Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sponsored Post: 6 reasons why buying is better than renting

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

For some, buying a home will always be the dream. However, changing economic conditions have created a new ideal, for those who do not want to buy, or cannot afford to buy. Generation Rent, as they are sometimes known, choose renting over buying, and are especially common in large cities where house prices are high.

But which option is better? Should you rent or should you buy? The answer to this will depend on your own circumstances. However, here are our top six reasons why buying is better than renting.

Improving your credit

Having a mortgage can help to improve your credit – as long as you treat it correctly and always pay your repayments in full and on time. When you apply for credit – such as another loan or a credit card – the credit provider will check your credit history to assess your credit worthiness. If you have a mortgage and consistently pay your repayments on time, lenders will generally look on your credit applications more favourably.

Borrowing against your home

Having your own home can allow you to borrow against it and use it as collateral. If you want to apply for a personal loan, you may use your house as security. If your mortgage is in good shape, the personal loan should be easier to get, and as it is secured against your house, the interest rate you pay may be lower. However, don’t risk your home with a loan you cannot afford – only take out credit against your home if you are sure you can pay it back.

Creating a nest egg

This is one of the main reasons to buy instead of rent. As you pay off your mortgage, you own more and more of your home (unless it’s an interest-only mortgage). Once your mortgage has been paid off, the house is yours. When you retire, you won’t have to worry about paying rent each month, and you have a substantial asset in your name.

Buying can be cheaper

In some areas and in some circumstances, buying can be cheaper than renting. Compare the differences in your area, and think about whether buying your own place would work out cheaper in the short term and the long term. Use a mortgage repayment calculator to work out a home loan repayment schedule that works for you.

Not being at the whim of a landlord

When you rent, you are at the whim of your landlord. The landlord could choose to evict you or raise your rent. You could have a landlord that is completely useless and leaves you without hot water for a week while waiting for your boiler to get fixed. While having a landlord can have advantages (no Strata, no council rates, no maintenance costs), it can also have its disadvantages.

Rent money is dead money

There is the argument that rent money is dead money. While you certainly get a service for the money you pay your landlord (most notably, you get a roof over your head), you are essentially paying someone else’s mortgage. This can be fine in the short-term, but what about the long-term?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mo' cellphones, mo' savings

So back in December I started trying to cut back on certain expenses, and in January I gave an update on how that worked out with my cell phone. Basically, because it has been half a decade since I got a new cell phone, I am way out of contract and was able to take advantage of a new plan offered by AT&T that cut my monthly cost by about $15. It took a bunch of phone calls over a couple of months for them to get everything figured out (although they never did get my auto-billing* reinstated, so I had a few late bills and one late fee, grrrr).

Well, then we stumbled upon another option that will further lower my bill by about $13 per month - Peanut's family's family plan had an extra line and I could get a new local number and a new phone all at once. My iPhone still works, but it is starting to get a little buggy and slow, and it's five years old after all. And my 212 (NYC) area code was confusing to a lot of locals - there is a 612 area code here that is responsible for at least one major miscommunication when someone wrote my number down wrong. So last weekend we spent some time at the Verizon store and I got a kicky new Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and a shiny number that pairs well with Peanut's (he got a new phone too).

By joining the family plan, we also managed to lower the overall family's bill due to an Edge credit, so it seems to have worked out well for everyone. (We'll know more when we see how it's laid out on the first bill.) Now Peanut and I are paying $90 per month for two smart phones with unlimited (or effectively unlimited) voice, data and texting. In addition, I ported my NYC number to Google Voice, so I can keep using it until I get all of Baby M's medical providers updated.

The transition from iPhone to Android is taking some time, but it's going well so far. I have 14 days to swap it out for a newer iPhone, but I'm really trying to like the Galaxy since that swap would cost me a $35 restocking fee plus a long wait to get the phone - they only had the brand new iPhones in store and I wanted an older new one, if that makes sense.

This whole experience reminded me that there is a reason I wait so long between upgrading phones! I don't like change, and I would hate to get a new phone every year. I'll wait till this one starts being more frustrating than useful before I think about upgrading again.

