Broken Air Conditioner? Improved Heat Tolerance (Our Badass Response)


DH = Dear Husband

MMM’s side-benefits of badassity

Almost two years ago, I read a post over at Mr. Money Mustache’s site that ended up being very significant for me.* “Necessity Is The Mother of Badassity” focused on the side-benefits of uber-frugal living. During his recent project of putting a new roof on his mother’s house, MMM encountered some challenges, but he didn’t take the easy way out. When he realized her roof deck had disintegrated, the job more than doubled. He learned how to replace the roof deck as well as the roof, and he spent many, many more hours of hard physical work under the hot sun than he had planned to. The benefits?

  • confidence gained from getting in over his head, figuring it out, and making it through
  • physical fitness from hard labour
  • doing something for his mom and saving her a whole lot of money
  •  improved heat tolerance

I got a kick out of that last benefit: “Improved heat tolerance.” Really? Was MMM scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one?

Our car’s air conditioner

In the winter, our city gets REALLY cold. And in the summer, it gets REALLY hot & humid. Last Sunday, we hit 91 degrees F (33 C), and it’s only June. I tell you this so that you will recognize the significance of the following fact: This spring, we realized that our car’s air conditioner was

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Responding To The Massacre in Orlando


Our school’s response to the massacre in Orlando.

  • C = colleague in the LGBT community
  • F = childhood friend in the LGBT community
  • DH = dear husband

Yesterday I told C, who reads my blog, that I wanted to post about the massacre in Orlando, but that I didn’t know if I should just include a photo of our school’s card or if I should also share how the past week has played out for me personally. “It’s never ‘all about me,’ ” I said to her, “but this time it’s REALLY not about me. As someone in the LGBT community, what would speak more to you?” C encouraged me to tell my personal story. “People who read your blog want to know about you,” she said. “Write your response. Make it clear that you’re writing as a white woman who is hetero and Christian, and acknowledge the privilege in that identity.” 

So that’s what I’m doing.

Where I was when I found out

F is a childhood friend I hadn’t seen for five years. She lives in the U.S. now, but she and her siblings returned to town a couple of weeks ago to attend a family wedding. They stayed together at a house in the old neighbourhood, and F made arrangements to get together with some of her friends from school days. She asked me if she could stay overnight at our place last Saturday night. Her brother and his friends were going to be having an old style house party, and she didn’t want to stick around for it.

So F came to our place last Saturday afternoon. She, DH, and I had a wonderful visit. Faith and finances ended up being the centre of much of our conversation. F has explored different religions, and she has a unique insight into the message of Christ, to which she is returning. She’s also had a financial wake-up call, and she was very interested in hearing about our journey out of debt. F listened to the podcast of our talk at church from 2014, and she cried. “I can relate to this SO much!”

Our low-key visit included three meals, a long walk with the dog, and a failed effort to watch a movie. (I fell asleep.) Sunday afternoon, I drove F back to the house where she was staying with her siblings. She would be flying home on Monday, and she promised it would not take another five years for her to come back to town. As I started my drive back home, I turned on the car radio. So for me, it was just after I’d dropped off my dear friend – who identifies as a lesbian – that I found out about the mass murder in Orlando of people targeted for their sexual orientation.

What could I do?

The news left me in a fog of shock for days. Too much to process. So much hate.

As I drove to work Monday morning, my head swimming with new details that kept emerging, I was determined to harness within me a simmering chaos of sadness, rage, incredulity, powerlessness . . . – and to DO something. I’m a teacher, and I work in a high school library. I thought of staff and students in the LGBT community. If I was feeling this raw, how were they feeling?

The idea of a card came to mind. I’d write a card to establish a stand against the hatred of the weekend’s massacre, and to extend empathy to the the LGBT population in our school. Only one voice – but hopefully one that would be magnified by the signatures of others. A big card. With lots of white space for names.

As soon as I could get to my computer in the school library, I started to write the words for the card in great big font. “I’ll need to ask someone else to read this before I do anything with it,” I thought as I approached the end. A voice surprised me. “OK, now I have to hug you.” It was C. I stood up to hug her, sensing the brutal impact that the shooting had had on her. “There’s something I want you to read,” I said. “I’ve already read it,” she told me. “I could see it over your shoulder.” I shared my idea for the card with her, and she was behind it.

The principal gave his approval. I glued the message to a bristol board along with pieces of blank paper. And by the time the 9:00 bell had rung to signal the beginning of the school day, staff and students in our very multi-cultural school had started to sign it.

