Saturday, December 17, 2011

Homemade Christmas Presents 2011 - Bath Salts

Last year, I did crochet for my homemade presents, but this year I have babies and therefore no time.  I still wanted to give homemade Christmas presents, though, as the thoughtfulness of homemade compensates for the lack of money spent.  Minting Nickels has a post on gifts in a jar, which inspired me for this year.  She likes food gifts, but I prefer not to give food, since most of the recipes seem really unhealthy, and because taste preferences and food allergies vary widely and I would hate to get them wrong.  However, she included a link to Martha Stewart's bath fizzies, which I thought looked amazing.  But then I found out that 5 pounds of citric acid cost $20.  Since Martha was talking cups, and this was weight, I wasn't even sure that 5 pounds would be enough for the 7 people I wanted to gift.

So I decided to be less ambitious and make bath salts instead.  I used Martha's recipe, but I substituted ice cream salt for sea salt.  I figure that salt is salt and, as long as no one tries to eat the bath salts, there's no difference except for the massive price difference.  I might try pickling salt if I did it again, since the rock salt was pretty large, and so the salts did not look homogenized because my Epson salt was fine.  They came out really cute:

I especially liked the striped effect I got from layering colored salts and uncolored ones.

Cost: $4.16 each; $29.17 total
Rock Salt: 3.82
Epsom salt: 3.56
Baking Soda:1.06
Essential Oil: 7.89
Food coloring: 3.12
Cute Jars: 9.72

As you can see, the jars were a third of the cost; I could have saved even more by reusing jars.  This was a rush project, though, and I didn't have time to come up with jars this year.  Next year, I think I'll try the bath fizzies, and save up jars, and it will probably end up costing about the same, although, if I have some of the essential oil left, it will cost less.  I've got nearly the whole bottle left, but I use a Fuzzi Bunz Diaper Bag, which has a place to put essential oils to cover the diaper smell, and I am planning to try it out.  If it works, I expect that my essential oil will be depleted by next year.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Baby Spending - The Good, the Bad, and Ouch

As I said earlier, I've spent more than $2K in the last two months on baby supplies.  I've listed everything I bought below, and categorized them by usefulness to get an idea of how much value I really got.  I didn't buy everything on Amazon, but I did buy most of it, which made it easy to keep track.  I put down the price I paid, rather than the current price, which accounts for any discrepancies.

The Good
Super useful things that I use every day, or nearly

Crib and Changing Table - 200.00
I bought these used from a friend.  The crib is a drop-down model, but she used it successfully with two babies so I am not too worried.  Also, my back has enough trouble picking up babies as it is, I am glad that I don't have sides any higher than they are already.  The changing table is great - I'd get one again.  If you don't have a friend getting rid of theirs, though, it's a great piece of furniture to pick up at a secondhand store.

Pump in Style Breast Pump (Backpack) = 266.69
This has replaced the Lactina Select Hospital Grade Breast Pump I rented previously with no problems so far.  It does get condensation in the tubes every time, though, which is kind of a pain.  If I had it to do over I might have just rented, especially since the window of time I plan to spend nursing shrinks the longer I do it.
Simple Wishes Hands Free Breastpump Bra = 37.99
An essential accessory to anyone who pumps with an electric pump.  Other websites have suggested cutting holes in a sports bra but at my current size (38G) that would be more expensive than this one is.
Medela Tender Care Lanolin x 2 = 17.08
Nipple Cream is also essential if you plan to pump.  This is my favorite of the two I have tried.

The First Years BabyPro Bottle Warmer x2 = 31.08
Mr. Goat uses this every day (I seldom bottle feed the babies).  But we only needed one.

Carters Keep Me Dry Flannel Bassinet Pad x4 = 27.96
Convenient for changing babies on when you don't want leakage (on beds, etc.)  As with the bottle warmer, though, we didn't need 4, 2 would have done.

Changing Pad Cover x 2 = 35.98
Keeps urine and feces off the changing table.  The pad under these can be wiped clean, but it's much nicer to just toss this in the washer, and the babies can't kick it away like they do receiving blankets.

