Sep 202013

checklistRoutines are a life raft for me in the chaotic world of parenting.  I’ve created a routine checklist for my daughter’s before school, after school and after dinner tasks, and the link for it is at the bottom of this post if you’d like to download it and customize it.

Before using a checklist, I found that my relationship with my preschool-aged daughter involved a lot of me telling her what to do“Unpack your backpack.  I said, unpack your backpack.  Now we’re going to eat a snack.  No, you can’t play yet, it’s time for shower.”  Once she was in Kindergarten I felt like she was ready to start helping around the house with chores.  But in order to get her to complete all her tasks, I had to constantly nag her: “Don’t forget about your cleaning chores… did you feed the cat yet? Now set the table.  I said, set the table. Your backpack is still waiting to be unpacked, do that before you take a shower…” It seemed like every afternoon devolved into an exchange of accusatory looks and frustrated outbursts on both our parts.  My goals were reasonable: I wanted teach my daughter to take responsibility for her tasks, but my strategy (constant reminders) was making us both miserable.

Enter the routine checklist, which we started using when she was four and a half.  I worked on the list together, so that she could take ownership of it.  With the checklist, my daughter knows what is expected of her, and can monitor her progress by checking off the boxes next to each task.  (Each task has an icon next to it so that children can use the checklist even if they don’t know how to read.  For instance, “Pack backpack” has a picture of a backpack next to it.) If I see that she’s gotten off track, I remind her to look at her checklist.  Instead of a ordering her around, I just say, “What’s next on your checklist?”

Now, I won’t lie, the routine checklist hasn’t solved all of our battles.  She’s in first grade now, and in the morning tends to be s-l-o-w to complete each task when getting ready for school, and the checklist hasn’t made any difference there. And in the afternoons she’s not that interested in doing chores, so I do get my fair share of eye-rolling sent my way, not to mention the dramatic slump-shouldered walks as she drags herself from one task to the next, glancing over at me to make sure I’m witnessing her misery.  But I do feel like using routine checklists has made a difference in my relationship with my daughter, because our arguments (and there are still many!) are more about the fact that she doesn’t want to complete her tasks, and not so much about her being angry at me for ordering her around. And don’t we all get frustrated with our list of to-do’s from time to time?  She’s learning that life is challenging because we all have tasks of some sort that we need to complete each day, but she’s also learning that she can get through it if she makes a list and works through it step-by-step.

The downloadable checklist is in Microsoft Word so that you can easily customize it to fit your own routines and expectations.  If you have trouble opening or editing the document, leave a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to help you (note that for some reason weird formatting can result from opening the document in read-only mode: to remedy this, select “Edit” or “Print” and you’ll get the original formatting).

Free Downloadable Daily Routines Checklist for Children:

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Sep 162013

We could all use some windfall cash, and here’s one way to get some: sell your extra stuff on eBay.  I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a constant battle with clutter, and it’s hard for me to part with my possessions.  I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m more willing to part with something if I get paid for it.  For our family, selling our extra stuff on eBay is a great way to cut down on the clutter in our house and make a little extra money to boot.

How to sell on eBay:

Here are my six tips for selling on eBay.  If you need step-by-step instructions on the mechanics of listing an item on eBay, click here.  But beyond that, here are the rules of thumb that I use:

1) Pick the Right Stuff

  • Only sell stuff that is light enough, and small enough, to ship cheaply.  That means small collectibles, small electronics, clothes, shoes, accessories (purses, sunglasses, jewelry), books, etc.  If it costs too much to ship, people won’t buy it.
  • Clothing and shoes should be well-known better quality brands only (so that they show up in popular searches) and in excellent condition (free of stains and any other damage).
  • Many collectibles and cell phones, as well as almost all Apple products, can be sold even if damaged/completely broken.

2) Make Sure Your Listing Ends On A Weekday

I have a feeling people shop on eBay while they are at work, because I have found that items have more bidders (and consequently higher ending prices) if they end between 10am and 3pm PST on weekdays.

3) Use Cheap Shipping Materials

You don’t want the cost of shipping the item to cut into your profit, so make sure you pay as little as possible for shipping materials and the shipping itself.  (It’s true you can set up your auction so that the buyer pays the shipping, but that means buyers will bid less for the item, so either way you lose profit if shipping is too expensive.)  For soft items, I use poly mailers from Amazon, because they are cheap and very lightweight.  For hard or fragile items, I re-use boxes from stuff I’ve ordered.

