Archive for March, 2012

March 30, 2012

Hello 3rd Trimester

I can’t believe how fast time is flying! It feels like just yesterday I was in Hawaii with Domingo, newly pregnant, and excited about all the changes that were going to start happening. I was analyzing every little twinge I felt for signs of pregnancy symptoms. Every time my stomach was slightly unsettled I’d wonder if morning sickness was starting. June seemed so far away. The anatomy scanned seemed so far away. Even the second trimester seemed so far away.

3rd Trimester Bump

I’m beginning to wonder if the first time mom nerves will ever go away. When we first got pregnant I was terrified it would be a chemical pregnancy. Once we got to six weeks, I was sure it would be an ectopic pregnancy. Then I was worried that it would turn out to be a blighted ovum. I kept worrying that something was wrong, and it was too good to last. I figured once I saw a heartbeat, reached the second trimester or vitality day, I would stop worrying about something going wrong. Here we are starting the third trimester and I still get nervous every time I realize I can’t remember when her last kick was. Does this feeling ever go away?

At this point I think I’m done with tweaking the registry. I kind of have to be. We’re in the home stretch now – only 3 months to go! I’m happy with what we’re considering purchasing, but recently I’ve noticed I’m considering more and more expensive items. At least I’ve been good about finding good sales so far. We’ve enjoyed an average savings so far of 21% off of the everyday price (not the marked up ‘list’ price.)

In fairness, though, I’ve only purchased about 1/10th the items on the list. I’m probably going to have to cave and pay retail on the rest. *Cringe*. At this point, though, I can no longer wait for the best possible deals on most things. We have some clothes for baby, swaddle blankets and a place for her to sleep, so if she were to come tomorrow we wouldn’t be totally unprepared, but it’s time to stop postponing baby purchases. Really. I’m going to pay retail. Maybe if I say it myself often enough I will believe it.

I should also get my act together regarding our baby to-do list. When is nesting supposed to kick in again?! At least I’ve re-hung the fire alarms and plugged in the carbon monoxide tester. We’ve made progress on the house, too, albeit a small amount of progress. Six months pregnant and I can still assemble/dissemble furniture with the best of them. I just require more bathroom breaks.

March 27, 2012

2nd Anniversary

This year went by amazingly fast. Last year at this time I had finished an anniversary craft project, and an anniversary video slideshow highlighting our first year. This year? I still have no idea what I will do for an anniversary craft project. At least I know what photos I want to use for the slideshow, but I haven’t even resized them! It should be easier to make the slide show this year, since I already have a flash template to work with, I just need to get on the ball. At least I have a good excuse for being so busy, right?

March 20, 2012

Extra Hoops for Discounts

I’m still not the best with couponing. While I have been using them more and more, I tend to stick to the Catalina coupons and online coupons. It’s just much less time consuming, and with being a full time student and mom-to-be, time is a precious thing to waste!

I’ve noticed couponing is becoming more popular. With TLC shows like Extreme Couponing and Extreme Cheapskates, saving is becoming more main stream. The changing face of couponers is causing some retailers to change the way they offer coupons.

Printable Coupons

Many retailers now require consumers to install an executable and browser plugins on their computers in order to print coupons online. According to the terms of use on some of these sites, the executable is designed to control the distribution of coupons, and enforce number limits. At least in the few websites I’ve read, the executable will not be used for passive consumer tracking on other sites. However, most companies reserve the right to change their terms of use, and not all coupon websites may be so honorable.

Retailers often use coupons and loyalty cards to track their customers. I’ve noticed the coupons I use change as I use them. It does make sense; the discount is in exchange for being able to learn something about their consumer base. In addition to consumer loyalty, retailers also gain valuable insights that they can use to increase their profits. This trade-off is fair in my book. Loyalty cards and coupons only track customer data at purchase time at the store associated with them. Visa and mastercard release statistics of their consumers cross retailer, but it’s usually aggregated and not tied to individuals at a personal level. Again, it’s strictly purchase data. Monitoring my non-purchasing behavior feels like a privacy violation, and with the trend of dynamic pricing could end up costing me.

My second problem with executables is that they are not always written well. Even if there’s nothing intentionally nefarious, a poorly designed script can cause a host of computer problems, which can end up costing me a lot more in the long run. Of course, there are always some bad guys out there. When looking to join coupon network, I ran across a site masquerading as one of the coupon distributions with an unsigned executable. In the internet world, that’s a big red flag!

