Marvelous Money: 10 of my favorite purchases

30 April 2019

If money doesn’t make you happy, you’re probably not spending it right.

Of course, money on its own will never satisfy, and it will never fill the deep well reserved for God and people. But spent thoughtfully, within a budget, and according to your values, I believe your purchases can and should make you happier. (After all, even the quotidian stocking up of paper towels still gives me a brief buzz of adulting joy!)

But, looking back over my decade-plus career as the manager of my own purse strings, there are certain items that I still look back on, years later, and think to myself, “I am SO GLAD I spent money on that.” Here are ten of them. I hope my list encourages renewed gratitude for your own favorite purchases, and with your list in front of you, see if you can find any common threads in what you value most highly – and then let those threads guide your future purchases!

In no particular order…

1. Our tan sofa. We bought our sofa from Macy’s in 2011 for $700 delivered, about a year after John got his job. Before that, our living room contained one seating option – our white loveseat from Ikea, purchased midway through college. This purchase represented one of our first big leaps into adulthood, and we saved for months and months to afford it. It is incredibly comfortable, the velvet fabric is impervious to stains, and the practical color hides the dust of daily life effectively. It still looks fantastic after eight years; we hope to have it for many more.

I chuckle when I think about a sweet reader’s comment I got many years ago – something along the lines of, “wait until you get rid of that brown couch – then your room will look really good!” Though you could read it as rude, it didn’t bother me at all. I just thought to myself, “sister, if only you could sit beside me on this here brown couch, you’d know why I’m never getting rid of it” :)

2. Our dunes painting. My wedding gift to John was an original painting I found in a small shop in our Connecticut hometown in 2011. It already had a lovely frame, and I think the price was about $400. It was more than I had budgeted for his gift, but the moment I saw it, I fell in love – it reminded me of his beloved Michigan dunes. I loved the idea of his wedding gift being something we’d keep forever, as opposed to a piece or clothing or an accessory he might wear out. I also felt VERY grown-up purchasing an original piece of art, and there was something sweet about finding his gift so unexpectedly in our tiny hometown, the place where our story began many years before. The painting now hangs on our bedroom wall.

3. My dresser. In 2014, I spotted a low, cream dresser an acquaintance was selling on Instagram. Maybe it was the way she had merchandised it (she’s a photographer!), but I instantly knew it was a piece I’d love for a long time. At $200, I also knew it was a steal. Taking full advantage of our fun and fancy-free pre-baby life, we rented a truck from Home Depot and drove over to Greensboro to bring it home (out-of-nowhere rain storm on the way home and all!). It took ALL of my might to get my end up our front steps (that sucker is HEAVY), and it’s lived happily in our master bedroom ever since. It’s the kind of piece that could look good anywhere, and I plan to have it forever (not the least because I never want to move it again). Peep it in the background here.

4. Our mattress. Late in 2014, John convinced me to get a King-sized mattress. I was opposed to the idea at first – why would he want to be further away from me?! – but eventually gave in. We trotted down to our local Mattress Warehouse and tried out all the options in the store, finally settling on one we both loved after a good hour of reclining on various options. The price – $1,600 – was a little more than we had been planning to spend, but we were confident this was the one for us.

We called the salesperson over. He looked at the tag, and then did a double-take. He explained that there had been a mistake, that the tag on our mattress had been switched with another one and that our mattress was actually supposed to be $2,500. After confirming with his manager, however, he graciously honored the price and let us take ours home for the lower price.

Now, I don’t know if this was some sort of elaborate sales technique to make us think we got a great deal. (Kudos to them if it was!) What I do know is that pretty much every night since, John and I have looked at each other before turning out the lights and said, “I love our bed.” Given the importance of a good night’s sleep and based on how much we love our mattress, I’d have gladly spent $2,500 on it… but I’m glad we didn’t have to :)

5. Our laundry baskets. 2014 was a big year for beloved acquisitions! There are a number of reasons that could be so, but here’s one: in 2014, we had recently paid off my student loans, were rapidly making progress on our car loans, and were looking forever to putting our full efforts toward our mortgage. Every dollar was aggressively scrutinized; if one was going out the door, you can bet it was for something we were all in on.

Which brings us to our laundry baskets. I spotted them at Home Goods on Black Friday, and even though I remember hesitating over the price ($50 for 2!), I brought the wicker pair up to the register. Like several other purchases on this list, there was just something that spoke to my soul about replacing our mismatched college bins with a matched, grown-up pair. We use and love them to this day.