My first devotional reading after the Orlando massacre

I have never succeeded in establishing a daily habit of reading the Bible, but I want to. It had been many days since I had done a proper devotional reading when I finally picked up my Bible again Tuesday morning. I found my bookmark half way through Acts 10. It’s a long chapter, and clearly, I hadn’t made it through the whole thing last time I’d read. Starting at verse 23, I soon came to these words, spoken by the apostle Peter, in verse 28: “But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” I am keenly aware of other verses in scripture. This is nevertheless the one that my readings brought me to just at that time.

To the LGBT community in the bloggosphere

Communities overlap. And within this pf bloggosphere, there is an LGBT community. I want you to know that I stand against the targeted hatred of last weekend’s massacre. With you, I mourn the loss of lives cut short. With you, I will continue to strive towards a world in which such atrocities have no place.

Your comments are welcome.


Competing Priorities of Home-Buying: Nadia & Jason’s Smart Move


Monday morning at the high school where I work, Nadia stepped with glee into the photocopy room about 15 minutes before the 9:00 bell. “Ruth, you’re going to be SO proud of me!” A drama teacher, Nadia is someone I have written about before. She’s the “Ms. G.” featured in a post I wrote in October of 2015 –  “The (Not So) Great Escape Via Debt” – about her decision to travel on credit. A self-proclaimed sitter-on-the-fence when it comes to personal finances, she has talked with me a few times over the months as she and her husband Jason have been on the lookout for a larger home for their young family. This past weekend, they made their decision, and after Nadia gave me the details, I WAS proud of her. “You should write a post about it!” she said. So I am.

How long have you been living in your current home?

We have been at our current home for nearly 10 years. It’s a semi-detached bungalow duplex located centrally in the south-east of the city.

Why do you want to move out of it?

It has two living spaces (two apartments, top and bottom) both fully finished and furnished. We bought this thinking initially that it would be the best move financially because I was pregnant (without a full-time contract) and my husband was and remains self-employed. Yikes!!! So, having a renter in the basement was a big help to cover the mortgage early on. But once our first daughter grew older and we had our second child, our family needs grew until 

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4th Anniversary of Debt-Reduction: $150,000 Down!

DH = Dear Husband
DD1 = Dear First Daughter
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

Happy 4th anniversary for our journey out of debt!

And it IS happy. This anniversary feels different from the first three, and I think I know why.
  • For this anniversary, we are only dealing with our mortgage debt. No more consumer debt. No more business debt. That’s a first.
  • For this anniversary, we are backed up by an almost-full emergency fund – one that will see us through 3-6 months of possible income loss. That’s a first.
  • For this anniversary, we have less debt to pay off than we have already paid off. We’re well past the half way mark. That’s a first.
  • For this anniversary, we are focused on savings & investments as well as debt-reduction. We’re following Dave Ramsey’s steps, and when only the mortgage is left, significant savings start. The satisfaction of paying off debt is the redemption of past errors. The satisfaction of saving is the opening of future possibilities. We’re feeling our possibilities. That’s a first.
Four years ago, here is where we sat:
Start of June 2012:  Total Debt = $257,400
Debt #1 New Car Debt – $8,600
Debt #2 Old Car & Course & Dog Debt – $12,800
Debt #3 Business Debt – $80,800
Debt #4 Mortgage – $155,000
End of May 2016:  Total Debt = $106,700
Debt #1 New Car Debt – $0
Debt #2 Old Car & Course & Dog Debt – $0
Debt #3 Business Debt – $0
Debt #4 Mortgage – $106,700
We’ve paid off a total of $150,700, and we have $106,700 to go.

Our best year yet?

One of these days, I’ll make a graph of our progress, but for now, I’ll continue to list the numbers. Our average debt reduction per year has been $37,675, but our actual debt-reduction each year has varied quite a bit.
  1. Year #1: $50,000 – The year of big motivation and no major expenses.
  2. Year #2: $28,000 – The year of multiple major expenses: a new roof + a rotted tree cut down + our dog’s surgery + DH’s accountant’s advice = over $21,000. Our biggest accomplishment for Year #2 was the fact that we didn’t take on debt in meeting any of these expenses. We paid for each outright.
  3. Year #3: $45,000 – The year of steady effort and no major expenses.
  4. Year #4: $27,000 – Our lowest year in terms of debt-reduction numbers, but I think it’s been our best year yet.

Here’s why:

Renovations paid outright

After we paid off the last of the business debt in the summer of 2015, we went ahead with our plans to renovate. DH’s home business office had long been too small, and we re-jigged our house to better accommodate it. The combined living room and dining room space became his office. His old office became a TV room. Our family room became a dining room with a sitting area.

