it’ll be interesting to say the least.

Hope

Four years ago, the doctors told us that getting pregnant wouldn’t happen without IVF. By the grace of God, it did happen for us without fertility, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not count my blessings for our sweet boy. I know that he was a miracle; a true gift.

Over the last three years I’ve been immersed in motherhood and forgotten what it is like to be in the middle of trying to get pregnant. However, I haven’t forgotten the stats the doctors provided us when we tried to get pregnant the first time – the awful “you won’t get pregnant without medical intervention stats.” I kind of forgot what the hollowness and loneliness of infertility felt like.

I vowed to myself that when we started to try again I wouldn’t become OBSESSED. I would not print out ovulation charts and track my temperatures every day. I would not spend a fortune on ovulation predictor tests. I would not take multiple tests when I wasn’t even more than a day late in my cycle. And most importantly I would not be upset when the tests weren’t positive, because really, they weren’t going to be – no need to get my hopes up, right?

Now that I’m back on the baby-making train all those vows seem to be forgotten and my mind becomes consumed with fertility windows, ovulation predictor kits, stalking my cycle app to be sure that I really did in fact miss a period or that we really did do the horizontal tango on the correct days, OH and inventing symptoms that may or may not be pregnancy related (I’m really good at being a pregnancy hypochondriac). I am more tired than normal, right? Hell, I’m always tired with a toddler who wakes up at 4 AM, who am I trying to kid?

I don’t want to be in this place where I become completely irrational and my mind becomes consumed with pregnancy and what it takes to become pregnant – I know that frame of mind only brings on stress and depression. But I’m going to be honest here, I don’t know how to NOT become consumed with it. I don’t know how to not think about cycles, and symptoms, and googling false negative pregnancy test statistics. I’m at a loss of how to maintain my sanity while praying, wishing, and trying to have another child.

I don’t know how to let go of HOPE. I’m not sure any woman who deals with infertility does.

I’m staying optimistic for the next few years that God will bless us with another little one – hopefully it doesn’t take that long. I’m going to try my best to stay rational and enjoy the “process” (wink, wink) and focus on my marriage and raising my sweet Mr. Cheeks, but I know it won’t be easy. I know there will be days that I just want to curl up into fetal position and cry my eyes out. I guess it’s all just a part of the process, right?

 

 

 

 

January Budget – KILLED IT!

Budgeting is a lot like losing weight. It takes consistency, planning, mental will power, and accountability. It’s also very similar because once you design the plan and are pumped about that plan, you’ve got to stick to it to be successful.

In all honesty, my first month of living on our budget was an epic failure. Mostly because it was November, and with Christmas coming up and a week-long visit to Ohio, we were hemorrhaging money it seemed. We went over in just about every category.

Month two of this budgeting journey was December. We had the plan in place, but being the holidays, we definitely had quite a bit of extras to deal with that month as well. We didn’t do horribly. We saved some money, but didn’t maximize our saving potential, which is what we need to be doing since we’re building a house.

But January though, hot DAMN did we kill it! The thing about a family budget that is definitely different than losing weight is that you HAVE to be accountable to someone. If I overspend selfishly, it has an impact on my entire family, not just me. If I eat 5 pieces of pizza, that’s all on me and my expanding waist-line.

We still have room to improve. We definitely went over in some of the categories like groceries and miscellaneous expenses, so for February we really need to come up with some better ways to save money at the grocery store and really hone in on our needs vs. wants, because the unnecessary spending falls into the miscellaneous category. We aced eating out this month with $50 bucks left out of $200. GO US!

What I wanted to share with y’all today is some of the tools that I used to get started on my budgeting kick. I had the mental and motivational aspect covered after I realized how my lack of self control with spending was negatively impacting my marriage and family, but I needed to start learning how to budget. I was CLUELESS.

First, I started reading some personal blogs of others who started their own personal budgeting journey. My two favorites are Our Freaking Budget and Money Peach. I like how they write, and they are just like you and me, in debt or doing something that is negatively impacting their finances and they had to change things up.

Educating yourself is key. I also have read Dave Ramsay in the past and really love his philosophy on money. I’m always trying to read about something financial daily. There is just so much to learn! So, I challenge you to read up!

