A (Kind of) Confession and a Challenge We’re Facing

Is it seriously already Wednesday? We have been busy with VBS and check-ups at the dentist and the OB, but I have been thinking about writing this all weekend!

Wow, friends.

You guys came out of the woodwork to introduce and share a little bit about yourselves. I tried to respond to every single comment and I hope I didn’t miss anyone (I also asked a few follow-up questions, ahem-hem). I absolutely loved reading a bit about who YOU areand why you read here.

The biggest questions it seemed people had were in relation to our solar set-up, our plans for our (un)expected arrival, and why exactly we’re going to build a large house if we seem to be doing a-ok in an itty-bitty space, so I am planning posts addressing each of those issues specifically in the upcoming weeks (when I say “planning posts” what I really mean is that I think about them for a while before sitting down at the computer and hammering one out while Finn is napping – just so we’re clear).

One of the things that struck me the most is how many of you have your OWN stories to tell. Some of you own land that you want to build on someday, some of you have spent time living in unusual spaces. Many of you are just interested in a simple, less expensive, less consumerist lifestyle. Me too.

My confession is this (and maybe it’s not much of a confession because it’s probably glaringly obvious): I have no idea as of yet what exactly a simple, less expensive, less consumerist lifestyle consists of for us, necessarily.

So far, living in the bus hasn’t been exactly simple OR less expensive and we’ve had to buy a lot of things! There have been a plethora of problems to deal with and some additional costs that we hadn’t really planned on.

As far as living with less is concerned, there are things that I packed away thinking that they would only contribute to cluttering up the small space that I really wish I had out right now (certain electric kitchen tools specifically, since our electricity is free and propane is not). There are other things that I kept out or even purchased that are turning out to be a pretty useless waste of space (most of the under-couch storage that I bought from Ikea is practically empty and just makes it harder to sweep under the futon). There is also a ton of stuff we have packed away in storage that I think is going to go directly to Goodwill when we finally unpack it.

I think, though, that all that is just part of the journey. We’re not experts or professionals in any capacity (except the capacity that Noah is a professional in… which doesn’t relate to bus-dwelling at all). We really are just a normal family trying out a very un-normal situation in the hopes that it will help us reach our goal. We are bound to make a huge load of mistakes along the way, but hopefully we’ll come out the other end stronger and wiser and with lots of stories to tell!

Having said all that, and now that we all know each other, can I present to you a particular challenge that we’re facing?

Since a big part of this endeavor is about saving money, it is terribly frustrating when certain aspects of this lifestyle cost MORE than when we were living in a house. I’ve mentioned before that one of those higher cost areas is our grocery budget. Many of you noted that you found this blog after my guest posts at Money Saving Mom and at Southern Cali Saver, so I feel confident that I’m dealing with a group of financially savvy individuals.

However, our situation is rather unique due to the fact that one of the big principles of saving money on your grocery budget - Stock Up on Good Deals – is harder to do when you don’t have a freezer and your fridge space is very minimal (think hotel mini-fridge size). I find that I keep having to go to the grocery store to buy fresh food (milk especially, since we can only fit one or two gallons and we go through much more than that weekly), when before I could buy and cook in bulk and freeze a large portion of food. I have also had to pass up deals on meat on clearance because I had no way to save it before it would go bad (I’m thinking of you, giant, half-off ham).

Some of the things I’ve been doing to try and combat this include buying lots of shelf-stable fruits and veggies and keeping them out on the counter (works quite well), buying canned goods (although not my favorite thing health-wise) and baking more (which uses more dry ingredients like flour).

We  do own a full-size fridge/freezer, but it won’t run off our little solar set-up (one thing I’ve learned since being out here is that the appliances that take up the MOST energy are those whose purposes are to heat or cool things). Our current fridge actually runs off propane, and propane freezers are crazy expensive (from what I’ve seen).

So, any ideas on how to save money on fresh food without a freezer and only a teeny fridge? Running to the store all the time is killing me AND our budget and definitely not contributing to “living simply” in any way, shape or form.

*Interesting side-note: In relation to the issue that we’re having, it strikes me that there are probably many people who are unable to afford to eat fresh, healthy food due to the inability to stock up or store it properly. What are your thoughts?

