August Review

I got all vacation-y in August. Some of my goals I blew out of the water; others wound up in the “fail” column.  Here’s how it breaks down:

Income

Goal: $670

Actual: $479.62. Ouch! I still made more than I spent sending the boys to preschool, but just barely. Too many “work” days got eaten up with errands and so on.

Spending

I did stay out of Costco all month. Mr. FP used up all the gas and bought more (sigh), but now that he has settled into the school year a bit, he will be biking to work more often. With the boys and me being on vacation for twelve days, we easily kept the grocery bill under $400.

An unexpected expense arose: I had to spend over $200 on a Flovent prescription as my asthma was quite bad. I was puffing on my albuterol three to five times a day, which, if you know anything about asthma, is dangerous and irresponsible. We have only catastrophic health insurance right now (but many plans have a prescription deductible anyway), so I had to cough up for the full amount. Flovent is a pricey one, but it’s a lot cheaper than wheezing myself into the ER!

Budgeting

Successfully tracked spending, including cash gifts and expenditures. Haven’t actually put that into a budget yet.

Lifestyle Adjustments

It would be a stretch to define Little Brother as “potty trained,” but he’s making good progress and is wearing cloth training pants during the day. We’ve been using Pull-Ups for nighttime and things like going to the Y, so the goal for this month will be to reduce that sharply.

Other

I arranged for a library volunteer position and have already gone in once. Sold the baby monitor; nothing on the gate yet. Read a whopping nine books. Yes, nine!  Admittedly, many of them were “genre fiction” (i.e., Agatha Christie novels and trashy romances) that I read on beach vacation while the kids made sand castles and my sister served me a daiquiri, but by no means all of them! Some of them were “real” books.

Stay tuned tomorrow for fresh goals, as one of my goals is to, well, set more goals. How was your August?

Cold-Brewed Coffee, No Equipment Needed

I love coffee. I usually have only one cup a day, two at the outside, but it’s my absolute favorite time of day. I am drinking it right now during the after-lunch viewing of Sesame Street that has replaced naptime at our house. Yet despite my extreme affection for this nectar of the gods, I’ve never used a coffee pot, and we’ve never owned one.*

Instead, we cold brew. If you haven’t heard of this method, it’s just what it sounds like–you mix together water and coffee grounds and let them sit at room temperature for a long time, then strain. The result is ideal for iced coffee, of course, but is also good heated. Much less acid than other methods, and it keeps in the fridge for two weeks! That way, you can have the exact amount you want, no wasting half a pot that you didn’t want. It is also very strong, more like coffee concentrate. We dilute it 50/50 with milk or water. (I am particularly partial to unsweetened vanilla almond milk with a spoonful of Ovaltine. Please don’t judge me.)

Now, you can buy a special machine, like the Toddy, to make your cold brewed coffee in, but we manage without. Besides the initial expense, the Toddy requires special filters and stoppers that wear out and have to be replaced. Our equipment involves an old round pitcher, a small colander that fits snugly in the top, and a coffee filter. Another advantage is that we can use regular ground coffee from the grocery store; the Toddy requires a coarse grind, meaning you probably need to own a coffee grinder, too!

Our coffee brewing equipment--all items that we've owned for years.

Our coffee brewing equipment–all items that we’ve owned for years.

Here’s our simple routine: Mix two cups ground coffee with eight cups water. (We use the liner of an ice bucket for this step.) Let sit 16-18 hours. (I generally mix it up at 2 or 3 in the afternoon and strain the next morning.) Strain it through the coffee-filter-lined colander.  Refrigerate! Now, the straining is the step that’s a bit of a pain because you have to wait for it to filter through and change the filter a few times, but I just do it in between steps of my morning routine.

I love the minimalist aspect of our routine. We don’t have to make coffee every day, don’t own any special equipment, and don’t have to devote counter space to a coffee-making machine. You probably have something in your house that would work. If not, try Goodwill. Last time I was in ours, I saw several of these round pitchers. So if you’ve had your eye on a Toddy, take it off your list!

What’s your favorite frugal way to make coffee?

*Except for a year or so when we owned one for my mother’s convenience when she visited.

August Goals

This is my last post for a couple of weeks–the boys and I are headed off on a family vacation.

I’m not a very consistent blogger. The last time I posted goals, it was for April. (I met them, too, so yay me.)

