Educating the Wheelers

We've now moved to! If you're not automatically redirected, then click this. See you there!

Chronicling the Experience of Educating our Children and Managing our Family

Friday, January 27, 2006

Our Frugal Baby, Part II

We had a comment on Part I of this post asking what I think are the barebones necessities for the frugal mom with a new baby on the way.

A few obligatory disclaimers: this is what worked for us, your mileage may vary, and my list is way, way shorter than most you will read elsewhere. On the other hand, I'm not trying to sell you anything. [Though for full disclosure, I do have Amazon Associates links in this post, so decide for yourself whether I'm trying to sell you anything. Heh heh.]

With that out of the way, here's what I learned from our experience, in rough order of importance:

  • A car seat: Get a good car seat, be smart but not too cheap, if you know what I mean. It's worth it to buy new. There are two routes you can go here at the beginning. You can get one of those detachable rear-facing guys for a hundred bucks or so that you use for about the first year, or you could get a more expensive [200-300, usually] convertible type that'll last you until the wee one is about 5 years old. We ended up choosing the detachable one -- a Graco SnugRide, I believe -- and then got a Britax when she was reading to go forward facing. This is a more expensive route to go, HOWEVER -- when you are dealing with the youngest of the youngins, they are always going to be falling asleep in the car on you. It is a very, very good thing to be able to just detach the seat and go rather than having to unhook them and take them out of the seat and probably wake them up. [Terri's #2 Rule of Parenting: Never ever wake a sleeping baby unless you really, really have to. A baby's sleep is your very best friend. Heh.]

  • Diapers: Disposable or Cloth, I have no dog in that fight. Choose whatever works best for you, I'm not going to judge you, and please feel free to ignore anyone else who tries to. *** But whichever route you go, make sure you have about 2 weeks worth on hand at the beginning so you don't have to worry about having to restock during those early whirlwind days. Don't buy too many at the outset, because you don't want to get stuck with a bunch of really small newborn diapers that your 10lb kid grew out of in a week! Etc. To stave off diaper rash, this is what worked for us: remove diaper, clean up with wipes, pat dry with a washcloth, apply some generic A&D style ointment, then replace with clean diaper.

  • Baby Clothes: Hand me downs or garage sales are totally the way to go. Again, it's real easy -- especially in the hormone flush of pregnancy -- to get all emotionally attached to that adorable 20 dollar outfit. But your kid will likely only wear it for a few months, and you don't even want to know what all sorts of substances are going to stain and soak that thing almost immediately after you put it on him/her. Since this is your first kid, go the green/yellow/orange route so you can use them with all your succeeding kids and don't have to do the whole "How old is your son?" "Er, she was born 2 weeks ago" dance with strangers because she's in a blue jumpsuit, or vice versa.

    Additionally, plain clothes with no frills, ruffles or other weird things are the way to go. A nice soft cotton footie pyjama style jumper, preferably with snaps all the way down both legs will make your life easier during diaper changes. You don't need too many, depending on how often you do laundry, though it's better to have too many than too few if you end up having a 5-diaper-blowout day. Heh. And a nice little hat for the first few weeks is also recommended, and should be cheap and easy to find.

  • Swaddling Blankets: These are awesome. We had one of those kids that needed swaddling to soothe, and unfortunately you don't know if you've got one of those until they're here, so it's worth having them on hand just in case. And if it turns out they're not the swaddling type, you'll end up finding a dozen other uses for them, so it's not a total wash. Again, the hand-me-down or garage sale route is the best way to go. Get a handful of the smaller size -- around 2' by 2' -- and a few of the larger size -- around 3' by 3' -- because they'll outgrow the smaller swaddling blankets fairly quickly.

  • Teeny Tiny Nail Clippers: Those nails grow quick, and they are razor sharp! You'll want to get 2-3 of these to start with because if you're anything like me, you'll constantly be misplacing them.

