Category Archives: cost of kids

Cost of Costco

If you had asked me prior to kids whether I would ever shop at Costco, I would have scoffed. In college I even wrote a paper reflecting on my thoughts of disbelief at the scale of consumption Costco enables and perpetuates. I couldn’t fathom that people would actually pay money to be a member of such a “sales” club. Who really needs a gallon of olive oil?!

I grew warmer to idea when I read an article about how they treat their workers, and how they are a liberal NW business. Yet, it was actually the diapers that sold us our membership. After getting a case of disposables as a gift, we were intrigued by the concept of being able to purchase staples every few months and then get our local organics delivered weekly. Very appealing indeed to a family who really rather do other things with our spare time than go shopping. Now that we use cloth, the diapers are no longer a draw and I’m thankful not to have to spend extra $40 every visit, but the case of baby wipes is still a must.

After three years as members, I’m beginning to question the true convenience and savings of Costco. 

  1. Because we try to go infrequently we end up blowing our monthly budget every time, although it does equal out over time as we don’t have to purchase items. Items average $10, so they add up very quickly!
  2. The nearest Costco is 22 miles round trip, although I do try to chain trips together.
  3. There are always temptations to buy more than your shopping list. My last splurges were new kiddie jammies and Easter dress, a case of wheat ale and organic Oregon wine, and some perennials. Extra price: $145.

Yep, I’ll admit it, neither very finaance nor eco-friendly. Are you a Costco member? 
Do you feel like your family really saves?

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

Official Gift Policy

I’ve got a touchy subject that I’ve been struggling with for a while now: How do you tell generous family members that enough stuff is enough?

In our house, my Mother is the gift fairy. Virtually every time she visits she comes bearing assorted gifts. They usually aren’t extravagant, and typically are things she thinks we “need.” My Mother has only the best of intentions, and is always very thoughtful in her gift giving. That’s the reason why it’s so difficult to put my foot down. I’ve tried again and again to set limits and we’ve made some progress, but there always seems to be some extra gift. 

Now to my Mother’s defense, she  understands our green values, and I give her all the credit in the world for teaching me these values. She actually lived off the grid for over a decade, and is currently leading a green school transformation. She doesn’t bring cheap plastic trinkets, and has never given something that was inappropriate or toxic. She knows our BigGuy is a bookworm and brings books on a regular basis, which he loves!  I’ve had discussion with Mama friends, and always try to justify it by knowing that there are plenty of Grandparents who are more egregious consumers and truly “spoil.”  Yet, we don’t want our kids to feel entitled to her gifts.

On a financial level, I feel guilty about her spendy money on us and would rather she save her money to retire earlier and spend more time with the kids! I also don’t have a clear picture of her retirement situation, and want to make sure that she is taking care of herself first. There’s also the larger issue is that it feels like she puts a lot of time, money, and emotional energy into her gift giving that could be better shared with our family in other ways. She is a wizard at sewing and crafts, and I would much rather she spend her extra energy on crafty expressions than shopping. And again to her defense, part of the reason this dynamic has presented itself is because she knows how infrequently I shop for things beyond groceries, and that I would truly rather spend my time in other ways.

So, even with attempts to set limits, we hit another wall after the holiday and birthday season. I’m sure you can picture the preschool meltdown surrounding a coveted book/CD set… Enough was enough, and Hubby promptly drafted our new family policy around gifts.

Official Gift Policy

  • We do not want our children to associate materials things with their loved ones.
  • We value quality time with loved ones over material goods.
  • Gifts do not equal love or can replace quality time and relationships.
  • Material goods create tension over time and resources, creates competition for attention, and exacerbates a culture of consumption.


1. Our family will not accept any more material gifts.
2. The only exception is one gift for Christmas.  

3. A family outing or experience-based gift would be welcomed for Birthdays.
4. Hand sewn gifts, used clothing and used books or supplies for craft projects are still welcomed, but need to based on a larger reward system for good deeds.
5. Any special circumstances must be discussed in advance of purchasing – big or small.

On a recent visit, I discussed our need for a moratorium on stuff in our household with my Mother. The discussion wasn’t easy, as I can feel the emotional energy she pours into each purchase. Once she buys things for us, it’s no longer mere stuff, but special gifts with meaning. I understand that they are a symbol of her love and affection and a way to connect between visits, but I have to listen to my gut. I know that we can create experiences and memories together that surpass the pleasures of stuff. It’s our only viable option for living in true sustainable abundance.