How often do you upgrade your cell phones?

* My cell phone is pretty much the ONLY thing I have auto-billed, because I don't trust companies to not make mistakes in their favor, and I did that because the bill was consistently the same month after month and I used it to keep an old credit card active. So of course when the auto-billing went haywire, it took me forever to notice because that's the ONLY bill that I don't pay manually.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sponsored Post: Moving to Australia? Top 7 reasons why you need health insurance

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

If you are planning on moving to Australia, or you have recently arrived, there are numerous factors to consider and plan for. One important thing to think about is health insurance. While there is a public Medicare system that you may be eligible for, getting private health insurance can give you more choice on the treatment you receive, and peace of mind that you and your family is covered.

Mix and Match

When you are choosing health insurance, you can choose hospital cover, extras cover or a combination of both. You can choose hospital cover from one insurer, extras from another insurer, you could get combined cover from one insurer, or you could choose to only have one type of cover.

You can also tailor your policy to suit your needs. If you are planning on starting a family, you can get pregnancy-related cover, or if you are older, you can get cover for joint replacements and other age-related conditions. If you want the best health insurance in Australia, compare all your options and choose the policy – or policies – that provide the cover you need.

Choice of Extras

When you choose extras cover, there are generally a number of options to choose from. From optical and dental, to chiropractic and alternative services. Think about the extras you and your family would benefit from, and find an extras policy that gives you want you need.

Shorter Waiting Periods

Waiting lists in the public healthcare system can be long. However, if you have private health insurance, you may have shorter waiting periods for elective surgery, and you may be able to choose your doctor. Find out more about waiting periods from your insurer before you sign up.

Private Health Care Rebate

If you sign up for private health insurance in Australia, you may be entitled to a rebate. This rebate can go towards the cost of your health insurance, reducing premium prices. The private health insurance rebate is determined by your income, and can be claimed in a number of ways. Find out more are about the rebate on the government website.

< age 65
Age 65-69
Age 70+
Medicare Levy Surcharge
All ages

Medicare Levy

The Medicare Levy is also means-tested. Depending on your income, you will pay a certain levy to the government to help cover the costs of Medicare. However, if you have private health insurance and you meet certain criteria, your Medicare Levy may be waived.

Lifetime Health Cover Loading

Lifetime Health Cover loading is designed as an incentive to encourage Australians to buy private health insurance. Get hospital cover before July 1 following your 31st birthday and you can avoid loading. If you miss this deadline, you will pay an extra 2% on top of your premiums for every year you are over 31 when you do sign up for health insurance.

For example, a 40-year-old who signs up for health insurance for the first time will pay 20% more for their policy than a 30-year-old. Loading is capped at 70%. Migrants to Australia have one year from their Medicare registration, or until July 1 following their 31st birthday to get private health insurance and avoid loading. Again, check the government website for more info.

Peace of Mind

Private health insurance can offer you peace of mind that if something bad were to happen to you or a member of your family, your health fund could cover your treatment (depending on your cover type and level). By choosing the right health insurance policy, you can relax in the knowledge that you are covered, no matter what.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birthday Rewards!

Earlier this year, I mentioned a list of places you can sign up to get a birthday reward. Well, it's my birthday month, and here's what I'm going to redeem!

A&W  - free root beer float
Red Robin - free burger
Dippin' Dots - free ice cream
Sephora - free lipstick and mascara sample
Bucca di Peppo - free brownie sundae
Ulta - free mascara
Benihana - $30 credit towards dinner
Noodles & Co - free bowl of noodles

Not a bad deal for turning a year older!

I got a couple other offers as well, but they were for things like a free box of chocolate strawberries with a $60 dinner and other things that would require me to spend money to get a gift (and, um, doesn't that mean it's not a gift?). And that's just not in the budget this year.

Aside from that, Peanut and I will probably have a date night (maybe to Benihana??) and some flowers* and call it good. I don't do big birthday parties for myself, and some time with my husband makes me happier than a big hoopla would anyway.

