Monthly Archives: January 2010

Green Birthday Celebrations

Consumption and overspending need not be part of your family birthday tradition.

Birthdays are definitely cause for celebration, but in many ways the American norm has gone over the top. While birthdays can be celebrated in a gazillion ways, there seems to be one commonality: decadent consumption.

I’ve read articles about some of the extreme one-upmanship that parents can play into, and how often parties are thrown without even talking with the child about what they want. I remember going to a kid’s party prior to becoming a parent where all the kids brought a toy as a gift, and in the end the child was totally overwhelmed by about a dozen plastic gadgets. The birthday was in September, and I calculated that if the child played with each toy for one week until Christmas that they still wouldn’t have played with them all! And really in the scheme of things, this was a pretty average birthday for a middle-class American child (key word: American.)

Then there are the obligatory gifts bags for all the kids, often filled with cheap plastic things made in China. At one party, the gift bag had a plastic spinning top that lit up as it bounced, and within about 5 minutes the top came off and I discovered a mercury disposal warning inside! I was dismayed, but knew that the Mama of the birthday girl had only wanted to see the kids smile.

We can choose to celebrate in meaningful, simple, and fun ways. Others have already written creative Planet Friendly Party Tips, so I won’t repeat ever idea under the sun here. But I would like to share what I’m doing for BigGuy’s 4th Birthday Party:

  • Party invite printed on reused office paper – 4 invites to 1 sheet
  • In lieu of a gift, kids will bring a book to exchange (I actually got lucky on this one, because it happens to be the norm for the whole preschool)
  • BigGuy has recently been inspired by rocket ships, and we’ll be making some out of reused poster tubes and other reused materials
  • Serve guests on durable plates (combo of bamboo and plastic) that we bought for previous gatherings – no need to buy more! Eat from real silverware.
  • BigGuy’s gifts will likely last him several years (and be enjoyed by Girly): U.S. map floor puzzle and a fishing pole fish kite for trips to the beach
  • We’ll do something special as a family to celebrate too, by going to a new space exhibit at our local kid’s science museum

I will also note that this is also BigGuy’s first “class” party (only boys at his insistence!). His first two years we celebrated as a family and last year’s small party was as much a chance to show off our new Girly, since she was just six days fresh. In future years I plan to take the lead from the EnviroMom bloggers and celebrate through other creative and experiential ways. Growing up as a twin, my mom chose to throw us big parties only at milestone ages: 6, 10, 13, 16, 18. On the in between years we could each have a friend for a sleepover, which I recall being just as much fun as the big parties. Another childhood friend had a birthday in the winter, and we did a beach party together for their 1/2 birthday (which was our true birthday.)

The key is to talk as a family about how you would like to celebrate. Set clear expectations to make sure that the no-party options isn’t seen as a punishment, but just a unique way to celebrate a unique person.

Happy Birthday/UnBirthday to you!

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

Saving Early

It’s birthday season in our family, with Girly’s 1st on Monday, and BigGuy’s 4th this Sunday.

We have a generous family, and every year we receive birthday cards with loving notes and checks included. For now these pieces of paper seem inconsequential to our children, even as the cards bring them great joy (BigGuy has actually being playing with his spaceship card every night this week!)

Up until this year I’ve always found some thoughtful way to spend the money, usually new shoes or a family outing. But this year, in light of my newfound financial focus (and my gainful employment), I am ready to start saving their birthday money.

You might wonder how much would $100 actually grow in interest by the time our kiddos fly the coup? According to Suze Orman’s Compound Interest Calculator, if I started with $100 and added $10 a month at 2% for 17 years, Girly would have over $2500!!

To us adults with mortgages and bills, this may seem like relative chump change. But imagine back to when you graduated from high school, and how exciting it would be get this type of cash. I also want to be clear that while I do plan on saving for our children’s college (soon!), this account will not be earmarked for education per se. It will be up to them to decide how they want to spend it when they come of age, whether that ends up being travel or rental deposit; it will be their fund for start adulthood.

I’m going to take a nod from my money savvy sis and open a new SmartyPig account for them which will earn 2.01%. SmartyPig has a fun social function to it too, so you’ll be able to see how full the pig bank grows as our kiddos grow. And while the Grandparents and Great-Grandparents aren’t big Facebookers, they may get a kick out of seeing their money saved rather than squandered.

So, if you’re lucky enough to not need gift money for the essentials, comment below to make the pledge that you’ll open a savings account at your child’s next birthday!

This birthday month has helped me focus on how we really want to celebrate, and I’ll share more on that topic tomorrow.

