Saturday, February 21, 2015

The financial implications of a third child

I have zero business thinking about having a third child at this point in my life, but you wouldn't believe how soon people started asking me if we were done or not. (Let's put it this way: I hadn't left the hospital yet.)

It's easy to be all, ha, ha, whatever about it, but I came to the startling realization that the jump from one kid to two kids is VASTLY different from the jump from two to three, at least in terms of finances.

Bigger house
Our three-bedroom could technically house more kids without complaining too much, but not for long, I don't think. The bedrooms are small and not conducive for sharing between more than two kids, and I don't like the idea of being on a different floor from tiny children. Also: one bathroom. (Okay, 1.5 - still one bathtub/shower.) As it is, the four of us sleep in four different rooms in order to maximize the amount of sleep everyone is getting, and I don't know how that would work with a fifth person. Who'd be sleeping in the kitchen?

Bigger car
Non-negotiable, we'd need to buy a larger car. Ours can fit two car seats safely but not three, and not two car seats and a person in the backseat. And Peanut's Jeep - well, there will be no kids riding in that thing until they're old enough to drive it. Minivan city. (Plus higher gas prices...would insurance be lower or higher on a mom-mobile?)

Replacing instead of reusing
Baby Bear is currently using Pickle's old bucket seat, but this hypothetical third child might need his or her own new car seats due to the expiration dates on the plastic parts. I have bought three car seats already; it pains me to think of buying more. (We have a portable infant seat and two convertibles - because we already know that Pickle will still be small enough to need one by the time Baby Bear outgrows the bucket.)

Insurance
When updating our beneficiaries, I thought about whether we needed to up our life insurance policies as well, but figured that they are generous enough to be split between two kids in the unlikely event that something happened to both Peanut and I. (Pickle may disagree if it ever occurs to her that she would have been the sole recipient until just a few weeks ago....). But add a third kid to the mix and we'd definitely need to rethink that.

College tuition, weddings, etc.
I can't even bear to think of it.

While we wouldn't make the decision to have another child based on finances alone, the question "can we afford it?" would have to be very carefully looked at. I don't think it's something we even thought about when we decided to have a second.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

That Good Old HDHP

We've had a high deductible health plan since 2012, but in a way this is the first year that we're really experiencing what it's like. Since Pickle was born, she has been classified as disabled by the state, and receives medical assistance as a secondary insurance. They cover any bills that our primary insurance doesn't cover, which is only the deductible ($3,300) and 20% cost sharing up to an additional $3,300. Most years, we really only have her medical expenses, so we haven't had to spend much on medical care despite having a high deductible health plan. (I should also note that we pay no premiums, as those are covered entirely by Peanut's employer.)

This year, that's different - Baby Bear and I have both had doctor visits, and I had a lovely trip to urgent care for food poisoning and mastitis last week. We'll have to pay for all of that out of pocket - I remember being kind of slumped against the check-in desk wondering rather bitterly what this fantastic evening was going to cost me. It was an inane thing to be thinking about, because a) I really, really needed antibiotics and b) it'll all even out in the long run - I essentially got two pregnancies and deliveries for free, so it's probably time I started paying some bills!

It's going to hurt opening those bills when they show up, but I'm trying to remind myself that this plan is actually a good thing - we already know the maximum amount that our out-of-pocket medical expenses can be for the year and I know that they will actually be less than that (since Pickle has had an appointment as well, and has more scheduled for the early part of the year, and those will be covered by MA but will count towards our deductible and out of pocket). It's nice that it's a known entity, so that we can save up in anticipation (and use a health savings plan to get some tax savings on that money as well). In the grand scheme of things, $6,600 a year for the excellent level of medical care we've received is an absolute bargain.




