Less Waste: Compost Bins

It’s been a while since I’ve touched on the topic of less waste, but there’s nary a day when I don’t think about our environmental impact nor is there a day that I haven’t spent every fiber of my being to reduce my own carbon footprint. We’ve cut our plastic purchases drastically since starting this intentional life, refusing to buy groceries in plastic packaging, avoiding takeout, and carrying our own reusable cups, utensils, and to-go containers. But still, I wanted something next level. What many people view as waste is actually a source of nutrients. The only real waste is the by-product of non-organic and non-biodegradable stuff, which we’ve tried to cut out of our life. Now that we’ve limited non-organic materials in our household, it’s time I turned my eyes, and this blog’s attention, towards composting.

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It isn’t something recent. I have been in search of composting options in Orange County for almost a year. Tales of composting services in grander metropolitan cities had me enamored. I was imagining a life of compost bins in freezers with weekly (or monthly, I’m not picky) pick-up services. I was drooling over the idea of a local drop-off site that I could walk to. Alternatively, dreams of connecting with local farmers as I help create fertilizer for their fields materialized.

Unfortunately, those thoughts were immediately dashed upon the realization that there are no public composting options in Orange County, AT ALL. I had called the Department of Waste Management, admittedly on multiple occasions, only to be told that there is no current existing composting service and neither will there be one in the near future. I asked the HOA if we could create a composting program in our community. I reached out to local farms, and despite having their own composting activity at their site, they could not welcome more composting from the public due to limited facilities. I read, called, spoke, to no avail. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

We currently live in a two-story loft with no land of our own. Research regarding composting generally led to the reminder that we are lacking garden space (see also: fruit and vegetable garden patch dreams). And while I’ve come across posts on how to compost in a plastic bin numerous times, I had my doubts. Yet, here I am. Desperate times, I suppose. Or rather, it’s about time I stopped wallowing and started doing.

As with any first-time experimental venture, I did “extensive research”, which really only entailed googling the words “at-home-compost” (or something to that effect) and reading the first few websites. Thankfully, a sweet girl that I had met at a local farm tour dedicated some time to walk me through the entire process and patiently answer my questions. She began the conversation with, “For many people, it is very difficult to get composting to work in an apartment space.” Challenge accepted.

I purchased a lidded plastic bin (the irony doesn’t escape me), with drill holes in the bottom of it that remains open to another tub that catches, who knows what. Dirt perhaps? Runaway worms?

Oh yeah. That’s the part I forgot avoided to mention. It’s a worm bin. I took some dirt from the aforesaid farm’s existing composting site at the lovely girl’s suggestion, in the hopes that I’d also gather some hidden worms in the process. To my dismay, they weren’t so hidden. To my other dismay, they also weren’t quite enough, which then required me to purchase worms from a farm supply store in Orange County. I picked up 300 Red Wiggler Worms, and the name itself gives me the goosebumps. I’m not the girliest of girls, but snakes and eels are my biggest fears, and worms and other legless things are close contenders. But they are enthusiastic eaters, eating their weight in waste per day, so I knew they had to be the ones. I walked away from the farm supply store holding a bucket of worms at arm’s length. That’s how determined I was, yet not so determined that I didn’t wait for my husband and roommate to get home before having THEM do the transferring of worms from one bucket to the other.


Before detailing how to fill the bin, may we dissociate from what can and cannot count as compostable materials? Two types of waste can enter the bin: green waste and brown waste. Green waste includes things like coffee grinds (aplenty at our residence), egg shells (a common by-product of a baker), and vegetable and fruit peels and scraps. It is imperative to point out that not all food waste can go into a composting bin. Meats, dairy products and oils are foods that one must avoid putting in the bin. Brown waste, on the other hand, involves things such as egg cartons, cardboard, paper, and dead leaves fallen from indoor and outdoor houseplants. It should go without saying that anything with a plastic film cannot be de-composted.

Setting up the bin is theroretically easy. It involves a layering process. The formula that I followed was a layer of brown waste at the bottom, followed by a layer of dirt from the farm. I then placed a layer of green waste, followed by Red Wiggler worms. After the worms, I added a layer of moist brown waste that covered the bin entirely and was at least 2-3 inches thick.

Subsequent additions to the compost bin require a layer of green waste, topped by 2-3 inches of brown waste. Since our bin has limited space for a household of three people, we maximize our layers by placing a bowl in the freezer to collect green waste over the course of a week. The freezer keeps the green waste from rotting until we add it to the bin. Junk mail and egg cartons as well as cardboard have been sufficient in providing the necessary brown waste, which we collect in an old shoe box in the garage.

Aforementioned research indicates that frequent turning of the soil will improve the de-composting process. We plan to turn the soil at least once a week, just before adding more green waste, using a trowel. For the brave, bare hands or a stick will do.

Airflow is equally important. By using brown waste that are a bit bulky (shredded newspapers and weirdly shaped egg cartons), we allow air flow to occur. We never mash down the brown waste when we add it. I have also read that too much of one thing will prevent a successful compost bin. You don’t want a bin dedicated entirely to coffee grinds. It’s helpful to add a variety of green waste, to provide a large array of nutrients to the soil.

So now the question to address is where to keep such a bin in a tiny home? Suggestions included underneath the sink, but the thought of flies and bugs and worms in the kitchen will prevent me from peaceful sleep. Another suggestion was outdoors, but since we only have a tiny balcony, we decided against it. Plus, I think outdoor bins may attract more bugs and flies than indoor bins. Eventually, we settled on the garage, in the hopes that people were honest in saying that composting does not result in flies or stray worms. Only time will tell.

