Monday, December 15, 2014

My radio silence has a name...

And it is Baby Bear. Born healthy, full term and with a head full of dark hair. Peanut and I are of course over the moon, although Pickle was skeptical at first.

We are settling in as a family of four. Hopefully I will be back to budgeting soon!

Monday, November 10, 2014

October Spending


business ($25.58)
car jeep ($61.47)
car mazda ($784.11)
Cell phones ($100.00)
charity ($10.00)
clothing ($99.99)
electric ($99.89)
Entertainment ($178.49)
food - groceries ($402.80)
food - other ($243.61)
gas ($30.22)
gifts ($52.08)
Helicopter/Robot ($10.67)
house ($1,401.71)
household ($18.78)
internet ($75.57)
medical ($17.00)
Water & Trash ($70.00)


Things of Note: 
We're sort of keeping up our trend of spending less in most categories, although we had some big expenses this month, too. We replaced the tires on our Mazda (sorely needed, and just in time for winter!) and I entertained myself quite a bit in October - I went to a musical and got a great Groupon deal for prenatal massage. We also saw some increases in household expenses due to the projects we've been finishing up. 

We sure are being average with our food spending though - we were only off by $2 month to month!

Let's not talk about what the stock market is doing to our retirement accounts, though, eh? At least we were able to put some money into savings this month, on top of our expenses!

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Take a look at retirement savings.  Success - we've figured out a plan to try to max out our Roths for this year, despite being on a single income.

2. Finish my big nesting projects. Well, things aren't finished, but they are well underway. There are some things that aren't going to get done before the baby comes (or probably ever), and that's okay, but I got a surprising amount done and I feel good about it. 

3. Take time to enjoy it. Working on it. When raising a toddler, the days are long but the years are short, and that goes doubly so for raising a toddler while pregnant. I've been reading a lot of interesting parenting books lately, and that is helping me appreciate what a finite period of time this really is. 

November Goals
1. Stay pregnant and/or have a baby. Whatevs. Baby's coming out early in December whether he wants to or not, but I'm almost at the point of being okay with him coming whenever he'd like. In fact, I'm almost at the point of begging him to come out. 

2. Take it easy. I realized today that my calendar is just way too freaking packed for the next few weeks and I need to cancel some things. I've been kind of making frantic plans with friends for "one last outing before baby" type stuff, and really it just has to stop. There are also some appointments for both me and Pickle that could be canceled with pretty much no harm done. It feels like failure to me to quit before I "have" to, but slowing down before the baby comes will probably be less traumatic than suddenly having a baby and sitting on the couch for two weeks. 

3. Eat some pumpkin pie. 'Nuff said. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Financial Impact of Pregnancy, the Second Time Around

Comparing my first pregnancy to my second pregnancy is almost impossible for any number of reasons, but one interesting aspect is financial. Everyone talks about how much babies cost, but the second baby hardly ever costs as much as the first. Part of it is that you already have a bunch of stuff, but also you're more likely to know what actually IS necessary.

Pregnancy
I did not have a chance to wear maternity clothes last time around, so I didn't have any. I've received some hand-me-downs and bought mostly secondhand stuff, and I'm definitely set until baby arrives. I've got four pairs of maternity jeans (only two really fit well), three pairs of maternity leggings, one pair of maternity yoga/pajama pants, two maternity dresses (one summer, one winter), one tank top, four t-shirts, two 3/4 sleeve shirts, and three long sleeve maternity shirts. I won't buy a maternity coat because I'd only need it for a few weeks in really cold weather, and I'm such a furnace being pregnant I don't think I'll feel that cold without one. I'll wear a lot of my maternity clothes post-partum, and either pass them to a pregnant friend or consign them.

Due to Pickle's ongoing medical needs, we have reached our out-of-pocket maximum for health insurance for the year, so I've had almost no prenatal care costs (most prenatal care is covered in full anyway, but some labs and things are subject to patient cost sharing).

I have also bought random things like prenatal vitamins, DHA and calcium supplements, lotion for the bump, and pantiliners (pregnancy is weird). I have caved to fast food cravings only a handful of times.

Baby Preparations
I did buy some baby boy clothes (yay consignment!) as well as a secondhand Ergo carrier and a used double stroller, but not much else is needed for a second baby - we've still got the big stuff from the first time around and I know myself much better in terms of what I am likely to use and need. I stocked up on disposable diapers during Target's sale, and have been slowly restocking our cloth diaper stash as well. In terms of buying stuff, we're as ready as we're going to be for him to arrive.

Delivery
The delivery and hospital stay will be covered by insurance entirely. Assuming, that is, that we don't get any surprise out-of-network bills for people I don't have a chance to shop around for, like the anesthesiologist. I'm not expecting this to be a problem, though, since I'm delivering at the same hospital as last time and we didn't have a problem then. We'll incur some costs for Peanut's meals and parking while I'm in the hospital, but that should be about it.

Postpartum (me)
I still have to buy my postpartum supplies. It was such a shock last time that I didn't even do my own shopping for pads and stuff, so I don't remember what I had or what I needed. I do remember that they send you home from the hospital with a bunch of extra stuff, which I actually just threw out like minutes before I got knocked up this time. I'll probably just buy a pack of the biggest pads they make next time I'm in Target and call it good.

I am on the fence about high-waisted underwear - I didn't have any last time (the hospital provides mesh panties that are gentle on the incision, and I just used those until I didn't need to avoid the incision area). My only concern is that since I actually got a bump this time it might take longer to get to that point, but I figure if I really need some granny panties, someone can go get them for me. And if I don't, that's money I didn't spend on unflattering underwear.

I think I also need lanolin for breastfeeding, but again, I know the hospital provides samples and that can get me through at least the first couple days. The tubes of lanolin at Target are $10, so I'm going to try to hunt down a coupon in the next few weeks - for some reason, that's my threshold for not being willing to just try a product I'm not sure I'll need.

I've got several nursing tanks from my pumping days, and many of my maternity shirts can work as nursing wear as well. I have a nursing cover and a breast pump already, and just need to get some new tubing.

Postpartum (baby)
I bought a lot of diapers but I still think I underestimated how often babies poop. My mother will be staying with us and probably making lots of food, but we might be ordering out a bit more than usual for a while. I am not really doing a lot of freezer meals because I don't have any good recipes that have stood up to being thawed and reheated. Instead, I'm stocking up on chicken breasts, taco meat/beans, and nonperishables so that we always have the makings of one of my usual throw-together dinners. It's not that much more work than thawing and reheating something, but it will taste a lot better and that will make us less likely to order food.

I will be baking some batches of banana and zucchini bread, though, and probably a couple batches of lactation cookies as well.

