It’s Frugal…Tuesday?

Hello again! Apologies for the radio silence over here- between having house guests all last week and a quick trip to Chicago over the weekend, I’m just starting to get my feet back under me.

So, since I missed last Friday’s frugal Friday post, I thought I’d do one today that’s vacation inspired from my trip to Chicago!

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Frugal Vacation Wins 

  1. Most of the activities I took part in in Chicago were completely free! One of my good friends and I visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, attended a free outdoor performance by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, window-shopped the Chicago nightlife, and took a walk around Millennium Park. All very fun. All very free. Be still, my frugal heart!
  2. I walked everywhere- This didn’t exactly end up being free- I had to buy band-aids for an army of blisters, but it was fun to see some parts of Chicago I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Also, walking is not my natural inclination, but said friend prefers walking, so walk we did! I’m down to three band-aids on each foot, so the blisters are healing… I’m also down three pounds from the start of the weekend, so maybe said friend is on to something???
  3. Despite the abundance of expensive food in Chicago, I made more frugal food choices- Although, the ever-present Starbucks fix was of course happening, so…I guess it could have been better? Overall, I spent just under $100 on food for the weekend, which ends up at about $30 a day, which I am content with.
  4. I didn’t check any bags- Since I didn’t fly Southwest* (which was SUCH a poor choice, for so many reasons), I made sure not to bring more clothing than could fit in a carry-on bag. This is always hard, since I rarely know what I’ll be doing in advance of traveling.  But I did it!
  5. I stayed at an older hotel- Since most of my friends were coming to Chicago for an academic conference (alt-ac over here!), I wanted to stay close to the conference hotel. But the conference hotel was very expensive. Using my (erm, Expedia’s) superpowers, I found a hotel that was a two minute walk from the conference hotel, but cost almost $100 less per night. And included free WiFi. Done and done. It was definitely older and lacked the glitz and polish of the conference hotel, but there was a bed and it was clean. I don’t feel the need to pay for glitz and polish when I can pay less for serviceable and clean.

Frugal Vacation Fails

  1. I had to buy a new pair of shoes- I failed to pack appropriate footwear for hiking miles around Chicago (literally, miles. My conservative estimate is that I walked between 10-15 miles this weekend, since the zoo itself was 2 miles away from the hotel). My flimsy little dress flats weren’t going to cut it. Of course, the new shoes also necessitated band-aids, but I pulled through! However, I hunted down a TJ Maxx, so I didn’t end up paying a lot for the shoes, and I like them enough that I’ll definitely keep wearing them.
  2. Airport transportation- I did not do my due diligence ahead of this trip and just assumed that I would be able to easily take public transit from the airport to the hotel. Only, turns out, the L line from O’Hare didn’t actually go anywhere near my downtown hotel! The nearest blue line stop was 2(!) miles away from my hotel. So getting there required train + bus+ walking. Um. No thank you. So I took a cab to and from the airport. If I had planned better, I could (and would have) reserved some type of shuttle, which would have easily been half the price.

What frugal things have you been up to lately?

*For those of you unfamiliar with Southwest, all of their pricing includes two “free” checked bags (i.e., the price is built into their ticket price, but you don’t have to pay extra for it). 

10 baby items you really don’t need. Plus 5 you do!

As part of my quest to remove myself from the baby industrial complex, I spent a lot of time asking friends and family what things I actually needed with a new baby and what things were not as necessary.  So, for all expecting parents out there, here’s my list of what you really don’t need for a baby (but also five things you do need!)

