5 Ways to Save Money with a Baby

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When I was pregnant with my daughter, I remember having several all-encompassing panic attacks about how we were going to afford to have a child. Friends and family assured me that it would just work out, but that’s not my style. I need a plan.

Fast forward to today, and while our budget is noticeably tighter with an 8-month-old in the house, I’ve picked up a few strategies for saving some cash.

  1. Skip the name brands: After repeated reassurance from our pediatrician that yes, our daughter would live and grow just fine, we chose to skip the name brands for formula. The ingredients in her generic formula are very similar to those in the name brand formulas and the generic is a fraction of the cost.
  2. Request coupons: When buying wipes and diapers, we go the cheapest route. Sometimes that means generic, but if I have a good coupon that I can pair with a sale, sometimes the name brands are cheaper. Even if you don’t subscribe to the newspaper, you can still get coupons by emailing the baby supply companies directly to request coupons. We received a “welcome home” kit from Enfamil just by signing up on their website–it came with a few different types of formula (a whole canister of one) and some good coupons. We don’t still use the name brand formula, but that kit did help us save money for a month.
  3. Make your own baby food: Once our daughter began to move on to fruits and veggies, I decided to make all of her food. At around $1/jar, baby food can become very expensive very quickly. We buy a variety of fruits and veggies, some of which we mix with rice cereal, depending on the consistency. Sometimes I boil them in water first (e.g. sweet potatoes) and sometimes they’re already soft enough (e.g. bananas).  There is NO NEED to purchase one of those expensive baby food blenders. We use this stick blender and it works perfectly. I can usually make enough food for one week in about 1-2 hours.
  4. Use consignment stores to buy and sell: I talked about this one in a previous post. We have a local consignment store where I sell clothes and toys that my daughter won’t need or use. I’ve purchased some clothing and books for her at the same store, all of which look brand new. They also have a small selection of toys, cribs, high chairs, swings etc. that are in great shape and that cost much less than buying new. For instance, my mother-in-law just purchased a used high chair for her house that was $50. We have a nearly identical high chair that cost about $150.
  5. Check out mommy blogs: There are a handful of blogs that I will occasionally check for deals on baby items. This is a great way to find out what the current deals are in stores and online for baby food, diapers, wipes, clothes, books, toys…and the list goes on. One of my favorites is Money Saving Mom.

How have you saved money with a new baby in the house?

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Two Great Reads on Simplifying Your Life

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I’m a big reader, so I’m always excited when someone else nerds out about simple living and writes a good book about it. Two of my favorites lately have been The More of Less by Joshua Becker and The Big Tiny by Dee Williams. Here’s why I think you should pick up both:

The More of Less by Joshua Becker

The More of Less

I’ve been a longtime fan of Joshua Becker’s blog, becomingminimalist, so I was very excited to read his new book.

As a parent, I can appreciate the context through which Joshua writes. The catalyst for his minimalism journey was the realization that instead of playing with his son, he had spent an entire day reorganizing his garage, and by keeping everything in it, he would have to reorganize again…and again..and again. By holding on to belongings that he didn’t need, it was distracting him from the life that he actually wanted to live. If his family rid themselves of excess possessions, they would have more time and more financial resources to do the things that they really wanted to do.

The More of Less is one part memoir, one part examination of our consumerist culture, and one part how-to. Joshua does a great job of continually requiring the reader to identify their own “why” for making this type of life change, understanding that by doing so, the “what” and “how” will naturally follow. It will look different for everyone; the key is to determine your version of “just enough” and figure out how to make it mesh with your personal values.

Favorite quote:

It was hard to choose, but this was a good one about living intentionally:

“This is what makes the unexamined life so dangerous. We think we are living life to the fullest but we aren’t. Instead, we are often trading long-term purpose for short-term pleasure.”

