How To Make Financial Discussions Fun

 

Jason and Christi

I was looking for a nice photo of Jason and I together for this article. Without kids. There are shockingly few photos to choose from!

Okay, maybe fun is a bit of a stretch. Maybe a better word would be tolerable.

For most people, the yearly financial process Jason and I go through sounds about as much fun as dental drilling. Here’s how we keep our financial discussions from becoming a drag.

  • Come prepared, and stay on point. Some of our best ideas are tangents, but we try to stay on task and not stray far or for long. Try to have all the stuff you need in one place (calculator, notepad, financial docs) so you don’t waste half the time you have looking for a missing mortgage statement. We try to wrap up pretty quickly, especially with the shorter sit-downs we’re trying this year.
  • Make notes. Whether on a notebook next to you or on a computer, keep notes of questions, things you need to discuss further, or who needs to make what call when. Our financial discussions often end in questions that can be answered with further research by one of us, or in action items in the form of calls to make. Trying to remember this stuff is a waste of time, in my opinion. Notes are where it’s at.
  • Bring your favorite beverage and a fun snack. Buy a bottle of wine, your favorite hot cocoa, make a juice spritzer, and make some guacamole or flavored hummus to snack on. Food and beverages make social gatherings easier, so why not budgeting?
  • Keep it light. Jason doesn’t like money, and talking about it and reviewing our budget is historically very stressful for him. This year he has seemed a lot more relaxed, and I think it’s because I’ve tried to crack jokes, sit close to him and hold his hand or put my hand on his leg, and make the whole process as pleasant for him as possible. Some people are rolling their eyes here, but I paid enough attention in Psych101 to know that if he associates money discussions with pleasant things, he’ll have a better feeling about money discussions in general.
  • Do what works. Maybe one 3-hour session is all you need. Maybe you prefer 5 evenings spread out over a month, or even two months. Whatever works best for you, do it. If you’re financial discussion process isn’t working, stop doing it and try a different way.

Maybe you and your partner love money and this process makes your skirt fly up. But if one of you doesn’t like money, or you’re new to financial discussions, it can be useful to put a little thought into how to make it as pleasant as possible.

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Do you have intentional financial discussions with your partner, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

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Renovation Update: Week 12

Bathroom renovation

The outdoor lights we’re using as vanity lights. Perfect!

We skipped Week 11 entirely, if you hadn’t noticed, because we were in San Francisco for most of the week attending a wonderful family wedding.

This past weekend, four days after returning from S.F., I drove the kids to WV for our last wedding of the year. Jason stayed home to work on our house and to help two different friends out with their house projects (we owe, a few favors, as you can imagine. We owe more, actually, particularly to Jason’s best friend).

Jason finished up the wiring in the basement bathroom and tried to wrap up the framing in the first floor living room. The picture above shows the outdoor lights that we’re using as vanity lights in the basement bathroom. We decided on these because one light is pretty close to the shower–within code, but closer than we would like.

He also put up some OSB in the kitchen to help stabilize the house. As we were getting ready for bed and listening to the wind from Frankenstorm howling, we realized it was the first time that the house hadn’t shaken in strong wind. The structural work is doing its job!

Laundry Room

  • Clean
  • Move things back in

Move radiator lines

  • Move living room radiator
  • Move 2nd floor bedroom pipes

Allegheny Millwork-Andy

  • Call with measurements for estimates
  • Order stairs

Bathroom

  • Finish mud
  • Prime (Christi)
  • Install door
  • Bathtub surround
  • Bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower
  • Vent/fan
  • Paint vanity (Christi)
  • Install vanity, contact paper on bottom shelf
  • Medicine cabinet
  • Lights & outlets
  • Trim
  • Paint trim (Christi)
  • Paint (Christi)
  • Clean fixtures & floor (Christi)-bathtub cleaned!
  • shower curtain/rings/rod, toilet paper holder, hand towel/reg towel bars, robe hooks, washcloth holder(s), shelf, and some kind of wall-mount cabinet. Also need to find: bath caddy for shower head, something to hold 4 washcloths, bath mats, and a garbage can.

