Family 
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Babies Are Expensive! Total Cost of Having A Baby

This is a post by Connie Brooks, a new mommy in Louisville, KY.

Having a baby is one of the most incredible experiences in the world.

There are no words to describe the moment you hold your baby in your arms for the first time. When their little eyes look up to you and you realize you made the little tyke. There are no words to describes the feeling of pride the first time you see them turn over, or when they crawl and then eventually walk.

While these memories are priceless, having a child is a very costly endeavor. Most parents expect to pay for the obvious things once the baby arrives like food, diapers, and clothes but they often don’t anticipate “the other stuff.” When we had our daughter, we expected to pay for more food and diapers, but we never planned for “the other stuff.” From the moment I found out I was pregnant though, a seemingly limitless chain of bills started showing up. We were literally supporting our baby from the moment we knew about her. It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you are thinking about having a baby any time soon, here are some of the expenses (“the other stuff”) you’ll want to plan for, even before your baby arrives:

1. Prenatal Care

As scary as it is to think about, most miscarriages happen within the first three months. Chances are your Ob-gyn will not even want to see you until you hit the three month mark because of this. After that, you can expect to go once or twice a month for the next six months, and even more frequently for the final three months.

Every time I went to my Ob/Gyn, it cost me an insurance co-pay of $30. We had hyperactive prenatal doctors so we ended up going even more often than average. Our cost for pre-natal doctors visits over nine months was around $500. Your cost will vary depending on your insurance plan.

2. Prenatal Diet

Your baby is literally depending on you for its nutrients. If you don’t have a healthy diet, then your baby will not get what they need, and that could have long term consequences.

The truth is, we weren’t eating very well when I got pregnant. We ate out once, sometimes twice a week, and ate a lot of beans, rice and eggs otherwise. Doing that kept our before baby food budget to around $300 a month.

After I found out I was pregnant, our food budget literally doubled. We stopped eating out, and I bought fresh organic fruits, vegetables and yogurt. The only food I craved when I was pregnant was steak (which was odd since I am a semi-vegetarian!). The steak was expensive too because I chose to buy only top quality grain-fed beef.

I did not care how much our food ended up costing us, I wanted my baby to have every building block she needed to grow. Over a twelve month period (I breast fed for three months afterward, so we kept our diet the same.) Our food ended up costing us $7,200. Prenatal vitamins added in another $270 over nine months.

3. Maternity Clothes

– I gained around 20 pounds while I was pregnant, so my clothes fit me for most of my pregnancy. However, by the eighth month, there was no containing my belly. I had to face facts and invest in a few good quality maternity clothes. I bought a week’s worth of clothes as cheaply as possible. I also used my husband’s shirts and bought things like hip-hugger pants that I could wear after my baby. The total cost of my maternity clothes was around $400. If you’re careful you might be able to get by cheaper, but it could easily cost more depending on your needs. Try to maximize sales whenever you can!

4. Baby Clothes & Supplies

We were very blessed because our friends and family gave us nearly everything our daughter would need for her first few months. If you don’t have a strong supportive network, then this will be a real expense.

Wal-Mart and Target have the most reasonably priced baby clothes. If I had to put a price on what we were given I would say that it amounted to easily $800 to $1000 worth of diapers, clothes, shampoo, and supplies. Again, we had an extremely generous family, who put all they had into helping us prepare for our baby. In retrospect, If I were the one paying for the items, I would have spent around $400 total on clothes and supplies for my daughter’s first few months – and that would have been plenty.

5. Nursery & Travel Items

The crib for our daughter was $500. Her mattress was $100. We bought a crib that would turn into a toddler bed, and eventually a full sized bed as she grew. Her car seat and stroller ran us about $400 – again because we bought for the long term and wanted something that would last through several children if necessary. You can definitely do this cheaper than we did! The total cost for her nursery was around $1,500 after decorations.

6. The Big Day(s): Hospital and Delivery Costs

How much this ends up costing you will depend on your insurance, how difficult your labor is, and how well everything goes.