So to avoid future problems, Domingo and I set up a virtual machine (VM). A VM is a program that simulates running a different computer. You can think of it like having a new, separate, computer inside your current computer. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. I use the same VM for couponing, so the coupon website can easily enforce their prinit limits just as they would if I wasn’t using a VM. A program installed within the VM will not affect my main computer, so if I accidently install a virus, my main computer with all my personal data is safe. Lastly, since I only use the VM for couponing, I can’t be tracked as I visit social networks, or read the news.

Social Sharing of Purchases

Another trend some retailers are experimenting with is social sharing, by encouraging consumers to post about their recent purchases to social networks. Walmart was testing the idea of offering additional discounts to consumers willing to post about their recent purchases on facebook. Amazon also allows you to post about your recent purchases as well, but without a discount. Even turbo tax let’s me “share” that I’ve finished my tax return. From a retailers perspective, social recommendation can influence new customers to make similar purchases. From a consumer perspective, it’s spam on my facebook wall.

The idea of posting to facebook – and thus my entire social network of colleagues, family, and even acquaintances – feels extremely personal to me. It’s true that I do often talk about things I’m interested in purchasing here, but a lot of that is wishful thinking or discussing ways to save. I even venture a hope that some of my online rambling may even be useful to someone out there. I don’t mind stating how frugal to anyone who asks. Posting it to facebook is like standing up at a family reunion with a bull horn announcing my grocery list.

Another form of social sharing are those check-in coupons, wherein a consumer “checks-in” via a mobile app, like foresquare to get coupons. Such over sharing is not consequence free, as Please Rob Me showed, by highlighting the public feeds of people who were stating they were not home.

I’m not sure how I will handle this. For now, I’m opposed to posting where I am, or what I’m purchasing, even if it means giving up on a few discounts. It’s been suggested that I create a fake facebook account, so I can “share” without sharing. While I certainly could do that, it feels indigenous. Unlike using a VM for installing executables, creating fake social media accounts would be going against the stated purpose of the companies offering these check-in coupons.

When I previously mentioned our baby gear strategy, I alluded to the fact that not every type of gear is needed by everyone. What you will need will depend on your life style, what kind of home you have, and even where you live. Babies are also very different, and what works for one baby does not necessarily work for another.

Of course, my opinion is just that. Worse, it’s a bre-baby, inexperienced first time mom opinion. I feel it’s also important to emphasize that I am in no means a baby product expert, and certainty not a safety expert. You should visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission and not take my, or any other blogger’s, word for it when it comes to safety.

So without further ado, here’s my current thoughts. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when Zippy gets here, and I realize all my preconceived notions are completely off.

Popular Items We’re Passing On

Pack N’ Play. I have had several friends recommend this to me as a place for baby to sleep in our room. However, there’s no room in our bedroom. The closest spot for a Pack N Play is about three feet in front of the nursery. If I already have to get out of bed to walk that far, why not just use the crib?

We do want to keep the baby with us for the first couple of weeks at least. I’m considering a Rock N’ Play for this, as it’s advertised as a “safe place for baby to sleep overnight” and small enough to fit easily next to the bed. I’m not completely sold on the Rock N’ Play as a night time sleeping spot for a newborn. According to amazon it’s “the only infant seat that meets industry safety standards for bassinets” but I haven’t been able to back up the claim anywhere, and I’m a nervous first time mom.

Bumbo Seat. This is another one that’s been recommended by many people, but I just can’t get past the safety concerns. In fact, there’s even a push to have these seats recalled. Admittedly the number of safety incidents are small, and mostly in cases were the seat may not be being used correctly, but it seems like an awfully expensive seat when it’s the same price as many bouncers and seats with harnesses. A when you consider a report that the seat offers no developmental benefits, and could potentially be harmful, it really doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Breathable Crib Bumpers/Sheet Savers/etc. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends no bumpers in the crib, even breathable ones. I’ve also seen similar concerns over sheet savors. We’ll have a waterproof mattress cover under the fitted crib sheet to protect the mattress. If baby has a diaper blow out, we are going to need to wash her sleeper and swaddle blanket anyway. Looks like we’ll be running the washing machine frequently anyway. If we’re already doing the wash, it won’t cost us anything extra to throw in the crib sheet as well. Is there a real suffocation danger behind these items? Like the bumbo the number of incidents is also small, but I’d just assume pass on them. Like with pregnancy, I’d rather be over cautious and not risk it.

Bottle Sterilizer. We are planning on breastfeeding. Zippy may have a few bottles early on, but she’ll mostly get them when she goes to day care. By that point she’ll be at the age where she’s putting anything that’s within reach into her mouth, and a bottle cleaned in the dishwasher will be the least of my fears.

