The Gro Clock Let Me Reclaim My Mornings!

I love spending time with my kids. But like pretty much every parent I’ve encountered, I also relish what little quiet, alone time I can get these days.

For me, that personal time has typically occurred first thing in the morning before anyone else in the house is awake.

Ever since I entered the real world and got a full time job, I’ve been an early riser. I’m usually out of bed by 5:30 a.m., so the early mornings that came with parenthood weren’t really much of an adjustment for me so long as I had a decent night’s sleep. Thankfully, we’ve had two pretty good sleepers, so sleep deprivation has only been an issue a handful of times.

Before our kids came along I’d use the hour or two that I had between my wake up time and FM’s to do things I enjoyed and ease myself into my day. Depending on the time of year and the weather outside, I’d so things like workout in our basement, go for jogs, ride my bike, watch sports highlights, enjoy a coffee while I read or wrote, and get myself ready for the day.

That free time obviously diminished when the kids came along, but I was still able to squeeze in a couple of those solo activity sessions each week.

A couple of months ago, our toddler started eliminating them entirely though. He suddenly decided to push his morning wake up time earlier and earlier. It got to the point that he was essentially serving as my alarm clock, calling for me or FM at crazy early hours and refusing to even consider going back to sleep.

If we tried to get him back down, he’d either be up calling for us within 15 minutes or would start crying, waking up his sister in the process and putting an end to any hope FM and I had for a normal night’s rest.

Because I’m an early riser, I would usually get up with him. It was great to spend some one on one time with him, but it also eliminated any hope I had of doing the things I enjoyed in my early morning alone time.

We hoped it was just another phase he was going through, but it got to the point after a few weeks that we decided we had to do something about it for all our sakes. He needed more sleep, FM and our daughter needed better sleeps, and I was definitely open to the idea of a less hectic morning so I could ease myself into my days again.

As she does with pretty much any kid-related issue we encounter, FM did some research on how to keep your toddler quiet and in bed in the morning.

One of the more interesting things she came across a product called the Gro Clock.

Basically the clock uses images of stars and the sun to teach kids when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to get up. The stars are on with a blue screen for sleep-time, the sun appears and the screen turns yellow when it’s ok to wake up.

The one thing that worried us was the $70 cost. If we tried this clock out and he didn’t do what we were hoping for, then it would have felt like a pretty expensive experiment.

We asked around in our circle of friends and it turned out that another couple we know used the product for his own toddlers when they went through similar phases with their sleep patterns. They couldn’t say enough good things about it. We then did more research online and saw enough positive reviews that we figured it was worth a shot.

So we decided to give it a try too…and it gave me my mornings back! Best $70 we’ve spent in a while!

Our little guy has been an absolute champ with the Gro Clock from quite literally the first night we used it.

Saying “goodnight” and “see you in the morning!” to the the sun has become an exciting part of his normal bedtime routine. We give him a reminder each night that if he wakes up before the sun, he needs to either try to go back to sleep or wait quietly in his crib until the sun appears. Then he’s free to call for me of FM to come get him up for the day.

We’ve set the wake up time for 6:30 a.m., which allows me to have an hour to do some things I enjoy and get myself ready for the day before he gets up. We then have enough time left to have breakfast as a family and to get him ready for daycare before I head to work for the day after dropping him off.

It’s been a couple of months now and I can count on one hand how many times we’ve had to retrieve our son from his crib before the clock indicates he’s allowed to get up. Those rare instances have almost all been caused by dire needs for diaper changes (I won’t go into details, but I’m sure you can guess what I mean) that he simply can’t ignore.

I will acknowledge that our experience may not be what others encounter. We’re very fortunate that our little dude takes (most of) what we tell him very seriously. He’s also very keen to impress his mom and dad with his ability to listen to and understand us.

If your kid doesn’t buy in, then this is likely not going to be a worthwhile purchase. If they will though, this is an amazing way to both ensure your kids are getting the sleep they need and to reclaim your mornings!

Have you ever used a product like the Gro Clock? What was your experience like? Let me know by leaving a comment below, sending an email to frugalfatherblog@gmail.com, or by connecting on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Remember to check out my Resources page for other Tried and Tested Baby Gear, Recommended Readings, and Financial Services that I use in my frugal parenting endeavours.