* And this is weird to write, because I know he'll read this (hi, Peanut!), and it's not in any way a reminder or request, but he usually gets me flowers on my birthday because I like to get flowers on my birthday and he knows that. And he buys them at the grocery store instead of an expensive florist and I like them better that way. I would like them best if they were picked for free in a meadow, but it being Minnesota the only thing he could pick me at this time of year would be a couple of snowballs so the grocery store is usually the best option. And I'm just putting it here because it's my blog and it's my birthday post and I'm talking about what I like to get on my birthday because I don't like big expensive anythings but I also think that birthdays are important and fun milestones to mark, and this is a great way to do them - free stuff, dinner with loved ones, and cheap pretty flowers. And Peanut doesn't need any reminders because he is perfect in every way. Ladies, if you like to get flowers on your birthday, tell your significant other that you would like that and be clear that you want the cheap ones (or the expensive ones, if that's your taste) and don't make them try to read your mind!

Friday, April 4, 2014

April Goals

It has been a looooong time since I did a goals post.

Then again, it's been a long time since I had goals more interesting than "don't wear pajama pants all day".

Here are my goals for April of this year:
1. File taxes and max out Roth IRAs for the year. Self-explanatory (and kind of a gimme).

2. Get new phone/phone number and port old number to Google Voice. I know, I just went on this whole cost-lowering campaign, and it worked, but there's room on Peanut's family's family plan to add another line (with a free phone), and it will lower our bill by another $10 a month. Plus it will give me a local number. And plus it will give me a new phone - my phone is nearly six years old and starting to be a little unreliable.

3. Fix Peanut's withholding at work. As nice as it is to get a big refund, we need to make sure Peanut's withholding is lower so we're not giving away money to the government.

4. Plan Baby M's first road trip! I need to pick dates, get a budget, look into renting a car (and whether our car insurance covers that car), and stuff like that.

What are your goals for April?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Retirement for the Unemployed

Yesterday I mentioned that Peanut and I are maxing out our Roth IRA contributions for 2013 and considering that money to be part of our emergency fund. The eagle-eyed among you might have wondered how we're doing that, since I'm a stay-at-home mom with no income, and Roth IRA rules state that you can only contribute up to your taxable income.

Enter the "Spousal IRA".

This is not really a thing, as we found out. I thought it would be a separate account that we'd open and Peanut would have to contribute to it in my name, or something like that, but it turns out that it's just a conceptual way of treating a married couple. We will put the money in my existing Roth IRA, using the taxable income that I earned (I worked for the first two weeks of 2013) and then Peanut's income for the rest of the year as proof that we have a) earned more than the contribution limits and b) earn less than the maximum adjusted gross income to qualify for a Roth IRA.

Hopefully we'll be able to do that for every year that I stay home so that my retirement contributions will stay on target. I'm a few years older than Peanut so I am already a few years ahead of him in retirement savings, but what's mine is his and all that, and we don't want to be eating Alpo in our old age. We consider all our money to be "our money" anyway, so it's nice in this case that the government does the same.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Taxes and Retirement

Normally I like to file our taxes early - like in mid-February, so it's done and over with, and any refund we are owed gets to us before the big crunch sets in. This year we were all set to file our taxes when we heard on the news that Minnesota is changing tax laws to more closely align some of the state credits with federal credits - like mortgage interest and student loan interest deductions. This will increase our refund, possibly substantially, but we have to wait until April 3rd to file (or file an amendment later). So we're sitting on them for a few more days, but we've already got plans.

First, we're getting a pretty big refund (a few thousand) from federal. This is partly due to being homeowners and having a kid (and having lots of medical expenses) but I think we could also tweak Peanut's withholding to get this down lower for next year. We were already getting a fairly good refund (a couple hundred) from state, before these new deductions kick in, so we'll see where that leaves us.

