Taking Maternity Leave? Plan Ahead

I have a few friends who are pregnant with their first child, and I’ve often joked that a newborn would be so easy, if only you knew what you were doing. For most of us, maternity leave was a bit of a blur. I was fortunate to take four months off with both of my kids. Men might consider this time off work a “vacation,” but we moms know better. It is a break from the office, but you are working just as hard, if not harder.

Maternity leave with Clay came unexpectedly – he was born five weeks early, and I was working at home when I started having contractions. I had planned on going into the office later that afternoon to interview candidates to cover my maternity leave. My first interview was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. At 11:30 a.m. I realized that wasn’t going to happen and by 4:00 p.m., I had a newborn.

Thinking about my friends who are about to start maternity leave, the biggest piece of advice I have is to plan ahead. You don’t know when your baby will arrive. You may be so sleep deprived that you forget to pay your mortgage. You may need help if you have multiples or a fussy baby. You won’t have time to clean your house or cook dinner.

The more you can set up in advance, the better off you’ll be. You won’t be stressed, and you’ll be able to spend time enjoying your baby. Or napping. Or eating dessert because breastfeeding gives you a terrible sweet tooth.

You all know I’m a planner, but since everyone says your first baby “is never early,” I didn’t feel the need to do everything weeks in advance. I learned my lesson though and with Avery my replacement started before I even left work. The nursery was ready, her clothes were washed and the car seat base was installed in the car.

To save your sanity, plan ahead, so you’ll be ready for the baby and your time off work. Then, sit back, relax and enjoy the silence. It won’t last long ūüôā

For other great tips on planning for and making the most of your maternity leave, check out this blog post on CreditCardInsider.com. And if you have any tips of your own, leave them in the comments!

 

 

 

Five easy ways to save money on vacation

Hi y’all, I’m so glad to be back! Sorry I haven’t posted for a while, but with two out-of-town weddings and new work opportunities to pursue, it’s been pretty crazy around here. I don’t think I’ll be able to post every day, but I’ll do my best to write when I can!

0-3 0Anyway, back to the topic. As I mentioned, we had two weddings to attend, one in New York City and the other in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Yes, they are both far away from San Diego and neither is inexpensive. I am not making the money I used to, but these were good friends, so I was determined to find a way to make it work in our budget.

Luckily, the Mexico wedding was mostly paid for when I was still working full time: it was an all-inclusive resort. New York, on the other hand, had not been booked yet. Fortunately, I had enough frequent flier miles to get myself a free ticket, and I just stalked the prices until I found a reasonably priced one for Chase. I’ve written before about ways you can save money when planning a vacation, but my focus here is a bit different.

Here are some ways you can save money when actually on your vacation:

1. Learn to pack light.
I remember the good old days when you could bring luggage for free and even store liquids in your carry on. Since my mom worked for an airline, we became experts at not overpacking. We mostly brought carry on bags, and for single guys, that could probably still work today. But for women and anyone with children, it’s unlikely you can eliminate the liquids and streamline that much.

That being said, I can work with Chase so we both have what we need and we can fit both our stuff into one large suitcase. It might even be worth buying a large suitcase if you don’t have one. If you and your spouse can fit your stuff into one bag, you’ll save at least $50 in bag fees per trip. Of course, that’s assuming your bag isn’t overweight!

2. Take public transportation…or walk.
Renting a car is expensive and in many places, it’s much easier not to have one (NYC and Mexico are two examples!). Public transportation is much more common in big cities, but you’d be surprised at the options offered in other places – from buses to shuttles and trains, so do your research and save some cash.

When we arrived in Newark, we took the train into the city for $12 each. We also took the subway and walked A LOT. In Mexico, most of our cabs were less than $5. We also didn’t have to drive on unfamiliar roads with crazy drivers. Saved money and our sanity…win/win!

