Categories
Home Life

Why small homes are smart for new moms.

Before I dive into this next post, I would like to define small as under 1000 square feet. To me, this is more than enough space for our current needs, but I didn’t want to confuse this kind of tiny with the tiny home movement tiny.

I mean, I could see myself living in a tiny house built on a 16 x 8 trailer by myself, but if I had to share that small space between two other humans, I’d probably get cranky real quick. I value my own space. Even I believe there is such a thing as too small.

We live in approximately 980 square feet of awesomeness. To me, this is more than enough space to live. We’re also lucky to have about half an acre of land at our disposal, which we plan on converting to garden space once we solve our water drainage problem. (If anyone has suggestions on doing that, I’m all ears.)

We have a bunch of big, beautiful, and modern looking houses in our neighborhood, and thanks to the local construction business picking up, there are more homes and subdivisions being built. I drive by these all the time for future inspiration because some of these are truly #homegoals.

The one below was built by Black Oak Building Company. If I’m using their photo in my post and gawking at their current projects IRL, then they at least deserve a shoutout here.

black-oak-construction-toledo-sylvania-2011
Like, seriously. Home goals. I’m in love.

But would I want to live long-term in a house over 1200 square foot? Unless I happen to pop out more kids and inherit some secret trust fund I didn’t know about, then no. Not likely.

Am I crazy to want less? Maybe I am. But hear me out – here are my reasons below why a small house isn’t so bad.

1. Easy to maintain and most importantly, CLEAN.

If you hate cleaning, then boy do I have great news for you on this one – less space is less to clean. I know, mind-blowing, right?

I love how fast I can pick up my entire house. I have two small bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a tiny bathroom. The bulk of my space is a neat little rectangle split in half between the living room and kitchen. Even while managing a baby during the cleaning routine in her little sling, it takes me about an hour at most to clean my house. It’s awesome.

Truly, it frees up my time so that I can even have some blog time to write. That to me is worth every penny I have put down in this house so far. If I have more time, then I can do more stuff. I like doing a lot of stuff. I hate cleaning. It works out for me here.

Speaking of stuff, below is my next big point:

2. It prevents overspending and excessive clutter.

Retail therapy would be counterproductive since I have a small house. Where the heck would I put all of my stuff?

I’m already thinking of doing an item purge once it’s time for spring cleaning. Our closet is a mess and is packed full of clothing that my husband doesn’t even wear. It’s not that he wouldn’t wear anything he has in there – the problem is that he can no longer find the clothes he wants to wear because of how much stuff is in there.

closet-clutter
The top is mine. The bottom is his. The laundry basket below that is his, too.

We also started to worry once PJ got her own room, it would be filled to the brim with toys that she wouldn’t even get the chance to play with. Fortunately, we haven’t run into this problem yet, but when we do we will start following a simple rule – for every toy in, a toy of equal size goes out.

I think this will be a great way to also teach our daughter how to be happy with less stuff and to think before trying to grab toys at the store when she’s older.

3. Lower energy bills.

Think less space, less _______. Another thing to put in the blank here is utility bills. Who needs more bills in their life? I certainly don’t. I have yet to meet a person who is actually excited about getting bills.

Given the home is well insulated in the winter and the appliances aren’t running 24/7, this is another neat little perk that I have for my house. This also helps prevent shutoffs and financial emergencies when times are a bit lean.

It also tends to leave less of an ecological footprint if you use fewer resources. A big win for me, my wallet, and the environment! What’s not to love about that?

4. Less to furnish, renovate, and repair.

Okay, I’m a Fixer Upper junkie. Joanna is a boss when it comes to interior design and can give anything old a new breath of life in her space.

But when I feel compelled to run to our local thrift and antique stores after binging the previous season on Netflix, I remember that a lot of the look here came from being creative with the old things lying around in the first place. And that it also doesn’t require a lot of stuff to pull the look off.

Living Room, Dining Room, and Kitchen
My home is definitely inspired by this clean and cozy look.

I do want to renovate our home someday when we get the money for it. Our living room could use an overhaul. It has pink carpet and pink walls. The previous owner had red and black furniture with that. When we saw the listing on Zillow, it looked like something straight out of a bad 80’s movie. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan.