We had a couple of options for what to do with that money. We put retirement contributions on hold for a few years what with Baby M's birth and my uncertain working status, so we could put that money into Roth IRAs. Our cash reserve emergency fund is a little low since we spent $6,000 of it on a furnace in December, so we could build that back up. Or we could go to DISNEY WORLD! (Just kidding, we weren't really considering that possibility.)

So really it came down to retirement vs. emergency fund. And we finally decided to combine them. We are maxing out our Roth IRA contributions this year (using our tax return as well as money we've been setting aside) and we are also considering that money to be part of our emergency fund.

With Roth IRAs, you can withdraw your contributions at any time without penalty or taxes. You can't take money out and then put it back again, like you have to do with a 401(k) loan, but you can get that initial money back if you need it. There are some limits, like if your holdings lost value, you can only withdraw up to that lower value instead of your original contribution. But on the whole, not all the money in a Roth IRA is tied up until retirement.

Our entire emergency fund will not be in our retirement accounts, and we will continue growing our liquid savings as much as possible this year, but we were not comfortable taking yet another year off this use-it-or-lose-it retirement opportunity. Our savings account contains emergency funds as well as funds earmarked for things like car repair and computer replacement, plus we have several thousand dollars available on credit cards which we could use to cover the time between when we have some emergency and can get the money out of the Roths (which could take a few business days). I would prefer to have a heavily-padded cash savings account AND contribute to retirement, but I also prefer to have Baby M home with me where she's less likely to get sick during these first few critical years - so this is a good compromise. (Also, I find that having a lower balance in my savings account makes me spend less money and focus on trimming spending wherever I can, so that's a win, too.)

Are you getting a refund from taxes? What are you doing with it? 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

1. Thing the First: Get Rich Slowly asks, Can you grow your family on a shrinking budget? It's a good question, and one that Peanut and I have been asking ourselves since I quit my job. We're not sure yet whether there will ever be a Baby M 2.0, given the risks that pregnancy poses for me. But the financial aspect is one thing that we can research and to some extent control, and we're trying to set ourselves up for success in that regard.

2. Thing the Second: Paycheck to Paycheck documentary

3. Thing the Third: What happens to unsold merchandise? I find a lot of stuff from Target at the secret Target As-Is Store in the basement of a downtown Salvation Army. I try to buy used when possible, but now that I know the alternative might be a landfill, I don't mind buying new damaged goods, samples, or online returns at secondhand prices.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Three Thing Thursday with Bonus! Ask the Readers

Thing the First: I absolutely love this list of how much money you should be making in your twenties. TV and social media give us this idea that everyone is living the high life and it's just not true. In my twenties, I definitely felt like I could pay my rent all the time, go out to eat sometimes, and look for ways to earn more money most of the time. That's a nice rule of thumb, to keep on top of your finances without going crazy over nickels and dimes.

Thing the Second: There's a really nice run-down of Dave Ramseys' baby steps on The Simple Dollar. These are the core principles of my financial life. We're currently on step 3, again - after we had two "emergencies" last year (basement flood and furnace replacement) we used up quite a bit of our emergency fund and need to rebuild it while getting back into the groove of retirement contributions. I'll write more soon about how we're funding both goals.

Thing the Third: What If by XKCD is publishing a book! Woo hoo! If you are remotely nerdy, these science-y blog posts are great reading, and I'm excited that they'll be available in book format so we can read them as bedtime stories to Baby M.

Bonus! Ask the Readers
Any ideas for what to do with a ton (a TON) of clean, empty, glass baby food jars? Peanut is using some to organize the garage/basement, and I have seen all the cute things you can make with them on Pinterest - but I do not really have the time or interest to be crafty right now. I have already checked with our local schools, and they are happy to take the plastic containers but not the glass. I could just recycle them, but...I don't know, it seems like somebody might want them for something. Thoughts?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Planning for a trip but not as DINKs

I seem to keep stumbling on this fact the last couple weeks: we are no longer DINKs. We don't have two incomes, so I can't keep thinking that we will do things the way we used to. Used to be, when I went to visit family, I flew. It's faster, and for one person, the costs of flying are pretty equitable to driving (especially if that person would have to rent a car in order to make the drive). In my mind, DINKs fly to vacations. Families with stay-at-home-moms drive their station wagons to the beach - or in this case, the sedan to Grandma's house. It's still surprising to me that I now fall into the second category instead of the first.

