Frugality: Celebrating Quarantine Birthdays with Freebies

Remember in March when we circulated memes about those who had to celebrate their birthdays under social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions? Joke’s on us, we who thought we would escape from such circumstances. By now a third of the population has probably experienced celebrating quarantined.

Characteristics may include gatherings of less than ten, standing awkwardly six feet apart, something that gets in the way of the hugs and kisses more than masks do. Candles on a cake anti-climactically put out by a clapping of hands – as if a child saying “ta-da” after making a wish. Also, gifts running belated as shipping companies struggle to continue working in a safe environment despite an influx of online orders.

I myself had to celebrate a restricted birthday, although how happy was I when restaurants opened up for dine-in during that week? Back to normalcy we go – I was sure of it!

So when I asked my husband a month out what he wanted to do for his July birthday, I was quite surprised when he said he wanted to sign up for rewards programs and run around town picking up freebies.

I thought to myself, “Sounds lame.”

His birthday landed prior to a four day weekend which I happened to have off from work and I was imagining a trip somewhere (local, of course). Or at least a sort of beach activity or party. Perhaps a restaurant reservation with our closest friends?

Lo and behold, when it came to the week of his birthday, all of my would-be plans went straight out the window as California was called to partially shut down once again. Due to the rising numbers of COVID positive patients and upcoming holiday, all beaches were shut down, along with dine-in options at restaurants, movie theatres, and family entertainment options. Turns out, his request to get birthday freebies proved to be the only solidly COVID-proof idea.

I thought to myself, “My husband’s a genius.”

To be honest, it turned out pretty nice. It was a sunny Friday, and we started the morning with free bagels (to-go) and coffee, which we ate at home with my brother and roomie for a late morning breakfast. We all were recovering from hiking Mt. Baldy the day before, so it was one of those restful mornings wherein one rolls around in bed, drags feet across the floor, with nary an obligation to rush you towards the next to-do. You know those mornings that feel like you’re on vacation instead of just sitting at home? Speaking of vacation, I need one of those soon.

For lunch, we headed over to a shopping center that had Jersey Mike’s and The Habit. Jersey Mike’s was giving away whatever free sub you wanted plus a 22 oz. drink, which we took away lidless and straw-less to reduce plastic waste. It is, after all, Plastic-Free July.  The Habit was giving birthday celebrants a free burger. Both were wrapped in paper. In the shopping center, there was an outdoor seating area with tables perched ‘neath umbrellas. The tables were spaced out more than six feet apart, with no more than a pair of seats at each table. We plopped ourselves down on cool metal chairs and ate our wins with the first official signs of summer.

In the evening, we had a number of friends meet us at a local park to eat pizza as we sat in a circle on lawn chairs social distancing by household, with an imaginary bonfire in our midst. Excited Santa Anians were shooting fireworks a day early, as mosquitoes bit our legs in the setting sun. It was the first time since February that we’ve seen these faces and it was nice to hear familiar laughs dangling in the night sky. When dusk settled, we packed up our lawn chairs like a bunch of soccer moms and waved our cheerful goodbyes, grabbing left-over pizza boxes and stuffing them in reusable grocery bags.

What’s amazing about the freebies is that they can all be taken to-go and the majority of them last for the rest of the month.

On paper, all of this probably sounds lame. But I can tell you that it was actually extremely fun. I just might do the same next year for the month of June.

For COVID in particular, it was a fool-proof plan to celebrating. If you’ve got a birthday coming up in the next few months, why don’t you try it? Take out and delivery have stood the test of virus and according to a Harvard study, we need to all be prepared to social distance until the end of 2021.

In order to prep for the big day, you should check out a list of Birthday Freebies and sign up for their Rewards program. On your day of birth, each place will email you a coupon or offer with the requirements and the expiring dates.