But it’s time to make some again, I think. We’ve been busy exploring Denver, getting settled into our new city, and getting used to shopping for and cooking all our own food now that we no longer live on a boarding school campus with dining hall access; now that we’ve been here two months, I think we can be a little more systematic.

So here’s what I have in mind for August:

Income: Earn $250 more than I will be paying for part-time daycare, or $670 total. That’s a low month for me, but I’ll be on vacation for almost two weeks.

Spending: Make the Costco food and the tank of gas last the whole month. I miscalculated some of our staples and wound up at Costco twice in July and the result was a whopping $730 grocery bill for the month! (But also a freezer full of cheese, beef, etc., so August’s food bill should be very low indeed.)

Budgeting: Continue to track our spending with the goal of developing a realistic budget for our new life in Denver.

Lifestyle Adjustments: Potty-train Little Brother. This will save on the disposable diapers he wears to daycare and the electricity to run the washer and dryer. (90 minutes every other day! Yikes!)

Other: Read four books, arrange for a volunteer position at the public library, and sell our spare baby gate and monitor for spare cash.

What are you up to this last month of summer?

Lifestyle Inflation: Potty Training Edition

This post contains affiliate links.

I’m certainly not the first person to note that the “middle class” lifestyle is a lot fancier than it used to be. I was a pretty lucky teenager. I had a telephone in my very own room! I had both a Walkman and a Discman, and–the height of sophistication–I even had my own TV and VCR! Whereas nowadays, your average “middle class” teenager has approximately 1,312 electronic gadgets, half of them with data plans. And you need only meander the stroller section of Babies R Us to realize that lifestyle inflation has reached the younger set.

But I came across lifestyle inflation one place I wasn’t looking for it: potty training manuals. Last year, I read Toilet Training in Less Than a Day, the classic Azrin and Foxx work dating back to the mid-1970s. (It’s worth a read for the illustrations alone.) But my new library doesn’t have it, so this year, I checked out Teri Crane’s updated version of the same idea, Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day: Proven Secrets of the Potty Pro. Both use the same general idea of having a one-day “potty party” to get the tot out of diapers.

Book cover, Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day.

Seriously, this book is useless unless you really want advice about throwing a party with a farm theme.


I expected that the more recent one would address the proper use of Pull-Ups (it does) and wasn’t surprised that it suggests starting later (more like two and a half than newly two). What surprised me was the difference in swag. Crane’s book has you start the day by giving your child a wrapped doll (the kind that pees, of course) as a present to open. The underpants are also a wrapped present, and the child receives several more wrapped presents at the sort of graduation party that ends the day. The party should have a theme–which the underpants should match–expressed through decorations, stickers, sticker charts, etc.

Book Cover, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day by Azrin and Fox.

Take the time to hunt down the classic to take a less swag-filled approach.


The 1970s  Azrin and Foxx version (and remember my library didn’t have it, so I’m working from memory) also involves a doll, training pants, treats, and so on. But there is no party theme. And in their extended example, the peeing doll is borrowed from Big Sister and the training pants used to be Big Brother’s. There are no stickers, no wrapped presents, and no giant party at Chuck E. Cheese to round out the day. It also discusses the technical part of training in much more detail than Crane’s book, which skimps on the technicalities in order to make room for whole chapters about decorations.

I guess you know which model I will be attempting next month with Little Brother, armed with hand-me-down undies (actually, Big Brother still often likes to wear the padded Gerber ones, so I hope he will share), some treats from the bulk aisle at Sprouts, and the Potty Scotty doll my clever mother found for us at a consignment sale ($8!). Wish us luck!

July 2014 Net Worth Check: Artificially Inflated

Three months ago, I predicted that we would be more or less out of cash by now. That turns out not to be even remotely true, for two main reasons: Mr. FP’s old job paid out his last three months of paychecks in one lump sum, which we are currently living off of; and generous relatives sent us gifts, unsolicited but accepted with love and gratitude, totaling $3000 to “help with your moving costs.”

So the numbers are artificially high this month as we are spending down that last lump-sum paycheck. That said, it’s nice to see that we still have some cash reserves, even after paying off our last loan, and that the number is rising. Here’s how it looks this quarter:

Cash: $7638.35 (after paychecks start coming in from the new job, we’ll see what’s left here and invest most of the leftovers)

Investments: $55,102.25 (This is up about 10%  even without money going in. Apparently the market is doing well?)

