May 2024 goals

7 May 2024

This past month was the month that made me seriously consider using a project management platform for personal projects.

On the one hand, this feels… ridiculous. Our life is not a business! Our days are not that complicated! Do I really want to log in and see overdue tasks glaring at me at home, too?!

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the practicality. I’m grateful to be bound deeply to several roles and communities, and most of them come with responsibilities. From organizing the kindergarten breakfast in our neighborhood, to hosting gatherings for friends, to pulling together an event at church, I’m increasingly seeing the appeal of organizing my to-dos by both date and project. If it helps get the right things done at the right time, why wouldn’t I?

Still, a part of me resists the bureaucratization of such tender, somewhat homely undertakings.

What do you think, friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts (especially if you already do use a project management platform at home!) in the comments.

But first, the month ahead…

On my calendar:
— Teacher Appreciation Week! We’re going with favorite (fun, in our cute downtown) restaurant gift cards for our kids’ three primary teachers, local ice cream shop gift cards for secondary teachers, and small Target gift cards for specials teachers. And hand-painted cards for all (above!), inspired by this cute print!
— Mother’s Day! I’m organizing a flower bar for the ladies at our church, and celebrating my own wonderful mom and mother-in-law. (Details at the end of the post–moms, don’t peek!)
— Two family camping trips – one with Shep’s BFF and one with lots of friends from church – and a June-and-Daddy overnight, 16-mile (!!) hike at Pilot Mountain! John just realized he’s going to be sleeping in a tent for three weekends in a row this month and he was not pleased, ha.

What I’m loving right now:
— We have not historically been breakfast-for-dinner people, but these breakfast burritos have made their way into our regular rotation. I usually add cut fruit on the side and sometimes a pack of the TJ’s microwaveable Spanish rice.
— After three active summers, my pool shoes have bit the dust. Reordering in the olive green!
— John gifted me the Harborview Herringbone blanket in cornflower for Christmas, and it is truly a couch delight. Soft, cozy, but lightweight. Would make a great Mother’s Day present to go in on with siblings! (In fact, my sisters and I did this a few years ago for our mom with this one!)

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What you’re loving right now:

This is where I highlight a few items here that have been popular in the last month with fellow readers, based on my analytics. Here’s hoping this will help you find something you’ll love!

— The colorful pullover I’m obsessed with from a new-to-me British brand (as seen here).
— The best best sunscreen, mentioned in my beauty post.
— The cutie mini bowls we use for everything around our house.
— The conditioner we use for June’s long, thick hair.
— And the $6 5×7 photo album that made my Christmas memory keeping a lot simpler.

Last month on The Connected Family:
The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 1: Why?
The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 2: What to Do
— The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 3: Where to Stop
— The Low-Screen Road Trip, Part 4: A Play-by-Play

What I read in April:
The Anxious Generation | Full review here. Needless to say, I loved it. Highly recommend for parents, grandparents, educators, and everyone who cares about future generations.
The Vanderbeekers On the Road | As delightful as always :) June and I have just one more to go in the series!
Flying Solo | I very much enjoyed this author’s debut a few years ago, but this follow-up was just so-so for me. I didn’t relate to the main character’s motivations and the whole thing felt a bit flattened by internet homogeneity. I did like that it was set in and included characters and elements from the same small Midcoast Maine town as the first novel.
The Funeral Ladies of Ellerie County | A great summer pick with more depth than your typical beach read! The characters are memorable and the setting (a small Midwestern lake town) really takes a starring role. This book was written by my friend Claire (will never stop being cool to have author friends!!) and because I’m so used to reading her essays, the person I know her to be crowded to the front of the reading experience – but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even if I didn’t already like her! :)

My reading list for 2024, if you’d like to follow along!

Revisiting my April goals:
Film Annie in April (Done!)
Write the second lesson of the TCF course (I changed tactics a bit and decided to focus on completing one-hour blocks of work versus completing certain lessons. I took things down to the studs and worked on the outline this month!)
Complete at least 50 hours of deep work (21)
Read chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Outlive (Done!)
Take the Birds & Bees course with John (Yes!! Finally! Loved it.)

