Monthly Archives: September 2010

Organizing Kids’ Seasonal Clothes — and Saving $$ on Them, Too.

Do you Goodwill? Frequent Thrift Shops? Hop yard sales? Yes, yes, and yes? Do you (hardly almost) never shop regular retail for your kids’ clothes?

I’ve steered away from yard sales in recent years. I’ve also declared [many times] that I will never again have one myself! Every time I do anyway, my husband is like, “Didn’t you say you were never going to do this again?” But that’s another story…

But I have a Goodwill here that I love. And a Thrift Store, too. If you’ve been reading here for awhile you are quite aware of my love affair with second-hand shopping…

Spending Less

My challenge for myself in recent years is to not buy something just because it’s a good deal. So what if that cute paisley shirt with butterflies and sparkles that my daughter loves is only $1.25? Does she need another shirt? How full is her dresser? Her closet?

If you’re like me and you don’t have a season for clothes shopping for your kids but are constantly on the look-out for good deals as you happen upon them, it’s important that you have a plan. It’s important that you know what they actually need. Or you do end up buying that cute paisley shirt with the butterflies and sparkles only to discover that it won’t even fit in the drawer along with all the other cute shirts she already owns and come the end of the season you’re discovering clothes at the bottom of the drawer that she never even wore!

Ask me how I know this.

I recently read a quote from Mary Hunt where she talked about people misspeaking when they say they’re saving money because they’re buying something on sale. “This shirt was 80% off — I saved so much money!”

As she points out, we’re not saving money: we’re spending less.

Ooh, I puffy-heart Mary Hunt. She really gets to the crux of the matter, doesn’t she?

There’s a reason women love those free gifts that come with a purchase: we love to feel like we’re getting something for nothing!  And if something’s on sale, well, that’s close enough, right? We women can get real creative when it comes to crunching numbers in stores: “Hey, I saved $20 on these pants because they were on sale, so now I can get myself that cute sweater over there with the money I saved!” Never mind if we don’t need it; that’s not the point. It’s our duty to optimize a good deal.

So back to buying clothes for your kids. Sometimes, sometimes, it’s easier for moms to rein in spending on themselves, but when it comes to their kids? Well, they’re suckers. “It’s for the children.” Seriously. And there’s a reason that stores have so much more of a selection for girls’ clothes than for boys: we buy more for our daughters! It’s so fun! They’re so appreciative!

At least my daughter is. It is so fun to bring home some new finds just to see the look on her face. Sometimes she even gasps and covers her face, like she can’t even believe what she’s seeing.

And while many of these clothes she needs, yes — children do grow, after all — some of them? Not so much. I just know how much she’ll love them. And they’re such a good deal.

Saving Cents and Using Sense

But lately I’ve been trying to economize not just in cents, but also in sense.

  • How many clothes does my daughter need?
  • Is she really enjoying all that she owns?
  • Does she using everything she owns?
  • What precedent am I setting for her?

Storing Off-Season Clothing

A big part of this process is organizing what you already have. Buying clothes throughout the year requires storing off-season items. It’s important to have a system for this so you don’t stash something away and then forget that you have it.

I’ve usually used bins for this purpose. When I come home with clothing I’ve found for the kids for the next season, I stash them in the same bin. I like to keep these bins in their rooms, either in their closets or under their beds. (I’ve even been known to stick them in a corner with pretty material draped over them and — wa-la! — it’s a table!)  Otherwise, they get stashed in random corners around the house until I “get around” to putting them away in that obscure storage corner on the top shelf in the furnace room, or wherever. As long as they’re easily accessible, it’s good.  Eyesores, we can work around.

Ideally, I go through these bins every few months to refresh my memory on what I’ve gotten them. Typically, though, I’m not looking through them again until the weather starts changing. This sometimes causes me to have purchased more of the same type of clothing than I really needed to because I’d forgotten I already had a Spring jacket — or whatever — stashed in there at the bottom, but I’m slowly getting better about that.

I just went through Peter’s and Olivia’s clothes a couple of weeks ago, for instance. And I discovered that Olivia has plenty of long-sleeve shirts to start her out for the year. This information became vital the next time I was at the Thrift Store and saw a cute long-sleeve shirt I knew she’d love — but I passed. Yea for me!

That shirt was a good deal, mind you. But so were all the other shirts that she already owns.

As the season wears on (pun intended) kids will continue to grow, and I will continue to purge their clothes as they outgrow them. I will also continue to keep my eye out for good deals as I’m out and about; rarely do I ever go “clothes shopping” anymore, at least not for my little ones.

Teenagers Require a Different System

Because I have a teenager, I know this system with the little kids will not be the one I use forever. In fact, our teenager being responsible for budgeting for his own clothing out of his allowance has been working amazingly well so far. Unfortunately, it also entails “clothes shopping”, as I rarely trust myself to buy things on the fly for him; nor am I looking on a regular basis. He will come to me every now and then with great urgency in an accusatory tone, “I need underwear!” As though I have known this for months and months and have refused to take him shopping despite his persistent pleas. I am still practicing the phrase, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” But I don’t think he has it memorized yet.

