Emergency Fund vs. Savings Account: Do You Need Both?

There are so many great articles on PF blogs about emergency funds, and I can’t stress enough the need to have one. But how exactly do you go about creating one? Is it just a savings account that’s off-limits, or do you set up an entirely new account in addition to your savings and checking accounts?

Investopedia‘s definition of an emergency fund:

An account that is used to set aside funds to be used in an emergency, such as the loss of a job, an illness or a major expense. The purpose of the fund is to improve financial security by creating a safety net of funds that can be used to meet emergency expenses as well as reduce the need to use high interest debt, such as credit cards, as a last resort.

We have a savings account that we only touch in times of emergencies. It’s a simple bank account, separate from our retirement savings accounts (which are also hands-off until that blessed day we say “adios” to our jobs… you know, when we’re 80). So that savings account is our emergency fund. We make deposits when we can, and do not take any money out of it unless we have to.

We’ve been lucky enough to never have had a true emergency, but we have used money from the account for large purchases, such as for our upstairs carpeting job. I only had to “borrow” a bit from it when I was on my six-month maternity leave, which I repaid as soon as I could when the paychecks started coming in again.

But I’ve always replenished it, and it’s continued to grow. Worst-case scenario, there’s enough to cover about 8 months of expenses — mortgage, bills, car insurance — if we ever find ourselves without jobs or in dire financial straits.

J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly has this take on emergency funds:

I think it’s wise to keep your emergency money someplace that’s not too easy to access. (Ignore this piece of advice if you know you’re disciplined enough not to use the money for other purposes.) You might, for example, open an account at a bank across town. Or deposit the money with an internet bank. Don’t carry a card tied to the account. You’ll still have access to the cash when you need it, but you will be forced to consider your actions before making a withdrawal.

When CDs were paying 4-5% interest, I had some of our money in those. But now, I could only get 2% interest — if I tie it up for 5 years. Thanks, but no thanks.

So we’re happy with using our savings account as an emergency fund. I don’t know how other people do it, but this method works for us. If you aren’t good at keeping your paws off your emergency fund, it might be better to look into putting it into a CD — that way, it’s harder for you to access it.

Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Whitestrips and a Box of Hair Dye

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”

— Carly Simon

It doesn’t take much to make me feel a bit better about myself and how I look. I’ve never been too into looks — back in high school, some of you may remember my uniform of jeans, boots and a flannel shirt with my wallet in my back pocket — but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken more interest in the way I look. Call it vanity or self-esteem, but I’ve learned to put on makeup without looking like a clown and expanded my wardrobe (although the jeans and boots have yet to be kicked to the curb). I get pedicures, and once in a while, when my nails are long enough, I’ll let the one of the Korean ladies at the nail salon give me a manicure, too.

I’ve even been going to the gym on my lunch hour. While I can’t spend a ton of time there, every minute on the treadmill or elliptical is a minute more than what I’d been doing: nothing. Between the gym and a modified diet, I’m starting to see results, finally. Baby weight, be gone!

So tonight, I decided it was time for a little pampering. My grays are making themselves known again, and I don’t like it. Before the baby, I never cared, but now that I’m a mom, it suddenly matters to me that I not look old. So I whipped out my $7.99 box of dark brown hair dye (mimicking my natural hair color) and went to town. And while the color sat on my hair, I slapped a pair of Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Whitestrips on my teeth.

Why the teeth whitening strips? Well, all the coffee I’ve inhaled since Baby Frugalista’s arrival has done a number on my pearly whites. Well, “pearly” is a stretch, because I have a can of Coke Zero every day, but the coffee compounded the issue. And the coffee stains a lot more than the tea I used to have in the morning. So I blew $30 on a medium-strength-peroxide version of the Crest Whitestrips. We’ll see if it’s worth it in the end. I haven’t used them in years, but the original Crest Whitestrips actually did a good job 5 years ago for the “low” price of $20.

Now all I have to do is follow through with the whitening strips, and maybe get that pedicure I’ve been dreaming about for 3 months. Yeah. Right. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Enter to Win!

