budget

Shop Ebates First and Save

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

I used to like shopping. Then I had children. Dragging two kids through the store is not my idea of fun and usually I leave wishing I’d never gotten out of bed, let alone left the house. For this reason, I shop online much more often than in stores. Since I’m only 5’2”, I typically try to shop for petite clothes, as they usually fit me better. But the selection in most stores is minimal; hence another reason to shop online. Then a friend introduced me to Ebates. This became reason #3 to shop online. I actually make money.

Ok, I don’t exactly get paid to shop, but Ebates offers rebates of various percentages when you shop your favorite retailers through their site. They usually have the latest deals and coupons listed as well.

It’s simple. Create an Ebates account. Or better yet, let a friend who already has an Ebates account refer you, and thus earn your friend money. (May I humbly draw your attention to my Ebates link which, if used will potentially earn me some referral credit as well). Then browse their list of over 1,600 stores! Shop to your heart’s content. My recommendation is not to open lots of new windows or tabs. This can sometimes confuse the system. (I tend to shop by creating new tabs for each item I want to look at. This creates a large number of tabs, slows down my computer and generally annoys my husband, the tech geek/snob).

Each purchase you make puts a small percentage of cash back into your Ebates account and four times a year, you get a check. Or you can opt to send the check to a friend or charity of your choice. The past few years I’ve gotten nice size checks after doing most if not all of my Christmas shopping online and whenever possible, through Ebates links.

Sometimes the cash doesn’t get credited to your account because of some kind of cookie error, in which case you fill out a form on Ebates customer service page and the issue is resolved. I had a lot of cash back missing from a particular retailer and it had been several months. So I contacted Ebates and within a couple days they had credited it all to my account.

While Ebates is a great little bonus for buying things you already need or want, it is certainly not an excuse to purchase things you don’t need or can’t afford. But if you can control yourself and aren’t tempted by every great deal out there, Ebates can be a great way to save money and time.

Categories: budget, Finance | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Motherly Art of Frugality: A Review of Reusable Breast Pads

I only used one kind of breast pad for my first pregnancy and they were cheap and worked fine, except when my daughter occasionally slept more than couple of hours, in which case I woke up drenched. With my son, I didn’t have many problems with leaking so I may not be the best person to attest to these products for someone with massive milk leakage. That being said, when I was shopping around for breast pads I really wanted a good comparison chart, and none existed that I could find. So, in honor of my son’s weaning, as I pack up my breast pads to wait for the next little member of our family, here are my reviews.

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Gerber Nuk breast pads: Amazon.com $14.99 for 6 pair

These are some of the cheapest reusable breast pads you can get. These are what I used while breastfeeding my first child and most of them survived to be used again with a second. These are basic and not overly absorbent, but for daytime use, I didn’t need them to be. They are also the only truly flat and thin pads I could find. Everything else seemed to be bulky by comparison. But they won’t hold up to lots of leaks. These are somewhat waterproof but if you frequently dry them in the dryer if will eventually wreck the waterproof later. They can sometimes be found cheaper at Target, so check the prices at your local stores. Overall, if money is tight and you are hoping to save money by avoiding disposable breast pads, these are the way to go.

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Charlie Banana breast pads: Amazon.com $15.95 for 3 pair

These are the most absorbent pads I’ve ever used. I bought them on a recommendation from my sister, who said they were incredible absorbent and practically leak proof. The fleece was a little warm feeling in the hot months, but not too bad. These were fantastic overnight pads, but I found them a little bulky for day time use, but they did lay relatively flat. Unfortunately the white interior fleece also stained. Not sure why this was, but it may have been specific to the composition of my breast milk. Granted, no one saw these but me and the baby. But it was discouraging to pay so much for these and then have them stain. But these were my go-to night pads. Rarely had a leak that these couldn’t handle, even when the baby slept through the night.

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Happy Heiney’s hemp breast pads: Amazon.com $12.50 for 3 pair

These were another nice option for nighttime, though not as soft as the fleece in the Charlie Banana or the Knickernappies. But the hemp was also cooler than the fleece. I had them in two different diameters, though I’m not sure if they still make them in both sizes. The small size worked Ok for day time, but were still a little thicker than I liked and either size worked at night. In some ways I preferred larger pads at night since almost every brand I tried was prone to move out of place. While the hemp makes these pads very absorbent, they are not waterproof, so I didn’t love them for serious overnight engorgement leaks.