A Surprise Bargaining Chip and Questions for YOU

We received an update on the status of our loan pre-qual, but nothing is final yet. It’s taking a bit longer than was originally estimated due to some behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place.

So far, it’s gone down like this: our loan broker gave the construction lender our financial details and then asked for more money than we need (to the tune of $370k). The lender countered with an offer to give us slightly less money than we need ($290k) AND required that we have a co-signor on the loan during this part of the process (it wouldn’t be during the entire mortgage, just for the construction part).  They claimed that this was due to our lack of assets (which is reasonable, given that we don’t have a lot of cash on hand right now.)

HOWEVER, a crucial piece of the puzzle was missing during this conversation. Part of the reason that our liquid coffers are rather empty right now (aside from all the reasons listed in the above link) is that we tuck a decent pre-tax portion of Noah’s paycheck away into stocks and a 401k. Somehow, our reasonably-sized nest egg was totally skipped over during this conversation until I asked about it after our broker filled us in on how things stood.

So, now he’s gone back to the lender with what turned out to be a kind of surprise bargaining chip (I like to imagine him calling them up and asking “how do you like them assets?”) and now we’re… waiting some more.

:::IN THE MEANTIME::: 

I have to say, I am awfully curious about you, dear readers. Aside from family and friends and those who comment regularly, I have NO IDEA who in the world is reading here.

Like any blogger worth their salt we have Google Analytics set up, as well as the general site metrics provided by WordPress. I can see what posts get the most pageviews, how many clicks we get per day and various other miscellany, such as what search terms people use to find us. Usually it’s simply various spellings of “prairie” (prarie, prarei, praeri, praire), but occasionally we get some odd ducks. Once somebody landed on our page after searching “what are the dirty problems in the bus” which made me laugh, another time someone found us via “slumber parties by shawn long” which made me puzzled.

However, all that info still doesn’t give much insight into who you are and why you read here (because I promise we don’t do slumber parties or know Shawn Long).

So, introduce yourself! How’d you stumble into this little corner of the interwebs? Are you here simply out of good old fashioned nosiness? Do YOU hope to build a home some day and are curious about the process? Do you wish we’d post more pictures of the bus? Do you wish we’d post LESS pictures of our dying plants?

In return for you sacrificing your cloak of anonymity, I am willing to offer up the opportunity to ask any questions of US that have been nagging in the back of your brain. Maybe that’s not exactly fair because it’s kind of an unspoken offer that’s always there, but in case you missed that implication: HERE IS YOUR CHANCE.

Wondering what in the world we plan to do in our tiny space once our fourth beeb arrives in November (because, omg, ALL OF THE NEWBORN THINGS)? Curious about what we miss most about living in a house (since we’ve already told you what we DON’T miss)? Want to know whether the kids have finally reconciled themselves to our current lifestyle? Dying for details about our solar set-up and what we can run off just one panel? What we’re going to do with the bus once we’re living in the house? Or do you simply want to know if we’ve read any good books lately (Hint: the answer is yes)?

I know that coming out of lurkdom can be a bit intimidating, so I will make it super easy for you. Here is a comment template that you can feel free to use and modify to your liking:

Hi, my name/alias is [FILL IN THE BLANK APPROPRIATELY]. I found your blog through [ ANOTHER BLOG/SEARCH ENGINE TERM/LOCATION OF BATHROOM STALL DOOR WHERE THE URL WAS WRITTEN]. My favorite [COLOR/CORNY JOKE/BOOK/KIND OF SANDWICH] is [INSERT COLOR/CORNY JOKE/BOOK/SANDWICH]. I love reading about [INSERT SUBJECT OF YOUR CHOOSING], but when you write about [SOME OTHER THING] I find myself [CLICKING AWAY/THINKING TERRIBLE THOUGHTS ABOUT YOU/CRYING FROM BOREDOM/BANGING MY HEAD AGAINST THE WALL IN RAGE]. Since I have this opportunity, I would love to know [INSIGHTFUL QUESTION(S)]. Thanks!

Or, you know, say whatever you want. It’s a free country.

All right, I think that’s everything on this end. Now it’s your turn.