Every now and then I will come home with some random t-shirt that I found at the thrift store for 35 cents or something ridiculous, and I give it to my son with great ceremony and tell him it is a gift and he can thank me later. These shirts are rarely good for anything other than “night shirts” for Conner, but he is appreciative nonetheless. It’s amazing how that happens when you start having to buy things for yourself…

Kids and Clothing Choices

I do think it’s important that children have a say in the clothing that they wear, which is one reason why I think our system with Conner is working so well: he would rather have fewer items that cost a little more instead of more clothes that he doesn’t like as much. Quality over quantity. And he defines quality. This is a valuable, discerning skill to develop. And he has no one to argue over the particulars with but himself and his pocketbook.

I am planning on going through Olivia’s clothing with Olivia very soon. Her tastes have been changing. For instance, no longer does she favor dresses over absolutely anything else. *sniff* In fact, last summer she had one pair of shorts to her name: I had always focused on buying summer dresses for her as she had always preferred those in the past. But by this August we noticed that she was starting to wear Conner’s old boxers that I had kept in her drawer as an option to wear at nighttime. Yea. She was dressing herself in boys’ underwear.

So I’ll be keeping my eye out for deals on girls’ shorts for her to wear next summer. Ahem. I’ve already found one pair. I think it put me back a quarter. Yes, at the Thrift Store. Along with several Spring and summer shirts for next year, all going in the bins. The whole stash cost me less than $5. *sigh* I’m going to miss my Thrift Store.

In the meantime, I am very interested in having her tell me with her own words what items in her drawers she likes and what she doesn’t. My little girl is a pleaser, she is. When you give her something she’ll tell you she loves it — and she probably means it at the time. But when you press her later to give an opinion, a different one might appear. At seven — going on eight *gulp* — she’s old enough now to start having a say on what she’d prefer to wear, within reason. And there’s no sense me bringing home — or keeping in her drawer — anything that doesn’t fit within her preferences. We are too privileged in this country, with too many worthy clothing options, to keep things we don’t like. Better to pass them along to someone who can use them — or better yet, to not acquire them in the first place. I am very grateful to have the choices we have.

What is your working method for buying and storing your children’s clothing? Do you find yourself ever forgetting items you have stored away? Or buying items that ended up  never being worn? Or do you strictly shop for clothing as it is needed? Please share in the comments — whether your methods have worked or not. We can all learn from successes and failures, don’t you know. 😉

School Expenses: An Update. And still counting…

Just got a bill from Conner’s high school. All in all, not too bad…

  • English: $9.50
  • Physical Science: $20
  • French 2: $13
  • Health: $4
  • Drafting Techniques: $20
  • Algebra: $8

Total: $74.50

…So far, anyway? Kind of wondering if there’ll still be an admin fee, or if it’s all mixed in with the individual class fees… I am also purposely avoiding an additional “fee” of fund raising for his graduating class of 2014. *gulp* They just hit us up for about $85, which you could pay by selling some t-shirts or by just writing a check. Conner and I talked about it and decided we will forgo that one since he won’t actually be graduating with his class. At least, I’m assuming this house will sell before then…

I also paid for Conner’s school pictures: $34

And for Peter’s: $31

Olivia’s school hasn’t scheduled their pictures yet. And yes, I have three kids in three different schools, in three different parts of town. Thank God for school buses.

And I finally paid for Peter’s kindergarten school supplies, which I was fortunately still able to do through the PTO: $10

New Total: $149.50

After adding this to the previous total

Grand Total (so far) Spent on School for Three Kids: $331.18

In case you missed them the first time around, or you’d like a reminder, here’s my previous posts outlining how much I’ve spent on school supplies and related sundries this year:

In sort of semi-completely unrelated news, my teenager’s room looks like this now.

He’s been responsible for doing his own laundry. Yea. You can see how well that’s been going. As I just asked him today, “Have you been wearing dirty clothes every day or what?”

“Uh… not yet.”

Clearly, he has enough clothes. So there’s that. And it’s the sorting of them that’s daunting him. That is a difficult skill to master, to be sure — to do it properly, that is. So long as they don’t grow and multiply and work their way into the hallway and stink up the whole house I’m letting Natural Consequences dictate his developing a laundry routine. I figure even if it takes him whole year to gain confidence and consistency and mad sorting skillz he’ll still be way ahead of half the men I know.

Go ahead, let me have it. I dare you.

Then tell me how your school year’s going. Nickel and diming you yet?

Then tell me how bad your men are at doing laundry. You know you want to.

“Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

I’ve always longed for travel. When I was young and growing up in Kansas, I used to pour over maps and imagine places I would visit someday and places where I might live and dream about the days I would travel. I never had any particular place in mind; I just wanted to go everywhere.

