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#881 Halloween Savings: How To Save 50% On Halloween Candy

22 Oct

This money saving tip takes planning and patience. And a secret stash hideout that no one can find.

Step 1: Hit the post-Halloween 50% off sales on candy on November 1. (The earlier you hit them the better the choices.)
50% off halloween candy discount

Step 2: Check the expiration date to make sure the candy will be good NEXT Halloween. Check… (I did indeed buy this candy and plan this post a year ago…)
halloween candy expiration date

Step 3: Sample a few… just to make sure they’re good.
halloween candy lemonheads

Step 4: Stash the candy in a cool, dry place where NO ONE will find the secret cache.

Step 5: Hand out candy when next year’s Halloween rolls around. Sample a few just to make sure they’re still good (they are!). No one is the wiser as you hand out the candy. Repeat yearly.
halloween candy in hand


Bonus: You don’t have to shop for candy last minute.

It has to be Halloween candy because many candies that are not usually individually wrapped are individually wrapped for handing out. Other holidays have themed candy that makes it obvious that you are handing out the wrong holiday’s candy.

Alternatives to handing out candy to massive amounts of ungrateful children:

Keep your house dark and hope no one comes by.

Hide in the bushes with a really scary costume and jump out to scare people away.

Personally, being cheap on this one is easier than the previous two. You can still enjoy the holiday and it eliminates my pet peeve that holiday candy is always 50% off after the fact. Well, I just solved that problem for you. You’re welcome. You can use this tip for any holiday. Just don’t let anyone know that it’s your game plan. They probably will tell others to avoid your treats on the holidays. Come on people, sugar never goes bad!

#882 Halloween Savings: Don’t Let That Pumpkin Go To Waste

21 Oct

jack o lanternAfter carving up your Halloween jack o’ lantern, do you:

A. Let it rot on your lawn or doorstep until it is a disgusting heap of orange and black moldy goo.

B. Throw it away.

C. Compost it.

D. Roast it for pumpkin puree.

I pick D.

So this money-saving idea may be bordering on cheap, but I like to think of it as Native American resourceful. As in nothing goes to waste. I thought my mom was seriously cheap and weird when she did this, but then I moved to Europe where they don’t have pumpkin puree in a can. But they do sell pumpkin slices in the grocery store. That’s when I started to roast my own pumpkin, and my mom’s crazy ways seemed a little less crazy.

Please note: Pumpkins go moldy very quickly so this has to be done within 24 hours of carving to be safe. This means, don’t carve the Halloween pumpkin until the day of or day before Halloween. Who really uses a jack o’ lantern for more than Halloween night anyways?

Step 1: Discard the top with the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.
halloween pumpkin and top

halloween pumpkin cut in half

Step 2: Cut the pumpkin into even-sized cubes and trim the dried-out layer. Don’t worry about trimming the rind off, leave it during roasting.

halloween pumpkin cubes
Step 3: Place the cubes on a cookie tray, rind side down, and brush or spray with canola oil. Roast at 350 degrees until a skewer inserts easily into the cubes, about 40 minutes.

halloween pumpkin roasted
Step 4: Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then trim off the rind with a butter knife and place soft cubes in a bowl. Mash to desired consistency. Or place in food processor for a smoother finish.

mashed halloween pumpkin
Alternatives: Steam on the stove top or cook in a pressure cooker (the rind should be removed for these methods). The end result will be more watery. I like the drier finish of roasting, plus it adds a nice flavor.

Step 5: Measure into 1 or 2 cup servings and freeze what is not used right away.

halloween pumkpin puree

How this Halloween money-saving tip actually saves you money: From one average-priced $6 pumpkin, you can get roasted pumpkin seeds (isn’t that the best part of carving a pumpkin), a Halloween decoration and pumpkin puree. A small pumpkin (that in my case was actually $4.50)  yielded exactly 7 cups of pumpkin puree. libby's pumpkin pureeOne can of premium brand puree is $1.98. Generic brands are $0.99 – $1.20 per can. One can of pumpkin puree is 2 cups. That means my 7 cups is equal to 3 1/2 cans of store-bought puree or $6.93 worth of premium brand or $3.37 – $4.20 worth of generic brand puree. The premium brand canned pumpkin puree cost is more than the original cost of the pumpkin. The generic brand cost is slightly less than the original cost of the pumpkin. And that’s not factoring in that this would be the third use of the single purchase of a pumpkin.

