March: Get Outside and Make a Parenting Game Plan

March is very nearly here.  Who’s happy?  This gal.  Oliver will turn 5 in March!  I can’t even believe what a sweet, hilarious, astute kid he has become.  Time goes so quickly and then they are full fledged humans.  It’s creepy and wonderful at the same time.

This month, as with all months this year, we are choosing a focus to make life easier/better/simpler.  March will be a month for getting outside as much as possible in the soggy chill of approaching Springtime.  We will also be spending the not so warm moments solidifying our parenting game plan.

We’ve been doing a lot of reading the last few months to try to decide what we want to embrace as parents and as a family by way of discipline, expectations, and acceptable behavior.  It’s time…  we have a smart and persistent dude on our hands!  It’s been my experience that kids begin to try to figure out where the limits are once they reach about fourteen months (give or take a few) and Si is no exception to that timing.

As all parents eventually learn, consistency is the key to happy family life, so this month we will be focusing on getting on the same page about how we interact with our kidlet(s).  There have been so many advances in emotional psychology and childhood brain development in the last few decades–it’s so fascinating!  Tim and I sort of geek out about that sort of thing as two wannabe counselors.

The mister and I have worked really hard in our marriage to create an environment where we feel safe to tell the truth even when it isn’t what the other person wants to hear, identify feelings and communicate them in loving ways (especially when they are yucky feelings), take healthy responsibility for what we did or said, and are careful about the way we speak to and treat each other (which is the hardest of all).  It took committed work from both parties to get to this point and it isn’t 100% bliss (let’s not talk about the whole month of December), but we can disagree, be upset, and find solutions without getting to the point of hatefulness or blame.  It wasn’t always this way–again, it took work to get here–but it’s a nice place to be.  If you’re interested in the process, we are happy to talk about it, although there is no infallible blueprint for happy partnership, as we all know.

With the kind of relationship Tim and I strive for, it was pretty obvious that our parenting style wouldn’t be much different.  We read up on lots of parenting styles, and I have seen a lot of them in practice working as a nanny for the last 10+ years.  Between those two things, it wasn’t too hard to choose a loose path to follow.  So far, we really like Parenting with Love and Logic and we also like Positive Discipline.

These approaches are both centered on being empathetic, validating how kids feel, helping them learn to deal with things in positive and respectful ways, giving kids choices from early ages so they learn how to make mistakes (and therefore decisions!) before the stakes get really high as they do in adulthood (like losing your home or ruining your marriage), focusing on finding solutions, and setting limits without getting angry (something the previous generation tends to scoff at, I’m finding).

We are in the phase where we are learning what to say (and what not to say) to Silas; Telling him it’s ok to be sad or frustrated instead of the knee jerk reaction to say “don’t be sad, it’s ok!”  Of course seeing our babies sad or hurt is hard on parents.  It’s easy to tease him about it, minimize it,  or try to “love” it away.  But the subtle message is that it isn’t ok to feel negative feelings (sadness/frustration/disappointment) which are very much a part of real life, as any grown up will tell you.  At some point, children have to learn how to experience and cope with these emotions in productive ways.

Our hope is that helping Si and his sister understand how they feel will translate into knowing how to identify it and come up with a solution to make a change.  Tim and I have both struggled with depression in the past.  We are no strangers to life’s ups and downs.  It’s part of the human experience, but we are hoping it doesn’t have to be as hard as it was for us to learn a few really important lessons.  By focusing on emotional literacy and accountability, our goal is to eliminate a lot of the work we have done as adults to learn the things our kids will have in their emotional repertoire by the time they are three.

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Parenting styles are very personal matters and I don’t know any two sets of parents who do it exactly the same way.   Playdates are like this crazy observation fish tank where I get to watch five moms handle different kid situations in five very different ways.  I can think of at least five people who will read this and think “these people are batcrap crazy hippies” and five more who will think “yep, that’s similar to what we want for our kids”.  The more experiences we have as parents, the more we embrace the “to each his/her own” philosophy.  The bottom line is that people do what they think is best to create the happiest, healthiest kiddos.  My friend and LLL leader Claire says she has found what parents need more than anything else is support.  I couldn’t agree more.

