Category Archives: Parenting

Rediscovering the Public Library

I grew up going to the public library in our town – I was (and still am) a voracious reader.  I’m pretty sure my parents were thrilled when I could drive myself there (it wasn’t exactly close or convenient).  I had read through all the interesting scifi/fantasy books available at the library, and just sort of stopped going – preferring to get books from B&N and then Amazon.  I can count on one finger the number of times I went to the school library in college.

When I got my Kindle (the 2nd generation edition), I couldn’t go to the library to get Kindle books, so I didn’t bother.  Just in the last year or so, as we’re trying to save money have I been going back to the library.  Daughter Person made her first trip there late last year – she loves picking out new books to read before bed.

Our public library system has over 20 locations, with two pretty close to us.  The closest one to us also houses the library operations center, and it’s one of the larger libraries in the system, so it has a good selection.  I can also request a hold online, and if the book isn’t at my library, I can have it sent to my local library for no charge.  They also support inter-library loan should I wish to take advantage of it. I also have access to the public libraries (and their online resources) in the greater DC Metro region – all of which are excellent library systems.

In addition to books, the library has DVDs, music CDs and books on tape/CD to lend patrons.  I haven’t gotten to spend much time browsing the main library section lately as I’ve had Daughter Person with me, and adult books are just as interesting to her as the picture books in the children’s section.

Our library offers an amazing array of online resources.  I can checkout Kindle books, Audible books, PDFs, ePub books (among others).  It gives me access to research databases (EBSCO) as well, which I use on occasion.

I just learned this week that our library offers Mango Languages as well – for free!.  If the language you want to learn isn’t available through Duolingo, I suggest seeing if your library subscribes to Mango Languages – there seem to be hundreds of languages available.

Now, instead of going straight to Amazon, I check the library’s web page first, and if the book is available, I’ll put it on hold.  I get an e-mail telling me when the book is ready, and I go download it from Amazon.  Unfortunately, it can be a long wait for popular books.  If the library doesn’t have it on Kindle or I need to read it quickly, only then will I purchase it.  I’ll even sometimes check out a printed book for myself.

Do you frequent your public library?

Personal Finance as Required High School Education

I came across this news story today:  Oklahoma schools required to teach high school students to manage finances.  This is the first I’ve heard of schools requiring a personal finance class (if they have a class at all) to graduate.

I think this is a huge step in the right direction and would love to see it compulsory in all states and school districts.  I think the personal finance knowledge is more important than the diploma really.  And, unfortunately, it seems that parents aren’t doing a great job of teaching their kids either.

Does your local district have a personal finance class?  Is it required to graduate?

How I’m Going to Meet my Household/Parenting Goals

Goals

  • Get rid of diapers!
  • Get rid of another 365 things in 365 days
  • Finish the tile in our basement project

Getting Rid of Diapers

Daughter Person has been potty trained for #1 for the last 6 months, and has gone over a month with no accidents outside of sleeping (nap/bedtime).  She’s even doing pretty good with the naps as long as we can get to her when she’s just waking up and convince her to use the potty.  We tried a few nights to let her sleep without a diaper, but she soaks herself and doesn’t wake up, so I don’t think we’re there yet.  We’ll let her decide when she wants to sleep without a diaper.

#2 is going to be our nemesis.  She used to try #2 in the potty – about 25% of the time, now she’s just refusing to use it and uses her undies instead.  At this point, we’ve tried bribing, cajoling, shaming, and begging.  We’ve moved on to the “have it your way kid, we’ll just let you walk around in it for a few minutes” phase.  She *loves* Pixar’s “Cars”, and I spent way more than I probably should have to create a “goodie bag” of Cars things she can pick from if she does #2 on the potty.  She gets shown this bag at least daily, and it still hasn’t helped – she hasn’t been able to pick one single thing from it in almost a month.