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

This week's meal plan

I'm trying to get back on the meal planning wagon. I fell off of it with aplomb after Baby Bear made his appearance, but I've been getting back into the swing of things, and there's nothing like accountability to help keep me on track.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday - Mac & cheese, steamed broccoli
Monday - Mexican quinoa
Tuesday - crockpot chicken pot pie soup and biscuits
Wednesday - salmon and baked potatoes
Thursday - crockpot salsa chicken, rice & beans
Friday - BLTs
Saturday - fried rice


Friday, February 13, 2015

Have baby, fall off radar

Random updates from my neck of the woods and random stuff that I've been reading online and off:

* Two growing babies. Two kids is a lot of work, y'all. I can't wait until things have settled down a little bit. I feel like my to-do list is groundhog's day - everything that I accomplish has to be repeated in an hour (change diaper, wash dishes, feed baby, repeat!). But everyone's happy and generally healthy and that's wonderful. 

* What postpartum moms really need: SUPPORT and UNDERSTANDING. It is insane that we think someone should have her body back within six weeks. It is insane that we think she should have her body back in six MONTHS, given that it was ravaged by pregnancy for close to ten months. It's crazy that we think women should be able to do it all in the months after giving birth, and then provide them next to no support to do it. My mom said she noticed that while pregnant, people would hold doors, carry groceries, and do anything else they could for her - but would let the door slam shut in her face once she was holding the infant in her arms instead of in her belly. I found it to be true as well. What a weird society we live in. 

* The IRS recently concluded that breastfeeding supplies are deductible as medical expenses! This applies to things like breast pumps not covered by insurance, pump parts, milk storage bags and the like (I hope lanolin is included, because that stuff is expensive!). They can be included in expenses submitted for reimbursement under FSAs or HSAs or deducted directly off of taxes if more than 7.5% of the taxpayer's income goes to medical expenses. Great news!

* Holy cow, I love this post so much. First of all, the use of the word "perspectacles", which I am totally stealing for every day use. But second, what happens when the author takes a look at her "outdated" kitchen using her perspectacles, and the amazing things she sees. I'm trying to use it as a reminder for so many of the things in my life that don't look like they came out of a magazine. Which is, well, everything, but especially lately our well-loved-and-lived-on couch - I see the spit-up stains and the ink marks and cringe, but I'm trying to remember not only that I have a super comfortable couch that's big enough to house a bunch of people, but each stain on it is a memory of something from someone I love - the worn mark on the arm is from the hundreds of pizzas Peanut made next to it in our New York apartment, this pen mark is from my miracle toddler, those claw marks from my cat, that spit up bubble from my son. It's not fancy - it's even ugly - but it tells a story. I'll try to focus on the story until a time when it makes sense to replace the couch. (Which will be well after my kids stop puking and drawing on random surfaces, sigh.)

* Just discovered the store Tuesday Morning. I got some really cute gifts for upcoming preschooler birthdays for super cheap. I didn't have a chance to look at what else they had, but I'll go back. It's kind of like the non-clothing departments of a very curated Marshalls or TJ Maxx, I guess, with a little bit of World Market thrown in. 

* It's Feeding Tube Awareness Week again. Feeding tubes are out there among us, be aware! I didn't have time to do a whole dedicated post about it this time, but Pickle is still 100% dependent on her g-tube so feeding tubes are still a very major part of my life. We're going to start some more intensive therapy with her to see if it helps things move along, since it seems that the medical reasons that required the tube are resolved and what we have left is simply a toddler who's never had to eat by mouth...so she doesn't. 

* Excellent parenting book: Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters. The cover alone describes how I feel during 90% of my day. 

* I should be sleeping. But I know the baby will wake up the minute I close my eyes...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Washing our dollars

It seems like it's one big thing each year with our house. The furnace, the basement - this time it's the washing machine. I had noticed a few loads over the last few weeks were still pretty soaked when I pulled them out, so I made sure I wasn't filling the washer too full. Then the next time it happened, I mentioned it to Peanut who took a look and determined that the drum isn't rotating consistently - sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it does but not fast enough. He looked up some info online and took the washer apart to see if it was something that we could fix. After ruling out two inexpensive problems, he figured that it is most likely the clutch and brake assembly, which is a more expensive fix - and one that it is commonly recommended be skipped in favor of replacing that machine.

