Category Archives: Parenting

Growing our Family – Temporarily

No, no pregnancies or anything like that, but we’ve registered and applied to be a host family for a high school foreign exchange student next school year.  We’re looking at being matched with a young woman from Slovakia for an entire school year.  There’s still red tape and paperwork to get through, but luckily, we both already have our clearances thanks to Girl Scouts, so we shouldn’t have any trouble with that part.  Then the young woman gets to read our family and home description and decide if she’s willing to stay with us.

We’re looking forward to sharing our family and neighborhood with a foreign student and at the same time, hoping she can share information and tidbits about her culture with us.  We think it’s an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange, and especially for Daughter Person – she’s already asking us when her “big sister” is coming.  I’ve heard both great and not so great stories about hosting, but most have been either great or ambivalent, and we can survive almost anything for 10 months.  The program has a lot of support if we need it, both emergency and help figuring out solutions to issues, and we’re comfortable with the local coordinator’s ability to match students with host families that generally work together.

From a financial standpoint, we’ll be paying extra for food and gas (transportation), but the students come with $150-$250/mth of spending money, and their own health insurance.  We’ll also get to deduct $50/mth on our taxes as a charitable donation. Feeding a teenager may be more than the extra $100/mth we’re planning, but we’ll approach that as we come to it!

On Being Sick Without Health Insurance

For one day this month (May 1), we were not covered by any insurance.  The insurance from Dad’s old job ended on April 30 (Saturday), his new insurance wouldn’t kick in until May 2 (Monday) his first day of work at the new job.  We figured that we have 45 days to sign up for COBRA, so if we needed to, we could (we hadn’t even gotten any of the papers about it yet!). Friday, April 29, Daughter Person is sent home from school with a sore throat and fever.  We decide to kind of ride it out and see if it’s just a virus or if she might have had strep.  Saturday, she’s fine other than a fever and saying her throat hurt occasionally.  We let it go.  Sunday (the day without insurance), she wakes up screaming about her throat hurting and still has a fever, but this time is having trouble breathing because her tonsils are so big. Look in her throat, and sure enough there are the typical white spots of strep. Panic!

I asked around my local mom’s group about their opinions on the two urgent care options and which would be more likely to give us a discount for paying cash up front – neither.  BUT, Walgreens/CVS have the in-house clinics that are open on Sundays, and they publish their prices!  We went to the local Walgreens, waited less than we normally do for our doctor, and get this: PAID LESS than we would have at our doctor’s office – with insurance!  We then looked up the cheapest place to get her prescription filled with the OneRX app, and were on our way.

We were charged $134 at Walgreens, and $20.44 at Rite Aid for her antibiotics (azithromycin).  When we took her in March for the same exact thing, we paid $165 for the doctor’s visit (after the insurance negotiation!) and about the same for the prescription from WalMart.  If we needed to, we still could have pulled money out of our HSA to cover it, but the charge was quite low (we thought), so that money’s still working for us.  Now, I’m wondering why exactly we bothered paying $282/mth premiums for our health insurance, it certainly wasn’t saving us anything!

I will do my best to be … friendly and helpful … and be a sister to every Girl Scout

Starting in the fall, I will be a Girl Scout Daisy Troop Leader.  We’re already registered and signed up, but the new leader training won’t occur until late August, and the “official” start of the Girl Scout 2016-2017 year isn’t until October 1, 2016.

How did I end up as a leader?

Daughter Person is entering Kindergarten in the fall (wait what?), and she’s expressed interest in being in girl scouts.  However, there was no troop or leader yet for the incoming K students in our area.  So, I found another volunteer to be a leader, and we’ve gone through our local council to start a troop.  We already have 5 adult volunteers registered (and cleared in PA) other than the leaders.  They are moms (and dads) who just wanted to help, but weren’t interested in taking on a Leader role.  There are also 5 girls that we know of registered, and once we settle on a meeting place and time, we’re opening up the registration on the Girl Scouts of America’s main web page to allow incoming girls and parents to find our troop.  The current K-level Daisy troop has 12 members, so I suspect we’ll have a similar number.  The limit is 12 girls with only two leaders – we’d have to find another volunteer to step up to be a leader to have more than 12 girls.

