Don’t Feed the Alligators

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

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11.27.2008
Val

Val photo figure credit: ScrapperMom

Yesterday evening, ScrapperMom and I had to let our first “baby” Val pass on to Doggie Heaven.  Valkyrie was an 8 year old Great Dane that we bought together shortly before we were married.  We loved taking Val to the dog parks in the Seattle area when she was a puppy.  Later, Val got a tour of the country, visiting Yellowstone, the Badlands,  Mount Rushmore, and Madison, Wisconsin among other great destinations while moving back east.

Val took training classes off and on, and eventually earned her Canine Good Citizen award. She loved going for rides in the car and taking walks in all kinds of parks.  When we bought a house we added another puppy to the mix.  Orion and Val eventually became good buddies.  Val loved to go under stuff, and tables were her favorite.  She also loved laying in the sun, and would follow it as it moved across the floor or the yard.  She was universally described as “sweet” and loved having company.

When she was just 3, Val was tentatively diagnosed with Wobbler’s Disease, which is a degenerative instability of the cervical (neck) vertebrae.  The disease started out with Val dragging her rear foot on the ground while walking, and over the next 5 years progressed to the point where she could no longer stand up.  When she did stand up, she often fell.

Yesterday was a day that I dreaded since the day we first considered buying a dog — we knew inevitably that we would lose her someday.  However, the decision we made in the presence of our vet yesterday was an easy one to make.  Val was clearly in pain most of the time, having taken a turn for the worst this past weekend, and really had no quality of life left.  There were no wags left in her tail.

We will miss her dearly, and hope that she has found green fields for running and beds of clouds for sleeping in Doggie Heaven.  We desperately hope to meet her again when our own turns come.  We love you, Val, you were a good dog.  Goodbye.

Here are the lyrics to a song that sort of captures my feelings.  And please visit:

Val — A Life in Photos

OLD BLACK CAT by Ian Anderson

My old black cat passed away this morning
He never knew what a hard day was.
Woke up late and danced on tin roofs.
If questioned “Why?” answered, “Just because.”

He never spoke much, preferring silence:
Eight lost lives was all he had.
Occasionally sneaked some Sunday dinner.
He wasn’t good and he wasn’t bad.

My old black cat wasn’t much of a looker.
You could pass him by ? just a quiet shadow.
Got pushed around by all the other little guys.
Didn’t seem to mind much ? just the way life goes.

Padded about in furry slippers.
Didn’t make any special friends.
He played it cool with wide-eyed innocence,
Receiving gladly what the good Lord sends.

Forgot to give his Christmas present.
Black cat collar, nice and new.
Thought he’d make it through to New Year.
I guess this song will have to do.

My old black cat…
Old black cat…

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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?

Coupons

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: ninjapoodles

Hardcore couponers would probably accuse me of blasphemy for saying that couponing may be a waste of time but even Crystal of Biblical Womanhood and Money Saving Mom thinks it’s ok to take a break every once in awhile, see her post on it here.   As for me, I wasn’t raised by a hardcore couponer and have only recently discovered the benefits. Living with my mother-in-law for a year also helped spark my frugal side. I do feel there are a couple of problems that I have encountered over the past year or so with using coupons.

First off, MITBeta and I do not buy the newspaper. We have in the past, but found it piled up and was only good for starting the charcoal grill and filling our recycle bins. Nowadays we get all of our news online or through our local NPR affiliate WBUR.  Most of the time we are lucky enough to have our parents save the fliers from their papers, but when things get busy we may not see them for a week and then we both forget. Because of this I may end up missing a few of the sales that correspond to the current sales fliers. Another option is to stop at a coffee shop or the library on a Sunday evening and pick up a newspaper that may still have the sale fliers, but I usually don’t have time to do this, let alone remember that I can.  On occasion I have bought the paper, only to find that the filers were not included. That made me very mad, so I probably will not actually buy the paper again!

We also don’t tend to buy a lot of processed food, which makes up the bulk of the coupons in the sales fliers. I do like to take advantage of CVS’ing (see this post if you are unfamiliar with the term) and that usually does require the coupons. The nice thing is that if we do get fliers from our parents and they come a few weeks late it is usually ok for CVS since the CVS deals hardly ever line up with the current sales fliers. Also a lot of products that tend to go on sale at CVS may have coupons available to print online.