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

You Win Some You Lose Some

Some days don’t go as planned and you just have to make it up as you go. The past few days have been like that for me. Instead of being healthy and happy for Girly’s big 1st, three of the four of us were feeling green, and not the good kind.

Lose – I found out that the email sign-up was accidently misdirected! So, if waisted a moment of your life trying to sign up, I profusely apologize. Please give me another moment by signing up!

Win – Once I was feeling remotely better, I managed to get together donations to drop off at the Goodwill.

Lose – I realized that most of my cast-offs were generous freebie offerings from family members, and I need to do a better job of politely saying no.

Win – I made a few score finds at the Goodwill, including a pair of cute Girly jeans, two Berenstain Bear books for BigGuy, a National Park to-go coffee mug for Hubby, and a cute purple checkered blouse for myself.

Lose – I caved on emotional purchase, and couldn’t help myself from buying the original Parent Trap 1 & 2; as a twin, it’s one of my favorite childhood movies.

Win – Both Oregon ballot measures 66 & 67 that I shared in Green Taxes, passed overwhelming!

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

Green Taxes

Today in Oregon, we have an important vote on whether to increase taxes for household incomes of over $250,000 (affecting only 3% of Oregonians) and eliminate income taxes on unemployment benefits (affecting a whooping 270,000 jobless Oregonians). The second ballot measure would raise the minimum business tax from a 1931 rate of $10 to a sliding scale of 1/10 of 1% of Oregon sales. You may ask, why raise taxes in a recession? Exactly, this would help fill a severe funding gap due to a drastic downturn in household incomes and generated income taxes. For obvious reasons, I am in favor of funding public schools and providing basic services to those in need. 

Yet, contrary to my Republican Hubby’s belief, I am not a thoughtless “tax and spend liberal.” I’m not voting yes just because we aren’t in this tax bracket. I agree that this vote is just a Band-Aid approach. 

As a kid, I remember being happy that we didn’t have a statewide sales tax; only having to calculate it when visiting family in California. But despite the convenience, I’ve come to realize that we desperately need statewide (and national) tax reform.

  • Eliminate Income Taxes – Why tax people’s livelihoods?
  • Carbon Taxes – Let’s tax our carbon impact
  • Sliding Scale – Even FDR agreed “Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay.”
A new green tax system would help reduce environmental impacts without hindering our economic productivity. I think the deeper impact would be psychological, as more families would really contemplate the power of their wallet on the planet.

How would you like to see our taxes shift?

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

Birthing Business

Today is my Girly’s 1st Birthday! As any Mama, this day brings my mind back to place she was born. In our case, that means her bedroom. We planned a home birth, with medical support from a professional midwifery clinic.  

We had a successful hospital birth with our BigGuy, and full health insurance. So, our decision wasn’t necessarily a monetary one, but it did save us a whole lot of cash . All costs were fully covered by our health insurance, including the birth tub and birth kit bought online. I certainly don’t advocate for considering a home birth based on finances alone, but it is a safe alternative to hospitalization. Here’s an interesting article from Fit Pregnancy about Better births, lower costs.

I was inspired by the eye-opening documentary “ The Business of Being Born .”
I had considered myself to be fairly well educated, but
this film made me realize just how the obstetrics industry has been stripping mothers of our right to birth naturally . Statistically, only 1 in 100 American babies are born at home. Yet, 1 in 4 American babies now come by Cesarean surgery and the majority of mothers/babies are sedated by drugs at birth. I feel very lucky that my first hospital birth had minimal interventions and no drugs. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Before I go any further, I want to say that  hospitals are amazing places for high risk pregnancies, where  moms and babies need medical support . In an emergency, I would not have hesitated being transferred and fully appreciate modern medicine.

My top 10 reasons for having a home birth:

  1. Safe – with prenatal care, contingency plans, and professional home birth equipment
  2. Sustainable – minimal carbon footprint
  3. Inexpensive – even with insurance, our first birth cost a few thousand dollars
  4. Comfortable – the comforts of home, even if birth isn’t
  5. Family-friendly – our son announced that she was a girl; our closest family was there
  6. Thoughtful – professional midwives prepare clients with extensive knowledge
  7. Playful – music and water helps relax and energize between contractions
  8. Empowering – you make healthy decisions to benefit you and your baby
  9. Free High – you may not get drugs at home, but the birth “high” is incredible
  10. Home healing – being at home to heal with postnatal visits for baby and mom

If you or someone you know is considering home birth, I’d like to offer up these resources:

My last two cents on the subject: birth is a natural process that has been going on since our beginning; having faith in this mysterious process has helped us endure and succeed. Plus, home is where the heart is, where families grow, and dreams are born.

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