Next, I started using mint.com. I signed up the accounts we exclusively use for spending which is just our one credit card and our bank account. Once those were loaded, I thought about the categories we needed to put into place to keep ourselves on track. My best recommendation is to keep these categories as simple as can be. What works for us might not work for you, but here are our categories:

  1. Mortgage/Rent: we don’t have a mortgage as of now, but we pay rent and have a storage unit. I lumped those two together.
  2. Auto & Transport: Anything to do with our cars goes here.
  3. Food & Dining: Groceries
  4. Food & Dining: Eating out: I separated these two categories because I know we have an eating out problem, so I wanted to be EXTREMELY aware of how much we were eating outside of the home. This included Starbucks runs as well – which I’ve pretty much cut out of my life. Making coffee at home is just more economical.
  5. Bills and Utilities: all our bills (cable, cell phone, electric, gas, etc.)
  6. Financial: this category is for my student loan payments and supplemental insurance payments (life, cancer, etc.)
  7. Babysitter & Daycare: Two more years of maxing out this payment category (unless God blesses us with another kiddo) and we can free up some money to go elsewhere.
  8. Cash & ATM withdrawals: This was another hole in our budget. We were withdrawing cash and it was just like disappearing money. I don’t log in and account for what I use cash on, so I made it a category. We’ve tightened up here a lot!
  9. Miscellaneous Expenses: dog food, personal purchases, shopping, anything that doesn’t fall into any of the categories above.

My goal when setting up the budget is for us to save between $1,000 to $1,500 a month. I say we KILLED it this month because we ended up saving about $1,700. Much more than I had anticipated.

The thing is my friends, if I can do this budgeting business, you can too. I grew up with little to no financial responsibility. I never had to be accountable to anyone about money until I married Mr. ShuTown; who grew up with a lot of lessons on how to spend and save money. And even after marrying him, I was a financial failure. If I had to survive on my own after college, I am 100% certain that I would’ve dug myself into a debt hole that I could not have found my way out of. So thankful that wasn’t the case.

Start making a budget now, so you can set yourself or your family up for future success. It’s not just about putting money in the bank now either, it’s about getting it together so you can RETIRE. I’ll be doing a retirement post in the future, because that is a whole different ball game that I am still wrapping my head around!

Feel free to share your financial struggles with me. I would love to hear how you are inspired to change, or if you just flat out have no CLUE where to start.

 

 

 

Hands Free

I like to take Mr. Cheeks to the park around the corner from where we live. It’s an awesome park that has LOTS of shade, and if you’ve ever lived in the south in August you’ll know that shade is essential for survival. I forgot to bring my phone with me, so I had more time to be present and observant while at the park. I’m so glad I forgot my phone that day, because as I enjoyed playing with and watching my son play, I also saw how many parents were sitting on benches playing games on their phones. Or parents who were standing and “supervising” while doing something mindless extremely important on their phones. There was even a parent there that was so focused on their phone that they didn’t even see their child leave the playground area and run into the parking lot. Not one parent there, except me at the time, was REALLY in the moment enjoying the beautiful day at the park with their babes. It was so sad. This was a HUGE wakeup call for me, because had I had my phone, I would’ve been sucked into the social media/technology world and only semi-watching my child.

The other day while I was washing dishes a thought popped into my head. I wonder how many marriages would be saved, or how many more people would be more satisfied in their marriages if there was no technology in the house. Back before television, cell phones, tablets, and gaming consoles, what did married couples do to fill their hours after work and on weekends? Most likely they were able to have deep conversation about life, world events, family matters, etc. They had time to go for walks, sip a glass of wine together, cook dinner together, and enjoy one another’s company. And this is a crazy thought y’all, they probably even had more sex! EEEK! I know that Mr. ShuTown and I definitely don’t have as much meaningful conversation as we normally would, and should, if we didn’t have a television and cell phone to keep us occupied, and we aren’t even THAT plugged in. I thought it was a pretty interesting thought to ponder.

Do you ever find yourself stressed out because your calendar is overbooked with playdates, community events, volunteer hours, or appointments?

Do you ever find yourself missing quality time with your family because there is a pile of dishes in your sink, or loads of laundry that need to be folded, or you just HAVE to mop the floor before you sit down?

