Saturday, July 31, 2010

Test Driving

Since finding out that #2 is on the way, we knew that eventually we would need to get a new vehicle.  Our second vehicle does not have the latch system at the base, so with two car seats, it would be difficult to keep the kids safe.  We decided in March that July would be a great time to look at vehicles because last year’s model would still be new, but the next year’s models would be released and perhaps available.  We decided that we were really interested in some type of hybrid car because of the gas mileage, so we are thinking that a newer vehicle is the way to go for us.  Although the Toyota Prius has great gas mileage, we ruled that one out because of the safety issues with Toyota in the last year.

On Wednesday, we went to test drive three vehicles – Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid, and VW Jetta TDI.  Our qualifications for the vehicles we chose to test drive ranked in the following order: Safety, Available Space, Gas Mileage, Price, Overall Maintenance Cost, Features.  The Sonata and Altima were recently featured in Consumer Reports for best family sedans and we saw a TDI advertisement for 43 mpg, so we thought we would at least test drive it.  At this time, the Sonata Hybrid has not been released, but we thought if we decided on the Sonata, we would wait until this fall when the hybrid version is released.

We brought the infant car seat, toddler car seat, and BOB jogging stroller.

We wanted to be sure that we could fit our regular items with some room to spare (especially in the front seat for our knees).  The available space has the highest ranking on our list (of course, after safety) because if we are not able to comfortably drive the vehicle with our two kids in the back seat, it’s not the right vehicle for our life.

Here is what we determined:

Sonata - all around a great car for the price.  We were able to test drive a 2011 Sonata, not a hybrid, but the dealership indicated that these would likely arrive in Minnesota some time this winter.  We really liked the available features and it had lots of space in the trunk and back seat.  However, one of the cons was that the hybrid would have a smaller trunk, so that probably wouldn't work, but the Sonata has great gas mileage without the hybrid technology, so we really liked this vehicle.  In fact, my husband wanted to get it right away, but being the planner I am, I convinced him that we needed to test drive some more vehicles.

Altima - it has great features, but the regular Altima gas mileage doesn't cut it for our requirements, so we immediately had to look at 2009 used hybrids.  The first one had a funky smell, which I couldn't get over.  I will blame that on the pregnancy.  The second one was really nice, but then we looked in the trunk.  We could barely get our jogging stroller in and there would be no room for anything else, so that ruled out the Altima.

Jetta TDI - great vehicle, but you have to be willing to find diesel.  The Jetta TDI runs on diesel, so it has unbelievable gas mileage.  The advertised mileage is 31 city/40 highway, but the Jetta SportWagen TDI holds the world record at 58.8 mpg, which also has advertised mileage of 31/40.  Once we found out more about the new diesel regulations in the US, we examined the vehicle.  From the outside it is surprising compact, but in the interior, it has lots of space and a huge trunk.  The TDI version also has a lot of upgrades in the interior.
Our top ranked choice is the Jetta TDI. Here are the main reasons we decided on the Jetta TDI - the overall space, unbelievable gas mileage, solid construction, and amazing power.  There are a few small items that we had to give on – price is on our high end and the middle console is really small with the digital radio/navigation system.  However, we still have a few vehicles to test drive to be sure that we have made the right decision.

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, check out Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for the safety ratings for your potential vehicles.  You will need to look at past models, but it should give you a good indication of the manufacturer's quality of design.

Stayed tuned for our final decision.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Circles and Stripes

After searching many blogs and interior design websites, I have decided that the theme in the kids’ room will be circles and stripes.  I have found what I think will be perfect bedding from  However, I need to wait for the bedding to arrive to match or coordinate green paint for the walls.  Hopefully, it will arrive soon, so we can get moving on the painting.  The bunk beds are ready for the final sanding which will happen over the next two weeks and then staining, so they should be complete by the end of August.

I decided to order two sets of twins sheets, one stripes and one circles for the bunk beds.  I am still determining what color comforter I will pair with these, so more to come on that.  For the bunk beds, I am going to use this curtain to make throw pillows.  I am thinking maybe a couple 16x16 pillows and 20x20 pillows, so the kids can lay on these in the room.  The pillows should add lots of color to the room too.  As for the bunk beds, more to come of the comforters and making the pillows.