Diaper Bag. Well, at least not right away. Why? I have lots of tote bags in all sorts of sizes already that can easily double as a diaper bag. Baby Bargains’s recommendation is to choose a diaper bag based on the changing pad. Personally I really like the Skip Hop Pronto Changing Pad a friend showed me. It’s small and compact, with a pocket to hold diapers and wipes. I imagine if we’re out and about somewhere I can leave the bulky diaper bag with all the extra soothing toys, pacifiers, change of clothes, etc with Domingo and take the SkipHop with zippy and I to the restroom to change her diaper. Baby Bargains also pointed out most first time moms start with giant diaper bags that hold everything and the kitchen sink, and then migrate to ones that are smaller when they learn what they truly need for their baby. I figure by starting with bags I already own I can get a better sense of what size is right for me before I make a purchase.

Where We’re Going Overboard On.

Rock N’ Play. Okay, here’s the stupidest reason ever for wanting to upgrade the Rock N’ Play – I dislike the colors of the standard Rock N’ Plays. I justified the purchase to myself that the extra padding would make for a better sleeping experience for baby. After all, she may inherent my taste for only super soft things. (I opt for comfort rather than style in all my fabrics. If it doesn’t pass the touch test, it doesn’t come home with me, no matter how good it looks or how good the sale is.) Since we got a deal on it, I don’t feel too guilty about buying the deluxe. We ended up with the Snugabunny.

Video Baby Monitor. We have a rather compact, small house, so we could get away with a small audio monitor with limited range. We may even be able to get away without a monitor at all, since the nursery shares a wall with the master bedroom, and we’re planning on keeping both doors open with a baby gate to keep the cat out. But I want the video capability. A video monitor can show whether a baby is fussing and self soothing, or truly awake. It can also be useful to see if a toddler is in bed asleep, or playing quietly. Besides, I’m an obsessive worry wart and the ability to see my baby should calm my nervous. Domingo is also into gadgets, so the high end video monitors really appeal to him, double win. We’re considering the Motorola.

Nursing Chair. At first I thought I’d want a nice glider, but after much consideration we’re leaning towards an upholstered armchair that rocks and reclines. We can get one with free shipping and 20% off if we open a store credit card, which actually makes the recliner cheaper, and the recliner will be useful post baby in the office, living room or den (if we’re fortunate to have a house with a den some day). It’ll also recline which gives me a comfortable place to sleep close to baby, should I feel the need.

So the things we’re going overboard are typically the most expensive baby items, and we’re passing on some of the popular cheaper items. Does this mean I can no longer consider myself frugal?

March 15, 2012

High Price of Baby Extras

I thought I had a good handle on baby gear, but apparently there was a whole category of gear I wasn’t considering. I thought I picked out the car seat I wanted and the stroller. But lately I’ve been looking into a lot of the add-ons and I just have to say – wow. For one car seat I was looking at, the extra base is $70! For just $10 more I could get a super cheap additional infant carry for D’s car and skip the second base all together. Want an insect or rain cover to go with the stroller? They can easily run $50 on up. Each! What was once a good value car seat may now be way more expensive than comparable ones once you factor in all these extras. It’s like if the word ‘baby’ or ‘mommy’ is used, be prepared for a price hike. ‘Baby humidifiers’ are 20% more than small room humidifiers. Ever hear of the mommy hook that lets you attach a diaper bag to a stroller? It’s basically a Carabiner snap hook for 33% more.

Everyone wants the ‘the best’ for their baby, and, some equate ‘the best’ as ‘most expensive’. Most moms-to-be also have baby showers. In my neck of the woods, $30-50 per gift is standard, so a $50 insect/shade cover is a fine gift. Registering for 50 $30-50 gifts doesn’t seem unreasonable. But for a mom footing most of the bill herself, it adds up quickly and feels insane. The high price of baby extras also makes it harder to determine what’s a good deal, and what isn’t.

I recently was considering a 3 wheel stroller like the Britax B-Agile. The universal car seat adapter (allows you to attach an any infant car seat to turn the stroller into an infant stroller) for the B-Agile is around $40. If I go with the Britax B-Safe care seat, I can forgo the converter, however the B-Safe will cost me roughly $140 more, even when bought together in a ‘travel system’. An infant car seat under $100 would be cheaper, even considering I would need a converter. Of course, the choice of car seat also comes with a fixed additional cost of the second base for the second car. We haven’t even factored in trays or toys yet, which differ per brand.