In my case, nothing was simple. I spent two days in the hospital being induced and ended up with a c-section. My daughter had a fever when she was born, so she spent a week in the hospital on antibiotics undergoing a lot of tests. (She was fine, thank God!) They kept me for four days after my surgery. I can honestly say that for a month after we came home I dreaded going to the mailbox and pulling those medical bills out!

The total cost for her delivery was nearly $4000.

7. The Paperwork

After my daughter was born, we did have to take care of some paperwork. Particularly ordering several copies of her birth certificates. This was another unexpected cost. I’m not sure why I thought that the hospital would provide us with one – they didn’t. They sent her birth records off and we had to order an official copy. Those were $10 each, and we ordered 3, so we $30 spent on her paperwork.

8. The Aftermath

In the first few months following her delivery she and I both went back to the doctor a couple of times for routine checkups. This was not a huge expense, but it was one I did not expect. The follow-up visits probably ran us around $150.

From conception to birth, our daughter cost us about $14,000. Fourteen thousand dollars. Oh, and that does not even take into account the diapers or the eventual formula costs once I went back to work. It also does not include childcare, which thankfully, we did not have to get.

If you are considering having a baby, please make sure that you get a hefty savings account going before you take the plunge. Many of these costs we had not planned for, and that made it more difficult than it had to be. When we planned out our finances before getting pregnant, we always planned out what we thought the costs would be after we had her, and we did not take into account what it would cost just to get her to delivery!

I am very sure that if I had it to do over again, I could do it for less money. I think that I went into it from the mindset of doing what I thought was right for my baby, and the finances took a backseat. That being said though, my daughter’s birth story is an excellent example of how having a baby can easily cost you a fortune – so it’s something to think about.

How about you? Do you have children? What would you say it cost you and your spouse to have your baby? Leave us a comment below!


 Shopping 
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Scotch Night: Sampling Premium Scotches with Tasting Parties

Scotch Night

Every few months, about a dozen friends of mine get together for an event we aptly called Scotch Night. The idea behind scotch night is that it offers us the opportunity to try a variety of premium scotches on the cheap. Rather than paying $60-$100 a bottle on something you may or may not like based on its region, you pay into a pot or bring your own bottle and sample others. You in effect pay $60 – $100 to try as many scotches as there are people; all the while hanging out with friends.

There are really only two rules to our scotch nights. Either you bring your own bottle to share or you chip in about $20 to pay for a communal bottle of something we’ve never had. The point of the Scotch Nights isn’t to save money and get wrecked (a sign we are getting older!), it’s to sample premium Scotches without breaking the bank in doing so.

15-Second Primer on Scotch

If you’re planning your own scotch night and know little about scotch, here’s a quick primer. Scotch is whisky that’s made in Scotland, whisky is a generic term for alcoholic beverages distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden (oak) casks. In order for it to be called a Scotch, it has to be distilled in a Scottish distillery, the grain used has to be malted barley, it must mature in Scotland in oak casks for at least three years and one day, and finally it cannot be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume. Scotch can come in four types as well – single malt, vatted/pure malt, blended and single grain. Single means the malt came from one distillery, the blended/vatted/pure designation means the malt came from multiple distilleries.

6 Classic Single Malts

Ok, now you have the chemistry (sort of), where do you start? I think you start with single malts and with some of the “6 Classic Single Malts.” According to the United Distillers and Vintners (which is a subsidiary of a spirits company Diageo and not an independent trade organization), there are 6 Classic Single Malts (their names are preceded by the region they come from and they all appear to be Diageo brands):

  • Islands – Talisker
  • Islay – Lagavulin
  • Highland – Dalwhinnie
  • Lowland – Glenkinchie
  • Speyside – Cragganmore
  • West Highland – Oban

From here, I would find some options from those regions (you don’t have to necessarily go with Lagavulin if you want an Islay, there are several options to chose from (Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Laphroaig). Each region will have different characteristics (Islays are known to have a stronger peaty component and also a bit of salt and iodine).