Tim and I are both continually amazed at the love our parents have for us and the things we never knew they did to create a safe, loving childhood.  There is no experience that has taught us more about the love they have for us, even in adulthood,  as becoming parents and wanting to do absolutely everything to keep our own baby safe and happy and loved.  Cheers to all the mommies and daddies who are tired and empty who are still finding the energy to create a childhood haven for the littlest of us all.  It isn’t for the faint of heart, but is there anything better than the sweet moments when you know it was all worth it?

(More) Mama Recommends

So, I forgot a few things for the budding moms.  As we round up baby girl hand me downs, I am remembering more of our must haves.

1.  Onesies/bodysuits

Skip the Gerber and get Carters.  Gerber’s are wonderfully thin, but get really short and wide the more  you wash them.  Combine this with our freakishly long-waisted kid and you’ve got a big stash of onesies that won’t come close to snapping despite being two sizes up.  The Carters ones are a little thicker, hold their shape nicely for layering, wash wonderfully, and come in tons of different sleeve and non-white options!  Circo’s are naturally wider but don’t seem to shrink up, so if you have a roly poly healthy baby, those are nice and thin, too.  Carters for the win in the GB house.

2.  ImuMax

ImuMax is a liquid immune support supplement recommended by my nephew’s holistic family practitioner and it’s priceless.  It’s very sticky and smells hideous, but Silas loves it.  It seems that if you start your kids on it when they’re older, they don’t go for it as well.  Si can’t get enough and is sad when the dose is done.  We give him a normal dose daily through cold and flu season and a double dose twice daily when he’s under the weather.  If we start at the first sign of a puny baby, he’s usually back to nearly normal within 48 hours.  It clears up congestion really quickly, too, although a lot of people don’t realize that chronic congestion issues are often dairy sensitivity, so watch out for that.  You can find ImuMax on Amazon or at a compounding pharmacy.  Our first bottle lasted a year.

3.  Robeez baby socks

Baby socks that stay on are ever the elusive accessory for this mama.  We were handed down a pair of darling stripey Robeez socks (thanks, Keegan!) and it revolutionized the way I pick out baby socks.  They put elastic at the top AND a band around the ankle.  How long did it take people to come up with this?  Far, far too long.  They don’t have quite the cute factor of Trumpette (those are our #2 choice for staying on pretty well while looking fantastic), but we are still singing Robeez’ praises as the best choice.

4.  Target diapers

As far as disposable diapers go, we are nighttime and travel users. Target diapers take the cake for cost and quality.  Luvs are slightly cheaper, but they don’t last all night.  You do the math (while you’re awake changing sheets and jammies) and decide for yourself.  For Silas, who is sensitive skinned, cloth and Pampers prompted crying wake ups all night and delivered short naps without fail.  We couldn’t handle it, but then again he was a particularly awful sleeper.  I’ve known several babies who were cloth diapered and slept fine all night!  Silas just didn’t.

Si can be in the same Target diaper for 12-13 hours with no leaks 6 out of 7 nights.  If he had a night wake and drank a lot of water, we get a leak now and then when he’s on the heavier end of the size he’s wearing.  Tips for nighttime and Target dipes in general: if they’re leaking, the tabs aren’t tight enough OR it’s time to size up.  Don’t give up on them if you get leaks, just tighten the tabs a little for a few days.  We had leaks consistently when Tim diapered him at night, but never when I did.  It took me about a month to figure out it was the tightness factor.  I also found that following the lowest weight on the box was the best for nighttime longevity.  When he hit 20 pounds, we moved to size 4 because they go from 22-37 pounds.  For daytime, he could still wear size 3 for a long time when we traveled.

5.  Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer

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For you cloth nappy families, the funky ammonia smell that builds up from pee diapers is like a bad penny.  It just keeps showing up.  (Note that stinky diapers are usually not getting enough water through them or you’re not using enough soap–easy things to troubleshoot!)  When Silas was about 9 months old, it started and I decided to try Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer from Amazon.  We had been using Rockin’ Green detergent (now we use Charlie’s and prefer it, hands down, but it varies by washer and diaper type so experiment with a few).  Here’s the gist:  fill your bathtub with the hottest possible water, toss in all the diapers/inserts and let them soak overnight.  If you want to add a few pots of hot or boiling water, go for it.  The next morning, wring them out, wash them through twice.  VOILA.  Like new diapers that smell blissfully like nothing.  I still can’t get over the difference six months later and we haven’t had to do it again.

