Resetting Healthy Habits

By on December 4, 2017

Thanksgiving was over a week ago, but I thought I’d share a bit about the non-financial goal that I set after the holiday weekend. I bet I’m not the only one to overindulge on Thanksgiving or other holidays (please tell me I’m right)! So for the past week, I’ve been changing my eating habits. Less snacking, less sugar, fewer empty calories, more vegetables! 

Amazing view at the arboretum!

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Thanksgiving Festivities

By on November 24, 2017

Hey, everybody! We hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving with family and friends! The COD crew is in Illinois for the holiday weekend, hanging out with lots of family. Junior and Mini COD are having a blast wearing out their cousins, while Mr. And Mrs. COD are enjoying conversations with relatives we haven’t seen in WAY too long. We even got into some nitty-gritty topics like the forbidden politics…and survived with positive relationships intact! 

No long post for today, just some photos of our fun times together!

Jr and Mini COD riding at Grandma’s

Allerton Park, walking through the gardens

This gem of a park is mere minutes from Mrs. COD’s childhood home.

Grandma COD and niece and nephew

Fu Dog Garden with Japanese-inspired sculptures

Mini COD with grandparents


Exploring the arboretum

Ahh… gorgeous nature!


By the way, we’re not big on Black Friday shopping in general, but with Mrs. COD’s new fair-trade business venture, we’re thinking more about shopping with a purpose. Trades of Hope is all about creating opportunities for women rather than charity. Sustainable employment empowers women in poverty to earn their own income and become self-reliant. I’m pretty proud to be a part of this organization and their purpose of strengthening women to support their families. For an example of what they’re accomplishing, check out the Trades of Hope blog and read Rosa’s story!  

If you happen to be looking for some cool fair trade gifts that serve a greater purpose than funding a big corporation, feel free to check out our current catalog, featuring a bunch of Black Friday items at 50% off. *Yes, we make a bit of money off the links, so you’ll also be helping to fund our holiday travel! 

One of the artisans we work with in Thailand

This company works with artisans in Thailand, Haiti, Peru, Bangladesh, and 12 other countries. Check out the jewelry, handbags, and other accessories here if you like. There will be new sales daily through this Monday. 

Happy day-after-Thanksgiving to you all! 

Harnessing the Power of Comparison: Guest Post at Slowly Sipping Coffee!

By on November 14, 2017

Good morning! This week, we’re honored to be guest posting at Slowly Sipping Coffee! This is one of our must-read FIRE blogs and one of the very first we found when we started our journey towards financial independence. 

Today’s post is all about harnessing the positive aspects of comparison. We all hear so much about how comparison robs you of your joy and keeps you from appreciating your life. But today I wanted to explore some of the great things comparison can do for us when changing defaults. 

Click below to read more, and be sure to follow SSC so you don’t miss a post!

 

Guest Post: “Harnessing the Power of Comparison” from Changing Our Default


Frugality Report: October

By on November 3, 2017

Here’s our monthly Frugality Report! Yeah, I haven’t done one of these since last winter… oops! Let’s get back into the swing of things and talk about ways the COD crew saved money and spent money in October. 

Frugality Flops


Car
. Well, we bought a new-to-us car this month. I’ll get into why we deemed it more of a frugal win later, but for now, it’s still more expensive than not buying one! 

Credit Card. We paid for the car with plastic. Ugh. It was stupid and lazy, to pay via credit card when the bank was just across town. We could have gotten the cash on the spot, but chose to go the other route. Oh well, at least it’s paid in full, so there’s no car payment and no interest!

Fees. Our old credit card, which neither of us use anymore, comes with a lovely fee that was due this month. I forgot all about that card (it’s a travel rewards card), and when I saw the monthly statement, it was a “D’oh!” moment for sure. Wish we’d closed that account, since we never even use it. 

FRUGAL HIGHFIVES

Food. We made some terrific meals at home this month! We only went out for one fast-food dinner and a few donuts here and there. I’m personally super happy that ’tis the season for casseroles and toasty warm soups, so I’ve been pulling out my old stand-bys. I’m also getting pretty good at my fave artisan bread recipe! So easy and can’t even compare with store-bought bread! 