Additional benefits of turning your jack o’ lantern into pumpkin puree:

  • No concerns about BPA in canned goods
  • Pumpkins are packed with nutrients namely beta-carotene just like orange carrots. The fresher the pumpkin, the better the nutrients so making your own means it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting around, exposed to extreme temps to kill bacteria during manufacture and other practices that kills food nutrients.

Your regular jack o’ lanterns might not be the best flavor choice, but there are a huge variety of pumpkins. If you get one from a farm stand or farmer’s market, the grower may be able to tell you more about the richer-flavored pumpkins to choose from.

What to do with all this roasted pumpkin?
If you’re Euro, you’ll go savory with pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli or pumpkin risotto.
If you’re American, you’ll go sweet with pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins. I once made killer pumpkin cheese cake and pumpkin creme brulee.

The best part is that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you’ll be able to wow the guests with tales of home-roasted pumpkin pie.

Growing Up With Pets: My Memories Of 10 Childhood Pets

11 Jun

yellow lab with tennis ball

Photo via flickr by derekskey.

As if having seven children wasn’t enough for my parents, it seems like they could never say no to a new pet. And with seven kids, if one kid gets a pet, another one starts crying for one too. That’s how we ended up with two ferrets instead of one (I was the crier). We had lots of pets growing up, 10 of them are memorable for me:

1. The Ferrets. How it came about that my parents ended up at a ferret farm buying a ferret, I don’t know. But as soon as my older brother had a ferret, I cried and cried for one too. I picked out a fat, lazy, white one and named him Rusty. My brother’s ferret, Nipper, was slim, active and looked like a typical ferret. Many other ferrets followed, but Nipper and Rusty were the first. Ferrets are cute, stinky (some same musky) and sleep a lot. We used to carry ours around in a backpack as they slept. They hopped sideways and made squeaky sounds after we gave them baths with baby shampoo.

2. Butch, The Guinea Pig and his jailbird wife, Mathilda. For some reason, as kids we had a great disdain for hamsters and gerbils. Instead we had guinea pigs. We had a beautiful orange and white long-haired guinea pig named Butch. We pretended that he didn’t have a mate because his girlfriend, Mathilda, was in jail. We’d have Butch talk on the phone to Mathlida in jail. When we got a female guinea pig, the ever-absent Mathlida was paroled, and there was a joyous reunion with Butch. I have no idea how we came up with this stuff. Kids and imaginations are incredible things.

3. The Tarantulas. My older brother ordered these from science lab or something. They were giant and hairy, and well, tarantulas. Luckily, the ferrets seemed to like to get into their tank and eat them. That put an end to the tarantulas.

4. Dix, The Budgie Parakeet. I got Dix for my tenth birthday. To French speakers that makes his name very obvious: Ten. He was also the first in a line of many budgies. For my 22nd birthday, I was going to get a fish for my apartment. Instead I had too many drinks and picked out two budgies at the pet store. More than ten years later, one of those budgies is still alive. Oh, a fish would have been so much easier…

5. The Chameleons. Another one of my older brother’s random-animals-in-a-tank ventures. They escaped one summer, and we’d see them around – green in the grass, brown on the weathered shingles. I still have a fondness for little lizards.

6. Sebastian, The Hermit Crab. I don’t know how a hermit crab can be friendly, but Sebastian was the friendliest hermit crab. He had a companion whose name I can’t remember because he was not nearly as friendly. I loved Sebastian. Then my little sister took the two hermit crabs out to play and promptly forgot them outside. She left them baking in the Southern sun until there was nothing left but a shriveled bit inside their shells. Oh, little sisters.

