Author: Jacquelyn

I'm a Seventh-day Adventist Christian with a passion for Christ and His Gospel. Also web developer, aspiring author, artist, frequent blogger, loving wife, and new mother to an adorable little boy.
Being present in the moment

Being present in the moment

About six months ago, I was working extra hours on a few freelance jobs with the intent of building some income outside of my regular 9-5 job. The ultimate goal would be to eventually transition into working from home so I could spend more time with our son.

After two months of working 8 to 8.5 hours at my regular job and then 2-4 hours at night after the baby went to sleep, I realized that I was wearing myself out. I was not sleeping enough, I was fighting the worst allergies I have ever experienced, I kept getting sick, and despite my husband’s valiant efforts to keep things tidy, our house had quickly fallen into disarray.

However, I pushed through because I really want to be able to stay home with my son.

Then within the span of a week, I observed my mom and mother-in-law interacting with my baby, and I realized that they were present in the moment. I was so sleep deprived that even when I was with my son, I was not there mentally. He may have had half of my attention — changing him, feeding, him, encouraging him to grab a toy or flip through a cloth book — but I was not fully there.

A part of my mind was always focused on other things. “I need to check my email.” “Once he falls asleep, I have to do x, y, and z before going to bed.” “Ugh, the dishes have piled up again.”

One afternoon when my parents dropped my son off after watching him for the day, I quietly watched my mom feed him a bottle and then my dad play with him. I almost burst into tears. In trying to pursue my goal of one day being able to stay home, I was missing the beautiful moments with my son now.

I had to change.

So I declined the next freelance job that came my way.

I put away the laptop. I did not just shut it or turned it off, I put it completely out of sight. I removed the email and Facebook apps from my phone, and began to leave my phone in my purse or on the charger in a different room of the house.

With these changes, I was able to go to sleep earlier so in the mornings, I could shower before our son woke up, greet him with smiles and songs while he was still happy, nurse him and pump, and carry him with me around the house as I got ready for work instead of putting him in a walker or the play pen.

In the evenings, I had the energy to make dinner and clean up the kitchen while my husband played with our son, did laundry or vacuumed. Bedtime was much easier, because I was no longer eagerly waiting for the baby to fall asleep so I can do other things. I wanted to spend that quality time nursing him, rocking him, cuddling with him. After he was tucked into his crib, my husband and I would relax together instead of me being occupied with work on the laptop.

Our house was not only cleaner and tidier, but it was happier and filled with sunshine, music, and laughter.

Six months later, I do not regret this decision one bit.

Do I still long for the day when I can stay home with my son? Absolutely!

As much as we appreciate our parents for helping us watch our son for six months while both my husband and I worked, we still desired to have at least one of us at home. We determined that it is not financially feasible at this time for me to be the one to stay home. My income is what we rely on for rent, bills, every day living expenses, and health insurance.

So at the end of May my husband resigned his job with a local school district to stay home with our son. Being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job. There are great days when the child is happy and you get a ton accomplished. And then there are terrible days where the house is a disaster and pretty much the only thing that happens is cuddling with a teething child.

Bradley has taken to being a stay-at-home dad, and every day he continues to amaze me. I am so grateful to be blessed with such a wonderful husband. Even after a long day of watching our son, he still cheerfully takes care of our son, me, and even the dog when I am feeling too sick to make dinner or too exhausted to wash the dishes.

Sometimes circumstances happen that do not allow us to live out our ideal dream, but instead of being disappointed, we should be thankful for the blessings we have.

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
— Philippians 4:11, NKJV

Life is more than just a checklist of accomplishments. It is about relationships, and it is about spending time with those that mean the most to us. It means treasuring precious yet fleeting once-in-a-lifetime moments. It means letting go of those things out of our control and stop worrying about the future. Give your worries and burdens over to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) and decide to be present in the here and now.

I have, and I love it!

Weaning at ten months

Weaning at ten months

Our son is about ten and a half months old, and we have recently weaned. If you are familiar with Our Breastfeeding Journey, then you know some of the challenges we faced with breastfeeding. I pumped exclusively for the first few months and, even after he was able to nurse, I still pumped most of the time to ensure he was getting enough.