Aside from that....this is going to sound kind of funny, but most unexpected pregnancy expense has probably been Starbucks. Since I'm high risk, I've been getting a shot in the bum every week since June to prevent pre-term labor, and these shots are TERRIBLE. They give me hives at the injection site and I have to wear an ice pack in my pants for two days after each one. So to make up for it, I treat myself to a soy chai latte after every shot. I managed to get Starbucks credit from a survey site that took care of more than half the drinks, but I've had to use real money to pay for them the last few weeks, so I think I will wind up spending about $40 on Starbucks by the time the baby comes. Who'd have guessed that would make my baby spending list?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thinking about couponing...again

It's been about two years since I started my coupon challenge, and I figured it's a good time to take stock and see how things are going.

After creating a price book and figuring out where the best deals on my regular purchases were, I started splitting my shopping trips between three stores (Costco, Aldi, and a regular grocery store that had double coupon days). I plan meals weekly and shop with a list, which I adhere to pretty strictly. I have a newspaper subscription (which, naturally, I got using a coupon) and clip coupons every week. I only print coupons that I specifically go looking for. I try really hard to match sales, store coupons, and manufacturer's coupons, but it doesn't happen as often as I was hoping. More recently I've been using the Target Cartwheel app, although I haven't started doing a ton of grocery shopping there. Peanut and I were thinking about signing up for a Target credit or debit card to get the extra discount, which might be worth more than our credit card rewards for just that store (we need to dig deeper into this).

So, what's the state of the union?

Well, overall I am spending MORE than I was before, but we are spending less eating out, and I would argue that we are eating better at home than we used to. Then, I was shopping for two working adults. Now I shop for two adults and a child. There are people eating at home all day instead of just two meals. I am a better cook than I was, there is less food waste, and my kitchen is stocked differently - I am often able to throw together a meal to feed unexpected extra people with no trouble.

I think couponing definitely contributed to the increase in spending, to some extent - it's true that the coupons are for the more expensive name-brand products, and unless you pair them with a store coupon and sale, you're still often paying more than you would for Aldi brand. Sometimes the quality is worth it, and sometimes it's not. I am sure that I also ended up buying things that I might not otherwise have purchased at all, just because I had a coupon. (That's actually more of a risk for me at Aldi, because things are so cheap that it's much easier to stray from my list.)

Most of the things that have changed in our grocery expenses were out of my control, though. Prices in general went up. My local grocery store chain was sold to a chain that does not double coupons, so there goes all that extra savings. We go through two gallons of whole milk a week, which is not available at our Aldi ($8/week x 52 weeks is $416 a year!!!!). I buy quite a bit of baby food, which is pricey (still cheaper than formula!). (I do make a lot of my own baby food, but the consistency of commercial baby food is perfect for Pickle's feeding tube blends so I fall back on that a lot for convenience.) I also buy more meat than I used to (I didn't until I got pregnant, and I'm curious as to whether my cravings for extra protein will go away when I give birth).

All in all, couponing has been helpful in getting me to examine how I was shopping, but it's not clear that it's saving me a lot of money anymore. Renewing my newspaper subscription will cost me three times what the last renewal did, and I'm not biting. Instead, I'm going to take a slightly different tack, and see if I can set a budget limit on what I spend on groceries each week (something I haven't done since I was living on a shoestring budget in NYC). I'll start at $400 per month, $30 below my current average, and see how we do. It'll take several months for this to start happening, since I'll be having this baby soon-soon-soon and that will shake things up for a while, but I am interested to see how it turns out.

Here's my new plan:

1. Update my price book. New grocery store chain, new prices - and I noticed that Target has changed their prices on baby food, almost certainly in response to the competition. It's probably time to take another look at where the bargains really are for the things that I am particularly brand-loyal on.

2. Streamline my stocking up at Aldi. Aldi is in the opposite direction of everywhere else that I ever go, so while it's not far away, it is out of the way. Right now I'm going 2-3 times per month, but I'd like to winnow that down to just once per month and do a big stock-up trip then. I have not liked the quality of the produce at my local Aldi, so most of the things I get there are shelf-stable and this shouldn't be hard to do with a little bit of planning.

3. Investigate the Target Red Card. An extra five percent off anything purchased at Target might be a better deal than we're getting from our regular rewards credit card, especially if I work on matching Cartwheel deals.

4. Work on my pantry stocking strategy. I've spent the last few months finding recipes that work well in a variety of ways - easy to have on hand, easy to prepare, easy to reheat. This means that with a little reorganization, I should be able to have a visibly stocked pantry for the meals that I make most frequently. Then if I stock up when those things are on sale and do a regular shopping trip only for produce and perishables, I should be saving myself a lot of time and money. This has worked really well for my deep freezer, and I think it will translate to cans and boxes fairly easily - it'll just take some thinking.

5. Take a break from actual couponing. Just for a while and just for general coupons - I'll still go hunt down coupons for specific brand name things when I need them. And I'll use the store coupons that get sent to my house and from the circular. But no more of this multiple-coupon-envelope thing each time I go to the store for a while.

Let's see what this does to the grocery budget!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Squeezing all the pennies

Peanut and I have decided that we'd really like to max out both of our Roth IRAs for 2014, which is a fairly tough proposition for a family of three (imminently to be four) on one income. In order to have $11,000 in hand by April 15, we'll need to slash our expenses. I think we're fairly frugal already, but here are some ways we are planning to scrape together that cash:

* Cancel our newspaper subscription. I subscribe for the coupons, but I'm not going to be doing a lot of couponing in the next couple months. In addition, I'm up for renewal at the end of this month, and the price is THREE TIMES what I paid last time I renewed, so, um, no, thanks! This probably will be a wash between the coupons I won't be getting and the subscription fee I won't be paying, but it's money I'm not shelling out, so I'm counting it.

* Putting our NPR membership on hold. I'm kind of torn about this one, as I love our local public radio, but the reality is we're not listening much right now (Peanut's vehicle doesn't have a radio and he takes the bus in the winter anyway, I won't be driving anywhere with two babies in the snow and I don't listen at home, so...). We'll resubscribe someday.

* Lower our internet costs. We have only one option for high speed internet and everyone knows it, but I'm still going to call and ask them to reduce the cost. It's $75 per month, and if I could save even 25%, I'd be happy.

* Cut down on eating out. This is kind of hilarious, since I know how things are going to be for a few weeks after the baby comes, but Peanut's going to cut back on how much he goes out for lunch (it's been 1-2x per week) and so am I (a few times a month, but I spend more when I go out so it's fairly even).

There are two areas where I don't think we'll make much progress.
* Cell phones. I don't think there's much we can do here. We just got new phones in April and managed to cut our bill by 5% so I think we're sort of stuck.