Although it's still cold and snowy here, I am looking ahead to summer and starting to plan our first trip with Baby M. You may remember that we live close to Peanut's family, but mine is scattered around the midwest and south - all at least a 14 hour drive from us. My family (including my 85+ year old grandparents!) have come to see us since Baby M's birth, but now it's time for us to start venturing out to them.

We will be headed to the south, to see my parents, grandparents, assorted siblings and friends. It's a 16-hour drive if we stop only to gas up, or a combination of two flights or one flight + several hours driving time. If we fly, Peanut would prefer to buy a ticket for Baby M rather than carry her on as a lap infant - it will give us an extra carry-on allowance, plus it will probably give us an entire row of seats, so no stranger will have to be next to us in the event that she starts projectile puking. But we will also have to rent a car once we get to our destination, so the cost of the trip is pretty high - over $1,200 easily. Plus the headaches of flying with a toddler, and the extra headaches of traveling with a special-needs, tube-fed toddler who vomits multiple times a day.

I hadn't really seriously considered driving until today. Looking at the cost of everything, and envisioning trying to find a safe, clean place in an airport or on the plane to feed Baby M, or trying to keep her calm and quiet on one or two flights...frankly, it was overwhelming. Peanut and I started brainstorming about whether we could in fact drive instead, and now we're strongly leaning towards that.

If we left shortly before bedtime, Baby M would probably sleep for 90% of the drive and wouldn't need to be fed anyway. Driving at night would mean we'd miss most of the traffic in the big cities along the way, and if one of us napped before we left and the other slept as much as possible in the car before switching drivers, we could conceivably do it in one go. It would mean a fairly groggy first day at our destination, but after a full night of sleep we'd probably be okay. And if anything came up, we could stop at a hotel.

And as for the cost, it would be significantly cheaper. Gasbuddy estimated the cost of gas roundtrip to be about $243. We could pack a cooler of snacks and food to save on eating out, and even if we stayed at a fairly nice hotel at $100 a night each way, we'd still be spending less than half the cost of flying. We also looked into renting a car that's a little bigger and more comfortable than ours, with similar or better gas mileage, and that would add less than $200 (at list price, not name-your-own-price) to our trip. So financially, driving is definitely the better option.

I'll be doing a little more research on this, especially for rental cars that make long drives more comfortable. Have you made a change from flying to driving because of having kids?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Women's Money Week: Traditional Careers and Jobs (Opting Out, That Is)

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

I said the other day that balance to me means having seasons in my life - a season of working, a season of raising kids, and another season of working - rather than doing everything all at the same time. I wish our cultural workplace was set up to be more understanding and accommodating of that, rather than insisting that women build our careers at the exact same time that we are most fertile and have the most energy for raising young children. But that's not the case, so I have to focus on what's best for my family - and when.

When Baby M is older and in school, I intend to go back to work. But I don't know what I'll be doing. My previous career is an option, I guess, but I think it's time for a change - I think I'll be looking for something outside the traditional white collar career path. I wish when I was in college that I had thought a little more about how I might want to structure my life, instead of what I might want my job title to be. After ten years of working in the corporate world, there are a couple things that make me rethink what I'll be doing in the future.

I was getting burnt out by a crucial aspect of my job title. I worked in book marketing for years, and I loved the "book" part of it, but the "marketing" part gave me pause. I have issues with marketing in general, and was getting very dissatisfied with new media marketing in particular - it might sound like fun to be on Twitter all day, but when you're doing it to market to people it feels like you're just contributing a lot of nothing to the world. I want to do something that matters.

I'm feeling a pull to look in other industries for employment. I have now spent a lot of time with people in medical and educational settings, and I feel like these two industries make a really big, tangible difference in peoples' lives. I want to make that kind of difference. I want to help. I want to make the world a better place on an individual level.

