How to Shop Costco

Mr. ThreeYear and I fell in love with Costco when we lived in Atlanta. It was conveniently located, the prices were great, and you could occasionally find very good deals on cool items for your yard or your house. But in New Hampshire, the closest Costco was over an hour away. So, for eight years, when we lived in New Hampshire, I occasionally shopped BJ’s Wholesale Club (we could get a discount membership through Mr. ThreeYear’s work). But it really wasn’t the same.

Fast forward to December, 2019, when my good friend and fellow deal lover took me to the newly-opened Costco near our house. I bought a membership that day, loaded up my buggie, and several hundred dollars later, decided I needed some ground rules regarding how I shopped at Costco.

Only Shop with a List

First of all, if you are browsing in Costco, prepare to check out with a much-higher grocery bill than you planned. You will be tempted by the fourteen-pack of ready-to-eat Indian Chana Masala, the chocolate-covered almonds, or whatever your weakness is. Costco is a master at products that entice you to buy them when you weren’t planning on it. I think their products have some weird electronic signal that attracts you to them.

Instead, when you go into the store, have a list of what you’re planning to buy. It’s okay if your list is vague, like “Boys’ Pants”–sometimes you don’t know exactly what they have for sale–but have an idea, and a price range, of the items you’re looking for. Otherwise, you will buy things you don’t need.

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Our Half-Bath Makeover

I decided to budget a portion of our end-of-the-year bonus to updating our downstairs half-bathroom.

It was in terrible need of a refresh, since it had holes in the walls, mismatched paint, and dated fixtures. It was not a place I wanted to welcome guests when they came over.

Still, I knew the bones of the room were good, and it had a decent pedestal sink, so I felt pretty confident we could get by with a cosmetic makeover.

I’d always wanted to try peel and stick wallpaper, and I thought it would cover the holes in the sheetrock without me having to do much, so I decided to incorporate it into my budget.

Still, I wasn’t exactly sure how much everything was going to cost. I priced out a few fixtures online, a new light (the current one was a 90s monstrosity of painted-rust vines), and some wallpaper, and ended up with a budget of $650. I figured that would probably do it, but decided I could budget more later if I needed to.

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The No Spend Month: How’d We Do?

In January, we learned we had to replace our downstairs HVAC system to the tune of about $8,000. We decided, after that big spend, that a no-spend month was in order.

So we deemed February our no-spend month. We would not spend money in any category other than food, gas, and essential bills. The idea was to use the money we didn’t spend to replenish our savings after spending so much on the furnace.

How did we do?

Well, it felt like we did terrible. We didn’t take the no-spend month very seriously, especially towards the end of the month, and we broke a lot of our rules about spending.

Still, we managed to save quite a bit of money, so despite our mediocre performance, I’d still call the month a win. And I feel like we have some momentum to keep going in March, so we are going to keep saving.

Two wins: Junior ThreeYear decided to stop swimming with his expensive swim team and is now running track, which doesn’t have a monthly cost. We saved money in lawn care because it was February and no lawn care was needed.

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February Musings

Do you ever get that feeling of existential dread that runs down your belly and into your legs, leaving everything numb? I’m having that now. I think it’s anxiety-related, due to me not being at work during the middle of the day (because I wasn’t scheduled for any classes) and feeling guilty about it.

Aren’t humans weird? I have no reason to feel guilty, no reason to feel bad. It’s all in my head but I can’t shake it. I know this, but the feelings remain.

Seems like every winter about this time I write a post about how much I hate winter. It isn’t just lip service. My body chemistry changes in the winter and I wrestle, in a real way, with depression. Luckily mine is seasonal and usually dissipates right around the time that Spring begins, something that occurs much earlier in NC than it did in NH. So I know this is a temporary feeling.

It still makes me question everything, every year. It makes me cranky and short-tempered. It makes me want to drop all responsibilities and move to a tropical island.

Every single year, I tell myself I need to book a vacation in February.