Overall, the process to set up was easy. I think the hard part comes next. Just as learning to understand plant growth takes time and experience, so too will composting have a learning curve. Some cons include limited space in our bin, which may run out more quickly than in other households considering how we cook everything from scratch. Another downside is the need to spend money in order to get this set up. It isn’t expensive by any means, but it isn’t free either. Lastly, the need to purchase a bin of some sort irks me. Plastic seems to be the best material, but I haven’t calculated whether the composting process would offset this initial ‘investment’, if successful.

Updates coming your way soon.

For those in OC wondering where we got our bin, visit the ecology center in SJC.

Slow Living: Early Morning Routine

Early mornings speak to me, and always have. This isn’t to say that I have always been the first one up at the crack of dawn. That would be my sister. And admittedly, I have a history in my family of sleeping in when I can. But I am the person who is quick with getting up. Not in the rushed sort of way, but when my eyes flutter open and I wipe away the sleep, my energy levels are already almost at one hundred percent. There isn’t any need to roll around in bed, dawdle in the covers, pretend that it was still night time. And stepping outdoors in the wee hours when the sun has just peeked over the horizon to lend the few stray rays of light is probably one of my favorite feelings in the world. Granted, it’s California, and there’s no need to fight off a bone-shaking cold (most of the year, anyway), but there’s something about the way mornings smell that really attracts the soul. It smells fresh, and full of opportunity.


As of late, I’ve definitely honed in to a new early morning routine what with taking on the early morning baker’s shift at Rye Goods. Three days a week, I begin my days at one thirty in the morning, early enough for the late night party-goers in downtown Santa Ana to still be mingling back to their cars on their way home. Although the getting up is a bit rough, I set my alarm at the very last second so that there isn’t any other choice but to get up right away, and once I’m up, I’m going. My first few hours of the day entail baking off over one TWO hundred pastries and loaves with a fellow baker. This may seem like a fast-paced job, but there is a slowness to bread that only a baker will understand.

Our mission: to be finished with baking by five thirty in the morning so that the delivery crew can get these baked goods to local coffee shops in time for opening.

Our job: a smattering of duties that requires presence of mind, but at the same time, has become memorized by rote motions. The danishes get a dash of sugar, the cookies get sprinkled with sea salt, but oh, do remember that there are five minutes left for the pop-tarts before they start to turn too dark of a color. We have a timeline, but the baking can’t be rushed. The pastries will proof on their own time, the bread will take almost half an hour to rise, and you can’t cut the banana bread until it’s calm and cool.

At six in the morning, I leave the bakery smelling like bread, and you would think, tired from lifting trays of pastries, juggling sixteen lodge pans, and washing a ton of dishes. But in general, I walk out with a smile on my face to the sound of birds chirping as they wake to greet the morning sun. I see the lights inside neighbors’ homes, turned on as they prepare for a day of work. I catch a hint of the first few rays of morning light. Sometimes, I even finish my shift before the sun is ready to get up. I walk to my car with a sense of peace.

On these mornings that I bake bread, I come home to a cat, ready and begging for his breakfast, and a still sleeping husband who stirs when I walk up the stairs. I feed the cat, turn on the coffee machine in case it’s an espresso kind of day to allow it to heat up, and feed my starter. I’ll either do a smattering of movements around the kitchen, like put away last night’s dishes or organize a few things, or sometimes I’ll change out of my bakers clothes and sidle into bed for thirty minute rest before my husband wakes.

When he gets up for work, I usually get up, too. I prepare breakfast, pour coffee if needed, and write down a to-do list in my planner. We prepare our lunches (usually, baker days are my days off from dentistry), sit down for breakfast, and talk about what we have for the day or what we dreamt of at night while sipping from mugs of coffee. Occasionally, our roommate joins us as she prepares her lunch prior to heading off to work.

By eight thirty, they both leave for work, and I wash our dishes, pick up the the cat litter, clean around a bit while my energy is still high, and then when the house has quieted from the absence of both my husband and roommate, I lie down to make up for lost sleep and nap for a few hours.


On days when I am not a bread baker, I also practice slow mornings. After a good night’s sleep, I wake up around the same time that I would be getting home from my bread baking shift. If I am a bit sleepy, the cat is sure to let me know that it’s time to eat. I usually slip out of bed, and the first thing I do is pick up the glass of water by my bedside. I finish the left over water, which usually is full from when I’ve placed it there the night before, and walk to the kitchen counter while the cat runs and meows. I refill his kitty bowl, and when he’s busy eating, I refill my glass, and walk slowly back to bed. The cat will join us when he’s done.

It is at this time that I pick up the book that I had lain on the floor by my house slippers, and open it up to read. If I’m lucky, I’ll get thirty minutes before my husband wakes. Thirty minutes of reading is a habit that I started to require of myself this year. It’s a way to give myself that self-care. Thirty minutes is never enough.

By the time my husband is out of the shower, we repeat some of the same activities that we do on my days off. However, once the morning conversations and tidying up has ended and the house is all to myself once again (my dentistry shifts don’t usually start until 11am), I usually sit down on my yoga mat and do my daily hour of yoga in the first few hours of my day. (On baker days, I reserve yoga for the first few moments after I wake up from my morning nap). I don’t do yoga as a chore to be done, another check box to be addressed, another golden star next to my name. I do yoga to take stock. To notice how my body is feeling, to gauge how I should treat myself for the rest of the day. If there’s a soreness, then I need to be slower in my movements. If there’s a tension, then I need to be lighter in my mood. If there’s impatience, then it’s a day to practice grace. Once I’ve figured out what I need for the day, it begins.

