Simple Things: Baby Gym

Of all the hand-me-downs I received, this eco-friendly, collapsible play gym is my favorite. I love the story behind this play gym. It was gifted to me by a high-school best-friend whose two boys have outgrown it. She packed it in her luggage on a recent visit home, along with a bag of clothes which the boys have also outgrown. To forgo luggage space whilst traveling by plane with two children is a sacrifice. Going beyond that to lug it to me meant the world.

When I thanked her profusely for making the effort, she brushed me off gracefully. She even demonstrated how to put it back together. It took her less than a minute to reassemble it in my living room. No tools required! When in folded position, it’s easy to carry by the top bar. The gym slides nicely in a crevice between the couch and the wall. A perfect tiny space solution for a tiny person like me!

One might notice one of the dangling toys feature a green ribbon. This is a result of her husband accidentally stepping on the gym and breaking the wooden ring from which the toy originally hung. Instead of chucking the gym set because of the accident, she resourcefully remedied it in her own, simple way. Mike and I also made an addition to the gym set. In the middle we hung Mike’s cousin’s hand-made macrame planter. (His cousin also made a macrame paci-holder for baby which I adore.) With this play gym, it’s easy to add and subtract hangings from the bar. The legs on either side unscrew from the rod, allowing you to slip in more dangling points of interest.

This beautiful gym looks amazing in any space. It is light, portable, and easy to disassemble. Despite the light weight, it’s sturdy too! And the wood material looks minimal but feels luxe. Since we want to teach our baby about human impact on the environment, we prefer toys and books made with wood, cardboard, or paper over plastic. Our closest friends and family know this of us. We also did not list any toys or books on our curated, minimalist baby registry, which limited the amount we received. Another of our friends gifted us these wood toys by Gathre, and this local toy shop contains other great options for new parents who wish to be mindful over their toy selection too.

I am not sure what brand this gym is, but similar ones can be found online under the brand Poppyseed. There’s this Black and Wood one at West Elm, and this all natural one at Baby List.

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Essential Finance Moves Parents Can Make For A Newborn Baby

Well, here’s the fun stuff about becoming parents. There are plenty of things you can do to set your kid up for financial success! YAY! This is the stuff that excites me to my bones. Of course, finance isn’t for everyone. That’s why I wanted to share a few actionable tips for people who love a set-it-and-forget-it type of financial life. By doing these few finance moves early on, you are making your family’s life a lot easier. Even before they can even babble, you can already do so much! Here is a list of finance moves we are going to make for our newborn in the first few months after birth.