I’d ordered the Crest Whitestrips long before I saw that Shannyn at Frugal Beautiful is giving away a similar Crest Whitestrips product. To get your own box of Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips (these have a higher strength of peroxide and work even faster), head over to Frugal Beautiful to learn how to enter her giveaway!

How a Bad Credit Score Can Affect You

This guest post comes from Moneysupermarket.

If you currently have bad credit, it may affect you in more ways than you think. You should try to fix your low score as soon as possible, as it influences more than just applying for credit cards.

What many people do not realize is that the current credit system has a bit of a backward structure. Those who have more money have to pay less, since companies trust them to pay their bills. Individuals who have little money end up paying extra fees and higher interest rates so that the lenders are sure to make a profit.

Credit can affect your ability to get loans and credit cards. If you do qualify for credit, the interest rates will probably be variable or sky-high. Individuals with bad credit almost always end up paying more! Many lenders require those with low credit scores to pay security deposits, annual fees and incredibly high late charges. They may also reject any requests to raise credit card limits or lower interest rates.

In general, individuals with good credit have an easier time when it comes to borrowing money. If they need to make a payment a few days late, companies are usually more willing to work with them. People with good credit who make a late payment are also less likely to have it reported to credit agencies. For example, if someone with bad credit is unable to pay their electric bill on time, the company may turn off their power that day. However, if the customer has good credit, the electric company will try to communicate with the person before taking action.

Low credit scores can also affect your cell phone plans. Cell phone companies will sometimes limit the amount of active phones that a person can have on their plan.

Your credit record even affects the workplace. More and more companies are doing credit checks on potential employees rather than checking their references. If they see that a person has many lawsuits or multiple unpaid bills, they will assume the person is irresponsible and unfit for the position.

Another way low credit can affect your career is if the job requires travel or outside purchases. Many companies expect the employee to pay for their gas, airfare or hotel fees with a personal credit card and they reimburse them later. Explaining that you are unable to obtain a credit card due to a low credit score can be embarrassing. It can also be difficult for the employer to find a fair solution to the problem.

Credit scores can also affect your romantic relationships. Engaged couples are being encouraged more than ever to sit down and discuss credit prior to getting married. If your credit score is low, your fiancé may feel like their credit will be negatively affected after marriage. They may also assume that you are irresponsible and rethink their decision to marry you.

Contrary to popular belief, credit affects more than just credit cards and loans. The good news is that if you have bad credit, you are not alone. The financial crisis left many trustworthy people with terrible credit. Fortunately, there is help out there. Mending your credit score may take some patience and a bit of self-discipline, but it is definitely worth it in the end.

“Infertility” Isn’t a Dirty Word, Part II: How We Got From There to Here

This is a two-part series about a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now — our road to having a baby. I hope it inspires others to try to achieve their dream of becoming parents — know that you are not alone. Read Infertility: Part I here.

Soon after Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I married, I giddily tossed my pack of birth control pills out the window — okay, I stashed them in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, but you get the idea. While I knew it could normally take up to a year to “get the timing right,” I didn’t think that would be the case. You see, I’m a planner. I had stocked up on a bunch of ovulation test strips so there would be little doubt about when would be the best time to try to conceive.

I figured all I’d have to do was just wait for Aunt Flo to show up once I stopped the birth control pills, and then about two weeks later, start POAS (“peeing on a stick” in the world of TTC, or “trying to conceive”) using the ovulation tests. August turned to September, and September to October with no signs of getting a period. Well, I had tons of phantom signs, but nothing ever materialized, so to speak. I knew something was very, very wrong. While I’d been on the pill for 13 years, I’d been nothing but regular before that — my cycle was longish, but 32-33 days is nothing when you’re going on 100 days of waiting.

Eventually, Aunt Flo showed up, but when it was going on 90-plus days the next time, I was in full freak-out mode. My body was ruining my chance at motherhood.

I sought the advice of my ob-gyn, who gave me some pills called Provera to “jump-start” my menstrual cycle. The good news is that they worked to start the bleeding, but the bad news was that it only cleared me out, so to speak. It didn’t make the next cycle any shorter — I was still about 3 months in between periods.

At this point, I did some research and self-diagnosed myself with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. The last time I diagnosed myself with something, it was my hypothyroid disease, and I was correct. Unfortunately, I’d turn out to be two-for-two.