I sit down at my computer and write. Not always for this blog. Sometimes for others, sometimes, only for myself. Sometimes I pick up a pen, and other times, I turn on the screen. Not always in paragraph form, sometimes I write short poems to share, mini-monologues for Instagram, lists of dreams for my planner. Sometimes, I even do the bland and write e-mails.

And therein lies another habit that I gift myself. First the reading, then the yoga, now the writing. All of these I try to do daily, and all of these I sneak into my morning routine. Notice that when you add bread to the mix, I essentially do everything that I love in during my first few waking hours. I set up my day not for success, as would be ideal for most people, but for a bit of happiness, a bit of calm, and a whole lot of life.

I make a huge effort to not pick up my phone in those first few hours. The phone used to be the first thing I touched when I opened my eyes. It’s the first thing people do, judging from how many people view my Instastories after an early morning baking shift. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. But embracing slow-living means avoiding the fast-paced interruptions of social stories, advertisements, and overall digital consumption that goes hand-in-hand with a phone. In fact, since we’ve moved to this home (six months ago!), my phone has not rested at my bedside table, but rather, at a far-away-sill where one must get up with awareness to go and pick it up.

I also make an effort to not open my emails until I’ve done other things. I’m not ready to jump straight-away into doing what other people need from me. I want to have the time for myself, for my life. The e-mail requests can wait a few hours. My mind needs the reset.

Lastly, I like to avoid additional noise. My sister and brother love to turn on music in the mornings, especially during their morning shower. My husband loves to peruse reddit and watch videos once he can pry his eyes from sleep. My dad turns on the TV. I avoid all forms. I’m not exactly a music hater but for the past few years, I’ve really embraced the silence. Even my commute to work is quiet. I would occasionally listen to a podcast, but most days, I drive without distraction. I’d prefer to be without cacophony. So it makes sense that no music plays in the early mornings. The sounds you would hear would be the birds chirping, the cat meowing, the cars on their work commute driving by the window, the keyboard click-clacking, the coffee dripping, the sound of me crunching on a slice of toast, and maybe the computer humming.

It goes without saying that the early mornings are for me, and me alone. And that slow living requires not so much that you do things slow, or that you do less. Only Instagram would have you believing this is so. Slow living is really, at the root of it, about intentionality. And I live every morning with as much intention as I can muster. Only the most important things are allowed in those first few hours. It sets up the rest of your day for, maybe not success, but something much more important which is happiness.
Whatever happens to the rest of the day happens. But it’s nice to know that by 9am, you’ve already lived your very best.

More importantly, what about you guys? Morning routines to share?

Hummingbird Birthday Cake

When it comes to birthday celebrations, I am a firm believer in home-made cake. Anyone can go to the store and pay for a cake, but it will likely be missing some of the magic. There may be some joy in the tippy-toeing over counters and selection of icing color, but there won’t be that love and care delicately (or not so delicately) folded into the flour, tucked underneath the frosting. I think the best presents come in the form of chocolate cookies made from scratch, so it just follows that the cake must also come from human hands, not a machine. All the better when it’s from someone dear.

Last week we threw a birthday party for my mother-in-law. We hosted a dinner with both our parents and the grandparents, gathering around a table of freshly baked brioche buns, home-made turkey patties, and fresh produce in that construct-your-own-hamburger kind of way. Obviously, I baked a cake for celebrations sake, one that I think is worth sharing. The recipe itself isn’t my doing. I must admit that I stole that from The Kinfolk Table, a book that we saw sitting on the shelves of an AirBNB in Melbourne and one that I am currently going through, trying one recipe a week. All have been wonderful additions to my stash of recipes, but none have been as fitting or fantastic as the Hummingbird Cake.

The Hummingbird Cake is the type that one reserves especially for birthdays. Don’t ask me about the name, because its source is left unknown. It has all the special-ness without, say, the fuss. It can be whipped up in a jiffy, and the steps can be broken up around the gift-wrapping and the house-decorating. The ingredients are easily accessible year-round, and the decorating is made easier by the handful of pecans scattered on top to cover the frosting technique. In other words, it’s newbie-baker approved.

I made a few alterations to the original recipe, but the basics still stand. I knew it was a doozy when my roommate ate half of the excess cake that I had sliced off in order to produce flat cake layers. She said it was the best thing she’s ever tasted, and diligently ate away at the left-over cake crumbs, sans icing. I knew it was a killer when our 82-year old grandma exclaimed, “I would literally DIE for this cake” after her first bite. Someone who just survived a recent-knee surgery shouldn’t be making jokes like that. The true test, however, was when our picky grandpa who does not even eat CHEESE or anything more adventurous than beef and potatoes finished his entire slice without a word. That alone says enough.

For me, I think it holds a hint of a memory that is buried in the recesses of my happy, unhealthy childhood. Mornings spent with my mama’s banana bread in hand, or cutting into a fresh pineapple cake. Also, there’s nothing as sentimental as the way my mother-in-law’s eyes lit up when she saw that I had baked her a birthday cake, and the way three colorful candles looked alit atop. The birthday song sung by everyone in the room in the dim kitchen lighting really set the tone for this cake and what was once reserved for someone else’s family’s traditional birthday cake now became one of our own.

May all your birthday cakes be baked by someone you love, for all the future birthdays to come.