Night time is the only time we’re using diapers, and I’m getting a few of the older ones ready to re-sell to a friend who’s due in April (she asked if she could buy them from us, so I’m giving her a reduced price).  Pretty soon, we’ll have 5 diapers (out of the approximately 32 we started with).  Hopefully, by the time she’s 4, she’ll be able to stay dry at night too!

365 Less Things

I’m continuing this year with trying to rid our house of another 365 things.  I’ve already made a bit of a start.  But I’m going through the storage closets in the basement and in our crawl space.  Dad might let me into his office to see about getting rid of more things.  Our TV room has a lot of furniture in it that we want to get rid of and replace with one entertainment center, so there is a lot of opportunity there.   My goal is to pick one room a month to purge – clothes, toys, knick knacks, etc.  Daughter Person’s room is this month.  The donation box is overflowing with old books and toys.  I’m finally getting rid of the 24 month clothes she still has floating around, and some diapering things that we don’t need any more.  Much of it is going into a box to offer to my expecting friend – she gets first rights of refusal, but she’s having a boy, so not many of the clothes are suitable.

Finish the Basement Project

I have promised Dad that the basement will be finished this year (I would like to have it done before summer, but that might be pushing it)!  I’ve already scraped out the carpet glue inside the closets that have already been cleared of carpet, so we can store things in them until it comes time to do the tile.  I’ve gotten rid of several things that were taking up space via freecycle.  I have to move a few things around so Dad can remove the rest of the carpet, and I can get started on getting up more carpet glue.

I plan to work in the basement at least 2-3 hours per week, depending on how tired I am.  It’s not exactly a safe place for Daughter Person, so we can’t really let her play down there while we work 🙁

Looking Forward to 2014

With 2014 here, I wanted to evaluate my goals for the upcoming year.  And actually write them down this year.  I’ve split my goals into three categories, and three goals in each category.

Health Goals

I’m overweight – borderline obese (although you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I’m one of the people BMI just does NOT work for), and I’d like to get close to a “normal” weight, which for me is between 115 (hah!) and 154 lbs.  I’ve never been 115 in my adult life, and even 150 is hard for me to maintain for longer than about a month.  I also look like I’m terminally ill below about 145. 15lbs isn’t going to get me to “healthy”, but it’s a start.  I’m more focused on my body fat percentage and jeans size than actual weight.

  • Lose 15 lbs, with a stretch goal of 20 lbs
  • Exercise at least 3 times per week for at least 20 minutes each time
  • Eat at least 3 servings of fruits or vegetables per day – potato based foods do not count as a veggie

Financial Goals

I know I mentioned wanting to pay off all non-mortgage debt this year, and we could likely do it, but with our car payment at 0%, we’re going to pay the student loans down, then increase our retirement contributions to the maximum allowed (and maybe qualify for a Roth?).  It will slow down our car repayment, but since it’s not “costing” us anything, I’d rather put the money to work for us.

  • Pay off all non-mortgage debt that carries interest
  • Get to 650k in Net Worth, with a stretch goal of 700k
  • Increase our assets to 1.2 million (conservative to account for market fluctuations)

Household/Parenting Goals

These are random goals around the house that I want to complete this year.  These are the big ones, although I have smaller ones in mind already.

  • Get rid of diapers!
  • Get rid of another 365 things in 365 days
  • Finish the tile in our basement project

I Have Post-Partum Depression

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m speaking out about my disease and how it has affected me and my family.

Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom

I had no history of depression in my life (I’m adopted, so I don’t know about my birth parents’ medical history), and most people would have called me outgoing, extremely cheerful, and anything *except* depressed.  But about 5 months after Daughter Person was born, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression – a “major depressive disorder”.  Looking back on my pregnancy, it was very likely that I had antenatal depression as well, although never diagnosed.

Continue reading

Saving Money with Baby – Breastfeeding

Before I launch into my post, I don’t want to seem as if I’m pushing one feeding method over another.  I voluntarily chose to not breastfeed (after trying for 6 weeks) for multiple reasons – the primary one being my sanity.  I support any woman in whichever choice she makes to feed her child, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.  This is simply a post about how you would save money if you breastfeed.

