Monday, April 28, 2014

Baby Gear in the First Year

Baby M is hardly a baby anymore, so we're starting to pack up a lot of the baby stuff and bring out the toddler stuff. As I do this, I'm trying to keep only what we really liked and get rid of stuff that we didn't really use or didn't like. A lot of stuff is marketed as "must-have!" for babies, and most of that's not true. Further, much of it depends on the baby in question, and of course you can't predict that ahead of time. Most of this stuff is used for only a short period of time, and it's easy to talk yourself out of it when you're not sure what you'll use. Here's the stuff I absolutely loved:

* Infant car seat with stroller base. We're about to upgrade to a convertible car seat (Baby M will still be rear-facing for nearly a year, but she's almost outgrown the little clamshell seat). At first I was bummed that I didn't just get the convertible from the beginning and only have to buy one car seat, but then I remembered how often I just popped the little car seat into that stroller. Especially with all the extra gear we had to lug at first (oxygen tank, apnea monitor, feeding tube pump), there is no way we could have managed with taking her out of the car seat every time we went anywhere. You could also do a travel system, which is an infant car seat that fits into a stroller for a larger baby or toddler. The point is that in the early months, you should be able to get baby out of the car IN the car seat, instead of having to unstrap them every time.

* Moby wrap. I have two Moby wraps and I loved them to pieces. Baby M practically lived in them in her first weeks home - they mimicked the kangaroo care we'd been doing in the hospital and helped lull her to sleep. I thought I would do more babywearing, but she hated both the ring sling and the structured carrier we had, so that didn't really work out.

* Swing. The hospital frequently used a swing to calm Baby M when we weren't there, and we used it at home a lot as well. This is not a must for all babies, but it made such a difference for ours. We got a cheap one and Peanut hacked it so we could plug it into the wall instead of wasting batteries.

* Bottle warmer. This is a weird thing to like, but when Baby M was eating by mouth it really helped us develop a routine and provide white noise as she prepared to eat. We also kept a mini fridge in her room so we didn't have to mix up formula or run downstairs in the middle of the night.

* Changing table. I didn't have strong feelings about this until some new mothers-to-be that I know have told me what an unnecessary thing they think it is. As someone who has changed poopy diapers in the middle of the night for the last 14 months, I think it is SUPER necessary. It keeps all the supplies in one place, keeps little baby poops from squirting or rolling onto your bedding/floor/couch (and please, you are not going to find a towel in the middle of the night for a quick change) and is one more place to catch baby's projectile vomit (much more washable than the carpet!). +1 would use again.

* Baby tub. Ours comes with a sling for newborns and can face two directions to accommodate babies who can and cannot sit on their own. I gave Baby M a bath in the sink ONCE and it was nearly a disaster. Babies are slippery when wet! Best to have a safe place to put them while they're getting cleaned.

Parents, do you have any other great must-haves for the first year? Or did your experience totally differ from ours, and you think my stuff is a waste of money? 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sous Chef

I'm starting a new regular feature here, called Sous Chef. This is because I am utterly and completely over a basket when it comes to menu planning, and I need some fresh ideas.

Here's how meal planning currently works:
On Saturday or Sunday, I sit down with Peanut and take a look at the calendar for the week. We figure out which days we need quick dinners or have other plans and which days he needs to take leftovers for lunch. I ask for any special requests, which he usually doesn't have, and then I fall back on the same tired recipes I've been making for MONTHS, reorganizing them so they are a little bit different from last week. And probably two nights a week, we have frozen pizza for dinner, which is a crying shame because we used to make the best pizza from scratch - scratch dough, scratch sauce, we even made the cheese! (Okay, that last bit might be a wee bit of exaggeration.) I just don't have time for that with a baby freaking out at 5 pm (why do they do that right when you need to make dinner?).

Meanwhile, I save a couple recipes to Pinterest or Evernote every single day, but I never use them!


I'm going to try a brand new recipe every week, and I will do a post here about it and also save it to the brand new Little Miss Moneybags Pinterest board. I would love your recommendations for recipes, either in the comments or over on the Pinterest page (once I figure out how to open it to other pinners...).

Here's what I've been falling back on:
Cheesy tomato risotto
Twice baked potato casserole
Fried rice
Black bean or tortellini soup
Breakfast for dinner
Mac and cheese from scratch

Here's what I'm looking for:
Quick or easy - Things can take a long time if they don't need my attention, or they can be very hands-on if it's just for 10 minutes or so.
Vegetarianish - I'm not opposed to using chicken stock or the like, but I don't like the taste or texture of meat and I don't like cooking it. We bake a piece of chicken if Peanut feels like he needs more protein with his meal, and I get plenty of protein from plant sources.
Makes leftovers - that way I don't have to plan lunches, too!