Below are a few of Mike’s favorites:

  • Denny’s – Free Grand Slam on the birthday month
  • Chili’s – Free dessert for the birthday week
  • Red Robin – Free burger
  • Sprinkles – Free cupcake, redeemable until the month after your birthday
  • Auntie Annie’s – Free pretzel, redeemable until two months after your birthday
  • Wetzel’s Pretzel’s – Free pretzel for downloading the app, and another free pretzel on your birthday
  • Baja Fresh – Free Burrito (with purchase of beverage) , valid until the month after your birthday
  • The Habit – Free Charburger, valid for two weeks
  • Jersey Mike’s – Free Sub and 22 oz. drink
  • Baskin Robbins – Free ice cream scoop
  • Ben N Jerry – Free ice cream scoop
  • Buffalo Wild Wings – Free birthday wings valid until end of the month
  • BJs – Free Pizookie for signing up for rewards and also for your birthday
  • Breugger’s Bagels – Free bagel with cream cheese for signing up and also on your birthday
  • Einstein Bagels – Free bagel egg sandwich with purchase on your birthday
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes – Free Bundtlet valid for one week

It may not be much to celebrate, these free wins, but it sure is a silver lining. There are some things they still haven’t taken away.

Finance: Financial Independence is for times of COVID

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There are circulating rumors that this pandemic has deemed the FI movement dead. Articles in mainstream media have been claiming that people who are in the midst of attaining FI are now struggling to live. As a FI defendant and warrior, I would like to say that the opposite is true. In fact, this pandemic has shown our little family that the path to financial independence is strictly for times like these. Not saying that I ever expected any of it to happen. I mean, there’s no way I could have predicted this and I certainly did not wish it upon the world. But the financial independence journey is the reason why this pandemic was so good to us. Here’s why.

Why FI is for times of COVID

FI is built on a number of different life-hacks that enable one of my life’s core values: freedom. The word independence itself is crucial to the term FI. Many of the principles in the financial independence community center around independence from other things such as your job, the market, societal expectations, debt, and of course, money. All of this was affected by the pandemic.

Those who are following the FI principles are more likely to have embraced job independency through side-hustles, entrepreneurship, self-employment, or simply creating multiple income streams. Many FI families had an emergency fund to carry them through times such as these past few months. If you’ve taken my course, you also know that mastering a budget is a super-power. If you’ve truly mastered your budget, you would have control of your spending, created a savings, and also planned for the spending a few months ahead. Most FIers lack debt. I, of course, have a huge student debt, one that I’ve also worked diligently to free myself from (see the progress here!). But even this single choice to aggressively pay down my student debt has helped me significantly during COVID-19! I mean, who would have ever predicted that you could get six months of 0% interest rate on student loans? Nobody, ever.

Meanwhile, the market is crashing and FIers with money reserves in their mastered budget can invest at low rates. They can buy rental properties due to their stellar credit history. They can survive off of an emergency fund in case of a layoff. Better yet, they can use their additional income streams or refocus their money-making to their side-hustle business. I’m not saying this is the time to brag, but perhaps it’s the time to pivot.

How COVID helped our financial journey.

Perhaps the reason why people think that the pandemic will negatively affect FIers is because not many of us have been sharing how it has helped. I can’t speak for all FI families, but for us, here is what happened.