7. Circe, The Chicken. Circe was all shiny black. I was into reading Greek mythology at the time if you couldn’t tell. I sat and watched Circe nestling in the grass until, all the sudden, out popped an egg. That was something crazy to see as a kid. The ferrets lived next to the chickens and when there was a commotion in the hen house we knew the ferrets had weaseled their way in there. The ferrets didn’t bother the hens or the eggs. They just wanted to sleep curled up under the hens where it was warm and cozy. The hens did not approve.

8. Jacques Cousteau, The Cat. I’d grown up with cats, so when I graduated from college and got a job, it seemed like a cat was a good idea. I adopted one from a shelter. When I moved, the cat went on vacation to my parents and disappeared. We thought he had been eaten by a fox or coyote, but a year later we saw a town publication with a photo of an elderly woman and a cat. That cat was definitely Jacques Cousteau. Maybe all black cats look alike, but I could tell it was Jacques. I was happy to know he wasn’t eaten, and did not want to disturb his happy life with the elderly lady. So long, Jacques.

9. Snowball, The Yellow Lab. I think all kids have a special place in their hearts for the dog with which they grew up. We got Snowball when I was around eight and he died when I was in college. Man, that was sad. He was the best definition of a dog – ever-loving and comforting.

10. The Fish. We had lots of fish. Guppies that had babies that then got eaten. Black mollies. Angel fish. A skeleton fish named Bumpy. But I really loved winning goldfish at the state fair and bringing them to a happy home for a week. They never lasted more than a week, but it was a happy week.

 What’s your favorite pet memory?

#885 Pet Savings: Make Your Own Dog Biscuits

29 May

homemade dog biscuits

Homemade dog treats were faster and easier made than expected. Cheaper too.

Making my own dog biscuits turned out to solve two problems for me. First, how to keep my dog in treats and second, how to keep my daughter out of the dog food.

My dog is half-pig, half-dog. The breeder said so when we picked him up. (I know I advocate adoption, but the puppy adoption we wanted didn’t work out so we made the new dog owner mistake of paying lots of money for a pure breed puppy). Anyways, our puppy was the fattest puppy in the  litter. He was huge compared to his brothers and sisters. Because this dog has an appetite. If he doesn’t get treats he goes a little insane, so we like to satiate him a little with treats. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s not dog food from the bag.

My daughter loves everything dog. She has a huge collection of play dogs. We can get her to wear anything if it has a dog on it. She loves our real dog so much that she pretty much wants everything he has… his collar, his dog food, his dog treats. So to avoid having her demand dog food every time the dog eats his breakfast, I looked up dog biscuit recipes.

First, I tried a Bernard Clayton recipe in which he wrote that he wanted a dog biscuit that was tasty for dogs and humans. My dog would not eat them. Did I mention this dog is half-pig? He eats everything. The fact that he refused a dog treat was a little mind-blowing. Sorry, Bernard Clayton, your recipe failed the tasty-to-dogs test.

So I created my own dog biscuit recipe, which you can find here. And here are video instructions.

The dog biscuit recipe been tested on multiple dogs and multiple toddlers. Everyone loves them. Turns out other parents have the same issue with their toddlers eating their dog’s food and treats. I was embarrassed at first to admit that my daughter had this penchant for all things dog, including food. But then she started sharing her homemade biscuits with friends, and the parents admitted to the same problem.

I was doubtful of the cost savings of making my own dog biscuits, so I did out the numbers. Turns out the materials are cheaper by cents per pound than generic brands, but by dollars per pound than premium brands. And I’m sure the homemade product is far superior to even premium brand dog treats. I decided it was worth it to me to make my own dog biscuits for the 20 active minutes time it takes to make them because I was assured that the product was safe and palatable not only for my dog, but for my kid. Dog food has not been immune to tainting by food poisoning bacteria and other unsafe materials, so if I can provide a safe alternative I would rather do that. I know everything that goes into the biscuits is fresh, safe and tasty. Plus, it’s a fun activity that my daughter and I usually do on the weekend. I’ve been even known to sample a few of the final product.

To make the recipe even cheaper than store options, you can substitute whole wheat flour for rye flour. Rye flour lends a nice flavor that might be lost on dog-only consumption.

#890 Think About Your Money Like A Kid

21 May

baby playing

Mom and Dad couldn’t resist this toddler’s request for money.

