The Awesome Cost of Becoming an Aunt

Aunt Katie, my clothes don't fit and my mom hates SNAPS!

My clothes don’t fit and my mom hates SNAPS!

10 days ago, my sister gave our mom her first grandchild and he is such a bundle of perfection that his dad is having a fit about going back to work today after a week’s paternity leave. Our mom flies out to see little Calvin and to calm down my stressball sister (it’s just the way she is), reassuring her that she’s doing a great job. Because she is! She’s just got new-mom nerves.

I’m not rich-rich, but I’m Amazon-rich!

My sister lives an hour from the nearest Target and Costco, and buying locally is hideously expensive. I’ve got this wonderful combination of a big fat Amazon gift card balance and Prime 2-day shipping.¬†See that adorable picture to the left? That’s the first picture of him in clothes rather than baby blanket togas because 0-3 month outfits are too big on him. At the same time, my sister realized that her ideal of never using baby wipes and only warm washcloths was both impractical and icky. Two days later, she was happily washing 8 brand new zippered sleep-n-play suits (she found all the snaps on onesies to be a huge pain) and using Seventh Generation wipes for diaper changes. Not bad for -$60 off my credit balance.

Then over the weekend I saw a deal on Burts Bees baby wash on Amazon – a 3-pk of 12oz bottles for $15.50. My sister is trying to use as much organic or natural products as possible, and I know she’s a Burts Bees fan. I also got a great deal on Aveeno baby products back in January, so the timing is good for a “refill”.

Impressed by how fast things got delivered, she texted me this morning about getting him some new bottles because his lip is getting very red. Yeah, breastfeeding didn’t work out for her – she had massive reduction surgery 15+ years ago, so her odds were not good to begin with. Anyway, I have a feeling that the redness she’s seeing is pretty common and not avoidable, but who cares – she needs bottles anyway. I overnighted the 5-bottle gift box from Amazon for an additional $3.99 and the rest will get there in 2 days. Another -$55 off my balance.

This is why I didn’t go crazy with big shower gifts. I sent little practical things as deals arose on Amazon and will continue to do so as she finds her way to the right balance of what’s good for the baby and what works for her. I’m also blatantly trying to “buy” the first invitation to visit, since she’s barely tolerating my mom – pregnancy turned her into a germophobe. Harumph.

Working the Travel Angle

My sister unfortunately lives in Aspen, and the only airline that has consistently served that destination is United, and so there are rarely any “deals” to fly there. Luckily, they have the best frequent flyer program, and I’ve got my account stocked with 72K miles and another 55K hitting next month. That’s 5 free visits to hang with my little nephew, with one checked bag free ūüôā ¬†Oh yeah, I’m workin’ it alright.

How have I managed that many in a month? Well, a friend of mine shops for her family at Walmart and spends at least $100 every week…so I buy a $100 gift card for her every week and she PayPals me $100 cash for it. That’ll be worth about 5K miles per year. I earn 5 miles/points per dollar spent on cell/phone/cable/internet – that’s 1050 miles a month for me. I’ve also put my mom’s plan on my bill and she pays me instead of the cable company, boosting my miles by another 850/month. Those are just the easy things I normally pay for and that I’ve arranged with people I can trust. That’s worth a Calvin visit each year ūüôā ¬†Yes I’m doing a lot more than that to beef up the miles, but even if I lose interest in this new mile-mongering hobby, this will tick over painlessly for one ticket a year. Yay!

 

Success by Accident

I’m actually a planner by nature – not a Type A level planner, but still a very practical, troubleshooting type (and I’m SICK TO THE BACK TEETH of people telling me that my troubleshooting = negativity). But Chris Guillebeau’s blog post today about starting a small business while working a full-time job made me realize how all of my successes as an adult came by accident. I did things in a weird, unconventional way that just worked out.

Some of you know I fight the natural tendencies of a single, overweight, not terribly young New Yorker to become jaded and neurotic. Sometimes it’s a very conscious battle, and I’ve done things like give up my home of 7 years and move cross-country and chill-out (sweat-out?) for a month in Tanzania just to shake things the hell up. I guess you could say that at the core of it is this belief:

Life Is More Interesting When You Say YES

I’m not afraid of the unfamiliar. Just because I don’t know anyone who has ever done something first – emigrated not once but three times, started a per-min phone business, resolved a fat chunk of depression through hypnosis, etc – doesn’t stop me from doing it. If an idea seems a little odd, I go straight to “what’s the worst that could happen, and how will I feel if that’s the case?”… and then I say yes if it’s tolerable. Sometimes I lose, but those are short term and make great conversation fodder while the wins go on for ages and create further opportunities.