Lull

There’s not a ton of positive news to report today. I’m hoping this is just the lull before the storm of wonderful tidings that is rushing (unbeknownst to us) in our direction right this very second… but as of now, things are kind of blah.

We’re still waiting to hear the status on our loan pre-qual, Em was sick last night with a croup-ish sounding cough and we woke up this morning to a surprise spattering of rain coming down on the three loads of laundry that I had hanging out on the line.

Saturday the Pathfinder broke down while we were running errands and we made our second AAA call in as many weeks. Thankfully, this time we were only 5 miles away from home and didn’t have to pay for extra towing, but we did have to call my parents for a ride because very few tow trucks can fit three adults and three kids in carseats. Go figure.

Noah spent Sunday putting in a new alternator and now it’s running much, much better.

The Murano is still sitting because the mechanic that we’re planning to have fix it has been terribly busy and our current vehicle situation is tenable… I mean, now that the Pathfinder has been fixed. Again.

Ahem.

In any case, it’s not an emergency situation that requires paying top dollar to get it fixed as soon as humanly possible, which is good. It’s also pretty neat feeling a lot more comfortable driving a stick-shift. (I am probably a little too impressed with myself for that.)

Though, while we’re on the subject, there is something to be said in defense of older vehicles. Or maybe just this older vehicle. The Pathfinder is 25 years old (!) and it’s definitely had some issues since we got it about a year and a half ago. However, almost all of the problems that it’s had so far have been ones that Noah was able to fix himself for about an average price of about $100-200 (much less than paying hundreds of dollars every month toward a newer car payment). Our insurance and registration costs are crazy low and it hasn’t had a problem passing smog.

So, there’s the bright side of owning an older car.

Another positive: we aren’t eating out of a cooler anymore. My younger brother apparently had a mini-fridge stashed in his closet that he’d forgotten about and so we now have that hooked up in the shed. It was missing all its shelves, so we’ll have to get some plexiglass cut to size so that there is some kind of separation between condiments and dairy products. It is kind of a tradeoff though, because there really isn’t anything that beats how cold milk gets when it’s coming straight from a pile of ice. I am honestly going to miss that a lot.

At any rate, my dad always says that when you’re having a bad day, you should be happy because it means that things are pretty likely to improve, so that’s the stance I’m taking on this one: it will only get better from here.

I mean, you know, unless it doesn’t.

Construction Loan Update

houseonmoney

I have to give thanks for all the encouraging comments when I wrote about being depressed over our prospects of finding a suitable loan for our project. You guys were totally right about all the options out there. It turns out that looking for a loan is like shopping for anything else – there are a lot of different sellers who charge different prices for different products. Throw in all sorts of new terms and concepts to learn and it can definitely seem overwhelming.

In fact, I imagine that even just reading about all this is probably overwhelming for some. I don’t blame you – it kind of hurts my brain.

At any rate, here is where things stand for us as of today:

After getting pre-approved through one company for the permanent financing (which felt pretty good), we started shopping for the construction portion of the loan. We looked into an online broker that was offering very low rates for a 7/1 ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage – which means that if we didn’t refinance to a 30-year fixed rate after the construction portion was finished our monthly payments would start to fluctuate after a seven-year introductory period). It actually sounded pretty appealing because the rate they were offering (3.75%) was almost half the cost of what the majority of lenders were offering for construction financing and with the option to refinance at any point with no pre-payment penalty, why wouldn’t we take it?

One of the problems with that scenario (the main one), however, was basically that it was just a strange broker off the internet offering us a loan in exchange for all our financial information and we weren’t sure exactly how to validate his authenticity. We had no references, couldn’t find any reviews online and even though we did look up the gentleman I spoke with online and looked at his Linked In profile he didn’t have a lot of contacts listed.

Basically, it just seemed a bit too good to be true.

During this time period, one of the other sources we were looking into (the father of one of the kids in Lily’s kindergarten workshops is a mortgage broker) had been on vacation. I had emailed back and forth with him a couple times, but we hadn’t really reached anything definitive and I was basically just asking him for advice about the routes we were considering taking.