And every single year, I do not do it. My current excuse is that I don’t have any time off in February. While this is true, there is a long weekend or two during the month, and I could probably get away with taking enough days off to fashion a week-get-away.

Why don’t I?

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The Cost of Eating Plant-Based

Our family has been eating a plant-based diet since November. A plant-based diet is one where we incorporate as many fruits, vegetables, beans, and selected whole grains as we can, and minimize the animal and dairy products we eat.

The big difference between a plant-based diet and a vegetarian or vegan diet, I think, is the intent. We switched to eating this way for the health benefits of it, not for any ethical reasons (which are great, but they aren’t our reasons).

As with any big change in your life, it takes a while to get the hang of it, and we’re still figuring out how to eat.

At first, when cooking with just plants, I added a lot of fat into our cooking, thinking we needed it for flavor. But then, as my weight started to increase, I realized I was doing something wrong.

So I kept reading, and took the oil out of our diets, primarily palm and coconut oils, especially pernicious as they’re full of saturated fats. As my dad says, “If it’s in solid form at room temperature, it’s at solid form in your body.”

Each week, we cook a big batch of beans and a big batch of whole grains–whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice. Then, we base our meals around some kind of whole grain and/or bean, lots of green stuff, and spices.

Now that I’ve got the hang of it, we’ve been losing weight, as we need to, since I was bordering on an “overweight” designation, and Mr. ThreeYear was bordering on an “obese” designation. I have lost about 5 pounds and Mr. ThreeYear has lost about 7 pounds. It’s slow, but steady.

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Why We Put Our Kids In Private School and What We Plan to Do in the Future

If you had told me last February that we would have spent the majority of 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic and that now, a year later, both of my boys would be enrolled in private school, well, I would have had trouble wrapping my mind around that.

Even though I work in a private school and get a 50% tuition break, I still was hesitant about putting my kids in private school, mainly because even a 50% discount on tuition is waaaay more than “free” which is what public school tuition was.

But, I had vaguely considered putting Little ThreeYear in because he’d had a bit of trouble fitting in in his elementary school. It was a lot bigger than his New Hampshire elementary school and he hadn’t found a group to click with. We’d also had a weird situation at the school and wanted to get him away from that.

Once the quarantine hit and I saw how his public school was tackling virtual school (compared to how our school was tackling it), the decision was a lot easier. Little ThreeYear did not do well with self-directed, asynchronous virtual learning with zero live classes.

Both of my boys have ADHD and anxiety. Both are very smart but struggle in school because of the lack of executive functioning they have due to the ADHD. Both have improved tremendously over the years in their ability to manage their work and homework, but it’s never been easy.

As a mom, that has been hard for me, because I was an excellent student. I never had any trouble in school and my parents never had to help me with anything school-related.

With my boys, I have had to sit next to both of them to do homework until grade 6 (so, for Little ThreeYear, I still sit next to him to do homework, or I at least have to be in the room).

The Decision Process

One of the hardest parts of Covid has been making decisions. We were given massive amounts of new information and scenarios to sort through as a nation, as a world. Making decisions about what to do in unknown or untested scenarios is hard. There were also many unknowns. When would be able to go back to work, school, restaurants, in person? If we could go back in person, would we have to be virtual in the winter? How could we keep our families safe?

We had a great number of unknowns, a lot of information (some of it misinformation), and some pretty dangerous consequences.

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A New Furnace and a No Spend Month

Ahh, the joys of home maintenance. A few months ago, our furnace started working intermittently. We’d wake up to a very chilly downstairs one day, and then the next the heater would work again.

We thought it was just a part that needed to be fixed, but… you know what comes next.

“A new furnace,” the repairman told us. “Your furnace is already fifteen years old, and you’ll just spend a couple of grand repairing it only to have to completely replace it in a few years.”

“And here’s a quote for adding in a new AC unit, too. They’re all one system and it’s way more efficient to replace them at the same time. Your AC is twenty years old and it looks like it could give out any day now.”

Our AC has already given out once. We got it patched up by the Home Warranty company, courtesy of the one year of home warranty our realtor had given us.