A few months ago, I noticed my supply was slowly decreasing in spite of all of my efforts to keep it going strong.

At the very beginning of this journey, I prayed we would make it to ten months. It was almost exactly at ten months when my milk began to dry up. I know that it is recommended to breastfeed for the first year, but I will not complain.

We made it to ten months!

That is a huge accomplishment in light of all of the difficulties and challenges we had. I praise the Lord we made it.

Now let me say that this weaning was not because our little one no longer wanted to nurse. He still comfort nurses when he is tired. The fact of the matter is my milk has dried up on its own. It happened rather quickly over the last two weeks. After a few days of pumping three times throughout my work day and hardly getting even two ounces, I knew we would have to begin weaning.

So I decided to stop lugging the double electric pump and all its parts to work. Our little one would still nurse right before bed and during the overnight/early morning hours, but it was clear he was not getting enough. The first few days were hard. I did wake up about 3am two mornings to pump just to relieve the pressure, but even then the milk expressed was not significant. After about a week, the hardness and pressure eased.

It is now about two and a half weeks since we started weaning. He still comfort nurses when he is sleepy, but there is no milk at all anymore. Our son is eating more finger foods, baby foods, and mashed up versions of whatever I am eating. He also is getting more soy formula to keep up on his nutrition. Two weeks ago he had a visit with the pediatrician, and he is going great. Since he was born so small, the pediatrician is very please with his growth.

The process of weaning was far easier than I thought it would be. I simply stopped pumping at work but for the first week, I still nursed once in the evening and once in the morning. The first week was probably the hardest for our son, as he wanted to nurse but was not getting any milk.

As my milk dried up, we simply added more formula bottles to our son’s diet to ensure he was getting enough and I cuddled with him as he drank from the bottle to replicate the closeness that happens when nursing. With a little bit of time, he transitioned well.

Did I do the whole weaning thing the “right” way? To be honest, I did not bother to do any research or anything. I just did what felt right for us and our situation. I am learning how to trust my maternal instincts more now.

Breastfeeding challenges are normal

Breastfeeding challenges are normal

This article by NPR is very encouraging for any mother who has struggled with breastfeeding. In Secrets Of Breast-Feeding From Global Moms In The Know, we discover that even in cultures and societies that seem — on the surface — to have great breastfeeding success, mothers experience the same challenges: poor latch, low milk supply, pain, soreness, fear, doubts, etc.

So what is the difference between their apparent success and our struggles? Many of these more traditional societies still provide mothers, especially new mothers, with a lot of support and guidance from grandmothers, sisters, neighbors, etc. There is also little stigma when a mother is struggling or a baby needs supplementing. It is viewed as a normal part of life.

Here is an excerpt:

I think that there’s enormous pressure to succeed with breast-feeding in the U.S. and that you feel like if you can’t do it that this is a huge failing as a mother,” Scelza says. But Himba women didn’t seem to think the problems related to breast-feeding were a big deal.

“When [the baby] had trouble latching, they were just like, ‘Yeah, this is part of what you have to learn if you’re going to breast-feed,” she says. “They didn’t stigmatize the failing.”

Read the full article.

Here in America, perhaps our zeal to claim “breast is best” has unintentionally added even more pressure on mothers, especially new mothers, and so when women do experience difficulties, they feel like a failure when difficulties are actually quite normal.

Even with the support of my husband, my mother, and my older sister, I still felt like a failure when my son could not breastfeed, even though there were physical reasons why he was unable to latch. We should not demonize bottle-feeding, because you never know if what is in the bottle is expressed breastmilk or formula. Nor should the use of formula be looked down upon, because there are many reasons why a mother may need or decide to use formula. You and I looking in from the outside do not know that mother and baby’s circumstances.

So let us encourage one another instead of discourage. Let us share our stories and words of encouragement! If you have not already, you can read all about the challenge that is Our Breasting Journey.