As soon as I graduated high school I left Kansas — for that raucous State of Iowa. Oh, but lest ye judge! A big reason I chose the school I did was because of its amazing foreign language program that required majors to spend a year abroad studying in a country that spoke their target language. I spent barely half of my four years actually on my college campus. The rest of the time I was either in Germany for language study, or in Tanzania on another study adventure, or traveling around Europe on tour with the college choir. For years after graduating I (and my parents) paid on the student loans required for my education. But surprisingly, these sojourns abroad didn’t cost any more — and sometimes less — than my time on campus. (That’s what going to a private liberal-arts college will do for you.)

On Family Travel

Fast forward… er, several years, and travel continues to be a part of my life — though it seems to lean more toward moving to different places rather than simply visiting them for awhile. My husband and I often joke, “We don’t need to vacation — we just move!” And indeed, my travels did seem to slow down substantially once I married and had children. Traveling with young children is just… Hard. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it isn’t. And yet while I say I’ve felt like I’ve slowed down, when I think back on where all we’ve been, with children in tow, I am rather amazed at ourselves: Paris; Venice; Pompeii; Canary Islands; Bavaria; New York City; San Diego; Gulf Shores; Zion National Park; Breckenridge; D.C.; San Antonio; Cincinnati…

None of those include places we’ve lived, mind you. That’s another list.

My point with all this? As much as I’ve been able to travel in my lifetime, kids or no kids, I’m always thinking of places I’ve yet to experience. And now that I have a family, I think in terms of where I’d like to take my kids. I still think about all the great places I’d like to go, but now it’s in terms of  how I want to share them with my family.

Or, you know. I could always go by myself if no one else is interested. I’m not picky. 😉

When we found out that we were moving this year — and to the other side of the country, no less — I recognized I was running out of time to visit certain places in Eastern U.S. that I always thought we’d “get around to” eventually. Like Washington, D.C. And Niagara Falls…

I got the itch to go to Niagara this summer about 24 hours before our impending departure to Kansas in July for my cousin’s wedding. Instead of packing for the trip and cleaning our house to make it show-ready, I found myself googling the documents necessary to apply for a passport card, and scrambling to print official passport photos… You know, important stuff.

Passport Renewal

Only John’s passport was still current, but rather than renew all of our passports I researched what exactly we would need to enter Canada as U.S. citizens since they implemented the new procedures in 2009. If we had plans to fly overseas again any time soon, I would have considered renewing all of our passports, even though it would have cost $75 for just one adult renewal.

But we have no plans as a family to fly anywhere soon. Our SOP (military lingo for Standard Operating Procedure) for travel has been to visit and experience places within driving distance of where we live and avoid the cost and hassle of flying as a family whenever possible. Since we move around regularly, we always have plenty of new things to see and do!

And if the military moves us overseas again? (Which we do hope they’ll do.) They will provide all the family members with passports, at no extra cost to us.

I had heard about the new passport card that serves as an alternative to crossing the Canada and Mexico borders in lieu of the regular passport book. These cards are only good for travel over land — not by air — but since that’s the way we roll that would work just fine for the foreseeable future. And even better — turns out that not only do these passport cards cost considerably less than regular passports, but minors under 16 aren’t required to have them at all so long as they’re crossing the border with their parents: you just need their (original) birth certificates.

Cost of one adult passport card (renewal): $20*

*The cost of a passport card renewal has since gone up to $30. What I didn’t know at the time I ordered mine in July was that fees were going up just one week later. I didn’t even realize that until I looked up the links for this post! That probably explains why it took four weeks to receive my card rather than the two weeks the web site had suggested. The link above takes you to the site that reflects the current costs. My card was also considered a renewal because I have an expired passport book.

I totally wasted $8 on passport photos by going the last-minute route, though. All she did was use her point-and-shoot on me with a white-sheet background. I could have taken my own photo at home, then taken my memory card in and plugged it into their console with the passport photo specifications and printed my own for 39 cents. I guess I had to make up for missing the higher fees on the passport itself. *sigh*

Total cost of one passport card (renewal) for one adult (me): $32.45

This includes the card, the photos, and the postage with receipt confirmation ($4.46).

Much better than having to renew passports for all of us!

The Family in front of the American Falls - and Bridal Veil (on the Canadian side)

How Much We Spent at Niagara Falls

We had an absolutely fantastic time! The particulars:

  • Three nights and two days.
  • Three Waterfalls. (Did you know that?)
  • 860+ miles …
  • Total amount spent: $633.56.

This wasn’t our most frugal trip.

The biggest spenders were split pretty evenly between food and playing tourist. The breakdown:

  • $176.30 on eating out.
  • $178.56 on tourist attractions (and one photo souvenir).
  • $117 on lodging.
  • $98.54 on fuel.
  • $26.93 on parking.
  • $31.23 on cash for various spending, including tolls and coffee.

Some Notes on Niagara Falls

Peter and Horseshoe Falls -- on the Canada side

We spent the first day on the Canadian side and the second on the New York side.