  1. Wipe warmer- Seriously. You don’t need this. It isn’t like a wipe is icy cold when it comes out of the container.
  2. Toys- Babies don’t actually need much in the way of toys.  When F. was a newborn, she spent most of her time either watching the fan or staring at the pictures on the walls.  Once she got a little older, her favorite “toys” were measuring cups, wooden spoons and the strainer.
  3. Video monitor- This might get some push-back, but we’ve never had a video monitor and I’ve never felt the need for one. However, I will say that F. is a very heavy sleeper, so we can open the door to check on her and she won’t wake up.
  4. Pants/shirts/dresses in sizes under 9 months- Buy sleepers. With zippers. Or onesies if you have a summer baby. That’s it. My mom tried to tell me that I didn’t need a lot of clothes for F. and I *ahem* didn’t listen. And then had to make an emergency (and expensive) Walmart run after she was born for sleepers with zippers because dear god, anything else was way too much work. F. wore only sleepers for at least the first six months of her life.
  5. White noise machine- Do you have an old cell phone? Download the white noise baby app, plug the phone in and put it in airplane mode. Voila! White noise, for free, no extra machine required.
  6. Baby towels/washcloths- Babies are perfectly happy being wrapped up in and washed with whatever towels you currently own. No special hooded towels needed!
  7. Baby shoes- Babies don’t need shoes until they really start walking on a regular basis. Since the average age when babies start walking well is 12-14 months, you don’t need ANY shoes the first year.
  8. Baby food blender- If you want to make your own baby food, a regular blender will work absolutely fine. Or, alternatively, steam fruits and veggies until they’re soft and mash them up with a fork. Freeze in ice cube trays or just put it all in the fridge for the week.
  9. Bottle warmer- I might get some push-back on this one too, but it seriously took us about 3 minutes to warm up a bottle in a cup of hot water. However, we also had a small house at the time, and the kitchen was only about 15 steps from the bedroom.
  10. Brand new swing/rocker/bassinet/bouncer- Seriously, find some mom friends if you can and borrow this stuff. Most babies only use each one for a very short period of time, so it’s very easy for family or friends to trade it all back and forth. We borrowed a bassinet from a friend and our swing and bouncer are both currently residing with my sister. We’ll need them again one day, but by that point, she won’t!

5 Things Worth the Money

  1. A travel system- A carrier that clicks into both the car and the stroller is essential. No need to remove a sleeping baby from the carrier- just move the carrier from car to stroller! This is a must-have.
  2. A boppy- If you’re planning on breastfeeding, this magical pillow will keep your arms from dying while you feed. If you’re not, it makes a great place for baby to rest and is also useful for bottle-feeding as well.  These are absolutely worth the money.
  3. Sleepers with zippers- No buttons, no snaps, nothing that requires precision at 3 am. Sleepers with zippers are your new best friend. Onesises with snaps are a distant second.  Everything else is superfluous.
  4. A really ridiculously long phone charger. You’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting around with a baby- you do NOT want your phone to die. Buy the 20 foot charger. You won’t regret it.
  5. Baby carrier- Spend some time trying the different carriers. Moby wrap too complicated? Get a front-pack. Baby like to look around? Get a back-pack.  A good baby carrier is essential for those times when a stroller is too much work or when you need to do laundry and your baby doesn’t want to be put down.

So there you have it. The baby essentials and the baby extras! What did you think was essential? What wasn’t worth the money?

I’m back! Plus, taking on the baby industrial complex.

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A very proud F. holding her new cousin. Be still, my heart!

Sorry for the radio silence! I know I missed Frugal Friday, but I have a very good reason.  My sister and her brand new baby(!) came to visit and I’ve pretty much been spending time with them and neglecting everything else around me (food, house, blog).  BUT, my sister’s visit got me thinking about kids and money (plus it’s back to school month around here as well) so I’m devoting the next couple weeks to talking about how to manage kids and frugality. This week is focused primarily on kid “stuff”: what they need, where to get it, money-saving tricks.  Next week is going to be focused primarily on keeping kids entertained.

But, today I’m going to talk a bit about the baby industrial complex. When B and I first got engaged, about a million years ago (ok, like…10 years ago? Maybe?), my roommates at the time celebrated by gifting me a very large stack of wedding magazines. I’d never planned a wedding before and, frankly, hadn’t given any thought to what type of wedding I’d want to have.  Plus, I lean toward the introverted side of things, so having to entertain a huge group of people sounded horridly exhausting (note: I never got out of this mentality. I tried, multiple times, to convince my husband to elope. Multiple times.) The enormity of the wedding industrial complex was ridiculous (and definitely the topic of a future post). Favors? Dresses? Venues? Entertainment? DJ’s? The amount of money and things one apparently needed to get married was just ridiculous.

But you guys- it was nothing…NOTHING compared to the baby industrial complex. Somewhere along the line, having a child has been turned into an excuse for all-out consumption of all of the things. I was prepared for that. I remembered what the wedding was like. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the implied value statements that went along with the baby industrial complex.  Not only did you need to have the latest and greatest of everything, but if you didn’t, you clearly didn’t want what was best for your baby. I was not prepared for the huge dose of mom guilt that accompanied every single purchase I did or did not make.

Want to make sure your baby is safe and doesn’t die in the middle of the night? Buy this sock that monitors their vitals? Want to make sure your baby never experiences a moment of discomfort? You have to have a wipe warmer. Want your baby to have the most comfortable swinging experience? Buy this swing with 1000 different speed settings. (note…the may not be the actual value props of these products…)

Buy new! Buy the best! Give your baby the best start in life. And what parent doesn’t want to do that? Despite my best intentions (and forehand knowledge!) I almost got swept away by the baby industrial complex. Almost. Until the day I had a breakdown in my office over a baby registry.  A FREAKING BABY REGISTRY.  I was trying to register prior to my shower and I was so overwhelmed by choices and research and recalls that I was legit having a panic attack in my office.

