Manage Your Money Challenge

I’m excited to share with you a family finance challenge for March called the Manage Your Money Challenge that is being done by the Enemy of Debt blog.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled over the years trying to make sure all our bills are paid at the right time. Life is easier now that so many of our bills are paid automatically, but keeping track of when everything is paid still boggles my mind a bit.


The challenge promotes at a calendar-based budgeting system called pocketsmith, and offers a free trial of the program. After a month I’ll let you know what I think. If you check it out, let us know what your thoughts are.


Do have a good system for tracking when your bills are paid? 
Are you going to give pocketsmith a try?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Addicted to Saving

I’m officially addicted to Groupons. I’ve never been much of coupon lady, since they mostly seem to expire or get lost when I need them! Yet Groupons are different.

I was skeptical at first, but I’m a true convert.  Through collective buying power, they are able to offer you steep discounts for local restaurants and services. You get an email of the daily Groupon, most discounts are over 50% of the regular prices. I truly love them because there are great deals at local places and services where I go already, so no driving to the burbs for a bargain!

Here’s what I’ve bought so far:

  • $45 haircut or mani/pedi at a new salon, Strut Salon, just two blocks from my house (paid $20)
  • $50 organic grocery delivery from Spud! (paid $25) – A service I’ve used for years
  • $70 at a favorite swank place, Chameleon, where I’ve met with Mama friends before. My friends bought too so now we’ll plan a night out! (paid $30 for 2 Groupons)
  • $25 for delicious pizza in our old neighborhood, Pizza Fino. I emailed a friend and she bought 2 Groupons, now we’re going to reconnect! ($12)
  • $30 at a pizza place haven’t tried, Bella Faccia Pizzeria. A colleague saw the Groupon and her husband loves their East Coast pizza, maybe we’ll meet up too! (paid $14 for 2 Groupons)

If you don’t get what all the excitement is about, check out a little video about how Groupon works:


Learn How Groupon Works! from The Point on Vimeo.

I didn’t realize that you only get the deal if enough people buy, but that hasn’t been a problem so far. It’s been super popular in Portland and my new local salon sold over 700 haircuts/mani-pedis at $20 in 7 hours! The minimum for the deal was 50, and I can guarantee you that this small local spa has never seen such sales in one day. While obviously people will use their Groupons over time, it will also likely bring them many return customers.


Plus, in addition to all of the other fabulousness of Groupon, they also offer a great $10 referral deal.  That means that I’ll get $10 for each of you who sign up through my referral link, and you’ll in turn get the same when you pay it forward to your friends.

Have you used Groupon yet? Any fun stories?

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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Diaper Duty


Diaper duty comes with the tasks of parenting. It’s a resource incentive chore in all regards costing time and money, while impacting the environment.


Funny enough, I was dissuaded from trying cloth the first round from another green Mama friend who had been overwhelmed by them with her new born (If you’re intimidated, plan to wait a few weeks or until they clearly fit). In my experience, once you’ve got a routine down cloth is pretty simple and worth the extra effort.


I love the fact that I can now go to Costco without throwing away another $50. BumGenius claims that you can save up to $1,200 and 1 ton of landfill waste.


In our family we’ve tried several different methods, so I’ll share a bit about our experience (Round 1 = BigGuy, Round 2 = Girly):


Round 1 

  • G-Diapers – We bought from the first batch of G-Diapers to hit the market (which is a hybrid of cloth and a flushable/disposable insert). We had mixed results regarding leaks and blow-outs, but used them most of the time for the first three months. Unfortunately, they weren’t kind to our vintage toilet and after a $200 plumbing bill on a Sunday, we decided to take the plumbers advice and not risk replacing our toilet in an effort to be “green.” 
  • Seventh Generation Diapers – When the G-Diaper cloth shells were soiled we used 7th G brand diapers. We were really pleased with how they functioned. (I just heard that 7th G has reduced online prices for bulk purchases.)
  • Kirkland Diapers (aka Costco) – After a year of trying to do the “right” thing, economic reality set in for us. I was between jobs and we bought a case of generic diapers at Costco. This led us to buy a membership and sprint toward potty-training.

Round 2


Cloth Diapers – Partly because we felt we had sold out, and partly because our (then) child care center offered a free cloth diaper service, we chose to try out cloth diapers when Girly was born.

  • Cloth diapers have become advanced technology these days, and I think you’d be surprised by the options and how great they work. The fact of the matter is that blow-outs happen, and I’d say they are pretty even on that ranking.
  • All-in-one cloth “pocket” diapers – Cloth diapers first got a bad rep because they didn’t work well at night and often leaked, but these diapers are super soft and fleecy and work terrific as night diapers. Even if you only used them at night, if your child was potty trained by 2 1/2, you’d still save almost a thousand disposable diapers! They are spendy up front, around $15-20 and I’ve bought some on Craigslist and at resale shops. Plus, they are designed to fit from size small to large, so they are worth the cost. These are my favorite brands: BumGenius, Fuzzibunz, HappyHeinys.
  • Wraps Thirsties is the best diaper cover I’ve found, partly because they have a new “duo” line that makes it so you don’t have to buy sm/md/large. They function really well, and once solids were introduced, we can usually use just one wrap per day (yes, changing the cloth regularly!) I like Bummis too, they even has swim diapers and training pants, which are super expensive as disposables!
  • G-Diapers – Even though the flushables did work for us, we did use the cloth diaper portion with cloth liners with good results. My Mom even made fleece inserts that worked great. This was definitely more affordable than the flushable inserts too.
  • Flushable linersBio-liners collect all the solids and can be flushed down the toilet. These are the secret weapon for poopy diapers!   