Camping with a baby

Camping with a baby

My husband and I love camping!

We usually camp on our own or with family and friends a few times a year. We also usually camp twice a year with our church’s Pathfinder Club. When our little one arrived last August, we knew that he would start camping with us pretty quickly. We want him to grow up loving the outdoors, exploring, and learning a respect for God’s creation.

Horton Creek in Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.
Lower Cascades along Horton Creek in Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

On a recent Friday afternoon, we loaded up our vehicle, put our little one in his carseat, and drove two hours away to one of our favorite camping spots northeast of Payson, Arizona, and below the picturesque Mogollon Rim for a three-day, two-night camping trip.

This particular campsite is what is call an “established campground”, meaning that it has toilet facilities (little buildings with a hole in the ground but no sinks or showers), has a spicket for non-potable water, designated camping areas with picnic tables and metal fire-rings, and is maintained/monitored by a camp host.

For our first camping trip with an eight month old infant, it made sense to go to an established campground. We had the peace of mind that we were only about 20 minutes away from Payson proper and we could pack up quickly should we have to leave early. We also were figuring out how to pack our vehicle with less available space (carseat!) and more items (baby things!). In the end, we had to leave our canopy behind as it just did not fit this time.

Camping with a baby is easier than we thought it would be, and we were fairly positive about the experience going in. If you have been thinking about camping with your baby, do not be afraid trying it. All babies are different, but if you know your baby well and prepare, you may find camping with your baby is quite fun.

Mommy and baby posing at campsite in pine forest.
My little peanut and I after his first night sleeping in a tent.

As with all aspects of life after a baby, you do have to make adjustments to your plans to accommodate a little one. Here are nine tips based off what we learned while camping with our eight month old.

1. Clothing: Be prepared for the weather

It is always a good idea to know the weather forecast of the location you will be camping at, whether you are taking a baby or not, but with a baby, you need to be even more aware of weather.

Remember, out in nature, night time temperatures can vary significantly from day time temperatures. Babies lose body heat faster than adults, so you need to take the proper clothing for day and night. You also do not want to over-dress the baby and have them overheat. So I highly recommend packing clothes that can be layered.

Pack a hat or cap that fits closely over the baby’s head and, if possible, covers the ears. Hoodies are too lose around the head to keep body heat in. Also consider a floppy or wide-brim hat and sunglasses to protect the baby from the sun. We live in the southwest where the sun, even in spring time, can be quite intense, so sun protection is very important.

Long sleeves and long pants are important to protect against bugs, especially mosquitoes. Depending on the weather, you may need to pack little mittens or a snowsuit or rain jacket. And don’t forget the socks and shoes! Especially if the baby is at the crawling stage or likes to “walk” with assistance from Mom or Dad, you want them to have proper shoes so their tender feet are not getting cut by rocks.

Also remember that babies tend to get their clothes dirty fast. You should pack an extra set or two of clothes just in case of an explosive diaper or excessive spit up, but don’t sweat the little things like good old dirt. It is good for their budding immune system!

2. Food

If you are exclusively breastfeeding via nursing, just be sure to pack extra water and snacks for Mom and a comfortable place to sit (a camp chair) for those nursing sessions that will happen every 3-4 hours. Back support is important to keep the sore muscles away. If your baby is six months or older, try side-lying nursing in the privacy of your tent. In this position, babies have to be a certain size and have some head control to be able to reach the breast and nipple in a way that is comfortable to both of you.

If you are formula feeding, be sure you pack enough formula and filtered/sterile water to cover the usual amount of meals that your little one has during an average day. You may also want to take along whatever is necessary for cleaning the bottles if you plan to reuse them.

Mommy using a heavy duty baby carrier.
Enjoying an easy Sabbath afternoon walk along Christopher Creek. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

If your baby is old enough to eat solid food, pack some baby food and a spoon and try to keep on your regular schedule when it comes to how much or how frequently the baby gets the solid food.

