Eat Sleep Breathe FI: Creativity at Work Interviews

As an American, I have stalked Chrissy’s blog for a while to see if the grass is greener a few latitude lines north.  Hailing from Canada, she devotes a large part of her brand and blog to helping Canadians. However, there is an abundance of information to learn from on her site no matter what country you are from.  

Chrissy is a very creative thinker, writer, and mother with a lot to offer in the interview below.  Did you know she has a background in graphic design? From her well-designed blog and professional vibe, it’s not surprising.  She discusses blogging and money tactfully below. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about Chrissy like I did.

Take it Away Chrissy!

Please give us a little background along with where we can track you down on the web.

Hi!  I'm Chrissy and I'm a stay-at-home mom who's passionate about spreading the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early). I live with my husband and two boys (11 and 14) near Vancouver, BC.

I discovered FIRE in 2014 when I stumbled across Mr. Money Mustache's blog. Since then, we've worked hard to optimize all our finances and investments. Our goal is to reach financial independence in our 40s.

You can find me online at my blog, Eat Sleep Breathe FI or on my new podcast, Explore FI Canada

Do you consider yourself creative?

Yes, I definitely do! I’ve always been a creative person—art was my favorite subject in school and graphic design was my chosen career. 

I also love hands-on projects like sewing, knitting, and crocheting. If I had more time, I’d love to get back to drawing and painting like I did when I was in art school.

However, creativity isn’t limited to the realm of art. (As Michelle’s Creativity at Work series shows.) My drive to be creative exists in every area of my life—from parenting to cooking, and even finances. 

Are there times when you feel pulled between traditional success and creative ideas that just won’t leave you alone?

My husband and I were fortunate to have found traditional success with our creative ideas. As graphic designers, we haven't had to choose between the two!

However, I do feel pulled between success and creativity in my newest 'career' as a blogger. While blogging ticks every box for me creatively, my blog isn't yet traditionally successful. That is—it earns almost no money yet takes up a lot of my time!

I'm still figuring out how to navigate this issue. For now, I just have to set those nagging voices aside and focus on doing what feels right—even if it earns me no money.  

What role has creativity played in your working life? Private life? Finances?  

Creativity was my working life! Before I became a mom, I was an in-house graphic designer at a local non-profit. I worked on projects like signage, posters, invitations, and more. It was a dream job and I still miss it. 

In my private life, creativity has also played a big role. When my first son was born, I left the workforce to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. Since I no longer had the creative outlet of my job, I turned my attention to things for my kids. 

I sewed cozy sleep sacks; knit tiny mittens; built playhouses out of cardboard boxes; and transcribed and illustrated mini storybooks for my older son. (He was too young to print, so he dictated his made-up stories to me.) These fun projects satisfied my need to be creative and allowed me to include my kids in the process.

The next phase of my creative life came when my older son started kindergarten. The music teacher enlisted me to design posters for the twice-yearly school play. And the PAC kept me busy with designing materials for fundraisers and other events. Taking on these projects reminded me how much I still loved graphic design.

Most recently, another outlet for my creativity has been blogging. It's the perfect amalgamation of my creative passions, skills, and know-how—and it allows me to help others. I love it!

One other important area where creativity has played a big role is our finances. I love thinking outside the box when it comes to our money. Innovative thinking has led me to things like FIRE, leveraged investing, and lots of unique ways to optimize our finances.  

Are there any areas of living you approach in an especially innovative way?

For sure! Here are some examples:

Finances

As mentioned in the previous section, I try to approach our finances innovatively. I'm not afraid to stray from the norm and explore interesting ways to grow our money.  

Parenting

We avoid FOMO like the plague and work hard to teach our kids to be grateful and aware of their privilege. As a result, they neither want nor ask for much. Our kids are happy to just save their money and enjoy the simple, free things in life!

Lifestyle

We try, as much as possible, to lead a slow life: our kids are in very few activities; we try to keep our calendars as open and uncommitted as possible; and we travel as slowly as our school and work schedules allow. In this fast-paced world, slow living has allowed us to lower our stress as we savor each day.

Do you have a system for keeping track of ideas?  For example, do you use a series of notebooks or certain apps?

I used to be a pen and paper kinda gal. But for the last few years, I've used Evernote to record all my ideas. There's so much to love about Evernote and I can't imagine going back to my analog ways. Here's why:

  • I can easily write and access my notes—even if I'm away from home. 
  • My notes are searchable.
  • I never misplace them.
  • I can sort and organize them.
  • They can be edited as many times as needed.
  • They can be duplicated then further edited.
  • I can easily share them.
  • There's no physical clutter.
  • My notes are always backed up.

Have I convinced you to use Evernote yet? 

What systems do you have in place for mastering and tackling your finances?

I have plenty! Here are some:

Online banking and investing

I do all my banking and investing online. This allows me to simplify and automate tasks, easily check our balances, and move our money around quickly and efficiently.