Furniture. After our move to Kentucky, we debated about purchasing a new bedroom furniture set. You know, just to feel a bit more grown-up and settled. Sometimes when your home is furnished with all hand-me-downs, it can feel a little weird. We didn’t necessarily have what we would’ve picked, but what our relatives and friends were getting rid of. So we eyed and admired some matching sets online and in stores for a brief time.

However, we ended up eschewing a new bedroom set because my parents are working on downsizing. Their house contains a good deal of furniture which they had kindly offered us. Hence, we finally accepted the furniture offer since my old bedroom has a perfectly good set of items. 

When in-laws COD visited earlier in October, they brought the first of two dressers for us. I can at last put away my clothes properly, rather than in a cheapo storage cubby on the closet floor. (Big ol’ spiders gravitate towards those piles of exposed clothing, so that wasn’t an ideal situation!)

So now, we’ll keep bringing those pieces from Mrs. COD’s old room as we visit. They all match, and they belonged to my grandma, who took meticulous care of her things. Eventually, I’d love to paint and refinish the entire set, but for now, we’re happy to have saved at least a few hundred dollars by not buying new! My clothes are much happier, too. 

Car. The new vehicle was a good deal (under $7K) for us, and our previous van had been pretty close to its last legs. We’re enjoying a little bit nicer drive and the mileage is comparable to what we got in the van. We also traded in the old vehicle and used a recent gift to help cover the difference, so we still have no car payment! Getting rid of monthly payments for stuff such as vehicles and student loans has been HUGE in changing our financial trajectory. There is no way I would be able to take a three-year sabbatical from teaching to raise the kids if we were still tied to so many monthly payment obligations. 

Halloween fun for the munchkins! I will put this in the win column. I bought new costumes from Wal-Mart because I am NOT crafty. Not one bit. I know there are plenty of DIY Halloween costume ideas on Pinterest, but I just decided to know and accept myself and not even bother. 

Each costume was $15 and the boys wore them almost non-stop for the week prior to Halloween. (They are still sporting them at this very moment, in fact.) Masks were included along with the suits. I doubt I could have made costumes for less than $30 anyway, and thrift stores are so hit-or-miss, I doubted I’d find anything the boys would like in the right sizes. Going store-bought saved me a ton of headaches and lost sleep! Hats off to my friends who make their kids’ costumes year after year (looking at you, April with the Trolls outfits), but that’s just not me! Sometimes DIY isn’t worth the hassle! 

Superheroes!

*Bonus: now that we live rurally, we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters ringing our doorbell. That means no need to buy bags of candy to pass out! I figured that comes close to balancing out the cost of costumes!

How about you all? What are some of your frugal wins this past month? 


Buying a Car On Credit

By on October 19, 2017

Here, of course, is a big ol’ no-no in smart spending: buying a car on credit. Using a credit card to pay for a vehicle: travesty! Well, the CODs did just that last weekend, and lived to tell the tale. Here’s the lowdown on our car-buying shenanigans!

Bidding adieu to our minivan!

Our Old Minivan

Our minivan was with us for two years and two months. It was a purchase necessitated by the awkwardness of loading two children into teeny Pontiac Vibes. In the interest of saving our kids from impending concussions from smacking their heads into the door frames while attempting to maneuver them into carseats, we went bigger. 

I had seen the minivan ad on a friend’s Facebook page, $3500 for a ten-year-old Town and Country. That was a low enough price that we could pay in cash, no prob. It test drove great and we went for it, selling our older Vibe a few weeks later.

That van was a dream, honestly. Old and worn meant we didn’t stress over the constant damage from toddler snacks and packing it full for long road trips. Racks on top were perfect for kayaks. The DVD player inside worked (albeit without a remote) and saved us from many a tantrum en route to Grandma’s and Aunt Teresa’s houses. 