  1. Mike had wanted to pursue coding for a while. We decided to sign him up for a course in January and paid the tuition upfront and in full, which we were able to do thanks to our great budgeting and savings (Our entire budgeting method is compiled in this course that I wrote, if you’d like to follow in our steps). In February, about a month before the March 15th California lock-down, Mike offered to be laid off from a company that was down-sizing by forty percent, in exchange for a severance pay that would help with the transition into coding. After the severance pay ended in April, he qualified for EDD due to the lay off and got an additional $600 a week that the EDD was paying out to those who just found themselves unemployed, thus easing the transition even more. In fact, we had expected to receive $1800/mo from EDD prior to COVID 19. Due to the additional $600, Mike gets “paid” $4200 per month to study a course. What does this have to do with FI? Well, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for the course upfront without a savings. We wouldn’t have felt comfortable with Mike switching careers without a stable financial background. And we wouldn’t have been so non-chalant about the lay offs without a back-up plan (which is our other income streams).
  2. I have multiple income streams. I own a corporation as a dentist and pay myself. As a dentist, I work at two different offices which also increases my chances of always having work. I also owned a bakery which I closed a week before the COVID shutdown (for real! What timing…) but which I considered turning back to if both dental offices remained closed (they didn’t). I also had a dog-sitting business on ROVER, as well as this blog wherein I make commissions through affiliate linking. I was out of dental work for a week and a half wherein I spent most of my time writing about it. I then went back to work (three days a week, half the amount of time I usually worked) and poured more time into this space. It has grown tremendously the last two months! All of this to say, I had options in terms of career.
  3. All public student loans got reverted to 0% interest until September 31. This means that any student trying to pay down debt aggressively has a chance to make the money snowball go faster! Of course, I paid only the minimum monthly requirement for these COVID months just to keep cash liquid in case of emergencies, but now we’ve found ourselves sitting on a big chunk of change that we could use to buy a rental property. This gives us choice. I could drastically reduce the loan repayment journey to 2.5 more years, or I could invest in more long-term passive income.
  4. We house hack which means we have someone living with us which helps us pay mortgage. I would count this as an additional income stream for us.
  5. Speaking of mortgage, we refinanced our home. Due to our great credit, there was no hitch when we decided to refinance. The refinance gave us an additional $500 a month to put towards something else!
  6. We paid off Mike’s car in May, therefore paving the way for quickening the loan repayment journey now that we can funnel those would-be-car payments into student loans.
  7. We used COVID related benefits for health professionals and medical doctors such as retail discounts. Some of these benefits continue until the end of 2020.
  8. We got free food when fast food places. I think we made use of free tacos on Tuesdays from Taco Bell four times. Mike got a free meal from Cafe Rio. Mike’s dad and grandpa live in a 55+ community and they received weekly boxes of nearly-expiring groceries. They picked what they wanted and Mike and his sister (and me) benefited from the rest, which then reduced our grocery bill.
  9. COVID inadvertently reduced our monthly spending. Our cleaner couldn’t come for her bi-weekly cleaning which saved us $200 a month. Why would she when all three of us were home to clean, anyway? Mike had no work so there was no need to commute. He took online courses at home, which saved us $100 a month in gas. The aforementioned free food from Mike’s dad and grandpa saved us $100 in groceries per month. Since the yoga studios and gyms were closed, Mike and I had to replace our new-found love for yoga with running outdoors, thus saving us $250 a month.
  10. COVID prevented us from traveling. All our trips got cancelled, which made us quite sad but at the same time, it saved us close to $10,000. (Between March and July, we had trips planned to Japan, Maldives, Hawaii, two trips to Norcal, one to San Diego, a bachelor party for Mike in Colorado, a bachelorette in SD…). We had two weddings that were also sadly cancelled.

Let’s add this all up, shall we?

During COVID, the following things changed in our monthly budget:

$4500 from EDD for Mike’s work transition
$500 per month savings from the home refinance
$585 per month savings from paying off the car
$200 savings from not having a cleaner
$250 from not having a gym membership
$100 gas savings from not having a commute
$100 from the food box donations
$1400 a month of interest that the government isn’t taking from my student loans

That’s $7,635 savings per month due to COVID. Multiplied for the two months we’ve been in this lockdown.

Plus the $10k that we saved from not traveling.

I would assume we have saved near $25,000. Plus the liquid cash I kept from only making the minimum payments for student loans ($16,500).

Now you know why we are looking at a second home.

The FIers are not going to suffer from COVID. If anything, they are likely the least to suffer. I know of FIers who have bought one rental property a year for 15 years straight. Most of them make passive income from real estate or intellectual assets. Many are entrepreneurs, self-published, self-employed, self-sustaining. Most don’t have debt and they ALL have funds to rely on. On top of that, they have a well-balanced investment strategy that is mostly hands-off which protects them from panic-selling during times of market volatility. We are frugal, make use of opportunities, are in the know of life-hacks and benefit from financial situations such as these. That’s what FI is about. And everyone can become FI. Even though the media and the general public would like you to think otherwise. Just like they tried to tell me the loans would be unwise to pay off.

Is FI for you?