Daughter Person was fed breast milk (notice I didn’t say breastfed) for almost 6 weeks.  She spent a week in the NICU and I had to pump, which created a *huge* supply/demand issue when she got out, and she would never actually latch.  After watching Dad or my mom feed my daughter because I was pumping instead, I said to hell with it, and we went out and bought formula – and I personally feel that it was one of the best decisions of my life. It also makes me a little more qualified to compare the cost of the two 🙂

Bottles are required for formula feeding, but not for breastfeeding (but you’ll probably still buy some anyway so you can take a break), so I’m not including the prices of bottles in this calculation.

Costs of Breastfeeding

(Optional) pump: $200
(Optional) milk storage bags: $12 for 50ct
(Optional) nursing clothing: $50-$100
(Optional) nursing pillow: $45-$65
(Optional) reusable breast pads: $15
Total optional items: $322 – $392

Notice that all of these things are listed as “optional”? They weren’t for me, but they’re not really *required* to nurse a child.

Costs of Formula Feeding

We were *very* lucky in that Daughter Person did not have any special needs or allergies where we needed special formula. If your child does have such needs, triple or quadruple the numbers below.

We used Kirkland (Costco) brand formula for Daughter Person, $17/canister, and each canister made 262 oz of formula – $0.15/oz.  When you formula feed, you *will* make too much formula at once and have to throw some out, so I’m using the amounts we actually made, not just what Daughter Person actually drank.  Daughter Person also drank very little compared to some of my friends’ children, so these would just be estimates for any other child, and probably on the low side.

From 6 weeks when we ran out of frozen breast milk to about 2 months, Daughter Person drank 2-3oz per bottle, and 8 bottles per day (and night).  That’s 24oz per day for 2 weeks: $50.40

From 2 months to 4 months, she drank about 4oz per bottle, and still drank 8 per day.  That’s 2 months (60 days), at 32oz per day: $288

From 4 months to 6 months, she drank 6 oz per feeding and had about 6 feedings per day: $324

Then from 6 months to a year, she drank about 4 feedings of 6oz each per day: $648  At that point, we switched to whole milk.  We started feeding her solid food at 6 months, and she slowed down on formula consumption at that point.

Some kids drink as much as 8oz or more at a feeding when they get close to 6months, but not Daughter Person, so your mileage may vary.

Total costs: $1,310.40

Savings

You could save anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 (or more if you need to use a special formula) by exclusively breastfeeding, so it’s a good economical choice if you have that option.

Saving Money with Baby – Baby Led Weaning

baby led weaning

Daughter Person with her first non-formula meal – peaches

Another way to save money with baby is baby led weaning.  Baby led weaning is much more common outside of the US, but it’s got a growing group of proponents in the US as well.

We couldn’t do a “pure” baby led weaning approach because it made daycare (and grandma) nervous, and so we had to make some purees to send to daycare with her.  But, we never bought a jar of “baby food” or a box of rice cereal, so Daughter Person’s solid foods were just part of our normal grocery budget.  We’d just give her some of whatever we were eating.  Our purchase of fruits increased when we started feeding her solids, but that was about it.

What is Baby Led Weaning?

Baby Led Weaning (or BLW) is when you go straight from breastfeeding or formula to “adult” solid food, skipping the rice cereal and purees that are baby’s most common first foods.  You feed your baby regular food that you’d eat yourself.  There are some differences though – for example, you wouldn’t give a baby meat until they’ve got some teeth to be able to chew it, and you tend to need to overcook veggies so they’re soft enough.  You can find more information about BLW and some recipe ideas online.

Our Experience

Daughter Person turned 6 months old in July, so we had it pretty easy: we started with peaches – plentiful, in season, and most importantly soft.  We sliced peaches up into thin strips, and initially removed the skin from the slices, but we learned very quickly that the skins helped her hold onto the peach slices as she was eating them.  We moved onto pasta, steamed carrots, green beans, avocados, kiwi, mangoes, lentils and beans.  Daughter Person didn’t get any teeth until she was almost 10 months old, so we were semi-limited in what we could give her up until then.  Anything we thought she could gum was fair game (Cheerios are very gum-able by the way).