And i thought- enough. Enough. This is stressing me out, stressing my baby out and I. Am. Done.  I took a deep breath, took a step back, and realized that I was spending way too much time equating stuff with love. And care. I was doing exactly what I had been trying to stop doing in every other part of my life. Buying more things wasn’t going to make my baby feel more loved. Hell, B. and I had tried and tried and tried to get pregnant, for years, before F. came along. She was loved beyond measure the moment I got a positive pregnancy test. I didn’t need to prove to her, or anyone, that I loved her more by buying her all of the stuff.

This is where I slammed on the brakes, hard, against the baby industrial complex. Buying more stuff never made me happy- why would owning more stuff automatically make my baby more happy? I closed out my online registry without registering for a single thing. I stopped buying baby magazines, stopped reading baby books and stopped listening to the opinions of other people. B. and I refocused on what we were already doing in every other area of lives- choosing simplicity, choosing function over style and choosing secondhand wherever possible.

And an amazing thing happened- I stopped caring. Not just about the stuff and the buying and the baby industrial complex. I just stopped giving a fuck about what other people expected of me as a mother. I’d already bucked the consumerist complex, it was the work of a minute to buck the rest along with it. I ate deli meat while pregnant, I drank a beer, I ate sushi (multiple times!), I breastfed in public, I switched to formula at six months, I took F. out without a hat on, I vaccinated, I used cloth diapers and I did it all because I wanted to. Because I truly did. not. care. about what anyone else thought I should be doing or buying or thinking. Because I knew in my heart that all F. really needed was a lot of love and affection (along with somewhere to sleep, a carseat and some clothing and food). The rest is just details and personal preference.

Bucking the baby industrial complex was, hands down, the most rewarding experience of my life and the benefits have been long-lasting. F. is happy and loved, and refocusing on what is most important to us has helped B. and I keep this whole parenthood adventure in perspective.

 

A potentially costly mistake averted…

Budgeting and tracking spending means that I’m looking at our budget and bank account on a daily basis (or at least every other day).

Lo and behold, I saw a very large pending deposit on Monday from B.’s civilian employer.

Who he is currently not working for, due to being deployed.

And he hasn’t been working there for a few months.

Turns out, it was a mistake (which of course, we found out after it had already gone through, because they can only discuss it with B.) and we need to pay it all back. It’s not a big deal, because I a) noticed immediately that unexpected money had been deposited into our account and b) was able to pay it back before any of it got spent.

In the pre-budget days, we just spent money and occasionally checked the balance of the bank account.  If that had been the case, I would likely never have noticed the over-payment (or at least not noticed until I had spent a significant portion of it) and it would have been difficult to come up with several thousand dollars to pay it back.

So, while it’s not a direct benefit of budgeting, the heightened financial monitoring and awareness that comes with budgeting saved us from a potential costly mistake later down the road!

Although I’m a little sad that we don’t get to keep the free, unearned money! 😉

Frugal Friday

It’s Frugal Friday! Time to catalog my frugal wins and fails this week.

Frugal Wins

1.  I made dinner every night this week– Go me! This is harder than it seems, since we get home at 5:00 and F. is a hot mess if dinner isn’t ready by 5:30. So I’m happy that I managed to make dinner every night this week.

2. I used up meat in my freezer– I have this bad habit of buying pork when it’s on sale and then afterwards remembering that I don’t actually have very many recipes for pork. So then it sits in my freezer for a LONG time. But this week, I made some very yummy pork kebabs so some of it is no longer in my freezer.

3. I bought clearance exercise gear- Now that I’ve started going to the gym every day, I don’t actually have enough sports bras and exercise shirts for a whole week. I’ve been trying to get by with doing laundry halfway through the week, but it’s been a challenge to remember. So I bought a new sports bra and new shirt, both of which were on clearance for $3 each. They are not the nicest gear ever, but they are definitely good enough to get covered in sweat!

Frugal Fails

1. Food waste– I have had so much wasted food this week. The produce from Walmart that I mentioned earlier in the week all went bad, a loaf of bread that I was planning on for dinner tonight molded, my grill caught on fire earlier in the week and took half of my grilled chicken with it and then I packed up dinner leftovers last night before taking F. to gymnastics and they were still sitting out on the counter, spoiling, once I got home.  Not a good week, my friends.  Not a good week.

I’m sure there are more things, but I’m tired and I think that’s going to do it for me. How’d you all do this week?

