The Money Machine

I’ve been thinking a lot about money. Mainly because my blog of the month reading has consisted of financial blogs – mostly Mr. Money Mustache, which I highly recommend if you are interested in getting serious about saving or even retiring early. 

For my entire adult life, I have considered myself to be succeeding if I was breaking even each month, with a little left for fun money. I have never made big bucks, but I  have always figured out a way to make things work…but likewise, even when I was making 45K or so a year, my expenses were so high (living solo, driving too many miles, etc.) that my savings rate was never great. 

When I went to graduate school, I really thought I could get a significant pay raise with my degree, so I thought 20K of debt was no problem and didn’t even bother trying to pay any of it off during school. After all, I didn’t have any undergraduate debt (thanks Mom and Dad!) so I was better off than many. 

Of course, I didn’t foresee struggling for over a year to find work in my field, settling for a boring desk job, and then taking a pay raise that was really a pay cut because it came with no health insurance or other benefits (besides vacation)…also, no opportunity for a raise…and very limited opportunities for my husband to find work nearby. 

And meanwhile, Ross’ amazing success story of going back to school, working in radio, building his own teaching studio etc. is not nearly as amazing when you realize how much debt he picked up at school….and a decent portion of it in private loans. 

So while Ross has payed off his credit card debt (!!!) and I have paid off my cat medical bill debt and I’m almost finished paying off my own medical bills thanks to charitable care, we still have a huge amount of debt between us. 

So my new obsession has become getting really serious about finances. Saving more and paying off debt will be the focus for the foreseeable future. And I am posting it here, for accountability. Ross and I have big dreams, dreams of achieving a level of financial independence where we only need to make 15K or so a year to live – which would let us pursue our creative projects with abandon. 

We will have to work very, very hard to get there. But thanks to Mr. Money Mustache, I believe it is actually possible. And if you want to contribute to the cause, let me know. 🙂 We have lots of skills to share. 


The Deed is Done, and other news

The day I dreaded has come – I told my mom our timeline.

If you haven’t figured it out, we also have news on the job front, so here is the latest.

I plan to give notice at the beginning of March and work through the end of May. Then I will have a few weeks to recover. Church job will continue through most of September at least, so I won’t give notice until June or July.

I will be the musical director at Jean’s Playhouse this summer. I was looking forward to working with Scott Severance, but they let him go, so I will be working for a surprise Artistic Director. I will probably oversee the camp too. Ross will play guitar when he isn’t teaching. Speaking of which, he gave notice at NHPR so as of April 1 he is just teaching and such.

On September 20, a week after finishing at Jean’s, I will begin a gig as the band leader and pianist for the Carpenters tribute tour with Judy Pancoast! Ross will play guitar, and we will be able to book gigs when we aren’t performing with her! Should be really fun. I hope it goes well!

Beyond that is anybody’s guess. Let us know if you know of places we should work, cities to visit, etc. Sponsors are also welcome. 🙂

One day at a time. Life is what we make of it, right?

Resolving to Kick Ass

It’s January 2nd, which means we’re in the season of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t normally make resolutions – although the idea of them is appealing, I’m definitely of the school that feels like they’re hard to keep, so I prefer to set goals on my own terms – and often privately – to avoid disappointment.

But there is something to be said for accountability, and I have a ton of respect for those who can make, and keep, resolutions. And given that one of my clear resolutions is to make more frequent updates to this blog, it feels appropriate to make the time to talk about my resolutions, as ethereal as I may feel they are in some cases, today.

#1 Take the time to practice thankfulness.

This is something I used to be awesome at. First of all, I’d thank God or whatever power there is at least once every day, almost without fail. I never in a million years thought I’d get worse at that, but I have – I tend to get caught up in my own thoughts and worries and not necessarily take the step of pausing and giving thanks.

One of my friends posts five things he is thankful for on Facebook every single year. I believe he’s entering year three of this discipline, which was intended to last a year only. It is so lovely and inspiring to see his thoughts in my feed each day. I don’t need to copy him, necessarily, but I want to do more to call out my own thankfulness.

As someone who is truly an optimist at heart, I have never struggled to acknowledge all that I’m grateful for. But being sick is really challenging me. If someone asks how I am doing, it is very hard for me to say yes and not feel like I’m lying – if I feel “good” today because I only had to lay down for a break once, does that mean that people will think I’m back to normal? And God forbid we find this is the new normal – I flirt with those ideas but I REALLY am not ready to accept that. So for all of these reasons, I need to be better about practicing thankfulness. I know that as our income drops and RV challenges begin, we will have some VERY challenging days. Better get in the habit now!

