Preparing For Baby Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

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Everyone tells you that having children is expensive. Long-term, that absolutely makes sense when you consider food, clothing, shelter, college–but what are some short-term ways you can save? I am just about 38 weeks pregnant and have only spent $115.00 on a baby I should be giving birth to in the next two weeks. And I waited almost nine months to spend any money at all–specifically until the week of Black Friday. Everything I have purchased so far has been on sale or was discounted in some other way. It took some serious self-restraint–but it was also kind of a fun challenge once I had made up my mind.

Two things factored into my decision to hold out on baby related purchases: I knew I’d be having a shower and that two weeks later would be the biggest sale weekend of the year. I was very generously blessed at my shower and by my parents which covered almost all of my needs. Note I said needs. I didn’t go overboard with my registry–adding every cute thing I wanted–or any decor items, clothes, toys, etc. I tried to be as minimalist as possible, selecting items I thought I’d use in the beginning, knowing that I could reevaluate when I had a better idea of what I was doing and what my baby was like. I also chose things that I thought would work for the baby through the toddler stage so that I wouldn’t have to purchase new gear every year.

The other really great tactic I found was in creating a nursery fund. Similar to my purse fund–I created an envelope of money that was strictly to be used for items that would go in the baby’s room. The money came from selling a large bookshelf that was in the space previously and made it possible for us to buy any crafts, wall decor or little touches we may want for the room without feeling like we were needlessly spending. Some practical nursery items we didn’t receive at the shower like a laundry basket and crib sheets (RH Baby & Child outlet score $69 marked down to 16.99!!) were also purchased using this money rather than “our own”. The big comfy chair I snagged last year from another Restoration Hardware outlet remains and I didn’t change the curtains or shelving (which I made myself!). Using what you already have saves. Baby won’t know. I found a huge free pegboard from a Craigslist post that my neighborhood art store advertised. I went and snagged it, slapped some paint on there to match the curtains and made myself a cute little changing station/wall set up–saving a lot of money in the process! Pegboards are surprisingly expensive.

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Here are how my money saving purchases went down: The week of Black Friday, Amazon already started their wave of Cyber Monday sales, so I closely monitored them to ensure I wasn’t missing anything I had planned on buying. The place where I registered sent out an email to inform people of the best baby websites having sales that week–which also proved incredibly helpful! I had never been to a Buy Buy Baby before because they aren’t in the city. I waited until I was home for Thanksgiving where there is one close to my parent’s house and went on Black Friday. There were no special sales, but they carry absolutely everything you could dream up and take limitless 20% off coupons the same way Bed, Bath and Beyond does (same company). I also learned they do price matching, which is a pretty sweet deal when you factor in the coupons. I had a few gift cards from my shower, returned some unnecessary items and used cash rewards from our Discover card to purchase everything I didn’t get from Black Friday sales. Using these tactics, I accomplished things like spending .38 cents on my Ergo baby carrier–and $16 on a Graco rocker which was also 35% off on Cyber Monday. Everything you see listed below is not the whole of what I have purchased–it’s just what wasn’t free. All other items were either gifted to me, came out of the nursery fund, or paid for by one of the various methods previously mentioned. And you know what? I could have trimmed the list down even more if I had really wanted to. I don’t need a sunshade for the car yet–I don’t need pacifiers or baby bottles in the beginning. But since I don’t live near a Buy Buy Baby, I was trying to avoid the hour drive it would take to get to the nearest location around here later on.

$29.45 Puj bathtub 50% off

$7.19 sunshade 20% off

$39.99 ear thermometer 20% off

$4.79 nail clipper 20% off

$.38 Ergo carrier gift card

$16.02 Graco rocker 35% off and rewards credit

$4.19 pacifier 20% off

$9.79 bottle 20% off

$3.49 mittens 20% off

= $115.29 total spent on baby so far

As I mentioned last week, my husband and I have still held out on Amazon Prime despite being very tempted to renew it. I’ve found that in November and December, things have arrived in two days despite not being members because of the Christmas rush. And it hasn’t been hard to find more than $35 worth of things to purchase at a time in order to be eligible for free shipping. I didn’t officially register for my baby shower at Amazon, but I privately made a registry so I could get the 10% off after the shower date had passed. Only three of the items on my list were eligible and the total savings was something like $4 because all three things were very cheap. The purchases were covered by a gift card, but I didn’t find that tool to be super helpful. Many will tell you that getting that, coupled with Amazon Mom (free with Prime and adds a 5% bump to registry discount) is well worth it–but I didn’t find that to be the case. And you have a month to use your registry discount, so if you don’t have Prime and are considering it–you can hold out like I did to see if it would be worth investing in for the 15% off.