2nd floor bathroom

  • Plan
  • Build separation wall in kitchen

Donate old doors and windows

Paint back wall of house (christi)

Framing

  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Blocking

*Electrical

  • Make plan
  • Plan reviewed by electrician
  • Install Boxes
  • Run wires

Insulate

OSB Walls

*Drywall

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The Money

$0 for two weeks!

The Kids

Nothing new here.

The Lovebirds

Prepping for a some upcoming, stress-loaded events, and right around the holidays no less. We’re going to spend the next two weeks trying to knock out a lot of this list.

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Yearly Budget Review, Part 1

Calculator and change

by 401(k) 2012

Last week, Jason and I started the process of reviewing our budget.

Each year we sit down and go over roughly how much we’ve spent in each category to identify where we’re consistently overspending or, less likely, underspending. Next, we review our net worth, assets, and total student loan and mortgage debt. Then we set financial goals for the following year, talk about our careers, and just dream a little (or a lot). Last, we tweak our Financial Workbook (a set of Excel spreadsheets).

In year’s past, we’ve done all of the above in one sitting. This year, however, we find ourselves a little busy with travel and ongoing health stuff, so we decided to break it up into several smaller sessions. I think this will benefit us in that we’ll have some time to mull over what we’ve just discussed and what’s next.

Our first session last week saw us going over the monthly budget categories. Jason’s income is about to adjust back down–he received a nice bonus a few months ago that was spread out over a few months–and we needed to make sure we adjusted our auto-withdrawal savings amounts to reflect the new amount. In addition to making sure we have a Zero Budget (good post for another day), we had some larger things to cover. Here’s what we touched on and will be discussing more this week:

  1. Utilities: $388.92 is budgeted for Gas, Electric, Water, Sewer, Phone, and Internet. Can anything be cut down? It’s been two years since I called each of these and negotiated lower rates–is it time to re-visit that annoying but usually productive process?
  2. Groceries: At $500/month, this is our largest budget category other than Debt (student loans and mortgage), and includes most disposable household goods, diapers, and Health & Beauty products. This is also the one that we consistently go over by $100 on average. Can we cut back a bit to stick to $500, or do we need to up this?
  3. Transportation: $404/month includes all gas, registration, insurance, maintenance, and car repairs. Also included in this are bus passes and bikes; Jason’s warm and cold-weather commuting bikes, maintenance, accessories, and bike-specific clothing, and bikes for the rest of the family, their maintenance and accessories. Our question was, with only one car, does this need to be as high as it is? We decided to keep it where it is at least through the end of the year, for a couple of reasons. A) The Blue Car could show up any minute, B) Jason is putting more commuting miles on his bike than ever and needs a few things to make him visible and comfortable, and C) the Subaru will be inspected next week and may need brakes.
  4. Childcare: A new category we created last month due to recurring childcare needs for one or both kids during our weekly, and sometimes twice weekly, doctor’s appointments. At $180, it also includes the cost of Paige’s weekly Moms Morning Out program and about one date night each month (that we deem a need, not a want). I feel like it’s too high, but Jason recommended we leave it where it is.
  5. Fun: $90/month is our entire fun budget, covering any food or drink not made at home, alcohol in or out of the house, and museums, classes, sports, memberships for adults or kids. We have trouble staying in this one, but we both were leaning towards just making it happen for the next year until we finish the remodel. short term sacrifice, long term gain, right?
  6. Electronics: After our computer’s recent early demise, I brought up that we do replace computers and phones every so often, and every time it happens, it’s a shock. I’m not sure why–we know we’ll replace them as soon as something happens to them. We’re considering transferring $50/month into a targeted ING savings account (earns .8% interest) to cover future computer & phone replacements.