3.  Watch your spending on food and drinks.
This one wasn’t really necessary in Mexico since we were at an all-inclusive resort. In fact, we ate and drank more than normal just because it was already paid for (room service every day? yes, please!). But, in New York, we were more careful. I knew we were going to have dinner at the wedding reception, so I ate a hot dog from a cart in Central Park to tide me over. We bought some beer for our hotel room to relax while we got ready, rather than going to a bar in between the ceremony and reception.

If you’re like us and love to eat and enjoy a few adult beverages, just be conscious of it when you’re on vacation. We don’t deprive ourselves of an experience like a great dinner out, but to parents, a beer together in a hotel room with no kids is just as good as one in a bar. And costs far less!

4.  Prioritize your activities.
There are extra charges for special activities, even in an all-inclusive resort. Spa services, golf, water sports may not be included. I love a good massage. Chase loves golf. But, we live in San Diego. We have amazing spas and courses here. We don’t have endless time at the pool or beach with 60 of our closest friends like we did there. So, our priority for this trip was time with our friends and each other. Chase didn’t golf, and I didn’t get a massage.

We did, however, spend money to charter a boat for a day with a big group. We spent five hours out on a yacht dancing, laughing, snorkeling and swimming. It was worth every penny!

5. Negotiate prices.
When our good friend was negotiating the price of the boat charter, Chase walked up and nearly ruined his negotiating power by overhearing the price and saying “that’s a great deal!” Chase was just excited about going on a boat, and he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. So it’s not his fault he’s a salesman’s dream.

I am not a master negotiator, but I do ask for discounts in certain situations. The truth is, most people want to make a sale, so it never hurts to ask. Our friend who was negotiating the boat price commonly asks, “is that the best you can do?” Most of the time, they lower the price at least a bit. And, this is in the U.S., not just in Mexico. So it’s worth asking, right? There is a good chance they’ll say yes and you’ll save money!

We had some great trips, but we’re happy to be back home with the kiddos…and money still in the bank!

 

 

A Little Break

I love writing this blog, but the past few weeks have been crazy and the next few are shaping up to be the same. I’m not sure that anyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for my next post, but just in case, I wanted to let you all know I’m taking a little break. As always, I really appreciate you reading, and I’ll be back soon!

xoxo
Keri

Friday Five: Save time and money ‚Äď and get organized!

The ‚ÄúFriday Five‚ÄĚ series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

photo-31. Grocery store bulk discounts on alcohol
I swear, despite my posts on how to save money on booze, I really don’t drink that much. But, we entertain, I go to girls’ nights, etc. Anyway, alcohol is not like bread or produce, it does not go bad (especially with our friends/family). Our closest grocery store, Ralph’s, often does a “buy six bottles, get 30% off deal.” They also offer “must buy two” offers for beer. If you know you’ll drink it (and you have the space to store it), go ahead and buy it in bulk. 30 percent is a big discount and who doesn’t want to get their favorite $25 bottle of wine for $18.50?

 

photo-52. Michael’s journal/notebook
This week I did something very out of character for me: I returned to making lists on paper. I’ve always loved the feeling of crossing things off my “to-do” list, but it’s lived in the Notes app on my iPhone for a long time. The nature of my new business venture requires that I be able to jot down ideas and contact information quickly. I wanted to buy something small to stick in my purse. I was buying other supplies at Michael’s when I saw this in one of their bins for only $1.50. It’s pretty cute (there were designs I liked better, but they were sold out of “K”), and you can’t beat the price!

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 1.15.55 PM3. Calling to negotiate a better price with your cable/tv/satellite provider.

I wrote an entire post on this a while back, but after hearing a friend complain about their DirecTV bill going up, I thought I’d highlight it quickly here. We have DirecTV for TV and Cox Communications for our Internet service. Both companies gave us “promotional” rates when we first signed up. Of course, those promotions expire, and your bill goes up. The thing is, you don’t have to settle for the new rates. Call them up. ¬†Ask them to check on any new promotions that may be available.¬†It may take a few minutes, but they always find something that will save you money. Time is money, but I’ve saved up to $20/month, so this one is definitely worth the phone call!