E-statements

I've opted for e-statements for everything. When I receive an e-statement, I mark it as unread until I can deal with it… and then I deal with it within 24 hours. Having this system in place ensures that I never miss a bill and prevents the statements from piling up. Digital statements are also much easier to access and less work to manage. There's no need to check the mailbox, open envelopes, or deal with recycling.

Budgeting

I use YNAB (You Need a Budget) to track our spending. I love it because it has a built-in system to help me put every dollar to work. It also helps me track where our money is going and easily plan for the future. Having the YNAB budgeting system in place gives me so much peace of mind.

Spreadsheets

I love spreadsheets and use them to track all kinds of things: our net worth, progress to FI, savings rate, annual spending, vacation costs, etc. Without these spreadsheets, I'd feel lost! They keep me in tune with our finances and help me to track our progress.

IOUs

We and our families often split expenses with each other* so we have a lot of IOUs to track. We needed something that was easier and quicker to use than a spreadsheet, and thankfully discovered the Splitwise app. It's simple and easy to use, does all the math, and it's free! I highly recommend it.

*We frequently pick things up for each other, buy things in bulk to split, or pay for shared travel expenses in one transaction.

Do you mind sharing if you were formally identified as gifted in school? (Keep in mind, many extraordinary individuals are missed).  Do you have any positive or negative thoughts about gifted education or gifted psychology?

I was never identified as gifted, but my son has been—and I see many of the same traits in myself:

  • Intense focus on passions.
  • Difficulty moving on from a focussed task.
  • Difficulty getting focused on unimportant tasks.
  • Highly curious.
  • Highly sensitive.
  • Highly creative.
  • Deep sense of empathy.
  • Keen interest in problem-solving.
  • Independent thinker.

Regarding gifted education, we've been happy with the support our son has received at school. He's always been given the accommodations he's needed and any extra enrichment that was available.

As for me, I don't feel I suffered as a non-diagnosed gifted person. Looking back, my parents were very in-tune with my needs. Despite being of modest means, they gave me the art classes, supplies, and time I needed to pursue my creativity.

In summary: although I didn't receive specific educational support, I did well in school. I believe this was largely due to my parents. They gave unconditional support for my passion for art and worked cooperatively with my teachers. I think parental involvement is the key to success when helping children with learning differences.

As far as gifted psychology, I've learned that giftedness makes some individuals more resilient and others more vulnerable.

We're fortunate that our son developed healthy coping mechanisms over the years. He worked hard to overcome the challenges that come with giftedness—and that has helped him to become a very resilient teenager. 

However, I know many gifted kids who become overwhelmed by the challenges their giftedness creates. Often, these children end up anxious and afraid to go to school.

I believe gifted psychology is of greatest benefit when used to support individuals at as young of an age as possible. This can help enormously in preventing anxiety and poor self-esteem.

Do you mind sharing if you’ve had any mental health struggles?  If so, did those struggles impact your finances in any way?

I'm always open to sharing my mental health struggles. I feel it helps to decrease the stigma around mental illness and shows others that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety with the birth of each of my sons. Though the depression abated, I still struggle with anxiety. Interestingly, my anxiety has impacted our finances in a good way. That's because my anxiety pushes me to manage our finances better. 

Here's how: my anxiety is usually triggered by stress. Working outside the home would create a lot of extra stress for me and my family. So I've done everything I can to afford for me to stay at home full-time with our kids.

That includes doing things like:

  • Taking charge of every aspect of our finances.
  • Learning how to DIY invest.
  • Learning how to budget. 
  • Optimizing our spending.
  • Constantly decreasing our expenses and cutting the fat from our annual spending.
  • Cooking almost all meals at home.
  • Hosting international homestay students.

All of this helps to take some of the pressure off my husband as the sole breadwinner. This decreases his stress, which in turn decreases my stress.

While anxiety is a mental health issue I'd rather not struggle with, I've used it as motivation to get a better handle on our finances. And it's worked!

What is your favorite DIY hack?  Did you come up with it on your own?

My favorite DIY hack is YouTube. We use it to learn how to fix our cars and things around the house. Without the guidance and visual instructions from YouTube, we wouldn't have the confidence to try repairing as many things as we have. (The beneficial power of the internet amazes me!)

A favorite DIY hack I mostly developed on my own is mending my kids' jeans. Their jeans always wear out at the knees while the rest of the jeans are still good. I HATE getting rid of a mostly-good pair of pants, so I choose to mend them.

Through experimentation and some Googling, I've figured out how to not only repair the jeans, but make the knees even more durable. In a nutshell, this is how I do it:

  1. Rip open one seam to allow access for the sewing machine foot.
  2. Thread the machine with colored thread that blends in with the area to be mended. (I have a collection of blue and grey thread to match just about any pair of jeans.)
  3. Sew back and forth over the knee area multiple times being careful to taper off the sewing around the edges so that the mending blends in).
  4. Re-sew the ripped-open seam (including finishing the edge with a zigzag stitch).

