Mr. FAF and I have been in a somewhat unique family arrangement.
I gave birth to our first and only child, Baby FAF, about two and a half year ago when I was in the last semester of my Masters program.
My in-laws came from China to help us take care of Baby FAF and took him to China one month before he turned one.
They did that so that Mr. FAF and I could focus on our school and work in the US.
I never saw Baby FAF’s first walking steps in person. I missed one of his most important milestones in life.
Fortunately for us, after being scattered all over the world for years, we have been reunited in Washington DC.
My mother-in-law (MIL) took Baby FAF back to the US in mid June.
Mr. FAF finished his PhD in August and started his new job right after.
There has been a lot of readjustment for the family.
My free time has been cut short by about 3 hours each day.
Mr. FAF is getting used to taking care of Baby FAF after being away from him for so long.
Sometimes I think Mr. FAF is learning to be a new dad all over again.
My MIL is homesick in a new environment (we used to live in another city a year ago) and has trouble sleeping at night sometimes.
The biggest challenge has been to get Baby FAF readjusted in America. When Baby FAF left the US for China, he was only 11 months. He and I were just starting to develop a stronger mother-and-baby bond.
One our drive to the airport, Mr. FAF and I were nervous.
I remember my heart was pounding heavily while waiting at the gate. I was afraid Baby FAF wouldn’t recognize me. After all, I am his mom. And the thought of your child seeing you as a stranger is emotionally and physically painful. I didn’t dare to face that thought.
When I saw Baby FAF and my MIL, I was so happy and relieved that they didn’t get lost on their way back to America. My baby was finally here with me.
The first night was the toughest. Baby FAF was really attached to my father-in-law and kept calling his name the whole night while crying. He wouldn’t sleep until he was exhausted from the crying.
Baby FAF wanted my MIL to hold him all the time, especially when we went out since he wasn’t familiar with the new environment. He wouldn’t let me hold him or touch him for the first two weeks. I was just a stranger to him.
Things started to look up after two weeks. Baby FAF is now also attached to me, and he calls me ma (“mommy” in Chinese) when he sees me.
His primary language at the moment is Chinese. He’s been picking up a couple of English words at school, but it will be a couple of months before he can speak it fluently. At the moment, he speaks a few Chinese words here and there, but it’s nowhere near perfect yet.
When he gets more comfortable with English in a few months, I will start teaching him Vietnamese. Our hope is that baby FAF will be fluent in three languages in the future – English, Chinese (Mandarin), and Vietnamese.
However, from talking with my Asian American friends, I also know the pressure of fitting in has discouraged many of them from speaking their Asian language.
We will do our best to teach Baby FAF all three languages, but it will ultimately be up to him if he wants to master them.
After our family is reunited in DC, we have also experienced major changes to our combined income and budget.
1. Our income has increased 128%.
I was the breadwinner in the family for two years while Mr. FAF was finishing his doctoral degree. After Mr. FAF started working, our income has gone up 128%.
In the months leading up to his first paycheck, we had already started talking about what we would do with the first paycheck:
— A celebration with steak dinner at TGI Friday’s for the whole family
— A new computer to replace my 5-year-old laptop (Mr. FAF mentioned a new Macbook, but I’d be happy with a $300 functional laptop)
— Taking the family on a road trip
I now even have a harder time grappling with delayed satisfaction and living life a little. While I want our family to have better life quality, I also want us to keep the same lifestyle as before to at least pay off our mortgage and contribute to our 401(k) and 403(b).
We have wanted to do all the activities mentioned above before Mr. FAF’s new job but postponed our plans because we wanted to save for an emergency.
One frugal thing that came out of Mr. FAF’s first paycheck and sign-on bonus was that we put most of it towards our mortgage principle.
2. New expense – daycare
One week after Baby FAF came back to America, we started him in daycare in late June so that he could interact with other kids and learn English.
We send him two an in-home daycare center which charges $300/week. It’s $1,200 for a 4-week month and $1,500 for a 5-week month or a total of $15,900 a year.
It’s the second largest expense after our monthly mortgage payment. We could have waited until Mr. FAF started his new job, but we wanted Baby FAF to go to school right away and have saved up a good amount for this purpose.
However, we still felt the impact it has on our budget, especially in the months leading to Mr. FAF’s new job.
We stopped making new payments to our mortgage principle. I felt the stress of being the breadwinner for a 4-member family and feared what might happen to us if I lost my job and Mr. FAF couldn’t start working for some reason.
I secretly couldn’t wait for Mr. FAF’s first day at work and his first paycheck.
3. Our food expenses for the family increased.
When Mr. FAF was still in the PhD program in another city, he ate out every day and also bought drinks from Starbucks, McDonald’s and other places.
His food expenses were definitely around $500, if not more, a month. While living by myself, I spent less than $200/month ($87.52 in March and $80.39 in April) on groceries. Our combined food budget was around $700/month.
Now that Mr. FAF is in DC, and my mother-in-law helps with the cooking every day, we don’t eat out as much. When we want to hang out with friends, we figured it’s just cheaper to have a hotpot at home for 7 people than going to a restaurant.
In other words, we get discouraged by the high costs of eating out for our family of four and thus eat at home more often.
Our grocery budget is roughly $750 a month which is an increase for Mr. FAF and me. But considering the fact that my MIL and Baby FAF also stay with us, I think the food budget is reasonable.
4. Our entertainment/fun budget increased.
Mr. FAF and I are not the most social people you can think of. But we do enjoy a good meal and a good conversation with friends. While eating out is expensive for a big group, it’s much cheaper to invite friends to our house to hang out.
If we host dinners or lunches, we typically don’t do potlucks because we don’t want our friends to feel awkward about what to bring. We usually just tell them not to bring anything to alleviate the pressure of them pondering and us wondering if they will bring enough food.
We won’t host dinners every weekend, but getting together with friends at our house every one or two months or so sounds like a good idea to us. After all, they have also invited us to their house multiple times.
Hosting parties will typically cost around $100 for a group of people. This is something we’re willing to invest in our friendships.
Sometimes I still can’t believe our family is finally together after years of living apart. It’s been a tough few years, but we can choose to let the hardships make or break us.
There have been times when we felt like we couldn’t proceed on the same path and were uncertain what the future would hold for our family.
We had to remind ourselves each day that building a life in America is what we have decided to do together, and that we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pursue an education and a career thousands of miles away from our family.
We might have to be away from each other again in the future, but this experience has taught us that nothing good comes easily. If we want to be successful and have a better future, we need to ensure the hardships at the present and remind ourselves of our big goals.
Together with the reunion, we now have a nice boost in our income and also an increase in expenses. Our two most important financial goals right now are (1) paying off our mortgage and (2) investing in our retirement.
Lifestyle inflation is indeed tempting, but we will need to stick with our plans and prepare for anything that comes our way in the future.