I won’t even tell you the odd path that got me into bodywork because it really wasn’t smart (get your mind out of the gutter – in was unsafe, not shady), but somehow it has gotten me all the way to certification in a very unique and bizarrely effective method that will soon be my primary income. I think. Honestly, a lot of damage was done when I got kicked out of class and told to try again after $2000 of private remedial instruction, and my neck gets all stiff just thinking about my training. See? That’s what I get for planning, lol.

A Family of Nay-Sayers

I don’t know where I got this “character flaw” from. Why flaw? Because I come from a family where everyone automatically says no to anything new and unfamiliar, which is pretty much everything I’ve ever succeeded at. Of course their minds have started opening up when they see how many of my “crazy ideas” work out. I was a difficult teenager but not in the classic way – I was quiet, studious, babysat excessively to save for college, not at all social (bullied in 7th-8th grade), never wore make-up/drank/dated. But I wanted things that made no sense to them, so my parents weren’t quite sure what to do with me. They got stuck with an oddball, though I’ve made up for it with great presents funded by my successes. Heh.

What I’m Saying YES To Now

I just took an unusual apartment situation that brings looks of fear and anxiety to others – except Manhattanites, who pat me on the back for getting such a bargain. I pay 25% below market for a 1BR/1.5BA furnished duplex (in NYC, that means an apartment with an upstairs and downstairs) because the owner uses the other bedroom (it’s really a 2BR, but we have no access to each other’s room) one weekend a month and some holidays with his family – during those visits, I am not here at all, there is no overlapping. I sacrificed personal style for the ease of not moving my furniture around for a short time, and before that sounds like no big deal to you, I HATE FUTONS. It works very well for my current situation and I save a disproportionate amount of money!

I’m also saying Yes to truly developing the per-minute sideline into something pretty spectacular so that, if I do decide to pursue the career I just invested 17 months and over $20,000 in training for, I’ll have a sizable passive stream of income and a maximum return on the reduced amount of time I’ll be devoting to it.

What I doubt I’ll say Yes to is… doing my own IRS audit (suggested by a non-tax CPA friend – the insanity!). They hit me with that nugget of joy & happiness a few weeks ago and I see my delightful CPA (whom I’d kinda fired 9 months ago) on Wednesday to discuss. And my envelopes of receipts from the years they’re auditing are missing. Either I gave them to him to scan and keep electronically, or they’re hiding in a box somewhere I haven’t discovered from my many moves in the past 18 months. Neither of those looks good.

Dear NJ Transit: You get an F in Math

I’m a little bit pissed – no, a lot pissed – at NJ Transit for their recent fare hikes. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they increased their standard peak adult fares by 25%, they eliminated the off-peak fares entirely. My $20 ticket RT ticket to visit my mother on the weekend¬†has now leapt to $30. That’s fifty-freaking-percent! And I’m talking about commuter routes, not intercity Amtrak-type stuff, which prices itself to balance between bus fares and airfares.

Let me tell you how this has affected me personally… My mother’s 60th birthday is next week, and I suggested a slumber party for 6 at my place as a Plan B if the Hershey Park idea (hers, not ours!) doesn’t pan out for whatever reason. She said, “that’s $150 in train fares for us to come in, that seems kind of stupid.” She’s totally right.

If NJ Transit was looking for a justification for¬†cutting off-peak services, then this was a really smart move – the natural atrophy of their customer base.¬†However, if they were thinking “if they pay $20, they’ll pay $30”, well, I doubt my little family unit is the only one changing their mass transit habits.

Tell me if I’m wrong …¬†I always thought of public transportation as being economical, efficient, ecological, and really damn practical. In fact, I enjoy learning my way around the systems in other countries, even ones with alphabets I don’t know. It’s supposed to cost less and take less time than driving. Now, to drive round-trip from where my mom is in NJ ($14 gas), pay for the tunnel ($8 toll), and cough up for 8-12 hours¬†in a¬†parking garage ($22)… that’s $34. To take the train and the subway is… $34. That math also applies to commuters. A zero sum game like that is going to completely defeat the purpose of having a mass transit system.