How important is age? The older a scotch is, the smoother and less “bity” it will be. Younger scotches will seem a bit rougher and the alcohol component will be sharp. If you’ve ever let wine “breathe,” it’s a similar idea. It’s the reason why some prefer their scotch on the rocks (with ice) or with a splash of water, it’s to get that heat to open up a little. Also, the age refers to the time spent in the cask so you’ll get a stronger flavor as the years go by. I think the best option is to try them all in their earliest years (or a few steps up) to get a good basis for comparison. You may find that the flavor components of an 18 year Macallan is too strong for you and you prefer the 8 year; you won’t know unless you try it.

Lessons Learned

Scotches, like wines, have different subtleties and flavors and you often have to sample a few to get a feel for the types you like. I prefer to drink peatier & smokier scotches in the beginning of the night and then transition to smoother, crisper scotch towards the end. My favorites are Islays (Lagavulin) start (smokier and peatier scotches) and transitioning to Macallan and Glenlivit (both are Speyside scotches) towards the end of the night.

Like wine, scotches go well with chocolate. I’m not an expert but I know that darker chocolates work better with smokier, peatier scotches (see this article on chocolate and Laphroaig, another scotch I’m a fan of).

Skip anything cask strength unless you’re going to put it on the rocks or splash some water in it, it just tastes like burning. I bought a bottle of Macallan Cask Strength and while it was pretty good, the high alcohol content pretty much dominated a lot of the flavors. It looks cool (comes in a fancy red box and all), but go with one that’s been pulled down out of the stratosphere.

It helps to keep notes, as dorky as it might sound. The problem with trying a bunch of scotches in one night is that your memory begins to fade. While you might remember broader preferences (you like peatier scotches, don’t like sherry casks, etc.), it’ll be harder to remember specifics. Of the Islays, do you prefer Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, or Caol Ila? Did you try Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain?

When keeping notes, don’t stick to the terms you think fancy schmancy scotch drinkers use to describe scotch. I’ve used the term peaty, smoky, iodine, salty, etc., you don’t have to. While those may be scotch-describing terms, describe them in a way that makes sense to you. Part of the popularity of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV is in how he describes wines in plain English. I’ve seen an episode where a wine was described as having a component of “Hello Kitty eraser.” Snooty wine people don’t know what Hello Kitty eraser smells like. Use whatever terms make sense to you and will evoke the same response. If a scotch tastes like the smell of honey the moment you burn it, then write that down.

If it weren’t for these scotch nights, I wouldn’t have tried as many scotches as I’ve had. I wouldn’t have developed as much of an interest in it either because, frankly, paying $60-$80 a bottle isn’t something that’s in my genes. I recognize that the bottle can last a long time but it’s a significant up-front cost to “try out” something, you know? With these scotch nights, I’ve been able to try out a bunch of different scotches and find the ones I enjoy.

(Photo: batcave13)


 Personal Finance 
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7 Deadly Sins of Personal Finance: Being Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

7 Deadly Sins of Personal FinanceIt’s fitting that the sixth deadly sin of personal finance would be this one, after making a case for adequate insurance in the 5th deadly sin. Sometimes, in the quest to be frugal, we make decisions that can be short-sighted. These decisions, which may be beneficial in the short run, end up costing us big dollars in the long run because of unintended consequences or unforeseen circumstances. This is why the sixth sin of personal finance is …

Being Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

The simplest and most relatable example I can think of is buying 12-packs of Diet Coke at the super market. At normal prices, a 12-pack costs about four bucks a piece, for a unit price of thirty-three cents each. When it’s on sale, you can get a 12-pack for only $2 a piece (5 for $10 deals in the summer happen about once a month). I would only buy packs when they were at the $2 price… and then find myself spending $1.39 for 16 oz. bottles whenever I had an urge for Diet Coke. Penny wise… pound foolish.

That was a simple example, how about a more realistic one? Let’s say you’re a young professional looking to buy a car and trying to find easy ways to some extra money. You stumble onto my post about credit card offers and think about signing up for a few cards for their bonuses. Bad idea. In the short term, you might get a few hundred bucks signing up for cards and spending the required amount but in the long term, you lower your credit score. That lower credit score will result in a car loan with a high interest rate. If you’re planning on buying a house in the next year, avoid these types of things!

