Friday, December 20, 2013

Target Data Breach? No Big Deal

Wow, the news is giving me tons of blog fodder (blodder?) this week! You may have heard that some 40 million credit card numbers and associated data were stolen from Target during the beginning of the holiday shopping season. I'm not sure whether this news is being covered 24/7 on all news outlets in other places, but it certainly is in Minnesota. (Target's headquarters are here, and it's a major employer in the area.)

We shopped at Target at least twice during this time period and used a credit card for our purchases, so I am 99% sure that our information is included in the credit card numbers that are now in the hands of data thieves.

So what are we doing about it? Nothing.

1. These types of things happen all the time, either through hacking or employee carelessness, but most companies do not announce that information has been compromised for weeks or months. (Just off the top of my head - Adobe, Ubisoft, Global Payments, Sega, Nintendo, Sony, AT&T, Morgan Stanley, Citibank.)
2. When lists of card numbers are stolen they are often traded around on the black market and may not be used for weeks or months or years, if ever.
3. Target's early announcement of the theft means that a lot of people will be changing their credit card numbers, so part of the data will be useless. It may have even affected the value of the list on the black market, meaning it's less likely to be used.
4. We check our credit card statement frequently (at least once per month, usually more) and check it carefully against our spending log. We would notice fraudulent activity quickly.
5. Credit card users are protected from fraud, so if we do start seeing fraudulent charges, we can dispute them and there will be no real consequence for us.

Your card information is not secure, period. Every time you use the card, you are opening yourself up for the information to be compromised. Every time you buy something online, you risk it. Every time you use it at a cash register, you risk it. Every time you send it off with a waiter in a restaurant, you risk it. That's why there's such a strong consumer protection aspect to using a credit card - at some point it is almost certain that your information will be stolen, so there are stopgaps and protections built in. The companies themselves are watching for it, that's how much they expect it to happen.

This is not necessarily true of debit cards - because the money will come right out of your bank account, you are at risk of losing money immediately. That's why we don't use a debit card ANYWHERE unless we are required to do so (Aldi doesn't accept credit cards, Costco only accepts American Express. We use a credit card for almost anything else.) Anyone who used a debit card at Target during the compromised period should absolutely cancel the card and get a new number. But for credit card users, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.

Would I shop at Target again using my credit card? Heck, yes. I'd do it today if I needed anything. My concern with using a credit card at Target has nothing to do with security, and a lot more to do with marketing: Target uses credit card information to track shopper spending and study their habits. I agree to this kind of tracking when I sign up for a store loyalty card, but I find Target using my credit card information for this to be creepy. Not enough that I always remember to stop at the ATM before I go shopping there, but enough that there are certain purchases I've made in cash just to avoid adding to my shopper profile.

Aside from the potential fine that Target may face for being hacked, probably the biggest downside to this for Target is that if people change their credit card numbers, all of their marketing data is useless.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vitamins Are Not Killing You

Okay, this - this is ridiculous fear-mongering by the media.

The link goes to an article on The Consumerist that claims "Doctors Plead: Quit Wasting Your Money on Vitamin Supplements Already."

I've seen a lot of misinformation about the study that was recently released, and it irks me to no end how the news media and the general public do not COMPREHEND what they are reading.

The report collected the information from three studies, following white male doctors over the age of 50 (ie, not a sample remotely representative of the general population) and tracked the efficacy of supplements in three very specific scenarios: cardiac health, cognitive health, and cancer prevention.

The study did NOT have anything to do with multivitamins taken for nutritional support. It did NOT have anything to do with supplements recommended for pregnant women. It did NOT have anything to do with most of the reasons actual people take multivitamins, for which there actually is a lot of well-documented research. While most people today are not suffering from massive nutritional deficits (even junk food is fortified, after all) multivitamins used for general nutritional support and some other situations (Vitamin D to treat seasonal affective disorder, for example) are useful, and they are not necessarily a waste of money. (And even if they were, I would bet a year's supply costs less than $20, and we spend far more than that on things that are definitively proven to cause disease.)

Rant over. I just - most of that information regarding the limits of the study is in the AP wire story itself, and yet all people can spout is a headline "Doctors Say Multivitamins Are Useless!" UGH.

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: J$ has some hilarious suggestions for Christmas gifts for the toddlers in your life, and I have to back him up here. These things may sound like lame presents for anyone over 3, but seriously, babies - excuse me, "big kids" - love things like kleenex and toilet paper rolls and tupperware. I would add a 2 liter bottle half-filled with water to the list - it rolls in unexpected ways and Baby M just LOVES hers.

Thing the Second: Check out this amazing final project by a college student. Her series of advertisements claim Photoshop can give 50% longer limbs, all-in-one beauty, and successful marriages and they really drive home how warped our perception of normal is.

Thing the Third: 5 awesome gifts for the booklover in your life.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The furnace breakdown

So. For those who are interested, here's a breakdown of the furnace situation.

Our furnace was 14 years old (installed in 1999). I expected to get 2-5 more years out of it (many furnaces last about twenty years) but we don't know the maintenance history of it, and we discovered that the electronic filter on it was basically not doing anything at all so it probably got worn out quicker because of that. Also, the particular make and model of this furnace was part of a class-action lawsuit a few years ago for a faulty part that failed too early, and is exactly what failed on ours, so I guess it was just time for it to go. Luckily, that lawsuit resulted in a nice credit for us.

We went with one of the fancier furnaces - one that can modulate the amount of power it uses to heat the house, so it's more efficient. This was about $200 more than the mid-grade model, but I expect that over the life of the furnace we will save at least that much on our gas bill. We also upgraded to a fancy filter (which increased the labor warranty by five years) and took care of a code violation by installing a condensate pump to transfer condensation from the furnace and air conditioner into the utility sink. The water had been draining into a drain below the washing machine, using a hose just lying across the basement floor - a tripping hazard, especially since it was across the walkway leading towards the fuse box. And lastly we had electricians move the thermostat from its stupid location in the guest room to a central location in the living room.

Since this is our first home and we haven't used any of our energy or tax credits, we got quite a bit of money off, although those come in the form of rebates and didn't save us from the out of pocket expenses. We were offered 0% interest financing for two years, but I asked for a discount for paying in full up front and got 3% off the bill.

Here's how it breaks down:

Furnace, wiring, sheet metal, programmable thermostat: $6,060
Moving thermostat: $100
Condensate hose & pump: $220
Fancy air filter: $310
Total cost installed: $6,690

3% cash discount: $200
December promotion from installation company: $400
Gas company rebate: $425
Installation company rebate: $500
Electric company rebate: $100
Furnace brand class-action lawsuit credit: $492
Federal tax credit: $200
Total discounts: $2,317

Final out of pocket cost: $4,373

Things I learned from this experience:

* Do research on appliances BEFORE they break down. I'm not going to spend time worrying over whether we got a good deal or whether we chose the right furnace because it's water under the bridge now. But I AM going to do some research on our other large appliances. Water heater, oven/stove, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. I want to have an idea of what I want and how much it will cost well before I need to.

* Maintenance is really important. Changing the air filter is something that will be done every 9-12 months. The inspector who checked the installation advised us to wait out the warranty period and then purchase an annual service package from an HVAC company. Doing so should make our furnace last a full twenty years.

* Keep track of manuals, receipts, and warranty information along with maintenance records. We have a lot of this information from the families who owned the house before us, which was very helpful in getting us the credit for the faulty part.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Saving little bits of money

After the furnace debacle of yesterday I decided to get serious about saving money on the bills that bleed my soul dry every month. I've identified three that have potential:

* Cell phone. I've been out of contract for a few years and while a new phone would be nice, I have no desire for a new contract. I thought about switching to Peanut's parents' family plan and getting a Minnesota number, but I'm kind of partial to my NYC number and also all of Baby M's doctor's offices have it so it would be a pain to change it everywhere. I saw a post from The Consumerist about a new $15 discount for out-of-contract phones from AT&T, so I'm going to call them and see if I qualify.