Of course these items don’t cover maternity needs–like any special care you may want to give yourself to add comfort to your situation, specialty bras or clothes. I did spend money on myself in that capacity–but I don’t consider those items purchases for the baby. And even in doing so, I was careful to watch sales and be smart about what was truly a necessity versus a want. For example, I bought one of those Snoogle pillows women rave about on Craigslist for $15 (it retails for $60-70 depending where you get it) and then bought a new cover on Amazon with credit card rewards points (the covers run around $30). So I saved $75 on the pillow all together. And even after doing so, I am still not convinced it was a need–though others will swear by it. I also kept my clothes shopping to a minimum–even though this is a definite need. I am not the kind of person who minds repeating outfits, in fact I prefer it, so it wasn’t an issue to rotate through the same dozen or so maternity shirts.

The one very obvious and very helpful tool that I haven’t used but you should if you are comfortable with–is borrowing from those who’ve had a baby before you. I know many people who got most of their kid’s wardrobe or gear that way. I am personally not a borrower, even though that probably is in violation of my frugal nature. I like the freedom of knowing I can destroy or lose something and not feel bad about it. Plus you can resell almost everything once you are done having children and that seems like a pretty good way to go.

Lastly, we have really great health insurance. I know this is a choice most people don’t get to control themselves–but I have to say, if you can find a good plan before you start having a family–it is worth it! My husband’s company completely covers labor and delivery so we have a $0 co-pay for the birth and hospital stay. We also get a free breast pump (I believe all carriers are supposed to offer this under the new health care laws), which can retail from $200-$300, if not more.

Obviously this lack of spending is about to change given that the baby will arrive in the next few weeks and new needs will be popping up (like diapering!). But in terms of preparing for the child in this exciting time, you can still be frugal and patient in your search. After all, you will probably be spending money on them for the rest of your life in one way or another–why start earlier than you have to? I highly recommend selling things to not only make room for baby, but to accumulate a nursery fund so you can avoid spending on that. You can also find just about any baby gear used on Craigslist if you keep checking back. And finally, don’t underestimate the generosity of others and the ways they want to provide for you in this time. Haven’t you been to a baby shower by now where you gifted the person of honor? It’s not something to feel bad about assuming you have or would do the same for a friend when her time comes. Imagine how much you could save by implementing a few easy exercises of self-discipline into your nesting expectations. Please share your tactics below!

 

Gift Giving For The Frugal

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It’s almost mid-December, so I’m sure we’re all knee deep in Christmas shopping, or if you’re anything like me–you might be done by now. Something that occurred to me in this season is that people may assume being frugal and being generous are mutually exclusive in terms of gift giving and I’m here to say that just isn’t the case! It’s all about planning and finding the right gift and the right deal at the right time. A helpful tactic I enjoy with one of my siblings and husband is telling one another what we’d like, sometimes even in November. That way you can track the thing and see if it goes on sale or at the very least have time to plan around the cost of it. And you can ensure that the giftee receives something she would like. It’s always a little tough to take a shot in the dark with gift giving. I know I really care whether or not the recipient would enjoy or get use out of the item I’m buying, so I try to be thoughtful about it. All too often I think people assume that something they would want must be what another would as well.

