My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 24: Evaluating Your Expenses – Entertainment & Hobbies

I really wish I had something to actually evaluate in this step. We have a virtually non-existent entertainment budget. We have $10 a month for Dates, which doesn’t pay for much. Usually if we want a real dinner date we can only go out 3 or 4 times a year, if that, barring any gifts cards we receive throughout the year. We do consider our internet access a form of entertainment however, since it provides access to websites like which allow us to watch favorite TV shows without paying for cable. In the future, I would like to be able to have an Entertainment and Hobby budget. I enjoy knitting, but rarely have the money to invest in yarn. Usually, if I do buy it, I have to have a specific project in mind that will be a clothing item for my daughter or a gift for someone, and the money comes from one of those two budget categories. I used to take dance classes which I really enjoyed and miss very much. It provided me with a creative outlet and physical fitness opportunity. My husband is a computer gamer and programmer. But to his credit, he hasn’t bought himself a new game in quite some time. He also makes good use of the library for programming books, rather than buying them. I know he would like to have many of these books for reference and would probably get more than his money’s worth from them. But there is no money to buy them out right, so he makes do with the library copies.

I think Trent was right to point out that cutting back too steeply on your entertainment can be emotionally difficult. It hasn’t been easy for us. But it’s as simple as not having the money. As much as I enjoy my hobbies and entertainment, it’s hard to justify buying a new season of a TV show or a novel I’ve been dying to read when we have medical bills and student loans to pay. Entertainment may be important to my mental health, but paying for entertainment isn’t worth the cost to my savings account.


I’m Doing My Best, But Jong’s Mother Madness Doesn’t Help

The recent article by Erica Jong in the Wall Street Journal titled Mother Madness has produced responses in every corner of the blogosphere. While I hesitate to add my own voice to the cacophony, I thought some of her assertions were worth commenting on. While Jong is clearly a talented writer, I question whether she really feels as strongly as her words claim. They make for a dramatic article but extreme opinions.

Whether you agree or disagree with women being primarily responsible for raising children, I think Jong has missed the real point. She claims that what she defines as the “noble savage” view of parenting punishes women, putting them in the prison of motherhood to satisfy some societal ideal of parenting. I’m not sure what she arguing for or against. When women do stay home they are in prison but it they are rich and have nannies to raise their kids instead they are selfish narcissists? Perhaps it isn’t having children that Jong has a problem with, just making it look easy. I guess I’ve never aspired to have the life of Madonna and Angelina Jolie. How they parent and whether it looks easy or requires vast quantities of money has never been my concern and never will be. But I can tell you that if you ever walk into my house unannounced, you will see the nitty gritty realities of parenting and not the airbrushed magazine version. Most people are intelligent enough to realize that real parenting is hard work, no matter what method you choose. When parents make their children just another status symbol or high priced accessory, it isn’t the women who lose, it is all of us. That doesn’t represent parenting.

Motherhood for those who chose it, is not a prison, it frees us to pursue the life of our choosing. No one has to have children. Some people decide they don’t want to. I’d sooner see people decide they don’t want to be parents then for children to be just another symbol of the ideal American lifestyle.

Jong presents attachment parenting as a luxury available only to the rich. While Jong grossly misrepresents attachment parenting, the other philosophies of breastfeeding and cloth diapering that she mentions are hardly specific to the rich. My husband and I make less than $40,000 a year. I hardly consider it poverty, but certainly not the kind of wealth Jong seems to think is necessary. We breastfeed and cloth diaper because we believe in the ideal but also because it is less expensive. Most of the natural parenting philosophies are less expensive so I don’t see the wealth Jong claims attachment parenting requires to be a prerequisite. I am a stay-at-home mother, but by choice, not because I am uneducated or inferior. It is cheaper for me to stay home than to keep working. But if I really didn’t want to be at home with my daughter, I wouldn’t be.

Not all of us are rich enough to have a nanny but we may still employ a village. My parents and sister live nearby. I don’t hire babysitters; my daughter always stays with family. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for us. I stay home with my daughter, because I want to, not because I must. I know other moms who chose to return to the workforce and put their children in daycare. That works for them, but not for me. Jong rants for two paragraphs about the necessity of raising a child as a member of a community but minimizes the role of mother and father. Mother and father will always be important to a child. Even if there is only one parent, children know their parents. When my daughter was a baby she was constantly being passed from relative to relative and I used to worry that she wouldn’t know who her parents were. But she always has. It probably helped that Mommy was the one with the milk, but even without that, children still know their parents.