6. My favorite jeans. I wrote an entire post about these jeans, so you know they’re beloved. In the throes of post-second-pregnancy life, the angels sang when I slipped them on. Great quality, the right amount of stretch, a fab high waist, denim that feels SO GOOD on, and a more-than-fair price point (I got mine for $60 on sale!). Confession time: I wear them 5/7 days a week, emailed customer service to request they make a white version, and have convinced a handful of friends and family members to buy their own pairs. Maybe you’re next? :)

7. My first car. Maybe it’s on the list because I was really hoping for an SUV but thought I could only afford a sedan. Or maybe because it was incredibly comfortable, the best road trip companion for my many trips around the South. Or maybe because it was, after all, my very first car, and negotiating its purchase on my own is one of the most grown-up things I’ve ever done. For whatever reason, my Mariner will always be one of my most beloved purchases. I would happily still be driving it today if the transmission hadn’t died the last time we were in Michigan – see above for our farewell family photo!

leopard gloves

8. My leopard-print gloves. At $5 from Walmart, purchased while still at college, these beauties win the “most bang for my buck” prize by a landslide – especially considering I’ve worn them every winter for approximately the last twelve or so years. With holes in several of the fingertips, my family likes to joke that these were my texting gloves before texting gloves existed. They’re simple, they’re chic (well, aside from the holes), and when I find something I love, I tend to wear it into the ground.

9. Our TV console. A newer addition to the family, our console joins the list because it solved a problem I had been puzzling over for more than a year. With one fortuitous trip to Home Goods, it brought style, organization, and a much-needed additional surface to our living room in 2018. I searched every retailer known to man for more than a year, almost pulling the trigger on pieces three times as much as this one ($430) multiple times, but I am SO happy I didn’t settle for something I didn’t love.

10. Our Le Creuset. Last but certainly not least is our Le Creuset dutch oven. Back in February 2012, we were throwing our very first dinner party together – a Julie & Julia themed event for four couples with boeuf bourguignon on the menu.

Needless to say, we were anxious new hosts, and in a spontaneous flurry of nerves, we decided we needed this exact pot on the morning of the party. We dropped $140 on it like it was nothing, which makes me laugh to this day – because $140 was most definitely NOT nothing at that time in our lives, and nothing but the nervous desire to have everything go right for this big event could have made us make this sort of spur-of-the-moment purchase. Happily, we have used this very pot to cook thousands of meals since, and considering it’s Le Creuset, I’m confident we’ll use it to cook thousands more – and smile every time we remember the reason it joined our family :)

What would be on your list? I’d love to hear!!

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Our neighborhood meal swap

22 April 2019

Hello, friends! I hope you had a thoughtful Holy Week and very joyful Easter. We worshipped at our church’s 9:45 service, skipped over to the WRAL azalea gardens to enjoy the blooms, then came home for lunch and an egg hunt in our backyard.

Easter family

Shep was very into the family selfie :)

June has been practicing collecting things in her basket for months, so I knew we couldn’t let the holiday pass without some sort of search. Since we missed our neighborhood’s hunt this year, we decided to stage our own! I filled the eggs with little stickers and bunny grahams, and both prizes were a hit. For dinner, we had ham, twice-baked potatoes, asparagus, sparkling cider, and a deep dish chocolate chip cookie – YUM!

Easter baskets

More about our Easter baskets

Speaking of yummy meals, I’ve been wanting to report back on the neighborhood meal swap I mentioned awhile back. Inspired by Victoria, a dear friend and I decided to switch off making meals for both of our families every Tuesday. We kicked things off in the first week of the year, and it was an immediate success on both ends. We made and delivered a Greek feast (grilled chicken kebabs, cucumber feta salad, hummus, pita, grilled peppers); homemade spaghetti and meatballs; beef stew and cheddar biscuits; meatloaf, roasted potatoes, and broccoli; Italian orzo; and more.

egg hunt

Mama and Sheppie

Don’t mind me, just going to keep rolling with the Easter photos while I have you :)

What a treat to have a hot meal delivered by a friendly face right at dinner time with no work on our part every other week! On meal delivery day, there was no racing around trying to get dinner on the table, just an extra hour to play with my babies or take a walk as a family. And on the weeks we were cooking, it was really no more difficult than the usual task of making dinner for our fam – we just cooked twice as much, and then zipped half two minutes around the corner!

We were going strong for about ten weeks, and would have kept going for many more… except that Katie and Co. bought a new house about fifteen minutes away. As happy as we are for them (so happy!), we were also a bit devastated. As y’all know, these introverts don’t make friends particularly easily, and when Katie inserted herself into my life via Instagram DM after spotting me pushing a stroller (true story), it felt like God had personally and graciously gifted me the neighborhood friend I’d prayed for. From our first walk, I just knew that we were kindred spirits.