As for the bedding, we decided that we would reuse most of the bedding that we had with our son, but I couldn’t resist picking up a new bed sheet to match the theme of the room.  The bed sheet is the same as one for the bunk beds, so the two areas should tie together well.  We also decided to pick up this matching changing pad.  If there is any extra fabric from the curtains, I might also make a blanket for the crib.  I ordered two curtains, so I am hoping there is some extra, depending on how many pillows and the size of each pillow.

So far that’s what we have decided on for the bedding, but there will be more to come as the room comes together.

So, how did we decide on this bedding?

I looked through a lot of pictures to find modern ideas that fit a neutral, modern kids’ room.  Circles and stripes were a bit theme through many of the pictures that I found, but the challenge is mixing these together in a cohesive way.  While searching bedding at, this set was perfect.  The set has circles and stripes in one pattern, but I could also find coordinating striped bedding. It helped that the bedding was available in both twin size bedding and infant crib bedding.

There are many ways that you could go.  We started by determining that we wanted to paint the room green, but we needed to find bedding that included green so we could coordinate that color.  We looked for inspiration and found that circles and stripes were fun and modern.  We used this pattern in ways that we can easily change – bedding, accessories, but will have a major impact on the room.  However, another idea would be a specific color and finding fun accessories to go with this.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post on how we tied the circle and stripe theme to the decorations throughout the room, all while putting personal touches on the art.

Oh, and on this order, I spent around $119 $99 (I forgot that I ordered an extra set of sheets that I ended up returning), but saved over $40. Overall, well below our budget. Crust is cutoff…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pens and Paper

Although pens aren’t on our school supply list, I know that middle school kids will use pens just as often as pencils, so when I saw this deal at Staples, I couldn’t resist.  Now through Wednesday, Staples has an 8 pack of Bic pens for a penny with a $5 minimum purchase (limit 2).  So far, the teacher limits for the penny deals have been 25, so I am hoping for that again this week.  I am planning on heading to my local Staples tonight or tomorrow night.  Here is my plan: 25 packs of pens for a penny (because of the increased teacher limit) and two reams of paper.  The paper is $4.99 with a $4.98 rebate, so after getting the rebate back only a penny.  The total out of pocket will be $10.23 + tax, but after getting the rebate back only tax + $.27. So for $.25 (+ a little tax), we will be able to supply my husband’s classroom with 200 pens.  I will keep the paper at home.

Continuing to stretch our budget by cutting the crust off high-priced school supplies…


We are still working through getting everything ready for the kids' bedroom, but we have decided on furniture.

We agreed on espresso colored furniture to tie in with the rest of our place. Since our first crib was a drop-side, we purchased a new crib.  I searched high and low to find a crib that was modern, but good quality.  The lesson we learned since having our son is that cribs are expensive, but usually not high quality.

I found Knock Off Wood through one of the many blogs that I read and really like these bunk beds.  Initially I thought that with a little help from my husband and sisters, I would be able to build these.  So we ventured to Home Depot, where I fell in love with some high quality wood, which was a little more expensive than I had budgeted.  So, on to plan B – a call to my dad.  Five months later, we have bunk beds that are done a thousand times better than I would have ever been able to do.  I will have pictures to post soon.  We are going to stain these in espresso to match the other furniture for the kids room.

Now, onto the crib. For about five seconds, I thought about building one, or having my dad build one, but that was quickly subsided when my husband reminded me of the expensive lumber from Home Depot.  So I quickly turned to reading many blogs and websites.  After hours of looking, I found Romina Kids Furniture.

We loved the design of the Ventianni collection.  Clean lines and minimalist look with all of the great features we were looking for – solid wood, eco-friendly, and solid to last for years.  Next, we researched like crazy online to see if this was the one that we wanted. After looking through more blogs and websites, we decided this was the finalist.  Next, we went to check this out at the only store in Minnesota that carries this brand – USA Baby.  When we first drove up, I was a little skeptical.  However, once inside, they have a great selection of furniture.  We looked at the Romina furniture and we were sold.  However, the price was a little steep, so we looked through a few more sets and decided that nothing compared to the quality and look of Romina.

We talked to the sales associate and decided that we could save quite a bit of money if we waited a month to order, but that would mean with the 10-12 week shipment timeframe, the baby might be here before we have the crib. But, we were willing to wait for this quality and as many of you know, I am a deal shopper, so I had to take advantage of a sale.