Giving up your life for your child creates expectations that are likely to be thwarted as the child, inevitably, attempts to detach. Nor does such hyper-attentive parenting help children to become independent adults. Kids who never have to solve problems for themselves come to believe that they can’t solve problems themselves. Sometimes they fall apart in college.

I give up my life for my daughter now so that she will be able to be independent later. I don’t necessarily to subscribe to all of the tenants of attachment parenting, but I use those that do work for me. But I doubt that nurturing my newborn with lots of hugs and cuddles will teach her to a dependent adult. I would think that the reverse would be true and I’m sure if I searched hard enough I could find a study to support it. By making my child my priority while she is small, I’m teaching her that I’m here when she needs me. But I don’t need to stand over her. I may be home with her during the day but she still plays independently and she knows where help is when she needs it. John Rosemond once said “You should be the center of your child’s world, not the other way around.” I have other activities and interests besides my daughter, but my husband and I are the most important people in her life.

Indeed, although attachment parenting comes with an exquisite progressive pedigree, it is a perfect tool for the political right. It certainly serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don’t have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit. What exhausted, overworked parent has time to protest under such conditions?

 I can impact the world my daughter lives in and still be a good parent. Maybe I don’t have the time or the money to run for office or start a grassroots political movement, but I vote, I blog and I share important issues with the other mothers in my circle. I’m a member of a local MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers). Their slogan is Better Moms Make a Better World. I believe that by raising my daughter to be a responsible member of society and teaching her to contribute something to the world around her, I will make an impact on the world. This is true of all mothers regardless of whether they stay at home, work from home or work while their children are in day care. We all want to be the best parents we can be and raise our children to be the best they can be.

What is so troubling about these theories of parenting—both pre- and postnatal—is that they seem like attempts to exert control in a world that is increasingly out of control. We can’t get rid of the carcinogens in the environment, but we can make sure that our kids arrive at school each day with a reusable lunch bag full of produce from the farmers’ market. We can’t do anything about loose nukes falling into the hands of terrorists, but we can make sure that our progeny’s every waking hour is tightly scheduled with edifying activities. Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child’s home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.

I think most parents want to be good parents and as with all things, we may aspire to a perfection that we will never attain. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, as long as we can accept our limitations. Yet I don’t see how trying to raise my daughter with my chosen parenting methods and values equals ignoring the bigger issues of the world around me. As Jong pointed out, those issues are out of my control. I may vote in the presidential election, but I can’t control whether the president starts a nuclear war. I am aware of the fact that I have limited control in this area, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring the big picture. Why obsess about things outside of my control in lieu of raising my child to the best of my ability? This is where my personal faith and values kick in. I have never believed that I am in control. I believe that ultimately God is in control. I take responsibility for the things that I have control of, but when I have done my best, I leave the rest in God’s hands.

When I share my own parenting choices, it has never been about producing guilt, but informing and educating. Women today have more options than ever. When a new mom tells me she wants to pursue a greener lifestyle or save money, I tell her about my cloth diaper experience, not to produce guilt, but to make her aware of options that will help promote her lifestyle of choice. When a mom who really wants to breastfeed is facing challenges I offer advice and assistance, not because I believe breastfeeding is the only way, but because I want to support her choice. The culture around us pulls us in all directions. Breast or Bottle, cloth diapers or disposables, home or day care, public, private or home school: the choices abound. Perhaps the only thing Jong said in her whole piece that I can agree with is that we are all indeed trying to do the best we can. There are no hard and fast rules, but to accept that we are responsible for another human life and put forth our best efforts accordingly. But unfortunately, Jong’s closing line is the antithesis of everything her article stands for. Yes, we should each be responsible to do our own research and make our own choices based on what is best for our own families, regardless of the newest trends or latest research. But I don’t consider 18 paragraphs attacking parenting practices to be a good example of this egalitarian parenting world she claims to aspire to.