For those Moms who, like me, breastfeed via pumping, I highly recommend you buy rechargeable batteries for your electric pump or a power converter that can plug into your vehicle. Our son currently eats a combination of breast milk (pumped and nursing), formula (supplemental to the breastmilk when he is especially hungry), and solid foods. He has been improving in nursing on his own, and I thought we would be fine for the three days with the breastmilk I had pumped previously, a few bottles of formula (for emergencies), and the baby food so I took only a hand pump.

I regretted it.

While we had plenty of food for our son, I was in pain and discomfort by the end of the trip. Our little one was so excited that he had a hard time staying focused long enough to nurse (except during the night when he sleep-nurses), and the hand pump was not draining the milk completely. By Sunday morning, I had hard lumps in my breasts and the hand pump had caused some minor bleeding. So, in hindsight, if you are a mom who pumps exclusively or regularly, it is worth the hassle of taking your familiar electric pump with you.

Not draining the breast completely tells your body that demand for the milk has decreased so milk production will start to decrease. For nursing mothers, you can simply add a few extra nursing sessions in when you get home. But for those of us who rely on pumping, it can be a challenge to get our supply back. It is over a week since we returned, and I am only just getting my milk supply back up to pre-camping levels.

3. Diapers! Wipes!

When it comes to diapers, I recommend packing a few more than you think you will need. Our little one ate a little less on our trip and, therefore, had fewer messy diapers. However, it is better to be prepared then to find yourself needing one more diaper and not having one.

If you are cloth diapering, you will have to bring enough water to rinse the diapers and a wet storage bag for soiled diapers until you return home. If you are brave enough and have enough water, you can take soap, wash the diapers there, and let them dry in the sun.

If you are using disposable diapers, please dispose of them properly.

I also recommend bringing a baby wash cloth just in case you need to give the little one a sponge bath after a particular messy diaper or if they end up really dirty playing in the dirt. A plastic bin can double as a small bathtub if need be.

4. Somewhere safe to sleep.

Camping is a perfect example of co-sleeping. Co-sleeping basically means sleeping in close proximity to your child, but most people associate the term with bed-sharing.

Bed-sharing, where the child sleeps in the same bed as the parent(s), is actually only one type of co-sleeping. If you plan to bed-sharing while camping, you will need to be extra vigilant. Sleeping bags can be tight for one or two adults, and adding a little one can pose additional challenges. Sleeping bags can also be heavy so you need to be sure that the baby is not too restricted and can breathe.

However, if done correctly, bed-sharing while camping can be a wonderful experience for you and your baby.

To be honest, bed-sharing makes me a little nervous. Perhaps it is because I am a first-time mom. I don’t bed-share at home very often, and I did not plan to bed-share while camping. When it comes to co-sleeping, I prefer him to be in his own safe bed within arms reach.

Daddy posing with baby in nature.
A little bit of daddy and son time Sunday morning. Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

So we brought the Moses basket from the bassinet we used when he was newborn to 5 months old. It is large, has sturdy sides, and good mattress to keep him off the ground. It also collapses flat! We put the Moses basket right next to my side of the air mattress in our tent.

It was cold at night so even with his super warm pajamas, I did have to swaddle him loosely with a blanket (arms free). He was very comfortable in the basket. I could see him every time I opened my eyes and I could easily pick him up for cuddles and night-time nursing. In the early morning hours, I did end up bringing him into the sleeping bag with me, but I kept him cradled in my arm and only lightly dozed.

If you do not have a suitable place for baby to sleep and do not want to bed-share, research travel bassinets, co-sleeper beds, etc. to find one that will fit your needs.

Just as at home, you need to create a safe sleeping environment and be vigilant with not allowing anything to obstruct your baby’s breathing. Ideally, dress baby in warm layers and avoid soft or heavy blankets, especially if your baby is unable to lift and turn their head on their own yet. Always put the baby on their back and on a firm surface without loose pillows, stuffed animals, or blankets near the face.