I did girl scouts long ago (before there were Daisies!), and my mom was a scout even longer ago, although she was a leader when I was in scouting.  We both showed Daughter Person things we did and pictures, and that’s how she got excited.  I have the cutest picture of her in her new Daisy uniform – complete with the Beanie (her choice!).

This will be a new adventure for both of us, and so far, I feel like I’ve been drinking from a firehose with information from our council about meetings, and troops, and training, and everything else involved in starting a troop.  I got a lot out of scouting when I was younger, and I hope Daughter Person does too!

Reducing the Grocery bill (aka done potty training – finally)

We are now “done” with potty training, and I’m more happy about the fact that we’re not buying any more of the almost $1 each night time pull-ups/diapers.  Daughter Person went almost two weeks with a dry pull-up every morning (except 1-2 accidents), and we asked her if she wanted to try sleeping with underwear instead, and she jumped at the idea.  She’s now gone two weeks with no pull-up, and only one accident.  I call that a win!  We’ll be giving friends who have a younger boy the remaining pull-ups for them to use.

I’m just happy that we’re not buying them any more.  We were using the Target brand “nighttime” pull-ups for older kids (knock off brand for “goodnites”) because she was too big for the night time version of huggies and pampers pull-ups (why the night time sizes stop at 3-4t and the daytime sizes stop at 5t is beyond me, most kids are delayed at night time training vs daytime training).  She’s happy about it too because she’s a “big girl” now.

Now, I just have to survive her starting Kindergarten in the fall!

Disney on a Budget

In January, we took Daughter Person to the most magical place on earth for her 5th birthday – Disney World.  We spent some time in Hollywood Studios, but mostly in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  We also got to spend an extra day because of the snow storm on the East Coast – we figured an extra day at Disney was better than waiting around in the airport with a 5 year old – we made the right call.  On Wednesday, we had our flights re-routed through Chicago (instead of DC) and flying on Sunday vs Saturday – no issues or delays getting home at all!  I used my miles on United to book our flights, so they were $30 in fees (and free checked bags!).

Park Tickets

We spent the most at once on Park tickets. We bought a 5-day pass through Undercover Tourist using two Barclay’s cards, $944 for the tickets, $800 statement credit for us.

Hotel

We were going to stay in a Hilton via points, but for 2016, the Lake Buena Vista Hilton didn’t have the Disney Perks of an on-site hotel, so we changed tactics and paid for the Caribbean Resort.  The Magical Express was nice, and saved us from renting a car. But, we really wanted the on-site perks because it was Daughter Person’s 5th birthday and we wanted to make sure that we got reservations to Cinderella’s Royal Table on a Friday Night.  We had a better chance of that by staying on-site and being able to make the reservations 186 days in advance rather than 180 days.  We didn’t have a package, and we spent about $900 for 6 nights (vs the originally planned 5 nights).  No points, but used our cash back Fidelity card (2%).  Not having a package ended up being a good thing when we had to extend our stay by a night.

The resort was nice, but it made me think of a cheap motel because all of the room doors open directly to the outside.  It was clean, it had a cool pool, but it was nothing to write home about.  I’m pretty utilitarian in my hotel choices – it’s really just a clean place to sleep.

Food

This is where we spent most of our money.  We didn’t go with a dining plan because we tend to eat very light for breakfast and lunch and then nice dinners.  The dining plan didn’t cover many of the dinners we had reserved and planned, so I Was planning on paying out of pocket for all the food.  We probably spent about $250/day on food and drink: breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional snack.  I did drink my way through the world at Epcot, so that was a good bit of it…  After talking with some folks, the dining plan might have been a good option for us.  I did try to help with getting the occasional kids meal for myself for lunches – no one asked or batted an eye, I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the dining plan.