However, our lovely van was nearing a pivotal time in its life: needing more money to keep it running safely than we wanted to spend. New tires were in the plans this fall. One side mirror had been crudely taped on since a wayward kayak knocked it off over the summer. The rusted edges, which had been DIY’d by Mr. COD, were beginning to worsen and even crumble away. 

Plus, it had something weird going on where it stalled within a minute or two of every gas fill-up. You could avoid danger by turning the engine on and off briefly at the gas station, but of course, we didn’t always remember. A few weeks ago, I got a bit freaked by the stalling. Thankfully, we were only in a parking lot, not a busy road, but it scared me, providing another impetus to switch vehicles.

Therefore, the time was right to say goodbye to our van. To make the decision even easier, a family member had recently given us a monetary gift that would cover a big portion of a newer car cost. While we at first intended to save it towards a new roof this year, we chose an upgrade in car instead. 

Our New-to-us Car

Mr. COD did most of the research, browsing used vehicles online for a few weeks. We ranged between around $5-$10K in price, figuring we could pay that up front and it would still be a very reasonable purchase. We hemmed and hawed over how vital it was to have three rows of seating, or whether a minivan was best. Since two kids seems to be where we’re stopping, three rows isn’t a big priority. We really just needed a decent amount of space for everyone, and a crossover seemed a good choice.

Last Thursday, we took the boys along to test-drive a Saturn Vue. It was okay, but felt sort of cheaply made and felt a lot more cramped inside than we wanted to be. Plus, despite low mileage for its age, it had a ton of wear and tear and didn’t appear well cared-for. Its lack of roof racks and crossbars (for kayaks) sealed the deal that it was not for us. 

As we dropped the Vue back at the dealership, I noticed a Nissan Murano with $9K scrawled on the windshield. It was in the same price range and size we’d been searching for, so we took that one for a spin and it was great! The boys helped by testing the power windows and noticing the awesome sunroof (thanks, guys). Mr. COD looked up its ratings that night to be sure it was a safe option.

We didn’t need much time to think it over; by morning we were ready to go buy the new car. To sweeten the deal, Mr. COD found the Nissan listed online for $2K less than it had been at the dealer! I cleaned out the minivan and we met him at work to go to the dealership. 

Credit Card Purchase

Here’s where the credit card comes in. I know, we’d received money to put towards a vehicle, and we certainly could have gone right to the bank for the cash or a check. This is when we got impatient; we had two kids with us and just wanted to be done quickly with the transaction. I hadn’t known if one could even use credit cards to buy vehicles, but apparently, it’s possible. 

Paying by credit card entails an extra fee, and in our case, it was 3%. So for our $7K car, it cost us an extra $210 to put it on plastic. We reasoned that we’d get a third of it back in 1% card rewards, and again, we were impatient. We didn’t know how long it would take our bank to prepare a cashier’s check and dreaded the thought of driving back across town at midday. I know, I know, it’s dumb and I wish we’d just gone back to the bank. Oh well; we still got an upgraded car for a pretty good price!

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS DO THIS WITH CREDIT CARD TRANSACTIONS:

*Don’t worry, folks, we got into that card account immediately the next day and PAID the balance IN FULL! I almost forgot to mention this most important part of using the card; oops! We NEVER would have considered paying via credit card if we hadn’t been able to pay the balance right away. 

Had we realized that another customer had come in, like, two minutes before us and would spend hours haggling over financing, we’d have definitely not used the card. For some reason, the dealership only could handle one person paying at a time? Who knows. It was a bit ridiculous. We waited for two hours to get the paperwork done (even though we’d come in ready to buy instantly). Maybe that was our punishment for paying by credit card…

Driving lessons!

Jr COD on the road!

Silver lining to all the waiting: the dealership provided these fun toys that entertained the boys during our wait. They had a blast and even forgot about lunch, ha! The other customers waiting probably didn’t love the noise, though.

Keeping them away from this brand-new car was fun…

Well, we’re enjoying our new car so far! We know it’s not an unreasonable expense for us, especially considering the added money we’d have had to spend to keep the van going. It’s easy to see how people get pulled into higher car payments than planned, though. Fortunately, we weren’t swayed by Shiny Object Syndrome and ignored the brand-new sparkling vehicles. We’d hoped to stay under $10K and were even more thrilled to get one for under $7K. 