 

photo-24. World Market drink dispenser
I had brunch at a friend’s house the other day, and she had put lemonade in this adorable dispenser. Anyone who has been to my house would know it fits well with my decor, but that’s not the only reason I liked it. She had the great idea to fill it and put it on a low shelf in her fridge, so her kids can get their own drinks. My kids can’t pour from a juice bottle very well (i.e. without spilling) yet, but they can totally fill their cups from a dispenser. Saves you time and makes them happy! All for only $20, and World Market always offers 15% coupons. Save yourself some juice pouring!

 

ATM5. Easy bank deposits
Remember the days when you had to go into the bank to make a deposit? Those days are long gone, and now some banks even charge you if you visit a teller. At prior jobs I had direct deposit, but now that clients are writing me checks I actually have to take the time to deposit them. I love the ATM deposit because it will email me a receipt (I’m a bit anal about record-keeping), other friends use the app on their phone and deposit checks that way. Either way, it makes life so much easier. ¬†The only people missing the bank tellers are kids. I’m sure dentists are happy though – lollipops are not good for their teeth!

 

 

 

School Volunteering…From Home

mom homeworkI have so much respect for teachers. How they can handle 22 five-year-olds and keep them quiet long enough to learn anything, I’ll never know. Other than chaperoning field trips, I don’t remember parents volunteering much in school when I was a kid, but it’s pretty common now due to larger class sizes and fewer resources. Clay’s preschool was an all-day program targeted at working parents, so they didn’t ask for volunteers very often, but I’d heard from friends that once kindergarten starts, the volunteer requests flood in.

I like volunteering, but it’s difficult for me to do it during the work day. My schedule is all over the place right now, with lots of new business stuff going on. Clay’s teacher was great, asking parents to fill out a form to indicate how they can help out and giving us lots of options. For most working parents, going in to the classroom from 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. just isn’t possible. Luckily, there are a lot of stay-at-home moms in Clay’s class, so they have all the classroom volunteers they need.

One of the options for volunteering was completing projects at home. I put a big check mark next to that option. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, but it couldn’t be too hard, right? I was relieved when Clay brought home my “homework” for the first time this week. I had to collate and staple little books of shapes for the kids. Phew, that was easy! I sat on the floor while Clay did his homework at the coffee table.

What’s my point, you may ask? You don’t have to spend 15 hours a week in your kid’s classroom to feel like you’ve helped out. If your teacher doesn’t offer a “work-at-home” volunteering option, maybe suggest it to her. I’m sure she’d be happy to save a few hours of cutting and stapling each night. I know I would if I had to wake up and teach kids to read the next day!

So Many Jobs, So Little Time

Parents wear many hats. Some have jobs in an office, others work from home or stay home with their kids, but I don’t think any of us would say we have just one job. You could be a lawyer and a mom, a teacher and a dad, whatever. Then you throw in coaching your kid’s soccer team, volunteering at school, cooking for your family and you have more jobs than Ryan Seacrest!

The one good thing about working in an office is that I was usually able to keep my jobs separate. When I was at work, I was a marketing director. When I was at home, I was a mom. Now that I’m working at home, finding that balance is a bit more difficult.

In addition to this blog (which I haven’t made any money from…yet!), I’m also running my content marketing company, serving as the editor for a local realtor’s e-newsletter¬†and have recently taken on a new business venture (more on that soon). In an effort to save money while I’m building my business, I’m also doing jobs myself that I used to pay people for: washing cars, cleaning the house and painting my toenails.