I tend to steer clear from homemade gifts–partially because I am not talented in any way that would contribute, but also because I don’t want to add to that person’s collection of useless items that may or may not be in her taste. I think it also adds the extra pressure of, “I can’t give this away because so and so made it by hand”. Your recipient shouldn’t feel stressed that she received something she now has to pull out every time you’re over to pretend like it’s in use. I’m sure the idea behind the thought is nice– you’re saving money and making an effort from the heart–but as a fellow frugalite, all I see is the saving money part and wonder if the person actually thought of me at all when making whatever the object is. Can you relate or do you think that’s off the mark? I’m sure there are plenty of talented folk who do just fine handing out mason jars of homemade cocoa and quilts (I wouldn’t mind the former). And to be fair, I’ve actually hired out help to make something creative before, but I’m talking an Etsy artist doing something very specifically geared toward the individual I was giving it to. It certainly didn’t save me any money–but I was very pleased with the personal end result. Maybe all you can afford to do is make gifts because it’s been a hard financial year. No judgment here, but for the purposes of this blog–I am writing to a financially stable audience who likes to save money even though they don’t have to.

Another tip–Black Friday is your friend! There is nothing wrong with this day other than the fact that in certain parts of the country–in certain stores–people go absolutely nuts. But I like to believe those guys are weirdos in general, so all the event is doing is unleashing that person’s flaws that normally show up in other ways. Not that this is good, but I don’t know if it’s really fair to write off a day in which awesome sales occur because you see people on the news losing their minds. That said, I wouldn’t go to Walmart. Anyhow, I’ve never had a stereotypical Black Friday experience in my three years of engaging in it. Last year I discovered that outlet malls were the place to go. Already marked down, sometimes high-end products for an even lower price? The stores are often 50% off the outlet prices and hand out coupons for 10-15% MORE at the door! There’s no better marriage of quality and frugal than that.

If bad parking and long lines for the bathroom still scare you off, Cyber Monday is also a wonderful alternative–and you can find some great deals on Amazon for the entire week. Most other retailers offer free shipping that whole weekend. What have you got to lose? This year Amazon did a discount code for books, which was helpful for one gift and I received daily emails (by choice) to be in the know of what the deal was each day. I’d say this is definitely your safest bet for successful Christmas shopping with little hassle. It’s not something to be scared of or dread. I also noticed this year that if I shopped with my Discover card that they were offering free gift wrapping on things I purchased from Amazon! I didn’t take this option, but it’s nice to know I could save whatever the cost of wrapping paper or paying for the service online would have been had I wanted it. There are a lot of great options out there that allow you to be generous, but cut corners and save money without looking like you did. Also, don’t forget how much goes on sale right before and right after the holiday itself. No better time to stock up on gift wrapping supplies, ornaments or stocking stuffers for next year. I still don’t have Amazon Prime, but managed to avoid all shipping costs by simply spending over the $35 minimum every time I placed an order. It all came within a few days anyway, presumably because of the higher number of purchases this month.

What are your clever tactics for the holiday gift giving season? Do you buy things on sale months in advance? Do you listen for clues at family gatherings? Spy on someone’s Amazon wishlist? I think Christmas registries would be so helpful, but I fear many people would think that goes too far. So for now–we have to be creative in the ways we give! Happy hunting and let us know what worked for you!

The Shampoo Experiment

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Women collect a lot of…dare I say, crap to groom themselves. We use multiple hair products, a variety of makeup, paint our nails, spray on perfume, have a face wash regimen, lotion for our extremities, tweezers, nail files, and the list goes on. I just counted fourteen different types of lipstick in my drawer. Do you know how often I wear lipstick? Like twice a year. Compare that to a man like my husband, who just has…shampoo, and well, that’s a lot of stuff! I’m sure you could add or subtract to this list depending on your style, but you get the idea.

A few months back, a friend suggested a blog post idea where I test out different makeups and see which are more cost-effective: the cheap brands that a girl could run through quickly or the more expensive names that are made with lasting ingredients. I am not a huge makeup wearer–I avoid it when I can, dread it when I do and stick with the basics: mascara, cover up under the eyes, blush and an eyebrow pencil. I don’t know, but that’s basic to me anyway. Very rarely do I apply eyeshadow, eyeliner or powder and I never use foundation. So my need to replenish those things is sometimes only once a year. Mascara and eyebrow pencil are every few months. I guess what I’m trying to say is I am not the best candidate for said experiment, even though it sounded like a really fun thing to explore. Earlier this week when I was lying in bed and not falling asleep, I saw a Reddit thread where a girl asked for financial advice and gave a breakdown of her budget. She said she spends $400 a year on make up. I was surprised by that figure, but don’t really have a concept of what the norm is. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say I spend around $30 on make up annually, but who knows. I know I haven’t purchased blush or lip gloss since my wedding two years ago. And I know that the only reason I bought under eye cover up last year was because I left it at my father-in-law’s house by mistake. So maybe it’s even less than that. I should also mention I use brands like Lancome and Mac because they give me the results I want and I have found them to last a super long time. In this case, paying more gets you more.

