Monday, April 29, 2013

Costing other people money

I think I have mentioned that we are extremely lucky to have great health insurance. Peanut and I each have insurance offered through our jobs, and after a lot of research 18 months ago, we went on his insurance. It's a high deductible plan, but after that costs were covered at 100% - and his employer pays the entire premium. It's a major company so almost anywhere we go is considered in-network.

It was hard to swallow the idea of shelling out a few thousand dollars before we got any coverage at all, but wow, did that wind up being a great decision when we had a child in the hospital whose stay cost almost $10,000 per day. If we had gone with my company's health insurance, we would have been on the hook for 20% of that.

This month, we got word that Peanut's employer is having to change their health insurance plan - because of us. We have cost them over $1,000,000 in health care claims since Baby M's birth.

The new situation is as follows:
Employer still pays 100% of the premiums
Deductible is $3,200 for the family before insurance kicks in at all
Co-insurance of 20% for all in-network health care up to a max out of pocket of $6,400

It basically means an additional $3,200 cost to the insured per year. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is totally awesome. (Especially because it won't really affect us until next year at the earliest - due to her birth weight, Baby M gets state medical assistance as a secondary insurance to cover out of pocket costs for her care.)

I feel bad for the other employees who now have to pony up more money for their health care. It's a risk I'm sure Peanut's boss was willing to take because he employs mainly young guys who don't go to the doctor very often. And I'm so glad it's a risk he took, because it allowed us to get the very best care for our daughter and not go bankrupt in the process.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

I'm starting a new feature here, called Three Thing Thursday. It's a place for me to share links and thoughts about things that don't otherwise fit into regular posts. This one happens to be book related. I hope you enjoy!

Thing the First: If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you need to check out these two books: Lady Almina & The Real Downton Abbey and Below Stairs. They're fantastic!

Thing the Second: If you're reading to learn about a particular topic, such as infant sleep, be sure to read a number of books by different experts. That way you won't feel like you're doing something wrong if it turns out that your baby has not read and agreed to follow one particular philosophy! Most likely he or she will line up with one of the experts, but you won't know unless you read them all.

Thing the Third: I love book clubs but I don't have time for them right now. The greatest online book club replacement I have found is Twitter - you can easily find someone who's just finished the same book you have!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Another interesting article from The New York Times - this one about how New York is totally affordable compared to other places in the country.

Part of their argument is that most people don't own cars, so the costs of car payment, gas and vehicle maintenance make up for the much higher cost of housing. They also cite massive competition as lowering prices on everything from manicures to cookies.

Right when Peanut and I got married, he quit his job to go freelance and we were living off of my income alone. Right now, I am staying home with the baby and we are living off of his income alone. The dollar amounts of these two salaries are almost identical, so we are in a unique situation to compare everything. So, as a recovering ex-New Yorker, here's my take.

In New York, our rent was $1,444 for a one-bedroom 500 square foot apartment. Here, our mortgage is $1,366 for a three-bedroom, two bath 1,500 square foot house with a lovely backyard. Point: Minneapolis

In New York, metrocards cost us $100 per month each for unlimited bus and subway rides. We didn't take taxis. Here, our vehicles are paid for, and monthly maintenance costs are around $150-200. Point: Close tie, tipping toward Minneapolis because I don't have to carry a stroller up and down subway stairs here.

Crunching the numbers, we spend virtually the same amount of money for groceries and eating out. In New York, grocery shopping was a pain at best because we had to physically carry everything home and no store doubled coupons. Here I have a Target, local chain, and an Aldi all within two miles of my house and can get better deals. Point: Minneapolis. In terms of eating out, New York wins hands-down, for quality, price, and sheer diversity. Point: New York

Certain things in New York were cheaper due to competition - massages are the best example and pretty much the only one that has ever actually popped up in my life. Point: New York

So, it's an awfully close tie. But the tie-breaker point definitely goes to Minneapolis, because even though the costs of living wind up fairly even, the quality of life is so much better as to be priceless. Living in a detached house with private outdoor space? Having the option of public transportation or personal vehicle? Easy access to specialized medical care? Local family support? Having our child grow up in an environment we are more comfortable with? All of these things are beyond measure.

