Monthly Archives: October 2014

10 Ways for New Parents to Save Money

piggy bank

Finding out that you are expecting a baby is one of the most exciting and happy events in life! And even when you find out how much this little bundle of joy is going to cost you—the average cost of raising a child is about $245,000—it is still worth it because nothing compares to holding that sweet little baby in your arms. There are some things that you can do though, to save a bit of money:

1. Don’t buy a diaper bag. You won’t need to buy a diaper bag. Seriously, you won’t. Diaper bags can be very expensive, usually starting at about $30 and ranging up to several hundred dollars! And trust me, if you buy one, you are going to be sorry that you wasted your money. There are several places that will actually give you a diaper bag for FREE:

  • your obstetrician’s office often has free diaper bags (with formula samples inside!)
  • vendors at baby fairs hand out diaper bags, among other samples
  • the hospital also gives out free diaper bags and other samples

I learned about all of these free diaper bags after I had already purchases a diaper bag, which I ended up not liking as much as the free ones! If the doctor’s office or hospital are busy or forget to offer these to you, make sure you ask for samples, coupons, or a diaper bag.

2. Don’t stock up on diapers. Ok, if you are a planner, like me, this one is going to be tough. Yes, you will need some diapers to get you started the first few weeks, but don’t buy a bunch of size 1 and 2 diapers until you see what works best for you and your baby. Some brands of diapers that my friends said worked so well for them—never had a leaky diaper—just didn’t prove to be the same experience for me and my baby. You will probably want to test out a few brands until you see what works for you the best, and trust me, it isn’t always the name brand, sometimes store brands are just as good (maybe even better!).

3. Don’t stock up on formula either. Start out using just one type of formula, don’t test these out initially. But you should not buy several bulk cases of it until you know that your baby will be ok with it. You don’t want to find out that you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on a formula that your baby won’t be able to use because of lactose intolerance or acid reflux.

4. Sign up for baby food, formula, and diaper coupons. You can sign up for these easily online. Some of the main ones to check out: Pampers, Huggies, Similac, Gerber

5. Sign up for store rewards programs. Many stores offer rewards programs, such as Babies’ R Us. You earn points for each dollar spent that will earn you coupons for future use in the store, so you can save money on future purchases for your little one! You may also notice codes on products that you buy, such as Huggies and Pampers. Those points can be entered online to earn items, such as a free photobook from Shutterfly!

6. Use cloth diapers. If you really want to save money on diapers, you may want to opt for cloth diapers. Of course, there are some up-front costs for this, but considering that in one month’s time, a newborn will go through about 300 diaper changes (a bigger baby will probably use about 150 diapers a month), you will probably end up spending about $35-75 per month on disposable diapers!

7. Choose breast milk over formula. If you choose to nurse your baby, you will be taking advantage of a free source of food! Besides the antibodies and health benefits to your child, the money savings are a very nice benefit.

8. Use store apps or price matching. It can take a bit of planning to search for sale items ahead of time, but many stores will give you discounts on baby items. Target has created the “Cartwheel” application for smartphones, which offers different discount on items each week. You can typically save 5-10% on store brand baby items, including diapers, wipes, and baby food. Another great way to save is to price match; stores such as Walmart will accept competitor ads on any item in there store, including name brand baby products.

9. Utilize a flex spending account for medical bills or childcare. If your employer offers a Flex Spending account, take advantage of it for medical expenses or childcare for your baby. Money comes out of your paycheck, pre-tax—so you will reduce the amount of taxes withheld from each check, which will increase your spendable cash each month!  You should be able to find several free income tax calculators online that can take the guesswork out of the entire process.

10. Buy gender neutral items. As tempting as it is to run out and buy everything blue that you see as soon as you find out that you’re having a boy, try to restrain yourself if you plan on having more than one child. It can be very expensive to purchase everything that you will need for a baby when you are expecting your first child… and it doesn’t get any cheaper if you need to replace all of these items when your second child is a girl. Items such as strollers, receiving blankets, sleepers, even nursery decorations, can be gender neutral so that they could work whether you have a boy or girl. A little thinking ahead can save you big bucks!