Hummingbird Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 28 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 460 grams Bob’s Red Mill Pastry Flour
  • 350 grams bananas
  • 400 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 grams baking soda
  • 3 grams ground cinnamon
  • 6 grams salt
  • 3 large eggs, beaten and at room temperature
  • 360 milliliters vegetable oil
  • 227 grams crushed pineapple
  • 7.5 milliliters vanilla extract
  • 255 grams organic pecans, chopped

For the icing:

  • 227 grams cream cheese at room temperature (equivalent to one 8 oz packaged cream cheese)
  • 113.5 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 454 grams confectioner’s sugar
  • 5 milliliters vanilla extract

The Process:

For the cake:

  1. I make this cake with two layers, and icing in the middle. I use two 9-inch round cake pans in order to achieve this, and spray the insides with coconut spray. Preheat ovens to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven. It is here that you will bake off both pans.
  2. Finely chop the bananas. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until you no longer see any specks of dry ingredients. Fold in the bananas. Stir in the pineapple, vanilla, and half of the pecans. Reserve the other half of the pecans for topping the cake.
  3. Divide the batter equally between both pans, ad set them on the middle rack. Bake, rotating halfway, for a total of 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean. Transfer the cakes to racks and cool in the pans for ten minutes before inverting out. Inverting too soon can compromise the structure of the cake. After cooling, invert them directly onto a rack and cool for at least one hour.
  4. After the cake has cooled, trim off the excess on the tops of the cake, to get nice flat cake layers.

For the icing:

  1. While the cake cools, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Decrease the speed to low and add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla gradually. Beat until light and fluffy, about another three minutes.
  2. To assemble, start with a bottom cake layer. Spread the frosting on top of it and sprinkle with some pecans. Then stack the second cake layer on top. Ice the cake on the sides and the top with the rest of the cream cheese frosting using a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining pecans on top of the cake, to cover a newbie frosting job.
Can’t frost to save your life?
No problem! Its a home made cake. Proof is in the icing.

Repeat for special birthdays to come.

Personal Finance First Step: Mastering the Budget

If you are embarking on a personal finance journey, then let’s get you started on the right footing. Step one begins with mastering a budget. Some may scoff at me and say that I know nothing about becoming rich and getting to financial freedom. They laugh and say that I must not realize that reaching financial freedom lies in increasing income, rather than decreasing spending. But I know something that they don’t know.

You can increase your income, and never be financially free. It’s just a quick fix attempt, and usually, quick fixes do not work. In order to really tackle your personal finance, you need to start with the basics. You can’t just jump ahead to making a ton of money, because without mastering a budget, you’ll likely never see that extra money you make. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll spend it before it even gets to your bank account.

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Now I’m not naive enough to believe that mastering your budget is all it takes. I agree that there are limitations to mastering a budget. One can only cut their spending so much. On the flip side, one can increase their income exponentially…indefinitely, perhaps.

I, myself, am well aware of the need to increase income. I worked three jobs while going to undergrad to increase my income, but I also graduated in three years in order to cut spending. I was one of the few students who worked during dental school, just to make a little extra money. And even now, am a side-hustler of sorts. I work in dentistry, write on my own blog, write for other blogs, walk dogs via Rover, work the midnight shifts as a bread baker with Rye Goods, and bake my own bread to sell (currently I am applying for a license to open my own “bakery”). But before all of this, I mastered my budget.

Here’s the thing. I know many people who are high income earners. I define high income earners as people who make six digit incomes or more. Most of them are also swimming in debt. This debt includes car loans, mortgage loans, student loans, and even consumer debt. Unfortunately, lifestyle creep is real, and unless you’re well-versed in staving off advertisements who are convincing you to spend more as you earn more, you will likely be one of the top targets (and victims) of lifestyle inflation.

There’s a statistic swimming around that 80% of Americans do not have $2,000 set aside in an emergency fund. Eighty percent! The part that gets me is the fact that $2,000 won’t even cover most true emergencies. Medical bills are way more than $2,000. If something happens to your home, or someone loses a job, $2,000 won’t last most people one month in Southern California. While it’s hard to confirm the statistic, for they do have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and start floating around, I can confirm that many patients that I meet don’t have the income to jump into an emergency dental procedure right away. Yet many of them are working their tails off (I can’t tell you how many nightguards I’ve diagnosed to help with stressful grinding habits), and earning decent pay, and still, they have to “save up” to treat a tooth in pain. And trust me, you wouldn’t put off treating a tooth that really hurts, unless you absolutely have to. It’s a feeling one never forgets.

People are working longer hours and making more money, but are saving less and less. We’ve been raised to be consumers. It’s not an anti-consumerist society, I can tell you that. But we haven’t been taught how to be SMART consumers. I was never taught how to ration out my earnings. I was never taught to pay myself first. I was told that good credit is GOOD. Wrong. Good credit is bad, and bad credit is worse. People without credit history probably are the best with handling their money. (This does not mean they are the richest. Just that they are really good at handling money).

All of this to say, you can try to get rich by working your butt off. You can spend all the hours of your day for forty years of your life trying to make enough money, and then some. But you can’t be successful if you don’t know how to manage it. You can try to take the short cut, the quick way to success. But that’s what most Americans are doing, and eighty percent of them don’t have $2,000 set aside for emergencies.

If you were to take my advice, I’d say start mastering your budget. If that’s something you’ve wanted to do in 2019 but haven’t had the chance, check out my free course How to Create a Budgeting Tool, and get started today!

A Parent’s Guide: Valentine Kisses

The Dental Series was created in collaboration with Bogobrush in an attempt to make dental health care not only important, but COOL, too! In it, we answer common questions and address current topics in the dental field. When Bogobrush is not helping spread the word about oral healthcare, they act as a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program catering low-income communities that may not have access to something as simple as a toothbrush.