* Groceries. I think our grocery bill is pretty reasonable for a family of three (average $430/month) and while it could absolutely be lower, scrimping makes it easier to spring for takeout.

We need to save about $1,000 per month starting now in order to get to our goal. Between the cash we already save at the end of each month and what we can do between now and April (plus our newest little tax deduction), I think this is a reachable goal. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: I love this article over at A Practical Wedding and the series that sounds like it's going to develop from it. It's a bird's eye view of how one couple's merged finances have shifted over the years and why. I love seeing how other people run their lives!

Thing the Second: Sometimes I get bogged down in all the things I could be doing as a SAHM, and this post from The Frugal Girl about things she doesn't do was very inspiring to me. When I worked full time, I had to make concessions about what to spend my time on, and the same is true now that I'm staying home. The reality is, there is no award for Most Frugal or Most Resourceful or whatever, and it's important to focus on the things that you can and will stick with long term. Me, I don't do much freezer cooking, and I don't bake my own bread or make my own yogurt or laundry detergent, and I cloth diaper only about half the time. But I spend a ton of time with my kid and I read a couple books a week and I am learning to be a better cook, and frankly, I'm pretty happy with where my life is.

Thing the Third: This post from A Gai Shan Life was a good reminder that I am not really prepared for a disaster. We've got insurance to cover a lot of things, and we don't live in a high natural-disaster prone area, but I could do a little bit more to make sure that we have enough water per person and food that could be prepared without cooking for all of us. Mainly our disaster plan is really Get Out of Dodge, which works well in situations like a furnace going out but not so much for things like a tornado or earthquake where travel might be difficult. Something to think about.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Petty cash?

Here's a question for the readers:

I planned to make chili this week. As I was chopping up the peppers, I noticed that while they looked fine from the outside, they looked kind of iffy on the inside, with black spots (but no fuzz, which I've sometimes seen before). They smelled okay. I actually looked online to see if they were okay to eat, and then Pickle woke up from her nap and then we were running late and next thing you know I've tossed everything in the crockpot and gone on my merry way. Thank you, baby brain, for forgetting to remind me to taste one of the pepper pieces before tossing them in with all the other food.

Because of course, those peppers were not okay. The entire pot of chili tasted like rotten vegetables and was a complete waste.

My question: is it appropriate to ask for a refund on the peppers at this point, given that I have no evidence of their non-freshness? They were about $.79 each, so it's not like it's a ton of money - about $2.50. However, I'm also out three cans of beans, one of tomatoes, and a few cents worth of various spices and other ingredients, but I feel like I can only ask for the money back for the bad peppers, and it would mitigate the total damage. This would also alert my grocery store to the fact that their produce is not the quality that I'm used to getting from there. I think I still have the receipt somewhere.

Under these circumstances, would you ask for a refund on the peppers during your next shopping trip?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

September Spending


business (3.89)
car mazda (53.11)
cat (16.39)
Cell phones (100.00)
charity (10.00)
clothing (132.61)
dental (142.40)
electric (128.49)
Entertainment (24.60)
food - groceries (439.27)
food - other (204.87)
gas (21.77)
gifts (73.01)
Helicopter/Robot (8.98)
house (1401.71)
household (365.92)
Hygiene (81.42)
internet (75.57)
medical (12.00)
transportation (50.00)
Water & Trash (76.46)

Things of Note: 
In almost every category, we really spent less in September than we did in August. I'm not entirely sure how to explain it - it wasn't a conscious thing, but I guess it's just one of those things that happen, a vagary of the market. 

One thing I did notice is that we have bought clothing every single month this year. That seems outrageous to me! It's not quite as bad as it seems, I think - one month it's stuff for Pickle and the new baby at a consignment sale, another month it's maternity stuff for me or replacing socks that are (*cringe*) five years old, another month it's stuff for Peanut, so it's not like we're all stocking up all the time. Also, I think at some point diapers were being categorized as clothing, which makes sense for cloth (I think?) but maybe less so for disposables. 

This is the one problem I have with our tracking system - we both participate, so sometimes we categorize the same thing differently (or heck, sometimes the same person categorizes a purchase differently from one time to the next) or there's no good way to categorize it but it's not worth adding a new category in the middle of the year (like separating out baby boy's purchases from Pickle's). Ultimately, this data is of no interest to anyone but ourselves so it's fine, but every year when we look back it's like "WTF were we thinking there?!" for some small percentage of the information. This has helped us refine our spreadsheet year after year, so the data is getting better, but it also means that it's very hard to do true apples to apples comparisons. 

At any rate, September was a good month for us, despite the unpleasantness of the stock market. How'd it go for you?

September Recap/October Goals

September Goals
1. Move savings account, close old one. Done! The money is moved and earning interest in the new account, and the old one is just hanging out (it stays open for 60 days automatically, so I am just waiting to verify that it closed). 

2. Lower grocery spending. Success! We spent nearly $100 less on groceries this month, and it didn't translate into the eating out category (we spent nearly $150 less there!). I, uh, am not totally sure how I accomplished that, but I'm happy it happened. In an upcoming post, I'll detail how I'm changing my grocery strategy in the next couple of months. 

3. Get some nesting done without spending $$$. Success, although I've also thrown money at some of my to-do list items as well. Peanut built my bathroom cabinet, which I am really happy about (it cost about half what it would have cost new, and although it's not fancy or anything, it certainly gets the job done). I bought fabric at half-off to make crib sheets and we donated a bunch of stuff to thrift stores. I like clearing things out to make way for new stuff - I keep reminding myself not to go through my clothes, because I would end up getting rid of all my non-maternity stuff, and it's entirely possible that most of it will fit me again....someday. Even though it doesn't feel like it while I am approximately the size of Shamu. 

October Goals
1. Take a look at retirement savings.  Peanut and I have been maxing out Roths whenever possible for a long time now (we skipped a few years in order to completely pay off our student loans), and whenever there was an employer match, we contributed at least that much to a 401(k). We're doing okay, I think, for our ages, but we have never sat down and actually looked at what we think we might need to save for retirement - we have no goal in mind, besides "as much as we can". And this is fine - we're not going to change our savings strategy right now, mainly because there's no additional money we can funnel towards retirement with only one of us working. But it might impact when I decide to go back to work, so it's something I'd like to think about. 

2. Finish my big nesting projects. While I've technically got two handfuls of weeks left in this pregnancy, I feel pressed for time. Frankly, I'm shocked that I'm still pregnant because I was really expecting another micropreemie, and now I'm starting to think that I might make it all the way to full term, which is awesome, except that it's a busy time of year! Some of the things I want to take care of sooner than later are Christmas shopping and personal projects - not baby-related stuff so much as stuff that I will probably not get back to for months. 