If you’ve recently lost your job due to the pandemic, perhaps it’s time to create a space for yourself. There are many pros to being self-employed. Even something semi-self-employed such as creating contract work under your name is a great option. Additionally, now may be the time to chase a dream of yours by picking up a side-hustle. Do something you love, and make money doing it. I did that with this blog, and if that interests you, perhaps you’d like to learn more about how to do that here. If you want to make money dog-sitting, apply to Rover today.

If you felt the crushing loss of a job and didn’t have an emergency fund, then the last few months may have been difficult. The EDD stipend of $600 a week to those who are unemployed has helped many, certainly, but really, having an emergency can also alleviate that stress. Start by mastering your budget. It’s the first step to all financial independence journeys.

If you have a lot of debt, it’s time to start paying it off. Student loan questions in particular? Now is the time to talk to a professional. Our recommendation is Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. Schedule an appointment through my affiliate link, here.

It’s never too late to start. Trust me. I started from the bottom. Negative $575,000 bottom.

Frugality: For Certain Professionals During COVID-19

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

This post is catered towards a small niche of professionals which include medical doctors, first responders, military personnel and nurses. If you are within these fields, then you have a huge opportunity to practice your frugal muscles during this time! This is largely due to the fact that these professions get extreme discounts, benefits, and, well, FREE STUFF, as a thank you for the work you are doing during COVID-19.

It seems highly unfair that these professionals are all considered “essential” workers who have (for the most part) kept their jobs, and on top of all that, they get additional benefits, too. I am one of those professionals (dentist) and feel a bit guilty about how much “help” we’ve personally gotten out of this situation. Considering that our need is not as large as those of lower income families, it seems unjust that we get even more discounts than they, as well as a higher EDD payout for my husband. It’s true that in the most trying times, the rich get richer. The system isn’t fair, but at the same time, I’m not one to let opportunities pass by. In all honesty, I feel very guilty of trying to make the most financial benefit out of this situation, but I continue to do so in the hopes of digging myself further out of the financial rut – which is my half-a-million dollars of student debt.

I’m writing about this because it was only recently that I discovered how far the benefits go. I learned just yesterday that there was a time where you can order up to 5 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for free, get McDonalds meals for free, and even get Starbucks drinks for free. While those food deals are gone, other deals last until the end of the year, such as 20% off of Sonos, $60 AllBirds, 50% off Nike, 40% off Adidas, and more. On top of retail discounts, phone servicers are giving free monthly subscriptions, apps like Headspace are providing free usage until the end of the year, and even car dealerships are giving discounts on new car purchases or future services. Also, until the end of May, you’ve probably heard that many hotels are providing free lodging across the nation for healthcare professionals. Other than the latter, it remains unclear how the rest of these help with the COVID-19 situation except for the fact that it does provide alleviation for people in the aforementioned fields which is a sign of gratitude that I am grateful for.

So why is this a post about frugality?

Because if you are like me, paying back $575k worth of student debt due to a medical profession of your choosing, then perhaps this could help catapult you financially forward. We’ve done things like get FREE tacos from TacoBell four Tuesdays in a row. We’ve saved our EDD payments and are considering buying a rental property. I think it would behoove a few of us trying to pay loans aggressively to cut out the cell phone bill for at least three months. Of course, we shouldn’t be buying new cars or going shopping exuberantly. Although we are guilty of a bit of that, too…

With the 0% interest rate for student loans, grads trying to aggressively pay back their debt are in a very good situation. Make use of every perk available. To avoid taking credit where it’s due, I would suggest just google searching the list of healthcare discounts available due to COVID-19.

Like I said, I didn’t know of this yesterday. If I had, I would have definitely gotten a McDonalds meal every day and brought my co-workers doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. I am just sharing this here in case you haven’t heard it, too.

Frugality: Self-Care

When I first set out to write a piece re: self-care (yet again), my initial though was to create a curated list of small businesses to support, and let support. In the spirit of being helpful to those who may need it most, I then concluded that perhaps doing so would make a thing as vital as breathing itself unattainable for many, especially at this time.