One of Those Weeks

The last week has been one of those weeks in the GB abode.  The Valentine’s Day dinner debacle and broken blender were followed by an oven that mysteriously stopped working long enough for us to go buy a new one at the tail end of the Presidents’ Day sale and then the old one started working perfectly again.  Yesterday our furnace decided to join the party and make a hideous noise (but is still working, thank goodness).  It’s been an expensive week!  I’m hoping the blender counts as a “thing” with the whole rule about things going awry in threes.

We are wrapping up our first full week of adding two kids to the brood in the afternoons, which has been hectic but really good overall.  Silas loves having a baby and a big kid here for entertainment.  Tim was here Monday and Tuesday, so that helped us get into the swing of things with extra grown up hands.  Si has gotten quite clingy to me in the evenings–he’s not used to sharing my attention–but generally he seems to love having playmates everyday.  Sharing for 5 hours a day is a walk in the park compared to the full time baby about to crash our routine, so I’m glad to have this transition period with him now.  He loves sharing toys with the baby and patting her head and giving her hugs and shouting “hi!” about two inches from her nose.  Big brother in training!

Coordinating three napping schedules has been easier than I expected.  Si’s hanging out in limbo mode between one and two naps a day, depending on the quality and length of his night sleep.  Most days of the week, he sleeps two 1.5-2 hour naps and sleeps twelve hours at night with one or no wakes.  This is raging success after the persnickety sleep from his first year!  We’re happy with it.   If he sleeps an extra hour or two at night, he naps at the four hour mark, but that tends to totally screw us out of a second nap.  Then we have the pleasure of a cantankerous kiddo until  early bedtime, which results in an early next morning.  I actually got all three kids napping/resting at the same time everyday except one in a week and a half so far.  I don’t expect that kind of luck to continue, but it’s nice when it happens.

As we wrap up February, we’re feeling hopeful.  Spring is far from here, but the promise is there.  This week marks four years since Tim and I became friends (followed by quickly dating, getting engaged and getting married by September).  The Springtime is always positive for us, and the winter has been long.  We’re ready.  This Spring is particularly hectic with Tim commuting and finishing grad work while I finish growing a human and chasing another (or 3), but we are looking ever forward to the end of May when the baby is here, the classes are done, and good weather and the farmers market are here to stay.

This month, I totally failed at the squat challenge.  I made it about halfway through the month and then went into transition mode keeping the kids and trying to keep dinner and bedtime functioning as normal.  I will be doing squats into March to finish out the challenge, but I feel pretty lame about it.  I fared much better on the minimalist challenge of getting rid of things!  This week is 153 items, next week 133, then done.  It’s getting really intense at this point!  I am finding, though, that if I ask myself when I look around “would I move this again?” the answer is often “heck no” and that makes it easy to part with the nonessentials that I won’t replace after donating.  Once I finish the last few hundred items, I’ll write a follow up on life with 500 fewer “things” lying around.  I’ll say already that I don’t miss anything I’ve pitched.  In fact, I can hardly remember what they were!

It’s time to think about our March focus of the month and I have no idea what it will be.  Stay tuned, we’ll come up with something.

15 months old

We have a fifteen month old son.  How did we get here?

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Favorite things:  elephants, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, wooden knob puzzles, carrying around and hugging as many stuffed animals as he can hold at once, finding eyes/ears/noses/hair/toes/bellies, reading books, cooking in the play kitchen with various absconded treasures from the real kitchen, playing dinosaurs with his new friend who comes in the afternoons (Si is the velociraptor, but never the T-rex), vacuuming for real or pretend, playing the guitar and piano, playing chase, being outside

Favorite foods:  bleu cheese, blueberries, white beans, ketchup on everything, NOT artichokes, veggie straws

Favorite books:  Pop-up Farm, Goodnight Gorilla

Favorite words:  Anything he hears us say… watch out!  Luckily, he’s super dutchy and unintelligible so far.  He mimics syllables and tone of voice very well (up to three or four) but only actually tries to say the word if it’s one syllable.

