Finances: How YNAB Helped Us Pay $84,000 Towards Student Loans in One Year!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Looking back on it, it seems absolutely nuts that we have been able to pay $84,000 towards our student loans in the last year. Prior to getting our finances in order, you could say that I was not one who was highly motivated in monitoring my spending. Or rather, I may have been highly motivated, but not entirely good at it. Honestly, I did not know where to start.

I was never afraid of budgets. Some people are. They are afraid that it would be too limiting, or depriving, to set financial constraints on their having fun in life. I get it. YOLO, right? But honestly, that’s just the rub. YOLO. You only get one life, and I don’t want mine consistently anchored down by debt. I want to be free. So it was not the budgeting that scared me, but the lack thereof. In fact, I was always in search of ways to budget. However, I had no idea how to do it efficiently.

We used to implement that all-too-familiar way of assessing our spending by guessing, eye-balling, rounding up and down (depending on our mood), or sometimes, ignoring all-together. Additionally, much of our analysis was performed retroactively. As in, “Oops, I spent too much on groceries last month! Roughly $100 too much.” The estimates, off course, were always too low, and the recognition harbored a bit too late, after the spending was already a done deal. Yikes!

Enter YNAB. YNAB is kind of like that high-school teacher that slaps your wrist and sets a vagabond teen straight. The acronym stands for “You Need a Budget“, and is better than an angel on your shoulder keeping your finances in check. It is a very easy system that is based on the age-old envelope system of budgeting. It used to be that, without computers and programs such as YNAB, people would use envelopes to budget their money. Each envelope would stand for a category. For example: “Groceries”, “Rent”, House Maintenance”, “Savings”, etc. With each incoming paycheck, a person would split the cash in between envelopes, allocating a certain amount towards those categories for the upcoming month(s). One can never accidentally overdraw from an envelope, because once the money runs out, that’s it! In order to overspend in a category such as “Dining Out” for example, one would need to proactively choose to take out money from another envelope, thus consciously deciding to decrease spending elsewhere.

With the invention of things such as credit cards, this becomes an obsolete practice, but I think it is one that is very useful. Instead of retroactively analyzing our spending, we should be proactively planning for our financial futures. In YNAB, you can create categories of your choosing that would be equivalent to those envelopes. You can be as precise or as general as you would like. We prefer to be more general, because it makes categorizing easier. Our categories are separated into “Needs”, “Financial Goals”, and “Wants”. A few examples include:

Needs – Rent, Auto Insurance, Utilities, Cell Phone, Groceries

Financial Goals – Student Loans, House Savings

Wants – Activities/Hobbies, Travel, Mike’s Fun Money, Sam’s Fun Money, Dining Out

So as paychecks roll in, we are proactively placing budgeted money into each category. Every dollar we earn is accounted for, down to the last penny. The goal is to budget appropriately, so that none of the categories need adjusting during the month. Metaphorically, you don’t want to borrow from any of the other envelopes. It did take us a while to get a feel for how much we spend in each category, but that’s the fantastic thing about YNAB. It summarizes previous spending in the months prior really well. Over time, we were able to know exactly what number we would need to budget in each category to be absolutely prepared.

A word on those summaries. This is a wonderful way to get a picture of how much of your spending is going towards your “Needs”, your “Wants”, and your “Financial Goals”. For us, because of our student loans, 50% of our income goes straight towards hitting our “financial goals”. We try to keep “wants” to a low 10% of our income, travel included, which is why travel hacking is so important for us. Also, there are graphs to show you how much your net worth is rising, as well as comparisons of “Income VS Expenses”, if those are motivating at all for you.

All of this can technically be done on an Excel sheet, but it would take a lot of time and effort. What I love about YNAB is that it can link to your bank accounts and automatically record every transaction, whether that’s money going in or money coming out. The only thing left to do is to categorize each transaction. Also, YNAB will remember which transactions fall under which category. For example, we frequently shop at Mother’s Market and Whole Foods for our groceries. I no longer have to categorize those things, since YNAB will automatically do that for me, thus making my job easier.