Random Cloth Diaper Notes:

  • I bought enough diapers so I only do 2 loads of diapers per week
  • My “diaper pails” consist of airtight plastic tubs. I have a big one next to the laundry and two smaller ones that I transport a day’s worth of diapers from the bedroom and childcare. They really are airtight and smells open briefly when you open (remember that disposables stink too!)
  • At 8 months my Girly started at a childcare without a diaper service. I carry a tote bag with a small plastic tub. It’s not very heavy my BigGuy even helps carry it to the bus sometimes. The hardest part is the one mid-week laundry load, but now that I have my routine it’s pretty easy to manage. While not the norm, the childcare teachers have been open to learning the new routine and respect my choice.
  • Buy Larger Clothes – If you opt for cloth, remember that clothes are now sized for disposables, so figure that your child will use a size bigger than expected.   
  • Less Trash, but More water/power – Cloth diapers have helped us with our one garbage can per month service. We also have an efficient washer and dryer that helps keep the water/electricity impacts and cost down.

If you want to read more, the best post I read was from a Dad’s perspective on CashMoneyLife, it was just written and he’s a big fan of cloth. There’s also a bit of discussion taking place on the EnviroMom blog. Consumer Reports, and Labor of Love blogs have some decent pro/con lists to consider, although some of the cons against cloth diapers are outmoded, like diaper pins. Thankfully, diaper pins are a thing of the past, I used them as a babysitter and there isn’t much harder than trying to not poke a wriggly baby!


Have you used cloth diapers? 
Do you have any tips?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Receipt Shuffling

I’m so tired of shuffling receipts. It’s both a big waste of paper and colossal waste of energy.


One of the reasons why I look forward to completing our bank account merger is because I’m dog tired of fumbling crumpled paper to update our budget. Our current system consists of me checking my accounts online to update my half of the budget and then going through a stack of Hubby’s receipts for the half (and assuming that everything else is on auto-pilot). It’s time consuming, and surely causes errors. Plus, Hubby is always teasing me about having a “George Costanza wallet” with receipts spilling out.


Once we finally have everything in one place, I’ll be able to  update everything from the computer without having to organize and subtotal each line item of receipts. Our new system will be to file away any long term household purchase receipts/info, tally up cash purchases by receipt, and then recycle the rest. Hopefully there will soon be more places that will ask you if you want a receipt. Each time I’m able to say “no thank you” it feels like a little victory.


If you’re tired of receipts, you can sign an online petition asking retailers to limit receipts. According to AllEtronic “600,000 tons of thermal receipt paper used by stores each year. It takes 15 trees, 19,000 gallons of water, and 390 gallons of oil to make a ton of paper.” If you use these numbers, it would mean that 9 million trees, 11,400,000,000 gallons of water and 234 million gallons of gasoline. Wow, I really never realized how much all those small pieces of paper add up!
 
Do you avoid receipts? Reuse them? Anything creative?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Solar Savings

I’ve always been hopeful for the day when solar energy would be affordable for my family and no longer be considered an “alternative” to coal generated power. I was totally psyched when I found out about an effort to purchase solar panels in “bulk” through my neighborhood organization dubbed Solarize NE (Portland that is…here’s the Oregonian article). It’s very much a DIY effort and there are a series of workshops to inform residents about net metering and other solar lingo.


Through a bulk purchase, residents can expect a 25% discount and when you tack on tax incentives, a 3-kilowatt system would cost you about $3500. Depending on the system you install, you could have a return on your investment in just a couple years. Tax incentives can vary by state, but you can save up to 80%! Interestingly, I just happened across an article about how solar energy has become so widespread in California that there is a legislative bill trying to put a cap on net metering (solar energy sold back to the utility.) This would be a big disincentive for families looking to save money and live green. Alas, most parts of the country don’t have this problem yet.


I met for my home consultation with the Energy Trust rep this past Friday (on my Flex Day) Our meeting turned out to be pretty brief, because it turns out that roof simply doesn’t work with current solar panels (the Victorian style is a hipped gambrel roof with multiple steep angles). I was told that you need at least 200 square feet minimum for a cost-effective solar system. It’s really too bad. She calculated that after state/federal tax incentives, a 2.5 kw system would cost us only $1,788. 

The silver lining is that she still thinks that a solar water heating system might fit on our small roof angles. There are also incentives water heating systems, since they typically suck 14-25% or your household energy use. An electric system saves 1,800-3,000 kWh/year, and would save you $150-300 in energy costs per year. With current incentives and credits the return on investment would be about 10 years. I’d obviously want to look into the specifics of our household bill to make sure these estimates match, but it could be worth looking into.

Has your family looked into solar savings? 

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Sustainable Family Finances  The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.