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Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

  • How My Smart Phone is Saving Me Money

     

    J and I are now three months into our smart phone ownership, and I can tell you--I have no idea how we ignored our kids lived pre-smart phone.

    As I mentioned a little while ago, one of the things I was excited about for my smart phone was the various coupon apps that I could download to reduce our grocery costs. Thus far, I have officially used only one coupon app--Cartwheel for Target--about two times. It's been a real moneysaver, let me tell you.

    However, I have found another way that my phone is saving me quite a bit of money.

    You may recall that I have a somewhat contentious relationship with my local library. (Basically, the librarians believe that the library books should remain in pristine condition. I believe that the librarians have somewhat missed out on the cliches of curling up with a book, a cat, and a hot beverage. We mutually decided that I should probably visit the library in West Lafayette where the librarians are less concerned about the possibility of the patrons actually reading the books.)

    Imagine my delight when I discovered that the local library has entered the digital age and offers e-books and audio books to its patrons. I do not have to set foot in the library, and there's no way I can misplace or spill coffee on the materials I borrow.

    Since one of my favorite things in the world is to go for a run while listening to an audio book, my smart phone has made it possible for me to do this without owing one of my children to the good folks at Audible (or the library, for that matter.) I average about two to three audiobooks a month. Digital downloads from Audible tend to run from $20 to $35 each (and I know that I can get them for cheaper if I sign up for the Audible subscription, but I've learned that generally you spend less if you just pay full price whenever you want a new book). Because of the price of Audible books, I have had a tendency to relisten to old favorites rather than always download something new--but no longer!

    I am able to download up to ten audiobooks at once, and I have them for my listening pleasure for up to two weeks. While I can't say that I'm saving $105 per month (the cost of three full-price audiobooks), I'm certainly saving at least $20-$35 per month, since that was about how often I would download a new title. Also--since it's much more difficult to determine if an audiobook is going to be to your taste, I'm "wasting" fewer downloads that I listen to for 2 or so hours before deciding I just don't like them. Since they were free, it just doesn't matter!

    While I still have hope that my smart phone will save me money at the grocery store, I'm pretty thrilled at how much it's saving me in audiobook costs. (After all, if my coupon apps saved me $35 per month, I'd consider them to be wildly successful).

    How does your smart phone save you money?

  • The Breakfast Rut

    Photo courtesy of Alisdair McDiarmid

     

    We are experiencing a breakfast rut.

    This is new territory for me. I'm quite familiar with the dinner rut. That 5:30 dread wherein you realize that if you serve spaghetti and meatballs yet again you will be facing a family mutiny. (And not the fun kind when someone actually takes over the cooking for you. This is more Mutiny on the Whiny than on the Bounty).

    Because I have experienced many a dinner rut, I know the fix: Pinterest! (Actually, Pinterest is the fix to every problem and non-problem in my life, as I've mentioned). But really, the only way to get out of a dinner rut is to find some new delicious recipes to add into the rotation, and Pinterest is an excellent place to find those new recipes.

    Breakfast, however, is a horse of a different color.

    That's partially because our society has somewhat arbitrarily decided that only certain foods can be consumed prior to 8 am. Eggs, cereal, toast, bacon, sausage, smoothies, hash browns, orange juice, and the like are all either unwelcome or looked at askance on a lunch or dinner plate.

    Of course, that is only part of the breakfast rut problem. The other issue is timing. When I am making dinner, if the recipe takes 30 minutes to complete, it's no big thing. But weekday breakfasts tend to be rushed affairs where speed is prized over delicacy.

    Now all of my go-to quick breakfasts (smoothies, scrambled eggs, omelets, celery with peanut butter, fresh juice, frozen waffles with peanut butter, bagels, fruit with yogurt, cereal...) are played out, and I am left scrambling to figure out something to eat every morning.

    Thankfully, this has not really affected the rest of the family. J has a tendency to grab some leftovers for breakfast, because he laughs at society's breakfast conventions. LO has recently discovered the unadulterated joy that is bacon (we won't tell him that the real stuff tastes even better than the turkey bacon we eat), and will happily eat that for breakfast every single morning. And BB is so thrilled to be eating anything solid (that is, smearing anything solid in his hair) that he hasn't noticed my breakfast rut.

    So I am left picking half-heartedly at some fruit and stealing some of LO's bacon before eating lunch at 10:30 every morning.

