Monday, September 29, 2008

The Costs of Maternity - So Far

I've just passed into my 18th week of pregnancy, and it's been enlightening on a money front.  We had spent a good deal of time trying to project the costs out, and up until we got that wonderful phone call, we thought we had it down.  We were in for a surprise or two or several.

Surprise #1: Non-maternity clothing costs
Sure, I knew I would need maternity clothes.  But what I didn't realize is that my $26.00 in a bella band (, would only go so far.  I had expected it to cover most of the early stages of body change, as my belly grew.  Which it did, but I had failed to take into account the fact that other parts were growing too, and well before maternity clothing would fit.  2 sets of new bras and some new tops later, I adjusted for a few weeks, then grew again.  I also went up a couple pant sizes because no matter how nice that band was, there came a point where my current pants were just too uncomfortable to stay in.  Even buying the minimum, this was an unexpected cost.

Cost of clothing other than maternity: $150ish

Surprise #2: Food Aversions
I was lucky enough to never even have a touch of morning sickness.  What I did have, around week 8, was some serious food aversions.  To things like vegetables and seafood,  along with the smell of cooking chicken, which I normally love. The aversions were so strong I literally couldn't swallow certain foods.  For well over 6 weeks, I lived on bread, pasta, pizza and other carb-heavy foods.  This wreaked havoc on our CSA membership (although friends and family reaped the benefits as we gave food away) as well as our diet.  

Since a typical weeknight meal at home consisted of pan chicken and some veggies, it was a huge change in diet, and our grocery bill spiked accordingly, as well as the amount of take out we ate.  Thankfully some of my aversions have slowed, although the smell of grilling squash or cooked eggplant will still send me running for the hills.  Salad however, I can now eat by the ton.  

Cost of food aversions to our food budget: $250ish

Surprise #3: How hard maternity clothes are to buy, and how much they cost
Most of my maternity clothes window-shopping prior to pregnancy consisted of clearance items.  It never occurred to me that I might need to buy items before they went on sale.  I've recently started to make the transition to maternity, and while I still have managed to shop the sales, fall/winter maternity clothes are still full price - and they are not cheap, even the cheap stuff.   At this point, I am fitting into about the final 10-15% of my non-maternity clothes. 

I tried ebay and craigslist, only to realize I really needed to try stuff on.  And since the only resource of maternity clothes that is near my size, and not a good 6 inches shorter than me, is currently expecting, hand me downs are rare.  So we've ended up shopping.  

The thing about it is, you need everything.  From bras to work clothes to t-shirts and jeans, you have to start over.  And while I have started to supplement by borrowing from my husband's wardrobe, even that has a lifespan that will end before my maternity marathon is over.  I found that stressful - how would I know what was enough?  Where to start?  It was overwhelming financially to buy clothes for a short period of time, as well as just stressful from a scale perspective.  I'd spent years accumulating a wardrobe, and now I had to start from zero.

So, I've bought 2 maternity t-shirts, one pair of jeans, a winter dress, 3 pairs of pants for work, 1 pair of cropped pants for the warm days, a pair of chino cargo pants, and 4 tops for the office, pajamas, and a nursing top that should fit me through the  6th month or so, and then after I deliver.  I imagine I'll need a few more things over the next few months, but I plan to buy slow. I've received a few items from my younger sister as well. 

Even on sale, maternity stuff is pricey - they have a captive audience, after all.  

Cost of maternity so far: $320ish.  I expect to spend about $600 when all is said and done - a bit over our initial plans, but within reason according to other working women I know who have gone through this.  And I'll be doing a lot of laundry to keep up - even after spending all I have, the lack of variety makes that necessary.  But it is worth it, I'd rather be sick of my options than buy an entire new wardrobe.  1 pair of jeans will do for the entire time, thanks. 

Surprise #4: The cost of being tired
My energy has slowly increased over the last few weeks, but 'tired' is still how I answer when someone asks me how I am.  My stamina is not what it was before I got pregnant, and that has cost us money.  Where?  In lunches that didn't get packed, so they had to be bought at work.  In buying, instead of making, something to bring to a gathering.  In shopping for gifts at the last minute instead of shopping around for a good deal.   In a general lack of planning, that costs us by everything being done just in time, usually at a higher cost.  In last minute trips to the grocery store.

I had always known that being a planner saved us a lot of money, but I had never tested it out. Now I know for sure - our lifestyle depends on thinking ahead.  It's not the $7.50 spent on lunch that does us in  - it's doing that 1-2x a week for several months, or not packing enough snacks, so I run out and spend $1.50 on a brownie.  It's realizing at the last minute that you need to bring a gift or a dish or a bottle of wine, because you are only focused on getting through now, this moment.

In short, I've proved to myself that frugality and planning go hand in hand.  So I'm trying to spend more time on that.   

Total cost of lack of planning and being tired: over $200

Aside from the maternity clothes, which have been budgeted, we've hit our budget to the tune of about $600 in unplanned expenses over the last 18 weeks.  Some of that will be made up in upcoming overtime for me.  But what it really means is that the budget bears watching for the next 22 weeks and beyond.  I'm already working on a plan to stock our freezer with meals I prepare in advance for when the baby comes.  But it also means that I'm going to have to pick and choose what to do on weekends so I can keep up with the money-saving tasks our plans depend on us doing.

