Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And sometimes things can cost way less than their price!

This is an update to this post: Sometimes Things Cost More Than Their Price

To sum up, I was trying to decide whether to get rechargeable batteries for our baby swing or return the swing and get one that plugs into the wall - either option seemed to make a lot more sense than buying disposable batteries on the regular (Baby M loves her swing!). I opted to get the rechargeables.

Just before I ordered them, though, I stumbled upon a whole bunch of reviews saying that the batteries don't work very well, don't hold a charge for long enough, etc - and these people had specifically purchased the batteries to run baby swings, so I was paying close attention to their concerns. Peanut explained the reasoning to me - something to do with the number of volts in a disposable versus a rechargeable battery.

And then he came up with the perfect solution: he hacked the baby swing using and old cell phone charger, so we now have a swing that plugs into the wall for half the price of the fancy one! He assured me that the whole thing was very safe and it certainly works perfectly. And the best part - we had the old cell phone charger just lying around, so this hack was totally free! Aside, I guess, from the miniscule increase in our electricity bill.

SO: Peanut to the rescue. I will never again complain about all the little bits of electronics he collects, because no doubt he will be able to rig up something else in the future. The takeaway is to find a better solution to any problem - and then find an even better one than that!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fiscal Cliff What Now?

Generally I focus on personal finance on this site - that is, the type of money discussions that happen in kitchens and over bank statements, not the kind that cover policy or government spending or that sort of thing. But when I saw this infographic, I couldn't help but share it. Take a look at the US's debt load compared to other countries - but most importantly, take a look at our nation's budget deficit. I mean, how can we ever hope to dig ourselves out if we keep spending more than we're bringing in???

(via http://www.ironfx.com)

I have no answer to this troubling image, but it's worth thinking more deeply about.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


We balance our bank accounts on a semi-weekly basis - we used to do it more often, but we don't spend as much money now with a baby at home (or rather - we don't spend money as frequently as we used to - the amounts have certainly gotten larger!).

At any rate, when I logged in the other day, I noticed a curious deposit - my paycheck. It's curious because I've been on unpaid leave for over a month, and I got a bad feeling. I looked back over the past few weeks and realized that despite HR telling me that I'd been placed on "inactive" status, the payroll department apparently never got the message - and they've paid me for two pay periods I haven't been working. I hadn't noticed because, hello, new baby at home, and a medically fragile one at that (so, basically, paying attention to our day to day finances has been at the very bottom of my priority list).

What would you do?

Well, obviously I emailed HR immediately and let them know. As nice as it would be to have a paid leave, that's not the deal I worked out with my boss and it would be asking for trouble. I have to pay back the overpayment they sent me and they will correct their reporting to the IRS so I don't have a tax liability for money I technically didn't earn.

One interesting thing that I noted was that the payroll woman asked me if I'd already spent the money. I said I didn't think so, but I didn't want them to debit my account and that I would prefer to write them a check. She explained that they wouldn't do that, but would be happy to work out a payment plan if I needed one. I found that very interesting - this was money I was not expecting to get, so it was just hanging out in our checking account and I was able to write her a check as soon as she was able to give me the instructions for repayment. But it sounds like usually when this happens, people just go ahead and spend the money that they weren't expecting to get, and then they can't pay it back all at once. It's really nice that they were so willing to work with me if I'd needed it, but I would much rather have that obligation over and done with.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Path From Never to Always - French Bread Edition

My mother-in-law has dropped by several times since Baby M has come home, always bearing food. My favorite meal so far was a giant pot of Minnesota wild rice soup - delicious! She brought with it a twin-pack of French bread from the store, and if that is not the most delicious bread I've ever tasted in my life, I'm lying.

It's the sort of thing I never buy. Normally I would eat the soup plain, or maybe with saltines or even a slice of sandwich bread with butter. But the French bread made such a difference as a side to a humble soup, and really made everything feel a little fancier and more friendly. I thoroughly enjoyed both loaves and I checked the price - just $2.50 for such a luxury! Why have I not been doing this all along for myself?

I resolved to pick up things like French bread on a more regular basis, to add some pizzazz and specialness to our regular meals - now that we're eating at home again every day. It would add maybe $10 per month to our grocery budget, and surely that seems like an affordable luxury nowadays.