#2 Make the time for meditation and exercise.

When I had mono – which I have apparently officially kicked by the way, although a mystery chronic illness (involving fatigue) or two hasn’t been identified yet – I did as little activity as possible. Although I might stretch my legs or my arms, I chose to sit instead of stand, and to lie down instead of sit, as much as possible in order to get over the illness. But now that mono is behind me, exercise, at least gentle exercise, is probably good for me.

For instance, if I have endometreosis, exercise would be good – it actually can lessen the symptoms. And if I had chronic Lyme, for instance, gentle exercises like yoga would be good for me, although running or other more strenuous activities probably should be avoided.

What is crystal clear is that whatever I’m dealing with, my symptoms get infinitely worse when I’m dealing with high stress levels. And what’s my highest stressor currently? Work. Although I’m relatively stress-free playing the piano, just sitting at my desk to work I notice changes in my body. Since I’ve got at least another five months or so before I won’t be doing this job, I need to build in meditation, yoga and some gentle exercise so that I can get through all of this and be the better for it on the other side. This will be a good practice for the new stressors to come, of course.

Making the time to get outside is definitely a part of this – Ross and I took a nice walk yesterday and we both felt better afterwards. When we’re on the road it will be even easier to build the outdoors in. Can’t wait.

#3 Find the time and the energy to keep setting goals – and then make the time and space to work toward reaching them.

There are so many unknowns in our lives right now as we look forward. I’ve got a few possibilities on the horizon for this summer and fall, but so much is still a big ? as I plan. But despite the temptation to sit back and just wait for the time to pass, especially when I’m not feeling well, I know that that would be really foolish of me to do. Just a quick brainstorm tells me I have beanie babies to give away/sell (thanks Gram!), belongings to sort and give away, scores to scan, tour locations to scout, websites to write, set lists to create, and much more. So if I don’t keep setting goals, and perhaps even more importantly, working to reach them, June will arrive and we won’t be ready for it. (I bet a lot of you can relate in your own lives too!)

I’m sure I could make many more resolutions, but I think these are three great ones. And if anyone reading this wants voice or piano lessons, an accompanist, a baker or cook, or anything else that will help get us closer to our goals (resolution #3), please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Let’s all go kick some ass.



An Overdue RV Update

I should have written this post a week ago, but life has been really busy as we have prepped for and then performed the final concert in our series. It is interesting to realize that chapter has ended – and by Mid-February, I don’t anticipate adding many new dates so that may feel even more permanent.

But back to RV-Ing. Ross has been working his butt off driving the RV to various driveways and prepping it for storage. Unfortunately when he and his dad tried to winterize it, the plumbing leaked. We were hoping for an easy fix, but after taking it to a professional, we now know that there is indeed a problem with the plumbing. In addition, Campers Inn recommended we consider a new engine due to its age rather than fixing the exhaust leak in isolation, so we will need to shop around and get different opinions.

Oh the joys of ownership! But we have registered it, stored it, and come spring we will brace ourselves and see what we can do to get it drivable and usable. Worst case we will prioritize the engine over the plumbing, so we can get by at campgrounds and in driveways if we have a shower and a toilet to use. One step at a time!

I spent a morning parked at Mario’s with the generator running to run our lovely electric heater in case the leaks might have caused dampness or mold. (I didn’t find evidence of ANYTHING but better safe than sorry.) I cleaned the RV quite well – kitchen, bathroom, random left behind items, etc. – so while it isn’t perfect, I felt quite confident leaving it. I did forget about mouse traps though, so we may want to pick up a few and leave them as we get deeper into winter.

The good news? Since I spent a morning in the RV, I made sure to take lots of photos. It is a small RV so keeping it clean will be really important. Fun stuff? We don’t just have a spice rack- we also have a wine rack!

Enjoy the pictures, and thanks for stopping by! (I am still learning how to do this on the iPad, so bear with me!) And if you know of an RV mechanic interested in music lessons for their kid, let us know!









An Unexpected RV Visit aka Being a Grownup is Hard

I have been debating writing this entry because I am simultaneously excited and scared of disappointment.

Last week, I passed an RV in a driveway in Derry that was for sale. It looked like a decent, small class C and had a posted asking price of $5,000. I knew enough from all my research (hard to believe, but we have been RV-shopping on some level for more than six months) to know that I would be extremely hard-pressed to get a working RV without really high mileage at that price. I also knew that our goal of only spending $10,000 on an RV would be really tough in NH – there doesn’t seem to be many selling for less than$12-15K on the private market, and dealers are usually asking $20+. So I told Ross about it, and within a couple of days, we made time to stop by.