My friend also suggested testing out salon level shampoos and their drug store counterparts with the same concept in mind: which saves you more money in the long run?. Now this is more my speed, as shampoo and conditioner are things I actually use every other day. I have not taken the time to track how often I purchase a new bottle, but my estimate is every two months. I buy big ones from target for $3.99 each. So that’s $8.00 total for both, or $4.00 a month–which is very, very cheap. But you know what? I always hate my hair! It doesn’t have the natural wave I know it can. It often feels weighed down, and I am so sick of the smell of the product. My friend explained to me that the drug store brands list water as their primary ingredient and you therefore use huge handfuls of it in one shower to moisturize your hair. But with the more expensive brands that use special ingredients (that’s my code phrase for “I don’t know what is in them”) you can put a nickel sized dollop on your hand that will cover your whole head. What an exciting opportunity for quality and frugality in one package!

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I got my haircut last week and decided it an opportune occasion to change things up. I excitedly went to my local Lush store… for those who don’t know, they are a salon quality handmade cosmetic company. Being the careful buyer I am– I read all the reviews on their website to try to figure out which shampoo would be best for my hair before going in. The one I settled on was about $26 for a fairly small container compared to the ones I buy at Target. But remember: you are using way less of this product and according to reviewers, it lasts about three months. Longer than what I’m currently using, but certainly more expensive no matter what. It would be about $8 a month for shampoo, which is double what I’m averaging now for both shampoo and conditioner.

Before going into the store, I decided I wasn’t going to make a splurge purchase without even more information because there was still the possibility that I would not like this fairly pricey product! That’s how the frugal roll, am I right? I asked the lady at the counter if I could take home a sample before purchasing rather than committing to it right then and she happily obliged–another perk of shopping at “higher end” places; they are often very accommodating because they can afford to be. She gave me this itsy bitsy little tub and claimed it would be multiple washes. After using it twice, I would say I have about one more wash in there and that’s pretty darn good considering how small the container is. And I love it! My hair is soft and  squeaky clean, feels light and voluminous, styles easily. I plan to purchase the full container next time I am in the neighborhood. Following my husband’s model, I am going to try to go sans conditioner for possibly the first time in my adult life to see if that is really a need anymore and to help with cutting the high cost that buying two would produce. I happen to hate taking showers, so one less step in the process sounds great to me.

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What I’ve discovered is a lower maintenance, higher functioning and longer lasting product can be the more frugal choice if you do your research. In my case, I am paying a little more than I have been previously, but I am also gaining more and saving time in the shower and in frequency of shopping. I am happy with the trade off and excited for the change. This may be the start of my simplifying my cosmetic routines even more and finding ways to go with quality over quantity in the future. What examples of this do you have in your life? Are there higher quality products you use around the house that may cost a little more but save you in the long run?

Strategizing Amidst The Craziness

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What is your first financial reaction to a hard week? To spend or save? I know for me, I want to spend to ease the difficulty. “Let’s eat out tonight, I’m too tired to plan a meal and cook”. Or, “we can make this easier by paying for that”. A few weeks ago my husband and I were tested by a series of events that made it so unbelievably tempting to escape it all by using money in flippant ways. As mentioned in my previous post, we were on a strict money diet due to over indulgence from a weekend away. September was our month to make it all back by being more frugal than usual.

We have known for months that at the end of the September we would be having two house guests for four days, followed by four house guests for five days the following week. I budgeted for this in my grocery shopping and made sure to include a homemade meal in the first couple’s visit and a hearty enough breakfast item to last the week and avoid spending three meals a day on restaurants. Eating out is the enemy when you’re trying to be good (and I think travelers would agree!). So, we were careful about where and how we chose to do that and I even bowed out of a couple of meal opportunities knowing that it would make the bill lower if I stayed home.