Before I had a chance to put that into practice, I read Ecothrifty, which contains a really excellent and simple-looking recipe for French bread. She estimates the cost at less than $1 per loaf when made with all organic ingredients, which is cheaper than the twin-pack from the store - and would probably taste even better fresh baked.

Why didn't I think of that first? It seems like my thought process should have gone from "too frugal to buy French bread" to "well, I'll make it myself" before "oh, let's justify the storebought cost".  I'm trying to change my mindset so that this type of thinking is second nature, but it's a journey.

When you think of adding luxuries to your life, do you think of making them yourself first, or do you look for ways to justify the cost of store-bought?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Women, Infants and Children...and Me

Baby M came home from the hospital on a prescription high-calorie diet made of special premature infant formula and a food thickener. I knew that it was unlikely that she'd come home exclusively breast-fed (most micropreemies don't) but I wasn't expecting that she'd be entirely formula-fed. The white blood cells in breast milk kill the thickening agent, and it's really crucial that her milk be as thick as honey or a milkshake - or else she breathes it in and chokes. So formula it is.

Formula is really expensive! Each can is around $17 and right now we go through a can in less than four days. And each week, she takes a little more volume per day. With us dropping down to a single income for the next six months, I wasn't sure how we'd swing an additional $125 per month on top of the $300 per month for her prescription co-pays.

I inquired if our primary (employer) or secondary (state) health insurance would cover the formula since it is a prescription diet, and they declined, but they pointed me to WIC - Women, Infants, and Children. I didn't know much about the WIC program before this, but I had some assumptions. I thought it was the same thing as food stamps. I thought it was only for low-income or otherwise disadvantaged women. I thought it was one of those situations where you see someone in line with three carts of groceries and most of it's junk food. I definitely thought it was not for someone like me.

And under most circumstances, it probably wouldn't be. I'm not sure what the income guidelines are, but I'm positive that when Peanut and I are both working, we would make way too much. When we're living on just his income, like we are right now, I would guess we are still making too much. But, at least in our state, WIC also provides coverage to anyone who is receiving state health insurance (which we are due to Baby M's birth weight) regardless of income.

So I went to the appointment not sure what to expect. After answering a ton of questions and providing my weight, height and a blood sample (for an iron test, not a drug test), I was told that Baby M will receive vouchers for 11 cans of formula per month - and that *I* also qualify for vouchers, since I am technically a breastfeeding mom (I am still pumping around the clock in the hopes that someday she will nurse, and if not, well, I'll have a freezer full to mix with her cereal when she starts eating solids!). The vouchers that I qualify for cover things like milk, eggs, cheese, fruit, veggies, cereal, and beans. I tried to decline them on the basis that we make enough to pay for our own groceries and I wouldn't feel right taking it from someone less advantaged, but the woman told me that my accepting them would not mean that someone else wouldn't get aid. (She also said that after all we've been through, we deserved a little help, which is a concept worthy of a future post.)

At any rate, the initial appointment  provides for three months of vouchers before we make another appointment to review our situation, so I accepted the vouchers. The difference the grocery assistance makes is noticeable but not necessary for us to make our budget, but the formula help is a godsend. I'll post more about my experience actually using the vouchers in a few days!

Have you ever been on WIC? What was your experience like?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sometimes things cost more than their price

Baby M loves her swing. She had one in her hospital room and absolutely loved to be in it, so we bought one for her homecoming. We got a basic model from Target; runs on batteries and has no frills like music or vibration or turning into a bouncy seat.

It works great, except for the battery part. Little girl loves her swing, and she's going to go through batteries like no one's business!

The model at the hospital could be plugged into the wall, and I've been considering returning the swing we got at Target and ordering the other one from Amazon. But here's the rub - it's twice as expensive as the one we already have!

I've done the math. Swing ($70) plus 4 D batteries ($10) times eleventy million battery changes quickly adds up to something that makes the plug-in swing a better financial deal for us. On the other hand, we already have a swing in our house, and returning it is a giant hassle. Baby M does not travel light (oxygen tank, apnea monitor, plus general baby gear) nor do I want her to travel at all if we can avoid it (hello, cold and flu season! hello, winter temperatures!). So returning one swing and waiting for another has a cost aside from a financial one - and tips the scales back to staying where we are.