Since I started using coupons and making more frugal shopping choices in general, I feel that I do have a handle on the costs of items and try to save where I can with or without the coupons. This may mean buying in bulk if that is feasible, buying generic or waiting for the good sales.  It always means checking the unit costs in order to buy the cost effective size.  I also try to buy only seasonal produce and by menu planning I’m able to more fully utilize all the food I purchase without having food go to waste.

I’m not exactly sure how we are doing with our grocery budget, but I try to be cognizant of the total at the checkout, while at the same time choosing healthy options whenever possible. I have stopped by the local farmer’s market a few times this summer as well to pick up local produce.  I typically don’t spend over $100/week on groceries for our family of 2 + a toddler and in the past we have tried to have a $75/wk budget.  How about you? Are you a hard-core couponer or do you just try to shop wisely? What is your weekly grocery budget?

02.27.2008

Editor’s note:  I am away on business in New York, and so I introduce Mrs. MITBeta, ScrapperMom, who has volunteered to write a guest post in my absence.  I hope you enjoy what she has to say!  — MITBeta
Do you ever feel like all you do is throw away produce that has since gone bad? Are you eating Ramen Noodles even though you have long since graduated from college? Is your pantry full of food, yet there is nothing to eat??

If you want to save money, throw out less or no food, and eat healthier, then the following tips should help to accomplish those goals. It does take a little bit of planning, but in the end, like budgeting your finances, planning your meals and food purchases will also bring great rewards.

Write a list of the meals you are planning to make for the week.

I find that if I plan all my meals on the weekend I am more likely to eat what I have in the refrigerator. It only takes about a half hour to do this and will save you a lot of time mid week (think laying out your clothes the night before). This list can and should include any leftovers you may have. Also, each meal does not have to be unique. You can plan to make a big pan of lasagna for you and your husband and eat that all week for lunch. If you plan for this you won’t end up buying cold cuts at the market and having them go bad when you don’t eat them. The Organized Home website has a great form for weekly menu planning.

Buy on sale.

Base your meals on the sales flyers, which typically come out on Thursday. For example if chicken is on sale this week, plan meals with this in mind. We will talk more about how you can utilize a 3 lb package of boneless chicken or ground beef in Part II.

Use the grocery game or a price book.

A great way to save even more money at the store is to buy things at their cheapest price. The stores put all their products on sale in cycles, you just have to be savvy enough to buy them only when they are at or near this low price. This means you need to change the way you shop. By stockpiling your pantry you can eliminate the need to buy things at the last minute when they are at their highest price. A price book can help you determine what a good price is on each item you buy. The Organized Home also has a great article on making a price book if you want to go this route. This is a time consuming method though and for a cheap price you can play the Grocery Game and essentially have someone else tell you when to buy certain items.

Seasonal Shopping.

We all love the fact that you can get strawberries year round but if you try to eat seasonally you will win financially. Eat foods that are available in the winter months to make stews, pot roasts…. In the spring look to leafy greens… In summer, fruits and squashes… In the fall, carrots and sweet potatoes. The World’s Healthiest Foods has a great article on Seasonal Eating.

Shop on the exterior of the store.

This is more of a tip for healthy eating, but processed, prepackaged foods can add up in the long run. By shopping around the exterior of the store you are only buying the fresh ingredients; produce, meats & poultry, dairy, seafood and grains. Although the fresh foods due tend to be more costly, in the end eating healthy foods will be a benefit to your health and that saves money in other ways.

Don’t shop on an empty stomach!

This one should be a no-brainer, but I am still guilty of it as well. If you are not hungry (try shopping after lunch or breakfast) you will not be tempted to buy snacks and other items you may not need. You also may be able to avoid a stop at the in-store coffee shop, which is becoming more and more common!

Check out the day old bakery items.

I find great deals here. Usually the bread is still very fresh and if you plan to use it that night you can get the items half off. I also like to buy French and Italian bread on sale to cut and freeze for French toast. It doesn’t need to be fresh for this use anyway.

So head out to the store armed with these tips and tricks and watch the savings add up. It becomes a fun and addictive game to see how much your bill will decrease after they scan your rewards card and coupons! I find I average at least $25 to $35 worth of savings at each trip using the tips listed above.

Editor:  So what do you think?  Do you have any tips for saving on groceries and other food items?  Share them with us in the comments section.  Interested in writing a guest article here?  Send me an email.

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