August 30, 2017

Careers, marriage, kid, life: how do you find parity?

I see some form of this question off and on in the various forums I haunt.

We’re in an Extra Hustle chapter of our lives this year and are hanging on by the skin of our teeth: all our conversations revolve around how we’re going to survive the coming day (taking shortcuts, cutting or trading errands and commitments) and the house. I’m sick unto death of discussing house stuff nonstop but we still have a ways to go.

When we’re not, we manage with just the two of us. Our family members with kids all have at least one grandparent actively supporting them, on a daily or weekly basis, if not both sets of grandparents. That’s never been the case for us, and a few years back, I was pretty freaked out about the prospect. I had to mull it over for years. No amount of reassurance allayed my worry.

In the true spirit of my alma mater, I had to learn by doing.


Daycare: JuggerBaby is in daycare five days a week. For nearly $2000 a month, they’re open from 6:30 to 6:30 which is highly flexible for both of us, though we run late enough that we’re occasionally rushing in before they’re closing.

To save money ze was enrolled part time for almost a year. Full time is awesome. Ze loves it, I preserve energy. PiC was the sole chauffeur because it was on his way to work, but after ze started full time we compromised. I now go out of my way at least weekly to drop off and pick up so that he can have a bit more freedom those days.

Babysitting: We’ve struggled to find anyone in the right age group to watch JB. We ended up hiring a daycare teacher to pinch hit on occasion. We tend to avoid babysitting in small part because this year has been amazingly expensive on the home front but also because we tend not to prioritize going out. That’s not JB’s fault, though, we’re staying-in types.

I do feel it’s important that we hire zir at least quarterly to make sure we’re still considered clients, though!

Bonus help: Very occasionally, we have house guests who also love playing with zir. This gives us an odd hour of reprieve now and again. Our most recent house guest was an absolute unlooked-for godsend – he would always play with JB when ze charged out of bed in the morning or stampeded home at night. This happened at a rather crucial time in our household and freed us up to discuss decisions that had to be made quickly and jointly.


This is distinctly different from childcare which is not a replacement for parenting. Childcare is a critical supplement to our lives and I’m thrilled there are so many people who love JB outside of zir own little family but it’s our job to raise our child.

We’ve joked that I’m always the Bad Cop, he’s the Fun Cop. This is true. But we both remain responsible for being patient, disciplinarians, and educators. Sometimes one of us can’t keep it together, and the other has to step in. Thank goodness there are two of us because whoooo that child can push our buttons.


We’ve both earned promotion and raises in the past 3 years – the same three years that include my pregnancy and the first two years of JB’s life. It’s not to say that I haven’t taken a hit for motherhood, I have. It still pisses me off. PiC didn’t take a similar hit. I realize that it has a lot to do with the size of our shops so I’m willing to consider that might have been an isolated incident, if I don’t see signs of that issue being repeated.

We’ve made huge adjustments to our jobs and haven’t suffered unduly for it: we work fewer hours, became more efficient. We fit in work around the odd shape our lives take, force our schedules to be flexible and we’ve both taken hits on our productivity. We rotate who takes those hits by prioritizing very specifically for what’s important to our jobs.


Important ground rules makes this work.

Pre-children, my work hours were sacrosanct. I wouldn’t take a single personal phone call during my work day. Now, I walk the dog, run two errands, get back at my desk to clear my emails and guide my staff all in the morning. Rinse and repeat for the afternoon! PiC never had that rule but he also can’t bring home 90% of his work, so when he has to work in the evenings, I cover bedtime to give him time. For my part, I once worked 7 days a week, and late every night, so now I only work week nights if it’s critical.

We’ve been lucky that even while growing in our roles, we haven’t increased our travel time. Heck, I’ve minimized my travel over the years, which is the opposite of many senior roles in management. This may not last so I cherish it.

My chauffeur days are scheduled on days that PiC usually needs the coverage. There’s an implicit understanding that if I’m feeling 14/10 pain or fatigue those days, he takes over. There’s also an explicit promise that he doesn’t get to make that decision for me, I have to. The problem we ran into was that he was trying to look out for me, and didn’t trust that I would ask for a pass if I needed it. He wasn’t wrong that I avoided it but it was because I didn’t trust that he wouldn’t over-extend himself trying to spare me. We were both well-intentioned but stupid. This agreement works better – I have to make the call and he rolls with it. If he can’t accommodate, then we’ll figure something else out.

