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Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Identity

A engineering degree completely changes the way you look at the world.  After four (or five) years of challenging course work, every object becomes a "free body diagram", every moving object has velocity vectors, and you see the inefficiencies in everyday life.  It even changes the words you use in everyday conversation.  The degree itself is so demanding that every waking (and some sleeping) hour of your last two years of college are spent in the engineering building surrounded by engineers that all think, talk, and joke just like you. After graduation the engineering segregation continues as you join an engineering group, filled with more people who think, talk, and joke like you.  So for 15 years of my life I lived in an engineering bubble.  The problem is, when I stopped working, I entered "The Real World", and I didn't know who I was.  After 5 years of school and almost 12 years of being an engineer, my identity was tied up into being an engineer. 

As I spent time with my kids, I started thinking about who I was before engineering.  Looking at who I was as a child, you would never have thought of me as a future engineer.  My childhood was filled with the Arts. I had played 5 different instruments, danced ballet for 14 years, and participated in several school drama productions.  I was never the smartest kid in school, and graduated high school in the top 25% of my class of 32 students.  This might seem impressive, except I graduated from a international school where a quarter of my class didn't speak English.  Going into college I wanted to major in Premed, mostly because of a childhood condition I had.  But Premed is not a degree, so I needed to figure out a real major for college.  I come from a very practical family, and though I loved the arts, I knew I needed a major I could make a living out of, in case the whole Premed thing fell through (and it did).  So I asked my dad "What can I major in that will get me a decent paying job right out of college?". His answer "Everyone hires mechanical engineers.". So that was it.  I was decent at math and science, so I majored in Engineering.  My decision to major in Engineering was more a practical decision than a heart decision.  I have no grandiose story of realizing as a young child that I wanted to change the world with my inventions.  Or stories of how, as a young child, I would always take things apart and put them back together.  Truth is I loved taking things apart, but always had parts left over after putting them back together. 

Being an Engineer changed me.  My profession left little time for me to do the things I enjoyed doing, like playing the piano, singing, or creating.  At work I always felt like I stood out because I was young and female.  I learned to disguise my femininity so I would blend in better. I learned that if I wore monochromatic outfits that consisted of pants a plain shirt, I would get fewer head turns while walking through a factory.   I turned off my natural caring personality, and learned to talk more about "what I did" instead of what the team did.  I learned it was acceptable to act angry when frustrated or irritated, but it was unacceptable to cry.  While finally having time to think, I realized I had changed who I was for the sake of my career.

Staying at home for awhile, I started to feel like me again.  Like who I had been before my career.  I started getting back into music and creating.  I taught preschool choir at church, and started crocheting again.  I realized that I had not loved what I had been doing for the past 12 years, which is why it was easy for me to leave.  I do not believe every woman should leave their career to stay home with their children, but for me it was what I was I needed to do.  I will  always be an engineer, and  I'm not sure if my days of working out the home are over.  But, for me, staying home during this season of my life helped me to remember who I was, and who God created me to be.


Monday, May 25, 2015

How we adjusted to one income

I remember after I told people I decided to stop working, the first question was usually "Why?". Then usually followed by "It's nice your family has found a way to live on one income".  My response was always "We haven't, but we'll figure it out". So that's what we spent the last six months of last year doing, figuring it out.

At first, we thought we could just budget our spending and that would solve everything.  So we let the cleaning lady go, and the restaurants go.  I started cooking more.  I started shopping at Aldi, instead of Kroger.  I though we would be able to do it.  But then the energy bills for August in Texas hit us.  There went $600.  With only one paycheck, our mortgage, home insurance, tax payments, and utility costs were around 50% of our income.  And cleaning my house took me ALL week, and required me to ignore my children to get it done.  It was clear we needed to make a change.  So we started talking to a realtor to both sell our 2500 sqft house, and buy a smaller, less expensive house.  While I realize this decision would be very difficult for some to do, it really was a matter of mathematics for us.  If we stayed in this nice large house, we would be out of a house within a year (I may be exaggerating a little, but still).  After talking to the realtor, we found out houses in our area had risen quite a lot since we bought the house 4 years earlier.  With the increase in value of the house and the equity we had in our current house, we had enough for a 20% down payment for a new house.  What we found was a new spec home that was 1400sqft, 1100sqft smaller than our house.  So while the waiting game started after signing contracts, we started selling and relocating our furniture and other things like crazy!  Since we were no longer going to have two living areas, we sold both our TVs, knowing we could use the money from the sale of the two TVs to buy a new one when were in the new house.  We gave our dining room table to my parents'.  As we packed boxes, we sold things we no longer needed or wanted on Craigslist and Facebook garage sale pages.  Then we finally moved into our new house, and realized another great thing about a smaller house.  Our utility bills were cut in half!  So now our mortgage, taxes, insurance, and utility bills are now only 30% of our income.  That's much more manageable! 

So now that our major expenses were taken care of, the next thing to do was to look at our other expenses, like food, entertainment, and other miscellaneous expenses.  Like I said earlier, I started cooking more, and started shopping at Aldi.  The great thing about Aldi is that it is much smaller than say Walmart or Target.  This both prevents me from randomly buy something I don't need, and lets me get in and out of the store in less than 30 minutes.  Also, Aldi has generic brand items, so they are less expensive than name brand items.  Now there are some items Aldi either does not carry, or I refuse to buy generic, like diapers, wipes, toilet paper, deodorant, and paper towels.  I still buy these items from a large box store, but I buy them online through  This way I get a little cash back every time I buy something, and, if I spend over $50, shipping to my house is free, so I don't have to go to the store at all!  Yay for not having to take two preschool boys to the store!

Next was looking at the items we could do without.  The first thing we looked at was cable TV.  Since we are not big sports fans, we realized we watched very few things on TV that we couldn't also get on Netflix.  So we canceled our cable TV, which was about $60 a month, and got a subscription to Netflix for $8 a month.  One of the items we kept, that some may be able to do without, was the lawn and bug guy.  We tried for several years to maintain our lawn, but just ended up with a unkept, full of weeds mess.  Also, I don't like living with bugs, so these two are a must for us.  Our yard at our new house was about the same as our old house, so the cost of the yard service stayed the same.  But I discovered another hidden benefit of a smaller house when I transferred the bug service.  Spraying for bugs at a smaller house is less expensive than spraying a larger house for bugs.  BONUS!!

Another thing that really helped our finances was working out a monthly budget, and balancing our checkbook at least once a week.  Though we stay fairly on budget each month, there are months we go a little over, and some that come in under the budget.  The big help has been knowing when and where our money is coming and going.  We didn't use any fancy software to create our budget and checkbook.  Just good old Excel.

When looking to decrease expenses, it is important to also allow for some fun too.  If I haven't mentioned it before, my husband is a perfect balance for me.  While I was looking at budgets and end of the month totals, he reminded me we needed to budget in some money for fun items.  So each month, we allow for about 10% of our income for fun, not in the budget items.  After all, how fun is life if you don't make room for fun?