To commoditize caring for the self as it has been by consumer industries seems suddenly wrong and unaligned with what it was originally created to be – that is, a movement that promoted the under-privileged to care for themselves because… who else would, if not them? Which now, knowing the provenance of the term, makes me quite uncomfortable with turning self-care into something that benefits consumer culture.

In an effort to respectably recognize it’s humble intention, I am now sitting down to write of self-care with a different lens. Self-care doesn’t have to be pampering yourself, as defined by most millennials. It doesn’t require spending money buying things or paying for services. As much as the cosmetic industry would like to make us think that our pores and skin are working against us, or the fashion industry  wants us to believe that everything can be cured by a shopping spree, trust me when I say that neither is true and both are baloney.

It’s quite easy to convince someone that happiness lies on the other side of a credit card swipe (especially when that someone is mentally exhausted or extremely stressed from say, oh, work … or a pandemic!) but come on, we’ve all felt it. That uncertainty afterwards that lingers in the back of our mind. A feeling of guilt that our hard-earned dollars went into someone else’s pocket. Or the regret of not choosing to spend “free-time” in our PJs on the couch, rather than going out to treat ourselves to food and drink. Face it – anything that makes you feel like crap afterwards is NOT self-care. It’s an easy hide-under-the-rug kind of care. An avoidance of care, if we are truly being honest. Another thing to add to the to-do list in order to not-do anything about important things.

Well, you get the gist.

So here we go. A tribute to what self-care was originally meant to be.

  • Make your bed – and other ways to tend to a home (here and here). Something as simple as washing and changing the sheets can be as therapeutic as buying a new bed set, I guarantee, without the stresses of deciding on a new color, where to put the old one, and which of the two you’ll use.
  • Work on your finances. Taking care of your future self in the form of budgeting and saving is an OG approach to self-care.
  • Turn off the phone. Set some boundaries.
  • Take a long bath – no need for bath bombs or richly sensuous oils. Just turn on the water, sit in the dark, light a candle, listen to music with no words. Easy does it. I personally dislike baths, but I do like to clean the bath tub as a way to show care.
  • Nap without guilt – to which my roommates laughed because apparently, some people are able to do just that. I always feel guilt and unrest after waking up from a nap – as if I’d wasted precious time. But I am trying to re-learn that sleep is productive in its own right.
  • Drink plenty of water. If you want to fancify it, add lemon slices or mint sprigs. A mixology fact- tapping a stem of mint leaves on the back of your hand makes it more aromatic. Add ice, if it’s all you got.
  • Write a list of ten things you love about yourself – or what you want to accomplish, or who you care about, etc.
  • Practice breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Alternatively, stretch a few times throughout the day. Body movement is the best way to combat aging. Avoid static postures. Dance, if you must. Like no one’s watching, too – it’s a real mood booster.
  • Reduce your social media follows. Curate your feed. Much of how you feel is dependent on what you see and who you follow. If you follow athletic people to motivate you to lose weight, but they also make you feel bad about yourself, maybe they aren’t the best follow? Same goes for aesthetic spaces, models, clothing companies – everything that makes you feel like worthiness requires something better, or more.
  • Do absolutely nothing. For me, this is the ultimate form of self-care. An activity that takes me a while to get into, it is so much better than any solution you can immediately achieve.

I am sure there are plenty more, none of which requires spending. I’d enthusiastically promote the tabulating of your own personally gratifying self-care activities, and to carry that in your back pocket like arsenal. Because if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

Thoughts On: This Surprise

I know it’s hard for people to live in a world that feels so reduced. Trust me, you are not. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s quite the sensation feeling like you’ve got nothing left to lose. Like all your decisions led you here. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I know what it’s like feeling enslaved by a system. Despite losing your freedom to move, you still have the freedom to choose
how to continue living when you’re tied to stillness and a snail’s pace. But even snails get somewhere.

You don’t have money, god knows I never did, but you have a brain, your health, love, hope, dreams, a breath. And if it were only one of these things, I’d venture to call THAT a life,
This a phase,
You, a force,
The world, your oyster,
The virus, a lesson.

