Saturday, December 7, 2019

How We Thrive On One Income

Today I want to discuss a potentially taboo topic. Many people do not discuss finances. However, I have had many women interested in becoming a stay at home wife or mom ask how we live (and thrive) off of one budget. I did not grow up in a family where anyone I knew stayed at home and so I had to learn along the way. I have been a stay at home mom for almost two years now and am going to share my top tips and tricks for how we have made that work.

I want to note that these tips apply to families who share an income, rather than those who keep their finances separate. That is a personal decision that you and your partner need to make and I am not here to tell you what is right for your family. With that out of the way, let's talk about how we live a comfortable life on one income.

We limit going out to eat or drink. Before I was a homemaker my husband and I took an honest look at our spending habits. Turns out the number one thing we were spending our money on was eating out. Not even on date nights or nice experiences. Rather, we were eating fast food frequently. A burger here, an overpriced coffee there, and those things add up quickly! We started making it a habit to eat most of our meals at home or to make lunches to take with us to work. When I began to stay at home with the kids we continued that practice. It has saved us quite a bit of money each month, and when we go out to eat it feels like a treat! We tend to eat out while out of town on vacation, for date nights, or as an experience with our children or friends.

I shop for groceries at Aldi. I am a huge proponent of healthy and balanced eating. I used to believe that to do so I needed to buy expensive superfoods from Whole Foods. If you are able to do so, enjoy! It was not feasible for us. I enjoy Aldi because I can find groceries at some of the best prices and the quality is still great. If you prefer to eat grass fed beef or pasture raised eggs, guess what? They have those as well for far less. I approach grocery shopping each week by meal planning and "shopping" my pantry and refrigerator for any items we haven't used up. You can read more about how I meal plan here. I have also learned over time that balance and incorporating as many food groups as possible helps me to feel my best. I can find all of those items there.

Thrifting is key. Almost all items I buy come from Facebook marketplace, mom selling groups, or thrift stores. Our drinking glasses came from Goodwill, many toys and furniture came from marketplace. Once Upon a Child is a great place to find clothes, cribs, and other items for kids. I have enjoyed thrifting since I was young and I have developed that skill over the years. There is nothing more exciting to me than receiving a compliment on something and letting the person know I bought it at a steep discount! Oftentimes local thrift stores have seasonal decor, and some big chains such as Hobby Lobby have 50% off days. Keep track of deals in your area. I am not saying to buy anything just because it is cheap. You can find good quality items in these stores, have standards just as you would buying new.

I do not replace items until we have run out. Shopping isn't a hobby. That includes shampoo, make up, and clothes. I wear my clothes until I need to replace them. I wear makeup until I run out. I don't buy new items "just to try". I haven't made shopping a hobby. Rather I try to take up other hobbies that don't involve the "high" that comes from impractical purchases. Oftentimes I think people use shopping as a replacement for other things going on in their lives. For example when we first moved to Ohio and I didn't know anyone. I would go to stores to have social interaction. I know that sounds sad, but it is true! I joined clubs and other groups to fulfill that need instead.

Set aside money to treat yourself. The benefit of having a budget is that you know where your money is going. If you talk to your partner and both agree on setting aside $100 a month each to spend any way you want, then that provides you with opportunities to treat yourself and keeps you from feeling limited. Spend it on a coffee here and there, get a pedicure, buy yourself a new purse. Or don't! Save for a few months and then splurge. If this is possible for you, it is a good practice to feel less restricted.

Invest your money. If you are able to, you are never too young to begin investing your money. Do research into what makes the most sense for you and your family. Maxing out your 401K, having mutual funds, investing in rental properties are just some ideas. We try to spend less money now, and save for our future life. We talk about what we want life to look like after retirement and so we spend less today. Some investments can bring in a little extra income without a lot of work on your end.

Be creative with activities or hobbies. You don't always have to spend money to have fun! I like to cook dinner for friends and have them over rather than going out to eat. We sign up our children for free classes at our local library. Every week I like to look at the city calendar or on Facebook events for local festivals. They are often free and fun! This holiday season especially there are many activities for families to attend without having to spend any money.

DIY as much as possible. I make our own hand soap, kitchen sink scrubs, and other items. They take a little extra time to make, but they save us money in the long run.

Use reuseable items. We use microfiber cloths for most of our cleaning reserving paper towels for some jobs (such as cleaning the toilets). I have started using wool dryer balls rather than dryer sheets. I am in the process of changing over to cloth napkins. We only use disposable plates or cups when having large parties. This allows you to use the same items over and over rather than throwing paper items out.