Our new wheels…quite a bit cuter than the old van, if you ask me:)

Perspective changes if you let it. Driving a pretty beat-up old van for a couple of years adjusted my level of vehicle comfort. I didn’t love the looks of my van, it wasn’t a color I’d have chosen, but it filled our needs for awhile. And in turn, our new car won’t be perfect, but it feels pretty dang luxurious to me! It is still really spacious, and a little more my style, but that’s a bonus. I wouldn’t advise the credit card payment option, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Let’s hope our Nissan lasts us a long time (and that we find a way to hook up media devices for the kiddos on long trips). 

Have you ever made a car purchase you regretted? Or helped someone avoid a colossal car mistake? 


Eliminate Choice, Change The Habit

By on October 11, 2017

Oftentimes we find ourselves able to make real and lasting change if we eliminate choice. Stop considering it optional to work out every morning, for example. Take away the choice of getting takeout food if aiming to eat healthier and more frugally. Don’t go shopping for anything but necessities. Eliminating choice is a powerful tool in our arsenal for positive change.

I’m one of those people who can’t do things in moderation (except for alcohol; half a glass of wine is plenty). I can’t eat just one cookie or watch only one episode of Fixer Upper. Nope, gimme eight cookies and marathon sessions on Netflix. Hence, for me, it’s best to take choice out or the picture when it comes to habits I desire to change. Otherwise, I take a mile when I intended to stop at an inch.  (more…)


The Most Fundamental Financial Habit: A Zero-Sum Budget

By on October 6, 2017

Hey, everyone! Today I’m excited to introduce you to fellow blogger Sandra Parsons. She’s talking about one of the financial basics that we here at Changing Our Default haven’t addressed yet: the zero-sum budget. And as a fun bonus, she hails from Canada, so I know you’ll enjoy those distinguished spellings. 🙂 Take it away, Sandra!

If you’ve visited my blog A Theory of Change, you know I’m all about finding ways to develop positive habits to make a better life. I believe that a big part of making a better life is getting in control of your finances.

I love the idea of making my money work for me. It’s not enough for me to know that I’m paying my bills on time and more or less living within my means. I want to know where every dollar is going, why it’s going there, and what it’s doing. I want to know that I’m maximizing the value of my money (’cause, you know, I work pretty hard to earn it).  (more…)


The Hazards of Autopay

By on October 1, 2017

Autopay. It saves so many headaches when it comes to taking care of bills you know you’ll need to pay anyway. But beware! Autopay also has a sneaky side! Today in the COD annals, learn from our mistakes. Let’s review what to do and what NOT to do to avoid the hazards of autopay. 

What TO do:

  • Set up automatic payments for things like regular bills–garbage pickup, electricity, credit cards (at least the minimums, if not the full balance). If this helps you avoid late fees and ensure that all bills are paid promptly, then go for it. 

What NOT to do:

  • Leave payment information saved in any electronic devices that children may be using!!!!
  • Save payment information in places where you are most likely to overspend or spend spontaneously on non-necessities (I’m looking at you, Amazon Prime!)

We learned this $27 lesson last week when Junior COD decided that Minecraft looked “so cool” and he “just clicked buy”. Conveniently, he neglected to mention this to me or ask me about it until after he had already gone through the buying process (which was just clicking “buy”). 

Junior COD on his first day of preschool

Junior was supposed to be playing (and learning, of course) on abcmouse.com the other day while Mini COD was napping and I read on the porch just one room away. However, after ten minutes or so, he ventured onto the porch with me and told me what he’d been up to. 

He plays abcmouse.com games on my laptop, which Mr. COD also had connected to his XBOX account as we sometimes watch movies through that. In the few weeks since signing up for abcmouse.com, he has always been perfectly well-behaved. I guess, like many other parents before us, we hadn’t thought to sternly outline the rules with him beforehand: 1. Abcmouse.com is the ONLY thing you are to do on this computer, nothing else. 2. Do not click on anything with a price or the word “buy”! 

