The ABCs of Affording Preschool [Updated]

The preschool application process for kids three to five is quite an eye opener for many parents. If you’re like me, you had no idea that getting your child into her first preschool program could be just about as involved as applying to college. Enjoy this updated article about how to afford tuition more easily.

When to Start Looking

In many areas, the demand for preschool outpaces supply, so it pays to start your research early. I’ve heard stories of some parents putting their children on the preschool waiting list before they were born! Hopefully things won’t be so extreme in your town. Still, it’s smart to start researching preschools a year ahead and plan on touring schools and submitting applications at the beginning of the year in which you’d like your child to start. Most schools offer open houses and enrollment periods as early as January.

How Much?

Accompanying the question of how to get your child into a good program (for most of us anyway), is the equally important consideration of how you’ll afford it.

A recent survey of Parents magazine readers who use child care reveals that 84 percent of surveyed parents feel that finding affordable, quality care is either a challenge, very hard, or impossible. And yet despite the challenge of finding affordable care “only about 23 percent of moms and 3 percent of dads stay home full-time with their kids.”

It’s no wonder parents have a hard time. Preschool tuition costs generally run anywhere from about $250 to $1000 per month. That’s $3000 to $12,000 a year. Yikes! That price varies wildly according to your region, the type of preschool and the number of hours per week your child will attend.

Some types of childcare tend to be more affordable than others. Church-based preschools are some of the most affordable schools around. Whereas a local Montessori school in my area charged around $1000 a month, the church-based school we loved charged less than $300. Co-ops tend to be more affordable, too, but require a time commitment from parents. Even if your school’s not a co-op, see if you can work off a portion of your tuition by spending a few hours per week at the school.

The cost of full time care for a pre-K kiddo in my state (Georgia) is around $500 a month. You can find out average childcare expenses in your state here (.pdf) Note: The cost may be more manageable if you can pay in installments. Look for a school that lets you pay monthly rather than asking for a year’s tuition up front or in two payments.

Important Questions for Potential Schools

Schools are pretty upfront about how much they charge. Still, there are a few crucial questions you should ask potential schools before you make any committments. They’ll help you avoid sticker shock later.

  • Ask about scholarships and tuition assistance.
  • Ask if you can get a discount when you enroll more than one child at a time.
  • Ask about activity and materials fees and any other fees beyond tuition that you’ll be asked to pay.
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Fun Ways to Patch Your Kids’ Pants

When my son was around 3 or 4 he started spending lots of time outside on his knees–playing in the sandbox, dirt, etc.

Needless (kneedless?) to say, the knees of his pants didn’t even have  a chance. They were getting holes waaaay before he outgrew them.

Oh the money we could have saved if I had known about these cute and creative monster knee patch ideas. When I saw them on Pinterest, I just had to share (click the images to go to see them on Pinterest and find links to tutorials).

And these are cute, too!

How about you? Do you patch the knees of your kids’ clothes? What’s your most creative idea?

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Excerpt from The BC Guide to Bargains: Be Smart: Register for the Essentials

We’re less than 30 days from the launch of my first book, The Baby Cheapskate Guide to Bargains. Huzzah!

During April I’ll be publishing a series of excerpts in an effort to get YOU just as excited about it as I am. The first one, below, offers tips on saving on baby stuff through creating a registry. I hope you enjoy it!

Be Smart: Register for the Essentials

My very best tip for creating a registry is to focus on the items on the “need” list you created based on the tips in the last chapter. Especially important to include on your registry are items that you don’t think you’ll be getting for free or purchasing secondhand. That includes things like car seats, along with diapers, wipes, and other not-so-glamorous items. A case (or five) of diapers may not have the same “Awwwwww” factor as a tiny pink dress, buy you’ll be glad later to have the diapers.

By registering for essentials, you won’t be stuck handing over money for items you can’t live without while you have a closetful of adorable newborn clothes that will be outgrown in two weeks and rattles that your baby may or may not ever give a shake about. Skip the War and Peace–sized registry checklists offered by retailers. They’re packed with nonessentials.