Eh, bummer. We probably could have had a repairman take a look at it to double check but with a toddler and a newborn, I do a load of laundry a day and three a day on weekends, so I didn't feel like we had the luxury of time to futz around with waiting on appointments. Also, the machine is an older one and not very water efficient. So we got a recommendation for an appliance supplier and went and picked out our new machine yesterday, and it will be installed tomorrow. We didn't buy a new dryer because our old one works just fine.

Our total cost was around $600 including delivery/installation and removal of the old machine. The new one is a high efficiency machine that can be programmed to do multiple steps (soak, wash, extra rinse) which saves me running up and down stairs with a toddler trying to follow me. We skipped the version that can sync to our smartphones, because, um, who needs that?

As we discussed what we wanted to do about replacing the washer, it occurred to me that our discussion was quite a bit larger than just the machine itself. Since appliances are generally sold with the house, but not incorporated into the sale price, it made sense to consider how much longer we plan to live in this house. (We've been here three years.) If we're planning on staying for a long, long time, it makes sense to splurge on a machine that I'll get a lot of use out of. But if we were planning to sell in a year or so, it might make more sense to buy a more basic model (and possibly a matching dryer, too, as potential buyers might be weirded out by a fancy washer/boring dryer combo).

Now, we have no intention of moving anytime soon, and as long as we are a family of four we should fit nicely into this house for a long time. Still, it made sense that the possibility of moving should influence our decision. I'd say the model we got is mid-range - it's programmable and high efficiency and quite a bit fancier than what I currently have, but definitely not close to the most expensive option in the store. I think I'll get plenty of good use out of this machine, and while it's not a purchase I wanted to make this weekend, I'm once again glad for our savings, which meant that this isn't more than a speed bump in my week (although I am NOT looking forward to catching up on four days worth of laundry tomorrow!).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014 Spending Recap

Previous Years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013


2014 2013 Percent change
alcohol $0.00 $20.00 100%
baby $0.00 $1,034.70 100%
blog $37.62 $40.13 6%
business $64.48 $72.55 11%
car jeep $662.58 $1,975.94 66%
car mazda $3,065.02 $2,289.22 -34%
cat $344.20 $483.94 28%
Cell phones $1,345.62 $1,229.93 -9%
charity $150.00 $167.00 10%
clothing $1,137.07 $387.92 -193%
dental $1,188.15 $1,892.95 37%
electric $1,392.48 $966.52 -44%
electronics $468.37 $297.73 -57%
Entertainment $929.21 $509.33 -82%
food - groceries $5,273.68 $3,413.48 -54%
food - other $2,719.13 $2,881.59 5%
gardening $21.95 $50.91 57%
gas $913.73 $787.37 -16%
gifts $527.63 $580.99 9%
Helicopter/Robot $189.35 $473.36 60%
house $16,761.92 $23,248.78 28%
household $2,893.55 $1,235.06 -134%
Hygiene $380.30 $367.02 -4%
insurance $560.00 $560.00 0%
internet $906.84 $797.50 -14%
medical $254.20 $178.94 -42%
sewing/quilting $6.99 $107.73 93%
therapy $0.00 $204.80 100%
transportation $350.00 $350.00 0%
travel $1,627.26 $0.00 -100%
Water & Trash $1,047.04 $812.34 -29%
yoga $40.00 $160.00 75%
Grand Total $45,258.37 $47,577.73


We had around 1,100 transactions in 2014. This is not exactly accurate - in order to correctly categorize purchases, we have to break up some transactions into separate line items. So a single trip to Costco for toilet paper, food items, and socks winds up getting three lines in the spreadsheet: one for household, one for groceries and one for clothing. Nonetheless, it's interesting thing to think about how often we make decisions that involve money coming in or coming out. 