After he returned home, however, we wound up talking on the phone and it turned out that the loan he can offer has a couple of distinct advantages over what we were looking at with the company we just gotten pre-approved through:

-They can handle both the construction and permanent financing instead of us having to find different resources

-They don’t require a large liquid reserve fund in place

-The permanent financing rate is lower than the company we had gotten pre-approved for offered us (4.25% vs 4.6%)

-We have the option of not putting in any cash to close and can roll those funds into the loan if we need to

-The interest during construction can also be rolled into the loan (which isn’t to say that we would necessarily WANT to roll these costs into the loan and wind up paying additional interest on them for thirty years instead of paying as we go like we were planning, but it’s nice to know that we have the option)

-The appraisal is based on the future value of the home rather than just our current equity in the land

-No prepayment penalty (this was actually standard in all the loans we looked at, but worth mentioning)

The only downside to the whole thing was that the construction portion of the loan comes with an interest rate of 7.25%, which isn’t THE lowest rate on the planet, but it’s one we can live with to have the peace of mind that we’re working with someone we know.

The day after we had that conversation with him, I was filling in some friends on how things are coming along and mentioned the name of the gentleman we were working with on the loan. Lo and behold, he had handled the financials for one of my friends when she and her husband bought their house and she had nothing but good things to say about him. It was really nice to have that kind of confirmation and reference from someone that I trust.

So, I just gave them the go ahead to run our credit (which, according to the internet,  is good, but not excellent) for a pre-qual and we will hear back from them tomorrow. Assuming all goes well we should be ready to roll by the middle of August.

And then a few months after that I’ll have another baby and there will be six of us in this teeny weeny space and we might all just go completely nuts.

We’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it, no?

Heat

Sooo…. it’s been hot.

Walking anywhere that’s not shaded (which includes about 90% of our entire property) feels a little like being an ant roasted beneath God’s gigantic magnifying glass. Possibly even more hyperbolic than that, if you can even imagine.

I grew up in San Diego and I can’t recall ever having had air conditioning. (There is the chance that even if we did have it my dad would have kept it hidden from the family or told us all it was “broken” to avoid high electric bills, but that’s neither here nor there.)  Noah grew up in Arizona without central A/C as well. Since being married we’ve spent three years in Riverside County including a year in Palm Springs. We’re kind of old hats at this whole “dealing with hot weather” thing.

Of course, pregnancy adds a whole new element of awful to the equation. While Noah still seems able and willing to “work” and “accomplish tasks” and “move around”, my current way of dealing with the weather is to basically limit my bodily exertion to sitting still and panting. It’s a difficult status to maintain with three kids who are seemingly unaffected by the blistering death rays of the sun, but I’m doing my best.

Noah and my dad spent part of yesterday running some DC cables to our solar set up in order to run some small, oscillating fans in the bus, so hopefully that will help indoors (thanks Pop!), but the absolute best spot on the entire acre and a half is right here:

shade

This is all under the same walnut tree as the play structure to which Noah, genius man that he is, hooked up a mist system (see the spigot and the hoses on the left?). It  is truly a beautiful thing and if I could, I would stay here in a semi-catatonic state with droplets of sweat and water mingling on my brow until my due date in November arrives.

Another casualty of the heat in addition to my involvement in outdoor family life are our poor seedlings.

Two weeks ago (look how happy and chipper they are – ready to face the world!):

seedlingsgrowth

Today (spirits utterly crushed):

seedlings (3)

Apparently faithful watering just doesn’t cut it when you start so late in the season. We’re thinking they needed to be a little bit more resilient before being blasted with hundred degree heat. I can’t honestly say I blame them, poor dears. (Full disclosure for the sake of accuracy: Noah interjected to say that he’s not sure the watering was SUPER faithful, however I feel that my conscience is [mostly] clear on that score, so take that however you’d like).

At any rate, the point is that we are holding up as best we can – taking cold showers and  drinking lots of water and what have you. In my experience, the worst of the summer heat only lasts a few weeks, but with the super mild winter and ultra-dry spring who knows what lies in store for us weather-wise?

On that ominous note, I’m going to go sit with the kids in the shade under the misters until sundown.