We can go a middle route. Keep the swing we have and instead order a universal battery charger and some rechargeable D batteries - along with AA and AAA batteries and any other size battery that we use on a regular basis. The price for that winds up being less expensive than either the existing swing with disposable batteries OR the more expensive swing - and it's better for the environment to boot.

Yay for Option C!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

January Spending

Baby $233.94
Business expenses $3.89
Car $87.53
Cat $25.95
Cell Phones $111.57
Charity $10 
Food—groceries $131.86
Food—dining out $282.12
Gifts $28.02
Hobbies (Peanut) $23.85
Hobbies (LMM) $9.99
House $1,366.54
Household $31.98
Insurance $325
Internet $72.50
Medical $36.24
Transportation $50
Utilities $242.43

Total Spending: $3,073.41

Things of note:
Well, if you want to have a cheap month, move into a hospital for a week and then bring your baby home and go into RSV seclusion. That'll do ya!

Looking at this list from the perspective of going to one income for a while, I can immediately identify some areas I'd like to cut back - namely cell phones and internet. I'm not sure how effective I'll be at this - I feel like Peanut and I review our phone plans on a regular basis and can't find a cheaper option that keeps us both in smart phones, and we are served by only one internet company that offers fast-enough speeds for Peanut to work from home. Still, I'll give it a shot!

How was your January spending?

February Goals

Seems that I made New Year's Resolutions but no actual January goals last month. Well, not too surprising - we've had a lot going on!

Here's an update on how I'm doing with those resolutions:
1. Go crazy on the student loans. We're in a holding pattern until we get our taxes done. We generally owe taxes but we had a really weird 2012 - bought a house, had a baby, had approximately eighty bajillion dollars in medical expenses, and freelance work didn't remotely approach typical levels. So we might get a refund, or we might still owe - we have no idea. We're stashing money in savings for either a tax bill or a big fat payment to Sallie Mae.

2. Be gentle. It's very easy for me to be gentle with Baby M, but it's a little harder for me to be gentle with myself. I keep feeling like now that we're all home I should back to my usual standard of superpowered productivity, and that's just not very realist. I'm working on it.

3. Finish what I start. This is sort of the opposite of the previous point - I am raring to go on all these projects that I want to get finished, but right now I need to be taking naps and making silly faces at the baby. It's a balancing act.

And goals for February:
1. Investigate ways to lower cell phone and internet bills.

2. Seriously, get estate planning taken care of.

3. Get the #couponchallenge going again.

Baby M: Going to College!

Baby M is only four and a half months old (well, six weeks corrected) and she now has a college savings fund.

This has been on my to-do list for a while, but, well, I've had other things on my mind - like helping her learn to breathe and eat.

At any rate, I did some research, mainly based off of Trent's very useful 529 posts at The Simple Dollar (specifically this one and this one). Our state's plan is at least as good as Iowa's, plus the fund I chose has a lower management fee. It has all the benefits that Trent looks for, such as:

  • Money grows state and federal tax-free if withdrawn for education. 
  • Can be used for more than tuition. 
  • Beneficiary can be changed, and more than one person can contribute. 
  • Maximum contribution might as well not exist, it's so high. 
  • Minimum contribution is low (ours was $25, we started with $100). 
  • Easy online access. 
  • Account ownership can be easily transferred. 
  • Doesn't apply to schools only in our state; Baby M can go to any accredited institution. 
Plus, it has a target-date fund option, which invests aggressively while Baby M is little and grows more conservative as she gets older. In many ways, that makes it a "set it and forget it" investment plan. Once we get regular monthly contributions going (soon!), we won't have to think about saving for her college fund - it'll be automatic. 

Peanut and I have talked in depth about how much assistance we want to give our child(ren) in college. My parents paid for my undergraduate tuition, room and board in its entirety; Peanut had to take out a lot of loans to finance his education. (My loans were all for graduate school.) We would like to do something somewhere in the middle for our kids: make it easy enough that they don't have to work full time while in school or graduate with a crushing debt load, but require them to pay some of their own way in order to feel ownership over the process. This fund is the beginning of providing some assistance down the road.