First off, we are wusses. It is so nerve-wracking knocking on strangers’ doors and asking for something! Billy seemed like a super nice guy, helping out his friend by letting his RV sit there in the driveway for sale. He didn’t know much about it- for instance, he quoted us 1998 as the year of this Minnie Winnie, but I was convinced it was from the eighties and looking at a few pictures of paint jobs confirmed that. But he couldn’t have been nicer and told us his friend Rainy was the second owner, had bought it to go to a music festival this year,and everything worked great.

After the research I have done, phone calls with Rainy, etc., I think this is a Minnie Winnie with a 24R floor plan from 1988 or so. It is 24′ 1″ long according to Winnebago, and it should have an A/C in the truck, heat and cold air, enclosed shower, marine toilet and little sink, dinette, chair, captain chairs that swivel and a full bed. It has fantastic storage, including a spice rack and a magazine rack, but it is really tiny of course so even having a few wardrobe spaces can’t make up for that. No slide outs, which makes it easy, over cab storage, which is where most of our gear would need to live, at least while parked, and it has a new fridge, an oven, microwave, stove etc.

It is smaller than the RVs we have preferred thus far, but that simplification may mean better gas mileage, and more importantly, it means if we find it isn’t practical to travel with a car, it will be manageable in cities. Not easy, but it can be done. I am sure that we would ditch the dinette and replace it with a compact desk for the two of us – perhaps something that can double as a table if needed, or perhaps we buy a folding table. Other extras I forgot about include a grill, a Honda generator, and I think he might be throwing in camping chairs and such too. There is also a CD player that has been added, tire replaced recently, etc. Some sort of exhaust manifold leak needs fixing.

We can really see ourselves in this for year 1. We know we would eventually want to move up, but by all accounts RV repairs are inevitable, old or new, so this price point is really appealing. We would spend another 1.5K for covered storage this winter – a good chunk of change, but given the fact that I haven’t found any vehicles I would remotely consider in NH under 9K and the fact that once we have our RV, we can stop wasting time/money/gas looking for one, I think it would be worth it.

So we are trying to go into this open-minded, but it is really hard to keep perspective and not get our hopes up. It is a really old vehicle. If my mechanic finds other issues and wouldn’t recommend it, I don’t want to be hassled with it for sure given our plans. If we take it to the campground and things aren’t as we had been told, ditto. I said to Ross, “Wow, this is like buying a house!” And he said “Yeah, it kind of is”. Duh, as we used to say!

I am thankful our mechanic will humor me and take a look. I am also thankful my dad was so supportive of our plans when I called him – he and hopefully his wife Karen, who has owned trailers, can join us to check it out. I have transferred 5K to my account so it will be ready to go. Just need Ross to confirm if we are going cash, check or what. And I need to research and calculate – already found the manual – to figure out how much we can load this thing up without killing our tires or RV.

Wednesday is the day. Stay tuned and keep us in your thoughts!

Setbacks and Soldiering On

I haven’t written in a while. For months this spring and summer, I felt like I was in a groove. After getting a church job to make extra income on Sundays, I was also regularly picking up voice students and taking on vocal coaching. Plus I have been working on transcribing vocals for a local performer. All fun work that pays reasonably well and helped me to set aside money each month, even if Ross was short on cash, first for Disney and NYC trips and then for RV-ing.

But after doing everything I could to fight fatigue, and finding I had other odd health symptoms as well that wouldn’t go away, I went to the doctor. This led to a string of appointments with my doctor’s office and specialists, tons of blood work, and ultimately a diagnosis of mono. Yes, that illness I had at age 19 is back with a vengeance, and has probably been deactivated for two years – with the symptoms mostly hidden due to medication.

So now while working full time plus extra jobs and a theater company, I need to kick mono. Oh – and keep getting tested for other issues, like maybe lady problems or auto-immune diseases.

Also, our cat Gus died, after a noble fight with kidney disease. And Uncle Sam has us paying far more in college loans now that Ross married someone with money. Right.

So in addition to being sick, we miss our cat and are in the hole for many thousands of dollars – probably 4K or so but who wants to count!

It’s depressing, when I let it be. But I think in a lot of ways this is perfect timing. I don’t want to hit the road with a mystery illness. So we will do what it takes to figure things out, even if we have to adjust our plans a bit. And frankly, it is much easier to deal with these financial setbacks now than it will be once our income drops, or at least becomes less predictable.