  • Breast Pump, Freezer Bags, Etc: If we're going the frugal route, formula is definitely not the way to go. But, you still need to prepare for the possibility of not always being able to breastfeed when your baby is hungry. If at all possible, I'd get one before your child is born, for a few reasons. First, you might end up in a position like us when Audrey couldn't latch at all after birth and had to be syringe and finger fed pumped breast milk and then had bottled breast milk or fed on a breast shield until she was 3 months old. I had to pump every 2 hours around the clock in those days and counted my blessings that we had a good pump. But even if your child latches like a champ from the get go, you still want to keep some spare milk in the freezer "just in case." Go with what you can afford, but it is sort of a "you get what you pay for" market. The Medelas are worth the price, if you can swing it.

  • Sling: Mine was worth its 100 times its weight in gold. [Hey, they're light!] Being able to "hold" your baby but have both hands free ... I cannot overemphasize what a huge difference this makes. Cheaper and easier and more versatile than a stroller. Plus, once you get used to it you can learn how to discreetly nurse in public while they're in the sling, and that makes your life even that much easier.

  • Nursing Tops: Speaking of nursing in public ... with practice, you will learn how to discreetly nurse in any old loose-fitting top, but at the very beginning until you're confident, a nursing top or two is helpful. But if you practice at home, you'll figure it out quickly.

  • UPDATED TO ADD: I just remembered: a rectal thermometer and some vaseline will also be handy if you suspect a fever. But nothing else is coming to me off the top of my head.

Honestly, everything else is gravy. You don't need a changing table, you don't need a crib -- though if anyone in your bed is a heavy sleeper, you'll want to look into getting a Snuggle Nest for peace of mind in the first few months. You don't need mobiles, you don't need a Diaper Genie -- how hard is it to put a diaper in a plastic grocery bag and bring it out to the garbage? Plus, if you're breastfeeding, baby poop doesn't smell bad until they start eating other stuff. It smells kind of like sour milk. You don't need a pack-n-play, you don't need a high chair, you don't need a swing. You don't need a baby bath tub, wash them in the sink with a folded towel on the bottom like our grandparents did. Heck, you don't even need soap for several weeks! You don't need toys, you don't need a special "diaper bag" -- a cheap backpack from a thrift store will do you fine to hold an extra outfit or two, a swaddle blanket and some diaper changing gear when you go out.

More important than any equipment is human support. Your mom, your sister, your friend, your neighbor -- a friendly looking new mom that you spy in public! -- reach out! Do it! I am an extremely introverted, solo homebody in my normal life, but this transition period after your first child is born is very very rough while you adjust, and I don't believe mothers were ever meant to go it alone. Unfortunately, with the rise of geographically-scattered extended families and the like, many new moms are isolated and life is much, much harder than it should be at first. Especially if you are a stay at home mom who's alone with the baby 8-10 or more hours a day.

*** My #1 Rule of Parenting is to trust yourself. You are going to find that many people are both insecure and very emotionally attached to the choices that they make/made as a parent and thus see people who are making different choices as indirectly criticizing their own choices. But parenting is NOT black and white -- keep an open mind, use whatever works for you and almost always, what your gut and instinct tells you will be right. Just nod and smile at the complete strangers who will come up to you and tell you that what you're currently doing is all wrong. Why normally sane and polite people do this completely mystifies me [though I am sure it is at least partially related to what I wrote above].

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Other New Baby Costs

As we are coming upon the third trimester for the next baby, I've been taking a look at what the costs associated are going to be.

  • Midwife: $~2k, but less than that, because of the Health Savings account

  • Birth/Post-Partum Doula: $900, a luxury, to be sure, but she worked with us with Audrey, we like her, and we don't have any family in town to help with Audrey and our household needs before, during and after the birth. This is also HSA material.