Quick Clicks

Despite being able to tell the story of our car breaking down in a fun way, this week turned into kind of a downer after the Pathfinder wouldn’t start when I tried to take the girls to the library on Tuesday afternoon. (I had to assure Noah that I really did have the clutch in while turning the key before he believed that there was actually a problem.)

Fortunately, (heh) it turned out to only be an issue with the battery connectors. So, that’s taken care of now and I can still retain the last few, tattered shreds of my sanity.

In other news, here are some of my favorite posts from around the web over the past couple of weeks:

- Farmer’s Breakfast Skillet @ Melissa’s Southern Style Kitchen – (Turn down your speakers because there’s a video that autoplays on the site.) I don’t usually post recipes, but I made my own version of this last week and it was absolutely too artery-cloggingly delicious not to share. What can I say? We like our meat and dairy products in this house – preferably all mashed together.

-Why Children Fidget @ TimberNook – One of our kids is a TOTAL wiggle worm and I have found myself getting frustrated specifically at bedtime. We’ve started encouraging a LOT more movement during the day – even more than they normally get! – to help get all those squirms out before it’s time to calm down and it’s helped quite a bit. As in: I literally had them running around in circles until they were too tired to continue and then we started the bedtime routine. Physical exhaustion FTW!

-Stop Taking Pictures and Learn to Draw @ The Philosopher’s Mail – As someone who can barely etch out a recognizable stick figure this is a tough idea to swallow, but I recognize the potential benefits.

-I’ve Got Your Lifestyle Blog Right Here @ Rage Against the Minivan – this just made me laugh because, well… yeah.

-For Better Conversations, Replace ‘How Are you?’ With This One Phrase @ Entrepreneur – Spoiler: the phrase is “Tell me.” As in “So, tell me about your day.” Or, “Tell me how you two met.” Such a simple, awesome tip and you don’t even need to watch the video.

Also: Happy 4th of July!

Fortune

airplane exploded

Yesterday was full of ups and downs for the Springfields. Let’s recap in the style of this awesome book that my second grade teacher read to my class:

Fortunately, we were invited to a birthday party!

Unfortunately, our car broke down on the way there.

Fortunately, we were getting off the freeway instead of in the middle of it!

Unfortunately, we were still blocking traffic at the off-ramp and a kind stranger had to help us push the car to the shoulder.

Fortunately, the car started right up again!

Unfortunately, it died again a half mile later.

Fortunately, Noah was with us and I wasn’t pregnant and stranded with three kids by myself!

Unfortunately, Noah was with us and not at home with another vehicle to come pick us up.

Fortunately, the back of the car was filled with jugs of water!

Unfortunately, all we had for food was one granola bar to split between the five of us.

Fortunately, we weren’t that far from the birthday party where there was more food and drink to be had!

Unfortunately, we were over a mile away and it was about 90 degrees outside.

Fortunately, we are not afraid of heat and exercise and started walking!

Unfortunately, it was partially uphill and pretty miserable.

Fortunately, I knew a friend was coming to the birthday party and could possibly pick us up on her way!

Unfortunately, when I called she hadn’t left her house yet.

Fortunately, everybody was pretty cheerful for the most part and laughing and making jokes!

Unfortunately, we were still hot and walking.

Fortunately, my friend does not live far away from where the party was and came and got us!

Unfortunately, we still had to figure out what to do about our broken car.

Fortunately, we have roadside assistance that covers up to 7 miles of towing!

Unfortunately, we were 18 miles away from home and had to pay per mile for the extra distance.

Fortunately, Noah rode with the tow truck driver back to the house and then came back to pick up me and the kids so they could still enjoy the party!

Unfortunately, it is pretty likely that this isn’t a minor problem with the car.

Fortunately, we need to get a van anyway!

Unfortunately, we were planning to sell our current car to pay for the van.

Fortunately, we know some trustworthy mechanics!

Unfortunately, it will probably cost a fortune. 

Fortunately, I have Noah’s ’89 two-door Pathfinder to drive in the meantime!

Unfortunately, I’m lousy on a stick-shift.

Fortunately, this means I’ll get some practice!

Unfortunately, I will probably burn out Noah’s clutch in the process.

Fortunately, Noah has his truck to get back and forth to work in!

Unfortunately, it’s a V-8 and gets about 10 miles to the gallon.