Also remember to have a look below for the latest dishes from our  Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project.

Until next Saturday, thanks for reading!

Frugal Father

 

***Full disclosure: This post contained affiliate links. See my disclaimer for more information.

Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project

Last week’s recipe: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

I really like trying traditional dishes from other areas of the world. I’m also a fan of spicy foods. So for me, this dish was a real hit. Unfortunately, it won’t hold up as a family friendly frugal meal because of the latter of those two likes. While this was cooking, I knew from a quick taste test that I’d be the only one of us eating it – it simply had too much heat for FM to enjoy, which means it was going to be an impossibility for the kids to try. Off to the recycle bin with this one.

This week’s selection: Caramelized Onion Pasta Carbonara

Dealing With Unexpected Expenses

Last week I wrote an article outlining my 3-Rs of Saving.

Of the three categories of savings we account for, the highest priority is the rainy days category.

Having this money set aside in what amounts to an emergency fund has been hugely important for us since we became parents.

As I said last week, FM’s maternity leaves have been a perfect example of why we keep this account in place and funded to that level. With her being off for 12-months at a time, the income she earns from employment insurance is a fraction of what she earns when collecting a regular paycheque. Couple that with the increased expenses of having another human in the house to pay for and it’s no wonder new parents can find themselves financially strained.

The rainy days account is important beyond just comfortably seeing us through a year of reduced income. And after the surprise expenses we encountered this past summer, the need for this account to exist and be well-funded was reinforced all that much more.

Between April and November, we experienced a trifecta of expensive issues that we weren’t planning on (or at least were hoping we could avoid during a maternity leave).

The first issue we encountered was our garage door opener crapping out on us a few weeks before baby #2 was due to arrive. We initially thought that this was going to be a few-hundred-dollar replacement of the opener. It turned into a multi-thousands-of-dollars, months-long, full-fledged renovation of our garage.

Things started going wrong almost immediately after we booked the installation of the opener.

As soon as the installer arrived to put in our new opener, he informed me that he wouldn’t be able to complete the work. It turned out that the amatuer installation of the previous opener had damaged the top panel of the door so badly that the new opener couldn’t be attached after the old opener was removed.

After getting a number of quotes, we discovered that replacing the panel on the 35ish-year-old, original to the house, door was going to cost nearly as much as buying an entirely new one. A few hundred dollars climbed to a couple thousand in an instant.

Not one for financial surprises, I felt a little sick to my stomach after learning this bad news. That feeling passed rather quickly though, since I quickly recognized that we had built our rainy days fund for exactly such an occurrence.

That bit of sticker shock was coupled with a dilemma of practicality.

Getting a new door put in was going to require that we empty nearly all of the contents of the garage in order for the door to be installed.

The previous owner of the house had used the space as his “man cave”, complete with ugly wall paneling, a homemade ramshackle closet, carpet in some truly bizarre places, and a massive gas shop heater hanging from the ceiling. There was also some pretty substantial issues with the drywall as a result of the mediocre DYI construction.

Needless to say, the space was ugly as sin and was in need of a total gut job to return it to some semblance of its intended use. This was something FM and I had been wanting to do since the day we moved into the house, but until the garage door issue reared its head, this project was simply never at the top of the priority list.

With a healthy rainy days fund in place, we got some more quotes, ran the numbers, and decided to go ahead with the full-on overhaul.

Did we need to do a full scale renovation of the garage? Probably not. But we had the motivation of only wanting to empty out the garage once in our lifetime at the house, and we had the means with our rainy days fund well-prepared for surprise situations such as this.

We were fortunate to work with an outstanding, very personable contractor who did a fantastic job for us. The end result was a new garage door, new opener, new (fire-rated) drywall throughout the space, a fresh new coat of paint, better storage, and no hideous hanging heater.

Almost as soon as we wrapped up the garage reno project by moving all of our stuff back from our parents’ places (they were a huge help in storing things we didn’t want to leave exposed to the elements), we were hit with a double-whammy of problems: both our refrigerator and dishwasher decided to bite the dust within days of each other.

Both appliances had been showing signs of being on their last legs for a while, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected for them to reach their inevitable end. It was surprising for them to reach that stage in such close proximity to one another.