5. Somewhere to sit and play.

We were camping in a pine forest so the ground was littered with pine needles, pine cones, and rocks. W planned on stretching out an extra tarp, putting an old duvet cover down, and letting our son play on that with adult supervision. When we reached the campsite, we let our friends borrow the extra tarp and I did not want to put the duvet cover down directly on the dirt. We ended up holding our son the majority of the time. Fortunately, there were plenty of adults around to hand him to.

Before our next camping trip (hopefully next month!), we decided to buy a camping chair for babies. We bought Summer Infant Pop ‘N Sit Portable Highchair, because we wanted a chair that had a security belt for when he is very little, a real tray (not cloth), and that folds up. We will test this out the next time we camp, and I will update with whether or not it worked for us.

A tarp and blanket can work for a play area for younger babies. Our little one has mastered crawling, and he is extremely fast! Even with supervision, he is like a little bullet and he loves getting into everything. (I can just see him trying to eat pine needles and dirt…) So we also decided to invest in a North States Superyard with an easy access door. This “playard” can be used both indoor and outdoor, and we needed something for our living room anyway to keep him from getting himself into trouble while we are doing chores. The nice thing about this particular one is that it folds up and has a carrying strap, so it should be easy to take on our next camping trip.

As for playing, you do not need to bring a lot of toys to occupy the baby. Just being outdoors, somewhere new, and the regular hustle of camp activity will keep them occupied. Also, do not be too worried about the little one getting a little dirty. There is so much to see and touch!

6. If teething, bring whatever usually soothes baby with you.

If your baby is currently teething, you need to bring whatever it is that you usually use to soothe the pain. If it is teething toys, pacifier, clove gel, extra cuddles with Mom, or even baby medicine — baby will need relief from the pain in some way.

Squirrel sneaking seeds we left out for it.
One of the many squirrels that entertained us around camp. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

Fortunately, if your baby is at the stage where he or she is alert, they will probably be easily distracted by the camping experience. Our little one was fascinated by everything. He watched the squirrels try to sneak snacks, the birds flittering here and there, the branches and leaves rustling in the wind, and other campers walking their dogs. (He loves animals.) So we only had to give him medicine once, and the rest of the time, he was fine with chewing on his pacifier and teething toys and the occasional clove gel on his gums.

If baby gets fussy, nurse, cuddle, or go for a little walk around the campgrounds to distract them.

7. A baby/toddler carrier

We took two different baby carriers along with us.

I used our BabyBjörn Original for keeping our son close while doing things around camp, for walks in the immediate area, and for a longer hike. He is getting close to outgrowing it, though.

We also tried out heavy-duty baby carrier for hiking. This carrier has a collapsible stand so you can load baby in the carrier before hoisting it to your back. There is a wide waist belt and a strip that goes over the chest to more evenly distribute the weight. It was very useful on one of the longer hikes along the creek, but I did find it was a challenge to hoist this carrier from the ground to my back by myself.

It was also useful as a chair when we were breaking down camp and loading the vehicle, since we did not have anywhere else to put our son when we were doing the tasks that required two people: getting the air out of the air mattress, shoving our double sleeping bag back into its carrying bag, and putting up our tent.

Our son, though, did not like this carrier as much. It could be because he was a tad small for it so he could not see well, or it could be because it was on my back and he has only ever been carried on my chest before this. Either way, this heavy-duty hiking carrier will take a few more times to get used to.

8. Adjust your schedule and activities.

We found that having our son with us meant that everything was done at a slower pace. Someone had to hold or wear the baby at all times and certain activities, like breaking down the tent and packing up the car, took twice as long as before because we had to take turns watching the baby. This slow pace was actually a blessing in disguise because I was able to really relax and enjoy the quiet serenity of the woods. There was no rush to go anywhere or do anything, but at the same time, I had to be a little more aware of the time in regards to how long it takes to prepare food.

Mommy hiking with a baby in a carrier on her back.
We love visiting the pine forests up near Payson, Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

When we went for a walk by the creek, we had to make sure he was wearing socks and shoes and protected from the sun with a hat. It is logical, but if you have never had a baby with you on a trip before, you will find that your schedule needs more flexibility. I found myself going to bed and waking earlier than I usually do, even for camping trips.