Christmas shopping won't be too difficult - we stopped exchanging gifts with the adults in our families a few years ago, so it's just an infant niece and a teenage nephew that I'm shopping for (and the nephew is getting a Minecraft quilt, which I've already started). And we agreed to do a white elephant gift exchange with my husband's family, so that will be one adult to buy for (which reminds me that I need to have my MIL have people draw names early!). Oh, and I guess we'll probably get Pickle something to open - she started to get the concept of gifts at her birthday party last month, and while we won't be going overboard on her, I saw a cute pretend kitchen set at a thrift store the other day that I think she would love. 

3. Take time to enjoy it. We have no idea if this is our last baby, although we're leaning towards yes. What I do know is that these are the last few weeks that my amazing daughter will be an only child, and I'm trying to remind myself that these are literally the last moments during which she will be my baby. I'm taking advantage of the fact that she will still let me rock her fully to sleep and I have the time to do so during the day. I'm trying not to make her wait when she wants my attention - she'll be getting plenty of that soon enough. I'm trying to be happy to read the same book six times in a row because it makes her so happy. And I'm trying to enjoy the kicks and squirms of the baby that's about to join our home, as this is the last time that I will be able to protect him from everything and provide for his every need by the act of merely breathing. 

I never expected that motherhood would make me so sentimental, but it's really a magical time. It's so easy to lose that in the frustrations of a toddler having a tantrum or the discomforts of pregnancy, but my life has so much meaning that it didn't have before, and I love it. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Three Thing Thursday....er, Friday

Thing the First: I have talked before about being a maximizer vs being a satisficer, but I didn't really have a good link to an explanation of what that means (or at least, if I did, I can't find it in any post now). But this week the Wall Street Journal did a bang-up job of explaining the concept and how it affects happiness - and why it always seems like your partner makes decisions the opposite way.

Thing the Second: Peanut and I found this website really interesting: income percentile calculator. It shows where you rank (according to 2010 US Census data) in income, by region, by education, and a couple more indicators. Obviously we are far from the 1% but it drove home to me how well-off we truly are.

Thing the Third: If your winter heat source uses natural gas, this article might be of interest to you. We live in a region where fracking is a big political hot button, so with all the talk of that and natural gas pipelines, I didn't realize that there's actually a natural gas shortage in the country, which drives prices higher. We have a new, more efficient furnace, but I'm not sure that will be enough to keep us from noticing an increase in prices, especially with a newborn at home and a cold winter predicted.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rate Chasing

I mentioned in a recent post that I was doing a little bit of rate chasing with our savings account, where we keep our emergency fund and short and medium term savings. Here's a rundown on why I did that and how it went.

Years ago, Peanut and I got a joint savings account at Capital One (where we also had a checking account and credit card). They offered 1% interest with a quarterly .1% bonus, and it was a pretty good rate for the time. A few months ago, when I was putting the interest earned into our spreadsheet, I noticed that it seemed lower than it should be. I checked, and sure enough the interest rate had dropped to .5%. We had either never received notice that this was going to happen, or it was buried in paperwork/email such that we didn't realize it, and it annoyed me. It's entirely possible that they weren't required to give us notice, I guess. Anyway, I couldn't figure out how long it had been like that, and it made me irritated enough that I decided to go looking for a better option.

I poked around The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly, both of which frequently do savings account round-ups, and found a number of options at marginally better rates - up to .90% with a huge balance (something like $50,000). I was looking mainly for a no-fee, easy access account with either no minimum balance or one that we wouldn't trip if we had to use our emergency fund for something big. I first checked with Wells Fargo, where we have our checking account, but they didn't have a competitive option. The online-only banks with the best rates didn't meet my requirements for no-fee or minimum balance, but Capital One 360 had an option with .75% that did. And that should be easy, right? Capital One/Capital One 360, what could be the difference?

Turns out, there's a lot of difference. Like, they are basically different institutions. Capital One 360 used to be ING Direct, which wound up being okay because I was an ING customer once upon a time, and they were able to simply get my old account up and running. Linking the accounts and verifying the tiny deposits took some time, and then I had to figure out how to get the money from one account to the other.

It's frustrating but there are federal laws that govern savings accounts, including how many withdrawals you can make during a month and other things. At any rate, for some reason we couldn't just transfer money between the accounts like I could if one of them had been a checking account, but a few phone calls and I was able to find someone who handled it as a wire transfer with no fee. Perfect!

Two days later, the money was in the new account, earning .25% more interest, and the old account appears to be closed (I will be keeping an eye on that - it was no fee, no minimum balance, but I don't like leaving open accounts hanging around). It was painless, if not exactly hassle free, and I'm glad to know that our money is doing a little more work for us.

This is not something I recommend doing on a regular basis. It's not worth the time you'll spend to do it even once a year - I think we will earn about $20 more this year than we would have if I'd left it alone. But every five years or so, or when things substantially change with the economy or the terms of your account, it's worth taking a look at. Hopefully we will continue to grow our emergency fund, so over time this work will be more valuable.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sous Chef: Butternut Squash Casserole

Click to pin the recipe!
I found this recipe at The Simple Dollar in a round up of cheap, healthy Dinner with My Family recipes, and I was intrigued. I love butternut squash and bought it every week at Aldi last summer - and this year we're growing it in our garden so I've been looking for ideas for what to do with it.

Prep: This recipe comes together quickly and pretty easily - the most difficult part was definitely peeling and cubing the squash, which is not my favorite part (I usually halve it and roast it to avoid that, actually). Even so, it didn't take long to pull together and

Taste: I'm not generally a huge fan of blue cheese, but I thought the combination might be intriguing. It was okay, though I will probably try a different cheese next time - feta or maybe mozzarella, which I always have on hand. I might also reduce the baking time, as the squash was very tender and I usually like it to have a bit more of a bite to it.

Reception: I'm the only one who ate this, so apparently I'll be eating the whole pan. Good thing I'm eating for two, har har. Pickle politely took two nibbles out of a piece of squash and Peanut looked skeptical at me at the very mention of it. I might freeze half of it and see if it keeps, because of course I used a GIANT squash so I have a ton of it left over.

Anecdata: Cheap, easy to have pretty much everything on hand, easy. Not much to dislike about this! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kill Those Watts!

Peanut and I have noticed our electric bill creeping up lately, not so incrementally. Both our bill cost and kilowatt per hour usage is up somewhat significantly over last year, so we decided to go on a search to figure out why.

First, we checked whether the rates had increased over last summer. This information is printed on the bill, but we don't get a paper bill so we had to go digging on the website to find it. We learned that the cost had increased by about $.005 (half a cent) for electric and $.003 for delivery per kwh (we're not totally sure what this is, but we think it is the cost to get the electricity to us, so is charged by the kwh just like the electricity itself). It explained part of the difference in our total bill, but not all of it. Plus we can see right on our bill that our kwh usage is up compared to last year.