He’s so observant.  He will gather multiple toys with elephants on them, or go find several things with turtles on them.  It’s so fun to watch his world expand by the day and discover the connections he is making.  Happy 15 months, Big Baby!

So long, second trimester.

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I can’t wrap my mind around the reality that I’m starting the last week of the second trimester.  Whaaaat?   It’s with a grateful heart that I welcome a few pregnancy symptoms because this has been a fantastic prego experience so far.

At my midwife appointment today, I measured right on track and have gained ten pounds so far this pregnancy.  I still feel great!  Last time I welcomed the third trimester because that’s when I graduated from nausea to wicked heartburn.  It was such a nice trade off after so much gagging.

In the last few weeks, I suddenly gained a few pounds and had flashbacks to feeling like a blimp…  It’s time.  I feel puffy, my ring is tight at night and I have a lot of restless leg and hip pain at night like I did last time.  My belly is tight on the lower right side again, so I have been doing some specific yoga moves for that and it’s helping already, even after two rounds.  I’m hoping Bambina GB will be a little less inclined to be transverse or breech like Si was until the very end.  If she is, there’s a great chiropractor here who works Webster Method magic, so I have her on back up just in case.

I’ve had a lot of braxton hicks contractions since about fifteen weeks and they’ve gotten more frequent as my belly grows.   I started keeping the other two kiddos, so having a 5 month old and Silas vying for pick ups is a lot on the ol’ expanding bod. The contractions are making me panic a little that we will have an early baby, but I’m really trying to hold out for a Gemini.  Haha.

All of a sudden this week I am totally scatterbrained.  Pregnant brain is in full force.  I made espresso yesterday and forgot to put water in it.  I forgot to turn on the oven.  I forgot that I was boiling pasta until waaaaay too late.  I call my Mom and can’t remember the three things I called to tell her.  Mama’s losing it.  All in all, I feel calmer about this pregnancy and generally really great, pregnant brain aside.

The beginning of the third trimester is coinciding with our first break in the weather and I’m really looking forward to getting out of the house once all this snow disappears!  Having Tim here to help with carting around and putting Si down is such a lovely reprieve.  I’m looking forward to his breaks from work in the next few months.  We hardly remember what it feels like to spend time outside!

Long Weekend!

We are still living out our long weekend.  It’s awesome.  Tim is back to work tomorrow, but he’s been off since the weekend and it was much needed.

Let’s rewind to Valentine’s Day.  I was so excited for a fun, lovey day.  I made a card garland for Tim, I made baby friendly cards for Si to tote around for the coming weeks as he does with greeting cards, I got great cards for the boys…  We stayed in and attempted to have a great dinner, but it didn’t really work out.  I very, very rarely have party fouls in the kitchen, but why not have a romantic holiday go totally to crap if you’re going to have an off day? The new chicken recipe was a total bust, the asparagus and bleu cheese puff pastry was fabulous (but the oven was off while I thought it was cooking, so it was more of a 45-minutes-late deal), and I forgot to buy the dessert I had been eyeing for weeks.  Instead I made smoothies… and broke the blender before it was drinkable.  I appreciated my husband more than ever as he ate everything when it eventually arrived at the table and was genuinely grateful while I was in a teary, disastrous state.  We went to bed at 8pm with Silas, eager to end the day after a long week.  Happy Love Day, y’all!

We had a weekend trip to Indy with Tim’s family this weekend!  Thank God.  Saturday morning we woke fairly early because we neglected to pack the night before.  Anyone who travels with toddlers knows this is a grave mistake.  And so it was.  We got out the door a little behind schedule, drove to Westfield for a craigslist pick up (again–I love my husband–so patient with my statewide craigslisting) in the ice and snow, and ended up finally arriving downtown at 11am instead of 9:30, thanks to the roads.  Matt and Alyssa were in Indy for a weekend getaway and met us much later than anticipated for coffee before we had lunch with Tim’s family.  It’s always relaxing and meaningful to spend time with them and this was no exception, even after a totally nutso morning.