Other Notes

We did get the Memory Maker photo package, which I thought was worth every penny.  You just find a photographer on property, ask them to take your picture, and scan your magic band, and the picture shows up online and I own limited digital rights to them.  We definitely got our money’s worth with this, and we didn’t have to worry about taking the pictures ourselves or not being in the picture.

Daughter Person had a blast, and already wants to go back.  Mom and Dad were stressed out with the crowds (and it was “low” season!), and aren’t planning on making a return trip until Daughter Person is in middle school or is at least tall enough to go on the rides at MGM and Universal Studios.  Then, we’ll probably stay off property, rent a car and do things on our own.

I was somewhat disappointed in the number of thrill rides available – I prefer my coasters to go faster than 30 mph (so does Daughter Person, she kept asking where the “real” roller coasters were). We didn’t ride that many rides, but instead played the various “games” at the parks.  The Magic Kingdom has the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card game and several adventures in Adventureland related to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Epcot has a Phineas and Ferb game with “Agent P” that takes you through the various countries and trigger neat effects.

The trip was worth Daughter Person’s enjoyment at seeing the “magic” for the first time, and 4-5 was a perfect age for it!

First DIY Building – Ever – Starting Our Swing Set

parts

The slide and all – aka “the kit”

Having just moved into a brand new house, there’s not much to repair/improve on yet (There’s a large list of wants though!).  But, we now have a nice large yard, big enough to have both a deck and a swingset with some grass left over.  We’re saving up to build the deck next summer/fall, but we’re working on the swingset.  I got a ready-to-build kit (minus the wood) from Plan it Play for $879 (delivered!).  It provides the plans and all of the hardware for the swingset, as well as the swings, slide, rocks and rope ladder.  I’m sure I could have gotten the parts cheaper, but the slides are pretty darn expensive by themselves, and I really have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to a structural building that I’m going to trust my daughter’s life on.  I’ll pay a little more for vetted plans!

The parts arrived last week, and last weekend, I convinced my little brother to borrow his boss’ truck to haul 12′ long lumber from Home Depot (totally legit – he’s allowed to borrow it as long as he puts gas in it).

Hauling wood

Hauling wood – my brother loves my daughter!

Home Depot didn’t have exactly what we needed for all of the wood, so we paid a little more for ground contact pressure-treated pine when we didn’t need to in some cases. They also didn’t have one of the sizes I needed in ground contact PT pine, so I picked up the last pieces of  wood with the RAV on my way home from work at 84 lumber (only need 70″ lengths, they only have 8ft lengths, but I fit them in RAV, so paid a little more there as well because of the waste).  About $410 in wood later, plus $130 for tools I didn’t have, like a hand router and roundover bit, we’re ready to begin building the swingset.  I’m going to be prepping the wood between now and Labor day weekend, and then several friends will be arriving that Saturday to help assemble it.  The plans estimate 15-16 hours of work, but I’m hoping I can cut that down on the weekend by pre-cutting, pre-rounding, and pre-drilling the bolt holes.

Most of the wood - ready to go

Most of the wood – ready to start pre-work

(Recycling only comes every two weeks, the packaging for the kit is waiting until this upcoming week to be broken down and recycled.)

We’ve never built anything structural or weight bearing before, so this will be our “practice” for the deck next summer.

Wish us luck!

Teaching Little Ones About Money

This weekend, we had our first money lesson with Daughter Person.  I think it went pretty well.

Daughter Person got some money for her birthday, and has been keeping it in a “wallet” with her toys.  She’ll play “pretend store” with me where she dumps a bunch of toy jewelry in my lap and ask me how much something is.  I’ve always been pretty simple and say most things are $1, with a few being $2.  She’s using the real US dollars to “pay” me, then I give them back to her to put back in her wallet.  I had a pretty good idea of how much was in her wallet: $7.