Off course, YNAB comes with a fee, which luckily for us, is waived by our financial planner. The cost to use YNAB is $89.99 annually, which seems like a lot, but when I look at the number we paid towards student debt ($84,000), I don’t feel bad at all! I think that fee is totally justified, plus it makes the whole budgeting process easier and much more motivating than if I had to go through all of our bank accounts and credit cards and physically input each and every transaction, create analytical comparisons and graphs and pie charts, and let our financial situation take up all of my free time.

If you are someone who wants to know where their money is going, wants to plan for the future, or is already doing both but wants a simpler process, try out YNAB. I hear too frequently the saying, “I don’t know where my money goes!” It’d be nice if we never have to say that ever again. Plus, once you know where it goes, you have the power to redirect it, kind of like we have!

A Mother’s Day Gift Guide

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

A list for Mother’s Day and last-minute gift buyers. Not because I myself am a mother, but because I know what my mother would want. For the smart, loving, strong, creative, fashionable, busy, stressed, but most importantly, deserving mothers in your life, a few gift ideas below.

– A pasta attachment set, for making fresh, healthy, home-made summer pasta an easy chore on a weeknight, or a creative hobby on the weekend.

– A caftan, for the upcoming summer days, where vacations to tropical areas or pool days with the kids run amok.

– An easy read, when the brain is fried from a long day and needs unwinding. I recently finished this and would highly recommend.

– A pair of reliable kicks, for some quick, slip-on action. Perfect for the park, the pool, the hammock, what have you.

– A tote that can carry it all for the busy mom.

– A light cardigan, for cool evening breezes, on patios watching sunsets.

– An upgrade to her living space, for those with a green thumb.

– A gift card, for the self-sufficient, or particular.

In an effort to ground Mother’s Day to something a bit less material, an organization which you can support to help local mothers and women who are in need.

– Grandma’s House of Hope in Orange County serves uniquely challenged women who fall between the cracks of existing programs. These invisible populations include human trafficking victims, breast cancer patients, and women with severe mental and physical diasabilities, mothers included. Consider a donation, for Mother’s Day.

Recent Reads: Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

A belated ode to Equal Pay Day.

There’s a statistic that women are making 79 cents to the male dollar, but there’s a hidden factor, which is that when we speak about this, we are specifically referring to white women and white men. What it hidden is the fact that a black woman makes 63 cents to the dollar, a native American woman makes 57 cents to the dollar and a Hispanic woman makes 54 cents to the dollar. What we don’t talk about (never talk about?) is race.

In honor of Equal Pay Day, a few of my favorite quotes from my most recent read, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. —BENJAMIN FRANKLIN”

“Active racism is telling a nurse supervisor that an African American nurse can’t touch your baby. It’s snickering at a black joke. But passive racism? It’s noticing there’s only one person of color in your office and not asking your boss why. It’s reading your kid’s fourth-grade curriculum and seeing that the only black history covered is slavery, and not questioning why. It’s defending a woman in court whose indictment directly resulted from her race…and glossing over that fact, like it hardly matters.”

“You say you don’t see color…but that’s all you see. You’re so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren’t prejudiced, you can’t even understand that when you say race doesn’t matter all I hear is you dismissing what I’ve felt, what I’ve lived, what it’s like to be put down because of the color of my skin.”

“True confession: The reason we don’t talk about race is because we do not speak a common language.”

And more.

I cannot recommend this book enough. There are very few books that hit me hard, but this was definitely one of them.

Currently Reading:
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Finance: The First Year of Paying Down $550,000 in Student Loans, An Update

Hi guys! So it has been about a year since our search for a future home turned into a commitment to pay down my massive student debt instead. I figured I would give you an update as to what paying down $550,000 at 6.7% interest looks like.

We arrived at our decision to tackle the loans aggressively in April of 2017 (our decision tree, here). The most important thing to note with a loan this large is that committing to it means REALLY committing to it. It wouldn’t be advantageous to choose to pay down the debt, and then fall back to IBR midway. From a numbers perspective, you would just lose unnecessary money that way. If you choose the loan forgiveness route, then the goal is to pay AS LITTLE MONTHLY PAYMENTS AS POSSIBLE, so that a huge chunk gets written off. If you choose the standard repayment option, then the goal is to pay AS MUCH MONEY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. So, with a steely grip on the reality that we did not want the debt to dictate and shape our lives for twenty five years, we went head first.