Also remember that your little one has a routine and try to keep to that familiar schedule. Babies are quite adaptable, but familiarity does help them adjust to being outdoors. So if your baby naps at a regular time, eats at certain times, etc., plan your activities around the baby’s schedule.

9. Important odds and ends

If you are camping, you should always have a first aid kit. With a baby, you should add a few more items such as a nasal aspirator, a medicine dispenser/syringe, infant Tylenol or the equivalent medicine, and a baby thermometer.

Bring plenty of cleaning wipes for hands, faces, and bums — for you too! Mosquito netting may also be useful to bring to keep the pesky bugs away.

Have fun!

Most importantly, relax and have fun. Enjoy this special time out in nature with your little one. Sing! Sing! Sing! Babies love singing anyway, and singing and camping go hand in hand. Do not be shy. Sing away.

The Van Sant baby went camping at only 8 months old.
Our little one’s first time wear sneakers! Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

If you do not sing, hum or tell silly stories. Narrate your activities to the baby. Describe what they are seeing around them, what is making that curious new sound. Tickle and play “peek-a-boo”. Let the baby fall asleep in your arms while you relax in the camping chair or in the tent.

Camping with a baby can be a little challenging but it's also very rewarding. Click To Tweet

Camping with a baby can be a little challenging, but it is very rewarding. At eight months old, our son was at the crawling, standing, and trying to walk stage and that was the perfect time to take him on his first camping trip. He recognized that we were somewhere new and was fascinated by everything: the squirrels eating the seeds we threw out to them, our camping neighbors’ walking their dogs, the rustling of the winds through the tall pines, the crowing of the large ravens, the rushing of the creek over rocks, and so much more!

Was I a bit sleep deprived by the end of the trip? Yes, but it was worth every moment to see his smiling little face as he woke up in my arms, played hide and seek with the camping bag, and then crawled/climbed on his daddy. It made my heart swell with joy when he giggled hysterically. Sunday morning, I set him briefly down in one of the camping chairs, and he threw his head back and howled like a coyote!

Happy baby sitting on the ground in a pine forest.
Our little peanut looking quite dashing on his first camping adventure. Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

We want our son to grow up with a love for nature. He has already gone on a night hike (during the super moon at just three months old), a couple of hikes, and now his first weekend camping trip. We are planning another camping trip next month. It is never too early to teach him to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Happy trails!

Budget Guide: What to do with your tax refund?

Budget Guide: What to do with your tax refund?

Here in the United States, tax season has wrapped up and, hopefully, you submitted your taxes by the April 18th deadline or filed for an extension. For many, the stress of tax season is often relieved when we are informed that we will be receiving a tax refund from the federal government, the state government, or both.

A tax refund is issued to a taxpayer when the amount of taxes owed for the year is less than the sum of the taxes withheld throughout the year from your paycheck plus any refundable tax credits that may be claimed.

So, if you are one of the millions of Americans who will be getting a refund check or two in the mail (or direct deposited into your bank account), what should you do with your tax refund? A lot of people view the refund as “free money” and then they spend it on expensive gifts, grown-up toys, or other things.

If you are on a budget and choosing to live within your means, here are some frugal ideas on how to make your tax refunds benefit you and your saving goals.

Pay towards loans and/or debt

First and foremost: if you are currently paying off loans or debt — credit card, student loans, car loans, mortgage — then it may benefit you in the long run to put all or part of your tax refund towards the principle of your smallest loan.

One strategy for getting out of debt, called the Debt Snowball, is to pay extra on your smallest loan. As much as you can reasonably afford on a regular, monthly basis. This allows you to pay this loan off faster. Then, when this smallest loan is completely paid off, you take the money that you have and use it as extra payments on the next largest loan. You are already used to not having that amount available for casual spending each month, so the best thing you can do is use that money to continue paying off any other loans or debt. You can visualize it as a snowball gaining momentum and size as it rolls down a hill.