10 Baby “Needs” Worth Registering For

  • Crib
  • Crib mattress
  • Crib bedding
  • Diapers (cloth or disposable)/wipes
  • Formula (if you plan to use it)
  • Breast pump
  • Bottles
  • Disposable or washable breast pads
  • Car seat
  • Baby thermometer

If you’re not into scouting for secondhand items, consider adding some of these popular big-ticket extras, like strollers, to your registry so that you won’t have to pay for them out of pocket later. Friends and family can go in together on items that would be too expensive otherwise. We’ll talk about these big-ticket extras—cribs, strollers, and so on—in more detail later in the book.

10 Popular Extras Worth Registering For

  • Baby carrier
  • Stroller
  • Portable play yard
  • Bouncer
  • Swing
  • Diaper bag
  • Diaper pail
  • Baby monitor
  • Nursing cover
  • Swaddling blankets or swaddling gowns

If (and only if) you have the room to store them, it’s also helpful to register for things you’ll need a few months down the road, like a high chair. If you’re short on space, consider adding gift cards to your registry so that you can pick up gear and other items as your baby reaches the age where she can use them.

Look for another excerpt next week! Want to be one of the first to get it? The book (paper and Kindle version) is available for preorder now.

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A Common Sense Guide to Baby Proofing Your Home

When you think your baby is about to get mobile, it’s time to shift into baby proofing mode.

I remember the first time I saw a catalog from One Step Ahead. I was shocked at how many baby proofing gadgets are on the market. I was confused, too. Did I need all of them? Only some of them? Which ones?

Exactly how much baby proofing you’ll need to do depend on your baby’s personality, your parenting style, and the particulars of your home. Some babies are real explorers, and some aren’t as adventurous. Some are climbers, and some simply aren’t. Some of us never leave our babies’ side as they play, and some of us have other things to attend to from time to time–like other kids–and can’t watch the baby every second. Above all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Start figuring out what you’ll need to do by exploring your home on your hands and knees to get a “baby’s eye view”. That way you can identify areas and objects of concern. You’ll get an even clearer idea of what needs to be done as you watch your baby’s first attempts to explore the house.

Here are eight easy, and inexpensive first steps to take to baby proof your home. I’ve linked to products at Amazon so that you can check them out.

  • Move cleaning supplies, medicines, paints, glues, solvents and other chemicals out of baby’s reach. The same goes for sharp objects (scissors, knives, tools, etc.), firearms, breakable objects, and some electronics. Sometimes this just means moving items from a lower cabinet or drawer to a higher one. If this isn’t practical, try cabinet and drawer locks.
  • Your toddler will figure out how to turn a doorknob sooner than you think, so doorknob covers are pretty handy. You’ll also want to make sure windows can’t be opened.
  • Pay special attention to the kitchen and bathroom. If the entire room is off limits, you can keep the door closed or use a baby gate. If your baby will have access to either room, don’t forget to secure your oven door, dishwasher door, fridge door, and toilet lid (some ovens and dishwashers have built-in locks). Turn down your hot water heater’s temperature to about 120 degrees F to prevent scalding–no purchase necessary.
  • Secure bookcases, dressers, televisions and other pieces of any furniture baby can pull up on to the wall to prevent tipping. You can buy special straps that attach to the top or back of the piece and then to the wall.
  • Cover electrical outlets to prevent insertion of little fingers and everything else. (and don’t forget about outlets in power strips). We used the inexpensive plastic pronged kind for our outlets and they worked fine for us. It’s also a great idea to throw a few extra plug-in outlet covers into your diaper bag for trips to grandma’s house, hotel rooms, etc.
  • Prevent falls on stairs if you have them by installing a baby gate at the top and/or bottom of the stairs. I think simple is best. We had a fancy (and expensive) remote-controlled  one and it drove us bonkers because it didn’t unlatch dependably. Consignment sales and stores are great places to find deals on baby gates (and other baby proofing items, too).
  • Remove strangulation hazards like mini blind cords, electric cords and other dangling objects from your tot’s reach. Watch out for items like table cloths, too. If your baby pulls on them items resting on top of them can fall on her.
  • Cover sharp edges of fireplace hearths and the edges of furniture to prevent a trip to the emergency room for stitches. You can buy foam covers and guards or you can improvise your own. We used a folded up comforter to cover the edge of our hearth. You can also cut open a pool noodle to cover the edge of a coffee table.

