Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mo' Money, Mo' Grind

Things have settled down a little for me financially - I was feeling the pinch of consumerism earlier this month, but that's mostly gone away now. The biggest reason is because we are basically ready for the newest Moneybags to join the family - we've got everything we need on hand, mostly thanks to the most recent kids' consignment sale. I got a whole boy's first nine months wardrobe and a double stroller for $150, and I sold enough stuff to make almost $90 - not a bad deal! I also swapped a bunch of clothes with my NICU mom friend - girly stuff for her, adorable boy stuff for me (with nary a baseball or football on them, all monsters and bears and dinosaurs, yay!).

Since then, Pickle and I have been out and about enjoying the summer, and not focused on acquiring things for the new baby. We've visited local parks, playgrounds and pools as well as a children's museum (we bought a membership). We haven't been taking too many stroller walks because I need to be off my feet a lot, but we're spending tons of time in the backyard - someone put one of those turtle sandbox things out by their mailbox with a "free" sign on it, and I snatched it up and turned it into a wading pool for her. She's fascinated by airplanes, so we like to sit in the shade and making zooming noises as they go by.

Which reminds me, if you've got a little aerophile like I do, a great free thing to do is head somewhere near your local airport where you can watch planes take off and land. We haven't done it yet, but a great place to do this in the Twin Cities is the rooftop parking lot of the Mall of America - the planes come in right overhead; you can almost see the people in the windows! We'll be doing that at least once in the coming weeks.

I have a few more projects that I'd like to complete before baby arrives - eventually we will be redoing the nursery and I've got some things I can do now to make the space work better for two than for one. These Ikea spice rack bookshelves are at the top of my list. The other thing we have coming up is Pickle's second birthday next month. We will be having a small, family-and-friends-who-are-family-only party at our house, with cake and ice cream. (Last year I also made dinner for everyone, but that's not happening this time.) I am thinking about making an Elmo cake, since that's her newest obsession (thank you, Grandma), but I'm not sure if it would freak her out to actually eat Elmo. We'll see.

Anyway, that's what's been new around here - it's been nice to have a break from all the money thoughts for a while.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sous Chef: Chicken Burrito Bowl


Prep: One pot, minimal attention, half an hour to table, inexpensive - meets most of my criteria for a great dinner. I forgot to thaw the chicken ahead of time and had to cook it from frozen, which took a little longer but didn't ruin my plans or anything. Easy clean up.

Taste: Really good! The Mexican Quinoa recipe is basically a variation of this, and I think I like that slightly better than the rice, but this is really good, filling, tasty, family-friendly, and makes good leftovers.

Reaction: Thumbs up all around - this is another good one to keep on the menu on a regular basis.

Anecdata: Makes four servings, if I remember correctly.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Top savings targets for Brits

It's always a good idea to put some money away whenever you can and a brand new infographic from MYJAR makes it clear what Brits are interested in saving up for.


With 22% managing to add at least £250 a month to their savings pot, even the typical saver puts £144 away. So what is it that people are looking to achieve by making savings?

Top goals

It seems that 36% of savers are thinking about getting away from it all on a holiday, whilst 32% also have the weather in mind, but they are more concerned about having some back-up funds for the proverbial 'rainy day'.

For the future, 26% of savers are looking to make their retirement years easier and 14% are saving for their children, and a further 9% for their grandchildren.

With property prices never far from the headlines and deposits becoming larger all the time, 13% of savers are trying to buy a home and 11% are betting against having to outlay for future repairs.

Loans

Of course for many others the idea of making savings just doesn't come into their planning because the task of simply making ends meet is so demanding.

In fact, one million Brits use payday loans to balance their household budgets and pay basic bills.

Thankfully companies like MYJAR aim to protect their customer's interests by taking a responsible attitude to making loans. By using a system of thorough checks to support their lending decisions they only lend money to people who have a predictable and regular source of income, and they will never encourage anyone to borrow more than they can afford to repay.

Warning: Late repayment can cause you serious money problems. For help, go to moneyadviceservice.org.uk.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sous Chef: Slow Cooker Cheesy Chicken and Rice



Prep: This is an easy slowcooker meal that dirties only the crockpot and rice cooker (unless you use rice made earlier in the week, which you could easily do). Takes almost no attention or time.