On the Canadian side:

The Canadian side offers the best views of the Falls, and it also offers many more tourist attractions. Having never been to Niagara before, we opted to buy a family “Adventure Pass” that included Niagara’s Fury, The White Water Walk, Journey Behind the Falls, and the Maid of the Mist. The package cost $159.63 (in American dollars) for three adults and one child: 12 and older are considered adults (i.e. Conner) ; and five and under are free (i.e. Peter).

The Pass requires you to time stamp each activity — except for Maid of the Mist, which you just have to wait in line for. If you aren’t able to make your pre-arranged time, it’s no big deal; you just book another time. The Pass is good for two days and also entitles you to ride the Peoplemover Shuttle that runs for several kilometers along a route that hugs the Niagara River and stops at various locations. This is handy because you really just want to park your car once and leave it there for the day — otherwise you’d be driving around continually looking for another parking spot. (And paying each time.) Or you’d be walking and walking and walking… Which is fine for healthy adults, but with little kids can get whiny and weary until you just want to tear your hair out and be done with the whole thing old after a couple of hours. The Pass also grants you discounts at other attractions along the route, such as the Butterfly Conservatory and the Incline Railway, none of which we took the time to do, with no regrets. We greatly enjoyed our day:

1. Niagara’s Fury

We didn’t really see the point of this over all, unless maybe you’re visiting Niagara during the winter months and just want something to do inside. The attraction is a couple of movies: the first illustrating the evolution of the Falls in partial cartoon format to appeal to kids; the second in 4D IMAX form complete with the rain gear they like to hand out everywhere because you will get wet. We were shocked when we noticed the regular price of this attraction if you were to purchase tickets for it outside of the Pass: $10 a person. Skip it and just go straight to the Falls, in our opinion.

2. White Water Walk

This was nice and all, but we couldn’t figure out why it required an entrance fee? Except that you have to take an elevator down to the level of the man-made trail, so I guess they want to pay for the cost of maintaining the boardwalk and all. And the elevator. And the person who works the elevator. But the white-water rapids are lovely. Just nothing you can’t see, say, in Colorado, for free. (Or the cost of a hike.) I know, I know… So go to Colorado.

Peter trying to look innocent...

I guess I was a little disgruntled because I had the impression from looking at the map that The White Water Walk would give us a view of the Whirlpool, but no such luck. Although we did get up close and personal to this bizarre wall full of … chewing gum? Such a decorative array, I didn’t realize what the colorful gems were until I caught up with the kids and saw Peter trying to pry one off the wall, to put into his own mouth, no doubt, if I hadn’t stopped him. Ew.

3.  Journey Behind the Falls

This was very cool. You take an elevator down, down, down, to a tunnel carved into the rock that leads to a couple of openings that give you a view of, well, behind the falls. And yes, they issue what is apparently the standard plastic rain gear, because you will get wet.  Did you know that the edges of the Falls continue to move back? But of course they do. That’s erosion! So someday the guardrails in those tunnels that keep crazy people like our Peter from plummeting to their deaths will have to be moved back as the Falls erode further and further away from the current edges. The tunnel was lined with posters illustrating the history of the Falls’ erosion and Niagara in general. It was all very interesting, seriously. Even though my 7yo daughter kept urging me to “Stop reading, Mom!” because we always had to keep going, going, mustn’t stop! Maybe we should have made them walk everywhere, after all, instead of riding the Peoplemover Shuttle between attractions…

After the Maid of the Drenched!
Maid of the Mist is down there! (taken from the New York side)

4. Maid of the Mist

This is, quite simply, the thing you Must Do when you visit the Falls. Unless you’re afraid of water, because you will get wet. (Have you noticed a common theme here?) The Maid of the Mist is the quintessential Niagara Falls experience and also the oldest tourist attraction in North America. (Who knew?) But I must beg to differ with the claim that the boat ride affords the “best view of the Falls” — because I couldn’t see a thing! Oh, yea, they issue you the standard plastic rain gear, but by the time you’re under the Falls (which is what it feels like) the Mist spray is shooting up and down and sideways and all the way into your eyeballs and unless you’re part Mermaid there’s no way to see a thing! I tried keeping the plastic hoody over my face, but after the wind whipped it away a couple of times I gave up. It was a colossally intense experience. We absolutely loved it. Just bring your goggles…

On the New York side:

Compared to the Canada side of Niagara Falls, the New York side is a bit… seedy, shall we say? But that’s mostly just the town of Niagara. Niagara Falls State Park is a spectacular place that gets you, seriously, right up next to The Falls themselves. The Canada side offers the best views; the New York side gets you the closest to the Falls themselves. If what you’re wanting is to plummet down the Falls in a barrel, the New York side would be a good place to launch. (With a hefty fine of $25,000 American dollars awaiting you if you survive.)

We headed toward the park with the intention of parking on Goat Island. Alas, we were turned away because all the spaces were full. We detoured around the town of Niagara for a bit and stopped at a nearby Starbucks for some fortification and to ask about parking alternatives. According to one Starbuck’s employee, we could “just park downtown” where we already were, in a spot clearly marked, 15-minute parking only because “the cops never check” and it’d be no problem. Mmmkay.