Cloth Diapers - 537.03
Huggies Pure & Natural Diapers, 160 count x3 = 143.94
I thought Cloth Diapers were really expensive - until I looked at paper.  We mostly use cloth, but paper comes in handy for excursions and those nights when all the cloth diapers are in the wash.  They go through them like mad; I can't imagine what we'd spend a month if paper diapers were all we used.  Plus, paper diapers are an environmental disaster.  So we try to minimize their use, and most nights we are even successful.

Maybe I didn't need to buy the premium kit, but babies' nails are finally short.

Before I got pregnant, I was a 36C or D, depending on the brand.  Now I'm a 38G.  Finding an inexpensive, confortable nursing bra has been a real challenge.  The Bliss is comfortable but expensive.  The Medela is comfortable and cheap but not lined, so every tiny leak shows through my clothing.  I'm hoping the Motherhood Maternity bra will work, as it is a lot cheaper but still lined.  I tried the XL and it was a bit small but looked like it might be comfortable.  Hopefully the 1X will fit and not be too wide in the band.  If it doesn't, I plan to buy one more each of the Bliss and Medela, do a lot of laundry, and hope the leaking clears up soon.

Boppy Pillow x 2 = 59.48
Highly useful for bottle feeding two babies at the same time, per Mr. Goat.

The babies love these, especially Football, and we love them too when they stop the screaming for even a minute.  

Allows both babies to nurse on my flat nipple easily.  Monkey has figured out how to nurse it without if absolutely necessary, but they both prefer the prosthetic.  Not necessary if you don't have nipple issues.

The bottles we are using now.  Per Mr.Goat, far superior to the bottles we were using before.

Has been known to soothe the babies, especially Monkey, to sleep on occasion.  On those nights, worth weight in gold.  I bought this one specifically because I wanted a plug-in, as I expected it to run constantly and didn't wan't to have to buy batteries.  I'd have bought a swing secondhand if a plug-in had been available, but it wasn't.  

Mr. Goat likes to use these in the crib to reduce sheet changes.  Monkey soaks his back regularly, so they come in handy nearly every week.

The Bad
Things that I no longer use

Platex Drop-Ins Newborn Starter Set x 2 = $29.03
This looked like a good idea, but wasn't a time save over other bottles.  I'm washing all my breast pumping equipment 3-5x a day anyway, so these don't save me any time and continue to cost money for the plastic liners.  Not to mention they are bad for the environment.
NUK Orthodontic Latex Nipples = 2.37
Playtex Baby Drop-Ins Orthodontic Nipple = 5.20
Accessories to the above.

Also an accessory to the above, but worth a mention because the breast pump adapter is for one side only.  So if you really wanted to pump directly into the bags, you'd need to buy this twice.  Basically it's $30 for a few caps and one breast pump adapter - can we say rip-off?

I bought a ton of this and then liked the Medela cream better.  It is so expensive, though, that I'm using it until it runs out, I just won't buy more.

The babies never liked these as well as the Soothies.  Football will take these instead sometimes; Monkey never.

Things that were never useful, or that I haven't managed to use

Baby K'Tan Sling x 2 = $109.98
These would probably be great - if I ever had time to figure out the manual.  I should have bought a more intuitive sling, as I have not ever found the time to figure out how to use these complicated babies.  Hopefully I'll be able to wear them a couple of times before the babies get too big, when I have enough sleep to read the instructions.

Graco Pack 'N Play Twin Bassinet Sheet x2 = 21.98
The actual Pack 'N Play is super useful; I got the kind with the twin bassinets and keep the babies in them at my Mom's house.  But these sheets are crap - ill-fitting and cheap feeling.

Bought because you are not supposed to trim babies' nails before two weeks of age and they were drawing blood.  Made absolutely no difference in nail sharpness...
So we tried this.  They hated them and refused to nurse with them on, unless they were absolutely starving.

Baby Sign Language Basics = 13.57
We haven't used this yet, but they are a bit young still.

Medela Pump & Save Breastmilk Bags with easy-connect adapter 20-pack = 12.99

Had complicated directions for use; just haven't managed to figure out yet.  Also, I tend to pump a bit more than 5oz per breast, so I am not sure if these will even work for me.