Because the best thing I ever learned was that nothingness is a gift, and starting from the bottom means there’s an up. Something to look forward to and make life worth living. Nowadays I choose to live with less, knowing ultimately people can’t tell me what I can’t do, and if you dig deep enough into the recesses no one else is willing to touch, you will find that all you need for a good life is with you in the form of a past that no one can take, a future that only you can destroy, and a present which we are always lamenting but the great thing about having nothing is not having anything to lament.

Is it so bad not being able to know what can happen next? I bet it’s the first time in years that you haven’t tried to plan or control your entire life. In a way, I’ve found myself worrying less. Moving with the tide. Sleeping in without guilt. Forgetting the days.

Isn’t this what living is — Letting things unfold in due time?

I don’t know about y’all, but this was a good surprise.

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How to Care for House Plants

We’ve been mulling a question for a while, tossing it around, letting it linger on our lips. “When this is all over, what will be the first thing you’ll do?” We’ve got answers up the wazoo that show signs of who we are, and what we miss – the little things that meant more than we could even know. Happy hour cocktails and cheap pub food surrounded by a large group of friends; Gym memberships to be rid of the COVID-15 and to be a part of a community; Sand in my hair and thongs between my toes.

To the last one, I say “Cheers!”

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Rather than lamenting the current situation and wallowing in self-pity, I do think that we can start to amend for the last bit of longing by bringing the outdoors in, or at least, introducing a bit of nature to our internal spaces. Houseplants can be a reprieve from the cabin fever signs and symptoms that we have all been exhibiting. They are especially useful in calming the distraught and frustrated, feelings which I’m sure have surfaced during this time of personal introspection. Additionally, they boost overall mood, purify the air of toxins, boosts creativity, and makes the indoors more aesthetically pleasing.

We are all dying to get outside. The weather is turning nicer by the day and we’ve pretty much written off Spring and moved on to summer. But despite the long list of “firsts” that our house has planned once the stay-at-home mandates lift, I have also been enjoying this time at home (truly!) and it would be a shame to rush on to to-do lists and whatever the future holds when there is so much work left to do here in the present.

Today, I go over a few houseplant care routines to help refocus the mind into the now, to facilitate a continual tending to the home, and to, well, bring the outdoors in.

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  • Repot plants in new, healthy soil. Plants outgrow their vessels and their soil. Every year, around Spring time, we repot our plants by gently easing them out of their current vessels, removing some of the soil around the roots, and placing them in their new home. It may take a while for a plant to adjust to a new pot, so don’t be discouraged if you see a pause in growth. Over time, you will find that the soil helps to grow your plant much quicker than before.
  • Wipe the leaves of your plants. Some plant leaves take up a large amount of real estate. All the more to take in sunlight! But also, all the more to collect dust particles. Plants like Monsteras and Fiddles can accidentally collect too much dust, which will then prevent them from absorbing light. Try wiping down plant leaves regularly with a cloth towel and water. Be gentle so as not to damage tender greens. Get ready to admire your plants even more – they’ll look fairly glossy and polished!
  • Rotate plants a quarter turn every week. Technically, you can follow a different rotation schedule, but just try to rotate the plants every once in a while for even growth. Plants are in love with the sun and if they aren’t rotated, they can start to lean towards a single direction or grow unevenly, which doesn’t make for a pretty sight.
  • Prune off dead or wilted leaves. When leaves start to yellow and wilt, don’t take it as a sign of failure. Perhaps the plant is making way for new leaves to grow. I can’t recount how many times yellowing leaves have been a signal for two more to grow in its place. However, you will want to remove these leaves as they can affect the health of the rest of the plant. Don’t wait until they start to rot, as this can cause unwanted fungus or mold to start cohabiting with your favorite shrub.

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  • Mist plants with water.  Plants love a good misting. The cat, however, hates my spray bottle and runs away until it’s all over. I place water in an amber bottle which remains at hand on a shelf for random spritzes throughout the week. The leaves definitely perk up after a nice splash. I like the effect so much that sometimes, when I water my plants, I haul them into the shower to mimic a rainforest environment and drizzle the water right over them. Unfortunately, my Monsterra and Fiddle are getting way too large to move around, but I’m not complaining!

