Frugal Family Camping

Now that summer is finally here it means camping season for our family. Sleeping under a forest canopy or starlight sky is our way of connecting to nature and each other. Plus, it’s inexpensive.

In reality most of our plans began months ago. Here in Oregon most campgrounds are booked months in advance, and I typically set a reminder about nine months ahead to reserve our favorite sites. There are plenty of first-come first-served campgrounds, but I’m just not willing to pack up the family on the chance that we’ll get a site. Plus, it gives us something to look forward to…

While scheduling can be tough with busy lives, camping with other families is really the way to go. By joining forces you can share cooking/cleaning/kid watching duties and your kiddos have instant entertainment with friends.  But the real reason to camp with other families is the bond you’ll share, especially if it becomes a tradition. You simply get to know friends when you’re together for a few days rather than a few hours.

Perhaps you’re not a camper, and aren’t sure where to start. Practice pitching your tent in your own backyard as a test run, your kids will get a kick out of it and you’ll feel more confident when you hit the road to the great unknown.

I love backpacking, but we are truly car-bound campers with extra cargo  and kiddos. Yet, I still strive for simplicity and don’t believe you need to buy a ton of gear to go camping. Here are a few random tips to consider for your next camping trip:

  • Pack strategically – create camping bins to store kitchen stuff and gear/games. My Twin Sis just got me Modular Hauler as fantastic b-day gift, they seem really handy. 
  • Pack car strategically – pillows, toys, books by kids – fleeces/jackets in a bag – shoes under seats….when we road trip we have a “home” for everything, which saves you hassle.
  • Have special games and books for camping and create your own ones, like fircone basketball 🙂
  • Kids love special flashlights , especially the self-generated wind up ones
  • Use flagging to demarcate camping area  for younger kids – use “must be able to see you” rule
  • Tents bigger the better OR plan to use multiple as kids grow up
  • Make/prep food in advance – my favorite is to make cornbread and then bring an easy chili mix – keep it simple with these camping meal ideas
  • Give yourself a break if camping is too much with young kids – do it because it’s fun, not another “to-do” to make you feel guilty!

What are your favorite camping tips/tricks?
How do you save money while road-tripping? 

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

Family Footprint

One of my goals has been to calculate our family’s carbon footprint. Having tinkered with them before expanding our household, I know how widely the results can vary. So, I initially committed to trying three calculators to compare results before settling on a footprint baseline to gauge progress. 

First I tested the EPA calculator, which estimated that we emit 1,021 pounds per person (U.S. average is 20,750), for a family total of roughly 4 tons. Then Oregon DEQ calculator targeted our total family footprint at 35 tons which seems very high compared to other calculators! 

Lastly, I plugged in our energy bill info and consumption estimates into the Carbon Footprint Calculator, which claims to be the most accurate available globally. It estimated a family footprint of 9.7 tons of carbon. Here are the details:

Your Carbon Footprint:

House – 0.14 metric tons of carbon
Flights – 2.82 metric tons of carbon (4x PDX to EWR per year to see Hubby’s family)
Car – 3.08 metric tons of carbon
Bus & Rail – 0.19 metric tons of carbon
Secondary – 3.47 metric tons of carbon

TOTAL: 9.70 metric tons

Carbon Comparison:

  • Your carbon footprint is 9.70 metric tons per year
  • The average footprint for people in the U.S. is 20.40 metric tons
  • The average footprint in industrial nations is 11 metric tons
  • The average worldwide carbon footprint is 4 metric tons
  • The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons

We have a long way to go to have a so-called carbon neutral footprint, but our daily efforts do add up to a comparatively smaller footprint. Yet, cutting our footprint by another half feels like a big goal.

Our effort to drive less and commute by transit cuts our transportation footprint by about half, we drive an average of 6,000 miles and the U.S. average is 12,000 miles for a total of 6+ tons. This could still be reduced, particularly by keeping our camping adventures closer to home. 