While I can’t tell you precisely what you need to do to baby proof your home, I can say with certainty that you do NOT need to spend a mint buying every single baby proofing doodad. Let common sense and awareness be your most powerful tools. And when in doubt, remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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10 Best Baby Products of 2011

Which baby products are definitely worth buying? Ask the masses!

Yesterday I asked BC Facebook Fans to give me their nominations for “Best Baby Product of 2011.” Here are the ten baby products that made fans’ lives easier this year (listed more or less in order of popularity). I’ve linked to each product at Amazon so that you can find out more about it.

And great news! 7 of the top 10 items below are around $50 or less.

Runners Up: Medela Pump in Style Electric Breast Pump, Sophie the Giraffe, Beco Butterfly 2 carrier, Fisher-Price Jumperoo, Wubbanub

If you take a look at last year’s list of top products, you’ll see that this year’s list features some repeat performers as well as some new items.

What would you add to the list?

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How to Haggle Your Way into Holiday Savings [Shopping Secrets]

Most of us have a little experience with haggling, whether it’s buying a car or a house, or scoring some deals at a great garage sale. Did you know you can successfully haggle your way into savings at the mall and at retail stores?

I’ve read lots of articles about how haggling for retail goods really works, but I guess I’m a shrinking violet because I’ve never tried it. It seems like I’m not alone. Yesterday on BC’s Facebook page I asked readers if they had tried haggling at a retail store. 58% of the folks who responded said they hadn’t tried it. But you know what? Of those who had, ALL had been successful.

You’ll see a similar statistic in articles about haggling. The majority of shoppers who have the gumption to ask to ask for a better price, get one. My interest piqued, I pored over recent articles about haggling to find out how it’s done.

Here’s how haggle your way into retail savings.

Understand This Before You Shop:

First, understand that prices aren’t set in stone even though it may seem that way. It’s also important to realize that you’re not going to upset the salesperson or manager if you ask for a discount. As MainStreet.com contributor Matt Brownwell states in his Ultimate Guide to Haggling, “Retailers mark up a product considerably over its wholesale price, which means that even when you factor in the costs of operating a store, there’s still plenty of room for a retailer to discount an item and still turn a profit.” And that’s what salespeople and managers are there to do. They can generally still make a profit if they offer you that  extra discount. And if that’s what it takes to make a sale, that’s what they’re probably going to do, says Tory Johnson at ABCNews.go.com.

And what if the item you want is already on sale? Don’t think that there’s no way a store will go lower. Bob Frick of Kiplinger.com says that “Sales are signs that a price is no longer fixed.” That said, don’t expect stores to cut prices in half. Though you may get luckier, figure on saving an extra 10% to 20% off the price on the tag. Considering that shoppers spent an average of $811 on holiday purchases last year, according to Time magazine, 10% to 20%’s not chump change.

Haggling dos and don’ts:

  • Consumer Reports suggests focusing your haggling efforts late in the month when salespeople are working hard to meet sales quotas. Another great time to try is when sales are slow. During the holidays, you’ll probably have the best success if you wait until late in the season when stores start to get antsy about holiday sales. Black Friday will be too busy and the store will probably feel its discounts are low enough already.
  • Start your negotiations with sales floor team member or salesperson. If you don’t have any luck there, go higher up. Don’t go straight over the salesperson’s head at first, however. It’s insulting to the employee and can make it harder for you to get the deal. Keep in mind, too, that Employees at small stores may have more power to change prices than those at the big chains.
  • Be respectful and avoid negativity when dealing with store personnel. You want to seem friendly and confident (but not pushy). Don’t draw attention to your haggling efforts, says Consumer Reports.
  • Be low key and try not to attract attention to what you’re doing. The person you’re dealing with won’t want to offer the deal to everybody in the store.

What to say:

  • Compliment the item and talk about how useful it would be to you. Tell the salesperson or manager what your budget is and see what happens. Above all, be polite.
  • Ask when the item will go on sale. They may tell you, or discount the item by the future sale discount amount to get you to buy then.
  • Ask questions directly, says Kiplinger, “Could you do better?” “Is there a coupon for this?” Credit Karma suggests asking the salesperson, “What would you do in my situation?”
  • Offer to pay in cash. That’s appealing to stores because it’s a sure thing, and because they won’t have to pay fees for credit card transactions.