Easter best

That’s what we have been, and that’s what we’ll continue to be, but I can’t overstate the loveliness of having a close “friend family” a short walk away. Most of our friend families are scattered around the Triangle, many about a half hour away. We make the most of our time together, “binging” on each other’s company when we do get together, but if I had to choose, I’d take the dailiness of doing life together over an every-once-in-a-while spectacle every time.

My favorite part about our meal exchange was not, actually, the meals. It wasn’t even the time I got back with my family, or the opportunity to serve another family. I loved all those things, but what I loved most was the connection this experiment forced on me. As an Enneagram 5 married to a 5, it is easiest to rely on ourselves instead of stepping into the messiness of interdependency. Fives take care of ourselves, and generally think other people should, too. We can be awkward. We don’t like small talk.

But doing what’s easiest isn’t how you grow, and I don’t think the life I described above is the one I’m called to.

I’m called to a life where grace is needed, given, and received – even in the smallest things, like when I deliver dinner half an hour later than I said I would.

I’m called to a life where my imperfection is seen and accepted – like when I show up with noodles that are on the hard side of al dente.

I’m called to a life of vulnerability – what if they don’t like this dish? – and in pushing past that vulnerability instead of finding ways to avoid it.

And I’m called to a life where my days involve more than just my immediate family, where I’m regularly bumped up against other people asking how I’m doing… and really wanting to know the answer.

Easter azaleas

It is so very easy to be anonymous, to go it alone, to rely only on yourself, in the world we live in. Just pull into your garage, roll down that door, and go about your business. It’s safer and easier to call on Door Dash than another human being. But deep relationship is not only a reward in itself, it’s a requisite for growth. And growth is good and beautiful even as it’s hard.

Big lessons, big reminders, from something as small and simple as a meal swap. Do it for the delicious food, do it for the extra hours gained, do it for the growth – but just try it, friends! And then tell me how it goes :)

Easter outfits

I’d love to hear: have you ever tried a meal swap, or would you want to? I’d imagine the biggest barrier for most people is finding a partner close by, since proximity is key to keeping it up long-term.

Tips for finding the right daycare

5 April 2019

For as much chatter as there is on the internet about kids, a few important topics get almost no air time. Wisdom about raising teenagers is one of them, and in my experience, daycare is another.

It’s not as “sparkly” of a topic as gift picks or product faves, and it’s not as universal as thoughts on feeding a toddler, but it is without a doubt one of the most important things to “get right” as a parent – and thus, is a topic worthy of sharing on if my experiences might be helpful for one of you. If you’re a new parent or perhaps not even pregnant yet (but looking ahead to the day when you are), and daycare is part of your care plan, this post is for you, with love from me!

Specifically, this post is for those who have decided daycare is the right fit for their family, and are now trying to decide between centers. Over the last three years we’ve toured 9 different schools and had children enrolled in three – a nationwide franchise with traditional hours, a local company with several sites in the Triangle and traditional hours, and an independent Montessori with school-based hours (8:30-4:30). We’ve had great experiences with all of them, and through the searches to land at these three, have identified what to look for to know if a school will be a great fit for our family.

Of course, everyone has different priorities when it comes to care for their kids, and the things we care about most might not match up with your priorities. As an important first step before you begin your search, I’d take some time to write out what matters most to you so you can judge each center against your criteria. Looking up the state rating, if your state has one, is a good place to start, but there is so much more to take into consideration!

Here are a few of the things we look for in a daycare/preschool, in no particular order:

1. When we visit, the first thing we talk about should be what we’re looking for in care for our child. In nine visits over the last few years, only three have done this — at any point in the conversation. Asking what we care about tells me they’re interested in building a relationship, that they’re invested in my individual child, and that they’re not simply going to provide a one-size-fits-all service.

2. Experience over degrees. This is a tip from my Mom, who was the director of a preschool for sixteen years. She always said she would hire a teacher with experience and passion over someone with a degree any day. I particularly think this is important for a teacher in an infant or toddler classroom, where I’d much rather have someone caring for my baby who’s raised their own babies and has years of experience to draw on than someone fresh out of school.

3. Management that treats their teachers well. If I’m paying more than my mortgage for childcare, I would like to know that not only am I thrilled with the care my child is receiving, but that her teachers are also being taken care of. For basic human reasons, yes, but also because well-compensated teachers who feel they are valued will be happier, which will lead them to do their job well, and will lead to less turnover, leading to a more stable environment for my child and for communication. To gauge this, you can ask outright what benefits their teachers receive, and of course you can also ask how long the teachers have been with the school.

4. Cozy rooms (balanced with cleanliness). Heck yes I understand the need to make it as easy as possible to keep classrooms clean and germ-free — but I also don’t want to feel like my child is spending the day in a linoleum box. Both June’s and Shep’s infant classrooms had plenty of soft surfaces, pleasing decor, and cozy nooks while also keeping them safe and healthy.

5. Lack of technology. It’s funny – most centers advertise the technology incorporated into the curriculum as a selling point, but it should come as no surprise that I was looking for the exact opposite. June is now at a Montessori school where there are no screens of any kind, and it’s heaven.

6. A commitment to outside time. Almost all schools have outside time every day (I think it’s a law in North Carolina!), but what do their outdoor spaces look like? What emphasis do they place on it? What are the kids doing outside? We were particularly looking for playgrounds that had natural surfaces – grass, mulch, etc. – which was surprisingly hard to find.

7. Flexible hours. With most traditional center hours (7am-6pm), we were paying for far more hours than we needed. We were SO happy to find June’s current school, which, among a million other wonderful things, allows us to pay for only the hours we need. This set-up seems to be rare, but is so worth seeking out if you’re in the same situation!

8. Teachers we love in the classroom we’ll be in. As long as the school is generally decent, in my opinion, the teachers matter more than the “brand” or experience of the school at large. The teachers are the ones caring for your child every day, and the people with whom you’ll be communicating. You should feel totally confident in who they are and their ability to love on your child. Yes, staff can turnover, and you’ll get new teachers as your child grows – but you can always reevaluate, if necessary, at that point.

And that leads me to a final piece of encouragement: when choosing a daycare (or, really, any kind of school), make the best decision for now, not forever. If you realize your child needs something different, or your priorities change, you can always switch schools. The right school at six months might not be the right school at three years, and that’s okay! You’re not making a decision for all of time – just for right now. You’re doing a great job, mama :)

Any tips to add, friends? How did you know your childcare was the one? Have any other childcare questions you’d like me to answer?

P.S. We lucked out with getting June into an infant program immediately because the center had recently opened – and then were shocked when we were 16th on a waiting list for Shep in April, for a November spot!! You do need to start your search early in most markets – I’d recommend in the second trimester.

April 2019 goals

1 April 2019

This was a strange month, if you look at the update on my March goals below… I was only able to fully check off one of the nine goals I set, but I made much more progress than it seems! I moved the ball forward on each of them, again proving to myself that setting these little-by-little goals is worth it, even when I don’t get the glory of a big fat checkmark :)

On my calendar this month:
— Celebrating Holy Week and Easter with our church family (and filling Easter baskets)
— A cousin visit to the zoo (the perfect halfway point between Charlotte and us!)
— Rooftop yoga with Lisa
— Trying a Zumba class for the first time!!! (It’s entirely possible it will be me and a gaggle of 50-year-olds but I happen to love 50-year-olds so I’m totally fine with that.)

What I’m loving right now:
— Sometimes, I find reminders about children and the fleetingness of time more painful than helpful, but I enjoyed this low-key perspective.
— I have no idea what the situation with phones and kids will be when our kids are old enough for it to be an issue, but I completely disagree that a smart phone is necessary for a 15-, 13-, or 11-year-old. So does this gal, and I love it.
— We made this Shepherd’s Pie recipe by Alton Brown for St. Patrick’s Day. Put it on your menu for next year (or before that!).

What I read in April:
Ogre Enchanted: Ella Enchanted was one of my very favorite books growing up, so I had to pick up this companion novel. It was enjoyable, though much more so in the second half once they introduced some characters from the original book!

Revisiting my March goals:
Cull and sort 2018, 2016, and 2015 iPhone photos (major progress – I finished 2015 and 2016!!)
Go on an inaugural family bike ride (postponing this until Shep is a bit older!)
Arrange for a vapor barrier to be installed (estimates have been made, now we just need to book a service)
Sell our old rug (listed for sale various places but no bites yet!)
Set a camping date for late summer/early fall (in progress)
Paint a few of our living room gallery wall frames (painted and then decided the color was too dark – and then bought a lighter shade)
Explore Squarespace for our new church site
Buy a preschool devotional
Rearrange and organize the loft (major progress!!)

April goals:
— Cull and sort 2018, 2014, and 2013 iPhone photos
— Go on an evening walk every day it’s possible
— Repaint gallery wall frames
— Print a photo for our mantel frame
— Add a few more plants to our back bed
— Plant our vegetable garden

As a reminder, many of the goals above are drawn from my 2019 goals!

Affiliate links are used in this post!