Do you find yourself hearing the notifications ping on your phone and stopping what you are doing so you can check what they are for, and then find yourself still checking 10 minutes later?

Do you find that your children want to spend more time watching tv, or playing on a tablet than coloring, playing with their toys, or playing outside? And you let them because you’re just too damn exhausted to care at this point?

Do you ever find yourself feeling anxious about all there is that you need to get done in the day and that there is just no possible way that you can make lunches, finish that pinterest project, keep your house clean, and even make sure that you’ve showered as well?

I find myself feeling all of the above and more!

One of the reasons I began this blog is to document how I’m making steps to bring more overall happiness into my life and the life of those in my family. And maybe some of what I’m doing will inspire you to make some changes, too. Happiness is a bit vague I realize, so my goal is to feel more daily joy, not to miss out on those moments in life that I’ll look back on when I’m dying and be proud of.

My number one goal is to invest my time, focus, energy and love in TODAY.

Perfection is not what I’m striving for. In fact, I’m striving for the complete opposite. Life is messy and full of imperfections, and I want to spend more of my time being caught up in the HOT MESS of ShuTown. The laundry that is still in the dryer (since Sunday, and will probably stay there until the weekend) because I’ve chosen to spend my time bundled up in the cold playing paw patrol in the yard, or putting minion stickers on construction paper – that’s the kind of messy I’m talking about. I’m talking about my time being spent doing activities that add value to me, to my son, and to my husband.

Just from what I shared at the beginning of this blog, I can see how being always plugged in, or being focused on all of the to-do lists, chores, and commitments is having a negative impact on our lives. I never want to feel like I’ve put more focus on the technology world than my own real-life world, or to have my son say that he remembers going to the playground a lot, but mommy spent more time on her phone instead of going down the slide with him. Or hear him say that he wishes I would’ve spent more quality time with him. I also don’t want to miss daily conversation with my husband, because that is what initially made me fall in love with him – our ability to talk to one another about anything for hours upon hours.

For the next week or longer (hopefully much longer), I’m trying something CRAZY. I’m going to drastically cut back from being PLUGGED in to my cell phone, and television, so I can be more present in the TODAY of my life. I’m going HANDS FREE. I’m not cutting it out altogether, because that is pretty unrealistic, but I’m cutting it out in ways that will allow me to focus on more quality time with my family and more personal time reading books, walking our pup, exercising, and hey, maybe I’ll even take up some form of crafting! So here is my plan:

  • No Facebook or Instagram from the time I get home until after Mr. Cheeks goes to bed. Currently, I find myself sitting on the couch snuggling with my little guy, but craning my neck around him to scroll through news feeds. No more of that! This will allow me to really be tuned in to conversation with my son. Even if he is watching a show, we could be talking about what is happening in the show together. More than likely though, I’ll be on the floor playing hot wheels, or being a human bridge for the hot wheels to drive over.
  • After the babe is in bed, no more than 15 minutes catching up on those social media news feeds. After bedtime duty has expired, I usually veg out on the couch scrolling through news feeds, while Mr. ShuTown mindlessly flips through television channels. Obviously we are REAL exciting in our down time. Or, if we’re watching a television show, I’ll be semi-tuned in to the show AND plugged in to my technology. No more of that! In fact, I’d love for less television to happen as well, but if I’m paying for the damn stuff, I’m going to use it. (This is an expense in our budget that I’d be more than happy to kick to the curb!) Making this change will enable the hubs and I to really listen to one another as we talk, and might actually make us feel more rested in the morning since we’ll probably go to bed earlier!
  • No cell phone plugged in next to my bed. I don’t use my phone as an alarm clock, and I keep it on silent all night. I plug it in and proceed to news feed scroll (UGH this is awful how much time I am wasting!) before I go to bed, and end up being up later than necessary, because I MUST read before I go to bed. So, making this change will give me the chance to read more, and not mess up my sleep by having cell phone light blasting into my eyes – lots of studies report that the light from cell phones can really have a negative impact on your sleep.