It's interesting to see where the biggest spending differences are - we spent less on hobbies but a lot more on clothes (thanks, pregnancy), exactly the same on bus fare and insurance, more on groceries and nothing on therapy or alcohol. Now that we've paid off all debt but the mortgage, we're focused on putting away money for retirement and saving money on everyday spending where we can. We live a comfortable life as a family of four on one income, thanks to the groundwork we set years ago. For the first time, though, it seems like our financial picture isn't going to change dramatically for a long time. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 New Year's Resolutions

Each year, I make the same number of resolutions as the last number of the year. So this year, I am making five resolutions.

1. Less yelling. I would like to make this one "no yelling" but I also want to have a chance to succeed. :) The truth is, staying home with a toddler was challenging enough and now I'm adding a newborn to the mix. I don't want to be a yelling mom, especially given that Pickle is so not a bad kid - she's just a normal two year old and while that can be annoying at times, she doesn't deserve to be yelled at for it. I tend to yell when frustrated, and I want to curb this tendency while my kids are young enough to not remember that it ever happened.

2. Get stronger. Spending nine months taking it easy was tough on my body, as if pregnancy and a c-section weren't enough. I couldn't even push Pickle in a stroller two blocks to the park (doctor's orders!) so now everything feels like a challenge. When I'm cleared to resume exercise, I'd like to actually make a point to do it - I don't care so much about weight loss or appearance, but I want to feel strong again and I want to lose some of the pain I'm feeling from compensating for weaker abdominal muscles. I think something like a short daily yoga routine, plus 100 push-ups or 200 sit-ups, or even just dropping down and doing something active when I have a few minutes while both kids are napping or occupied. 

3. Treasure the moment.  At the end of 2015, I will have a preschooler and a toddler - no babies. And since Baby Bear is probably our last child, I'd like to really appreciate the moments that I have home with them. Being a stay at home mom (or any parent, really) is full of frustration and boredom, but there are such beautiful moments as well. I want to try to pay attention to those and treasure them instead of rushing through to the next thing on my to-do list.

4. Max out retirement. Peanut and I have been trying really hard to max out Roth IRAs for  both of us each year, even though I'm not working, to minimize the long-term effect my unemployment will have for our family. This means making some sacrifices and doing some planning, and I am committed to doing it for 2015 again.

5. Bring in some side income. I contribute to our family in lots of ways, but I like to bring in some cash, too - especially for "extras" like trips. Last year I did some freelancing, which might not be possible this year, but I'll be on the lookout for survey and focus group opportunities, chances to sell baby items, and other ways to bring home some bacon.




Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 New Year's Resolutions Recap

2014 was such a quiet year for me compared to 2013 and 2012. I would say that it's one of my very favorite years to date - I hope that 2015 is as lovely!

1. Transition Pickle to a fully homemade diet. Success! Medical protocol for tube-fed people is generally commercial formula, and we weren't having a lot of luck with that. A homemade blended diet is becoming more popular, and we successfully transitioned to that in January of 2014. The difference it made was immense - Pickle's multiple-times-a-day vomiting stopped entirely, her weight gain picked up, her color looks great, her hair started growing in, and her bloodwork improved. It's a little more work, and a little more expensive, but totally worth it!

2. Be here now. Success! One weird thing about pregnancy is that as much as it is about looking forward to the birth of the child, it really does keep you in the moment as well. Whether you're thinking about what is happening with the fetus or with your changing body, pregnancy is kind of a day-by-day experience. In addition, expecting a second child made me appreciate the small moments with Pickle more than ever - I knew that my time to rock her all the way to sleep for naps would be limited, and I took advantage of every moment to snuggle her. 

3. Contribute to retirement savings again. A planned success. We maxed out two Roth IRAs for 2013, despite being on one income, and we are set to do so again for 2014. We have until the tax filing deadline of April 15 to do it, but we're on track. 