Taste: The taste was okay but this was really dry. Part of the problem is that the recipe doesn't have amounts in it, and I used plain rice instead of boxed rice, so I think I used too much. I even added milk which didn't seem to make a difference at all.

Reaction: Meh. I like the flavor but the texture left something to be desired. One thing I like is that this is really easy to pair with a veg and salad, so I'll be tweaking it to get a better consistency.

Anecdata: The recipe said to cook on low 7-8 hours but I don't think I'd do more than 5 hours next time - it smelled and looked done by then. On high would be just a couple hours, enough to cook the chicken through. Also, possibly because of my rice enthusiasm, this made a TON of food. I'm going to have to figure out how to make it creamier for us to eat up these leftovers.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rethinking freezer cooking

I have flirted with freezer cooking for years, but have not had a lot of luck doing it. I've tried doubling recipes and freezing half for later, freezing leftovers, freezing extra bits of things (like half a can of coconut milk or enchilada sauce), and Once A Month Cooking (a special kind of hell where you spend an entire day slaving away to make sixteen versions of basically the same dish and you are so tired of looking at them that you never want to eat them again). The only things that have really worked for me are taco meat and breakfast burritos.

My problems are as follows:
1. Freezer burn. I have tried wrapping in plastic, foil, and freezer bags. I have tried freezing in the dish. I have tried flash freezing. None of it seems to work - food that's cooked and then frozen just tastes like that when you reheat it - it's not as good as if it were made fresh.
2. Storage space. We have a freezer on top of our fridge as well as a chest freezer, but it seems like the kinds of thing I'm storing don't fit well in either freezer, and it's hard to get to the older things first, which means I use up new stuff so the old stuff just sits in the back and gets more freezer burned.
3. System. Keeping track of what's in the freezer and when it was put there is somehow beyond me. Writing the name of the contents on the bag is a good idea, but it doesn't do much good when you forget that it exists. We have a list on the fridge of what's in the chest freezer but I never look at it and it never gets updated. And the reorganization of newer stuff to the back/bottom of the freezer just doesn't seem to happen in my house.

I'd like to get better at this, because we're going to need some stockpiles of stuff for when the newest Baby M comes home. And "freezer meals" has been on my "before baby" checklist since we found out we were expecting, but I have been avoiding this task like the plague.

Cue a new idea!

What if I thought about freezer cooking in a totally different manner? What if I thought about it as stockpiling meals, rather than freezer specific cooking? What if I looked for components of meals on sale, stocked up on those, and froze the perishables, withOUT cooking them ahead of time? Keeping cans of soup, frozen veggies, rice or quinoa, and frozen chicken breasts on hand is not complicated, but toss all of those things in a slow cooker and you've got dinner! If I cooked them ahead of time and then froze them, I would never eat them - but knowing that I have the components on hand would be easier to organize and keep track of, and easier to throw meals together with some semblance of variety.

So. Here's my NEW freezer cooking plan:
1. Stockpiling. Keep an eye out for the following staples, and scoop them up x3 whenever they are on sale: chicken breast, ground beef, canned cream of ______ soups, canned corn, shredded cheese, frozen veggies.
2. Preparing. Chop chicken into bite size pieces, bag up into meal-size bags, freeze. Turn ground beef into taco meat, freeze. Freeze frozen veg (obviously) and shredded cheese (we do this with mozzarella for pizza; surely it would work with cheddar or mexican, right?).
3. Organizing. Get some shallow baskets for the chest freezer. Chicken goes into one basket, taco meat into another, cheese into another, etc. Add new bags to the back of the basket, take from the front. Baskets should be stackable so things don't get lost in the bottom of the freezer.
4. Preparing. Sous Chef posts are focusing on easy throw-together dinners that make use of these kind of staples, as opposed to requiring all fresh ingredients or things that I would only buy for that purpose. So hopefully when the time comes, I will be able to have a basic fresh produce shopping list for adding veggies and fruit to our meals, and otherwise be able to shop the pantry to make slow cooker or one-pot meals for my bigger family.