The person who has a meeting or phone call gets priority. If he’s running late for work, and he’s driving – that sucks. But if he’s running late and has a meeting – I take over and chauffeur. For me, we only clear the decks for the important calls. Not all of them are and those calls don’t get the same consideration. I also schedule more of my calls for the afternoon to keep our mornings calmer.

This helps us make decisions on the fly because we both struggled with being over-accommodating. Much trial and error, and a few spats over misunderstanding, got us to this point. Now we have a better handle on what’s grumbling about running late and what’s truly important.

I firmly believe that, like alcohol, being a parent just brings out that which was strong in ourselves anyway. I guarantee that we didn’t always get out the door on time when it was just the two of us either!


Around the house

Most non driving days include tidying, cooking dinner, and doing laundry in addition to my regular 9-to-5 work. PiC prepares all breakfasts and lunches. On my chauffeur days, I do our grocery shopping – produce is best on weekday mornings! But I don’t take on additional housework. Unless I feel like it. Sometimes the soul needs to do laundry before it can process another stupid email.

Ideally, PiC should hit the gym on my driving days but sometimes he just gets more work done. That’s his call but once in a while I will press him to make sure to get that workout in – it’s better for our mental health.

Dog walking, feeding, medicating, twice a day, five days a week: me.
Final evening and weekend walks: him.
Wash and put away dishes: both.
Swiffers: mostly him.
Vacuuming: mostly me.
Trash, recycling: mostly him.
Money mgmt: all me.
Clearing the table: JB
Car maintenance: all him.
Putting away groceries: All of us. No one touch the yogurt or JB will have a fit, though, that’s zir job.

JB is responsible for giving Seamus his evening treat, throwing away Seamus’s trash, putting laundry in the wash, and wiping up spills.

Whoever uses the last of something is responsible for refilling it and too darn bad if you’re the one who hit the end of the cooking oil five times in a row, you refill it (AKA me). PiC runs all the other physical errands (getting gas, bathing the dog, stopping at the store, etc).  We maintain a reasonably clean and near-tidy home, no one’s looking for Housekeeper of the Year awards on the back of anyone else’s labor.

The point is that we operate on the good faith that neither of us are looking to dump work on the other.

The friends and family plan

Outside of our family life, I work hard at maintaining friendships and like-family-ships. I choose to eliminate toxic people from our lives intentionally, and likewise intentionally dedicate time and support to good people.

When things are temporarily out of whack for us at home, with work or each other, or JuggerBaby is taxing our patience to the very limit, this outside support keeps us upright. This keeps us from boiling over at each other and causing real, permanent harm, and gives us much needed perspective.

The lessons we’ve learned in getting here

  • Learn to speak up when we need to change part of the routine, whether we want to introduce change or not.
  • Have conversations in the moment, not confrontations after you built a head of steam.
  • Prioritize! You WANT to get fifty seven things done. You NEED to get ten of them done today.
  • Look for ways to relieve your partner’s burdens and volunteer. Your partner should do the same.

Being proactive means that you can have faith that no one is dumping work on the other and that you’re both doing your best. Or trust, rather, since I don’t believe in operating on blind faith. Your partner is who your partner is – can you trust them to be your best advocate? I can. PiC always looks out for my best interests and I do my best for him. With that trust, resentment can’t get a toehold.

:: What does balance look like for you? How do you create balance in your life or relationships? What’s the toughest part of finding your balance? 

August 15, 2016

Married Money: How we do it in 2016

How PiC and I build up our wealth: together, as a teamI asked how you manage your money if you have to compromise with another human. It’s only fair to share how we’re managing ours!

It’s taken years, but PiC and I have a pretty good system for us these days.

Once upon a time, my money was my money, and then it wasn’t. The last time it’s been totally separate was when I was 12. Since then, my own money has been intermixed with family issues at various times for various reasons. After years of hard lessons with my family, I had to learn to trust, and take risks based on that trust again when PiC and I started to cohabitate, and that’s where our money started to intertwine.

It took at least a year after we got married for it to truly sink in that our money was irretrievably connected, however we chose to handle it. I was evaluating our life insurance 4 days after we got married but viscerally, it’s a lot hard to remold “me” into “we”. Over the course of that year, it was a tentative subject and we weren’t ready to say much, but we were slowly aligning ourselves with each other without words, just through actions.