These were the biggest points of discussion for us. We also discussed our current gift categories and whether we could keep those even lower this next year, and whether we needed to take our Medical category from $50 to $80/month.

I know this sounds intense. It probably sounds like about as much fun as dental drilling to most people, but for two people who crave financial stability and low-stress living, this system ensures we have more than enough to cover everything that comes our way.

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Do you keep any sort of budget?

 

 

 

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Friday Food: Bulk Cooking With a Friend

Bulk Cooking With a friend

2 bags of Bacon & Ricotta Spaghetti Pie, 2 casseroles of stuffed shells, one large crockpot full of Laura’s marinara, 5 containers (2 not pictured) of No-Cook Marinara.

A couple of months ago a friend approached me about having a bulk cooking day together. I’d heard of this phenomenon before, being a casual reader of a couple of blogs where such things were discussed. But I’d never known anyone who had tried it, nor did I think i knew anyone who’d be willing.

It took us about a month to pin down all logistics via email. We set a date so that we would have the least possible amount of kids under foot. Then we had to decide what to cook, how to share the buying of ingredients, and where we’d cook.

So one morning I schlepped Paige and several bags of ingredients and mixing bowls over to Laura’s, arriving at 9:30am. We proceeded to make…

  • Laura’s Marinara-1 6.5 Qt. Crockpot (cooked, secret ingredient carrots! and it’s delicious.)
  • My No-Cook Marinara-5 Qt. containers(secret ingredient white vinegar)
  • Spaghetti Pie-2 overfilled gallon ziplocks (this one was a new recipe I found in Good Housekeeping with ricotta and bacon. I honestly didn’t love it, but it was good.)
  • Stuffed Shells-1 9×13 and 1 8×8 casserole (so easy, and my family has enjoyed them tremendously)

We listened to music, got to know each other better, and genuinely had a great time doing something that can often turn into a chore. And since we were at Laura’s house, Paige was

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been seriously bulk cooking for several years now, and it was refreshing to do some of it with good company along.

Not to mention that we did it all in 2.5 hours!

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Have you ever attempted bulk cooking with OR without anyone else?

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Choose Your Joneses Carefully

Second Hand Clothing

Second hand clothing is our preferred method of dressing our kids. These were handed down to a cousin after we were finished with them.

I read somewhere yesterday that you should choose your Joneses carefully and it resonated with me. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the line anywhere. I thought it was in A Good Enough House for a Great Life at Frugal Babe, but it might have been in this article by Joshua Becker over at Becoming Minimalist.

Regardless, it has stuck with me. I like the idea that, instead of looking around and blindly coveting the more stylish clothes, fancy electronic devices, and nicer car of a coworker, parent, or even friend, you can choose whose life you’d like yours to emulate. I thought about this for a while last night and realized that my Joneses are bits of my real-life friends, and large chunks of my online friends.

For several years I’ve wanted the one-car lifestyle of several of my friends (all it takes is an opportunistic car thief and a dropped set of keys!).

I’ve wanted the discipline of one of my friends who exercises consistently, and probably isn’t even letting her first trimester pregnancy get in the way of her workout schedule.

I’ve wanted that same friend’s wide open indoor spaces and clear counters–as far as I can tell, she’s a minimalist without even really trying.

I’ve wanted another friend’s commitment to healthy eating.

I’ve also wanted the fancy, internet-enabled electronics, but I could temper that by reminding myself that I didn’t want the bill, and nor did I want to become one of those parents who is glued to their phone.

Online, Frugal Babe is one of my favorite Joneses. She tries to make all of her family’s food from scratch, eats 95% vegan, buys everything used whenever possible, and works to repurpose what she has rather than buying something new. I love how she counters the Never Stop Improving mentality of a new generation of homeowners. I can’t wait to stop improving!

