Posted by: thatjen | May 13, 2008

Feeling the Pinch?

In an effort to post more and to harness some of the wisdom of my friends in the computer, I’m going to experiment with a series of posts about something that is on our minds a lot. As two teachers, we’ve never been particularly flush, but the past five years of medical treatments (fertility, molar pregnancy aftermath, and Lyme disease… not to mention mental health!!), plus the expenses of one child, soon to be two, have really started to put the squeeze on us. Add to that the fact that we live in the one of the top 5 most expensive metropolitan area of the US*, and, well, it’s really starting to keep us up at night.

Regardless of occupation and location, everyone we know struggles with money to some degree. So I’m going to start a series of posts I’m calling Tightwad Tuesdays. (I’m sure it’s not original but it was the best I could come up with these days!). My hope is that it will give us a chance to vent, yes, but more than that to share tips and ideas so we can all get by a little better on whatever we’ve got.

Today I’m just going to give a little background, but in the weeks to come I plan to tackle specific topics, posting questions and suggestions and hoping to get lots more ideas from all of you out there in blogland.

In an ideal world, we’d both be working part time, but that is beyond unrealistic where we live and in the occupations we have. We’ve been managing with me full time and Cait half time (which allows us to arrange free** childcare for Natalie) , but that model isn’t sustainable with two kids – we couldn’t make the free childcare work among other things. We’ve looked at the cost of fulltime daycare for one infant and one 2 y.o., and it’s pretty close to Cait’s take home – close enough that it’s not worth it to us to have our children in bargain basement daycare and the added stress of trying to get all four of us out of the house each morning for chump change in return.

Our plan is that Cait will stay home F/T next year. I will be working, but I will take 12 weeks of maternity leave. Luckily, 6 weeks of that will be paid. Unfortunately, 6 weeks won’t. So we are looking down the barrel of a VERY lean year, with a particularly thin patch around November/December (the lag time between when I resume working and when my paycheck picks up again). We have begun working on a budget and have already taken some steps to trim expenses, but we still have to figure out where to come up with money to do frivolous things like… eat.

Therefore, I welcome you to the inaugural issue of TIGHTWAD TUESDAYS!

So we don’t all spend the next week gnashing our teeth in despair, I invite you to share some of your financial challenges in the comments, but also please tell us something in your life that is either 1) money very well spent, or 2) free and fabulous. Here are mine:

1) Money well spent: Sometimes, we are just so dead at the end of the week that it’s really, really nice just to order a pizza. We wont’ be able to do it as often as we do now next year, but I want to find a way in our budget that we can still get takeout or go out for burritos every once in a while. I know we can make pizza and burritos at home – and we do – but sometimes it’s a really nice treat not to have to do ANYTHING but pick up the phone or get in the car.

2) Free & fabulous: The upside to both of us teaching is that we get more time together as a family than many families. I’m counting the days until June 20, when we get blissful family time together for weeks on end.

*ACCRA Cost of Living Index 2007
**Except for occasional psychological cost to us (not Natalie)…. If you know who one of our caregivers is, you know what I mean.



  1. I love this idea! What a great way to share thoughts on coping and brainstorm solutions.

    Money Well-Spent: I don’t have an entry for this category because we’ve been splurging a lot lately on baby-related crap that I question the well-spentness of later. Argh.

    Free & Fabulous: My boss offered to let me bring the baby the work for the first year. I work in an office mostly by myself, so no one else would be effected by it (except the people who are relegated to voicemail when the baby’s howling.) This will save us a TON of money in daycare for the first year, and save me loads of heartache. After that year is up, though, we’ll be freaking out about daycare costs for sure.

  2. Deanna, that is fantastic! Your boss sounds so supportive in this and so many other ways.

  3. Heres some general tips I learned from being a stay at home mom:
    A-1 most valuable tip: I worked two evenings per week for minimum wage. Not only did those few dollars make a huge difference in our monthly budget, it also go me out of the house and with other adults. A sanity saver.
    Followed by: Libraries have activities for toddlers year round, and summer reading programs. Theyre a ton of fun and free.
    Kids love to visit the humane society. If you can walk out without being in love with every animal you see, its also fun and free.