These changes included electrical work, new flooring, new office equipment, and new furniture. Although DH installed the hardwood and did the electrical work himself, and although we shopped carefully, it was an expensive undertaking – coming in at about $12,000. It was a practical move, but also an allowed indulgence. We’d had the same furniture and carpeting for 17 years, and they’d had heavy use at the hands and feet of three growing daughters over that time. Everything was WORN, and we were more than ready for a change. If we hadn’t been on our journey out of debt, we would have bought new furniture much earlier. Instead, we waited until we had paid off all non-mortgage debt AND saved up enough to pay for the renovations and furniture outright.

Emergency fund almost full

We finished our renovations in December, and in January, we ramped up our savings for our big emergency fund. According to Dave Ramsey, a mini-emergency fund of about $1,000 is needed before any debt-reduction begins. The mini-emergency fund keeps unexpected expenses, like car repairs, from being a ticket back into debt. Once all non-mortgage debt is paid off though, it’s time to save for the big emergency fund – “to protcet yourself against life’s bigger surprises like the loss of a job.”

DH and I calculated how much we would need if he suddenly wasn’t able to run his home business – for whatever reason. We figured out how much we’d need to cover the expenses involved in closing the business and to see us through 6 months – either to sell the house and downsize or to give him time to find other work – and we actually reached that number in May . . . but then had to dip into it . . .  so it isn’t quite full yet.

Our May “emergency” resulted from DH’s extremely low business revenues for the month. DH’s income varies wildly from month to month, and May was his lowest one ever. To give some perspective, his revenues for May of 2016 amounted to only 16% of his revenues for June of 2015 (his highest month ever). The low income was easily supplemented by our savings, and although it would be nice to say, “We now have a full emergency fund,” it’s a wonderful sign of our new financial reality that we can say, “We were prepared for the unexpected, and what would have been a major stress a few years ago was barely a blip.”

Funding DD2’s living expenses

Another thing we did last summer after having paid off the business debt was to grant DD2 her long desired wish to move out and live closer to campus for her last two years of university. Our house is in the suburbs, and her school is downtown. Taking the bus to and from campus wasn’t such a big deal, but she’s also on the track team, and getting to the indoor track for training through the winter months would sometimes take as long as 2 hours. Add to that the need for part-time work, and it all just amounted to a draining lifestyle for everyone concerned.

It’s a hefty amount we give her each month to pay for her part of the rent in shared student housing and to cover her groceries, but it’s been worth it to foot the bill. And we’re maintaining firm boundaries in our financial support. We’re not enabling any poor money management in her. A couple of weeks ago, DD2 lost her job. It wasn’t her fault, and everything in me wanted to rescue her. But we held our line and were prepared to have her postpone her final year if necessary. No need to go there though! DD2 applied like mad to as many places as she could, and three days ago, she was accepted to a new position. Better location. Better pay. Better job. Better hours. Win-win-win-win! DD2 can walk to classes and cycle to work. She takes an easy bus ride to her training. She has had her best academic year to date, and last week-end she got a personal best time in one of her track events. She’ll be heading to Nationals next month.

More good news about our kids

Forgive me for bragging about my kids, but I really want to point out the inter-generational ripple effects of good financial health.

DD1 gained what I might call a “negative benefit” from our years of financial stress – which were characterized by unemployment and debt. She decided as a teenager that she would not make our mistakes. She has managed her finances carefully since that time, and she graduated without student debt three years ago. Eager to impart to her a “positive benefit” after starting our journey out of debt, I advised her to save 15% of her gross income once she started working. “What am I saving for?” she asked at the time. “I don’t need a car, and I don’t want a house.” I promised her that she would eventually want something, and that she would be very grateful for the savings. 15% of a low income adds up over three years, and this year, DD1 did indeed want something: She wanted to go to law school. This September, she will. And it looks like her first and second years will be covered by a combination of savings, scholarships, and part-time work.

DD3 had the benefit of being still quite young when we started to get our money act together. She’s heard more than she has cared to hear about the importance of delayed gratification, the ability say “no” to friends who always want to spend money, the freedom of choice that results from saving . . . When she started her first part-time job last summer, she automatically put 50% of her pay into a savings account – without being told to do so. She has some as yet uncertain goals for her savings – like living in a different city in a few years – and some very certain goals – like flying out west to visit DD1 for two weeks in July. As for a future career, she informs me on some days that she’s going to be a bar tender. On other days, she leans more towards working in the community with the developmentally delayed. She is free to choose her path as far as we’re concerned. And she’s setting herself up to have that freedom of choice. DD3 is experiencing the power of her own good management of her personal finances. And she’s still in high school.

Yes, our best year yet!