May goals:
— Complete at least 40 hours of deep work (My work rhythms have changed a bit this month and I have way more meetings than usual… trying to set a realistic goal so I can hopefully reach it!)
— Thoughtfully prep for Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day
— Make a loose plan for summer days at home
— Edit Annie in April
— Complete a sweep of the loft
— Finish the 2015-2019 photo album! (Just 2019 to go!!)
— Read chapters 10-11 of Outlive

I also have weekly goals of connecting with my parents and completing one hour of work on the TCF course, and am tracking how many times I do a crossword puzzle at lunch, strength train, and ruck.

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2024 goals!

Along with your thoughts on using project management platforms at home, I would love to hear how you’re celebrating Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week, if they’re applicable to your stage of life! This year, I opted to get my mom a membership to her favorite botanical garden in Maine, and my mother-in-law tickets to an outdoor NC symphony concert for an upcoming visit! They’re both the type to not prefer physical gifts and/or buy themselves the things they want, so I was pleased when I landed on these ideas :) (This would have been perfect for my MIL, but was sold out!)

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Family spring break trip to Jekyll Island Club

30 April 2024

After a scoot to Florida last year with the whole Thomas fam, we happily returned to Jekyll Island for this year’s spring break. While I love the idea of doing different things for our spring breaks, and I hope we will in the future, Jekyll sure is hard to beat in this season of life: relatively inexpensive, a quick road trip away, and warm, beautiful, historic, and bike-able – among other pluses.

Even as we returned to a familiar location, we managed to sneak in some novelty along the way. I’d love to tell you about it and share a few photos, if you’d like to see!

The first big change for this visit was where we stayed. On our last two visits, we chose to stay at the Jekyll Ocean Club – and loved it both times! The suite set-up is perfect for families, and it’s a dream to be steps away from the beach and right upstairs from the in-house restaurant.

This year, we opted to stay at the Jekyll Island Club, the Ocean Club’s sister property. Located about a mile away on the marsh side of the island, it’s a beautiful historic property built in 1888. The Island Club is a little more grand and formal in feel (there’s a croquet course on the front lawn!), but friendly to families, too. When we saw that staying in the turret room (!) was only about $100 more per night, our decision to switch properties was made.

For us, it was more than worth it. The kids loved winding up and down the circular staircase, sketchbooks and markers and stuffies tucked under their arms, while John and I sat on the lower balcony, Spanish moss under our feet and the beautiful marsh view just beyond.

The second big change was that we traveled with friends! Not in a formal way – it was more akin to a happy accident – but dear friends from home overlapped with us for most of our stay and so we got to enjoy Jekyll in a new way, side-by-side. While they were staying at the Ocean Club, we met up for dinner twice, for a late afternoon on the beach, pool time, a bike ride out to Driftwood Beach, and more.

Our kids loved playing together and it was a delight to get to enjoy each other’s company while they did so. Aside from camping, this was the first time we’d ever really vacationed with friends. Although I’d consider this the most-casual version of “vacationing with friends” (we didn’t stay at the same place, share all meals, or match up our itinerary from the start), it still had the thrill of something new. Not all good friends are good friends to vacation with, but these ones certainly are!

In the midst of those two changes, we enjoyed many of the same things that keep us coming back to Jekyll. On the first night, eager to stretch our legs, we walked to dinner at Red Bug Motors Pizza. It’s a tiny spot with average food, but the walk along the golf course was lovely and the playground right next door was fun while we waited for our order.