5 things that are making me happy (and 1 thing that is pissing me off)

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I can’t claim credit for the title of this post- I stole this idea from my blogging inspirations: The Frugal Girl and The Non-Consumer Advocate.

But, in the spirit of not focusing on the negative parts of this week, here are five things that are making me happy (and one thing that’s pissing me off, because I can’t resist).

Five things that are making me happy

  1. The sun is out! But it’s not 100 degrees. That’s a lovely change from hot/humid or gloomy/rainy/humid.
  2. I’ve managed to make dinner at home again every night this week so far. And a lot of it was really delicious grilled things (brats, chicken and pork) which I am very much enjoying.
  3. I went to the gym every workday last week and I’ve gone every day but one this week (due to a team outing at work).  This is huge for me- I may have my spending under control but consistently going to the gym has always been a challenge. But I’m on a good streak right now. I’m hoping I can keep it up!
  4. F has been really affectionate this week. She’s started giving me kisses so big and hard that they’re actually bruising my cheeks and has been asking for hugs and snuggles.  She’s generally not a particularly affectionate toddler, so I have been soaking up the extra love 🙂
  5. F and I are going up to spend a day with my dad this weekend, which is always fun. I love living close to family- it’s so nice to be able to just decide to go visit for a day and not have it be a huge ordeal. We were only 4 hours away before, but it felt much farther.

One thing that is pissing me off

  1. For the last few months, I’ve been semi-regularly getting my groceries through Walmart’s new grocery service (i.e. you order groceries online, they bag them up and you pick them all up curbside). I usually have really good luck with all the food, but the last two weeks, the produce they’ve picked has started going bad really quickly.  This week, I had two bananas and two peaches go from not ripe to spoiled in less than 24 hours and a cucumber that went bad almost immediately upon being cut up (which is not normal). I’ve had to throw out a bunch of food this week and that kind of waste just really pisses me off.  I’m going to give them one more chance and then I might have to reconsider this service.

So there you have it. What’s making you happy this week?

Frugality is not an all or nothing proposition

Slip-ups don’t mean failure and failure doesn’t justify quitting

Today wasn’t a great day. It’s rainy, my morning started with the dog peeing on the floor (for NO. DAMN. REASON.), F was dragging her feet about going to daycare and I was already stressed out by the time I got to work.

I know (from many years of experience) that stressed Liz makes a lot more non-frugal decisions because, you know, cortisol. And emotions.  So today, despite having brought my lunch to work, my co-worker and I went down to the cafeteria where I bought a very large, overpriced, not very good for me taco salad. And don’t you know, I’ve felt like crap about it all. damn. day.  Where do I get off coming here, talking about frugal living, when I brought my lunch to work and still didn’t eat it? It’s a stupid thing to feel guilty about, but sometimes, things seem worse when it’s already been a bad day.

It’s days like today, when I make choices that don’t feel good later, that I try to remind myself of my own guiding principle with money: frugality is not an all or nothing proposition. 

This is something that B and I (mostly I) sort of learned the hard way when we first started budgeting (turns out we learn a lot of things the hard way- it’s like we’re stubborn or something…).  I’m not usually a black and white person, but I took a very black and white approach to budgeting.  Either I did it perfectly or I didn’t do it at all (btw, this is NOT the Dave Ramsey approach- he’s very clear that you will fail at your budget a lot before you get it down).  Every month, I’d forget to include something in the budget or we’d accidentally go over on a category, or we’d be out and I would have forgotten to bring the cash envelopes.

So every month, I’d toss the budget out the window, because it didn’t go right. I didn’t do it right. I didn’t account for everything.

It took me a long time to realize that I was using perfection as an excuse. By treating frugality and budgeting as something that I had to do perfectly, every month, all the time, I was setting up an unreasonable expectation that I could never, ever meet.  And the truth was, I didn’t want to meet it. I didn’t want to have to budget, I didn’t want to have to think about money, I didn’t want to feel stress from money. I wanted to avoid it all and just hope that it all worked out.

Facing myself, admitting that I was being a coward about this and accepting that failure was going to happen was hard. It took a lot of practice not to give up the second that a month ended up having unforeseen expenses (hint: they all do).

But eventually, I came to embrace the 90/10 principle (or 85/15 depending on the month). If I can make frugal choices 90% of the time, then I’m 90% better than when I was doing nothing.  Rather than focusing on the 10% of things that don’t go well, I try to remind myself of that 90%.  And I try to remind myself that frugality is not an all or nothing proposition. Slip-ups don’t mean failure and failure doesn’t justify quitting.  But some days, like today, I really need the reminder.