Total = 2035.69, of which 315.13 (17%) was unnecessary or wasted.  
Not where I hoped to be at this point, but expenses going forward should be low for the next couple of months.  I need a few more cloth diapers, and we might buy a second swing, but hopefully all the big purchases are out of the way until we need to buy a food processor at 5-6 months.  

I have 718.28 left over in my new baby account (I had a little less than 3K saved for new baby expenses), and I plan to toss that back into general EF and have the babies integrated into the household budget going forward.  We'll see how that works.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

SmartyPig Interest Rates Fall Again

As I have said before, you lose purchasing power if you put money into savings accounts at the current interest rates.  SmartyPig has decided to exacerbate this by cutting its interest rate to .7%.  Apparently, SmartyPig was designed to make money off the optional gift card redemptions, and the high interest rates were too tempting to savers like myself who never redeemed any of my cash for gift cards.  So now they have a new bank, and are cutting rates.

I am hoping that this is not a sign of things to come.  SmartyPig has been a consistent canary in a coal mine.  Since I complained about SmartyPig's savings accounts rates in June, Discover's rate has gone from 1.25% to 1.05% as well.

I'm contemplating putting more of my medium-term savings into divided paying stocks with low beta.  Unfortunately, so is everyone else in the entire universe, which means that my chances of principal loss are pretty good in the medium term when something else comes into fashion.

Fortunately, since the babies have drained our savings a bit, there's less short and medium term money in the Goat household for me to worry about:)  Where are you stashing your medium-term savings now?  Any good suggestions?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Whatever Works is Good - an update on breastfeeding schedules

Sticking to a strict schedule wasn't much better than letting them set the feeding schedule.  So now we're on a modified schedule, where we try go at least 3 hours, but don't wake the babies up at night to eat.  So it doesn't always work out to 8 times a day, but I figure that, if they are hungry, they will cry.  If they are hungry and cuing for 15 mins, we feed them in between feedings, but that has only happened a few times over the last five days, and usually they fall back asleep after an ounce or two, or 10 minutes or so.  (They are 100% breast milk, but I do express milk so that I can take breaks sometimes.)

Since yesterday, however, the babies have slept more than ever before in their life ... in their car seats.  I don't know why, but our house has looked like this most of the time for the last 24 hours:

I'll take it.  Back to sleep for me!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scheduling Breastfeeding

I've been doing baby-led nursing for the last month, but I've had to give it up.  I think it's a great idea, and it would totally work if I had only one, but two babies seem to want to nurse at two different times 75% of the time.  Add hour long nursing sessions to that, and pretty soon all I am doing is nursing and sleeping (and not much of that).  I don't even have time to shower or eat anything that requires two hands.  So I've decided to put them on a schedule, in the hopes of salvaging a few hours of non-baby time a day.

I talked to my pediatrician, and she said that the babies need to eat every three hours at this stage.  Twinspiration, which I got from my mother-in-law, suggests 15 minutes of feeding every three hours.  I'm not convinced that my babies can get enough nutrition in that time, though, so I'm doing a modified version of the scheduling plan I found in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.  Basically it's up to 45 minutes every three hours; I anticipate that I can get about 10 hours of sleep in 1.5-2 hour chunks and about 4 hours of non-baby time if I can get them to sleep on the schedule.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer is a bit old (2005), but scheduling is really out of fashion right now.  Google scheduling breastfeeding and you will get pages of results on how putting your babies on a schedule will ruin their lives forever.  Of course, ten years ago, failing to put your baby on a schedule would have done the same thing.  I had a good laugh with my monther and my cousin over thanksgiving on a similar topic.  When I was a baby, you put babies on their back for SIDS and that's the recommendation now.  However, in the eighties, when his children were babies, you slept them on their stomachs.  At the end of the day, I'm going to do what works for me and figure that babies just aren't that fragile.  I think everyone would agree that scheduled breastfeeding is better than baby-led formula feeding, and I refuse to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

However, I don't think that Monkey and Football will just fall right into the scheduling thing - I imagine that I'll be soothing hungry and confused babies for the next few days as we all try to figure this out.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What I really, really want ... Financial Bucket List

Thanks Carla, for pointing me to Krystal's $500 Give Me Back My Five Bucks competition, sponsored by Life Insurance Finder, the life insurance experts.