Some others in the online realm are J.Money at Budgets Are Sexy (I want his career!), Mr. Money Mustache, whose Muscle Over Motor principle Jason and I embrace heartily AND whose early retirement we both are jealous of, and Rachel at Minimalist Mom, whose minimalist lifestyle I’d enjoy.

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Those are my Joneses. Who are yours?

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Megabus Adventures

Megabus photo

I recently had the opportunity to take a Megabus to Cleveland. And when I say opportunity, I mean that our newer, more comfortable car was stolen and Megabus became the best option. I honestly wouldn’t have considered it an option if my friend I was traveling with hadn’t mentioned it.

Pittsburgh is  a Megabus hub, so there are many destination options from here. All are relatively close by, and ideal for a trip into a city where you won’t be needing a car (New York City, anyone?).

Megabus is:

Cheap: It cost exactly $24.50 for a round-trip ticket. $13 to Cleveland, $11 back to Pittsburgh, and a $.50 processing fee. My friend estimated that we’d be paying about $50 in gas for the weekend, not to mention putting miles on the car Jason and I wanted to sell at some point in the near future.

Comfortable: The seats were soft and cushy, and I sat on the second level.

Convenient: They depart exactly on time, so you arrive when they say you will. The bus stops in Pittsburgh right downtown, about two miles from our house.

There’s also wireless internet! I didn’t try to use it on my trip to Cleveland because I was traveling with a new friend  whom I wanted to chat with instead. On my trip home, I couldn’t convince the wifi to work on my computer, but I had a new magazine, so I’ll admit that I didn’t try very hard. But many people around me took advantage of it and were happily facebooking away on their computers.

Honestly, I spent 2 hours and twenty minutes talking to a friend one way, and relaxing and reading trashy magazines the other way.  This, instead of dealing with Friday rush hour traffic, aggressive drivers, and trying to navigate a new place. We were of course extremely fortunate to have my friend’s friend to both pick up and drop off at the bus stop!

I can see taking the Megabus with my family, particularly when J & P are of an age when they no longer need such large amounts of gear and can walk more. What a great way to explore a city for a weekend!

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Have you ever taken a Megabus? 

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Renovation Update Week 10

Plumbing end

Jason’s artistic photo of something he was trying to remove. He sent me armed with this and several other photos to Home Depot, where the knowledgable sales associate was thrilled to have pictures.

The House

After last week’s flurry of activity, it felt good to have a light weekend. I was out of town for most of it (Jason’s first solo overnight with two kids was declared a success!), and then we decided to do some pumpkin picking with the kids, clean up our trashed house, and it was Jason’s weekend to go to his friend’s for their Homeowner’s Co-op.

While I was in Cleveland, during naps and after bedtime, Jason caulked the tub surround, replaced the broken pump in the washing machine, and wired and installed the fan/light combo fixture. He’s a show off :)

Laundry Room

  • Clean
  • Move things back in

Move radiator lines

  • Move living room radiator
  • Move 2nd floor bedroom pipes

Allegheny Millwork-Andy

  • Call with measurements for estimates
  • Order stairs

Bathroom

  • Finish mud
  • Prime (Christi)
  • Install door
  • Bathtub surround
  • Bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower
  • Vent/fan
  • Paint vanity (Christi)
  • Install vanity, contact paper on bottom shelf
  • Medicine cabinet
  • Lights & outlets
  • Trim
  • Paint trim (Christi)
  • Paint (Christi)
  • Clean fixtures & floor (Christi)-bathtub cleaned!
  • Install hand-held sprayer, shower curtain/rings/rod, toilet paper holder, hand towel/reg towel bars, robe hooks, washcloth holder(s), shelf, and some kind of wall-mount cabinet. Also need to find: bath caddy for shower head, something to hold 4 washcloths, bath mats, and a garbage can.