Try these techniques:

  • If the box or package is missing (i.e. floor model), open, dented, missing instructions, or otherwise imperfect, ask for a discount on those grounds. The same goes for “scratch and dent” items. (Kiplinger.com)
  • Even if a store doesn’t advertise that they price match, it doesn’t hurt to try. Don’t tell them that’s what you want, though. Credit Karma suggests asking for the discount first, and pull out your info if you need to. Show the salesperson or manager a price you found online or at another store.
  • Try haggling for better deals on perishable food items like bakery items or meat that are close to their expiration date (Kiplinger.com)
  • Discontinued or clearance items may be easy targets for successful haggling because the store wants to get rid of them. The same is true for end-of-season items. You can probably get an extra discount on Christmas stockings, for example, right after Christmas.
  • Offer to buying in bulk. Tell salespeople you want to buy a case of something instead of one or two. The extra volume means stores can make up losses from the discount they give you (MainStreet.com)

And a final caveat: You might have a hard time if it’s one of those stores that tries to get you to sign up for a credit card (like Macy’s or Kohl’s, for example). Because salespeople gain from the number of sign ups they process, they may make it a prerequisite for any discount they’re willing to offer, says MainStreet.com.

Read More:

So what do you think? Want to try haggling next time you go shopping? If you do, let me know how it turned out!

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Looking Back: Black Friday Toy Deal Highlights from 2010

Black Friday is coming soon. We’ve seen the ads from many of the stores, but not the big A.

Curious about what toy deals Amazon offered last year? Here’s a list of some of the toy deals I posted last Black Friday weekend (in this post and this one). Remember, these are from last year. Hopefully, they’re an indicator of the deals we’ll see next week.

What are some of the Amazon deals you remember from last year?

Related:

 

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5 Baby Items You’d Be Crazy to Pay Full Price For

Sometimes I think readers think I’m exaggerating when I say never to pay full price. I’m not! It’s true that some items, like ERGObaby carriers and BOB strollers are pretty hard to find on sale, but there are many items that are nearly ALWAYS on sale. I’ve put together a short list of them (based on prices at Amazon):

You’d be seriously nuts to pay list price for the items on this list:

  • Disposable diapers and wipes: The fact that diapers and wipes are always on sale somewhere is one of the top reasons I started the Baby Cheapskate blog in the first place. Right now at Amazon we’re seeing some of the lowest prices on diapers since I started the blog nearly six years ago. Let’s say there’s a six-cent difference between the full price of a diaper and the price YOU pay. At eight diapers per day, your smart shopping would save you $175 over the course of a year. NEVER pay full price for diapers.
  • Graco cribs are rarely full price. The super-popular Lauren crib lists for $175.99. Over the last 15 months, it’s spent maybe 30 of the last 450 days at that price (around 7%). More often, it’s 15% to 20% off.
  • Baby monitors: Top selling baby monitors from Summer Infant and Philips AVENT are constantly discounted. The Philips AVENT Digital Video Baby Monitor, for example, lists for $219.99. It’s been at least 10% less than that at Amazon for nearly a year. With the exception of a few days, it’s been 20% or more off list price for the past six months, and it’s been around 30% off or more for the past two months.

The Summer Infant Day and Night Handheld Color Video Monitor is the same way. It lists for $179.99. In the last three years it looks like it’s spent only about 3% of the time at list price. It hasn’t come within 6% of list price in the past year. It’s usually more than 20% off and fairly often more than 30% off.

  • Skip Hop diaper bags are also less than full price most of the time. List price on the popular Duo Deluxe bag in the Wave Dot pattern is $58, but it’s generally at least 15% less than that. In fact, it’s only sold for list price during around 30 of the past 500 days or so.
  • Fisher-Price baby gear. It’s easy to find great deals on popular Fisher Price baby gear items. The Jumperoo, one of the most popular pieces of gear, is always on sale. The Rainforest Jumperoo lists for $95.99. What!?! According to CamelCamelCamel, it has NEVER cost that much at Amazon since it showed up there in 2008. Most of the time it’s been at least 20% less than that. It’s been 24% off or more for most of the last six months. Right now, it’s at over 30% off at $65.

There are many, many, MANY more items that, like the ones above, are usually well below list price.