So, yes, New York. You are more affordable than most people realize, and I love to visit. But I am so glad I moved away!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Working Ourselves to Death

A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article about entry-level positions that have no limits.

This is one of the reasons I left New York. Publishing is a notoriously low-paying and long-houred position, and my work life was getting crazy. As much as I tried to set a balance, my workday was edging towards 10 and 12 hours. Many coworkers worked from 8 to 8 AND came in at least once over the weekend (the only time I ever came in on the weekend was to set up my new office when I switched jobs).

Why are we so work crazy? Is it because we are money crazy? Prestige crazy?

I really don't have an answer to this. What do you think?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mid-Month Goal Check

1. Finalize estate planning documents. Errrr.....working on it!

2. Take advantage of Baby M's naps. Success! She has organized herself into three pretty consistent naps, two of which are usually at least an hour long. I try to stay off the computer (um, except for right now) and get other things done and I feel like I am making good progress. I could probably try to nap myself, but I'm getting *almost* enough sleep. I do try to lay down sometimes, but her naps just don't time well with my sleepy times. 

3. Sell some things on Craigslist. I added ebay since I have some things that might go better there. I haven't got anything listed yet, but one of the things I'm doing during nap time is getting them all ready. Taking pictures, writing descriptions, setting prices, that sort of thing. I may not get everything up this month, but I'm definitely making progress. 

How are your April goals going?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Whose salary pays for childcare?

Peanut and I just discussed an issue that The New York Times recently covered - in a two-income household, whose salary pays for childcare?

For many women, it seems like their salary has to cover the cost of childcare in order for them to justify going back to work. I sort of feel like that, even if it's unfair.

I have only started digging into what childcare might cost us - given Baby M's health situation, the only viable option is a full-time dedicated nanny who works out of our home. That makes childcare not only pricey but also hard to calculate. (More on this in a future post, but we'd be required to pay taxes and expected to provide health insurance, mileage, and paid vacation and sick days as well - wow!) I'm doing it with a mental note towards whether the total winds up being more or less than what I bring home.

But why me? Why not Peanut?

He carries our health insurance, but my job offers health insurance too. His salary is higher, so we could afford "more nanny" even if we'd be affording less other stuff. He likes his job - but I like mine too. Someone has to care for our child - it could just as easily be him, right? Prior to her birth, all of our money went into a single pot and covered all of our expenses - so why is this one issue so thorny?

Despite all the advances we've made in feminism, I've still internalized the idea that it's the woman's job to care for the child, whether that means literally by staying home or figuratively by providing the money that pays for his or her care. On one hand, financially, it makes more sense for us to lose one income rather than pay that entire income and then some to someone else to do a job I could do. On the other hand, leaving the workforce might affect my career path for the rest of my life - it will certainly affect my earning potential.

So, which is it to be?

Well, in our situation, money won't exactly be the deciding factor. Even if we find super affordable childcare, Baby M's health will dictate whether I stay home. I am more than a primary caregiver at this point, and until her weight gain is stable and her medical needs are less critical, it's not something I can trust to anyone else. I'm happy, in a way, to have that as a reason, instead of the question of whose salary covers her care.

How did you determine how to pay for childcare? Did you struggle with this issue?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Broken Windows in My Life

A while ago, Gretchen Rubin posted about her "broken windows" of happiness.

The Broken Windows Theory came to my attention about a decade ago, I believe in a book by Malcolm Gladwell. It posits that minor crimes like subway fare dodging, graffiti, or broken windows make way for larger crimes like robbery, rape, and assault because it seems as if no one cares about the neighborhood. Think about it: if someone bothers to fix broken windows, they'll bother to make other things nice and safe, too.