The evening they arrived, my sister (who is also my neighbor) went to the emergency room for stomach pains and it turned out to be a ten centimeter ovarian cyst that required same day surgical removal. Being the older sister, and her only family in town, I naturally wanted to be present for as much of the day as I could–full well knowing that I also had guests to entertain while my husband was at work. My sister has the same healthcare provider as us and one of the many advantages of where we live is that our hospital is within a few blocks of our apartment. I was able to dip in and out of there all day in between naps and surgery to check in on her, hang with her or wait to see her and get updates from the doctors and still keep our guests happy.

Blessing #1: Surgery went well and no emergency funds had to be pulled from in order to support the situation. Her insurance covered everything outside of a very small and reasonable co-pay and we were able to travel between the hospital and home with great ease and no cost.

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The weekend our friends were to arrive we woke up to a huge ant infestation in our kitchen two days in a row. I had a big morning of cooking planned for the following day in preparation for the guests. We called our landlord, who promptly handled it by sending a worker with supplies to try to remedy the situation. The ant traps and sprays didn’t really solve the problem, but it certainly helped and we didn’t have to spend a dime of our own money to make the fixes. It easily could have been a scenario where our landlord didn’t respond for days and made us go out to buy our own products. Instead, he also set up an exterminator for the following week which required us to pack up the entire apartment, pull out every kitchen drawer, take down the curtains, clear out the pantry, etc. We ended up compromising and only doing the kitchen, living room and bathroom which were the main areas where we have seen ants in the past. That meant everything went into the bedrooms and that I had to leave the apartment for at least eight hours. I took a short job that started the next day and spent my crucial time away from home prepping for it in a local coffee shop with my on the mend sister. For the cost of decaf latte I was paid a day of prep to get my house debugged. Also nice to have a boost of second income when trying to recover from a tight spot. Our second round of house guests had a change of plans and didn’t end up staying with us, so that took a little pressure off getting the house back in order right away for their arrival.

Blessing #2: Because we rent, we were able to handle a very ugly situation with little additional cost to us. I bought three very cheap painting drop cloths from Home Depot to cover furniture and our landlord allows us to take expenses like that out of our rent, so that is what I will do for next month.

My parents flew into town last minute to take over providing for my sister. My husband and I had insisted that she stay in our apartment (along with our house guests) for two nights while she recovered because she needed 24/7 care and still had trouble standing up or sitting down and preparing her own meals.We did end up going over our grocery budget by $30 that week because of the need to provide food for these emergency circumstances. As I’ve mentioned before, I have gone far over $30 in a month before and for far less important reasons.

I had my monthly prenatal check up with the doctor in the midst of all this and found out I tested high for pregnancy diabetes. In order to get a more specific reading, I would have to fast for ten hours (which could be done overnight) and then take a three hour blood test that consisted of drawing blood four times. So you know, ask a pregnant woman to not eat all morning while stealing blood from her system and slap a little boredom on it and what do you have? A very irritable pregnant woman at the end of a long week who may or may not have diabetes.

Blessing #3: The tests came back negative and as I listened to patient after patient come into the lab having to cough up a $30 co-pay, I thanked God that my coverage made the tests free.

Then to top it all off, my husband’s grandmother died! It was at this point that we looked at each other and thought, “what else could possibly happen this week?”. This wasn’t exactly expected, but also not a total shock because she was 98, almost 99–so we knew it was eminent. No immediate action was necessary on our part, but it was still another thing on a pile of others. What a crazy time.

I haven’t had a two week period that felt quite the way this one did in a long time. Juggling thing after thing–no time to think, let alone respond to a text–all while trying to maintain your normal weekly routines and provide for others. I love the feeling of being busy, and I believe I am someone who thrives under stressful circumstances. But I was a whole new level of tired. Sleep hasn’t been as good as it used to be with a little baby growing inside me, so there were days where I felt like a zombie. I even ran a stop sign at one point, which was (thankfully) funny to my passengers (we were in a very empty warehouse-y part of town), but that was a sign that I needed to hand the wheel over to someone else–probably in more ways than one!