Moving Forward

The ob-gyn was up front with me and said there really wasn’t anything more he could do for me, since we didn’t know the root of the problem. He suggested that I see a specialist and mentioned the dreaded word: “Infertility.” But he was kind enough to write down “amenorrhea” (lack of menstruation) on my referral. Gee, thanks.

Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I decided that seeing a reproductive endocrinologist — which meant going to a fertility clinic — was our best option. We both wanted children, and it didn’t look like it was going to happen naturally. We were going to need some help.

The doctor we chose was very nice and interviewed both of us. Then, during a VERY thorough exam of my interior lady parts, he diagnosed me with PCOS. “Duh,” I thought, “I already KNEW that. What are we going to do about it?” Later, I would see on my paperwork that the doctor noted that I was “anxious” during this initial interview and examination. Ya think?

In addition to my physical exam, 8 vials of blood were drawn — I passed out twice. I don’t do well with blood draws, and little did I know that it would become an almost daily occurrence! My husband also had to go through the bloodwork and had to provide a, uh, sample. Neither of us had any issues, and his little guys were moving along swimmingly. Basically, our issues lay with my reproductive system.

Initially, we were advised that IUI (intrauterine insemination, aka artificial insemination), was our best bet. This would require a round of Clomid (pills), to stimulate my ovaries to make lots of eggs and grow them to maturity.  Then, after an extremely-painful HSG (hysterosalpingogram) test, in which dye was injected into my fallopian tubes as I screamed bloody murder, it was discovered that one of my fallopian tubes were blocked. A second HSG test didn’t unblock the tube, especially after the x-ray machine up and died toward the end of the procedure. I elected not to go back a third time, because despite being medicated with a Valium and some Percoset, I was in agony (and again screaming bloody murder).

We re-weighed our options, which were pretty much limited to in vitro fertilization (IVF) because in addition to the PCOS and my autoimmune thyroid disease (which was already under treatment for a decade), we now had a blocked fallopian tube. I’d read there was a chance that eggs from the ovary on that side could ‘float’ to the other tube, but it seemed like a ridiculous idea.

The Guilt

I wondered what I did to deserve this diagnosis. I wondered if I did something to cause my infertility. I’d always wanted to be a mother, and now, after marrying my husband, I had visions of never having the family we’d dreamed of. I wondered why, when I was so responsible about not getting pregnant all these years, I was the one who had to deal with it. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of “artificially” making a baby.

I had crying jags. I lashed out. I wanted to decline invitations to baby showers. I couldn’t even listen to people talk about their pregnancies. My husband supported me through all of my emotional swings with the patience of Job. He talked me down from ledges, held my hand and told me that we WOULD be successful.

Then I realized I wasn’t the only one out there. I discovered a number of friends and acquaintances who have had to deal with the same thing. I managed to put together a support team, so to speak. Our parents knew we were going to have to “work” to get pregnant. We kept them apprised throughout the process.

Getting Pregnant, Getting Lucky

Despite my medical maladies, our reproductive endocrinologist did okay one shot at IUI, despite getting us approved for IVF treatments. But instead of using the Clomid pills, I would have to “move up” to injectibles. As someone who can’t even stand the sight of her own blood (but I was an EMT in a past life, so I’m okay with other people’s injuries, go figure), the thought of poking myself with needles every day for weeks was terrifying (refer back to my anecdote about bloodwork).

Also terrifying? IUI procedures have the highest risk of multiples, because you can’t control how many eggs are produced and possibly fertilized. Ever hear of Jon and Kate Gosselin? Kate had six babies at once because she produced too many eggs during the IUI/injectables cycle. She and her husband were advised to “cancel” the cycle — meaning, to abstain from sex — because if all of those eggs were to be fertilized, it’d be a very risky pregnancy. You all know that they ignored that advice. Unlike the Gosselins, we’d follow our doctor’s advice to cancel the cycle if it came down to it, but there would still be a chance of multiples if we went ahead with two or three mature eggs. Or, we’d even have to consider selective reduction if there were “too many” fertilized eggs to have a safe pregnancy. We didn’t even want to think about that, though.