Communicate with your partner. If you share a bank account with your partner, communicate about large purchases. "I am thinking of replacing our sofa, when do you think a good time for that would be?" I am not encouraging someone holding control over you. I am simply making a case for communication, accountability, and budgeting. Make these conversations a monthly practice. When we are at our best my husband and I like to set a monthly budget where we plan out how much we would like to spend on groceries, recreation, bills, etc. This is a time where we also chat about any large purchases we would like to make. We are equal partners in this decision making.

If you are considering staying at home and would like a "practice run" I have often encouraged people to live off of one budget for at least one month, even while both of you are working outside of the home. This will allow you to work out any kinks and discover what works for your family before taking the plunge. Remember: budgeting doesn't have to be restrictive. It is helping you see where your money is going, and determine where you would like to spend it. Saving money on groceries helps you save up for that vacation you've always wanted to take. Buying an item used can free up more finances for things you've always wanted to do or buy. Happy saving!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sustaining Friendships Through Seasons of Change

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
    whoever finds one has found a treasure.

Faithful friends are beyond price;

    no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;

    and those who fear the Lord will find them.

Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,

    for as they are, so are their neighbors also.
Sirach 6:14-17

A couple of years ago a friend told me that she wasn't sure that we could be friends any more because we were in very different life stages. In fact she put it more bluntly than that: "if I met you now I am not sure we would be friends". Ouch. She was single and dating around, and I was married and in talks with my husband about trying for our first child. I was hurt and confused. I wasn't the type of person who cared about those type of things, even though I've always been aware of them. After all I met my husband when I was eighteen. We had been dating ever since, married young, and have been together for more than a decade. In all that time I still valued female friendships, still sought them out. I cannot seek all of my needs and support through my spouse. I don't expect him to do so either.

Maybe this is because I have been on the other end of things as well. I have felt friends slip away when Mr. Right comes along. I've noticed friends call or check in less and less after cross-country moves and job changes under the excuse of busyness. I know I have used that as an excuse as well - whether true or not! Which leads me to this question: how can we sustain friendships during life changes? 

There is an old adage that says, "people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime". I think we have all heard it and can admit that it's true. There will be people who come and go in our lives regardless, and that is okay. However, I still believe it is important to put work into friendships because they matter. Just as I put work into my marriage I also make time for those in my life who are important to me.

The most important thing we can do is communicate. I have struggled with this over the years, but have been putting forth more of an effort. While you do not need to talk with your friend every day or even every week it is still worthwhile to make time for one another. Set up a monthly Skype chat, meet up for brunch, or send a random text. It can be easy to fall into simply following one another on social media and interacting there, but it is not the same as a genuine conversation.

Communicate when you are busy, and understand if your friend truly is. When a big life change such as a move, marriage, or child enter the picture it does take time for adjustment. You or your friend are navigating new territory and it is not reasonable to continue on like before. Take some time to enjoy this new phase of life, or allow your friend to do the same. Celebrate that season with them! Send a card, offer to visit their new city, set up a meal train for a new mom, or even send a care package. All are small gestures that mean a lot.

Communicate when you are hurt. I am going to call myself out here. I held in a lot of hurt with a friend once during a season of change, and it led to me spilling all of it out at once on them. It wasn't pretty nor was it healthy. Guess what? They didn't take it well. If something is bothering you then let your friend know. Use "I" statements to prevent sounding accusatory. "I was hurt that I didn't hear from you after my grandmother passed away," for example. If they are a "friend for a lifetime" they will hopefully be able to come to a resolution with you. If both of you are unable to do so, maybe you were only friends for a season. You enjoyed that season, but have moved on. That friendship was beautiful, wish them luck, and enjoy the new season you are in.

Lastly, appreciate the ebb of flow of friendship. There are times when you may feel close to a friend and other times you may feel separated or distant. Relationships are ever changing and so it is only fair we extend grace and love to those friends during that change. Make time for those you love, but understand that relationships are a two-way street. If a friend is not serving you or putting in the work, then focus your energy elsewhere. After all a new friendship may form during that time. If you feel that someone has been placed on your heart and you haven't spoken to them in a while, reach out. Doing so may rekindle something.

Change tries friendships, but it does not have to be the end of them. When the tide is changing and it can all seem overwhelming, I am so happy I have women in my life I can depend on to be a sturdy shelter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I Can't Afford Therapy, Now What?

One reason many people do not seek mental health counseling is they feel that it is outside of their budget. After all, sessions may be $100/hr if not more. So what are you to do? Here are a few options for non-emergency cases. If you are having thoughts about harming yourself or others please seek assistance immediately. Referrals can be made to affordable options.