Here are the numbers.

To be completely honest with you, $550,000 is a ballpark estimate. The real number is a principle amount of $538,933.50 and an accrued interest of $35,101. Meaning the total was actually $574,034.50. YIKES!

So what did we do? We decided that we will essentially live off of one income, and use the other income towards loans. We figure, out parents raised us on a single person’s income, so this can’t be that difficult especially since we don’t even have kids yet. The verdict: We were right! It was surprisingly easy. Which makes me wonder, where were we spending all that money before hand?! I don’t even want to know….

With that being said, we have been successful at making our minimum payments of $6500 per month! YAY! We were even able to add a little extra every so often due to diligent saving habits (See The Ever Growing List of Things I’ve Given Up In The Name of Frugality!). But that does not take us as far on the path of financial freedom as we would like. It took us a few months to completely pay off the interest that had accrued, but it must be remembered that the loan is at 6.7% interest. So that means that interest continues to accrue over all this time. So what does that look like? Well, once the accrued interest was paid off, approximately half of the $6,500 was going towards the interest accruing per month. Which means that the loan is only getting paid down at a rate of about $3,000 per month. And that, my friends, is how lovely interest works! Womp, womp.

So, $55,367.22 was paid towards interest. Only $28,632.78 went towards paying down the principle amount. When my husband first looked at the little pie chart graph that I had on the corner of my computer screen summarizing our progress, he said, “Well, THAT’s depressing!” For someone who is only looking at that, it CAN seem pretty depressing. However, I know better. This. Is. Amazing.

The accrued interest is already out of the way, which tells me that next year is going to look a LOT better. I can already see a higher proportion of the monthly payments being applied to our principle. It started out as slightly less than half of our payment being applied to the principle. However, as of early this year, slightly more than half is being applied to principle. I know it’s hard to look at this as any way other than a linear projection, but it really, truly is an exponential one, albeit with a slow start.

The amazing part is that we have survived our first year and our lives have actually been much improved. Choosing this journey has nudged us to be proactive with our life, not only with our financial decisions, but also with our lifestyle choices. We are experiencing less stress than when we felt helpless and unable to address the student loans. We are experiencing more happiness than when we were trying to buy our way to a meaningful life. I work less than I did last year, and love myself more. We are healthier and have better relationships. And it all started with us learning how to get our finances in order and in our efforts to remove money from our life equation.

I am very happy with this decision and I am excited to see what the next year of payments will bring.

PS: I am excited that we will hit the $400,000’s during me and Mike’s birthday months in June/July!

Also, for the curious, I have never, not once, felt regret in funneling extra money towards my student loans. I have felt buyer’s remorse. I’ve regretted going out to eat. I have regretted going to events that required spending money. I have regretted buying gifts that I know will end up in a landfill some day. But I have never regretted letting go of money in exchange for a little slice of freedom. I’m just saying.

Cherry Compote

With our recent bread baking habit, we have the privilege of having left-over starter around every single day. In case you are not familiar with baking bread using a live starter, a starter is pretty much a yeast culture in a mason jar that we feed on a daily basis on a set schedule so that the yeast continues to grow. We refer to our starter as our baby. And since feeding requires only a portion of the existing starter to continue growing, the rest is discarded in the trash. Or as is the case in our household, refashioned into a number of different baked goods, sourdough pancakes being one of them.

While the post regarding our entire bread baking experience will be saved for another day, this post is all about what we drizzle over that delicious pancake recipe. Cherry Compote! When I think of cherries, I think of warm summer days, with handfuls of this red, juicy fruit in a bowl, twined together by common, wispy limbs. I think of juice dribbling down chins, and fingers, and for some, shirts while we sit in basic tees and sneakers on the sidewalk or in the grass, picnic style. I envision a collection of pits, delicately eaten around, or more enjoyably, chewed and spit back out. I don’t associate the word cherry with the winter time, but winter time seems to be when I crave it the most.