By the way, home warranties are a terrible idea, in my opinion. They nickel and dime you for everything–we ended up paying several hundred dollars for the AC repair–and they refuse to replace anything, opting instead to patch up your appliances, hoping they give out after you’ve cancelled your membership. Many years ago, in our first home in Atlanta, we had a home warranty and it worked much better. Our oven and hot water heater died, and the company replaced both without charging us more than our $75 service fee. This company, however, was terrible and I much prefer to pay for home repairs out-of-pocket, which I suspect in the long run will be more cost effective (although not enjoyable the moment I am coming up with the money out-of-pocket).

We got three quotes from local repairpeople, including the repair company that partnered with Costco, who all told us the same thing, and decided that we would replace the furnace and AC all at once, since it was cheaper in the long run and we knew the AC would give out soon.

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Saving Money Through Routine

If you’re of a certain age (eh-hem, late 30s and 40s), you’ll remember well the opening scenes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where the delightful Fred Rogers walks through his TV set’s front door, walks down the stairs, heads to the front closet, removes his dress coat, puts on a cardigan, takes off his dress shoes, puts on his sneakers, and then sits down to tell us about the day’s episode.

This daily ritual was purposeful. Pastor and psychologist Rogers knew that young children craved routine, and indeed, watching that opening sequence brings me, to this day, a sense of peace and serenity seldom found when I watch television.

Routine is necessary for maximum efficiency in life, and maximum efficiency is very often necessary for saving money.

If your life is highly routined, then you and the people you live with know what is coming. You can plan for it, and save for it. More importantly, your brain doesn’t have to waste precious neurons deciding how to manage unexpected decisions.

If you currently waste money repeatedly in the same way, a routine will allow you to examine that cost and change it so that you save yourself money again and again simply by making one decision at one point in time.

Let me break this idea down a bit more.

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Living Your Values

I have several friends I’ve made during the two-and-a-half years we’ve living in North Carolina. We’ve been fortunate to meet some very nice, interesting, generous people.

Some of our friends happen to have much larger incomes than we do. While we may not know exactly how much larger, we’ve had enough hints to know that some of our friends easily make double or triple what we make.

Good for them. I think that’s awesome that they’ve developed businesses and careers to generate large incomes. I am happy to hear that they are doing well financially.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to listen to a litany of purchases and decisions that feel so counter to my own values. I certainly don’t want to not make friends with someone just because they spend more than I do, and in fact, I think it’s important to have at least a few friends with different financial situations than your own, just to ensure that you don’t live in a bubble.

But I also regularly feel like the poor friends, which is funny given our above-average net worth. However, we do live in the smallest house in the neighborhood, drive older cars, and eat out way less often than some friends.

We also have several friends and neighbors who have similar values to our own, and usually after talking with one of them, I am reminded that there are plenty of people like us in the world, making similar decisions about time, spending, and energy.

One thing I’ve had to learn, over and over again, is that I must make choices that make me happy. I have spent large amounts of time worried over the choices we’ve made in our lives, especially when others’ values are different from mine. I’ve said yes to things I didn’t really want to say yes to, in the name of friendship or what I thought was the right thing to do. Gone on trips, met people for drinks, put my kids into more activities than I thought we could manage.

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Less is Now: A Review

I have followed The Minimalists for years. I don’t remember where I first heard about them (probably on a personal finance blog), but I do remember loving the clean aesthetic and feelings of control I got from the idea of a drastically simplified home.

I’ve undertaken experiments to simplify my house for years, and back in 2013, even Marie Kondo’ed my entire 3400-square-foot home, including the kids’ toys.

While the story of two bachelors with no families didn’t jive with my own experience, they also pointed me in the direction of family-man Joshua Becker, who gives practical simplification advice for families, and Courtney Carver, who had specific and extremely effective ideas about how to cull your wardrobe.

For years, I listed to the Minimalists’ podcast, so when their first documentary came out, I watched it as soon as I could get it on Netflix.

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