When the time to renovate comes, it will cost us significantly less to redo things like walls, floors, and fixtures. Basically, there is less to spruce up and fix so it will cost less. And we can take the cost savings a step further by embracing this popular style and using what we have to create some unique pieces to serve us in the years to come.

5. Encourages creativity.

My office is my kitchen. That is surprisingly not detrimental to my weight-loss goals. Unless there is a chocolate cake on display next to me. Y’know, out of sight, out of mind? That’s why I have a bunch of fruit and veggies lying around if I get the munchies. I’m so smart, ha.

kitchen-nook-office-workspace
Where the magic (usually) happens. 

This isn’t the only area of the house that has more than one purpose. In order to make the most of our space, almost every area of the house has some sort of clever storage solution to maximize how much space we use. We have drawers in our drawers in our kitchen. I’m not even kidding.

Living in a small space keeps me on my creative toes, trying to figure out what I can get away with when placing furniture and appliances without cluttering the space. If I have to be creative every day in my house, I can use that creative muscle to solve other problems outside my home, too.

Anyone else with me in the small living space boat? What do you like about living small?

 

Categories
Money

The first year is the hardest. (On the wallet, too.)

This is nothing new. Babies are freaking expensive.

Just look at this recent estimate for 2015 – $13,000 a year on average for most of us in the US, which is about $233,000 from birth until age 17. This does not include college costs.

And can you believe that estimate is down from 2014? It was $245,000 back then. Ha.

Let me tell you, I am NOT the kind of person that enjoys owing any money on anything at all. I busted my butt to graduate college debt-free, drove a beat-up car that was all paid off, and kept all of my credit cards with statement balances of zero. I think I get so anxious about huge numbers in our finances because some of my formative years were during the Great Recession of 2008.

This was when the housing bubble burst and left a lot of people facing foreclosure, including my mom. I didn’t want to end up in another situation where I would have strangers harassing us because of something that was past-due that I could not pay. It was hard for everyone back then, even for the people who tried to collect on us, only to find out we had nothing of value to take.

(Seriously, they tried taking my car. Because of my mom’s debts. My car was only worth $400 at best. The repo guys were not happy about that one. Banks were desperate to collect on anything at all.)

1992_Buick_Century_Stationwagon
The trusty rust bucket I used during high school and nearly half of college. Best $800 I’ve ever spent.

Fast forward back to 2017. When the pregnancy tests came back positive, I was happy. But I was also crying. I was seriously freaking out. I thought I would have more time to plan for an occasion such as this down the road, especially financially. I had gotten to this point in my life faster than I had anticipated.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that we managed to survive the first year without taking on too much hardship – and not bleeding our bank account dry. We were lucky to have people in our network that got us access to hand-me-downs and free samples of nearly everything. Our church friends were also super supportive and helped us with whatever we needed in the first month.

Here are some takeaways from my latest financial journey so far…

Healthcare is Often Non-Negotiable – Stay Informed!

This was the largest expense in my experience.

We had health insurance. We paid $500 a month for our premium. I had a perfectly normal pregnancy. It was still around $4,000 out-of-pocket just for the delivery! This didn’t count what I had to pay out-of-pocket for prenatal check-ups until I had met my $4,000 deductible. So around $8,000 was just to keep tabs on the baby and make sure everything went well. We are so happy that she is healthy, but that cost alone was outrageous!

I tried being a responsible consumer and called around to find out how much services would cost for each hospital in the area. It was basically impossible to get a straightforward answer. Most of the time, I would get re-directed to a few different departments, only to be told that the costs were “variable” and that they couldn’t give me a proper estimate even. Yikes.

Thankfully, I can at least sort of haggle with the hospital for the monthly payments. I learned that the hospital I went to can never refuse a payment, no matter how small it is. If there are months where I can’t make the minimum payment, I try calling the hospital to tell them that I can only spare 5 bucks or whatever I’ve got left that month. My goal is to at least prevent the debt from going to collections. If it comes down to only having enough to pay for either groceries or this bill, you can take a good guess on where that money will be going.

hospital_bill
Only a little more than $3,300 left to pay. Yay.