Most people probably think I'm crazy to waste time fixing a $10 pair of kids' jeans. But it's important for me because I think we all need to do our part to live more sustainably. I also love sewing, so it's a fun, creative activity for me. And finally, it saves money! What's not to love? 

What role (if any) has art and music played in your life?  Can you tell us some favorite bands?

Art inspires me to create, and music lifts me up.

When I see art that speaks to me, it re-ignites my drive to be creative. Beautiful art informs how and what I create and keeps my creativity cup full.

As for music, I always turn to it when I need a pick-me-up or to get energized. It's magical how music can so quickly and easily turn my mood around. 

My favorite band of all time is The Beatles (because I love oldies and their songs remind me of listening to my dad’s records on lazy Sunday afternoons). Other favorites include: Coldplay, U2, Walk Off the Earth, and Barenaked Ladies. 

It seems like I only listen to male artists! But I also love solo female singers such as: Sarah McLachlan, Sara Bareilles, Colby Caillat, Kate Voegle, and Kina Grannis.

Are You an Extreme Systemizer? 

According to the test, I'm a below-average systemizer. But Michelle tells me this is a common result, especially for females. That's because the test was written in another era, and some of the questions are gender-biased. 

Instead, I should look at my habits and routines for clues. In that case, I'm definitely a systemizer! That makes complete sense to me: I feel at ease when I have systems and routines in place. They give my days structure and help to guide my actions as I work towards long-term goals. 

Systems are what I thrive on!

Chrissy's Closing Thoughts

Through this deep dive into my natural tendencies, I've come to know myself even better… and that's always a good thing.

I never gave much thought to my systems—why I set them up, or that they were even systems. I now see that I'm a highly systemized person and that systems benefit me greatly.

Now that I have this new self-knowledge, I'll be more deliberate in using systems in my life. Nerdy as it may sound, this excites me!

I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking and educational interview. Thank you for the opportunity Michelle! 

Michelle Again...

I love the variety of topics Chrissy covers in this interview. She sounds like an amazing mother and wife.  I really appreciated hearing about her educational experiences with her gifted son.  She speaks to me as a young new mother and certainly has many habits to emulate.

Have you checked out Chrissy’s new podcast yet?  Please do so if you haven’t already and let us know what you think of it below!  Also, please let us know what you think of this written interview.

9 Replies to “Eat Sleep Breathe FI: Creativity at Work Interviews”

  1. Thanks again for the interview Michelle! I found it interesting and therapeutic to examine my life from this unique angle.

    It also helped me realize how much I still weave creativity into my life (even if I’m not creating what most would consider to be ‘art’).

    Great questions and great interview!

    1. Thanks again Chrissy for taking some time to appear on the SH blog. You always write such thoughtful material. I look forward to checking out more of your podcast!

  2. Great interview! So nice to get some additional insight into your approach to finances and family, through a very different lens!

    Also – love your music choices! BNL & WOTE are two of my fav’s! It also sounds like you got very similar test results to me when it comes to the systemizing (which when I first got them, totally shocked me because I thought I was a TOTAL systemizer lol. But Michelle’s explanation made a lot of sense 🙂

    Your hack for fixing jeans is also awesome! I never would have thought to do that! (My sewing skills are horrible though, so I might need to practice before I give that a try!).

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Glad you enjoyed the interview Phia! I love her music choices too. My husband ran sound for Steven Page (from the BNL) last year when he came to our local venue! It was a blast. I was too pregnant to thoroughly indulge myself though. But he had good jokes that made me laugh.

    As far as I’m concerned, the S-E test is bogus at this point. Even though it was the only “legitimate” measure I could find while doing my master’s thesis about systemizing, I’ve had far too many awesome systemizing (and awesome empathizing) women take it with results all over the place.

    Sometimes measures need to be disproven, so I guess I’m gathering evidence for that instead:)

    1. Michelle—that’s SO cool that you and your husband met Steven Page! I think I’ve finally forgiven him and would love to see BNL permanently reunited. One can hope!

      Re: the S-E test, I think you should de-gender it, and rerelease it to the world! If you ever do that, I’d love to retake it. 😉

      1. I think I’ll have to save rewriting the E-S test for retirement (in the waaaay distant future). Forgiving bands for breaking up is on my list too… ha ha.

        1. I am also very jealous you met Steven Page! I used to listen to BNL CD’s on repeat for HOURS!!

          I went to see them when they were last in Vancouver, and while the concert was awesome, and I still love them as a band……some of the songs just aren’t the same without him.

          AND sign me up as second on the wait list for your retirement S-E test Michelle!

          1. Seeing them in Vancouver would be a dream. That sounds so cool.

            At one point my husband had to go on stage to fix something quick and Steven Page said, “That guy is here to tell us to leave.” Ha ha – he’s quick-witted. Other than that, I’m not sure how much he interacted with him. I’ll have to ask!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *