Where We Are Today: 2023

I first wrote a “Where We Are Today” in 2019 when I was taking a sabbatical from my photography business. That year we focused on family, on our skills, and on digging deep into life. I wanted a baseline of where we were at so that I could see what progress we needed to make and what progress was made when we looked back.

I figure that if we are going to document our journey for us and for those to follow we figure that we need to establish where we’re starting from and do check-ins periodically. It’s more than just knowing how we got from A to B, it’s also an evaluation of the factors that have lead to our current standings, both the factors we’re proud of and the ones that we’re not so proud of.

We all like to toot our horn, even if it’s only to ourselves. To know what growth is needed, what steps should be taken, and what habits to change we can’t just look at our strong points, we have to look at the whole picture. I know I’m not thinking of everything and for privacy/protection I can’t share every little detail, but this gives us a foundation to look at now to evaluate what we need to do, and gives us a point to look back on to see how things have changed in the future.

BASICS OF WHERE WE ARE TODAY

Two income family: 1 full time income and one “side hustle”/part time income.

Minor amount in savings, not enough to save us if Cameron lost a job but enough for a basic ER or car repair bill. We had a good savings start a year ago but dipped into it heavily this year and are basically back to no savings.

Two cars, both needing a bit of work. One is parked until repairs can be made and the other is the get around car.

No current debt

Two phones, paid for through the side hustle business

Internet at home

Renting a small but comfortable home at a ridiculous price for what it is.

A backyard that should lend itself well to a garden.

3 super cute and high personality kids. 1 in public school, one in homeschool, and one toddler.

Amazing family support; not rich in money but rich in relationships, experience, and support

Okay, let’s break that down.

FINANCES

This one is a bit of a roller coaster since I wrote our first check-in in 2019. We really turned things around and started saving. At one point we had 8k in savings and we were really really proud of ourselves. It was the biggest savings we’d ever ever had. This year though we dipped into it again and again. Our budget fell apart and I grief spent more than I’d like to admit and we’re back to scraping the bottom of the barrel on our savings accounts. It’s embarrassing to admit, but that is our reality.

Budgeting

We fell off our budget entirely. It’s devolved into living haphazardly and paycheck-to-paycheck. When we were on a budget in 2019 and 2020 we were really good at making sure there was a plan, that we stuck to the plan, and making the money go where we really wanted it. Not so much anymore. I’m working on a 2023 budget to help us get back on track.

Types of Income

Our main family funds come from Cameron’s job as a biology professor. The job does come with insurance which is a huge blessing.

Through Marquette LaRee, I pay for the household internet and phones. The business brings in what we call “buffer money” for the budget.

Debt

Thankfully we’re not currently in debt. We took out $10,000 in student loans for Cameron’s Master’s Degree, but were able to pay it (and the interest, so just over $12,000) within three years mostly with tax returns and work bonuses. For the first year we paid out of our paychecks but finally got ahead enough where we didn’t have to make monthly payments and only paid on it when we had extra come in (the one things we did half way decent at using our extra money for – sometimes).

We are contemplating getting our very first credit card to work on building up credit for when we want to buy a house someday.

EDUCATION

Cameron and I both spent some time in public school and some time as a home school student. We see pros and cons to both methods and don’t feel like there is one totally perfect or correct method of schooling. I feel quite strongly that I benefitted from getting to do both methods. It made my college experience easier and better. We plan on doing both for our children depending on what they need each year and what our family is going through. We have a child in public school and a child doing homeschool right now.

Cameron and I put ourselves through college; I hold a Bachelors Degree in English and Cameron has a Masters Degree half in Biology, half in Education (Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies). We both got our Associates at a Community College and love the foundation it gave us. I have my degree from the University of Arizona, but after anxiety attacks, some rough semesters, and a career path change we changed to Western New Mexico University for the rest of Cameron’s education and it was the perfect fit. Having both successful and unsuccessful semesters has given him perspective as a teacher as to how to help his students better.  

Learning has been a big part of our marriage so far, and we want it to continue to be a lifelong pursuit. Cameron is better at continually learning than I am, I will readily admit that. Outside of formal courses I have to really work to actively seek out new things and information. I forget to, but I’m working on that. I tend to jump into things and learn by experience (both by failing and succeeding). Cameron is good at reading up on things ahead of time.

We thankfully have an advantage with formal education right now. As a full time faculty member at the college, our family can take courses for free each semester. I’ve been able to utilize that for 3 different classes so far.

“WILDERNESS” SKILLS AND RESOURCES

Gardening

We tried container gardening for the years we lived in Payson. It was never wildly successful, but we did finally start getting a small harvest and learning things to do and not to do.

We currently have a backyard that is much more conducive to gardening. With us being in a rental we’re trying to decide how many container plants to try and how many in-ground plants to try as there is always the possibility of having to switch housing. Being a new climate I will need to learn shade techniques to keep the plants from dying in the intense summers.

Meals

For a few years I was really really good about making meals at home. Since Mom died I have not done well with that at all. We’ve eaten out and bought convenience food wayyyy too much. I want to return to making most of our food at home.

Foraging

We really want to learn to utilize local nutrition. In the Gila Valley we have all the desert plants, but Mt. Graham is not far away and we could still forage for forest/mountain foods as well.

Full transparency, I need to figure out the legal limitations here. I always worry about that and don’t ever know if we’re breaking the law or how I feel about that. Cameron doesn’t worry. I worry about everything. So we need to look into a foraging license (if that’s a thing?!) and what to do there.

Living Situation

For 16 years now we have only ever rented as we’ve hopped around for school and jobs. Someday we want to own our own place with land to grow a family, plants, and animals. For now though, we rent. We’ve lived in everything from a typical city apartment complex, to a one bedroom house (with four of us) that was once occupied by chickens, to a big nice double wide on a ranch, to a month and a half with my parents between school and a summer job, to our current little house in a tight little neighborhood. We’ve learned from each place, and we’re grateful for each place…but we can’t wait for a place that is truly ours.

Our current rental is not our favorite house we’ve been in, but it definitely does have some perks.

Self Reliance

I feel like we’re still so new to everything here.

I am able to can applesauce, tomatoes, some jellies, and prickly pear juice. Canning still scares me but really interests me at the same time. I dream of being able to have a productive garden and to can our excess crop and eat on it through the year.

During the pandemic I was really good about growing our food storage. But, once again…since Mom died, I’ve not done well. This is something I want to get back into planning and carrying out.

Beyond that…we’re kinda clueless. A bit to the point that I don’t even know what we don’t know.

General Maintenance

We’re okayish here. Ish. Cameron does the basic maintenance around the house. If I watch a youtube video I can usually figure something out. We’re lost on car mechanics. Cameron can change the oil, but doesn’t have the time or tools right now. We can change a tire. That’s about it. We have much to learn in the maintenance area.

FAMILY SUPPORT

Our families, immediate and extended, are not rich or well off. Most are comfortable, some are struggling. However, “financial assistance” is not the only or the most important measure of family support (even though that’s often a big part of these types of evaluations where you hear of inherited land, farms, sums, etc). We feel we have a bigger leg up from the emotional, mental, educational, spiritual, and loving support we have in our families than any bit of money could give us. We’re proud of our heritage and grateful for the foundation we have to build on.   

RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND SUPPORT

This may seem to some like an odd one to put in here, but it feels total natural to us. Cameron and I both grew up as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We grew up with the same Christian values and beliefs, and that unity is a strength for us as a couple, an immediate family, and with our extended family.

We grew up singing songs in children’s Sunday School (we call it Primary) about planting gardens, reading scriptures, being kind, showing gratitude for the earth, etc. We spent high school years taking an extra scripture course in addition to our regular education. Cameron spent two years in Seattle serving a mission before jumping into college, learning to interact with people of all walks of life, learning about living with a roommate, planning, and gaining a strong testimony of Christ.

We believe God has a plan and path for us, that He leads us, that He wants us to learn and grow, and that we are supposed to care for and use His creations in respectful and efficient ways. He wants us to be happy, to have a strong family, and to help others. Those beliefs are at the core of all we do.

Our fathers have both served as clergy leaders (Bishops) in their local congregations, and our mothers have served everywhere from the children’s organization, to the teens, to the women’s organization, and more. It’s an integral part of our lives. We grew up serving and watching our families serve, and that makes a difference in how we serve in the church and in our community now. We now both serve in our church, him teaching the early morning scripture class for the high school students and I currently help in the women’s organization (the Relief Society) of our church.

This all isn’t stated here to pat ourselves on the back because we’re so awesome. These are big parts of our life, have shaped us, and continue to shape us. We grew up speaking in public because of church, so that doesn’t scare us. We grew up within a church family where we both gave and received love and support within the church and community. We have church education resources about money, self reliance, starting your own business, addiction recovery, counseling, etc. all available to us when/if we need them. We have support when we need it.

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