We finally got to see Tim’s family at noon at Hard Rock and the relaxing weekend began.  Thank goodness!  Silas was so sweet and happy to see everyone.  We scooted off to the hotel for a quick swim before naptime (Silas LOVED it).  I wish I had pictures, but on the list of weekend fails was a broken car charger and my neglecting to pack a wall charger.  He’s so very cute in the water.  I felt terribly pregnant in a bathing suit, and just generally all weekend.  All of a sudden I very much feel like the third trimester is here (and for good reason, I suppose).

We had dinner to celebrate Sara’s birthday at Buca di Beppo downtown.  Lovely!  Back to the hotel for some visiting, but when we went to put Si down for the night, Tim and I accidentally fell asleep, too.  Talk about sleeping away your only grownup time.  We were bummed, but sort of glad since we were up in the middle of the night for several hours with a croupy, snotty babe.  Yee haw!  When morning finally came, it was relaxing and laid back.  We had cake for breakfast to celebrate Sara and chatted over coffee while everyone played with Si for a few hours.  All in all, Si was a happy despite underslept champion, the parents got to relax and be off baby duty for a while, and we got to see Sara and the boys and Tim’s parents for a few low key days.

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Social Media and the H word

I have some issues with the word happy.  It’s just a whole ball of wax wrapped up in way too tidy a word, if you ask me.  Let’s go with some synonyms that represent happy for me:  I feel happy when I am creative, contemplative, connected, quiet, engaged (with person or book–take your pick).  Those are all words I understand much better.  Aren’t you glad I’m not grading your essay?  Now that that’s out of the way, I have a bone to pick with social media.

Long ago, I read an article about how Facebook makes you less happy.  (There’s that word again.)  This article keeps popping back into my head.  It says Facebook inspires feelings of jealous, envy, comparison, alienation, loneliness, and worse.  In our experience with it, these things are true and a terrible way to feel connected or engaged with people you care about.

Tim decided that he didn’t want to get on Facebook at all because he was pointedly less happy with his life when he saw the (always) smiling faces of others’ lives, and he also felt resentful about not traveling as he once did.  For me, I decided to convert to a family-only page a few years ago and that has been a good solution for me, largely.  What can I say?  I like to ramble on about my kid.  When I had a larger circle than that, I consistently felt like my life was unfulfilled and lacking creativity.  That’s total crap.  Even now, Tim and I have a different set of social, spiritual and political beliefs than most of our FB “friends” (who are actually family members), and that can really get to me sometimes.  I had to block status updates for a few, even.  When social media becomes a source of angry Chi, make a change, I say.  Don’t let Facebook be in total control what you see because it truly affects the way you feel.  Take back the reigns of your social life and turn it into something that feeds your soul.

We keep the family FB page mainly because it’s a good place to share the blog, and Tim is bucking the system by having an anonymous page where he is only following cathartic sources (Paradigm Shift, Wayne Dyer, Gay Hendricks and the like).  Literally he has no “friends” and won’t accept any, just gets the updates from these positive pages when he needs a pick me up.  It works well for him.  We may nix our pages altogether one of these days, and until then we will use them in the way they work for us, even if it’s weird.  Take that, social media.

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Let’s cross back over the Negative Nancy bridge and talk about Pinterest for a second.  My Pinterest page, in dire contrast to FB, is something that makes me feel creative, inspired about my life as a writer/parent/wife/teacher/epicurean/learner, excited about places we can go and things we can do in the future, and committed to deepening my relationships through articles and wisdom that abound there.  Pinterest for the social media win!  At least for me.  Creative energy has always been something I need to feel jazzed about life and maintain a positive attitude about the ups and downs we all have.  It may seem like the biggest time waster on the planet, but I am grateful to have a free source of ever flowing creative mojo at my fingertips, day or night, in the comfort of my jammies and mom hair.