Set Up your Baby for Financial Success with these easy finance moves

  1. Add baby as an authorized user to your credit card. You can do this once they are born, which allows them to start building credit. Of course, you want to make sure you yourself are paying back those credit cards every month. We don’t want you to ruin their credit scores by racking up a terrible history. But as long as you do, this is a sure-fire way to give them a good score! If you have trouble paying off your credit card debts, you can always try The Credit Pros. They will help identify the most damaging and most helpful credit items, as well as provide advice and educationalools.
  2. Start a 529 plan. You can open this through a brokerage account such as Fidelity or Vanguard. A 529 plan allows you to save up for educational expenses for your child. It is a tax-advantaged savings account. As long as money stays in the account, there are no taxes on earnings. As long as the money is used to pay for qualifying educational expenses, there are no federal taxes. And most of the time, there are no state taxes either! If your child doesn’t end up going needing educational expenses, you can rename the beneficiary to someone else. A grandchild, for example. Or you can transfer funds to an IRA.
  3. Add them to the HSA plan. Having a child is a qualifying life event that allows you to add them to your HSA plan mid-year. Make sure to claim them as a dependent under the person who owns the HSA plan.
  4. Claim child as a dependent with your employer.
  5. Take care of health insurance, life insurance, and disability insurance. Adding your newborn to existing insurance plans is a must!
  6. Create a budget category for your new family member. We budget every dollar, and now that we have an additional person, we need to financially account for them. We added a specific spending bucket for our baby’s additional monthly expenses. We’ve actually tried to not increase our spending by much even though we have a new family member. Check out the list of baby stuff we did not buy if you also want to limit spending. As for our budgeting tool, we have used YNAB for years and I recommend it to everyone. It is a tool that gave us the lifestyle we wanted. You can try it for free for 34 days using my referral link here. Personally, we find so much value in YNAB that we pay a yearly subscription.
  7. Add them to your living trust and will. I wrote our living trust on my own with Legal Zoom. By doing so, I saved thousands of dollars on lawyer fees. It was super easy to do on my own, too. All we had to pay for were notary fees. I talked a lot about the importance of living trusts in this post. The living trust is crucial in avoiding state interferences that usually occur prior to the will being carried out.
  8. Add child as beneficiary to accounts. Do this as a safety measure to the living trust and will.
  9. Take advantage of tax breaks. Did you know that there is the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit? It allows you to get 20-35% of tax credit for up to $3000 (one dependent) or $6000 (two or more qualifying dependents). The percent depends on your adjusted gross income. There is also the option of opening an FSA account with your employer and funding up to $5000 tax-free in an FSA account. This money can be used to pay for pre-K programs such as nursery school or pre-school. Higher income earners may benefit more from an FSA account than the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (you can’t use both!). However, FSA money must be spent within the same year. So use it or lose it! Plus, check to see if you qualify for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) which gives up to $2k per child, or the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  10. Sign them up for a frequent flyer account with an airline so they can accumulate miles for award flights simultaneously. Most of the time, we travel hack our trips so that we use points to book flights and hotels instead of our hard-earned dollars. We actually did this for our upcoming trip to Japan in October. We paid for our hotels 100% with points (that means we spent $0 for 11 days of stay in Japan!), and 50% of our flights using a credit card sign up bonus cash redemption with this credit card (this referral link of ours will give you an additional $200 cash back if you sign up by 6/7/23). You can read how we travel hacked our Japan trip in this post. But for the times such as this when we can’t cover the flights solely through credit card rewards, it is very important to collect the frequent flyer miles. I think it will be harder to travel hack for a family of three than it was when it was just us two. So I would love for them to earn the points so they can accrue enough to cover their future trips.

Of course, this probably isn’t everything, but it’s a good place to start when you don’t want to do much work. If there are other intricacies that I come across, I will try to let the community know. I would love to know any hacks you may have too, so do leave a comment below!

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Books I Read on Pregnancy and Parenting

I am a lover of information. A little bit too much information. During my pregnancy, I turned to many books, along with anecdotal stories from people I knew. Both gave me a good grasp on what to really expect when expecting – and that means the good, the false, and the ugly too. I didn’t shy away from any of it, even when others apologized for their candor. The brutal truth did me good and helped me to have a less painful experience. I had the privilege of being mentally prepared and that’s a BIG DEAL for any mother. Although I didn’t agree with 100% of the opinions, and found some ‘facts’ to be baseless, I collected a number of thoughts that allowed me to reach my own conclusions. So here I will pass on the books I read during this time. I’m not saying these are the best by far and there are so many more on the list that I will be sure to add. Take what you will.

Books I Read on Pregnancy and Parenting

  • Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting by Emily Oster. I found this book so much better than her other one (Expecting Better) which I also read. The latter is all about pregnancy but the former is what happens after. As a first-time father and facts-lover, Mike also enjoyed reading Cribsheet. I told him to skip Expecting Better because I was unimpressed and it really only relates to the mom.
  • Not Buying It: Stop OverSpending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids by Brett Graff. A great reminder of the true cost of raising kids. It gave me peace of mind, especially after all this talk about the average costs of raising a child. I got around to publishing a list of baby stuff we never bought, to give frugal parents in this space ideas on how to provide for a child without spending more money. I highly recommend this to parents who want to shy away from consumerism.
  • No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I really liked the actionable tips in this book. I know sleep solutions are different for each child and we have yet to try this book’s recommendations but a lot of it overlaps with Cara’s Sleep Training course which is very popular these days. I think the more information you have under your belt, the more prepared you are. Whether it works or not is a totally different story and honestly, irrelevant. You do your best in parenting, and that’s about all there is to it.
  • Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month: 6th Ed. Literally a textbook. For the medical student in me, this was by far the most useful and my favorite resource.
  • Mama You Got This by Emma Bunton. Just a short, quick, easy read that was fun and light-hearted. I mean, it’s Baby Spice!
  • After Birth by Elisa Albert. A terribly dark book that is so raw and honest. I couldn’t help but whole-heartedly agree and at the same time, whole-heartedly shy away from some of these truths. Caution: Read when you’re in the right headspace. At the same time, perhaps you’ll find comfort in its honesty.

