10 helpful money decisions we keep repeating

11 June 2024

You know those podcast episodes that you hit play on as soon as you see them in your feed? Today’s post was inspired by one of them – a recent Lazy Genius episode. In it, Kendra shares 20 helpful decisions she keeps repeating across four areas of life: personal, kids, food, and money.

“Decide once” is probably my favorite Lazy Genius principle – it speaks to my heart which loves both efficiency AND intentionality – and though I’ve written about some of my “decide once” decisions before, we’ve never discussed money-related decisions specifically. Since I loved hearing Kendra’s, I thought it might be helpful to share some of John’s and mine, especially since we love chatting personal finance around here :) Let’s do it!

P.S. This is probably obvious, but “deciding once” means making one decision about one thing and continuing to make that decision over and over until it doesn’t work for you anymore. Boundaries AND freedom!

A mostly unrelated photo, but you know these Articles Club gals are a great source of riches in my life!

1. I sign up for every Meal Train that crosses my path, and I bring a prepared meal from a local shop. In this season of young kids, trying to prepare and deliver two meals in one day (for my family and the other family) was causing enough stress that it had begun to dissuade me from signing up in the first place. While it’s more expensive than cooking from scratch, I love that I can choose a meal that matches the family’s needs with ease (gluten- or dairy-free, vegetarian, etc.) and support a local small business, too.

2. When a school or teacher asks for money, we give it. Our oldest attends a public elementary school, and our middle will soon join her. We believe strongly in the importance of a vibrant and healthy public school system, and because I’ve done the mind-numbing math of what we’d pay if we sent our kids to a private school, it feels comparatively easy to drop by the store or send money on Venmo whenever a request circulates.

3. When we can help a foster family or a family in need, we do. Similarly, our church helps support foster families and at-risk families in a few different ways (buying diapers or baby gear for vulnerable pregnant moms, buying backpacks and school supplies for foster kids), and we always say yes when asked. Caring for the orphan, the widow, and the generally vulnerable was near to Jesus’ heart, and because we will likely not be a foster or adoptive family ourselves, it feels like a duty and joy to tangibly help those who are.

4. We will keep John’s car as long as we can. John’s Ford Focus is currently 12 years old, with less than 100k miles on it. He drives it to and from work twice a week… and that’s about it. While it does have power windows and AC (ha!), it’s a basic trim level and nothing fancy.

But that’s kind of why we love it :) It’s been paid off for almost a decade, and it works just fine. We have money sitting in an account for his next car, and it will be wonderful when he gets it, but that day won’t be until this one needs repairs that no longer make sense. Until that day comes, we just don’t think about replacing it.

5. We have a date night every month. And we almost always go out to eat, because the Triangle has incredible restaurants and all we really want to do is talk to each other :) Both the restaurant bill and the babysitter are expenses, but it is a non-negotiable for us and has been since June was small (back when it was a lot harder to fit it into the budget!).

6. We give 10% of our income each year to our church. While not a command to Christians, we believe this guidance is to our benefit, and a way God graciously cares for us as He partners with us to care for others. It took us several years of slowly increasing our percentage until we hit the 10% mark; we hope to increase it over time from here.

7. We give annually to our college. This feels like a direct inheritance from my maternal grandmother, who was a devoted alumna of her school (and heavily involved with my grandfather’s college even after his death). There was never a question of whether I’d give after graduation, and I’ve done so every year since. (I think I gave $50 the first year!) While it’s debatable how much of an impact my four years of undergrad had on my professional trajectory, I nevertheless feel incredibly grateful for my career path – and this is one way to pass on that gratitude.

8. We max out our HSA. While a bit more arcane, we prioritize this over maxing out our 401ks in this season, and have for many years. (I wrote a post about it in 2018!) It’s simply a part of building our budget each year: we look up the maximum contribution limit, then plug that into our budget.

9. We save a certain amount in our Home Free account each month. When I think about decisions we don’t think about, this is a big one. In fact, in many ways, it’s best not to think about this too much :) And luckily, we don’t have to! The money is automatically transferred from our checking account to our investment account each month. After almost a decade of doing so, we don’t miss it – which is very much to our benefit, as it quietly adds up in the background.