4. Give back. Success! I joined a family volunteer organization at the hospital where Pickle spent the first four and a half months of her life, and I organized a meal at the Ronald McDonald House where we ate daily for that time. My involvement in both is rather limited with the new baby, but I plan to stay involved. 

How did you do with your 2014 resolutions?

Monday, December 15, 2014

My radio silence has a name...

And it is Baby Bear. Born healthy, full term and with a head full of dark hair. Peanut and I are of course over the moon, although Pickle was skeptical at first.

We are settling in as a family of four. Hopefully I will be back to budgeting soon!

Monday, November 10, 2014

October Spending


business ($25.58)
car jeep ($61.47)
car mazda ($784.11)
Cell phones ($100.00)
charity ($10.00)
clothing ($99.99)
electric ($99.89)
Entertainment ($178.49)
food - groceries ($402.80)
food - other ($243.61)
gas ($30.22)
gifts ($52.08)
Helicopter/Robot ($10.67)
house ($1,401.71)
household ($18.78)
internet ($75.57)
medical ($17.00)
Water & Trash ($70.00)


Things of Note: 
We're sort of keeping up our trend of spending less in most categories, although we had some big expenses this month, too. We replaced the tires on our Mazda (sorely needed, and just in time for winter!) and I entertained myself quite a bit in October - I went to a musical and got a great Groupon deal for prenatal massage. We also saw some increases in household expenses due to the projects we've been finishing up. 

We sure are being average with our food spending though - we were only off by $2 month to month!

Let's not talk about what the stock market is doing to our retirement accounts, though, eh? At least we were able to put some money into savings this month, on top of our expenses!

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Take a look at retirement savings.  Success - we've figured out a plan to try to max out our Roths for this year, despite being on a single income.

2. Finish my big nesting projects. Well, things aren't finished, but they are well underway. There are some things that aren't going to get done before the baby comes (or probably ever), and that's okay, but I got a surprising amount done and I feel good about it. 

3. Take time to enjoy it. Working on it. When raising a toddler, the days are long but the years are short, and that goes doubly so for raising a toddler while pregnant. I've been reading a lot of interesting parenting books lately, and that is helping me appreciate what a finite period of time this really is. 

November Goals
1. Stay pregnant and/or have a baby. Whatevs. Baby's coming out early in December whether he wants to or not, but I'm almost at the point of being okay with him coming whenever he'd like. In fact, I'm almost at the point of begging him to come out. 

2. Take it easy. I realized today that my calendar is just way too freaking packed for the next few weeks and I need to cancel some things. I've been kind of making frantic plans with friends for "one last outing before baby" type stuff, and really it just has to stop. There are also some appointments for both me and Pickle that could be canceled with pretty much no harm done. It feels like failure to me to quit before I "have" to, but slowing down before the baby comes will probably be less traumatic than suddenly having a baby and sitting on the couch for two weeks. 

3. Eat some pumpkin pie. 'Nuff said. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Financial Impact of Pregnancy, the Second Time Around

Comparing my first pregnancy to my second pregnancy is almost impossible for any number of reasons, but one interesting aspect is financial. Everyone talks about how much babies cost, but the second baby hardly ever costs as much as the first. Part of it is that you already have a bunch of stuff, but also you're more likely to know what actually IS necessary.

Pregnancy
I did not have a chance to wear maternity clothes last time around, so I didn't have any. I've received some hand-me-downs and bought mostly secondhand stuff, and I'm definitely set until baby arrives. I've got four pairs of maternity jeans (only two really fit well), three pairs of maternity leggings, one pair of maternity yoga/pajama pants, two maternity dresses (one summer, one winter), one tank top, four t-shirts, two 3/4 sleeve shirts, and three long sleeve maternity shirts. I won't buy a maternity coat because I'd only need it for a few weeks in really cold weather, and I'm such a furnace being pregnant I don't think I'll feel that cold without one. I'll wear a lot of my maternity clothes post-partum, and either pass them to a pregnant friend or consign them.