The next morning we rented bikes from Jekyll Wheels to complete our fleet for our stay (we’d brought my bike and June’s bike from home, and rented a bike for Shep and a bike with bike seat for John and Annie). We then biked to breakfast at 80 Ocean, which is at the Ocean Club – their waffles are legendary with our kids and always their favorite meal of the trip :)

Then, we biked out to Driftwood Beach, a 10-mile loop. It still shocks me that our kids’ little legs can do it, but the bike path is almost extremely flat, so that helps. We brought lunch from The Pantry, and John and I sat on a blanket and chatted for over an hour while the big kids explored down the beach and Annie puttered around in the tide pools, perfectly content in her own toddler world.

After a gray morning, the sun popped out and lit up a brilliant blue sky when we arrived back at the Island Club mid-afternoon. The kids were desperate to get in the pool, so we did that before cleaning up for dinner at The Wharf, the restaurant steps away from the Island Club.

The next morning was also gray, so after biking to 80 Ocean for breakfast (more waffles!), we drove out to Horton Pond to see if we could see any gators. The skies opened up while we were pulling in, but we dodged the raindrops to get to the observation platform and spotted a few despite the rain. We were stranded with a kind couple from Ohio who had been vacationing in Jekyll for 18 years – it was fun to chat!

From there, we visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (more about that here), had lunch at The Pantry, and then met up with our friends for a gray late-afternoon exploring tide pools at the beach.

We then hustled to our rooms to change before zipping back to the Ocean Club for dinner. The kids were beyond thrilled to be seated at the kitchen bar, where they had a front-row seat to the wood-fired oven and pizza-making station. Very fun and memorable.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Island Club restaurant’s buffet. It’s fun to eat in the formal dining room, but I might skip it next time – hard to compete with those waffles, ha. We spent some time exploring the grounds and cottages before meeting up with our friends for another bike ride out to Driftwood Beach (!). I don’t think our kids would have agreed to 10-mile rides on back-to-back days, but the lure of riding with friends and playing together at the beach was overpowering.

Afterwards, we briefly swam at the Ocean Club pool before hustling back to the Island Club with a thunderstorm at our backs. We met back up with our friends at Driftwood Bistro for a last dinner together of simple, classic, yummy Southern favorites before one more night in the turret and one more breakfast of waffles before heading back to North Carolina the next morning.

Each day with these people is precious. I’m so grateful we got to return to Jekyll this year, and to add another layer onto our spring break memories. Thanks for letting me share a peek, friends!

Our 2021 trip to Jekyll Island
Our 2022 trip to Jekyll Island

You can change your traditions

17 April 2024

Something simple today!

A few years ago, I began a new holiday tradition: filling in a Christmas memory book.

This checks out, right? Holidays, traditions, and intentional memory making are kind of my thing (or, one of my things, anyway!), so this wasn’t a surprising development. What may surprise you, though, is how poorly I stuck to the tradition in the years since. I filled in about half of the questions the first year, and then a handful the second year… but always a bit half-heartedly. The prompts felt repetitive, and my answers weren’t capturing what actually mattered to me about the Christmas season.

This past year, I never pulled the book out of the Christmas boxes. And wow if this wasn’t Cultivate What Matters 101: if a goal (or a tradition, or project, or memory book) doesn’t really matter to you, you’re unlikely to follow through. 

(Cut to me, not following through.)

So I sat with that for a minute. On the surface, this memory book seemed to be checking all the boxes: I love Christmas and value celebrating it in a meaningful way. I love writing. I love records that add up over time. Still, this book wasn’t doing it for me! As I packed away the Christmas boxes, though, I hit on something that I thought actually would be meaningful to me…

As longtime readers know, I pour significant time and effort into creating our Christmas cards and newsletters each year. It’s a project that connects me to my grandmother and to fond childhood memories of sitting around a table with my siblings and parents, adding our signatures one by one to the year’s letter. It scratches my creative itch, it connects me with people I love around the country, and it satisfies my desire to tell a story about the year as it’s ending — to tie a bow on it, if you will. It delights me to no end.

What would be meaningful, I realized, was finding a better way to enjoy those Christmas cards I work so hard on, as well as a few photos from each Christmas season. No, it’s not a 1:1 switch, but once I realized that this mattered much more to me than recording what we ate on Christmas Eve (spoiler alert, it’s always the same) or what songs everyone was loving that year (spoiler alert, they’re almost always the same), it was an easy one.