4) Take Lots of Photos

Buyers appreciate being able to see every angle of the item being sold- it helps them feel more confident in their purchase.  Lay a solid-colored sheet or towel down as a backdrop and snap away.  Try not to use a flash- indoor daylight is best for a pseudo-professional look.

5) Disclose All Defects

When you write your eBay item description, make sure you are loud and clear about any defects in your items, even if they are shown in the pictures.  You want to make sure that the buyer understands what they’ll be getting, otherwise you’ll get negative feedback ratings from unhappy buyers, not to mention bad karma!  I bold format any description of defects, and I also include close-up photos.

6) Research Before You Price

Ebay makes it easy to find out the going price for an item you want to sell- just use the eBay search box to search for the item, then use the options on the left of the results page to refine your search by clicking “Sold listings.”  Now only recently sold items will show up, with their sale prices.  Yippee! Using that information, you can decide how low you want to start your auction.

That’s it! I hope you have fun listing your extra stuff.

What do YOU plan to sell on eBay?

Mar 182013

Our Cash Budget

When reading about our various cash-only adventures, people sometimes asked how we budgeted our money to last the whole month.  There are probably many different ways to manage your money when adopting a cash-only lifestyle, but here’s the method we chose: Before we began, we created a written budget that showed all of our monthly income, and then listed all of our savings goals, monthly bills, and spending categories, as well as how much we wanted (or needed) to spend on each.

For example, we listed “Braces- $200″ as a savings goal because that was the amount of money we wanted to save each month in order for me to get braces eventually. “Gas/Electric- $300″ was listed as a monthly bill, because that’s typically what our utility company charges us. “Groceries- $350″ was listed as a spending category, because that’s the limit of what we wanted to spend each month on food.  We made sure to balance the written budget so that our savings goals, monthly bills and spending categories wouldn’t exceed our monthly income.

Every paycheck, we took three steps:

  1. We transferred all the money needed for savings goals (retirement, future travel, braces, cushion fund, etc)  into savings accounts. 
  2. We withdrew enough cash to cover our shopping for the month, and separated that cash into envelopes- an envelope for grocery money, an envelope for drugstore purchases, an envelope for haircut money, etc (this is commonly called “the envelope system,” or “envelope budgeting.”
  3. The money left in our bank was used for monthly bills, which we paid using our debit card as the bills came due.

Now, this 3-step process looks pretty simple, but going cash-only was a lot harder to put into practice than we originally thought.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how hard it would be to make the switch from credit cards.

The Addiction to Credit Cards

As someone who routinely used credit cards to make purchases, I had forgotten the logistical issues inherent with using cash: the frequent trips to the ATM, the careful allocation of cash into various spending categories at the beginning of each month, the panic at the cash register wondering if I brought enough cash with me.  After switching to credit cards over a decade ago, I think I had assumed that it would be easy to switch back to cash if I wanted to, and that the only reason I didn’t was because of the benefits of cash-back credit card rewards.  After all, since I paid off the credit cards in full each month, I wasn’t dependent on them, right?  This logic reminds me of a friend of mine who smoked cigarettes and said, “I’m not addicted because I could quit any time I want to.”  The response in both cases is, “Uh-huh.  Get back to me about that after you’ve tried.”  We simply can’t know the level of our addiction until we try to kick the habit.

And credit cards are a hard habit to kick because it’s incredibly convenient to use them- you never have to worry if you have enough money in your account to cover the purchase, you have over a month to figure out how to pay for the purchase, and you don’t have to make detours to an ATM (well, except for when you find yourself at one of those lunch joints with a hand-written “cash only” sign taped on the cash register).  My husband and I loved the convenience of credit cards, but nonetheless we found ourselves embarking on a three-month cash-only challenge.  You might remember from reading Part I of my Cash-Only Challenge Series that we were initially reluctant to go “cash-only”- we were essentially forced to do it so that our credit reports reflected $0 debt for an upcoming house refinance.  But when faced with the reality that we had to temporarily wean ourselves cold-turkey from our credit cards, we did try to embrace the concept, and committed to trying out a cash-only lifestyle for a full three months.  I’d been intrigued by the case made in The Money Saving Mom’s Budget that a cash-only lifestyle leads to financial betterment, so I convinced my husband that we should give it our all and see if it was really worth it to kick the credit card habit and pay for things the old-fashioned way.

