Family Living 4 Less

Saving Money Without the Sacrifice!

Posts Tagged ‘simple living’

Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death

Posted by flsquared on January 13, 2010

Tuesday’s WSJ reported that Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death.  According to the Australian study, watching 2-4 hours of TV/day increased your risk of death by 13%, and watching more than 4 hours increased it by 46%.  Wow.  They also specified cardiovascular disease:  watching TV for 4+ hours increased this risk by 80%.

The interesting part of this study is the solution.  The researchers don’t say that you need to participate in “hard core” exercise (in fact, the participants in the study averaged 30-45 minutes of exercise/day).

Instead, their worry is that becoming a couch potato reduces “incidental moving around”.  This goes for other sedentary activity (oxymoron, anyone?) such as surfing the net (duh!), reading a book (hmmm…), or taking the train to work (!).  After an entire day of inactivity, your HDL levels can fall 20%.  Wow.

Honestly, articles such as this one just reaffirm to me our decision to move to Manhattan.  Sure, we’re tearing our hair out trying to keep our bills down and we go a bit stir-crazy in such a small space during the winter, but perhaps that’s the point.  It makes us get creative and get moving.  We simply can’t afford the luxury of a huge place with luxuries that would entice us to stay in all day.  Even take out gets expensive so we hoof it over to the grocery store and the make our meal.  And you know what?  All of that movement and activity seems to make us happier!

Speaking of, I am going to sign off, bundle up the kids, and take advantage of the two whole hours of sunny 34 degree weather this afternoon!

Posted in activity, happiness, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

New Year’s Challenge: Live Life Like in the 1980s

Posted by flsquared on December 28, 2009

First of all, I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday!   With my inlaws in town for a few weeks, I have been doing my best to stay off of the computer and just enjoy my family.  I did get an itch today to write a bit on the blog so here I am.

Recently, one of my friends posted this article to Facebook: 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable. With a title like that, how can you not check it out?  It was a fantastic article, and one I hope to not just learn from, but act upon.

Until having moved here, I thought that the average New Yorker would have more interaction with people than those living in the ‘burbs.  After all, just the act of leaving the apartment brings you in contact with people.  Now I know that my assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong!  I have been floored at the number of services that you can receive without leaving your house:  the internet brings groceries and take out to your door, a phone call will pick up and deliver your laundry, a doorman will even bring your packages to your apartment so you don’t have to sign for them.

It is all to easy to stay in the comfort zone of texting instead of calling, sending emails instead of stopping by to visit with someone, or even writing on someone’s wall instead of sending a email or *gasp* a card in the mail.  It’s easier to send a check in the mail to a charity (especially since many times it seems like they’d rather have the cash) than donating an hour of your time and service.  Why risk feeling awkward?  Why risk having a “real” conversation and someone finding out that we are not so clever in person as we are over email and 140 character length twitter updates?

Of the entire article, I believe that #4 most rang true for me.  When I first joined Facebook, I was excited to re-connect with many old friends and classmates.  I had moved from Maryland to Florida when I was 12 (a horrible time for a dramatic change for a girl, made worse as even long distance calling was prohibitive for my family, not to mention airplane flights) and I always wondered what had happened to my childhood friends.  However, after a bit, reading the updates and writing some of my own, I realized that nothing had changed–we all still had our own lives and we were not “friends” but more a curiosity.  It would take more effort than a few emails to reconnect, and the friendships would have to start from zero.   Uff!  But that is just too much effort!

My challenge to myself (and you!) is to get out of your comfort zone:  Turn off the computer and TV, stop texting and get out!  Make personal contact with people, no matter how strange it may feel.  Drop by at a friend’s house and have a conversation.  Ask a neighbor for some sugar and bring them some cookies in return.  Take a walk and notice the people that you pass.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Don’t avoid the annoying guy.  You may surprise yourself with how good human contact makes you feel.

Posted in activity, challenge, environment, happiness, philosophy, simple living | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Clutter Costs: The Case of the Missing PJs

Posted by flsquared on December 13, 2009

I have admitted it before that I am an unabashed packrat.  I buy very little, but I have difficulty letting things go.  Coupled that with our living in a teeny Manhattan-sized apartment and my tendency to overestimate my free time and energy and thus begin (and not finish) projects, we have a full house.

It’s a slooooow work in progress (I work on projects and de-clutter about 15 min/day after my husband comes home), but since it doesn’t interfere with daily living it doesn’t bother me too much.

Well, let me say that it normally doesn’t interfere with daily living.

Here’s what happened a couple of weeks ago:

My oldest son’s PJs were starting to look a little small.  This summer, my mom scoured the garage sales for clothes for her grandchildren and brought up a few pairs of 3T pajamas.  Damned if I can find them anywhere!  I have looked high and low, emptied boxes and suitcases, searched closets and under the bed and they have just disappeared!