Tips for Planning a Baby Shower on a Budget

Here are some great money-saving ideas for throwing a fabulous baby shower on a budget from Guest Author: Kimberly McLeod, Creator of Life is a Lullaby

A few weeks ago I threw my best friend a baby shower. If you haven’t checked out the details, you can view it here: This Little Piggy Baby Shower.

Throwing a party is never a cheap undertaking, but you don’t have to break the ‘piggy’ bank doing it.

Here are a few tips to save money when planning a baby shower.

5 Tips for Planning a Baby Shower on a Budget

1. Make your own invitations. You can easily invite all the guests via email these days (unless it’s your grandma who doesn’t have a computer – in that case, you may need to do one hand written). I like paperless post. They have a lot of free options to choose from and you can easily see who has RSVP’d. Another option is to create the invitation on the computer and email it out. Finally, if you want to mail out invitations – there’s still a way to save. There are a lot of free baby shower invitations online that you can customize or print off.

Here’s a really unique and fun idea from Oh Happy Day:

Invitation in a Box // Oh Happy DayInvitation in a Box // Oh Happy Day

2. Cook your own food. Getting catering can almost double or triple your costs. Yes it takes more work to make the food yourself, but you’ll save a TON and people will appreciate it more because you made it from scratch. Guests may also offer to bring something. Take them up on this offer if you don’t feel like you can handle it all yourself! Ask another friend to help you on the day of also. Getting a few other friends to bring some appetizers or punch can really help with the cost. I like to serve buffet style that way you can arrange all the appetizers on a table. Cold cuts or egg and tuna sandwiches are always a favourite and usually cost friendly & easy to make.

3. Create your own games. Don’t waste money purchasing special cards or papers for games. There are thousands of ideas for games that don’t cost a thing to do but are still fun!

Here are a few low cost game ideas:

  • Guess the weight of the mom & dad to be when they were born
  • The person with the closest birthday to the due date wins a prize
  • Guess the size of the belly using ribbon
  • Guess that baby song/celebrity baby etc
  • Wishes for baby – guests write out 2-3 wishes for the baby and the mom to be gets to take this home with her

4. Craft the decorations yourself. You can create your own DIY diaper bouquets, tassels, garlands, and pom poms and they can look fantastic!

Here are some tutorials on how to make some DIY decorations:

How to make your own…

Diaper bouquet // Life is a Lullaby

Tassels // Little Mommy Nest
tassel

Easy Streamer Garland // Oh Happy Day

Fringey Streamers // Oh Happy Day
streamers1

Pom Poms // Two Twenty One

5. Get Free Printables for the Finishing Touch. You can find a lot of free printables online that you can create to make cupcake toppers, the invitation etc. Just google your theme and “free printables” and you’ll be surprised what you might find. I threw a ‘This Little Piggy” shower-theme and snagged these free printables from Lil Luna.

Here are a few baby shower free sets from Pottery Barn Kids:

Bundle of Bots // Pottery Barn Kids
bots-templates

Pink or Blue // Pottery Barn Kids
pink-or-blue-templates

Guest Author: Kimberly McLeod

Life is a Lullaby

Kimberly is a new mom, a wife, a marketer, and a curator of ideas. Let Life is a Lullaby inspire your everyday dreams! You can follow Kimberly on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Budgeting Basics: 5 Ways to Get Your Finances Organized

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Does just thinking about your finances seem overwhelming? Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Do your bills keep piling up? Creating a budget and knowing your exact financial situation can help to make things more manageable and get you back on track. Many of the household items have probably increased in cost over the past few year, such as food, gas, healthcare costs, and other consumer goods, probably outpacing any cost of living raise that you may have received. These increases, while relatively small, can really start to squeeze your finances. So in order to get to a point where your finance are manageable, you have to get a financial plan in place that takes into account your entire financial situation. A little bit of organization can take the frustration and confusion out of managing your money.

Steps to organize your budget and create a financial plan:

1. Create a budget—The first thing that you need to do is have a clear understanding of the money that you have coming in each month and how much is going out for expenses each month. Make a spreadsheet or list of all of your monthly income sources and monthly bills, or expenses.