I look back to the time when I was first married, and I thought I was busy. Now that life seems pretty simple. I worked until 4:30, worked out and did an occasional contract writing project. Luckily parents (especially moms) are excellent multi-taskers. Despite the craziness, I’m happy with all of my jobs. I know I have to be patient, and the best path for me will become clear. Now if only I could have Ryan Seacrest’s paycheck…

Friday Five – Favorite Stores Edition

I’m doing something a little different for the Friday Five today: highlighting some of my favorite stores that can help save you time and money. Everyone knows I love Costco’s prepared food, Fresh & Easy’s coupons and Target’s red card, but here are a few others, both brick-and-mortar and online.

h goods1. Home Goods
My friend, Dawn, loves this place. I hadn’t been there until about two years ago, when I realized nearly every time I complimented her on something in her house, her response was, “thanks, I got it at Home Goods.” Of course it helps to have an eye for design like Dawn and her Simply Tangerine partner, Christine, but even people like me can pull enough stuff together to make a room look cute. It is one-stop shopping, and everything is very reasonably priced. My main floor decor mostly came from there, and I get compliments on it. That’s the first time I can say that about any home I’ve lived in, so I thank Home Goods for it. In addition to home decor you can also get household necessities at great prices. Some things you may not expect include: pet supplies, grilling tools, iPhone and iPad covers, coolers, wine glasses and more. They have everything you could need for a home, but get there early – the retired ladies can make a mess of the place!

sprouts2. Boney’s Henry’s Sprouts Farmers Market
Sorry, this place changes names all the time, but whatever we’re calling it these days, I love it. It is a grocery store with farmer’s market prices and fresh, local food. I love Whole Foods, but it’s expensive and on the other side of town, so it would cost me an arm and leg to shop there. Sprouts is close by with similar quality food, so it saves me time and money. For some reason, I thought we only had them in Southern California, but turns out they also have stores in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Oklahoma, so go check it out if you live in the Southwest!

2013-07-12 17.25.533. Nordstrom Rack
I love Nordstrom, but now that we have a Nordstrom Rack nearby, I’m not sure I’ll ever shop at the real store again. First, the Rack doesn’t require me to go to the mall. It has plenty of parking, and it’s five minutes away. So, in time saved alone, it wins. Then, there are the prices. I can buy designer jeans for $79. I can buy $50 kids’ shoes for $25. I can buy $50 bras for $19 and underwear for $5. In addition to clothes and shoes, they have discounted cosmetics, home goods and other random things you might not think of. Goodbye, mall parking lot, I don’t miss you one bit.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 3.56.53 PM4. Amazon.com
I don’t think I need to write much about this one, I’ve already written about my love affair with Amazon Prime. I miss my tax-free purchases (I’m looking at you, California legislature), but when you drive a car that gets 13 mpg, it’s still cheaper (and obviously easier) to order from Amazon rather than driving around town. They sell everything under the sun, their customer service is great and so is their iPhone app. I forgot to get a friend a birthday gift, and I had it ordered in the time it took to get through a stoplight (don’t worry, Chase was driving). Just go ahead and sign up for Amazon Prime now.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 4.01.58 PM5. Diapers.com
I wrote a while back about my sad goodbye to diapers.com. We have no need for diapers, sippy cups or breast milk storage bags (thank God)…and we never will again. That being said, for parents with small children, diapers.com is a godsend. Free, overnight shipping and the best customer service ever. They made having kids close together so much easier, and I’ll always have fond memories of them. I can still shop at their sister site, soap.com, and for those of you whose pets are your kids, check out wag.com. I’ll be using them when Clay is 10, as I made a horrible mistake and promised him he can get a dog then!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and save some time and money shopping!

 

Jean Chatzky Features Time is Money Mommy Guest Post

I’ve watched financial expert, Jean Chatzky, on the Today Show for years and always admired her. I follow her on Twitter, so when she tweeted this summer that she was accepting guest blog posts, I wrote in right away. I was thrilled that she (and her amazing team member, Arielle) liked my post. It was featured on her site yesterday!

Please check out the post: Five Baby Products Parents Can Skip to Save Money.

