Yet another fabulous contest! I didn't even know you could embroider an Ergo!


Check out the adorable blankets at Bubblecakes! Penny Pinching Parent is giving one away here. How can you resist??


I can tell you as a teacher, there are a lot of responsibilities that were once considered prime domain for parents that now rest on the shoulders of your local educator. Just in: paying students to succeed. A pilot program in DC (and Chicago and 1 other city) are paying kids to meet the school requirements: attendance, wearing their uniform, grades, behavior.
Pros:
- It shows kids that we value their education enough to pay them for it.
- Maybe those who drop out or skip class because their family situation is such that they have to work, will be able to stay at school... maybe...
- It might help some motivated students how to manage money.
- It exposes kids to banks who might otherwise only manage their money through Checks Cashed type establishments. (I certainly hope that the bank they are using is fee-free, other than maybe for overdrafts.)
Cons:
- What happens when they want more money?
- Not all are buying dinner out like the article suggests.
- Can you undo a program like this? What happens if the program fails? THEN we expect the students to take their responsibilities seriously again without the cash incentive?
- Bad grades don't cancel out the money they earn just for showing up. I'm pretty sure that if all I do is show up to teach and then play on my computer all day that the money will run out...

So many other questions about this.
What do you all think?

So I was thinking... (always a gamble)
While television is certainly at fault for drawing families away from the dinner table, as are our overly planned afternoons of sports, scouts, and lessons, I think cell phones and email also should shoulder some blame. I talk to my husband everyday on my way home after I pick Baby Boy up from day care. We talk about our days and anything else that wasn't covered in our daily emails. So, when it's time for dinner, there's not always something to talk about. I've actually found myself holding onto information so there's something to discuss at the table.
Agree? Disagree?


When we last left the cloth ledger, I was at $461.84.

Here's the latest:

From a mom at a local diaper chat-
1 used Froggie M Fuzzi Bunz - old style $7
1 used WAHM largish fitted $7

From a different mom, 1 month later:
1 used L Dream Eaze AI2 $12
1 new M old style Fuzzi Bunz w/insert $12

From Nicki's Diapers:
2 Babykicks Hemparoo doublers $10, but I had a gift cert., so, FREE :)

From a local resale shop:
1 used large fitted made from recycled tshirt w/liner $8
2 used large fitted Cuddlebums w/snap-in liners $20
1 new DiaperChange University of Texas pocket $17.95

Total: $545.79

Keep in mind this is all new money, as opposed to me selling diapers that are too small and using that money to size-up (which is one way to go). We plan to keep the diapers to use with our kids in the future. Then if they're worth anything after 3-4 kids, we'll sell them or donate them to Miracle Diapers. So even if our cost of cloth is similar to what we would spend on disposables for 1 kid, we make up the savings for each subsequent kid.

I've recently found myself (many times!) in a state of confusion and frustration in terms of my wants and needs. Hubby and I purposefully live within our means, while putting a little off to the side in savings and paying off our credit card each month. There are the obvious needs of food, water, shelter, and clothing but is anything after that a real need? How do people decide what to buy on top of that? Trying to live a frugal lifestyle, I cringe when we go out to eat, but LOVE doing it. I've stopped buying clothing at superstores and buy nicer that lasts longer. How do you find the middle ground between wants and needs?

Batch Cooking

A great way to save time, money, and some water on dishes is batch cooking. Check out today's post over at Small Notebook for tips!

Want to win free cloth diapers? Angie at Baby Cheapskate is giving away 12 Bum Genius 3.0.

I mentioned in the last update that I was looking for some covers. Here's a lesson in thriftiness I have now learned.

From a local store that I frequent:
1 new small Bummis Super Brite (blue) +
1 new small Bummis Super Whisper Wrap (frogs) +
1 new medium Bummis Super Whisper Wrap (white) = $35.08
I can't find my receipt and thus don't have the exact itemized break-down. I did save on shipping by getting them at the store and saved 10% by placing a special order.

From a mom at a diaper chat I attended last week:
1 used medium Bummis Super Whisper Wrap (white) =$7.00
You can't even tell it's been used other than the tag is a little faded and it's no longer bright white. Guess who won't be buying new covers in the future.

