Debt Busting March

debtslowbattle

2010 was a banner year in debt busting for us. It was epic.

In February of 2010 we were $81,607 in debt. By November of 2010 the number was down to $24,500. In eight months we paid off $57,107 in debt.

In the last four months we’ve paid off $3,108 and taken it down to $21,392.

It’s been S-L-O-W. Here’s a graph:

We knew it would be. I’m not working. We have a child in daycare twice a week.

The highs of paying off huge chunks of debt are gone. We’re in a bit of a funk. Sure, I’ve stopped buying anything from BabySteals or the crazy expensive stores in my neighborhood. But you can still spend money without coming home with a shopping bag.

We go to the movies once a week when we have a sitter (my mom). Most of the time we use coupons that we purchased using reward points. Sometimes we go to the theatre that we don’t have coupons for. And often we get snacks.

Chris and I work from home but sometimes that means a coffee shop. I stopped ordering the $6 Grande Lattes with extras over a year ago but drip or Americanos still run $2-$3. Most days I bring an apple and almonds to avoid the calories and dollars of the baked goods. But not always.

We’ve loosely set a weekly cash limit for each of us but haven’t held ourselves accountable to it. Chris often eats lunch out to get a break from the home office on long days. At least once a week I find some reason to have lunch out with Henry, often at Whole Foods because I am a sucker for their by the weight salad bar.

Meal planning has been hit and miss for me. When I am on it we do a good job eating at home and don’t waste food. When I am not on it we have Thai takeout and I visit the grocery store for a frozen pizza because I forgot to thaw a roast the night before.

It’s time to get serious.

This blog has connected me with some great people. Some are even local. One such new friend really inspired me when we met up the other week. She and her partner had resisted meal planning and limiting their casual spending for years. It had initially seemed un-fun and restricting. Things changed, they needed to watch their pennies, and now they like having a rotating meal plan. They like knowing what’s for dinner each week and what they need to buy at the grocery store. They’ve found freedom in planning and spending less.

I want that!

We’ll be pushing ourselves to stay on a budget this month. Here are the details:

Groceries: $500. Last month we spent $626.30 on groceries and I was a C+ on meal planning. We have enough Nespresso pods to make it through February and March and I also have groceries stocked for meals until this Friday. Sure, Chris is gone for 9 or 10 days but $500 is still going to be a challenge.

I want to get my fridge to look like Jo’s at the end of the week. This type of grocery planning isn’t for everyone but I think it could be for us. Just have what we use on hand and no more. For many reasons, I haven’t bought into  kid’s snack cracker/Cheerios packaged food stuffs. Henry doesn’t snack much, just eats at meal times with some milk/water in between. This isn’t just for his benefit: if there are crackers and such in our home I WILL EAT THEM. That’s right, I have no will power when it comes to Wheat Thins or Teddy Grahams or those super salty Gold Fish crackers.

So in an effort to get our cupboards down to zero I will be using up what’s there. I’ll be meal planning every week. When Chris is away I will eat my favourite frugal meals he isn’t partial too (salads!).

Casual spending: $100. Chris and I will each have $50 for socializing and whatever else we choose to spend $ on. This may seem like a lot but lately neither of us can stick to $20/week in this category. Last month I kept track and between some casual meals out and coffees and such, I spent $137. I’m planning on writing at the library and sneaking in tea or coffee from home.

*Date night: Our sitter (my mom) is away for half of the month and Chris is also on the road a bit. If we do get out we will use movie coupons and these are not included in our total.

Transportation: $100. We’ve barely spent on transport so far this year but we have a possible weekend trip this month.

Miscellany: $200. We have at least one family birthday dinner and a possible weekend away. If we do go out of town I want to use our grocery budget for eating on the road. Including any restaurant meals. Great motivation for ordering water and no appetizer.

I’ll be updating weekly on our progress.

It’s good to say goals out loud. Or blog about them. Accountability is a big part of goal setting.

Now, I need your help. What are your favourite ways to cut spending? I’m specifically in need of help in the areas of grocery/meal planning and casual coffees and meals out. Can you still be social if you decline the lunch meet-up? Do you think it’s rude to bring a snack with you to a coffee shop? Do you get arrested, or just kicked out, if they spot you drinking coffee at the library?

**If you missed it: great comments on my Friday post about baby-gear. Many thanks for all the excellent contributions. Also had a few on the Facebook page.

A Minimalist Guide to Baby Essentials

mmguidetoessentials

From reader, Katie:

We’re expecting our first baby this June and really struggling to find advice and guidance as to how to prepare for baby in a way that is minimalist and practical.  We are lucky to have generous and excited family and friends!  They are already asking regularly about what we need and where we’re registered.  We know they would love to purchase items for us, and would honestly appreciate their generosity from a financial standpoint.  However, we’re at a loss for how to proceed.