I may find some more ways to unplug, and if I do, I’ll share. But, I challenge you to find some ways to spend more time being PRESENT in your life, with your children, with your spouses or significant others. Watch more sunsets, build more snowmen with your kids this winter, have a glass of wine and conversation on the couch with your husband, wife or close friend without televisions on or cell phones nearby to distract you from those special moments.

I’m going to close this post with a Hands Free Pledge that I read in a book called Hands Free Mama that has inspired me to make some of these changes.

The Hands Free Pledge

I’m becoming Hands Free.

I want to make memories, not to-do lists.

I want to feel the squeeze of my child’s arms, not the pressure of over-commitment

I want to get lost in conversation with the people I love, not consumed by a sea of

unimportant emails.

I want to be overwhelmed by sunsets that give me hope, not by overloaded

agendas that steal my joy.

I want the noise of my life to be a mixture of laughter and gratitude, not the

intrusive buzz of cell phones and text messages.

I’m letting go of distraction, disconnection, and perfection to live a life that simply,

so very simply, consists of what really matters.

I’m becoming Hands Free.

– Hands Free Mama, Rachel Macy Stafford.

 

 

Why go broke for Christmas?

It’s January. Our wallets are empty from Christmas and we’re desperately trying to maintain whatever new year resolution(s) we’ve set it place so we can make 2016 the best year yet. Have you stuck to your goals or already fallen off the wagon?

But let’s go back to those wallets that need to be replenished and talk about why we feel the need to go broke during December and over spend on presents.

As Mr. ShuTown and I wrapped our son’s presents this year we looked at them and then at each other and questioned whether we bought him enough. Looking at the minimal presents that were going to be under the tree made us feel as though we were cheating him out of gifts. He’s three! Of course we bought him enough! He is just beginning to understand what Christmas and his birthday (which falls 8 days before Christmas) is all about. He doesn’t know how much is a lot! We spent MORE than enough money on him, and he’s already forgotten about half of the presents he opened.

My question throughout the holiday season was what will bring our family more happiness in the long run, the stress of going into debt for the sake of opening presents, or creating memories and traditions and spending quality time together? I feel like anyone would answer that one with memories and traditions, yet we still break the bank to flood our living rooms with presents.

Christmas happened after I had my money makeover and I had to remind my husband and myself of what this season was all about and what we wanted to teach our son about the holiday season. We desire to have Mr. Cheeks appreciate the gifts he’s been given, (while we don’t go into debt over it) to remember the traditions we’ve created, and to celebrate the reason for the season – the birth of Jesus Christ.

We don’t want to teach him that we wake up on Christmas Day to find an excess of THINGS we don’t really need. We want to teach him that Christmas time is a time to celebrate Jesus, but is also a time where Santa will bring us a few special things just because and to be thankful for those special gifts.

Growing up, my family was never big on presents. My mother did a phenomenal job of getting us the few presents we REALLY desired, and then filled the rest of her budget with items we needed or that she thoughtfully picked out for us. I remember comparing my Christmas load to my other friends and feeling let down because Santa brought them so many great things, while I just got one or two exciting presents.

What I failed to realize then is that it wasn’t all about the presents; it was about the memories made and the people those memories were made with.

Now as an adult who lives far away from family, I look back and long for the big family get-together on Christmas Eve where time was spent catching up with Aunts and Uncles from far away, and visiting with close family friends that felt like family. I don’t remember the gifts I opened, I remember the happiness I felt being surrounded by those that I love the most.

As Mr. Cheeks grows up and becomes increasingly aware of presents, toys, and possessions, Mr. ShuTown and I plan to keep our giving to what is in our budget, and to fill our son’s holiday memories with exciting traditions and experiences. His memories will last him a lifetime, while the latest Paw Patrol or Blaze the Monster Machine toy will be thrown in a storage tub before the end of the year with all the forgotten toys of years past. That’s the beauty of memories, they last forever and get passed down to future generations.

How does Christmas go for you? Do you break the bank and go all out with presents galore, or do you focus on the special moments and traditions? Will you be changing anything for next year?

 

 

It’s Official!

 

It’s official, we’re preparing to write the biggest check we’ve ever written – We’re building a house!

This is truly a blessing for the ShuTown family and we’re thrilled and blessed to be able to take this step for our family. This house means a lot to us especially because we had to struggle a bit in order to be able to build it.