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WillowSprouts cotton hemp nursing pads:
Amazon.com $14.95 for 4 pair

These are nice pads and a pretty good deal, but really neither here nor there. They are thin, the only pads I could find that hid under clothes almost as smoothly as my Gerber pads. They can handle some leaks, but they aren’t super absorbent and they aren’t waterproof either. But they were also more reasonably priced than most of the breast pads I tried. Though much softer and more comfortable than the cheap Gerber. Also, one of the only pads I could use comfortably when I struggled with blebs.

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Knickernappies Stay-Dry nursing pads:
Amazon.com $12.99 for 3 pair 

These were my second favorite night time breast pad. They were thinner than the Charlie Banana pads, but not as absorbent, though also just as waterproof. Because of their thinness they were less bulky looking, but also more likely to bunch up. Overall still a good choice.

I liked all of these breast pads and each of them had a great place in my stash. Plus, I saved a small fortune and possibly a small forest by using reuseable instead of disposable pads. Another great sources are your local cloth diaper stores. Babiesrus or Target may have a small selection of reuseable nursing pads, but usually they are limited in their offerings. Buy Buy Baby has been moving in a more natural living friendly direction, including stocking some bumGenius diapers. So check one out if there are any in your area. Most of my pads came from Amazon.com, but I also shopped Kelly’s ClosetCotton Babies, and Diapers.com. The only thing I regret never trying was wool, mostly do to the high cost. But perhaps I can snag a few (or make a few) when baby #3 comes around.

Categories: Breastfeeding, budget | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Learning to Live Without: Letting Go of Long Held Luxuries

So it’s official. Just in time for summer, neither of our cars has working air conditioning. We got an estimate last weekend to fix the air conditioning in our primary car. $1,500 minimum. Thanks to our recent $900 repair of our secondary vehicle, we really can’t part with the money right now, unless it is a life or death emergency. My first reaction was to completely flip out. My mind filled with images of being completely house bound during the hot months to protect my newborn from dangerously high temperatures. (We don’t have a garage so our cars bake in the sun all day, every day). I immediately began wishing I could return to work, not just because of this issue but because this is a symptom of a larger problem: we do have trouble making ends meet and have very little to save for the future until we have paid off our sizable student loan debt.

After I finished my little freak out I tried to look at the issue more logically. As my husband reminded me, air conditioning is a luxury that was not available to most people just a few decades ago. The house I grew up in had one wall unit air conditioner in one room. The rest of the house was cooled by a large attic fan. So hot summer nights were a bit difficult at times but we all survived. I then tried to remind myself how grateful I am to live somewhere in the country, the northeast) that the temperatures really only get into the 80’s and 90’s for three to four months of the year. I am going to have to be cautious about covering my children’s car seats with blankets to keep the buckles from burning them as well as keeping the windows cracked to help some of the heat escape. But I do think we will survive. I may not like it, but we will survive. Long trips will be rough because I hate the sound of highway noise for long periods of time, but we aren’t likely to take a road trip this summer anyway.

Sometimes certain luxuries have been part of our lives for so long that we begin to see them as needs. Do we need Netflix, a cell phone, air conditioning? I guess that depends on your individual life circumstances. We use Netflix periodically and I try to limit my daughter’s access she so doesn’t become too used to it. We have a cell phone but a basic pay-as-you-go model. But if our debt was suddenly paid off and our income suddenly increased, we probably would each get our own nicer phones. We have window units in our house. One unit cools the downstairs decently, but it probably is too small for the space. Two of our upstairs bedrooms have window units as well and we just leave the doors open to cool the hallway and small bedroom. If our financial situation were different I would be buying a nice big 12,000 BTU unit for the downstairs and relocating the other units accordingly; perhaps we would even price the cost of adding central air. But if it really came down to living off credit cards versus our giving up our basic cell phone and Netflix, you can bet they would be the first to go along with less usage of our air conditioners to lower the summer electric bill.

What luxuries in your life have morphed into “necessities”? Have you ever had to learn to live without them?

