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A Tale of Two Sisters

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My sister and I have not always had the best of relationships.

All though childhood, we fought like cats and dogs. We were not close AT ALL! One of my best childhood friends will laugh recalling memories of when we were 10-years-old and my little sister (then 6-years-old) and I would get into huge physical altercations. Like, ripping each other’s hair out and rolling around wrestling. And not in a cute or nice way either. It wasn’t pretty.

We were four years apart and, at the time, the gap felt as wide as the Grand Canyon. I felt like she was so young and immature and I wouldn’t be inconvenienced to let her hang around me and my friends. Due to our age gap and timing of birthdays, we never went to the same middle or high school at the same time. We had wholly different interests, friend groups, and even physical locations due to the different schools we attended.

Then a funny thing happened. After I graduated high school and moved out of my parents’ house, my sister and I started talking more. Then when she graduated high school and moved out, the frequency of our interactions picked up even moreso. We became friends. And then…best friends.

It’s now been a full 15 years since I graduated high school. Even though we weren’t close growing up, we made up for lost time in the 15 years since moving out of our patents’ house. And there’s been a lot of LIFE during that time. We were each other’s’ maid/matron of honors for our weddings. We’ve seen each other through good times and bad, through pregnancies and childbirth, through moving cross-country (twice). Through fun sister-trips to Vegas and tough funeral-visit trips. We’ve been there for each other truly during both the best and worst of times in each other’s lives. We haven’t lived in the same city for over a decade at this point and, even with all the miles between us, she’s still been my best friend.

But something has happened to our friendship that’s been tearing us apart.

In August 2015, my Dad was diagnosed with dementia. Since he had no spouse or partner, we became his primary caretakers. First, the bulk of responsibility fell to me. He was living in Utah at the time and due to my proximity (in Arizona), I was making frequent flights back-and-forth for doctors’ visits, to help pack up his house, and eventually to meet with realtors and get the place sold.

At that time, my Dad moved to Texas and since then, my sister has had the bulk of “caregiver” duties thrust onto her. I’ve tried to help as best I can, being a thousand miles away. I’ve taken over handling my Dad’s finances while my sister has taken the day-to-day/medical/hands-on stuff. Undoubtedly, she has the bigger burden. Without question. I knew the load on her would be hard. It’s not easy to be a caretaker to one’s parent. And though I haven’t shared specifics, none of us were ever close to our Dad. He was not a large part of our lives growing up. So, the burden feels double, or even triple, being that we’re caring for a person who never even really cared for us (at least in a physical sense). A person who was never really a significant part of our lives in our youth nor adulthood.

It’s been hard. Really hard. I started going to therapy, initially, for issues related to my dad’s dementia.

But then things got better for me. As we’ve moved my Dad to higher and higher levels of care, things have gotten easier and easier. Now that he’s in a locked memory care facility, we have no more emergency phone calls from police or social workers (which, at one point, were literally a weekly-occurrence). He’s well cared for, fed, and groomed. All his basic needs are met and none of it requires work or effort from me or my sister (or brother for that matter). My sister still has the bulk of responsibilities – she still goes to visit nearly 3 times a week, takes “groceries” (all food is provided, but he likes snacks in his room), takes him to doctors, delivers his prescription medication, etc. etc. etc. It’s still a lot.

Having a family member with dementia is a lot. For everybody. And for my sister most of all.

Slowly, over time, I sensed a strain in my relationship with my sister. Nothing specific that happened. But things were tenuous. I think things reached a boiling point over summer when we moved my Dad from his independent-living facility into the memory-care facility. My sister had to handle most of the preparations (touring new facilities, scheduling movers, getting things boxed and ready, etc. etc. etc.). I went out and helped with the actual move, but I had to come back to Arizona shortly thereafter. She was left to handle the aftermath. Though things went well with the move (even better than we’d expected), things did not go well between my sister and me.

And so, as things seemed to deteriorate between us, I went back to therapy again. This time with greater frequency, too. Not only was I dealing with issues caused by my Dad’s illness. Now, it felt like I was also losing my best friend. It was heartbreaking, to say the least.

If you notice the timeframe of the sister-breakdown, it occurred right at the same time that our finances got out of control. Coincidence? Well, yes and no. Some of our financial issues just happened to occur at the same time – like the ending of my part-time job and hubs’ closing his business.