  4. Oooh. Excellent.

    I wish I had more to add, but lately I’ve been terrible about sticking to our own budget, so I’m not sure I have wise advice.

    Ordering out pizza is great, but I also have tips on making it at home easily and cheaply, to the point where it’s like take-out, but faster.

    Cheap… we found out that our local pool’s daily passes are pretty cheap and given how often we’d go, probably cheaper than the family pass. I might give that a go this summer.

  5. My latest frugal achievement is discovering the Children’s Museum network. For $100 or so (which is also tax-deductible, as a “charitable donation”) we got a family pass to all the children’s museum in the country for a year, including a guest pass to bring along a friend or a grandma.

    We live in WI, and winter here is a long 7 months, so having a place where the kid is supposed to run and touch stuff and generally go wild is a huge sanity-saver. Plus, we met up with extended family at a museum halfway between our house and theirs and had a great little reunion.

  6. cool idea and i am looking forward to following along each week! we need all the help we can get, as most of dp’s salary does go to daycare. however, for her sanity, she needs to work. i am lucky enough that i work 4 long days, so i still work full time, but am home with the babies on thursdays. what would be really great is if dp could also work 4 days a week and stay home with the babies a different day of the week. we might try to get that to work once dp has been with her job a little longer.

    money well spent: vacation expenses for our trip to FL in September, for which we used our tax return. and on a more regular basis, meals out on the weekends, when we get out of the house with the babies and let them experience restaurants and new foods.

    free and fabulous: some clothes and birthday presents that we bought for the babies with the money we got from returning the bottles with BPA in them to Babies r us! we got over $80!! also, as the kids are getting older, i am becoming braver in taking them out alone. i now take them to the library and out for walks alone and it is not so scary anymore! πŸ™‚

  7. as you know, we’re still paying off (sperm and adoption)debt, so we tend to shift the credit cards to the 0% balance offers that come in our mailboxes every so often.

    I spent all of this time making the “grocery book,” that I now no longer need it, because in my head, I can tell you if my beloved fat free half and half is cheaper at store x or z, depending on the day of the week.

    The grocery game is a good investment – as is the book: “The tightwad gazette,” or better yet, if we make it down there in two weeks, I’ll bring along our copy for you to borrow!

    VALUABLE expenses – every so often, you NEED a night out – just you and Cait. NO Natalie. SO the sitter, and dinner, movie expense is SO worth it!

    For us? Cable – Elmo on demand has saved our sorry asses MANY MANY times – but we get a bulk discount for our building, so cable, and internet is LESS than 90 bucks a month.

    I’m really great at being frugal, except for, you know, when the urge to spend 20 bucks hits me. THAT is the hard part, and what I have to work more on – “impulse restraint.”

    And Salvation Army shopping for sheets, and mens shirts that I can recycle as fabric are great, too.

  8. Shelli said:
    VALUABLE expenses – every so often, you NEED a night out – just you and Cait. NO Natalie. SO the sitter, and dinner, movie expense is SO worth it!

    And if you can’t swing the babysitter, our offer the other night was NOT contingent upon $. To be clear. πŸ™‚

  9. great thoughts!

    Money well-spent: a Children’s Museum Membership. Complimented by my mom getting us a Zoo membership. We always have two places locally to take her and whenever we travel we check out the zoo and local children’s and science museums for free.

    Free & fabulous: We remove H from daycare in the summer and cut her back while I am trying to finish defending. Also we get plants for our yard from her dad when he thins them out and we grow our own veggies all summer!

  10. Money – grr.. .This is a great discussion to have.

    Free & Fabulous is a walk on the board walk and a picnic …we did this for mother’s day at my request it was wonderful

    instead of ordering pizza out – I sometimes buy the frozen ones when they are on sale and then add a few toppings and into the oven. They taste nice and are cheap and easy. I know not the same but it works.

    Money well spent – my internet!

  11. Money well spent–subscription to XM radio and a cheap receiver for the car. I’m in the car about an hour each way (daycare drop off/pick up is part of that) and that Starbuck XM Cafe just makes my day. Great new alternative groovy tunes and not a commercial in sight.