She said it clearly with an expectant look on her face – “Money.” She had never said the word before. I thought maybe I had misheard. But she repeated it – “money” – with the same expectant look on her face.

Yikes! The kid’s not yet two, and she’s asking me for money. Clearly this toddler expected to receive some money. While I was scraping my jaw off the floor in shock after my child’s first request for money, my husband was dancing around with her. He was ecstatic at her growing vocabulary, impressed with her demand and handing her $1 from his wallet.

“Money, money, money,” my daughter repeated, clutching her dollar bill.

“We’ll have to save it, and you can buy something with your money when you go shopping with Mommy,” I said.

She and Daddy found an acceptable stash spot for safekeeping until the weekend. Come Saturday, which is shopping day, she requested her dollar and retrieved it from her piggy bank.

Now that she was requesting money and receiving some. I’d have to show her how to use her money responsibly.

one dollar bill

What can you get for $1?

“You have one dollar,” I told her. “Whatever you can find for your dollar, you can buy. Something you want. But it has to be a dollar because that’s all you have.”

I dreaded trying to find something for $1 (what about tax?). So we made a stop at Goodwill. I knew they had lots of $0.99 kid items. With my 10% discount card, it would take care of the tax question.

My daughter found a pack of Crayola washable markers and immediately said, “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh,” and clutched the package tightly to indicate that this was it. No need to look further. And it was the on sale color of the week, meaning it was 50% off of the marked $0.99 price. This girl could already spot a deal. I was proud. With my discount card, the markers were $0.47.

I had her get her dollar from her pocket and hand it to the cashier. She parted with the money in exchange for the markers with no protest, much to my relief. I told her the change was hers to keep.

As we progressed through grocery shopping, I had promised to get her a dog coloring book to go with her markers. “Wouldn’t it be nice if she could get it on her own instead,” I thought. We shuffled through the whole coloring book display to find the coloring book with only dogs. The last one left had a box cutter slash through the cover from when the stock clerk had opened the box. It was $1. I saw how this could work.

“Here’s the coloring book. Mommy will bargain so you can buy it with your money,” I told her.

At the register, I used my usual friendly and casual mention (with a hint of concern) to point out the box cut cover.

“I’ll mark it down to $0.50,” said the cashier.

Score! At $0.53 for the coloring book and $0.47 for the markers, it was exactly $1 for my daughter’s first purchase. No extra money from Mommy, just a little bargaining help to compensate for her limited vocabulary. I’ll never be so lucky again. But the whole process got me to thinking about how I thought about money when I was a kid, and how I want to teach my daughter responsible money habits.

Here are kid thoughts on money that would help anyone:

  •  The money you have is it. There is a $1 in your hand. There are lots of items out there that you want but only the items that are $1 are available to you to buy. No credit, no extra indulgences. Pick an item that matches up with the money in your pocket, and you’re done. This is perfect for daily purchases and everyday necessities.
  • Put the money away for safekeeping. You don’t spend your money right away. You put it in a safe place and retrieve it when you’re ready to buy what you want. You wait patiently. Occasionally you can take a peek at the money to make sure it’s still there. But no touching it until it’s time to spend it.
  • You can spend or save. You have money. You can choose to spend it, or save it. If you spend it, you don’t have any money left. If you save it, you can get something bigger once your money accumulates. Or you can keep saving like a squirrel storing nuts, planning for the long winter.
  • You have to earn your own. Even if parents give you money, it has to be earned. For chores, for working a “real” job or, when you’re not quite two, for impressing your parents with your vocabulary.