But it’s so easy for our finances and spending to get wrapped up with psychological issues, isn’t it? Much of my spending during and since this summer has been for things I might consider therapeutic, even though they seem like superfluous “fat” in the budget. Things like happy hour with friends or yoga classes to center my mind. Oh yeah, and I’m still going to weekly talk-therapy, too.

I think things with my sister are slowly getting better. I’ve been working hard in therapy, developing coping techniques and skills, and surrounding myself with things to bring me joy and happiness. We’ve been talking a little more. I’m hopeful for our future.

But I’m not going to lie. The past few months have been some of the personally hardest in my life. And not because of any specific “event” (no cross-country move, wedding, or childbirth). But just because of the psychological stressors of the entire caregiving situation with my dad and the fallout it has caused between me and my siblings. I hadn’t realized what a source of social support my sister had been for me until I felt like I had lost her.

I’m not perfect. Our family finances are still in need of triage. We have so much work left to do.

Right now I’m considering myself a “work in progress.” Both in terms of my financial habits and just my general psychological well-being. But I just wanted to provide some additional context and background for why it may be difficult for us to turn things around as quickly as we had back in March 2015 when I first started blogging. I’ve been lucky to never struggle with mental health prior to these most recent years. And now that I know the struggle from the other side, I know how truly all-consuming and debilitating it can be.

If you have time and are interested, I’ve linked to two videos about dementia that have been personally moving to me:

I know this post is a little different than the traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, but I felt compelled to share a little piece of myself with you today. I hope you can take it and remember that everyone has their own inner demons and battles that we know nothing about. Especially in this holiday season, let’s do what we can to uplift and encourage others and to promote kindness and empathy for others.

I’ll be back soon with a more traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, too! <3

~Ashley


Black Friday Frugal Fun

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Hi all!

Anyone out braving the Black Friday crowds today trying to score great deals?

We haven’t even taken a look at any of the Black Friday specials. We’re kind of “phoning it in” for Christmas this year. We really don’t have any money to be out-and-about shopping. Plus, we already know what our parents are getting for the kiddos and they’re BIG gifts!!! Bikes from my mom and a motorized car from hubs’ mom, so we’re just going to do little necessities (e.g., new socks) and minimal other stuff (e.g., stocking stuffers) and call it a day. The girls are going to be so spoiled from their grandparents that they really don’t need anything extra from us.

So instead of going out shopping, we decided to do something special on this Black Friday. We decided to do an “experience” gift.

Black Friday Frugal Fun Challenge:

  • We decided to each take one kid so they could have special one-on-one time with us. So we had to think of two *separate* experiences.
  • We wanted to do something special we’ve never done before – not just taking them to the park or mall play area/normal stuff.
  • We set a maximum price tag of $25 per pair ($25 for Mom & daughter; $25 for Dad & daughter).

I jumped online to check out pricing for my idea and it totally paid off!!! I wanted to take my kid to Funtasticks. It’s a little local place with putt-putt golf, bumper boats, kids’ carnival-style rides, race cars, etc. After checking out the website, I discovered they were having a 50% off sale for 2-hour wristbands. Instead of $20.99 each, I only spent $20.99 total (+ tax)!!! The trick was that the sale was ONLY advertised online. There was no mention of it anywhere on-site and they were still ringing up wristbands at full price, so you had to ask to get the special rate. Again – it pays to check out sales and coupons online (I just saved a ton on my brakes that way, too!)

We had an absolute blast! It was 2 hours of unlimited outdoor adventures! We used every single second and took advantage of the slow day (almost no lines anywhere! We practically had the park to ourselves!)

Notice the spaghetti straps! It’s still in the upper 80’s here in sunny Tucson! We’re breaking heat-records from the 1890s with our current temps! But on the plus side, it makes outdoor fun all-the-more appealing!

It was so fun!

And don’t feel sorry for sister! She and Dad found a pottery place in the mall and spent their time crafting!

All-in-all, it’s been a great Black Friday! We spent time together as a family in the morning pulling out some Christmas decorations, ate leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches for lunch (one of my favorite parts of turkey day!), and spent the afternoon having some special one-on-one time with our kids.

How have you spent your Friday? Any great Black Friday finds?


Frugal Vacation Tips from Orlando

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As you know, I’ve been saving money every month towards Universal Studio tickets for a mini vacation this week over the Thanksgiving holiday.  I requested and was approved to work remotely for two days this week (Tuesday and Wednesday,) and have hotel points for three nights. These are my frugal vacation tips for making this trip work within our existing budget…for the most part!