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  • Propagate. When you’ve done all you can to care for your existing plants, the only thing left to do is … MAKE MORE PLANT BABIES! My favorite to propagate are fast growing plants like our Pothos. It’s quite easy to do. Snip off a few stems with the node still intact, and place them in a glass container filled with water (no soil). After it starts to root (about a month later), gently pot the plant, surrounding the baby roots with healthy Earth. Plus, plants make great non-material, frugal gifts and I have gifted two propagated Pothos plants in the last year!

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I hope these tips have at least helped to pass another five minutes of your morning. I hope your plants have calmed you down, and you are energized by the fact that you’ve already taken care of one small aspect of your home today.

I know we are all itching to get outdoors and for quarantine to be over, but mayhap our discomfort with being at home signals an even deeper mal-alignment. I encourage you to hang in there and stop burying unrest with things to do in the future. It’s what we’ve always done … but it wasn’t working. It takes a great deal of strength and courage to sit in an uncomfortable situation but a presence of mind can really bring light to what is at the root of our malaise. Whenever you feel like moving on to “better days”, I ask that you pause and take the opportunity to dig just a little deeper.

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Below are a list of my favorite indoor houseplants. I favor sturdy greens over flowery or delicate types.

  • Split Leaf Philodendron
  • Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
  • Pothos
  • Snake Plant
  • ZZ Plant
  • Rubber Plant
  • Pilea

Property Ownership: Refinancing a Home

With the extra time on our hands these past few weeks, we’ve had time to mull through our current finances and see where improvements can be made. We are generally good at frugality (see how you can stretch frugal muscles here), we have mastered a budget (and I’ve written a free course walking you through the process here), and have been very good at paying back out student loans so far. However, this does not mean there aren’t places where we can improve.

Since Mike has been without a job since February and since the dental offices have been open only a few days a week, our income has undoubtedly diminished over the last few months. With the lowering interest rates of mortgages, we decided, perhaps now is the time to refinance our home.

Refinance Can Save $$$

We purchased our home in 2018 and was given a locked rate of 4.875% at the time. After shopping around, we found rates offered to us today to be as low as 3.625%. I was alerted by the drop in interest rates by a colleague who was refinancing her home, and another who was in the process of closing on his first house purchase. The latter also informed me that he knew of someone who has refinanced their home twice in the last two years.

At first I was skeptical as to the efficiency of refinancing a home. Of course, there are closing costs to consider, and is that offset by the monthly savings due to a lower interest rate? After running some numbers, we have decided that yes, it is worthwhile.

We were able to rope in our closing costs into the total cost of the loan which made the appraisal fee our only up-front cost. After calculating using the new loan amount (with the closing cost added in), we found our monthly payment reduced by $500+ a month. Multiplied over the course of 30 years, this saves us $180,000, assuming we do not pay off the home early.

How to Refinance

The process was fairly easy, since we were sticking with the same mortgage company and they already had our mortgage details. We simply filled out an application form and Docu-signed necessary documents. You may need to provide additional documents such as proof of income in the form of paystubs, which you’re lender will specifically ask for.

Of course, you can always shop around with other lenders. I would recommend asking for referrals from friends and family members until you find one you like. The closing costs can always be negotiated, and you can shop for some services on your own which may end up being cheaper than going with the lender’s recommended vendors. Do not be afraid to ask which services you are allowed to shop for. We did shop around and entertained two other lenders, however, all three options gave us a similar interest rate. Since we already like our current lender and we try to do all things in simple ways (simple does matter), we decided to stick with our current one.

Potential Problems

Of course, with the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19, you may run into a myriad of potential problems such as, but not limited to:

  • Delayed processing due to an influx of multiple home-owners also trying to reduce their monthly payments.
  • Volatile interest rates which are daily changing due to multiple people not being able to make their home payments, people losing their homes, and alternatively, people trying to buy homes at the low rate.
  • Delayed services such as appraisals due to social distancing and stay-at-home protocols currently in place.
  • Reduced income, depending on whether work-at-home is an available option for you, which can then affect your ability to refinance at all. If possible, keep your job so that you can prove that you have a solid income that can support the refinance.
  • Increasing debts as the jobless try to stay afloat. My advice is to try to keep debts at a minimum so that credit scores are not greatly affected by this recession to come.