* Internet. I think our internet bill is outrageous at $72 per month. It started out at a reasonable $40 or something for the first six months, then jumped to $60 for another six months, and has now jumped to the highest tier. There's no significant competition for the speed we need ("need" being relative - mostly we like it for gaming, but Peanut does do some work remotely and he couldn't do that without the speed we have) which gives me almost no leverage for threatening to cancel. Last time I called, I was told we couldn't get any discounts without adding phone or cable service, which would lower the price of the internet but increase the actual amount we pay each month. I'm going to call again and see what they say.

* Cat wellness plan. When I adopted my cat last summer, I signed up for the wellness plan at Banfield vet in our local PetSmart. He's seven years old (elderly, in cat years) and if you use all the services provided in the plan, it is cheaper than paying for them a la carte. However. In all my life of having cats, I've NEVER used as many services as I have with this plan, and I'm wondering if it's really necessary. We dropped by a local independent vet a few months ago for a nail trim and I asked them for prices of standard services so I could compare them with the wellness plan. I never really sat down and looked at everything side-by-side, so I'm going to do that this week and see if I can save money by paying for services as we need them instead of using a wellness plan.

These dribs and drabs won't add up to the cost of the furnace, but if I can save $40 or $50 per month, that's a nice chunk of change at the end of the year. Any suggestions for other places I look to see if I can save some money?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bad Luck Moneybags

Ugh, you GUYS. This year has been one long streak of bad luck. Between all the complex medical baby stuff and the basement flooding, I thought we had already had our share of nonsense, but this weekend our furnace went kerplooey and needs to be replaced. It has been below freezing for about two weeks, and most of that time it has even been below zero, with windchills in the negative teens or colder. The house is currently around 50 degrees indoors and our electric bill is going to be through the roof thanks to the space heaters that are keeping it at that temperature.

And now we have no hot water, although we're not sure if that's because the water pipes are so cold or because the hot water heater has gone south as well.

UGH.

UGH, UGH, UGH.

The furnace will cost us about $4,300 after rebates and credits, but we have to pony up more than $6,000 to get it installed today. We didn't have time to shop around, given how cold it is, and one of those rebates requires us to have the original installer remove the faulty furnace so it would have been a huge hassle to have them do one part of the job and someone else do the rest so we didn't even try to get competitive bids. That's frustrating, but I guess the furnace is not going to cooperate and let you know there's a problem when it's a balmy 75 degrees out and you have time to do the research.

I'm not even going to deal with the water heater until the house is warm again so we can see if cold pipes were causing the problem.

Oh, also - the car needs new brakes, new tires and an oil change.

On the upside, while none of these expenses are pleasant to deal with, and will wipe out a big chunk of our emergency savings - we do have emergency savings. We won't have to pay interest on these purchases, and we are getting a small discount for paying in full up front. At least we don't have serious financial stress on top of all of this - it's the kind of thing that's going to make me think wistfully of the retirement we probably won't be able to fully fund this year, the Caribbean vacation we won't be taking, and I'll be clipping a few more coupons and saying no to a few meals out. But I won't be laying awake at night worrying about it, so I'm thankful for that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: Wow - 200 calories as demonstrated by about 60 different foods. Really interesting!

Thing the Second: If you shop on Thanksgiving, you are part of the problem. Amen! There is no deal worth it to me for which I could justify making someone else miss Thanksgiving with their families - so we will not be shopping on Thanksgiving and we won't be participating in Black Friday madness. It's possible that Peanut will go buy a discounted TV that day, our first time ever shopping on Black Friday - but he won't be going for the doorbuster deals at 4 a.m. (I'm not even sure we'll really save a lot of money, but it's something we were going to buy anyway, so if he wants to try it, more power to him.(

Thing the Third: I saw this image on my Facebook feed with the caption "It doesn't matter how you look to others - it only matters how you look to yourself." This week, I hope you all can see the wondrous things you are capable of - even if others may have a hard time seeing it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

World Prematurity Day

Proud Parent of a Preemie! Alex was born 12/17/10 @ 2lb4oz & 14"...We spent almost 59d in NICU getting to know each other ( falling even more in love with my bebe:)

Today is World Prematurity Day, a day of awareness started by the March of Dimes and other international groups to highlight the dangers of prematurity. Prematurity is the leading cause of death among infants. 

Babies born too early are babies born sick. They are at risk for everything from developmental delays to blindness to lifelong respiratory problems. A premature baby is not simply a tiny baby - a premature baby is a very sick baby, and the earlier they are born, the sicker they are. However, World Prematurity Day poses something of a problem for me. It's one thing to raise awareness for breast or testicular cancer (those can be detected through regular self-exams). It's another thing to raise awareness for a condition that frequently arises spontaneously and for no apparent reason.

So I'd like to focus on the things you can do to help prevent pre-term births. This is important information for any woman who is or may become pregnant, and also important for her partner to know. It's easy to tell yourself you're over-reacting when you're all hormonal, but sometimes a partner's urging to "let's just call the doctor to be safe" can save a pregnancy.

Risk Factors
- Carrying multiples
- Conceiving through IVF
- Mother's age - teens and women over 35 are more likely to have pre-term labor
- Smoking, drinking, or drug use during pregnancy
- Poor nutrition
Pre-eclampsia
HELLP syndrome
- Problems with the uterus (PPROM or rupture), cervix ("incompetent" cervix, a judgemental phrase if ever there was one) or placenta (placenta previa or abruption)
- Unknown origin of pre-term labor

Some of these things are preventable, with the exception of the last four items. These are the scary sections at the back of the baby books that you might not get to or might want to avoid. Don't bury your head in the sand - take the time to ask your doctor or read up on the symptoms. One of the other mothers I met in the NICU was in labor for most of a day, but didn't recognize it - pre-term labor is NOT like term labor. She felt nauseous and generally unwell, and had some back pain. That's a far cry from having your water break and screaming through contractions - but she was so far along that her baby was born less than 45 minutes after they arrived at the hospital. If she had known the symptoms and gone earlier, it's entirely possible that the doctors could have stopped her labor.

In my case, I had a placental abruption, where the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus, depriving the fetus of oxygen and nutrients. I had a sudden, intense pain and immediate bleeding. We were at the hospital within half an hour and the staff was able to stop me from going into labor, buying my daughter a precious week of gestation (in our case, the abruption was not complete, so with hospital bedrest and a lot of drugs, she was safe inside for a while. When the rest of the placenta detached, she went into distress and we had an immediate emergency c-section.). I firmly believe that if she had been born the day of the abruption, she would not have survived.

Unfortunately, it's also possible that we could have bought her even more time. I had been having contractions for two weeks but I didn't know that's what they were until I was on a contraction monitor in the hospital. Contractions are really hard to describe if you've never felt them, and I tried to ask the nurse practitioner about a feeling I had been having, as if the baby was spinning inside of me and therefore rolling across my entire abdomen, at one of my pre-natal appointments, but her response was "oh, you'll KNOW if you're having one". While I try not to dwell on "might have been", I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we knew there was something wrong weeks before the abruption. I will always wish I had described what I was feeling instead of asking what a contraction felt like.

I don't want to scare pregnant women. Most pregnancies are fine, and most babies are delivered at term (or later!) without complications. But these things have to happen to SOMEONE, so it makes sense to talk to your doctor about your risk factors and learn the symptoms of pre-term labor or an emergent complication backwards and forwards. Below are some infographics about prematurity, if you're so inclined to learn more.