I can see a whole thesis being born based on this philosophy. All I needed to know about money, I learned in preschool…

#894 Love Your Spatula

13 May

Is spatulize a word? If not, it’s the word I made up to to indicate an “empty” jar is not empty. I can spatulize it and get what I need. No running to the grocery store or doing without. Here is a demonstration from today’s lunch:

This jar of peanut butter…

jar of peanut butter

Is NOT empty…

empty jar of peanut butter

Enter the spatula…

red silicone spatula

I prefer a good quality, silicone spatula that really gets the job done…

spatual and peanut butter

Enough peanut butter after spatulizing…

spatula with peanut butter

To put on a slice of cinnamon-raisin bread…

cinnamon raisin bread and peanut butter

Because that’s all I have…

And some jam that also needs a little spatula love…

peanut butter and jam


peanut butter and jelly

A scraped together, strange sandwich calls for excessively nice china…

peanut butter sandwich on china

Limoges, to be exact…

limoges china stamp

The first half of the sandwich was much nicer than I thought it would be…Kids would like this for sure….

peanut butter and jelly sandwich


If you would like to feed this starving artist, donate here. I promise to use a spatula to get the most of the jar of peanut butter your donation will provide.


#902 Thrifty Baby: Other Moms and Grandparents Are Great Sources Of Stuff

22 Apr

baby in snowsuit

In a borrowed snowsuit offered by a helpful dad.

There are two categories of “other moms” and grandparents. Ones you know and ones you don’t know. Both can be incredible sources of used items, clothing, hand-me-downs and all other barely used baby items. Not only that but they also are sources of advice, what works, what you really need and what worked for them, which can be invaluable in sorting through choices and what you want and need for yourself.

First, let’s look at moms and grandparents you do know.

  • Hand-me-downs.
    baby in pajamas

    In the cousins’ hand-me-down PJs.

    Moms love to share their stuff. Moms (and dads) you know are happy to lend or give you outgrown clothes, baby swings, toys and accessories. Some ask for them back once you’re done, some give it away because they are done. Either way, it’s a great source of free baby items. If you don’t know any moms, get to know some before you have a kid. They’ll be offering you things in no time (this is not the sole reason to make friends with moms), and you’ll be happy for their friendship when you have a child. They know what it’s like to be pooped on in the middle of the night. If you have siblings with kids, you have a built-in hand-me-down system. Grandparents will have their own hand-me-downs tucked away that have been meticulously saved for 25 to 30 years or so. It’s fun to dress the baby up in dad’s onesie and use great-grandma’s hand-knit sweaters.

  • Gifts. Grandparents love to spoil the grandkids. It’s nice to have someone buying toys or clothes for the baby. Being practical grandparents, items may be second-hand from a yard sale or thrift shop. Both sets of grandparents in my family know the value of being thrifty, so I don’t care, I love the fact that the clothes or toys are second-hand. I like that they spoil my kid, I don’t want them to spend a ton doing it.
  • Advice. While you might have your own plan or thoughts, grandparents and other moms have tons of things to say about what works. You can use what they say and see how it fits into your life and philosophy. Practical advice on what was a godsend, what was the cheapest (and best) route to go, what to spend money on or not bother with is super helpful and can save you a lot of money and headaches.

Now, let’s look at moms and grandparents you don’t know.

  • Barely-used items.
    baby in Gymboree outfit

    Other moms love to sell whole outfits of name brand clothing cheaply.

    So many moms are eager to sell their barely-used baby items. Baby items, like most retail, have very low resale value, so you’ll get incredible bargains on high quality items. Utilize the mom market to get your baby items. Grandparents also are a great source of baby items. They have things like cribs that were slept in once or clothes that were never worn. They might have bought a ton of items for their home for a short visit from baby that were barely touched.

  • Hand-me-downs. Even moms and grandparents you don’t know will offer you hand-me-downs to get rid of baby stuff. Tons of people buy way too much stuff for new arrivals and just want to get rid of it

Both other moms and grandparents you know and don’t know have a lot of things to share to prepare for baby… even items that are on the traditional no-no list for baby second-hand or resale items. Let’s take a look at things that the media and therefore, people, usually freak out about getting second hand. In my book, any second hand item is worth a close look with the proper precautions and thorough research.

  • Car seats.
    baby in car seat

    The second hand car seat that met all the requirements of safety.