Should I Cancel the Trip?

After I found out about my job situation, I did contemplate cancelling the trip, but decided that I really need this break. We left Monday night after work and drove down. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders already. While I had to work yesterday and today, the feeling of freedom prevails and let’s me breathe a bit after the overwhelming amount of stress I’ve been under. (I also have to work in the wee hours Friday morning and Sunday morning to administer all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday digital content even though technically the corporate office is closed.)

Frugal Vacation

Without further ado, we are ON VACATION and I couldn’t be more happy to be here. Here’s what I have done to minimize the costs and keep this trip from impacting our monthly budget too much:

  • Gas – there will be no impact for the cost of this travel on our budget because the difference between the miles driven to FL versus driving to Gymnast’s training 4 days a week is minimal.
  • Hotel – we split the trip down into 2 days because I was wiped from starting work at 3am on Monday (another midnight web flip.)  I had to pay for one night in the midway hotel. The rest of our trip nights are covered by hotel and credit card points. Cost $98

Our view Monday night from our midway hotel. Got a great deal booking last minute!

  • Food – I went to Dollar General before we left home and bought a ton of snacks and drinks. And we have saved the bulk of our typical $400-600 grocery budget so we can eat out at some fun places. In addition,
    • Our breakfast is free at our hotel;
    • The kids have been told we will be drinking water at every meal out; and
    • Our favorite method of saving money while trying cool places is the Appetizer and Dessert meal.

Our favorite frugal meal out tip – Appetizers and Desserts. Last night, our desserts came out first, they were delicious!

  • Entertainment – I have saved the money for Universal. And we have some movies we would all like to see. The kids all know that any entertainment is on them, out of their allowance.  They can choose to participate or not. Other than that, we are enjoying sleeping in, wandering around City Walk and just goofing off.

 

Chosen Family – Our Old Nannies

On a personal note, the little kids’ nannies (3 sisters from the same family) all now live in Orlando. They have been part of our lives since Princess was born 13 years ago. We are hoping to get to see them while we are here.

The oldest sister began with us after I returned to work after my maternity leave (was still working in the corporate world then.) The next sister took over two years later when the eldest got married (Princess was in her wedding.) Then the third sister took over when the middle sister left for college, and she was with us through the birth of her two kids and even when the twins arrived 6 years ago. (When the twins first arrived, I could not leave them alone with the younger two, so I always had to have a baby sitter for them for those first couple of years if I had to leave.)

Do you have special family or as I call it chosen family you will see this holiday season?  Because I am not really close to my immediate family, my chosen family which is quite abundant plays a big role in our lives. I think it’s made it easier as well being a blended family / foster / adoptive family to see those not related by blood as important members of our family.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Whether you cook, go to someone’s house or go out to eat like we do, enjoy the time you have with your loved ones!


Free DIY Thanksgiving Centerpieces

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For those of our American friends, are you all ready for the big Thanksgiving holiday? Whats on the menu at your houses?

We’re going very low-key this year. Typically, we either go to someone’s house or we have family or friends over to ours. This year it’s just the 4 of us and we’re planning to enjoy some sleeping in, possible naps (children willing), family walks, and just general laziness. Sounds glorious to me!

To keep costs low, our Thanksgiving dinner is going to be pretty minimal. Last year (yes – an entire YEAR ago) I got a BOGO turkey, but we only cooked one. I’ve had the second turkey in the freezer for an entire YEAR. I’d always intended to cook it at some point, but there was really never a reason to cook an entire huge turkey. Sooooo, I busted it out and it’s been thawing in the fridge the past couple days. No cost incurred there.

For sides we’re doing green beans (fresh – not the canned/casserole-type dish), homemade rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing. Lots of carbs (isn’t that how it always goes with Turkey Day?), but not a lot of volume. In the past we’ve always had the potato struggle (mashed vs. sweet), but last year I realized that I was the only person who even ate the sweet potato casserole! As much as I love it, it’s a LOT of work and if no one else even enjoys it, I don’t want to do it just for myself.

Since we’re only cooking for 4, we didn’t have to go out and buy a ton of food. And the foods we’re having are extremely cheap (homemade rolls – dough is basically free since we have flour, yeast, etc. on-hand; potatoes were super cheap at the store for mashed potatoes; stuffing is also super cheap; etc.)

