Two-year-olds are not known for their patience. Ours flits from one activity to the next within minutes, and sometimes, seconds. If she wants me to read a book, she’ll bring it over to me, and even snuggle with me on the bed or the couch. But after a few pages, she takes off happily to grab another book, play with another toy, or run into the other room.
So it’s no wonder I’m still afraid to take her to events or activities that charge an admission fee or require a long-term commitment, such as music or tumbling classes. We’ve gone to trial classes in the past, and usually our toddler is off on her own, ignoring the teacher, or wreaking havoc and causing the other kids to start running around WITH her.
So where does that leave us? Mostly, we go to the park when the weather is good, or play in the backyard. But sometimes, I’d like to do other things.
What kind of cheap or free activities can I find in Northern New Jersey? I accidentally discovered that the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange offers $1 admission on Tuesday afternoons if you show up after 2 p.m.; the zoo closes at 4:30 p.m. That’s ideal for me, as I occasionally have a scheduled Tuesday off from work. And that’s a lot better than the usual $11 adult admission ($8 over the age of 2).
There are some businesses that let your kid run around like a loon in their indoor play areas, but since Emily is a young 2-year-old, I’m not comfortable with letting her crawl around in a play structure by herself, and I’m not keen on going in with her. I’ve done it before, but those things were not meant for adults — and I feel pretty ridiculous. Admission at these places can run $15 and up. Plus, if she hits meltdown mode immediately, it’s a waste of time and money.
So what does that leave? Not too many free activities for a toddler with a short attention span. Luckily, she’s never bored with being outside, so that’s my go-to activity for the summer.
Anyone with a highly active toddler have any suggestions?
So it’s happened again — my car has failed me again. This time, the poor thing didn’t want to start after a hard 12-hour day on deadline at work. It wasn’t the “crank-crank-crank-nothing” type of non-start; it was the silent kind. Turning the key in the ignition elicited NOT ONE noise from my 9.5-year-old car.
“Wait, I have AAA Plus! The kind that says I can have it towed anywhere within 100 miles for free!” I live about 25 miles away from my office.
I dialed the Member Services number and after passing through menu after menu, I was connected to a representative who sounded like he’d just woken up. After asking my location and whether or not I needed a jump-start (I didn’t; the battery obviously worked because my lights, radio and windows worked), he told me a tow truck would arrive within the hour.
As it was raining, waiting an hour didn’t sound so bad — they must be busy! I went back into my warm, dry office, played a few rounds of Words With Friends, surfed the Net and waited for my savior’s call.
After an hour with no contact, I called AAA back and asked what was up. A more alert rep told me I was next, and that the tow truck would arrive in about 10 minutes. Hooray! I ran downstairs to my car, and within those 10 minutes, the truck arrived.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Tow Truck Guy asks me, “You need a jump-start?” and I mutter, “Uh, no. I need a tow back to my mechanic’s shop.” I knew it was going to be bad.
Tow Truck Guy responds: “They told me it was a jump-start! I have to go do another job nearby, just tow a car to the side of the road, and I’ll be back for you in 20 mins!” He took my cell number, called me from his phone so I had his number, and off he went into the cold, wet night.
It was like being abandoned. Compounding my disappointment (a mild way of putting it), I was now locked out of my office — the doors apparently had been scheduled to lock for the night.
Dejected, I sat in my car and attempted to waste as much time as possible, calling/texting/tweeting my complaints to others who didn’t want to hear them. I whined. I lashed out at my car, threatening to replace it with a brand-new model who would treat me better. I thought about taking a terrifying cab-ride home (I live near NYC, home of crazy cabbies).
Finally, my phone rang, and Tow Truck Guy said he was 15 minutes away. Thank HEAVENS.
He arrives, hooks my car and off we go. The car gets dropped off at the mechanic’s place, my brother and his poor half-asleep girlfriend pick me up and drive me across town, where they deposit me back home, 3 hours after discovering my car had just given up on me.
The mechanic calls in the morning, informing me that my headlights had been on all night, and now my battery is stone-cold dead. Oh, joy. But he tells me he’s discovered the problem with my car. And it’s not the starter.
End result: Pontiac Grand Ams from the early 2000s have this neat little glitch that causes the car to not recognize your key. Fixing it requires removing a wire from the fuse box for 15 minutes, plugging it back in and praying the car starts again.
A new car may be in my future sooner than next April/May — Mr. Not-So-Frugal’s car will be paid off by then. I think I’m ready to part with this poor thing and pass the car off to someone who can appreciate its quirks. I’m all quirked-out.
When I had our daughter — who is now 28 months old! — I knew this blog would become less and less of a priority. In addition to fewer blog posts, I’ve also been drifting away from personal finance-related topics. Sure, finances are a major consideration when you’re raising a family, and a lot of what goes on in our lives nowadays relates to money. But I’ve chosen to spent most of my free moments with Emily, who is an incredibly spirited toddler who keeps us on our toes and challenges us to whip out our best parenting skills, especially when she’s in public.
Refinancing the Mortgage = More Money Toward Debt Repayment
Our mortgage refinancing was completed in February, and our first payment came due April 1 — it felt great to pay $360 less than we had been on the old mortgage. Those extra funds have been going toward paying off our credit card debt, and we’ll be making the last payments on that in the next two weeks. It’s exciting, since we haven’t have zero balances on our credit cards since before Emily was born, back in early 2011.