Due to Pickle's ongoing medical needs, we have reached our out-of-pocket maximum for health insurance for the year, so I've had almost no prenatal care costs (most prenatal care is covered in full anyway, but some labs and things are subject to patient cost sharing).

I have also bought random things like prenatal vitamins, DHA and calcium supplements, lotion for the bump, and pantiliners (pregnancy is weird). I have caved to fast food cravings only a handful of times.

Baby Preparations
I did buy some baby boy clothes (yay consignment!) as well as a secondhand Ergo carrier and a used double stroller, but not much else is needed for a second baby - we've still got the big stuff from the first time around and I know myself much better in terms of what I am likely to use and need. I stocked up on disposable diapers during Target's sale, and have been slowly restocking our cloth diaper stash as well. In terms of buying stuff, we're as ready as we're going to be for him to arrive.

Delivery
The delivery and hospital stay will be covered by insurance entirely. Assuming, that is, that we don't get any surprise out-of-network bills for people I don't have a chance to shop around for, like the anesthesiologist. I'm not expecting this to be a problem, though, since I'm delivering at the same hospital as last time and we didn't have a problem then. We'll incur some costs for Peanut's meals and parking while I'm in the hospital, but that should be about it.

Postpartum (me)
I still have to buy my postpartum supplies. It was such a shock last time that I didn't even do my own shopping for pads and stuff, so I don't remember what I had or what I needed. I do remember that they send you home from the hospital with a bunch of extra stuff, which I actually just threw out like minutes before I got knocked up this time. I'll probably just buy a pack of the biggest pads they make next time I'm in Target and call it good.

I am on the fence about high-waisted underwear - I didn't have any last time (the hospital provides mesh panties that are gentle on the incision, and I just used those until I didn't need to avoid the incision area). My only concern is that since I actually got a bump this time it might take longer to get to that point, but I figure if I really need some granny panties, someone can go get them for me. And if I don't, that's money I didn't spend on unflattering underwear.

I think I also need lanolin for breastfeeding, but again, I know the hospital provides samples and that can get me through at least the first couple days. The tubes of lanolin at Target are $10, so I'm going to try to hunt down a coupon in the next few weeks - for some reason, that's my threshold for not being willing to just try a product I'm not sure I'll need.

I've got several nursing tanks from my pumping days, and many of my maternity shirts can work as nursing wear as well. I have a nursing cover and a breast pump already, and just need to get some new tubing.

Postpartum (baby)
I bought a lot of diapers but I still think I underestimated how often babies poop. My mother will be staying with us and probably making lots of food, but we might be ordering out a bit more than usual for a while. I am not really doing a lot of freezer meals because I don't have any good recipes that have stood up to being thawed and reheated. Instead, I'm stocking up on chicken breasts, taco meat/beans, and nonperishables so that we always have the makings of one of my usual throw-together dinners. It's not that much more work than thawing and reheating something, but it will taste a lot better and that will make us less likely to order food.

I will be baking some batches of banana and zucchini bread, though, and probably a couple batches of lactation cookies as well.

Aside from that....this is going to sound kind of funny, but most unexpected pregnancy expense has probably been Starbucks. Since I'm high risk, I've been getting a shot in the bum every week since June to prevent pre-term labor, and these shots are TERRIBLE. They give me hives at the injection site and I have to wear an ice pack in my pants for two days after each one. So to make up for it, I treat myself to a soy chai latte after every shot. I managed to get Starbucks credit from a survey site that took care of more than half the drinks, but I've had to use real money to pay for them the last few weeks, so I think I will wind up spending about $40 on Starbucks by the time the baby comes. Who'd have guessed that would make my baby spending list?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thinking about couponing...again

It's been about two years since I started my coupon challenge, and I figured it's a good time to take stock and see how things are going.