2nd floor bathroom

  • Plan
  • Build separation wall in kitchen

Donate old doors and windows

Paint back wall of house (christi)

Framing

  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Blocking

*Electrical

  • Make plan
  • Plan reviewed by electrician
  • Install Boxes
  • Run wires

Insulate

OSB Walls

*Drywall

 

The Money

Grand total of $37.13 on new knobs for the vanity, many roller covers, and caulk for the tub surround.

The Kids

Nothing new here.

The Lovebirds

Nothing to report. I mean, we’re stil in love, but that’s not news, right :)

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Still Stolen: The First Week of a One-Car Household

Subaru Forester in snow

If we had to have a car stolen, it’s slightly reassuring to know that we still have the one with four-wheel drive, just in case we have a winter like this again.

It’s Monday afternoon as I write this, meaning that we’ve been without a second car for seven days and a few hours. 

My only update about our car is that there is no update. It hasn’t turned up. The insurance will reimburse us the cost of new car seats, which is excellent, especially considering Paige was about to outgrow hers. We don’t know if the insurance will ask for us to reimburse them if the car turns up with the car seats intact. Honestly, even if it does show up with the car seats, I don’t plan to use them. You never know what someone who’s stolen your car has done all over the kid’s seats.

Also, we don’t know at what point there will be a payout for the cost of replacing the car. 30 days? 60 days? And then what happens if it turns up after whatever time frame? Things I’m curious to know but that honestly won’t change our circumstance one iota, so not really that important, really.

Following are my observations after having only one car for a week.

1. I’m walking more. Last Wednesday I walked J to school, walked P to the dry cleaners and then her morning program, to the library, then back to pick P up and then J up. J rode his new (to him) big two-wheeler and we locked it up at school on a fence. Can you believe they don’t have a bike rack? I’m thinking of calling BikePittsburgh to see if they match fundraising or something for a new rack. Anyway, another day we walked to the post office to mail a large package after picking J up at school.

2. Jason’s biking more. He biked three days last week, and biked today, when he would normally never bike on a Monday morning. That’s not to say he was excited about it, but he’s doing it and getting some intense cardio on the small mountains he has to climb to get to work.

3. This kids are exercising more. We’ve taken little walks around our neighborhood just to get some fresh air on mornings that we didn’t have a car, and Jack has ridden his bike alongside me pushing the stroller. In fact, he goes so fast on the new (to him), bigger bike that I almost always have to run to keep up. Commuters driving to work probably wonder who the crazy lady is that always wears jeans when she runs :)

4. We don’t melt. On a walk home from school, it started to rain, really rain. J wasn’t a huge fan, but he kept on going and even picked up the pace a little. P was snug and dry in the covered stroller. I knew rain was a possibility that morning, so everyone was dressed in a raincoat, the kids’ rain pants were in my bag, and I had an umbrella with us. And I took the Burley trailer/stroller that morning since it has a rain-tight cover and lots of storage for whatever we need to haul around.

5. Walking to “run” errands involves planning. I’ve always run a few errands here and there with the kids while walking, but never on this level. I have to plan to have everything I need to mail, deposit, drop off, etc. If I forget something, that errand has to wait another day at least.

6. Less gas = more money. We could probably lower the $404/month budget for transportation soon, because usually halfway through the month we’ve filled the cars up at least once each. I would have filled the blue car last Monday, in fact. But that money is barely being touched this month. Fyi, that amount covers all expenses, maintenance, insurance, gas, everything for two cars and Jason’s commute bike (as well as some biking clothing and accessories for him).

7. A trip to the suburbs is again a family fun night. I had some suburban errands to run to get ready for our trip–Costco, Target, Michael’s, and Lowe’s, so we took the kids one night and had a fun dinner out.

8. I need to replace my car key. I have a handful of errands to take care of before we leave for San Francisco, and need the car. Jason biked today so that I could take care of them today. But I realized, after readying myself and both kids and all assorted stuff we needed to take care of, that Jason forgot to leave me the Subaru key. Not his fault at all–I should have had a new key made last week. You can guess what I just added to the errand list for tomorrow!