When I was first planning our meal, I asked the girls what they wanted for Thanksgiving. Funny little kiddos, the first thing they said was, “CENTERPIECES!” No, silly – I meant food! But they had a point. They’ve read story books and seen cartoons and all Thanksgivings seem to be characterized by these big, elaborate, gorgeous displays on the center of the table. The problem is, we don’t have the money to be splurging on table centerpieces or unnecessary decorations. So I did a little google search for “Free DIY Thanksgiving Centerpieces” and got a ton of fun and cute ideas (PS: I found this fun free printable with kids’ activities for Thanksgiving day that I’m planning to do with the kids, too!)

In the end, I picked to have the kiddos do a Thankful Turkey. I loved that they came up with things they are thankful for and it allowed them to practice their penmanship by writing their own thankful lists (with help from mom & dad with dictating the spelling). It was pretty funny and cute to see some of the things they came up with (e.g., “Thankful for MYSELF” got a good chuckle). I just love spending the holidays with our kiddos – as they grow, it truly becomes more and more fun!!!

So for anyone else out there looking for cheap/free last-minute Thanksgiving Centerpiece ideas, I wanted to share ours. All supplies were things we already had on-hand so it cost us $0 to make, plus it was some fun family time and a great opportunity to share the different things we’re thankful for in our lives.

From our family to yours, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!


Upcycled Presents – DIY Present Idea

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I mentioned a week or so ago that I had completed my Christmas shopping for my immediate family in Texas. Everything I bought is handmade and mostly upcycled out of recycled materials. I am thrilled with my finds. I just picked up the items for my brothers today and wanted to share this really neat idea with you.

These Tiki Torch/Bug Repellant bottles were made for me by Susanne at Upcycled Inspirations. She lives on the lake and they fill these with Citronella to keeps the bugs away when they are out on their dock or deck by the water.

The Perfect Gift

While my brothers don’t live on the water, they LOVE the Cowboys football team and are definitely outdoorsy kind of dudes. I thought this would be perfect AND they are made from upcycled liquor bottles that Susanne collects from neighbors, restaurants and wherever else she can find them (can you say dumpster diving – my words, not hers.) How cool is this idea? And how affordable since probably most of know someone that could provide some bottles.

I love DIY presents, and this would be a great one to do for those outdoor living people in your life. And if you are like me and don’t have the time or desire to gather the supplies and put them together…well, you can hit up Susanne and she will take care of you.  She loaded some images of the other cool stuff she does on her Facebook page.

I do not know Susanne personally, I just met her at a craft fair downtown in our tiny town a couple of weeks ago. I am not receiving any kick back for this post (although I wouldn’t turn it down.) I just wanted to let you know about this cool DIY present and give credit where credit was due.


On the Job Hunt Again

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I am on the job hunt again. I hate it. (It was just two years ago, that this same thing happened, just in time for the holidays.) And I hate writing this post. I am not going to mince words. During my job interview with my W2 job last February, I was very clear with them. In fact, after I started we were so clear, that the two owners (a married couple) and my boss and I signed a statement saying I would be in the office from 7am until 2:30pm every day. At no time during the interview process was it discussed that my job would require me to work almost every weekend, the first of every month beginning at 12am PT and many nights. Never discussed.

The Reality of My Working Hours

Since I started in March, I have worked all but 6ish weekends, and at least 3-4 nights a week I must do something either overnight or after I leave the office. I’ve actually been okay with that. Just did it. I’m used to crazy hours as an entrepreneur and I just did it.

In August, I worked 6 days straight with minimum sleep as a HUGE project was dumped in my lap just two weeks before the due date. A project that I had been told up until it was assigned to me that someone else would be handling it (a 3rd party vendor.)

Not one time have I been offered comp time for these extra hours, no flex options and typically no thank you. I have been truly fine with it.

We Don’t Like This

A couple of months ago, they started making noises about not liking that I left at 2:30pm every day. No complaints about my work, no missed deadlines, not a word about issues with my work. It boiled down to they don’t like where I sit when I do the work. Literally. If I am not at the desk in their office…absolutely crazy.