My dismay at the prospect of doling out another large sum of money to get new appliances was again offset by the fact that I knew we had prepared ourselves for this financially.

Aside from doing the groceries, I have a genuine distaste for shopping in general. Shopping for appliances quickly became one of the more annoying processes I’ve encountered in recent memory, particularly when it came to the fridge.

Apparently our modest bungalow wasn’t built to accommodate the massive size of modern-day refrigerators. I’d wager that about 90% of the fridges on the showroom floors at the retailers we visited were so far beyond what our cabinet space was built to fit that we had to strike them from the list of considerations immediately.

With our options limited, it actually made the process of doing online research and shopping for a fridge a breeze compared to the in-store frustrations, since we were able to narrow our options to just a handful from each store that we could consider.

With a short list of options in hand, we then used the dual deaths of the two appliances to our advantage by finding a dishwasher from the same manufacturer as our fridge of choice through Costco’s website. Bundling the two appliances in the same order shaved a cool $100 off the final bill!

We hired a plumber to install the dishwasher and clean up some truly bizarre plumbing under the kitchen sink and we were back to normal kitchen operations in no time.

While not as an expensive of an endeavour as the garage renovation, replacing the appliances was another significant expense that came at a less than ideal time.

So what lessons did I learn from last summer’s surprise expenses that I’d like to pass along to you?

1. You can’t predict when these surprises will occur.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that we had been hoping to avoid dealing with the issues I talked about in this article while FM was going to be on maternity leave. As this article indicates, you can’t time these sorts of surprises – they’ll happen when they happen and you need to be prepared.

2. You NEED to have a rainy days account.

Being a homeowner comes with all sorts of issues to consider. The furnace could blow. The shingles on the roof will eventually need replacing. You could encounter water damage from floods or broken pipes. Or you could deal with the types of things we did.

To help deal with those kinds of things, it is hugely important to have some money set aside. If you don’t have a rain days account set up, I would implore you to set one up and start putting whatever money you can aside.

Financial “experts” have all sorts of suggestions as to how much that fund should have in it. Personally, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. So we do what makes sense for us and aim to have 25% of our net income as the balance at any given time.

Right now we’re a fair bit below that because of FM’s maternity leave and the major expenses that I outlined above. When she heads back to work in a few months, our first priority with a regular paycheque coming in will be to replenish that account to get ourselves back to a situation we’re more comfortable with.

3. Shop around when the unexpected happens and don’t get taken advantage of.

With each of the issues we encountered, we were sure not to have any knee-jerk reactions to solving our problems. We took the time to do a lot of research, get multiple quotes, and look out for the best deal available in each scenario.

It would be very easy to panic and commit to the first thing you come across that suits your needs. But we live in an age where there is more than enough information at our fingertips to help make well-informed, financially responsible decisions in a fairly short amount of time.

How do you handle emergency expenses? Do you have a rainy day fund set up or are your forced to finance these issues on credit, whether it be a Home Equity Line of Credit, loan, or credit card? Share your experiences by leaving a comment, sending an email to frugalfatherblog@gmail.com, or by connecting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Until next Saturday, thanks for reading and look below for the latest installment in our Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project!

Frugal Father

 

Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project

Last week’s recipe: Steak with Crispy Potatoes and Pistachio Pesto

Unlike last week’s disappointment, this was a big hit. I ended up skipping the pistachio pesto after FM reminded me that she has something of a mild allergic reaction to pistachios anytime she eats them. This made the recipe incredibly simple to prepare, with very few ingredients making for very little work. This one will get added to the keeper binder and added to the Recipes page.

This week’s selection: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

My 3-Rs of Saving

Over the last number of weeks I’ve written a bit about the debt-repayment end of things when it comes to our financial priorities (i.e. Developing Our Annual Cash-Flow Forecasts, my 2019 Goals & Objectives, and Our 100-Month Mortgage Payoff Challenge).

Today, I’m going to look at the savings side of things.

The frugal approach FM and I take with our day-to-day spending has put us in the fortunate position where we can make both savings and accelerated debt repayments an option.

I’m aware that this may not always be the case – in fact it’s almost certain not to be – but for however brief or long that period is, we would rather tackle both than spend frivolously or without care.