The Benefits of Amazon Prime for Diapers

The second biggest expenses for us were diapers and wipes. Fortunately for me, I had accidentally paid for an Amazon Prime membership a few months before finding out I was pregnant. We took full advantage of all that the Prime membership had to offer. As Amazon Prime members, we had access to Amazon Family, which gave us 20% off diapers, and the Subscribe and Save program also allowed us to take an extra 15% off of other items as well! After that, the membership basically paid for itself with all of the savings on just the diapers and wipes alone.

Also, it was really just nice to have the items come to me. This also saved me from extra trips to the store because of diaper shortages. And with frazzled mom brain in full swing, it was awesome to set a subscription for the diapers I wanted, and then let Amazon do the rest. Another thing off of my plate!

Evolving Wardrobes – Choose Wisely!

The third largest expense? Just the clothes I had to buy for myself during and after the pregnancy. (Had to be presentable to the public, yes?) I worked in an office, so I had to wear professional-ish attire that fit me well. If my belly was sagging out of my pants or if my top was too tight, that was going to be a problem. The pregnancy and postpartum shapewear I got was phenomenal but expensive! I also had to get larger bras to accommodate the additions to my, err… assets. (And also very expensive.)

And it’s not just the mom who needs new threads – baby’s gotta be dressed, too! We were so blessed to have a couple in the church offer us anything they had for their first child. Our nursery was nearly free because of them! We also were blessed with an unlimited amount of clothing for her first year, which we didn’t spend a dime on.

I didn’t stress in the early months about baby clothes. A baby does not yet have any sort of fashion sense. There is no need to buy expensive clothing. Chances are, the baby will outgrow a LOT in the first few months and may not even get to wear some things. It’s absolutely amazing how fast these little ones grow!

Make Up an Email for Free Stuff!

Even if I did not benefit from some of these items, chances are I can find a mom who could use them! Take my word for it – there are marketers out there who want you to have these free items so you can come running back for more. They hope that if you try a product and end up loving it, you will run to the store to buy more of it. They hope that this can create customer loyalty and a relationship with the brand over time.

But who says we’re obligated to go buy something just because of a free sample?

I got loads of goodies, samples, and discounts from many companies and retailers. Some include Sam’s Club, Enfamil, Similac, Phillips (Avent bottles), Huggies, Pampers, Luvs… well, you get the idea. A LOT of places. And all I had to do was give them an email and fill out a painless form here and there.

I loved getting those little presents in the mail during my pregnancy.

I also earned some perks and discounts by setting up baby registries with different retailers. I had three different ones set up: Amazon, Target, and Babies “R” Us.

If you want to try this, just make up a specific email for the goods so your primary email doesn’t get spammed to death. Because it will. And if you do happen to go through those emails, you can sometimes find good deals on products that you will actually use!

Babies. Don’t. Know. Anything.

Finally, I use this knowledge to my advantage when thinking about toys and food. Or anything else, really. Babies have no idea what they are about to experience when they pick up an object or try solid foods for the first time. It is a wonderful thing to witness, even if they are just playing with a paper towel roll or eating last night’s liquified leftovers. They really don’t know better.

PJ loves boxes. Simple objects around the house (that are safe!!!) will do just fine to entertain her for now. And luckily, she will eat anything I put in front of her. This means I can save a lot of money on food by just feeding her what we are eating. There is a time trade-off for homemade food, but it was so much cheaper for us that it was worth the time spent in our situation.

Your turn! Do you have any helpful tips to save money during the first year? Share with me below! I’m always looking for new ways to stretch my dollar further.

Categories
Food

College food hacks you can use now that you’re a parent.

You needed to be crafty when all you could afford was ramen.

And you couldn’t eat this stuff exactly the way you’re supposed to make it every single day without getting sick of it. Even if you love ramen, there has to be a little variety so it doesn’t feel like you’re depriving yourself completely… even though you might be.

Here are some tips and hacks I use to stay afloat while managing the chaos. These little gems have served me well while in school, and have proven to be quite useful during the moments of parenthood when you just can’t even anymore.

1. Get ingredients that work hard.

Here’s my personal list of pantry staples for when things get tight. Good staples are non-perishable and versatile ingredients that can be used in many recipes.

