Saturday, September 22, 2012

Getting Stuff for Free vs. Being Given Stuff for Free

I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between getting stuff for free and receiving, well, charity.

As you know, I love free stuff. LOVE it. Do quasi-stupid things for it, like drive across town to get a free printer with no ink, instead of picking up a cheapy printer the next time I'm at Target. Spend time taking surveys to earn credit at various websites. Time Costco visits for sample days.

In other words, I dig free stuff.

However, in the last two weeks I have found myself exceedingly uncomfortable with accepting free things due to my situation in life. Because our daughter is in the neonatal intensive care unit, we qualify for assistance from the Ronald McDonald House, among a million other sources of support at our hospital. The RMH has comfy chairs, a TV, some books, some exercise equipment, a couple of computers, some bedrooms and showers, and a ton of food. Meals are prepared for families by various groups almost every night of the week, plus there is a fully stocked pantry available for us to use at any time to make whatever we want. In addition, as a breast-milk-pumping mom, I qualify for a free meal each day from the hospital cafeteria, as well as for juice and snacks available in the NICU. I could literally not buy groceries for the next three months while Baby M is in the hospital, and we would still have a surplus of food at our fingertips.

I felt uncomfortable about this at first. I felt like I should be a giver to charities, a donator, the one behind the counter serving the food. I am shocked at how quickly my position in life shifted to recipient. I am grateful and humbled by the resources that are available to me. At first, I decided that I would not use these resources, that I would save them for the more deserving. I have since changed my position - the reality is that I am spending eight hours a day at a sick baby's bedside, sometimes watching difficult procedures. I am not yet physically capable of going to the grocery store and stocking my own shelves. When I get home from the hospital, I have no mental energy left to cook. Sometimes, it is all I can do to hold out my plate and say thank you.

Right now, the most I can do is promise myself that when our ordeal is over, I will give back. I will serve a meal. I will drop my change in the container on the McDonald's counter. In the meantime, I could not care less about a free tube of toothpaste or sample size shampoo. It's hard to imagine a day when that will matter again. Learning to accept things given for free instead of angling to get things for free has been an interesting lesson for me.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

So, that happened

September weather: variable 
September goals: canceled
September spending: unpredictable 
September birthdays now in the Moneybags family: 1

To our great surprise, Baby Moneybags was born this week via emergency c-section at just over 25 weeks gestation. She is healthy for her age and being taken care of in a NICU, and I am recovering fairly well from everything. 

Things may be a little quiet around here for a while. At the same time, there are a million financial aspects to the situation we are now in and I will be trying to cover as many of them as I can - there are so many possibilities in a pregnancy, and so many things that seem so unlikely to happen, and yet they're going to happen to someone. If anyone has links to blogs by moms of NICU babies, I would be incredibly grateful if you send them my way. 

The last month of my life has been the craziest, scariest, happiest, and most unbelievable thing that has ever happened to me. I hope that trend is not going to continue, but we do know that the next several months will be a roller coaster ride as Baby M learns to live outside the womb and we learn how to be parents a little quicker than expected. 

More soon!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

random linkfest

I loved Young Cheap Living's post on reasons he tracks his spending. Tracking is, I think, the single most useful tool someone can put in their financial toolbox. My reasons are much the same as his, plus the spreadsheet that Peanut created for us acts as an account ledger and allows us to keep an eye on transactions across all our accounts - this serves as a very effective identity theft catcher!

Mmmm, beans. Love all the recipes from The Prudent Homemaker for how to eat them every night!

Giving up sugar is really hard, but this post at Girl's Gone Child gives a lot of good reasons for doing so. I had been working on giving up sugar earlier this summer and I've sort of abandoned it later, but I'm working towards it again and would like to (try to) raise my kids without having regular access to sugary food and drink.

Married with Debt did an emergency food audit, and I'm impressed. Peanut and I do not have anything close to a two-week supply that would be any good without electricity, and while it's unlikely to be needed, that's not a reason for not being at least SOMEWHAT prepared. Time to get on this!

Two via Money Saving Mom: bulk crockpot freezer recipes and more freezer to crockpot recipes.

The chore list that Kurt Vonnegut and his pregnant wife drew up between them is pretty astounding - should I have thought of something like that?! (Just kidding: Peanut is already perfect at taking care of anything that needs cleaning when I ask him to do it. The only additional chore he'll take on while I'm pregnant is the litter box - at least until I can't manage to tie my shoes anymore.)

Lifehacker lists all the places where you should enable two-step authentication. I already use this on Gmail, Facebook, and Dropbox and it is really not a big pain, but it's a giant security feature to add to your accounts. It's way too easy to hack passwords now (especially if you're still Doing Passwords Wrong), but someone would have to have both your password AND your phone to get into your account with two-step authentication. Why wait?