Now, our Christmas cards, letters, and photos live in a simple album that’s easy for everyone to flip through. I couldn’t love it more.

I know this is a tiny, simple switch, but to me, it”s emblematic of a larger idea, and so it seemed worth sharing, in case you might need the same reminder I did:

You can change traditions, no matter how long they’ve been running or how much money they cost to get off the ground. You can tweak them, refresh them, or scrap them completely.

You can change the way you capture memories. You can start something new (even if it won’t capture your whole marriage or your kids’ whole childhood!) and you can retire something that no longer fits (even if you’ve invested many years into it!).

Saying goodbye to what doesn’t matter (or what matters less) makes room for the things that matter more (and the things that matter most). That’s a reminder I always need. You, too?

Friends, I’d love to hear: have you scrapped or significantly changed a tradition or way you record memories? It can be really hard!

Marvelous Money: Our mortgage plan update

10 April 2024

One of the most frequent requests I get, on all platforms, is for a mortgage plan update. This is funny to me (the requests are usually random and out of the blue!), but I welcome it, and I understand it: there are not many people willing to talk about finances in a personal and detailed way. But here I am! Willing to talk! So let’s get into it, because we have made a shift since our last conversation…

A brief overview of where we’ve been:

Spring 2013: We buy our house! We pull together a 13% down payment, because that’s the most we could afford.

Fall 2014: After paying off our car loans, we use about half of what we had been paying to make an extra mortgage payment each month (directly to the bank), and the other half to build up a fund for our next car purchase.

Fall 2015: Car fund complete, we shift that amount we’d been paying toward our mortgage, too. Instead of paying down our mortgage directly, though, we begin transferring the extra monthly amount into a specific home brokerage account and invest it, with the goal of paying off the mortgage balance in one lump sum once we reach the amount we need. I talked about that here.

2018: We shift our strategy. Instead of paying off our mortgage as soon as our home brokerage account reaches the right amount, we plan to keep saving a little longer, until we’ve reached a large-enough amount of money that, if carefully invested, the returns themselves would be large enough to cover our monthly mortgage payment (meaning our mortgage would no longer need to be a part of our household budget). I talked about that here.

2022: With June in (public) kindergarten, we shift most of the money we had been paying for preschool each month towards an increased monthly transfer to our home brokerage account.

2023: Our home brokerage account reached the amount where we could begin taking withdrawals for the monthly mortgage payment… but we didn’t begin taking withdrawals.

Wait, what?!

Yes, indeed. In yet another change to the plan, after much discussion, we agreed that we wanted to keep rolling with our current situation indefinitely: paying the monthly mortgage payment to the bank out of our salaries, and contributing to the home brokerage account each month while letting it grow.


To put it simply, our standard of living was (and is) perfectly comfortable. We don’t see a compelling need in our budget for our mortgage payment right now. Our current plan is to do this for the foreseeable future, or until our needs change, or until it no longer makes sense. Just as I shared in my last post, the hope is that this account will eventually pay for college tuitions, weddings, a rental property, some really extravagant generosity, or – most likely – all of the above.

Suffice it to say, this gives us an incredible amount of flexibility, and peace of mind. We knew that, I think, but we recently had an experience that drove home just how much we value living below our means. Story time? :)

Recently, a house came on the market that we were very interested in. Though we had a few alerts set up, we didn’t consider ourselves actively looking, and so scrambled to get in touch with a realtor and get prequalified for a loan. We went to see it on a Friday, the day it went on the market, and then debated whether we should put in an offer almost constantly for the next 36-ish hours.

