Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TV Choices

I'd call this post "The Boob Tube", but I think it might attract the wrong sort of google searchers.

A friend said recently that she missed my blog posts.  The problem is, there hasn't been much to post about. Lots of work, lots of playing chauffeur to the kiddos, not much else. In fact, there's been so little "else" that I've been suggesting for months (maybe a year or more) to my husband that we quit paying for cable TV. Because "else" hasn't even included couch potatoing (is that a verb?)

We don't watch TV.  Much.  And we're paying for it.  A lot.

I might have just pulled the plug myself, except that the bill has been in his name.  And while I'm not entirely above impersonating him on the phone (not sure it's really identity theft when our finances are already so interwoven...).  However, the decision affects the whole family and not just me.

We finally really looked at our bills this past weekend.  We were paying $170/month for our cable+internet service, plus another $60/month for the home phone. (Plus we have cell phones on a different plan, and didn't even look at changing those).  All that for the kids to watch a few cartoons, some Nickelodeon shows, the occasional Mythbusters, and about 3 hockey games per season.  Maybe a few more shows sprinkled in there.  But honestly, not $170 worth of entertainment every month. (BTW, that $170 included some movie channels, but not the most expensive HBO/Cinemax, and no special sports package or anything else...plus our equipment was going on 5 years old).

We already have Amazon Prime (have been using it for years for shipping, plus the occasional streaming show on my kindle). One of our TV's is a "smart tv" that was already not connected to the cable (because of room arrangement...it is on a different wall than the cable jack), but was already configured to stream Amazon, etc.  Another TV is connected to a blu-ray player that can run apps from various streaming providers.  The third TV has a Roku box.  Yes, we have a lot of gadgets.

We are now down to a total of $65/month for internet + VOIP home phone combined (which will increase by $30 in a year after some special deal wears off). We didn't change the Amazon subscription.  We are probably adding Hulu and Netflix (or at least trying them...will see whether it's necessary to keep both in addition to the Prime).  And have an HD antenna on order so that we don't lose the local channels as an option.

To summarize we're talking a one-time purchase of $35 antenna, plus $8/ month each for netflix and hulu.  Amazon is a net $0 change, though it is around $8/a month if you really want to count it.  We are still debating whether we need a DVR, and what the best option is if we do.  I think the only programming we would use the DVR on is local channels coming in over the antenna.   So, $65+8+8+8 = $89/month.  Way, way, way less than the $230 we were paying before.

I guess time will tell whether we made the right choice. But i'm thinking that our checking account will thank us in the mean time.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Back to School Shopping

In our fifth year of private schools, I no longer stuffer sticker shock at the school uniform store. These days, it's almost a relief to be able to walk into one small store, and buy a year's worth of clothes for the kids.

Uniforms had been a source of stress when my daughter started Kindergarten. Granted, that school was rather strict on some of the details.  They had one approved shoe style that could be purchased from one singular store in town.  She got a uniform violation one day because she put on a pair of white socks that had a thin pink stripe on them (oh, the horror of the non-conformist socks).

This school still has a uniform, a special plaid jumper, school-logo-printed-gym shorts (into which every child must change for gym class), etc. But we can pick our own shoes as long as they're mainly a solid color.  And for the non-logo items, we can go with some generic brands or buy from Lands End where they have a custom list setup on line for us to see exactly the items that our school approves of.

It helps that my kids are kinda small and don't blow through two or three pants sizes every year.  T-man will be wearing most of his shorts and pants from last year a second time, though I happily shelled out for all-new shirts for him.  The boys wear white polos--the uniform shop has them embroidered with the school logo.  Very sharp looking. Until they go out for recess. On a playground padded with black recycled tires. And then have ketchup for lunch.  I think you see my point. We go through a lot of oxyclean in this house.

I think I've spent about $600 so far on school clothes. Sounds like a lot but that included long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts for both kids (they both got around 8 tops--must have a full week's worth of clothes because we just don't get to mid-week laundry), all new jumpers for my daughter (they changed styles between 3rd graders and 4th graders, so she can't wear last year's), new belts for both of them, gym shorts for both of them (T-man needs them for the first time, and his sister wears them under her jumpers every day and had outgrown some older pairs), shorts for big sister for the rare fall days when she chooses not to wear the skirt.  Big sister got soccer shoes, her brother still needs a pair.  We lucked out and found two pairs of acceptable white tennis shoes for $12 each at Walmart for her. But the same Walmart had exactly one pair (not just one style, one pair) of workable shoes in T-man's size. 