So we had to wait for Aunt Flo to show up again, and she finally made an appearance on Memorial Day weekend of last year. I had already gotten my stash of needles and medications through the specialty pharmacy. I would be on the Follistim to “grow” a number of eggs to maturity, to be followed by two injections of Ovidrel, which serves as the “trigger” medication that tells my ovaries to release their mature eggs.

I had bloodwork and an ‘internal’ ultrasound (use your imaginations) every two days. The clinic hours for this were from 6 am to 7:30 am, and I had to travel 20 minutes in each direction to do so. If it was a weekend or a holiday, it was a 40-min trip each way to their other location. I had to give myself a shot of Follistim at the same time every evening. As I went in for morning monitorings, the doctor would check my ovaries for signs that follicles (eggs) were growing, and on which side.

After nearly two weeks, there were 6 egg follicles near maturity. Five of them were on the right ovary – the same side as the blocked fallopian tube. Of course. One was on the open, clear side, the left. I was devastated because our chance of success was reduced. After two  days of Ovidrel shots to trigger the release of the mature follicles, we went ahead with the insemination portion of the IUI cycle. Let me just say that Mr. NSF was a trooper, because he had to go two mornings in a row to give a ‘sample’ at the clinic. About an hour later, I’d show up, ready for my injection of ‘cleaned up’ sample. It sounds so gross, but it was a better shot than us doing the deed ourselves.

Then, the waiting began. We were heading to Vegas for a vacation with family and friends, but I knew I’d be a wreck the entire time — the blood test to check for pregnancy was scheduled for the day after our return.

The night before we were to leave, I started bleeding. I couldn’t believe it — I’d gotten my period. I didn’t think it was going to work on the first shot, and now, I figured I’d be able to have a good time in Vegas. We got on the plane the next morning. But the bleeding had stopped. I was confused. I decided to abstain from alcohol completely just in case.

Being the planner I am, I brought a few pregnancy tests to try, just in case. It would be a few days before I would know for sure, but I wanted to find out before the scheduled blood test. When two little lines showed up, I was in shock. I took two more tests before telling my husband. It was a miracle — it only took the one little egg!

I wasn’t 100% convinced I was pregnant until I went for my blood test after our return home. When they called me a few hours later to confirm it, I was in shock again. The nurse said I could have had implantation bleeding, as the fertilized egg was nestling itself into the uterine wall.

I was monitored by the fertility clinic until I hit 8 weeks. Every week, I held my breath as they did the ultrasound. At the 6-week visit, we saw the heartbeat, a little flicker of life in this apple-seed-sized embryo.

I would hold on to my secret for a few more weeks. It may have been bad karma, but we originally lied to our families and told them that the procedure had failed. I wanted to be sure the pregnancy continued to be viable. After the morning (and afternoon, and night) sickness appeared, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide it much longer, so we shared the news with gifts of baby onesies.

My pregnancy was normal with no issues until Baby Frugalista decided to bust out of her amniotic sac five weeks early, and enter the world on Groundhog Day. What a holiday to be born on! It was worth traveling through the aftermath of an ice storm to receive the greatest present in the world.

The Takeaway

I know how damned lucky we were that the IUI worked on the first cycle, and that we didn’t have to move to IVF. I know people who waited years to have their children, and those who are still waiting. That’s why I want anyone facing an infertility diagnosis to know that you’re not alone. We’re out there.

I don’t know what it will take to have a second child should we decide to give Baby Frugalista a sibling. But I do know now that we know what we’re facing, it will be easier to deal with what life throws at us. And I know that even if I never have another child, I know how lucky we were to have the one.

“Infertility” Isn’t a Dirty Word: Part I

This is a two-part series about a topic that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now — our road to having a baby. I hope it inspires others to try to achieve their dream of becoming parents — know that you are not alone.

Every day I gaze at our amazing infant daughter and realize how lucky we are. Every time she gives that toothless smile, says “Mama” or rests her little head on my shoulder, I thank my lucky stars that we were blessed with her, after everything we had to go through to conceive.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m infertile. Although many are reluctant to talk about it, infertility isn’t a dirty word. it doesn’t define who I am and, obviously, it didn’t stop me from becoming a mother.

The Infertility Diagnosis

Turns out that 13 years of being on birth control pills to not get pregnant masked the fact that I have PCOS — polycystic ovary syndrome. When left to do their thing, my little ovaries go into overdrive and produce a ton of follicles, few to none of which mature enough to make it down the fallopian tube once a month. No ovulation equals no chance of conception, which is hard enough to achieve as it is, believe it or not. Couple that with another diagnosis of a blocked fallopian tube, and our chances of conceiving, even with fertility treatments, dropped even further.

I won’t lie: hearing the word “infertility” tossed out by my ob-gyn and, later, my reproductive endocrinologist hurt — a lot. My reactions mirrored the five stages stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I lingered under “anger” and “depression” longer than I care to admit. I was barely past the age of 30. I wasn’t 16 and pregnant. Why me? I started a (mostly) private blog to get out some of the thoughts and emotions that were slowly eating away at me, which helped to some degree.

It took visits nearly a year’s worth of visits to doctors and specialists before getting pregnant — a LOT of $40 insurance co-pays. In addition to my ob-gyn, I was seeing an endocrinologist to keep my pre-existing thyroid disease under control, and visiting my reproductive endocrinologist at the fertility clinic every few days for months at a time. There were also a few trips to a radiologist thrown in for good measure. Despite being told it would never work due to my blocked fallopian tube, after just one cycle of IUI (“artificial insemination” — use your imagination, folks), we had our miracle.

Discussing Infertility

While I didn’t announce to the world that we were having trouble conceiving, close friends and family knew what my husband and I were going through (he’ll want me to mention that his swimmers are fine, in case you were wondering), and everyone provided support in their own ways. I discovered that others I knew also had needed fertility treatments to conceive, and it was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. Eventually, I resolved to talk about our experience freely. If I could help guide others on their journeys, why not?

From a young age, I knew I wanted to have children one day. When we were in our late 20s, I had friends who would say, “I’m too busy living life to have kids,” but for me, it was never a question. I never saw my future children as impediments to my happiness — they would be my happiness, my fulfillment.

Today, I smile every time our baby wakes at 2 in the morning or throws her food all over the place. I almost relish dirty diapers, and I gladly baby-proof the house. Because despite my infertility diagnosis — and her 5-weeks-early arrival — Baby Frugalista is here.

 

Tuesday: Look for Part II in this series, How We Got From There to Here

Stores I’m Not Allowed to Go to Anymore

No, I’m not talking about stores that no longer let me through their doors — I’m talking about stores that I really need to avoid, because my wallet has taken a beating lately. Actually, it all started right before Baby Frugalista was born back in February: I “needed” a bunch of things to make this house “baby-ready.” Can you smell the sarcasm coming through my air quotes?

We had to paint the upstairs room that had been renovated — well, that’s a no-brainer. Then I needed a matching comforter & sheet set. Curtains for the living room, because I’d just ordered new couches. Then there was all the baby stuff that hadn’t been lovingly gifted to me by family and friends.

Now, I can’t step foot in a major retail store without dropping $100 or more.

Where It All Goes Wrong

Target: This is where I get baby formula and food. And snacks. And cat food and litter. And that super-cute-just-gotta-have-it sleeper for Baby Frugalista.

Bed, Bath & Beyond: Even pre-baby, this place was death to our bank account. If I have a weakness for spending on anything, it’s spending on stuff for the home. Decor, bedding, kitchen gadgets. Then they started carrying coffee K-cups! I was just set up to fail in this store.

Babies R Us: Pretty self-explanatory. Baby clothes! Baby shoes! Baby food! Diapers! Sippy cups! Empty wallet!

Kohl’s: I tend to go here when I need a specific item of clothing, or a new pair of shoes. I usually have some combination of a 30% off coupon, a gift card, and/or Kohl’s Cash. And then I drop $150 on stuff for the whole family. And the house (again). And I just HAD to get that new shirt for the baby (even though she has 1098434 other ones).

Most of my spending revolves around the baby, whether it’s for her or for me as a result of birthing her (like the new wardrobe I needed post-pregnancy — grr). While I can easily deny myself a new pair of shoes, that doesn’t stop me from buying the baby two pairs of booties if I see them. Do other parents have this same problem? My only solution is to avoid these stores as often as possible.