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This Is the Bed I've Made

...and I'm gonna snuggle under my security budget! Wait--what?

where I snuggle with Nux Gallica to dream
Yes, that's right. I've set my mind free from sleepless worry over money, beneath the cover of a scanty, rough, but serviceable biweekly budget.

For added comfort, I'm layering in my new smooth, silky, weekly and daily schedule sheets. Ahhhh, bliss!

The brain of a mother is a minefield of worries, and the brain of a creative person is a lightning storm of chaos. So despite what you might see on Pinterest, it's very easy for a creative mom's dreams to get paralyzed by a crushing sense of anxious insecurity.

I think this is why I'm such a plotter on the outside. I can remember that first day of middle school, when the teacher passed out daily planner notebooks and explained how we would have to track all our schoolwork and extracurricular activities. I remember curling my lip and staring at the thing with dread--not because I didn't like writing--oh how I loved writing!--but because I couldn't imagine binding my creative genius to the mundane drudgery of outlines and schedules.

But, like a diligent student, I gritted my teeth and tried it out. And once I got the hang if it, what a life-changer it was! I stopped finding myself panicked the evening before a project was due, begging my mom to do it for me because I had forgotten about it. I set myself free of the incessant whisper in my head that I was forgetting something--because scatterbrained me was always forgetting something--by using that notebook as a quiet place to stash all those things that were boring but important to remember.

As an adult, I'm a solid plotter, finding a deep sense of security in lists, maps, and plans. Creative people tend to be the least organized, mentally. I'm scatterbrained, forgetful, easily lost in space, prone to floating into daydreams and falling off the edges of tangents. Written guidelines have become my lifelines.

Since the birth of my daughter, I've struggled on and off with persistent, insomnia-inducing anxieties about MONEY and TIME. Am I spending too much? Am I making enough? Am I paying debts fast enough? Am I saving enough? ...and... Have I accomplished enough from my to-do list today?

Worries about the flow of personal money and time can be soul-crushing. They take up mental and emotional bandwidth, decreasing productivity, inner peace, and the enjoyment of life. The pressures to do it all and do it right can sabotage creative processes and decision-making.

So I've learned, with much effort, to accept that my life cannot be perfection, but I can still enjoy what I have. I'm settling in to the bed I have made, right now, so I have energy to dream and eventually create even brighter possibilities for my future and my family.

Now I'll share with you my own personal plans for the flow of money and time, because although each person's plan will look different, it helps to see real-life examples.

My Security Budget

First of all, there is no mathematical definition of financial security. Though money is important for meeting our basic needs and achieving goals, its importance tends to be exaggerated in our minds. "Security" is a feeling, not a number. There is plenty of sound financial advice out there about maximizing your assets, but we need to keep in mind that financial advice is just financial advice. It's not lifestyle advice. It's not a religion. It's specific to financial goal-setting, and financial goals should always support--never supersede--life dreams and moral values.

Permanent financial security is a myth; anybody can lose everything, and any amount of money can theoretically be replaced. What can't be replaced is the time in our lives we have not spent living our dreams. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be one of those people who waits until retirement to live whole-heartedly.

Along the way, of course, it's wise to do the best we can with our limited resources to minimize the distraction of financial woes. A healthy, peaceful balance between obsessing over the numbers and ignoring the numbers is what I seek.

My husband and I keep separate bank accounts (which we can access from each other when needed) to make it easier for each one of us to track bill paying and spending. DaddyMan pays all the utility bills and preschool tuition; I handle most of our debt payments, including the mortgage, and I manage most of our humble savings and investments (which are automated as paycheck deductions into retirement accounts, educational savings for our daughter, etc.).

The amounts of our savings deductions fall comfortably between what is recommended by financial gurus on TV and what most people actually do (which is nothing). Our daughter's education fund gets $50 a month, our emergency savings account gets $100 a month, and our retirement accounts get roughly $200 a month.

During the hard years of early parenthood, before public elementary school becomes available to us, we have committed to a life of temporary but hardcore asceticism. It has turned out to be a great lifestyle for a creative person who wants to strip life down to the essentials so she doesn't have to let go of any of her top three life purposes--mothering, justice-seeking, and writing.

Each of my paychecks disappears completely each month into regular payments and deductions. Yep, that's right, poof--gone. Our household pays about $700 per month on debts (excluding mortgage) thanks to our fancy college experiences and our shared lack of ambition to do work that is not meaningful to us to make more money. (Knowing us, it couldn't have happened any other way.) The remainder of my paycheck goes into savings. There are exactly zero dollars left over.

Every two weeks, I take $200 from my husband's account to live on--that's $100 per week for food, gas, personal items, fun times, educational experiences with Nux Gallica, toys from the clearance bin, medical copays--everything. My husband does a lot of the grocery shopping and car maintenance himself, so I can get away with this skimpy allowance--and it's kind of thrilling to know that I can. It also forces me to seek out healthy ways to pass the time with my daughter, like going on long walks to the park and cooking meals at home instead of driving to Chuck. E. Cheese. It sure helps that I don't drink or smoke! I can't afford any vices. I also can't afford distracting hobbies, leisure activities, and frivolities that are too tempting for me to pass up when I can afford them. (Manicures! Bar nights! Movies!) This is both sad and helpful, as I don't have the time for those things either.