And a quick update on our own little miracle - she is doing very well health-wise. Her lungs are clear and she survived her first ear infection/fever/cold with only one quick trip to the emergency room (ha!). She still does not eat by mouth, and is eight months delayed in gross motor skills - she sits up but doesn't scoot, creep, or crawl. She is ridiculously adorable and cheerful and smart - the reason she is so far behind in moving is that she knows she might fall and has decided that there is nothing on earth she wants bad enough to risk a bump to the head. She's got eight sharp little teeth and a headful of soft hair, and she sleeps through the night all night long. Despite her feeding tube and developmental delays, we are insanely lucky with how well she's doing - a quick look at statistics below will show you just how lucky we are.


Learn how to recognize the signs of preterm labor, care of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns. #labor #pretermlabor #sharpmarybirch


The odds are: Statistics behind premature births and neonatology

Neonatology: Caring for premature babies in the NICU

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Future of Health Insurance

My husband works for a small company - less than 15 employees - so we sometimes get unusual insight into business decisions. Here's one that affects us in a big way: his boss is thinking about terminating the health insurance coverage that he offers to his employees, with a commensurate raise in take-home pay so that they can all buy a comparable plan on their own.

It's not really a financial decision on his part, just something that he doesn't want to deal with for all of his employees. (He outsources payroll but that's about it - everything else is something that he manages which takes time away from his actual job of bringing in clients and whatnot.) He floated the idea by Peanut, since he knows that we are interested in both money and health insurance, and we used 99% of all health services used by all the employees in the last year.

At first I kind of panicked about this, but I did a little bit of research and I think it would be a great idea. First, it would mean that our health insurance is no longer tied to Peanut's job, which would make things much less stressful in the even that he were to leave - changing policies would be totally up to us, and not to business decisions. Second, it would give us more power with the health insurance company - if WE are the customer, we have the ability to walk if we don't like what we're offered. Third, I think it's the wave of the future, so we might as well get on board with it now, and help it gain critical mass.

I did my research on our state health insurance exchange, MNsure.com*. I know there have been a lot of problems with the insurance exchanges at the state level (and definitely at the federal level) but that wasn't true of Minnesota - the site worked great. There are some bugs to be worked out in terms of the information that's offered but it was clear where things were still "coming soon". I was able to find a comparable plan with the same insurance company that would cost us around $600 per month, which seems reasonable (and is slightly cheaper than what the boss pays for us right now, actually).

The plans were so cheap because I was looking only at what's comparable to what we have right now, which is a high-deductible, low(ish) max out-of-pocket plan. If I was looking for something where I never had to pay a doctor's office bill, our monthly fees would be much, much higher. I like high deductible plans for a number of reasons - one, fees that go towards premiums are not deductible on your taxes, but fees that go towards deductibles are. Two, right now Baby M receives state aid based on her health status that covers anything that would hit our deductible, so any expenses of hers will not actually come out of our pocket until sometime next year. And three, I would MUCH rather pay a known high deductible of $6,000 and then have insurance cover 100% of everything else than to be responsible for only a $500 deductible but then 20% of Baby M's $1,200,000 hospital bill.

If it seems like Peanut's employer is definitely going to cancel the health insurance, then I'll have to investigate other plans - it might be worth it to pay $1,800 a month if we only ever have to pay a $20 co-pay for example. Ultimately I'm looking for the best coverage at the lowest combination of annual premiums plus max out-of-pocket.

Have you noticed any changes in your health insurance situation in the last few months?


* This post is NOT sponsored by MNsure or anyone else.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How does wealth make you behave?

This surprising study indicates that the richer you are, the more likely you are to steal at work, lie in negotiations, break traffic laws, and even take candy from children.

Take a look at the video below:

This is pretty interesting stuff! It does seem like the inequality gap is growing in America, especially according to this crazy video. If these things are true, where on earth is our society headed?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Something I can't believe I pay for

I think everyone has those things that they are kind of embarrassed to admit they pay for. Here's mine:

I pay someone to trim my cat's nails.

I can't believe I do this. It seems like such a basic thing to do myself, but I can't. I had a traumatic experience trimming a cat's nails too short a long time ago, and I happened to adopt the world's most skittish cat, who freaks out if you walk into a room - forget trying to grab his paw. He also happens to be pretty kneady (ha ha!) and the scratching post does not handle keeping his talons to a reasonable non-pointy level, so I take him in every other month or so and have the vet or groomer give him a good clipping. (Ironically, he is incredibly well-behaved and compliant for them, and they finish all four paws by the time I'm done paying for the service. I'm sure they do not believe me when I tell them why I can't do it.)
It costs me $10-12 each time, say $60 over the course of a year. Not a boatload of money, no, but that would be a nice dinner out for Peanut and I if I can ever get over myself and do this at home.
What do you spend money on that you can't believe you pay for?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: I love this post from ParentHacks, about inexpensive things that make life easier. I second the suggestion for easily matchable flatware - I only wish I'd done the same for glasses. That way when you need just a few extra forks or spoons or drinking glasses, you don't have to buy a whole set. 

Thing the Second: I'm a big fan of science fiction and fantasy. I've read all the Hugo and Nebula award winners in chronological order up through the early 2000s, but here's another great way to look at that list - favorites as ranked by fans and genre blogs. My favorites: Ender's Game, almost anything by Heinlein, and The Hitchhiker's Guide series.

Thing the Third: As usual, Trent's got some great advice. The way to think about the best value of something is more than just its price. Put your dollars behind your values, and be willing to spend a bit more for things that are worth it to you. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Recent frugal wins

Here are some frugal things I've been up to recently:

* Shopping at Aldi more. I go there about every other week to stock up on things that I can't get as cheaply at my grocery store.

* Pairing coupons and sales more effectively at my regular grocery store. This week, I got $98 worth of stuff for $56 (42% cheaper!!!). I think that's my best yet! Unfortunately, I also learned that I need to bring my entire coupon holder with me, because there were a few unadvertised sales that I had coupons for, and I could have paid at least $5 less and gotten more stuff.

* Saying no. I hosted a themed party and really wanted an accessory to wear to go with the theme. I managed to talk myself out of it every time I went shopping, and saved $6.

* Getting free stuff! I passed a beautiful dollhouse and doll stroller in someone's front yard last weekend. They kind of looked like they were free for the taking, but there was no sign and I didn't want to assume. When they were still there several hours later, I rang the bell and asked after them. And came home with them! Baby M will love these things when she's older, and they're exactly the sort of thing I'd be keeping an eye out for at garage sales or consignment. But free is even better than cheap! (Plus I saved some perfectly useful stuff from being sent to the landfill.)

* Repairing our basement after the flood. Peanut and I have hung all the drywall and started prepping the walls for painting. It's a lot of work, but so far all our expenses have been covered by insurance and I think we will come out ahead if we can do all the work ourselves.

* Keeping an eye on my investments. I rolled my old 401(k) from work into an IRA, and while doing so I checked out the fees that all of my retirement accounts are charging. One of them was twice the other, so I made some changes to keep more of my own money in my old age.

What frugal wins have you had lately?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Getting ready for winter

Winter in Minnesota comes early, stays late, and drinks all the booze in your house. The nights here are already quite crisp, and Peanut and I had a lot of work to do in the yard before the snow starts, so we took a whack at things last weekend.

We have a beautifully landscaped backyard, which we had nothing to do with. After living in our house for two summers, we had a pretty good idea what plants we liked and which we didn't, and we knew we wanted to add a more effective area for growing our own food - currently we've been planting zucchini and tomatoes and green peppers sort of wherever we saw a space. I got $120 for a focus group a few weeks ago, and we decided to try to do all our garden prep for that amount of money.