This compote recipe is perfect for winter. Warm cherries should be as coveted as their cold summer counterpart, and the combination with something as earthy and aromatic as thyme really makes this recipe a simple yet special one. Even though we drizzle this mostly over our sourdough pancakes, it would also be a great addition to scoops of vanilla ice cream, a slice of cheesecake, or as a topping for a Thanksgiving pie. It’s officially Spring, but the weather is still cool enough that this recipe remains relevant, for another few months more. DSC02313.JPG

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of cherries
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Pinch of Salt

Procedure:

  1. The first part is the fun part. Remove the cherry pits from the cherries! I usually just use a pairing knife, although a cherry pitter would probably be quicker. But you know, minimalist household. The less tools the merrier in our book.
  2. Slice the cherries into halves or quarters, depending on the size you want.
  3. Add the cherries, water, and thyme in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Make sure to stir frequently, and continue to cook until they start to break down (approximately 3 minutes).
  4. Stir in the honey and salt and remove from the heat. The compote is all done! Set aside until you are ready for use and rewarm as necessary. Sprinkle in some blueberries, and top with powdered sugar, more honey, or melted butter.

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Refill, Reuse, Rejoice with Plaine Products

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I’ve already said my piece here regarding reducing plastic waste in my daily hygiene routine, by switching to bars of shampoo and conditioner and soap. But what of lotion? What of wintry dry skin, flaking away at the shudder of a cold, harsh winter wind? We live in sunny Southern California, but nonetheless, sensitive, scaly skin prevails in this dry desertland. Surely, there is no lotion bar? At the very least, I have yet to discover it.

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There is, however, the introduction of a new company called Plaine Products. Focused on the idea of reusable containers, sisters Lindsey and Alison Delaplaine created a way to offer shampoo, conditioner, body wash, AND lotion in aluminum reusable bottles. The stuff itself is quite lovely and aromatic, with two scent options. A rosemary, mint, and vanilla combination for the fall and winter, and a citrus lavender for the spring and summer, or so I like to think. Associate with the scents whatever seasons tickle your fancy. I must admit that I was ready for an alternative that would allow me to switch back to liquid conditioners. Bar soap shampoos are fine in my book, but my hair was starting to hang a bit too heavy, giving it a sadder appearance than my cheery personality would like. Nothing Plaine Products couldn’t save. After one day of switching to liquid shampoo and conditioner, the flounce of the hair has been returned. And the lotion has got my skin feeling silky, without my conscience feeling plastic-guilt. It’s a thing, I swear!

The concept behind the refillability (not a word?) of the bottles is simple. It’s a wonder why it is not more widely implemented. A subscription can be shipped to your door in a box (made of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste), which can act as the same vessel to return your already used and empty bottles back to the company. The bottles are then refilled, thus giving them a new life. You can opt to order the new bottle without the pump, if you already own a pump that’s easily reusable. The box is reused, the bottle is reused, and the plastic pump is reused. Multiply that to account for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion, and we’ve got ourselves quite an impact. Currently, face wash, hand wash, and face moisturizer products are in the works.

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In an effort to be all around environmentally friendly, the contents are well considered. The products avoid animal testing of any kind, is devoid of sulfates, parabens, and pthalates, and is designed to biodegrade more easily than typical, chemical products. The specifics of the contents can be found here, if microanalysis of such details are your thing, just as they are mine. Proudly vegan, the main component of their products are none other than Aloe Vera. The same extract that my mom would scrape from the plant leaves and weave into our hairs before a night’s rest. Less sticky, less messy, less fuss and crying and wails of discontent (sorry mom!).

I must admit, I do still have to deal with the internal struggle of whether the back-and-forth shipping of subscriptions really outweighs the long-term consequences of the plastic that never degrades. The elusiveness of the topic at large feeds the frustration I feel when well-intentioned actions are unclear in their effects. It’s as if a cloud is purposefully shifted above the whole matter, making it difficult to really measure the impact of hauling our goods versus increasing plastic waste, which alternatively blankets our ability to measure the opposite as well. While we could discuss this topic for a long time and perhaps stay stagnant in our search for an answer, I would like to say that for now, Plaine Products gives us plastic-avoiders a welcome alternative. As does nixing shampoo all-together, a step I admittedly am not ready to make.

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Care to give them a try? Order your first Plaine Products today! TheDebtist readers will receive 10% off of their purchase when the code thedebtist10 is entered at checkout. The shipping was quick, and hassle-free, with an option to subscribe to their products for regularly spaced deliveries, if simplicity is kind of your thing.

