Thursday, January 31, 2013

Baby M Update

We are home.

And it is wonderful.



Baby M is nine pounds, healthy (all things considered), on only three medications, one monitor and continuous oxygen. She eats heartily and sleeps soundly. She is a miracle of modern medicine.

We're busy falling in love over here, but we will be back to regular programming soon!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Everything's Always Just a Little More Expensive Than I Thought

Some friends are planning a wedding, and they've set themselves a very strict budget. I'm not sure of the amount, but it turns out that everything they would like is just a little too expensive for what they have to spend.

I think there could be two things going on. One is that it's so easy to do little upgrades. If you go to Starbucks and ask for a small coffee, they offer a medium for only $0.26 more. You would be surprised how many people say yes to this. Even if all they wanted was a small coffee in the first place (which I assume is true, since that's what they ordered!) they will jump at the chance to "upgrade" - even though it costs them more. (Fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon: sit near the register at a Starbucks and count the number of people who accept or decline upsizing. Wait, did I hear you say that I have no life?) I don't often fall for upsizing. I worked in the food industry for too long, I mystery shopped for two long, and I am generally too cheap. And it is pretty easy to avoid - simply say no to upsizing, and stick with what you originally wanted - whether that's a small coffee, a two-entree buffet instead of a four-entree buffet, or a used car. (This is why it's really, really, really important to only look at houses within your pre-arranged budget. Seriously.)

The second thing that might be going on with my friends is something that I have personally experienced a number of times. That's when you set a budget that sounds realistic but actually isn't. Either you didn't do the research ahead of time, or there was no way to predict how much it might cost for your situation, or something else has intervened to mean that the reality is that what you have to spend simply isn't enough.

This happened with our honeymoon. We weren't going to go on one at all, and then through some hardcore savings we found ourselves with an extra $1,000 or so - and I thought, Oh, we can do a honeymoon on that, no problem! I did a little research that seemed to indicate that was true, and off we went.

Well, it turns out, it cost us a bit more than $1,000 to go to Niagara Falls for our honeymoon. Not a ton more, and we were able to pay cash for the difference, but if this type of thing happens on a regular basis, you can see how you're in for a world of hurt. In my case, I had done some research but I had not paid close enough attention to the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Canadian dollar. I also didn't look into how much food cost in such a touristy area - the price of transportation and attractions was easy to figure, but the meals are what did the budget in.

The best way I know to avoid this second form of budget creep is two-fold. For one time or unusual purchases, like a wedding, do a lot of really in-depth research. But if everything seems to be costing just a little bit more than you expected, try tracking your spending. Once you see how much you already are spending on food, entertainment, gas, or clothing, you'll have a better idea of where you can cut back.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quick update

Hi there!

We are still in the NICU. I am on maternity leave (again) and I am spending 12-14 hours a day at the hospital, and soon I may start sleeping there as well. Baby M is getting pretty close to coming home, and she's now the equivalent of a 3-4 week old baby - so she is active and alert quite a lot and I spend much more of my time interacting with her than I have been able to previously.

Being on maternity leave means we are officially down to one income. When I was on leave before, I was on paid disability following Baby M's birth, so this will be a whole new ballgame. I am so grateful to Peanut for being happy for me to take this time to care for our daughter - and I am so, so, so grateful to old Peanut and old LMM for setting up our lives so that I could do so.

We are starting to realize that while our insurance covers everything while Baby M is in the hospital, there might be more things that are not covered, like home medical equipment or nursing visits or that sort of thing. In reality, they ARE covered - but only up to the "allowed amount" which no one can tell me until the bills start coming in. Which, frankly, sounds like a very convenient way to NOT cover things. I will be doing more research on this, but if anyone has experience with it, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Link Fest!

Well, this is a link fest that goes back quite a ways - I've just been collecting the links but have not had a chance to write up a post with all of them.

This little trick from Zen Habits is a great one: let go of the tightness. I try to remember to do this during the day, but I almost always have to do it at night in order to go to sleep. I hate being keyed up!