Once she had her teeth, we started giving her more variety: chicken, beef, pork, slightly less cooked veggies.  She learned to use a spoon and fork pretty early because we gave her the opportunity.  By the time she had teeth, we were just giving her tastes of what was on our plates – spices and all.  Yes, it makes a mess for a while – although I’ve seen pictures from parents who went the puree route and it’s about the same amount of mess sometimes!

Daycare and grandma had concerns about her choking. When they first start eating, they have trouble keeping the food to the front of their mouths, so they look like they’re choking when they’re gagging.  You really do have to learn the difference between choking and just gagging.  They do eventually get the hang of it and stop giving you heart attacks every time they eat.  We pureed some food for her, and sent that in with her to daycare – she really didn’t like it.  One thing our daycare did let us do was highlight on the school menu what she was and was not allowed to have, so we highlighted everything we thought she could handle at the time – and I think she was the only baby in the infant room on the full daycare menu (most others switched in the toddler room 12mth+).

Warnings

There are some precautions to take while using the baby led weaning approach.  If you or other family members have an allergy, hold off on those particular foods until you’ve gotten the OK from your pediatrician.  Only introduce 1-2 new foods at a time so you can catch any allergic reactions (just like with purees).  Don’t feed them choking hazards (grapes, nuts, hot dogs, popcorn, etc – your pediatrician should have a full list).  Finally, be comfortable with the equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver for babies/young children.  We never had to use it, but it never hurts to be prepared.

We now have a toddler that will eat many things most “kids” won’t eat:  stir fry, salads, and lots of fruits and veggies.  We still don’t give her the choking hazards, except grapes, but otherwise, she eats exactly what we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Sometimes she doesn’t want to eat that particular meal that particular night, but that’s a different story.

Saving Money with Baby – Home Birth

One of the major costs of a baby is the pregnancy and giving birth.  A home birth is an option that some people should consider in order to save money.  Daughter Person was born at home with the assistance from midwives.  They charged $3500 to my insurance company, and I paid $20 – for *everything* from the midwives.  There are some “hidden” costs that you learn about as you go along, but they did not exceed $1200 (and some of it was reimbursed by my insurance).

A home birth is not for everyone.  It’s only available to “normal” pregnancies – anything high-risk means you have to begin working with an obstetrician (twins, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, breech baby, etc).  There is no pain medication available – and I know that’s important to many people.  There is always the risk of an emergency, and you’re not already in the hospital.

There are also definite benefits: you’re at home, someplace you are comfortable and “relaxed” – or as relaxed as possible while in labor.  There is no “going home”, because you’re already home.  I was out and about visiting the afternoon after Daughter Person was born (not the best idea in hindsight, but *shrug*).

Why did I choose a home birth?

It wasn’t for any financial reason – we had excellent insurance, and I would have paid about $500 total for a hospital birth – although, I’ve heard that an epidural is considered “elective” and insurance doesn’t cover it, but I can’t confirm that.  I did a home birth for the simple reason that I *hate* hospitals.  I am extremely needlephobic, and just the thought of getting blood drawn “just because” was enough to keep me from getting pregnant to start with.  Until I found my midwives (Birthcare & Womens Health).  They offer an introductory session every month, and I attended and asked questions.  I could get by with 2 needles total – assuming everything went well, and we decided to take the risk.  The fear of needles was stronger than the fear of labor pain – and for any woman who’s given birth, that gives you an idea of how much I hate needles – I still would rather go through labor again than have blood drawn.