We opted not to try that one out to see how it’d go.

So we got our mocha/latte/frappa-frappas and drove on, happening upon the Daredevil Museum through no intention of our own, situated as it is in the middle of a convenience store just a few blocks from Goat Island. I suggested we go inside, having been the only one who’d read of the place and knew it might offer a bit of a distraction until we could figure out what we wanted to do. I never brought up the option of going there before because what I had read of it sounded less than appealing, these artifacts of misguided attention-seekers and their decaying daredevil vessels on display in the corner of a seedy shop next to racks of cheap souvenir t-shirts made in China.

But John and Conner ate it up, taking the time to read all the news articles about the misguided plungers, as well as the miracles such as little Roger Woodward, who accidentally fell over the Falls — and survived. To date, still the only person to do so without protective gear. We successfully headed off pleas from the little kids for over-priced pre-packaged ice cream cones and headed out again. Luckily some parking on Goat Island had opened up and we drove right in, parking in the South Lot which, despite what you might read or see on a map, is not free parking, but still well-worth the $8 fee.

Goat Island

Conner & Olivia on Three Sisters Island

What a wonderful afternoon. We walked around Goat Island and the adjoining Three Sisters Island, stopping all along wherever we fancied to fling rocks into the river or to collect shells from the shoreline or to just stand and view the awe-inspiring Mist of the Falls and the deceptive calm of the rapids as they approach the fatal drop at Terrapin Point. Nothing stops you from wading out to your death except the Love of Life and All That is Holy and the power of mother bear. It truly is an awe-inspiring experience, so close you are to these magnificent falls and their awesome beauty.

The New York side is not to be missed, people. You simply can’t believe your proximity to the falls and their natural power. It’s a divine experience.

Conner and Horseshoe Falls -- on the New York side

I have no regrets at the amount we spent on this trip, short as it was. Sure, we could have done better. But we could have done so, so much worse: you might notice the paltry amount we spend on lodging? $117 for three nights! As I researched places to stay in Niagara, I came across an Air Reserve Base just ten minutes from the Falls, attached to the Niagara Airport — just $39 a night! Who knew? I figured it might be a dump, but hey — we can deal for that amount. But it was so nice! And with a micro and mini fridge to boot. Truly a bonus.

Standing next to the American Falls -- this is a point-and-shoot camera, people.

It’s been three weeks since that trip, and we’ve been busier than a couple of beavers trying to dam up Niagara Falls, trying to get ready for John to leave us and this house. He reports to his new assignment in California in a month or so, and our house here in Ohio still shows no signs of selling. We’re biding our time, leaning toward the kids and I waiting out the market and staying put until something happens. In the meantime, I am thankful for trips like these and others, that remind me of the grandness of this world we live in, and I’m trying not to be too anxious about the house and wistful of John leaving on a new adventure without us. We’ll join him in due time.

Goodwill has Good Stuff, and it isn’t all second-hand!

I stopped into Goodwill the other day, to look at the books:  one of my second-hand shopping loves.  (I justify it all in the name of future homeschooling.) My attention was immediately caught by the brand-new small kitchen appliances set on a table at the front of the store. Among them, an Oster 16-speed blender for $12.99.

Hey, we actually need a blender. I really need to get on that smoothie-making thing. Been thinking that for awhile. I’ve been wanting to get a food processor so I can mix up some healthy stuff all secret-like in the spirit of this great cookbook my domestic-goddess friend Lucy gave me, but this will do for now. Especially at this price. And we can make milkshakes, too. Bonus.

Goodwill doesn’t just sell used stuff, people. Do you know they regularly get donations from local businesses? The businesses get a tax break for their donation while making room on their shelves for new inventory at the same time. Goodwill gains even more profit by offering new merchandise on their shelves. And consumers get to buy brand-new products at bottom-barrel prices. It’s a win-win-win.

This blender runs about $40 at Wal-Mart — or $43.99 on Amazon, where you can go to read the product description. (I didn’t realize the photo I took was of the Spanish-language side until I edited it for this post.) (Whoops.)

I’ve been eying food processors for awhile but haven’t been able to decide on which one is worth the investment; nor have I been able to find one second-hand (or for free) (and I’ve been looking) (Hi, Erin!) so I’m excited about this blender tiding me over. I’m betting it can blend up a lot more than salsa and salad dressings (and Pina Coladas) (Hi, Honey!). At least, I’m going to give it a try. Hey, it’s supposed to be able to crush ice cubes and coffee beans, right? I bet it can handle a couple of cooked sweet potatoes and some black beans.

When’s the last time you stopped by your local Goodwill? Tip: shop at one in a nicer, highfalutin neighborhood. They get so many great donations that they can be picky about what they keep and what they pass on to another store. You might just be surprised at what you find.