It’s never painless, not when you’re talking about unseating a decade of habits. Our foibles would occasionally pop up and give us some trouble. It was at this point that we began to learn the art of compromising with each other, and realized that neither of us did well with a shared budget and separate finances. It’s taken a few more years and a lot of adjustments but we’ve got a working system now.

Ours to have and hold

Budgeting the money

Pretax contributions come out first: taxes, retirement contributions, health, dental and vision, pre-tax FSA account, disability and life insurance benefits. Those all come out of PiC’s paycheck because his benefits are way better than what my work offers.

25% of our take-home pay is automatically deposited to our joint savings account, this comes out of both checks. We added up all our bills and made sure that it didn’t exceed the remaining 75% which is dropped into our joint checking account. All the bills are paid out of that account: mortgage, HOA fees, rent, daycare, credit cards.

Spending the money

All routine costs that can be are charged to credit cards that bring in the best rewards and that’s paid by the joint checking account: gas, groceries, utilities, travel, dining out, medical and vet bills.

We kept our own checking accounts and credit cards. I pay most of the bills out of the joint account, he pays a couple of the utility bills and his own credit cards. I do all the accounting, oversee our retirement accounts and, since my eye is on early retirement, I actively manage our brokerage account and our real estate property. We use Mint for bills reminders but usually have paid it by the time Mint sends the weekly update.

Pretty simple all around.

Communication is key

Twice a month, I ask PiC what he’s going to pay in the next week. I don’t see all his credit card bills so that helps me keep a bead on the expected withdrawals. Our mortgage, rent, and association fees are automated monthly payments so asking regularly and a quick eyeball of the account tells me if I am going to run short. That really only happens when a big unbudgeted four digit check is cut, but I’ve been burned by keeping too low a balance in the checking account before. Never again!

We also created a shared email account so all our financial accounts go there. That way if either one of us is out of the picture, access to important financials isn’t restricted to someone’s email.

Bonus money

I do some credit card churning on the side to earn travel money, that’s how we paid for our travel to Hawaii and Washington without breaking the budget. I keep that simple too, one or two cards per calendar year for specific trips. This year I’ve already done our second card, but I’m considering a third before the end of the year.

I alternate between cards under each of our names and don’t bother with any sign-up bonus less than $250 value in travel money or miles.

I used to be cautious about keeping  old credit lines open, which I still do, but I’ve spent enough years being responsible and carrying no debt that our credit histories are in great shape. I’ve shown that I can carry an auto loan and pay it on time for many years. I’ve got many years of credit card use, always paid in full and on time.  Same goes for the mortgages – always paid on time.

This means our credit scores are always in the high 700s or low 800s no matter how much churning I do, so I stopped worrying about preserving it years ago. This is good for anywhere from $500-2000 worth of travel value. Not bad for several days of work.

:: Do you simplify your money management (fewer accounts, less active management) or go for the more complex (maxing rewards sources, bonuses, etc)?

July 25, 2016

Married money: Combining finances or not

In our marriage, our finances are 99% combined. How would you do it?

PiC and I have taken years to properly combine and organize our money since the wedding.

The end goal has always been that I shall take and keep complete Dominion over All Things Money! Given our wildly differing levels of interest, it’s for the best.

We started out with completely separate finances. It was all too complicated to merge, I thought. But as we started to combine our lives, the separation and siloed information started to drive me bonkers. It turns out that I need to have almost complete control over the whole picture to be able to make effective, informed decisions. It’s simply how I work best.

There are still some loose ends. Some of them may stay loose-endy due to their nature of being specifically one person’s thing to deal with. I recently wrapped one of my own, dealing with a retirement account that was weirdly designated and dumping those funds into my primary retirement account. I have another one that I’ve started writing about and am not ready to put out there yet.

Things like inheritance gets tricky. I don’t feel like I have a right to touch money inherited from his side, nor do I want to touch it. On my side, there’s been nothing but grief when it comes to money so I especially hate the feeling that doing anything to protect his inheritance feels like I’m a moneygrubbing so-and-so. Except I don’t want any of it for myself! I just hate seeing money managed less effectively than it could be. But because of the feeling that I didn’t come to this union with my own family money (except I did, it was all money that I earned with my own hands), I’m more comfortable ignoring the nagging feelings that it could be better managed and leaving it alone.