Safety of Home Birth

There are many differing statistics on the safety of home birth – and much of it depends on the skills of the midwives.  As any couple who’s been pregnant can tell you, there are *many* things that can possibly go wrong during a pregnancy and birth, and you can’t necessarily be prepared for all of them – whether at home or in a hospital.  So many women choose a hospital on the off chance of something going wrong – they’re already in the hospital.  Home birth midwives focus on reducing the risks that something will go wrong – that’s why any high-risk pregnancy cannot attempt a home birth.  There are also backup plans in place in case something does go wrong.  My midwives work closely with an obstetrician who will take emergency cases.  If anything had started going wrong, I would have been transferred to the closest hospital via ER.  If I had decided that *I* wanted to be in the hospital for any reason (like pain medication), we would transfer to the obstetrician’s primary hospital.  Luckily, I made it through pregnancy and delivery without any major issues (although there were some close calls).  But home birth midwives are aware of the risks, tell their patients ahead of time and let their patients decide.

Hidden Costs

There are some “hidden” costs to home birth that are not easily available.  The first is that my midwives required that we attend a natural birthing class: $175.  The second is that we have to provide a majority of the disposable supplies: $85.  The final cost is that the midwives work with a birthing assistant (also a nurses’ assistant), and we have to pay for their services.  Our birthing assistant charged $800.  80% of this was reimbursed by my insurance company, but it’s also a cost that we paid up front.  So our total costs including the midwives (assuming no insurance) would have been $4,700.  That’s a lot less than the quoted $30,000-$50,000 average for a hospital birth.

The Experience

One question I get often when people hear that I gave birth at home is “how was it?”.  I won’t go into details, but it was both long, hard and empowering.  I didn’t really notice the midwife checking vital signs periodically, and I was relatively comfortable at home.  I could eat what I want, when I wanted, I could get in the shower if I wanted, I could pretty much do anything I wanted within reason.  After Daughter Person was born I felt very empowered and strong.  I had really done that.  The midwife stayed around until 4 hours after Daughter Person was born to make sure everyone was OK, and then we were left at home as a new family of three.   Not to say that women can’t feel this way with a hospital birth, but that’s my experience.

Daughter Person did have to go into the NICU when she was 3 days old, but not for any reason related to the home birth – she developed severe jaundice and needed a blood transfusion.

I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have about my home birth.  Feel free to comment or e-mail me directly: mom at 3isplenty dot com.

Saving Money with Baby – Cloth Diapers

Daughter Person in a cloth diaper at about 6 months old

Daughter Person in a cloth diaper at about 6 months old

Now that we’re almost out of diapers (at least during the day), I wanted to post what I think we saved by going with cloth diapers over disposables. Daughter Person has been in cloth diapers ever since we brought her home from the NICU.

She had a horrible reaction to the diapers they put on her in the hospital, and her whole diaper area looked “burned” the entire time she was there. We had already bought the cloth diapers prior to her birth, but that week in the NICU really hardened our resolve to stay with cloth.

Costs

I bought 24 newborn BumGenius diapers for her first few months.  I bought them new for $12.95 each ($310.80), and resold them for $10 each on eBay when we were done with them (-$240.00).  We have 32 of the one-size pockets (BumGenius), which I bought for ~$16.50 each ($528.00) – I bought them in multi-packs 🙂  I’ve also bought new inserts for 25 of them for $15 shipped free on the slow boat from china ($15).  I’ve also bought 25 “refresh” kits to replace the velcro on the larger diapers, they’re $1 each ($25).  I’ve not started reselling the diapers yet, but I plan to, and they’re going for about $7-$10 each on eBay depending on condition – I’m going to guess we’re at the $7/diaper side.  So far, I’ve spent $638.80 on regular cloth diapers.  We went straight to undies for potty training, and we use cloth swim diapers as well ($14.95 each, and I’ve bought 3 – $44.85).  We have three wet bags for her diaper pail ($16.50 each), and two travel wet bags ($11.95 each).  For all Daughter Person’s cloth needs, we’ve spent $757.05.

What would we have spent on disposables for the same time period?