Then, we rented a wattage meter from our local public library. You plug this in to various electrical devices in your home and it tells you the energy draw in kilowatt hours, the same increment charged by the electric company. We found it really interesting which of our appliances were the biggest energy hogs.

Our #1 energy hog: the toaster oven. Really! If we ran the toaster oven continuously, it would cost us $107 per month (and it would burn our house down). The culprit of the biggest actual cost, though, was the dehumidifier - about $33 per month. Next up is our upstairs computer which runs a server ($20 per month), then our downstairs computer ($9 per month). Our deep freeze is a bargain at just $4 per month. We only checked appliances for which we might actually change our usage depending on their cost, so we didn't check the regular fridge/freezer or things like lamps or the baby monitor. And we couldn't check the air conditioner since it doesn't just plug into the wall. We did discover that a phone charger plugged in to an outlet with no phone on it costs nothing per month, and when you add an uncharged phone, it costs $.40 (that's if it charged the phone for the whole month, not each time you charge it). If you leave a fully charged phone plugged in, it would cost you $.09 per month. Interesting stuff. 

Third, we tried to figure out where we had increased our energy usage over the last year. We came up with a couple of theories - first, I'm pregnant during this summer and I wasn't last summer, and I have been feeling a lot hotter than usual. We keep our thermostat at 78 degrees, but I have had to turn it down to 76 on occasion when I just couldn't get comfortable, and each degree is about a 1% difference in energy use (I haven't run the math on that, but I'm sure it adds up to a dollar or two a day if I leave it cooler for eight to ten hours at a time). Second, after our basement flooded last summer, we've been trying to keep it drier down there to prevent mold, and have been running a dehumidifier quite a bit - like, 2 out of 3 days in a month. We got an older dehumidifier at an estate sale for $20; it's worked great but we are now considering whether it would be worth it for us to invest in a more energy efficient model that might have lower energy costs. Probably we'll shelve the idea until next summer because we're about to run into the time of year where our house is way too dry instead of too damp.

At any rate, it was a really interesting experiment to figure out why our energy bill was so much higher than we're used to - I get really peeved when I can't figure out why I'm paying more for something. In this case, it's pretty clear that I'm getting more of that something - electricity - even though it's hard to directly see the increase in our consumption. I now find myself turning off lights, or not turning them on to begin with, thanks to our little exercise, and I'm not so grumpy about paying the bills.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Also better late than never - September goals!

1. Move savings account, close old one. More on this in a different post, but I'm doing a little bit of rate chasing and just need to clean up some odds and ends to get it all done.

2. Lower grocery spending. Our food spending has been a leeeetle bit out of control lately. Our increased grocery store prices and loss of double coupon days is making an impact, but most of it is just buying whatever I want when I'm in the store, I think. Time to do a little better with planning and listmaking (and tamping down on the nesting urge to stock up - the grocery store will still be there after the baby is born, and I know now what a treat it is to get out and go somewhere alone in the early days!).

3. Get some nesting done without spending $$$. My honey-do list is long, long, long, and most of the things on there could be accomplished if we spent out on it. But I'm trying to find cheaper ways to cross things off. Example: I want a johnny-wall cabinet for our bathroom. I've wanted one for years, pretty much since we moved into this house. I found one at Home Depot for $90 and told Peanut that I'm going to buy it in one month, unless he makes me one before then. He likes doing wood-working stuff and this is a project I will be happy to lose him to for an afternoon, so we both win.

Better Late Than Never: August Spending Recap




business ($3.89)
car jeep ($56.16)
car mazda ($162.70)
Cell phones ($100.00)
charity ($10.00)
clothing ($227.78)
electric ($136.24)
Entertainment ($192.36)
food - groceries ($521.90)
food - other ($353.43)
gas ($24.54)
Helicopter/Robot ($39.18)
house ($1,401.71)
household ($421.71)
Hygiene ($20.00)
internet ($75.57)
medical ($18.59)
transportation ($50.00)
Water & Trash ($76.46)
Things of Note: 
The clothing category was quite a bit higher than usual, for a couple reasons. I had to start wearing maternity clothes, which I never had to do with Pickle, and so I had to go buy some. I've been getting them from thrift stores and clearance racks and hand me downs, and I think I've got all I need now. I also hit up the kids' consignment sale for things for Pickle and baby boy, and picked up some new cloth diapers to try out. 

Our entertainment category was higher than usual as well - the state fair and Renaissance Festival both fall during this month, and we did both (this is also why our food - other category is kind of high too, ahem). 

A massive Costco trip covers the bump in household and food - groceries categories. 

Overall, not a bad month. 


How was your August spending?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mo' Money, Mo' Grind

Things have settled down a little for me financially - I was feeling the pinch of consumerism earlier this month, but that's mostly gone away now. The biggest reason is because we are basically ready for the newest Moneybags to join the family - we've got everything we need on hand, mostly thanks to the most recent kids' consignment sale. I got a whole boy's first nine months wardrobe and a double stroller for $150, and I sold enough stuff to make almost $90 - not a bad deal! I also swapped a bunch of clothes with my NICU mom friend - girly stuff for her, adorable boy stuff for me (with nary a baseball or football on them, all monsters and bears and dinosaurs, yay!).

Since then, Pickle and I have been out and about enjoying the summer, and not focused on acquiring things for the new baby. We've visited local parks, playgrounds and pools as well as a children's museum (we bought a membership). We haven't been taking too many stroller walks because I need to be off my feet a lot, but we're spending tons of time in the backyard - someone put one of those turtle sandbox things out by their mailbox with a "free" sign on it, and I snatched it up and turned it into a wading pool for her. She's fascinated by airplanes, so we like to sit in the shade and making zooming noises as they go by.

Which reminds me, if you've got a little aerophile like I do, a great free thing to do is head somewhere near your local airport where you can watch planes take off and land. We haven't done it yet, but a great place to do this in the Twin Cities is the rooftop parking lot of the Mall of America - the planes come in right overhead; you can almost see the people in the windows! We'll be doing that at least once in the coming weeks.

I have a few more projects that I'd like to complete before baby arrives - eventually we will be redoing the nursery and I've got some things I can do now to make the space work better for two than for one. These Ikea spice rack bookshelves are at the top of my list. The other thing we have coming up is Pickle's second birthday next month. We will be having a small, family-and-friends-who-are-family-only party at our house, with cake and ice cream. (Last year I also made dinner for everyone, but that's not happening this time.) I am thinking about making an Elmo cake, since that's her newest obsession (thank you, Grandma), but I'm not sure if it would freak her out to actually eat Elmo. We'll see.