    Yes, you absolutely want a car seat and your kid to be safe. You can safely buy or accept a second hand car seat by answering these questions. Is it less than six years old? Car seats older than six years old are considered retired. The plastic gets brittle and the parts wear out. The manufacture date should be stamped on it. Has it been involved in a crash? Any car seat involved in a crash should not be used even with no visible damage. Does it have the manual and all its parts? The manual will tell you how to correctly install the seat and all the parts you should have. Has it been recalled? You can check here. If you are 100% sure on these then you’re good to go. There are plenty of secondhand car seats out there that can meet this criteria. What’s more important is that the car seat is installed correctly. It’s estimated that of 3 out of 4 car seats are used incorrectly. So it’s better to know that the seat is correctly used than brand new.

  • Cribs/Mattresses. By now everyone knows that drop-side cribs are a bad idea. I knew this and didn’t have a kid. Cribs are mega-expensive so buying used is the best way to go. Still check for a recall even though it is not a drop side crib and follow all safety standards for bedding, ect. Some people freak out about mattresses. Some mattresses may have been barely used. You can make your own call about dust mites, bed bugs phobias and possibilities. If you have a steam cleaner, that could take care of your mattress issues. I’m fine with an almost-new mattress.

#903 Thrifty Baby: Go Gender Neutral With Baby Clothes And Items

11 Apr

baby in white sleeper

I loved baby in white.

Have you ever tried matching 40 different shades of pink shirts, pants and sweaters? Each shade is slightly off from the other one, so in the end there are 40 pieces of clothing that don’t coordinate. There are polka dots, horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, plaids, florals… all in shades of pastel that aren’t quite right with each other.

My reasoning for gender neutral clothing as a money saver is that there is no need to buy a whole new wardrobe for a second child of a different gender or different sex twins. And moms of girls don’t have to refuse moms of boys hand-me-downs, or moms of girls can hand-me-down to moms of boys. It also makes outfits easier to coordinate and mix and match, a g0dsend fashion saver. This is mostly applicable for “girl” clothing, i.e. pink and purple, as “boy” clothing is easier to switch up.

baby swing

The non-pink baby swing option.

As for high chairs, play mats, swings and all other baby items, not everything has to be princess or pink if you’re having a girl. I go with jungle, khaki or other neutral choices. I find it to be easier on the eyes when I walk into a room. Philosophically, I find the princess theme for girls to be setting a disquieting emphasis on unrealistic materialistic, relationship and lifestyle choices. She’ll get enough of that from society, school and peers not to be bombarded with it at home.

If you’re “one and done” then it won’t matter as much, but for multiple babies, it’s cheaper to be able to use as many hand-me-downs as possible from older siblings and family members. Here are some suggestions for going gender neutral with baby clothes and items that have worked well for me:

  • Love the color wheel: I love yellows, greens and reds. There’s so much more than pink and blue. Call me crazy, but I loved white for my baby.
  • Pants:
    baby outfit

    Black shoes, grey pants and a cute, Baby Gap pea coat makes a great mix and match outfit, pulling from boy, girl and gender neutral clothing options.

    Pants are very easy to go gender-neutral and helpful for coordination. Khaki and grey cotton pants seem the most available. Some pants have “girly” details and styling, but pants with straight-forward cuts are easy to find.

  • Pajamas: PJs are another clothing item with which it is easy to go neutral. I like anything cotton and comfy.
  • Shoes: Black or brown shoes go with everything. Navy is a close runner-up. They’ll outgrow them so fast that great, barely-worn shoes can be found at a lot of yard sales, on eBay or from other moms.
  • Accent pieces: For girls, it’s more fun to have a super-cute top or sweater in pink or frilly than the whole outfit. The whole outfit is overkill.
  • Someone will confuse the gender of your baby. My daughter could be in hot pink, and people would still call her “little guy” or “buddy” sometimes. It doesn’t matter. People get confused or don’t pay attention. I’m never bothered by it. She likes the attention. People most rely on the pink or blue cues to say “he” or “she” but, more than once, the pink outfits elicited “he” from strangers. In non-pink or blue outfits, it’s hard to tell with babies. Most people just ask.
  • Grandparents will fill in for you. Grandparents love to fulfill the typical gender roles of babies. It’s their generation, and they’ll fill you up with pink dresses or full-camo track suits.
  • There’s always the pink option and the other option. All baby items come with the pink option and the other option, which is a neutral tone.
  • Don’t overthink it. My daughter wears her boy cousins’ hand-me-downs and loves some of those. She’s got some pink shirts and PJs she loves. Whatever she wants to wear is fine with me. I’m not bothered if it’s pink or “boy.” I like balance. I also can’t resist some killer Goodwill finds, like a Polo Ralph Lauren pink and white cotton cardigan in pristine condition (girl) or a brand new Janie and Jack sailboat T-shirt (boy), both for less than $2.