  • Mr. FP’s 403(b): $30,432.31
  • Mrs. FP’s rollover IRA: $17,181.63
  • Mrs. FP’s Roth IRA: $7487.56

Property: $2000 (1999 Honda Accord)*

Credit Cards: -$1514.73

Net Worth: $63,225.87!

Wow, that’s up a lot–almost 17%! I don’t expect that kind of gain in the next few months, but I think we can maintain modest growth even after spending down these last paychecks. I didn’t realize how well our investments were doing or how much money we had until I sat down and added it up–which is, after all, the point of this exercise, to force myself to look at numbers and see our whole picture. What about you, readers? Has it been a good second quarter for you as well, or are you hoping for better luck the rest of the year?

*I re-checked the car’s value and took $1000 off. Mint offered to track it for me, but I try to use a more realistic number than you get from websites.

 

Goodwill Is the Best Place I’ve Ever Bought Jeans

Our old town in Pennsylvania didn’t have a Goodwill store. It had some other, lesser, small-town thrift store funding some other cause that I wasn’t sure if I supported or not. Now, there’s one in easy biking distance from our house, and you’ll have to excuse me if I’m really excited about it. Belt for $2? Toddler bike helmet for $4? Awesome!

So when I wanted some jeans to wear for a camping trip and the boys were all out for the afternoon, I headed over there. (Earlier I blogged about trying to repair my favorite jeans, but eventually they split anyway. Next time I’ll try an interior patch before it gets that bad.)

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I have neither the flexibility or desire to take a picture of my backside, so you’ll have to take my word for it that these $6 Goodwill jeans flatter it as well as my last full-price new pair.

The title says it all–it was the best place I’ve ever shopped for jeans, and not just because they were only $6. Here’s what was awesome about shopping for jeans at Goodwill:

  1. Convenience. Obviously depends on location, but Goodwill stores are generally located in strip malls, and you might very well be closer to one than to a proper mall. Mine is easy to bike to.
  2. Selection. They had maybe eight to twelve pairs in each size, all a different brand. So there were a lot to choose from–more than you usually find in an one mall store. I tried on six, liked three, and bought the best one.
  3. Ease of use. Mall stores generally arrange the jeans by brand, style, and color, and only then by size–if you’re lucky. You find something that looks cute, then have to hunt through a whole stack of folded pants looking for your size, which they may or may not have. Repeat with next stack. Repeat with pants on hangers. Goodwill, on the other hand, arranges the jeans by size, period. So you just find your size section and see what’s in it. Now, if you wear a nonstandard length, you’ll find it more challenging–there weren’t many petites or talls, and they were all mixed in. I’m actually freakishly short, so short that petite doesn’t do me any good as I have to hem them anyway, so in straight-leg jeans I just get regular length.
  4. Quality. Many of the pairs were in like-new condition and some were name brands.
  5. Less Freighted Expectations. If I spend $30 or $40 on a pair of jeans, there’s all this pressure on them to be The Perfect Jeans. But these? If they don’t work out, I’ll just bike them around the side of the store and re-donate them, mentally writing off the $6 as a donation to helping homeless people get jobs.
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Little Brother will be psyched the next time we walk to his preschool and he gets to carry his own diapers in his awesome Elmo bag.

With #5 particularly in mind, I decided to try some pull-on jeans. They’re pretty tricky to wiggle into, but my hope is that it will preserve my knit shirts from these tiny holes they keep getting. As a bonus, I found this awesome tiny Elmo backpack, $2, for Little Brother; he’s been wanting to carry his own things to his new preschool (two blocks away). Absolutely the only “con” to my shopping experience was that I wasn’t the only person who thinks Goodwill is an awesome place to shop, and I had to wait a few minutes for a dressing room.

I made sure to “like” them on Facebook so I’ll get notifications of all their 50% sale days, and I don’t care who sees it in my news feed!

Potty Training, or Ca-Ching!

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Big Brother is fully daytime potty trained.

“Noticed” might sound like an odd way to put it, but it’s apt. Big Brother has been going around in underpants for about a year and a half, but was not potty trained. He had to be taken to the potty, often pooped in his overnight diaper, had accidents if he was not taken potty, and never answered “yes” to the question, “Do you have to go potty?” That’s changed. He wakes up often wet but always clean, initiates pottying, and, at the risk of jinxing him, hasn’t had an accident in weeks.