It is the worst feeling of frustration to know that you have stored something that you need and you just can’t find it.

After spending a total of probably 3 hours looking for them (care to put a cost on that lost time?), I decided that I needed to streamline the boys’ things.  I put old clothes and toys in bags and put an ad on Craigslist and Freecycle.  We got rid of 4 huge bags of stuff that was just sitting in the closet as well as our car seat travel system!  Hurrah!

I wish I had a happier ending and could tell you that after all of this purging I found the PJs but they are still missing.

The good news?  When I do decide to give up the search and rescue mission, I can use my $110 that I made from the purge and buy some new ones.

The bad news?  I sure would have rather used that time and money for something else!

Posted in baby, clutter, money, organization, saving money, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Battle of the Laptop (or how to keep the focus on the kids)

Posted by flsquared on November 18, 2009

Toddlers are exhausting.  They have endless sources of energy and fear nothing.  No matter where they are or what they are doing, they always seem to find exactly what they should not touch, and put it directly in their mouths.  Or what they should not climb, and not only climb it, but try to jump off….head first!  Just physically and mentally exhausting.

I remember reading an article sometime last year that one of the reasons that Facebook is so popular with new moms is that it allows you to catch up with friends (or at least read their status updates) in 30 second increments.  Which is approximately the free time you have after re-directing your baby from climbing up onto the dining room table to eating the TV cable.

The problem with these 30 second intervals is that they become addictive.  First, you are reading an email or two every few hours, and slowly but surely you are creeping over to check for any sort of outside stimulation every 10 or 15 minutes.

What I have found is that when this happens, I start watching the clock as the day passes so very slowly, the kids are cranky and vocal (read:  crying, tantrums) for attention, and there really aren’t that many interesting FB updates, emails, or blogs to read.  (At least ones that you can intelligently digest in 20 seconds or less).

Instead, when the laptop is out of sight, the kids and I (and my husband, if he his home) spend quality time together and enjoy it all the more. I focus 100% on them (okay, 90%), instead of stealing glances at the inbox, and have a great time.  And time just seems to fly by.

So why does that pesky laptop seem to migrate to our dining room table more often than not?  Easy.  There are things to do: emails to answer, plans to make, weather forecasts to check, library books to renew, etc.

My new challenge to my husband and I is to put focus back on the family.  I challenge us to keep the laptop out of the common area during all but 2 hours/day, while the kids are awake.  Believe me, this will be tough for us.  And I have yet to break the news to hubby.

I will let you know how it goes.  Wish us luck!

In the meantime, I would love to hear how you minimize distractions in common areas of your house.  How do you keep your family tuned in to each other during family time?

Posted in activity, baby, challenge, family, happiness, philosophy, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Oprah called me a hoarder!

Posted by flsquared on November 15, 2009

OK, OK, before Oprah gives me a lecture (does Oprah read this blog???), Oprah herself did not actually call me a hoarder.

About a month or so ago, Oprah had another show on hoarding.  I didn’t actually watch it (we don’t have cable — we only use our TV for watching movies), but I did go to her website and take a look.  These shows on hoarding are a bit like watching a train wreck–you just can’t peel yourself away from the extreme chaos of it all.  Also, as a packrat who has been living for the last 15 years in small spaces, I feel much better about myself and my home when I realize that the clutter I worry about is not nearly to the scale of problematic.

Or so I thought.

Oprah included a quiz:  The Hoarding Self-Assessment.  After asking about 15 questions, you receive 3 scores:  clutter (I scored a 6, which is “mild”), acquiring score (I scored a 3,  also “mild”), and a difficulty discarding score (I scored a 12, which is on the high end of “moderate”).

Concluding the explanation of any “moderate” trait that you have, they suggest that you consider working with a mental health professional to work through your problem.  Ouch!

Admittedly, I have a problem with letting go. Because of this, I try to limit the things that come into our apartment.  I know that once they come in, it’s difficult for me to part with them.  I don’t like the idea of things going into a landfill — I abhor the idea of “disposable living” — so I like to find a home for things that we no longer need.  This can be another family that we know or not (via freecycle or craigslist), a charity, or a recycle bin.  Once things “wear out” and we can no longer find a use for them, I do feel peace about throwing them away.  But since we limit what comes in, “things” are not such a problem.

My biggest challenge is processing information.  I like to make sure that I will not need something before I toss it.  For example, I have a box of old magazines that I have not had the chance to read and 1900 odd email messages in my inbox that I haven’t deleted/filed.  Sure, some of these items have been around and unopened for a few months, but I am paralyzed and just unable to just toss or delete them.

