Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for the 'Children' Category

12.19.2008
Days 'til Christmas

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: aussiegall

Despite our best efforts we still didn’t sit down to do our shopping until about a week later than I would have liked. Unfortunately, with a work trip for MITBeta, a new baby on the way, and an apartment to be rented, we were preoccupied earlier this month. Because of my frugality and my past experience with Amazon I still choose to use Free Super Saver Shipping, even though they warned things may not reach us by Christmas. I will have to wait and see if this was a prudent choice. We are buying multiple gifts for most of the kids so my hope is that at least some of the gifts arrive on time and in a perfect world Amazon is managing expectations and everything will be in on time anyway. I haven’t had problems in the past and everything usually arrives in the nick of time. As of this post a lot of items have already shipped despite the late estimates. Amazon does a really good job of managing expectations.

One regret I have is not using the click thru option for shopping with Amazon. MITBeta and I are big fans of public radio and like to support it when we can. I obtain almost all my news from this source and feel like it’s nice to give a little back. Our local station has an option to click thru from their site to do your Amazon shopping. Although I remembered this fact while we were shopping for gifts, when I actually placed the order I forgot to click thru. I will try to remember this for next year.

I have decided it would also be a good idea to add Christmas cards to the budget for next year. It may not change the overall total since we came in under budget but it is an anticipated cost that can add up. I ended up buying 75 photo cards from Costco which had the best prices around for around $20. I think I typically spend about $40 for a similar amount of cards. In order to mail these cards I bought stamps, 100 for $42. So I think a safe budget number for cards would be around $60 and it pays to look around for the best deal.

Another thing that no one probably thinks about is swaps and charitable giving. Swaps are a great way to cut down on the amount of gifts purchased, while still sharing in the tradition of giving. If you are involved in a few different swaps each year it is probably a good idea to add those to your budget. If you have a couple of swaps with friends and work this could account for up to an additional $100.  It’s also nice to donate to charity at this time of year and MITBeta’s work has organized giving for Toys for Tots.

We do not want to forget our readers who may celebrate other holidays this season. I’m sure budgeting for Hannakuh gifts would be no different. Both holidays have anticipated expenses and are something to add to your yearly budget in order to avoid the holiday shopping crunch and credit card run up in January! But let us not forget that the most important thing this holiday season is spending quality time with friends and family.

We like to extend our warmest wishes to all our readers this holiday season!

Editor’s Note: All of the gifts that we ordered from Amazon.com last week have arrived and are wrapped. Hooray for Amazon and free shipping.

Baby and Big Sister

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Yogi

As I enter my third trimester of pregnancy it is time to look at the family finances and the implications on our budget of having two children. How much did it actually cost to have our daughter? I think we did well on the financial front and tried to be frugal parents. In fact, we only attributed $818.38 directly to Daughter #1 in her first year. So then the next question is how much will it cost to expand the family? We saw how much it cost to have 2 dogs! Hopefully in the first year the 2nd baby won’t cost nearly so much. At least we have health insurance for the babies!

I read a blog recently and was shocked. Connie says in the post that they had spent $14,000 from conception to birth. I thought this amount was exorbitant. Read the breakdown of costs here. I can’t imagine spending that much on our first child, and I know the second will not cost that much either. Luckily for us we only had to pay one co-pay for all our prenatal care. A lot of the big ticket items are things we got from other people or things we will be reusing for the second baby, including nursery furniture, maternity clothes and diapers (we are using cloth). Diapers alone cost us a total of $156.78, though this doesn’t count the cost of water and soap. However, I know our high efficiency washer and dryer are not that costly to run

Some ways we have cut down on spending will continue with a second child, like using cloth diapers. This will save on the recurring diaper costs most parents face. We are also starting potty training early and have had some great successes. I would really like to only have one child in diapers at a time even if they are cloth! I do intend to breastfeed our next child. Not having to buy formula certainly was helpful in staying on budget. I also made my own baby food from normal foods that I would be buying for us (pureed vegetables, fruits, etc.) I have all the equipment, which was actually a very small to negligible start-up cost, consisting of covered ice cube trays, ziplock bags and a food processor that we already owned.