So although we paid off less in Year #4 than we did in each of the first three years of our journey out of debt, it’s been a great year! Our past of poor financial health is giving way to a strong present reality, and it’s opening up doors to our future – and into the next generation.

Your comments are welcome : )


*Image courtesy of Lenny&Meriel

Kay the BF Minimalist: Open to Advice on Managing Inheritance


Many of you will recognize Kay the BF Minimalist – if not by her blog (The Barefoot Minimalist), now on hold, then by her friendly little avatar: f28ef47690999d7da9428d9ddd6c71bd Kay has not been writing much lately. She recently lost her mother and is not sure in what direction her blogging life will go from this point on. I’m grateful to Kay for allowing me to interview her about receiving an inheritance. Kay has said that she and her husband are open to financial advice as they move forward.

Describe the “money blueprint” that you grew up with, and the one that your husband grew up with. What messages about money, both spoken and unspoken, did each of you absorb from your parents?

Well, my dad was in the Air Force.  He came from a poor, inner city background, and the military was his way out.  The message from my parents was that you joined the military or you worked for the military as a civilian. The pay was good, the benefits were great, the security was excellent.  Out of 4 children, I’m the only one who didn’t go in the Army.  However, I did work as a civilian at the local Air Force Base.  So the message got through.  

For my hubby, his dad was a factory man.  He was a machinist and a tool maker.  For him, the message was to work in a factory.  The pay was good, the benefits were great …  well, you get the drift.  However, hubby never did work in a factory.  He became an HVAC guy.  His dad . . .  

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Olyvia working hard as a co-op student in the library.

For today’s post, I’m featuring a former student. Olyvia worked in the school library with me as a co-op student for 3 semesters before she graduated in 2013. She has now returned as a volunteer, and it’s wonderful to see her transition from a rebel teen to a mature young woman. Even as that teen though, Olyvia was a hard worker who loved books. After doing custodial work for three years, she has decided to pursue her love of books once more. She’ll be taking library studies at a community college this fall. 

Olyvia grew up with her brother and her single mom, who suffers from disabilities and has been unable to work. As a child, Olyvia pitched in by helping with household chores as soon as she was able to, and later, she contributed to her family financially. She left home to live on her own at the age of 17. 

Olyvia uses a “no-touch account” for her savings. It’s an account that is set up so that she can’t access it without her uncle – because as she said last week, “I can’t trust myself with it.” This was significant for me personally, since I had a hard time accepting that I needed a “no-touch” accountguarded by another person. Olyvia seemed to have no qualms about using this strategy. I wanted to find out why, and so I asked if I could interview her. I’m so glad she accepted. 

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Truth Without Judgment: Lose ALL The Pride


Positive vs. negative

Do people respond better to positive encouragement? Or to negative criticism? That’s a no-brainer, right? Of course we respond better to positive encouragement! And I don’t know about you, but when I self-talk, I often correct thought patterns going into pessimistic territory to bring them back to the path of affirmation:

  • “Why didn’t we get our financial act together earlier in our lives?!” gets shifted to, “Isn’t it great how we’ve been able to change our financial outlook so much even though we started late?”
  • “I blew the grocery budget!” becomes, “I never even used to know how much I spent on groceries. I’ve become so much more aware.”
  • “Some people are way more frugal that we are,” transitions to, “We are way more frugal than we used to be.”

Is there ever a time to go negative? I’m all for positive thinking, but I believe that in our efforts to

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*Image courtesy of Google Images


Books for Attawapiskat: Ready to Learn?


By the end of the day yesterday, even more packages had arrived than those featured above.

Yes, this is still a blog about one couple’s journey out of debt – mine and my husband’s. And I will get back to that topic soon. Just not today.

Thank you!

I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone who has bought a book for the initiative that I wrote about last week. As you can see from the photo above, in just 1 week, we have received so many generous donations of books for the youth of Attawapiskat, a northern First Nations community in crisis. I personally have never been involved in something like this – that takes off through social networking. E-mails, Facebook, Twitter, blogs . . . They can certainly work their magic.

First Nations issues: It’s time to learn

Our Board of Education has, for the past several years, made a real push to have First Nations issues taught. I’ve been very, very slow to respond – partly because I feel so inadequately educated in this area myself. A younger teacher approached me about this a few months ago, and she said that the thing to do is to just start teaching even very basic lessons – because most of us know very little. When I went through school, I never even heard about the residential school system – which was ongoing at the time. (The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996.) And as I grew up in a family and a church that encouraged an awareness of social issues, the plight of First Nations people in my own country was somehow never on my radar. I knew there were problems, but they baffled me, and the unacknowledged, silent belief that I have to admit I carried was that the root of the problems must lie with the First Nations people themselves.