Up to date cost of cloth = $461.84

It's Cloth Diapering Week over at Baby Cheapskate. Go check out my Guest Post. (He he, it's my 1st!)

An interesting article in the most recent Business Week examines the increasingly-circumspect relationship between colleges (and alumni associations) and banks or credit card companies.

Not only do financial institutions use free food and gifts to lure 18-year-old students into signing up for a credit card, the banks and credit card companies are using gifts (high-dollar contracts) to form partnerships with colleges. Here is a chart showing some contracts colleges signed to sell out their students to credit card issuers.

States are now starting to look into this practice, including an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. According to an aide for Mr. Cuomo:

It seems that the schools are simply selecting the university credit card based on who pays the school the most, and that may not be best for students, especially in these hard economic times.
As an undergrad, I singed up for a credit card and received a free t-shirt. However, that card still sits in my wallet and is my usual means of payment (paid off monthly, of course). At the time, it offered 5 percent back on all gas and grocery purchases, and 1 percent on everything else. It recently dropped to 1 percent on all purchases, which is good enough for me.

I admit that when I signed up for the card, I was probably more concerned with the free shirt than the terms of the credit card. That is what usually happens with 18-21 year old kids. I lucked out and got a decent card. That isn't always the case, however.

Baby Boy begins day care in a little over a month (sniff sniff). When we signed him up, we were 7 months pregnant and not sure how the whole cloth diaper scenario would work out. So, I called the day care last week to check-in with a few questions. Turns out, they only allow cloth diapers for those who are allergic to disposables. I suppose I could fib a smidgen and say he's allergic, but then I hear echos of my father... "Character is all about what you're doing when you think no one is looking..." (Sigh). So, that means we will be buying disposables for BB to use 9 hrs a day, 5 days a week. We've figured to an average of a Jumbo pack per week. That's roughly $40/month on diapers. We chose to do cloth diapers for the environmental impact with the bonus of saving a little money, so I'm bummed on both accounts.

Baby Boy is now 10 weeks old (13 lbs., 26 in.). He is beginning to outgrow his newborn Bummis Whisper Pant, so we're in the market for some more covers. Otherwise, he can still wear his Kissaluv size 0 and all that we've bought in larger sizes except the Blueberry. We still have a tiny bit of growing to do before we get into that one.

When we last looked at the Cloth Diaper Ledger, the cost of cloth was at $384.94. I have since bought:

From Diaper Swappers:
1 washed, but unworn Green Acre Diaper = $16.53
= $401.47

From Young & Restless:
1 used, good condition, soccer print, fitted diaper = $3 +
5 fleece doublers to be used as cloth wipes* = $3
= $6
= $407.47

From Diaper Swappers:
1 custom, fleece soaker with baseball embroidery = $12.29**
= $419.76

So, $419.76 is our up-to-date cost of cloth.

* We have not yet begun to use cloth wipes. I'm working on easing into that one. I think I'm going to cut up some old flannel PJs to use as cloth wipes as well. Look out for updates.

** The original price for this soaker was $12 plus shipping from Canada. The WAHM who made it for me was trying out a new pattern and it went a little funny in 1 spot, so she offered to make me a new one or give me this one sans cost of embroidery. Hello?! Who's going to notice? I went for the $12 soaker with character. :)

When we last looked at the Cloth Diaper Ledger, the cost of cloth was at $284.26. I have since bought:

From Diaper Swappers:
1 new Blueberry medium side snap = $12
= $296.26

From Diaper Daisy
1 new Large 14"x14" wet bag $22.95 +
1 new Baby BeeHinds wool wrap $22.95
= $52.68
= $348.94

So, $348.94 is our up-to-date cost of cloth.

I was playing around on Hot Coupon World the other day and came across this link. Did you know that you can send unused AND expired coupons to a military bases overseas where they can be used at the commissary? (I didn't.) AAANNND because it's a U.S military base, you pay domestic postage, not international.

Then, I was reading at Blissfully Domestic where Alison has been posting summer tips for kids to keep their writing, math, and reading skills sharp. As a former kindergarten teacher, one skill I really valued when kids came to me in August is do they know how to use scissors.