They then pointed out that if I wasn’t in the office I need to take PTO. I said, that’s fine. I will do that. But I don’t want to hear complaints or get emails all day saying “do this now.” (I took PTO last Friday for Gymnast meet and received no less than 12 “it’s on fire, fix it now” emails.) I am the only person who can do what I do, there is no redundancy or anyone with my skill set. That gave them pause, but not enough to say what they said next.

We are Letting You Go if…

If you don’t work 8am-5pm, we need to let you go and replace you. BUT only after you do all the work through the end of the year and take care of our big seasonal web flip in February. Seriously, we are firing you after you do everything we want you to do.

This is a snippet of the email they sent after the meeting (I added the notes in italics for clarification:)

  • Early January – we will determine if we will continue with this schedule or be able to adapt to another one at that time based on scheduling shifts that may be happening for Hope. (I have never wavered that I must leave at 2:30pm, Gymnast must be in training by 4pm, leaving at 2:30pm gives me just enough time to get him and get to gym. Then I sit down and work for another 4 hours on what ever I need to work on.)
    • If we do not see a schedule change in the future then we will all work towards a February 16, 2018 final day of employment.

If a February 16th final day is where we are heading (we will know for sure in early January 2018) then the following are the commitments from each side:

  • Company Name will not start the search process until after January 1, 2018 and will continue employment for Hope through February 16, 2018.
  • Hope has already started the job search process (I started the job search a month ago when the owner came in and made it clear she didn’t like my work schedule, the writing on the wall was getting clear to me then.), however, she has committed to complete the Spring & Summer 2018 website and iOffice transition (February 2018) without interruption – even if she finds another job that she accepts – she is committing to seeing this project through to completion for the company.

Here I am back on the job hunt. I love what I do. I actually really like most of the people I work with at my W2 job. I do not like being dumped on, taking advantage of and being bullied.

I know it won’t do any good and I’m over trying to fight for this job, but I am now documenting all the “extra” time I put in beginning with today. I received all the graphics, video and text for something that must be put out tomorrow night (Sunday at 12 PT – I must get up at 3am ET) at 4:18pm yesterday. This is very typical. I must now create the format, export contact lists, send the test emails and wait for approval (texting people to review since they aren’t working,) schedule the sends and so on.

I have learned a lot from my foray back into the corporate world after 11 years away. I don’t know if it is the right fit for me, but I am working with several headhunters now, and plan to begin pounding the pavement, literally, to see if I can pull in some new 1099 clients.


Expensive Day!

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Yesterday was an EXPENSIVE day, though not as bad as it could have been.

My car is a 2011 and, all in all, it has been pretty reliable. We’ve had some bad luck in the tire department in the past year, but (knock on wood), we’ve never had any major mechanical issues. All we need to do is regular, routine maintenance and the car has been great for us!

So when the brakes started squeaking a few weeks ago, I knew it would be time to replace them soon.

But life has been busy with work, school, and the holiday season approaching. I’ve kept putting it off, not wanting to spend the money. Then over the weekend, the brakes progressed from what I would describe as a “squeal” to what I would describe as a “grate.” It was truly an awful noise – the kind that hurts your ears, like nails on a chalkboard. I knew it was time to get in STAT!

I called around to a few shops to compare prices and went with a nearby shop that I trust. New brakes, rotors, fluid, and a serpentine belt later, my bill came to $643.28. Ouch! 

But never forget to Google for coupons! I’d taken my laptop and was working in the waiting room while my car was being serviced. As a last-minute thing, I decided to google coupons for the services I was receiving. And I stumbled across a 15% off coupon, good for all parts and service at the shop I was using!

When I went to pay, they scanned the coupon from my phone and my bill dropped to $549.11. BAM!

But it gets better still! The brakes I got came with a $50 online rebate. I had to wait 24-hours to enter my information, but I did so today and will be receiving a $50 rebate check in the mail in the next couple weeks.

That officially brings my total down to $499.11!

Still an expensive day, to be sure, but not nearly as bad as it could have been! And all because I was willing to do a little Google search to find applicable coupons while I waited.

No one wants to drop $500 on car repairs, especially around the holidays and at a time when we’re really not doing well financially. But to put things in perspective, $500 amounts to less than 2 months of the old car payment (I paid off the car in January 2016). Since we’ve owned the car an entire 2 years since then free-and-clear, a $500 investment here and there to keep the car in good running order is not too bad. I’m very grateful we no longer have that monthly payment in our list of bills!

 

Have you had any major car repairs lately? 


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