After creating a price book and figuring out where the best deals on my regular purchases were, I started splitting my shopping trips between three stores (Costco, Aldi, and a regular grocery store that had double coupon days). I plan meals weekly and shop with a list, which I adhere to pretty strictly. I have a newspaper subscription (which, naturally, I got using a coupon) and clip coupons every week. I only print coupons that I specifically go looking for. I try really hard to match sales, store coupons, and manufacturer's coupons, but it doesn't happen as often as I was hoping. More recently I've been using the Target Cartwheel app, although I haven't started doing a ton of grocery shopping there. Peanut and I were thinking about signing up for a Target credit or debit card to get the extra discount, which might be worth more than our credit card rewards for just that store (we need to dig deeper into this).

So, what's the state of the union?

Well, overall I am spending MORE than I was before, but we are spending less eating out, and I would argue that we are eating better at home than we used to. Then, I was shopping for two working adults. Now I shop for two adults and a child. There are people eating at home all day instead of just two meals. I am a better cook than I was, there is less food waste, and my kitchen is stocked differently - I am often able to throw together a meal to feed unexpected extra people with no trouble.

I think couponing definitely contributed to the increase in spending, to some extent - it's true that the coupons are for the more expensive name-brand products, and unless you pair them with a store coupon and sale, you're still often paying more than you would for Aldi brand. Sometimes the quality is worth it, and sometimes it's not. I am sure that I also ended up buying things that I might not otherwise have purchased at all, just because I had a coupon. (That's actually more of a risk for me at Aldi, because things are so cheap that it's much easier to stray from my list.)

Most of the things that have changed in our grocery expenses were out of my control, though. Prices in general went up. My local grocery store chain was sold to a chain that does not double coupons, so there goes all that extra savings. We go through two gallons of whole milk a week, which is not available at our Aldi ($8/week x 52 weeks is $416 a year!!!!). I buy quite a bit of baby food, which is pricey (still cheaper than formula!). (I do make a lot of my own baby food, but the consistency of commercial baby food is perfect for Pickle's feeding tube blends so I fall back on that a lot for convenience.) I also buy more meat than I used to (I didn't until I got pregnant, and I'm curious as to whether my cravings for extra protein will go away when I give birth).

All in all, couponing has been helpful in getting me to examine how I was shopping, but it's not clear that it's saving me a lot of money anymore. Renewing my newspaper subscription will cost me three times what the last renewal did, and I'm not biting. Instead, I'm going to take a slightly different tack, and see if I can set a budget limit on what I spend on groceries each week (something I haven't done since I was living on a shoestring budget in NYC). I'll start at $400 per month, $30 below my current average, and see how we do. It'll take several months for this to start happening, since I'll be having this baby soon-soon-soon and that will shake things up for a while, but I am interested to see how it turns out.

Here's my new plan:

1. Update my price book. New grocery store chain, new prices - and I noticed that Target has changed their prices on baby food, almost certainly in response to the competition. It's probably time to take another look at where the bargains really are for the things that I am particularly brand-loyal on.

2. Streamline my stocking up at Aldi. Aldi is in the opposite direction of everywhere else that I ever go, so while it's not far away, it is out of the way. Right now I'm going 2-3 times per month, but I'd like to winnow that down to just once per month and do a big stock-up trip then. I have not liked the quality of the produce at my local Aldi, so most of the things I get there are shelf-stable and this shouldn't be hard to do with a little bit of planning.

3. Investigate the Target Red Card. An extra five percent off anything purchased at Target might be a better deal than we're getting from our regular rewards credit card, especially if I work on matching Cartwheel deals.