    I'm hopeful something in my breakfast rotation will appeal again soon. It's tough to be the captain and the breakfast mutineer at the same time.

     

    What do you do when you get into a meal rut? Do you have any unusual go-to breakfasts?

  • The Ministry of Silly Banking Rules

     Just 11 more years, and this baby is all ours!

     

    Last week, we received our escrow account statement letter from our mortgage lender. (Don't worry, it gets more interesting. I promise.)

    For the first time in the four years we've lived here, our escrow amount has gone down. Our monthly payment will be lower over the next year, and there was apparently a surplus of $97 and change, so they cut us a check. (Life would be easier if they had just *applied* the dang surplus to our next payment, but clearly nobody asked me.)

    I believe I have mentioned before that I am the official PIC (that's person in charge) of banking in this household, which might give you an inkling into the trouble ahead in this story.

    Since I was out and about yesterday, I decided to deposit the check. Since I had BB with me, I decided to simply go through the drive-through ATM. The check is made out to both J and myself, which I believed meant that either one of us could endorse it. It is also for less than $100 of (and I cannot state this strongly enough) OUR MONEY that we overpaid.

    Well, I got a phone call from a lovely woman at our local bank branch this morning. Apparently, both J and I need to have endorsed the check in order to deposit it. I suspect that if we had a joint account, that would probably be less necessary, but whatever.

    That's not the ridiculous part.

    No, the ridiculous part is that J will now have to go into our local bank branch *with his photo ID* in order to endorse this check.

    Since the reason I am PIC of banking is because I work from home and J works at an office--an environment wherein errand-running on company time is generally frowned upon--I asked if I could possibly come pick up the check and have J sign it this evening and I will re-deposit it tomorrow.

    I got a big yes on that one.

    So J needs to show his ID to prove that he's my husband because I might otherwise have some random man come in to endorse a less-than $100 check for fraudulent purposes in order to deposit said check into an account that is linked to my husband's account. But having me pick up the check, get it endorsed by my husband, and then bring it back, without my also checking J's ID prior to his endorsement is a-ok.

    It's exhausting just thinking about how dang complicated a criminal's nefarious schemes must be.

    I'm not actually mad at my bank or the lovely banker who called. She's just doing her job and these rules are certainly there for a reason.

    It all just feels a little ludicrous

     

    Have you ever run afoul of a silly rule at your bank?

  • Today is 529 College Savings Day

    Image courtesy of Curt Smith

    Here it is May 29, which the 529 Savings Account Programs use as a great excuse to market themselves.

    And while I'm as suspicious as the next person about made up marketing holidays, I do believe whole-heartedly in taking a moment on 5/29 to think about your kids' 529s. Is your college savings where you want it to be? Have you been procrastinating on opening that college savings account? Have you and your partner talked about what you plan to pay for in terms of your child's college education?

    I would suggest that you use today as an opportunity to quit procrastinating:

    • If you haven't talked about college savings, bring it up over dinner. And if you have older kids, make sure they are part of the conversation. They might have some excellent suggestions, and they will certainly benefit from knowing where you all stand and how college savings will work in your family.
    • If you've been putting off opening a 529, take 15 minutes today to do a little research on how to get started. Savingforcollege.com is an excellent resource.
    • If you already have a 529 set up for Junior and Sis, look at your budget today and see if you could make a one-time contribution today or if you can increase the amount you regularly contribute.

    For me, I'm going to take $50 of my fun money to put in LO and BB's accounts. I won't miss the money, and it will put each kid's account $25 closer to the level where they can afford to go to my alma mater in 15 years.

    What will you do to commemorate 5/29?

  • Is Your Stuff Heirloom-Worthy?

    I recently read two articles that got me thinking about minimalism and my attitude toward stuff. The first was this Cracked article (warning: salty language) on the five useless products no one can bring themselves to throw out. The last item on the list was items that might be useful some day. The author, C. Coville, pointed out that holding onto potentially useful items in order to keep them from the landfill generally means they will definitely go into a landfill when you die--since your heirs won't have the time to sort, donate, and recycle your stuff.