We ultimately decided not to. As we were debriefing on Monday (when, naturally, the house went pending), John asked me how I felt. Relief was my overwhelming feeling. The weekend had been incredibly stressful: not only because we were thrust into making a fast decision (when we are two of the slowest decision makers on the planet!) but, had we gone forward, we would have taken on a much larger mortgage with a much higher interest payment. Our monthly discretionary payment to our home brokerage account would have been essentially redirected towards paying our new mortgage.

Could we have done it without much change to our lifestyle? Yes, because we were already used to forgoing that money.

Would it have potentially made us feel more stressed? Almost certainly. When we’re paying ourselves each month, we know we can always skip a transfer if something comes up – but you can’t skip a mortgage payment. At work, John doesn’t have to hustle harder than he wants, or feel pressure to take the extra appointment at the expense of our time together as a family. We feel the peace of knowing we can release my salary if something were to change with our circumstances.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t like our current plan. It’s so open-ended! We don’t have a specific goal we’re trying to reach! The larger part of me, though, is extremely grateful. This margin that we’ve fought for — keeping our standard of living stable while our income has risen and costs, like daycare/preschool, have gone away — has given us an incredible peace of mind. It has helped us to be more present, joyful parents. It has helped keep our marriage happy and stress-free. It has allowed us to give generously and freely to the people and causes we love. All of this is of almost incalculable value to me.

As I was writing this post, chapter 10 from Morgan Housel’s exceptional book came to mind. “You don’t need a specific reason to save,” he writes. “You can save just for saving’s sake. And indeed you should. Everyone should.”

Does this mean we will never move to a more expensive home? It does not. Our run-in with the market last month actually gave us a lot of clarity on what we’re looking for in a next home, and what we would and would not be willing to move for. With a narrowed scope, we feel ready to go if the right home comes on the market, but also perfectly content to wait several years should it not. And while we wait, that brokerage account will (hopefully) continue to grow – making action even easier when the time comes.

And now, to one more practical question before we close:

Over the years, readers have asked whether our feelings about this strategy have changed since we shared it, especially given the market volatility during the pandemic. Did the market drop in March 2020 make us wish we’d made payments directly on our mortgage? What has been the emotional impact of this plan, now that we’ve been at it for a bit?

This is an excellent question, and one of the most important ones to get clear on before embarking on a plan like this yourself. In a way, I’m grateful that the pandemic drop proved what we thought all along: that we both have a high tolerance for market volatility and risk. We set out on this plan knowing what we had set aside could decrease in value – and we were okay with that, considering our time horizon and the purpose of these savings. Also, not all of the money is invested in stocks, and most of it is managed in a defensive style which is more protected from volatility. We also have a fully-funded emergency fund, which helped assure us that even if something really unfortunate were to have happened (like, both of us losing our jobs WHILE the market plummeted), we still would have had options.

Key to our plan? We practice dollar cost averaging, or investing on a regular schedule, whether the market is up or down. No trying to time the market over here! Some months it will be up, which is great, and some months it will be down, which is also great – we can get in at a discount :) Over the long-term, though, we believe the market will continue to go up.

I’ll end this post the same way I’ve ended previous ones: if you like the idea of trying something like this, I would highly recommend working with a financial advisor. Of course, it’s possible to make investment decisions on your own, but I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s just me over here knowing all the things and that you should be able to do the same — John IS a financial advisor, and if he weren’t, we would definitely be seeking expertise on decisions of such magnitude.

And finally, I know this is a bit more of a niche Marvelous Money topic than we usually cover, and perhaps it feels wildly out of reach for you right now. I get that. I share this not to brag (!!!) or make you feel defeated (hopefully you know that!), but to perhaps stretch your imagination of what’s possible. At the very least, I hope it encourages you to value the peace of mind that comes from living below your means, whatever that looks like for you.

A few past posts that might be of interest:
Investing 101
Our Net Worth Meetings
Managing Money Together
Making Trade-Offs

A final reminder: I am not a financial professional, and nothing I say here should be construed as investment advice! I’m just one gal sharing her story :)

Let’s discuss! What questions does this post bring up for you? Anything we could discuss in a future Marvelous Money post?