So, NJ Transit, you fail some pretty basic math. And you also fail in serving the purpose for your existence.

Rant over.

A Family-Financed Wedding for Littlest Sister

So my littlest sister, Starfish,¬†is getting married this September on a pretty strict budget. She just got her first ever credit card – at age 30! – with that elusive 0% interest for a year in order to “finance” it. I think she’s capable of adhering to that plan, but those are untested waters with her. She¬†was a teenager under the same roof as¬†my parents and grandmother through the worst of their spending habits, and I’m not sure what she learned.

She’s planning for about 65 guests, outdoor ceremony in a small outdoor amphitheater in the Rockies. The reception will be a few miles away (but definitely taxi distance, so no provision of transportation necessary) and will feature gourmet pizza, wine & beer, karaoke, iPod music, and a cash bar. She’s wonderfully creative and will make things very attractive and unusual, but it sounds kinda cheesy -sensible for her budget, but¬†the prospect of no hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar isn’t sitting too well with us.

I stepped up with a $500 pre-wedding gift immediately – now that I’ve got two jobs on the go and am doing rather well at the new one, I can do that fairly painlessly. My mother said she’s hoping to put in $1000, but I don’t think that’ll happen because she just got a crapload of dental work. I let my brother know what I was doing because he likes to do the right thing, it’s just a matter of knowing what the right thing is.

The part I find awkward is that, with my dad gone, my mom is planning to approach her godfather (his youngest brother)¬†for a contribution to the wedding costs. To be fair, he sort of offered with the other sister last year, but my mom said they were fine and didn’t need it. However, Starfish and her wonderful fiance (really¬†decent, big-hearted¬†guy who loves our entire family) could really use the help. Starfish has no real problem accepting big gifts and is very gracious about it, and I know my future brother-in-law will be floored.

So tell me, what few readers I have left after not blogging for 5 weeks…

Do you have any first- or second-hand experience of a “family financed” wedding? How did you (or the couple) feel about it?

What NOT to do when you know you’re dying

I may half-jokingly refer to my family as The Moneytards, but my friend who’s dying of a brain tumor just found out that he’s related to MUCH worse. I’m so sorry he had to see his sister’s true colors…

Yesterday, Indecent Proposal Guy (heretofore referenced as IPG), found out that his sister had him declared incompetent and seized full control of his accounts. He can’t even withdraw $20 from an ATM without asking her. She rather sneakily informed him somehow via cell/voicemail at a time when he was unable to speak (he’s regained that for the moment), so he didn’t find out until after it was done and dusted. I can tell from his instant messages that he’s still the same person he’s always been for years, so I have no idea if just the fact that he has a brain tumor automatically qualifies him as mentally unfit.

Anyway, guess who his sole beneficiary is? Yup, IPG’s sister. She is hoarding her inheritance.¬†And to add insult to injury, she is working with lawyers to seize his computer¬†in order to¬†retrieve IMs, emails, account info, etc. to see if he’s hiding any more money. He’s not – he never thought he’d need to. He’s thinking about wiping his hard drive and loading vile porn for them to sort through. I suggested he load his search history with “how to murder your moneygrubbing sister without leaving a trace”.

I’m shouting as loud as is electronically possible at him to hire his own lawyer. Of course, it would be on…what’s it called, a contingency fee arrangement?… because he has zero access to his money. He was like “the lawyers will end up with all the money”, and I remarked that that was a much better option than his sister getting his hands on it.¬†I half-jokingly¬†suggested he hurry up and get declared incompetent in order to¬†get married. It was kind of a joke, but in light of the extremes his awful sister is going to, he’s thinking it’s not such a terrible idea. It’s the only way either of us can think of to get him back in control over his money, or at least have a say in who holds the legal purse strings. I really want him to consult with a lawyer, but he’s just tired and has constant headaches…not really physically up for a fight like this.