    On top of that depressing observation, I read this interesting article on Money After Graduation that claims you should not own anything that you don't use for at least 45 minutes each day. Any less than that, and your stuff becomes clutter rather than useful additions to your life. (Since 45 minutes per day works out to 11 days per year, the author suggests that you should cull any clothing you do not wear at least ten times a year to once a month, which seems like a perfectly reasonable suggestion).

    As I mentioned in my last post, I'm very aware of the life cycle of my stuff. I hate it when I can remember my original desire for an item that I am in the process of donating to Goodwill or otherwise removing from my home.

    But I also sometimes think about the longer life cycle of stuff. Much as it hurts, I know that someday the items that I hold most dear will become nothing but clutter to someone down the line.

    For instance, one of my most prized possessions is the wedding quilt I made for J and myself.

    (To be fair, it did not start as a wedding quilt, as I started making the thing a good four years before I met J. But once we decided to get married, I figured I ought to make the world's-longest-running-craft-project our huppa):

    To say that I'm attached to this quilt would be a bit of an understatement. I have been known to cruelly ignore J's physical distress in order to shout "Don't bleed on my quilt!" in a moment of stress.

    Every day, when I make the bed, I play through in my mind how LO and BB might have trouble deciding who will get to keep the quilt after J and I are gone. I imagine my great-grandchild taking this quilt to whatever passes for Antiques Roadshow in the year 2114 and pointing out various aspects of the quilt to the experts. "You see here is where my great-grandmother stitched her name and her husband's name and the date of their wedding into the quilt. And here's the bloodstain that ironically, she nearly divorced him over..."

    As J likes to point out however, our quilt has no intrinsic value, other than as a blanket. (Meaning it's unlikely that the year 2114 Antiques Roadshow will be particularly impressed). Its value is sentimental, and I hope that sentiment will carry it through my family after I am gone. But I have no guarantee of that.

    However, one thing that I hope to be able to do for my boys and my family as a whole is to minimize that amount of stuff I have that is just stuff. If I attempt to mostly keep items that do have intrinsic value and that could potentially be heirlooms, then that will mean less anguish over getting rid of my useless stuff once I am gone. And that will allow my boys to keep sentimental items that are truly good and useful and that were loved by me. (I have experienced the anguish of having to figure out what to do with a poorly-made keepsake from a beloved relative. I want to remember her, and yet I don't know how to use the flimsy piece of furniture that was left to me.)

    Of course, no one can have a home furnished and populated entirely with heirloom-worthy items. That's simply not practical. But if I aim to only bring good-quality items that will get actual use into my home, then it will take longer before my stuff becomes clutter to myself or to some descendant down the road.

    I like that idea!

    I'd also like to officially release LO and BB of any guilt they might have for getting rid of items that belong/ed to me. As much as I love some of my possessions, I recognize that all of it is just stuff. (Even the quilt-that-I-spent-11-years-crafting-with-my-own-two-hands-and-you-had-better-not-ever-attempt-to-get-rid-of.) My goal is to minimize the unecessary stuff in our lives so that LO and BB will have a choice of lovely and useful things to remember me by and will be able to bless others with our things should they need to or want to give it away.

    How do you think about the long-term life cycle of your stuff?

  • Why I Ask for What I Want on Gift Giving Occasions

     

    I recently wrote about the Mother's Day journal idea which I discovered online, then instructed J that I wanted, and then mostly implemented for myself. (J and LO did absent themselves for about a half hour on the Saturday night before Mother's Day in order to make this year's card, although LO had trouble with the concept of waiting for Mother's Day, as he kept bringing the journal in to where I was giving BB a bath in order to proudly show me the pictures he had drawn of the family and the giant L for LO he had written several times on the picture.)

    Despite doing quite a bit of stage management on the creation of our special occasion journal, I was thrilled with the gift.

    Regular commenter Haverwench did bring up a good point, however, when she asked "what's the difference between asking for what you want and just buying it for yourself?"

    And therein lies the real kernel of the gift-giving conundrum. Our culture has made it clear that we shouldn't ask for what we want. (For instance, Miss Manners froths at the mouth at the mention of gift registries. It's a genteel kind of froth, but still, it makes her hopping mad). And in an ideal world gifts would be a simple and lovely gesture of affection which shows that the giver has thought about the recipient and carefully considered what would be most appreciated. I absolutely feel as though we ought to strive for that kind of ideal world, particularly when it comes to thank you notes. (Another area which causes unseemly anger in the usually unruffled demeanor of Miss Manners. This is also one where I agree with her). The fact that someone saw fit to give you a gift, even if it is a membership in the meat-of-the-month-club and you are a vegetarian, is deserving of thanks.