I sat down on Valentine’s Day to write a post. I wasn’t sure what to write about at the time, but the feeling of love was all around. Suddenly it dawned on me. I thought of kisses, specifically those that befall on children’s heads. Parents kissing their children on the lips, as if to say “I love you, and don’t you forget it”. I’ve seen it often, too, as a simple gesture signaling comfort. A mother kissing a child good luck in the waiting room, as the child is called into the back of the dental office for x-rays. A father kissing a child in tears, telling them to be brave and good, as he holds their hand during the first dental visit. I’ve seen a mother cooing a baby to sleep while her teenager gets a cleaning, and kissing her darling baby goodnight. I’ve seen it over and over again, the kiss, this symbol of love.

Then, I think to myself, “do people know?”

Babies Are Born Cavity Free

Do people know that babies are born cavity-free? This isn’t because they don’t have teeth, but rather, because all babies are born without the bacteria that causes cavities — Streptococcus mutans, if you want to address it by name. Like other bacterial infections, acquiring this bacteria requires exposure. In fact, the only way to have cavity-causing bacteria is through someone else’s saliva. And guess whose first on the list to expose babies to cavity-causing bacteria?

That’s right! The child’s immediate family is usually the first people to expose the little one to cavity-causing bacteria. My mind races with images of parents sharing their meals and feeding young children food from a mother or father’s plate, while the little ones swing their knees above floors they can’t yet reach. I think of the way we teach children how to drink from a glass, by demonstrating with our cups, and then asking them to mimic the motions. I think of ice cream cones shared on a summer day, peanut butter sandwiches with alternating bites. I have even seen parents chew their baby’s food for easier eating, then spitting it out and feeding it to them. That isn’t foreign to me at all. We’ve all seen pacifiers drop from a baby’s mouth or a baby’s hand. The next scene is familiar. Usually, the parent picks up the pacifier and rather than returning it to the baby dirty, they stick it in their mouth to clean it, before handing it back.

The truth of the matter is, parents share saliva with their babies all the time (as do brothers and sisters). But do parents know that this is how babies catch those cavity-causing bacteria early on?

It’s Nobody’s Fault

When I tell people that their one-year old has sugar bugs on their teeny tiny baby teeth, parents often look at me with shock. How could their precious baby have sugar bugs so early? What did they do wrong? When I follow it up by saying that their child probably caught it from someone at home, they look at me like I’ve just offended them. “You mean to tell me this is my fault?” they would say. No, I am not saying it is your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It just happens. Just like someone with a cold can transfer it to another person in their surroundings, bacteria in your saliva just, well, transfers. So, what can we do to prevent it from transferring?

Preventing Baby Cavities

I think it would be highly impractical to tell all parents to refrain from kissing their kids on the lips all-together. In fact, I think some parents would have a melt-down, even though I know some dentists do tell them anyway. If we are being completely honest, that would definitely help prevent early cavity formation. But the other truth is, parents will still want a way to show their love. So if it’s impractical to suggest it, let’s talk about the alternatives.

  • Limit the sharing of saliva among family members. The more you limit the sharing of saliva, the better you control the spread of cavity-causing bacteria. Refrain from sharing plates of food, cups, and drinks.
  • Make sure everyone in the family has a healthy mouth. Visit the dentist and keep cavity-causing bacteria under control. Make sure that both parents are cavity-free, so that they have less cavity-causing bacteria to spread. The best thing a parent can do is address their own dental issues to protect their children. It’s important to have siblings ! And anyone else who gives that baby a kiss, or a bite of food to eat. (P.S.: This applies to adults as well. Making sure your significant other and all loved ones are on top of their dental game helps YOU, too.)
  • Watch their diet. Diet plays a huge factor in cavity formation. Once children have cavity-producing bacteria, those bacterial species will be in search of sugary treats. Babies should be weaned off of sippy cups and bottles as soon as possible. We recommend not using a sippy cup later than one years old. Falling asleep with a bottle in hand and milk on teeth is no good on the dental front. Juice drinks are the worst, followed by sticky candies and sweet treats.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene. A baby can catch the cavity-causing bacteria even before their teeth first make an appearance. It is during this stage that we must really be diligent about good oral hygiene. We don’t want cavities to form as the teeth are erupting. We want to make sure to brush any sticky and sugary foods and drink from the baby teeth. Maintaining good oral hygiene will help prevent cavities from forming, despite being in the presence of cavity-causing bacteria.

Frugal Challenge: Gather Your Tribe

They say that you’re as good as the five people you spend the most time with. As cliche as that sounds, I can’t deny it’s power, especially when it comes to frugality. The role that being intentional has on your success of accomplishing whatever it is that moves you is huge. And while I joke that Mr. Debtist counts for four of those five people, I can seriously say that I wouldn’t have found as much progress on this journey I call life, if it were not for the humans that I have had the pleasure of interacting with. I would not be able to live my frugal life, if I was always surrounded by spend-thrifts, or worse, the Joneses themselves. Imagine trying to save, but only having friends and family whose idea of hanging out is to check out the latest bar or restaurant… every weekend! It would either be an utter financial failure, or a very isolating life. So for this month’s frugal challenge, I think it’s worth starting with a very important event: Gathering your tribe.

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It may seem extremely unkind to say, but when I started on this path of intentionality, I took a real hard look at my relationships. ALL of my relationships. And while I may not have done it in the most graceful of ways, I pretty much treated relationships as I did things, and I de-cluttered a lot of them in one fell swoop. For those who weren’t very close, I just stopped reaching out, which worked well because they never tried to figure out why we ever stopped talking anyway. But for those who were close, I did have a conversation with them before letting them go. I thanked them for their time and their friendship, and in the same breath said, “It’s not you, it’s me.” It was like breaking up with a loved one, over and over again. I messaged them and told them where I was going and how I could not continue to lead the same lifestyle. I explained what about their lifestyle I didn’t think fit in with mine, and I said farewells with open-ended statements like, “If you ever want to come over and play board games and just hang out instead of getting happy hour every Thursday, my door is open.” For the really toxic ones, filled with hate and stress and just really negative ways of thinking, I explained that I just wanted to detox from negative vibes and am pursuing a path focused on gratefulness and humility.