Trent wrote a great post about waiting until you're ready for something in order for it to actually take effect. This is so hard to put into practice, but it's worth learning to recognize it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

August Spending Recap

Alcohol $20.99
Baby $47.34
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Business expenses (reimbursable) $300.08
Cat $87.87
Charity $10
Clothing $3.49
Entertainment $46.90
Food—dining out $239.99
Food—groceries $371.40
Gifts $2.98
Household items $84.45
House $1,545.68
Jeep $94.27
Mazda $105.41
Sewing/Quilting $338.07
Student loans $403.83
Travel $642.00
Utilities $315.53

Total Spending: $4,839.58
Things of note:

New category: baby! We doing what J$ is doing and tracking all the expenses relating to this baby (and any future ones, as separate entities) down to special vitamins or clothing that I need to buy while pregnant all the way through college costs. We promise not to hold it over baby's head!

The house category is a little higher than usual because we had to have a plumber come out and snake out our kitchen drain line - something we probably should have done when we first moved in (it's always drained slowly) but something that had to get done last month (when water stopped draining entirely, with two full sinks of grossness, five minutes before we were leaving the house for an entire day). That was money well worth it!

Sewing/Quilting expenses were higher because of my new sewing machine, so that's a one-time expense. I'm hoping to finish two quilts here in the next two months, so that'll be a little more cost with Minky backing to buy (ie, the expensive soft stuff) and long arm machine rental, but then I'll probably take a break for a long time!

Helicopter got an addendum: robot. Peanut built one with a friend, and it's a cute little thing. It can roll around a room and sense obstacles, and move around them. Like a Roomba that doesn't vacuum, but they built it themselves!

How was your August spending?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

August Recap/September Goals

August Goals
1. Do some garden research. I got a few books out of the library, but I also turned this project entirely over to Peanut. Frankly, I have a lot going on right now, and he's more interested in the garden than I am!

2. Continue on with the #couponchallenge. Ongoing!

3. Set an entertainment budget and then enjoy spending it! Success! I went to the state fair and the Renaissance Festival, and ate great at both places - and didn't spend a fortune doing it.

4. Start thinking about food differently. I have definitely been thinking about food differently since learning I am pregnant! So, success, but not for the reasons I expected.

5. Yoga. At home. Three times a week. (Plus one class per week.) Utter failure. And I don't even care - I managed to go to my regular yoga class a few times, and will be starting prenatal yoga soon. The physical changes I'm feeling already leave me very leery of doing poses without understanding what's safe for my body at this point in time.

September Goals1. Spend some money on the house! We've had some ideas about things we want to do to or buy for the house ever since we moved in, but we keep coming up with reasons not to do them. I'm starting to feel like if we don't do them now, we won't get to them - so it's time. Here's the short list:

  • "built in" bookshelves and desks (also means new computer chairs)
  • enough bookshelves to hold all our books
  • solve the linen storage problem (move or purchase a cabinet for the upstairs hallway, purchase one or two leatherette storage ottomans for the bedroom)
  • reupholster the dining chairs and fix the loose seats
2. Research and book childbirth and prenatal yoga classes, research and choose a pediatrician, and begin researching daycare options. Lots to do on the baby front, but most of it (so far) doesn't involve the fun stuff like shopping for itty-bitty socks. That'll come a few months from now, I guess.

3. Start considering alternative financial arrangements, and do some stuff I put off. I am planning on going back to work, but what if I change my mind? Or what if I deliver early or am put on bedrest? I'd like to take a look at our finances and make some plans for these situations. Also, I gave up on setting up wills and medical directives last year; we need to take care of that asap. I'm putting clean out the filing cabinet in this bucket also.

4. Set an entertainment budget and stick to it. There are lots of little festivals and fairs this time of year, and I don't want to get carried away attending all of them. We've been to the pricey ones - state fair and ren fest - already (though we might go back to ren fest once) but I've pretty much got two or three on the calendar for each weekend, plus we want to do seasonal stuff like go apple picking. Time to start culling!

5. Start doing some stockpiling. I'm not much of one for stockpiling really - we don't have a ton of storage space, and with just two people we don't plow through food, personal care products or other things that tend to get stockpiled. However, looking ahead I can see how nice it'll be to not need to go to the store once a week in January weather. So I'm starting to look for a used deep freezer on Craigslist, so I can do some freezer cooking later this fall. I'm noting opportunities at Costco and other places to stock up on staples, especially where we're brand-sensitive. And everyone's telling me to stock up on diapers, so I'll start clipping those coupons and watching for sales, too! (I plan to cloth diaper, but will want to have some disposables on hand for emergencies and traveling. Might as well get 'em cheap.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A meta coupon moment

Quick #couponchallenge anecdote (a full update is coming soon!):

I've been picking up a newspaper every Sunday this summer to do the #couponchallenge, and the cost is $1.75 per week. So when I found a coupon that would give me a 13-week subscription for $1.25 per issue, I jumped on it.

Problem is, it's been almost three months since I found that coupon and sent it in along with payment, and I've yet to receive my subscription! They only cashed the check last week, so hopefully it'll start showing up soon, but it's way later than I expected. I've been annoying this subscription company with regular emails, and they have perfected the art of ignoring me.

Also, in the meantime, I found a coupon for a subscription for $1 per week - direct from the newspaper. In general, I like to cut out the middleman, but because I had already mailed off the check, I didn't want to sign up direct and then start getting (and paying for) TWO papers each week.

Potential lesson learned: sometimes it's better to not use a coupon, especially if it requires working with a middleman.