Starting in 2017, I started to pay more attention to my finances after becoming a new mom and quickly realizing I would be the one in the family answering all the financial questions. I had been half heartedly investing in the available 401ks from my various employers, saving HSA money, and buying our first house in 2015 (super smart decision). I was at least financial savy enough (aka cheap, free love, hippie cyclist) to not splurge on a huge wedding but put the money into a house. We were married in said house's back yard and did all the prep work ourselves with the help of our friends and family but that is all detailed in another post. If their is one thing that helps confirm you are committed to your marriage, organizing a wedding in your back yard for 70 people and doing all the prep work yourself is likely a sure sign you are in it for the long haul.
However, after becoming addicted to some financial blogs I came to realize I was very poorly prepared for our financial future together as a family. After all what else do you do when you are waiting for labs to return at 2am but occupy yourself with how to avoid the situation in the future. I also sensed that after reading the blogs, I felt a sense of community but a lacking presence: the breadwinning mom finance nerd. I had always been frugal by way of being a poor bike racer but had never channeled my inner frugal ways for good.
In 5 years, I went from close to 100k in debt to paying off my student loans; building a post tax investment portfolio; and maximizing pretax savings through 401ks, sep IRAs, solo 401ks, HSA accounts, and 529s. I did all of this by tracking my budget, reading up on long term investment strategies, doing my own taxes and investing, and staying frugal. The most important part of this equation thus far for us has been reducing our living expenses because it seems that every reduction in budget leads to not only invested income but also less needed income steps closer to financial freedom.
So many will ask at this point, how have we particularly been able to reduce our budget? We have tried to focus on the things in life that are the most important to us and not outsource our hobbies. Our urban garden supplies our produce, reduces trash, and mandates stay at home meals. We use seasonal ways to get ourselves from A to B including biking, running, skiing and snow shoeing. We currently homeschool, only use the amount of childcare that our fsa can provide, visit our library sometimes twice a week now that it is open, and even cut everyone's hair. We spend as little as possible for our gear, toys, or gifts with craigslist, ebay, thrift, curbside free items, or garage sales while trying to focus on minimal items that we really use on a regular basis. Vacations are simple boon docking or mooch docking with our craigslist truck camper in one of the amazing national or state parks where our Toyota Tacoma can take us. My constant number crunching allows us to reduce our taxes legally and pick long term investment strategies. My husband builds and designs our home and garden for better living. These are our ways to reduce our income leaks and make our lifestyle sustainable in more than one way. Your way will likely look very different. In further posts I will add in some frugal numbers and budget revisions but this is the outline of our current frugal strategy.
Welcome to my new blog on all things Mom MD related that I hope will provide some comedic and emotional relief to my readers. If there is one thing I have learned from the last 5 years with kids in process, is that finances are a very important part of health in every way. I have transitioned from my free love amateur pro athlete that never had to take care of anyone besides myself to a breadwinning mom that is now responsible for my husband, my one year old, my three year old, and our 11 year old dog in tow. This includes my adventure into home ownership, marriage, momdom, and now sole breadwinner thank you COVID 19. I am not complaining; I know I am very lucky thus far given the current world situation and blessings that I have everyday. So here goes....
This post will just catch you up to date for my last 3 years. If you have followed along, we bought a house, turned it into an urban farm, and were married in our backyard. Since then we have produced two new human beings with little outside help besides the delivery and normal obstetric care thank you ovaries as I advanced into my 40s. We now reside in our 2 bedroom ranch with an additional basement room and the help of a small DIY truck camper purchased off craigslist. Why does this matter you ask....let me explain. Two children of the toddler and infant age group are not the best sleepers and combine that with an er schedule of night shifts it comes to reason that innovation has to happen. We live in a suburb of Denver where the cost of living is reasonably high and purchasing a new house is not in our budget. Currently, my daughter sleeps in our master bathroom in a pack and play with the bathtub now serving as a closet. We maintain our master bedroom for times when we can sleep at night and one adult always sleeps there to be within 3-8 feet of the children at all times. My son sleeps next door in his own bedroom. We have a basement bedroom that could eventually house a teenage child but for now only allows for a home office during the time of COVID. Eventually in the not to distant future my daughter will outgrow her pack and play and move into the master bedroom with her brother for the next few years and hope to have an awesome playroom that can confine all their toys yet produce the reasonable amount of fighting to be expected in a shared room situation. The basement bedroom is unfortunately too loud for sleep during the daytime hours due to a multiple of factors at this time and here comes in the diy truck campers which is perfect for sleeping in after late night shifts as well as sleeping during the day for night shifts. Problem fixed for now...