Two-year-olds and Tantrums
In the parenting vein, holy terrible twos. Along with the language burst came explosions in the way of tantrums. Emily’s learned to express herself AND toss her little body on the floor like a wet noodle if we dare to tell her she can’t do something. There’s no holding back Miss Independent! Except, we have to hold her back, because she doesn’t know any better. So we’re working on teaching her limits. “No, you can’t play on the Nook again!”
Our First Post-Baby Weekend Away
Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I booked a weekend getaway for just the two of us — sans toddler. We’re not venturing too far, only an hour away, but it will be nice to spend time together as a couple without the parenting duties. I’m sure I’ll be a worrywart while we’re gone, but it will also be nice to partake in some cocktails at an oceanfront bar. It’s just a motel, but we’re paying for proximity to the ocean. So it’ll be worth is (as long as the weather cooperates!).
In another ridiculous piece of travel news, the Washington Post says an airline carrier called Frontier Airlines says it will now charge for carry-on bags and soda — up to $100 for the bags, and $1.99 for a soda. If it’s any consolation, you’ll get to keep the entire can of soda.
Frontier Airlines is quick to point out that there’s no charge if you can spend an entire flight with your carry-on bag under your feet — er, under the seat in front of you. It’s the overhead bin space that’s the precious commodity. If you reserve your space before your flight, it’s “only” $25. But if you want a space when you check into the gate, you’ll have to pony up the $100. These fees are charged each way. So if you plan on coming back home, you’ll be paying them all over again.
It’s bad enough some airlines make us pay to bring our regular-size suitcases (the horror!) with us on our flights, which are usually necessary when traveling to a faraway place. Apparently, many travelers have been trying to get around that fee by stashing as many carry-ons as allowed in the passenger cabin bins.
Airfare is exorbitant as it is, with all the fees, surcharges, and ever-changing prices. This is one more reason I’m happy to stay close to home — or drive to my destination.
The soda, at $1.99, is ridiculous on its own. Are the flight attendants going to cough up a penny in change every time someone asks for it after handing over two bucks? (I would totally be that person, by the way). Don’t worry, you’ll still get your water for free — for now.
EDIT: Frontier Airline’s social media folks are already in damage-control mode. Within minutes of tweeting about blog post (NOT EVEN MENTIONING FRONTIER BY NAME), I received a response:
Further into the WashPo article, it mentions that if you book your flight through Frontier Airlines’ website, you will avoid the carry-on luggage fee. I’ve asked if that means you’d have to pay the fee if booking by phone. Let’s see if they respond to that.
In this day of electronic financial transactions, the paper check is going the way of the dodo bird: extinct.
Sure, we all write a check now and then, for those few places or people who don’t accept payment electronically. For us, checks go to the town for the quarterly water bill, or to a medical professional when we don’t want to pay with a credit card.
But what about the check register? What are we doing with those?
I’ve always been the period who dutifully collected receipts and entered them into my checkbook as necessary — sometimes daily, but more often, once a week. Anytime I’ve had a bill online or had an automatic deduction coming up, I’ve noted it in my checkbook.
Now that I have a smartphone, I have my handy-dandy Mint app. And I don’t feel the need to put everything into a checkbook register, since most deductions happen automatically (or within a day or two). But what happens when I schedule bills to be paid online ahead of time? If I have 5-6 things scheduled, such as the mortgage payment, utility bills and car payment, what happens? In the end, I want to know what our account balance will be AFTER the online bill payment goes through. I want to make sure I don’t have a low balance.
Is there a way to stop balancing your checkbook in this case? It doesn’t seem possible. Anyone have a solution? Is there an app for that?
As I’ve probably mentioned a billion times before on this blog (and in real life to all my friends and family), I love a deal. And to get a deal, you have to do some research before buying. I’ve never been a spontaneous Sally — I need to find the best price AND, hopefully, a coupon or promo code before making a purchase, whether it’s clothes or a major appliance or a cable/internet/phone bundle (see our new FIOS contract triumph).
You have to really search well to find promotional codes for online retailers. Not all stores offer online discounts, but it can’t hurt to look.
There are also a number of websites that “collect” promo codes for a number of retailers in one place. Some of the more common ones include CouponCabin.com, Coupons.com and RetailMeNot.com.
But the one that’s most impressed me is a newer site called Save1.com — for every coupon or discount code you use for one of their featured retailers, they donate a portion of their commission to feed hungry children. The company is family-owned and represents more than 5,000 merchants, and since October 2012, they’ve provided more than 95,000 meals to malnourished children through their nonprofit feeding partners.
I’ve found great coupons for discounts and free shipping for major department stores like Macy’s and Gap, and I’ve also come across other retailers we use, such as RadioShack and BestBuy.
So not only can you save money, you’re helping others. And I can get behind that.
My original plan was to take Emily grocery shopping with me today, but then I thought better of it. Miss Independent doesn’t do well in shopping carts right now — she’d rather run around the store and wreak havoc. Sorry, Charlie — that’s not going to happen.
Instead of doing some night shopping, I decided to do another shop-from-home order. I find it much more relaxing — I can take my time with the sales circular, match up coupons and truly buy what we need. I do it this way maybe once a month. The cost is $10 for them to fulfill your order, but you get every 5th order fee-free, so it averages to $8 for each online order.
Today, they had a special: Spend $150, get $20 off as a coupon. It was only available for the shop-at-home online service. So while it cost me $10 to do the order, I got $20 off — a net savings of $10.
All told, I also wound up saving $35 between sales and other coupons. Definitely better than bringing a fiesty 2-year-old to the grocery store, then spending all of your time trying to keep her in the cart and entertained!