Gretchen's post details the "broken windows" that make her unhappy. When these things aren't handled, she feels overwhelmed. This really resonated with me - I have noticed that sometimes I'll be in a bad mood, just all out of sorts, for no apparent reason, and if I spend half an hour straightening up my living space, I feel 100% better.

Here are some of my broken windows:
* Messy kitchen/dishes piling up
* Piles of laundry strewn about
* Unfolded blankets on the couch
* Water all over the bathroom counter
* A list of phone calls to be made
* A dirty car, inside or out

If I can keep these things under control, the rest of my life seems like it's okay, even if the bigger things aren't getting done.

Do you have any "broken windows" in your life?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On closets full of stuff

This post by The Frugal Girl, about how much stuff is the right amount of stuff, has been on my mind.

It seems like not that long ago*, Peanut and I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in New York. Our things fit easily into the apartment, and it seemed sort of absurd that we hired movers to move it across the country.

Then we lived in a slightly larger one-bedroom apartment, and we had an empty closet and an empty storage room in the basement, because we just did not have enough things to fill them.

Then we moved into a three-bedroom house, and we marveled that the people who lived here before us moved because they needed more room for their family. How could anyone feel confined in a house, we thought. We have an entire floor that we don't use. We have two rooms to use as giant closets! We are rattling around in here!

I don't really feel like that anymore.

It's not just the stuff that accumulates with a baby, although that's certainly part of it. It's not even that we have taken hand-me-down from family, so we now have a partially-furnished guest room and the beginnings of a rec room in the basement. It's just that there's a lot of stuff that doesn't get used.

And I didn't realize that it wasn't about the space but about the stuff until recently.

I'm not very sentimental and it's pretty easy for me to let most things go. I feel strongly that things should be used and not stored away being useless. But I've been hanging on to a number of things and it's weighing me down, because it's keeping me from being who I am now.

I've been holding on to books that I picked up at my old job so that I could read them someday, but I'm never going to get to. For a while I was considering an MBA, so there were lots of management insight type books, which I am just no longer interested in (plus, if you've read one, you've pretty much read them all in my experience). There's some fiction that I really don't want to spend my time on, and there's poetry - and if I know one thing about myself, it's that poetry is really not my bag. So out the door they are going.

I've got several things that I keep meaning to put on Craigslist - mostly purchases that I almost immediately regretted but couldn't return for whatever reason. A cat house our cat has never even deigned to look at, a lamp that doesn't match anything else, lots of other odds and ends.

I'm hanging onto a dozen professional belly dance costumes. They're gorgeous and they hold great memories of my time in a company, but they are not being used. Not only am I not performing anymore, but my body has changed since giving birth in such a way that they will never fit me again. I'm having a hard time facing this fact - it's the starkest reminder I have that I am not the same person that I was two years ago.

And while I am in fact tremendously happy in my life now, it's so weird to officially say good-bye to the woman I was then. It's hard to realize that doors are not only shut, but that you are the one who shut them. Still, I think I will feel a bit lighter when I embrace the fact that the past was, and the present is, and the road connecting them is sure and firm, even if it is only one way.

* Less than two years, actually.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

You've either got it or you don't...and you probably don't

Does anyone ever really feel like they've "got it"? Or are we all just wandering around, feeling like other people are "there", and we're still sitting on the frat-house sofa?

Let me explain.

Despite being in RSV isolation with Baby M, we have a lot of visitors. We see a nurse and two therapists weekly in our home, and a number of other support people have been by - even one of her doctors makes house calls. This is in addition to the friends and family members who got multiple vaccinations to come hang out with us, and who always bring food.

This means that I feel maybe a little more pressure than most new moms to keep my house clean. For the most part I'm able to let it go. (Dusting? What's that?) I keep things picked up and try to keep the cat hair under control and pretty much ignore any cleaning that requires more than five minutes of my time before I go to bed.

But I'm self-conscious about something else: my furniture.