Do You and Your Spouse Keep Your Finances Together or Separate? Guest Post from Digerati Life: A Case for Joint Accounts

Do you and your spouse have joint accounts? Or do you keep your finances separate? John and I have shared our finances from day one. Neither of us ever considered doing anything differently, actually; we were so young and so broke when we got married — what difference did it make? When you have so little, it makes little sense to keep it to yourself. 😉

We haven’t always communicated very well (ahem) in our 16 years of marriage about how we spend our money on a daily or weekly business, but I personally would never advise a young couple to start out a new life together by keeping that part of their lives separate. Finances may seem like a black-and-white and unemotional topic. But in reality, the choices we make with our finances show where our priorities lie and what our values are on a very intimate level. There’s a reason that finances are cited as the number one reason for divorce in America today.

The Digerati Life is a personal finance blog that shares tips and tricks for managing money, investing, saving, shopping and even for comparing credit cards ~~ TDL is a full-time blogger on all things personal finance and is a wealth of information (pun intended) on money management, technology, and blogging as a business. I am honored to host her guest post below. Enjoy, and opine in the comments, if you will.

A Case For Joint Accounts

One of the toughest financial challenges comes when two people decide to settle down as a couple in a marriage (ideally) or in a life partnership. Not only are their property and stuff pooled together under one roof, or even under one name, but even their financial assets — whether liquid cash or in terms of investments like stocks, bonds or mutual funds — are pooled as one or combined into a low commission brokerage account. Or maybe not.

In an arrangement like a life partnership, more and more people are opting to have separate stores for their finances. On the other hand, a couple of reputable financial gurus (i.e. Laura Rowley and Dave Ramsey) advocate joint accounts.

Since these are financial gurus who have made their mistakes and have definitely learned from them, and lived to turn their stories of woe into nuggets of wisdom, maybe they’re on to something. Let’s take a look at the advantages of using joint accounts in a marriage.

1.   Keeping a major part of a marriage separate could only invite secrets in that area. A major component of a couple’s life kept secret can also lead to secrets in other areas. Plus, financial infidelity could be the “smoke” that may signal the fire of actual infidelity. Thus, if it is a priority for you to maintain a stable marriage life, then you should focus on doing what you can to keep it intact. Keeping a joint account can be one step in making sure that your marriage is run as a tight ship and is a sign that there is a lot of trust in a relationship.

2.   Joint accounts allow partners to help each other out. Some spouses are clueless about managing money. Spouses who are irresponsible spenders or downright spendthrifts need all the help they can get in managing their spending habits and their budgets. A joint account for couples like these may be both risky and helpful. It can be risky, because a joint account in this case can cause an untold amount of friction and a bigger rift in the relationship. It can also be helpful for the individual with the financial problem, as their partner can help manage their finances when the family’s transactions are made transparent to all.

3.   Having a joint account can encourage teamwork in a relationship. There may also be a way to assign the right role for each personality type in the relationship: for instance, one can manage the cash flow for the couple or handle the cash back credit cards and expenses, while the other can happily bring in the paycheck. Dividing responsibility like this could help the marriage work more smoothly, especially in the area of finances. Pooled finances also serve to make each person more mindful of how he or she uses joint funds, thereby acting as a possible method of intervention for dysfunctional financial habits.

4.   A pooled fund for purchases makes it easier to agree on major expenditures. Disagreements may be avoided when each partner knows what their expenses are intended for. A pooled fund would be easier to track for possible impulse spending or evidence of unhealthy financial behavior.

5.   Keeping one account is easier to manage and to use for savings goals. For instance, it would make it easier to build up funds for a huge cash-out, such as a downpayment on a house, because there are now two streams of income going into just one fund. Teamwork always helps the team get to the goal faster.

6.   Joint accounts can enjoy banking benefits afforded to accounts with higher limits. Banks offer special benefits to those who have higher account balances, such as FDIC insurance, fewer or no fees, or higher interest rates. If you’ve got a joint account, you may have a better shot at reaching these limits and receiving these advantages.

7.   Joint accounts are a good fit for single-income marriages. Some marriages benefit from having one partner working at a career, with the other staying at home. In this arrangement, one manages the finances and the household while the other brings in the income to fund the family’s needs.

Marital sanity may well hinge on the efficiency of how a couple handles their finances. Maybe you have tried going the way of separate finances, and it didn’t work for you. If so, don’t let the act of pooling your funds scare you off too much. Who knows, it could add sanity to your life partnership.

How Much Does It Cost For a Son to Turn 15?

We’re talking finances here, of course. Not the emotional cost. Because 15? Seriously? That’s how old I was just a few years ago…

Do we count eating out as a family as part of the birthday cost? Since that was the birthday boy’s dinner request? Even though it didn’t effect what we gave him for his birthday itself? No matter, here’s the stats for the day:

The Birthday Boy's the one with the *Crazy Eyes*

Dinner for six: $70.72

Conner brought his friend John Paul — who’s taking the picture. The total includes the tip — and drinks, which we didn’t scrimp on.

Conner and Andrew Jackson

Cold, hard cash: $50

Because that’s the way to a teenager’s heart.

