Thursday, March 20, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

1. Thing the First: Get Rich Slowly asks, Can you grow your family on a shrinking budget? It's a good question, and one that Peanut and I have been asking ourselves since I quit my job. We're not sure yet whether there will ever be a Baby M 2.0, given the risks that pregnancy poses for me. But the financial aspect is one thing that we can research and to some extent control, and we're trying to set ourselves up for success in that regard.

2. Thing the Second: Paycheck to Paycheck documentary

3. Thing the Third: What happens to unsold merchandise? I find a lot of stuff from Target at the secret Target As-Is Store in the basement of a downtown Salvation Army. I try to buy used when possible, but now that I know the alternative might be a landfill, I don't mind buying new damaged goods, samples, or online returns at secondhand prices.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Three Thing Thursday with Bonus! Ask the Readers

Thing the First: I absolutely love this list of how much money you should be making in your twenties. TV and social media give us this idea that everyone is living the high life and it's just not true. In my twenties, I definitely felt like I could pay my rent all the time, go out to eat sometimes, and look for ways to earn more money most of the time. That's a nice rule of thumb, to keep on top of your finances without going crazy over nickels and dimes.

Thing the Second: There's a really nice run-down of Dave Ramseys' baby steps on The Simple Dollar. These are the core principles of my financial life. We're currently on step 3, again - after we had two "emergencies" last year (basement flood and furnace replacement) we used up quite a bit of our emergency fund and need to rebuild it while getting back into the groove of retirement contributions. I'll write more soon about how we're funding both goals.

Thing the Third: What If by XKCD is publishing a book! Woo hoo! If you are remotely nerdy, these science-y blog posts are great reading, and I'm excited that they'll be available in book format so we can read them as bedtime stories to Baby M.

Bonus! Ask the Readers
Any ideas for what to do with a ton (a TON) of clean, empty, glass baby food jars? Peanut is using some to organize the garage/basement, and I have seen all the cute things you can make with them on Pinterest - but I do not really have the time or interest to be crafty right now. I have already checked with our local schools, and they are happy to take the plastic containers but not the glass. I could just recycle them, but...I don't know, it seems like somebody might want them for something. Thoughts?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Planning for a trip but not as DINKs

I seem to keep stumbling on this fact the last couple weeks: we are no longer DINKs. We don't have two incomes, so I can't keep thinking that we will do things the way we used to. Used to be, when I went to visit family, I flew. It's faster, and for one person, the costs of flying are pretty equitable to driving (especially if that person would have to rent a car in order to make the drive). In my mind, DINKs fly to vacations. Families with stay-at-home-moms drive their station wagons to the beach - or in this case, the sedan to Grandma's house. It's still surprising to me that I now fall into the second category instead of the first.

Although it's still cold and snowy here, I am looking ahead to summer and starting to plan our first trip with Baby M. You may remember that we live close to Peanut's family, but mine is scattered around the midwest and south - all at least a 14 hour drive from us. My family (including my 85+ year old grandparents!) have come to see us since Baby M's birth, but now it's time for us to start venturing out to them.

We will be headed to the south, to see my parents, grandparents, assorted siblings and friends. It's a 16-hour drive if we stop only to gas up, or a combination of two flights or one flight + several hours driving time. If we fly, Peanut would prefer to buy a ticket for Baby M rather than carry her on as a lap infant - it will give us an extra carry-on allowance, plus it will probably give us an entire row of seats, so no stranger will have to be next to us in the event that she starts projectile puking. But we will also have to rent a car once we get to our destination, so the cost of the trip is pretty high - over $1,200 easily. Plus the headaches of flying with a toddler, and the extra headaches of traveling with a special-needs, tube-fed toddler who vomits multiple times a day.

I hadn't really seriously considered driving until today. Looking at the cost of everything, and envisioning trying to find a safe, clean place in an airport or on the plane to feed Baby M, or trying to keep her calm and quiet on one or two flights...frankly, it was overwhelming. Peanut and I started brainstorming about whether we could in fact drive instead, and now we're strongly leaning towards that.

If we left shortly before bedtime, Baby M would probably sleep for 90% of the drive and wouldn't need to be fed anyway. Driving at night would mean we'd miss most of the traffic in the big cities along the way, and if one of us napped before we left and the other slept as much as possible in the car before switching drivers, we could conceivably do it in one go. It would mean a fairly groggy first day at our destination, but after a full night of sleep we'd probably be okay. And if anything came up, we could stop at a hotel.

And as for the cost, it would be significantly cheaper. Gasbuddy estimated the cost of gas roundtrip to be about $243. We could pack a cooler of snacks and food to save on eating out, and even if we stayed at a fairly nice hotel at $100 a night each way, we'd still be spending less than half the cost of flying. We also looked into renting a car that's a little bigger and more comfortable than ours, with similar or better gas mileage, and that would add less than $200 (at list price, not name-your-own-price) to our trip. So financially, driving is definitely the better option.

