Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up

I'm late to the game reviewing this weird little book, but I just read it over the weekend and it's really stuck in my mind.

I'm a fairly neat person, and I like to declutter. I'm not terribly sentimental (example: I throw out Pickle's preschool art projects with impunity!). I have a slightly bad habit of thinking I'll get around to things that I won't get around to (example: fixing broken snaps on cloth diapers) and I definitely have a bad habit of saving things that I think I can make money from selling, instead of donating them as soon as I decide I don't need them anymore.

Even so, this book gave me such a kick in the pants.

Basically, the author says to ask - of every item that you own - "does this spark joy?" Most decluttering books encourage you to find things to get rid of (Flylady's 27 Thing Boogie, for example) but this one asks you to focus on what you want to keep. This slight but fundamental difference in approach becomes huge when magnified by each and every possession in your home.

For me, it helped identify the guilt aspect: the things I was hanging onto because I used to love them, or thought I should love them, or because I wanted to get around to making/fixing/doing/reading it someday (even though I knew I wouldn't), or because someone had given it to me. If the item is tinged with any of those things, it cannot also spark joy for me, and so this question has helped me identify a LOT more things to get rid of. All the old cloth diapers, books upon books, almost an entire closet full of clothing. I haven't gone through the kitchen yet but can already think of things to donate. It's obscene, really, to see how many things I have here that I don't love.

Another thing the author suggests is to thank your things for their service to you. She takes it a little too far in the woo direction for my liking (thanking your handbag each day for its work? Um.) but the general principle of appreciating what something did for you when it came into your life - even if you only wore it once or had fun imagining what you would do with it, that's enough. Acknowledge that, and pass the item along.

Combine those concepts with her approach to organizing clothes, and frankly, I'm astonished at the difference in my home in just the last three days. As I job-search in earnest, I'm starting to feel a little guilty about all the things I didn't accomplish while staying home these last three years (cuz, you know, I wasn't busy from dawn til dusk as it was!). So I'm trying to clear things out in anticipation of truly never having the time to do it again.

Have you read The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up? What did you think of it?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Back on the market

Peanut and I have decided to radically shake up our lives. I suppose there are a couple ways we could do this, but we decided to go for the one that will (hopefully) have the best long-term impact on our finances.

I'm going back to work.

Staying home with kids was always only a temporary plan, made necessary by Pickle's health issues. As those have resolved themselves, I've wondered how I would know when the time would be right for me to go back.

The reality is, it'll never be right. Someone will always be too small or daycare will always be too expensive or it will always be easier for me to be home to have dinner on the table. But I'm not fulfilled staying home - heck, some days I'm not even happy to be here, and Peanut has carried the burden of supporting all of us without the freedom to take some career risks himself.

It'll be big changes, for sure. And who knows how long it will take for me to find the right job. I've found some that seem perfect on paper, and I've had two interviews, so that's promising. I've started researching child care. I've started thinking about what can be outsourced (housecleaning?) and how our routines can be altered. I've started daydreaming about talking to other adults on a regular basis.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much in case the job search takes a while, but I'm excited about the future! (And, yeah, this is why we're keeping the old Mazda for now - we each need a vehicle that can transport children if they're going to be in daycare.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Shiny New Car! Part II: The Happy Ending

So, after we realized that the Mazda5 was not the car for us, we went to a couple of new car dealers to just see what was out there (new dealers mainly because they were the ones open on a Saturday night when we decided to do this. We never considered buying an actual new car.).

That gave me some ideas, but then a few days later I had the chance to drop the kids off with my mother-in-law and go to a CarMax. I had poked around their website and liked that they had a bunch of makes and models available to see all in one place, and (ha!) most of their vehicles are previous rental vehicles so they were exactly what we were looking for.

(Just to head this off, this is also not a sponsored post, but I'm a pretty happy customer.)

I went in and had a chat with the salesperson, who told me up front that he gets paid a flat rate per each vehicle sale, as opposed to a higher commission for a fancier car and a lower commission for a more basic car.

We walked around and sat in a bunch of different cars, and test drove a couple. I liked two of them, and arranged for Peanut to come in that evening and test drive those two and see what he liked. They were about $5,000 apart in price, with the more expensive one right at the top of our price range. He ended up test driving only the less expensive one (a Rav4), liked it fine, and we bought it.

I wish it was that simple - it was a mountain of paperwork that took forever while I fed Pickle treats out of the vending machine and my mother-in-law drove Baby Bear around in circles in the parking lot so he'd stay asleep. I hope to never finance a car ever again simply for how long the process took!

Because, yeah, we did finance part of it. We put down $5,000 of the total cost (it was right around $18,000) and financed the rest at the lowest interest rate our sales person had seen in months (1.95%!). We also upgraded to a remote starter, which is simply astonishing in how it has made my life wonderful (and it's not even that cold yet!). We had it checked out by our personal mechanic during the five day period when we could return it with no consequences, and it got a clean bill of health, although I did end up having to take it back in the first month to have a tire patched (luckily the tire pressure light had come on during Peanut's test drive, so it was fixed as a warranty issue).

All in all, it was a great experience. And even better, I really like the car - it's so much easier to get the kids in and out of the car seats, it feels safer and sturdier, it gets really good gas mileage, it fits all my stuff in it, and there's more leg room up front. And the remote starter! How wonderful to start my car from the house, and dash the kids out there after it's all warm. Brilliant.

Oh, and what we will be doing with our old Mazda? Well, the plan was to sell it, privately, since we figured we could get the most money that way. We're waiting to have it detailed, but we might end up keeping it after all. Ch-ch-ch-changes are afoot!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shiny New Car! Part I: The Fake Out

I have only ever bought cars from private sellers, cash on the hood, so to speak. But this time around, we weren't really sure what we were looking for, or how we wanted to buy, so we went a different route.

First of all, I did some researching online. I knew I preferred an SUV to a minivan, but I really like the sliding doors of a van (I can't tell you how many times someone has parked too close to me in a parking lot and I've had to do all sorts of weird contortions to maneuver a kid through a six-inch-wide gap.) I narrowed it down to a long list of SUVs and a very short list of minivans, and the car that I thought would be a perfect mix - the Mazda5.

Then I started looking for one to test drive, with some strict criteria. We were looking for recent model years, low mileage, and a good deal, and preferably not a high-pressure sales environment. There were no such vehicles with clean titles in our area on Craigslist, and we couldn't find any at any close car dealers either, so we started looking at rental car fleet purchases.

I found out about this from the keychain on our last rental car - most large rental companies let you buy specific vehicles out of their fleet. It gets inventory off their hands with little effort, and the cars are priced a lot better than dealers, since the rental car company doesn't have to deal with a third party inflating the price. And as luck would have it, Hertz had several Mazda5s to choose from in our area.

Now, the way the program works is that you are selecting a specific vehicle from the fleet (whereas when you rent a car, you rent from a category). So you have to wait for your specific car to be returned if it's out on rental, then to be cleaned and inspected, then to be delivered to the rent to buy location. So we knew it wasn't going to be a fast process.

The first car was supposed to be ready for us to pick up on a Saturday, but we never received the confirmation call to go get it. We kept checking with the office and finally got the news - the car had been wrecked while it was rented out and was totaled. So....bummer. They had a second vehicle with similar mileage and price in a different color, so we signed up for that one. We were supposed to pick it up two weeks later.

This time we got the news the day before we were supposed to pick it up - the vehicle had been returned in such "disgusting" condition that it could no longer be sold. I have spent far longer than I'd like to admit wondering what someone could do to a car that would make it so gross, and what they do with such a vehicle since they can no longer sell it. What's wrong with people?!

So, third time's the charm - we reserved yet another car, at slightly higher mileage and with a slightly lower price. We picked it up two weeks later.

Now, one of the things that I really liked about the Hertz buying program is that you get a three-day test drive. If you like the car, you keep it and do the paperwork online. If you don't like it and return it within two hours, there's no charge. If you return it later than two hours but within the three-day period, you pay a decent rental fee and there are no further obligations. I like this because it gives you a chance to test drive the car in different situations (day, night, city, highway), see how it will fit in the garage, see how it works with your car seats and all your strollers and groceries, and everything else.

Now, keep in mind that we started this three-day test drive blind - we hadn't driven any other cars and all my research had been done online. And it turns out that we hadn't even started the car up before Peanut and I privately each had serious doubts about this being the car for us. (Before we drove it, we checked it out extensively inside and out - after all, you are committing to this particular car so you want to make sure that everything works like it's supposed to and all the features are there.) After driving it, we were even more sure that it wasn't what we'd hoped for. So we returned it the next day and started from scratch.

All those weeks of waiting and being faked out...just to realize that we should have spent an afternoon at a Mazda dealer checking cars out before deciding that this was the model we wanted. Lesson learned! Decide on a kind of car in person, then see if it's available at Hertz.

(I still think the program is great, and if they'd had the kind of car I ended up liking, I would totally have used them. It was weird that the first two cars didn't end up being available for us, but I think that was a fluke, and I appreciated that they were honest with us that the condition of both of those cars wasn't worthy of being sold. This isn't a sponsored or affiliated post in any way; I just think it's a neat option that not many people are aware of when it comes to car buying.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Happy Monday!

Here's a meal plan and a quick list of stuff that has kept me away from the computer this month.

Sunday - crockpot salsa chicken, avocado lime rice
Monday - hibachi chicken and shrimp
Tuesday - Southwest chicken salad
Wednesday - corn & zucchini pie, roasted carrots
Thursday - crockpot chicken pot pie soup and biscuits
Friday - salmon, baked potatoes
Saturday - who cares, but I'm not cooking!

Neat stuff that's been keeping me busy:
* We bought a car! I'll write a full post on that soon, but it was a six week process of frustration that ultimately has a happy ending.

* Pickle is.....EATING BY MOUTH! We will keep her feeding tube in until cold & flu season is over, just in case, but I can safely say that this little girl is the boss of what goes in her body now. She worked harder to get here than I have ever worked for anything in my life, and I am so proud of her.

* Baby Bear is....ON THE MOVE! He's crawling, pulling up, and cruising, and with a few more weeks of practice he's going to be running all over the place.

* Peanut moved his cell phone service over to Ting, and we're pretty pleased with it so far. I'll be switching soon too, and we'll reduce our cell phone bill by almost half. I hope to write a post about this too.

* Not much new other than that on the money front. I try not to pay too much attention to our retirement funds because they've been so up and down lately.

What's new with you?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Meal plan

Someday, it will not be my responsibility to feed any other human besides myself. I look forward to that day...but it is not today. So in the meantime, I meal plan.

This week is a little unusual in that we have three dinners out - but I've got plans for the other nights.
Monday - dinner out for a family birthday
Tuesday - date night; kids get chicken rice, meatballs and veggies with the babysitter
Wednesday - Mexican quinoa
Thursday - steak and potatoes
Friday - BLTs
Saturday - dinner at the apple orchard

Breakfasts are yogurt and granola, cocowheats, or bagels. I'm working on planning out the kids' snacks, too, so that they are more balanced than goldfish crackers and applesauce - so we've also got peanut butter toast, fruit, yogurt, sandwich crackers, cottage cheese, broccoli pancakes, cheese sticks. If you've got kids, what are your favorite well-rounded snacks that you can carry with you or pull together in five minutes?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Life Skills 101

I was thinking today about how I'd like to take a refresher course in Home Ec. This is kind of silly, because basically my entire life right now is Home Ec (cooking, sewing, caring for kids), so shouldn't I be teaching it instead of wanting someone to teach it to me? And then I was wondering if they still teach Home Ec in school. I took it in high school, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's not offered anymore, which would be a shame. I'd rename it Life Skills and in addition to cooking, baking, and sewing on a button, I'd include a number of new things, like how to change a tire, get a virus off a computer, negotiate the price of a large purchase, budget a paycheck, and make simple repairs in the home (fixing a hinge or broken shelf, for example).
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
Word, Bob. Word.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fall consignment sale update

So the fall consignment sale is over, and I had a request to make an update on how things went. This was a big year for me - I sold all of our little baby equipment, a few toys, and a bunch of clothes. I'm not sure exactly how many items I dropped off, but 139 things sold - which is probably more than 75% of what I dropped off. (The rest will be donated to a charity, and I'll get tax paperwork related to that.) I make 60% of what sells, and my check will be around $300. I'd guess it's at least what I'd get by doing a yard sale, maybe better since most of the clothing sold for $2-4 and at a yard sale each piece would be priced at $1 or less. And even better, I didn't have to actually sit outside for three days to make those sales!

I went shopping on half-price day, and got a potty, potty insert, four pairs of shoes, two coats, five pajamas for Baby Bear, and a bunch of stuff for Pickle (eight pants, three sweaters, one skirt, two outfits, and three pajamas) and some other things for $75. I had hoped that this would be all the shopping I needed to do for them until next spring, but a lot of the stuff didn't fit Pickle well - she's so slim that getting pants that stay up but are long enough is a big challenge, especially now that she doesn't have diapers to help hold them up. I can modify a couple of them to fit her better, but I think I'm going to either need to take her to a store or start making her clothes for a while. As she gets older, there isn't as much choice in clothing (infant clothes don't get worn out, but toddler clothes do) and we might have to try some stuff on in person to find some brands that work for her consistently.

I will keep using these consignment sales for selling and buying. It's the easiest way for me to make some money for the stuff we're getting rid of, and also the easiest way for me to get what we need for the upcoming season. I'm trying to stay on top of hanging and tagging stuff as the kids outgrow it instead of doing it in big frantic batches as the sale approaches. I'm also less focused on using it as a vehicle to make money and considering clothing to be handed down - we now have some girl cousins who can use Pickle's old clothing, and perhaps someday there will be a boy cousin as well - so I'm starting to store some of the cutest items or the ones that were given to us by people who will get to see those outfits used on more kids.

In addition, I'll probably start getting rid of more toys - we're getting more toys (and more annoying toys) as the kids get older and I'm trying to keep the clutter to a minimum, so I'm going to start pruning our toyboxes more regularly and more ruthlessly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Five Frugal Things

Inspired by the Non-Consumer Advocate, here are some frugal things I've done lately.

1. I made soup from scratch, using up a bunch of bits of things in the fridge that weren't going to last much longer. It hit the spot on this cool Minnesota fall-is-almost-here day.

2. I bought more than $300 worth of groceries from Target for $1.83. We are serving dinner at Ronald McDonald House to pay forward the meals that we received while Pickle was in the hospital, and my mother in law was able to get Target to donate $250 to cover the cost of the food. By shopping carefully, using Cartwheel deals, coupons, and her employee discount, we stretched the money a lot further. (And, that $1.83 that I spent out of pocket is tax deductible!)

3. I dragged a bunch of stuff out to the kids' consignment sale the other day. I made more than $120 in commission after the first day of sales! On the one hand, I think maybe I priced my big items a little too cheaply since they sold immediately; on the other, I think that this is money in my pocket and I don't have all that junk in my house anymore, so who cares.

4. I will go shopping at the same consignment sale - but I will only go on the last day, which is half-price day. I used to go to the consignor's pre sale to get first dibs on the stuff, but then there's no discount. Now I hold out - there are still plenty of great things to go around by the end of the sale.

5. I've given up soda - more because of the sugar content than because of the cost, but that won't go unnoticed either. I watched Fed Up a couple weeks ago and it really made an impact on me. I have a terrible sweet tooth, and it's been a struggle to weed out all the sugar, but soda was an obvious thing to cut.

What frugal things have you been up to lately?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Update in list form, and a PSA

I have lots to write about, but no time to form thoughts, much less sentences.

In brief:

* Pickle has started preschool! We went with a program through the parks & rec department, so it's very affordable. We started at two days a week but might bump up to four since she really seems to love it
* Pickle is turning three! Her birthday party will be a frugal affair: cake (made by me) at home (no venue cost) with immediate family only. I might spring for balloons this year, but I'd like to keep things small and manageable.
* Baby Bear is on the move! Time to do more baby proofing. It's different with a kid who puts everything in his mouth!
* We have movement on the new-to-us car front! More to come next week on that.
* Anyone know anything about hot water heaters? Ours has started leaking and we think it's about twenty years old (and is the only major appliance in the basement we haven't had to replace yet, so.). We have someone coming out to look at it and I'm bracing myself.
* I took a quick trip with Baby Bear to visit a family member who has not been in the best of health lately. Funny how traveling with one child now seems so simple! I got a good deal on the flight and had no lodging or food expenses, plus was given an unexpected bunch of money for the kids.

Lastly, if you do not have term life insurance and you have a spouse or children or might have children one day, go get life insurance. Here, I have googled it for you. Two clicks and you can enter your information for a quote. Don't wait - the unexpected happens when you least expect it. Due to a tragedy in our social circle, we are seeing what happens when you don't have life insurance, and it's just adding devastation to an already horrible situation. Please show your love by getting insured.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kid Update!

ND Chic reminded me that I haven't done any updates on Pickle's health in a while, so I figured I'd do a general kid update, since that's where all my time is going.

Pickle is amazing. She still has her feeding tube, and is basically still dependent on it - but we have been doing weekly feeding therapy since January and are seeing huge strides. In recent weeks, we've managed to eliminate a quarter of what she gets by tube, as she's made gains with oral eating. She's also been weaned off all of her reflux meds, and is able to take by mouth medications that we used to have to give by tube (liquid vitamins and the odd ibuprofen/acetaminophen dose).

It's hard to guess whether she's close to actually losing the tube. She has mastered purees, but still stores a lot of food in her cheek and doesn't swallow it (this is common with toddlers, but typical kids still swallow some food because food cures hunger, and that's a connection Pickle's body has not yet made). Her feeding therapist works on desensitizing Pickle's lips, cheeks, and tongue and especially her gag reflex. They try all kinds of weird combinations of foods to challenge her with textures (lately it's been ritz cracker crumbs mixed in yogurt, blech).

The fascinating part to me is that Pickle and Baby Bear were briefly at the exact same stage with eating - but Baby Bear has now surpassed his big sister. If you've ever started an infant on solids, you know about the tongue thrust reflex and how their gag reflex is super close to the front of their tongue but gradually moves back as they put toys and food in their mouths. Because his instincts were not interrupted, Baby Bear managed to reduce his own gag reflex, learned to swallow mushed/chewed food instead of just liquid, is now capable of eating most table foods, and is working on his pincer grasp. Because Pickle's instincts told her that eating hurt, she still needs our help to reduce that gag reflex and learn to swallow anything that's not totally smooth.

At any rate, the therapy is definitely helping (and is covered by insurance, thankfully) so we are working on challenging Pickle more and more with how much she eats by mouth. In a way I'm in no rush to lose the tube, because she is getting awesome nutrition through it (I still make all her food in our blender, or sometimes use a commercial product called Real Food Blends - she hasn't had formula in over 18 months). Keeping her focused on eating by mouth is a challenge, because she gets bored with it way before she's eaten enough calories to sustain her, so it's nice to not have to worry about it.

At the same time, I think that for us losing the tube will be a lot like potty training: she's not going to do it until I force the issue. For potty training, I picked a day, warned her for about a week, and then threw all her remaining diapers away (into a box for Baby Bear to use when he grows into them). We had several messy days, but there was no going back to diapers for her, and so she has learned to use the potty, even at night. With the tube, I'll have to craft a plan with her medical team and then just...stop feeding her and let her body figure out how to regulate itself. This is much higher stakes than potty training, so we'll have to have a limit for weight loss and dehydration and be willing to step in if necessary, but I sort of see it needing to be an all-or-nothing thing. It's down the road, but I'm not sure how far.

In other news, she has handled several colds with no problem (sometimes we do rescue breathing medications, but we haven't had to actually go in to the pediatrician), she is meeting or exceeding most developmental goals for her actual age, and she's obsessed with construction equipment. Baby Bear is a good-sized almost-9-month-old, sleeps mostly through the night, has a bunch of teeth, and is army-crawling around the house. They are lovely siblings to each other and drive me up the wall every day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Capsule wardrobes for toddlers

It's getting close to consignment sale time, so I'm making my lists of what to buy. For the first time, I am not rounding out a bunch of hand-me-downs - I think I have maybe three things for Pickle for this winter. Conveniently, she is growing into a new size as the seasons change, and (sorry, I have to brag here for a second): she is growing into the right size for her age! I know that age and size aren't super correlated, but this is a child who was in size twelve months at her second birthday, so I am thrilled to be looking for size 3T pants a few weeks before she turns 3. Yay! (She's still tiny - around 1% on the growth chart - but hey, she's on the chart!)

Anyway, since the majority of her clothing has come from hand-me-downs, we've had situations where we are way lopsided on tops or bottoms, or have lots of different things that don't match each other. I like the idea of a capsule wardrobe (a limited number of pieces, where almost everything can be mixed and matched) and am trying to mimic the idea for the kids going forward. It's a little tricky with kids, since so much of their clothing is sold in sets, and also they go through so many costume changes a day sometimes, but here's what I'm thinking:

For a 3-year-old:
* a complete week's worth of clothing (7 pants + 7 tops, 7 pr underwear + 7 pr socks) plus a few extra in case of potty accidents or exuberant outdoor play. Plus an extra outfit for the diaper bag and one for the car. So, 12 pieces of each of those items.
* a couple hoodies or pull-over sweaters
* one nice outfit (we don't have many occasions for this kind of thing - maybe one or two weddings a year)
* 3-5 pajama sets or soft clothing that work as pajamas (I seem chronically understocked on pajamas). No more one-piece pajamas once potty training starts!
* rain coat
* winter coat
* hat, scarf, gloves (warm and maybe waterproof)
* winter boots
* sneakers
* snow suit? Not sure what kind of mileage we will get out of it this year (last year she wore it once and was not happy about it - but this year is a new year, after all!)

For a 9-month-old:
* two complete weeks' worth of clothing (combination of onesies, shirts, pants, and one-piece outfits), assuming 1.5 outfit changes a day plus the diaper bag and car bag.
* 8 million infant socks
* a couple hoodies
* one nice outfit
* 7 one-piece footy pajamas
* 2 sleep sacks
* soft shoes with grippy soles or something boot-like to cover the gap between sock and pants for when outside
* winter coat
* hat and gloves
* snow suit?

We already have two or three tubs of clothing for Baby Bear that were handed down to us, so I won't need to buy nearly as much for him - maybe nothing but socks. Still, it helps to have an end goal in mind, rather than just taking inventory.

I think in addition to taking their estimated sizes this year, I will also take some measurements (shoulders, waist, length of shirts & pants) and a drawing of their feet. Both kids are slim for their height, and every single pair of pants I bought Pickle last spring was too wide at the waist and too short in the legs. Measuring would help with that. I'm also going to try to make items mix-and-matchable, or maybe just pick a couple of colors for each kid and stick with those when picking out clothes. One hard and fast rule: no "Princess", "Diva", or "Flirt" type stuff for Pickle, and no sports-themed stuff for Baby Bear. I try to avoid name-brand logos and sayings in general, preferring simple designs or at most cute animals.

I am also looking for other basic stuff at the consignment sale: toddler cups/bowls/silverware, bibs (we never used them with Pickle, but Baby Bear is gonna need some!), diapers (disposable and swim), sunglasses, high chair covers, the perfect diaper bag (I will find it two days before I never need to carry a diaper bag again), and books.

It seems like so much stuff, when listed out like this, but just the other day I changed Pickle's pants four times (potty training is fun!) and Baby Bear three times (starting solids is fun!) so I don't think it's an unreasonable list. If I could just get their clothes to respectively mix and match, I wouldn't even have to fold anything - just dump it all in the right drawer and call it a day!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Comparison: Consignment Stores vs. Consignment Sales

I have a TON of stuff for the upcoming consignment sale, and I was a little overwhelmed at how much work it's going to be to hang, list, and tag everything. So I figured I'd take some things to a local consignment store, where the only work I have to do is make sure that the items are clean and in saleable condition. If I could make a similar return, it seemed like a win-win - especially since I can drop off at the store anytime, whereas the sale only happens twice a year (so I have to store stuff, which can be a pain - right now for example, I have two unusable closets plus a stack of big items in the basement). I ran over there last night to test out my theory.

Well, there is a pretty clear winner! Somewhat to my surprise: the consignment SALES - even factoring in the time it takes to get stuff ready.

I took two bags plus a few bigger items to the consignment store, but they only took seven items and I made a whopping.....$6.


Here's why I think the consignment sales are a better option.

1. The store's website claims that they take all seasons all the time. Turns out, that's not true, at least at my local store, so more than half my stuff they wouldn't even look at - even things like short-sleeved onesies, which, yes, have short sleeves, but are worn in the winter under other clothes. The consignment sale site is extremely clear on what they take and what they don't each season (and they DO take short-sleeved onesies in the winter, since people buy them!), so I know which clothes to ignore until the appropriate season rolls around.

2. The store didn't take any of my larger items - a bathtub, an Ergo insert, and a bottle warmer - even though, again, their website says they take baby equipment "of all types". All my stuff is in great shape and will definitely sell at the consignment sale. The sales person told me they don't take tubs at all, or "electronic equipment" (even though there are tons of electronic toys, so...) and that they don't take baby carriers, even though there was a whole wall of Baby Bjorns (but no Ergos). So...their policy is not clear at all, and the point goes to the sale for clarity.

3. The store has a rule about clothing - infant clothes must be either one piece full clothing (like footy pajamas) or two-piece sets (onesie and pants). They won't take individual pieces like pants or onesies, and they won't pair identical things like two pairs of pants or several onesies. The consignment sale has no such rule, although for little baby clothes, most people match up several like items (three pairs of pants or whatever) to hit the minimum $3 tag rule. Once again, this clothing rule was not listed anywhere on the store's website or on the handout they gave me listing their guidelines.

4. At the store, there's basically one person looking at all my items and deciding whether to buy them. At the sale, there's one person checking to make sure I've followed the rules (minimum $3 price, hung and tagged correctly, no stains or tears, etc) but every shopper is a potential buyer so as long as my stuff is in good shape, I have a way better chance of selling more stuff to more people than to fewer. So far, I've always sold about 75% of the things I bring to a consignment sale (the rest is donated to a non-profit, and I get a receipt for my taxes).

5. Lastly, the pricing at the store is not as favorable as the sales. They claimed to offer me 50% of what they plan to price the item, but I'm not sure this is accurate. For example, I had a pair of boots still in great shape that would have sold for at least $5 at the consignment sale (netting me 60%, or $3), and they gave me $0.90 for them, which indicates they plan to list them at $1.80. But I browsed their shoe bin while I was waiting, and there were no shoes that cheap - the cheapest I saw was $4.50 and a similar boot was for sale at $10. So. I think there's something pretty wonky with their pricing/payment scheme, and I have no control over the pricing and can't prove that they'll price them higher than what they say (I guess I could go back in a few days with my receipt and see what the boots are priced at if they're still there...).

So, my feeling at this point is that sorting and storing stuff for the consignment store is a complete crapshoot - it's a pain to lug everything out there and come home with most of it again. I asked for clarification and wrote down a bunch of notes, but I feel like it's also up to each employee's discretion as to what they'll take and what they won't. Between that and what I feel like are low-ball payments, I don't think it's worth my time to take more stuff to the consignment store. It might be easier to take loads of stuff to the store and then drop off whatever they don't take at a thrift store, and it would certainly get the stuff out of my house faster - but I would be irritated about the payout I received in exchange.

The sales are a lot of work, yes. A TON of work, if I do it all at once. What I've been trying to do this time as my kids outgrow things is to get them into perfect sale condition, keep them sorted by season, hang them as I go, and tag them in small batches when I have a little free time (if I take small enough chunks, I can even do it while the kids are occupying themselves in the same room). My dollar per hour return is almost certainly not even minimum wage - but so far I've managed to make more money selling outgrown clothes than I've spent on the next season's clothes, and that's a pretty good marker as well. It's also something I'm certain I couldn't manage to do at the consignment store, and that's the final answer for me.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Patience pays off!

There is a product out there that is going to make me a better person. A nicer person, a happier person, a more productive person, and - why not? - a sexier person. This is not me falling for advertisements or marketing gimmicks. I know for a fact that this product exists, because pretty much everyone I know has it, and I'm betting that it will upgrade my life in a big way.

This miracle product?

A coffee maker.

I know. I know! How do I not own a coffee maker? Well, I do have one - a French press. About a year and a half ago, I broke the carafe and had to replace it, and I was really proud of myself for sticking with a fairly unconventional and low-waste method of coffee making, but the truth is, friends, I am Over It.

Baby Bear is finally sleeping through the night, so I am desperately trying to catch up on all the sleep I've missed for the last year (yes, I know sleep doesn't work that way. I'll argue about it with you later, when I'm not so tired.). I sleep until both kids wake up, basically, and to then have to get up and heat up water and wait five minutes and press and add sugar before I can even drink it....WELL. I haven't been able to have a cup of coffee while it's still hot in a really, really long time, folks.


What if my coffee could just...happen? While I was still asleep? And I could just come downstairs and pour it into a cup with one hand and start drinking it? Could such bliss exist?

Obviously. It just took me a while to get to where the rest of the world has been for a long, long time.

But I'm still cheapy cheap, so I've been watching for my unicorn at the local thrift store that I love so much, the one where I get 20% off for donating*. I don't drink a lot of coffee - a cup or at most two per day - so I didn't want a giant coffee maker taking up valuable countertop real estate. I didn't want to have to buy paper filters, either, so I was looking for one with a reusable mesh filter. The combination of small pot and reusable filter is pretty rare, but today I scored it! And $6.99 + 20% off is a very thrifty $5.59.

It took several months of waiting and searching, but ultimately my patience paid off. I'm looking forward to enjoying my first magic-brewed up tomorrow morning. (Also, I bought a like-new cross-body strap purse that might be the perfect purse ever, and a wallet that is probably the answer to my prayers. If this isn't the luckiest shopping trip I've ever had, I just don't know what it is.)

Have you waited a long time to find the perfect thing at the perfect price?

Side note: Recently, this organization was taken to task in Minnesota for not really operating as a non-profit, but claiming to. They are still battling it out in court, but now when I donate I am given a coupon and a letter about the good work they do but noting that I cannot claim this donation on my taxes, since I am not helping any non-profit organization. I thought about this for a good ten minutes the first time I got the letter, and decided that I could care less. I don't itemize my taxes, the donations I made for the last few years never did me one bit of good on my taxes, and really all I care about is my 20% and keeping things out of landfills. This company still winds up recycling goods and reselling them for great prices, and I am totally happy with that. Plus, it's fewer receipts I have to keep for tax season, and saves me time! Win-win-win-win-win.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 Summer Bucket List

Inspired by The Frugal Girl, I've decided to write up a summer bucket list. It's sort of a cheat, since at least one of these things has already happened, but it was on my bucket list before summer began, so...

1. Visit my family down south. 

Done! We had a nice time, stayed long enough that I was ready to come home, and also crossed off "fly with the kids" from a bucket list. I'm almost confident enough now to take a trip with them by myself, but we'll see if it comes down to that anytime soon.

2. Go to a park twice a week. 

There are multiple parks within a few blocks of us, but getting there with two kids has so far been a challenge. Where we live is hilly so the double stroller is a good workout for me, but hard to do when it's hot out. I feel kind of dumb driving, but I'll do it. But then when we're at the park, I'm sort of at a loss - Pickle still needs a lot of help getting around on the playground structures or being pushed in a swing, but what do I do with Baby Bear? He's not content to lie in the stroller and it's getting too hot to wear him in the Ergo. I would like to find a park that has two baby swings next to each other so I can push them both in the swings at the same time, but I haven't found one yet.

3. Go swimming at least once a week. 

This is another challenge with two little ones. There are lots of free wading pools and splash pads near us, but I feel like both kids need my undivided attention for safety. Unless anyone knows of a baby carrier that can go in the pool? That would be great. My other option is my in-laws' house - they have a pool and there's usually a grandparent or other adult around to play with Pickle in the big pool while Baby Bear and I splash in the little one. We just have to make a point of going.

4. Eat outside once a week. 

We have a lovely backyard that's getting lovelier now that we've decided what to do with some of the more questionable landscaping choices the previous owners made. It's kind of a hassle to drag the high chairs and whatnot outside, but I want to do it anyway.

5. Get all winter consignment sale items hung and tagged. 

Getting all my consignment stuff hung and tagged is a big project every time, but this season is going to be particularly large, and I don't want to put it off until the last minute. I'm about 1/3 of the way caught up, and when I get that done, I'd like to stay on top of it by hanging and tagging as soon as I determine that my kids have outgrown something.

6. Go to the Childrens Museum at least three times.

I bought a membership to our local Childrens Museum almost a year ago, went frequently for a while, and then got too pregnant to manage it. Our membership expires in about six weeks, and I'm unsure whether I want to renew it. I'll need to go check it out with both kids to see if it's still worth it.

7. Go to the zoo at least once a month. 

We might trade our museum membership for a zoo membership - it's a donation-based zoo, but membership has perks and we visit often enough in the winter that it'd be a good karma thing to do. In the winter there are preschool days, and in the summer there's a little theme park that Pickle might be old enough to enjoy. It's a fun quick outing for us, and if I remember to pack a lunch, winds up being very inexpensive.

8. Clean up the basement. 

The workbench is Peanut's domain for the most part, but I need things from it too sometimes and it's a disaster. There are other things I want to do down there, plus it's nice and cool, so we'll probably spend the hottest days down there while I get this project done.

9. Hold a diaper-box-truck playdate. 

I've been saving diaper boxes and any other box I come across ever since I saw this tutorial (thank you, Pinterest). I'm not super crafty but this seemed fun and cheap, and I've been wanting to host a project-based playdate for my moms' group. This will be a great way to use up some recyclables, give preschoolers a fun time, and take up a morning or afternoon.

10. Round on the NICU once a month. 

I've recently been through training to serve as a parent advocate at the hospital where Pickle spent the first five months of her life. I found it very helpful to talk to parents who had survived what seemed unsurvivable, and I am so thankful to be at a place in my life where I'm ready to give back. It can be emotionally wrenching to go back to the ward, so I don't want to burn myself out, but I do think I need a minimum goal to keep my skills sharp (maybe you wouldn't think that this work would need specific skills, but it does - there are so many things to say or not to say, so many ways to approach delicate situations, so many assumptions to avoid making that it really pays to stay in practice).

So that's my summer bucket list. I've got lots of other ideas as well and have been compiling a calendar of free summer activities that I find, but these are the things that I really, really want to accomplish.

What does your summer look like?