Viewing the landscape, I see friends of varying economic levels from poor to very high net worth with all kinds of financial arrangements.

I also keep seeing strong opinions on how, if you’re married, you need to combine finances. I agree that you have to have a system but I don’t agree that it has to be any specific kind.

:: Have you ever had intertwined finances or finances that were dependent on others (partners or roommates)? How did that work for you? Do you have a personal preference for combined or separate finances?

May 4, 2016

Examining choices: keeping my last name after marriage

Would you change your name? What’s in a name?

My friend hung up the phone and turned to me, “Never change your name if you get married. It’s such a pain to change back when something goes horribly wrong and you have to divorce him.”

I just nodded.

She’d finalized a painful divorce. While enrolled in a 4-year professional program, supporting his worthless butt, she came home to find her husband had been cheating on her the whole time. He didn’t even have the grace to be ashamed of his betrayal.

In that position, I surely wouldn’t want to carry the taint of his name.

When it came time for us to consider the question, I knew that particular issue wouldn’t ever be a problem with PiC. I know you always think you know, but he’s an incredibly stand-up person, husband, father. It’s simply not in him to cheat. Leaving that aside, there are always reasons, and good reasons, for people to dissolve their marriages that aren’t rooted in betrayal.

And likewise, there are good reasons for choosing not to take your spouse’s name when you’re getting married, many of which ring true for me.

“The HisLastName Family” would be easier for people to remember, and most people assume that’s the case, but it wasn’t comfortable or the right fit for me.

First and foremost, I simply wasn’t feeling the love. My first name + his last name didn’t bring the sparrows out of the trees, twittering and singing. I was never that girl who scrawled her name, testing it out with the future prospective husband’s, and that wasn’t just because I didn’t feel that for anyone in those days but also because love didn’t mean a name change to me. Love is many things but it’s not a different name.

I asked PiC if he had an opinion, out of respect for his thoughts but they were the same as mine: it’s my name, it’s my choice. I left it open-ended, assuming that I might choose to change it at a later date but years later, it still feels like the right choice.

This was the name I was born with.

I got married, I wasn’t reborn. I don’t feel reborn in any way. Your mileage may vary, of course this is just about me, and speaking about me? I feel older, I feel like we’re a team, like we have evolved, and grown together. But this marriage didn’t just spring fully formed from Athena’s forehead. We haven’t experienced a rebirth as humans. We knowingly chose to enter into a legal and cultural covenant to fight this life’s fights side by side.

My husband doesn’t need to bestow upon me a new name because we’ve entered into this union any more than I need to bestow a new name on him.

But, (new) faaaaamily??

I know that some people feel that they need to share the same names as a family to be a family. That’s valid, for them.

For me, changing my name would no more make me part of a new family than not changing it would exclude me. Changing my name would unmoor me from who I know I myself as but it would not be in exchange for making me a part of a new family. Those were, and are, completely separate issues: my identity is one, my sense of belonging is another.

I’ll admit the issue gave me pause when we discussed having children. We were aware that there is a way things are usually done, and that people are likely to be confused if our offspring don’t share a name with both of us. But I have faith, people! I have faith that it’s possible for people to wrap their heads around the idea that I have my name, and PiC has his name, and those names don’t make or unmake our relationship to our child.

More seriously, there’s a nice solution that friends have had to the kids and naming question: they take both names. I don’t care at all for the idea that my last name and the last name of any children wouldn’t match and therefore we don’t “appear” to be family – I did so much work so darn it, my kid is going to have my name too. Giving our kid both our names in some way works for me.

But your name is just your dad’s name so Patriarchy still wins!

Sure, it was my dad’s name. But my first name was from my mom. It’s not like I was born with a first name attached and whichever parent appended their name determined whether patriarchy or matriarchy wins. They both gave me a first, middle, last, and non-English name. What I did after that made it mine.

I won awards in my name.
I made mistakes in my name.
I learned life and academic lessons, failed, and tried again, in my name.
I graduated from school in my name.
I established my career and a professional reputation in my name.
(I’ll take credit for my part in keeping our marriage healthy, in my name, but I don’t think the act of getting married is in itself an accomplishment.)