To start, we ripped out the bushes at the front of our house - they were big and ugly and required a lot of pruning and really added no character at all. Once they were gone, we moved six autumn sedum joy plants from the backyard to the front - much nicer looking! In the spring, you'll be able to see our windowboxes for the first time. As a bonus, we got to save some plants that I liked but were in the way in the backyard, and didn't have to buy new plants for the front.

We ripped up a bunch of stuff from the back as well - things that were taking over from where they'd originally been planted, or that attract lots of flies. There's a strip of garden along the path to the garage that we are going to clear out entirely. Then we'll build a raised bed and do a lasagna garden like Frugal by Choice describes, and leave it all winter. Hopefully in the spring, we won't really need to do any prep to the soil, but it will be ready to plant with all sorts of delicious stuff. The soil we have in the backyard is pretty sandy and full of clay, so if this works it will save us a lot on buying good growing dirt.

Aside from that, we just need to clear out the old ornamental grasses and dead lilies and that sort of thing. We'll probably only need to mow once or twice more, and then our yard can be shut up for winter.

Are you doing any outdoor winterizing?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm disgusted

I have been only sort of half-heartedly following the news about the government shut-down, partly because listening to the news too much makes me really stressed out and partly because I'm so disgusted with Congress for doing this. I mean, on the one hand, using the tools available (such as allowing the government to shut down rather than pass a spending bill) is an important thing to be able to do. BUT taking a day off before the shut-down rather than working on coming to an agreement, and accepting paychecks while refusing to work are really nasty. It makes me want to learn more about who's doing this, so I can vote them out of office next time around.

I don't get into party politics too much around here, and I won't this time, either. But this government shut-down might have a pretty devastating financial impact on my family, and I want to talk about it. I've seen a lot of comments on Facebook and elsewhere about how families receiving assistance such as WIC should "suck it up" and "get a job" and that sort of thing. (WIC is affected by the government shut-down, although the impact varies by state.) WIC is saving my family from nearly $700 per month in specialized formula costs. Despite being exclusively tube-fed, Baby M doesn't have the exact right diagnosis to have our insurance cover her formula, which is the most specialized, expensive type available. This isn't something that there are coupons for, or even something I can pick up at Target. It has to be purchased at a pharmacy or home health products company. We are extremely fortunate that Baby M's birth weight qualifies her for state aid as a secondary insurance, and as part of that WIC covers her formula expenses.

We're very lucky in so many ways and I realize that. Peanut has a good, stable job and I am able to stay home. We have excellent health care coverage. But we could not afford Baby M's formula out of pocket without spending down our savings, and it would be medically detrimental - possibly dangerous - to switch her to a more standard formula right now (though we have a plan for doing that over the next six months, if she handles it). WIC is a crucial part of our health care team, and the government is playing with that coverage with no thought as to what effect it might have on voters.

And we are the lucky ones. There are people who depend on WIC to feed their families regular food, not just special infant formula. These kinds of services are critical to the people who put Congress in office, and shame on our government for not spending money they have already approved on aid that people need. There are other ways to fight Obamacare or to make a point to the president or to get paid to not work. Shame, shame, shame.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hung out to dry

Our dryer is not working right.

It has one of those settings where you can set it for "more dry/normal dry/less dry" and it either buzzes or turns the heat off once a sensor picks up that the clothes are dry. Only....the sensor doesn't work anymore, and neither does the timer. When it reaches the end of that cycle, it automatically kicks over to the timed dry, which runs for an additional hour. And THAT kicks over into air dry, which runs an additional 40 minutes. In all, it's a very long time for a dryer to be running - it's a waste of energy, a waste of money, and it's a fire hazard.

I'm debating how to handle this situation.

One, we could turn the buzzer on, and just run down and turn it off (which entails leaving the door open to make sure it doesn't restart itself) whenever it buzzes. The problem with that is that it's LOUD, and it doesn't stop buzzing like it used to - it just goes and goes and goes until you get there, or it kicks itself over to the next cycle. The volume is enough to wake Baby M up from her nap, which, you know, is usually when I have a moment to do laundry. So, that sucks.

The second option, which I've been doing lately, is to set it to about the 25-minute mark on the timed dry, which then kicks into air dry, giving the clothes just over an hour to tumble, mostly without heat. It works pretty well, but, you know, the dryer's still broken.

Option three is to find someone to repair it. $$$

Option four is to replace it. $$$$$ and not necessary - I think it's still got plenty of life in it.

Option five is to try to repair it myself. The Frugal Girl did this with her dryer (different problem) which is inspiring. I'm nervous because we're pretty sure what's wrong with it (the dryer timer motor is bad, and needs to be replaced) and the part is about $100. What if it doesn't work and we have to go with option three or four anyway? What if I mess it up worse than it already is? What if, what if, what if? (I guess we could always line dry, but it is coming up on winter here in Minnesota....)

Have you ever fixed an appliance and lived to tell the tale? What should we do?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hand me that....whatever that thing is called

So, back in June, our basement flooded, and we had to rip out the drywall and carpet. Luckily, insurance covered the damage, but we haven't got around to getting it fixed until recently. And because it's a relatively small space, and it's in the basement, we decided to do the work ourselves.

Yup. We are becoming DIY home owners. Fun!

Peanut and I have hung most of the drywall already, and we did so without throwing tools at each other or anything. Next up is mudding and taping, and sanding, and more mudding and more sanding and apparently that goes on for like eight years and then we get to paint. And then we get to do the carpet. (We might have that professionally installed, though, since there's a flight of stairs involved.)

We're saving some money by doing it ourselves. Not a ton, probably, because it's a fairly small space and we happen to know a number of people in some part of the remodeling industry, and we've had to buy or borrow a lot of equipment that we didn't already own. I think it's enough to make it worth the effort, though, especially because we're finding the process rather fun. We're nerds, and we like learning - and there's a lot of learning that goes into home repair. YouTube videos - how did anyone ever get anything done before they existed?

Anyway, my hope is that by the time we're all done with the work and the final reimbursement (we were paid out for the damage, but if we return it to previous condition we get an additional payment), we'll have broke even with our deductible, or even come out ahead financially. I don't think it's a stretch, especially if I can get a really good deal on the carpet installation. I just won't ever figure out our hourly wage for the work, because I'm sure it would make me want to throw a hammer--right through our new drywall.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

*Yawn*

It's hard to believe, but Baby M is one year old! How'd that happen?! It seems like just yesterday I was surprised to announce her birth, and here I am reporting on her first birthday party.

We've survived 134 days in the hospital, three subsequent re-admissions, surgery, the witching hour, sleep regressions, projectile pooping, projectile puking, smiling, laughing, babbling, learning to sit up and waving bye-bye. We're working on eating food and drinking from cups and learning to crawl or scoot. We're running on next to no sleep (I remember fondly the last time I got more than two consecutive hours of sleep...I think about it every day. Every hour, maybe.) and we're having a ball. Parenthood is equal parts fun and not sleeping, in my experience.

The not sleeping isn't conducive to thinking or writing coherently about personal finance, or anything else, really. But besides that, once I left the workforce, money started to really play less of a role in my life. I don't make much, and I don't spend much. I focus on saving on the things that we need to buy and making do without the things we don't, and there's not so much to be said about those things. Or maybe there is, and I'm just too tired to find the words.

I've missed writing goal posts for months, because making goals is kind of futile when there's a tiny tyrant governing your life. I've been trying to make one (1! ONE!) phone call for about three weeks now, and I just can't get it done between her nap times and their hold times. So that makes the goals I used to set pretty useless as a benchmark, and it's no fun to feel like a failure when I know I've accomplished a lot of patty-cake, little bunny foo foo, and walks to the playground.