I am so thankful to have a warm house, supportive family and friends and most of all a husband with my best interests at heart. Farm fresh produce has also been a blessing and a real treat. Is this a challenging year? Sure is. But if we can get this stuff straightened out, we can totally handle an RV!

I have been making strides. Tubs have headed out to Goodwill and to the local animal rescue, which even has a pet pantry for local families. So happy to know our pets’ leftovers are going to those who need them. And slowly but surely, I weed things out and get more organized. Plus, I took the step of reaching out to our families this year to let them know that we prefer to skip physical gifts as we are working on downsizing. They seemed to be very receptive, but we will see how we do at Christmas!

I think that is it for now. Death is always a reminder of the fragility of life. We need to get out there now because who knows what the future holds.

Till next time!

Planning While Under the Influence of Mono

Yup. I have mono. apparently. If this was my first time facing mono, I would accept the diagnosis at face value. But I actually had it when I was 19 in college, and apparently people aren’t supposed to get mono twice. So we have some investigating to do…do I have chronic mono? Or another condition as well that is compromising my immune system? The adventures will continue, but in the meantime, I am doing my best to rest up. For instance, I am typing this on my iPad while lying on my bed.

But let’s return to the land of RVs and tour plans. After catching a wonderful concert yesterday by the tUnE – yArDs, Ross and I began a leisurely drive home through North Conway. After a great breakfast at Peaches, we stopped at our first Camping World. Although this one is extremely small compared to those I have seen other bloggers post about, I can see why they are a haven for RVers, both as a free place to crash and as a place to shop for accessories and (gasp!) RVs.

We were mainly there for the class Cs. We were happy to hear they were open for us to peruse at our leisure, and we found a few that we really loved. Some were too big, some were too small, and some were just right. Four Winds had a few styles that we were crazy about, particularly a model with a bedroom slide that went out to the side, allowing more space for walking in the bedroom. We also found one used, and a Dutchman Express (used, 1995) also caught our eye as a very “us” model.

Ross also had some great ideas about ways that I can market my work to churches while we tour, so I am really excited about seeing how that works out. We have so much planning to do but I am hopeful that in a year or so we can get out on the road. Lots of saving to do too of course!

Our savings plans will get a kickstart soon. Ross finishes paying off his credit card debt this month (who-hoo!) so after that, he can save for the rv and touring gear. Likewise, I am on track to meet our Disney savings goals soon. Once that and an NYC trip are complete, I can really focus on the RV. Mono is not going to make it easy – how can I justify using extra energy for part-time, supplemental work? So I need to figure that one out. But I have faith that our dreams are possible, so let’s see what we can do.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!

A New Beginning

Ross and Jamie blurry dance

It’s absolutely insane for me to start this right now. My life couldn’t be busier – well, not easily. I’ve got a fantastic but completely overwhelming arts job that I love and am suffocated by on alternating days. I run my own theater company on a staff of none, a few volunteers, and some amazing actors. And I fit in as much theater, music, dance, nature and family time as possible while focusing on finding time to spend with my husband, Ross, who is equally overwhelmed and having his own life crisis as he juggles teaching music, radio work, live sound and his own composing and band projects.

But if all of this stuff is running around my brain, won’t it be more productive to get it all out? I sure hope so.

I had a dream last night. I dreamt a solution to the conundrum I’ve been pondering, somewhat unnamed, for weeks. If I know I want to go from where I currently am to a life that is simpler, involves a tiny home and a yard in a place with work we both enjoy (and less need of work at all), WITHOUT having to take a fancy job for a paycheck and give up what we care about in the meantime, how can I do that?

“Oh, I’ve got it,” said Dream Jamie. “Downsize your life,  you know, like you’ve been working on. Then maybe get a studio or something else small to save some money. Buy a used motorhome. Put your stuff into storage – but not before you’ve mapped out a tour for you and Ross. It should involve all of the awesome skills you have – you can both teach lessons, maybe write a show together, Ross can run audio, Jamie can teach some theater classes and do some editing work – in other words, you don’t need to save up megabucks. Follow the steps. Once you’ve got the motorhome and your tour dates, you’ll start traveling, spending time in communities you might like to settle in some day. And once the tour is complete, you’ll choose your new community and move there – and start saving for a tiny house, with its own land eventually, for the two of you to live in.”

Of course, right? How did I not think of this? Thanks, Dream Jamie.