Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Master of The House

Well, I can cross one more thing off that "to-do" list:
Get a Master's Degree.
I guess technically I won't 'graduate' until next month, but it's all over except the paperwork.  I turned in my thesis last week, and now I wait for everything to be official.

Woo hoo!  At last, the long hours of reading scholarly journals and tweaking my APA citations is past. I'm so glad I've done all of that, it's finally cleared the way for...what was that, again?

At least so far, the biggest change I've experienced by finishing this degree program is that I'm not entirely sure what I should do with my spare time (not that I always used that time to study or write before, mind you, I just knew I should be doing that).  So two years and thousands of dollars later, I can say that I have precisely one extra (impending) piece of vellum to show for it.  Oh, and working about 30 less hours a week.  And one article that hasn't been picked up for publication.  And many more years of paying student loans.

Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed the degree program I just completed.  I was definitely challenged in ways that my undergrad music education lacked, and I have undoubtedly emerged a better teacher because of what I just did.  There's real value in that.  And I might be able to use this new academic credential to land some work in higher ed...maybe.  It may prove to be just another step on the way to one MORE piece of vellum, a few MORE years of student loan debt...but we're not thinking about that part just yet.  Right now, it's nice to have the degree, and it's very good to have had the philosophical, intellectual, and critical experiences of Boston University to shape me into a better music educator.

In the end, though, being at home so much more than being in a classroom does sort of attenuate those feelings of usefulness and excitement to teach.  I just spent two years and over $25K on a degree, and I'm a stay-at-home dad?  If someone else told me they were in that scenario, I might judge them.

As you can see, I have mixed feelings.  That's true about a great many things these days, so I guess it's fitting.  In practical terms, though, finishing this degree means I need to create more structure in my life, now that one element of structure has been removed.  Stay tuned for how that's going.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How to Make Your Baby Cheaper

Since I'm still neck-deep in thesis writing, Tori's made a guest post about what she does best (well, one of many things she does best): make money work better.

So, while I don’t have any interest in starting a second blog for our family, I told Tim that I would like to share ways that we had a baby without spending a ton of money. This helped to make it possible for Tim to work part-time and for me to take part of my maternity leave unpaid. Tim is by far the better writer, so be glad that he is sharing his thoughts most of the time. So before I add a few more run-on sentences and overuse words like “really” and smiley faces, a list of ways to save $ when you start a family:

  1. Start early. Once you know that you are pregnant, start planning. As is often the case, saving money will take time. The more time you have, the more flexibility you will have to bargain shop and make things yourself. The first step should be to decide what matters most to you. Maybe you really want a Coach diaper bag, a nice jogging strollera modern looking Pottery Barn crib or some nice video baby monitors. Similar to wedding planning, you need to decide what you want to spend on and where you are willing to be thrifty. If you are cheap like me, this is more about deciding what you need to have new and what you are willing to use second hand. The only things I required new were a car seat (for safety reasons) and a breast pump (gross).
  2. Review health insurance & maternity leave policy. Make sure during your open enrollment that you have the best insurance plan for a hospital stay and if you can, fund an FSA or HSA to be able to pay the difference. Just as a frame of reference, we had a pretty normal, two-day hospital experience and before insurance the bill was around $15k. This doesn’t include the 12 or so doctor’s appointments I went to during my pregnancy (ultrasound = xrays in cost). Also look into your maternity leave policy. I haven’t taken a long vacation since 2010 so that I would have about a month of vacation leave saved up after my 6 weeks of paid sick leave.
  3. Talk to other moms. More experienced people will tell you what they actually needed and used with their babies. They also may be able to give you these things if they no longer need them. I got most of my maternity clothes, a crib, a lot of Fiona’s clothes, baby gates, toys and some disposable diapers this way. This is free and in many cases doing families a favor because they don’t have all of this junk collecting dust in their house anymore.
  4. Free crib (thanks Teri!)
  5. Register. I found it helpful to go ahead and set up a registry early. That way you realize all of the things you will need, research the brands and types you prefer and can be on the lookout for sales and secondhand items. I ended up taking a lot of things off of my registry before I even had a shower planned. If you want to save your family money too, register on Amazon. It is the cheapest place to buy most things and you get free shipping on any purchases over $25. They also have a much larger variety of items than Target or Babysrus offer.
  6. Go to church yard sales. Churches usually have nurseries, preschools and in our case, just a lot of children. Church yard sales are a great place to buy baby things, especially the ones you aren’t sure will get a lot of use. We got a humidifier ($3), a Moby wrap ($5), a high chair ($5), a jogging stroller ($25) and a variety of clothing and books this way.  
  7. Repurpose furniture. Rather than buying nursery specific furniture, use dressers that you already own for your baby’s clothing and as a changing table. We got a nice set of dressers on craigslist for free and Tim stained them gray this summer. That way Fiona or one of our other children can use them for her entire life rather than replacing baby furniture in two years.
  8. Dresser/changing table
  9. DIY. In this era of etsy and pinterest, it is pretty easy to find some creative ideas with exact instructions on how to recreate these items for yourself. While that may up the pressure to have a theme party and a beautiful nursery, it also makes it pretty cheap to decorate. Tim & I made all of the decorations for our nursery. I also had several friends who offered to make artwork or even paint a mural, so if you aren’t crafty, you may have a friend who would be happy to give you something decorative in lieu of a shower gift. Same thing applies if you are good at knitting, sewing, etc.
  10. art by tori
  11. Breastfeed if you can. Formula is expensive. You can save as much as $3,000 a year in formula, plus decreased healthcare costs for baby and mother.
  12. Use cloth diapers if you are willing. Diapers are expensive and though cloth diapers are also expensive, they are reusable – and you can put them on your registry! I was pleasantly surprised that both Target and Babysrus had the Bumgenius diapers we were planning to use. You will save over $1000 if you use cloth diapers.
  13. BumGenius diapers that we use
  14. Don’t buy (full price) stuff before your showers. While the little clothes are tempting to purchase, resist the urge. You will be surprised by the generosity of family, friends and coworkers and you may end up with gift cards that you can use to buy registry items you still need.
  15. Fiona had more clothes than I do before she was born.
  16. Don’t buy many clothes for future seasons.  That cute 6-month summer bathing suit you bought isn’t going to be very useful when your chubby baby wears 12 month clothing by May. If you do buy clothes for the future, try to stick with onesies, one-piece pajamas, etc. that could be worn no matter what the season.
  17. Resell things. You may think that a baby bjorn is going to be the perfect way to carry your baby around while doing housework, but your baby may disagree. If you find that your baby hates the carrier, bottles, or bouncy seat that you bought, resell it on Ebay or Craigslist.
  18. Avoid pink & blue. If you want to have more kids, buy gender neutral things, especially the big ticket items. Our car seat and pack-n-play are grey, our nursery is green, our crib is white.

A few other things I'm planning to do in the future to save money include: 
  • Putting money into a daycare FSA so money spent on childcare is pretax. (Dominion has a program where you can put up to $2500 a year into this account. Check with your employer.)
  • Making my own baby food
  • Buy clothes at consignment stores. It is so easy to find baby clothes new with tags!

There are lots of other ways to save money, these are just a things few that we did. I would love to hear other ideas in the comments. I'm pretty sure that our kids will be glad they wore second hand clothes if it means that we can spend more time with them and maybe even pay for college. Also, for the record, babies only need food, warm clothing and a lot of love. They will never notice the rest of this crap.