When it comes to stroller adapters and extra car seat bases, I’m not willing to go second hand. You never know how the previous owner treated it. Was the base in a car crash? Was the adapter used with an overweight seat, or in a way it wasn’t designed for? These things not only void the warranty, but can create a safety issue. Used teethers also gross me out. But I’m 100% on board with second hand for many things like stroller covers and clothes that can easily be washed. I’d also consider going brand agnostic for some of the extras. A generic insect or whether cover may only cost $10. It won’t fit as nicely, but for 1/4th the price, would you care?

We also plan on holding off on some of these extras. This has been a very mild winter, with almost no rain. I’d hate to buy a rain cover and then never take it out of the packaging. The other day I almost bought a JJ Cole Infant Car Seat Cover. It was on sale ($15, down from $30) but since baby is due in June, she will be six months old by December/January. Even if we have a colder winter, she may be out of the infant seat by then. Saving $15 is good, but saving $30 by not buying an item we won’t use is even better.

It all makes me happy I started looking at gear early. Hopefully I’ll have it figured out by the time the baby comes!

I can check one thing off the baby to-do list; zippy is officially enrolled in daycare. As much as I’d love to keep Zippy home with me, I’d never finish my thesis. At the same time daycare is expensive, and my fellowship is ending this June. We decided a good compromise was to enroll Zippy in day care three days a week, and have her home with me the other two. Fortunately, the center we picked is extremely flexible.

I was pretty sure I wanted a day care center and not an in home provider. The in home providers here are licensed up to 8 kids per adult, including 2 infants, which just seemed like an awful lot for one person. The day care centers are licensed for 4 infants per adult, which seems more manageable to me.

I had been reading that the best day cares can fill up a year an advance, so I wanted to get a head start and started looking in mid January. I am not sure if it’s the area I live in, or the economy, or maybe I’m not looking at the ‘best ones’, but there were no problems with spaces with any of the centers we visited. Every day care was surprised I was visiting while pregnant. In fact, when I dropped off the paper work to enroll zippy today, one person asked me if I had brought in my baby girl to meet everyone. I replied by rubbing my tummy and saying “yup, she goes everywhere I do!” Everyone laughed. I guess my baby bump isn’t as noticeable as I think it is.

Despite what the books lead me to believe, there wasn’t a lot of difference between the centers we looked at. The day to day of the infants’ room was identical, right down to the activity planning sheets. The places were also within a small price delta of each other as well. I’m sure there are more differences for toddlers and pre-kindergarteners, but for infants the parents set most of the schedule. So we settled on one that gave me the best vibe, friendliest staff, and all around good feeling. I really liked the director of the day care center we choose. After I called to say we would be enrolling in her center, she even made sure I was aware of the coupon for free registration on the website. A woman after my own heart!

So now I need to get zippy’s “school supplies”. The director sent me home with a list of items to bring on Zippy’s first day. I was surprised at how much the day care center was requesting, including 2 sets of changes and a sleeper ‘just in case.’ It made me realize I am probably way under estimating how many clothes zippy will go through in a given day!

March 8, 2012

Stressed Kitty

Domingo and I have been busy getting ready for the baby and Lily Like most felines, she hates when her environment changes. One way cats show stress is to shed. When you combine that with the fact that it’s been an extremely mild winter, already turning to spring, and we have fur everywhere. Normally I wouldn’t care (hello Dyson Animal!) but the excess shedding is starting to cause hair balls so we need to deal with it.

We’re starting with brushing. She mildly puts up with it. She likes the attention, but not the brush, so we do short intervals of brushing intermixing it with lots of petting. So far we’ve had the most success with the FURminator. It’s the only brush she’ll tolerate. And by ‘tolerate’, I mean ‘doesn’t attack for the first three minutes’.

We’ve also been increasing the kitty treats and kitty love time in an effort to help her adjust. This _may_ be a mistake to reinforce her need for attention, as once the baby comes she will get much less. She has been our fur-baby for so long, I feel so guilty that she will no longer be the ‘baby’ and get as much attention that she craves.

Lily waking me up for early morning cuddle time.

But if we can’t get her shedding under control, the next step may be bath time. Lily actually does pretty good with baths, especially for a cat. We crank up the heater a bit so she won’t be cold, and she seems to tolerate the water alright alright. She’s only had a handful of baths, usually after she’s gotten into something I don’t want her licking off herself. But I have noticed it helps with the loose fur, so it is a step we can consider.

In the mean time, Lily is spending a lot of time curled up on my baby bump. Apparently it makes a good pillow. Zippy starts kicking when the baby climbs into my lap. Lily doesn’t seem to notice, or if she does notice she’s being obstinate. She just purrs away. I swear this kid is going to come out recognizing Lily’s purr more than mommy’s own voice!

Long before we decided to start our family, I started researching baby products. Our house has a surprising lack of storage space, and I didn’t want to add to the clutter with a bunch of rarely used baby gear! We’re also not planning on a shower, so it was extra important for us to save whenever we could. I want the best for our baby and my philosophy is to spend as little as possible on the things I want.

I started by picking up a copy of Baby Bargains. I have mixed feelings on the book. On the one hand, it has a great philosophy of focusing on your life style and getting the gear that matches it. Have a small house or an apartment? Then you don’t need a baby monitor with a large range. What I didn’t realize was the copy I picked up was already a couple of years out dated. The prices the book mentioned did not match up with current MSRP, (in some cases they were as much as 30% off in either direction!), and the book didn’t have any reviews of current trendy products. Overall I thought the book was useful, but make sure you get the latest edition. (BTW, the one I linked to is the 2011 edition, which is the most current as the time of this post.)

Next, I created a registry – yes, before even trying for a baby. As I’ve mentioned before, I love lists. Our baby registry, just like our wedding registry, is constantly evolving. I’ll start by adding the basics – a car seat, a stroller, etc. But some products are more compatible with each other than others. Once I identify a stroller I like, I may switch the infant car seat for one that is compatible with the stroller without the need to purchase a conversion kit. Or, maybe I’ll opt for a swing that can double as a bouncer so I don’t need two. I read a few blogs of women who had already started a family, and whenever something struck me as a good idea for our baby, I’d add it to the registry. Similarly, if I start reading bad reviews for a product, off the registry it goes. Working on the registry a little bit at a time also helped keep me from getting overwhelmed. At this point I’ve replaced most items on the registry, and I’m a lot happier with the new list.

Next I set up an account with Camel Camel Camel is a website that tracks price fluctuations on Amazon, as well as a few other sites. Most products on amazon have some price fluctuations, even books. I imported our registry and could see a price history of each product. If a product is usually 30% off, and only 20% off on a given day, it’s not a good sale! Camel Camel Camel will also alert you if the price drops below a threshold you can specify. For products that I can wait for, such as specific Dr. Seuss books or winter sleep sacks for a June baby, I set the threshold to be the lowest price I’ve seen. That way I’m sure I get a great deal. If I know I’ll need something right away, I’ll be a little less stingy and look for a good deal, not the best deal. I also keep in mind that other retailers have stable prices and reliable coupons (like and If the amazon price doesn’t beat buybuybaby’s price with a 20% off coupon, it’s not worth purchasing! My Camel Camel Camel price watch list has more than just my registry items. In some cases where I am indifferent between two brands, I add both products to my price watch list. I figure which ever one gives me the best price first is the one I’ll go with.

Camel Camel Camel does have some limitations. It currently doesn’t factor in the cost of shipping for third party products. There’s one item on my registry that’s $22 some days, and $16.50 others. Seems like a great deal, right? Except that shipping is free when it’s $22, and $4.95 when it’s $16.50, making the actual savings a whopping 55 cents. When a product is available in multiple colors from multiple sellers, Camel Camel Camel seems to get confused as to which version is being offered for which price. Despite the limitations, camel camel camel is great, and has already helped me score some great deals!

I also added a free price check app on my iphone. The app scans the bar code and lets me know what the price is at Amazon. When I’m out at a store, and a baby swing is listed as “on sale” I can find out what whether or not it’s a good sale. I’m always wary of ‘sale’ signs, as there is some evidence of companies markup up the price before a sale to make a sale price seem like a better deal.

Lastly, there are a few items that I am interested in, but that do not normally go on sale via big box stores, so I can’t watch for them on camel camel camel or normal coupon sites. For these products I set up google alerts for the product name and the words ‘sale’ and ‘discount’. That way, if there’s a possibility of a deal, I’ll hopefully see it before the deal period expires.

After re-reading my post it sounds like I’ve buying most of my baby gear through Amazon. I’m not. In fact, of all the things I’ve purchased so far, only one item came from Amazon, and that ended up not being a very good deal afterall. The rest I got as great sales from Target. Amazon’s every day prices tend to bet Target’s, but so far Target has had better sales. We stocked up on Dr. Seuss books for $5 a book, and got a deluxe rock n’ play for the standard rock n’ play price.