    However, we don't actually live in the Miss Manners world. We live in a world wherein it is very difficult to discern what kinds of gifts would be appreciated on the regular gift-giving occasions that are littered throughout the year.

    I am also at an age when I can very easily remember the life cycle of my stuff. An object's trajectory from admiration to acquisition to use to disuse to how-the-heck-am-I-going-to-get-rid-of-this seems awfully short. As a child and into my 20s, acquiring stuff seemed to have no consequences, since I hadn't yet gotten to the point when I knew just how fickle my own needs and wants can be. And since I am a dedicated environmentalist and all around frugal person, I get very uncomfortable with the idea of more and more stuff coming in to my home, even if it's coming from my beloved J. I know that a lot of the stuff will someday have to flow out of my house again.

    Of course, Miss Manners does talk about this. Once you have received a gift, it is yours to do with as you please. And if it pleases you to give it directly to Goodwill, Miss Manners wishes you g-dspeed.

    This is where I have trouble with Miss Manners' suggestions. I have a tendency to feel an obligation to items I received as gifts. I know that they are more than just stuff--they are physical manifestations of the affection that the givers feel for me. So it's difficult for me to simply let go of gifted stuff, even if it is a gift that, for whatever reason, doesn't fit.

    All of this together has led me to a very practical view of gifts.

    If I have a great idea for a gift, sure, I'll go ahead and do the traditional model of a surprise. But generally, I know that it's really tough for me to know what others would like, so I don't expect them to know what I would like. So, I ask for what I want, and I'm perfectly content to stage manage the creation of things like our special occasion book, since having it will make me happy--much happier than the fact that J realized that I wanted it could ever make me. (I also consider the asking for what I want to be a kind of gift to J, since he finds this sort of thing stressful).

    I also try to make special occasions special in ways that don't necessarily involve traditional gift-giving. For instance, one year for J's birthday, I hid birthday cards for him all around the house, including one that I taped to his steering wheel. I love to make the birthday boy's favorite meal (or a special meal we all love in the case of Chanukah) to celebrate. And I love to treat gifts as gifts, even if they are not a surprise. J may know exactly what I am getting him for Chanukah or his birthday, but I will still wrap it up beautifully and present it to him over dinner.

    Basically, I feel like our cultural model of gift giving is pretty unsustainable (and Carolyn Hax gave a great write-up of why that is). So, I ask J for the things I want, and I ask others what kind of gifts they want. It feels like the best way for me and my family to live intentionally. Deciding to live this way makes me much more contented and relaxed.

    But, all that being said, you better believe that if you send a gift to the Mensch household, you'll be getting a prompt thank you note in return.

    (J would also like me to add that the Mensch household is always happy to accept kosher meat-of-the-month club subscriptions. I guess I know what I'm getting him for his birthday).

  • The No Sweets Challenge--Fighting a Rational Addiction


    I recently listened to the book Spousenomics (recently re-issued as It's Not You, It's the Dishes) by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson. This book looks at marriage through the lens of economics, in an attempt to help husbands and wives "minimize conflict and maximize happiness." Not only was this book an excellent and humorous "read," it provides an excellent basic understanding of the principles of economics.

    One theory that I had not before encountered was the theory of "rational addiction." In basic terms, a rational addiction is when the addict is fully aware of the negative consequences of their addiction, but they choose to continue to indulge because they like the way the substance makes them feel. For instance, you'd have a difficult time finding a smoker in America in 2014 who doesn't know the health risks of smoking--most smokers continue their habit because they like they way smoking feels.

    Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker (who just passed away earlier this month) postulated that the only way to combat a rational addiction is by quitting cold turkey.

    So, what does that have to do with your friendly neighborhood mensch?

    Well, you may recall that my very first post on Live Like a Mensch was about my inability to leave Halloween candy alone--even when I stored said candy in the trunk of my car.

    I've got a bit of a rational addiction to sweets, is what I'm saying.

    Now, I've always had a sweet tooth. But it's become a little more than just a preference that dessert follow dinner in recent years. Basically, ever since my first year of teaching (when I survived on chocolate and abject terror), I've found myself structuring my day around how and when I could get a sweets-fix.