More than the driving, it’s obvious that our annual trip to see Hubby’s family back East has a huge footprint, nearly a third of our impact. I paid to offset our last trip, but I not going to fool myself into thinking that this wipes away the pollution. You’re probably asking yourself, how could I have a goal of traveling to Denmark while working to reduce our family footprint?! Well the simple answer is that family matters, and I miss my “family” and friends so much that I can barely stand to wait another year to see them all. To keep our footprint in balance, I am committing to only making the trip once a decade no matter how dearly I miss my adopted homeland.

Have you calculated your family footprint?
Which calculator do this is most accurate?

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

Talking Priorities

Finding time to talk about your family’s financial priorities isn’t easy. Despite my best intentions, our “Money Honey” talks are still sporadic and briefer than I wish.  Yet, we happened to have two recent talks about our financial priorities. 

Our first chat teetered on mushy. Perhaps I’m disclosing how mundane we are, but on a “date” night over a nice Italian meal our conversation wandered to a pretty lengthy chat about our long-term financial priorities and how we hope to reach our goals. It may have been the red wine and puttanesca, but our talk was really gratifying. It’s nice to put things into perspective and realize that we have already achieved our most meaningful life goals: adorable kiddos, meaningful careers and a beautiful home. Yes, they all require our constant investment, but the effort is paying off.

However, our second talk just one week later had quite a different tone. Hubby and I needed to discuss two home improvement projects that had each been researching, and coincidentally we both had bids in hand. Hubby wants a deluxe wooden screen/storm door, and I want energy-efficient window coverings to keep our home cooler in the summer heat.  We weren’t altogether argumentative, but it was clear that we each wanted dearly to convince the other that our project was the top priority.  The irony is that both improvement will make our home more comfortable and efficient, and we both want all the improvements made eventually. The heart of the matter is prioritizing our limited surplus income on the project that will have the most immediate benefit. The verdict is still out, but I sense a compromise on the way…

How do you talk about your priorities honestly and respectfully?

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

Global Gratitude

After writing about the importance of asking for more money , I feel the need to reflect on how grateful I am for gainful employment and a gratifying career. It’s important to remind myself just how rich Americans are in the global picture, and how fortunate we are to have such a high standard of living.

Where do you rank on the global rich list ? I found this brilliant site where you simply input your salary and it ranks your global wealth.

I double majored in International Studies and Environmental Studies, and recall first learning about colonialism and the so-called Third World. Here’s a quick video from a Princeton professor who discusses the need to reframe the global economy to meet the needs of the poorest billion people. Don’t worry, it’s not overly academic.

How do you help your children understand just how lucky they are to have fresh vegetables and comfortable shoes? I found a very talented graphic who created some genius graphics from the statistics about what the world would look like if it were a village of 100 people. I am definitely going to save this for the day when my kiddos ask me to explain the inequality of the world.

Do you feel rich?
How do you get global perspective?

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

Ask For It

The world is abundant, but you still have to ask for want you want and need.

A few weeks ago I happened to get an interesting article on women and negotiations from a co-worker. It made a great case for why part of the pay disparity between sexes is because women simply don’t speak up and ask for it.  This should peak your attention especially if you have a daughter. The NYT article wrote about how we need to teach young girls the skill of negotiating and asking for what you want. It referenced a really intriguing  program aimed at teaching these skills to girls and women

It dawned on me that I actually didn’t know when to expect my next merit increase, as my manager had mentioned when I returned from maternity leave that my absence would affect it. It turns out after talking with HR that the leave did not affect when an increase would be allowed, and that I was actually due retroactively back to January. The kicker was that if I hadn’t asked before the end of the fiscal year I would have lost it!

I ended up with a stellar performance review and the maximum 4% increase.  Thankfully I didn’t have to learn the hard way, but it did teach me to speak up.  I will certainly keep this lesson in mind with our Girly, and work to model the skills that I’m learning mid-career.

This isn’t just a personal story or women’s issue though, its a family one. Most families need two incomes to make ends meet. Wage disparity hurts families and perpetuates inequality. If we don’t ask for change, who will?

Do you have tips for asking for raises or negotiating salaries?

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