I have also noticed the tendency, as Daisy pointed out, that we in the personal finance blogosphere frequently fall into the habit of feeling like spending money AT ALL is bad. Of course, that's not true! Money is there to be spent, either now or in the future, and he who dies with the most gold still dies!

That said, we should spend consciously and on purpose. I really liked Poor to Rich's list of things they do not buy. Here are some of the things we do not buy: cable TV, clothes that need to be dry-cleaned, tropical vacations, bottled water, kleenex tissues. And probably lots of other things that I can't think of, because, well....we don't buy them!

I have a super-soft spot in my heart for all-black animals, and I loved this story of an animal shelter adopted out black pets for free on Black Friday. Black cats are among the hardest pets to place, and I'm delighted to have given our kitty a home with us. If I had my way, we'd have a houseful. :)

The Non-Consumer Advocate discusses the costs of cheap clothing, and not just the financial cost of replacing stuff when it falls apart two weeks later (ahem, H&M). Yet another good reason to buy used whenever possible.

Trent took a look at what it meant to him to "have it all" and discovered that his list was a lot shorter than he thought at first. Baby M's birth has given me similar perspective. It's refreshing!

I found this interview about yoga anatomy myths to be utterly fascinating - I understood that there is a progression of poses in part to "wring out the organs" and "aid digestion". It's interesting to learn about which of these claims are real and which are bogus!

Another one from Trent - Peanut and I have frequently exclaimed to each other these last four months about how lucky we are to have a life where Baby M's arrival is manageable. We are able to survive on one income indefinitely if need be. We have good health insurance. We live close to family and friends for support. The thing is, much of that was not luck. We purposely made decisions that would bring these things into our lives, even before we knew we needed them. Trent details some ways that you can bring more luck into your life.

I love the idea of sending an email or calendar reminder to yourself about something like overshopping at Christmas. What a great idea!

I like all of Katy's 12 Favorite Frugal Tips.

Get Rich Slowly has some tips for freezer cooking - specifically, avoiding freezer burnout.

Wealth Pilgrim has a great checklist for how to live on one income.

I am not a fashionista, but I still found this really interesting: what 13 people wore to an interview with Anna Wintour, and whether they got the job. (via Smart, Pretty, and Awkward)

One of my new favorite blogs is Ain't No Roller Coaster, written by a mom of two preemies. Many of her posts have spoken directly to me, so for anyone who is interested in learning more about what we're facing, here are some of her highlights:
10 Lessons I've Learned Being a Special Needs Mom
Cold and Flu Season Bucket List (like Tatum, we will be totally sequestered for the first three winters - no going ANYWHERE except doctor's appointments)
But, preemies have to get sick to build their immunity, right?
Their first insurance struggle - Made me ask a lot of questions of our insurance company!
"Get over it", "Just Fine", "Normal"

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 Resolutions

Every year, I make the same number of resolutions as the last digit of the year. I fudge around with 11s and 12s - it's not a lot of fun to me to make only one or two resolutions. But I think 13 will do me in this year, so I'm cutting back from 12 last year to 3 this year - and here they are!

1. Go crazy on the student loans. In 2012, Peanut and I decided to suspend our Roth IRA contributions for a few years in favor of paying off our student loans. We wiped mine out and are starting to attack his - $18,000 worth. I think paying them off entirely this year is unlikely given that we will be without my income for at least half the year, but we should be able to make a big dent in them.

2. Be gentle. I have found a surprising reservoir of tenderness as a new mother. I would like to extend this newfound compassion to other areas of my life - I would like to be gentle with my friends and family, with strangers, and with myself.

3. Finish what I start. I have a bit of a problem with this - it's what my first blog post ever was about, actually. I'd like to make 2013 the year of finishing. I would like to use stuff up - finish half-full bottles and packages, use the stuff I'm setting aside for a "better moment", complete all the projects I start instead of abandoning them when the most fun part is done (ahem, finished quilt tops waiting to be quilted).

There it is - three goals for 2013. Let's begin as we intend to continue.