I could go into countless budget detail about our frugal living and investment options but I prefer not to at this time. That will come later and it has been one of the main reasons I have been able to recover from my student loan debt and most other forms of debt in the past 3 years as well as building a investment portfolio that will hopefully support my husband and I into an early retirement, provide college tuition for our children, and cover future health care expenses. So until next time......" where all the women are strong, men are good looking, and children are above average..."
WARNING: You may not want to try this at home. The following sequence of events are not for the faint of heart.
The story begins in April 2015...
Matt and I started looking for our first house together sometime in 2014. We decided to buy a place with a large enough yard to hold the wedding and start our urban farm. When we found our place, we fell in love with the yard immediately. The house sat on one third of an acre with lots of south facing exposure. The location was close enough to trails, parks, grocery stores, and a commuter train line that it allowed me to commute mostly by bike. However, the house had been a rental for many years and was covered in layers of landscaping fabric, weeds, and old landscaping stones heaped up in much of the yard. We knew we would need at least a year in order to get the place ready to even start producing enough food to feed about 70 people.
The summer of 2015 was a back breaking effort. We removed weeds, fabric, and stones. We installed raised beds and did our best to amend the soil, hopefully making it more hospitable for planting. We also kept a close eye on when we could produce enough food to feed that many. The end of August seemed the most reliable from a weather standpoint as well as when tomatoes would just start to ripen. We would also have melons and berries from our garden, along with peaches and cherries from local farms. Our vegetable options included zucchini, beets, collards, onions, garlic, cabbage, potatoes, multiple herb, and possibly some heirloom tomatoes. We had prior experience growing carrots, eggplant, and peppers but not in the quantities necessary to reliably feed 70+ people. I knew that I would have to plan my meal options around my reliable vegetables. Our plan was to have a popcorn appetizer bar, burger bar for the main course, 2-3 salad options, home canned burger toppings, and homemade cupcakes instead of a wedding cake. Our drink options were mint water, honey lavender lemonade, peach basil sangria, and local beer.
In the fall of 2015, I canned over 30 jars of green tomatoes specifically for the wedding to make relish, pickles, ketchup, chutney, and tomato jam and set it aside. By then, we had 21 4x8 raised beds, a small raspberry/ blueberry patch, a couple of bee hives, and a lavender patch. In December, Matt put together a seed starting station out of foam board, grow lights, and grow mats for my Christmas gift. We put the station to good use and immediately started countless tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, ground cherries, squash, herbs, and melons.
We purchased close to 50 bales of hay for seating/tables along with shade sails to protect our guests from the hot August sun. The table tops were constructed out of old hollow core doors placed on the hay bales with additional bales for seating covered with fabric. We had close family friends that were professors at Denver University and outstanding cellists who were able to play for our ceremony. My future mother-in-law was our officiant and we were married on our back patio. Matt’s brother talked to Dry Dock brewery, who donated two kegs for the wedding of amazing local beer and a “jockey box” complete with custom tap handles. Matt’s step-brother lent us close to 20 furniture pads belonging to his company to cover the hay bales. My local family members and friends were amazing as they gathered together and each took one of the meal items I had planned for the wedding and made the salads the week of the wedding (Mediterranean wheat berry salad and Thai collard slaw). My future sister-in-law popped about 80 cups of popcorn in preparation. I learned one thing if nothing else, I would never have been able to pull off this wedding without the help of my family. My girlfriends helped prepare the lavender honey lemonade and peach sangria, along with slicing piles of heirloom tomatoes and onions for the burger toppings.