See where I'm going here? Give you preschooler/kindergartner the coupon pages and teach them where to cut (dotted lines, etc.). They'll get good fine motor practice, be helping Mommy and soldier families, and get some great exposure to environmental print while they're at it. As if that's not enough, you have a great sorting lesson separating food coupons from non-food coupons (the Overseas Coupon Program asks that you do this), and a practical life-skills lesson on addressing and mailing a letter.

The Houston Independent School District's Board of Education took a big step last night, voting to replace all cafeteria trays with a biodegradable version. The new trays will break down in a matter of months, versus the hundreds of years for the older model.

The switch will be made in elementary schools by this coming August, and in all schools over the next couple of years. It will cost the district's food service budget $160,000 or so for the switch in elementary schools, and about $300,000 when the switch is made at all schools.

I see this as a tremendous step, especially considering the budget crisis most Texas school districts are facing. I'm glad to know that the Houston leaderships understand that something's cost is not only determined by its price tag.


This post is the first of a series to chronicle the total amount of money we're spending on diapers. We are primarily using cloth.

Our first batch of diapers: Nicki's Diapers
4 packages of 6=24 - Kissaluvs - size 0 (unbleached) = +$263.76
4 free covers with order- Bummis Whisper Pant = $0
We used a $50 gift certificate received at a shower. = -$50
= $213.76

From Diaper Swappers
3 used (good condition) Kissaluvs - size 1 (unbleached) = $23
= $236.76

From Diaper Swappers
1 used (good condition) Sandys - small = $7.50
= $244.26

From Craigslist
5 used (very good condition) Fuzzi Bunz - small = $40
5 used (very good condition) inserts - small
= $284.26

Our original plan was to use disposables while we are out and about. We have since begun to transition to using cloth on the go as well. That said, we do have the cost of disposables to consider as part of our diapering costs. We try to find deals where we spend less than .15/diaper (after coupons.) Here are a couple of helpful sites:
Penny Pinching Parent
Baby Cheapskate
Approximate cost to date on disposables: $134
This is not how many we've used in Baby Boy's 7 weeks of life, it's the amount spent on disposable diapers purchased since 1 month before he was born. We have a stockpile of diapers up to size 3 in his closet and in the garage.
What if we over-bought on a size that we don't end up using? We can probably take them back and exchange, or even better, donate them to a shelter. :)
= $284.26 + $134 = $428.26

Wa$ted

Hubby and I were at my parents' house in Dallas this weekend so the extended family could meet Baby Boy. Mmm... cable... HGTV, DIY, and new to us this trip... Planet Green. "Renovation Nation," "G Word," and "Wa$ted" were among the fabulous shows we encountered in our trip. Check them out.

"Wa$ted" focuses on showing families how they can decrease their ecological footprint. If you want to see the size of your ecological footprint, go here. There are a lot of things you can do to decrease the amount of waste put out by your house, but if you're not ready to commit to composting, buying a rain barrel, or trading in your SUV for a Smart car, here are some quick and easy options:
- Use your dish towels instead of paper towels
- Cook extra and put it into tupperware for lunches and dinners later that week instead of buying individual servings (soup, lasagna, rice & beans, spaghetti, etc.)
- Same goes for other foods - carrots, grapes, crackers, goldfish, etc.
- Already have individual servings in the pantry? Save the containers, rinse them out, and they make great snack cups.
- Take reusable bags to the grocery store, or better yet, to the farmers market.
- Cut up old t-shirts and use as cleaning rags
- Clean your house with a vinegar and water mixture in a spray bottle - You will not only reduce the number of plastic bottles your home throws away, but rid your house of unnecessary chemicals.
I list only a few ideas because an exhaustive list can be intimidating. Start with one idea and as you get comfy, add another!