And we didn’t really give him all $80 for his birthday like you discerning people see in the photo. (Oh, yes, I know you’re out there!) — $30 of that was his monthly allowance that his lame mom hadn’t gotten around to giving him yet. Makes a good impact though, eh?

Oh, and new underwear! ~ $15

Because Conner has totally learned to appreciate the value of a new batch of boxer briefs since he’s been responsible for buying his own clothes.

The cash came inside a hand-made card in which I inscribed:

“Conner, it’s time you learned more about the Presidents…”

then you open it up-

“…Starting with Mr. Jackson.”

Ha! Oh, I crack myself up.

Home-made cards are nothing new around here; I can’t remember the last time I bought my kids a birthday card… If I ever have? (Do you buy your kids birthday cards?) We do keep our cards: we’re not hard-core minimalists by any stretch of the imagination. Each kid has their own shoe box where I stash their cards and notes as they get them. So at least they’re organized. (Usually.)

Total Cost of Turning 15 ~ $135.72

Oh, and another sleepover, but there’s minimal emotional toll for that one: Wii and lots of snacks — what else do (still young) teenagers need? Sleepovers are nothing new around here, to be sure. Although I think we’re expecting a few more participants than the usual semi-permanent fixture from down the street. I’m thinking of taking his friend John Paul with us when we move to California; he’s practically a part of the family anyway. We probably should have had him in the family photo instead of trying to take it. Maybe then Conner wouldn’t have had *crazy eyes*

Enter to win a new laptop!

This is a total Catch-22.

On the one hand, I’m upping my odds of winning myself by blogging about this giveaway, which gives me extra “points” in the drawing. On the other hand, I’m lowering my odds by blogging about this — and telling you all about your chance to enter and win!

Couple Money is celebrating her one-year blogging anniversary by giving away a laptop!

Toshiba Silver 15.6″ Satellite  Laptop PC * Toshiba laptop

  • AMD Sempron Processor 2.1 GHz
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
  • 250GB hard Drive
  • 2 GB RAM
  • DVD/CD Burner
  • Quattro Qresolve New PC Setup Assistance ($79.98 value)

Laptop Prize Pack

  • Canon Pixma PIXMA MX320 All-in-One Home Office Printer with Fax
  • Inland Pro 15.6″ Black Notebook Laptop Bag
  • 4GB USB Flash Drive

Along with a couple of books…

Go to her website for more information on how to enter to win. It’s as easy as signing up for her newsletter. What have you got to lose?

You know you haven’t pulled weeds in a while…

…when you discover that one of them is actually a stalk of corn.

Corn and Life and Loose Metaphors

I have no idea how a corn seed blew into that our yard. None of our immediate neighbors have gardens. We aren’t terribly close to any fields. How did it flourish? We’ve barely had any rain in weeks. Is it edible? Is it corn for feed? No idea. But there’s at least one ear growing so we might find out.

Or maybe I should just yank the whole thing out by its spindly spider roots and be done with it. It doesn’t belong there: it’s probably an eyesore. But what do I know? Lately, less and less, it seems. And how long has it been there, anyway? Has it really been that long since I’ve paid attention to this side of the house?

This feels like such a metaphor for my life right now you have no idea. Oh sure, I sort of saw something large sprouting up by the house whenever I’d pull in to the garage from that side of the street. But I assumed it was just some weed gone wild. Not something that normally requires, you know, planting.

Bear With Me Here

We are trying to figure out what we will do if we do not sell this house by the end of the year. John reports to his new assignment in November no matter what. Do we join him in California in December as originally planned? Or do the kids and I stay in Ohio and wait and see what happens with the house? Do we *gasp* consider that perhaps this house could serve as (yet another) rental property, even though (yet again) that wasn’t our original intention when we bought it?

To Recap

We thought we’d be in Ohio for four years, at least. Four shrunk to three. And who would have predicted the continuing (and worsening) downturn in the real estate market? No one is buying, it’s as simple as that. Least of all military folks moving into the area. For some reason, everyone’s scared and wary. For those of you who have suggested we get a new realtor, I do appreciate the advice. We have discussed that and we’ve also looked around and talked to lots of people. Thing is, no one’s house is selling: not the $90k ones; not the upscale ones for $500k. It’d really be a stretch to blame this on our realtor. We’re coming up to the end of our six-month contract: if we wanted, we could take the house off the market and put it right back on and the results would be the same as switching. We’ll see.

For now,  we’re trying to figure out what our Plan B is. Or Plan C. Or K. It’s getting hard to keep track, in so many different directions do our minds take us.

Our Options as We See Them:

  • Do the kids and I stay in Ohio until the house sells?
  • Do we join John in California in December and leave the house empty until it sells?
  • Do we stay until we find a buyer or a renter, whichever comes first?
  • Do we put the house in the rental market and see what happens, but leave in December no matter what?