Tip: Just be sure that you specify in your payments that the extra money is going to principle. Some banks and loan companies are sneaky or have hidden fees, so you want to make sure that your extra payments are actually going to pay off the loan itself and are not being used elsewhere.

Using all or part of your tax refund to pay towards the principle of your smallest loan/debt is a great way to get a large chunk of the debt paid off.

Create or add to your financial safety nets

Another way you can use your tax refund is to put a portion of it into your savings account. As we discussed earlier in the Budget Guide series, you want to establish a “fake zero” balance in your checking account. This is a certain dollar amount that acts as your $0. It is intended to be a cushion or safety net.

Tip: This “fake zero” balance can be $100 or $500 or $1000 dollars — whatever you can build up to and is realistic for your income, expenses, etc. — but the trick is that you always view it as untouchable. The only time you should dip into this cushion is for a real, genuine, and unexpected emergency… such as an ER visit with a high deductible or an unforeseen car repair.

With so many Americans unable to pay even $400 for an unexpected emergency (see this article in The Washington Post), it is very important for your financial stability to have a “fake zero”. I really encourage you to try to work this fake zero up to $500 or $1000.

Once you have a “fake zero” safety net in your checking, you need to start building a completely separate Emergency Fund in your savings account. Financial experts encourage that this Emergency Fund be equal to 3 months income. This gives you and your family an even larger safety net should the unthinkable happen and you are unable to bring in an income for a few months.

Granted, depending on your income, living situation, and cost of living, it may take a while to reach the 3 months income goal. This is where your tax refund comes in handy! That can be a pretty decent sized deposit into your Emergency Fund.

Use it for car maintenance and repair

If you own a car, especially a car older than five years, you know the importance of keep your vehicle in good working condition. You may want to take your vehicle to a trust-worthy mechanic to be evaluated so you can plan for future maintenance costs. If you already have a list of repairs or routine maintenance that needs to be performed on your vehicle, you can use all or part your tax refund to tackle some maintenance or a major repair issue.

Living within your budget helps you enjoy a contented life without stress that debit brings. Click To Tweet

Some basic maintenance issues that can be easily overlooked include  changing your oil regularly, having low air pressure in your tires, and worn out or old tires that need replacing. Be sure to read your vehicle’s owner manual so you know how frequently you should get the oil changed and what the pressure should be in your tires for optimal gas mileage.

As for the worn out or old tires: it may seem like you are saving money by buying used or discounted tires only when you absolutely need to replace a tire, but this practice is not good for your vehicle and could also pose a safety hazard for you. It can result in uneven wearing of tires and increase the possibility of a blow out.

Tip: It is best to get all four of your tires replaced at the same time or as close together as you can afford. Also, you should have your tires rotated periodically so they wear more evenly.

Buy one or two big ticket items on your list

Perhaps you have been staying within your budget and diligently putting away a set amount of money each month towards the purchase of a big ticket item or two, such as furniture or appliances, that you need. Perhaps it is a new refrigerator or washing machine, or perhaps it is a new rug or dresser. Whatever big ticket item that you have been saving for, your refund can help.

My husband and I have a list of big ticket items that we arrange according to priority and necessity. For example, we desperately needed a proper dresser in our son’s room to hold his clothes and other items like blankets. For his first seven months, we made do with a single drawer in a small hand-me-down desk/dresser and some cubbies in a bookshelf. However, as his clothes got bigger, they were quickly outgrowing the small drawer. We also knew we needed something tall enough to double as a changing table.

So dresser was on the top of our list since it was a valid necessity and needed within a certain time period. We were able to bargain hunt online until we found the right dresser for us, within our budget, and with free shipping. Then we used a portion of our tax refund to buy the dresser. It arrived a short time later, and just this last weekend, my husband and father put the dresser together for us. It fit the room perfectly, works as an amazing changing table, and can hold all his clothes, blankets, and other items.

Tip: If you do not already, I highly recommend that you keep a list of items that you need or want, prioritized by necessity and urgency.