I remember I used to worry one of the boys would pick up my Kindle and inadvertently purchase expensive books no one would ever read since I had it connected to “buy with 1-click”. That never happened, probably due to the fact that we never allowed them to watch shows or play games on my Kindle, so it was rather uninteresting to them. They’re also fairly good about our phones. Occasionally we’ll let them play the “okay Google” game with the phone. They love to look up photos and information about dinosaurs and other creatures using that feature, and have never accidentally wandered into the realm of purchasing via autopay. 

Mr. COD attempted to cancel the Minecraft transaction, but alas, it was too late. Junior COD is now prohibited from playing the game for at least one week as punishment for buying something without permission. We explained to him that $27 is not a trivial amount of money to us, especially for entertainment. Plus, we had never approved his playing of the game in the first place (he only knew of Minecraft from watching his older cousins). We also informed him that this purchase will be considered a part of his Christmas. 

Now, let’s be real here…Christmas is three months away, and in toddler-time, that might as well be an eternity. We’re not going to stand there on Christmas morning and tell him, “Sorry, kid, all you get is a pair of socks because of that time you bought Minecraft!” We’ll probably get him the same amount of presents we would have anyway. However, we won’t feel a bit guilty for selecting presents primarily from Ollie’s Discount Store or Bargain Hunt.

Fixin’ Things For The Future

So the night after the Minecraft autopay debacle, we went into our accounts that had automatic payments saved. It was really just Amazon and XBOX; thankfully, we don’t have a plethora of store credit cards or accounts. Now, we’ve made it more difficult to purchase because you must enter the password. It’s a pain, especially with the XBOX which has one of those ridiculous passwords that’s 47 characters long, which is why we had it saved in the first place. Certainly, this makes buying stuff more of a hassle overall (NOT a bad thing). Spending money should be a pain, much of the time. 

Building in a Waiting Period

We do enjoy our Amazon Prime membership, especially with two kids and a house out in the boonies. It cuts down on our driving time for errands and simplifies buying necessities, like parts to repair our 12-year-old van. Regardless, shouldn’t we always think a bit before we click “buy”? This builds in a little of that crucial wait time so many recommend for spending less. (See Mrs. Picky Pincher’s account of beating her Amazon obsession for more on this!) I know I’m a tad less likely to buy something spur-of-the-moment if I have to go through that extra step of entering my account information and password. I go through the added “pain” of searching for my credit card and typing in the information, which makes me pause. More often than not, I’ll decide not to buy that nifty gadget after all. 

I’m just thankful this was only a $27 mistake! Kinda forgot about those autopay hazards. We meant to lock up those accounts a long time ago, so we’re lucky Junior COD stopped at one game and didn’t buy, like, a plasma-screen TV or something. Now we’ll return to buying the old-fashioned way…ya know, by manually entering our payment info when we actually need to buy something! 

What kind of faux pas have you made with kids and money? 


Embracing the In Between

By on September 27, 2017

It’s easy to get pumped about the milestone events. We plan for graduations, weddings, children, trips, and retirement. The excitement is almost too much at times. What we struggle with is embracing the moments in between major life events, and since those moments make up the majority of our time here on earth, shouldn’t we train ourselves to savor them? (more…)


Change Into Who You Are

By on September 20, 2017

“Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.” -Paulo Coehlo

I absolutely adore this quote I found from The Alchemist. Now, to be honest, I’ve yet to read the book, or any of Coehlo’s work (sorry!), but that doesn’t mean you and I can’t benefit from his words. In fact, I’m deliberately not even researching the background of the quote because I don’t need it. I don’t need to know which character says it or what the circumstances are; I just want to focus on the act of changing into who I am. 

Our blog is all about what the name says: changing our default. Yes, we mainly like to spend our words on financial wellness, but it’s all within the greater context of changing our normal behaviors to attain contentment. Of course, with my friend’s recent passing, I’m thinking a lot about how to best spend my life. Life is too short to waste being anything other than who you really want to be. So let’s think of Coehlo’s words in relation to the changes we desire in our own lives. 