Aside from these two, we only do Instagram, which I also love.  It posts the latest snapshot on the blog homepage (to the left–see it?) and it helps us capture moments that we want to share without dragging commentary into it.  I love that it’s just a square little picture peek into the daily life of the people I am following.  Worth a thousand words, right?

Upswing

It’s not a secret that December (slash the whole last quarter of 2013) was a little rough on the GB home front.  Early pregnancy, an overwhelmed grad student and commuting husband, a new house, an intense winter, and a lack of social interaction had us feeling totally crappy, to put it mildly.  Even I, queen of moving and quickly finding my mojo, was having a hard time getting it together.

I blogged a post last month about how we are focusing on a goal each month to get our lives to a place where we have more fun and actually do things we enjoy doing.  January’s goal:  socialization.  When it comes down to it, the only way to feel better sometimes is to be your own parent.  There are things kids don’t want to do that parents make them do anyway, and I take the same approach with making changes in my own life.

So what did I do?  I went to two playdates, despite social anxiety and really not wanting to go.  I hosted a playdate for one mom I knew and three I didn’t (and nine kids under age 3!).  I started a standing play group on Tuesday mornings that has been fruitful and enjoyable already.  These things all helped me to feel better and connected, but we were still feeling a real lacking as far as doing things as a family.

In Bloomington, we had Matt and Alyssa who were in the same parenting, lifestyle and spirituality realm as we were.  Turns out that’s a really, really hard thing to find for us since we are obviously weird.   We still make it a priority to see them (we’re meeting in Indy next weekend and we will vacation with them) but it isn’t the same as meeting for a snowy dinner or grabbing coffee with kiddos as often as we used to.  Tim and I both agreed that what we really need is a young family with a similar mindset to hang out with once a week or so.

To that end, I posted a craigslist ad for watching a few kids with the premise that we were a granola, Montessori-minded, positive discipline family.  I got literally no hits on this post when I put it up in the Fall.  Zero.  This time, I got four families who were obviously not a good fit and one that was an uncanny fit.

Officially, I will be spending my afternoons with a 3 year old little boy and 5 month old baby girl from now on.  The best part is that they are a displaced granola family from Harrisburg, PA here for full time grad school.  We loved them instantly and all four of the grown ups are equally excited about being friends.  We already feel totally rejuvenated about living here after getting the scoop on CSAs and the best diners when they came over to meet our family.  Mission: socialization was a raging success in my book.

 Tim’s doing really well balancing work, class, and parenthood this past month.  It’s naturally difficult for him to structure his time, so his efforts for January intentions involved mustering the discipline to do things he didn’t want to do in order to make room for positive change.  He’s been doing more homework the nights he is away so that we can have more down time as a family and it has made a huge difference for our relationship and for the general mood of family life.  He also is feeling energized about work now that things are picking up and getting exciting, which is always a great feeling.  I’m really proud of all the the hard work he is doing to make our life run smoothly and his commitment to our future with his grad work. It ain’t easy, but he’s doing it.  He has a week off from course work and new Ugg slippers, so he’s pretty much dancing around the house with a gleeful look on his face.  I love it.

How about you?  Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to be your own parent and make things happen?  The Nike slogan “Just Do It” comes to mind.

Living Well (on a budget)

I’ve had a few people ask questions about our budget and our spending choices lately.  We are living on Tim’s income while also renovating a house and paying his grad school tuition out of pocket at a private university.  While we don’t have any  magic formula, here’s what we do to pay our bills, home store tabs, and university balances while still saving money each month.

1.  FOOD

The biggest thing we spend money on each month is groceries.  It’s no secret that real, fresh food is better for your health, and it’s also no secret that it’s more expensive to eat well.  Welcome to America, the junk food nation.

Our secret grocery weapon is a chest freezer we scored for $30 on craigslist in Bloomington in super condition.  We have moved it twice–so worth it.  We left the essentials in it overnight in a moving truck in the hotel parking lot, and by the time we plugged it in over 36 hours later, all the pumped milk and frozen meats were still frozen totally solid.  Amazing!