 

The Big Tiny by Dee Williams

The Big Tiny

I had heard about Dee Williams a few years back while reading Tammy Strobel’s blog, Rowdy Kittens. Dee is a tiny house builder in Olympia, Washington, who had built a tiny house for Tammy and her husband. The first tiny house Dee built was her own, which was born out of a health scare and the desire to downsize. The book walks through Dee’s journey from owning the big house and being diagnosed with congestive heart failure, to getting rid of most of her belongings and learning how to build a space that fit the life she wanted to create.

One of the things I loved most about the book was that she doesn’t sugarcoat ANYTHING. It’s not an adorable tale about how her life is perfect now because she lives in a cute little house. Although she does love where she is, she discusses the struggles associated with living in such a small space and that even she is just like the rest of us–she still wants plenty of things she doesn’t need. Dee just doesn’t have anywhere to put any of it.

Favorite quote:

I’m picking two, because although the book was thought-provoking, it also became clear that Dee has a very dry sense of humor.

#1: “Letting go of ‘stuff’ allowed the world to collapse behind me as I moved, so I became nothing more or less than who I simply was: Me.”

#2: “The sun came out and we threw all sorts of crap into the chipper: rotten lumber, an old rubber boot (because we could, though we later discovered it was a pain in the buttocks to remove the little rubber bits from the compost), crappy wood planters, cedar shakes, and tree limbs.” –> I mean, come on… You have to read it now, right?

Whatever your life looks like- single or married, kids or no kids, big house with lots of stuff or little apartment with not much stuff- these two books provide enough inspiration to meet you where you are without feeling preachy. They were enjoyable reads, and I’d highly recommend both!

How Scaling Back T.V. Time Has Improved My Life

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I grew up during the prime of old-school Nickelodeon shows (Clarissa Explains it All, etc.) and TGIF. Many hours were spent learning how to best wear my stirrup pants, scrunch socks, and all that neon. Later, teen shows (Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five)  kept me busy when I’d get home from play practice in high school. During college, there were days when I would watch t.v. for hours on end, starting at 4 p.m. (hey, Oprah) and not ending until I went to bed. As an adult, I curated a massive list of “my shows” that I hated to miss every week.

Then about a year ago, we decided to get rid of regular cable and just keep the basic channels. However, we still had access to Netflix, and Hulu, and Amazon Prime, and Apple T.V., and…oh my.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that turning on the t.v. felt more like a habit, and less like a decision. I would turn it on to watch one of the morning shows at 7:00 a.m., under the premise of “watching the news.” I don’t know if you’ve watched one of these shows lately, but “the news” lasts for about 5 minutes and “the not news” lasts for about 4 hours. I don’t need to know 10 different ways to curl my hair, or what Justin Bieber is up to, or what the medical scare of the week is. At night, the t.v. would go on starting with the (actual) news, and wouldn’t get turned off until bedtime. I was becoming increasingly irritable and feeling short-changed on free-time until I realized, oh. I don’t HAVE to watch t.v.

<insert image of mind being blown>

I know, right? It had become such an ingrained habit, that I didn’t realize that I was no longer consciously choosing to watch it. It’s just what I did each day.

I decided to experiment with cutting back: no t.v. in the morning, and at night, no turning it on unless I know that there is something specific that I want to watch. Here are 5 ways those simple steps have improved my life lately:

  1. More time to relax: Instead of watching t.v. before bed, I’ve been sitting on our back porch with a book and a beer or a cup of tea.
  2. Less of a desire to spend money: For every 30 minutes of television, there seem to be about 10 minutes of commercials. Add that to product placement in t.v. shows and movies, and you could be watching hours of ads each day. Cutting back on t.v. has drastically limited my exposure, and as a result, has made me want to make fewer purchases.
  3. More quality time spent with my husband and my daughter: This has been one of my favorite results. Instead of being distracted by the t.v., we’ve taken family walks, played board games, cooked, spent time with friends/family, and read books to the little peanut. It’s so much better than simply sitting in a room together, staring at a screen.
  4. More time to tackle projects: Many of the projects that I thought I just didn’t have time to do have suddenly become..do-able. This blog? I “didn’t have time” to write it a month ago.
  5. Healthier lifestyle choices: On the nights that I don’t watch t.v., I tend to go to bed earlier. I also move around a lot more, spend more time outdoors, and give my brain a rest.