9. Parking is a breeze! We have a one-car garage that few modern cars can fit into and still open even one door. And we have a parking pad that fits one car. So we park one car in the parking pad and one blocks in that car and the door of the garage. Changing cars was a pain, probably more for Jason than for me, since the Subaru didn’t usually have car seats in it (from the weekend trips to haul drywall, tools, etc.). Parking on the street in front of our house was usually a bigger pain since our neighborhood is half student rentals and each student brings a car that they park on the street.

10. I need to buy bus tickets. Saturday night after my return from Cleveland (on the Megabus!), I realized that I had not a penny with which to catch a bus home. Fortunately a lovely Marriott had a mac machine and gave me change. I plan on taking the bus with the kids soon, and don’t want to have to deal with the money while dealing with them and their assorted gear.

11. Our pace has slowed. We’ve now stayed home two full days in the last week, which is unusual and refreshing. The kids seem to enjoy it and I’m certainly happy accomplishing more at home. We’re not seeing as many people for playdates, that’s certain. But I’ve been a tad overwhelmed lately by all the things on our schedule and staying home more is a very good way to feel less busy and more calm.

My verdict: We’re not suffering. 

We’re ALL exercising more, getting more fresh air, I feel like I’m catching up with some of the things I’d let slide recently, and we’re spending less money. Some things are inconvenient, but they’re mostly solvable things.

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How do you manage errands/kids/appointments/jobs with only one car?

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Renovation Update Week 9

bathroom renovation

All this in one week!

The House

I painted the back of the house during nap time on two beautiful days last week. Fastest painting ever! Nothing motivates like not knowing when the kids will wake up.

After some light begging, my mom drove up for the weekend to be primary caregiver to the kids while I helped Jason with the house. We accomplished so much (THANKS, MOM!). Jason finished moving radiator pipes on Saturday morning. He filled the system, then had to drain it because there was a leak. Second time was the charm, and just in time for it to get down to 37 degrees on Satruday night!

Saturday at 1pm, Jason’s friend came to help for a few hours and they replaced the bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower and installed the tub surround. The tub surround was tough because the ceiling is so low that the surround had to be cut down on the top. When I say low, I mean that the shower sprayer hits me in the chest, and I’m 5’8″. We will definitely be installing a hand-held sprayer.

While they worked, I moved a few things that were left back into the laundry room, cleaned up some of Jason’s piles, and started painting the bathroom and vanity cabinet.

On Sunday I finished the painting–almost. I’ve decided to do one more coat on the vanity (4!) because it’s still not totally evenly white (I did finish that yesterday, on Wednesday afternoon). We found a beautiful blue in our Oops Paint collection–you know, the returned but custom-tinted paints at Home Depot and Lowe’s. $5 for a gallon of $25 paint. I check the paint desk every time I walk into one of these stores, and we probably bought this particular can of paint at least a few years ago. AND it covered beautifully in one coat. I like the color so much (and we have so much left) that I’m seriously considering painting the second floor bathroom the same color.

bathroom renovation

Almost there…

While I painted, Jason drilled a 4-inch hole through the side of the house to run the bathroom vent pipe through. The space he was working in was awkward and criss-crossed by about 5 pipes of various sizes and a few wires, too. After that was finished he installed the door jamb kit (pre-primed!) and started working on the $5 Construction Junction door.

Before hanging up my work clothes for the evening, I tackled the bathtub. This bathtub was, for 4-5 years, where Jason stored buckets of scrap to be recycled and his bike tire collection. It took 1.5 hours and shower cleaner, dish soap, Goo Gone and two different grits of sandpaper. I’m still sore.

Monday night, even though he was on solo bedtime duty, Jason finished the door and hung it.

Tuesday night while I was on solo bedtime duty he installed the medicine cabinet, the lights on either side, the door trim, and the doorknob.

Significant progress!