To which they probably thought, “Bitch.”

But in my head, I was thinking, they deserved an explanation, at least. It wasn’t that they were bad people. They were just in a different place. Maybe I just wasn’t rich enough to keep up. Maybe I didn’t suffer enough to understand. Maybe I was too introverted to socialize, secretly looking for a way out. Perhaps, it REALLY was me, and I was too insensitive to relate. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have cut some of them out completely. I should have probably left more open doors. But I was on a mission, thinking more clearly than I ever thought in my life, and I was determined to move forward.

At first, I thought I made a mistake. Until I realized that I was breathing easier, like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Like I no longer had to hide or pretend who I really was. I thought to myself, “Okay, now people REALLY know me. And either they’ll hate me, or they’ll accept me.” It was scary at first, but de-cluttering relationships was like jumping from one cliff to the next. You know that the only way forward is to jump. It’s just a matter of taking that leap of faith. But when I did, I landed safely on soft sand. All the tension that I had been carrying with me seemed to melt. It’s crazy how much stress I was adding to my life trying to please everyone and make everyone happy. I realized that I was trying to conform myself to groups I really had no business being in.

The funny thing is, when you jump to the other side, you get up and brush off scraped knees, only to turn around and find that some people jumped with you. This is when I first started to see who my real friends are. Interestingly, it was as if I had changed a part of them too, by talking openly about my life. Suddenly, friends that I used to go out with frequently started taking turns with me in hosting weeknight dinners. I’m not talking about elaborate meals. Some days, one of us would order pizza. Or I would serve grilled cheese on fresh bread. Someone would bring a case of beer, or we would pop open a bottle of wine. We would get together straight after work, and whoever didn’t work that day often prepped the meal. We gathered over board games that would take hours to play, and I opened up to video games that I was surprisingly very bad at. We would sit down and just talk, for hours. I became much closer to my family, too. My brother started working with me at the dental office, his girlfriend became our roommate, and we had dinner with our parents an average of once a week (even though I saw my parents three times a week on top of that). Seeing the results, I started to talk about it more, h e r e , in this space.

I turned around to take a step forward in my journey, and that’s when I started to meet new people. Some of you. I was shocked at how many people thought in much the same way. I met people practicing zero waste, people practicing slow living, people protesting against fast fashion, people trying to live frugal lives and reach financial independence, and more. Amongst all those groups, there was an strong unifying similarity. All of these groups experienced serious overlap. I’d like to think of us as The Outsiders. Outcasts and rebels.

The club that no one wants to belong to is incredibly bonding. Perhaps because none of us wanted to join, we cling to one another.

Option B

Slowly, I began to find my tribe. The place where I really belonged. We aren’t magically born into the perfect cohort. Sometimes, it requires some seeking. Other times, a tweaking. And once I started surrounding myself with people whose hearts beat to the same drum, a snowball effect started to take place. I started to learn about ways to become more intentional, I started to make headway with the debt, I started to gain traction with what I was trying to do, and for the first time in my life, I started to know who I was. I became comfortable in my skin. All the extra noise, the insecurities, the vicious whispers, it all fell away. The monkey mind ceased to exist, and I had the mental bandwidth to make changes that I wanted to see for myself, and for future generations. I was making an impact. But what people don’t understand, is that it was because my tribe was making an impact on ME.

So how does this help one to be frugal? (I always seem to be long-winded with these posts, I know.) It’s easier to be frugal when you aren’t trying to keep up with friends. When you don’t need to feel the guilt when saying “no” to mani-pedi dates, bar-hopping nights, or straight-up gorging over pretty food. When your friends can actually connect and converse with you, without paying for a distraction that substitutes for that connection. When socializing does not equate to spending.

It’s easier to be frugal when you are surrounded by people who are trying to do the same. You become exposed to different frugal life hacks and are inspired by the creative ways in which we can cut back, without depriving. You share with people accomplishments, such as setting up your first retirement fund, or hitting all your budgeting goals, and you drive each other to do better next month. You start to network, and meet people who propel you forward, people willing to help you, say in case you are swimming in student debt. You have a posse, and in having one, create change.

“Resilience is not just built in individuals. It is built among individuals – in our neighborhoods, schools, towns and governments. When we build resilience together, we become stronger ourselves and form communities that can overcome obstacles and prevent adversity. “

Option B

I’m happy to be an outsider. I am grateful for my student debt, because it propelled me down a path that I would never have known if I had grown up having it all. I am proud of my story, and what I’ve done to shape it. But more importantly, I am hyperaware of the influences my tribe has made on me, which I value more than any influence I may make on you. I am constantly reminded that it isn’t I, alone, walking down this road. Next to me are people armed and ready to fight the nay-sayers, with four versions of Mr. Debtist, leading the pack. And that gives me strength to take another step forward.

Finances: How Marriage Can Affect Student Loan Repayment

A few months ago, I had a friend and colleague call me and ask me the following question: “What happens to my student loans if I choose to get married?” In the same breath, she went on to explain that she had been delaying her marriage for months because she was fearful of how that would affect her finances.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her, feeling like she had to choose between marrying the man who she describes as her “number one supporter and best friend”, or her student debt. The concern was that she and he both had student debt, and they were both currently under the loan forgiveness program. Which meant that separately, they were both paying a percentage of their income towards the loans. She feared that getting married meant combining their incomes which would create a higher total income number and which therefore would require them to make an even higher monthly payment on BOTH of their student loans. So here I am, walking through some of the basic info, just like I did with her on that far away phone call. I hate seeing student loans get in the way of, well, l i f e , and I want to say to all of you the same advice I said to her. Life is too short, for numbers to be the only factor. I hope this helps.