When we moved from Atlanta and sold our house, we took quite a big loss on it since we bought it right before the housing market tanked in 2008. Thankfully we were smart and put 20% down on that house and weren’t underwater on our mortgage. While we lost quite a bit of money, we didn’t come out of the sale in the negative.

When we found ourselves relocating to Jackson, MS we were prepared to rent for a year for a few reasons. The first reason being that we were moving to an unfamiliar place and wanted to give ourselves time to scope out where we wanted to buy a home. The second reason being that we just didn’t have enough money to buy a house. Well let me rephrase that. It would be a stupid financial decision to buy a house because we didn’t have 20% to put down, and we didn’t have an emergency fund to fall back on if something awful happened. So renters we became.

After we signed our contract last night to build our new house, I started reflecting on the last year and a half of living in our duplex. Going from a 2,000 square foot house to almost 900 square feet hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been almost miserable. After being used to having room to spread things out, room to store belongings, and room to have “me” time if necessary, to going to a place where you are literally living on top of one another is quite an adjustment to make. I’m glad this chapter of duplex living is coming to an end, but it’s definitely taught me quite a few lessons.

  1. You can learn a lot from being uncomfortable. When your living room, dining room, child’s play room, and exercise room are all the same space, you learn to just accept your current surroundings and deal. Yoga mats turn into hot wheel tracks, ottomans turn into toy boxes, and your television viewing is limited to Nick Junior between the hours of 4AM and 7PM. Being uncomfortable makes you appreciate the chaos of life, and makes you really excited to have more someday. Being uncomfortable also makes you appreciate the struggle your parents went through to provide the life you grew up with. Many of the people my age are buying homes the size of, if not larger, than the houses their parents have/had. Many of us are lucky to be able to do that at 30, but we don’t fully realize how much sweat and stress our parents went through to provide that for us. I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to be uncomfortable, to have to save money and work hard to afford the house we’re building. Mr. ShuTown and I are lucky that we’ve had to communicate and fight about money and learn how to navigate this area of marriage to set us up for success in the future. It makes me appreciate this building process so much more.
  2. I don’t need nearly as much as I once thought I did. After living in such tight quarters, I’m inspired to begin to live a more minimalistic lifestyle. Living the duplex life has made me live without a whole storage unit of items. To be honest, I have no clue what is all in the storage unit. If I haven’t missed it for over a year, then certainly I could continue to do without it. I also don’t need as much living space as I thought I did. Our new house will be just under 1900 square feet and I’m so excited about it. We’re living within our means, and I don’t have to clean more house than I want to, which gives me more time to do the things in life that make me happiest. That’s a WIN in my book.
  3. It doesn’t matter what the roof over your head looks like. If most of my friends or family saw what we’ve been living in in the last year, we’d probably be the topic of gossip around the dinner table – and I’m sure we have been from the few family members that have been here. But SO WHAT. I am not going to apologize for living somewhere awful for a temporary period of time so we can afford to live somewhere really AWESOME for a VERY LONG period of time. There is too much obsession in our society today of keeping up with the Joneses. I love the quote that goes something like “Don’t spend money you don’t have impressing people who don’t care.” While my roof wasn’t beautiful or comfortable the last year and a half, we made the right financial decision to be able to be blessed with building our next house. The memories and laughter made in our duplex are what matters, not the walls that surrounded us.

Life is about struggle and growth. Learning from your mistakes. I’m happy to see the duplex go, but I don’t want to forget that sometimes it’s okay to be a little uncomfortable in life if it ultimately leads to long-term happiness.

The Weakest Link

I’m the weakest link.

Yep. I’m the weakest link in our family’s finances.

Let me preface this post by saying Mr. ShuTown and I have a rock solid marriage. I love him more than I could ever express in word form and I believe he is my true forever. But Mr. ShuTown and I have never gotten along when it comes to money.

Disagreement over finances is one of the leading causes of divorce, and I can definitely see why. I don’t believe every couple needs to see eye to eye on everything in a marriage. In fact I think that is what makes marriages last is by having differences of opinion – it keeps things interesting. However, I do believe that stress and frustration in a marriage can be eliminated when you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to spending and saving money.