He’s not exactly young for this milestone–nearly three and a half, to be precise. His little friend from back home, about six weeks older, suddenly and coincidentally potty trained at the same time. The difference is that Little Friend spent that year and a half wearing disposable diapers and Pull-Ups.

We chose to put in the parenting effort to keep Big Brother in underpants. In addition to what I think were positive effects on his self-esteem, there were significant financial savings.

Fuzzibuns brand "hanging diaper pail"

When I had two kids in cloth diapers full-time, this bag filled up pretty much every day.

How much? I’ll start by estimating our actual savings in our particular situation. To continue having two kids in cloth diapers, I would have needed to buy more, both because they would have worn out too soon and because I wouldn’t have had a large enough supply. Figure $40 for some secondhand diapers and inserts. Then figure I would have had to wash diapers more often. I probably saved an average of one and a half loads of laundry per week. We had free utilities for most of that time, but we still had to pay for special cloth diaper detergent. Figure we saved two packages of detergent at $15 each, or $30, not to mention the time we saved–laundry was in the outside-entry basement, and all that folding.

Two days a week, the boys go to daycare. Big Brother would have been wearing disposable diapers there. Let’s conservatively figure that he would have used two diapers per day more than he did (he did wear a diaper or Pull-Up for naptime at daycare). Figure he went to daycare 65 weeks, or 130 times–that’s 260 diapers. We buy Parent’s Choice (Walmart brand), which is about $.22/diaper in size 5, or $57 total.

Our actual savings:

  • $40 for extra diapers
  • $30 for detergent
  • $57 for diapers for daycare

Total: $127

That might not seem like a lot, but it’s better, as my dad would say, than a nail in the foot. And had we not had another child in cloth diapers and free utilities, our actual savings would have been much higher.

What about comparing Big Brother to his Little Friend, the disposable diaper wearer? Figure fifteen months of diapers and three months of Pull-Ups. Big Brother often wore a disposable diaper at night, plus his Pull-Ups for daycare, so let’s figure conservatively that Little Friend wore, on average, four diapers and then three Pull-Ups per day. That’s at least $400 for diapers, then at least $70 for Pull-Ups. (Actual cost probably much higher–I don’t think they used Walmart brands.)

In short, getting your kid out of diapers and into cloth training pants, even if it takes effort, has potentially impressive savings for both your pocketbook and, whichever method you use, the environment.

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I spend every other evening packing this bin with stuffed pocket diapers, overnight-stuffed pockets, Flips, prefolds, and assorted plastic covers. Are those days nearly over?

No sooner than Big Brother was fully potty trained than Little Brother, newly aged two, has started asking to go potty and wear underpants. On the one hand, I am not exactly eager to jump back into the potty training cycle after a year and a half in it with Big Brother, but on the other hand, the idea of not having my powder room always smell like peed-on diapers and not having to spend my evenings stuffing pockets sounds fantaaaastic. And now we are paying for our own electricity again, so the potential savings are higher. I shudder to think what it costs to run the dryer for 90 minutes three times a week.

Mending Time

You know you’re really frugal when you find yourself mending, well, rags.

When I was about seven months pregnant with Big Brother, I headed over to my mother’s house (I lived in my hometown then) to make cloth diaper wipes out of old receiving blankets, T-shirts, and pajama pants, plus some new flannel my mother had lying around. My mother, you see, has a serger; I highly recommend having a mother with a serger. She did all the tedious threading and most of the actual sewing, while I just sat around looking huge, cutting things out and playing with the machine now and then.

We made a big stack and I use them for everything. I love them so much that my mom made me a new stack last Christmas out of brand-new clearance flannel, but I go through so many that I still use the old ones. I have a butt-wiping stash with my cloth diapers and an everything-else stash in the kitchen, which I use for wiping noses, cleaning up toddlers after a meal, cleaning up spills that are too small for a whole towel, etc. Tissues? Paper towels? No, thank you, I prefer not to buy things just to throw them away.

july_14 006

Hopefully, the zigzag will keep the frayed edge in place.

But they got ragged, my beloved stash of rags. Some are double-layer flannel, and those seem to be holding up pretty well three and a half years later. But the ones that are one layer of T-shirt and one of flannel are separating and the T-shirt part is sort of dissolving with every wash.

Since I now live halfway across the country from my mom and her serger (sniff), and that might not have been the best tool for the job anyway, I used a small zig-zag stitch on me regular ol’ sewing machine to reattach the T-shirt layer.