Call your insurance. Something I would tell clients to do is to call their insurance for a list of in-network providers. Oftentimes insurance will either cover sessions completely, or offer a discounted rate (co-pay). You may need to read the fine print. See what providers are covered by your insurance if therapy is not specifically mentioned, such as a social worker or other provider. 

Schedule with a community behavioral health center. I worked with community behavioral health centers as a clinical social worker, and we had many low cost options for clients. Often Medicaid covered services, and we offered sliding fee scales for those in need of a discounted rate. Many cities have such centers and can be found online easily. If they are not accepting clients at this time ask for a referral to another agency. We had many agencies we worked with in the field and could make recommendations for people with specific needs. 

Attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other groups in your community. These moderated support groups will help you connect with others who are going through something similar. Learn more about groups in your area by visiting NAMI or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance as well as the links above. 

Meet with a spiritual adviser. While not a replacement for therapy, talking with a preacher, pastor, or priest may bring some comfort. Moreover many congregations have partnerships with community behavioral health centers and can make referrals. I worked with Catholic Charities, and we had a wonderful relationship with congregations throughout our diocese. 

Talk with your school counselor. Clinical work is certainly not their focus, but I have known school counselors to make referrals and help parents find treatment for their children. If you have a great relationship with your school counselor start there. 

Take a look at your budget. Consider your budget and see if you can move some things around, or if you can save elsewhere. Mental health affects all aspects of life and if you feel you need to see someone or continue already helpful services, then it may be beneficial to re-evaluate expenses. 

I personally caution against self-help books and websites only because information can be taken out of context or may not be written by a trained mental health professional. If you enjoy reading them and they seem to benefit you, great, but they are not the same as tailored treatment by a social worker, counselor, LMFT, or doctor. If you are unable to continue meeting with a professional ask them for any recommendations they may have for podcasts, websites, or literature about what you would like to work on. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Easy Pumpkin Chili

Even though it's about 90 degrees in Ohio, I find myself craving fall comfort food. Usually by September and throughout the winter I live off of soups, stews, and chilis. Back in 2013 when my friends put together a family cookbook for me this pumpkin chili recipe was included. The great thing about soups, stews and chilis are that they can be made on the stove top or in the slow cooker. If you have leftovers, they freeze well also! Win-win.

If you are like me and wishing for crisp weather, or in the throes of winter I hope that this recipe keeps you warm, cozy and full.

Easy Pumpkin Chili

Prep time: 15 minutes 
Difficulty: Easy
Cook time: 1 hour stove top/2-5 hours in slow cooker, based on setting

  • 1.5 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 (16 oz) can hot chili beans, undrained
  • 1 (12 oz) bottle chili sauce
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz) can condensed tomato soup, undiluted
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

1. In a large Dutch oven cook beef and onion over medium heat until no longer pink, drain.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Add water if desired to reduce thickness.
3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

1. Cook beef and onion over medium heat until no longer pink, drain and add to slow cooker.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Add water if desired to reduce thickness.
3. Cook on low 4-5 hours or high 2-3 hours.

While I am currently dairy free due to breastfeeding (more on that here), traditional toppings such as cheese and sour cream would be tasty with this dish. I eat it as is, but experiment with avocado, crackers, or chips. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What to Expect During Your First Therapy Appointment

Before staying at home with my kids, when I would tell people that I was a mental health therapist (and still plan to be when my kids go to school) their eyes would get wide. Soon after they would ask, "what's that like?" It amazes me how much fear and anxiety surrounds therapy appointments, which is ironic considering that is what we are there to help with! So let's ease any fear you may have and break down that first session.

First things first, you'll make a call. You will call a therapist or therapist office and most likely will leave a voicemail. We are often seeing clients and therefore we answer calls or schedule in between sessions, or have someone at the front desk do so. During that call you will give insurance information and you will give a brief summary of why you are coming in. This doesn't have to be a long story, you can keep it as simple as "a breakup", "depression", or even "life adjustment". The assessment (your first appointment) is where we dig into the presenting issue more so no pressure in going into too much detail over the phone. The initial call is also a time where you can ask questions and explain your preferences. Want to meet with a male therapist? Now is the time to make that clear! If the agency, private practice, or center can accommodate you they will do so. Lastly you will schedule your appointment. Sometimes there is a waiting list, and sometimes there is not based on your availability. If you need help immediately please hang up and call 911. Do not wait.

So it's your first appointment. Hooray! Oftentimes you will have intake paperwork that you will print, fill out at home and bring with you or you will complete the paperwork in the waiting area. This paperwork often collects the same information as any doctor office such as demographics, insurance information, etc. It should also include a sheet on HIPAA regulations as well as a financial policy. Take the time to read these! They contain information about your privacy, late fees, and medical records.