This is not to say that I’ve quit t.v. entirely. There are still a few shows that I enjoy watching, and on a rainy day, there are few things that feel better than curling up in front of a good movie. It’s all about being conscious of the entertainment I’m consuming, and making sure that it doesn’t consume me.

15 Budget-Friendly Date Ideas

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Dating on a budget, whether you are married or not, can be tough. My husband and I got in the rut of believing that date = dinner at a nice restaurant or getting take-out. That ate up (excuse the pun) our entertainment budget quickly each month, leaving us frustrated that we weren’t spending enough time together. Then came the light bulb moment:

A date does not have to just be dinner at a restaurant!

The primary goal of a date is to spend quality time together, right? Well, if that’s the case, why does it necessarily have to cost a lot of money? As long as you are together and you are having fun, that’s all that matters. You might have to get creative. You might still want to drop some change to eat an awesome meal. But a tight budget shouldn’t preclude you from spending time with your honey.

Thus, I present you with a list of 15 miscellaneous budget-friendly date ideas. I’m hungry as I’m writing this, so many of them are food-focused:

  1. Wine & cheese night: Get a nice bottle of wine. By “nice,” I mean “not Franzia”. Get a hunk of cheese and some crackers. Voila. Date night for under $15, plus you can tell everyone how classy you are.
  2. Farmer’s market: Chances are good that wherever you live, there is a farmer’s market near you. Get up early on a Saturday, don’t shower, grab some coffee and head out. Get some flowers and some yummy veggies. Try the samples. ALL of the samples.
  3. Outdoor movies: There are several venues in our area that hold free outdoor movies during the summer. There are also a few drive-in movie theaters. Stash some candy, sodas, a blanket, and a couple of sweatshirts in a bag, and you’re set.
  4. Go for a walk: Find a local state park, a stream, some woods, a quiet neighborhood–wherever. We have some of our best talks while we’re walking.
  5. Bowling: It’s cheap, it’s fun, and you get to wear gross shoes that hundreds of other people have worn. Score!
  6. Food festivals: There’s a weekly food festival near us called “Food Truck Tuesday.” There’s live music, and between the two of us, it costs less than $15 for dinner. There are also a few bigger festivals during the summer months–the Greek festival, the Italian festival, and a giant festival with a lot of local restaurants. All of the food is cheaper than eating at a restaurant. I am so hungry right now.
  7. Gift card night: We always seem to have gift cards laying around–Starbucks, restaurants, etc. A coffee date it is!
  8. Outdoor music: We lived in Pittsburgh a few years ago, and during the summer, there was free music downtown at lunchtime. A lot of cities and towns do the same type of event, either during lunchtime or in the early evening.
  9. Movie night: Pick a theme, pop some popcorn, and snuggle in. Possible themes include: “Will Ferrell,” “a multi-decade Batman retrospective,” and my personal favorite, “let’s scare ourselves so that we can’t sleep for 3 days.”
  10. Groupon/Living Social/Restaurants.com: Depending on what you want to do, check one of these deal sites to see if you can save any money. We went to a local climbing gym a few years ago, which I LOVED, and with a Groupon deal, we were able to save 50% (I think it only ended up being $15-$20 for the two of us).
  11. Make a restaurant meal at home: Pick your favorite restaurant, pick your favorite meal, and use Pinterest to figure out how to make something similar.
  12. Game night: Invite a few other couples over and bust out the board games. Crowd-pleasing favorites are Cards Against Humanity, Balderdash, and Telestrations. If it’s just the two of you, play Scrabble, Boggle, or learn a new card game together.
  13. Museums: Most local art, history, and science museums have free or discounted rates and certain points during the month. Some of them combine the special rates with free hors d’oeuvres and drinks.
  14. Coffee and dessert: Make reservations at the best restaurant in your area, but instead of dinner, just get coffee and dessert.
  15. Brewery tour/wine tasting: If you have local breweries or wineries, you can usually take a short tour and try their samples for $10 and under.