    So, I decided to take Gary Becker's suggestion to heart. I decided to stop eating sweets. Completely.

    Oddly enough, this was a much easier decision than the myriad times I have tried to limit myself to one dessert per week or some other such moderation. (I would end up redifining the parameters of a "week" or nearly busting a blood vessel with the strain of trying to avoid eating something that I would then go ahead and eat 20 minutes later).

    Now, my challenge was not quite so draconian that I will never have sugar again pass my lips. I decided that sweets should be saved for special occasions, and there were four per year that I really want to commemorate:

    • My birthday (in February)
    • Mother's Day
    • LO and BB's birthday party (since their birthdays are two weeks apart in August/September, we will probably only have one party for both boys for the foreseeable future)
    • Thanksgiving

    I've been doing this for nearly two months now. And it's really been illuminating and liberating. Here are some things I've learned:

    • By going cold turkey, I've changed the way I view sweets being off limits. Instead of thinking "I can't eat that," I've been thinking "I don't eat that." For some reason, that change in attitude has made it much easier to say no thank you.
    • Since I'm looking at this as a long-term change in how I eat, I've been able to simply shrug off the couple of times I have eaten sweets. Normally, falling off the wagon would be enough for the "what-the-heck" effect to kick in: "Well, since I've already had a bite of LO's cookie, I might as well go and eat a cookie or five of my own. My plan is blown anyway." But I'm looking at this as a long term change in my thinking and eating, so having a bite of LO's cookie, or accepting some chocolate trail mix at a meeting are simply moments when I have eaten things I don't normally eat rather than signs of my moral failure.
    • Now that I don't eat sweets, I feel like I can eat anything. I've never had an issue with other types of junk/unhealthy food. I'm perfectly capable of moderating my intake of pizza or french fries and the like. But I've always felt like I have to watch what I eat because I know I need to leave some caloric space for the sweets I will inevitably be eating later. Now, if I want something savory that's not the healthiest, I go ahead and indulge, because I know that I can stop at just one--which I couldn't with the cookies.
    • I now understand that I did this once before in my life without realizing it! When I was a teenager, I LOVED Doritos. I would stop at 7-11 on my way home from school to get a snack consisting of Doritos and a Slurpee, because I didn't appreciate that teenage stomachs are made of titanium. Every once in a while, my mom would buy a full-size party bag of Doritos for me as a treat, which I inevitably over-indulged in. There was one memorable occasion wherein I actually ate nearly all of a full-size bag of Doritos (see teenage titanium stomachs, above).
    I was pretty grossed out at myself after that incident. So I stopped eating Doritos. Just stopped.

    On the rare occasions since then that I've had the Dorito-y goodness, I remember exactly why I once climbed into a bag and ate my way out of it. Those things are tasty and addictive. But I don't eat them anymore, and I have no issue avoiding them because they're simply off my radar.

    I plan to keep this up in an intentional and specific way for a year. After that, I hope that I'll regard sweets in a similar way that I do Doritos--I know it will be delicious, but I'm not particularly tempted. And during this year, I'm determined to never beat myself up if I have a dessert when it is not one of my four special occasions--since it's not that I can't eat sweets, I just don't (unless I do). No biggie.

    Have you ever dealt with a rational addiction? Would you be able to cut out something cold turkey?
  • When the Dinner Plan Fails

    Image courtesy of Rexipe Rexipe

    On Monday, I felt remarkably well-organized, considering the fact that I had not yet gone grocery shopping for the week. I knew that I still had a bag of chicken cutlets in the freezer, as well as all the other ingredients necessary to make J and my new favorite dinner, Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce.

    I had planned to make this meal last week, but plans kept changing, and so I was pleased that I'd be able to make it this week.

    At 9 in the morning, I pulled the chicken from the freezer and set it defrost in the microwave.

    Around 4:30, I started the rice cooker so we would have a bed of something delicious to eat the goodness off of.

    At around 5:15, after J got home, I started assembling all the ingredients for my mise-en-place. And that was when I first realized there was a problem.

    The heavy cream that had been sitting open in our refrigerator for about two weeks (since the last time I had a recipe that called for it) had most definitely gone to the dark side, despite the fact that its sell-by date seemed to indicate we would be good for another five or six days. But there was no saving it. (When even J could smell that it was off, that was the clear indicator).