Finally, here’s one that I grappled with while I was in school: working during college. My dad and I often discussed whether I should work while I was in college. His reasoning was that I was going to school to get a degree, not to work a part-time job that would distract me from the primary goal. I understood my Dad’s position, why work for $10/hr when I was paying $30,000 a year for tuition?

But I was impetuous and eager to earn my own way in the world, so I took some odd jobs and did some things on the side. Fortunately none of the jobs ever detracted from my study time (while my grades weren’t stellar, I could claim graduating early which saved a good chunk of change) but it could have. While I’m not saying you shouldn’t work in school, make sure you’re working for the right reasons. Working at a research assistant in your field of study is a smart move, working anywhere because you need the money to pay for school is a smart move, working at the local coffeehouse so you have some beer money is probably not the best.

To make sure you’re not committing this deadly sin of personal finance, weigh both the long term and short term impacts of the decisions you’re making. You don’t want to be too heavily emphasized in either direction.


 Career 
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US News & World Report’s Best Colleges of 2009

While these types of lists are about as valuable as lists for the top paying jobs, they sure are fun to read, aren’t they? I put even less stock in these types of lists since they’re far more generic than top job lists and less quantifiable. It’s like when the coaches are polled to get the rankings of the NCAA Division I football teams… I can’t remember the last time a pre-season #1 ended up with the trophy that next January (I don’t follow much college football though, I did go to Robocup powerhouse Carnegie Mellon).

(Click to continue reading…)


 The Home 
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Welcome Connie!

Connie BrooksLast week, I had the pleasure of introducing Gary Bonner, who will be giving his perspective on current personal finance issues, and this week I have the pleasure of introducing Connie Brooks. Connie is a personal finance blogger and author about to release her first book – How to Retire Comfortably and Happy on Less Money Than the Financial Experts Say You Need: Insider Secrets to Spending Less While Living More. She regularly blogs at ThriftyMamas.com and recently started a family with the addition of a baby girl.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Frugal Living, Retirement 
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We Bought Schwinn Midtown Bikes

Schwinn 26This week, my wife and I went to Costco and picked up two bikes that we’d been looking at for quite some time. Some cycling purists would say that you should always get a bike from a local bike shop. While I agree that the personal service at a local bike shop is far better than at Costco (no explanation necessary), the reality is that there are two reasons we are getting these bikes and neither involve hardcore mountain biking or racing.

First, our little suburban area of Columbia is designed for biking. All the little shopping centers and parks and lakes are separated by an intricate network of walking and bicycle paths. On Wednesday, I rode around a nearby lake, through some paths, and popped out beside a little shopping center with a Subway to eat lunch with my wife and her co-worker. On the way back, I did some exploring and easily found the right path to take if we ever want to bike to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Manor, as well as our gym. Forget walkability scores, bikability is where it’s at.

The second reason is that I work from home and find myself doing a lot of intra-city driving to places where I am taking small roads. Why not replace the use of my car with a bike? Lower my already relatively small carbon footprint, get some exercise, and enjoy the fresh air! I’m not ready to sell my car but I’m certainly going to be using it less and less now that I have a bike.

The bikes were a good $200 a piece. While in the pantheon of bicycles, $200 is considered cheap, in the pantheon of bicycles I’d be willing to buy, $200 was about the limit. I understand that you get what you pay for and a “good bike” costs in the thousands, but I don’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. My wife doesn’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. For now, we can enjoy the heck out of our $200 bikes and then upgrade if necessary. We are acting our age financially.

For security, we bought two OnGuard Bulldog STD 5010LM Bicycle U-Locks as they were the highest rated sub-$30 lock by Scott Elder of Slate.com. He wrote about his experience trying to break into a whole bunch of bike locks and this one was the best of the bunch under $30. Again, you can spend much more for a beast of a lock (and those with $5000 bikes should buy a beast of a lock), but these should fit our needs just nicely.