Anyway, that's what's been new around here - it's been nice to have a break from all the money thoughts for a while.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sous Chef: Chicken Burrito Bowl


Prep: One pot, minimal attention, half an hour to table, inexpensive - meets most of my criteria for a great dinner. I forgot to thaw the chicken ahead of time and had to cook it from frozen, which took a little longer but didn't ruin my plans or anything. Easy clean up.

Taste: Really good! The Mexican Quinoa recipe is basically a variation of this, and I think I like that slightly better than the rice, but this is really good, filling, tasty, family-friendly, and makes good leftovers.

Reaction: Thumbs up all around - this is another good one to keep on the menu on a regular basis.

Anecdata: Makes four servings, if I remember correctly.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sous Chef: Slow Cooker Cheesy Chicken and Rice



Prep: This is an easy slowcooker meal that dirties only the crockpot and rice cooker (unless you use rice made earlier in the week, which you could easily do). Takes almost no attention or time.

Taste: The taste was okay but this was really dry. Part of the problem is that the recipe doesn't have amounts in it, and I used plain rice instead of boxed rice, so I think I used too much. I even added milk which didn't seem to make a difference at all.

Reaction: Meh. I like the flavor but the texture left something to be desired. One thing I like is that this is really easy to pair with a veg and salad, so I'll be tweaking it to get a better consistency.

Anecdata: The recipe said to cook on low 7-8 hours but I don't think I'd do more than 5 hours next time - it smelled and looked done by then. On high would be just a couple hours, enough to cook the chicken through. Also, possibly because of my rice enthusiasm, this made a TON of food. I'm going to have to figure out how to make it creamier for us to eat up these leftovers.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rethinking freezer cooking

I have flirted with freezer cooking for years, but have not had a lot of luck doing it. I've tried doubling recipes and freezing half for later, freezing leftovers, freezing extra bits of things (like half a can of coconut milk or enchilada sauce), and Once A Month Cooking (a special kind of hell where you spend an entire day slaving away to make sixteen versions of basically the same dish and you are so tired of looking at them that you never want to eat them again). The only things that have really worked for me are taco meat and breakfast burritos.

My problems are as follows:
1. Freezer burn. I have tried wrapping in plastic, foil, and freezer bags. I have tried freezing in the dish. I have tried flash freezing. None of it seems to work - food that's cooked and then frozen just tastes like that when you reheat it - it's not as good as if it were made fresh.
2. Storage space. We have a freezer on top of our fridge as well as a chest freezer, but it seems like the kinds of thing I'm storing don't fit well in either freezer, and it's hard to get to the older things first, which means I use up new stuff so the old stuff just sits in the back and gets more freezer burned.
3. System. Keeping track of what's in the freezer and when it was put there is somehow beyond me. Writing the name of the contents on the bag is a good idea, but it doesn't do much good when you forget that it exists. We have a list on the fridge of what's in the chest freezer but I never look at it and it never gets updated. And the reorganization of newer stuff to the back/bottom of the freezer just doesn't seem to happen in my house.

I'd like to get better at this, because we're going to need some stockpiles of stuff for when the newest Baby M comes home. And "freezer meals" has been on my "before baby" checklist since we found out we were expecting, but I have been avoiding this task like the plague.

Cue a new idea!

What if I thought about freezer cooking in a totally different manner? What if I thought about it as stockpiling meals, rather than freezer specific cooking? What if I looked for components of meals on sale, stocked up on those, and froze the perishables, withOUT cooking them ahead of time? Keeping cans of soup, frozen veggies, rice or quinoa, and frozen chicken breasts on hand is not complicated, but toss all of those things in a slow cooker and you've got dinner! If I cooked them ahead of time and then froze them, I would never eat them - but knowing that I have the components on hand would be easier to organize and keep track of, and easier to throw meals together with some semblance of variety.

So. Here's my NEW freezer cooking plan:
1. Stockpiling. Keep an eye out for the following staples, and scoop them up x3 whenever they are on sale: chicken breast, ground beef, canned cream of ______ soups, canned corn, shredded cheese, frozen veggies.
2. Preparing. Chop chicken into bite size pieces, bag up into meal-size bags, freeze. Turn ground beef into taco meat, freeze. Freeze frozen veg (obviously) and shredded cheese (we do this with mozzarella for pizza; surely it would work with cheddar or mexican, right?).
3. Organizing. Get some shallow baskets for the chest freezer. Chicken goes into one basket, taco meat into another, cheese into another, etc. Add new bags to the back of the basket, take from the front. Baskets should be stackable so things don't get lost in the bottom of the freezer.
4. Preparing. Sous Chef posts are focusing on easy throw-together dinners that make use of these kind of staples, as opposed to requiring all fresh ingredients or things that I would only buy for that purpose. So hopefully when the time comes, I will be able to have a basic fresh produce shopping list for adding veggies and fruit to our meals, and otherwise be able to shop the pantry to make slow cooker or one-pot meals for my bigger family.

This seems like something I will actually be able to stick with. I already kind of shop this way - buying extra brats or cereal when they are on sale. I don't know why it never occurred to me to do it with meal components as well.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Ugh, I feel like such a CONSUMER

Seriously, I don't know what is going on with me lately, but I feel like all I'm doing is trying to find ways to spend money.

I blame the pregnancy for the most part. Early on when I had a hard time being interested in food, I gave myself permission to go get whatever sounded good at least every couple of days. Usually I wanted a chicken sandwich and fries from Wendy's, so it wasn't that expensive, but it started a bad habit of talking myself into a "treat" every time I leave the house. I've been combating this by bringing snacks and water with me everywhere now that I'm feeling better, but the habit remains. It mainly stuck out the day I went to the zoo with some friends - I was looking forward to the outing in general but also as a chance to get to eat out, and they all brought food with them. I wound up waiting in line forever with a fussy toddler for greasy park food that wasn't that good but was super expensive. Ugh.

So now I've been trying to be better about not falling into the trap of getting a treat just because I want one. I've been buying soda and ice cream at the grocery store so I have them on hand for cheaper. But then another problem came up - I'm not on bedrest or anything, but I do have to take it easy. When Baby M and I go to the park, I can't push her in the stroller; I have to drive. I kind of rolled my eyes at my doctor's request about this, but it really is too difficult for me to handle the walking and the heat and the stroller and everything else - I start getting lots of contractions and that's not a good thing.

So now we're driving everywhere all the time, which makes it SO EASY to just pop into Target or whatever. And I am relishing the ability to take Pickle out in public - she spent two winters in heavy isolation and just loves going places. She pretends to eat all the food at the grocery store and goes "WOW! WOW!" to almost everything we pass. But of course, I almost always wind up picking up a few things on these trips. I try to go with specific lists and I'm pretty good about it but it's still money that we probably don't need to be spending.