  • Income sources: wages, tips, alimony, child support, pension, IRA, SSI, investment income
  • Fixed expenses—mortgage/rent, auto loan, insurances (health, life, auto, home), 401k/IRA contribution, personal/signature loans
  • Variable expenses—utilities, food/consumer goods

Add up all of your income. Add up all of your expenses. Once you subtract all of your expenses from your income, the amount that is left over is your disposable income. From the disposable income, you can set aside additional money in a savings account, have some spending cash, or just have money set aside for any unexpected expenses that pop up during the year.
*Notice that 401k/IRA contribution is listed as an expense. Even though it is optional, look at it as a necessary expense that you must budget in each month. Making this a part of your budget each month will set you up for financial freedom in retirement.

2. Limit credit card use. Only charge on your credit cards each month an amount that you are able to pay off. Don’t let the balance carry over month after month; most credit cards have high interest rates that compound daily. Paying only a minimum payment will take years (maybe even decades) to pay off.

 

3. Use cash when possible. After creating a budget, it is easy to see how much money is left over each month that is considered expendable. Obviously, using cash, it is impossible to overspend. Once the cash that you have set aside for the month is gone, the spending stops.

 

4. Be an informed consumer

  • Clip coupons—also look for stores that offer to double your coupons.
  • Purchase items when they are on sale. Most stores have websites, which have weekly ads, and email sign-ups, which send out coupons, promotions, and savings events information.
  • Comparison shop—the internet makes it easy to look up the price of an item at multiple stores or online shops to figure out where it is offered at the best price.

5. Save for the future

  • Savings account—even though interest rates are low now, putting money into a savings account is still a good idea. If you set up direct deposit, that money will go there before you get your net paycheck; it is much easier to save when the money is taken out of your paycheck directly.
  • Retirement account—if your employer offers a 401k or other similar retirement plan, you want to contribute to the maximum matching level. If you employer matches to 4%, that is the level to which you want to minimally contribute, otherwise, you are turning down “free” money.
  • Emergency Fund—it is suggested that you have at least six-months salary set aside in case of a life emergency, such as accident or loss of job. These funds can help get you through if something were to unexpectedly happen; you will still be able to pay your monthly bills, even if there isn’t any current income coming in.
  • Open a Return of Premium Life Insurance Policy—While this type of life insurance policy provides protection for a certain period of time, it also provides a sort of forced-savings account. If the benefit is never used, policy holder gets all of the premiums back.

This article has also been published at: Bella Home Goods and on my Personal Finance Examiner page.

Creating a Photobook with Collage.com

collage book

There is nothing that I enjoy more than taking pictures of my kids. I love to capture how cute they are, how silly they are, milestones, birthdays, holidays… to be honest, sometimes I probably too many pictures. Some people are OCD, some are obsessive gamblers, smokers, choc-o-holics… I am a compulsive picture-taker. I just don’t want to miss anything, so I take pictures of everything.

Of course, I store all of my digital prints on the computer or a flash drive, but sometimes, it is nice to pull some of my favorite photos out and just look at a photo album. I have created albums by printing out photos and sliding them into the pockets, put them on the sticky pages, or designed scrapbook pages. All of these items can be pretty costly. If you have ever made a scrapbook, just the book itself is around $20, then you have the cost of the photo prints, decorative pages, emblems, etc. When all is said and done, it is easy to get $40-50 into a scrapbook. Even standard photo albums end up costing about $20 by the time you buy the book and pay to print out the photos. I found out a few years ago, that there are many online photo services that offer great deals for photobooks. I just upload my photos to the website and arrange them in a book… and I end up with something that looks like a scrapbook for about half the price!

Recently, I had the opportunity to create a photobook on Collage.com. It was very easy to use. I uploaded the photos, and the website put them into an initial arrangement in order by date. It was easy to move photos from page to page, move or delete pages, and add titles, dates or captions. I didn’t have any trouble dropping and dragging photos or reorganizing pages. I literally had an entire year worth of memories placed into a photobook that had a contemporary, clean design, done within about 30 minutes! I didn’t have to take over the dining room table with pictures, scissors, cardstock, stamps for a few days (or rather a few weeks, the way I scrapbook). I just sat down at my computer and worked on my photo album for less than an hour… and was done.