This seems like something I will actually be able to stick with. I already kind of shop this way - buying extra brats or cereal when they are on sale. I don't know why it never occurred to me to do it with meal components as well.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Ugh, I feel like such a CONSUMER

Seriously, I don't know what is going on with me lately, but I feel like all I'm doing is trying to find ways to spend money.

I blame the pregnancy for the most part. Early on when I had a hard time being interested in food, I gave myself permission to go get whatever sounded good at least every couple of days. Usually I wanted a chicken sandwich and fries from Wendy's, so it wasn't that expensive, but it started a bad habit of talking myself into a "treat" every time I leave the house. I've been combating this by bringing snacks and water with me everywhere now that I'm feeling better, but the habit remains. It mainly stuck out the day I went to the zoo with some friends - I was looking forward to the outing in general but also as a chance to get to eat out, and they all brought food with them. I wound up waiting in line forever with a fussy toddler for greasy park food that wasn't that good but was super expensive. Ugh.

So now I've been trying to be better about not falling into the trap of getting a treat just because I want one. I've been buying soda and ice cream at the grocery store so I have them on hand for cheaper. But then another problem came up - I'm not on bedrest or anything, but I do have to take it easy. When Baby M and I go to the park, I can't push her in the stroller; I have to drive. I kind of rolled my eyes at my doctor's request about this, but it really is too difficult for me to handle the walking and the heat and the stroller and everything else - I start getting lots of contractions and that's not a good thing.

So now we're driving everywhere all the time, which makes it SO EASY to just pop into Target or whatever. And I am relishing the ability to take Pickle out in public - she spent two winters in heavy isolation and just loves going places. She pretends to eat all the food at the grocery store and goes "WOW! WOW!" to almost everything we pass. But of course, I almost always wind up picking up a few things on these trips. I try to go with specific lists and I'm pretty good about it but it's still money that we probably don't need to be spending.

And now I am in full on nesting mode for the new baby - I just want to buy all sorts of cute little boy outfits and get the new cloth diaper stash put into place and everything, and it's just money money money flying right out the window. I have restrained myself so far (with the exception of two sleepers that were at Goodwill for $.75 each) because the kids' consignment sale is coming up next week and I can probably do all my shopping then at once. I'm limiting myself to going on half-price day in hopes that it does some good.

Still, I don't like the way my brain seems to constantly be in "acquiring" mode. It's tiring and distracting, and I don't know how to turn it off. Does anyone else know what I'm talking about?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Baby clothes!

Since the newest Baby Moneybags is expected to like blue and guns and sports, I've been debating what to do about clothing him. I wish I were maverick enough to dress my boy in pink and purple and therefore reuse all of Pickle's old clothes, but I'm not. So what do I do, both about the boxes of clothes in the attic and the soon-to-be naked little boy in my house?

It's a multi-faceted question. We got so much cute stuff for Pickle, mostly as gifts but also at consignment sales. A lot of the stuff is practically brand new because things like over-the-head onesies and zip-up outfits are not practical for a baby on oxygen and with a feeding tube. So do I save it in case we decide to have a third baby, and it's a girl? Do I pass it on to my sister-in-law, who at this very moment might be going into labor with a girl? Do I share it with our NICU friend who had a girl two weeks ago? Do I sell it and try to make some money with which to buy boy clothes?

I decided to do a combination of these things. First of all, I decided that I'd rather stuff get used than sit in storage for years - and we don't even know if we'll want to have another baby after this one, or if it will be safe for me to do so, or if we did, whether it would even be a girl! I hate to see these super cute clothes get musty or damaged because I wanted to keep them all to myself. (And anyway, if we did have another girl, say, three years from now, there will be so much NEW cute stuff to buy! Ahem.)

Second, I got some really nice hand-me-downs, so I didn't feel right simply selling all of our stuff to make money, especially when I know so many moms with babies who could be wearing these clothes right now. I felt the need to pass it forward. So I offered my sister-in-law and cousin a chance to go through everything and take whatever they want. I will take a few of my favorite pieces to my NICU mom friend as well. I'm excited to see babies I know and love wearing some of Pickle's favorite outfits.

Then, I will sell whatever is left. Already, my generosity has paid off - my cousin is passing on her maternity clothes to me and my sister-in-law has given me some toys for Pickle and some boy clothes she bought before she knew what she was having - along with a high chair for me to consign!