But. BUT. We've passed the one-year mark. We've beat the odds in so many ways, and I am determined to do the same in order to get some of my old life - like blogging - back. If I could just figure out how to get more sleep.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: There are some great ideas for reusing things around the house (don't forget the comments!) in this Reader Tip Tuesday post from The Simple Dollar.
Thing the Second: The Non-Consumer Advocate talks about the sweat equity of the frugal lifestyle. It's true, and it feels much better than not working for it!
Thing the Third: I love Katie's idea - always have two reasons for not spending money.

Friday, August 30, 2013

When saving money...doesn't

I made a mistake while trying to save money the other day that ended up costing me more than if I'd just not tried in the first place.

I bought a bag of coffee from the grocery store. I had several coupons for different brands, and it was double coupon day. I finally figured out the best deal was on a bag of Starbucks coffee but I got so carried away with the math that I forgot to grind the beans before I left the store. I saved $2, just a bit below what it would have cost me to buy a bag of the kind of coffee I usually buy, which is already ground.

I realized it a few days later, but wasn't planning to go back to the grocery store for a while. I was planning to go to Target, which has a Starbucks inside it, so I took the bag with me. I waited in a long line and briefly explained the situation and the barista nicely agreed to grind it up for me. I felt bad, though, because she was the only one working and there were six people ahead of me and a long line forming behind me as well, so I bought a bottle of Tazo tea for $2.

So, my big coffee money-saving plan was basically a total wash. Except this morning I had a cup of the coffee and, guess what, I just don't like it as much as Seattle's Best. If I could go back in time, I'd just as soon buy a bag of that without a coupon and then I wouldn't have had to deal with any of this nonsense in the first place.

I know this isn't the only time I've done something like this. Have you ever accidentally spent more, or at least broke even, just by trying to save money?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Three from the Simple Dollar

Thing the First:
The best way to save a bunch of money: move. Word! Our money goes a lot further in the midwest than it did in NYC.
Thing the Second: Frugality is not the point - frugality is a means to accomplish your goals.

Thing the Third: The Salad Dressing Principle. Peanut makes his own dressing for all salads (oil, either red wine or balsamic vinegar and some herbs) but I stick stubbornly to my beloved ranch. I hereby promise to take a whack at making my own!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: The surprising true costs of 9 common expenses. The ones that stuck with me the most were smartphones and your job. When I was working outside the home, I had a hard time tallying up any expenses that my job was costing me - but now that I'm eating all my meals at home and not driving most days, it's pretty obvious!
Thing the Second: Yessssss. "The fact is, men can’t have it all, for the same reason women can’t: whether or not the load is being shared 50-50 doesn’t matter if the load is still unbearable. It will not become bearable once women lean in, or once the consciousness is raised, or once men are full partners, always, in domestic life. It will become bearable when decidedly more quotidian things become commonplace—like paid parental leave and affordable, quality day care." This excellent piece in The Atlantic discusses why leaning in won't solve all our problems.
Thing the Third: I'm loving the series about makingunder your finances from Fiscally Chic. What a great way to describe how I feel about paying off our student loans - we have cleared the clutter!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Enslaved

"There are two ways to conquer and enslave a country. One is by the sword. The other is by debt."

I saw this quote, attributed to John Adams, on a billboard alongside the highway a few weeks ago. As I was driving, I was listening to Marketplace Money from American Public Media, this episode about credit and debt. Peanut and I had just paid off his student loans a few days before, and were waiting for the transfer to complete so we could see a zero balance where before there had been a big number. 

So it's no surprise, really, that that quote stuck with me for such a long time. We can be enslaved by so many things - literally, by other people, but also by relationships, by jobs, by ways of living, by the things we own, by the things we tell ourselves. I would guess that debt is the most common enslaver in our modern society. Most people I know have some sort of debt, and I know that some of them are staggering under its burden. 

I don't believe there's some great conspiracy out there where the government or the market or The Man is keeping us all down with debt. But the effect is the same, isn't it? People who are dependent on their jobs to pay their student loans and credit card bills don't have much choice when their boss tells them they need to stay late. They work such long hours that they don't have time to cook from scratch, depending on less-than-ideal prepared foods or fast food, which can cause health problems resulting in medical costs, which mean you have to keep your job so you have health insurance but then you're working long hours and in order to unwind you spend money on entertainment - going to the movies or watching tv, where you see ads that show you all the things you want to buy, but in order to buy them you have to keep working and you're working so much that you have to spend all your money on convenience...it's a vicious cycle that we've gotten ourselves into. 

There's been a lot of research into happiness in the last few decades, and I remember when they discovered that $75,000 per average family (or, more accurately, about $20,000 per person) is the happiest income. Beyond that, additional income does not increase happiness in any measurable way, and well beyond that, it measurably decreases happiness. But we are inundated with messages telling us that we need "more", "better", "new". And if we can't afford it, we can get it on credit and pay it back later. Without even realizing it, we just volunteered to be slaves. David at Raptitude put this in really great perspective a few years ago - Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

Stepping off the treadmill of work and career advancement has got me thinking about these things in a different light. I really liked my job - I had a very cool career and I got to do some really neat things. But I am happier and more fulfilled in a way that I would not have expected. I don't feel an urge to go shopping and acquire things. It's easy to talk myself out of spending money on non-essentials. I have more fun enjoying free things like going to the park or sitting on the floor making faces at the baby than I ever did going out for happy hour with coworkers. My life has slowed down. I check my email less frequently, and talk to people a lot more. I don't see or hear much advertising, so I don't really know what's "hot" and I don't feel an urge to go buy it. I feel a lot freer, and since we paid off our last non-mortgage debt, freer still. I feel more creative, and have been doing a lot of baking and more cooking. I have been reading books that open my mind and make me think instead of books that just entertain me. Sure, we have less money, but it turns out, we don't miss it as much as I thought we would.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I'm done "engaging with brands"

I'm giving up on product testing sites. I've been a member of some of them for years and years, but I think I'm done.
Part of it is that they've gotten so popular that the products aren't very good - instead of being given a product to sample, I'll be given coupons for that product to give out. Or I'll be sent a cheap marketing trinket with a single-use sample instead of enough of the product to really give it a try. And the social media they ask you to do now! I try to keep my social media personal, not tweet after tweet about products with eight hashtags in each one. I just can't be that chipper.
I'm also done with the paying-you-pennies for your time things like Gigwalk and JingIt. I gave up mystery shopping for a similar reason - my time has a value, and if I'm not getting paid enough for it then I'd rather use it for leisure than trying to monetize every moment of my waking life. I set a dollar value on focus groups a long time ago, and while I've done fewer since then, I've been better compensated.
I was getting irritated with all of these "opportunities", but then I stumbled upon this blog post at Serious Pony and I got serious. At no point in my life, and at no point in the future, am I ever going to think "If only I'd spent more time engaging with brands."

And so, goodbye guerrilla marketing. Goodbye, sites that take a year to earn enough to send me the minimum payment of $10. So long, Facebook pages of brands that I "liked" in order to get a coupon. Syonara to all the advertising disguised as "useful content" that I can "engage" with. My mental resources and my time are not for sale.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The big news reveal

Okay, frugal fans - I hinted at some big news last week, and I finally got confirmation to announce it.

Peanut and I have paid off all our student loans. 

This is CRAZY. This is INSANE. We are now debt-free except for the mortgage. 

We paid a very large lump sum from our savings account, leaving just a small emergency fund. It's enough to handle a couple months of unemployment, or replacement/major repairs for one of our vehicles, or all of our insurance deductibles (but not all of those things at once). It's big enough that I am not panicking, but small enough that I'm going to be watching our spending until we get it built back up again. (Technically, it wiped out all of our sinking funds for car repair and tax payments and deductibles and all that, so we'll build those back up too so we don't have to hit up the emergency fund for everything.)