4. Work on my pantry stocking strategy. I've spent the last few months finding recipes that work well in a variety of ways - easy to have on hand, easy to prepare, easy to reheat. This means that with a little reorganization, I should be able to have a visibly stocked pantry for the meals that I make most frequently. Then if I stock up when those things are on sale and do a regular shopping trip only for produce and perishables, I should be saving myself a lot of time and money. This has worked really well for my deep freezer, and I think it will translate to cans and boxes fairly easily - it'll just take some thinking.

5. Take a break from actual couponing. Just for a while and just for general coupons - I'll still go hunt down coupons for specific brand name things when I need them. And I'll use the store coupons that get sent to my house and from the circular. But no more of this multiple-coupon-envelope thing each time I go to the store for a while.

Let's see what this does to the grocery budget!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Squeezing all the pennies

Peanut and I have decided that we'd really like to max out both of our Roth IRAs for 2014, which is a fairly tough proposition for a family of three (imminently to be four) on one income. In order to have $11,000 in hand by April 15, we'll need to slash our expenses. I think we're fairly frugal already, but here are some ways we are planning to scrape together that cash:

* Cancel our newspaper subscription. I subscribe for the coupons, but I'm not going to be doing a lot of couponing in the next couple months. In addition, I'm up for renewal at the end of this month, and the price is THREE TIMES what I paid last time I renewed, so, um, no, thanks! This probably will be a wash between the coupons I won't be getting and the subscription fee I won't be paying, but it's money I'm not shelling out, so I'm counting it.

* Putting our NPR membership on hold. I'm kind of torn about this one, as I love our local public radio, but the reality is we're not listening much right now (Peanut's vehicle doesn't have a radio and he takes the bus in the winter anyway, I won't be driving anywhere with two babies in the snow and I don't listen at home, so...). We'll resubscribe someday.

* Lower our internet costs. We have only one option for high speed internet and everyone knows it, but I'm still going to call and ask them to reduce the cost. It's $75 per month, and if I could save even 25%, I'd be happy.

* Cut down on eating out. This is kind of hilarious, since I know how things are going to be for a few weeks after the baby comes, but Peanut's going to cut back on how much he goes out for lunch (it's been 1-2x per week) and so am I (a few times a month, but I spend more when I go out so it's fairly even).

There are two areas where I don't think we'll make much progress.
* Cell phones. I don't think there's much we can do here. We just got new phones in April and managed to cut our bill by 5% so I think we're sort of stuck.

* Groceries. I think our grocery bill is pretty reasonable for a family of three (average $430/month) and while it could absolutely be lower, scrimping makes it easier to spring for takeout.

We need to save about $1,000 per month starting now in order to get to our goal. Between the cash we already save at the end of each month and what we can do between now and April (plus our newest little tax deduction), I think this is a reachable goal. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: I love this article over at A Practical Wedding and the series that sounds like it's going to develop from it. It's a bird's eye view of how one couple's merged finances have shifted over the years and why. I love seeing how other people run their lives!

Thing the Second: Sometimes I get bogged down in all the things I could be doing as a SAHM, and this post from The Frugal Girl about things she doesn't do was very inspiring to me. When I worked full time, I had to make concessions about what to spend my time on, and the same is true now that I'm staying home. The reality is, there is no award for Most Frugal or Most Resourceful or whatever, and it's important to focus on the things that you can and will stick with long term. Me, I don't do much freezer cooking, and I don't bake my own bread or make my own yogurt or laundry detergent, and I cloth diaper only about half the time. But I spend a ton of time with my kid and I read a couple books a week and I am learning to be a better cook, and frankly, I'm pretty happy with where my life is.

Thing the Third: This post from A Gai Shan Life was a good reminder that I am not really prepared for a disaster. We've got insurance to cover a lot of things, and we don't live in a high natural-disaster prone area, but I could do a little bit more to make sure that we have enough water per person and food that could be prepared without cooking for all of us. Mainly our disaster plan is really Get Out of Dodge, which works well in situations like a furnace going out but not so much for things like a tornado or earthquake where travel might be difficult. Something to think about.