#904 Thrifty Baby: Make Your Own Baby Food Or Skip It Altogether

10 Apr

baby food jars

Both organic and conventional baby food are more expensive than making your own.

“It’s so easy to make your own baby food,” a friend told me when I was expecting. Really? I hadn’t thought about doing that. Then another acquaintance who was selling me her baby stuff had a whole baby food making system out for me when I came by to check the crib. “Do you want this,” she asked. They were trying to get rid of as much stuff as possible for a big move. There it was staring me in the face, I should make my own baby food.

Thank goodness I had already decided to do this by the time the baby was six months old. We had a few jars of baby food in the cupboard. When I tried them on my daughter, she hated them. No wonder. I tried them, and they were tasteless.  And they were the “good” brand. Baby food is processed so there is no iota of potential food poisoning, which means the food is tasteless and mostly stripped of any of the good stuff in fruits and vegetables. After opening a jar, there is only so long that it can stay in the fridge before throwing it out. After throwing out two mostly-full jars of baby food, I knew there was no way I could buy the baby food jars just to throw them away. If my baby had been the opposite and churned through jars with a voracious appetite, food expenses would have been much higher. In the end, I don’t think adding another mouth into our household cost us very much at all.

organic carrots

A bag of organic carrots is cheaper and can be used either for Baby Led Weaning or making your own baby food.

Instead I bought a bag of organic carrots and called it good. A bag of organic carrots costs around $1.50 per pound. Organic baby food will cost twice that amount or more. Conventional baby food will cost about $1 more per pound, and it will not be organic. A disturbing amount of pesticide residue is found in non-organic baby food.

The baby food system I acquired included a hand mill, a plug-in blender, covered freezer trays, a portable lunch box with spoon and a cookbook. We mostly put unseasoned portions of what we were eating through the hand mill at meal times so we made the baby food right at the table. On the weekends I might have cooked up a bunch of carrots and processed them through the baby blender and then frozen them in the trays. A note to others – two pounds of carrots is A LOT of baby food ice cubes. The baby will probably be sick of carrots by the time he or she is only half way through the amount you made. Make smaller batches of baby food from varied foods to switch things up. We still had the hated pea puree left in the ice cube trays by the time pureed food time was over.

Both the special baby blender and freezer trays are not needed if you’re doing with what you have – a regular blender or food processor will work. Regular freezer trays are fine if you transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer zip lock bag for long-term storage once the food is frozen. I didn’t use the cookbook. The portable lunch box came in handy a few times but wasn’t necessary.

baby led weaning meal

My nephew’s first Baby Led Weaning meal at six months.

We were not much into the baby food making stage when we accidentally started practicing more of a Baby Led Weaning approach. Baby Led Weaning (BLW) means that you eliminate the pureed baby food stage altogether! You give the baby food just like you would eat on a plate. So instead of spending time milling or blending those organic carrots, you give it to the baby well-cooked on his or her plate. While some people may be concerned about choking, a baby’s gag reflex is much closer to the front of the mouth than an adult’s, so if the piece of food is too big for the esophagus, the baby would spit it out instead of choking. My sister who officially read about and followed Baby Led Weaning, versus our accidental uncovery, said her son rarely had a choke moment, and it made life much easier, especially traveling. There were no worries about bringing “baby” food on a trip or to restaurants. It’s true, we didn’t worry about traveling, going out or jars of food either. Between continuing to breastfeed and giving the baby food she could eat from what we had, no one went hungry or had to carry a metric ton of baby mush around.

baby led weaning mess

The “gravity exists” lesson of Baby Led Weaning.