    Free & Fabulous–our babysitting co-op. There are 25 families in it and we sit for each other for points. We’ve been in it for 5 years, and these folks are dear friends. We don’t just babysit for eachother; we get together for monthly potlucks, playdates and hang out. It’s a groovy mix of families headed by moms, dads, single moms and mom/dad combinations.

    Jen, I feel I share a kindred spirit with you in regards to the eBay, swap, freecycle, craigslist, dcum, hand-me-down approach to “stuff.” I’m excited you’ve started this weekly post and look forward to sharing and learning about great ways to live better and cheaper.

  12. Oooh, yes, good topic!

    On the topic of making money, one thing that saved us (we were able to do NO daycare): Opposite shifts. Since before the 2 girls were born (they’re 16 mos apart), he works nights (bartender/waiter 5pm to 2am), I work days (legal secretary 9-5 or 8-4). NO daycare. Repeat, NO daycare; all money goes into the household. And weekends are sacred – no working unless we are in a money crunch and need extra.

    I can see where you might be out of work by 3/4 pm, and Cait goes in to a job from 4:30 to 9 or so..and if she can work 10 or 12 hour days on Sat/Sun, then just pick Mon/Tues to be her “weekend” and she can pick up a few nights per week to round out to full-time’ish.

    Contrary to popular belief, the short period of time between when I get home and when the kids go down to sleep where I am being a “single mother” is NOT hard. It’s just a few hours. I get undivided time with them! And doing it this way is a small sacrifice compared to having all our financial needs fully met with peace of mind. Plus, he is sacrificing as much as me.

    The thing is, there comes a point when you really can’t/don’t want to cut anything else out of the budget. It’s just not a possibility. The only other way to handle it is bring in more money.

    As much as I thought …no, DREADED IT TO THE CORE OF MY EVERLOVING BEING, the two-shift thing was going to suck, it has been sooooo great for us. I encourage everyone to just try it for a time before dismissing it out of hand.

    For me, it was the thought that: Isn’t supporting the family and keeping the goals in the forefront (i.e., no bargain basement skeevy daycare creepiness) worth it? My vote was YES!!

  13. Ah, a subject always on my mind. We’ve had a couple of lean years in a row, but this past one has been especially difficult – A nasty merger of time & events, but I’ve picked up some habits that I won’t change even if I win the lottery.

    Money Well Spent: Daily cup of coffee from my favorite local place – It’s attached to a garden center, and across the street from a farm, so my girls have a great time while I half-caffeinate myself surrounded by beautiful plants and happy chickens. The rejuvenation I feel is much greater than what the coffee alone can provide.

    Free & Fabulous: The hand-me-down kids’ clothes we get and give through a network of friends.

    Membership in the local Freecycle group. I’ve received some amazing and useful things – A child-size cello in great shape, a brand-new kettle after mine melted, truly new throw pillows to fancy up our couch, literally all of the pants I’ve worn for the past year (they fit, they’re cooler than I am, and I didn’t have to visit a mall!).

    I’ve started a Mamas Night In tradition with a few friends – Instead of going out, we take turns hosting each other after our kids are in bed (leaving our partners in charge). I guess this isn’t totally free, since the host makes up a pot of tea or opens a bottle of wine, and puts together a simple snack. The uninterrupted adult conversation is what it’s all about, and we delve into topics we might not get into at the local pub. We stay up way too late, but it’s completely worth it.

  14. We’ve had a lean four years (immigration to Canada, then each of us taking a 2 year turn at grad school while the other worked).

    So, money well-spent: I’m with you on the take-out/pizza…sometimes you just need it. I’ve found that if you can use a pizza place that allows you to order online, you can often find deals/coupons on their website.

    Free and fabulous: well not completely free, but in our city movie tickets cost $12.50 each which makes for a $25 movie night (which is insane). We have “cheap theatres” where movies go between the regular theatres and the DVD. The theatres are exactly the same as a regular one and the tickets are $2.25 each; add that to a smuggled-in treat from the gas station or grocery store (for that living-on-the-edge-I’m-breaking-da-law feeling), and you have an $8 movie night out. Also in the entertainment vein, the blockbuster “rewards” program costs $10 annually and allows you one free rental a month (a $50 savings over a year). We also save a lot of money by shopping at the bulk bins at the grocery store – flour, sugar, snacks, beans, lentils, etc for soooo much less and waaay more environmentally friendly than all of the packaged stuff.