Wish me luck on this adventure - I hope you enjoy coming along!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mo' cellphones, mo' savings

So back in December I started trying to cut back on certain expenses, and in January I gave an update on how that worked out with my cell phone. Basically, because it has been half a decade since I got a new cell phone, I am way out of contract and was able to take advantage of a new plan offered by AT&T that cut my monthly cost by about $15. It took a bunch of phone calls over a couple of months for them to get everything figured out (although they never did get my auto-billing* reinstated, so I had a few late bills and one late fee, grrrr).

Well, then we stumbled upon another option that will further lower my bill by about $13 per month - Peanut's family's family plan had an extra line and I could get a new local number and a new phone all at once. My iPhone still works, but it is starting to get a little buggy and slow, and it's five years old after all. And my 212 (NYC) area code was confusing to a lot of locals - there is a 612 area code here that is responsible for at least one major miscommunication when someone wrote my number down wrong. So last weekend we spent some time at the Verizon store and I got a kicky new Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and a shiny number that pairs well with Peanut's (he got a new phone too).

By joining the family plan, we also managed to lower the overall family's bill due to an Edge credit, so it seems to have worked out well for everyone. (We'll know more when we see how it's laid out on the first bill.) Now Peanut and I are paying $90 per month for two smart phones with unlimited (or effectively unlimited) voice, data and texting. In addition, I ported my NYC number to Google Voice, so I can keep using it until I get all of Baby M's medical providers updated.

The transition from iPhone to Android is taking some time, but it's going well so far. I have 14 days to swap it out for a newer iPhone, but I'm really trying to like the Galaxy since that swap would cost me a $35 restocking fee plus a long wait to get the phone - they only had the brand new iPhones in store and I wanted an older new one, if that makes sense.

This whole experience reminded me that there is a reason I wait so long between upgrading phones! I don't like change, and I would hate to get a new phone every year. I'll wait till this one starts being more frustrating than useful before I think about upgrading again.

How often do you upgrade your cell phones?

* My cell phone is pretty much the ONLY thing I have auto-billed, because I don't trust companies to not make mistakes in their favor, and I did that because the bill was consistently the same month after month and I used it to keep an old credit card active. So of course when the auto-billing went haywire, it took me forever to notice because that's the ONLY bill that I don't pay manually.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birthday Rewards!

Earlier this year, I mentioned a list of places you can sign up to get a birthday reward. Well, it's my birthday month, and here's what I'm going to redeem!

A&W  - free root beer float
Red Robin - free burger
Dippin' Dots - free ice cream
Sephora - free lipstick and mascara sample
Bucca di Peppo - free brownie sundae
Ulta - free mascara
Benihana - $30 credit towards dinner
Noodles & Co - free bowl of noodles

Not a bad deal for turning a year older!

I got a couple other offers as well, but they were for things like a free box of chocolate strawberries with a $60 dinner and other things that would require me to spend money to get a gift (and, um, doesn't that mean it's not a gift?). And that's just not in the budget this year.

Aside from that, Peanut and I will probably have a date night (maybe to Benihana??) and some flowers* and call it good. I don't do big birthday parties for myself, and some time with my husband makes me happier than a big hoopla would anyway.

* And this is weird to write, because I know he'll read this (hi, Peanut!), and it's not in any way a reminder or request, but he usually gets me flowers on my birthday because I like to get flowers on my birthday and he knows that. And he buys them at the grocery store instead of an expensive florist and I like them better that way. I would like them best if they were picked for free in a meadow, but it being Minnesota the only thing he could pick me at this time of year would be a couple of snowballs so the grocery store is usually the best option. And I'm just putting it here because it's my blog and it's my birthday post and I'm talking about what I like to get on my birthday because I don't like big expensive anythings but I also think that birthdays are important and fun milestones to mark, and this is a great way to do them - free stuff, dinner with loved ones, and cheap pretty flowers. And Peanut doesn't need any reminders because he is perfect in every way. Ladies, if you like to get flowers on your birthday, tell your significant other that you would like that and be clear that you want the cheap ones (or the expensive ones, if that's your taste) and don't make them try to read your mind!

Friday, April 4, 2014

April Goals

It has been a looooong time since I did a goals post.

