Monthly Archives: January 2010

About Us: Sustainable Family Finances

Sustainable Family Finances Blog Goals:
1) Record my family income/expenses/savings monthly
2) Meet monthly with hubby to discuss budget
3) Simplify family accounts
4) Track our family’s carbon footprint
5) Share ways to live abundantly within our means

About Me: My name is Darcy.  Some call my an idealist, striving for Darcy’s Utopia.  Others might say that I’m a 30-something middle-class working mom with two young kids: my five year old son (referred to as BigGuy) and my two year old daughter (referred to as Girly). I also have two more guys in my life, my life partner of 10-plus years (referred to as Hubby) and a big black Lab (referred to as Doggy). We live in the best of the Pacific Northwest, aka Oregon, although we hope to connect with people from across the globe through this blog.

About our Family Finances: We are a dual income family, yet we spend more than ever before. I’ve always been pretty responsible with my money, but “life” can easily distract me from making it a top priority. Due to an almost $2k monthly child care bill, we truly need to balance the budget each month. Otherwise, we are starting in a pretty good place: we are able to pay the mortgage on our “dream home” (a 1904 Victorian), our only other debt is my college and graduate school loans, we have a growing emergency fund, and a modest retirement fund. Financially, our short term goals are to track our family budget better, spend with our values in mind, and increase our emergency fund. Our long term goals are to retire well, save for college, travel as a family, and share the wealth. As a busy working family, our first dilemma is how to streamline our finances and keep our eye on our short and long term financial goals.

My Partner in Inspiration: As mentioned in my very first post, my twin sister Miel, was my inspiration for starting this blog. She has been very successful with the DINKs Finance blog that she has been co-writing and administering for the past four years (and recently sold). She continues to share her life adventure through Vicarious Nomad.  She has agreed to be my partner, and share her blog savvy to make this the successful entrepreneurial venture we hope it will become. 

Beyond balancing our family budget, I try to balance my life. My family literally requires a lot of “care and feeding,” which means that I have to be strategic to get any “me” time. I work full time in a community-oriented position, which is both challenging and satisfying. I work hard, but also prioritize play time. I love the outdoors, gardening and any sport that gets me in the water. I’ve always enjoyed writing and believe that this blog will help me get beyond the daily family juggle to see a bigger picture view of how we are interconnected. I hope you will share this journey with me. 
Disclaimer #1: I am NOT a financial adviser, and I don’t pretend to be one. You may have more financial expertise than me. If you need professional financial advice, please hire someone. I am simply an individual on a journey to learn how to manage my family’s finances in a sustainable way. I have a Masters in Environment & Community, and the only finance related class I ever took was environmental economics. I’m a savvy researcher, and will do my best to only share reliable sources. Yet, I will repeat, if you need financial advice, hire a professional!

Disclaimer #2: While we try, my family does not in fact live a truly sustainable life .  Some of our efforts do include reducing our home’s energy footprint through the Clean Energy Works program (Parts I, II, & III), driving less, biking with kids more, commuting by public transportation, drinking only tap water, limiting ourselves to one can of trash a month, and taking steps to track our carbon footprint.  We enjoy gardening (even if with a hapless harvest), have our organic groceries delivered to avoid extra time shopping for the essentials, and we recently started enjoying the indulgence of some extra help with ecomaids.

Disclaimer #3: My family comes first. Work is a close second. There may be times when a sick child or a deadline will take an obvious priority over writing this blog. While I am taking this endeavor seriously, and I don’t want to dissappoint; this blog is really just a creative outlet. It’s a tool to help me reach my dreams…which includes inspiring you.    

You: Thank you for sharing a moment on this journey. I hope my story will help you create your own uniquely abundant and sustainable life.  Your comments and engagement help boost my creative resources.  

Thanks for the journey!

Sustainable Family Finances  This blog is the story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Goal #5 Share Ways to Live Abundantly Within Our Means

One thing I hope to make clear is that in my opinion living abundantly is not a selfish thing. Living in true abundance is the act of both giving and receiving; a truly reciprocal relationship. It’s about finding creative ways to give of yourself and your talents to the extent that with luck and faith you’ll receive all that you desire.

I don’t want to come across as some money hungry Earth mama either. I’ve just come to a point in my life where I feel the need reconcile my neccesity for resources and my desire to be thoughtful about the role I play in the web. More than anything, I believe that abundance is a state of mind, as we all know that joy does not know your account balance or your so-called net worth.

So, with that said, my last goal will very much focus on you and your desire to create a meaningful and successful life for your family. I hope that through this blog I will be able to share fun and creative ways to help us all find value in things that matter. I aim to be your touchstone and provide incremental inspiration as we travel this journey.

On the eve of the Martin Lurther King Jr. Holiday weekend, I urge you to find some way to volunteer with your family . You can’t get a much better return on your investment than by volunteering in your community. There are countless ways to give, so be creative in finding a way that suits your family. My family will be joining a community tree planting event, which is a terrific way for kids to be able to see the long term impact of our community service.