Laundry Room

  • Clean
  • Move things back in

Move radiator lines

  • Move living room radiator
  • Move 2nd floor bedroom pipes

Allegheny Millwork-Andy

  • Call with measurements for estimates
  • Order stairs

Bathroom

  • Finish mud
  • Prime (Christi)
  • Install door
  • Bathtub surround
  • Bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower
  • Vent/fan
  • Paint vanity (Christi)
  • Install vanity
  • Medicine cabinet
  • Lights & outlets
  • Trim
  • Paint trim (Christi)
  • Paint (Christi)
  • Clean fixtures & floor (Christi)-bathtub cleaned!
  • Install hand-held sprayer, shower curtain rod, toilet paper holder, hand towel & reg towel bars, robe hooks, washcloth holder(s), shelf, and some kind of wall-mount cabinet.

2nd floor bathroom

  • Plan
  • Build separation wall in kitchen

Donate old doors and windows

Paint back wall of house (christi)

Framing

  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Blocking

*Electrical

  • Make plan
  • Plan reviewed by electrician
  • Install Boxes
  • Run wires

Insulate

OSB Walls

*Drywall

The Money

Grand total of $104.55 this week for a box of drywall screws, copper elbows, and a new faucet/shower combo and copper fittings for the bathroom.

We bought $400 in Home Depot gift cards from Giant Eagle last week, which we used for the above purchases. Our rewards credit card gives us 6% back on all grocery store purchases, and Giant Eagle gives us .10 per gallon of gas for ever $50 we spend. It’s an easy way to get a little discount on never-discounted building supplies.

The Kids

The kids enjoyed having their Nana all weekend and actually celebrated when they heard we were leaving.

The every-other-night solo bedtime duty is working very well. I had a board meeting one night and wrote on another, and Jason’s been feeling less guilty about going downstairs to work.

The Lovebirds

Nana gave us a date night on Friday night after she arrived. What did we do? We went to REI to buy shoes for J, went out to dinner, and then decided we were tired and had a full day on Saturday. We arrived home by 8:30pm.

But really, the whole weekend was a date since were in the basement working together with pretty minimal interruption.

 

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The Value of Co-Ops

at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

J playing at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

I belong to two co-operative organizations. One is a grocery store and credit union, and the other is a toy lending library and play space. My sister-in-law once belonged to a preschool co-op, and my favorite Mexican restaurant ever, Casa Nueva in Athens, Ohio, is a worker’s co-op. Per Wikipedia, a co-operative is “an association of persons who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit.”

The grocery co-op I belong to is a consumer’s co-op, giving customers better buying power for healthier foods. I can find so many of the healthy foods we’ve become accustomed to there, as well as supporting local farmers and businesses since they try to source as much local food as possible. Not to mention their bulk section helps us use less packaging! They also offer financial services through their credit union co-op, but I’ve not tried it out.

The toy library co-op is actually pretty unique in this country; for children birth through kindergarten it offers a great play space and a library of over 300 toys that parents can check out. It happens to be an all-volunteer co-op, meaning that it is entirely staffed and run by volunteers like me (full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors).

Both of these co-ops have membership costs. The grocery co-op is $100 for a lifetime membership, and I pay $35 yearly for the toy co-op, which is a discounted rate in exchange for volunteering two times each month.

Both of these co-ops offer a tangible benefit–lower prices on local, healthy groceries and toy lending and play privileges.

But their biggest benefit is probably the community  they create and sustain. They offer their members the opportunity to get as involved as they like in the organization, ranging from using only the tangible benefits up to serving on a board of directors. It’s an opportunity to influence local policy, widen your circle of friends and network, beef up a resume, learn new skills, or gain experience owning a business, all while doing something that benefits the other members, too.

Whenever I can, I always try to support a co-op. The “owners,” whoever they are, are generally always working toward offering something better or different for the community.

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What’s your experience with co-ops?

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