  • Diapers: ongoing, but I'll probably buy about 40 bucks worth to start us out. Other diaper changing gear - wipes, rags, cream -- we already have on hand for Audrey

  • New "parts" and freezer bags for my Medela pump: 70 dollars? I could conceivably just sterilize the old stuff, but I used it so much that I think it would be worth starting fresh

  • Almost all of Audrey's old clothes and swaddling blankets were yellow, green or orange, so he's good to go for a long, long time clothes-wise. He'll be in bed with us in the Snuggle Nest [like Audrey was] until he's robust enough to sleep without worry of being rolled onto. Not that that has ever been an issue for us -- I am an extremely light sleeper and perhaps too in tune with where the little ones are when I'm next to them. But there's no reason not to be safe, anyways. He'll be on the other side of me than Audrey so I shouldn't need to worry her rolling on top of him, either. Good thing we have a big bed. The cat will just have to be content at Andrew's feet.

    Audrey's car seat is still good [and no recalls], we never used the stroller or crib anyways [maybe we should sell them?], and my old sling didn't get too stained, so I don't think I need a new one of those, either.

    As long as we *knock on wood* don't have any complications with the birth, it shouldn't be too expensive. Babies just don't need that much. Heh.

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    The Cost of Giving Birth

    We have pretty good insurance through Andrew's work that would pay for the vast majority of a hospital birth for our babies. For Audrey, we went to a regular OB for about 6 months ... but we clashed so bad that we "fired" him and started looking at other options.

    [I'm a stocky midwestern girl, and he insisted that because I was so overweight to start with, I could only gain 15 lbs the whole pregnancy, and was a paternalistic %$&###$ when I *gasp* had gained 10 lbs over the course of 6 months. Here's a photo of me at 9 months pregnant, where he would have been apoplectic, because I had gained around 30 or 40 lbs. I don't even know for certain, because that last appointment with him was the last time I stepped on a scale. For what it's worth, I was back in my old jeans and clothes before Audrey was 3 months old, so ... well, don't even get me started on that guy. Suffice to say, we kicked him to the curb.]

    When we found our midwife, we were thrilled to discover that our insurance would cover 60% -- because she's "out of network" -- there doesn't appear to be such a thing as an "in network" midwife, of course. Heh. She charged a 3k flat fee for her services, so we paid less than 2k. And it was worth every penny. On the upside, this time around, we knew we'd be going the same route, so we were able to max out our Health Savings Account for this year to cover it.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Financial Education

    My parents never talked to us about money when we were growing up. In fact, the only thing I can recall is that when we got our checking accounts in out teens, they would be on the lookout for the telltale "overdraw" notices from the bank in the mail, and laugh at us when they inevitably came. Responsibility by humiliation, I guess. Heh.

    I started college at 16 and remember vividly my prof in my College Algebra course walking in one day and announcing that we would spend the day talking about compound interest, because he wished that someone had explained it to him at our age. It left a powerful impact on me -- one of the few lectures I remember vividly from that year. [I also recall my philosphy professor exclaiming "God is dead!" re: Nietzsche and getting mad that no one was riled up. Hey, lady, we're 3.5 hours into a Monday 6-10 evening class. You're going to have to do better than that...]

    Of course, I didn't immediately apply those lessons to my life, because I was an idiot. But he was the first one to get the seed planted.

    Andrew and I will be homeschooling our children, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to start talking to them about money earlier on. Some things are obvious -- raise them in a frugal environment! But then there is the issue of allowance and deciding how much to let them know about the family finances. As I mentioned above, my own family kept all of that opaque and I didn't know anything about anything until, well, my 20s after I'd been on my own for awhile and made huge financial mistakes. I honor my parents' decision on that matter, but I don't think I want to go down that route with my own kids.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Retirement Target

    Amazingly, Andrew and I have never actually put hard numbers to our retirement goal before last night -- it's always just been "save as much as we can." He asked me what our goal should be and I thought 2 million. So we crunched the numbers.

    We took our current savings [we're leaving out home equity/mortgage for our calculations, but I'd estimate we've got about 100k equity in our house], our current rate of savings, estimated Social Security income [we estimate 0 dollars], and expected annual rate of return [we looked at 4, 5 and 6%]. This puts us at the 2 million mark around 19-24 years, depending on return.