In the end, the only glitch was a summer squall that blew in the day before the wedding during our set up party. I had to take down the shade sails and rent a party tent, which turned out to be the biggest out-of-pocket expense. However, the tent kept everything dry as we set up the day before and provided amazing lighting for our wedding guests. I hired an incredible coordinator that came the day of the wedding with 4 helpers who assembled the buffet table and staffed the food stations. Our photographer, produced most of the pictures available in this post. The plates and silverware were compostable and we used mason jars for drinking. After all was said and done, we only produced one bag of trash for the whole wedding…and it was mostly filled with baby diapers.
In case I forgot, my wedding dress was purchased on ebay…ironically from somewhere in Denver for about $40. With a couple of alterations and shoes that matched the height of the dress, I think my total clothing budget came to $120 including the shoes. I had my hair done locally but I did my own makeup and nails with the help of my best friend. My husband bought himself a new set of jeans and a vest for the wedding as well as a new set of work shoes he could use afterwards for his contracting business.
In taking stock of everything post-wedding that might continue to be useful, we had close to 50 bales of leftover hay for garden uses, old window panes for covering winter garden beds, and enough leftover wedding food to feed us until December. I had canned crazy amounts of tomatoes and harvested enough garlic, onions, and winter squash to get us through the following winter. Our home is amazing and I am so happy we invested in such a great start to our life. In addition, we had some wonderful donations as wedding gifts to our drip irrigation plan for spring 2017. Did I tell you that I tried to elope? That should be saved for another story.
Below you will find a timeline of events, breakdown of the budget, and menu for the event.
Venue/ceremony/food - $790
ie tent, seating, restrooms, compostable plates, alcohol, groceries, burger buns/cheese
Decorations/flowers - $65
ie garage burlap, flower seed, chalk markers
clothing/rings - $355
lighting/music - $100
Tent - $800
Photographer - $300
Staffing - $390
Stationary - $100
ie save the dates, thank you’s, invites, postage
Total - $2900
air popped popcorn with seasonings ie apple pie, mexican chocolate, cheesy garlic, italian seasoning
peach basil sangria, Dry Dock Beer, honey lavender lemonade, Mint water
mediterranean wheat berry salad, thai collard Slaw, and kale/collard chips
Salazar open range beef burgers, Becca’s black bean zucchini burgers, and Great Harvest rolls with Haystack Mountain Cheese – homemade canned toppings by Becca, heirloom tomatoes and onions for toppings
peach vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cherry zucchini cupcakes with honey buttercream icing
May 2015 – Go time! Start beds and composting stations
June 2015-August 2015 – moved large amounts of earth and started 21 raised beds and front xeriscaped section with lavender, hives established, raspberries and blueberries planted
Fall 2015 – Crap, house needs a new roof and Matt adds eaves to the house; Becca cans a ridiculous amount of pickles, relish, ketchup, and tomato jam
Winter 2015 Matt makes a space age seed starting station, Becca starts and kills many new seedlings – survival of the fittest at its best
Spring 2016 Transplants go in the ground, project permaculture commences with fruit and nut trees planted in suntrap design in rain garden and grape trellis added to house
Summer 2016 Plan goes into overdrive with early food preparation of seasoning mixing, collard drying, harvesting of onions and garlic, cupcake preparation, veggie burger preparation, trial mixing of sangria, lemonade, and salads, assembling of hay bales, doors, compostable serving ware, mason jars, led lights
August Final stretch – family jumps in with food prep and set up the week of the wedding as well as tear down
I hope everyone has had or is having a wonderful holiday season. I celebrate the off season by working more in the emergency department.:) ...and focusing on some of my diy projects. I usually turn these diy projects into gifts. I have added some pictures and ideas below for future diy holiday gifts, anytime gifts, or ways to keep the holidays ecofriendly.