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We all know that we bring into our marriages our past experiences, the perceptions shaped by those events, and other baggage (suitcases of?) that we may be carrying. Student loans is more commonly becoming one of those suitcases, or if you’re like me, loads of suitcases. As student debt numbers continue on the rise, it seems to become a bigger deciding factor than ever before.


The fact that student loans are preventing people from getting married seems ridiculous, but it’s a fact that exists none-the-less. My friend was not the first to delay getting married because of student debt concerns. In fact, I frequently get calls regarding student loans after a recent marriage. I have people all of a sudden interested in a CFP after tying the knot, because now, their professional pursuits are affecting other people they care about. More than that, it’s affecting their futures. I’ve spoken openly about how my own marriage is what motivated me to get rid of debt. In addition to marriage, I have had people confess that it’s prevented them from pursuing passions, changing career paths, buying a home, and also, starting a family. But it shouldn’t.

Here’s how marriage affects those under the student loan forgiveness plan.

Will my student debt affect my spouse?

Technically, your student debt will only be tied to your name. Even if you get married, your spouse will not be responsible for paying off your debt. An exception to this rule is if you decide to refinance your loan and have your spouse co-sign. Co-signing puts your spouse on the hook for your loans. I would not recommend refinancing if it requires having someone else sign their name. I wouldn’t want to burden even my worst enemy with this debt. If you refrain from doing this, then the student debt will stay with whoever originally took out the loan, and that’s it.

But it does not mean it won’t affect the other individual. Take my case for example. I have a student debt payment of $6,500 a month for almost ten years. That means that every month, that’s $6,500 less than what my spouse or I can use to live our life. It’s that much less that we can put towards paying down our mortgage, or setting aside to travel. Or, if my spouse hypothetically had loans of his own, then it would be $6,500 less that we can contribute to his debt.

So the short answer is yes. It does affect your spouse and family in the grand scheme of things. Which was my number one motivator to get rid of the debt faster than they can be forgiven.

If both individuals have student debt, should the student loans be consolidated?

They say that when you become married, you become one. Everything gets joined together, finances included. Most married couples decide to combine bank accounts to simplify life. “It’s all half-and-half now anyway.” So some ask, shall we also consolidate student debt.

I would put the brakes on this one. While there are some pros, it could also be harmful too. Let’s consider both sides of the coin.

A positive of loan consolidation occurs when one spouse has a significantly higher credit score than the other. Since interest rates are determined by credit score, the individual with a really low credit score might benefit from consolidation.

Merging debts can also be beneficial in terms of simplicity. When loans are consolidated, you no longer have to worry about your tax filing status when tax season rolls around. Additionally, you would reap similar benefits as if you refinanced your loan. These include lowering your interest rate, lowering your monthly payments, adjusting your length of repayment term, and therefore decreasing your total number of monthly payments. Lastly, it will get rid of having to juggle multiple loan servicers at the same time.

Out of all this, I think the most beneficial aspect (for me anyway) is the psychology of combining student debt. When things remain separate, it sometimes happens that one person will hold a grudge against the person with the higher debt. This can either be a silent sentiment, or one that gets voiced more and more frequently as the time passes. Consolidating loans at the get-go is a symbol of both individuals wanting to work together to get rid of the debt. Regardless of how much there is to pay back, both are putting their hard earned pay towards the loans once they are consolidated, and the adversity can unite rather than divide.

That being said, I would be wary of loan consolidation, especially for those under the Public Loan Forgiveness program and the 25 or 30-year Loan Forgiveness Program. First and foremost, loan consolidation of any kind usually resets the clock for the loan. This affects those in PLF because their 10-year service to a company may be reset as well. I have talked to nurses who have been unfortunate enough to consolidate their loans after working at a hospital under PLF for multiple years. By doing so, their previous years’ contributions to the hospital did not count towards PLF, and after loan consolidation, they have to contribute another 10 years in order to qualify for forgiveness!

Additionally, most lenders who will consolidate multiple student loans are private lenders. By consolidating with a private lender, you will lose the ability to qualify (ever-again) with a 25 or 30 year loan forgiveness program! This is all fine and dandy if the private lender gives you a lower interest rate that would allow you guys to keep up with the payments. But take my case, for example. We heavily considered refinancing my student debt, and I drawled on about our wishes to do so in this post. In the end, we did not pull through with refinancing, firstly because they required Mike to co-sign (see above) and secondly, because it would forever prevent us from falling back on loan forgiveness. That would mean that even with a lower interest rate, it would require us to pay $5,500 a month every month for 8 years. Currently, 100% of my dental income goes towards paying down the debt. If something were to happen to me, say I broke my wrist while baking, that would prevent me from working, and we would be screwed! By not refinancing with a public loan lender, my monthly payments are only a small percentage of my income, and we can manage that payment in case temporary (or permanent) disability occurs (applicable also to natural disasters, personal conflicts, and job insecurity).

In the end, we chose flexibility and peace of mind over money. I think that consolidation would be more beneficial as the student loan amount decreases and the pay increases. You have to just run numbers with your own personal situation to see what the risk is, and if it’s worth the cost.

If both individuals are on the student loan forgiveness program, how can they keep their monthly payments to a minimum?