We will have to go back for leggings for our daughter when the weather cools down, and maybe buy more pants for T-man around Christmas.  Some of last year's larger pants are now a good fit, which means he'll probably grow out of those mid-year this year. 

That $600 seemed kind of expensive, but after this, the kids only need weekend clothes until next summer.  My daughter's birthday is in August, so she can usually count on receiving a few cute fall outfits from that.  And T-man will probably be in sweats and/or his soccer uniform most Saturdays all fall.   And I figure that if we went to a public school and bought each kid a pair of basic jeans ($15),  a short-sleeved shirt ($10), a long-sleeved shirt or sweater ($15) for every day of the week (5), we're already at $400 worth of clothes ($200/kid), and would probably need to replenish after 2-3 months of weekly washings.  Kids would need clothes for weekends regardless, so I'm not counting those in my calculations.  With only a few exceptions, the school uniforms hold up really well. So well that when I can make it, I can usually find nice used pieces at the school's used uniform sale (which the have an annoying habit of holding at 2pm on a week day once a semester).

Some days I miss the pre-school days of shopping the sale and clearance racks, stocking up on adorable baby clothes (usually a year ahead of when we'd need them). But as I start hearing complaints from friends with kids in the public schools as they struggle with dress codes and arguing with their children about what the parents will allow the kids to wear, I'm quite grateful for the uniforms.  We have plenty of other things to fight with our kids about already :)

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Oasis!

Our backyard is done, minus a few hostas and some decorations. It took longer than I thought--I was predicting that we'd be relaxing on our patio by the 4th of July. No such luck, which is a shame as the 4th of July was exceedingly beautiful this year. Alas, as I did predict, the yard is done just in time for a horrendous heatwave.

The heat, it kills the grass. Have I mentioned how much I despise grass? It hates me back. Actually, in the pictures it looks a bit better than it does today--it wasn't as hot two days ago and the weeds in the middle of the yard have grown like 6 inches this week (not actually an exaggeration, because you can't see them in the pictures).

Next to the deck is a tumbled paver patio.  It is pretty big--roughly 15x20.  We have a 6-seat rectangle table that will probably sit down there, plus the grill and smoker.  And there may be room left over for a low seating set with a firepit (TBP -- to be purchased).  Along the wall on the right side of the picture, I need to find some large pots or something to soften the edge of the foundation and blankness of the siding. 

Around the concrete drain are six good-sized Rose of Sharon.  There are rocks around there too--I apparently grabbed a photo pre-rocks.  If you can't hide the darned thing, make a pedestal out of it.  With the brick edging, the rocks, and the bushes, it is crying out for a Grecian Urn or a birdbath or something.  I'm not actually kidding on that (though I'm pretty sure that a 3-5 foot statue would be heavy and expensive)..

The landscaper also added rocks under the deck, and a nice border of shrubs around the base of it to soften things.  Along the back of the yard are five good-sized white pine trees with clumps of the tall decorative grass between (they are almost visible in the shot of the patio...bad light in the evenings when I'm trying to snap photos).  They aren't a wall, but do distract the eye from the street beyond it.  And they will get bigger as time goes on.  The tree line doesn't completely cover the back border, because if you look toward the other corner, there's a lovely view of a lake and open greenspace. We want to emphasize the nice view and downplay the road.

Finally, the part that's not visible is all the drainage work.  The long straight line of dirt leading toward the concrete pedestal is where they buried a drain pipe that comes off a downspout and the sump pump.  Previously, those outlets left a swamp on the side of the house (and made the sump pump work overtime).  They ran the drains that were in between the patio and deck out underground as well. A swath through the middle of the yard has been smoothed to remove a rut formed by water runoff. The back of the yard behind the trees used to look jagged, as though the builder had pushed dirt back there and just stopped (which is probably exactly what they did). It now has a nice rounded shape that looks intentional and a fresh layer of grass seed that we can maintain easier than the weeds that we had before.

Our inground sprinkler system has been repaired and activated, and I might relent and have a lawncare company spray stuff on the grass to make it green (I'm tempted to just buy spray paint...do you think the neighbors would notice?)  I have finally come to realize that we are going to have to fertilize the grass to make it grow, as our dirt is more gravel than soil.  And it's way too expensive to just pave the whole yard.