Shannon Buggs, the personal finance columnist at the Houston Chronicle, is on a year-long crusade to "out-save the Joneses." In a recent column, she offered six tips for a more frugal lifestyle:

  1. Make your home energy efficient (We're working toward this, albeit slowly. We're in a rent house, so we're limited in what we can do)
  2. Don't buy gasoline with a debit card (We use our reward credit card, to get the cash rewards)
  3. Don't carry balances on gasoline credit card (We don't carry a balance)
  4. Plan daily commuting (The Wife is home nearly all day with Baby Boy, and is great about planning her errands. I take the bus to work, so my trip is planned by Metro)
  5. Bring your personal life back in-house (Most days I take my lunch to work and we cook dinner at home. I also take care of all our maintenance, so we don't hire lawn crews or handymen)
  6. Step away from cutting edge (We do have an HDTV, but only have an antenna - which still gives us our local channels in HD. I may break this rule next month, as I'm in the market for a new phone and I think the Wife is letting me get an iPhone 3G as my anniversary gift)
The wife and I are doing pretty well on these, but we're always looking for ways to improve. With Baby Boy taking most of our time and attention, it has been pretty easy (and necessary) to live frugally.

Everyday environmentalism - Subway

I stopped in at Subway today for my traditional Wednesday lunch (the only day of the week I don't bring my lunch), and noticed something different. In the past, the "Sandwich Artists" would slide your sub down the aisle on a small white sheet of paper, and then wrap it all up together in the larger Subway paper. Now, it seems, they are reusing the smaller white sheets and only wrapping up the sandwich.

This reminded me of a recent USA Today article I read on restaurants going green. Subway was one of the companies mentioned:

Scrapping some wrapping

Subway is testing a new way to serve subs to dine-in customers: with less wrapping. Unwrapped sandwiches are served on a thin paper sheet placed inside a basket made of 10% recycled material. The test will expand this summer to more markets, says Elizabeth Stewart, marketing chief.

But Subway's biggest green impact has been its napkins, made from 100% recycled paper. Subway figures its 4 billion recycled napkins save 147,000 trees annually.


Not only does Subway offer a decently priced, relatively healthy value meal, it now seems they are trying to do their part for the environment.

Cloth Diapers for the Clueless

Husband mentioned that we are using cloth diapers with Baby Boy. We're following the example of some friends of ours that use cloth diapers and love it. Supposedly, cloth diapers are a cheaper way to go, and better for the environment. We don't use cloth exclusively. We use them only when we're at home. I'll leave Baby Boy in the cloth if I'm running a quick errand, but if it's likely that I'll need to change him out and about, I'll switch him to a disposable. I have no desire (or room in the diaper bag for that matter) to carry dirty cloth diapers around. There are some really good websites out there with lots of information on cloth diapering, but there's a lot of information to sift through. It's EXTREMELY overwhelming.


Here's what we've figured out after a month of cloth diapering:
> Financial observations:
While a sizable investment on the front end, cloth diapers are less expensive overall than disposables. We go through a jumbo pack of diapers in approx. 5 days. Averaging $8 per jumbo pack (with the help of coupons, sales, and rebates) and using 73 jumbo packs per year, that's $584/year. Our disposables so far have cost $230 for 24 Kissaluvs Size 0 (KLOs) and 4 diaper covers. These should last us the first 3 months or so depending on how fast he grows. Keep in mind, we can resell these to make some of the money back, or we can save them for our other kids later on. (If we were to have 3 kids... that's $230 cloth or $672 disposable assuming we didn't replace any of the cloth and no inflation on the cost of disposables.)
A note on KLOs - They're great for people new to cloth diapering. Very easy to use, no folding, etc. They work just like a regular diaper except that they require a waterproof cover. Our son is a heavy wetter, so you may want to include a doubler, or change him every 1-2 hrs. The fit is GREAT!
The expense of cloth diapers doesn't end with the diapers, covers, and doublers (if you choose to use them). You've got the cost of water and energy to wash them (1 rinse, 1 regular cycle), as well as the energy cost to dry them. I have been drying ours on the clothesline. They smell great and the sun bleaches any remaining stains after the wash. I do toss them in the dryer for 10 minutes or so after I take them off of the line in order to soften them a bit. Too long in a very dry sun can make the diapers a little rough. (Cost of clothesline: 40 ft. line for $14 on Amazon... plus shipping)

> Environmental observations:
Diapers take up INSANE amounts of landfill space. One week's worth of disposable diapers (the little newborn ones) filled a huge Babies R Us shopping bag. That was just 1 week of the tiniest diapers for 1 kid. I can't imagine how much space diapers take up annually even for 1 city! (Why did you have a week's worth of disposables, you ask? The first few days of poop is a sticky, tarry goo and it's hard to get out of cloth. Until Baby Boy had all of that out of his system, we stuck with disposables.)
Using the clothesline for the diapers showed me how easy a clothesline can be to use. So now, I use it for some of our other drying... thus, saving more energy.