10. We make a budget every year. I know I’m a particular type of person, but it is truly hard for me to grasp how people maintain their mental health without a budget. Our budget is a plan. It reassures me that we’ve taken care of everything that we need to, and that if we stick to the budget, we are free to spend money without guilt, we’ll be able to pay our bills, and we can rest assured that we’re making progress on all of our savings goals. A budget has worked for us when we’ve had little money and when we’ve had more; it has helped keep our marriage (and minds) happy and peaceful in every season. I am so grateful.

Now I’d love to hear from you, friends! What’s on your financial “decide once” list?

June 2024 goals

4 June 2024

Friends, thank you for all your generous thoughts on the project management musings in my last goal update! They were so interesting to read – we span a wide range of practices and preferences! – and helped me find my own best solution.

Here’s where I landed. At the beginning of May, I transferred my to-do’s into Asana (but kept the daily schedule for my days off in my Google Doc). Though I wasn’t scratching the surface of Asana’s capabilities, I liked being able to organize to-do’s by project as well as due date, and I found I liked having the to-do’s separate from the schedule. Then, each Wednesday and Friday (my days off), I would consult Asana and move to-dos into the next few days of the daily schedule, as needed.

While I’m not sure this system will work forever (May and June are unusually full), it’s working right now, and that’s good enough.

Here’s what else is on deck in the month ahead!

We went to an NC symphony concert this past weekend – a John Williams salute – and it was magical. I have the best memories of evening outdoor orchestra concerts when I was a child – I hope my kids feel the same way some day!

On my calendar:
— Swim meets! Our neighborhood swim season has begun and it’s a fun vibe to spend many of our evenings at the pool surrounded by friends and neighbors.
— Father’s Day! I’m organizing a pastry bar from a local favorite cafe for the men at our church, and celebrating my own wonderful husband, Dad, and father-in-law. (Details at the end of the post–dads, don’t peek!)
— A lot of travel and visitors. My sister and her fam and my in-laws are coming on separate weekends, and we’re traveling to Bald Head Island for a long weekend and leaving for Michigan at the end of the month – and in between, I’m traveling back to Texas for work. Eep!

What I’m loving right now:
— In honor of Memorial Day, this beautiful column from Peggy Noonan: “Teach Your Children to Love America.” (Gift link!)
— After searching all my usual haunts for some new sleeveless tops and coming up completely empty, I remembered Ann Taylor and wow – they have my number. I was looking for something more special than a basic tee but not so precious I couldn’t wear it on a work-from-home day, and they delivered. I ordered this, this, and this for under $100 during a recent sale!
— With three kids, I’ve found it helpful the last two years to keep a simple Google Doc with our summer plans. It doesn’t have every detail, but I can easily share it with my mom and sister, and it’s helpful to have an at-a-glance reminder of where everyone will be when I’m making plans or appointments several weeks out. Click here for what it looks like! (Not our actual schedule! :))

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 coziest summer-weight blanket we own and have gifted
— The underbed storage boxes we use for keeping memories – each child has one!
— My pool slides (I returned the olive green and went with white again)
— A simple lizard strategy game, featured in my day-in-the-life post
The Anxious Generation, a book I think everyone should read

Last month on The Connected Family:
‘The Anxious Generation:’ 4 Norms to Adopt Now | My takeaways from Jonathan Haidt’s new book
The Practice of Phones Off for an Hour Each Day | Or, what to do when you and your spouse don’t agree on phone boundaries
Fighting Back Against Attention Fragmentation | An update on logging 1,000 hours of deep work in 365 days
A Day in the Life of The Connected Family | The Spring, workday edition with an 8-, 5-, and 2-year-old