The thing I am most proud of when I look back on this two week period is how well my husband and I were able to work as a team to iron out anything that came our way. As much as it felt like a crisis at certain points and hilariously inconvenient at others; we trusted that each hit that came our way would be overcome. We rolled with the punches and served each other and our friends and family as best we could–and special kudos to my husband who still had to work full time amidst it all. I think a great lesson which came from this is we can get through a very stressful time without using money as a crutch, while still continuing to save (and believe me, I considered skipping a week or two of saving contributions!) and coping with discipline rather than money. I now know if we can make it through hardship and not falter financially, then there is no good excuse for failing at any other time. These kind of experiences strengthen us emotionally, but they are a great lesson in economic discipline as well.

Slowing Down Saves You Money

For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on one of my worst features–a tendency to think too far into the future about any given thing. Sure, this can be a good quality when reasonably applied–but I’ve let it go so far that I’m mentally mapping out what next fall’s Tuesday nights look like. No joke. Someone turn this time machine off! It can also lead to unnecessary worry and even anger when I get too ahead of myself and anticipate events that might never happen. I have yet to figure out how to control this part of my brain, but I am prayerfully working on it. And while doing so–it occurred to me that this is a great application for financial success as well. Not only practicing self-control, but finding a way to slow down your life and quiet the noisy areas can help you hang onto cash where you otherwise might spend it.

How many of you have ever said to yourself, “I’ve had a hard week, I’m getting a pedicure”? Or “I deserve this ice cream because it’s been a long day”? There are countless examples of ways we pay money to reward ourselves for simply going through the motions of life. That’s not to say you can’t have a treat every now and again, but the point is…maybe eliminating the cause will lessen the effect? In my experience, the less I stress, the less I spend.

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Decluttering your friend world can be a very healthy exercise for someone who wants to lessen stress. I have long been a participant in the “big group of friends” gang–as far back as middle school. It has only been in the last year or so that I’ve truly valued the beauty of having a small inner circle of people who you invest most of your time in and it is incredibly freeing. How does this relate to finances? Well, over time you are looking at less commitments–anything from birthday parties where you’re one of twenty-five people, to seeing a person’s show that has a door charge and ticket. My husband and I went to a birthday party earlier this year where, unbeknownst to us, something like fifty people were invited and I swear every. single. one. came. We were split up into a million different tables, barely spoke to the person for whom we came and dropped $80 on the chain restaurant meal. Lesson learned. Now when we show up for something, it’s because we really want to be there to support and engage, not because we feel obligated by our (or should I say “a”) social circle. Quieting your social life saves you money.

Family planning–and I don’t mean the child kind. Having to coordinate any sort of family function– from visits here to visits there to group vacations–has kept me up at night in stress. No more. I have taken a step back from this sort of facilitating because it never changes the outcome. I’ve either relinquished control where I felt it fruitless to try, passed off responsibility to my better half, or simply left something untouched, which I wouldn’t haven’t considered an option in the past. It takes some serious discipline for this planner/thinker, but I’m doing it and it’s given me a peace of mind. I believe that clearer thinking leads to better choices and this absolutely applies to financial ones as well.

If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed my husband and I try to take a lot of small trips every other month or so. This has been an intentional, valuable part of our marriage in the pre-children era. As it’s coming to a close, we took one of our last getaways over Labor Day and even though it was fairly close to home; it cost us a lot. My next blog post might be, “A Free Day In Catalina: There’s No Such Thing”. September has been all about making up for that error in judgment. It feels painfully slow to get back to the comfortable place we were throughout most of this year.  Add to that the holiday season and a baby on the way… and you can convince yourself that the present is the new normal pretty fast. What I learned from this travel snafu was that we should have been more reflective on the need for a babymoon, considered the fact that August was already packed with travel obligations beyond our control and perhaps opted to hold off on that experience for a better time. Instead, we acted imprudently and here I am almost a month later dwelling on it. Not the way you want to end a vacation.

That’s where slowing down becomes such an important exercise. If I think too far ahead, I’ve created a tragedy in my mind where there isn’t one. I need to stop and reassess to realize that we are going to be just fine even if I feel stuck at the moment. We aren’t spending more than we have, our choices haven’t affected tithing, saving, retirement or any basic needs. We’ve just dipped below our comfort zone in terms of what we expect from ourselves. That’s not the worst thing that could happen. Plus I recently noticed that October has FIVE Fridays in it–which means FIVE paychecks! What a great opportunity to catch up.