As challenges go, running a close second are unfinished projects.  I have great intentions, but not a lot of energy and extra time these days.  I truly feel that as my kiddos get older (maybe this summer or next year?), I will have more time to dedicate to these projects.  For example,  I have some old mixed tapes that I want to listen to and digitally download the songs I like.  I have a number of books that I haven’t read.  A box of yarn sits in the closet ready for knitting projects (okay, 2 boxes and a small bag).  And don’t get me started on my scrap book photos.

I actually came across an interesting post last night on the blog “Organize More, Stress Less” called 56 Things You Can Toss Now.  What a great list.  I recently got rid of probably a dozen items on the list, but still have 9 others.  I don’t know if I will be able to part with them yet, but it got me thinking.

How about you?  What are the items that you feel most conflicted about letting go?  How do you convince yourself to let go of these things (or hold on to them?)  I would love to hear your success stories.  Inspire me!!!

Posted in clutter, organization, simple living | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Toddler Tip: Veterans Day Crafts

Posted by flsquared on November 10, 2009

My boys and I attend a pre-school-like class twice/week where the caregivers rotate bringing in the snack and preparing a project for the kids.  The toddlers range in age from 20-25 months (not including my David, who usually is so happy to have the playroom to himself he doesn’t want anything to do with the craft!).

Today was my day.  And let me just say that I stress waaaaay too much about the craft.

This nervousness is not unfounded–the last time I was in charge of the art project, I brought in egg cartons and pipe cleaners to make little spiders and caterpillars.  After 5 minutes, the instructor whipped out some stamp paints with stencils.  So what if the mamas and nannies were doing most of the work!

(Ours turned out very cute though–who doesn’t love googly eyes??)

aaaaaaablog 003

Hoping to avoid another embarrassment, I did about 2 hours of research last night on different crafts that toddlers and pre-pre-schoolers may enjoy doing to learn about Veterans Day.  Here are my favorites:

**  Enchanted Learning shows how to make a 3-D American star.

**  DLTK has two cool wreath ideas:  rememberance hands and poppies.   I especially love the hands wreath because one of Victor’s favorite activities is to have me trace his hand, and for him to trace mine.

**  The “Love To Learn Place” Suggested writing a letter of thanks to Veterans and sending them to VFW Hall.  One idea I had would be to draw a picture or decorate a flag and send it in to the Vets.

**  First School had a turkey and flag coloring page (Veterans Day and Thanksgiving!)  and a “My First Flag” activity where you use finger paint to make thumb prints for the stars on the flag.

In the end, I decided to go with something straightforward and easy.  I chose the “My First Flag” activity, but we glued foam stars and stickers onto the flag and colored a bit.  It was a bit hit!  There was no cutting, and lots of gluing (these guys love to glue!).  Most importantly, it was something that could be somewhat completed during their less than 2 minute attention span.

Here’s how ours turned out:

aaaaaaablog 002

(Oh, and it was Victor’s idea to not just sign his name, but to sign his brother David, Mama, and Papa.  What a sweet guy!)

I would love to hear from you–what projects are you planning on doing for Veterans Day?

Posted in activity, art, frugal, holiday, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can a Family of Four Live on a Salary of $150k in NYC?

Posted by flsquared on November 8, 2009

This was the title of an Urban Baby discussion last week that really got me thinking.  My quick answer was a resounding “Yes, and well!”, but many of the posters did not agree.

I suppose what surprised me the most was the tone of the responders.  They seemed to say: Don’t do it!  You will be sacrificing too much!

For me, it’s a given that if you live in Manhattan, you will, most likely, be living in a small apartment.  Even the “big” apartments are small.

On the other hand, in just 5 or 10 minutes walking you can find yourself in a park, a museum, a library, etc.  During the summer there are more festivals than you can imagine.  As the winter is closing in, it’s more difficult to find free activities but they are there.

For us, our major expenses are rent, health insurance, and food.  Next year, preschool will be included in that list.  We also try to go to Spain and Florida once/year to visit family.  Everything else that we spend money on is minimal and we don’t spend even close $150k/year.

We no longer have a car (and all that goes with it), our utilities are next to nothing, and entertainment is cheap.

I will say that I totally understand how you could spend even double that amount and feel like you are living a humble life.  Between eating out, endless forms of entertainment, preschools that cost more than my college tuition, nannies, housekeepers, etc, etc, etc. the money can just slip through your hands.

I have a friend who probably earns triple what we do and honestly feels poor.  She lives 2 blocks away, in a very nice, but not super-fancy, building.  She does not wear designer clothing or go out every night.  She has a part-time “mother’s helper” and someone to clean her apartment once/week.  They have a car and go away at least once weekend/month.  Nothing all too extravagant here, right?  Especially when she compares herself to her friends who have private jets and rent a place in the Hamptons for $30,000.