And lastly, I'm going to try to reign it in when shopping for baby boy. Clearly, we had way too much stuff for Pickle, so I'm going to try to remember that as I fill my shopping cart. Also, I don't think we'll have any baby showers for this one, so we shouldn't get quite as many new things. We do have more friends with older boy children than girl children, so we might get hand-me-downs, but that's okay.

Weirdly, my "need" for boy stuff is pretty much limited to clothes - he can use Pickle's pink bathtub and sheets and stuff, and that doesn't bother me at all. I just want to get him some cute outfits with monsters or monkeys or trucks on them (no sports, please no sports!) so he'll look all adorable and boylike.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sous Chef: Mexican Quinoa



WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!

Okay, technically, there was no chicken in this dish - but this is one that's going into regular rotation for sure.

Prep: It comes together easily and is a one-pot meal. It also works well to use up the last bits of things leftover from other meals - bits of onion, green pepper, chicken, or lots of other things could easily be tossed in. It's also made from things that I usually have on hand, so it's a cheap dinner.

Taste: Delicious! The cumin and tomatoes with chiles added a little heat, and I garnished the dish with cheese, sour cream, fresh tomato and green onion.

Reception: Success! Peanut and Pickle both enjoyed it and it reheated well. This is a keeper.

Anecdata: Made about four servings. Could easily be stretched for a crowd or cut for one person. Would make a great side dish for a larger meal.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rechristening Baby M

Baby M is hardly a baby anymore at 22 months, so it seems fitting that she should be renamed on this here blog of mine. I've meant to do it and kept forgetting, but it's definitely time to do it now - because she's not going to be the baby anymore!

That's right - we are expecting another baby moneybags! Sometime this fall, the newest member of the clan will be making his appearance. What's that? Oh, yes - it's a boy! Technically he's due close to Christmas, but given my history, we are prepared for baby to make landing anytime starting next month. I am really hoping he stays inside a lot longer, though!

I previously talked about the possibilities of a second pregnancy, and it's interesting to see which of those predictions have come true. I have not been placed on bedrest (in 2013, recommendations on bedrest to prevent pre-term labor changed - they found that it actually worsened the risk). I have been monitored very closely, getting twice the standard number of ultrasounds already to check that everything is going okay. I have met with high-risk specialists, and am receiving progesterone shots to help prevent pre-term labor. And so far, everything seems to be going fine, so I am hopeful that will continue.

My hospital bag is already packed and childcare arrangements are in place, so now we just sit and wait - but hopefully I will be waddling into the hospital at full term begging someone to "get this kid out of me!" (And hopefully I remember to repack the hospital bag with winter clothes instead of summer clothes at some point this fall....)

So I guess the last thing to share is Baby M's new nickname on here - at home, we have affectionately dubbed her Pickle, and so she shall be from here on out.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Our Trip Down South

Um, well, this is a little bit overdue! We've been home for a month, but I guess we've been busy. I outlined a budget before we left, and wanted to do a comparison to see whether I was on target.

Rental Car 
We rented a larger vehicle for comfort and boy was that worth it! From extra room for all the baby gear to more leg room for us to the advantage being able to change a diaper in the back of the car*, this was well worth the cost. I tried to get a Name Your Own Price deal, but turns out I was able to get a better deal by going straight to a rental location that was not at the airport (and, bonus, closer to our house). Expected Cost: $363. Actual cost: $364.73

Gas
Gasbuddy's trip cost calculator estimated $247.62 roundtrip. Expecting extra driving around at our destination (but forgetting to include needing to fill up before returning the car), I called this a $300 expected cost. Actual cost: $332.42

Hotels
We stayed at three hotels during the drive portions of the trip. I booked one hotel before we left, because I knew we would spend that night in that town, but otherwise booked through Priceline's Name Your Own Price feature while we were on the road. Two of our hotels were fine, and one was totally amazing and we plan to stay there every time we make this trip from now on. Expected cost: $300. Actual cost: $217.89

Food
We took a lot of snacks with us (fruit, granola bars, beef jerky, water, soda, and crunchy/salty stuff), and we came home with most of it still in the cooler. I'm not sure how to explain this, other than we needed to stop every few hours for Baby M to run around, and we succumbed to the lure of fast food almost every time. We didn't ever pay for water, though, so that was good. This total includes some groceries we picked up to make Baby M's blends on the road, as well as takeout the night we got home because we did not feel like grocery shopping after driving for two days. I didn't predict an expected cost, but the actual cost: $262.94

Incidentals
We bought a car charger for our phones, picked up some booze for our cat sitter, went to the movies, and bought postcards for a young friend at each state we visited. Our incidentals expenses were $35.99.

Our trip cost us $1,234.26 total. I had hoped to keep it under $1,000, which probably wasn't very realistic. Flying would have been quite a bit more expensive, since we would have had to buy three seats plus still rent a car at our destination. I'm not a huge fan of road trips as I get older (especially with a toddler!), but the cost savings will make me grin and bear it for years to come.


* I was SHOCKED at the number of places that don't have baby changing facilities in their bathrooms.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seller's Remorse

So, as an addendum to my update on cloth diapering, I wanted to share an experience with seller's remorse.

I took all my pocket diapers to the local cloth diaper store to get some help figuring out how to keep cloth diapering, and I realized that that system of cloth diaper was not going to work for us anymore. So, what to do with all those cloth diapers? Sell them, obviously.

The store I went to made me an offer and it kind of broke my heart - about 25% of what I'd paid for the diapers, even though they were used. This was because the quality of the diapers was, well, used. I bought them online for the most part, and it's hard to judge the quality through photos, not to mention that I really hadn't looked at any brand new diapers and wasn't able to see the differences even when they were apparent.

Many of them needed repairs made - new velro or new leg elastic. This was all stuff I could have done myself, and I would have gotten a better price - but the hourly rate would not have been worth it. The time I have to myself to do that kind of crafty work without a toddler grabbing at the needle is limited, and would mean giving up other things like reading for enjoyment or spending time with Peanut. For a savings of $2-3 per hour, that didn't really seem worth it. (Plus, I would have had to buy velcro and elastic - further eroding my profit!)

For our next foray into cloth diapering, I will only be buying either new diapers or used diapers that I am able to examine in person. I also am not going to limit myself to a strict budget for getting a full stash - even if I spend twice what I did before, it would be a pittance compared to the cost of disposables for the rest of the time Baby M is in diapers.

Even so, I left the store second-guessing myself for several days, feeling terrible for all the money I'd "wasted". I finally complained about it to Peanut, and he pointed out that even with the loss I'd taken, I still managed to diaper Baby M for more than a year for just $150. BabyCenter's baby cost calculator puts the estimated cost of disposables at $72/MONTH. Well! That puts it into perspective very nicely!

So, no more seller's remorse for me - now I'm just focusing on not trying to save money to spite myself by going the cheapest route possible. Sometimes it pays to spend just a bit more for the best value.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where I am with cloth diapering

A recent New York Times parenting blog article reminded me that I never wrote an updated post to my decision to cloth diaper Baby M. You can read the article here: Goodbye to Cloth Diapers, and Ideal Motherhood.

It was important to me to cloth diaper, partly for environmental reasons, partly for health reasons, but if I'm honest, mostly for perception reasons - my perception of myself as a mother, and others' perceptions of me as well. (Not unrelated to my fervent desire to have a natural birth, even though the manner of giving birth makes absolutely no difference to what kind of a mom I might wind up being - case in point, foster and adoptive moms!)

Anyway.

I did some research and chose a cloth diaper system known as pocket diapers - they have an outer shell that is stuffed with an insert or two, and once that's done they function very much like disposables. They are one size, able to go from newborn to potty training. And they are very easy to find used, which is how I got most of my diapers.

I used these cloth diapers on Baby M for a little over a year since she got home from the hospital. I "cheated" by putting her in disposables for our many doctor's appointments, but I had to lug around oxygen tanks and apnea monitors and feeding tubes, and was not about to burden myself with dirty diapers as well. I went through exactly one box each of size one and size two diapers. We washed diapers every day at first, and then every 2-3 days. I made my own detergent and reusable wipes, and line-dried the delicate parts of the diapers. We had some leaks, but no blow-outs, and I was quite happy with it - for an investment of about $200, I thought I had my diaper needs taken care of for another year or two.