I want a little more control over my schedule. My previous life was a business-casual, 9-5 M-F, cubicle-dwelling one, with very little room for variation. Now that I've spent a portion of my adult life able to conduct personal business during the weekday, I will have a hard time giving that up. I want a variable schedule, maybe a part-time one. I want to go grocery shopping on a Tuesday morning to avoid the weekend masses. I want to schedule dentist appointments without taking PTO. I want to be able to meet the school bus, maybe, or start work after lunch, and I definitely want to be able to avoid rush hour. I don't want to be chained to a desk and a computer and a telephone to complete my work.

So far I've identified these criteria for my future work, but I still don't really know where it's pointing me. It would be nice if I didn't need to go back to school, and of course everyone wants a job where they can set their own schedule, work part time, do something they love, help people AND get paid big bucks. We'll see what I find when I'm ready to look - right now, my focus is at home, where it should be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Women's Money Week: Non-Traditional Work

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

I've done a lot of non-traditional work, but I've never used it to make a living. Here are some of the side hustles I've had to supplement a full-time income:

* Mystery shopper. I mystery shopped on and off for about a decade, and intensively for about six years. At the height, I was making a couple thousand dollars a year doing it. I have heard of people who can do this for a living, but I'm not sure how. I think you have to start getting the really high-end shops, like for hotels and casinos, and I just didn't have the time or interest in pursuing those. (I've written about mystery shopping before, if you're interested in getting started.)
* Security guard. I did this in college, working at a mega-arena in a nearby large city. I worked everything from WWE events to concerts to a Superbowl. It ranged from super boring to super interesting (my break fell during half-time, and I got to watch the show from front-row endzone seats!). The most important thing was having comfortable shoes. It paid decently for a college gig, and was definitely flexible.
* Belly dancer. I performed with a troupe for about eight years, everything from private corporate events to bar mitzvahs to state fairs. It was a great way to pay for an expensive hobby, and while I made money every year, I didn't make a ton. Some of my friends from the troupe make some or all of their living from performing, but I felt like it's such a short-lived career that I didn't want to risk it.
* Extra. I have been an extra in music videos and an audience member for several TV shows. This is something that's really only possible in New York and LA, but it was a fun thing to do when the opportunity showed up.

This kind of non-traditional work is something I had a lot of fun doing in my twenties, but I'm a lot less likely to do it now. When Baby M is a little older, I might dip back into mystery shopping, and I can see myself being that embarrassing mom in her fifties who joins a belly dance group, but I think I'm done with side hustles that pay only slightly better than minimum wage.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Women's Money Week: Work-Life Balance

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

Can women have it all -- a professional identity, a successful marriage, and a close involvement in their kids' lives?

I don't know.

I know for me, right now, that's not possible. And I'm glad that my partner is on the same page and happy to take a hit in our joint income in order for us to focus on getting our daughter healthy. My attention is nearly fully taken up with her, and there's nothing left over to give to a job. Not to mention that it takes all my time to make our lives a little smoother - childcare, medical stuff, laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking, keeping the house clean. It seems like I work all day doing this stuff, so I don't know where I would fit an eight hour workday. Staying home is the only way for me to achieve any kind of balance right now, for  me personally and for my family as a whole.

If things were a little more normal for us, could I have it all?

I don't know.

I have a friend who has a healthy kid and works full time. She is able to throw money at most of their problems (takeout instead of cooking, hiring a housecleaner, sending laundry out), but money can't buy you time with your spouse, your kid, or yourself. I don't look at her life with envy. I don't think she looks at my life with envy. I have another friend who has a medically complex kid, and she and her husband both work full time out of necessity. The stress is evident, and I don't know how they balance it all. I definitely don't envy their situation. I just don't know how working moms do it, and frankly I am not sorry to miss that memo.