You might remember I paid off my loans last fall. If we had kept up with only the minimum payments on Peanut's last loan, it would have taken us a little over 11 years to pay it off. We saved almost $4,500 in interest by taking the plunge now.

Overall, in the last seven years we have paid back more than $101,000 on what was originally $71,684 of student loans. (It is outrageous that it took only seven years to increase by 30%!!!) The highest interest rate was 8%, the lowest was 5.01%. I can't even imagine how much we would have paid in interest if we had only done minimum payments over the lives of the loans. Many times the original amounts, that's for sure.

Our reasons for paying off our loans now, when we are down to a single income, are many and varied, and I plan to do more in-depth posts on those reasons soon. But the biggest reason was freedom - it's one less bill to keep up with, one less burden hanging over our heads, one less obligation that could keep us tied to a situation we don't want to be in. In the end, I couldn't justify the pitiful amount we were earning on our savings compared to the amount we were paying in interest, and it made more sense for us to drop to a smaller emergency fund for a little while in order to be able to keep more of our money in the long term.

It's a crazy feeling, guys. Crazy. Wahooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: Oh, man, if you are into sewing AT ALL you need to check out ReFashionista. I can't even tell you how inspired I am. I have already refashioned a couple of things - nothing as interesting as what she does, but I took the turtleneck off a shirt and turned it into a headband. I haven't decided what to do with the shirt yet. I also combined a cardigan with worn elbows and some knee high socks with worn heels into a neat punky little number.

Thing the Second: This article at A Practical Wedding really struck a chord with me. Staying home with Baby M was a no-brainer once we realized the extent of her medical fragility and I realize how very lucky we are that we can afford to protect her this way. Still, it's a choice I am at times uneasy with - depending on Peanut for money, not using my master's degree, leaving a job I liked for an uncertain future. I decided to try embracing caring for our family as my job, and not look at laundry, dishes, or cooking as chores but as aspects of my profession, skills I should become better at and things to reclaim from outsourcing of any kind, and it has helped my attitude a lot. I'm going to read Radical Homemakers - has anyone else read it?

Thing the Third: This looks like an interesting movie: Made in the USA: A 30-Day Journey. The filmmaker spent a month trying to buy only products made in his home country, and discovered that in some cases, it's almost impossible. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Random quick updates

* Our car got broken into last night, in front of our house. We don't keep anything of value in there, so at most we're missing some money for parking meters, but it's still irritating and feels invasive. It's also a reminder that apparently the "lock" button on my keyfob is no longer working.

* We are breezing right through summer after feeding tube surgery. It's impossible to explain how wonderful life is without having to worry about Baby M eating enough to gain weight.

* I've been thinking a lot about where I want my life to go. Experiencing the things we've experienced (traumatic/dangerous birth, long NICU stay, special needs child) in the last year has me really questioning what I want to be when I grow up - and it turns out I might be watering some seeds that were planted a very long time ago.

* Peanut and I made a MAJOR financial decision last night, and we will see the impact in a few days. I will share more when that happens! What do you think it might be?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What to do if your basement floods: Part III

Part I: What to do before your basement floods can be found here and Part II: What to do as your basement floods can be found here

Once the storm is over and hopefully your power is back on, here are some things you can do. 

1. As soon as possible, begin to dry things out. The restoration crew that cleaned up our basement said carpet is salvageable if it gets dried out within 72 hours (the carpet pad is a lost cause but carpet can be dried). We didn't even get power back that quickly, so ours was a goner. At any rate, removing excess water and setting up fans will go a long way towards preventing mold. 

2. If you think the damage is enough to make it worth filing a claim, notify your insurance company and follow their instructions. Our insurance company was fantastic to work with from start to finish. They did say that it was our responsibility to try to mitigate the damage as much as possible, so I made sure to ask specifically what steps those might be and we took them as soon as possible. Document all phone calls with date, time, names, and details of conversations. Keep all receipts.

3. Take pictures. The insurance adjustor will probably take some, but you should have your own. Keep a sample of the carpet as well for proof of value if you have to rip it out. 

4. Wash your hands a lot and don't track the water from the basement through the rest of your house. This is especially critical if you're not sure what's floating around in the water....

5. Take care to prevent mold. The restoration company that cleared things out sprayed some antimicrobial spray which I was very happy about. We kept fans going down there for several days to get things nice and dry, and in a few weeks we'll get around to replacing the drywall and carpet.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

What to do if your basement floods: Part II

Part I: What to do before your basement floods can be found here

Hopefully, you will be home when your basement begins to flood, and you will know that you are at risk, so when the power goes out at the beginning of a crazy storm, you will wander downstairs to check on things. In case that's true for you:

As your basement floods:
1. Move belongings onto higher ground. Peanut was able to save pretty much all of our stuff in the basement by getting everything off the ground just as the water started coming in. Our total loss included a half-full box of pine cat litter and the cardboard part of a flat of bottled water. Yay, Peanut!

2. Lift furniture and appliances using wood blocks or something. We used paint cans, because that's what we had on hand (we have wood in the garage, but we couldn't figure out how to open the garage door without power. We have since remedied that problem as well.). Once again, Peanut managed to save two couches, a deep freeze, a cabinet, and a table by his quick reaction. 

3. Turn off the electricity. Our fuse box is in the basement and we also have electrical outlets. Peanut was concerned about the water rising above the outlets, so before the water covered the whole floor, he flipped all the fuses off. This was no big deal, since the power was out already.

4. Bail water if possible. Our neighbor has no sump pump and simply bails anytime he needs to. Our basement was a lost cause for bailing, but Peanut used a snow shovel and later a squeegee to push the standing water into the floor drain and sump pit, which earned us points with our insurance company for doing everything we could to mitigate the damage.

5. Chill out. If it's going to be flooded, it's going to be flooded. It makes no sense to get bent out of shape on top of it.

Part III: What to do right after your basement floods coming up!

Friday, July 12, 2013

What to do if your basement floods: Part I

Technically, a flood is when a body of water (river, lake, etc) enters your dwelling, as opposed to when your sump pump fails and your basement takes on a few inches of water that would otherwise have been pumped right out. This is an important distinction, because most insurance companies do not offer what would technically be flood insurance - the kind you probably would have needed to be covered by Katrina or Sandy, for example. That is available from the federal government, and you can find out more about it here

What I'm doing here is a multi-part series on handling a flooded basement courtesy of water entering your dwelling through a sump, sump pump, floor drain, or (heaven help you) sewer pipe. This type of thing is generally not covered by insurance unless you purchase a rider specifically for this reason. If you have a basement, don't assume you're covered. 

Here are some steps to take before your basement floods:
1. Find out if your basement is likely to flood. When you buy the home, the inspector should point out things like previous water damage or whether your backyard is graded towards the house or away from it. We knew that our basement was likely to flood, and in fact has flooded in the past, frequently enough that a sump pump system was added well after the house was built. If you're on top of a hill with your land grading away from the house and the house has been standing for 60 years with no recorded water in the basement, well, you are probably safe. 

2. Check your homeowner's insurance policy to see if it covers water damage from sump pump failure. Our main policy did not cover this, but we purchased a rider for $82 per year that does cover it. Money well spent!

3. Check to see if you have a sump pump and a battery back up for it. Don't assume that a hole in the floor under the washer or dryer has an actual pump in it. Take a look at it! Make sure it works, consider a battery back up and/or an alarm system for it. We are investigating a battery back up for ours. 

4. Consider the way you use your basement. Our basement was half-finished with carpet and drywall and furniture and stuff. One thing that we'll be doing from now on is making better choices about how we use the storage spaces - cardboard boxes or anything that could be damaged by water will go on higher shelves, and water-proof stuff will go on the floor. This will save us some work if the basement floods again. We'll also keep things nearby so that we can get the furniture up off the ground in a hurry again. 