I have never felt like I had any kind of really great design aesthetic. I am lucky that the previous owners of our house had some nice taste so the rooms are all tastefully painted and ceiling fixtures and window coverings are nice. And it's not like we're sitting on milk crates with a blanket thrown over it, but...well, I have never, ever upgraded any of our furniture. Quite a lot of pieces were found on the street in NYC (pre-bed bug epidemic). Our couch came from Peanut's apartment in New York, where he bought it off the previous tenants who didn't want to move it (It's huge. And comfy. But huge.). I feel like it should be a basement couch, but it's hanging out in my living room for every guest to sit on. 

I look at some of my friends whose homes I've been in, and I feel like they've got things together. They have matching furniture sets, or stuff hung on the walls that seems like it was put there intentionally instead of trying to cover up nail holes left by the previous residents. I know that their financial situations aren't much different from ours but somehow they manage to make things look like a home, and not just a bunch of jumbled stuff in a room.

I can go on in that vein for a while, but then I realize that probably someone, somewhere, is looking at my living room and thinking that I look like *I* have it together. Maybe they feel like their Ikea couch has no resale value and isn't that comfortable to sit on. Maybe they are still paying off furniture purchased on credit. Maybe their couch has cat scratches and pen marks that I've just never noticed, because who really looks all that closely? And maybe no one actually gives a second thought about anyone else, because they're all so worried about how their lives look from the outside.

Which sort of makes me feel better about the whole thing. I mean, long term, I have a plan for how my living room will look and it will include furniture that I picked out, rather than that fell into my lap. It will include things that match and coordinate. In the meantime, I guess I can just be glad that I won't be irritated if Baby M pukes or draws on it. And I can keep reminding myself that, probably, no one ever feels like they've "got it".

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

March Spending

Baby $82.53
Business $3.89
Car $114.31
Cat $60.43
Cell Phones $111.46
Charity $10
Clothing $84.98
Dental $84.95
Electric $85.35
Electronics $0.53
Food - Groceries $213.02
Food - Other $224.37
Gas $127.41
Gifts $23.39
House $1,366.54
Household $6.76
Hygiene $68.02
Internet $72.50
Medical $50.40
Student Loans $261.94
Taxes $96.99
Water & Trash $87.47

Total $3,237.24

Things of Note:
So far, living on one income is still working out for us! On the whole I'm pretty happy about how our spending shook down this month.

Eating out could have been lower, but still our total food spending is under $500. Student loans includes adjustments for interest, and taxes includes state taxes plus the TurboTax fee for federal filing (we're not eligible for the free version due to freelance shenanigans).  I'm looking forward to warmer weather when our gas bill will be lower.

How was your March spending?


March Recap/April Goals

March Goals
1. Once again, get this whole estate planning thing taken care of. I can almost claim success on this! Peanut and I used Quicken WillMaker software to create the documents I wanted, which I'll write about in a future post. We just need to get them witnessed and notarized. FINALLY.

2. Do some menu planning! I did really well with this, actually. At least two weeks were planned and stuck to, which is like 10000% improvement on where we were.

3. Start - and hopefully finish - taxes. Success! We filed our federal taxes with TurboTax and got our refund last week. I'm very happy with TurboTax, as usual - we accidentally filed our state taxes through them just as we learned that Minnesota uncovered some serious problems with some calculations and was threatening to not accept returns through the software. Our filing fee was refunded quickly, and we did our state taxes on paper, which I haven't done in probably a decade. I bet that's one of the last times I'll ever be able to do them by hand, too, so that was kind of neat.

April Goals
1. Finalize estate planning documents. Soooooo close to being done - so let's do it!

2. Take advantage of Baby M's naps. I have been squandering Baby M's naptime on the internet or watching 30 Rock instead of getting to all the things I want to do. Now that her naps are both longer and more consistent, I have lots of things to do! Read books, get chores/laundry done, have dinner started before Peanut gets home, blog, clean out filing cabinet and closets, and more. I won't get all of those things done every day, but I'd like to work on at least one thing per day during her extended nap.

3. Sell some things on Craigslist. I have a few things that I have been wanting to list on Craigslist for, um, months. I'm going to try to get that done in April.