And then a few months ago, it just quit working. We were having lots and lots of leaks - like every diaper, every time, which meant lots of extra laundry for baby and me, and cleaning the couch, or floor, or changing sheets after every nap and in the middle of the night. It seems like Baby M had a growth spurt that made her legs a little skinnier in proportion to the rest of her, AND she started getting mobile - but she doesn't crawl, she scoots around on her butt. The combination meant that the slightest bit of moisture in her diaper got squirted out with each movement, and it was just a nightmare.

I tried stripping the diapers to restore their absorbency and tightening the elastic on the legs and a few other things, but suddenly I realized that I was defaulting to disposables more often than not, and eventually a full week went by without me even opening the drawer where I keep the cloth diapers. Disposables are not as expensive as I feared (we use a store brand which works fine) but it's still not quite how I wanted to raise my kid.

So I did a little more research, and I packed up my diapers and Baby M and went to a local cloth diaper store. After talking with the owner for an hour, and showing him my frustrations with fit and with the way Baby M's way of getting around interferes, I think we have a solution. It's a different diaper system, called All-in-Twos (AI2s), which involves an outer shell and an insert that is snapped or folded into place. The outer shell can be used several times before laundering and has a double gusset at the leg to help prevent leaks. They are one size, although the inserts are different sizes to help get the trimmest fit possible.

I bought a couple of options, both new and used, to try out to see if it's going to work better for us, and I'm excited to see if it works. (The new option had to be ordered, so I'm waiting for it to arrive - this week, I think - to give the new system a fair shot.) In the meantime, disposables certainly are convenient - except for the smelly trash we now get to take out.

I also learned a valuable lesson about myself - the way I deal with my child's waste says almost NOTHING about what kind of a mother I am. I love her and will take the best care of her possible, and there are a variety of ways to do that. I solemnly promise not to judge other moms for deciding not to cloth diaper from here on out!

If you're interested in cloth diapering, Squawkfox has a number of really handy cloth diaper tutorials - here is a good place to start: running the numbers on cloth vs. disposable. I also really like her run down of the various kinds of cloth diapers and determining which system is the best value - but if I've learned anything, it's that the best value in strict dollars and sense might not be the best system for your kid - so keep an open mind!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ouch....

This story stinks - Man's Mistake Costs His Children $400,000 IRA Inheritance

At first I assumed it was another situation where a family is simply disagreeing over the disbursement of funds, but this one sounds more like a legitimate mistake. The man in question made a will specifying that his children receive his retirement funds. And he wrote on the beneficiary form for his IRA that he wanted the funds to be distributed according to his will.

Unfortunately, that wasn't a valid way for him to fill out the beneficiary form, which means that it made his surviving spouse the beneficiary by default. And there doesn't seem to be any way around this - IRA beneficiary forms are valuable because they bypass the probate process and allow beneficiaries to receive the money without waiting for the estate to go through probate. But that also means that they are not beholden to the will - the form outranks it and a mistake can mean that a default beneficiary will receive the money. This could also mean, for example, if you forget to update your form after getting a divorce - your ex-spouse would receive the money instead of your current one, regardless of what your will says. Eek!

As the article points out, there are no automatic reminders for beneficiary forms (and clearly no one at the institution that manages the IRA is looking at them to make sure they are valid). Peanut and I last updated our forms shortly after Baby M was born, and haven't really taken a look at it since then. I think I will put a reminder in the calendar to review these forms once a year.

When was the last time you checked your beneficiary forms? 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: This post from Get Rich Slowly is several months old, but I really like it: The Joy of Being Average. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great at everything, and it's exhausting. I've been trying to ease up on my own expectations since Baby M's birth, and I have to say, I am a lot happier. Being great might get a lot of attention and admiration, but that stuff doesn't bring me the same happiness as a glass of lemonade in my backyard on a sunny afternoon. Who knew?

Thing the Second: I just found out about this awesome program from the state of Minnesota - I Can Camp provides a tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, cooking stove, dishes, camping lights, firewood and a permit - and instructors with all sorts of activities set up during your camping trip. FOR $40!! It's not great for toddlers, but you better believe we will be taking advantage of this and similar programs in a few years. I used to camp a lot in high school and college, but I don't have any equipment now, and the cost of getting it has kept me from considering camping as an activity. But we can easily afford $40 and food for a weekend in the woods!