Baby Blues: A Breastfeeding Supportive Comic

I started reading Baby Blues when I was in college. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but I remember my excitement when I discovered I could read the archived comics all the way back to 1996! But I appreciate it even more now that I’m a mom. Even though I only have one child so far, I see reflections of my own family and childhood in these characters. (I also have a slightly nerdy red headed father, dark, curly haired mother with strong opinions and a dramatic red-headed sister, though she isn’t the first born). But what struck me most as a new mom was how many Baby Blues cartoons feature breastfeeding. Not just showing it, but it is the main point and or punch line of many daily strips. While I know other comics have touched on this subject on occasion (For Better or For Worse comes to mind), I have been particularly pleased to see Baby Blues feature it so prominently. The Baby Blues website even made a point of posting collections of nursing posts during National Breastfeeding Week. While I have discovered, unfortunately, that their tag search function is not that reliable (apparently some people just randomly tag strips for the fun of it), if you’re looking for a good breastfeeding laugh I suggest running a few breastfeeding and nursing related searches of the Baby Blues archives. I particularly enjoyed Friday’s featured comic.

My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 23: Evaluating Your Expenses – Bank Fees

In my particular situation, this step was almost pointless. So much so that I’m not even going to devote a whole blog post to this topic. We use a local credit union and ING. Our credit union has no ATM feeds and has an agreement that we can use PNC ATMs anywhere. No fees. End of story.

My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 22: Evaluating Your Expenses – Monthly Services

Monthly services are the kind of small expenditures that add up quickly. That being said, we also have very few of them. The only addition services we pay for aside from utilities are Phone, DSL Internet access, and cell phone. When I look at my budget I make sure I look at how much any one category or service costs for the whole year. For instance, we pay an additional $7 a month to have call waiting on our phone line. That’s $84 a year. I go back and forth about whether I think it is worth the $84 a year. I feel similarly about our cell phone. We can hardly get a cell signal in our house. We pretty much have to sit on the front porch to use the cell phone. Not a fun prospect in the winter. So when most of our friends were getting rid of their house phones, we dropped our cell phone package and opted for Net10 instead for $16 a month. That is by far the cheapest cell phone bill of anyone I know. That being said, it is still $192 a year for something we hardly use. We mostly like to have it for when we travel or as a safety precaution when I’m out with the baby by myself. But we have often considered getting rid of the cell phones altogether. But every time we do, something happens where we end up needing it. We also don’t pay for a phone long distance plan. Since we do have a house phone, we have a combination phone/DSL package. Trent is right that internet access is not a necessity. But it can be a potential source of income. If we ever faced a job loss or similar finance emergency, the DSL would go, without a doubt, along with the cell phone and the call waiting.

Must my baby take a Vitamin D supplement?

A new study shows that breastfed babies don’t get enough Vitamin D. The facilitators of the study believe this is related to two factors: that pediatricians aren’t encouraging awareness and mothers inaccurately believe that breast milk provides everything babies need. Vitamin D has definitely become a recent medical emphasis if not obsession. It seems like almost every condition from osteoporosis to depression can be traced back to low Vitamin D levels. I don’t necessarily think that these details are incorrect. My husband suffered from low Vitamin D levels for probably close to decade, but no one thought to have him tested into a couple of years. His levels were scarily low. Apparently this is becoming more common among Americans due to lack of sun-exposure and lack of enriched dairy intake. If you don’t drink milk or eat enriched yogurt (sometimes soy produces are also enriched, but not always), take a multi-vitamin with high enough levels or spend more time outside, your levels are likely to be low. Apparently, Vitamin D is not passed to a baby through the breast milk. But at the same time, pediatricians are careful to tell moms to keep babies under 6 months out of the sun and then to always use sun screen. The only solution that remains is supplements. But as a mom I’m not sure I think this is the best solution.

The reason I don’t think we saw much of an issue with Vitamin D levels in the past is that people were outside more. People worked outside and played outside, especially children. I remember coming home from school and on the nice day wanting to go right out to swing in the backyard or make pretend pies under the plum tree. But most children today don’t get enough outdoor play. Researchers want to encourage more outdoor play and exercise for the sake of quelling childhood obesity, but no one will address it regarding Vitamin D. Researchers and pediatricians put parents in an awkward position, Vitamin D is good, but sun is bad.