The contest rules require that you post your financial bucket list as part of your blog post entry. I'm not sure what that is, exactly, since I understand that a bucket list is a list of things to do before you die.  Quite honestly, if I die and my last student loan debt isn't paid off, I could care less.  (I wouldn't be sticking my family with it either - my life insurance would more than cover it).  So I think for a bucket list, I should talk about something I'm saving for that I really want to have or do before I die.

Namib Desert
My really, really big want is a safari to Namibia.  The second least populated country in the world, after Mongolia, Namibia has unspoiled, beautiful desert vistas full of exotic animals, pretty much all of which can be hunted.  I think this would be a wonderful 13th birthday / 45th birthday present for myself and the twins.  I'm thinking they can get some smaller game and I can take my once-in-a-lifetime African trophy hunt.

To be completely honest, I've never hunted in my life.  But I'd like to, and I really want my children to as well.  I live in a rural area and hunting is part of the ethnic heritage that I want them to appreciate.  So part of the appeal of Namibia is the requirement that I become a reasonably proficient hunter over the next thirteen years, and pass along the conservationist values that hunting entails to my children.

Great Southern Kudu
I've looked into it a bit, and I think the trip would cost $15-20K today.  So I'm probably looking at $22-30K in 13 years, assuming 3% inflation and no other changes (I know this isn't realistic, but I have to start somewhere). If I save $2K a year for the next 13 years, I'll have around 30K assuming a 2% annual rate of return after taxes.

I haven't actually started saving for this yet - I'm waiting for my finances to stabilize a bit first (my post about how I've spent >2K in the last month on baby stuff is coming soon, really).  Maybe this post will be the kick in the butt I need to keep myself accountable, since my safari dreams will only become a reality if I start working on them now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mint = Fail

Before this year, I kept my monthly budget on a whiteboard, writing in expenses as they came up, and keeping a running total on the wall, where it was easy to see.  The downside of this system was that it was difficult to track expenses over time.  Lots of PF bloggers had nice things to say about, and so I've been using it for the last six months or so.  On the whole, I've been underwhelmed.

Mint tries to auto-categorize your spending for you.  I can't decide which is more annoying, having my utilities auto-categorized as my toy budget, or having literally every Amazon purchase categorized as shopping, a category that isn't anywhere in my budget.  Their trends section is woefully inadequate to track spending over time.  And it's annoying as all get out to get spam email that "my Paypal balance is low" or "my interest rate has dropped, why don't I change to a bank with an even lower interest rate."  Finally, if I do overdraw a budget, there's no way to zero it out by bringing in money from my EF and reconciling my accounts - I have to use torturous and unsound accounting methodology to make my budgets look right again.

But this week has taken the cake - according to Mint, my toy budget is overdrawn by $2264.  Usually, this means that Mint has again misallocated a credit card payment to my toy budget.  In this case, however, I can't find the source of the two thousand dollar plus overdraft, and I've looked over all my transactions for the last six months.  So, basically, I have to either wait for Mint to fix the error, or put in fake numbers and hope that Mint never fixes the error so that my numbers continue to look correct.  

I'm done with this.  I'm going back to my trusty whiteboard next month.  I still want a way to track expenses well over time, and I'm sure I'll try another budgeting service when it becomes available, but, for me, using Mint has been a gigantic fail.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lactation Update - Football Nurses!

Apparently Football was just waiting for me to gripe about her on the internet before she nursed, because she decided that nursing was OK again the day after my last post.  And it really was just like flipping a switch - one feeding she was totally uninterested in the breast, and the next feeding she was rooting on my husband's chest while he gave her the bottle, so we tried her on the breast and she nursed like she had never stopped.

So it looks like I can get the Medela Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pump Backpack, which is very nice, since it turns out that my FSA does not cover breastfeeding equipment after all.  I keep procrastinating, though, in part because I worry that she will backslide again, and in part because the baby fund is getting pretty low (more on that in another post) and I hate to deplete it.  The second reason is completely irrational, as I need a breast pump, and it's not as though one is going to fall out of the sky and land on me for free if I procrastinate long enough.