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

I’m a strong believer in fairness and equality. They don’t always mean the same thing but in this case they do: when getting married these days, there’s no good reason to my mind that only the woman has to consider whether or not to change her name. Aren’t you both getting married? Aren’t you both equally entitled to like your name enough for it to be the family name?

My favorite solution yet was the couple who hyphenated but took each other’s names as the first last name. So she was Mrs. His-Hers and he was Mr. Hers-His. That truly felt like something I might have, were I inclined to hyphenation, felt comfortable doing together. That felt like a family thing to me.

Since PiC likes his name as much as I like mine, neither of us chose to change our names and that felt perfectly fine.

Bonus: I didn’t know this at the time, having never called most of my family members by their last names, but it’s rare for any women in my family to change their names on marrying. It’s apparently the cultural norm not to and it’s one cultural tradition I’m ok with carrying on.

:: What’s the norm in your culture? Would you have / did you consider changing your name or not (whether you’re male or female)? I can barely remember my first name on bad days, would you be concerned you wouldn’t know what name to respond to if you did change it?

April 27, 2016

Are you ready to win a million dollars?: Our weekend fun

Our Saturday night gambling: Can we win anything awesome from this shop & Monopoly game? Free fun: the patented homebody edition

Lest you ever have the mistaken notion that PiC and I are a happenin’ couple…or whatever means “cool” these days, let me regale you with our Saturday night.

Some people get dolled up and go to  Disneyland’s Club 33 for a drink and whatever else you do there.


Well, our dinner was a little late. While I tried to finish booking travel arrangements before running off to cook,  LB had snuggled up next to me to crunch on these puffed cereal squares PiC had found at Trader Joe’s. They’re good, we all eat them.

Ze waved hir cup at me and tried to help me type so, of course, “No, LB, do not break Mama’s computer with your grubby fingers. Sit down.”

Ze sat.

Ze crunched.

Ze offered me a square.

“No thanks, honey, that’s for you.”

Ze took a bite, then offered it again. This time demonstrating what ze wanted with an open mouth, saying “ahhhh”. Nothing like your kid turning your tricks against you.

“Oh, no, DEFINITELY no thanks, that’s really for you. Here, see? I’ll eat this one.” I popped an unlicked square in my mouth and crunch-crunch-crunched. Ze smiled, satisfied, I thought.

Nope. Fool.

Ze took another square and offered it again. “No, thammmf!” Ze jammed it in my mouth. My hands were protecting the computer and ze knew ze had me. To really make sure of it, ze pushed half hir hand into my mouth so the cereal was not coming back out.

Laughing, I turned to PiC who wasn’t helping even a little bit, and gestured wildly. He took a picture. THANKS.

I turned back and *jam* another cereal square. And another!  Ze grinned madly, this was fun!

But I still have my standards, if there was drool on it, I wasn’t eating it.

After the dozenth very aggressively offered cereal but was uncompromisingly shoved into my mouth, ze sat back on hir heels and started eating again. A clear dismissal, or at least an easing of hostile sharing.

Soup’s on!

Dinner was the usual. Rice and fish spoon-catapulted all down my front. Milk dribbling down hir dimply chin, both parents gingerly treading around and through the rice moat surrounding hir high chair. You know, the usual.

Bath and bedtime are always good. They’re the easiest part of the day and no matter how hard the day was, you’re guaranteed lots of grins and laughs. That makes the wind down of the night so much easier.

Closin’ down the bar

I joggle at PiC’s elbow as he does the dishes, impatiently. Just when it’s my turn to rinse, I disappear, having just remembered it was time for Seamus’s medication. My timing is impeccable. But the magic hour rolls around when we’re both parked at the table and it’s time. FOR MONOPOLY!

Not the board game, though it’ll come as no surprise to anyone who’s read a word of this blog, I loved the board game and finagled a game as often as possible. No, we’re “playing” the supermarket board game where you get game tickets for certain purchases from Safeway. Our regular purchases always earn a few, and we stick the individual pieces to the paper board game piece in the faint hope of filling all four or five parts of a property to win anything from a $5 grocery gift card to a $500K vacation home or $1 MILLION DOLLARS.