> General observations:
I like the cloth better than the disposable. The poop sticks to the cloth diaper much more so than the disposable diaper, so there is less to clean off of him when he's wearing cloth.
I've yet to have a blowout of poop. I have no idea if this is a result of cloth, but all my friends with babies that use disposables have many tales of blowouts.
The cloth diapers are the same thickness throughout. With that, we point his penis down when he's wearing the cloth diaper so he doesn't soak the top. If we forget to point it down, he soaks through the diaper much faster and it can leak onto his onesie a bit.

There are many websites to help... I recommend searching for blogs. They have the best and clearest information that I have found. Here are a few other sites I look at:

The benefits of a clothesline

So we've hung the clothesline, and it is already paying off. We hung our new cloth diapers, and the few light stains that remained after washing were bleached out by the sun. Here in Houston we have no shortage of hot days, so it took no time at all. So far we've been impressed, but we'll see what we think once we dry a load of clothes.

Image source: clemente

I've got 18 years to save for college

Now that we're parents, we have 18 years to figure out how to pay for Baby Boy's college. After researching various options, we've decided to go with Ohio's CollegeAdvantage plan. In case you find yourself in a similar situation, I wanted to outline my thought process for selecting the best plan for us.


Check your own state first

We're from Texas, which offers the Lonestar 529 and Texas College Savings plans. We don't have a state income tax, so there is no in-state tax deduction for 529 contributions. Other states' rules vary, so you should check out a list of states that offer a 529 Plan tax deductions. It’s not the most recent list, but the best I could find. If your state offers a tax deduction, it might be best to go with that plan. If not, look around at other states' offerings to see if you can find a better deal on fees and investment options.

What to look for in a plan:

  • Minimum Investment
    Some states require $1000 or more to start a 529, and others require as little as $15. Depending on how much you have to invest, this could be a factor.
  • Maintenance Fees
    Some plans charge yearly maintenance fees. Depending on the invest options and a plan's performance, this could eat up a good portion of your investment.
  • Expenses
    Similar to mutual funds, 529s have expenses. I tend to stick with index funds because of the low fees. I found fees ranging from .30 percent to well above 1 percent.
  • Investment Options
    Most 529s are set up like retirement plans, with age-based plans, equity plans, balanced plans, etc. Many plans also are operated by big names, such as Vanguard or Openheimer
The verdict
We decided on Ohio's CollegeAdvantage plan because of the low fees (in the .30 percent range) and the investment options (we like Vanguard). I haven't yet set up the plan, so there may be some hitches in the system that change my opinion, but for now I think we've found a winner. I'm still debating between an age-based plan and developing my own portfolio with their offering of funds. I'll likely do a little of both.

We've been saving for our initial 529 deposit by socking away money in a sub-account at ING DIRECT. If you'd like to start your own ING savings account and help Baby Boy's 529 plan, shoot me an e-mail at compoundinginterestsblog@gmail.com. I'll send you a referral link where you can receive a $25 bonus for opening an account with at least $250. Baby Boy's account will also receive $10, and I know he'd be very grateful.


Why we blog, part two

Why we blog, part one

I'm not really sure why we started this blog, but we hope it offers us a place to discuss the competing (or compounding) interests we face as we start our family (as I type, my wife is laying in the hospital bed across the room, in the early stages of labor). First and foremost, we want our lives to glorify God and our savior Jesus Christ. Second, we feel it is our Christian calling to respect, preserve and protect this place we call Earth. Finally, we'd love to save money in the process.


Is this a religious blog? Yes. Is this a "green living" blog? Yes. Is this a family blog? Yes. Is this a personal finance blog? Yes. Trying to squeeze all of these topics in one Web site is why we've decided to call this Compounding Interests.

We hope you enjoy what you read here, and maybe learn something along the way. Please participate in the discussion and hopefully teach us something new. Feel free to drop us a line at compoundinginterestsblog@gmail.com.

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