  15. Money Well Spent: Netflix. We ditched cable/satellite a few years ago. We were tired of the kids spending all summer in front of a TV watching that crap that qualifies for childrens’ programming. So we got Netflix and gave them their own queue. A new movie every week and way cheaper than TV. We’ve since cut back on it because we’re so busy now but when we were using it, it was great.

    Free & Fabulous: We don’t have much here that’s free or that doesn’t require you to drive to it (which I don’t consider free). But we take the kids to the park and the library. Also, YouTube. CJ LOVES YOUTUBE. You have to keep an eye on them, but there’s cool stuff like people reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus that helps when I don’t have time to read to him for the 300th time today.

  16. this is certainly something I will be watching! This is a time in my life where my finances (or lack thereof) are TOTALLY out of my control. I make no income, am used as a dependent on Mom’s taxes so I get no tax credit of my own, and any of the money I do earn goes directly toward one thing.


    I really miss working a “real” job and getting paid.

    Free & Fabulous: my local library, I use it for design ideas and escaping.

    um and that is all I have for now.

  17. Money Well-Spent: I’ll echo everyone else who cited memberships at zoos/children’s museums, and add state park pass. Where we live, state park entrance fees (for hiking, beaches, etc.) cost $8/day Memorial Day through Labor Day. For less than $60 we get a pass and i can take my 2 year old to the beach every day. Also, for us, our CSA share gives us enough produce to feed our family (and then some) from June through November. This year I’m planning on learning how to store the extras to get us through at least part of the winter. Also, visiting the farm is nearly free (minus, of course the gas expense) and always a source of wonder for the Boy. One last entry: bike trailer. This allows us to get around in our neighborhood farther than we’d walk without using the car.

    Free & Fabulous: My MIL watches our son once a week when i need to go to campus (ABD PhD student with a mostly work at home assistantship), and my parents watch him nearly every Sunday afternoon so that my wife and i can spend some time alone. We now bring back dinner most Sundays as a thank you, but my parents would do it even if we didn’t bring them a pizza. (And, they’re take out is a lot less than a babysitter charges).

  18. Free and Fabulous: The library! I remember it exists around June every year. I am not sure you needed to be reminded. πŸ™‚

    Money well spent: culinary equipment, used or new (some things, like the rubber sealie things for jars) that will save you money and allow you to eat more healthily in the long run, and don’t take a hell of a lot of active time — I’m thinking our semi-nice dehydrator we got from someone else, with which we make raisins and jerky and whatever, or someone’s grandmother’s canning kit off Craigslist, or just a serious bowl large enough to hold a double baking of bread.

  19. I LOVE this idea and I will definitely be checking in to hear everyone’s suggestions.

    Money well-spent: for me, acupuncture. It is not cheap, but I do get a discount from my health insurance (and I could go even cheaper to a group session on the weekends). It just makes me feel so nurtured and so relaxed– I love it!!

    Free and Fabulous: We have a fair amount of events at my job (day-long workshops, potlucks, etc.) and there is often a lot of stuff left over that we need to get rid of. I am always the first to offer to take paper products or bottled water– stuff that we can use at home. And we have FINALLY gotten library cards– I have been having a great time with all the books on cd– they certainly make my commute more bearable!

  20. Great idea. Nothing to add at the moment, except ditto on the Free and Fabulous part of public education.

  21. Money-well spent: fresh fruit. It’s the only way I get the kids CLOSE to their fruit-and-veggie quota, plus, it tastes good.

    Free and fabulous: Local parks.

    The whole swapmeet/freecycle thing has exploded lately, but when you consider what’s attacking your budget, it’s not the stuff so much, really. Alas that we can’t swap our unused health insurance, etc.

    Do you have access to a community garden? That’s (practically) free, very fabulous, and defrays the fresh veggies part of the food bill, too…..

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