Categories: budget, Family, Finance | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Being Cheaper and Greener, Possibly Weirder Too

In the last year I’ve made some significant changes in my personal hygiene routine, particularly the products I use. After doing research I was concerned with the various toxins in products as well as the overall cost. I wanted to find ways to use products that would be healthier for my body, but also less expensive. I discovered that many of them could actually be found in the grocery store. While my husband is all for saving money, he thinks this whole process has also made me a little weirder.

Coconut Oil: This has become my moisturizer of choice, as well as a great diaper rash cream. It is greasier, but if applied sparingly works quite well.

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil: For now this has been my go-to winter nighttime moisturizer. I don’t usually use it during the day because it is heavier.

I have been somewhat concerned about the lack of SPF in these natural moisturizers so at least in the warmer weather when I’m outside more I’m consider substituting the California Baby SPF lotion, if I can find a more budget friendly price on it somewhere.

The Oil Cleaning Method– Mix any favorite essential carrier oil (such as Extra Virgin Oil Oil or Almond Oil) with Castor oil. Apply to face. Wet a wash cloth with steaming water, ring out and apply to face. Let wash cloth sit on face until cooled. Repeat and wipe any residue off of face. My husband still laughs at me when I do this, but I’ve found that it actually works rather well. The whole process of deliberately putting oil on my skin seemed counter intuitive after years of acne issues, but this doesn’t seem to cause any additional acne problems (though it is a little hard to tell during pregnancy) and my skin is definitely less dry than when I was using acne washes. I’ve stuck mostly with Extra Virgin Olive Oil because it is easy to find at our regular grocery store and relatively inexpensive. For more on the oil cleansing method check out this article on Simple Mom and the included links.

HoneyWash– Ideally I should be using raw honey or some other organic equivalent, but instead I grabbed what I had in my cupboard which is quite old. I had to dilute it just to get it into a manageable texture so I’m probably not getting the full benefits of this wash. I apply it to my face and then rinse off and dry with a wash cloth. But I alternate it with my OCM and it leaves my skin feeling dry in a few spots (which, frankly, every single face wash I’ve ever tried has done), but mostly gives my skin a nice texture. But if I leave any on, it does leave sticky spots.

No Poo Method

When I first heard about this I thought it was crazy. But I decided to give it a try. It was a process of trial and error that certainly wasn’t helped by my pregnancy hormones. (My hair gets very strange during pregnancy, including a very flaky scalp that even strong dandruff shampoo can’t get rid of).

My current method is to boil two cups of water and then add 1 TBS of baking soda. I let it cool and make sure it is completely dissolved before I pour it into bottles to store in my shower. I discovered that our hard water makes it necessary to boil the water while mixing in the baking soda, otherwise it leaves awful white residue in my hair. I still get flakes sometimes, but it’s mostly the result of my pregnancy scalp or if I measure wrong when creating the mix. Sometimes I experiment a little bit with the mixture to see how it affects my hair.

I started out using lemon juice as my “conditioner” because I thought vinegar would make my hair greasy. But as my hair adjusted I began using diluted white vinegar, and now finally diluted apple cider vinegar. I still use white vinegar if my hair has gone too long between washes other wise I’ll end up with greasy hair. But I find that the apple cider vinegar helps prevent flakes and gives my hair nice texture and color. I currently wash my hair every two to three days. This is a huge breakthrough for me, since I was lucky to be able to go 24 hours without washing my hair before. But it has been a long road. There were definitely times when my hair drove me crazy during the last year or so, and a few times I wanted to give up. I occasionally alternated my routine with California Baby Tea Tree oil shampoo, since it’s non-stripping and sometimes I would still wash my hair every day. But the vast majority of the time I’m pretty happy with my hair now, assuming that the flake problem continues to improve postpartum. I didn’t struggle with any hair problems during my No Poo method transition that I wasn’t already dealing with. The current dandruff shampoos weren’t working. Other shampoos didn’t leave my hair clean for longer than 24 hours. So I figured I might as well stick it out, since I was saving huge amounts of money (especially considering the supply of half full bottles of shampoo in my cabinet that I abandoned during the last few years when they stopped working, including the lovely smelling Organix tea tree oil and peppermint shampoo. Unfortunately it worked no better than the others). For more info check out Simple Mom and her recommended resources on this topic.