Saving (or just not spending) money in this town is hard work, but it is very doable.

I think the key to it is both simple and extremely complex.  Be happy from within.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  Be content with your choices, and don’t even notice the Jones’.

What are your thoughts?  Am I missing something?  What are we sacrificing that everyone else seems to need?

Posted in family, frugal, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

My 15 Minutes: of Fame and Freedom

Posted by flsquared on November 7, 2009

First for the “Fame”!:

Yesterday, I was surprised to receive a note from WordPress that my Toddler Tips had been chosen as one of their “Freshly Pressed”:

superblog

How exciting!!!  I hope all of my new viewers are enjoying my posts, and that you will stick around for our adventures to come.

And now for the “Freedom”:

My youngest just turned 1 last week.  I think something happens to our boys when they hit that magic first birthday.  It seems like a switch is flipped and are immediately more independent and just happier in general.  Which, in turn, means that Mama is a bit less exhausted at the end of the day….and thus my 15 minutes of “free time” before I crash for the night.

So what should I do with this newfound luxury?

15 minutes is not a lot of time, but I do want to take advantage and take some time for myself to relax and recharge.

Here are some ideas that I have, in no particular order:

1.  Browse through a (non-child-related) magazine or read a few pages of a book.
2.  Take a walk.
3.  Chat with my husband about something non-work, non-child related, just like the “old days”.
4.  Organize and continue unpacking (we’re now at the 10-box-post-move state…if we’re not careful, those boxes will still be full until our next move!).
5.  Bake cookies or other treats (probably more than 15 minutes, but perhaps I can prep as I am cooking dinner?).
6.  Have a glass of wine or tea and just be one with my thoughts.
7.  Call up / email a friend I haven’t talked to in a while.
8.  Continue knitting the blanket for David.
9.  Clean something.
10.  Go to sleep early.

OK, I just nixed the two “work related” items that escaped my fingers before I thought them through.

What do you suggest?  What sort of things do you do when you only have 15 minutes?

Posted in activity, simple living | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Budget Update: It’s working!!!

Posted by flsquared on November 2, 2009

As you may remember, my family started living on a budget shortly after moving to Manhattan.  This has been a tough adjustment for us as we are not at all used to tracking expenses, but it has definitely been eye-opening.

In the budget, we only included my husband’s base salary as we are hoping to save his bonus outright.  Our hope is to save 10% of the post-tax base salary, but we will be happy if we just break even and don’t touch our savings or his bonus.

Here’s how we’re doing:

August:          saved 9.7%
September:   saved 13.4% (!!!)
October:        overspent 1%

NOOOOO!!!!

On the upside, we are net saving about 7% which is not too bad.

Additionally, we also made some big purchases this month like a membership to the Children’s Museum and NYC Rec Center as well as a big $225 application fee for Victor’s preschool next year.  We should definitely save some money this month as we went crazy buying food (nearly $600 this month) at the local grocery store’s huge Columbus Day sale.  Our cupboards, fridge, and freezer are bursting at the seams.

On the whole, I do think that tracking our expenses and being accountable to them is working. It’s difficult to spend money consciously, but it sure does help!

Wish us luck that we get back into the black next month!!

Posted in budget, frugal, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Last Minute Halloween Costume: Mini-Farmers!

Posted by flsquared on October 30, 2009

Today, on the way back from Central Park we passed Ricky’s.  Apparently, it is the one-stop shop for Halloween costumes.  At 50% off today, there was literally a line a block long to enter (at 2pm, no less!).

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about it until last week.  I can’t say that I’m a huge Halloween fan.  My husband is from Spain and has never celebrated it.  He’s not into dressing up at all and, as such, I have not been to a Halloween party in, oh, 10 years.  My first son was born in 2007 and spent most of September and October in and out of the hospital due to jaundice, so we didn’t do much more than take him for a short walk on Halloween.  My second son was born last year on October 28 and I think we left the hospital Halloween morning.

This year, we have 4 Halloween parties for the boys!  We definitely needed costumes.

On to the thrift shops I went.

No luck.

No luck?  Wow.  New York (Upper East Side, anyway) is tough!

I went into their closets.  And I started thinking….Every time I put the boys in cute little overalls, my husband calls them “farmers”.  I pulled out blue jean overalls, a flannel shirt, and a couple of red bandanas I had for whatever reason.  I actually had everything for both of them except overalls for the eldest.

Back to Gymboree (I finally got to buy something for us at that sale!).  The sales girl found some PERFECT overalls marked down to $7.99.  20% off coupon added and that was the price tag for their costume.  Hurrah!

Here’s one farmer:

aaafb 013and the little guy:

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Posted in activity, family, frugal, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »