Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saving for College

Just when I thought babies couldn't get more expensive (you want me to spend how much on clothes they'll grown out of in a few months?!), there's the largest expense of them all looming 18 years away.  College.  Gulp.  Right now, the cost of college is somewhere between an arm and a leg...I don't even want to try to guess how much it will cost when Claire is ready.  So that's why my husband and I started saving. Before she was born.  Seriously.

Let's be clear - we haven't stopped contributing to our retirement accounts or taken out a second mortgage on our house to finance her education.  And the personal finance blogger in me wants to remind you there are scholarships and loans for college, but not for retirement!  Always contribute to your retirement first.  But we have a small amount that we're using to start growing her college savings.

But what vehicle is the right way to save?  Where will you be able to get the best rate or not be hammered by taxes?  I'm not an expert and I still haven't decided what the best route is for us, but here are some options:

Traditional savings account - I'm hoping you all have at least one of these (smile and nod).  This is an easy way to stash some money where you have complete liquidity (easy access), but poor interest rates.  I really like ING Direct - they have pretty good rates and you can have multiple sub accounts that you can label for certain things, like "Baby C's College Fund" or "Mommy Needs a Massage Account".  What?  Never mind.

529 - the 529 is a tax-advantaged account (meaning funds are exempt from federal tax and possibly state tax in select states) that sets aside money to pay for higher education.  You can have a prepaid 529, meaning you purchase education "credits" at today's prices (i.e. 4 years at Smart Kid University for 2011 tuition, even if they won't attend until years later) or a savings account (just keep pumping money into it).    It's a good idea to find the different 529 options available for your state and see what any rules and restrictions are before investing. is a great website to find out more information.

Other resources I love that are not savings accounts but help with college costs are Upromise and Ugift.
Upromise is a rewards program from Sallie Mae that turns your every day spending into contributions to your child's college fund.  It's free to register, and it's surprising how quickly the money starts to accumulate!  Ugift is a way for family and friends to help - they can contribute to your child's 529 plan!

Anyone else have some good college saving strategies?  

Pssst - no one was paying me for any endorsement.  Anything highlighted is something I use and love, and I just wanted to pass it on.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mahvelous Meal Monday!

Happy Monday, everyone!  Welcome to Mahvelous Meal Monday!  In theory, I'm going to post a cheap, easy and relatively healthy recipe every Monday - no excuse for microwave dinners or takeout!

Today's meal: Pesto Chicken Sandwiches

I was looking for a way to use up some odds and ends in my freezer and refrigerator.  I had leftover spinach from a salad, 2 frozen hamburger buns and half a container of store-bought pesto.  So these yummy sandwiches were born!

Pesto Chicken Sandwiches
*makes 4 servings

- 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
- 1/2 cup of pesto (either homemade or store-bought)
- Sprinkle of pine nuts (if desired)
- Handful of spinach
- Hamburger buns

- Mix shredded chicken breasts, pesto and pine nuts together in large bowl
- Dress hamburger buns with spinach and top with pesto chicken mix
- Serve with a nice green salad and enjoy!

 Prep Tips
*I use frozen chicken breasts, boil them until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, let rest for 10 minutes and shred.  This whole process takes about 25-35 minutes and can usually be done during nap time.  Baby C takes about 45 minute naps, and I can prep the entire sandwich in one nap time.
*To make these a hot sandwich, put hamburger bun and pesto chicken mixture under the broiler, top with a mild cheese (like provolone) and keep under broiler until cheese melts.  Top with spinach.

This is a sandwich that is great hot or cold - it also makes excellent leftovers!

Friday, July 22, 2011

When I'm a Mom, I'll Never....

Fill in the blank.  Not go on a date with my husband.  Have ugly toys scattered across my living room.  Talk in a baby voice.

Turns out some of that stuff is hard to avoid.  I live 3 hours away from Baby C's grandparents (all of them), and while I love my friends dearly, a) many of them have children of their own and could use a babysitter themselves b) I'm not quite ready for non-family members to watch my 4 month old child.  And those ugly toys?  Yeah, they are brightly colored to help with infant development.  And a baby voice?  It comes out of nowhere.  One minute, you're talking to an adult about adult things, and next minute, you are talking about an octave higher than usual and making up words.  It's weird and I don't know how it happens.

What has this taught me?  Well, besides the fact that ugly toys might be necessary in helping Baby C learn and grow?  First, never say never.  I think I can say with certainty this will not be the last time I learn that lesson.  And second, never judge.  It seems easy to sit back (especially if you have no kids) and look at what parents are doing with their children and proudly say in your head, "I'll never do that."  And then you start talking in a baby voice.

Anything you swore you'd never do?


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Diaper Decision

Cloth diapering.  SCARY.  White cotton rectangles held together with humongous pins.  A thin layer of material separating you from your baby's, uh, stuff.  No thanks.  I'll leave that to the crazies, thank you very much.

Then, I got pregnant with Baby C, and got to thinking about a lot of stuff.  And it seems strange to say, but diapering was one of the things I thought the most about.  I decided to join the crazies and wrap my baby's bum in cloth diapers.

WHY?  Was I some sort of glutton for punishment?  Did I have a large assortment of diaper pins at the ready?  Here are some of the reasons I decided to go cloth:

While the upfront costs of cloth diapering are more expensive than disposable diapers, over the course of diapering your child, it's estimated you can save over $1000!  Here's how:

According to a recent trip to my neighborhood Target, a 92 pack of disposable diapers costs $20, or about 22 cents per diaper.  Let's say your baby goes through 8 diapers a day, or 240 a month.  To diaper your baby in disposable diapers, it would cost $53 a month.

Costs for cloth diapering will range depending on styles and brands.  After doing a ton of research, I decided to go with bumGenius One Size All in One 4.0 at $18 a piece.  I have 20 diapers, which cost $360.  Total.  For good.  In theory (since the One Size fit 7-35+ pounds), I won't have to buy another diaper.  My cloth diaper stash will pay for itself in about 3 more months.  

If you keep your diapers in good shape, you can reuse them for additional children, saving you even more money!

While there is not any proven research showing that babies in cloth diapers have less diaper rash than babies in disposable diapers, Baby C has been in cloth diapers since she was 7 weeks old (she's now 21 weeks old), and she has had one instance of diaper rash - we used disposable diapers for a weekend out of town.  There are a ton of chemicals in disposable diapers, but the scariest one is dioxin (a known carcinogen).  There are trace amount of dioxin in disposable diapers, and while the chemical is banned in most countries, it isn't in the United States.  Many disposable diapers have dyes, fragrances and perfumes, which can irritate sensitive baby skin.

A disposable diaper can take up to 500 years to decompose.  Ewwww.  Not only do they take up space in landfills, but they use a lot of energy to produce.  Yes, cloth diapers come with an environmental impact of their own - I do an extra load of laundry every other day, which uses water and energy.  However, the impact seems not quite as severe as something that will be here long after many generations have come and gone.

*Cute factor
Totally vain, but I think cloth diapers are way cuter than disposables.  Am I wrong?

So there you have it - in a big nutshell, this is why I chose to cloth diaper.  And I'm so glad I did.  It's not for everyone, but I think if people got past the myths of what cloth diapering looks like today, I think more folks would do it.  It's really not that bad.

Do you cloth diaper?  Why did you decide to do it?  Are you happy with your decision?

Psst - I got most of my facts about cloth diapering here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feeling Mahvelous!

Hello! I'm Mama Mahvelous, and thank you for joining me on my wee little blog devoted to our wee little ones (and all the fun that goes with them!). Blogging has been such a great way for me to express myself, grow, learn and connect, and I'm looking forward to doing that here!