This post was sponsored by Plaine Products. All opinions are my own.

Getting to Know: Mandy Kordal of Kordal Studio

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Mandy Kordal is the founder of Kordal Studio, whose mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying their workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Their products are focused on knitwear made by experienced knitters based in both Lima, Peru & NYC. They create our garments using both handloom and Shima Seki whole garment knitting machines. Both processes create a fully fashioned product, meaning each piece is knit to the exact shape and there are no left over materials. All of their cut & sew wovens are produced in NYC and dyed at a local dye house in New Jersey. 

How did you start in the fashion industry? What inflection point inspired you to start a sustainable company?

​I studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program. During the course of the program, you are in school for half of the year and working in the industry for the other half. So, every summer and winter, I was traveling to a new city and working for fashion companies like Gap, Trovata, Hannah Marshall, etc. This was so helpful because I learned early on that I really loved working for smaller companies. After graduating I worked for a two years as an assistant designer, one year with Betsey Johnson and another year at Doori.
I don’t know if there was a specific point or moment that marked when I was inspired to start a sustainable company. I guess I approached starting my company the way I would begin any relationship. I wanted to treat the people I worked with well and with respect, to consider the impact on the environment, and to create beautiful quality clothing. Along the way, I worked freelance design jobs for larger companies to supplement my income and became very aware of the impact the fashion industry was having on the environment. The amount of over-sampling and textile waste alone was horrifying! In the end, I guess it was a combination of wanting to create a company that embodied my values and learning about the real impact this industry has on the environment, having our company be as sustainable as possible was the only option.

How did you find the courage to start?

I think any amount of courage came from my friends and family, who have been my champions since the beginning and I honestly couldn’t have started without their support and encouragement. But also, I was 25 when I started the company. Previously I had been working as an assistant designer making 30k a year in NYC, so I didn’t have much to lose! I was extremely lucky to not have student loans, I knew how to live in the city on very little money already, I didn’t have a family to support, etc. Those factors helped a lot! Not to say that is the only way, but it made the decision to start a little less scary.

What is Kordal’s mission statement? What do you hope to accomplish with your company, in terms of changing the way the fashion industry works?

​Our mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying our workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Our hope is that our existence as an alternative to fast-fashion, along with many of the other sustainable brands out there, provides customers with a choice. We have the power to change things through our purchases. We saw it with the food industry! Even Walmart now carries organic products because more and more customers purchased it. If all of these smaller brands can prove that investing in sustainable fashion is not only important but also profitable, then we can shift the thinking of the larger companies as well. At least that’s the hope!

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What requirements do you have to ensure a sustainable and slow fashion model?

My personal requirements are that all of our employees, vendors, makers are all paid a fair wage. That all of our fabrications and yarns are natural fibers that will eventually bio-degrade back into the earth, and as much as possible we are working with Organic Certified materials. We are also committed to reducing the amount of plastic use in our shipping and receiving, we recently made a switch to mesh reusable bags for all of our garments vs. working with poly bags.

In a very demanding industry such as fashion, how do you resist the pressure of creating for 52 seasons? How do you keep you and your brand grounded?

​Ha! Oh man, creating just two seasons is already insane at times! Are there really 52 seasons? I think we’ve been lucky to work with boutiques that share the same values as we do. We don’t work with large department stores for example, so we’re able set our own pace, more or less. I also think we’ve been able to stay grounded becaus​e we don’t have investors or external influences pushing us to produce more things faster It’s been self funded from the beginning, which means our growth has been slow and steady.
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How do you source fabric ethically? What other ways do you ensure ethical practices for your company?

​We are lucky to have a great community of sustainable designers here in NY, so when I’m trying to source a new denim fabrication, for example, I don’t have to start from square one. I can reach out to friends in this group to help begin my research. For designers starting out, I would recommend the BF+DA sourcing library. They’ve created a great sourcing library for all sustainable fabric and yarn vendors! Other ways to ensure ethical practices is to look for certifications from your vendors, such as Fair Trade or GOT.

In what ways can consumer’s contribute towards making a change away from fast fashion?