Slowing down also means taking things as they come. Trusting that the season you are in has purpose. Not over anticipating, but not forgetting responsibilities all together. It can be a tough balancing act, but as I start to integrate this pattern of thought into my life–I find things to be simpler and more enjoyable. Even financially stable people have their tough months and that’s exactly why this blog exists–to lessen the impact of those moments. Hey! Maybe I’m developing some sort of resolution here. And maybe that’s a good goal for all of us for 2015. Try to see if you can have fewer months than you did in 2014 where you are stressed about money. I recall April being particularly bad and now I’d say September is too. That’s two so far. If it stays that way, then my goal for next year will be one month or less of stress. Sounds like a fun challenge. What are some ways you slow down in regards to finances?

Summer Savings Goals: How Did You Do?

Anyone who follows me on social media can tell that I am slightly excited about fall being upon us. To be exact, two weeks from today. Waking up to rain yesterday in Los Angeles was an especially nice surprise when all I can think about is how much we lack in season change! So, I figured now was the right time to follow up on my Summer Savings post. How did you do, readers? Did you bulk up that savings account or spend too much? Are you feeling proud of all you accomplished or a little guilty for money wasted? No matter which side of the goal you are on, you have something to gain. If you didn’t save a dime all summer; worry not, you still have another four months of the year to make up for that. If you overspent on vacationing or shopping, you now know what that feels like and will (hopefully) show some restraint next time around. And what better timing for that practice to begin than right before the holiday shopping frenzy? I went a little crazy last year, as we bought our first full size tree and hosted a Christmas party, so I’m looking forward to challenging myself to be more restrictive this season. 

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As far as my summer went, there were financial highs and lows, the most recent expense being our “babymoon” to Catalina on Labor Day weekend. We had Airbnb guests which helped soften the blow, but the trip was still quite pricey despite the extra cash. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still thinking about the ways we spent that could have been avoided had we chose another destination. For example, lodging there is steep because it’s an island and they know you are stuck with limited options. Same with food. And you have to buy bottled water in restaurants because of the drought. Then there is a ferry ride to get there and back (no frequent flier miles to cover the cost!), parking at the harbor for the weekend, eating out and any activities that we wanted to do besides lay out at the beach. I’m glad we did it because neither of us had been before and it was a wonderful new experience to end the summer. I snorkeled for the first time and we rented a golf cart and drove it around the island. We rarely indulge when we vacation; limiting ourselves to very simple and cost-effective activities/entertainment. We usually choose one fancy restaurant per trip and plan in advance so we get the best deals on rooms or travel expenses. At least that’s what my husband reminded me whenever I’d start to speak up. I guess I should enjoy it while it lasts before the baby takes over our travel planning and we naturally become more limited.

On the flip side, we’ve bumped up our saving habits in the last few months and that has felt really great. We set up a weekly automatic transfer from checking to savings that follows every paycheck, so it doesn’t even really feel like we’re missing the cash. It’s just enough money to make a solid impact, but low enough to where it doesn’t hurt. The total amount that will be in the account by December won’t meet our end of the year savings goal, so we’ll still have some work to do outside of the weekly transfers. But the point is, you should be thinking about these things year round and planning ahead for them. That’s why a quarterly (or “seasonal”) check-in is such a helpful discipline.

Another helpful change is I have officially gone on “honorable withdrawal” from my union until further notice as I am about to enter my third trimester of pregnancy. This will save us $185 in quarterly dues, or $740 a year depending on how long I stay away from union work. And as fate would have it, that’s just $32 over what our rent increase is. What do you know? There is our cutback to make up for the extra cost! 

I’ve stayed on track with my Roth IRA investments and even got my younger sister to commit to signing up for one. I’ve been contributing the appropriate amount for if I were on a twelve month plan–$458 a month. But that means my account won’t reach the annual limit ($5500) until April. My goal was to max out the account by the end of the year, which means I’ll have to make a big push in December or a series of smaller ones throughout the fall. That will set me up nicely for January through December contributions in future years rather than the April to April rush, like 2013. 

So as you can see, I’ve been keeping busy with my goals and had a few set backs in terms of vacation, an unexpected raise in rent and very little work on my part to contribute to the costs. I hope you find some motivation in this and and can get creative and disciplined in your savings goals before December. If you’re already on track, please share! Best of luck on gearing up for the end of the year– it will be here before you know it! 

