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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What is the Real Cost of Your Purchases?

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There is something about getting closer to paying off debt that sometimes makes it feel more difficult not to overspend. It’s odd, I know–you would think that with the end in sight, I would be hyper-focused all of the time on spending as little as possible. After working on this goal for so long though, I see how much we make and what we could be doing with that money instead of paying for our past financial mistakes. Some days, that can feel incredibly frustrating.

Several months ago, when my husband and I had our financial breakthrough and finally got on the same page with our budget, I remember him being shocked to find out that there were plenty of times that I wanted to spend money. He was under the impression that I had trained myself to want as little as possible. That couldn’t be further from the truth! I am tempted to spend extra money all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME. Here’s a sampling of purchases that I was tempted to make just in the past week:

  • An iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts
  • A movie on Apple TV
  • A subscription to StitchFix
  • A book on Amazon
  • Another pair of Frye boots (Amazon Prime Day, you are a seductive temptress)
  • A hat at Target
  • A new air conditioner from ANYWHERE
  • A membership to our local co-op grocery store

If I had thrown the budget to the wind and made all of those purchases, I would have easily spent around $700. In the course of a year, $700 might not seem like a big deal. That’s when I have to stop and remind myself what that $700 represents:

  • That’s a $700 step back from paying off a loan with only $4,500 left on it.
  • That’s a $700 step back from creating our full emergency fund
  • That’s a $700 step back from funding our daughter’s 529 account
  • That’s a $700 step back from putting more into retirement
  • That’s another month in between us and the celebration vacation we plan to take when we finish paying off debt

And for what? For a coffee that I could make at home, a movie that I don’t need to buy because there are literally thousands to choose from on Netflix, a clothing subscription I don’t need because I can go to the consignment store, a book I don’t need because I have a library card, boots I don’t need because I already have a pair, a hat that I don’t need because I never wear hats during the summer, an air conditioner that I don’t need because we already have two that (mostly) work, and a membership to a grocery store that I can shop at without a membership.

So to those of you who get down on yourselves about spending money you don’t have–I get it. I’ve been there before and I’m still there sometimes. It’s hard work to stick to your goal of paying off debt. It’s hard work to have budget conversations with your spouse. It’s hard work to put most of your paycheck towards mistakes you made 10 years ago. It’s hard, hard, hard. But the payoff will be amazing, and so worth it. Don’t give up.

How to Pay Off Nearly $100,000 in Debt

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“Ok, I have to ask. How on earth do you pay off almost $100,000 in debt??”

As my friend asked the question, I heard the familiar sounds of frustration and disbelief in her voice. I recognized the sounds because about five years ago (and many times since), I felt the same way. Debt feels stifling and overwhelming. It’s that weight on your chest that seems to get heavier every time you want to buy something. It’s that monster whose eyes you try to avoid, knowing that eventually, it’s going to bite. I KNOW that feeling–the “that plan works for those people, but WE could never pay off all of our debt” feeling. But now, we have paid off our cars and are on track to finish paying off our student loans before the end of this year, totaling nearly $100,000 in debt payoff. How? Two words:

Debt. Snowball.

About 7 years ago, I came across a book called The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. At the time, I was finishing my second graduate degree and working at a low-paying job. My husband, who I was dating at the time, was also working a fairly low-paying job. We assumed that car payments were normal–everyone we knew had them–that student loans were meant to be paid off over 20 years, and that as long as we were making the minimum payment on our credit cards each month, we were doing just fine. The problem was, we were barely covering our bills and were constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then I was introduced to the concept of the debt snowball. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you have 5 debts (not counting your mortgage, which Ramsey does not include in the debt snowball. The mortgage gets paid off later):

  1. Student Loan A: $15,000
  2. Student Loan B: $2,000
  3. Student Loan C: $7,000
  4. Car Loan: $30,000
  5. Credit Card: $3,000

 

Step One: List all of your debts from smallest to largest, regardless of interest rate.

Student Loan B $2,000
Credit Card $3,000
Student Loan C $7,000
Student Loan A $15,000
Car Loan $30,000

 

Step Two: Pay the minimum on all debts except for the smallest. Any extra money in your budget should go towards the smallest debt. (Not sure how to create a budget? Here’s how we do it). Do that every month until the smallest debt is paid off.

Loan Balance Min. Payment Addl. Payment
Student Loan B $2,000 $50 $98
Credit Card $3,000 $60 $0
Student Loan C $7,000 $80 $0
Student Loan A $15,000 $120 $0
Car Loan $30,000 $250 $0

 

Step Three: Take the money you put towards the smallest debt ($50 in the example above), plus any extra money in your budget ($98 in the example above) and put that towards the next smallest debt. Keep doing that until the second smallest debt is paid off. Repeat the process with the remaining debts until all are paid off.

Loan Balance Min. Payment Addl. Payment
Student Loan B $0- PAID! $0 $0
Credit Card $3,000 $60 $148
Student Loan C $7,000 $80 $0
Student Loan A $15,000 $120 $0
Car Loan $30,000 $250 $0

Here’s why this works: little wins motivate you to achieve bigger wins.

Why not arrange your debts by interest rate? Imagine that Student Loan A ($15,000) has an interest rate of 6.8%, and Student Loan B ($2,000) has an interest rate of 3.5%. It would take you much longer to pay off Student Loan A, right? It’s a lot harder to keep up your momentum if it takes you 5 years to achieve a goal, instead of 1 year.

The same holds true for trying to spread out extra money across all of your payments, which is exactly what I used to do. I thought that I would chip away at all of them at the same time. IT DOESN’T WORK. Compounding interest erases your progress, leaving you to wonder, after 8 years of paying on a student loan, why you still have a principal balance of $8,500 on a loan that was originally $10,000. Why. WHY?