​Supporting smaller brands, asking the larger companies difficult questions, like “Who made my clothes?”, buying second-hand or vintage, and staying away from synthetic fabrics (they will stay in landfills for hundreds of years, just like plastic!).
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What governmental policies do you feel could go into effect that could improve the fashion industry?

​Import-Based Tax – I think if there was an tax on imported goods that would help level the playing field for domestic manufacturing. ​

Are there any particular podcasts or books about fashion that you could recommend to readers?

​Yes!
Conscious Chatter, this episode is really awesome!​
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast ​Fashion
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
The True Cost (documentary)
River Blue (documentary)

Slow Living: Slow Decision-Making on Having Children, or Not

It’s a funny thing, being married and not having children. Typically, the first question past somebody’s lips are, “Are you pregnant yet?”, regardless of their relationship to you, or lack thereof. “Yet” being the most offensive word in the entire inquiry. “Yet” as in, implying it was expected years ago. “Yet”, as in reminding every female of a biological clock ticking away in the distance. “Yet”, as if securing child-bearing as a factual part of every woman’s life, so as to rob her of freedom of choice.

We’ve had grandparents come up to us and tell us, “I want to have great-grandkids already (some of them already do, and still, their eyes turn to us)”, and our own parents saying “I want grandkids too!”. How noble of you to volunteer us for such an intensive endeavor. Sometimes I just want to tell them, in a very matter-of-fact way, that my purpose in life is not to serve them forever (oh, master), just as their calling in life is to not live through me forever (your highness).

Having children is a decision that I’ve tossed around, mulled over, succumbed to, and fought against. It’s a discussion that I’ve spilled out on the table to Mikey, and that we’ve shoved back into a closet. I have always been a very deliberate, and intentional person, who strives to have my actions reflect my values, although I was never able to recognize that before in my youth. My thinking has always been of a psychological nature. I was attracted to books that taught me more about the human nature than all my human interactions combined. Maybe that’s why I am deeply attracted to psychological thrillers, and equally, as deeply affected. I used to consider myself a secret rebel, because I had an urge to initially resist and go against whatever I was taught, with the assumption that what the world feeds me is not necessarily right. “A girl who thinks too much”, they said. I don’t think too much, I simply think. Whether that’s a short-coming on my part is debatable, one that I’d heatedly deny. Regardless, I continue to dissect my actions, my thoughts, my feelings to unfathomable depths until I reach some form of inner peace. This is just a small look into my extremely complicated, weirdo mind.

Child bearing is a concept whose importance is so heavily ingrained in a multitude of cultures, since the beginning of man-kind. There is a large part of myself that feels a resistance to the idea, despite being raised with the notion that this was my future written in stone. There was always this timeline that was assumed and impressioned on me, as I am sure it was impressioned on you. One that entails schooling, a career, marriage, a home, a new car, the first child or pet, a renovation of the home, the second child or pet, forty years of servitude to the man, and retirement on a Caribbean island. It’s a cycle that so many have lived through and wrongly romanticized, but we all don’t fit in the same shaped box that the world wishes to conform us to, do we now?

For many people, after marrying, they have this expectation of having kids as the next step. Whether they are aware of the puppet strings manipulating their decision to do that or not, it just “naturally” happens (tongue in cheek). It’s such a common assumption, that any random stranger meeting you for the first time and learning that you’re married will probably ask about your children within the first five minutes. This would occur in almost every part of the world.

It isn’t to say that having kids doesn’t turn out well. A majority of the time, it turns out wonderfully. It’s something that happens that many do not express regret over. It is, after all, a gift. Unfortunately, this does not mean that it was a decision that many people felt completely in control of. In fact, I would wager that a majority of people cannot completely explain why they chose to have kids in the first place. Answers I would typically hear include, “I wanted to experience the joys of motherhood”, “I wanted to embark on a journey with my husband”, “I want to learn from my children”, and “I wanted the challenge of raising a child right”. But these all sound like reiterations of extremely vague explanations-past that have no depth and crumble right after I ask the question, “Why?”

Some mothers immediately recognize their lack of control over the decision making process AFTER giving birth to their child. There is a line that is crossed wherein a person loses their singularity once a child is born. The unexpectedness of this loss, or the unpreparedness to understand that part of yourself (and your life) is now shared by someone else can be very depressing.