So what’s my point? Simply that smart shoppers will ignore list price. Instead, use price-tracking sites like CamelCamelCamel.com and feedback from other parents to find out what the real price usually is. Then you’ll have a much better idea of what to pay.

What are some baby items that you always see on sale?

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Find Sales Near You with Yard Sale Treasure Map

I found out about this site in a magazine I was reading recently. Real Simple or ShopSmart, I think? It’s pretty cool if you like scouting for deals at yard sales.

Yard Sale Treasure Map is a planning tool that lets you find  sales near you and plan the most efficient route to hit all of them. It takes all the sales listed on your local Craigslist board and puts them on a map. To use the site, simply type in your city, choose the number of miles you want it to search, and go.

You can even search the sales for particular items, like baby gear. Simply type in what you’re looking for and you’ll see a list of sales that have it.

Add your own stops (lunch! Starbucks!), add sales you found on sources other than Craigslist, and remove any sales that don’t interest you. The final step is to print driving directions of your optimized route.

Pretty cool, huh!? There’s also an app for iPhone and Android (Thanks Amy!).

Related:

Yard Sale Shopping Tips for Pregnant Folks

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How-To Tuesday: How to Spend Less. Period.

Screen shot 2013-09-06 at 1.10.01 PMWelcome to another How-To Tuesday. Today I’m sharing ways to avoid over-spending on baby products (and everything else).

You’ll find a ton of posts on this blog for items you can buy at big discounts, but the truth is, I don’t want you to buy everything I post on this blog or on the Facebook page. The very first post I ever posted on Baby Cheapskate was called “Don’t Buy It.” That’s because the real secret to saving big bucks on baby stuff is only buying what you need. Of course, that’s like saying that the secret to having a healthy diet is avoiding junk food. Easier said than done, right?

What drives us to buy what we don’t need?

Like overeating, overspending is usually an attempt to fill an emotional need:

  • Retail therapy helps some of us feel in control of those crazy new-baby days. If we can just buy the right product our baby will sleep through the night  / be fully potty-trained by a year old / become a national chess champion at the age of three…. If only it worked that way.
  • Some of us feel like if we’re not giving our kids the latest model of the hottest baby items out there, we’re somehow shortchanging them (or ourselves).  In reality, children need sooo much less than we think they do. They thrive with nothing more than your love and a few other necessities.
  • As a culture, we are rarely content with what we have. We value consumption and competition. We want the best stroller at the playground, but the larger cup holder of the 2011 model really bring you joy?
  • Scoring a bargain often gives us a drug-like thrill (and for up to 5% of the population, shopping is a real addiction). It feels good, but only for a moment. Like devouring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s alone in one sitting, the pleasure quickly replaced by guilt and lowered self-esteem.
  • Some of us shop because we get bored and maybe a little lonely cooped up in the house with a baby. Shopping gives us places to go and people to see.
  • Some us find we’ve bought something on impulse before we’ve had time to think about whether we should. With the added pressure of “buy it now or lose out”, one-day only and flash-sale sites can be a real danger to those already prone to spending impulsively.

So what do you do about it?

Avoiding impulsive and emotional spending is a lot like avoiding impulsive and emotional eating. Here are four techniques that can help:

  • Keep a spending diary, and write down what you spend every time you buy something, no matter how small it is. This forces you to become conscious of what’s actually happening. Write down ALL your purchases for a week. At the end of the week, go through each item on your list and think about how you feel about the purchase now. Do you regret it? Did it make you happy? If it was an impulsive purchase, think about what may have triggered it. Then try to avoid those triggers
  • Realize that you don’t need to be prepared for everything. Let an actual need arise…and then deal with it then.
  • Try to control impulsive spending by refusing to buy anything without a self-imposed “cooling off” period. Try putting the item in your cart and then doing nothing. Wait a few hours (or days) before you buy. This gives you time to think about WHY you want to buy the item.
  • Set goals and post them near your computer or in your wallet along with questions like “Do I really need it?” and “What will happen if I don’t buy it.”

Who was it that said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”? The same applies to spending. The fleeting high of a purchase pales in comparison with how good it feels to have a healthy bank balance. Choose to spend your money on baby products that are in line with your family’s needs and values rather than on items that will end up sitting in the closet unused.

Readers, share your tips for avoiding unnecessary spending in the comments!

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