We’ve considered registering for the bare minimum – i.e. a crib, some clothes, a carrier or stroller of some sort and then just waiting to see what we actually need as time goes on.  However, I’m concerned that if we don’t register, or register for very little, we’ll receive tons of extra items we don’t need or want and still be left to purchase the “essentials” out of pocket.  On the other hand, I worry that if I try to anticipate our needs, and register for more, we’ll still end up with lots of extras to store, return or resell.

In short, we’d like to really think ahead and register for those things we’re likely to need over the next year.  However, we don’t want a house-full of Stuff to store unused either.  Any advice on how to approach preparing for baby with a minimalist mindset?  What are the true “must have” items and how soon is each needed?

First, thanks for emailing, Katie. And props to you for having a good mindset about baby items now. I spent a lot of $ on things we didn’t need or never used.

I also spent a lot of time looking for lists of what you really need. And they were all different. Each one espoused a different number of sleepers, what must have baby amusing toy the author’s child loved and promises that a stuffed seahorse that glowed and played tinny music would soothe any baby to sleep.

Lies, I tell you! All lies!

The bad news: there’s no one list. Every baby is different and will like different things.

The good news: you don’t have to buy it all.

I’m going to tell you what my must-haves were, what I wasted $ on and how to find out what your baby likes without cluttering your home or breaking the bank. I’m also revealing a baby shower/registry strategy that some may find tacky or rude.

Rachel and Henry’s must-haves for the first six months:

  • Baby Carrier: my baby cried. A lot. Unless he was in a carrier. We used a Moby type wrap for the first three months and have been using an Ergo carrier since. Both can be purchases second hand.
  • Dozen sleepers or onesies: don’t bother with outfits in the early months. I just frustrated myself trying to put tiny jeans on a seven week old baby. Full footed sleepers for winter babies, mostly onesies for hot summer newborns. Buy second hand or take hand-me-downs – they’ll get ruined anyways!
  • Dozen burp cloths: great clothing shields and in a pinch you can use a few as a blanket.
  • High backed chair: We breastfed and my back was a wreak after eight weeks of hunched over nursing in our soft living room chair. I caved and got a glider second hand on Craigslist but if you have the right kind of chair at home already don’t bother. High backed, firm with arm rests. And make sure you have a table next to it for your big glasses of water, book and snacks. *Nursing pillow: we had one, I used it a lot, but you could get away with a firm pillow instead.
  • The rest: yes, we had a lot of other things: breast pumps, a fancy stroller, bassinet stand for the stroller bassinet, swaddlers, four different types of pacifiers and bottles, the sleep sheep that promised to make my child sleep through the night, changing pads, cool modern crib, cute baby bath towels and wash cloths. But we could’ve done without all of it.

Our boy wouldn’t sleep in a bassinet or crib and mostly slept in his carrier during the day and our bed at night. Suggestion: research safe cosleeping before baby arrives, even if you think you won’t have your baby in your bed. Most moms I know said, just like me, that they would never bedshare but then ended up bedsharing during the early months.

Toys and soothing items were no match for being fed, having a dry diaper and being held.

I know, I know, you just want to get a list and get everything on it and be done. I wanted that too. But the lists and suggestions are never ending. Babies are needy, the first few months are stressful and beautiful and very tiring and you’re susceptible to any suggestion of a toy, swing or gadget that will bring peace.

Instead of what to buy, I have some strategies for you.

Slow down: try to slow life down a bit before baby arrives. Take the yoga class, get to your happy place and rip up long to-do lists. If you are taking maternity leave do not plan anything for that time. No home projects. Relax your cleaning standards. Accept any advance offers of food or help. If someone wants to clean your kitchen floors let them.

There will be a new rhythm to your home once this little person arrives. Fighting it will bring frustration and the clutter and wasted dollars of baby soothing paraphernalia. Accepting it will allow you to take that much needed afternoon nap, forget about vacuuming and find some patience when your three week old will only sleep on your chest.

Evaluate your lifestyle and home: what will your days look like in the first year? Will you need a stroller that can easily collapse into your car? Do you need a stroller you can grocery shop with? Is your home large and not baby friendly with lots of stairs? You might need a safe place to put your crawling/walking baby and a pack ‘n’ play might be the answer. Or baby gates.