    I shrugged that off and decided we could make do with half-and-half instead, since our coffee-intensive household is never without half-and-half.

    I then opened up the package of chicken--and realized instantly that there would be no rescuing this dinner plan.

    The chicken stunk. It must have gone bad in the 48 hours it cooled its heels in our refrigerator before I froze it.

    I went and put on my sad pants because there was next to nothing in our larder available for a quick dinner and I had so been looking forward to saffron chicken.

    Since I had already made the rice, it was clear that we'd have to do something rice based. I went spelunking in our pantry and found some Trader Joe's Simmer Sauce that J had bought in a fit of not realizing I'm the one who does the cooking. In our freezer were a couple of tilapilia filets that could be quickly thawed and simmered. And from the same source I found a bag of shelled edamame. We threw them all together in a pot, simmered them in the simmer sauce, and dished up our surprise dinner.

    The result was...edible. It covered all the necessary food groups.

    It was not saffron chicken.

    But, it's good to know that even if dinner fails epically, I will generally be able to throw something together without having to call our friends Domino or Jimmy John.

    What do you do if you have to throw together a quick meal? Do you have any go-to how-will-we-save-dinner plans?

  • Creating a Special Occasion Book--a Mother's Day Idea

    The other day, I came across this idea for Mother's Day on the site Baby Gizmo:

    Image courtesy of Baby Gizmo

    Rather than collect years worth of loose cards that will inevitably get lost in the enormous kid detritus our little darlings leave in their hurricane-like wake, blogger Gretchen Bossio has a lovely bound journal in which her husband and kids draw pictures and write notes each year for Mother's Day.

    Considering the fact you can wade nearly hip-deep in the blank notebooks I have bought and received as gifts throughout the years, and the fact that commemorating my offspring's childhood was the whole reason I got into blogging in the first place, I could not ask for a more appreciated Mother's Day gift.

    So I did. Ask for that gift, I mean.

    Just some background:

    J and I tried to do the coy/what a surprise!/I'll-try-to-find-you-the-perfect-present-on-my-own-because-I-love-you-and-know-you-well/Miss Manners approved method of gift-giving for years.

    It didn't take.

    Though J and I truly do know each other well, that does not really give us perfect insights into each other's wants and needs on the regular gift-giving occasion schedule dictated by our calendar.

    There are two ways that we have dealt with this:

    1. We purchase experiences for ourselves or the whole family for gift-giving occasions. For example, we went to Morton's steak house for our fifth wedding anniversary last August and did not otherwise exchange gifts. We both loved it.

    2. We tell each other what we want. For Chanukah last year, J told me he wanted some shaving accessories that he would never buy for himself. (He has started using the old school safety razors and needed a cup for shaving cream and a brush stand and simply couldn't pull the trigger on an unnecessary purchase when he was perfectly capable of standing the brush on end and using the cap of the foaming cream for distribution of said cream.) I know that he liked his gift, despite the fact that he immediately grew a beard and has not since needed to use any aspect of the gift.

    While the asking method of dealing with the gift-giving dilemma does not sound particularly romantic, I couldn't be more pleased with it. For my birthday, I told J exactly what I wanted (some flowers, a little to-do, and not having to cook dinner or clean up afterwards), and I got it!

    And according to some recent studies, most people are happier getting the gifts they pick out for themselves. Since J and I don't have a horse in the giving a gift game (to each other, at least), we're cool with this dynamic.

    So that means that I specifically told J that I wanted to start a Special Occasion book. (Because there are so many reasons why our kids and we might want to give each other a card. I'd love to have Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, the all-important card-exchanging holiday that is Arbor Day, etc all commemorated in the same book.) We'll be able to look back over several years worth of important family moments with our Special Occasion book.

    AND...

    It's frugal. No need to drop $6 on a card (seriously, that's a price.)

    Now, despite the fact that my house is lousy with blank books, I still went out and bought a new one for this. (And...there goes the frugality...And any aspect of a surprise, although we all knew that Mom was going to be the point person on this to start with anyway.)