Do you own a bike? Any tips or suggestions?


 Personal Finance 
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comments

Found Some Six-Year Old Missing Money

$1,025 in credit card offers!Have you checked out MissingMoney.com lately? If you haven’t take about fifteen seconds to do a quick search for yourself and you might be pleasantly surprised. I looked about a year or two ago and didn’t see anything, I just looked again and discovered that I had about a hundred bucks floating around somewhere in the halls of Pennsylvania’s Department of the Treasury!

The most surprising part was seeing my name next to my address from college, brought back some fond memories! Apparently I had a rebate from “Best Buy Co Inc.” for “under $100!” (everything is listed as under or over $100 or Unknown) I did this a few years ago and found no money, so imagine my surprise to find “under $100″ somewhere. Back in college, I bought a lot of stuff for free after rebate in order to sell in on eBay. I was mostly diligent though from time to time things did slip through the cracks. This rebate is obviously one of those slips so it’s a nice little treat to discover I had some money coming my way (hopefully!).

The property date was listed as 12/06/2002 but the “missing money” wasn’t reported until April 21st, of this year. So, if you haven’t checked lately, I recommend you do.

With Pennsylvania, you have to visit the Pennsylvania Treasury site and re-enter your information (just first and last name). A list will appear, you select your unclaimed property, fill out some information to auto-populate the claim form, and then print out the form.

From here, I think each state has different requirements to prove that you are the owner of the property. In Pennsylvania, I will have to submit a copy of my driver’s license or signed social security card (I’ll be going with the license) as well as a signed Affidavit and Indemnification Agreement because I don’t have proof of the property (rebate) and because the property is valued above $25.

I hope this isn’t a rebate for $5… :)

(Photo: refractedmoments)


 Frugal Living 
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“I Can’t Afford A House” Syndrome

Grocery Shopping on a BikeOn a drive up to a local restaurant last week to celebrate our friend’s final Master’s class, my wife and I were listening to this segment of Marketplace on commuter bikes. The segment talked about how more people are biking to work and how expensive these commuter bikes were. They range anywhere from a couple hundred to five figures! It’s an astonishing price to pay for a bicycle but here’s the truly astonishing part about it – many pay without any reason to.

First, Marketplace talked to Richard Fries of Bikes Belong, a bicycling advocacy group, and he said that you just need a simple bike to get you from A to B. All you need “is the bike that Curious George had. You know what I mean? Fenders, chain guard, a little rack to strap your books onto. Does wheelies. Gets around town.”

Then they talked to Susan Brady, just a regular Jane consumer who bikes every day to work:

Brady: I mean, the cool thing about bikes is you can spend a little or spend a lot, and they’re all gonna pretty much do the same thing.

Cole (Marketplace reporter): That’s what I’m wondering, why you would spend a lot.

Brady: Cause I thought I’m never gonna be able to buy a house, so I might as well buy a nice bike.

Woah. Now, it’s one thing to justify the price with good reasons and another to justify it like that. For example, high end mountain bikes are expensive because they are made of carbon fiber (to be lighter), have high end shock absorbers (to handle the rugged terrain), and other similar characteristics that improve performance and durability. While you do pay a premium, it’s likely that most seasoned mountain bikers recognize what they are getting for their money. This is the very reason why I advocated Acting Your Age Financially and how you shouldn’t hit the premium aisle before checking out the discount bin.

While the Marketplace segment might have had some editing involved, the fact that Brady’s best response was that “she can’t afford a house” is astonishing. That reasoning isn’t uncommon though. I had a friend once email out to a bunch of our friends lamenting the fact that home prices are so high in our area. There’s no way he could afford a home here. That’s when someone pointed out that the reason he can’t afford a home is because he has a boat and a new truck to tow the boat.

We all make decisions and trade offs, don’t say you can’t afford a house and then go out and buy a ridiculously expensive bicycle. You sound foolish and it’s insulting, especially to all the hard working Americans scraping by and saving all of their money so they can afford a place of their own.

(Photo: kamshots)


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