And now I am in full on nesting mode for the new baby - I just want to buy all sorts of cute little boy outfits and get the new cloth diaper stash put into place and everything, and it's just money money money flying right out the window. I have restrained myself so far (with the exception of two sleepers that were at Goodwill for $.75 each) because the kids' consignment sale is coming up next week and I can probably do all my shopping then at once. I'm limiting myself to going on half-price day in hopes that it does some good.

Still, I don't like the way my brain seems to constantly be in "acquiring" mode. It's tiring and distracting, and I don't know how to turn it off. Does anyone else know what I'm talking about?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Baby clothes!

Since the newest Baby Moneybags is expected to like blue and guns and sports, I've been debating what to do about clothing him. I wish I were maverick enough to dress my boy in pink and purple and therefore reuse all of Pickle's old clothes, but I'm not. So what do I do, both about the boxes of clothes in the attic and the soon-to-be naked little boy in my house?

It's a multi-faceted question. We got so much cute stuff for Pickle, mostly as gifts but also at consignment sales. A lot of the stuff is practically brand new because things like over-the-head onesies and zip-up outfits are not practical for a baby on oxygen and with a feeding tube. So do I save it in case we decide to have a third baby, and it's a girl? Do I pass it on to my sister-in-law, who at this very moment might be going into labor with a girl? Do I share it with our NICU friend who had a girl two weeks ago? Do I sell it and try to make some money with which to buy boy clothes?

I decided to do a combination of these things. First of all, I decided that I'd rather stuff get used than sit in storage for years - and we don't even know if we'll want to have another baby after this one, or if it will be safe for me to do so, or if we did, whether it would even be a girl! I hate to see these super cute clothes get musty or damaged because I wanted to keep them all to myself. (And anyway, if we did have another girl, say, three years from now, there will be so much NEW cute stuff to buy! Ahem.)

Second, I got some really nice hand-me-downs, so I didn't feel right simply selling all of our stuff to make money, especially when I know so many moms with babies who could be wearing these clothes right now. I felt the need to pass it forward. So I offered my sister-in-law and cousin a chance to go through everything and take whatever they want. I will take a few of my favorite pieces to my NICU mom friend as well. I'm excited to see babies I know and love wearing some of Pickle's favorite outfits.

Then, I will sell whatever is left. Already, my generosity has paid off - my cousin is passing on her maternity clothes to me and my sister-in-law has given me some toys for Pickle and some boy clothes she bought before she knew what she was having - along with a high chair for me to consign!

And lastly, I'm going to try to reign it in when shopping for baby boy. Clearly, we had way too much stuff for Pickle, so I'm going to try to remember that as I fill my shopping cart. Also, I don't think we'll have any baby showers for this one, so we shouldn't get quite as many new things. We do have more friends with older boy children than girl children, so we might get hand-me-downs, but that's okay.

Weirdly, my "need" for boy stuff is pretty much limited to clothes - he can use Pickle's pink bathtub and sheets and stuff, and that doesn't bother me at all. I just want to get him some cute outfits with monsters or monkeys or trucks on them (no sports, please no sports!) so he'll look all adorable and boylike.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rechristening Baby M

Baby M is hardly a baby anymore at 22 months, so it seems fitting that she should be renamed on this here blog of mine. I've meant to do it and kept forgetting, but it's definitely time to do it now - because she's not going to be the baby anymore!

That's right - we are expecting another baby moneybags! Sometime this fall, the newest member of the clan will be making his appearance. What's that? Oh, yes - it's a boy! Technically he's due close to Christmas, but given my history, we are prepared for baby to make landing anytime starting next month. I am really hoping he stays inside a lot longer, though!

I previously talked about the possibilities of a second pregnancy, and it's interesting to see which of those predictions have come true. I have not been placed on bedrest (in 2013, recommendations on bedrest to prevent pre-term labor changed - they found that it actually worsened the risk). I have been monitored very closely, getting twice the standard number of ultrasounds already to check that everything is going okay. I have met with high-risk specialists, and am receiving progesterone shots to help prevent pre-term labor. And so far, everything seems to be going fine, so I am hopeful that will continue.

My hospital bag is already packed and childcare arrangements are in place, so now we just sit and wait - but hopefully I will be waddling into the hospital at full term begging someone to "get this kid out of me!" (And hopefully I remember to repack the hospital bag with winter clothes instead of summer clothes at some point this fall....)

So I guess the last thing to share is Baby M's new nickname on here - at home, we have affectionately dubbed her Pickle, and so she shall be from here on out.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Our Trip Down South

Um, well, this is a little bit overdue! We've been home for a month, but I guess we've been busy. I outlined a budget before we left, and wanted to do a comparison to see whether I was on target.

Rental Car 
We rented a larger vehicle for comfort and boy was that worth it! From extra room for all the baby gear to more leg room for us to the advantage being able to change a diaper in the back of the car*, this was well worth the cost. I tried to get a Name Your Own Price deal, but turns out I was able to get a better deal by going straight to a rental location that was not at the airport (and, bonus, closer to our house). Expected Cost: $363. Actual cost: $364.73

Gas
Gasbuddy's trip cost calculator estimated $247.62 roundtrip. Expecting extra driving around at our destination (but forgetting to include needing to fill up before returning the car), I called this a $300 expected cost. Actual cost: $332.42

Hotels
We stayed at three hotels during the drive portions of the trip. I booked one hotel before we left, because I knew we would spend that night in that town, but otherwise booked through Priceline's Name Your Own Price feature while we were on the road. Two of our hotels were fine, and one was totally amazing and we plan to stay there every time we make this trip from now on. Expected cost: $300. Actual cost: $217.89

Food
We took a lot of snacks with us (fruit, granola bars, beef jerky, water, soda, and crunchy/salty stuff), and we came home with most of it still in the cooler. I'm not sure how to explain this, other than we needed to stop every few hours for Baby M to run around, and we succumbed to the lure of fast food almost every time. We didn't ever pay for water, though, so that was good. This total includes some groceries we picked up to make Baby M's blends on the road, as well as takeout the night we got home because we did not feel like grocery shopping after driving for two days. I didn't predict an expected cost, but the actual cost: $262.94

Incidentals
We bought a car charger for our phones, picked up some booze for our cat sitter, went to the movies, and bought postcards for a young friend at each state we visited. Our incidentals expenses were $35.99.

Our trip cost us $1,234.26 total. I had hoped to keep it under $1,000, which probably wasn't very realistic. Flying would have been quite a bit more expensive, since we would have had to buy three seats plus still rent a car at our destination. I'm not a huge fan of road trips as I get older (especially with a toddler!), but the cost savings will make me grin and bear it for years to come.