I understand the risks of both low Vitamin D and early sun exposure. Neither is good. My parents were big proponents of sunscreen for extended periods of direct sun, but not every day and for every possible situation where we might be in the sun. But I still don’t believe supplements to be the best solution. First of all, the above study also noted, contrary to the title, that formula babies are not exempt from low Vitamin D problems. Most formulas are enriched with Vitamin D, but not enough to keep a child at optimum levels.  Even formula fed babies should be taking a supplement, even though most pediatricians only emphasize supplements for breastfed babies. When my pediatrician first suggested a vitamin for my daughter I was irritated. One of the whole points of breastfeeding was make sure that my newborn was getting the most complete and natural food source available. Nasty tasting vitamins from an eye dropper filled with artificial dyes and flavors didn’t exactly fit the bill. But I was a new mom who felt guilty so I bought the vitamins. Wow, were they pricey! Another reason I chose to breastfeed was for financial reasons. But here were little bottles of vitamin supplements only available in one or two very expensive name brands. (I find this insistence ironic given that the new standards won’t allow me to get fluoride vitamins for my daughter, something I strongly support). Plus, my daughter hated them. Every time I tried to give her the supplements, she would spit them everywhere. She got very little of the liquid and most of it managed to stain clothes and walls. Not to mention the fact that I was paying about $3 and ounce for this stuff. Because it was such a hassle I rarely remembered to give her the vitamins. The doctor suggested adding it to her bottle, but as my daughter was almost completely breastfed and rarely took breast milk from a bottle, that wasn’t exactly practical. Once she was 6 months old and began eating some solid foods I tried mixing the vitamins into her food a few times a week. This was a mixed success, but it was workable compromise. Again, being a new mom I felt sufficiently guilty for this and worried that my daughter wasn’t going to get the proper nutrients. But soon I noticed something. Whenever I took my daughter to my parent’s house, my father would take my daughter out in the backyard. He called it her Vitamin D treatments. 10 minutes of being carried around a sunny backyard at non-peak sun hours. She thought it was fun and even at 18 months old whenever we go to my parent’s house she immediately wants Pop-Pop to “Go out” with her, pointing to the back door. I remembered something my husband’s doctor had told him regarding increasing his Vitamin D exposure.

The doctor said my husband should mow the lawn with his shirt off or spend 10 minutes in the bright sun with his bare arms and back exposed a couple times a week. Why couldn’t something similar work for my daughter? I realized that babies had thinner skin and were more sensitive to sun-exposure but was 10 minutes every now and then at non-peak sun times really going to hurt her? I’m sure my dermatologist would have been in horror, but I wonder if my pediatrician would have said the same. When doctors don’t agree on whether sun exposure in moderation is good or bad, it puts parents in the middle, forcing us to make our own judgments. Last summer I slathered my daughter in sunscreen when we went for our afternoon walk. When we went to the beach I bought her an SPF bathing suit that covered practically her whole body. But when we go out in the back yard, just to run around for 10 minutes, I don’t. She wears a hat, if I can get her to keep it on. But I also started feeding her Vitamin D enriched yogurt at 8 months old. She still hates her vitamins, though now the current obsession is making sure she gets enough iron and calcium, and I still hate how expensive they are. I compromise by trying to give her as balanced a diet as I can manage and giving her supplements in her food once or twice a week. Parenting, I’m quickly discovering, is all about compromise.

My 31 Day Financial Challenge- Day 21: Evaluating Your Expenses – Housing

I thought these were some really great tips to help save on housing. That being said, none of these apply to our current situation except one: refinance. Which as it happens, we did last year. We went from a 7.3% interest rate on our mortgage to 5.25%. Our monthly payment dropped by about $170! That money played a significant role in allowing me to stay home with our daughter rather than return to work.

Some of the other suggestions Trent made were unconventional but definitely worth considering. Most people wouldn’t really consider renting a room in their home or negotiating with their landlord but either option has potential to increase your cash flow or decrease your expenses. He was also absolutely right when he mentioned the importance of preventative maintenance. This is an area I have always struggled with. I tend to forget about those kinds of little household tasks unless something needs to be fixed. Sometimes just tackling those kinds of tasks can seem overwhelming if you don’t consider yourself a handy person. But I’m going to try and work some of these tasks into my regular cleaning routine in the hopes of actually keeping up with them.