 

Still feeling lucky on 9/11

Note: I originally wrote this post on 9/11/2012, and I’m still feeling very fortunate today.

I sat down to write something funny about my kids, but I just didn’t have it in me today. It seems irresponsible to ignore such a horrific day in our nation’s history. One that affected me for years, but I’ve never written about. I thought about keeping a journal at the time, but instead tried to steer my thoughts away from that day, hoping that I would stop¬†dreaming about planes crashing into me.

I know I was lucky. I was in D.C. and feared for my life, but here I am today and that sunny, clear day is still fresh in my mind, 11 years later.

I thought this morning how different my experience of 9/11 would have been if I were living in California then. It’s unlikely I would have even been awake, and since I don’t turn on the TV in the morning, I would have been blissfully unaware of the chaos unfolding on the East Coast, at least until I got to¬†the office. Instead, I was in D.C., two blocks from the Capitol. We saw¬†news online about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and thought, “what a horrible accident,” then turned on the TV in my boss’s office just in time¬†to see¬†the second plane hit live on the Today Show. It was suddenly clear that this was not an accident, but who would do such a thing?

Shortly after that plane hit, there were reports from the Pentagon, that a bomb or other explosion had occurred. It took some time before news outlets realized it was a third plane. Reports of bombs and fires at the White House and elsewhere in the city incited panic, making us feel like we were under attack. The sonic boom we heard as fighter jets scrambled over the city could have easily been construed as an explosion, and my office closed at that point.

News reports said¬†that Flight 93 was still unaccounted for and could be headed for D.C. I didn’t¬†drive to work, and the Metro was flooded with screaming¬†Capitol Hill staffers, trying to get away from what was thought to be the¬†next target. I lived in Arlington at the time, across the Potomac and next to the fiery Pentagon, so I wasn’t sure how I’d get home. My coworker had driven to work and lived in Alexandria, so she offered to bring me to her house, along with another young coworker. My driver was nearly¬†nine months pregnant, and as we sat in horrible traffic next to the Capitol building, I had two hopes: that we wouldn’t watch a plane crash next to us and that she wouldn’t go into labor in the car.

Cell phones were working only sporadically, but I got a call from my mom that eased some of my fears. She worked for United Airlines, and was crying because Flight 93 had gone down in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t public knowledge yet, and she knew the pilot. I was sad for his family and the others on the plane, but relieved. Crashing in a field causes far less damage than it¬†would¬†in a densely populated city.

I don’t remember how long it took to get to my coworker’s home, but I remember how eerily calm her street was. Kids were playing quietly¬†outside and it was the most beautiful day. The type of day that you love living in D.C. Sunny and warm, but no humidity with a nice breeze. We spent the afternoon glued to the TV, and it was very bizarre to see news on every¬†channel,¬†even MTV.¬†Later in the day, my roommate came to¬†pick me up and we passed the smoky Pentagon on our way home. It continued to smoke for days, a constant reminder. My other roommate had walked¬†home across the¬†Memorial Bridge from her Chinatown office.¬†She threw away her shoes when she got home. Her feet were bloody with blisters.

My boyfriend at the¬†time worked for the head of the¬†Senate Intelligence¬†Committee. He was whisked off with the senator to a secure location. He¬†arrived at my house around midnight, with¬†fear and tears in his¬†eyes. He knew things he couldn’t share, and though we knew that¬†the whole world doesn’t love America, it was frightening to be attacked¬†on our own soil.

As horrible¬†as that day was for me, I know¬†people had it much, much worse. And there were so many close calls. A high school friend who lived in Florida was in the World Trade Center that day for¬†job training – he made it out okay. My¬†dad’s friend worked on the 90th floor of the WTC, but had a dentist appointment that morning that probably saved his life.¬†We were the lucky ones. Our nation lost innocent people. Moms, dads, children.