 

The $59 Problem

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This past Monday I came home from a weekend away to find a notice under my door that our rent was being raised by $59 a month. As someone who has never experienced this before, my gut reaction was to fight it. A good instinct, but probably not an appropriate course of action in this situation–or a fight that I would win. Landlord’s have a right to raise rent, especially when it’s in smaller increments and law-abiding. And I have been in this place over three years and it’s never happened. I know the landlord could charge a couple hundred more than he does because the neighborhood has boomed in trendiness since I first moved in (note: I keep saying “I” because I moved in here a little over a year before my husband joined me).

How does a frugal person react to such an unexpected atrocity? Who would accept a deal that states “nothing is going to change, but we are charging you more”? Certainly not a savvy financial planner! Should we reconsider moving for the umpteenth time? Do we try to rent our spare bedroom out? No and double no. Sadly, in our case, the answer is, we just pay the extra amount and reevaluate in the new year. As I’ve chronicled on the blog, we have toyed with the idea of moving a lot–looked at many places and even put an application in for one. We know from the market that if we leave this neighborhood, we will upgrade to a house and it is unavoidable that it will cost more than what we pay now if we want to stay close to my husband’s work. So staying put is still the cheaper option, despite the increase. No upgrades, no third bedroom…just the same old place for $708 more a year. No fun.

But what about someone who really can’t take the hit? I decided this was a great opportunity to brainstorm ways one can save on an unexpected rent increase by cutting down in other areas. After all, I’m sure a lot of us use $59 a month for far less important things than cost of living.

Get rid of cable. This is a no brainer. Most finance blogs would call you out for having it to begin with. I researched it for our apartment and it would cost us about $70 a month more than we currently pay with just internet alone. I imagine that’s a ballpark rate for most of us, so right there you have your rent increase covered and then some. Besides, it is now easier than ever to replace the need with other affordable services.

Drive one less tank of gas a month. Yes, a tank of gas actually costs around $59 these days. Sigh. This one could be difficult for commuters, but I’m sure there are some of you who could cut corners in this area. I know living in a walkable neighborhood makes it easier for me to pull this off. And riding a bike is like, so in right now guys.

Get coffee a dozen less times than you usually do a month. I know it hurts. I know you love your iced double blah de blah blah. One finance blog I read says not to sweat the small stuff like coffee and only concern yourself with skimping on bigger ticket items. I disagree! But you ask two different financial experts and you’ll get two different answers. (By the way, I’m not an expert. I just couldn’t think of a better word to go there.) I believe we should all probably spend less on coffee. It does add up and it makes me cringe every time I check out our Mint account and see how much we wasted in a given month.

Just say no to dessert, appetizers or a drink when/if you eat out. You don’t have to cut out restaurant dining completely to be a frugal person. Just know when to indulge and when not to. A quality frugal life does not mean you miss out on all of life’s fun, it just means you are responsible about it.

Sell one $60 thing a month on eBay or Craigslist for as long as you can pull it off. I don’t know about you, but I could definitely have a good time with this one. Finding new and creative ways to sell books that I have multiples of or will never touch again. Old clothes. My husband’s blu-rays–I mean, my unused furniture items that are just taking up room in the closet.

Cancel your gym membership. This kind of/a little bit falls into the category of cable for me. Is it really worth it? Everyone’s neighborhood and living situation is different–and health is far more important than getting to watch reruns of Bewitched on TV Land–BUT–is there another way to be healthy that is free? Jogging? Home exercise equipment? Upgrades like that to your home or apartment could make the rent increase feel worth it!

Do you know what I spend $59 a month on in any given month? Coffee. Home decor from stores like West Elm or Pottery Barn. An Amazon order that combines books or gadgets for the house. Dinner out at a new place we want to try–easy. I could cut any and all of these if I needed to. We are frugal, but we also enjoy a quality life with self-imposed regulations appropriate to our tax bracket. We save the way we need to and spend the way we want. But a nice kick in the pants from your landlord is a good reminder to stay cautious and motivated in what ways you can be saving everyday to make your total load a little lighter.