I responded to the advice my young colleague gave me by offering to give a brief presentation on the history of the residential school system to the class of any teacher in our school who was interested. As it turns out, last week, the same week our Books for Attawapiskat initiative was unfolding, I gave my first lesson. I had significant angst as I prepared it – given my own ignorance, and having to make decisions about the level of detail to go into, what to focus upon,  what to leave out – all while making it fit neatly into one self-contained period of 75 minutes. I was nervous about giving my first presentation, but it went well.

As I prepared for it, the most significant thing I learned was the concept of intergenerational trauma. If a person has grown up in an institution, separated from family and community, and has been forbidden to speak the language, engage in the spiritual practices, wear the clothes, eat the food, develop the skills of his/her heritage – if that person has grown up silenced and micro-managed, every expression of self squashed, every minute of the day and night scheduled – if that person has grown up within a culture of normalized abuse, physical, mental, emotional, and even sexual – and then that person at the age of 18 is sent out either to return home or to make it in the world at large – what chance does that person have to find his/her place? Anywhere? As a spouse, a parent, a worker, a community member or leader, how functional is that person going to be? Now multiply that person by tens of thousands of people over seven generations. “Get over it,” just doesn’t cut it, does it.

The wake-up can lead to new strength

In both personal terms and in terms of society at large, the wake-up moment can allow for powerful change. As a debt-blogger, I know how important it was for me to “wake up” to the self-sabotaging personal finance chaos that paved the way to my own experience of financial distress. I have friends who have had a wake-up to alcoholism, drug addiction, or to negative patterns of codependency in relationships. As we survey history, it’s common for us to respond with, “How could they have let THAT happen? Couldn’t they see what was going on?” And no doubt, future generations will look back at us and wonder the same thing. As societies, we have wake-up moments too. We humans are so adept in our strategies of denial, and it’s very hard to break through them. But when we do, paradigm shifts happen. I know. My husband and I  have paid off 60% of our total debt.

There. It will be back to our journey out of debt next time. Thanks again to everyone who has supported our school’s initiative to help a First Nations community in crisis. We can now receive packages until May 19, so it isn’t too late to buy a book for the youth of Attawapikat.

Attawapiskat: Buy a Book – Support the Youth’s Vision of a Library


We are out of our depth in knowing how to respond . . .

Attawapiskat is a First Nations community of about 2,000 people located in northern Ontario. Earlier this month, Canadians were shocked by a cluster of suicide attempts among the community’s youth: 11 attempts in a single day.

As our collective focus turns in bewilderment to the realities of communities like Attawapiskat, Canadians are learning ugly truths about our history and our present. Uncomfortable personal prejudices are being exposed – and challenged. And while so many of us – whether Canadian or not – want to DO something about it, we are out of our depth in knowing how to respond to such depressing tragedy.

But we’ve been given some clues on how to “change the narrative”

In a recent Ottawa Citizen article, Elizabeth Payne writes, “A group of youth from the community . . . have held summits in recent days and have vowed to change the narrative in Attawapiskat, helping youth and others to find more outlets and support to reduce depression and suicide attempts, and to put the community onto a more positive path.”

Among the things that the youth of Attawapiskat have identified as part their vision for this changed narrative? A library.

The students and staff of Ridgemont High School in Ottawa would like to help make that vision come true. Here is a list of books that has been created by an English teacher at the school, in consultation with a contact person in Attawapiskat as well as youth from outside of the community who know which books young people like to read. We will need to have books ready to ship by Friday May 13, so please consider buying one now:

Click here to buy a book for the youth of Attawapiskat. When young people in crisis ask for a library, it’s time to listen.

* Image courtesy of Vijetha Vijayan

My Stubborn Money-Management Flaw (With a Silver Lining)


My Achilles’ heal in financial management: discretionary money

Do you ever get sick and tired of your own flaws? When it comes to money management, I am so tired of having to confess my very poor record with my discretionary fund. DH and I decided in 2012 that we would each get an “allowance”, to cover needs that involve personal taste and a broad price range – like clothing and shampoo – and also to cover wants like gifts, gym memberships, snowboarding, blog expenses, and meals or snacks out. When I tell you what we each get for our allowance, you’re going to be surprised at how much it is. So I’m a bit hesitant, but here we go: $600. Each.

Maybe you’re not so surprised. Maybe you’re thinking, Well, if I add up the meals I eat out and the odd coffee and muffin that I pick up on my way home from work – and if I add to that gifts, clothes, books, hygiene products, my gym membership, and my get-away weekends,  I go way over $600 per month. Likely though, you’re more frugal than that, and you’re thinking, How can 

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