Post partum depression is increasing in occurrence among women in the United States. CDC research reports that nationally, 1 in 9 women experience post partum depression, and that some states, 1 in 5 women experience post partum depression. The cause is yet unknown and some would like to attribute it to hormonal changes, but there is no definitive truth. I took a Women’s Course once in college and I vividly remember research that argued that hormonal changes during menstruation and post partum actually cause women to have a heightened sense of awareness and a deeper connection spiritually and intuitively. In some indigenous cultures, these awakened abilities of women are so highly valued that women actually leave in groups once a month to go to the top of the mountains or in isolation somewhere to have the space to fully tap into this awareness. The class compares that to first world countries’ explanation of PMS, which could be the result of a woman’s awareness of their position or role in society, and the rage they feel at the injustice of it all. Likewise, post partum depression could be the sudden realization that they have just sacrificed a part of their lives for society. And while some may argue that hormonal changes could be the cause of depression, it is interesting to me that the risk factors and symptoms are non-hormonal at all, but rather societal.

Risk factors for Post Partum Depression Include

  • Difficulty getting pregnant.
  • Low social support.
  • Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
  • Being a teen mom.
  • Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications.
  • Having a baby who has been hospitalized.

Symptoms of Post Partum Depression Include

  • Feelings of anger.
  • Withdrawing from loved ones.
  • Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby.
  • Worrying that you will hurt the baby.
  • Feeling guilty about not being a good mom or doubting your ability to care for the baby.

This indicates to me that there is more to the depression than a scientific explanation of excessive neurochemicals floating around in one’s bloodstream. Whether it’s natural to feel our own humanness, or it’s due to a realization of an incomplete understanding of our undertaking, post partum depression at times happens but many are able to conquer it and move on to being fantastic and wonderful parents.

What I am going to say next may offend people because of my lack of experience in parenting and my statements regarding the task, but this is what I’ve observed and learned from deep discussions with current parents. Being a parent is romanticized as being a joy in life. A correction to that statement would be that it is a joy in life, at times. It cannot be denied that there are moments in parenting that are frustrating, infuriating, annoying, tiring, and downright unbearable. Raising a little human is much more difficult than raising a little fish. It requires more of ourselves than we would like to admit. It’s nice to pin on social media the good moments, the perfect family photo, the tenth photo you took that captures that “one moment” of child-like goodness, but it could also be extremely misleading to young would-be-parents to paint an image of perfection.

There is a devotion to being there for another human being that is required from all parents that I think really conflicts with my ambition to serve society with the aim of reaching a higher good. These two things are completely incompatible ends. There is going to come a point in my life, where my would-be child would likely ask me to play a game of hide-and-seek in the exact moment that I should be rushing out the door to get to work. I would have to either make a choice to play hide-and-seek without reserve or distraction for that child and be late to my first patient of the day, or to deny my child the game to see my first patient as promised. When I brought this up to Mike, he had the insight to say it could also be detrimental to both. Maybe you start the game of hide-and-seek which ends in frustration of being late and the need to end it early, thus resulting in you being a few minutes late for another human being. Now you’ve failed both the child and the patient. Which is why I am so angered by this idea of Life Work Balance that is being glamorized by the media. It’s this false lifestyle that can be really damaging to the human psyche. It’s an expectation that we have created, not only for women, but men and fathers too, that sets them up for failure. We pretend as if this can be transcended, when it can’t. It would be impossible for any human being to equally service everyone and everything at all times, day-to-day.

With that said, and with the knowledge of the human limitations for achieving SuperMom status, any devotion that I give to a fictitious child would hamper my strive to give to my community. Some might argue that you will be improving the community by raising a child right, with valued morals and principles, thus giving them the ability to contribute to THEIR community when they grow older. But isn’t that thinking a bit too much on the small-scale of things? I think I would have a greater effect on society if I could somehow touch multiple parents with my work. Whether that’s dentistry or my writing or my lifestyle. If I could influence a whole community of parents, whose child-rearing thinking, techniques and habits shift to raise a whole generation of better children, does that not make up for the one child I choose not to have? Instead of giving to one child, why not give to an entire world of children? I am not so egotistical as to think I would have this world-changing effect on society, but maybe I can change one or two or ten people through my work, who then pass it on to THEIR children, and is that not better already?