Way back in October, I made reference to My 3Rs of Saving in an article about My Personal Finance Guiding Principles.

Our savings are classified into three categories: rainy days, retirement, and rewards. They’re also prioritized in that order.

The rainy days category is basically our emergency fund, which we keep in a high interest savings account. We aim to keep a balance of at least 25% of our net income from the previous year. The money is there to cover things like unforeseen expenses, job losses, and the like.

FM’s maternity leaves have been a perfect example of why we keep this account in place and funded to that level.

With FM being off for 12-months at a time, her income from employment insurance is a fraction of what she earns when collecting a regular paycheque. Couple that with the increased expenses of having another human in the house to pay for and it’s no wonder new parents can find themselves financially strained.

Thankfully some of the reduction in FM’s income has been offset by me getting a promotion and raise just prior to the first maternity leave and a new, higher paying job just prior to the current one.

But even with that being the case, we’ve needed to draw on this fund from time to time over the maternity leave periods. If weren’t for the rainy days fund being topped up, we would have had to make some significant adjustments to our finances that would go far beyond being frugal.

When FM returns to work in a few months, one of our first priorities will be to get this account back up to that 25% of net income target.

Next up is the retirement category, which is pretty self-explanatory.

FM and I save for retirement independently of one-another, so we each have our own approaches that we employ.

FM has opted for an ultra-conservative, but sure-to-generate-income approach of laddering Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) in her Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).

While I’m also fairly risk averse, I take a slightly less certain route and employ a strategy modeled after what I discovered years ago through the Canadian Couch Potato blog by utilizing a combination of Tangerine Investment Funds in both my RRSP and TFSA.

Open a Tangerine account with my Orange Key 17131375S1 and get a $50 bonus!

We each set aside some money from our adult allowances each month that goes to these accounts. As you might expect, that amount takes a substantial hit during maternity leaves. But with the latest one winding down in just a few short months, I expect we’ll be able to increase our contributions to these accounts in the not too distant future.

Finally, the rewards category is for things like travel, the (very) occasional splurge purchase, and home renovations that are on the ‘nice-to-do’ side of things as opposed to the ‘must-do’ type.

We’re not big spenders when it comes to any of these things, so we base our vacation plans, projects, and out-of-the-norm purchases on what our budget allows. Our rainy days and retirement accounts don’t get put off in favour of any of these things

This usually means “staycations” over big, international trips, small-scale projects around the house as opposed to a full-blown room re-modeling, and rare treats to ourselves and the kids such as tickets to concerts, events, or professional sports games.

These funds are also kept in a high-interest savings account to ensure we’re maximizing what little bit of interest we can earn from this remaining savings cash that we set aside.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to set some savings aside, how do you approach it? Do you categorize things like we do or do you lump everything together? Let me know by leaving a comment, sending an email to frugalfatherblog@gmail.com, or by connecting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Until next week, thanks for reading and remember to check out the latest in our progress on our Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project!

Frugal Father

***Full disclosure: Some of the links in this post may have been affiliate links. See my disclaimer for more information.

Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project

Last week’s recipe: Stout-Soaked Porterhouse with Beer Butter

This one landed with a thud. The biggest issue seemed to be the marinade. I followed the directions on the recipe, but the flavours of the Worcestershire Sauce and Dijon mustard were much too strong for our liking. FM only managed to get a single piece of steak down before the taste of the marinade overwhelmed her. Good thing I made lots of potato wedges as the side dish, because that turned into dinner for her that night!

Oddly enough, an extra steak that I made held up pretty well as leftovers the following day, but the damage was done as a dinner option: this one involves a trip to the recycle bin for the recipe sheet.

Oh well, you can’t win them all…or apparently very many – of the four recipes we’ve tried so far, only one has been kept and added to my Recipes page.

This week’s selection: Steak with Crispy Potatoes and Pistachio Pesto (Steak two weeks in a row! Nice!)

Our 100-Month Mortgage Pay-Down Challenge

***Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. See my disclaimer for more information.

This month marks 8 years since FM and I took the plunge into home ownership – the single largest financial commitment we’ve ever made.