So, what NOT to do when you know you’re dying: Give or leave by default all power and assets to one person, even if you think he/she is a good, solid, decent human being. His parents are dead, he has never been married and has no kids…his sister is it. I didn’t ask him if he’d sorted things out with an estate/family-type lawyer – just assumed he had because he’s a bright man. It also occurred to me a few months ago that mental competency would become an issue at some point…again, I thought it would be insulting or maybe even a cruel reminder of his near-future¬†to ask if he’d planned for that eventuality. I didn’t think it was my place to discuss all this, I didn’t think my words would hold any kind of sway because I’m just a massage therapist whose bones he wants to jump…but I’m really sorry I kept silent.

Black Friday Fizzle

That’s right, no Doorbusters or Midnight Madness for me and mine this year. Okay, so we’ve never done that sort of thing,¬†but we all say we would for the right deal on something we really really wanted. We started our shopping around lunchtime, and by then the parking lots were normal and so were the crowds. Either everyone was pooped from their 4am start, or Black Friday was a fizzler in the suburbs of New Jersey. I’m leaning towards the latter, because I know what it has been like historically.

My brother and I both needed some minor home furnishings – he wanted maroon sheers for his dining room windows plus matching placemats and a runner, I wanted copper curtains and rug for my revamped studio (ditching the blue and purple color scheme for blue and copper, and maybe green). We both found what we wanted at decent prices, though I pulled a nice one by ordering my rug from Home Depot’s website rather than buying it in the store – free delivery trumps lugging it on the train, the rug was discounted 20% online, there was a $5 online coupon code for Black Friday, and I get 7% back through eBates.¬†So $159 got¬†pared down to $112.50.¬†¬†And I was delighted with the curtains because the big built-in rings will be much easier to glide along the rod than my current set.

Oh, I also scored a sale on Christmas stockings at the Dollar Tree. Remember how I agreed to put together 15 stockings for HIV/AIDS-affected women? Well, it looks like the Dollar Tree put last year’s cheap stockings on half-price discount, so I got 15 for $7.50. Very happy with that.

I spent Saturday at my aunt’s for whatever you might call a meal that starts at 3pm, and solved a little problem I didn’t realize I had brewing. The chemicals that they spray my apartment with as part of the bedbug treatment, though environmentally friendly and surprisingly natural (e.g. rosemary essential oil), hit me kind of hard. I’m getting my third and final bedbug cryo-blast and pesticide spray on Friday. About an hour or two after the treatment, I’m supposed to open the windows and leave the apartment for at least 30 minutes while the place airs out. It’s not going to air out enough to avoid the nauseous headaches by bedtime, so…I offered my cousin in Brooklyn Heights (the one who gave me the $50 Starbucks gift card for giving his wife a massage last summer) my babysitting services so they could go have a Date Night. My fee would be permission to spend the night on their couch, and they could stay out and pretend like they weren’t parents all night if they want. A win-win situation!

On my way back into the city, I decided to hop into the K-mart by Penn Station to pick up paint since I had the curtains with me…uh, the curtains…uh-oh. Crap. I left them on the overhead luggage rack on the train. The train that, uncharacteristically (meaning¬†I’ve been using NJ Transit for over 20 years and had no idea they ran trains to Connecticut??), was continuing on to New Haven and not sitting idle for 20 minutes while it reloaded.¬†I spat, I cursed, I growled, I texted, then I hopped the subway home and submitted a Lost & Found claim form on the NJ Transit website in case there was some good karma going around.

Fingers crossed.

How a Delinquent Loan Saved Me Money

The sister formerly known as Bridezilla (who turned out to be anything but) borrowed $7000 from me in early 2006 to buy a good second-hand 4WD car to get her to and from college in the Rockies. She swore she’d pay me back within a year, I knew that wouldn’t happen. She did manage to pay me back $1000, and I was happy to defer repayment until she got her first nursing job. She started in early August, got married in September, and I just got my first repayment check for $300. It came folded in a notecard that said, “Thank you for believing in me.”

She has apologized on and off over the years about not fulfilling her promise to pay me back, letting me know she hadn’t forgotten. Well, last year I thanked her profusely for not repaying me on time, because I’d have most likely had the money in the stock market and lost more than half of it. Given my complete lack of luck with long-term choices, I wouldn’t have recovered much in this uptick. So thank you, Newlywedzilla, for preserving my capital!