As a Mom, saving time, money and walking away with a great keepsake of my children, well, that’s an all-around win!

Right now, you can create a professional photo book with a single click using Collage.com’s One-Click Photo Book. Select photos of any size from Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, or your computer and they will instantly suggest a clean, professional layout that you can further customize.

Deal: Use this link to get a 20-page 11.5″x8″ Hardcover Photo Book From Collage.com for just $25.

* I received a coupon for a free photobook from Collage.com for writing this review. Even though non-monetary compensation was provided, opinions of the product are my own, as I try to evaluate and review the product as honestly as possible.

10 Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep Better at Night

sweet, sleeping angel...

sweet, sleeping angel…

If you are the parent of a newborn, or even a toddler, you are probably a bit sleep deprived. While there may not be a magical wand to wave and make your little one sleep twelve hours in a row, there are some things that you can do to help your baby—and you—get a more restful night of sleep.

 

Bedtime routine

Newborn babies learn from their experiences what is going on in the world around them. Of course, it takes a while, but if you are diligent to put a routine in place that leads up to bedtime, such as bath time, then they will grow to expect that bedtime is coming after bath.

 

Milk

It may be an old wives tale that warm milk before bed helps you sleep better, but it certainly does seem to have some benefits, if for no other reason than making sure your little one’s tummy is full. It is hard to go to sleep—and stay asleep—when you’re hungry. Even as kids get a little older, they may still like to drink a cup of milk (or have a serving of yogurt or cottage cheese) before bed.

 

Quiet activities

Babies or toddlers can remain engaged for quite a while when something is going on around them that they find interesting. Just before bedtime is probably not the best time for a loud toy with lots of moving parts. So put the loud toys with lots of moving parts away and do quieter activities, such as coloring or reading.  Even a baby can sit on your lap and enjoy listening to a bedtime story.

 

Turn down the lights

Yes, your baby probably can fall asleep any time of day no matter what is going on around them when they are really tired, but turning the lights down low is another indicator that bedtime is near.

 

Sing or play soft lullaby music

Hearing a certain song can also indicate that it is bedtime. Not to mention the soft, soothing sounds of lullabies actually encourage relaxation and sleep.  Check out these wonderful lullaby CDs, or just softy sing your child to sleep, such as: Baby Mine, Classics Songs for Bedtime, Bedtime Prayers: Lullabies and Peaceful Worship, Bedtime Mozart: Classical Lullabies for babies, or Piano Lullabies: Babies’ Bedtime Favorites.

 

Ambient noise is a good thing

Have you ever tried to fall asleep in a quiet room that you are able to hear every crack and creak of your house? It’s not easy to do. Running a humidifier or a small fan can give enough background noise to drown out those bumps in the night and enable a better night of sleep.  Or you can try something like the Sleep Easy Sound Conditioner, white noise machine to see if that will help soothe your little one.

 

Keep the daytime sounds going at naptime

Make naptime drastically different than bedtime. Encourage naps during the day in a light-filled room that has typical daytime sounds. Don’t bother pulling the drapes or turning down the television; this extreme difference can help your baby differentiate between daytime and nighttime.

 

Don’t nap in the bedroom

Put your baby down for a nap in a bassinet or pack-n-play in a location other than your child’s bedroom. This is just another cue for your little one that indicates the difference between when they are expected to sleep a short time at naptime or for a longer period of time at night.

 

Don’t hold your baby while they nap

If you get in the habit of holding your baby the entire time that they nap during the day, they may get used to being held while they sleep—and that may carry over to nighttime as well. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t hold your baby while they snooze at all. Snuggle your little one as much as you want, but putting them down to sleep, without being in your arms, should be a part of each naptime too.

 

When your baby cries, go to him

This topic is somewhat controversial. Some people tell you not to run to your child when they cry at night; however, as a parent, I cannot leave my baby in a dark room by themselves, crying in the middle of the night. Your baby needs to know that when they cry, for whatever reason, that you are there for them. If they don’t need a bottle or a diaper change, they may just need a little comfort in order to go back to sleep.  But keep in mind, going to see what is wrong or changing a diaper does not mean that you should have to stay up all night…

 

While those first months are a bit disrupting to your regular night of sleep, it does get better.  Know that you are going to be tired—and make an effort to just be tired, not grouchy with it!  Yes, this can be a struggle, but my husband and I decided that it would be better to simply be tired, not tired and grumpy with each other or the baby.

Honestly, looking back, some of those middle-of-the-night snuggles in the rocking chair, in which I had to struggle to stay awake, were pretty wonderful times.

Priceless memories.

 

*Links provided within this post do generate income for my blog.  The overall price is not any different to you as the consumer, but if you choose to purchase, I earn a commission and I appreciate your support! 

Making S’More Memories

smores

It never ceases to amaze me that some of the things that my kids get the most excited about in life are so simple. I mean, if my husband and I say that we are going to get a little fire going in the fire pit, the kids jump up and down likes it’s Christmas… well almost just like that. None the less, they excitedly jump around and start yelling for s’mores. Now why is this so exciting? We make s’mores all the time using the microwave to slightly melt the chocolate and puff up the marshmallows.

But that just doesn’t compare to the experience of making s’mores over the open fire.

DSC_0106

Besides the fact that they get to have extremely sharp roasting sticks, which is a novelty in and of itself for them, they get to “play with fire.” As you can imagine, having three boys, I try to avoid sharp objects… and fire… and sugar, the other major component of this. Maybe that is why it is so exciting. This combines sugar, sharp objects, and fire– all of the forbidden elements of my little boys’ lives.

Of course, it wouldn’t be as exciting if someone didn’t catch a marshmallow on fire either. In fact, I think that we may lose as many marshmallows to being consumed by fire as what actually end up edible. My middle son always says that he didn’t mean for the marshmallow catch on fire, but really, when he holds the marshmallow a bit too close to the flame, and it actually does catch on fire, I think he is secretly satisfied with himself.

smore braylon

Even though we did this several times this summer, and now into fall, there is something special about the family gathering together around the fire pit, talking, laughing, and just enjoying a little family time. It’s not a big event, but it’s fun. It’s not expensive, bit it’s memorable.

I hope that when my boys grow up and have families of their own, and when they roast marshmallows over a fire to make s’mores, they can’t help but be drawn back in time to the memories made this year.

smore chase derek2

Even though this ends up to be a sticky, face-and-clothes-covered-in-chocolate-kind-of-mess for my trio, I can’t help but be a bit amused by it all.

Spending time together as a family is what it is all about– making memories together by just being together and actually enjoying being around each other.  There are so many ways to spend quality family time together, and it doesn’t cost anything:

  • Movie night– my kids love to pick a movie that we watch together as a family– of course, enjoyed with some popcorn and M&M’s!
  • Game night– I don’t know why, but it is something special for the kids when my husband and I play the Wii or xbox with them.  They play all the time by themselves or even with each other, but they get so excited for us to play with them.
  • Picnic in the park– go to a local park.  Let the kids play, then take lunch, a snack, or just popsicles to enjoy.
  • Ice cream sundae bar– letting the kids have ice cream is one thing, but let them top it with hot fudge, caramel, sprinkles, whipped cream, etc… it is all of a sudden an exciting event.
  • Camp out at home– yes, this one is going to probably have your back hurting for a couple of days (at least it did for me!).  We set up a tent in the basement in the winter and put sleeping bags in it and the kids loved it!  I loved that they had fun, but I also loved sleeping in my bed the next night.  It makes it worth it though that a year later, they are still talking about the camp out in the basement and wondering when we can do another.
  • Outdoor fun– take a hike, go bike riding, play basketball, soccer… you get the idea.

I see for myself, and any parent will tell you, that the time that you have with your children flies by all too quickly.  Make the most of each day.  Take the time to make s’more memories.