We decided to order the crib that coverts to a twin bed,

the 6 drawers chest,

the 5 drawers chest,

and a nightstand.

The nightstand will go next to the bunk beds and the kids will share the two dressers.  When these arrive (hopefully only two more months), I will post pictures of these items in the bedroom.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sticky Situation

I stopped in at Staples earlier this week to take advantage of the penny glue bottles.  Although my husband preferred glue sticks, we decided that penny glue bottles were too good of a deal to pass up.  We will still be on the look-out for a good deal on glue sticks, but the glue bottles will help supplement the art projects.  As part of this deal, I needed to spend another $5.  Normally, I plan out my shopping lists to a “T” and even have back-up plans.  However, this trip was more spontaneous, so I went in with no game plan.

I verified that the teacher limit for the glue bottles was in fact 25, so I headed to count out the bottles.  I was so excited, but a little nervous as I didn’t have a plan for the additional $5 and I had my preschooler in tote, so there was no telling how much time I had before he would have a break down.  Together we quickly counted out 25 glue bottles.  Then, I quickly grabbed the ad to look for the best deals.  I noticed that copy paper was on-sale with a rebate for $1, but the register price would be about $5 a piece.  After thinking about it, when I buy a case of copier paper, there are 10 reams, and my buy price for it is around $20, so $2 per ream.  So, if I picked up 2 reams of paper and 25 glue bottle, my out of pocket cost would be a little over $10, plus I would get around $8 back in rebates by check.  Plus, I could use the reams of paper for printing all of my online coupons.  Overall, our school supplies list totals $.75, plus a little tax.

The outcome was that I was able to quickly access the best deal for the items that we needed while maintaining a preschooler’s interest and getting in and out of the store in a matter of minutes.  As an added bonus, I was able to spend quality time with my preschooler while getting items checked off my ever growing list, and we both had a great time counting the glue bottles.

Pencils, folders and glue (partially) checked off the list… continuing to cut the crust off in our school supply budget.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Modern Kids' Bedroom

Since we found out that number two was on the way, our first challenge was to figure out where all of the baby items would be stored.  Living in the city is challenging and fun in many different ways, but one of the biggest challenges is space.  We are constantly evaluating our belongings to see if there is a better way to organize or utilize space.  Through this process with baby items, we replaced some items with items that can be collapsed to be stored under beds or in a closet.  However, the biggest factor in being able to fit all of the items in our place was elimination.  Over the last two months, we have slowly paired down our belongings through trips to Goodwill and the recycling center.

The next task was to figure out how we would decorate the kids’ room. We are lucky to have three bedrooms in the city, so we wanted to keep the third bedroom as an office, guest room and lounge all wrapped in one, so that means that the kids are sharing a bedroom.

So on to the tricky part. We don’t know if baby #2 is a girl or boy, so we need a neutral kids’ room. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll post about the transition from plain preschool boy room to fun, modern kids’ room to suit two boys or a boy and a girl. As a sneak peak, our main color will be green (or at least that’s what we think) and we are trying to focus on organic items within our budget.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

School Supplies

Our family has a goal of only spending dollars on school supplies. Originally, I had set a budget of $100. However, after seeing all of the great deals, I am hoping that we can stay under $20, and depending how good the deals are maybe even $10.

Here's our list:
  • Pencils
  • Composition Notebooks
  • Thin Markers
  • Pencil Sharpeners
  • Folders
  • Scissors
  • Glue (sticks and bottles)
  • Small Post-Its
  • Kleenexes
  • Hand Sanitizer
So far, we have picked up pencils, 8 packs for $.01 each, and folders $.01 each. We found these at Staples last week. The limit was two, but since my husband is a teacher, we were able to get 25 for a penny. So for 200 pencils and 25 folders, we paid $.50. Also, this week glue bottles are $.01 each with a limit of 2, so I am hoping for teachers this is a limit of 25. I'll keep you updated.
We try to find lots of supplies for my husband's classroom for kids that either don't have supplies or need more throughout the year. Also, I am hoping that I can find some good deals on crayons for our kids' daycare to donate. If you don't have kids in school yet or are able to afford picking up a few extra school supplies, there are a lot of teachers that pay for their own supplies, so think about picking up a few extras and donating them to those districts most in need.
Continuing to cut the crust off in our budget...