Assuming that we used store brand diapers (which may or may not have worked for us, I have no idea), I’m going to use Target’s prices for their brand.
We changed Daughter Person 12 times per day for the first three months, and she would have been in size 1-2 diapers: that’s 1,080 changes at .14 per diaper: $151.20

We changed her about 8 times a day until she was 1, and she would have been in the size 2-3 diapers: that’s 2,160 changes at .14 per diaper: $302.40

From a year until 2.5 years, she was changed about 6 times per day, and she would have been in the size 3-4 diapers:  that’s 3,240 changes at .16 per diaper: $518.40

Finally, for the last month, we’ve been in undies and diapers at night and nap.  We change undies about 5 times per day, and she’d be in pull-ups:  that’s 150 changes at .34 per pull-up: $51.

Not to mention the swim diapers we’d have had to buy through all this, we’d have spent $1,024 on just regular diapers.

That’s a difference of $266.95 and we haven’t even sold our cloth diapers yet (an estimated $224.  And this is just for one kid!  We’re not having another, so those are pretty much our final costs for the cloth diapers.  If you had more than one kid, you’d save even more.

Practicality

Using cloth diapers is a bit different than disposables (but not that much!).  We have to wash them every 2-3 days.  It involves a cold rinse, hot wash, then low dry, and that’s it.  It’s just two-three extra loads of laundry per week, which wasn’t that much considering we were already doing all the laundry for her (and my) clothes.  There was some cost to the laundering, but I don’t think it was that significant, and we could have line dried to keep it lower.

We found a daycare center that was willing to work with us using the cloth.  We stuffed the inserts into the diapers when we did laundry, and from then on, it was just like a disposable diaper – except you don’t throw away the old one.  They’d put them in a bag and we’d take them home to wash, and bring in the same number the next morning.

Poop is one reason many give for not using cloth.  There are multiple options here.  1) babies who are exclusively breastfed (not Daughter Person) have water soluble poop – nothing special needs to be done, just toss in the wash. 2) liners – you can buy liners which catch solids and you throw them away – we didn’t use those either. 3) a diaper sprayer (or toilet): you rinse off the solids into the toilet, then wash the diaper.  We used a sprayer to rinse off the big pieces of solids as soon as we removed the diaper, then put the wet diaper into the pail.  Daycare left the solids in the diapers for us to rinse when we got home.  It’s really not that bad.  Especially since you end up covered in poop anyway, no matter what diaper you use!

Cloth diapers are not for everyone, they take some planning ahead and easy access to washing facilities.  Dad preferred the cloth diapers to the disposable ones she was in in the NICU (so did I).  I think they’re just easier to use – and they certainly look more colorful!

 

Fidelity changes their 529 plan expense ratios

Right after I mail the paperwork to transfer Daughter Person’s 529 from Fidelity to Virginia’s plan, I get a letter from Fidelity letting me know that their expense ratios on the index funds were dropping to 0.09% – doh!

Now I have to seriously do the math on which plan is better for us.  Virginia allows up to $4000/year tax deduction for contributions – and they carry over from year to year (ie. if we contribute $5000 this year, we can take the $4000 deduction this year and $1000 next year – until it’s all used up).  We have a state marginal tax rate of 5.75% and $4000 isn’t likely to drop us into a lower bracket.  Right now, we contribute $600/year, reducing our taxes by ~$35/year, if we contributed up to the full $4000 (which is possible in the future), we’d reduce our taxes by $230/year.

The difference in expense ratios is 0.37% for our selected plan vs. 0.09% for Fidelity – so a difference of 0.28% – It’s current balance is about $5000, so that’s a difference of $14 in fees just this year, and that will increase as we go along – but the fee decrease doesn’t come close to the reduction in taxes we get.  Since I’m pretty sure we’re going to be contributing more than $4000/year on average over her school life, we’ll be able to bank quite a bit, even with the higher fees on the Virginia plan.  We can also reduce our expense ratio with the VA plan to as low as 0.24% by selecting another investment plan.

What do you think – am I doing the math right for figuring out our reduction in taxes?