While I had the machine out, I also mended some prefold cloth diapers that were getting raggedy around the edges, too. I probably could have just taken them out of the rotation as I’m hoping we’re close to potty training, but that’s all the more reason to use the cotton ones! They feel wet, which the fancy ones do not. And I can sell them, Freecycle them, or pass them on to a friend.

july_14 010

With all the washing and drying cloth diapers take, this frayed edge was getting noticeably worse every wash.

Since the fabric was still in usable shape, I think it was a worthwhile exercise to mend them rather than just throwing away. What do you think—just the right amount of frugal, or on the nutty side?

My Disposable Diaper Vacation

I’ve posted about cloth diapers on here before, and, to be clear, I’m an advocate. Especially if you buy secondhand and/or use the diapers for more than one kid, there’s a lot of money to be saved, not to mention that it keeps disposable diapers out of landfills. Plus the plain cotton ones feel wet, so I like to use those more often pre-potty training. Little Brother is still in diapers full-time, but will probably starting training in a couple of months or so, and Big Brother still sleeps in them. (For a while, he had to sleep in disposables, but covering the cloth diaper with nylon Gerber pants does the trick.)

But here’s my confession: I don’t love my cloth diapers. They have to be changed every two hours and if you run a little late with the change, they leak. If the kid sleeps crookedly, they leak. If the kid pees too much at once, they leak. They get to smelling bad in between bleachings, and don’t even get me started on poop. (Nothing like walking to a room containing two toddlers wearing cloth diapers, which may or may not be poopy, which they have been wearing all night, which are a little overdue to be bleached.) I also hate folding the damned things, especially stuffing pockets.

So… I took a little vacation. We were having company overnight, Mr. FP was out of town, and I did not want to have cloth diapers stinking up the bathroom or even hanging up drying while our guests were around. That meant I switched into disposables Friday morning, when I washed, and used them until Monday morning. I love the miracle of modern technology that is the disposable diaper. They go so long between changes, almost never leak, and don’t have to be rinsed in the toilet.

They do, of course, take up a lot of room in the trash, still smell bad when they get pooped on, and cost like twenty or twenty-five cents apiece. It helps me stay motivated if I picture each diaper as an actual quarter, going either into the trash with the disposable (boo) or an imaginary piggy bank if I use cloth (yay). Now that my vacation is over, I’m back to the old routine, a little energized by having taken a break.

Are there parts of your routine that seem important, but are a bit of a grind? How do you stay motivated? Do you ever take a break?

Me, My Bike, the Kids, and the Groceries

Last time I wrote about how we’re trying to stay out of the car as much as possible this summer. So far, it’s been all playground-hopping fun and games except for some sore sit bones. Today I biked the kids over to the library, only to realize that I had gotten the day wrong and storytime is actually tomorrow. So what? I burned some calories, Little Brother admired some basketball hoops, Big Brother said hello to all the dogs, and we went to the playground instead. No fossil fuels burned or time wasted wrangling with car seats.

But could I put my money where my mouth is and use the bike trailer for “work” as well as play? Despite the fact that there is a Walmart Neighborhood Market about three blocks from our house, I’m embarrassed to admit that we’d never actually biked it. Even Mr. FP has driven himself there–alone–in the car, in perfectly acceptable weather. Because, hey, groceries, right? They’re heavy.

That changed today! Two kids, Mr. FP out of town, and a short list of groceries to get me and the kids through the next several days.

Two bags of groceries in rear cargo compartment of child bike trailer.

Plenty more room in there. The insulated bag was a freebie that’s turned out to be handy.

If the bike trailer holds a hundred pounds and my two kids combined weigh less than 70, that means I should be able to carry up to 30 pounds of groceries, or as much as will fit in the trailer’s “trunk.” I didn’t weigh the groceries, but there were $52 worth. Yogurt, bananas, couple of canned goods, couple of vegetables, odds and ends. It fit pretty easily, so I guess I could have gotten more, but that was all I really needed. With the distance so short, it would have been just as easy to walk, but the bike trailer is my only non-motorized vehicle that’s large enough for the job. Next stop: The “nicer” grocery stores a couple miles away where we like to buy produce.

I’ll be honest: It was really easy. Probably easier than driving. Really nothing to crow about. So why is what I did so unusual in this country?

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