I was reading Ashlee Vance’s book on Elon Musk and an interview with Elon revealed to me that he was a huge proponent of procreation. Specifically, he reprimands smarter women for not procreating more. He notes the correlation between highly educated, career-driven, “successful and intellectual” women, and decreased child-bearing. He states that “smarter women” should have children, as an evolutionary responsibility to our race’s future. At first I was floored by this very influential and highly-educated man’s insistence on highly-educated women having children. For a second I was convinced. But then I had flashbacks from my evolutionary biology courses. Evolution is not generational. Evolution occurs over extremely long periods of time. It depends more on a mutational change that can permeate throughout the species and survive over numerous generations. Unless there is a mutational change that would make a smart woman’s child smarter than a regular human being, there is an unlikelihood that her having children will have an impact in the evolutionary progression of intelligence. Additionally, even if an intelligent woman has a child who is also more intelligent than his peers, there has to be the guarantee that that child will procreate with an equally intelligent human being. If the child procreates with someone with a lower IQ score, then there is no progress. There are other factors that could affect evolutionary intelligence. The technology which we are creating, at an increasingly rapid speed, is causing us as a species to access less and less of our brains. Atrophy of certain aspects of the brain due to an easier lifestyle can affect evolutionary intelligence more than the decision of one woman to have a child. Even something as simple as reading books, which was invented way before computers, is considered a fairly recent advancement in our society that arguably require us to draw less from niches in our brains that deal with imagination or memory.

Lastly, I would like to challenge the idea that intelligence is measured solely by biological factors. It has been discovered that IQ tests do not test intelligence alone, but rather motivation as well, which I would argue can be taught. Environmental factors can greatly shape a person’s motivation to learn. It would be wrongly assuming of anyone to think that a highly educated woman’s child will be born smarter than a child born in a third world country to two parents who work in factories. It has been shown time and time again that people from third world countries tend to tap into their potentials more than people from first world countries, given the same resources. Perhaps it is the survival-of-the-fittest in us all and an early introduction to how pressing the survival call actually is during our childhood years that help to shape this. Regardless, I think to myself at times, that maybe the smarter thing to do would be to not have children, but to give a child in need the resources and the ability to be able to reach their hidden potential.

I think this humanitarian ideal calls more to me now than ever before. There are plenty of children in this world already. I am one of those children who was born in a third world country. I have done outreach programs to third world countries multiple times in my life. I know that there is a need for help. Nicole Kidman’s role as Sue Brierly in Lion captured it best.

“Having a child, couldn’t guarantee it will make anything better. But to take a child that’s suffering like you boys were. Give you a chance in the world. That’s something.

I think about this quote all the time. I wonder about whether wanting children is a selfish thing. Historically, having children came from a selfish need to increase the number of hands on a farm, or a need to carry the family name that we so wear with pride. The more modern reasons for wanting children that I touched on above all insinuate a sense of selfish pleasure out of the entire experience. It would be wrong of me to say that having children is just yet another social status symbol that we portray to the world, saying we are successful and happy, although partially, I believe that is true. Congratulations, yet another box you’ve checked off on your to-do list! Off course, I wouldn’t deny in the same breath that there is more to it than that. But the reasons that I hear always center around “I”. “I wanted to experience the joys of motherhood”. “I wanted to embark on a journey with my husband”. “I want to learn from my children”. “I wanted the challenge of raising a child right”.

But what is it that we want to give? And can we do that with what we already have?

The game plan for me was always to have children of my own. But it’s on pause right now, while I try to riddle through past influences and determine whether that choice was really made by me, or by someone else. This is just the transitional phase, and as with any transitional phase, it involves some heavy soul-searching, unearthing, and re-configuring. Undoubtedly, it would be insane of me, and completely degrading, if I decide to have children simply because someone else wants me to. Then again, people will call me insane for digging this deeply on a decision that some would unwittingly make in a heartbeat. There is a sense of “Hurry up already!” that we feel, like a scent seeping into a room. But as with everything else … slow and intentional, mindful and true.