Make friends: want to know what your baby likes before you buy it? Make friends with other pregnant ladies at a birthing class or prenatal fitness class. You’ll not only enjoy meeting up with your new mom friends once baby arrives, you’ll be able to – FOR FREE – find out what your baby likes. We had playdates at each others homes and let the babies try each others toys, exersaucers, bouncy chairs, etc. If your baby is loving the Jolly Jumper at a friend’s house you can easily pick one up from the buy and sell, a swap meet or Craigslist.

Borrow and Buy Second Hand: there are very few things I wouldn’t buy second hand for a baby. The exception is probably a car seat because you want to be sure it hasn’t been in an accident (I would buy or borrow second hand from people I know that could verify it was accident free).

Take a gander at your local buy and sell, Craigslist or Kijiiji, before you buy anything from a retailer. Most large plastic baby items go for pennies on the retail dollar second hand. One of my friends purchased an Exersaucer for her child for $25 on Craigslist, cleaned it up, and when they were done with it she sold it for $45.

Also note what brands have good resale value. Ergo baby carriers hold their value and will sell for 75% of retail second hand. Baby Bjorn carriers sell for 50% or less of retail. If you’re thinking about registering considering what will hold its value.

Register: go ahead and register for baby gifts. Make sure it is somewhere with a good return policy. Keep the things you know will be used – car seat, stroller – and return the rest for store credit. Hold onto your registry list and if you find you really need some of those things go back and buy them.

Some people may think returning gifts for store credit is rude or tacky. I don’t. Gifts are given with the intention of helping you and the baby. If the $60 swing is returned and you end of using the proceeds for diapers, the generosity of the gift is still felt. If you end up never needing to use your store credit, consider donating it to a charity. There are lots of parents out there that are having trouble paying for formula, baby food and diapers.

Tip: suggest experience gifts. If someone wants to pay for baby and me yoga, or infant massage classes, or a cleaner, let them. The money we spent on three visits from a cleaner and my twice a week Fit4Two classes were some of the good purchases we made.

Remember: our parents and grandparents grew up without all the toys, baby soothing devices and amusement centres we have today. They all eventually walked and talked and grew up to be fine adults. For all the fun battery operated toys my son receives as gifts, he is still quite content to play with plastic cups and bang the lids of pots and pans for amusement.

Want more tips for living with less stuff and stress with your newborn? My book, The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year: how to create time, money and space has helped thousands of families avoid the trap of too much stuff.

 

Project 333: dresses, button downs, accessories and wrap-up

Two years ago I had a lot of dresses in my closet. I preferred skirts and dresses for work mostly because I find pants are difficult for me to find. I’m six feet tall and wear a 12 or 14. I need a 34 – 36 inch inseam in jeans and dress pants. A size 14 off the rack fits my former rower thighs, is baggy at the waist and two to three inches too short in the legs. I know the recommendation is to buy big and then get items tailored.

The things is, if you’re going to spend the $ on tailoring you need to a) buy items of good quality and b) be a consistent size.

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Getting Over The Want: Part 1

Shopping

The bad news: all that work you put into getting rid of things in your home can be for naught. If you don’t halt the invasion of unnecessary items you’ll be back to stuffed closets and cluttered surfaces in no time.

The good news: you can beat this.

There are many ways to combat stuff. Right now I’m looking at the basics: why do we want it and how can we tame the want.

Because, make no mistake, I have a sparse closet but when I see the well dressed women of my ‘hood I notice what they’re wearing. I see the beautiful hand bags and boots and the perfect jeans. And I think about how I would feel in very expensive denim.

So how do you escape the want vortex? How do you resist the call and false promises of new and more?

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Minimalist Families: Erin’s Story

Erin has been kind enough to share her story – after I asked/begged her to – with us. Fun fact: Erin and I had already met a couple of times as we are both downtown cloth diapering moms who Craigslist (small world!) before we connected here. My blog was linked to somewhere, she followed it, took a closer look and then realized she knew me in-real-life!

Take a read, get inspired and know this: it’s not a life of deprivation. Erin and her beautiful boys are well dressed happy folk. They’ve just made some great decisions and habits that the rest of us can make too.

Thank you, Erin!

“Myself, my husband and my kids are all content with less, and I can’t imagine living any other way.”

When we got married in 2003, the closets in our 500 square foot rental condo were already bursting.  Later the same year, we moved into a brand new condo and brought all of our stuff with us.  Our beautiful new home was just over 800 square feet and had lots of closet space, more than enough room for the two of us.

However, within 2 years of being married and having a baby, we were very quickly becoming a cluttered household.  A lot of it was my doing – I loved the excitement of going shopping for baby clothes, toys and gear for my little one as much as I loved shopping for myself.  Fast forward another two years and we were expecting our second baby and still living in the same small condo, but with even more stuff.

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