Then again, it's been a long time since I had goals more interesting than "don't wear pajama pants all day".

Here are my goals for April of this year:
1. File taxes and max out Roth IRAs for the year. Self-explanatory (and kind of a gimme).

2. Get new phone/phone number and port old number to Google Voice. I know, I just went on this whole cost-lowering campaign, and it worked, but there's room on Peanut's family's family plan to add another line (with a free phone), and it will lower our bill by another $10 a month. Plus it will give me a local number. And plus it will give me a new phone - my phone is nearly six years old and starting to be a little unreliable.

3. Fix Peanut's withholding at work. As nice as it is to get a big refund, we need to make sure Peanut's withholding is lower so we're not giving away money to the government.

4. Plan Baby M's first road trip! I need to pick dates, get a budget, look into renting a car (and whether our car insurance covers that car), and stuff like that.

What are your goals for April?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Retirement for the Unemployed

Yesterday I mentioned that Peanut and I are maxing out our Roth IRA contributions for 2013 and considering that money to be part of our emergency fund. The eagle-eyed among you might have wondered how we're doing that, since I'm a stay-at-home mom with no income, and Roth IRA rules state that you can only contribute up to your taxable income.

Enter the "Spousal IRA".

This is not really a thing, as we found out. I thought it would be a separate account that we'd open and Peanut would have to contribute to it in my name, or something like that, but it turns out that it's just a conceptual way of treating a married couple. We will put the money in my existing Roth IRA, using the taxable income that I earned (I worked for the first two weeks of 2013) and then Peanut's income for the rest of the year as proof that we have a) earned more than the contribution limits and b) earn less than the maximum adjusted gross income to qualify for a Roth IRA.

Hopefully we'll be able to do that for every year that I stay home so that my retirement contributions will stay on target. I'm a few years older than Peanut so I am already a few years ahead of him in retirement savings, but what's mine is his and all that, and we don't want to be eating Alpo in our old age. We consider all our money to be "our money" anyway, so it's nice in this case that the government does the same.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Taxes and Retirement

Normally I like to file our taxes early - like in mid-February, so it's done and over with, and any refund we are owed gets to us before the big crunch sets in. This year we were all set to file our taxes when we heard on the news that Minnesota is changing tax laws to more closely align some of the state credits with federal credits - like mortgage interest and student loan interest deductions. This will increase our refund, possibly substantially, but we have to wait until April 3rd to file (or file an amendment later). So we're sitting on them for a few more days, but we've already got plans.

First, we're getting a pretty big refund (a few thousand) from federal. This is partly due to being homeowners and having a kid (and having lots of medical expenses) but I think we could also tweak Peanut's withholding to get this down lower for next year. We were already getting a fairly good refund (a couple hundred) from state, before these new deductions kick in, so we'll see where that leaves us.

We had a couple of options for what to do with that money. We put retirement contributions on hold for a few years what with Baby M's birth and my uncertain working status, so we could put that money into Roth IRAs. Our cash reserve emergency fund is a little low since we spent $6,000 of it on a furnace in December, so we could build that back up. Or we could go to DISNEY WORLD! (Just kidding, we weren't really considering that possibility.)

So really it came down to retirement vs. emergency fund. And we finally decided to combine them. We are maxing out our Roth IRA contributions this year (using our tax return as well as money we've been setting aside) and we are also considering that money to be part of our emergency fund.

With Roth IRAs, you can withdraw your contributions at any time without penalty or taxes. You can't take money out and then put it back again, like you have to do with a 401(k) loan, but you can get that initial money back if you need it. There are some limits, like if your holdings lost value, you can only withdraw up to that lower value instead of your original contribution. But on the whole, not all the money in a Roth IRA is tied up until retirement.

Our entire emergency fund will not be in our retirement accounts, and we will continue growing our liquid savings as much as possible this year, but we were not comfortable taking yet another year off this use-it-or-lose-it retirement opportunity. Our savings account contains emergency funds as well as funds earmarked for things like car repair and computer replacement, plus we have several thousand dollars available on credit cards which we could use to cover the time between when we have some emergency and can get the money out of the Roths (which could take a few business days). I would prefer to have a heavily-padded cash savings account AND contribute to retirement, but I also prefer to have Baby M home with me where she's less likely to get sick during these first few critical years - so this is a good compromise. (Also, I find that having a lower balance in my savings account makes me spend less money and focus on trimming spending wherever I can, so that's a win, too.)

Are you getting a refund from taxes? What are you doing with it?