As I’ve noted before, FM and I both extremely debt-averse, so the thought of taking on a mortgage was something we didn’t take lightly.

We worked with a mortgage broker to determine a budget, bought (far) less house than lenders would have liked us to believe we could afford, and signed on to a 5-year fixed rate mortgage that had a 25-year amortization period, a great rate, and offered flexible prepayment options.

Before anyone sends me comments on this, I’m very much aware that we likely could have saved some money by going with a variable rate. But our strategy for our finances is rooted in predictability, automation, and limiting risk, so the fixed rate option was the scenario we were most comfortable with.

At some point along the way, I started reading blog posts by Sean Cooper and found myself inspired by his story. He went on to write a book about it, called Burn Your Mortgage (find it on my Resources page!), which I would highly recommend to anyone looking at purchasing a house for the first time.

Much like Sean, the thought of being burdened by a mortgage until we were into our 50s and paying tens of thousands of dollars in interest over that period became increasingly unpalatable to us.

So we decided to do something about it by taking advantage of the prepayment options our mortgage allowed for and paying off as much in advance as we could afford.

Sean went to much greater lengths to pay off his mortgage as fast as possible than FM and I were willing/able to do, but the core theme of his message resonated with us and has impacted much of our financial planning and decision-making in recent years.

After a couple of years of slowly increasing our payments, I got this idea in my head in early 2015 that it would be amazing to have the mortgage fully paid off by the time we both hit our 40th birthdays.

I took a look at the calendar to figure out how many months we had to work with in order to accomplish that feat and realized that my 40th birthday was exactly 100 months away at that time.

And so began our 100-month mortgage paydown challenge.

As of today, we’ve paid off 37.5% of our mortgage in 49 months since we got more aggressive with our prepayments.

Our bank currently shows May 2028 as our projected payoff date, which would make FM and I 45 at the time we hit mortgage-freedom. That’s still about 8 years ahead of where we would have ended up had we only made the minimum payment for the entire 25-year amortization period, but that calculation only takes into account the regular, topped-up bi-weekly payments that we’re making. What it doesn’t factor in is the additional prepayments we’re making directly on the principal.

We’re currently maxing-out the 25% top-up we’re permitted on the regular bi-weekly payments and we’re now up to $150 bi-weekly payments on the principal. Based on the numbers I’ve run, if we continue to increase those additional prepayments on the principal at the same pace we have been since 2016, we’re on track to be mortgage free in early-2025.

That’s still about two years after the deadline for our 100-month goal, but with some careful planning and by continuing our frugal approach to our spending, it’s a goal that certainly well within reach.

So how do we keep up the prepayment plan now that kids are in the picture?

The same way that we approach frugality in general: it’s a trained behaviour that takes a great deal of repetition, dedication, and foresight.

I basically build our annual cashflow calculations around our debt repayments and our spending habits have adjusted to accommodate them. By planning our spending around our increased debt repayments, we’ve pretty much trained our brains to think that those numbers are the minimum payments.

This also provides us with something of a safety-net if we ever encounter a financial challenge such as a job loss or unexpected home repair. If something like that ever comes up in the future and we need to find some extra money to get by, all we have to do is revert to a lower payment and we can have upwards of a few hundred dollars a month to get us through.

Are you trying to get out from under your mortgage sooner than later as well? Do you have a specific target date in mind? What strategies are you using to put some extra money towards paying down that debt? Let me know by leaving a comment, sending an email to frugalfatherblog@gmail.com, or by connecting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Until next week, thanks for reading!

Frugal Father

Random Pile o’ Recipes Reduction Project

Last week’s recipe: Margherita Penne

This was one of those dishes that was good, but not great. It was fairly easy to prepare, so I wasn’t forced to spend a ton of time being occupied in the kitchen, which is a plus in FM’s books. The end result was a nice, lightly creamy dish, but it didn’t have a particularly strong flavour to it which was disappointing. Another downfall for this recipe was the cost of the fresh parmesan and bocconcini the recipe calls for. They’re not particularly cheap cheeses and the packages I had to buy far exceeded the amount required for the recipe, so it made for a higher upfront cost than most meals I would make. Final verdict: send it to the recycle bin.

This week’s selection: Stout-Soaked Porterhouse with Beer Butter