Tomato Stake Christmas Tree + Plum Mead in Salvaged Bottles
Lavender Honey Soap + Peppermint Chocolate Lip Balm
Dried Sage/Lavender Bouquet and Upcycled Bicycle Pendant
Here is one of the final harvests from the farm this year. Last sweet potatoes were dug up and I decided to harvest two of our gigantic beets. The onions aren't too bad as well.
Some of the many tomatoes that have meet an untimely end. By this time in the year, I hate canning and am convinced that I need to eat less during the winter.
All the winter squash from this year. They are hiding inside the spaceship seed starter and we will see if they hold on longer this year then last year.
Here are some more pictures from our DIY wedding! We made all the burger toppings ourselves and grew all the veggies for the toppings and salads. Thanks to some super awesome girlfriends for the best cupcake party ever! Can;t thank everyone enough for this perfect day!
So, as many of you know we bought our house one year ago and decided to turn it into an urban farm. Our additional plan was to grow enough food in that one year time frame to feed all our guests and to have the wedding on our farm. We were successful in this venture. Anything we did buy for the wedding was locally sourced or donated from family friends ie Salazar farms supplied the burgers and we bought hamburger rolls from Great Harvest and cheese from Haystack. Our fruit trees and berry bushes are still too young to have produced fruit so cherries and peaches were purchased from a farm in Palisade. We used some of our honey for the cupcakes but also had to purchase additional honey from a local bee keeping neighbor since our girls are thriving but will need their some of their honey for the winter.
We were able to grow enough collards, herbs, cabbage, tomatoes, onion, garlic, beets, zucchini, and flowers for the wedding. In addition we also produced some of the honey used in the recipes.
I will post the recipes later on this blog for the following things we made at our wedding so stay tuned!
Cherry zucchini cupcakes
Buttercream honey icing
Peach basil sangria
Lavender honey lemonade
Thai basil coleslaw
Mediterranean roasted veggie grain salad
Mirin Bragg's kale chips and dehydrated zucchini chips
Bean pesto dip
Green onion zucchini burgers
My fiance and I have always had dreams of having a small farm where we could practice our sustainable efforts of bee keeping, gardening, composting, and sharing those practices with our community. I wanted to stay close to public transportation so that I can continue working and reduce use of my car. I also plan on turning the basement into my future nutrition consulting and coaching office as well. We have finally found a property that fits all of this criteria in Lakewood keeping me within biking distance to my trails, swimming groups, and running areas. Below are some pictures of our new projects including our future garden beds, composting pile, and raspberry bushes.
So July is finally here, and I have discovered that all those squash seeds that I threw in the dirt after the last of the Colorado bad weather killed off my second batch of sweet potatoes....have now sprouted...and grown.....till I feel like I need a weed wacker to explore my tiny community plot. The season had one snow on mother's day....thank you Colorado...and a severe hail storm/ tornado warning that had me and Matt hiding in a cooler in Safeway for at least 15 minutes before we decided to run for it and head home to be with the dogs. So after 2 batches of sweet potatoes...I can say...this year is not a sweet potato year. But in it's place, are tons of greens, beets, radishes, turnips, kale, carrots, peas.....and now squash plants. So time will tell what powdery mildew will bring to us but for now.....there are some squash leaves in my green smoothies in the morning.
So it looks green but this is after one snow storm right before mother's day that killed sweet potato slips number one and one hail storm that had Matt and I stuck in a cooler in Safeway for at least 30 minutes with siren's blasting after slips number 2 was planted. Good news is the peanuts are coming up, some of the tomatoes/peppers/and eggplants have survived....and I have planted so many squash in so many locations that this will likely look like a squash jungle in one month as long as the powdery mildew doesn't destroy it all. Next up will be some vertical gardening with garage left-overs. Hope to add pictures in the next week.