I'll be doing a little more research on this, especially for rental cars that make long drives more comfortable. Have you made a change from flying to driving because of having kids?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Women's Money Week: Traditional Careers and Jobs (Opting Out, That Is)

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

I said the other day that balance to me means having seasons in my life - a season of working, a season of raising kids, and another season of working - rather than doing everything all at the same time. I wish our cultural workplace was set up to be more understanding and accommodating of that, rather than insisting that women build our careers at the exact same time that we are most fertile and have the most energy for raising young children. But that's not the case, so I have to focus on what's best for my family - and when.

When Baby M is older and in school, I intend to go back to work. But I don't know what I'll be doing. My previous career is an option, I guess, but I think it's time for a change - I think I'll be looking for something outside the traditional white collar career path. I wish when I was in college that I had thought a little more about how I might want to structure my life, instead of what I might want my job title to be. After ten years of working in the corporate world, there are a couple things that make me rethink what I'll be doing in the future.

I was getting burnt out by a crucial aspect of my job title. I worked in book marketing for years, and I loved the "book" part of it, but the "marketing" part gave me pause. I have issues with marketing in general, and was getting very dissatisfied with new media marketing in particular - it might sound like fun to be on Twitter all day, but when you're doing it to market to people it feels like you're just contributing a lot of nothing to the world. I want to do something that matters.

I'm feeling a pull to look in other industries for employment. I have now spent a lot of time with people in medical and educational settings, and I feel like these two industries make a really big, tangible difference in peoples' lives. I want to make that kind of difference. I want to help. I want to make the world a better place on an individual level.

I want a little more control over my schedule. My previous life was a business-casual, 9-5 M-F, cubicle-dwelling one, with very little room for variation. Now that I've spent a portion of my adult life able to conduct personal business during the weekday, I will have a hard time giving that up. I want a variable schedule, maybe a part-time one. I want to go grocery shopping on a Tuesday morning to avoid the weekend masses. I want to schedule dentist appointments without taking PTO. I want to be able to meet the school bus, maybe, or start work after lunch, and I definitely want to be able to avoid rush hour. I don't want to be chained to a desk and a computer and a telephone to complete my work.

So far I've identified these criteria for my future work, but I still don't really know where it's pointing me. It would be nice if I didn't need to go back to school, and of course everyone wants a job where they can set their own schedule, work part time, do something they love, help people AND get paid big bucks. We'll see what I find when I'm ready to look - right now, my focus is at home, where it should be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Women's Money Week: Non-Traditional Work

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

I've done a lot of non-traditional work, but I've never used it to make a living. Here are some of the side hustles I've had to supplement a full-time income:

* Mystery shopper. I mystery shopped on and off for about a decade, and intensively for about six years. At the height, I was making a couple thousand dollars a year doing it. I have heard of people who can do this for a living, but I'm not sure how. I think you have to start getting the really high-end shops, like for hotels and casinos, and I just didn't have the time or interest in pursuing those. (I've written about mystery shopping before, if you're interested in getting started.)
* Security guard. I did this in college, working at a mega-arena in a nearby large city. I worked everything from WWE events to concerts to a Superbowl. It ranged from super boring to super interesting (my break fell during half-time, and I got to watch the show from front-row endzone seats!). The most important thing was having comfortable shoes. It paid decently for a college gig, and was definitely flexible.
* Belly dancer. I performed with a troupe for about eight years, everything from private corporate events to bar mitzvahs to state fairs. It was a great way to pay for an expensive hobby, and while I made money every year, I didn't make a ton. Some of my friends from the troupe make some or all of their living from performing, but I felt like it's such a short-lived career that I didn't want to risk it.
* Extra. I have been an extra in music videos and an audience member for several TV shows. This is something that's really only possible in New York and LA, but it was a fun thing to do when the opportunity showed up.

This kind of non-traditional work is something I had a lot of fun doing in my twenties, but I'm a lot less likely to do it now. When Baby M is a little older, I might dip back into mystery shopping, and I can see myself being that embarrassing mom in her fifties who joins a belly dance group, but I think I'm done with side hustles that pay only slightly better than minimum wage.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Women's Money Week: Work-Life Balance

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

Can women have it all -- a professional identity, a successful marriage, and a close involvement in their kids' lives?

I don't know.

I know for me, right now, that's not possible. And I'm glad that my partner is on the same page and happy to take a hit in our joint income in order for us to focus on getting our daughter healthy. My attention is nearly fully taken up with her, and there's nothing left over to give to a job. Not to mention that it takes all my time to make our lives a little smoother - childcare, medical stuff, laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking, keeping the house clean. It seems like I work all day doing this stuff, so I don't know where I would fit an eight hour workday. Staying home is the only way for me to achieve any kind of balance right now, for  me personally and for my family as a whole.