Are we being too strict?
What’s your family story with gifts?
Do you set limits? How?

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

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green

Reading is one of our favorite family activities, and as much as we love reading books over and over and over, it’s nice to keep things fresh.  Visiting your local library is really the best option for reuse and your wallet, although I do have to admit that I’ve had a few fines in my day. There are some classic books that you want to read year after year and I occasionally justify a new book, because could there ever be too many kids books in the world?!

As much fun as we have exploring, I always try to manage expectations by choosing our books in advance. I’m in the habit of placing holds at the library once a month, and tend to get books that relate to the current season or holiday. This is a must for us, because our local library branch is really small and as kids get older they want really specific books and you don’t want a trip to disappoint.

When we plan a special trip to the local bookstore (Powell’s in our case), I almost always prepurchase and then pick up in the store. Prepurchasing saves shipping costs, saves time and gives you more time to experience the trip together. I’ve also found that many of the sale books are in the warehouse (not bookstore shelves) and searching by price online makes it really easy to find great deals.

Here are some of our favorite “green” children’s books, most springtime ones:

All Time Favorites:

  The Carrot Seed
  The Flower Alphabet Book
  Jack’s Garden
  Planting a Rainbow
  The Gardener
  Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden

 This list goes on….I’ll continue to add to this list as the seasons go by.

What are your family favorites?

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 liners Bio-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?

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

“Second Mortgage” aka Child Care

I love our child care center, and adore the villagelike feel of giggly wee ones. I love to visit on breaks and be there when they have a boo-boo. I love the professional and friendly staff with their thoughtful infant curriculum and preschool pedagogy of constructivism. I love the art work and photos of their daily activities with captions about their learning (fine motor/communication). I love the smell of fresh baked granola bars and homemade soups, and the positive peer pressure to eat vegetables amongst kids. I love the field trips and friendships, and how children discover themselves by interacting with others.

Yet, every month when I first check my balance, I’m shocked to realize that half of my salary has been siphoned from my account via “tuition express.”  Somehow the automatic debit does numb the pain, since I don’t have to see the cash flowing from my hands. Before kids I could have never imagined paying almost $2k in tuition for an wobbler and preschooler. Actually come to think of it, that’s about how much money I was making in the non-profit sector.

I recognize that my complaint is privileged, since we can actually still make ends meet even with this “second mortgage.” And of course like all working families, we evaluated whether we could afford to fork over $24k annually for toddler/preschool tuition. Every family has their own financial threshold as well as personal preferences. In the end, our rationale was financial, parental and personal:
  1. Pay Our Family Bills – We both work full-time in order to pay our mortgage, household expenses and put organic food on the table. Theoretically our bills could be lower if we lived elsewhere, so it’s also a lifestyle choice.
  2. Graduate School Debt – My goal was to finish graduate school before starting a family. I was thrilled to announce that I was pregnant at graduation, but I was also deeply in debt, $60k.
  3. Long Term Net Loss – My Masters’ degree meant that my career was poised to advance. Even accounting for childcare costs, I’m fairly certain that if I had left my field for 5 years that my career would have suffered a long term net loss.
  4. I love my work – I’m fortunate enough to do work that I truly enjoy, and I couldn’t quite imagine my life without feeling a greater sense of community contribution.
  5. Early College Prep – Paying for quality care now may even be a better investment than college (at least they are only chugging milk and they aren’t ditching class!)
  6. Social & Emotional Development – Group child care provides an intuitive knowledge that cannot be taught by a single care giver. They know we love them deeply, but we can’t teach them to be friends. With two kids a nanny could be more slightly more affordable, but we prefer the group teaching setting.
  7. Location, location – While there are many factors that play into where your child should receive care, location is a big one. Located in my lobby, we pay a premium for this convenience.
  8. Light at the End – We’ll feel rich when we stop having to pay for child care, even though I know the costs just get redistributed to summer camps and activity fees. I’m hopeful that we’ll manage to gain some ground once they hit grade school.

What decisions have played into your child care choice? 
Do you have similar justifications or a differing view?

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