So there it is. Most of my toiletry products are now purchased as basic ingredients at the grocery store. I haven’t bought myself traditional shampoo or conditioner in over a year, even longer since I purchased moisturizer and I haven’t even had to repurchase any of my new greener ingredients, though I’m about to buy more apple cider vinegar, which is quite inexpensive. It has definitely saved money, probably made my body and household a little greener and to my husband’s credit, perhaps made me a little weirder too. But I think I’m OK with it. After all, after transitioning to cloth menstrual pads, it doesn’t get much stranger than that.

Categories: budget, Green Living, Simple Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Student Loans, Anti-Credit Card and other Financial Holier than Thou Attitudes

In the past two years, as we’ve tried to navigate the difficult road of living on one income I’ve immersed myself in the financial blogosphere. It has been an interesting experience to say the least. Some of the philosophies made sense to me. Avoid debt. That was one my parents taught me as a young child. They told me two things were worth going into debt for, a home and an education. My parents each finished college thanks at least in part to some student loans. Though back then student loan rates were in the 1-2% range and savings accounts were earning upwards of 17% interest. (Hard to imagine a world like that, huh? My husband’s student loans are at 6.8% and our savings account doesn’t even earn 1% interest anymore). My parents also had a mortgage on each of the homes that they lived in over the years, including their current one. Granted, back then getting a mortgage was harder; underwriting could take months and a decent down payment was a necessity. My dad was lucky enough to have a good job. He was never unemployed for any period of time during my childhood, though seemingly inevitable layoffs often loomed. He had little or no help from his parents in attending college and yet managed to get a degree in chemical engineering, graduating in 3.5 years instead of the usual 4. (When was the last time you heard of that?) He went into a field that he enjoyed and was talented in, but that also had reasonable earning potential. (Something I’m sure he kept in mind when he took out some student loans to help cover his tuition). We lived in a modest house in relation to my father’s income. My parents kept a sizeable savings account. They always paid cash for cars, never buying new. So avoiding debt made sense to me.

But then the other popular financial blog topics made their appearance. Don’t use credit cards, they are evil. Well, I can understand the potential problems with credit cards. My parents had taught me about interest and how in the end you owe more than an item is often worth when it is bought on credit. But my parents definitely had credit cards. They weren’t often used, but when they were, the balance was paid off each month. I got my first credit card right after I was married at 20. My husband has just paid off past credit card debt and swore never again to use a credit card. So we compromised. We each got a card for the purpose of building our credit. (Yes, I know there are other ways to do this, but I didn’t have the fear and hatred of credit cards that many in the financial blogosphere do). My card was used for gasoline only. His card was used for groceries. For everything else we used the debit card. This helped us better track our budget in the early days of low income. (I believe he was making $25,000 before taxes and I was a fulltime student). We never carried a balance and we never spent money we didn’t have in the bank. We treated them like debit cards.

Then there is the infamous, college is too expensive and student loans aren’t worth it argument. Possible solutions including working part to fulltime while in school and/or opting not to go to college until you had saved enough to afford it. Now I grew up in a family that placed great value on education. My parents are probably some of the last of a generation who believe that college is not just there to help you get a good job, but to help you become an educated, well-rounded person. (My mother is a perfect example. She was the first generation in family to go to college, yet she ultimately became a stay-at-home wife and mother. Something she has rarely, if ever regretted. But never has she spoken of her college education as a waste. She is one of the smartest, best educated people I know. She has never let that go to waste even if she isn’t in the traditional workforce). Which school would give me the most value for the education was deciding factor when I was doing the college search. Ultimately I chose a school that I loved, and who offered a good financial aid and scholarship package. However, it was not the least expensive option. After discussing it with my parents we concluded that finances were not the only consideration. For that matter neither was prestige. The question was, where would I learn the most and where would I get the best possible education? I lived on a small quiet campus were partying was rare. Most students there were there to study and seek other academic pursuits. I probably didn’t take advantage of extra curricular activities and networking events as I could have. But I learned a great deal, much of it in subjects outside my major that have affected who I am as a person in very positive ways. I also managed to graduate a semester early, saving more money, something I couldn’t have done at a larger or more prestigious school. I consider it money well spent. (Oh, and thanks in part to my incredibly hard work in high school and my parents support I was able to graduate loan free, even though I did qualify for some loans that I could have taken advantage of to make my experience more luxurious. Instead I worked summer jobs to pay for my yearly spending and book money.)