Now the three months are over and it’s time for me to report back on the ultimate question:

Was the Cash-Only Lifestyle Worth It?

Stay tuned for Part VI where I’ll answer that question and disclose whether we’ve stuck to the cash-only lifestyle!

Want more?  In Part I: The Accidental Players, I explain how we wound up in this Cash-Only Challenge despite having no interest in a cash-only lifestylePart II: Grocery Budget Jitters tracks how we weaned ourselves from credit cards and took the plunge into using cash.  Part III: The Roller Coaster, tracks my logistical acrobatics (and occasional panicked moments) as I attempt to cover all of our month’s expenses before our cash runs out. In Part IV I report back on taking our Cash-Only Challenge on vacation with us.  

Interested in doing a Cash-Only Challenge yourself?  Check out Crystal Paine’s book, “The Money Saving Mom’s Budget” (which I reviewed here) and learn all about it.  In her trademark upbeat style, Paine lays out the blueprint for a cash-only lifestyle.

Mar 142013

There’s a renaissance in cloth diapering going on right now.  Cloth diapering has always been the most frugal and environmentally-conscious choice for parents, but cloth diapers have also been 1) less convenient to use than their disposable counterparts and 2) yucky to clean, which is why they had been rapidly declining in popularity for the last 40 years.   No so anymore- advances in technology have transformed the cloth diapering landscape.

Soft, woven waterproof fabric has replaced vinyl diaper covers, Snappis have replaced diaper pins, and thank goodness diaper sprayers have replaced toilet dunking.  Numerous companies have taken advantage of these new technologies to create cloth diapers that are convenient to use, easy to wash, and completely adorable.  If you’re interested in using cloth diapers on your child, here’s an overview of the different types of cloth diapers that are available.  I’ve used links to Amazon product pages so that you can see pictures of the diapers I’m describing, as well as read reviews about them and find out pricing.

Types of All-In-One Diapers (AIO)

Let’s start off with the ultra-convenient “All-In-One” style of diaper (also called, “AIO”).  An All-In-One is a one-piece leak-proof cloth diaper that Velcros or snaps around the baby.   They have the look and function of uber-stylish disposable diapers, but instead of throwing the diaper out when you change your baby, you throw the whole diaper into your diaper pail and wash your diapers every 2-3 days.  All-In-Ones are so convenient that they tend to win over spouses, grandparents, babysitters, daycare centers, and anyone else who might not be initially enthusiastic about cloth diapering.  They come in countless irresistible colors and patterns, and use super-easy snap or Velcro-like closures.  Depending on the brand, they are either “one-size,” meaning they fit from birth to potty training, or sized.

Popular brands include:

Types of All-In-Two Diapers

All-In-Two diapers are two-piece cloth diapers that require one extra step compared to all-in-ones: you place a cloth insert into a cover that is specially designed to hold the insert in place.  Being able to separate the insert from the cover after the diaper is soiled makes all-in-twos arguably easier to wash and faster to dry than all-in-ones.  On the other hand, after you’ve laundered your all-in-twos you do have to take the extra step of matching your inserts to your diapers, whereas all-in-ones will be ready to go straight after drying.  There are two main types of All-In-Two diapers: pocket diapers and hybrid diapers, and within those two types some brands are one-size (fitting from birth to potty training) and others are sized.

Pocket Diapers (All-In-Two)

With a pocket diaper, the insert stuffs into a pocket in the cover.  When the diaper is soiled, both the cover and insert are washed together.

  Popular brands include:


Hybrid Diapers (All-In-Two)

The “hybrid” version of an All-In-Two is comprised of a leak-proof cover that an absorbent liner snaps, or is placed, into.   The advantages over pocket-style All-In-Twos are: 1) there is no stuffing of uncooperative inserts into snug pockets, and 2) there are many instances when the baby has only soiled the liner, so you can change the liner without having to change the cover, making these especially convenient on-the-go.