That Crazy Rental Business

The latter option requires so many details to plan and put in place it makes my head spin. One thing’s for sure, if we rented out this house, it would be with our eyes wide open. I know just how much work, and how many people employed to help you, that owning a rental long-distance requires. We’d really much rather sell the thing and be done with it. But are we just jaded from our experience with our Vegas rental? The market here in Ohio is much more stable, the people much less transient (to say the least). It may be that we’ve learned things the hard way and could apply that knowledge to a rental property in a market that’s not so volatile.

I am very interested in what you all have to say. I’ll leave you with just one more metaphor, from an image that has been greeting me near the entrance to my bedroom for the last several days.

John had some fun with some toys the kids left in our room, along with some acorns that were scattered across his dresser. (Doesn’t everyone have random stashes of wild nuts strewn about their house?) We both can’t believe the set-up hasn’t fallen or otherwise been knocked down. It cracks me up every time I see it. It’s like it’s saying “I will prevail!” and seems to portray the essence of taking lemons (messy toys) and making lemonade (a creation) that refreshes and invigorates.

Okay, maybe that’s stretching it a bit. But it does make me smile whenever I see it. And right now that’s enough for me.

What is the average family spending on back-to-school shopping this year?

Another poll on USAA recently asked,

“What will the average family spend on back-to-school shopping this year?”

The choices:

  1. $167
  2. $490
  3. $606
  4. $732

What say you?

This is how the votes played out when I cast mine today:

Your vote $490
Your vote $606
Your vote $732

And the winner is….


“According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, the average American family will spend $606 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics for children in grades K-12. Total back-to-school spending for 2010 is expected to reach $21.35 billion nationally, and when you add college, that figure skyrockets to $55.12 billion.”


Makes my $142.99 seem downright paltry. Of course, I didn’t have any shoes, clothes, or even so much as a calculator in that amount. (Hey, that’s what fingers are for, eh?)

I’m not sure what “electronics” would be included in that amount: ipods? Notebooks? Calulators? They can run expensive for the die-hard geek. (And I mean that with all my love.)

Shoes? Clothes? Now we’re probably talking. If parents are shopping regular retail for “must-have” name-brand clothing, that will bring up the numbers and fast: for every parent spending $50 on second-hand “must-have” name-brand clothing, another one is spending $500, I’m sure.

How are your school expenses adding up now that the year is actually underway?

My kids have been in school for almost two (incomplete) weeks now. I still haven’t spent any extra on clothing. Although I am about to pull out their winter stock and access the situation. I guess I don’t do “back to school shopping” for clothes because I shop clearance items throughout the year; it would be very difficult for me to judge an exact amount on a full season of clothing for one child.

I did buy new shoes for Olivia and Peter this year. Total: $34. Ooch. That’s a lot for me to spend on…. well, anything my kids wear, anymore.

My teenager is still responsible for budgeting for his own clothing out of his allowance. (And yes, he still gets $30/month.)

I did buy him a slick-type athletic jacket and pants (what do you call that stuff?) at Goodwill the other day: as per our allowance agreement, the parents purchase items deemed necessary for sporting activities. Conner has decided to do rowing this Fall (yes, rowing!) and he’s going to need something to wear over his work-out clothes before and after practice once the weather cools off. That outfit put me back about $4.69 with tax.

The cost of Rowing? That’s another post. Hint: it ain’t cheap.

So add another $38.69 or so to my previous total of $142.99…. $181.68 is my new (approximate) total for back-to-school shopping for three kids. What’s yours?

(Oh — and still no glue sticks.)

Personal Finance Updates! Yep, our snowball is still on hold.

Debt Balances as of the End of August 2010:

  1. First Mortgage:  $169.862.98
  2. Second Mortgage:  $31,228.81
  3. Rental Property:  $107,637.56

Total Debt:  $308,729.35

This is a difference of –$574.67 in principle from the $309,304.02 owed in primary and rental mortgage debt at the end of July.

Yes, our debt snowball is still in limbo until we sell this house.

Reminder: Regular Payments Breakdown:

  1. First Mortgage: $1538.63
  2. Second Mortgage: $283.90
  3. Rental Property: $758.00

Total Monthly Payments: $2580.53.

$2,005.86 of this was toward interest alone. That is still so, so wrong.

Changes coming to the Second Mortgage

We’re looking at transferring the second mortgage debt to a credit card offering 0% APR for 12 months, with a $75 transfer fee.

Yes, just $75. Normally a transfer fee is 3% of the transfer amount! We received this offer from USAA, and I did a double-take when I read the fine print. Right now we pay a little over $7 every day in interest on our second mortgage, so this transfer is a no-brainer. And it has the added bonus of simplifying the sale of our home when the time comes. Which is any day now…

We have successfully used credit card transfers in the past. That’s how we paid off our car and our home improvements. We were gazelle intense and saved loads on interest. We have a very good “I Love Debt” aka FICO score, what can I say.

In other news

We lowered the price of our home. From $231,850 to $225,000. Two houses on our street recently lowered their prices and both received offers soon after. Let’s hope it works for us.


Now go add your own update to the linky-linky below! Remember to link to the post that details your debt and/or net worth update, and not just to your blog url.