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Goal #4 Track Our Family’s Carbon Footprint

Anyone who knows me knows that curbing global warming has been a passion of mine since adolescence, and yet I’m just like everyone else fumbling their way toward a greener planet. Face it; it’s not easy in our culture. Everything is geared toward consumption, driving and raising the next generation’s thermometer.

I remember first calculating my carbon footprint about a decade ago using a basic online calculator, and being secretly proud that my impact was estimated to be similar to a European. Yet, despite my best intentions, it’s been a slippery slope and having a family certainly makes it more difficult to stick to a low-carbon diet. We practice many daily green habits, but it’s easy to ignore the bigger things you don’t feel control over. And just like my family’s monthly budget, I feel like I need a baseline to be able make tangible goals and track our progress.
I plan to use a couple of calculators, just for giggles, and to make sure that we are truly accounting for all of our emissions.
  • Energy Trust of Oregon
    • Online Home Energy Analyzer takes ten minutes and includes your homes appliances and several house specs
    • Energy Performance Score gathers actual utility data and estimates your Energy Consumption and Carbon Emission
  • Carbon Footprint’s Carbon Footprint Calculator claims to be the best on the web

I’m also hoping that I will get a few hard-core followers who have the technical know-how to call me on any carbon oversights (and yes, I do know that methane is a huge culprit). So, like managing my family’s finances, I’ll give regular status updates about the real life challenges and joys of trying to become a “sustainable family.” 

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Goal #3 – Simplify Family Accounts

I should have heeded my high school teacher’s advice long ago: K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid. After ten years together, it’s time for Hubby and I to merge our money.

I understand that there are some people who are philosophically opposed to having joint accounts. Initially in our relationship it only made sense to keep our finances separate on the principle of fairness alone, and I recall that during our first year of living together, we dutifully divvyed up everything 50/50. Yet, over the years we’ve co-mingled our finances beyond recognition. Since we’ve been married, we’ve technically had joint accounts, but have managed them separately which has become an increasing hassle for the CFO of the family. Aside from the fact that when we finally merge our money, it really won’t make any difference to our family’s bottom-line.

When you share kids, sharing finances doesn’t seem like such a big deal in comparison. It’s only actually been since our lives became overwhelmed by the hectic pace of family responsibilities that I’ve felt the urge to merge our finances. Since returning from maternity leave this fall, I’ve wanted to up my automatic payroll savings, but how much do I really have available to save? I’ve also been trying to sort out how many we can afford to tithe for our church, but I obviously don’t want to put us in financial jeopardy in the name of charity.

When I take the time to check my account online, I want to be able to quickly assess where our family stands financially. I feel like I’ve been in the dark lately not knowing whether we have the money there to spend or to save. (And, yes, I have tried using Mint, and initially was very excited in a nerdy kind of way about it, but unfortunately it doesn’t work with my community bank) I need to be able to answer these questions to have financial peace amongst the chaos of family life.

It’s also a trust and solidarity thing. I want to feel like my income is helping buy our home, not just pay for child care and the household expenses. I hope that merging our money will continue to build the foundation of trust that truly supports our family.

Lastly, yes, it will take a little juggling for Hubby to merge his auto-pay and auto-debits into my (our) account, but I promise to show my eternal gratitude and not nag him nearly as often.

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Goal #2 – Let’s Talk Money Honey

It’s maybe not what Hubby has in mind for a so-called date night, and certainly not the sexiest pick up line I’ve used, but talking money as a couple needs to become a priority. As everyone knows, money can be a primary source of a couple’s discontent…sometimes even leading to the dreaded “D” word. So, it’s definitely time well invested to have frequent heart-to-hearts with your significant other.

Thankfully, hubby and I have pretty similar notions about what we should and should not spend money on, and have only ever had minor quibbles over cash. While I would probably have to confess to a financial fib or two, at least we are not committing “Financial Infidelity” – there’s a bit scary video from the Wall Street Journal that my sister just posted on her DINKs Finance blog.

Our greatest downfall is that we both have a tendency to want the best for our family: all organics, no cheap fast food, nice clothes…the list seems to go on and on. We’re also generous, and would give to more causes in a heartbeat if we could afford it. Yet, there’s only so much money to go around, and often we are faced with decisions about what we want/need for our family.

So, in theory it’ll be pretty simple. My first step is penciling in time on our calendar, and I’m going to choose the third Sunday of the month. That will give me enough time to pay bills and update the budget during the first half of the month. Ideally we would meet while the kids are napping, but as parents we know how little control we actually have over these small beings. So, we’ll probably have to wing it half the time, but the important thing is that we dedicate time regularly to discussing our family’s financial matters.

I’ll also dedicate some time to reflecting on these meetings, and sharing with you any insights that might be gleaned from these monthly pow-wows.

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.