Sometimes, when people choose to get married, both individuals have student debt under their names. If they are both under the student loan forgiveness plan, then they are currently paying a small percentage of their reported income based off of the previous tax year. The concern most people have is that when you get married, the student loan forgiveness plan may or may not consider your total household income. For example, currently, you may be paying 10% of $10,000 (just to make the numbers easy) per month. That’s $1,000 a month towards student debt. And your husband may be paying 10% of $10,000 a month as well. But when you get married, now your household income is $20,000 a month. Will you both be responsible for $2,000 contributions to each of your loans?

Not exactly.

First off, if you both are in this situation, you should probably consider filing separately. If your monthly payments are dependent on your income, then filing separately will help lower the total monthly payment, because it will be based on only one person’s income. Remember that under the student loan forgiveness program, you want to pay AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE, and you want the government to forgive as much as possible.

The Caveat: Not Every Married Couple Should File Married-Filing-Separately

I follow up that last paragraph with this caveat. Not all married couples on the loan forgiveness program should file taxes separately. Here’s the thing. You may get a lower monthly student loan payment by lowering your total income. However, choosing to file taxes separately will likely lead to higher taxes. So even though you are paying less towards your student loans, you may find that your monthly savings will not be worth the extra amount you have to dish out come tax season.

The only way to really know which situation is best for you is to run the numbers. You need to compare the savings you get from having a lower income to base your student loan monthly payments with the additional taxes you would pay by filing separately. Unless you are a tax whiz, this is the part where I refer you to an accountant. Or talk it through with my pal Travis at Student Loan Planner. As you can tell from our conversation at this Itunes Podcast recording, I may know a little bit about student loan repayment, but Travis is the guru. Even he pointed out ways to optimize my own plan, which we used to save thousands of dollars.

There is one situation where your tax filing status does not matter as much. This is the situation Mike and I fell under. My loan is under the loan forgiveness program but we decided to file our taxes jointly. The reason is that although we are under the loan forgiveness program, we are trying to still pay my debt down aggressively and as quickly as possible. We stayed under the loan forgiveness program in case of a financial crisis or emergency… essentially, for peace of mind. However, we have all plans to pay it down like a standard loan payment. By filing jointly, we reap the tax savings of being married. Even though our total household income is greater and our minimum monthly payments are larger, our total monthly payments are aggressive and far exceed our minimum monthly payments anyways, so our total household income becomes null. Which is the perfect example to show that every choice behind what to do with the loans is entirely situational. It requires a good grasp on your financial abilities and your personal goals, while considering the best path for your psychological well-being. For, let’s face it, a lot of the motivation comes from the mind, and any long-term progress will highly depend on how “right” everything feels to you.

The moral of the story is this: Instead of fearing marriage as being an impediment to your financial journey, or vice versa, use them as tools to fuel each other. My marriage is what inspired me to be extremely aggressive in my student loan repayment. In much the same way, my student loans have ironically strengthened our relationship. For the first year, we sweated, cried, and rejoiced over battles and victories regarding debt. We’ve learned to work together as a team, stretched our creative boundaries, and really stood our ground, hand-in-hand, against nay-sayers, financial instabilities at work, and plain old exhaustion. We hit walls that we never thought we could surpass, only to climb over mountains. I think everyone can do the same, too. And if you need someone to simply talk to, to rant or cry, know that I am here. And so are all the other people who have reached out to me. We are all going through a similar journey, but I want us all to feel empowered, not struck down by the weight. I want to a be collective, rather than lonely individuals. I want you to succeed, not in being rich, but in your pursuit for a happy life.


Travel: Brekkies in Melbourne

When you go to Melbourne, you don’t just go for the coffee and the graffiti. You also go for the brekkies.  Plates that turn dishes of norm into elevated versions, bursting with fresh ingredients and well-balanced flavors. It seems the coffee shops take as much pride in serving delicious brunch menu items as they do their high quality brews. This we already knew. So each day, we focused on visiting the best places to join the brunching crowd – university students, businessmen catching a lunch break, creative artists trying to nourish souls – with a cup of decent brew on the side. Here are some of our top spots!


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Proud Mary

♦♦♦♦
172 Oxford St.
Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia
$$

The Potato hashrusset potato hash, poached eggs, thick cut bacon, kale salad, bagna cauda (garlic, cream +anchovy sauce)
Avocado + Kim chi Toastsmashed avo, wombock + daikon kim chi, kohlrabi, fermented sago, sesame vinaigrette, sourdough

Seven Seeds

♦♦♦♦
114 Berkeley St.
Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
$$

Lavender Brioche French Toast with Honeycomb
Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Almonds, Tofu, Yogurt Sauce, and Herbs

Top Paddock

♦♦♦♦
658 Church St.
Richmond VIC 3121, Australia
$$


Western Australian Kingfish Sashimi – Soba Noodles, Seasonal Greens, Daikon, Fresh Lime, Toasted Kombu

Flinders Island Pressed Lamb Shoulder – Flatbread, House Made Pickles, Farm Greens, Garlic and Mint Labne

St. Ali

♦♦♦♦
12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia
$$

Koo Koo Ka ChooCrispy potato hash, roasted mushrooms, porcini puree, poached eggs, 1000 day aged gouda cheese, shitake mushroom & charcoal vinaigrette
My Mexican CousinSecret recipe corn fritters, poached eggs, halloumi, sweetcorn salsa, kasundi, dressed leaves

La Lune Bakery

♦♦♦♦
119 Rose St.
Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia
$$

CroissantTraditional French croissant, prepared over 3 days
Twice Baked Almond Croissant The original Croissant aux Amandes, prepared with almond frangipane & garnished with a healthy amount of flaked almonds
Ham + Gruyere A croissant baked fresh with a filling of shaved ham, Swiss Gruyere & seeded mustard

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