Mr. ShuTown and I, for the last 7 years, have not been on the same page, and I am the one to blame. It’s hard to write those words because I have never wanted to disappoint anyone, but as I write them I feel a huge sense of failure and disappointment in myself.  In the last 7 years we have struggled to save money despite making a very comfortable combined salary. After our billionth fight over not saving money and the sad reality that if we don’t change something, we’ll be living in our classy awful duplex forever. I decided to check into our spending habits and see what the issue was.

I started using mint.com (I LOVE IT!) and classified all of our spending on our credit card and bank account over the last two years. I categorized, and researched, and analyzed all that we have been doing over the last few years (which was extremely time consuming) and came to a few conclusions. My first conclusion: we eat out A LOT. Another conclusion: we spend a ton of money on groceries AND eat out a lot – SO WASTEFUL. Final conclusion: I waste SO MUCH MONEY buying THINGS. My wants VASTLY out numbered my needs and I was the reason we weren’t saving money.

I was the weakest link, the issue, the reason we were failing. Latte trips, target trips, Ann Taylor Loft how I love thee. Oh, and that Beachbody business I thought I was going to BANK in, yeah, that drained our finances, too. Because I am an idiot with no self control when it comes to money…well I was. Things have been changing in ShuTown.

I felt sick. I felt like I was failing my husband, who rarely buys anything for himself. I was out buying designer this or that, expensive coffees, and who knows what, while he sacrificed his wants every month knowing there was no room for them. I needed a money makeover ASAP. I was disgusted with myself.

Using mint has helped me see where we are spending our money, and where we can cut our spending so we can save. I was able to see our average spending in certain categories so I could make a budget to stay on track.

Well, now I’m OBSESSED. I visit mint.com every morning to see where we are and how close we are getting in each of our categories. I know when bills are going to hit, and how much they are going to be every month.

See, Mr. ShuTown and I would fight about my lack of knowledge on when my student loans will be paid off and how much money I even have to repay. We’d fight about insurance policies and the need for them. He’d ask questions that I should know the answers to like details about my retirement funds, and I didn’t. He’d ask me about my Top Secret Credit Card (oh yes, I had one that I used to shop and buy things with that I KNEW I shouldn’t be buying – I was hiding my bad habits which is a HUGE no-no in marriage) and what did I buy that made that card’s bill be $600. I knew exactly what I bought, but I wouldn’t be open to talk about it because I KNEW I was wrong and I would disappoint him with my needless spending. I figured if I just avoided and dodged the secret credit card discussions all would be well in the ShuTown world. Not so much. It always ended up making me feel guilty and out of control.

After realizing I was the weakest link in our finances, I decided that if I wanted us to ever live in a house someday, and if we ever wanted to go on a nice vacation and create those memories with Mr. Cheeks, I would need to recreate my habits.

Looking back, I wasn’t happy with all of those THINGS. Those possessions that I absolutely NEEDED weren’t adding value to my life. In fact, they were wreaking havoc on my marriage, and while he has never said it aloud because he’s too nice, that needless spending made my husband resent me and what I was doing to our finances. Every time my husband said we can’t do this or that, or can’t go here or there because we have no money, I’d throw a fit and cry and complain that we were missing out on life because he was such a tight-wad. How selfish am I? I want all these things AND to go on trips even though our money was gone. Ridiculous. Well, he definitely knew we had no money, because we were spending our entire income every month with nothing left to save.

I could go on and on about our finances, and I definitely will be touching on them throughout this blog, because while money doesn’t bring happiness, it’s definitely a factor that contributes to personal happiness. After gaining more control and becoming more knowledgeable about our finances, my husband and I BOTH know when we are on track for the month, and both know how much saving potential we have for the month.

The most important outcome with changing my financial habits though is our happiness with our current and future life. I feel happiness when I say no to a spring break trip with my friends (even though I REALLY want to go) because I know that it’s not going to contribute to my dreams for my family at the current moment. I feel happiness when we cook a kick ass dinner at home that is cheaper and tastier than what I would buy in a restaurant – not to mention healthier! I’ve realized that saying no in order to benefit my family is WAY better than fighting with my husband every month about our lack of savings.