Thing the Third: This might seem weird, but I like the thought of it: Fetal Cells Remain in Mother's Body After Birth. I have often thought since having Baby M that no matter what happens in our lives, she will always be a part of me in a way that is hard to explain to people who aren't mothers (dads probably feel this too, but not to the extent that mothers do, I think). I'm actually glad to know that that feeling is backed up by science. Perhaps archaeologists centuries from now would be able to tell that I bore a child - what a way to have this achievement preserved for eternity.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grocery Store Woes

It seems silly to get worked up about the demise of a grocery store, but it's happening.

Recently, a regional chain decided to exit the Twin Cities, and sold off many of their stores to a competing chain. The outgoing store, Rainbow, was my favorite of the local grocery stores - consistently great produce, good prices, and something about the atmosphere that I can't quite explain. The staff at my local store have all been friendlier and more helpful than I'm accustomed to, and the store looks nicer, cleaner, and more upscale than its prices would have you expect. The new owner, Cub, on the other hand, has always been my least favorite chain to shop at. The produce is not good, prices are higher, the layout of the stores is weird, and the design of the store resembles something more along the lines of a Costco or an Aldi - like you're shopping in a warehouse with no thought given to presentation. Which is totally fine with me if I'm saving a bunch of money, but that's not the case in this instance.

Anyway, my local store is one of those slated to become a Cub, and I've tried to be brave about it, but I am really sad. Mostly I'm hoping that the employees get to keep their jobs, because I like them. I'm also sad to be losing some of Rainbow's store brand items, because the quality was better than Cub's. And I'm sad that overall my grocery bill will be going up, but my shopping experience will be getting worse.

It's been upheaval for the last few weeks. Rainbow has sold out of nearly all of their store brand items, leaving only name brand stuff, which is mostly fine, except in the case of things like milk - the store brand cost around $3/gallon, and I often had coupons to get it cheaper. Now the name brand is $4.39 per gallon, and that's the only option they've got. Ouch! The prices on produce have already gone up, although thankfully the quality is still the same. Maybe the new Cub will keep the same suppliers, many of whom are local. The changeover is still happening, but after this past weekend I think I will be staying away until the changeover is complete. It's too weird to only be able to get about half the things on my list because so many of the shelves are completely empty.

Today I stopped into another Cub location to pick up some things that weren't available the last time I was at Rainbow, and I scoped out the prices on things I buy regularly while I was there. I was disappointed for the most part - everything from soy milk to produce are 10-20% more expensive, frozen vegetables are more expensive (but they do carry some things that Rainbow doesn't have anymore, like frozen squash), and overall, my bill was a lot higher. Also, Rainbow used to double coupons once or twice a week, and I don't think Cub does that at all. I did find that baby food (I still use baby food fruit and meat for Baby M's blends) is cheaper than Rainbow and the same price as it is at Target, so that's nice.

I think I'm going to have to rethink my grocery shopping strategy again. I get some staples at Costco and go to Aldi about twice a month - I can get really great deals on a lot of things there, but there are some things that just aren't as good quality or that I simply can't get - for example, they don't carry whole milk at my location anymore. I have also been popping into Trader Joe's when we are near one - they have some very good deals on certain things but it's not worth a trip specifically for grocery shopping. Rainbow was worth a weekly trip on double coupon days and to get fresh produce (and it is directly on the way home from the freeway, whereas all other stores require a purposeful trip in their direction). I've also been doing a little more shopping at Target, because their baby food prices were so much cheaper than Rainbow.

It's been about two years since I did my price book experiment - maybe once the new Cub is open, I will repeat that exercise and see how I can best maximize my grocery spending while cutting down on the number of trips I'm making to various stores. It's not so bad in the summer when I can drag Baby M with me (which she loves) but I don't want to put her in a germy cart during cold and flu season so I will need to figure out a way to streamline the process by winter.

In the meantime, I'm going to feel silly about it, but I'm going to do a little mourning over the loss of my Rainbow. To your lovely produce, your well-laid-out aisles, your double coupons and your cheerful staff - you will be missed.