Pregnancy is full of surprises, most not financial.  But the financial ones make things a bit harder to swallow, especially for a planner like myself.  And I've realized that I need to plan more for the chaos that will come with the arrival of baby Moneypenny just a bit better.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How Does My Garden Grow - Harvest Season

Gardening season has just about come to an end.   It's time to pull all the dying plants, turn the beds, and inventory my seeds for next year.    Our sole remaining harvest, sweet potatoes, will come out next week.  We're hoping they look good.

This year was a mixed one.  Near-constant rain through July and August slowed the harvest and bogged down a few plants.  As a result, the bulk of our tomato and pepper harvest came in early to mid-September.  Our fingerling potatoes did well, and we plucked a single acorn squash but our sole pumpkin got infested with squash borers, then helpfully eaten by some local wildlife.

We did well with cherry tomatoes, but the larger heirlooms we planted didn't provide us much this year - enough for a few pints of salsa (6 to be exact, made with locally grown onions and our own cilantro), but not enough for making and canning batches of pasta sauce.

We did well with basil from our own plants and the CSA, so my husband made and froze some large batches of pesto.  Fresh garden pesto tastes wonderful in the cold of winter.  Today we'll be roasting peppers to freeze, that will top salads and homemade pizza for months to come.

All this was in addition to the lettuce, squash and other things we harvested for in-season eating.

We also blanched and froze green and wax beans, which we'll enjoy over the cold season.  In addition, the transplanted raspberry bushes gave a few treats, and they are thriving.  We should see a good raspberry and blackberry harvest next year.  Both apple trees and our cherry tree are thriving, and next year we'll be putting in some peaches and an apricot tree.   We'll also be able to take advantage of the first asparagus harvest next spring.  

It was a small harvest this year, but a good one nonetheless.  Given the weather, my pregnancy exhaustion, and our busy life, I am a little disappointed, but not terribly.  It was our first year with our garden, and while it wasn't the large source of winter food we daydream about, the perk of gardening is that there is always next year.  

3 garden beds got built this year, and they will be planted while we create more in the spring. Our ultimate goal is 7-8 of them.  It may take a couple years to get there, but it will be worth the effort.

Our local food experiment is still in progress.  It will take a few years to come to fruition, but I look forward to the process.   And every tomato I slice that didn't get trucked in from somewhere else is filled with the seeds of our future.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Memorial, An Election, And Wild Mood Swings

Today is September 11th. I still remember this day in 2001. I was in a meeting. Someone came in and said 'Put on CNN, someone blew up the World Trade Center'. And so we watched, in horrified mesmerization, as the second plane hit the trade center, and the towers fell. And saw the flames shooting out of the Pentagon. And watched those who jumped a hundred stories to certain death, rather than submit themselves to the flames.

I worked on a military base at the time, so we went home shortly thereafter. I went and sat on the beach and cried.

Unlike some of my coworkers, I didn't know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center. But that day, we were all one nation, in our grief and horror.

It may have been the last time we came together like that. Since then, it's all about red vs. blue. Conservative vs. liberal. Rich vs. poor. Hater vs. hatee. Or so it seems sometimes. Things aren't going so hot in the American economy. The market has worse mood swings than a teenager. We don't trust companies to do the right thing, and we don't trust our government - they can't even figure out that torturing people is...well, torture.

And I'm just hoping at no point do I have to face the idea of President Palin - I may have to move to Canada if that comes to pass. I'd love to see a woman in the White House, but not that woman.

But there is hope, both for the future and for our wallets. The market will stabilize, if for no other reason than people are so tired of trying to predict where things are going that they will take up Bocce instead of market-watching. The impact to our collective wallets is putting us at home more, which is never a bad thing. Hey, if one more family sits down to dinner together, I'm all for it.

But it's painful, both to experience, and to watch. I took a look at my 401k balance the other day and wished immediately that I had forgotten it existed, and that the selective amnesia would stay in place until at least 2012, when the world is supposed to end anyway. I'd rather it didn't, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about my 401k balance.

I am torn between sympathy for the homeowners who struggle, and a reluctance to support bad decisions. Between knowing the markets need to be shored up, and thinking that letting them fall might be just punishment for those who took unneccesary risks with other people's money. Between hating how we've offered up a bail-out-o-rama for big companies who do stupid things, and not wanting the employees and their kids to end up on a bread line.

There's no simple solutions . All I can do today mourn what is lost, hope for what might be, and live in the moment.

9/11 was a horrible day. But one good thing came out of it - we were all Americans first, and other things second. That's not to say we have to agree on things. We can even think each other has profoundly bad, or off the wall ideas. But we do have to live together, and maybe it's time we found a common bond again.

I heard said once that the saddest thing that happened to the US as a culture after 9/11 is we lost our hope. That it was the thing that was most appealing about us to our allies - our bright vision of the future, and the knowledge that things would get better. I say it's time to recapture that - that the legacy of 9/11 is not one of pain and fear, but of the determination that things will get better. The market will take some mood stabilizers, the government will stop trying to rule by fear, and companies will stop padding the golden parachutes of their CEOs and remember to hand out the occasional raise.

I think those that died 7 years ago today might agree with that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

On Vacation

Ms Moneypenny is on vacation until September 8, 2008

Have a safe and happy labor day!