Fortunately, we are optimistic people, otherwise this would be a pretty disheartening development to our journey!

So, it’s kind of a bummer and we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do until we get a final synopsis on what’s wrong with the Murano, but we definitely have a lot to be thankful for!

What We’ve Been Up To

On the loan front:

Apparently, things aren’t as dire as I initally thought. I’ve done some more research, made some more phone calls and there are actually places out there that are willing to lend us money without requiring that we have tens of thousands of dollars in cash reserves. Many places will accept stocks and retirement funds as our reserve, which is where the large majority of our savings currently is. So that’s good.

We are looking into getting pre-approved for a USDA rural home loan for the permanent financing and considering a 2/1 ARM at a very low interest rate from another lender I found online for the construction portion.

However, this our first go-around with all this financial stuff and I have no idea how everything is going to pan out. I’ll keep you posted.

On the kid front:

The girls have been doing a lot of watercolor painting lately and I was at a loss for what to do with all their one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Then my mom came over and introduced them to the simple art of paper-fan folding (these are actually crayon colorings, the watercolors were much more elegant):

20140626_084151

This has now turned into an entrepreneurial enterprise to sell the fans along with lemonade to whoever wanders by the property (with supervision, obviously.)

On the fetus front:

I had my 20-week ultrasound yesterday and it was so fun to see little hands and feet wriggling around like mad! We’ve decided to wait until the birth to find out the sex of the baby, so no gender announcement yet.  Of course, when I say “we” I mean “I” because Noah actually really wants to know, but he’s gotten three turns to find out early – I’m ready for a surprise.

I’ve heard that waiting to find out what you’re having is pretty much the most awesome thing ever and totally worth the suspense and androgynous clothing supplies. I’d love to hear what others’ experience has been.

Of course right as I typed that, a friend sent me a text saying a friend of hers is giving away a TON of 3 mo baby girl clothes… do we know what we’re having yet? Please tell me that the suspense and missing out on free clothes is worth it.

On the garden front:

Having never really had a full-fledged garden before (or even houseplants, for that matter), I’ve been finding that taking care of our little sprouts and checking out the fruit trees is strangely satisfying. I’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time googling how to take care of each type of plant and I’m really excited for winter to come so we can actually do the major pruning that’s needed all over the property.

Some of you may recall right after we moved in when I posted this picture of a flowering fruit tree, but couldn’t figure out what kind it was:

flowers

We thought it might have been peach, but other peach trees on the property didn’t have the same blooms. Come to find out it’s a different variety called Saturn peaches (aka “donut” or “pan tao” peaches). I thought at first that they were just deformed somehow due to lack of care on our part. You can see why I was originally concerned:

saturn peach

That’s a store-bought nectarine on the left, on the right is one of the Saturn peaches from our tree. Weird-looking, right? They’ve already ripened though, and they are seriously delicious.

Other than the peach tree, the plant that seems to be flourishing the most is the… cactus:

20140626_085036

I am bound and determined to try to do something with the dozens of prickly pears that will eventually ripen all over the plant… and if that proves a total bust then I can’t promise that I won’t have the whole thing decimated, because I am not a big fan of cactus.

So, that’s where things stand in this neck of the woods. If you know of something that will help me in my quest to conquer the cactus, I am more than willing to hear of it… or I can send all the prickly pears directly to your doorstep, either way :)

 

The High Cost of Being Rent-free

Apparently I have friends who enjoy asking me questions about money, because lately I’ve been fielding another one: “Are you guys saving SO much now that you don’t have to pay rent?”

The answer, unfortunately, is not yet. It’s been a little over 3 months since we moved into the bus and while we haven’t dipped below the set emergency fund number that we decided on prior to this endeavor, we haven’t added to it either, which is disappointing.

Prior to this move we were like Super Savings Samurais and enjoyed the satisfaction of watching the balance in our account grow every month. You would think that with the kind of discipline that we had to develop to pay off over $20,000 worth of debt in 4 years we would be raking it in with our overhead so significantly decreased.