5. Take pictures. It's important to be able to show your insurance company the condition of your basement before any damage occurs. 

Part II: What to do as your basement floods coming up!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Frugal things I've done lately

I'm getting back into the groove!

* Made my own detergent for cloth diapers
* Saved vegetable scraps to make vegetable broth
* Baked cookies from scratch
* Printed off a coupon for a free sandwich from a local sandwich shop (my printer is from Freecycle, and I bought the ink using gift cards from Swagbucks!)
* Trading baby clothes with a family member who's having a yard sale - she'll get more stuff to sell, and I'll get more stuff to use
* Going to buy a stroller from Craigslist today - brand new it costs over $100, I'm paying $15.

What small frugal actions have you taken lately?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's only money

"It's only money" is a phrase that's been said a lot around my house lately.

It was already an expensive month--our lawn mower broke, and the small engine repair shop quoted us a price that was more than buying a new one. So we got an electric one, and then we had to get an extension cord to go with that. My therapist's billing office finally figured out that I do have a copay, so I owed it for all five previous visits at once. With the warm weather (finally!) came increased power bills for air conditioning.

And then the end of the month came. In 10 days, I had eight family members visit in three separate groups, lost power for three days, got two inches of water in the basement, threw out the entire contents of our fridge and freezer, spent a few nights at my in-laws, filled up the car with gas twice as frequently as usual, watched as our lovely finished basement had the carpet and drywall ripped out, ate out more meals than I care to think about, and spent three days in the hospital as my daughter underwent surgery. Also, our retirement accounts lost $2,500 across all of them.

I am really glad June is over.

I hate getting to the point where I start saying, "It's only money". It means I've given up on being frugal, at least for right now. I was dealing with so much that I just couldn't bear to pinch pennies as well, and it turned into "oh, sure, let's go out for dinner, and we might as well order dessert while we're there." It means a giant mess to clean up when things start getting back to normal, as we try to find receipts and reconstruct our spending to get our spreadsheet up to date. It's just...stress that I could have controlled on top of stress that I couldn't control.

Anyway, the damage is done. And I guess in the end, it is only money. The important thing is that we weren't harmed in the bad storms that knocked out our power, and Baby M made it through her surgery with flying colors. Our basement needs some work but Peanut managed to save all of our furniture and belongings from down there, along with the deep freezer full of breast milk, which he cooled by running it off of a car battery every few hours. Baby M now has a permanent feeding tube which means she can get strong and gain weight without traumatic feeding experiences. We have family close to home and from far away who pitched in to help us when we needed it.

I've been feeling bummed about our financial situation lately. It just seems like so much month and so little money, and I can't go back to work like I'd planned, not for several years. I liked my job and I liked having two incomes, and now not only are our plans for paying off student loans and the mortgage ahead of schedule way, way out of our reach, but a month like this one takes a nasty chunk out of our savings - something we can't work on building back up for a long time. This whole being-an-adult thing, man. It's not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: With all the news about the government mining personal data, here's an interesting take: The Government Should Be Paying You for Your Data. This is effectively what corporations do through loyalty programs and coupons, and there are some really good points here. Data is a commodity that has a very high value. Assuming that the government does not have a constitutional right to collect this information (which I, personally, do not think they have), would you be willing to hand it over if you were compensated for it?

Thing the Second: I am on a sweet potato and cauliflower kick. My latest favorite: aloo gobi with sweet potatoes. I love this recipe.

Thing the Third: Our composter has been full for some time - it probably wasn't put in the best place in our backyard to get warm enough to break down the stuff inside. So we're at a loss for what to do with vegetable peelings - until now! Yup, I'm going to try to make my own broth.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Expensive week

Our power's been out for three days, and we've lost all our perishable food. 

I had family visiting last weekend and this week (two different groups) who therefore couldn't stay with us and had to stay in hotels. All our meals are from restaurants lately. 

Due to the power outage, our sump pump failed, and we got several inches of water in the basement. We were able to save our belongings, but the carpet, drywall, etc. is a total loss. We have insurance for sump pump failure, with a $1,000 deductible. 

Baby M is having surgery on Wednesday. She'll be there for anywhere from a few days to a week, so this really could not have come at a more inconvenient time. 

How are you guys doing?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: Here are ten great cooking shortcuts - I love the idea of making rice and quinoa ahead of time!

Thing the Second: 30 Foods You'll Never Have to Buy Again - because you can make them! Homemade Nutella? Yes, please!

Thing the Third: Here's a list of five happy things. One of them is almost certain to make your day better, even if it's already awesome.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Odds and Ends

Baby M Update: She has been home from the hospital for four months now, almost as long as she was in the hospital. That will be a great milestone! Unfortunately, she was recently diagnosed with failure to thrive, because her weight gain is still so slow that it's putting her at risk for a number of different problems (fragile bones, developmental delays, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and other things). So last week we were readmitted to the hospital for a few days to have a temporary feeding tube placed. I'm hoping that a few weeks with a feeding tube will get us to a place where she can take over on her own, but if not, we will be readmitted again for surgery for a more permanent tube. (It's not really permanent-permanent, but would be in place for a couple of years, as opposed to one that goes through her nose to her intestines that will be in place for a few weeks.)

The feeding issues are by far the hardest part of parenting that I've encountered, so I'm hoping that having an alternative way of getting nutrition in her will make our days more enjoyable. And if the pressure's off, we can make mealtimes less stressful and hopefully she will no longer fight the bottle.

Other odds and ends:
* We have finally signed up for a health savings account through Peanut's work. While all of Baby M's healthcare costs have been covered by insurance, dental work and 20% of medical costs for Peanut and me are out of pocket. I'll submit the first claim this week.

* I have been getting better at this whole stay-at-home-mom thing, at least in regards to keeping up with laundry and getting dinner on the table when Peanut gets home from work. Sometimes I look at my days and wonder what on earth I did all day, but Baby M is getting more content to watch me do some work instead of needing to be held all the time.

* We haven't made pizza in a long time, but I love The Frugal Girl's breakdown of how much it costs to make compared to frozen or takeout pizza. I made egg rolls this week, and meant to do a cost analysis to see how cost effective they were. Unfortunately, they didn't taste that good and were a huge amount of work, so I'm not sure that I would do them again regardless of how much savings they were. But pizza is worth it!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: This recent Atlantic article about ambition and relationships does a great job of summing up one of the reasons I am happier on Minnesota than I was in New York City. (another h/t to Molly of Smart Pretty and Awkward - you should really sign up for her newsletter!)

Thing the Second: Last fall, we were busy dealing with a very sick baby so we did nothing to prepare our backyard and garden for the winter. This year, I'd like to do a "lasagna garden" as demonstrated by Frugal by Choice - just look at her results!

Thing the Third: Reclaiming Wife is my favorite category on A Practical Wedding (which makes sense, because that's the stage of life I'm in). Recently they did a three-part series of different mothering situations, and I found the conversations brilliant and thought-provoking. Here they are: The Work-From-Home Parent, The Stay-At-Home Parent, and In Praise of Daycare.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: This little girl! Holy cow, she's awesome. I want to know how I can make Baby M turn out like her. :) (h/t to Molly of SP&A - I found this link in her Coffee with Molly newsletter)

Thing the Second: Love this article about the bacteria that live on and in our bodies, especially the information about how we get that bacteria. I'm a big proponent of breastfeeding - although Baby M was never able to do so, she was fed breastmilk by tube and bottle for four and a half months before we had to switch her over to formula for medical reasons. I knew it was good for a lot of things, but I love the idea that my pumping helped set her up with healthy gut bacteria for life!