By focusing on the smallest debt first and getting it out of the way, you see that you can actually do it. You don’t have to live with these payments forever. That motivates you for the next one, and the next one. Then you get to the point that we are at, where you start to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s beautiful. I’m talking Will Ferrell in Old School, “I saw Blue, and he looked gloooorious” kind of beautiful.

Have any of you tried the Snowball Method for paying off debt, or has a different strategy worked for you?

 

10 Ways to Practice Self-Care While on a Budget

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Pardon the radio silence for the past couple of weeks, but I have been WIPED OUT. I had a cold that turned into a sinus infection. It would start to get better for a day or two, and then I would stupidly push myself too hard and end up even worse. In the midst of all of this, I had a couple of weeks that I’m certain were the universe punishing me for some sort of terrible offense that I inflicted upon mankind. Among other punishments, I cut myself on two different occasions with a butcher knife, had my credit card number stolen, shut my fingers in the car door, and broke the necklace my husband bought me for Mother’s Day. Needless to say, I’ve enjoyed June about as much as Justin Bieber enjoys wearing shirts.

When I’m sick or stressed, I’ve noticed that I’m more inclined to overspend. I think it’s something about just wanting to feel better–you know, the old “I feel crappy for the 5th day in a row, so I should treat myself and that will make me feel better” game. That’s fine if it’s within your budget, but a few bad days (or weeks) will hurt even more if you overspend.

Here are 10 ways you can practice self-care without blowing the budget:

  1. Request spa gift cards for birthdays/holidays. Massages, mmm.
  2. Meditate. This is a tough one for me, but there are tons of apps and YouTube videos to help. (I’ve done the free trial of the MindSpace app before and liked it–it’s about 10 min of guided mediation, which seems to work well with my limited attention span. I first tried it while pregnant and it led to many good naps. That’s neither here nor there, though.)
  3. Take a walk or just sit outside. If sunshine can help make wilted plants look better, it will help my wilted immune system, right?
  4. Do some yoga. Yoga with Adriene is a good, free series on YouTube.
  5. Take a nap. By far one of the best self-care practices. Naps help everything. Why do you think we make toddlers take them regularly?
  6. Grab coffee/a beer/a cupcake/a PB&J/anything with a friend. Get out of your own head for a bit.
  7. Turn off the T.V., say buh-bye to social media, and read. Get a good book from the library and curl up before bedtime.
  8. Skip a fatty treat and make a smoothie. Or if you’re me, eat a donut and wash it down with a smoothie. Find a good recipe on Pinterest and load up your immune system with fruits and veggies. Baby spinach is cheap if bought in bulk and can be mixed with many different seasonal fruits. Get yo’ vitamins.
  9. Buy some good tea or coffee. Make a cup. Sit. Enjoy.
  10. Do a brain dump in the morning. When I wake up feeling anxious, this practice is a huge help. It gets the mess of thoughts out of my head.

**Bonus idea (only half kidding)** Buy the good tissues. Trust me, I’m now a tissue connoisseur after blowing my nose for a month straight. The Aldi ones hurt. Spring for the Kleenex with lotion and aloe. Live large.

How do you practice self-care without overspending?

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!

Quality vs. Quantity: What to Buy When You’re on a Budget

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When you’re on a budget, it’s easy to get caught in the spiral of spending your “fun money” on clothing, shoes, and gadgets that  fit within your budget, but will fall apart or become obsolete within a few years, a few months (or even a few days, as was the case with a t-shirt I bought at T.J. Maxx earlier this year. Maybe the holes it developed after the first washing make me look “alternative”?) There is a misconception that if you are on a budget, you shouldn’t own nice things. I wholeheartedly disagree. Why would you want to spend your hard-earned money on junk that falls apart any more than someone with a big pocketbook?

I came to this conclusion a few years ago after weating yet another pair of boots from Target that had holes in them, leaked when it rained, and hurt my feet. I had been eying a pair of Frye boots for about five years, but didn’t have the money to purchase them. Then it occurred to me that the money I had spent on repeatedly replacing cheap footwear added up to almost the same amount.

I decided that I was finally going to bite the bullet, but that I needed to stay within my budget. Instead of buying from the manufacturer or at a store, I found the boots on Amazon. I saved up Amazon gift cards from Christmas and my birthday, and waited until the fall, when Amazon puts all of their boots on sale. That left me with only a small amount that I had to pay out of pocket.

I love my Frye boots. LOVE them. They are the single most comfortable piece of footwear I have ever owned, they will last for years, and I wear them all of the time. They were pricey, but I don’t feel any guilt about the purchase, because by being a little creative, I was able to stick to my budget.

Here are 4 steps you can take to increase the quality of your belongings without destroying your budget:

  • Step 1: Figure out what it is that you really want. Is it high-quality, or will it fall apart within a couple of years? Are you purchasing something just for the label, or the quality?
  • Step 2: Don’t buy it right away. Wait and see if it’s truly something you want, or if it’s just a temporary desire because you saw someone else using it or wearing it.
  • Step 3: Figure out how you can spend as little out of pocket as possible. Are there promo sales? Can you ask your family for gift cards, rather than actual gifts for your birthday? Is there a website that carries the same product at a lower price? What about a consignment store? Can you sell any of your current belongings to help with the cost?
  • Step 4: Incorporate the final expected purchase price into your monthly budget. Save up a little over the course of a few months, if needed.

By following these steps, you can learn to stop filling your drawers and closets with mass-produced, low-quality items. Instead, make your purchases with an eye on the long-term. You might end up saving money in the long run!

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.