There you have it. I’d love to hear your budget-friendly date ideas!

Budget Fights: The Breakthrough

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“I feel like this happens in every couple. One person is always the saver, and the other is always the spender,” one of the women in my small group remarked.

This came after a brief discussion about how different we each are from our spouses in how we approach money. Some of us are in the I’ll-shop-at-Aldi-and-wear-secondhand-clothes-until-you-pry-the-pennies-from-my-cold-dead-fingers boat, while others have a much easier time spending money and much harder time saving. Both bring something very necessary to the relationship, but sometimes that’s hard to see.

I bring this up because my husband and I recently had a HUGE, yet seemingly obvious breakthrough in our approach to finances. Here’s what happened:

We had money set aside to pay taxes this year. Because of all of our deductions, though, we actually ended up getting a tax refund. I wanted to put it on our debt snowball. My husband wanted to use it to pay for some tools and materials that we’ll need to buy for the yard this summer.

After 2 days of passive-aggressiveness and cold-shouldering, we realized: we are actually on the same page with our ultimate goals.

His perception of what I was thinking: “We need to spend every last dime on the debt snowball FOREVER AND EVER AND NEVER BUY ANYTHING.”

What I was thinking: “Let’s put this money towards our debt snowball and pay off a few more loans. Then, when we need some extra cash in June or July, we can just create a spot in that month’s budget.”

My perception of what he was thinking: “I want to spend this money and I want to spend it NOW.”

What he was actually thinking: “Let’s take a reasonable portion of this money and set it aside for expenses that we know will come up this summer.”

The realization that we both wanted to use the money wisely was a little sobering for us, because it uncovered a much larger communication issue. We’ve been together for a decade, and it has taken us this long to understand where the other person is coming from. When we finally talked about it, we realized that we were each holding on to harmful and untrue perceptions of the other person–he believed that I wanted to spend as little as possible just for the fun of it, and I believed that he didn’t care at all about having a healthy financial future. In reality, we discovered that we both want to 1) get rid of our debt and 2) be able to actually enjoy the money that we make.

In addition to our goals, the other important discovery was that we each absorb information differently. Because I am the saver and the one who manages our budget, it is constantly at the front of my mind. I know exactly how much we bring in each month, where it goes, and how much debt we have left. My husband, on the other hand, is a very visual person. No matter how many times I would update him on our progress verbally, it felt very stifling and vague to him. To help keep him motivated, he suggested putting a progress chart on the refrigerator that we can update each time we make a payment. DONE. We even took it a step further and hung a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge with the words “SUMMER 2017!” above the chart, to remind us of the reward we’re giving ourselves once the non-mortgage debt is gone.

If you and your spouse or significant other can’t seem to get on the same page about budgeting, here’s what I would suggest (please…save yourself a decade of communication issues):

  1. HAVE THE HARD TALKS. The hardest part is to even initiate the conversation in the first place.
  2. Do the perception vs. reality test: Ask your spouse what s/he believes you are thinking. Then explain how close to reality it is.
  3. Be honest. If you are scared about money, tell your spouse. Tell them WHY you are scared.
  4. Discuss your END GOALS. This is one place where we got tripped up for the longest time. Our intermediate goals were different, but our END GOALS were the same.
  5. Uncover how each of you best absorbs information, and what you each need to stay motivated. Do those things.

I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to finally be on the same page. In a short amount of time, I have seen our progress speed up, and it is so nice to finally be able to happily share that with each other.

 

 

 

 

This is How We Budget

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(Note: Title to be sung to the tune of “This is How We Do It”. Yeah, you got it.)

