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#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…

#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.

#906 Thrifty Baby: Cloth Diapers Save Money (A Lot!) And Landfill Space

8 Apr

baby in a cloth diaper

Cloth diapers save a lot of money over their lifetime.

I have been challenged by acquaintances over the four years since I’ve had my first child to prove that that cloth diapers save money. They like to think there is no way cloth diapering could have saved us a couple thousand dollars over the diapering life of my two children. The argument for disposable or “paper” diapers, as we call them in our house, is that the water and electricity usage to wash the diapers eats up any savings. I say, “Not so.” And here’s proof of thousands of dollars worth of saving from using cloth diapers.

First, water and electricity: Our water bill went up by $2-3/month after our first child. But, keep in mind our laundry load got bigger overall now that we were also washing baby clothes and clothes with massive amounts of breast milk burp-up, poop and drool. Soon after we had our second child, we bought a high efficiency front loader to replace our broken top loading washing machine. Our water bill actually went down $10 a month. I have always lined dried my cloth diapers, so the dryer electric usage for my cloth diapers has been zero.

Cloth diapering, does it save money or not? Can it save you thousands? Let’s explore my journey and expenses. Before I knew what I was doing or what I needed for my first born, I bought Kushies Ultra All-in-One (AIO) cloth diapers. Never again! I’m sure they are fine for chubby babies, but mine was far from chubby, and we had terrible leakage problems. I resold them on eBay for $50 less than I bought them, but had gotten three months of use out of them for those $50 (and lots of soiled clothing as well).

bumGenius logoI decided rather than make the same mistake again; I would buy a sampler pack with several different kinds of diapers. I can’t remember the exact cost, but it was about $30 for 5 diapers. I didn’t have my large group of real life and online mom friends to ask for advice back then. That was when I fell in love with bumGenius All-in-One and pocket cloth diapers. No leaks! I am still using the medium and large bumGenius AIO cloth diapers that I bought (on sale) four years ago for my first child on my two-year old. The initial cost was $350 for 30 cloth diapers (24 AIO diapers, 6 pocket diapers), which meant I would only have to do laundry for diapers every two to three days.

We use the AIO cloth diapers during the day, and the pocket diapers for night time because they can be stuffed with several inserts to absorb night time pee. I have replaced the elastic around the leg and back on the cloth diapers so they would last longer. I won’t be reselling the cloth diapers I used for both kids, as they have been very well loved and used by two little boys. I intend to give them away to someone who may want to get a few more uses out of them, or use them around the house to clean up messes.

For the little, itty-bitty stage for my second child, I bought bumGenius AIO cloth diapers in size small on clearance. I paid $139, delivered to my door. I used them for 6 months and sold them on EBay for $122. I spent $17 for six months of diapers! So, in total, I spent approximately $450 on cloth diapers for two children. I use a Diaper Genie Elite (a hand me down) for the diapers. Liners cost $6 a month so I’ve spent approximately $300 for the diaper liners. Estimating my cost of disposable diapers at $50 a month for three and a half years for my oldest, and two and a half years for my second (and still not potty trained), my total cost for disposable diapers would have been $3,600. My total savings by using cloth diapers comes to $2,850!

thirsties logoCloth diapering can get expensive. There are so many companies and so many cute prints, anyone can get carried away. Plus, the initial cost of the diapers seems intimidating compared to a $15 mega-pack of disposable diapers. But it’s better to think about the lifetime cost instead of the one-time cost. The diapers we chose to use were a more expensive type, but they made the idea of cloth diapering less overwhelming for my husband, so it was worth it for us. I shopped sales and clearance. I never paid full price, which can be upwards of $15-20 per diaper. Ouch! The least expensive route is to buy prefolds and covers such as Econobum or Thirsties. Both of which can be bought used on eBay. If the idea of buying used cloth diapers from a stranger grosses you out, you can buy Econobum (or similar) for $50, which includes 12 prefolds, 3 covers, and a wet bag. This will definitely get you started in the right direction.

If I was to do it all over again, I would buy the one-size diapers with adjustable snaps that grow with the baby. This would have decreased initial start-up cost, but also been more convenient. My husband never complained, but always handed off the poopy child! I would just dump the poop in the toilet, and put the cloth diaper in the Diaper Genie. We never had an issue with a smelly diaper pail. I haven’t felt that I have wasted my time by choosing to cloth diaper my children. I view it from the perspective that I saved $2,850 for minimal time. Let’s say I spent 30 minutes a week doing laundry for the diapers. That’s 7,020 minutes, or 117 hours, over four and a half years. That’s $24.36 per hour I paid myself for my troubles to use cloth diapers.

This calculator will help you figure out what your approximate cost savings would be should you decide to use cloth diapers.

It’s safe to say that our family has saved thousands by using cloth diapers. It also makes me feel good that we have kept thousands of “paper” diapers out of the landfill… diapers that stick around and take an estimated 250 to 500 years to decompose.

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Dr. Kirstin Sippel, who is a physical therapist, budget fiend and thrifty baby expert. She, her husband, two boys and two dogs enjoy long walks on the beach under the Texas sun.