If things were a little more normal for us, could I have it all?

I don't know.

I have a friend who has a healthy kid and works full time. She is able to throw money at most of their problems (takeout instead of cooking, hiring a housecleaner, sending laundry out), but money can't buy you time with your spouse, your kid, or yourself. I don't look at her life with envy. I don't think she looks at my life with envy. I have another friend who has a medically complex kid, and she and her husband both work full time out of necessity. The stress is evident, and I don't know how they balance it all. I definitely don't envy their situation. I just don't know how working moms do it, and frankly I am not sorry to miss that memo.

Maybe women can have it all, just not at the same time. I had ten years' worth of an awesome career, and that was cool. I enjoyed my work as much as I enjoyed the money. I forged an independent life for myself before I got married and had a kid. And now I get to stay home and help someone discover the world, and I get to indulge the nurturing side of myself by taking care of my family. That's cool, too. Someday I won't be needed at home as much, and I will go back to work. These are seasons of my life, and that's what balance looks like to me - focusing on one aspect of my life at a time.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Women's Money Week: Kids and Work

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

It's Women's Money Week again! Today's topic is kids and work.

I worked for about two months after my daughter's birth, while she was still in the hospital. I went on leave when she came home, but her health problems ultimately dictated that I stay home with her for at least a few years, so I resigned my job and have now been a homemaker for over a year. So my experience with kids and work is limited, but I had planned to continue working had my pregnancy and birth been normal so I'll share a few random thoughts.

First of all, mad props to all you working moms. Seriously - I know our situation (therapies, multiple doctor's appointments) is a little different from most, but kids take up a ton of time just with regular stuff. So to balance a job and a whole professional identity on top of being a mom - well, I'm impressed by that.

Second, one thing I wish I had understood before having kids is that having kids is nothing like you expect. I had all sorts of plans for how things were going to be, and the reality is that you just can't know until you're there what it's going to be like. I wish I could take back every instance when I said "When I have a kid, I will always...." or "I will never...". (Because boy, has that backfired on me - planning a particular kind of birth, determining to breastfeed, expecting to continue working - all of those things have been taken out of my control.) If I could tell 18-year-old me anything it would be to pick a career that is flexible with regards to dipping in and out of the workforce, and to not get married to the idea of anything before it actually arrives in your life (and my 18-year-old self would no doubt ignore me, but at least I'd have said it).

Third, I would like to give my daughter the role model of a working woman. I think it's important for her to see that women can be financially independent and have identities that don't center around their families. In my marriage, our roles have broken down along gendered lines for a variety of reasons, and we are happy with that for us - but I want my daughter to know that there are lots of different ways to build a family structure and be happy. She's too little to pick up on this stuff now and she needs me at home, but when she is older I hope to impress these ideas upon her.

Lastly, I think take your kid to work day is kind of lame. I never really participated in it, though, so maybe it's not. Did you ever go to work with your parents and find it valuable?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ronald McDonald House and Me

This post is not sponsored by anyone but my own experience.

Last week, we served dinner to 100 people at the Ronald McDonald House that served us so many meals while Baby M was in the hospital. It was awesome (and weird) to be on the other side of the counter. Dinner at our Ronald McDonald House is not provided by the hospital or the foundation -- it is provided by families and organizations that volunteer to do so, taking on all costs associated with it.

I was a little daunted by this project - I've never organized anything like this, and serving 100 people could get pretty expensive. I picked a couple of soup recipes that are easy to stretch and called for volunteers. Everyone brought a couple batches of something, which cut the cooking down so that no one was super burdened. We got salad, rolls, crackers, chili fixings, dessert and beverages thanks to Target - several family members are employed there, and one of them asked her store manager if there was money for this type of sponsorship, and there was! They gave us $250 which covered the cost of everything I wanted to get.

There were also some people who wanted to help but couldn't come out the night we were scheduled to serve, so they held food drives at their businesses. We left 21 bags of groceries and personal care items at the House for the pantry. (Dinner is served most evenings, but the pantry is open during the day for families to make meals as they are able to get away from their child's bedside.)

All in all, this experience added maybe $50 to my monthly grocery budget, and the time it took to make a few extra pots of soup and organize our family and friends (mostly done by email, and then picking up the food drive stuff). And it was totally worth it. Every night that I was served dinner, I vowed to pay it forward, and it feels really good to have done that. I plan to do this twice a year, for as long as I can gather up enough volunteers to help.

If you've got extra time or money or non-perishable food on your hands, I heartily recommend the Ronald McDonald House. Despite the name, McDonald's restaurants do not fund the charity, although the coin collections at the counters and pick-up windows do get forwarded on (unless they are pocketed by the manager of the restaurant, like the McDonald's I worked at in college, grrrr). This charity is meeting a need that no one considers until they desperately need it, and I am so, so thankful that they exist.