Now, my husband attended college at age 26, and did it all on student loans. Do we regret that? Yes and No. If he hadn’t returned to school he would probably still be making $25,000 a year in a dead end job he hated. Do I wish it had cost less? Absolutely. But at the time there was very little other choice. Looking back, he doesn’t feel that his education had the same value as mine, while in the end it did cost more. If we had it to do over again, I think we would have tried to find ways to pay off some of the bills as we went instead of waiting until the end to pay the giant balance. But we can only move forward from here. Those two bachelor’s degrees that my husband obtained have opened doors for him that he would still be banging his head against right now had he never returned to school. While our income is still relatively small (apparently we are considered legally poor by theU.S.government), his income earning potential has been significantly increased, and his work has become a source of self-value rather than a drudgery. When our children approach college age the system will likely be very different. We would like them to avoid the debt cycle, but we both still believe in the value of education. Colleges today are not always (in fact, rarely) producing well-educated, well-rounded people. Those students who emerge as mature, educated adults owe more of that to their own efforts than anything special the university system itself is offering. The education is still there for the taking, you just to look harder and dig deeper for it. Otherwise you could very well graduate with a piece of paper and very little actual education.

My husband and I also purchased a home with no downpayment. Was it ill-advised? Perhaps. Is it frustrating to see our home with so little equity, even after 5 years? Definitely. But I can’t say we regret the purchase of this home. With rising rents and other local housing issues, we would likely still be living in our two bedroom apartment in a very sketchy neighborhood and probably paying almost as much in rent as we do now for mortgage. We’d probably be spending more for heat and electricity too. We would never have started our family.

It’s easy to stand on the outside looking in and make declarations about the financial decisions of others. Heck, I do it too sometimes. It’s hard not to. I love how much I’ve learned from the financial blogosphere. It has encouraged me to review my own values and make sure that my financial decisions reflect those values. I’ve learned about frugal practices I never would have considered before I found financial and lifestyle benefits. I now try to see my finances in a more long term way. It would be easy to make the minimum payments on the student loans and just accept the long haul to debt freedom. It feels so overwhelming at times.   But I’ve learned that making small sacrifices now can mean reaping rewards later on. I now see a debt free lifestyle as more appealing than a more luxurious one. (I’d rather live in our little house with no mortgage than move to a bigger one and face mortgage payments for the rest of our lives).

But I’ve also learned to take financial philosophies with a grain of salt and see how they fit into my own life. I still hate the idea of ever having a car payment, but it may very well be something we have to resort to in a few years. I think credit cards are a tool to be used for convenience or even profit (let me tell you how often those cash back checks have come in very handy at times we needed a little extra money most).  Sometimes it’s easier to have a holier than though attitude regarding certain financial issues like credit cards, car payments, student loans and mortgage down payments. (Hey, even mortgages sometimes. When people tell me how they paid cash for their houses and I should too or I’m making a financial mistake I try not to laugh. In our area, with our income, I might have become a homeowner just in time to retire by the time we saved enough to pay cash for a home, even a small fixer upper in a rough neighborhood). I’m finally to the point where I don’t even comment on discussions on the above topics anymore. The cacophony of voices all of whom agree with each other is loud enough. Any compromise I might try to express would only be shouted down. Besides, I don’t need to defend my financial decisions to anyone by myself and my husband, much less the anonymous blogosphere.

The truth is I’m Ok with my credit cards. I’d like to pay down our mortgage and student loans faster. No, I’m not saving 10-15 % of my income toward retirement, nor do I have 20% a month going into my emergency fund/savings account. I don’t have a year’s worth of income saved in the bank and it will probably be a long time before I will. But I do have an amazing two and a half year old daughter that I love and who drives me crazy. I have a baby boy due to make his appearance in the next month or so. I have a husband who has a job he enjoys but is still working towards a career he will love and I have the rare opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom who dreams of being a professional writer. I like watching some TV in the evenings (online for free of course) and I like to read just to fun, even when it isn’t necessarily educational or informative. I may not follow all the traditional financial tenets and I certainly won’t be moving to my retirement villa inTuscanyat age 50, but I have a life I enjoy and a family I love. Oh yeah, and I also pay all my bills on time. What more could I ask for?

Categories: budget, Family, Finance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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