    We intentionally chose very conservative numbers because we'd rather be pleasantly surprised by market returns or Social Security than the alternative. This also assumes that we never up our yearly contribution, which I certainly hope/plan to do. On the other hand, it also doesn't account for possible financial catastrophe such as long term job loss and, uh, our children's college expenses. Heh. [That's not entirely true. The plan is to invest/save any future bonuses, stock windfalls and raises, so that does help mitigate the college factor.]

    Since Andrew is currently 35 and I am 32, I feel like we're doing pretty good.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Pregnancy as an Obstacle to Frugality

    I haven't posted much recently because I'm pretty solidly in "pregnant and crazy" mode. If you've ever been pregnant -- or more likely, if you've ever been married to someone pregnant -- you know what I'm talking about. I'm overly emotional, my moods are flying and I'm totally irrational.

    What does this have to do with money? Two main things, as of late. The first is that right now we're in crunch mode on our finances -- as I mentioned previously, we're currently living on a little over 25% of our salary as we readjust to some new and possibly overeager savings plans. So how am I responding to this? By totally capsizing. It's been awhile since I've felt so ... driven to want to spend money. My Amazon shopping cart is full of all sorts of crazy stuff, and it's only by sheer force of will that I haven't actually purchased any of it. And so on.

    The second prong of this fork is that something totally bizarre has happened to my taste buds. I am just not tasting things the way that I used to. I made some homemade mac and cheese the other night that I thought tasted great, and poor Andrew was totally repulsed. [Note to self: don't make any recipes any time soon that call to add ingredients "to taste."] I went totally overboard in the adding dry English mustard department ... because I couldn't taste it! I still can't taste it in the leftovers, so it wasn't a one night thing. Andrew could taste nothing but the overwhelming horseradishy mustardness.

    And today I made a potato/carrot/lentil curry stew which looked awesome on the page -- and I must brag, one of my Super Powers is a keen eye for what recipes will taste good when made -- and I tried some, and it tastes horrible rotgut to me. All I taste is overwhelming clove/cinnamon -- which aren't even in the recipe, though are a small part of the curry powder -- and nothing else. And the dinner I made previous to these two had a similar issue.

    What am I getting at? It's hard to save money when you're throwing out food that you make instead of eating it.

    It's been a frustrating week.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Another Whack At Expenses

    As I mentioned in a previous post, I need to try to find a way to cut another 1/3 off our budget. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to do this, since it doesn't seem to be possible. I take some comfort in the fact that the extra money out of our budget is ESPP, and we're basically doing a buy and then turnaround right away and sell for the 15%, but there's a six month lag to get it back. And I don't want to dip into savings during that time or significantly reduce new savings, either.

    This weekend, I planned our menus for the next three weeks with an eye on both money and health. I could get our food budget down farther if we didn't eat quite so much produce [especially in the middle of winter], but that's a choice we don't want to make. We're in the planning stages for a vegetable garden in the back, but with a toddler and another little one due in late April, it's going to be tough for me to get one started this year.

    So, my grocery bill was 60 dollars this week, and that was including some unnecessary snacks, like ice cream and cones and yogurt raisins. So I think I did pretty darn good.

    My next mini-task is to ensure that my husband remembers to take his packed lunch with him every day. Every time he forgets, that's 7-10 dollars at the taco stand, or Audrey and I driving it out to him. Little notes seem to help, but not always.

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Minor Money Panic

    We got our first direct deposit of the year, and I was in a for a minor panic. It was about 30% less than I was expecting. I knew that the new benefits enrollment kicked in on this paycheck, so I went to log in to the site and see what was up. I mean, I didn't recall things being that different...

    The benefits site was not exactly intuitive to figure things out. In fact, it gave the impression that we had unenrolled from 401k! Well, if that was the case ... wouldn't we have more money coming in than less?

