Disclaimer: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. Read more

Our Amazon gift cards have arrived, and I’m distracting myself from my morning all-day sickness by thinking about baby gear, and bargain hunting.

I used my previous post as a starting point, and set up some price watches. Right now we’re leaning towards the Baby Einstein Neptune Ocean Adventure gym. I decided I wanted a change it up a bit with the gym theme. While I liked the water concept, and was very happy with our Lamaze Symphony Space Gym, the pond version just wasn’t as neat.

Of course setting up price watches didn’t take long, and I soon found myself thinking about other types of gear specifically for baby number two.

Additional Monitor

Hands down the best baby gear purchase I made was for a video baby monitor. It’s been useful at all stages, from newborn days to now in the toddler bed. We can hear Nicki just fine without any monitor – in fact, the audio has been off for over a year now! – but the ability to see what is going on is a sanity savor.

We have the Motorola MBP36 Video Baby Monitor which has an option for an additional camera.

Amazon’s lowest price for the additional camera ($79.99) does not beat Buy Buy Baby’s price with 20% off coupon ($79.20). Depending on what Amazon’s price is in November, I might be able to get a better deal with the registry completion code. The 15% completion discount would make the price tag on amazon $81.16. If the price in November is better than average, I win by waiting, otherwise I don’t. Roughly even odds, I’d say.

The other thing we’ll need is a new battery. The current re-chargeable battery doesn’t hold a charge for too long any more. Either that or a second power cord.

Second Crib

I’m kind of at a loss with this one. I like symmetry and the notion of having the same crib for each child is aesthetically pleasing to me but I’ve been really frustrated with Nicki’s crib, with the non-standard parts and all.

On the one hand I think I’m being overly critical. From what I’ve read and been told by folks at the hardware store, that’s pretty common across all furniture makers. So I’m not sure I will have a better experience with a different manufacturer. Besides, I’m partially to blame. I should have been more diligent about saving all the pieces. I just never thought I’d switch it to a toddler bed. I figured we’d get her a new toddler bed when it was time for the crib to have a new occupant.

Then again the price is up nearly 30% on the same crib! Looks like the price is all over the map! I’ll probably end up with the same selection process this time around as last time: add four acceptable cribs to the registry and see which has the best price when I receive my registry completion code.

Double Stroller

I think I’m going to pass on this one. If I was a stay at home mom, a double stroller seems like a necessity. In our current arrangement, I don’t really see myself taking the kids out on outings by myself. Two single strollers seems like a adequate solution when you have two sets of hands to push and are just out for an evening walk.

On the other hand, a double stroller seems much more convenient than two single strollers in crowded situations. My childhood zoo did not allow strollers inside the buildings, only outside when walking around. If we ever make a trip out to disneyland, we won’t be able to take the stroller(s) in the attractions. Having one stroller seems much more convenient when you have to check it. But these places also rent double strollers for very reasonable prices. The zoo rents them for just $10 a day! Going to the zoo will give us a nice try-before-you-buy feel for the value of double strollers.

April 7, 2014

Hallmark 2014 Plan

Last year I made my Hallmark ornament shopping plan on April 4th. This year, I paid to join the Keepsake ornament Club (KOC), which was supposed to come with early access to the dreambook. I signed up on March 5th. Today was the first morning my KOC account worked – 1 month and 2 days after I handed over my credit card information. Not a happy customer am I.

It looks like Hallmark launched a whole new website for club members today. I know from my multiple conversations with customer support that their websites are designed as independent silos, with separate databases. (Every time I called they said they just needed to “enter my number into the website.” Keep in mind, the KOC number was automatically generated – by the website – when I signed up. Apparently the website that takes your credit card, and the one with the member’s only section are not the same.) Presumably tech support knew they were switching over websites and didn’t feel the need to put my KOC number into the old website’s database. That’s my theory at least. Regardless, for the first time I have access to the dreambook.

High on my list is Present-Packing Penguins. The Unofficial Kris Penguin series has been a favorite of mine. Present-packing penguins has two of the pengins in a sleigh delivering a present to the third penguin. I just wish the price tag wasn’t so high. $17.95 for a single ornament? Yipes! That’s a 20% increase from last year’s Penguin ornament, Playful Penguins.

I was on the fence with Happy Little Elf gumdrop, this year’s miniature gumdrop ornament. It’s a red gumdrop, and I already have Goody Goody Gumdrop which I liked better. I was thinking of trying to snag this one in an after Christmas sale, but Domingo swayed me. He likes the little elf holding a peppermint, and it’s his tree too.

We’ll probably get Baby’s First Christmas. I wish it was more in the style of the rocking horse, but at least it’s not like some of the other Baby’s First Christmas that are totally not our style. It’s not a 100% porcelain like the rocking horse. The stocking trim is fabric. I’m not sure how much I will like it in person.

We’ll be either passing, or waiting for after Christmas sales for most of the rest of them.

I’ve been collecting the Snowball and Tuxedo series, a series featuring a polar bear and penguin friend. For this year’s I think I’m going to wait for an after Christmas sale. It’s a cute idea; snowball is cheering as Tuxedo makes a snow angle. In the head on photo in the dream book you can’t tell Tuxedo is making a snow angle. He’s laying flat on his back. Snowball is looking down at him with his paws in the air. A polar bear, paws extended, staring down at a penguin flat on the ground? Maybe the 3D version will be more appealing, but the 2D photo reminds me of “when polar bears attack”. I had a similar visceral reaction to the 2007 Here’s the Scoop ornament. Tuxedo is lying on the shovel that Snowball was using. It’s supposed to representing playing around in the snow, but I can’t help but think it makes Tuxedo look like a jerk.

Cookie Cuter Christmas is another cute idea that I think could have been executed better. The mouse is in a bell shaped cookie cutter singing Christmas Carols. I don’t feel particularly compelled to get it. I loved last years, and since the series doesn’t have a date I only want to spend money on the ornaments I love. Or at half price. I love half price!

April 4, 2014

Soon to be Four


familyof4

Domingo, Nicole and I have a secret – we’re expecting a new addition to our family this November!

Introducing Ziggy!

We are super excited!

We decided to share the news a little differently this time around since this could be my last pregnancy. I want to savor every minute, and for me that includes blogging about it. It’s been challenging staying away from new baby related topics this long, and we’ve only known for 3 weeks!

I’m also already showing, which makes keeping this secret secret even more challenging! I had some pretty significant pregnancy bloating around weeks 5 & 6. I had to borrow some of Domingo’s t-shirts, mine were all stretched around my mid section. I looked further along than when I was 20 weeks with Nicole!. Now that the bloating has subsided I’m that could-be-a-baby-or-a-borrito-belly phase.

I admit I don’t mind showing early, even though I’m still trying to keep the pregnancy a secret at work. Although I do hope it becomes more obviously baby soon. It goes to the whole ‘savor every minute of it’ aspect. I loved my big pregnant belly last time!

So I mentioned that we’re sharing the news differently this time around. Last time we felt comfortable sharing our news to individuals at 10 weeks, after listening to the heartbeat twice and held off on any kind of public announcements until 13 weeks. We’ve heard the heartbeat already and while we’re comfortable sharing the news here, we’d like to hold off on sharing our news to facebook until 13 weeks again this time around. After all anything could happen, and if it does I will need my blog as an outlet. To be honest, there are far more eyeballs that see my face book page than my blog, so I feel more comfortable sharing the news here.

March 22, 2014

Hello Toddler Bed!

#$%! Cribs and their #$%! non-standard parts.

Last night, at around 2:45 am, Nicki discovered she was capable of scaling Mt. Crib. We thought this day might be coming. This month has been a whole different ball game at the park, she’s been much more independent and adventurous. Yesterday she tried to climb the cat tree, managing to get a foot securely planted in the platform above her head before mommy interviewed. At nearly 3 in the morning we weren’t going gamble whether her escape was a freak accident, or a new found ability. Nicki spent the rest of the night with us on the toddler cot we use for naptime.

In the morning I put Nicki in the crib with some toys to see what she’d do. She had no hesitation when she was done with her toys and ready for out. Rather than throw up the arms and ask for “up!”, she grappled onto the railing, swung her leg over, hooked her foot, and pulled herself up onto the rail. Before I had much of a chance to react, she was straddling the railing, and mighty pleased with herself about it too. I am not sure what her strategy would have been to get down. Probably gravity.


escape attempt
I snapped a couple photos with my cell phone until it became clear she was going to succeed in her endeavor. As cute as a pooky riding the railing photo would have been, skull fractures would not have been.

Looks like we’ve out grown the crib.

Our crib came with an extra front panel that could be used to convert it to a toddler bed. I had kept the panel, but apparently not the hardware. This was a major problem. As we learned last time, baby furniture typically uses custom hardware. I printed out the instructions online, including their description of the missing four screws: “1-3/4″ Allen Head Bolt”. Domingo came back from the hardware store with every 1-3/4ths screw they had. No Dice. They all had different groove sizes. #$% &$@#!

We felt like we needed some kind of fourth panel. Nicki doesn’t roll around that much anymore, but she does roll around some. I didn’t want her to roll out of bed any more than I wanted her to climb out. I ended up “borrowing” two screws used for the decorative top rail since they were at least the same size (different heads). After all, we don’t actually need a top rail, it’s just to for her to hold onto when she was a baby and unsure of her footing.

We needed at least three fixed points to keep the panel from rotating. For the third screw, I used one of the 2-1/2” Round Head Bolt that was originally used to keep the now defunct crib front panel in place. It sticks out about 3/8th an inch, but it’s between the slats, and lower than the mattress, so I doubt it’ll cause much of a problem.

My initial plan was to reuse this crib with any future children. This is the second time we’ve had to kludge together a working solution without the original manufacture’s hardware. I think it’s fine for now, but with another move on our horizon, I just don’t think it’s holding up well enough to survive another child. It’s a bummer, but paying for a second crib also beats skull fractures.

At least Nicki loves her new bed. She spent most of the day climbing in and out of it, jumping around on the matress, and throwing toys overboard. Domingo and I were convinced we were in for a long night of chasing her down and carting her back to bed. I’m stunned to report she fell asleep in the toddler bed tonight without a fuss, and didn’t climb out once.


asleep in the toddler bed
Happy sleeping toddler.

Growing up my sister and I loved mom’s macaroni and cheese. She made it from scratch, using extra sharp white cheddar cheese. I’m pretty sure my sister and I were the only two kids in the world who would protest when the blue box came out.

When Nicki started solid foods I was so eager to try Macaroni and cheese. Not just any macaroni and Cheese, Mommy’s macaroni and cheese. I should have known not to push it. The white cheeses can be just a little more pungent than the yellows, and Nicki initially rejected it in favor of the box stuff. A few more months, a lot more exposure to new flavors, and I think she now actually prefers Mommy’s variety. And given that this variety reheats better, and is a better packed lunch for daycare, it’s a win-win!

Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/8th teaspoon dried mustard
16oz of cheeder cheese (I tend to use Cracker Barrel)
2 1/4 Cup Milk.
2 to 3 Cups of macaroni (depending on how cheesy you like your macaroni)

Cup up the cheese into small, thin slices for easy melting. Melt butter. Blend in the flour and dry mustard. Warm up 2 1/4 cup milk on medium low heat in a medium size saucepan, and add the butter/flour mix. Once the mix has been dissolved, gradually add the pieces of cheese. Do not add the cheese pieces too quickly or they will stick together and take longer to dissolve!

While dissolving cheese, cook the macaroni until it is soft enough to eat. For us I use 2.5 cups of macaroni.

Combine macaroni and cheese sauce into a casserole dish and microwave for 10-12 minutes. You could also bake it in the oven at 350 degrees if you prefer, but I prefer the texture from the microwave better. It’s creamier.

In my never ending quest to learn about the business of blogging I recently stumbled onto FTCs rules for .com disclosure. I had previously setup a disclosure page, and often mentioned the types of revenue from my blog (namely Adsense and Amazon Affiliate links), but I realized I could do better.

The basic premise from the FTC’s release is that any visitor should know a link is sponsored, before viewing said link, regardless of what device they’re on.

With roughly 300 posts I didn’t relish the idea of labeling every post or link by hand. Manual processes like these are prone with errors, and I was sure to make one. A better solution was a plug-in to automate the process. Since I only use one affiliate program, it’s a pretty simple to automatically parse my blog posts looking for affiliate links. Alas, the only affiliate plug-ins I found were designed to cloak (i.e. hide) the fact that a link was an affiliate link – the exact opposite of what I wanted to do! I finally had an excuse to write my own plug-in.

Writing the plug-in ended up being easier than I thought it would. The harder question was coming up with a labeling scheme I liked. I didn’t want anything to interrupt the prose of the post. I decided to go with an “affiliate link” title to all affiliate links’ <a> tags. Now when you hover your an affiliate link, you see a little pop box that properly identifies the link. I’ve seen this method used before, namely by babycheapskate.com. I’ve verified the title also appears on my blog posts in bazqux.com, and feedly.com.

There is just one problem.


2013mobilebreakdown
The devices used to view my blog in 2013

Over half of my web traffic is coming from a mobile device or a tablet and there is no concept of “hover” on such devices. Affiliate links are still unlabeled on these devices. Since I wanted to minimize the time I was not compliant with the FTC, I decided to bite the bullet and add a disclaimer to the top of each blog post using my plug-in. I hope to come up with another solution in the future.

Apparently there’s a belief out there that search engines will demote pages with affiliate links, hence the prevalence of affiliate link cloakers. While I have no first hand knowledge of the truth of this, it feels like an old wives tale to me. In fact, cloaking is probably counter productive. It’s trivial for a computer program to find where a cloaked link leads. If there’s one thing I’ve read about SEO time and time again, it’s engaging in deceptive practices, like cloaking, will eventually negatively impact your ranking.

March 13, 2014

Small Misfortunes & eBay

It feels like we’re running into a string of bad luck lately.


cracked

Last Saturday we took Nicki to the duck pound to get her out of the house. When we returned we discovered one of our refrigerator magnets had bit the dust. It was as though it had just lost structural integrity. The piece still attached to the magnet back end was still on the refrigerator. The base piece had slide down the refrigerator and was resting on another magnet a few inches below. The broken Caryatids were on the floor.

I was really bummed. The magnet was a souvenir from our honeymoon in Greece, and my favorite one at that. We visited Greece at the end of tourist season, when most of the souvenir stands were somewhat picked through. I broke our original Caryatid magnet on the last day of our trip. I remember wondering Monastiraki Square our final night looking for a decent replacement.

Alas, Monastiraki Square is pretty far away these days.

We did find a replacement on eBay, but it’s the colored version which I don’t like as much and five times as expensive. At least we found a similar one?

We also didn’t win that baby’s first Christmas ornament. Shortly after we placed our bid there was another person who bid over us, and then removed their bid. We figured they were testing to get a feel for our bid price. Sure enough, we were outbid again a few hours later. I told Domingo not let it go. At the time I figured we didn’t really need a spare, and another cheap one would come along at some point. I can’t imagine demand for “Baby’s First Christmas 2012″ ornaments increasing over time. After the breakage of our Greece magnet (and the end of the auction) I had a change of heart. Rather than spend $6, we spent $13.

Here’s the dilemma: I’ve been using eBay a fair amount in recent years, especially for out of print replacements, but I don’t feel like I have a good handle on how to effectively shop on eBay. Does the magnet I want exist on eBay without color? Is there another cheap rocking horse ornament? How do I avoid other people bidding up the item I want?

Auction psychology is an area I know little about.

eBay uses a proxy bidding system, which is a second price auction. It’s provably mathematically optimal to bid exactly the maximum price you’re willing to pay. In other words, if everyone customer bids exactly once, and exactly the maximum price we’re willing to pay, then whoever wins the item actually pays the minimal amount needed to secure it.

Truthfull bidding may be provably optimal in theory, but there’s often a difference between theory and practice. Consumers are often not objective. I remember thinking to myself $25 was the maximum I was willing to spend on any ornament for our tree. When I was outbid for the 2009′s Season’s Treatings, I kept inching my bid upwards. After all, $27 isn’t that much more than $25. The final price tag? Just over $40.

I need to learn a little auction psychology and to be more objective.

Use Turbotax? If you do, and you are due a federal refund, you can put some of that refund towards Amazon gift cards and get a 5-10% bonus. Which begs the question, how much of our return should we put into gift cards?

While I’m usually not one to say no to free money, and we do use amazon frequently, I don’t want to tie up too much money into Amazon. Money spent on Amazon gift cards can not be used for useful things, like 529 plans. I want to find the sweet spot of maximizing the bonus, without overspending. It was once again time to take another peek at how much we’re spending on Amazon.


amazonspending
The amount (actual and project) I’ve spent on Amazon since 2009

Yipes!

The 2012 bump was anticipated. With a newborn baby I knew there would be many supplies we needed, and that we’d have limited time to go to the store. I figured between prime & camelcamelcamel most of my purchases would shift from brick and mortar type stores, like target, to amazon. I knew initially necessity would win out over frugality, and I’d find myself with many purchases that couldn’t wait. But I figured most of those purchases (crib, car seat, etc) would be single time purchases. As I became more experienced with this Mom thing, I was sure I’d be able to be better at predicting what we’d need and when so I could be more frugal about my purchases. So then what the heck happened in 2013?!


2013amazonbreakdown
2013 Amazon Spending Breakdown.

By in large the bump in 2013 comes in part from additional subscribe & save discounts beyond just diapers. We started subscribing to all manor of paper towels, toilet paper, tissue paper, detergent, etc since it was both slightly cheaper and much more convenient. I was surprised how much all that added up! We spent 20 times more in 2013 than we did in 2012 on subscribe and save items. I was expecting the increase in incidental spending (toilet paper, toothpaste, etc) in 2013 to be offset by the reduction in baby gear spending, but that’s hard to do when you spend so much on incidentals! Yet another example where I paid attention to the individual prices and not the totals.

The next two categories are home related. “Basic household” are every day things we need but don’t regularly replace (fans, carbon monoxide testers, etc). I added up everything house related in this category. Alas, moving is expensive in more ways that one. There are some setup costs. New lights and new linens are sometimes necessary to fit new places. Some dishes and other odds and ends broke in the move. I did my best to maximize what we did have so we wouldn’t have to buy much. Our linens are very miss-matchy, but who cares? I didn’t want to buy a whole new set for the apartment, and then again when we move in a year or two. Admittedly not all the new purchases were necessities. I do love my new vacuum.

The Nicole category includes everything other than diapers – toys, books, Christmas presents, etc. Infants require tons of gear. We spent 6% less in this category in 2013 than in 2012. I expect we’ll continue to buy less in gear going forward, but make up the difference with toys and books.

If we ignore the Subscribe and Save purchases (since that wasn’t an apples to apples comparison), and the new home setup costs (how often am I going to buy a new vacuum cleaner anyway?!), I spent 31% less in 2013 than 2012 rather than 38% more. Phew. Now that’s a more palatable number!

Better, we don’t expect to see another rise in spending on Amazon in 2014. I did a crude estimate for our spending for 2014 based on our 2013 and current 2014 spending. It’s no surprise I spend more around Black Friday. Last year I spent 31% more on average in November and December than any other month. To come up with my projected total I use January & February’s expenditure and assumed a similar 31% rise for the end of the year. The result? We expect to spend about 3% less. Double Phew.

March 5, 2014

Early Hallmarking

It’s March 5th. You know what that means? I’m thinking about Christmas! Or at least Hallmark ornaments. ‘Tis the time of cheap ornaments from past years on secondary markets (ebay, amazon, etc). In another month or so the dreambook will be out, and the time when news of this year’s collections begin to leak.

For the first time ever I joined the keepsake ornament club (KOC). It’s a $25 membership (~$31 with tax and shipping), and you can get 2 of 3 ornaments for ‘free’ in the cost of the membership. The other perks, like sneak peaks, aren’t really worth it to me since the news always leaks online in a few days. Normally I don’t like the ‘free’ ornaments, or I like only one of the three, so I don’t have much incentive to join.

This year I saw a promo with the special KOC only ornaments. That Mice Cream Sundae? In the words of Nicole: an emphatic “WANT!” followed by a frantic “PWESE!”. The grandfather clock is sure to be a Domingo favorite. He loves the old fashioned Santa’s, sleighs, and yes, grandfather clocks. That makes two exclusive ornaments we wanted for effectively ~$15.50 each Typical prices for similar ornaments would be $13.95, or ~$15.20 including tax. Not too bad a deal if you ask me.

I started poking around the secondary markets as well. I found a spare Baby’s First Christmas 2012 – for just $6 on ebay! We decided to bid on it, as I like to have a spare of major milestone type ornaments. I realize I may be breaking one of the cardinal rules of eBay shopping by mentioning a good price auction before it closes, but, what the hey, I’ll live dangerously.

This year marks five years of collecting Hallmark ornaments. Five! I’m going to need a bigger Christmas tin. And a bigger tree!

February 27, 2014

Stocking The Toy Closet

Disclaimer: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. Read more

My baby is not a baby anymore. This point was made abundantly clear when we were in the 12 to 24 aisle in Target’s toy department a few weeks ago. The toys just didn’t seem capable of holding her interest, or any toddler’s for that matter. They were just small permutations over concepts she had already mastered: ball poppers, pull toys, toys with buttons and knobs that play different songs. I can see Nicki pushing every button a couple of times, before tossing the toy to the side.

I’ve been striving to make sure we always have advanced toys for the “next stage” around, but I don’t want to pay a lot. Nor do I want to turn my home into a giant playroom. Enter the toy closet concept.

The toy closet (also sometimes referred to as the gift closet) is not a novel concept. The idea is to stock up the closet with toys (or gifts) so you won’t be caught off guard should the sudden need for them arise. I have price watches and toys, and other gear, designated all the way up to 3 year olds so I can be ready and thrifty at the same time. We now have a potty (even though we have no plans to start potty training soon) and two “big sister/new baby” books (even though there’s no second baby in the making yet.) Hello huge price drop! At least percentage wise.

With a closet full of older toys, is I’m consequently cycling out new toys for her to try. I’m amazed at how quickly she can pick up things meant for much older children. She’s a sticker pro (both the permanent and reusable kind), and a mean crayon scribbler. She can handle toddler knives, and even an etch-a-sketch. We keep a huge 7000 sticker sticker book with individual tear out leaflets in the toy closet. It’s my go to toy when I need to distract her or keep her occupied.

Sure, sometimes she’s not ready for them and they go back to the toy closet for later. Sometimes even the toys for her age range come with accessories that need to be removed. Her baby doll came with a small pacifier toy that Domingo and I both deemed a chocking hazard. Into the closet it went.

My big mistake was not stocking up on Halloween customs from the inevitable early November sales. Nicki is so in to pretend play these days. Yesterday I picked her up from day care and she was wearing a monkey custom. A few days ago it was tinker bell. If she sees her party dress, or her super girl outfit, she insists on wearing them. She’s commandeered my fuzzy boa scarf, and I have to be sure to keep all fuzzy socks safely hidden. The most adorable thing ever? A toddler wearing crew length adult-size fuzzy socks that go thigh high! Oh well. I’m sure she’ll still be into pretend play and dress up in 9 months, so I can fix my mistake then.

The more pressing thing on my list is a booster seat. Nicki is starting to outgrow the high chair. She’s using cups and utensils, so it makes sense to move her to the table with us. She asks to sit in the chairs, she’s just not tall enough to eat at the table without assistance. Alas, I don’t think I’m going to get a deal on this one.

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