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!