Monthly Archives: May 2010

Frugal Family Fun

In our household we’re always looking for frugal (and sustainable!) family fun, so I’ve had a few posts on the topic. But on the eve of a long holiday weekend with virtually no firm plans, here are some ideas I’ve been toying with:

  • Visit local kiddie amusement park with free petting zoo
  • Create a worm bin
  • Backyard play date
  • Plant seeds in the garden
  • Take a Portland Hill Walk
  • Help out at a new CSA farm around the corner
  • Relax, follow kids’ lead and just enjoy the moment

Personally, I think we adults often over-think things. The key is to keep things simple, take it outside and enjoy some time together.

I also sign up for a weekly email that includes inexpensive events around town. I wasn’t surprised to find another great blog on  Frugal Family Fun

What are your family’s favorite ways to have frugal fun?

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

Maxing Benefits

If you are fortunate enough to be employed with benefits, now is the time of year for annual enrollment. While beneficial in theory, actually making the most of your benefits can feel like a daunting propositions. There’s a bureaucratic learning curve at the very least.

First, you may have different health plans to compare…which spouse’s plan is best for your family finances? What are the co-pays and deductibles? How much will that add to your monthly expenses? What’s the minimum out-of-pocket and maximum?

Next, you have to learn the acronym lingo for tax free spending accounts: 

  • FSA – Flexible Spending Account
  • MERP – Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan
  • DCAP – Dependent Care Assistance Plan
The use-it or loose-it nature of the FSA program presents a fortune-telling conundrum of choosing how much to contribute. For families one of the big questions is, will you have a new baby in next year? This is especially challenging for family’s planning, but not yet pregnant. With our Girly, we were newly pregnant when we enrolled in benefits, and maxed them out assuming that we would have another hospital birth. When we opted to plan a home birth, it turn out that I had to find creative ways to spend almost $4k on medical needs. I was very happy to learn postpartum massages were covered!

There are a couple of new things this year. Come January, most over-the-counter drugs and medical supplies will no longer be reimbursed. This is going to be a big change for us, since we currently use this kitty for everything from diaper creme to sunscreen.

Another new change to my program got me pretty excited…you know those Windows invention commercials that show ordinary people with their super model double claiming brilliance for various ideas? Well, I’ve been saying for years that I wish there was a way to issue a FSA debit card and not have to waste a lot of time and energy submitting claims. Apparently someone listened, because I’ll soon have my very own Benefits MasterCard to use at the doctor and pharmacy. Brilliant, not that I can take any credit. 

For the dependent care plan you’ll note that it’s only “assistance” not reimbursement for child care. The maximum allowance is $5k per year, $208.33 per pay period and we can only dream of the day when we no longer need to siphon so much for our paycheck for child care. I’ve heard from Mamas with older kids to keep in mind that summer camps can get quite expensive, and as long as they aren’t overnight they can be reimbursed. Although this can be a little hard to predict a year ahead.

Have you been successful in maximizing your benefits?
What are your strategies?

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

Grocery List: Apples v. Oranges

Family grocery shopping always feel like a paradox. You want to save money, but stock up. You want to buy quality without going in debt.

Lately I’ve grown very used to our organic grocery delivery from Spud , and enjoy spending my precious time any place but the check out line with kids! We’ve also been saving a lot. The minimum delivery is for $33, and most weeks our order is under $40. Before every time I hit the store I was dropping $60-80, often more just to stock up.

A family cannot survive on greens along though. Once I realized that we were out of cereal, lunch fixings, and dog food , I knew where my afternoon was going to be spent: Costco .

A Green Mama friend of mine shared a hilarious and insightful article about Costco from Family Circle. I love how he describes the psychology of the store layout, and how it is simultaneously intended to make you feel like an entitled consumer and financially inadequate. There are also several wonderful tips to make sure that you actually save your family money and don’t end up with a whole bunch of stuff you don’t need.

What’s your experience on saving money with home delivery or buying in bulk?

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

Swap Mamas

As any modern American parent knows, kids come with a whole lot of stuff. While we have tried to keep our consumption in check, there is the simple fact that these little people need a whole lot of stuff!

We’ve tried to share the wealth. Instead of having everything collect dust between children, we lent out our co-sleeper, bouncy, boppy, exersaucer….out to new-parent friends. They were eternally grateful, and we felt like the favor was mutual: less stuff = greener planet.

With our Girly in wobbler-hood I’ve been thinking about all this stuff in our basement again. I even started a Google Doc to share with my local Mama friends, but the problem is that most of them are already Mamas and have duplicates of the same gadgets themselves. 

I was elated to finally find a mama bartering community online, Swap Mamas. It keeps tabs on how much “Swap Karma” you’ve earned by giving, swapping or getting. I love that!

I’ve been saving much of my stuff with the hope of my Twin Sis finally settling down from her African safari-like career, but I think I may just save a few special items and figure that when it’s her time she’ll just have to join the swap community! (Hint, hint sis 😉

Have you tried swapping your kid stuff?
Has it saved your family money?

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

Get a Financial Life

You may be surprised (or not) to learn that Hubby doesn’t actually read my posts on a daily basis. But after five months of hearing my “tip-tapping” almost every evening, he’s grown supportive on this blog endeavor. I’m pretty sure it’s because he has seen how committed I am to reaching our family’s financial goals and making sustainable progress. He’ll be the first to say that we continue to make our mistakes, but the important part is that we are learning and sharing about it.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when Hubby found me a resource book at the library,  Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties. Yes, it does date us, but I am still in my early thirties whereas Hubby as entered his fourth decade. Even though much of this book covers the financial basics, it is gratifying to realize that we actually have been doing more right than wrong with our finances. I’ll share my thoughts on the financial advice outlined in the handy crib notes section:

  1. Insure yourself – We’ve made a point of building professions in fields that offer ample health care, and in fact I get $62.50 a month to opt out of double coverage.
  2. Pay off your debt – Aside from using credit cards to earn points and miles, we’ve never had credit card debt beyond the monthly balance. It’s not as hard as it seems – just don’t buy things you can’t afford – if you haven’t seen it, check out the hilarious SNL skit.
  3. Contribute to a retirement savings plan – We both take advantage of our employer retirement plans. Although we admittedly both really hit our professional stride in our early thirties, so we weren’t the ideal financial early birds.
  4. Build an emergency cushion – Our emergency fund has teetered over the years, depending on various needs. It certainly took drastic dips with each house purchase, but we’ve managed to achieve our goal of rebuilding by saving our tax refund.
  5. Consider investing in stocks and bonds – We’re not there yet, not a stock or bond to our name. Although I do have my eye on Portfolio 21.
  6. Find out your credit score and improve it – Our credit scores has almost always been gleaming, but there was one slip up…you know those clothing store credit cards, they’re pretty easy to forget about, especially when you move. Just make sure you limit them (preferably eliminate, because too many cards can lower your score) and you won’t have to learn the hard way.
  7. Think about buying a house – We’re on our second house, and thankfully managed a smooth transition between an ideal starter house and our dream family home. It did take sacrifice, and we were probably able to buy them by virtue of not spending our extra cash on too much much stuff. You also have to keep in mind that houses are a big responsibility to maintain, so make sure you’re ready to do the work or have the funds to hire professionals.

In conclusion, this post makes us feel very grown up…a.k.a. old.

What are your experiences with these financial tips?

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