2012 Spending Recap


Alcohol $99
Baby $1959.93
Blog $115.09
Business (Deductable) $56.55
Business (Reimbursable) $8,700.99
Car (Jeep) $5,294.55
Car (Mazda) $2,752.53
Cat $651.70
Cell phones $1,338.04
Charity $410
Clothing $387.65
Dental $2,155.80
Electric $524.83
Electronics $119.66
Entertainment $476.64
Food - Groceries $3,106.28
Food - Eating Out $3,256.58
Gardening $13.99
Gas $504
Gifts $756.77
Helicopter/Robot $231.30
House $44,538.07
Household $1,604.11
Hygiene $286.30
Insurance (Life/Disability) $989.96
Internet $508.06
Medical $2,393.41
Moving $477
Mystery Shopping $41.45
Mystery Shopping Income $34
Rent $450
Sewing/Quilting $913
Transportation $600.53
Travel $884.29
Vacation $1,242.53
Water & Trash $649.05
Yoga $235

Grand Total: $88,767.64

Student Loans
Student Loan Payments $12,721.90
Student Loan Interest Charged $1,426.96
Difference in debt load: $11,116.31

Retirement Contributions
Personal 401(k) Contributions: $1,625.98
Capital Gains & Business Contributions: $11,425.72
Difference in retirement funds: $13,051.70

You can compare these numbers to 2010 and 2011.

Things of Note:
Retirement contributions this year are just my 401(k) - we sent money to the student loans instead of contributing to a Roth this year, and Peanut's boss got things together for his IRA so last minute that we're just counting it all for 2013, since we don't even have the final account balance yet.

Our spending appears much higher than the last few years, but if you take into account the big down payment that we made on our house and that I had almost $9,000 in expenses that were fully reimbursed by my company, it's not far off. Even better, if you don't count the purchase of a second vehicle, our general cost of living expenses have gone down!

It's interesting to see that our grocery spending has remained pretty static over three years despite living in cities with different costs of living. I'm especially glad to see that our eating out expenditures went down from last year!

I'm pretty happy with our overall picture, and interested to see how 2013 shapes up, without my income for half the year and with all the new baby expenses we'll have.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 New Year's Resolutions Recap

This year started off with a bang, kept going strong, and then went to pieces for the very best of reasons.

1. Save to increase our emergency fund. Success! We increased our emergency fund by 50% this year. We have not reached our "fully funded" amount, but we also have our other sinking funds as backup emergency cash, so we are in good shape here.

2. Buy a second car with cash. Success!

3. Flirt with The Compact. Middling. I started out with great intentions, and we did really well for a while by shopping at estate sales for a lot of things that we needed for the house, but we did buy a lot of new kitchen gear and then the baby came and it was new, new, new everything.

4. Pay extra on our student loans. Success! We paid a total of $12,721.90 on our student loans this year, entirely paying off mine and making a dent in Peanut's.

5. Go to 52 yoga classes. Fail. I did very well on this for a little more than half the year, then I had an emergency c-section. I miss yoga, and I'm looking forward to getting back to it when Baby M is home from the hospital.

6. Develop a yoga home practice of three days per week, or 156 sessions. More fail. I did okay for a few weeks, and then I didn't.

Personal Growth
7. Become a better conversationalist. This one's hard to measure. I have been in more unusual circumstances this year, and I have felt less stress about making small talk with people. I am careful to ask more questions instead of talking about myself, which definitely helps!

8. Read more than 100 books, including a number of classics. Success! I read 137 books this year, a new personal best. The classics I read were Les Miserables, Great Expectations, and Time and Again, and if I may include consider the following to be classics within their genre, Ender's Game and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. 

9. Nest in my HOUSE. Oh, success! This house totally feels like mine, and I love it.

10. Get wills, living wills, and in-case-of-emergency paperwork in order. Fail. I know! Even with a baby! This is a problem.

For Fun
11. Make a quilt, start to finish. Success! I completed one quilt that I gave as a gift, am more than halfway through a second, finished two other tops, and started a fifth. Woo!

12. Travel with my mom and sister. Success! I went on not one but two road trips with my mom, and one with my sister.

How did your resolutions go?