Shut the door.

Whatever is holding you in the past, don’t be afraid to shut the door on it and open up other doors that will serve you better. Is there a major fear that’s held you captive far too long? Put it away in its own closet and shut the door. Do you harbor room in your mind for past disappointments, betrayals, rejections? Close the door on those too. 

Change the record.

That same old depressing or discouraging tune that’s been playing over and over in your head for weeks, months, even years? Time to bust out some new music! Sing a new song. Dance to a different band. Let there be a new soundtrack to your days, one that’s life-affirming and daring and exciting. Don’t keep listening to that sad country song where you’ve lost everything. Make room in your playlist for confidence, for hope, for new beginnings. 

This year, my “record” is quite different from the past. Where life used to be filled with lesson plans and staff meetings, it’s now filled with dinosaur toys and cartoons and potty training. Where I used to be sad dropping my kids off at daycare, I’m now enjoying a lot more closeness with my kids.

Clean the house. 

Mr. COD is the cleaner and organizer of our household. It drives him bananas to see toys strewn all over the house, mail and papers scattered on every counter and table, and dirty clothes on the floor. I don’t love messes either, but I have a greater ability to turn a blind eye to the clutter sometimes. However, the weeks while we were showing our house and still living there, we found out how much better we felt with a clean, uncluttered house. We’re working on keeping a neater house for our own sanity. 

Cleaning house literally improves your outlook, your environment, giving you a fresh sensation. When we spring clean, we tend to push open all the windows, letting in all the scents of the outdoors. A clean house means open spaces to let your creativity run wild. It gives you room to breathe and to think and to start something new. 

“Cleaning house” might also mean doing relationship inventory. Letting go of toxic relationships, or at least affording them less space in your life. As we declutter our homes, we might also benefit from decluttering our lives in other ways.

Shake off the dust. 

In the Bible, Jesus told his disciples that if any place didn’t welcome them and their gospel message, they should shake the dust off their feet as they left. Taylor Swift also sang of this powerful act (haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…do you hate me now for putting this song in your head?). We can apply this to the changes we need to make. Anything that’s not advancing our progress toward goals, we shake it off and leave it behind. 

Has someone damaged you with degrading comments or tried to actively sabotage your success? Have you been carrying baggage from old relationships, failed careers, lost talents? Give yourself permission to shake all of that off.

A big struggle for me is letting rejection roll off me. I tend to let negative thoughts drag me down, and every time I get rejected in terms of freelance jobs, friendships, or anything else, I have a hard time moving past that. Shaking off the bad makes room for the good. 

Break Away!

Shall we borrow some words from the first American Idol winner as well? “Take a risk, take a chance, make a change…and break away.” Kelly Clarkson’s debut hit may seem really old nowadays, but it still rings true when I’m craving some inspiration. I need the positive encouragement from songs like that. Sometimes we have to break away from what’s easy or comfortable in order to grow and get to a better place.

Change ain’t easy. We all are well aware that it’s much simpler to keep doing things the way we’re accustomed to, the way that’s comfortable and familiar. Change hurts. It stretches us and bends us and leads us along paths that can seem dark and scary.

I can’t forget this one chapel speaker from my time at Wheaton. Her central message was how to deal with the inevitability of three things: change, loss, and pain. While I’m sure she presented a few useful points, all I can remember is how she punctuated the sentence every time she said the three things. She would count them out on her fingers emphatically: “Change, loss, and pain,” then pound on her chest with a fist and say, “Ouch.” It was so comical; we mocked her rather unkindly afterwards.

But no matter how painful, change (to the right things) is worth it. Whether it’s a change to a healthier lifestyle, a more stable financial future, a supportive relationship, it’s worth every bit of research and time invested. We can break away from our old habits, our old defaults, and create new ones that fit who we are. As said in The Alchemist, we can stop being who we were and start being who we are

When you look at yourself today, do you see the person you want to see? Or do you have a picture in your mind of who you’d like to be one day? Whatever sacrifices you have to make to become the new version of yourself, they just might be worth it.