After 9/11, D.C. was a different place. Quiet. Somber. But also more friendly and¬†resilient. Patriotic.¬†Strangers smiled at one another, flags flew and the man playing the trumpet outside of¬†Union Station changed¬†his repertoire to “America, the Beautiful” and the¬†“Star-Spangled Banner.” We were a city changed, a nation changed, but we were united.¬†That would be the only good thing to come of such a¬†devastating day. In the past few years, we seem to have¬†forgotten the horrible day that brought our country together. The country is¬†more safe today, but also more divided.

Today,¬†Tuesday, September 11, had a very different start¬†from this day in 2001. I woke up early, got the kids ready and drove to work in a beachy fog. 2,600 miles and what feels like a lifetime away from that fateful Tuesday morning.¬†Someday I can tell my kids the story (or show them this post) of the day our country changed forever. Hopefully by then we’ll be back to the great country we once were.

In the meantime, I’m thankful that I was one of the lucky ones, and I’ll never forget those we lost on 9/11.

Five Easy Ways to Boost Your Savings

I know how hard it is to build up a savings account. Even when you make a good living, it seems like there are always unexpected expenses. A broken garage door, cracked toilet and money for kindergarten field trips…that was just the past week in our house, and I’m sure you’ve all been there. That being said, building up your savings is important, so here are some easy ways that we’ve been able to boost our savings over the years, without feeling much of a pinch.

1. Bank of America Keep the Change program
Bank of America makes me crazy sometimes, but, like many others, we use them because they are everywhere. One of the best programs they offer us is Keep The Change. I enrolled a few years ago. It’s pretty simple. Whenever you use your debit card, they round up your purchase amount to the nearest dollar and automatically transfer the “change” to your savings account. For the first few months, they also match your savings, so it’s an even better deal. We don’t notice the missing 50 or 75 cents, but the savings adds up. Since we joined the program, we’ve added $1,800 to savings without even thinking about it. It’s also great for people like me who still balance their checkbooks – all even numbers makes for easy math. If you don’t use B of A, I’m sure other banks offer similar programs.

2. Stash unexpected cash
On rare occasions, we get random checks. It could be money from grandma on my birthday (the checks correspond with age, so I’ll be getting a whopping $35 in October!). Or a rebate I forgot I submitted to Bed, Bath & Beyond. We get profit sharing from USAA for having our insurance with them. Once, we somehow overpaid our property taxes for the year, and I got a check for $400. Since you are not depending on this money in your budget, just pretend you never saw it and put it in savings instead.

3. Make company expense reimbursements work for you
Chase drives a lot for work. While he is going all over San Diego doing budgeting and credit seminars, he incurs mileage and parking expenses. A great way we’ve added to our savings is by using our personal debit card to pay his transportation expenses. In smaller chunks like a tank of gas or a few hours of parking downtown, we don’t really notice the expense. Then when he gets the reimbursement checks from his company, we put them into our savings account rather than checking.

4. Sell stuff you don’t use and save the profits
When we decided we were done having kids, I started selling baby gear we no longer used on craigslist. Chase would tease me about it because I always had cash from my craigslist sales. Truth be told, I put most of that money in savings. I got rid of clutter and padded our savings. A win/win.

5. Direct deposit part of your paycheck into a savings account
All companies offer direct deposit and many let you split your deposit among multiple accounts. When I got my first job in San Diego, I was taking a pay cut from my salary in D.C., so I knew if I didn’t deposit money into savings via direct deposit, I would never have money left over at the end of the month to add to savings. I put $50 per paycheck into savings. Not a lot, but it adds up. If you already feel strapped, a good way to start is to begin a savings direct deposit whenever you get a salary increase. Put the increased earnings into savings instead of checking. You’ll never notice the difference since you were used to living on your prior salary.

Saving money isn’t fun, but if you use these tips maybe you won’t even notice the money is missing! Believe me, if your income changes or you face other financial challenges, you’ll be glad it’s there!