Generosity is important to me, no matter how much I have, so it stresses me when I can't afford to give funds, gifts, and volunteer time to causes and people I care about. I would like to give more to my favorite nonprofit (which is also my employer), and it made me feel badly when I had to cancel my annual giving to stay afloat. Then I discovered that I am underpaid (according to the organization's own fair payment guidelines) in the exact amount that I had wanted to contribute (and I certainly don't think my work is worth less than the average worker's), so I've made note of that funny fact and decided to call it, to myself, my contribution to the cause.

In addition to willingly allowing a chunk of my income to stay with my community-improving employer, I consume conscientiously. Whenever possible, I use my teensy spending budget on more ethical and clean products (I value quality over quantity) such as green cosmetics, organic (or close-to-organic) food, fair trade chocolate and coffee, and "upcycled" clothing and textiles. 

Now that my debt payments, savings, spending, and giving are all automated at the best possible equilibrium and I know that I am not spending more than I earn, my mind is free to stop worrying about money. I still hope to have more in the future, but that hope is a motivator rather than a toxic stressor. My "need" for more cash flow has become a non-urgent "want."

My Schedule Sheets 

My "Mama Days" with Nux Gallica, while filled with moments of joy, used to be fraught with anxiety and frustration as well. As she grows and develops, changing her nap habits and needs and interests faster than I can keep up, I've fallen into the habit of watching for her signals (of hunger, boredom, excitement, sleepiness, etc.) to decide what to do from one hour to the next.

This is a generally wise thing to do with a small child, who is not fully in control of her physical needs and emotional states, but I realized that she and I both need more structure and routine in our day. Then perhaps she would feel more in control, and I would be less inclined to spend every moment thinking about what we would do next and how I would fit in all the tasks on my to-do list.

So I, being creative but not especially fancy-pants crafty, pulled out some washable markers and sheets of blank paper, and drew up a weekly calendar and a "Mama Days" schedule that Nux can understand in her pre-literate stage.

Sunday is family day! This is the one day of the week when we can do things all together, at any time of the day.

Monday, Friday, and Saturday are Mama Days. Daddy works, and we have mother-daughter time.

Tuesday is Daddy Day! This is when all the major fun happens, I suspect.

Wednesday is Preschool Day, a chance to get away from both parents for a little while and play with lots of other children.

Thursday is Oma Day, time to visit Grandma.

Nux Gallica absolutely adores this calendar and the Mama Days schedule below. She loves to point to each rectangle and recite what we did before, what we're doing now, and what we will do next. I'm astounded at the drastic change these stick figure sketches have made in our days and our moods. Nux has gone straight from anxious and resistant to transitions... to getting excited about them ahead of time.

At 6:30, Mama drinks coffee and checks her email and to-do list. This is a great time to sleep in or play independently! Mama will be so much happier in approximately one hour!

At 7:30, Daddy gets home from his morning job at the airport, and we eat breakfast together as a family. 

At 9:00, we go outside to water plants, pull weeds, and play. If it's raining, we do some gross motor play indoors and sometimes run errands by car.

At 11:00, we come inside to make lunch together. We sit at the table and have a leisurely meal.

At 1:00, it's time to lie down and rest quietly. We snuggle together, and then sometimes Mama sneaks away to make phone calls or do other boring grownup tasks.

At 2:00 (or whenever nap ends, if napping happens) we do chores together. Mama chooses the chores, and Nux chooses whether to help with each task or play independently.

At 5:00, we cook dinner together before Daddy comes home to join us.

At 7:00, we take a bath. Sometimes we both get in and color with bath crayons.

By 8:00, we are in bed to read a chapter of Charlotte's Web or Harry Potter before falling asleep.

Mama's Measure of Success: Life in Dream Time

Sometimes when I get frustrated about how little time I have to accomplish the goals I had before becoming a mother, I just need to remind myself that this extreme lifestyle is temporary--and sweet--and that, as we hear over and over, the journey is no less important than the destinations. Instead of asking myself, "What have I done this week?" I can ask, "How much time have I spent on my most precious dreams?"

What have I desired most since my tenderest age? What did I dream about most in my childhood bed? What did I pray for? What did I wish upon a star?

There are three things my soul has always craved, ever since I can remember. Those three deepest, most persistent desires have been family, justice, and storytelling.

And when I ask myself now, how much of my time to I spend with my beloved family?

How much time do I spend working for justice in the world?

How much time do I spend weaving my thoughts into stories?

When I ask myself those questions, I realize that nearly my entire life right now--nearly all my time, my resources, and my energies--are flowing in the service of those three primal, personal desires.

And then I feel truly self-actualized, and I stop losing sleep wondering if I'm doing it right and start dreaming bigger dreams...

How about you? What are your top three priorities in life? How much of your time, resources, and energies are spent in the service of those priorities? How much of yourself flows into the waking pursuit and nighttime creation of your dreams? 

Whatever bed you have made in your life, may you find rest in it this Labor Day!


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