Ah, budgeting. My little heart beats wildly at the thought of it. My husband’s heart however, does not. It took a few years for us to get on the same page budget-wise, and it’s still a constant conversation. It’s well worth it, though, because once you know where your money goes each month, it’s much easier to track it and meet your goals–even if you’re convinced that you aren’t making enough to do so. It’s amazing how much the little purchases can add up over a month’s time.

I manage our family’s budget on the day-to-day basis, but the budget was created with my husband’s input. This is hugely important- it has to be done together. I promise you that if only one of you is wholly responsible for managing your family’s finances, there’s a very good chance that the other one either a) doesn’t know what’s going on and/or b) disagrees with what is going on. Neither of those is a good option. I know that it’s difficult to have these types of discussions sometimes, but I promise you that when everything is out in the open and you are both on the same team, you can get more accomplished. There will be fights, but that’s okay. It’s worth it!

The Starting Point

Before I talk about budgeting, I should point out that we are always a month ahead, meaning that the paychecks we receive in January will pay for February’s bills. I started doing this years ago because I liked the feeling of knowing that all of the money for the month was already in the bank, rather than waiting for the mid-month paychecks to pay the rest of the bills.

Our Monthly Budgeting Process

We use a free online program called Every Dollar*. I used to just write our expenses in a notebook each month, but I found that I wasn’t keeping up with it. With Every Dollar, you set your budget up online, and then you can add expenses either on the website or via the iPhone app. Be willing to try out a few different approaches until you find the one that works best for you, whether it’s using software, an app, or plain old pencil and paper.

Here are the budget categories we use each month:

  • Giving
  • Housing
    • Mortgage
    • Phones
    • Gas
    • Electric
    • Cable/Internet (I group these under “Housing” because they are one bill, and we have to have the Internet, because we both work from home)
    • Home Misc. (this is our budget for home repair, home decor, etc.)
  • Transportation
    • Gas
    • EZ Pass
  • Food
    • Groceries
  • Lifestyle
    • Pet Care
    • Individual Misc. (spending money)
    • Gifts
    • Doctor
    • Entertainment (includes dining out, movies, date nights, etc.)
    • YMCA
    • Hulu/Netflix (I don’t put these under Housing, because I view them as more of a want, not a need, like Internet)
    • Daycare
    • Misc. (random, unexpected expenses…we try to keep this as minimal as possible each month)
  • Insurance & Tax
    • Health Insurance
    • Car Insurance
    • Life Insurance
  • Debt
    • Student loans (listed individually on the budget)

Some people choose to break down their budget even further by indicating budgeted amounts for clothing, books, music, etc., or by splitting groceries and dining out. Again, do what works best for you. Right now, these are the categories that work best for us. Sometimes these categories change for us, too. For example, daycare is a new one, and I don’t always include gifts, because some months, we don’t need to buy any. If we are going on vacation, I’ll add a separate line item for that. You just need to stay flexible and recognize that no two months are exactly the same.

The Weekly Check-Up

Although we set up the budget once a month, I don’t recommend updating it only once a month. I typically update the budget once or twice a week. Sometimes I’ll add expenses right when they happen, but more often than not, I sit down a once a week and enter receipts and reconcile our checking account with the budget. It usually only takes 10-15 minutes and it gives me a good idea of how we’re doing at a given point during the month. Then I give my husband an update and let him know if we’re getting close to maxing out any of the categories. At the end of the month, I take anything we have left from categories that we didn’t max out, plus our regular overage, and I either move that to our emergency savings or use it to pay off debt, depending on what our goal is for that month (if we’ve had to use our emergency savings for something, the extra money goes back in to replenish it; otherwise, the extra money goes towards debt).

It might take a few months to get going, but once you do, tracking your money becomes second nature. For us, it has been the single best way to help move us towards our goal of paying off debt.

*I do not receive any type of compensation for recommending Every Dollar. I just think it’s a great tool!