Popular brands include:

  • GroVia Shell (one-size, choice of cotton, microfiber, or disposable snap-in insert)
  • BumGenius Flip (one-size, choice of cotton, microfiber, or disposable insert)
  • gDiaper (sized, choice of cotton/microfiber insert or flushable insert)

Types of Prefold Diapers + Snappis + Diaper Covers

Of all the different types of cloth diapers, Prefolds are the cheapest option.  A prefold is a rectangular cloth that you place on your baby, secure with a Snappi, and then cover with a leak-proof diaper cover.  You don’t change the cover every time- just the soaked prefold- so you only need approximately 1 cover per 4 prefolds.  Prefolds and covers can be washed together in a washing machine, and dried in a dryer, though line drying the covers will help them last longer.  Prefolds are the type of diaper used by diaper services, so if you aren’t interested in washing cloth diapers yourself, you can subscribe to a diaper service that will pick up your dirty diapers every week and drop off cleaned and sanitized ones.

Popular brands include:

Types of Fitted Diapers + Diaper Covers

Fitted diapers are the same essential concept as prefolds, in that you secure them around your baby and then cover with a leak-proof diaper cover.  But instead of being a rectangular cloth that you secure with a Snappi, fitted diapers are form-fitted and have snaps or Velcro to secure them.  Because they are form-fitted they have a reputation of being the most bombproof of all diapers, in terms of being able to contain the biggest of poop blow-outs and heavy wetting without any leaking onto clothes.  The downside is that they are bulky- you can tell this just by looking at the two images above.  The entire fitted diaper, pictured on the left, has to fit inside the diaper cover pictured on the right.  Despite this bulkiness, many parents swear they are the best cloth diaper option because of their prowess in containing leaks.  Popular brands include:

So there you have it! I’ve tried to give you an overview of all the different types of cloth diapers that are available.  Hopefully this list has helped you make sense of all of the options out there.  Keep in mind there are many other brands out there besides the ones I highlighted, and it could be helpful to visit your local cloth diaper shop and see the diapers in person.  You can also make your own cloth diapers, or buy homemade ones on Etsy.

 Do you use cloth diapers already?  Are you thinking about using cloth diapers?

Feb 092013

garbage can

Opting For A Smaller Garbage Can Could Save You $40/Month

I published this post originally in 2011, but I’m re-posting it as a reminder because reducing the size of your garbage can is such a painless way to save money each month.

A couple years ago our city introduced three sizes of garbage cans with correspondingly reduced prices.  The first is the standard size that you’re probably used to: 68 gallons.  When we were using disposable diapers for our daughter, we needed this full-sized can, so we had to pay full price on our garbage bill ($55.84/month).  But once she was potty trained, we noticed we were only filling the can 1/2 way each week.  So, we opted for the next size down: a 32 gallon can, at $26.05/month.  That’s almost $30/month in savings!

It didn’t take long before we realized we weren’t even filling the 32 gallon can all the way, so we opted for the smallest size: a 20 gallon can at $16.16/month.  That’s an additional $10/month in savings, meaning that we are saving $40/month on our garbage bill compared to using a standard sized can.

According to the EPA, many cities and counties are implenting these types of programs- check with your local garbage company to find out if they have a similar program available.

Jan 132013

2013 Calendar by MeinLilaParkThere are lots of great free printable 2013 calendars available right now.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of electronic calendars, like the Google Calendar that I use for my weekly and monthly calendars, but there’s no question that actual, paper calendars are really handy as well. Every year I print out a 1-page yearly calendar to put near my desk, as well as a 12-page monthly calendar for my daughter to use.

MeinLilaPark has compiled a list of over 50 free printable calendars, including 12 month calendars, 1-page yearly calendars, mini calendars, and more.  Here are some of the best free printable 2013 calendars out there (and check out MeinLilaPark for more):

12 Month 2013 Calendars (12 pages)

If you’re a fan of cutesy teddy bears, GraphicGarden offers this one:

If you’re more into country charm, GraphicGarden‘s got you covered:

If you’re looking for something simple, try this one from Botanical Paperworks:

And here’s a cute calendar for kids from HelloCuteness:

2013 Yearly Calendars

Here’s a vintage illustration on a simple yearly calendar from CallMeVictorian:

Here’s a more whimsical one from MeinLilaPark:

Or, you can keep it simple with this one from BelievingBoldly:

2013 Mini Monthly Calendars

The illustrations on this mini calendar from Creative Mama are too cute:

Or if you’re into something more edgy, try this one from Smam (the download buttons are the “1,2,3″ links at the bottom of the text):