Maybe women can have it all, just not at the same time. I had ten years' worth of an awesome career, and that was cool. I enjoyed my work as much as I enjoyed the money. I forged an independent life for myself before I got married and had a kid. And now I get to stay home and help someone discover the world, and I get to indulge the nurturing side of myself by taking care of my family. That's cool, too. Someday I won't be needed at home as much, and I will go back to work. These are seasons of my life, and that's what balance looks like to me - focusing on one aspect of my life at a time.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Women's Money Week: Kids and Work

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

It's Women's Money Week again! Today's topic is kids and work.

I worked for about two months after my daughter's birth, while she was still in the hospital. I went on leave when she came home, but her health problems ultimately dictated that I stay home with her for at least a few years, so I resigned my job and have now been a homemaker for over a year. So my experience with kids and work is limited, but I had planned to continue working had my pregnancy and birth been normal so I'll share a few random thoughts.

First of all, mad props to all you working moms. Seriously - I know our situation (therapies, multiple doctor's appointments) is a little different from most, but kids take up a ton of time just with regular stuff. So to balance a job and a whole professional identity on top of being a mom - well, I'm impressed by that.

Second, one thing I wish I had understood before having kids is that having kids is nothing like you expect. I had all sorts of plans for how things were going to be, and the reality is that you just can't know until you're there what it's going to be like. I wish I could take back every instance when I said "When I have a kid, I will always...." or "I will never...". (Because boy, has that backfired on me - planning a particular kind of birth, determining to breastfeed, expecting to continue working - all of those things have been taken out of my control.) If I could tell 18-year-old me anything it would be to pick a career that is flexible with regards to dipping in and out of the workforce, and to not get married to the idea of anything before it actually arrives in your life (and my 18-year-old self would no doubt ignore me, but at least I'd have said it).

Third, I would like to give my daughter the role model of a working woman. I think it's important for her to see that women can be financially independent and have identities that don't center around their families. In my marriage, our roles have broken down along gendered lines for a variety of reasons, and we are happy with that for us - but I want my daughter to know that there are lots of different ways to build a family structure and be happy. She's too little to pick up on this stuff now and she needs me at home, but when she is older I hope to impress these ideas upon her.

Lastly, I think take your kid to work day is kind of lame. I never really participated in it, though, so maybe it's not. Did you ever go to work with your parents and find it valuable?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ronald McDonald House and Me

This post is not sponsored by anyone but my own experience.

Last week, we served dinner to 100 people at the Ronald McDonald House that served us so many meals while Baby M was in the hospital. It was awesome (and weird) to be on the other side of the counter. Dinner at our Ronald McDonald House is not provided by the hospital or the foundation -- it is provided by families and organizations that volunteer to do so, taking on all costs associated with it.

I was a little daunted by this project - I've never organized anything like this, and serving 100 people could get pretty expensive. I picked a couple of soup recipes that are easy to stretch and called for volunteers. Everyone brought a couple batches of something, which cut the cooking down so that no one was super burdened. We got salad, rolls, crackers, chili fixings, dessert and beverages thanks to Target - several family members are employed there, and one of them asked her store manager if there was money for this type of sponsorship, and there was! They gave us $250 which covered the cost of everything I wanted to get.

There were also some people who wanted to help but couldn't come out the night we were scheduled to serve, so they held food drives at their businesses. We left 21 bags of groceries and personal care items at the House for the pantry. (Dinner is served most evenings, but the pantry is open during the day for families to make meals as they are able to get away from their child's bedside.)

All in all, this experience added maybe $50 to my monthly grocery budget, and the time it took to make a few extra pots of soup and organize our family and friends (mostly done by email, and then picking up the food drive stuff). And it was totally worth it. Every night that I was served dinner, I vowed to pay it forward, and it feels really good to have done that. I plan to do this twice a year, for as long as I can gather up enough volunteers to help.

If you've got extra time or money or non-perishable food on your hands, I heartily recommend the Ronald McDonald House. Despite the name, McDonald's restaurants do not fund the charity, although the coin collections at the counters and pick-up windows do get forwarded on (unless they are pocketed by the manager of the restaurant, like the McDonald's I worked at in college, grrrr). This charity is meeting a need that no one considers until they desperately need it, and I am so, so thankful that they exist.