One huge consideration for us is how 2 children will change the dynamic for me and working from home. I anticipate it being fairly easy in the beginning when the baby will be napping frequently. After that it may be very difficult to line up naps in order to continue to get 2 - 2 1/2 hrs during the day and at first the baby will not have such an early bedtime and may require my attention in the evenings when I get a lot of work done now. There are a few options I can look into. Options like grandparents coming 1 day per week for a few hours to help out or mommy’s helpers. There is also a 9am-1pm nursery school up the street. If I can send my daughter there a few times a week I might be able to work while the baby naps as I did with our first. Of course this hinges on me being able to find hours to work, see my other recent post.

It will definitely be a big change. I suppose we won’t know how it will go until it happens. Until then we will run the budget numbers with and without my full income to see where we stand. I’m guessing we won’t be living on Ramen Noodles either way, but we might be taking some tips from some of the frugal mom bloggers, like “I’m an organzing Junkie” and “Simple Mom” out there and eating some vegetarian meals a few times a week to save money and round out our week of meals with less expensive options!

Let’s hear from our subscribers. If you have more than one child, how do you juggle your responsibilities and how to do you cut costs as your little mouths to feed, cloth and entertain increase?

Hotel Pool

photo figure credit: ScrapperMom

Michelle asks:

"How was the vacation?"

In a word: Fantastic!  We got to meet the newest member of our extended family (on that side, anyway…) who is already one and half!  We got to catch up with family that we haven’t seen in over 2 years.  We got to know new wives, girlfriends, and old friends a lot better.  Thanks to all of them for taking the time out of their busy schedules, providing places to stay, cooking dinner, etc.  This picture is the pool at the hotel in Orlando, which the kids loved.

As a follow up to my original post on this topic, I thought I would offer a post-trip analysis on how we did financially. It’s important to note that while we put nearly everything below on our rewards credit card, it will all be paid off by the end of the month because we had already set aside the funding for this trip.

I’ll start with the area in which I feel we did the worst from a frugal perspective: Dining out.  In total we purchased 9 meals out and they totaled $378.  This breaks down to $42 per family-meal, or $17 per person per meal if we count dear daughter #1 as a half person who shared what we ate most of the time.  Given that we ate a total of 22 meals, 9 represents only 40%.  We easily could have converted a couple of dinners out into dinners at home, but then again, we were on vacation…  We did manage to convert a couple of these meals into lunches the next day since the portions were often too big! I should also point out that this total included drinks with meals as well, which as you know can get pretty expensive.  During one meal we paid close to $9 for an 8 ounce rum and coke!

Relating to dining, our grocery bill came in at $141.  As described in the initial article, we had a lot of opportunity to prepare meals, especially breakfasts and lunches.  If you put all of our food spending together, the per person per meal average comes down to $9.50.  The grocery bill includes a 12 pack of beer that we brought to a party, as well as a lot of bottled water that we wouldn’t normally buy at home, but the local water was terrible!

In the category of transportation, we got a great deal on airline tickets: we purchased 3 seats for $597 on JetBlue.  The in-flight entertainment, especially Animal Planet and the XM station for Radio Disney went a long way to keeping our 21 month old busy on the flight each way.  In total, we spent $378 (Yes, exactly the same as on dining out!) on the rental of a mini-van and the fuel we needed for a week.  We drove the van over 500 miles since we went down to Disney, and much of the time the van was nearly at capacity with 4 adults and 2 toddlers in car seats.