Thing the Third: Here's a list of twelve great first aid tips that you should know - some of these were new to me!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The value of imperfection

I got a fantastic deal on an enameled cast iron dutch oven the other day.

We had a gift card to a department store, and Peanut picked up a dutch oven a few weeks ago. It turned out  that the six quart size is too big for our purposes - we're only feeding two people here right now, and even when Baby M is big enough to eat regular food, she's not going to justify the larger size pot (although she looks real cute sitting in it right now). Plus, I could hardly lift the thing when it was empty, there was no way I'd be able to actually cook with it. So I took it back to exchange it for a smaller size.

It happened to be my lucky day - there was only one 3 quart pot left in the same color, and it was on clearance. There's a small mark on the outside of it, which I guess is the reason it was on clearance - but it made a $150 pot cost me about $40. YES. Let me tell you how much I care about the appearance of my cookware: not. at. all.

If that mark is the reason the pot was on such a steep sale, the value of imperfection is clear. I love looking for these kinds of things - seconds, rejects, imperfects. Not to get all wabi-sabi on you, but I think imperfection is a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Interesting

Well, this is an interesting read. The Forbes article details how hard it is to avoid making the rich richer by detailing the ways your everyday spending lines the pockets of billionaires. The article highlights an app that helps you make different decisions, if you choose. (The most interesting part of the article, to me, was the slideshow showing how pretty much all of your purchases benefit a billionaire somehow.)

I've been frustrated in the past, especially when reading books like Salt, Sugar, Fat to realize how closely linked almost all the big brands are and yet how opaque it is to the consumer. The Buycott app (which I absolutely just downloaded) makes that a lot more transparent.

Should we care about things like whether our cereal company spent money to oppose labeling of GMO foods or that a CEO makes 11 times the average salary of someone employed in her company? I don't know. I go back and forth on the issue myself a lot of the time. I'm not going to live an ascetic life just to avoid the possibility of someone being exploited somewhere - it's not very practical. I can make small changes, like buying secondhand whenever possible and doing without a lot of "necessities". But what I really like about the app is that it gives you the information to make a choice when you do make a purchase, which I feel like has really been missing for the layperson.

How do you feel about your money going to make rich people richer?

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Color of Money

I'm catching up on all my magazine reading, and I came across this very interesting article from the March issue of Real Simple: How Color Affects Your Spending.

According to the article, different colors can get you to open your wallet through a combination of psychological associations and marketing. Black signals sophistication, blue connotes trust, green indicates environmentally friendly (even when the products really aren't), red can slow customers down, white suggests purity and yellow gets your appetite going. I know that purple tends to catch my eye (the article says this is because it makes me think of royalty, I think it's more because it's my favorite color).

Do any of these ring true for you? Any colors you have a hard time passing up - or bringing home?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Quality vs. Price

These two recent posts have me thinking: The bitterness of poor quality from The Frugal Girl and Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-Will from The Non-Consumer Advocate.

For some reason, I have a very hard time remembering that I like high quality over low price. Because of this, I own a ton of cheap shirts from department store clearance racks that last one season, or maybe two, and then have to be replaced.

I'm starting to get better about this - last year Peanut and I replaced a lot of our cookware with restaurant supply store items instead of big box store brands, and we've been very happy about that. We're planning a small revamping of our living room/office set up that will require some new to us furniture and I've been struggling with how to achieve it. We are on a very tight budget, but it really needs to be done in order to babyproof the computer area. So I'm torn between going to Ikea, trying to find the same pieces I want from Ikea on Craigslist, or hoping that I stumble across something that fits the space at an estate sale. The first two options are likely to end in broken down furniture in a few years, and the last option is an exercise in frustration. Maybe there are options that we haven't really explored, though, like unfinished furniture stores, or building something ourselves...any suggestions? We need two desks, six shelves, and a cabinet that can be turned into a modified window seat. The cabinet/window seat is the big priority, since that will hide all the dangerous wires.

I'm still working out how we're going to manage all the updates I want to do - have you been in a similar situation? What did you decide?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is coming up...and I have learned my lesson. No more ordering flowers from national companies! I went with a local florist in my mom's hometown, who I have used before. Finding this florist was just as easy as using 1800Flowers, but I'm betting that I will not have the problems I have had with the latter.

The Consumerist had a great post about this as well: We Don't Want to Hear About Your Disappointing Flowers This Mother's Day

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April Recap/May Goals


April Goals
1. Finalize estate planning documents. Ahem. 

2. Take advantage of Baby M's naps. Better! Her naps were nice and consistent early in the month, devolving into completely unpredictable the last week or so (four month sleep regression!), but I managed to get a lot of little projects off my plate while she snoozed and also made time for things like reading for pleasure again. 

3. Sell some things on Craigslist/eBay. No go. I have weeded through a lot of things that I want to sell, but I spent a lot of those naptimes mending, writing descriptions, or taking photos. I want to do some batch selling here instead of doing it piecemeal, so that's what's taking so long. 

May Goals
1. Get the wills signed and notarized, FFS. I am so tired of this damn project I could scream, and I've got no one to blame but myself that it's not done. Right after we filled out all the forms, I panicked that we need to see a lawyer instead of using software. The reality is that our wills pretty much simply ratify what our state's laws already would decide, so it's a mere formality indicating our wishes as to Baby M's custody should something happen to both of us. So a home-done version is absolutely fine, and if there are any problems with it that would cause state law to override them, we'd have exactly the same outcome. So it's time to just get some signatures and file the pages and BE DONE WITH IT. 

2. Declutter. This is basically me just putting April's third goal back on the list, but I also have a lot of stuff that I want to take to Goodwill because I won't get anything for it if I try to sell it. Once again, using those naptimes!

3. Set up one playdate. Now that Peanut has the Jeep up and running, I have a car during the day again. And Baby M has been cleared to go visit very healthy friends and family. It's a big production to leave the house with her, and has to be carefully timed because eating is a problem and she'll only do it at home under familiar circumstances. But by golly I need to get out of the house, and setting up a playdate with another friend with a baby should help me get over the fear of going out with her. 
What are your goals for May?




April Spending Recap




Baby $78.44
Business $3.89
Car (Mazda) $138.81
Car (Jeep) $1,039.65
Cat $25.95
Cell Phones $111.46
Charity $25
Clothing $136.92
Dental $274.40
Electric $87.69
Entertainment $41.24
Food - Groceries $318.87
Food - Other $258.41
Gas $104.45
Gifts $19.03
House $1,366.54
Household $137.48
Hygiene $15.00
Internet $72.50
Medical $20
Student Loans $178.63
Transportation $50
Water & Trash $78.05
Yoga $40
Therapy $26

Total $4,648.41

Things of Note:
The weather (briefly) got nice enough for us to become a two-car family again, but getting the Jeep ready for the summer cost us quite a bit of money. Luckily, this was a one-time cost (new tires and wheels and some other things) and won't happen every spring. 

We both got our teeth cleaned and I'm getting more dental work done in May, but we now have an HSA set up so at least that money is being spent pre-tax. Our utility bills are creeping down now that the days are longer and the weather warmer, and I've been able to line-dry diapers a few times instead of running long dryer cycles. I plan to get a clothesline up in the backyard this month. 

Our food spending was higher than it has been in previous months, for no real reason that I can discern. I guess we just got a little lax about eating out!

And lastly, you'll notice a new category - therapy. Now that Baby M is home from the hospital, I am starting to face some of the trauma, grief, and stress that I've been holding onto for the past eight months following her birth and hospitalization. Longtime readers of this blog know that I am no stranger to therapy and find it enormously useful, and I expect that to be the case again this time around. Time and money are both a little more precious to me now than they were five years ago, so I will be going every other week, keeping the cost to around $50 per month. Money well spent!