What I read in May:
The Women | After a string of so-so novels this year, The Women rocketed onto my bedside table and redeemed the last few months with its bleak (this is Kristin Hannah, after all), but propulsive – and ultimately satisfying – page turner. Like her other beloved novels, it immerses you in a time and place you don’t know much about (this time, Army nurses in the Vietnam war, and life in America after they return home). I felt like I’d lived many lives with Frankie (and stayed up way too late several days in a row) by the time I reached the last page. Highly recommend.
Nothing to Lose | A quick Jack Reacher thriller I picked up on a whim at the library. I’ve read a few and they always make me feel connected to my sister-in-law, who in a somewhat incongruous spin has read every single one, and my Dad, who has also read a bunch.
Go as a River | Right on the heels of The Women came this stunner – and likely nudged it just enough to take the top spot in my novels so far this year. Reminiscent of The Four Winds, with a little bit of Educated, Where the Crawdads Sing, and a splash of My Side of the Mountain, this beauty was expertly paced with exquisite turns of phrase and a satisfying ending. Highly recommend.

My reading list for 2024! I’m 6 / 24 so far.

Revisiting my May goals:
Complete at least 40 hours of deep work (35! So close!)
Thoughtfully prep for Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day
Make a loose plan for summer days at home (More on The Connected Family last week!)
Edit Annie in April
Complete a sweep of the loft
Finish the 2015-2019 photo album! (I’m about halfway done with 2019! Also so close!!)
Read chapters 10-11 of Outlive

June goals:
— Complete at least 30 hours of deep work (with travel, I won’t be sitting in front of a screen as much as usual!)
— Film June in June
— Read chapters 12 and 13 of Outlive
— Host our neighborhood’s kindergarten breakfast
— Host our church’s Father’s Day celebration
— End the school year and begin summer well (some of what we do here!)
— Plan for Annie’s July birthday (it will sneak up with travel!)
— Finish the 2015-2019 photo album
— Buy a new laptop (though this is overdue, I have weirdly complicated feelings about this! My MacBook is 12 years old!)

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

Alrighty, here’s what I have planned for Father’s Day: for my father-in-law, a beautiful bird puzzle. For my Dad, a gift card to play golf together at the par 3 near us and a subscription to Storyworth, in conjunction with my sisters. I’ve wanted to do this for him for years and now that he’s retired, the timing is just right! And for John, an overnight stay at a local hotel that I won at our school’s spring auction (my younger sister is flying in to watch the kids, which will be fun for all!) and a new Landmark Project tee.

To close, I would love to hear one thing you’re doing to prepare well for summer! No matter what season of life you’re in – whether you have kids or not, a job that shifts or not – a new season on the calendar always feels like an opportunity to be kind to our future selves :) It could be putting books on hold at the library, deciding on a lunch you can repeat, planning now for a trip, or resetting toy storage… the smallest things can make a big difference! Please share in the comments, if you’d like.

Affiliate links are used in this post!

One woman’s beginner intro to rucking

28 May 2024

Whew! Pals, I did not mean there to be such a big gap between today’s post and my last one – but such is life at the end of the school year, I suppose! :) Thanks for being here. Onwards to today’s topic…!

If you had told me a few years ago that I would get into rucking, I probably would have looked at you in confusion – and asked the number one question submitted to the question box when I asked what you wanted to know about rucking on Instagram a few weeks ago: um, what is rucking?!

Well, friends, John and I are a few months into this rucking adventure, and I’d love to share what we’ve experienced so far – the good, the hard, and my advice if you’d like to try it, too. Let’s go!

What is rucking?

Rucking is simply walking with weight on your back – simple as that. Unlike hiking, it doesn’t need to take place in the woods (though it can!). Rucking is an important part of training for many branches of the military, and so the idea of rucking as exercise kind of moved in popularity from military communities out into the wider world in the last decade or so.

Why were we interested in getting into rucking?

Funny story :) In the last year or two, an interview with Michael Easter popped up on one of John’s regular podcasts, as part of a publicity round after publishing his first book. We did a double take – Michael was a fellow graduate of our college class, and in fact was an English major alongside me! It is not common to see a classmate pop up in the news – we went to a tiny school! – and so this was an unexpected delight. In the book and in the podcast interview, Michael extolled the benefits of rucking, which was the first time I remember it piquing our interest. His enthusiasm was later echoed by Peter Attia and others, until it felt like we were hearing about rucking everywhere we turned.

What appealed to us about rucking:

It would not require adding anything additional to our schedule. It might seem silly, but this was the biggest one for me. Since we were already in the practice of taking a walk several times each week, we could simply add weight and get more out of what we were already doing. Balancing the need to exercise with all the other things I want to do is a constant struggle for me, so this was huge, and easily what got me on board so quickly.

The health benefits. From my understanding, rucking builds muscle and strength while improving cardio and endurance. (You can burn up to three times more calories than walking alone.) The pressure the weight puts on your muscles and joints also helps to build bone density, which is particularly important for women.

It’s simple. You just need a pack, some weight, good sneakers, and a place to walk. There are no fancy moves to learn and no subscription to buy.

It’s outside, and can be done with others. We’ve been able to incorporate our kids (more about that below!), and though we haven’t yet participated in any group rucks, we enjoy being able to ruck side by side.

This article lists more benefits of rucking, and I agree with many of them!

How we got started with rucking:

Last fall, John bought us each one of these ruck plates – 20 pounds for me, and 35 pounds for him. (Experts suggest starting with 10-25 pounds and gradually scaling up until you’re carrying no more than 1/3 of your body weight.) We put the weights into normal backpacks we already owned and set off on our first ruck.

It was awful. We were both terribly uncomfortable – the plates sat low on our backs and bounced as we walked – and ended up cutting our first outing to less than ten minutes. I freely shared my very negative impressions with John, ha.

We returned the plates (that was a heavy box to ship off at UPS, yikes) and decided to go all-in with official GoRuck gear – backpacks and plates. We got another 20-pound plate for me, and this time a 30-pound plate for John. This was a leap of faith – our initial attempt was not a positive experience, and the GoRuck gear is not inexpensive – but it seemed like our best option if we wanted to make a real go of it.

While the GoRuck gear was noticeably more comfortable, the weight quickly fatigued my shoulders and back and caused pain between my shoulder blades for the first few weeks. I would complain bitterly to John on even our short 10- or 15-minute loops – somehow it made me feel better, ha – and constantly adjust my straps to try and relieve the pressure.

But we kept going! John gamely encouraged me to “embrace the suck” (which is apparently something that rucking people say), and slowly, over several weeks, the pain started to lessen and we were able to increase our distance. Now, half a year later, we regularly ruck for 30-40 minutes several times a week with no pain or fatigue, at a sub-20-minute/mile pace.

Our thoughts on rucking so far:

Rucking has been a great workout for us. When I have my pack on, I can feel my whole body working — particularly my calves, glutes, rear, and core. I’m grateful for that.

That being said, the greatest delight I take from rucking is twofold: first, as I alluded to at the top, I feel like I’m gaming the system by getting more benefit for my body without adding anything to my schedule. It feels like some sort of cheat code and I am HERE FOR IT. I suppose I’m working both harder and smarter? :)

My second source of delight is knowing that I’m doing something that will make future-me grateful. My bones don’t feel any different right now – I can’t notice any changes and haven’t looked at any scans – but just knowing that what I’m doing today (even when it feels hard), is making it more possible for me to enjoy my favorite people, activities, and places for a long time to come is thrilling for my future-oriented, big-picture-loving brain and heart.

I’m not particularly motivated by pushing myself to complete challenging physical tasks (that’s all John), but increasing the likelihood I’ll be strong, mobile, and independent in the future? That will get me off the couch.

Rucking with kids

A last aspect I wanted to circle back to: though my rucks have mostly consisted of 30-40 minute rucks around our neighborhood thus far, John has set off on longer routes – and he’s taken our two older kids (5 and 8) with him. (They don’t carry packs!) On many Sunday afternoons this spring they’ve set off on treks around our town, a little platoon of adventurers, five miles or so at a time. They’ll stop along the way to play at a playground or get ice cream downtown and return after a few hours, tired but happy. June and John even rucked to our friends’ house one memorable afternoon – 10 miles!! (To be fair, I picked June up toward the end – she completed 9 of the miles :))

I like to think this might be just the beginning of our family’s rucking adventures together. From keeping us connected to keeping us fit, I’m hoping it will be a part of our family’s culture for many years to come.

What questions can I answer for you about rucking? Has anyone else tried it? I’d love to hear!

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!