PiC reads off the numbers in his loud Bingo voice, and I cheer or boo the pieces, gluing pieces to the sheet when we hit on an empty space. To date, we’ve won 3 instant win vouchers for 2 more game pieces and we’re one or two pieces away from winning big or small on a variety of stops on the board.

It’s all VERY exciting.

Right, I’m not fooling anyone, I know the rest of the world actually engages in real fun but look, this is our kinda fun, alright?

Besides, what if we did win?

We’re close on the $5 grocery card, $15 grocery card, $2,500 Big Joe Grill and groceries (what say I skip the grill and get that all in groceries?), $200 cash, $1,000 grocery card and $1,000 family vacation.

PiC and I have an agreement that if we did win, we tell no one. Except if he gets the $5 gift card, he’s singing it from the mountaintops. I’m not sure if this blog is exempt from the “tell no one” agreement yet, but I think it should be.

:: PiC says the real value is our goofball selves having Family Time, I say the real win is the million dollars. What would you want to win if you had to pick one and it wasn’t the $1M or $500K home (because I seriously doubt anyone will win those)? Do you think anyone’s really going to win anything? Have you ever? We’re going to need a new free and easy pastime when the game is up in May, suggestions?

April 3, 2012

Married Life: Proposing a Merger

Once upon a time, I dreamed big for the future. Out of those dreams, I formulated a life plan wherein I’d be taking a professional health degree of some kind and a PhD, entering a white collar profession, and buying a home for myself and my parents (separate homes, mind) before the age of 30.  After 30 was a little hazy, but I figured plotting the next 23 years was good enough. Also, two degrees and affording two homes was a tough enough nut to crack – I wasn’t ready to plot any more years.

This was before I knew the words “net worth” because, you know, seven years old, but you had better believe that the balance sheets did not include debt. I’d already been writing out the checks for the bills for my parents and knew how I wanted to set up my own budget when the time came.

You may notice, as my mother had, that I had made no provisions in those plans, for marriage or kids.  As far as I was concerned, it might happen, it might not, I wasn’t planning on it or depending on it and figured it wasn’t terribly relevant to the trajectory of my career and money. That was a pretty unsophisticated understanding of how life and marriage works.

Clearly, I was bound and determined to have my own mind and at the time, that also meant keeping my own finances, separate and free. As the years passed, I saw too many bad choices made by one or another couple where there was a divide in the spender/saver continuum, even in my own family, or business decisions gone awry, especially in my own family, and I just couldn’t fathom living in that life.

“If you live in a community property state, not combining finances is just lying to yourself about legalities.” @practicalwed

So once upon a time, I might have disagreed with Meg. Despite my primary marriage example being the relatively healthy and supportive partnership my parents shared in which they had combined finances, I was still certain that I could keep separate finances in any prospective marriage and cope just fine.

Except I’d never coped with two separate systems for myself and my parents so I had no blueprint for a working system. I’d assumed it was only a lack of income on their part and need to control on my part that that didn’t work.

After several months of juggling our separate systems, the time has come to wish good bye to that once-loved independent money philosophy: PiC and I need to combine our finances. Between my OCD control tendencies and his laissez-faire attitude to saving versus spending, I now doubt that we’d get to our final destination in one piece. And we live in a community property state so, frankly, we are combined in the eyes of the law, whether we have combined or not. Entangled, like it or not. (Romantic, hm?)

It’s been as stressful being hands-off while we paid bills separately and waited for incomes to reach stasis as it was maintaining two separate sets of accounts for myself and my parents more than ten years ago.

We just don’t function very well managing our “own” money when we have such different views of it. Part of it is the actual management and lack of transparency. The system isn’t set up well at the moment between our paychecks and direct deposits.

And philosophically, he still viewed his money as his money and spent freely, resenting that an uneven amount of expenses were coming out of his pocket, while I viewed all the money as our money and saved to offset his spending, and resented his depletion of our budget.

It turns out that we need to literally be on the same page to think from the same page. Never thought that’d be the case but there it is.

Starting at the beginning, I evaluated all our expenses and income and set up the target amounts that we’d want in specific pots for our savings and spendings goals. Now, we just have to figure out which banks and which accounts to keep and which to cut out, then actually do it.

Married Life Posts:
Married Life: Benefits
Married Life: Mortgage Prepayment for Refinancing
Married Life: Blending spending styles and learning the art of compromise

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