Having a deep freezer saves our bacon (har har) by allowing us to eat a mostly organic diet when we otherwise couldn’t afford to.  For vegetables, we buy organic frozen at Costco in bulk or organic when they have great sales at Kroger.  For meat, the trick is knowing the mark down schedule at your local grocery store and having the cojones/humility to buy everything they have as soon as you see the glorious orange “Manager’s Special” sticker.  Kroger stores (Payless, Ralph’s, and a dozen other names are all Kroger stores)  mark down organic meat, dairy, and bread 2 days before the use/sell by date.   We only buy humanely raised, organically or grass fed meat and we only buy it marked down (or straight from the farmer, like we did with a portion of cow this winter).  We also buy organic sandwich bread anytime we see it marked down and toss that in the freezer as well.  The same goes for uncured bacon or other meats we see on great sale.

In one trip a few months back, I bought 3 whole free range chickens, 3 pounds of grass fed ground beef, 4 loaves of whole wheat organic bread, and a few pounds of various quality cheeses at 50% off the original price (if not more).  All of it went straight to the freezer and fed us for about a month.  (Hint: If you are into weekly budgeting, consider doing a monthly budget or adding a “monthly splurge” specifically for stocking up on paper products, organic meat, toiletries, or other pricey items that aren’t weekly buys.)  We also happened across a freezer full of discontinued organic frozen pizzas at 75% off.  I bought twelve and they lasted us about five months so far.  Did I look like a crazy lady with 12 pizzas at $3 a pop?  Yeah, pretty much.  I’d do it again.  Slash I will.

Secret weapon from my Mom:  menu plan, then grocery shop for ONLY the items that complete the menu.  I tend to make the weekly menu while I shop, but be forewarned that most of the population cannot do this without impulse buying way, WAY more than they need.  I am the queen of self control at the store.  Just ask Tim.  I peruse the produce section and buy anything organic that is marked down, then I buy the must have items regardless of sale (organic apples, spinach, and the rest of the Dirty Dozen if we need them for our menu that week).  We have a freezer full of meat at any given time, so I typically only shop the produce and organic dairy section and then fill in with whatever other items we need for the menu dinners that week and get out of there.  Typically, my cart is full of mostly organic, fresh food for $40-$60 a week.  Meat is expensive–we eat it a few times a week, but not every night.  This is more to do with preference than budget, but if you’re trying to cut out some spending, increasing your meatless days is a no brainer.  We eat a lot of lentils and beans and soups in the winter (and vegetable based dinners or salads in the summertime).

2.  FUN MONEY

We don’t have expensive habits, largely by choice in this phase of life.  Tim and I both do yoga at home instead of taking classes.  We choose outdoorsy free things or other free places for fun excursions.  I get a haircut (not color) a handful of times a year in a style that will grow out without a lot of maintenance.  We don’t clothes shop unless we really need something, which is next to never.  In fact, we try to pare down our wardrobes regularly instead of adding to them.  We love craigslisting things when we need something both because it’s a good deal and because it doesn’t contribute to the carbon footprint–double win in our book.

Our splurge is going out to dinner ($20 cap–if we need to share, we do) once every week or two.  This is something we agreed we wanted to keep in the budget to feel like we aren’t penny pinching misers and to allow us an evening of no cooking or kitchen clean up.  Sometimes instead of dinner we will go out Saturday morning, especially in the summer, and get a good coffee and a bagel or pastry.  These are usually $10 dates that feel like an outing and almost always result in a good conversation and appreciation of each other and our life.

3. TECHNOLOGY

We are pretty simple creatures as far as technology is concerned.  In fact, we’d love to get rid of our cell phones someday.  We have a no contract iPhone plan for $45 a month per line (available from AT&T, T-Mobile, Net10, StraightTalk, and others).  We love having iPhones, but it isn’t worth a $200 phone bill to us.  We pay about $90 a month for our phones combined.  We also use a Roku player which streams Netflix, Hulu, and tons of free Roku channels like PBSKids, Huff Post Live, the History Channel, and thousands of others.  Tim’s parents got it for us for Christmas and it’s a one time cost deal–no monthly payment unless you subscribe to Netflix or another paid channel.