We went to the zoo for a class, and we’re allowed to remain in the zoo afterwards, so we went to the aquarium (she wanted to see the fish, and we were happy to be out of the cold!).  In the aquarium is a store with all kinds of stuffed animals, and Daughter Person wandered in there and started looking at things.  She asked if she could buy something, and I got this bright idea to remind her that she had $7 at home, and that Mommy would give her $7 now, but she had to give Mommy $7 when we got home.  She “got” it, and started looking around. Dad and I started looking around also, and realized that there was absolutely nothing that she could get for $7, so I offered to give her $3, so she could buy something that was $10.  (I completely left taxes and our membership discount out of the discussion).

She spent her time looking around to find things that were less than $10 – there was a small pile of little stuffed animals for $9.99.  She’d ask how much they were, and we’d look and answer with “you can afford that, or no you can’t afford that”.

She settled on a red-eyed tree frog (for some reason, she remembers that episode of Diego really well…).  She picked it up and continued to look, but that’s what she wanted.  So, I gave her $11 to give to the cashier, and told her to pay. I asked over her shoulder about our membership discount of 10%, and handed over our membership card as well.  She handed over her money, and handed back to me whatever the cashier gave her (there were coins involved).

Then, when we got home, she willingly gave me her $7 once I reminded her.

I think it’s time to institute an allowance and let her buy her own toys for the most part. I didn’t think we’d have to worry about the allowance until she was older (like 5 or 6)!  If you have kids, how do you handle the allowance?  Do you tie it to chores?  Do you just give them a certain amount of money?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We have to pick where we’re going to live in Pittsburgh over the next few months. We’re at least trying to decide what part of the city we want to be looking in so that when our house does sell, we’ll be ready to seriously look for something.

We were originally looking at the North Hills (North Allegheny school district), but after commuting for the last week and a half, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t live closer to my job – in Squirrel Hill (my job is in Oakland). I’ve been driving to a park and ride and then riding the bus in (the 61C), and it’s taking me about an hour each way. I leave before Daughter Person gets up in the morning, and I’m home in time to spend about 2 hours with her before she goes to bed. I’m used to getting up at 7:30, to be at work by 8-8:30 and then picking her up by 4-4:30pm. This long commute stuff may be for the birds. I have been taking the bus primarily because at my mom’s the bus takes the exact same route I would drive, it only takes about 5 minutes longer, and it’s free. Living in the North hills, I’d be driving every day, paying $87/mth for parking, and theoretically driving 30 minutes each way (I’m going to assume my co-workers are being generous and stretch that to 40-45 minutes each way). That kind of commute was fine – when I was single, and when I wasn’t a parent. Now, I want to get home to spend time with Daughter Person in the evenings – not sit on the bus or in the car all day.

We’ve talked about possibly buying in Squirrel Hill – the neighborhood just outside of Oakland where I work. I could walk it (about 20-30 minutes – biking is not an option because I’m very hill averse), or take any of 5 buses home – all of which seem to come more often than the bus I ride now. Tonight, the one bus I need to get home drove right past CMU without stopping because it was full – so I waited *another* 30 minutes for the next bus – something I’d rather not continue to do.

There are some advantages besides the shorter commute: a smaller home is easier to find, we’d be walking distance to a lot of great stuff – a grocery, a jewish community center, lots of restaurants, etc. But there are some serious downsides: the schools are crappy from what I’ve heard (especially compared to North Allegheny), and it’s in the city, with smaller yards and property. We’d pay 3% local tax instead of 1% local tax (comes out to about $4000/year). *But*, we’d likely get rid of one vehicle (and be able to get a 1 car garage instead of 2), and not paying gas or insurance on it – but that doesn’t quite match up to $4000/year difference (maybe $3000/year). We’d still have a car payment because we’d be keeping the car with the payment, but we wouldn’t be saving for a replacement car for a while.