  • Pasta, rice or ramen
  • Flour, sugar, salt and pepper (the basics people take for granted)
  • Canned or frozen veggies/fruits
  • Canned cream of something (Cream of Mushroom, Chicken, etc.)
  • Canned meats (I haven’t resorted to Spam yet, but chicken, tuna, and ham are great ones)
  • Dry or canned beans
  • Broths for soups or bouillon cubes to add for soups
  • Favorite condiment of choice, like ketchup or soy sauce

Some ready to eat canned foods are great to have on hand as well, such as soups and ravioli. Whatever you like is fine, as long as you will be able to eat it.

2. Add veggies to feel a little healthier.

I actually just used this one for dinner tonight. There was about a cup’s worth of leftover frozen broccoli, and I threw that together with a box of (maybe ancient?) Hamburger Helper I had lying in the depths of my kitchen pantry.

You can do this with just about any pasta or soup dish. Just follow the instructions on the packaging of the pasta you are using, then either add a can of drained veggies or thawed and drained frozen veggies.

Who cares if it’s covered in sauce or some cheese to hide the weird textures? You’re still eating them. Go you.

3. Hack your ramen.

Tired of your standard instant ramen? Play it up with other ingredients you have on hand. I love to put a fried or hard boiled egg in with my ramen, along with some scallions, some pork and some other veggies like carrots and onions.

You can also ditch the flavor packet and put in your own sauce or condiment. This opens up a new world of flavor you can have with your little square of nourishment. Or you can try putting the noodles in a salad. I absolutely love this recipe for crunchy ramen salad here.

4. Break the rules.

Here’s a little confession – I know I just said I was making Hamburger Helper for dinner tonight, but I didn’t have any hamburger. But I did have some canned chicken. It was a cheesy pasta mix, so it ended up working out pretty well! Heck, I could have probably made it without any meat. You could probably also use canned tuna for boxed pasta like that and be fine.

You don’t always need to follow the recipe every time to the letter – Try throwing a bunch of stuff you like on its own in a bowl and see what happens.

OK, I’m not saying you throw some vanilla ice cream in with some sriracha sauce, but if that’s your thing, I’m not gonna judge. I’ve thrown someone else’s leftover puppy chow on top of a Arby’s roast beef sandwich before – and I liked it.

5. Breakfast for dinner.

Who says that toast is just for breakfast? Along with the classic buttered toast, you can top that warm and crusty bread with jam and peanut butter, or some egg and avocado for breakfast, tuna and tomato for lunch, or just have it with some soup for dinner.

Also, leftovers from dinner were also packed for lunch many times. I would make enough to pack quickly the night before to take with me to work the next day.

6. Take advantage of free stuff.

You know when you go to Taco Bell every once in a while and see all of the sauces in their little bins near the napkins? Go grab a bunch of those. You can use them at home when you manage to make your own tacos. I’ve also used some of these to spice up bowls of instant ramen, chip dips, and even thrown it on my eggs for breakfast.

Of course, you can also browse for other condiments at other restaurants (maybe pay for something so you don’t get in trouble). Ask for extra ketchup and mayo packets, and you will never have to go buy a bottle of those things ever again. I still do this today.

Have I mentioned that I’m a bit of a cheapskate sometimes? Though I prefer the term “thrifty”.

You can also go to events on college campuses for free food, or go to your local church – some might have soup kitchens or events where you can get free food at. If you’re in need, they may also let you leave with some leftovers, or point you to some other resources that you can use, like food banks. Speaking of those…

7. USE your local food bank.

Finally, if you are really hurting to make due, try and contact your local food bank. They may need you to fill out an eligibility form or something, just to prove you are in need of food assistance. Some criteria they may look for are:

  • Job loss or being laid off
  • Change in household that affects income
  • Flood, fire or other natural disaster

There’s absolutely no shame in making sure you are fed and getting the nutrition you need. Some college campuses even have their own food pantries now. Check with your college to see if they have a program on campus that provide food assistance – they may be able to hook you up with other resources as well if you are struggling financially.

Have any other tips to keeping food on the table? Share them! I’m always interested in finding new ways to not spend all of my money on food.