Our short jaunt to Disney cost us both on the ticket side and on lodging.  We somehow thought that we still had tickets that we could use at Disney, which would have given us “free” entry to the park.  Unfortunately this was not the case, and we ended up having to buy 2 adult, single day passes for a total of $160.  Yes, that hurt.  The Magic Kingdom is a great place, but honestly I think it’s looking a bit dated, and I’ve been to a number of better parks in recent years that cost a lot less than this.  But it’s the American Way to take your kids to Disney, right?  The lodging for one night was not bad at $90.  This was our share of the split on the condo that we shared with my cousin and his family.

We spent a total of $23 on items that didn’t fit into any of these other categories.  This included a Christmas ornament from Disney, and a couple of magazines at the airport.  We successfully resisted the urge to spend $17 on a fan-assisted squirt bottle in Disney on a 93 degree, scorching hot day.  We also avoiding having to purchase every cute stuffed animal that DD#1 got her hands on.

Last, and far from least, we spent $720 at the Dog Kennel.  As outlined in this article, our dogs are expensive.  It definitely hurts to have to budget 30% of every trip we take to kenneling the dogs, and it’s the first thing that pops into my head whenever we consider a trip.  We spent a few years trying to find the right mix of costs for kenneling.  In this business, the saying is true: You get what you pay for.  We were horrified upon retrieving our dogs from a budget kennel on one trip, and they didn’t want to come home when we tried to get them from a super-expensive kennel.  Eventually we found a “just right” kennel that treats them well — but not too well.  This is certainly an area that will factor into any future pet decisions.  It’s a good argument against having two pets.

In total, we spent $2487.  This is a lot less than ScrapperMom and I spent on a lavish Quebec trip a number of years ago, but more than we have spent on a vacation in some time.  Was it worth it?  It’s hard to put a price-tag on the experiences that we had.  If pressed, however, I would have to say that the cost was worth it since it meshes with our values: notice that we have only a couple of magazines and a Christmas ornament to show for this expenditure.  We don’t place a high value on “stuff”, but rather experiences and time spent with family and friends.  You can’t put a price on that.  This trip would have been a lot less fun if we just went to Florida by ourselves…

We’re already looking forward to a mini-vacation in November as we travel to New Jersey to celebrate a wedding!

Pregnant Silhouette

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: mahalie

ScrapperMom and I are happy to announce that we are expecting our second child in January.  We feel thrilled, scared, excited, and many other emotions all at once.  I wanted to bring this up in an official post on the subject since I plan to explore how this will affect our finances in some future posts.  The topic will likely also slip into a number of other posts, so I wanted to be very clear about this.  It’s actually been difficult not mentioning it all over the last few months. S/he will be just about two years behind big sister, and we’re not going to find out whether we’re having a boy or a girl, just like last time.

Now that we got that out of the way, I wanted to say a few words about the State of the Blog.

I started Don’t Feed the Alligators just over 6 months ago.  At the end of the first week, I had 17 subscribers and now am up to 74.  While I wish I had more, I am exceedingly thrilled that there are that many people out there interested in what I have to say on a semi-weekly basis.  I know my mother-in-law enjoys reading because as she puts it, “I learn more about the two of you by reading what (MITBeta) writes than any other way…”

Here are some more numbers:

  • ScrapperMom and I have combined to write a total of 71 articles
  • We have 10 articles pending in some stage of draft
  • We’ve created 34 different sorting categories
  • There are nearly 500 keywords
  • There have been 1,137 SPAM comments (blocked by Akismet)

In the last 30 days, the top referring domains have been (in order):

Thanks to all of my blogging peers for the traffic.  Be sure to check out those sites for some great articles.

The real question in all of this, however, is, “So what?”  The “So What” is you, the reader.  While there would certainly be some therapeutic value in writing what we do without an audience, there’s no way we would have kept it up for so long.  I recognize that I am here to provide you with information, entertainment, a new point of view, or whatever, and it is with this in mind that I once again ask the question:

How are we doing?

Are the posts too long or too short?  Are the articles too in-depth or not in-depth enough?  Am I glossing over too many of the basics or is the information here no different than what can be had elsewhere?  How’s the frequency of posting?  Are there specific topics you’d like to discuss or see addressed?