Several factors have contributed to sucking up our newly released budget category – some of which were unavoidable, some that could have probably been mitigated if we’d had more time to plan and some are just a result of plain old overspending. Thankfully, most of these have been either one-time costs or we have figured out a way to lessen in the future:

1. Set-up

A big chunk of our savings went into purchasing the Busosaurus ($1000) and fixing it up (about $2000). We had also purchased the RV previously ($2000). Once we got out here, we needed electricity and our solar set up (2 panels, 2 batteries, 2 inverters, 1 charge controller, wires and conduit) cost another $1000+. Additional set-up expenses include the raw materials for piping that needed to be done to get running water to both vehicles, wood for the porch and  desk that Noah built, the clothes line, parts to fix the gas grill that we were given and two hot water heaters.

2. Design Deposit

In order to get the design process underway for the engineering and blueprints for the house, we paid a deposit to our general contractor of several thousand dollars as well.

3. Utilities

Prior to the move water and trash were included in our rent, so we had to create a new budget category for these. Since we are also now taking care of an acre and a half of land with fruit trees we are working on a grey-water recycling set-up to help reduce the cost of water (and because it’s just good conservation when you’re in the middle of a drought).

We are also using propane now instead of natural gas, which is more expensive in general, but even more so because we don’t have a large propane tank to fill (purchasing in bulk is generally cheaper). When we first moved out here we actually filled up our five gallon tanks at a nearby gas-station, which is a million times more expensive than just about anywhere else. Thankfully, we’ve since found a much less expensive place to buy our propane.

Additiomal costs under utilities include, ahem, dumping, ($5 per week) as well as gasoline for the generator.

4. Gas

Speaking of gasoline, living farther away from everything means that it takes more of it to get anywhere. No more walking to the nearby grocery stores or the library or… pretty much anywhere outside the neighborhood. That’s been a significant bump in our budget line item.

5. Runaway grocery budget

A big part of why we haven’t saved as much as we had hoped has to do with our food budget expanding exponentially. Thankfully, this is also an area where we have a lot of control in order to bring it back down to normal.

The first few weeks this was because we had no fridge or stove and were eating out a LOT more than we typically ever do (you all had some fantastic suggestions for us on that front). Then our fridge continually stopped cooling our food, which resulted in a lot of frustration and waste. Of course, by that time I was starting to feel the full effects of my first trimester and didn’t have the stomach for cooking anyway. I’m so embarrassed by how much we spent on food in April and May that I’m not even going to share the number.

I have not been couponing (we don’t get the paper here and haven’t set up our printer yet) and don’t have the storage space for a lot of stock-up items. I’m still working on getting those two issues worked out, but I am proud to say that we’ve only gone out to eat once so far this month, for Father’s Day. That has made a HUGE difference!

6. An un-frugal mentality

All of these are pretty legitimate explanations, but they are really only a part of the picture. A main contributing factor to our lack of savings is simply that being released from our biggest expense has made us lazy about our spending. The first month we were out here, I didn’t even update our ledger or balance our checking account (and I actually enjoy doing that sort of thing). There was just the assumption that of COURSE we can afford [insert anything] – we don’t have to save up for rent!

That’s not to say that we went out on any serious shopping binges or made any huge, unnecessary purchases, it’s just that we were not as intentional with our finances as we usually are and we’ve been allowing the idea that we have all this “extra” money to permeate our minds and affect our choices. Honestly, I can’t even specifically pinpoint any one place that you can see this clearly in effect – it’s just a little bit added to everything that adds up to a LOT.

I’m glad that we have both woken up to this reality now rather than later so that the whole point of living in a bus isn’t completely wasted simply because we couldn’t get it together. It has really been an object lesson in the fact that if we don’t intentionally tell our money where to go, it will find places to disappear of its own accord.

 

Tree House

Noah has been wanting to build a tree house for our kids since around the time we found out I was pregnant with Lily. It wasn’t super feasible then because we were living in an apartment (followed by several rentals without suitable trees), but he finally got his chance and this is what he spent his Father’s Day weekend creating:

treehouse

treehouse1

Obviously, this was done from recycled boxes and pallets (as indicated by that giant orange sticker, in case you missed it), complete with a hanging rope ladder.

So, now we have a Magic School Bus and a Magic Tree House (those are affiliate links, friends). Scholastic should be paying us for this kind of endorsement, amIright?