    One crazy-pregnant-lady-panicked phone call to my husband later and with some work, he was able to dig out the details. [I miss getting paper statements. They were straightforward.]

    As it turns out, last year our new ESPP deduction kicked in at exactly the same time as our 401k maxxed out, and they are for very similar amounts. And starting this paycheck, they were both in effect for the new year.

    Mystery solved.

    Though I'm beginning to wonder if we're now being way too aggressive on our savings. I just did the calculation, and our actual take-home into-the-checking account amount is less than 28% of our pre-tax salary. So, taxes, 401k, ESPP, benefits, % that goes directly to Vanguard and % that goes directly to Emigrant now account for a little over 72% of our income. That doesn't include extra for paying down mortgage. Hmm. Now, I can squeeze blood out of a rock, but can I squeeze that much blood out of our rock? I'm not sure yet. That's my task for this weekend, to see if we can live on this, or if we're going to have to scale back.

    Big Houses

    Consumerism Commentary has a post today about large houses. After living in Seattle and the Bay Area for many years, when I first moved to TX with Andrew, I had to wrap my head around the idea of Big Houses.

    Our neck of the woods used to be the boonies for many years -- where we are specifically is still about 15% boonies, though that is rapidly changing -- so almost all of the houses we looked at were built in the last 10 years. Which meant brick McMansions, the official house of Texas. I could have gotten used to it, but I really prefer something a little more homey, so we kept looking. Our agent even quickly surmised, "You won't even look at a place that doesn't have a large amount of mature trees, will you?" And it was true.

    So we finally stumbled upon one of the rare older, more established neighborhoods and found a house that was still big by my standards -- 2100 sq ft, give or take -- but was about 1000 sq ft smaller than everything else we were looking at. It also had the advantage of being on an acre instead of piled up on top of its neighbors and being 50-75k cheaper than what we had been looking at. We snapped it up. [We had to outbid some lawyers for it, but that's another post some day.]

    I love our house. The "smallness" occasionally causes problems -- there is very little pantry or storage area, so we have to be very creative, and we still are in discussion over which bedrooms will be used for what -- but, really, I love our house.

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    Our First Homemade Pizza

    There are still some convenience foods in our diet that I'm trying to squeeze out, both for budget and health reasons. One of these is pizza. [Another is the Cheezit Tabasco Cracker, but my utter failure to make homemade crackers is another post sometime. Heh.] We almost never get take-out pizza anymore, and I am working on reducing/replacing the frozen pizzas, save for when I can find a smoking deal, like Albertson's rare "Buy 1, Get 2 Free" specials.

    Anywhoo, tonight I made my first totally from scratch pizza. I made the dough about a month ago when a buddy was in town, from the generic whole wheat bread dough recipe in my Sue Gregg cookbook. I portioned that up and tossed it in the freezer. Last night, I pulled out a ball and let it sit in the fridge until tonight. Then I pulled out a pizza sauce recipe from the Backwoods Home Magazine Recipe Anthology -- a recipe they call the "59 Dollar an Hour Pizza" after doing the calculations on the difference in price between it and delivered, and how long it took to make. A very small amount of shredded mozzarella and parmesan to keep it vaguely healthy and we were good to go.

    It turned out awesome, by the way. Much easier and quicker than I thought it would be -- especially with the dough premade -- and now we have another high cost convenience food item I can cross of the list.

    Goals for 2006

    Looking ahead, these are my goals for 2006:

    * Give birth at home to a healthy boy end of April/early May.
    * Settle on a name for said boy with Andrew
    * Read and exercise every day with Audrey
    * Relax and enjoy parenting/my kids

    * Drop our mortgage principle by at least an extra 10k
    * Up our automatic monthly emergency fund contributions an additional 25%
    * Continue maxxing out our 401k and Roths.
    * Straighten out our life insurance/will situation.

    I think I'm sandbagging a bit, so I might have to update these later. Heh.