* I was SHOCKED at the number of places that don't have baby changing facilities in their bathrooms.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seller's Remorse

So, as an addendum to my update on cloth diapering, I wanted to share an experience with seller's remorse.

I took all my pocket diapers to the local cloth diaper store to get some help figuring out how to keep cloth diapering, and I realized that that system of cloth diaper was not going to work for us anymore. So, what to do with all those cloth diapers? Sell them, obviously.

The store I went to made me an offer and it kind of broke my heart - about 25% of what I'd paid for the diapers, even though they were used. This was because the quality of the diapers was, well, used. I bought them online for the most part, and it's hard to judge the quality through photos, not to mention that I really hadn't looked at any brand new diapers and wasn't able to see the differences even when they were apparent.

Many of them needed repairs made - new velro or new leg elastic. This was all stuff I could have done myself, and I would have gotten a better price - but the hourly rate would not have been worth it. The time I have to myself to do that kind of crafty work without a toddler grabbing at the needle is limited, and would mean giving up other things like reading for enjoyment or spending time with Peanut. For a savings of $2-3 per hour, that didn't really seem worth it. (Plus, I would have had to buy velcro and elastic - further eroding my profit!)

For our next foray into cloth diapering, I will only be buying either new diapers or used diapers that I am able to examine in person. I also am not going to limit myself to a strict budget for getting a full stash - even if I spend twice what I did before, it would be a pittance compared to the cost of disposables for the rest of the time Baby M is in diapers.

Even so, I left the store second-guessing myself for several days, feeling terrible for all the money I'd "wasted". I finally complained about it to Peanut, and he pointed out that even with the loss I'd taken, I still managed to diaper Baby M for more than a year for just $150. BabyCenter's baby cost calculator puts the estimated cost of disposables at $72/MONTH. Well! That puts it into perspective very nicely!

So, no more seller's remorse for me - now I'm just focusing on not trying to save money to spite myself by going the cheapest route possible. Sometimes it pays to spend just a bit more for the best value.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where I am with cloth diapering

A recent New York Times parenting blog article reminded me that I never wrote an updated post to my decision to cloth diaper Baby M. You can read the article here: Goodbye to Cloth Diapers, and Ideal Motherhood.

It was important to me to cloth diaper, partly for environmental reasons, partly for health reasons, but if I'm honest, mostly for perception reasons - my perception of myself as a mother, and others' perceptions of me as well. (Not unrelated to my fervent desire to have a natural birth, even though the manner of giving birth makes absolutely no difference to what kind of a mom I might wind up being - case in point, foster and adoptive moms!)

Anyway.

I did some research and chose a cloth diaper system known as pocket diapers - they have an outer shell that is stuffed with an insert or two, and once that's done they function very much like disposables. They are one size, able to go from newborn to potty training. And they are very easy to find used, which is how I got most of my diapers.

I used these cloth diapers on Baby M for a little over a year since she got home from the hospital. I "cheated" by putting her in disposables for our many doctor's appointments, but I had to lug around oxygen tanks and apnea monitors and feeding tubes, and was not about to burden myself with dirty diapers as well. I went through exactly one box each of size one and size two diapers. We washed diapers every day at first, and then every 2-3 days. I made my own detergent and reusable wipes, and line-dried the delicate parts of the diapers. We had some leaks, but no blow-outs, and I was quite happy with it - for an investment of about $200, I thought I had my diaper needs taken care of for another year or two.

And then a few months ago, it just quit working. We were having lots and lots of leaks - like every diaper, every time, which meant lots of extra laundry for baby and me, and cleaning the couch, or floor, or changing sheets after every nap and in the middle of the night. It seems like Baby M had a growth spurt that made her legs a little skinnier in proportion to the rest of her, AND she started getting mobile - but she doesn't crawl, she scoots around on her butt. The combination meant that the slightest bit of moisture in her diaper got squirted out with each movement, and it was just a nightmare.

I tried stripping the diapers to restore their absorbency and tightening the elastic on the legs and a few other things, but suddenly I realized that I was defaulting to disposables more often than not, and eventually a full week went by without me even opening the drawer where I keep the cloth diapers. Disposables are not as expensive as I feared (we use a store brand which works fine) but it's still not quite how I wanted to raise my kid.

So I did a little more research, and I packed up my diapers and Baby M and went to a local cloth diaper store. After talking with the owner for an hour, and showing him my frustrations with fit and with the way Baby M's way of getting around interferes, I think we have a solution. It's a different diaper system, called All-in-Twos (AI2s), which involves an outer shell and an insert that is snapped or folded into place. The outer shell can be used several times before laundering and has a double gusset at the leg to help prevent leaks. They are one size, although the inserts are different sizes to help get the trimmest fit possible.

I bought a couple of options, both new and used, to try out to see if it's going to work better for us, and I'm excited to see if it works. (The new option had to be ordered, so I'm waiting for it to arrive - this week, I think - to give the new system a fair shot.) In the meantime, disposables certainly are convenient - except for the smelly trash we now get to take out.

I also learned a valuable lesson about myself - the way I deal with my child's waste says almost NOTHING about what kind of a mother I am. I love her and will take the best care of her possible, and there are a variety of ways to do that. I solemnly promise not to judge other moms for deciding not to cloth diaper from here on out!

If you're interested in cloth diapering, Squawkfox has a number of really handy cloth diaper tutorials - here is a good place to start: running the numbers on cloth vs. disposable. I also really like her run down of the various kinds of cloth diapers and determining which system is the best value - but if I've learned anything, it's that the best value in strict dollars and sense might not be the best system for your kid - so keep an open mind!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ouch....

This story stinks - Man's Mistake Costs His Children $400,000 IRA Inheritance

At first I assumed it was another situation where a family is simply disagreeing over the disbursement of funds, but this one sounds more like a legitimate mistake. The man in question made a will specifying that his children receive his retirement funds. And he wrote on the beneficiary form for his IRA that he wanted the funds to be distributed according to his will.

Unfortunately, that wasn't a valid way for him to fill out the beneficiary form, which means that it made his surviving spouse the beneficiary by default. And there doesn't seem to be any way around this - IRA beneficiary forms are valuable because they bypass the probate process and allow beneficiaries to receive the money without waiting for the estate to go through probate. But that also means that they are not beholden to the will - the form outranks it and a mistake can mean that a default beneficiary will receive the money. This could also mean, for example, if you forget to update your form after getting a divorce - your ex-spouse would receive the money instead of your current one, regardless of what your will says. Eek!

As the article points out, there are no automatic reminders for beneficiary forms (and clearly no one at the institution that manages the IRA is looking at them to make sure they are valid). Peanut and I last updated our forms shortly after Baby M was born, and haven't really taken a look at it since then. I think I will put a reminder in the calendar to review these forms once a year.

When was the last time you checked your beneficiary forms?