Next you will meet with your therapist. The first session is known as an assessment and based on the practice will be about one to two hours long. Your therapist will introduce themselves to you and then gather information about your "why". That is, why you are wanting to meet with someone. Questions may include:

- Why are you coming in?
- What is it that you are struggling with?
- What would you like to work on?
- Tell me about your family.
- What about your friends?
- Are you on any medication?
- As well as some symptom specific questions based on information you give.

That is, we will get to know you. Some therapists will take notes during this time, and some will not. Many agencies require collaborative documentation now, meaning a therapist will fill out an assessment form with you on a computer. I usually took notes during the assessment, but did not in regular therapy appointments.

Okay, see you next week! That's it! After an assessment I would tell clients to think about what they wanted things to look like by the end of therapy. I would ask them this because therapy does not last forever, and it would help us create their treatment plan together. A treatment plan is simply what goals you may have and what skills we will be helping you learn and implement along the way.

Remember: you do the work, a therapist is someone who is there to walk with you on this journey. That may sound cheesy, but it's true. While a therapist may teach you coping skills and help you implement them the real work starts when you walk out our doors.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

My Positive, Natural Birth Story

If you are interested in hearing all about my positive, natural birth story then I recorded a video here! I had too much to say for a blog post, so I thought I would sit down and have a chat.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

3rd Trimester Recap: Symptoms & Birth Plan

38 weeks pregnant

By the time you are reading this, baby boy has already been born! I must have jinxed myself in my second trimester post when I said that this pregnancy was going by so quickly, because my third trimester has felt never ending. I went from feeling full of energy to sore, large, and fatigued. At the same time, I have loved feeling baby boy move around so frequently as a constant reminder that he is growing and doing well.

One thing about third trimester that I seemed to have forgotten was just how quickly my belly grows. I vividly remember about half way through thinking, "he is supposed to gain how much more weight?!". I couldn't imagine getting any bigger, even though I had already been through this before with my daughter. I am truly happy that my body was able to make room for him though.

Before I hop into my symptoms for the third trimester I want to preface by saying I have communicated all symptoms clearly to my health team (midwife/OBGYN, physical therapist) and taken their advice along the way. If you have any aches, pains, or concerns please contact your doctor right away. While I made this little corner of the internet to share my experiences I am not a health expert. Trust your intuition!


Lower back pain - As I have mentioned previously, I have minor scoliosis and therefore I tend to have chronic back pain. Pregnancy tends to exacerbate this, and I knew that from my previous pregnancy. Luckily I was able to get prenatal massage from my physical therapist, and my midwife prescribed prenatal massage as well! 

Pelvic pain - This was also something I worked on with my physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor. The baby has been very low all third trimester and I often feel him low in my pelvis which has caused some aches and pains. We have been addressing it through gentle exercises, icing, and rest.

Itchy skin - With your skin stretching as far as it can comes itchy skin, and oh boy was my bump itchy! I have been using this belly butter to keep my skin moisturized. 

Stretch marks - Speaking of which, my stretch marks always seem to show up in third trimester. I fully expected them this time around because the same thing happened with my last pregnancy. Luckily mine fade after several months, but the truth of the matter is this: for some people, using belly balm religiously does nothing. There is a genetic component to them. I get stretch marks, and I've accepted this. Love the body you have! I have moments when I am self conscious about them, but my husband reminds me every time that they are evidence of what my body went through, and that brought our children into this world. 

Frequent urination - All this means is my baby is pushing on my bladder, and he likes to give it a swift kick every now and then as well. This has made sleep difficult, but it's not a big deal. 

Swelling - I actually did not have any swelling this pregnancy! In fact there was only one day so far in the third trimester where my ankles were swollen, and I had not stayed hydrated. My tip is to drink as much water as possible, because last pregnancy I barely fit into my shoes at this point. 

Cravings - All pregnancy I have been craving fruits and vegetables until third trimester. Third trimester is all about the carbs for me. I have been trying to make healthy decisions along the way while also allowing myself some grace. Luckily my weight gain has been right on track so I have been able to indulge! 


I recently went over my birth plan with my OBGYN and got approval. As I have discussed before it is my intention to have an intervention free/medication free labor and delivery if at all possible. I know that you cannot plan your childbirth and ultimately my goal is for my child to be safe. I used the Mama Natural visual birth plan template so that it could be concise and easy to glance over for any nurses. I highly suggest the template as it is easy to use and customize. 

If you would like more information on what I have been doing to prepare for natural childbirth you can see my blog post here

I went to 41+2 weeks with my daughter, so I highly anticipate going over with my son. Even so, the wait can be difficult! If you are counting down the days to Labor Day know I am rooting for you and wishing you the best of luck.