Despite these potential problems, I would still prompt you to pursue refinancing your home. There will likely be a recession post COVID-19 and house prices may not stay at their current rates. In fact, we may see something similar to 2008 when house prices drop drastically and when that’s the case, refinance would be a difficult thing to swing. I would refinance while the value of your home can still be appraised highly, and while you can get in on these low interest rates.

Play Pretend: Hunkering Down

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Hunkering down in our homes isn’t really much of a game of pretend. Hopefully, you’ve settled quite nicely into a rhythm that works for you. Now that you have a routine for the kids, and a feel for separating work from home (if you are so lucky), I guess it’s time to accept the idea that staying at home will become the new norm. Who knows what will happen when this is all over? Perhaps companies will find work-from-home more efficient or productive. Perhaps mothers will decide that home-schooling has its benefits over private school. Perhaps those who are jobless create a niche for themselves as a small business owner. Perhaps we may remain, forevermore, at home.

I’ve been spending my own time reflecting on the functions of my home. I have been put-putting around the house reclaiming our space and making it the zen oasis that my lifestyle needs. A home is more than the house itself. It is a recluse from the outside world, a reflection of our personal self, and as such, should not be neglected or taken lightly. Therefore, my days have been spent remodeling our sustainable couch (more on that in a future post), and clearing the air of clutter and negative energy.

With the realization that parks and beaches may not be accessible to us in the near future, possibly even as far as the summer months, I have also decided to finally focus on our small city balcony. I will be remodeling that into a relaxing outdoor space that we can escape to, when sunlight basking and fresh air are what we need. I am a person who needs to have natural sunlight, be surrounded by nature, and breath in fresh air. Last summer, we religiously parked our bottoms on beach sand every single weekend, and it pains me to hear that beaches and parks are closing in response to COVID-19. In response to the response, I will be creating our own outdoors in this tiny home. I will also share that remodel in the coming months as we document it.

For now though, I traverse the dangerous road of having too much time on my hands. Making our house a home, a thing I haven’t had much time for since we made our measly renovations when we first bought the place, could lead to spending money in excess. I wrote previously about how property ownership does not have to be a dream home at the get-go and I am one who likes to take all things slow, including making purchasing decisions for creating a space dedicated to hunkering down.

I don’t have any rules persay as to the number of hours or days that I have to mull over a potential purchase, but I do prefer to wait. I like to absorb all the feelings, consider all the motives, peruse the alternatives occasionally if space in my heart allows. Sometimes, you just love a thing too much, you know? So in these cases where I feel a burning desire to tackle a project of reformation, I try to simply list my wants and play pretend. Let the fire simmer down, if you will, until my brain has had time to catch up with my heart.

Here, a few finds made to create a space for comfort. These are things that I think would help turn a home into an oasis worth settling in, from companies that I would love to support and see survive past this small-business drought. And with these items, a small anecdote on how I envision them in my own life.

+ A pair of Kygries slippers or these lighter linen alternatives from Fog Linen for walking around cool, clean cement floors while providing a cushion for the feet.

+ Kinto day-off tumbler or Kinto tea pots in the name of staying healthy and hydrated.

+ Fog Linen socks for lounging around on the couch or in bed, whether your space be in home-mode or work-mode.

+ Vitruvi Humidifier for refreshing the air cooped up at home. 

+ The Beauty of Everyday Things for reminding us that maybe we already have all that we need.

+ Citizenry Linen Throw Pillow Covers + Parachute Throw Pillows for sinking deeper into that couch or bed or floor, what-have-ye.

+ Notary Ceramics tray, reminiscent of TV dinners during childhood, to hold teapots and mugs of coffee on preferred soft surfaces. 

+ Cleaning supplies, for a bout of spring cleaning.