I'm not sure what's "stylish" about this, actually.
I've also managed to get both babies nursing both breasts by using AVENT Nipple Shields on the less favored breast.  They aren't wild about it, and it's messy as all get out, but we're slowly getting the hang of this nursing thing over here.

Now if I could just get my breasts under control.  They have a tendency to ache all the time, and I leak like there is no tomorrow.  When I get up in the morning, I leak so much that my breast milk literally splashes on my feet.  Hopefully my hormones will get this stuff regulated out soon.

My mom thinks the problem may be over-pumping and over-feeding; I generally pump 10-12 oz a 15 min session, 3-5 times a day, in addition to nursing when I am awake.  However, it's not as though this gives me a stash - Monkey and Football eat it ALL.  They will sometimes eat as much as 8 oz each in one bottle session, and they usually nurse for at least 30 mins each.  I am lucky if I have 20 oz in the fridge at any one time.  We've never had breast milk last even 24 hours in the fridge at this point.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding says that you should let your babies nurse whenever they like, for as long as they like.  My mother says that I should think about putting them on a schedule so that (a) they won't make me totally crazy and (b) they won't overeat.  They're my first babies so I haven't any real clue.  Anyone have any experience with this?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lactation Problems and the Breast Pump Dilemma

I've always intended to breastfeed my babies.  On the farm, we never use supplementation of any sort for our babies; if it is medically necessary for them, they are culls from our program and we don't sell them to our customers.  If I won't feed formula to baby goats, I'm certainly not going to feed it to my babies.

We're in the middle of week 2, though, and I have one baby that will nurse from one breast.  Monkey will nurse one breast; Football won't nurse either.  In fact, last week, she would scream hysterically if put on a breast and, if her mouth was forced over the nipple, she bit it.   Since she had nursed fine for the first couple of days, I didn't worry about it for a while, but at a week my pediatrician said that she needed nutrition, so I've been pumping and bottle feeding her.

Naturally, I hope this is going to be a temporary solution.  I try to offer her the breast as often as I can, and she's gotten better - she no longer screams, and will occasionally give a desultory suck or two.  I'm actively looking for a lactation consultant in the hopes that one can suggest something that I haven't tried, but, at the end of the day, it just depends on whether she'll flip the switch and breast feed or not.

Which leads to the problems of breast pumps.  I had an Ameda Elite at the hospital, and I rented one for a week.  It was OK, although the case on my rental was broken, which caused an annoying squeak, so it had to be returned.  It was a $60 / month rental, though, so by the time I used it for a year, I might as well have bought a new one. (New ones are $800, resale value on ebay is about $450)

In the interim, however, a friend who had to pump exclusively for her twins recommended the Medela Symphony.  I tried to rent one, but there aren't any available in my area, so I ended up with a Medela Lactina Select instead, which is basically the older model of the Symphony.  At $30 / month, it is very affordable, but it does not have nearly the functionality of the symphony.  In particular, it lacks Medela's 2 phase pumping.  The Symphony costs $1200 and has a resale value on ebay of about $700-800, and rents for $80/month, when it is available.  I prefer the pumping feel of the Lactina Select to the Elite, so I am thinking that I should probably buy a Medela product.

My other option is to buy a high end consumer grade pump. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced also has the 2 phase pumping option, if not quite as many settings as the Symphony.  It costs $260 and has an ebay resale value of around $50.  But it's not really intended for pumping 8x a day for a year, and I may have to buy two of them if one burns out (Although the motor is warrantied for a year, the rest of it only has a 90 day warranty.)

My insurance won't pay for a pump, but it looks as though the cost will be covered by my FSA, so I won't need to come up with the cash for any of these out of pocket.  Still, even though it is paid for in pre-tax dollars, $1200 is a lot of money, and there is no guarantee that the current resale value will hold after I have used it for a year.

If I knew that Football was never going to nurse, I'd buy the Symphony or maybe the Elite; conversely, if I knew she was going to nurse, I would buy the Pump in Style.  But, since the future is uncertain, I have to choose.  Theoretically, I have until my pump rental expires in early December to decide, but since I'm planning to get a better pump, I plan to make the decision reasonably soon.

Does anyone have any experience with these pumps?  Even if you don't, would you consider a hospital grade pump a want or a need, in light of my situation?