You can use part of your refund to help you purchase the most crucial item, and you can also put away a certain amount of money each month towards this list. You may have to “make do” without an item for a few months, but it is worth the peace-of-mind knowing that you are staying within your budget, live within your means, and avoiding credit card debit.

In conclusion

Obviously, these are only a handful of suggestions on how you can make your tax refund work for you. There are other things you can do, such as go on a much-needed vacation or use the money towards a trip to visit family. Whatever works for you.

Just remember: living within your budget helps you enjoy a contented life free of the stress and worry that debit brings.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

— 1 Timothy 6:6-8, English Standard Version

So what are you doing with your tax refund this year?

Budget Guide: 3 tips for big ticket items

Budget Guide: 3 tips for big ticket items

In this follow up to my Budget Guide series, I will be sharing with you how we were able to furnish our home and prepare for the arrival of our first child while staying within our budget.

Both my husband and I work full time and what limited free time we have after work is filled up with family events, church activities, and helping to launch a family business with my parents. After our little Peanut was born, we had to do some creative juggling to maintain our old schedule and care for a newborn. Our house was lacking some much needed furniture, but we did not have the time nor the energy to go store hopping to find the best deals.

So here are three tips for big ticket items based on how we stayed within our budget.

Shopping Online

If you have a busy life and do not have the time to travel from store to store comparing items and prices, I recommend shopping online from reputable online retailers.

Last year we purchased four dining room chairs, a small cabinet for the kitchen, two bedside tables for the master bedroom, two large area rugs, a rocking chair, and a crib mattress all online. In most cases, we did careful research to find the items that we wanted that were within our budget. Then we waited until the online retailers were running sales, had discounts, or offered free shipping.

Free shipping is crucial, especially with large/heavy items, or you will find yourself spending $20+ on shipping and handling fees!

Buy secondhand

If you do have the time to visit the secondhand stores in your area and are patient enough to wait until you find the right items, buying secondhand may be the right direction to go in.

Depending on the time of year, you may find good deals on larger furniture items. Almost year round, you can find curtains, throw pillows, artwork, and other pieces to accent your home. There are two keys to successful secondhand shopping: 1.) visiting thrift stores located in the higher income neighborhoods, and 2.) having the time and patience to shop around.

Be very specific about what items to you buy. Even with secondhand stores, you need to carefully consider your purchases. You might find an excellent deal on a couch but is the item in decent condition, would fit your home and style, necessary at this time? Basically, even at the discounted price, ask yourself if buying the item is worth it.

It is very easy to slip into a shopaholic mindset and buy anything that catches your eye, only to regret it later when you look at your dwindling checking account.

Get items from family and friends

This third tip is similar to buying secondhand and is very useful when you are first setting up a home but may not have the funds yet for furnishing it. That is: get items from family and friends for free.

Coffee tables, couches, end tables, dressers… sometimes our family and friends have a treasure trove of items they are replacing or just no longer want or need.

In our house, our couch and recliner in the living and the long dresser in our master bedroom were free from my older sister and brother-in-law. A dresser with a hidden desk, a china cabinet, and two bar stools were from my husband’s grandparents. Our current coffee table and a corner accent table we use in the hallway were from friends.

Do all of these pieces match? No, but they are all great pieces individually, fulfilled a genuine need in our home, and, most important for us, were free!

This means that they fill our home with desperately needed storage and comfort while giving us time to discover our unique “style” and save up for big purchases. Couches, for example, can be very expensive when you buy new. Why rush into a purchase you may not really love or may not fit you in a few months?

We have a decent-looking and comfortable couch that has work for us for two years now and, because it was free, I do not freak out when the baby spits up all over it. We know that eventually we will be replacing the couch with a better one, but it does its job for now.

In conclusion

So to sum up: to save some money if you are furnishing a new place or haven’t discovered your style yet, see what big items you can get for free from family and friends. Then, if you have the time, visit secondhand stores, especially those in the higher income areas of your town, to find items at bargain prices. To finish up, shop online to find quality items on sale and with free shipping.

These three tips can help you stay within your budget when shopping for big ticket items.