The housing prices are within our price range, and in decent parts of town (except maybe the schools). The commute can’t be beat – and if we ever worked outside the city, we’d be right downtown and could get most places pretty easily.  We know this isn’t likely to be our “forever” house, so there are some compromises we’re willing to make.

Are we missing something major to consider? Does anyone have kids in the Pittsburgh Public Schools (Colfax K-8 and Alderdice High school) that would be willing to talk about them?

Reasons we have a large-ish emergency fund

This month, the annual checkup of our two kitties revealed that one has hyperthyroidism.  They’re both a bit older (~14), but they are indoor only cats, otherwise healthy and expected to live another 5-6 years.  Bloodwork revealed early hyperthyroidism in Bootsie, our black and white cat.  Just the diagnosis for her was $178 (in addition to the “normal” vet visit which we had saved for all year long and was already in the budget).  Then we needed to decide what to do.

Untreated, it is fatal.  It can be “cured” (98% success rate) with a one time injection of I-131 radio isotope (Iodine), or it can be managed with 2 times daily doses of medicine.  Realistically, we know we’re not going to remember to give her pills twice a day, and many times, we leave for long weekends, and we’d have to find someone willing to come by the house to dose her up while we’re gone.  So, that left the one time “radio cat” treatment.  It’s not cheap, but it has some distinct advantages over the medicine – other than not having to dose her twice a day, we would only have to have her thyroid levels tested once per year after the treatment, whereas with the pills, we’d have to have her tested every quarter to make sure the dose was still correct (at $178 a pop!).

We got the estimated costs for the medicine (we don’t have pet insurance), and doing the math, the $1400 radio cat treatment would end up being cheaper if she lives 4 more years – and there’s a really good chance of that if the treatment is successful.  It also means that we have to come up with about $1800 “now”.  The $1400 is for the full treatment, we also had to do a few more diagnostic tests with the vet before hand, and a one month and 3 month followup with the vet to make sure she’s “cured”.

She’ll be at the treatment facility for at least a week, because she’ll literally be a radioactive cat for a bit, and we have to follow special precautions once she does come home for 2-3 weeks, but it’ll be easier than giving her a pill twice a day!

If we only had $1000 in our emergency fund, we’d still have to come up with $800 in the budget quickly, but with the $3000 we had left in the emergency fund after taking some to pay off the student loan, we’re doing OK.  I’m not even going to “refill” the emergency fund until August – after the student loan is paid off.  We live in a high cost of living area, and I always felt that $1000 wasn’t enough for an emergency fund – now I’m glad we had it.

Daughter Person’s Easter Money

This is the first year that Daughter Person has received small sums of money directly for any holiday – $5 from finding the affikomen at Passover, and $12 from Easter eggs – and we’re not sure what to do with it.  Usually, we’re given a check to put towards her college fund, so we dutifully cash it and transfer that amount to her 529 account.  This year, we feel like it should be *her* money, and not go into her 529 account.  But, we’re not sure if we can use it to teach her about money – she can barely count to 10, much less understand the concept of dollars and cents.  I was figuring I’d wait until she could count to (or at least understand the concept of) one hundred.

She knows we have to pay for things – when we go to the grocery, she’ll carry her bag of goldfish (my bribe to get her to behave long enough for me to actually shop) up to the counter and lay it on the belt for the cashier, but I don’t think we’ve ever discussed amounts – how much we’re paying for things.

I was thinking we could let her buy a doll or other trinket with it, but I don’t think she’d understand the concept of “not enough money” yet – although $17 is enough to buy most of the little things she tends to want/ask for.

The other option is to add it to her savings account – the catch there is that I add a little bit of money there for her every month to use when she’s older.  We have a S is for Savings account open at PNC for her – and I think she’d understand the jars “save, spend, share” – but we’re back at the question of what to save for or how much to save.  Or maybe it just sits there until she’s ready to learn?

Any of my readers have ideas on introducing money to young ones (she’s just over 3)?