As a result of this money makeover, we’re able to be moving forward on building a house that we plan on living in for a VERY LONG TIME. It’s not a huge house, it’s just the right size for us to be able to save money every month and experience ALL that life has in store for us.

Where are you and your spouse when it comes to your finances? Is there a weakest link in your family? How can you change your financial decisions so that you can bring more happiness into your life? I’d love to hear about what you and your spouse struggle with in regards to your financial decisions.

My Happiness Project

“You have 15 days left to earn 10 stars in order to keep your Gold Member Starbucks status.”

I read this line and started to have a panic attack because my Starbucks Gold Card carrying self was going to lose that perk I worked so hard to earn. I found myself quickly plotting how I was going to buy 10 things at Starbucks in the next 15 days in order to maintain this status, at a cost of at least $40 – maybe more if Mr. Cheeks, my three year old, kept waking up at 4:15AM on the dot. I would certainly need a double shot of espresso at some point, right?

But, then I caught myself. WHY would maintaining this perk make me happy? Did I even know what the benefits of this silly gold card were? Nope. No clue what that membership got me other than a free cup-of-joe once in awhile. If I spent this money, would it make me feel happier than I already am? Reality check. Nope. It wasn’t worth it.  $40 plus dollars of something going into my stomach wasn’t going to bring me life long happiness. Goodbye Gold Card, hello to more money in my pocket, and more happiness because I didn’t contribute to unnecessary spending.

The question I’ve been trying to answer lately is, “what ultimately makes me and my family happiest?” I find myself scrolling through various social media platforms to see friends, or people I know, sharing their latest fashion purchases, awesome vacations, and how this or that is making them and their families the happiest people on earth. While I’m on the other end looking at my surroundings – a rented duplex, the same five pair of shoes, pants, and sweaters, and no life changing journey or vacation to post about. Comparison robs us of happiness. I found myself so overwhelmed with comparison that I stepped back from social media for a minute and focused on my family and my daily life choices – like whether or not a silly Starbucks card was going to bring me sunshine and rainbows everyday.

What I’ve been finding out after stepping back from seeing hundreds of posts of supposed pure happiness, is that I have a freaking AWESOME life right in front of me – NOT on social media. My awesome life is happening all around me while I’m behind a phone screen.

My life is not perfect. It’s very far from anything I’d describe as the perfect life. My husband and I fight about money, we disagree on a lot of things actually, but at the end of the day we respect each other, are best friends, lovers, and are committed to each other through all of the vows we said on June 7, 2008. We may not ever get to have another child due to infertility, and we live really far away from any family to help support us when shit hits the fan (because it will). My child eats processed foods, actually his favorite foods are any cased meat he can get his hands on (any type of sausage, hot dog, salami – you name it!) hello dangerous cancer causing nitrates! I lose my cool in parenting situations, and I may or may not use the TV as a babysitter once in awhile. Our life has flaws, but with those flaws comes great happiness with the life we are building.

Stepping back from social media has given me more productive time to dream about what I want for my marriage, my son, and my family, and to take those steps to achieve those dreams. It’s given me more time to read books – thousands of pages (thank you Outlander series!) of wonderful words, and more time to BUDGET and take control of our finances, (another blog post on that to come!) so we can have that life we are dreaming of.

At times in the last year I was definitely not feeling happy, because I felt like I was missing out on life compared to the people I followed on those wicked social media outlets. You wouldn’t have known that if you followed me on Facebook because I certainly posted enough selfies to show that I was the happiest momma on the block, but when really reflecting on my life I didn’t “feel” happy. I certainly was happier and definitely healthier than I was in previous years, but something was lacking. So I’ve started a journey to finding happiness (inspired by the book The Happiness Project), and questioning my decisions in life as to whether or not they would contribute to the happiness I desire for my family and myself.

So here I am blogging about Life in ShuTown. How I’m simplifying life so I can be more present and not miss out on all that life has to offer. Here I am writing about living with intentionality. Here I am sharing my failures, because one cannot grow personally if they don’t learn from their mistakes. Here I am sharing my thoughts on parenting, marriage, budgeting, house-building, and how I’m trying to live a life of happiness even through life’s imperfections. I hope you come along for the ride and are inspired to find more happiness for yourself and family, too.