We come in at under $125 for all of our technological expenses each month now, which we are happy with.  We used to have a 6 month basic cable/internet bundle from Comcast for $50, but now we just pay $20 for our internet and use the Roku.  This is our first month with it, but so far we love it!  It has tons of options and covers all the shows that are a priority for us (ABC and PBS, mostly).  We will be subscribing to Hulu, so that will be an added cost, but still cheaper than our bundle (which was also a really good deal!).    Our favorite thing about the Roku set up? It forces you to be intentional about what you are watching.  Since it’s a fully on demand set up, you have to know what you’re looking for.  This eliminates a lot of mindless tv time that can be a trap at the end of a tired day.   Well, that and the fact that we have Thomas the Train at our fingertips instead of waiting for it to come on at 3pm everyday.

4.  AMAZON

As much as I like to support locals, we buy a lot from Amazon.  We go to Target for night time diapers and a few things here and there, but we hardly go to any non-grocery stores anymore.  Part of this is convenience (not lugging Si through the snow with my pregnant belly and twelve bags is always a perk), part of it is price (they almost always have the lowest prices, or close to it), part of it is selection since I am pretty specific about products I want, and they bring it to my door in two days for free because we have Amazon Prime.  We buy everything from toiletries to decaf espresso to pots and pans to electronics.  This is fantastic, but on our  monthly statements we see a lot of that A word and wonder what exactly we bought.  If we put numbers on it, there is a pretty consistent amount we spend each month on Amazon, and that’s just part of the budget for us.  I don’t impulse buy a bunch of darling crap at Target, so it works for us.

5.  TRANSPORTATION

We have two Subaru Outbacks that get decent gas mileage, have all wheel drive, and lots of cargo space.  We adore them.  Our ideal scenario is to only have one car payment at a time and to have a mechanic we trust implicitly.  Luckily, we’ve got both.  Our newer Subaru will be paid off in the next year, which will free up the budget as well.  We also bundled our homeowners, car and life insurances policies through State Farm in Alexandria.  Despite moving and transferring offices, we switched back to their office and haven’t looked back.  Lindsey Cuneo is the agent there now and has been really proactive in helping us figure out what kind of coverage we need and getting us the best price for the combined policies.  We have been continually impressed with that office.

 6.  STUDENT LOANS

I have student loans, but Tim doesn’t, which is lucky.  We are paying for his graduate school out of pocket, so all that’s left will be my loans from undergrad and grad school.  Have you seen the tshirt that says “I’m broke and I have the college degree to prove it”?  Well, it’s (marginally) funny because it’s true.  My student loans cost a few hundred dollars more than our mortgage, taxes, and insurance combined each month once Tim is no longer a full time student.  I had great scholarships, but I went to private schools.  In the end, I have two degrees and about $60K in debt to show for it.  Is it a good deal for what I got? Yes, it should have cost me upwards of $150,000.  Does it affect our lives negatively?  Yeah.  Jury’s still out for how we will approach higher education for our kids when the time comes.  We may do the ol’ Mom-gets-a-job-on-campus and ride out the tuition breaks.

While we’re on the topic, we don’t use credit cards.  We have a Menards card and a Lowes card with zero balances, and sometimes they will have great promotions if you use your card.  When that happens to coincide with a big or unexpected purchase, we will use it for that item, pay it off the same day, and reap the rewards of the promotion.  Beware!  They count on you putting it on the back burner, and then it becomes a very bad deal very quickly.  You have to be on your bill paying A-game and follow through.  Get rid of your credit cards.  You’ll sleep better and your whole life will feel brighter.  I swear.

7.  TIME IS MONEY

In the end, we function on the basis that time is money.  We love to get rid of things either through donation or selling things on cragslist.  This gets us a profit or a tax write off, but  more importantly in my book is the space it frees up.  I look at it like this:  the more stuff I have, the more time I spend taking care of it/fixing it/putting it away/moving it around/finding a place to store it.  Time is money, people.  If you’re spending all your time cleaning up your house that’s full of stuff you don’t use or aren’t sure why you have it, read the February: Challenge Yourself post and start getting it out of your life.  I promise you’ll have more energy to do things you like and time to spend with people who are important to you.

How about you?  Got any tricks for paring down the budget?  We’re all ears.