It’s easy to tell when a post is good, since it usually generates a lot of Comments, but most posts still go uncommented.  I like to have the feedback, good or bad, as well as any additions or counterpoints.  So let me know what kind of a job we’re doing here at Don’t Feed the Alligators, and if you really enjoy the content, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends, family, and coworkers.

This past weekend I attended a party given by friends of ours who are also subscribers and met a young woman who upon being introduced asked, “You’re the Alligators guy, right?”  “Yes,” I replied.  “I love reading your stuff,” she said (my emphasis added ;P).  I really didn’t know what to say at the time — I’ve never been good at receiving compliments.  But I know what to say now:

Thank you!

Without you and readers like you, this blog would long ago have been relegated to the cache archive at Google.

08.23.2008
Hay is for Horses!

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: law_keven

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to compile some of the best things I’ve read lately.  The list below is pretty long, so let’s jump right into it:

I participated in the Carnival of Financial Goals earlier this month with my post on declaring a Financial Independence Day.

NCN wrote about a major motivation for keeping his financial house in order.  As the parent of a young daughter myself, my perspectives on what really is important have changed a lot in the last 2 years, and I certainly can empathize.  It’s great that NCN is in a position that frees him up from having to worry about anything other than family at this time. I hope Baby Girl is doing well.

The Freak-est Links points us to a website run by the Maine State government on how to calculate the value of your public library.  I calculated a $260 annual value of our local library.  Not bad!

Living Almost Large writes about Dreading the Envelope — you know, the one that gets passed at work when someone has a baby or something like that?  This article really changed my perspective on this practice.  I work in a relatively small office (~20 people).  A few months back a co-worker’s house burned to the ground.  He lost everything.  This was the only time that the envelope has been passed in the 3 years I’ve worked in this office.  I was torn on if and how much to give.  On the one hand, I can’t even begin to understand how devastating a loss this must have been.  But on the other hand, we’re responsible and have insurance (and so did he), so why should we need to give any money at all?  In any event, this situation is a true need compared to a birthday or baby shower, and in that light I will not hesitate to give more should the occasion ever present itself again.

Glbl asks for reader input on whether money earmarked for college should be given in one lump sum or allocated over time.  Many argue that young adults are still too immature to handle large sums of money responsibly (ie not blow it all in Vegas instead of using it for tuition…).  My argument, however, was that most young adults are “too immature” because they haven’t had the proper training on how to handle money.  So use this opportunity as a chance to educate the recipient on how to be financially responsible, budget, etc.  Otherwise you’re putting the cart before the horse.

J.D. writes about how to support your favorite bloggers (cough, cough).  While I don’t have any ads on Don’t Feed the Alligators at this time, most of the suggestions are still apt:

  • Participate in the discussion — really, please do! You can do so anonymously, and I never share or reveal email addresses, even if I know who you are.
  • Tell your friends — word of mouth, or email both work great!
  • Click on ads that truly interest you — not applicable here, but works well elsewhere
  • Link to stories that you like — if you’ve got your own blog or website and see a story you like, how about a linkback?

Madison writes about how to earn free money using the US Mint.  While this scheme is not for everyone, it certainly piqued my interest.

A spirited discussion follow David’s post on the large percentage of American corporations that pay no federal income taxes.  The biggest point that I would like to make here is that if you’re going to argue with someone and cite a fact, you have to be able to back up the fact with something other than the equivalent of saying, “It’s true, look it up!”  I never took debate classes, but it seems to me that it is the arguer’s job to look it up, not the audience he is trying to convince.  At the very best case, it doesn’t make for a very compelling argument.

Lastly and just for fun, J.D. links to a video made by two average guys who “compete” in a number of Olympic events and compare their results to those of Olympic caliber athletes.  This really underscores how incredible Olympic athletes are.  Hats off to all competitors and especially to US Gold Medal winners!

Tune in next time for a very special blognouncement!