Advocates of Baby Led Weaning say there is lots of learning to be done by baby while eating his or her own non-mush food, like how much pressure is required to pick up different foods and learning shapes and colors. Babies love learning by touch so playing with their food is a great way to learn before they get too old, and grandma yells “didn’t anyone tell you not to play with your food!”

Those itty-bitty pots of baby food are so cute! But expensive! And unnecessary.

If you’re not comfortable with Baby Led Weaning, make your own baby food. Like my friend told me, it’s so easy. Plus, you’ll probably end up in the Baby-Led-Weaning-is-so-much-easier camp and quit the pureed food quickly. Either way, you’ll save money and won’t have to make special purchases. I know organic carrots is already on my grocery list most weeks.

#905 Thrifty Baby: Get Rid Of Baby Wipes

9 Apr

stack of washcloths

Our pediatrician told us to only use a washcloth and warm water to ease our daughter’s diaper rash. Photo via flickr by Steve A Johnson.

Pediatrician recommended: toss the baby wipes in favor of a washcloth and warm water. Not only will the switch get rid of the baby wipes expense, but it will also reduce the chances of diaper rash.

At our one-month appointment for our daughter, we were changing her diaper from the inevitable poop (or two) whenever we left the house in the first three months. We were putting on all sorts of stuff to soothe an rash when the pediatrician walked in and recommended clearing up the rash by not using baby wipes. “I used a washcloth and warm water for all my children,” she said. “It’s the best thing to do.”

pampers baby wipes

Even “sensitive” wipes have too many irritants for baby skin. Warm water is all that is needed.

We were using the “sensitive” nothing-in-them wipes, so it was surprising to us that the doctor indicated they were the most likely source of irritation. Even the most natural of baby wipes have too many soaps and additives that irritate a baby’s skin, she said. Baby skin does not need soap, and is often over-dried or irritated with soap products. Warm water is sufficient. I was in favor of not churning through packs of wipes. While it’s a relatively small expense, why not save $5 to $10 a pop?

At first it seemed like a challenge to switch. We were programmed to think that it’s the easiest thing to do to pull out a wipe and toss it. But immediately, it was clear that not only was a washcloth with warm water just as convenient as baby wipes, but the diaper rash disappeared and never came back again. The doctor had given us some great advice. And I realized, it’s only recently that baby wipes have become the norm for baby butt care. In the past it was always a little warm water and a washcloth. Everyone has at least one washcloth at home, which means there is no extra expense.

If you’re using packaged baby wipes, make the switch to a washcloth immediately. You’ll see how easy it is.

When you’re at home, just turn on the faucet to get the hot water going, and wet the washcloth when it’s a good temperature. Wring it out, and you’re ready to go. My baby hated cold wipes. I thought about a baby wipe warmer. How silly, when now I can always have a warm, soothing cloth without an extra gadget. For pee, I wash out and wring the washcloth to use again. It’s in the designated baby washcloth spot to use only for diaper changes. For poop, I toss the washcloth in the laundry after a quick rinse.

For poops I even got in the habit of doing a “baby bidet” where I stuck her poopy butt under the running tub facet while I gave her a good scrub with the washcloth. This was great during the breast milk, non-solid, often-explosive, many-times-a-day poop phase. I can’t imagine trying to wrangle that poop with a ton of wipes when I could wash it away quickly.

sink faucet drip

If you have access to a sink, you can refresh the washcloth when out of the house. Photo via flickr by Angelo Gonzalez.

If you’re out and about, put an already-wet or dry washcloth (depending on your optimism about facilities) in a zip lock bag. If you have a bathroom with a sink, you can wet the wash cloth with fresh, warm water there and proceed as normal. Zip the wet washcloth back up in the zip lock bag to take home with you after the change. Getting worried about poops when you’re running errands gets easier once your baby enters a once-a-day, predictable poop pattern. At this point they’re also much less of a mess to clean up.

I did carry around some repackaged wipes in a zip lock bag as a “safety” when I was out, but one pack of baby wipes lasted me more than a year. I mostly used the baby wipes to clean dirty hands and face, not dirty butts. Now I don’t even think about baby wipes. What a relief to eliminate one more thing off the list of baby stuff that is just as easy to do without.