    You see, all of my blank books are lined, and I wanted something with blank pages. I also wanted something that could easily lay flat so little fingers would have an easy time drawing and writing. And pretty much any excuse I can find for buying a blank book will be used by this particular Mensch (who really ought to use some of the ones she's got lying around the house). So, without further ado, here is my Mother's Day gift to myself:

    I have also requested cinnamon rolls and the ability to sleep in on Mother's Day. I know the cinnamon rolls are forthcoming (from Zingermans, no less!), but I'm not holding my breath on the sleep.

    Overall, I'm very pre-satisfied with my Mother's Day.

    And I really can't wait to see how our Special Occasion book shapes up.

    What kinds of family traditions do you have for holiday and gift-giving occasions?

  • Targeting the Convenience/Frugality Sweet Spot

    Regular reader Bobi asked this question on my post last week about going grocery shopping without a net (erm, a list):

    Wow, Target must love you. I'm curious about why you shop there. I don't have a super Target near me so I'm not sure about the prices, but I find regular grocery stores to be cheaper than Wal-Mart and Target in my area and I'm not overly fond of the selection at the big box stores either. I know you've mentioned before how often you visit Target and I just don't get the attraction. Is it super close to you and really convenient? Or are the prices and selection in your area just really good? Don't misunderstand, I like Target, but I don't remember you mentioning stores other than Target or Trader Joe's, so do you shop regular grocery stores or just Target? Again, just curious. Thanks!

    It's an excellent question, particularly considering the fact that she's absolutely right about the price differential between big box stores and dedicated grocery stores.

    As I told Bobi in my response on the post, it basically comes down to convenience. Our Target is almost literally next door to LO's Montessori school, across the street from J's office, and next to our local Goodwill (which means I can combine errands quickly and easily when I have a donation to drop off, which I ALWAYS do). It's only five minutes from our house (although there are some grocery stores that are similarly close by)--and it's in the direction of the highway and is therefore the fastest one to get to considering traffic patterns.

    In addition, since I often have baby items to pick up (such as disposable diapers since J and I are no longer deluding ourselves into thinking that we will be cloth diapering BB), Target is more convenient (and potentially cheaper) for those items, as well. If I were to follow the grocery sales like I used to and go to dedicated grocery stores, I would likely have to also make a stop at Target in order to pick up baby sundries at the best prices. In some cases, Target is the only place that appears to carry some baby stuff, like the Mum Mum teething crackers BB loves. (Although, those would frankly last longer in our house if LO hadn't decided he likes them too and that he ought to get one every time BB is gnawing on one.)

    So, the short answer is that Target is more convenient.

    But this conversation with Bobi got me thinking about when convenience should trump frugality. There are times when I find myself wondering why the heck anyone would buy certain products--like pre-boiled eggs, pre-chopped frozen veggies for making stir fries, and even pre-mashed bananas for babies. Boiling your own eggs, chopping your own sweet peppers and onions, and mashing your own bananas simply do not take that long. I get the impression that if you need any of these conveniences in your life, then you need to either scale back on what you do each day or you need to go whole hog and hire some staff.

    On the other hand, I regularly buy applesauce cups for LO to take to school, even though I am perfectly capable of doling out jarred applesauce (to say nothing of making it myself) into small tupperware containers. Despite the ease of making my own applesauce cups, I strongly feel that you can have my pre-packaged applesauce cups when you pry those suckers from my cold, dead fingers.

    So how do you determine the right balance between convenience and frugality? (I recently concluded that convenience is where frugality goes to die, which is the sort of pronouncement that I suspect will come back to haunt me.)

    For right now, the convenience of shopping at only one grocery store certainly trumps the frugality of cherry-picking sales items for me. (This mostly has to do with the fact that I think there is a conspiracy afoot to give hours from the days of busy moms to teenagers and young kids who complain of boredom because they now have more than the standard 24 to fill. It's a sick and twisted game and if I could figure out how the time puppet masters were doing it, I would certainly object.)

    But I think the sweet spot between frugality and convenience is a moving target. (Ha!) Depending on where you are in your life, how much of a money cushion you have, and how much time the time puppet masters are stealing from or gifting to you, different conveniences will make more sense than DIYing everything.

    Although it would be a lot easier if there were a simple carved-in-stone answer to the convenience conundrum. Something like:

    There is no need to cherry pick sales, but you must absolutely draw the line at frozen, microwaveable grilled cheese sandwiches.

     

    How do you determine when convenience trumps frugality or vice versa?


    Target photograph courtesy of Kristiantiholov

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