As always, feel free to share the books that you’ve enjoyed or found useful.

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Why I Enjoyed Expecting in April

A lot of thought-jotting happening at this household as I wait for baby’s arrival. It’s been nice to have a few moments to reflect on this special time, which equally flew by AND lasted forever. These last few months have been busy either way and I haven’t had as much time to journal as I would like. Well, now’s the time. This morning, I was thinking about my pregnancy journey and was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the timing of it. Although I was initially unhappy about our baby being due in April, I suddenly realized that there were a lot of benefits for me that made this first pregnancy easier. Here is why I unexpectedly enjoyed expecting in April.

  • We were able to enjoy our birthday months and summer before pregnancy. We found out we were pregnant in August, which meant we were able to celebrate both our June and July birthdays last summer. We went to a winery in Temecula for a friend’s wedding in June, and celebrated fourth of July with beers at a friend’s backyard. Essentially, we celebrated our own birthdays one final time before worrying about someone else’s.
  • We had a great ‘final’ summer outdoors! I had a lot of energy during my first trimester and enjoyed bike rides with my dad, going on hikes with friends, and going to the lagoon and pool with my husband. I also was still in fit shape, and did not feel self-conscious in bathing suits, slim dresses, and workout clothes. Luckily, I started to show in the winter months when bundling up was quite normal. I pretty much did not appear pregnant until my 8th month of pregnancy thanks to the clothes I was wearing.
  • Sharing the news with our family right before the holidays was awesome. We announced our pregnancy a bit late, on Thanksgiving Day. This was partly because we didn’t feel ready, but also partly because we wanted to ensure a healthy baby. By doing so, we ended up having a really great holiday season. Both sides of the family were ecstatic about the new addition, and it was a common topic and point of excitement during the holiday.
  • I had an excuse to eat a TON during holiday season. Honestly, I feasted like a queen. I loved that there were always reasons to gather and eat. While I lacked cravings, I was especially hungry and could eat a decent amount during this time. The holidays didn’t make me feel bad about that at all! I think I would have felt worse if it was swim season and I saw all my girlfriends lounging at the pool drinking cocktails.
  • Being pregnant during the winter meant I got to eat a lot of comfort foods and baked goods. I associate the cool weather with fattier dishes. Baking is so much more enjoyable in the winter and our household was never short on baked goods. I also love pizzas, stews, and soups. I loved that our friends invited us to ramen dates over happy hours. This post is apparently centered around the food I ate…
  • I avoided the heat wave months during the final stretch of my pregnancy. Third trimester is the most physically uncomfortable stage. You’ve got a bowling ball for a stomach that keeps you hungry while at the same time prevents you from over-eating without feeling miserable. My back hurts from carrying the weight in the middle, and my fingers are slightly numb from reduced circulation and hand swelling. Imagine if I had to suffer through a heat wave as well. I am more comfortable propped up in bed under blankets with a warm mug of tea in my hand and a book on my lap. Also, this allowed me to continue my dog-walking business to the very end!
  • Our parental leave covers some of the best summer months and holidays. Since our baby is due at the end of April, our maternity and paternity leaves will stretch to the end of July. Mike and I joke that this time will be just like undergrad, when we met 13 years ago. Summer days of sleeping all day and staying up all night, with no work or school responsibilities as we try to get to know another human being. During our leave, we will experience Memorial Day, my brother’s Graduation from dental school, both of our birthdays (again!), our first Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Fourth of July, and my sister’s birthday. We also will have great summer weather before the REALLY HOT days of August and September begin. Honestly, we are SO excited!

Now I know not everyone plans out their due dates. I certainly didn’t choose April 20. But if you are looking at a seasonal time frame, I would highly recommend April and May as target due months. Personally, I enjoyed it a lot!

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

Third Trimester Essentials

Before baby arrives, I wanted to jot down a few things that I found especially wonderful during my third trimester. I survived this pregnancy generally unscathed by the usual discomforts. But still, the third trimester was the most challenging, physically and energetically. I combated that by taking care of myself with skin-care routines, occasional manicures, and plenty of sleep. I avoided purchasing most things during my pregnancy, but found that some items around the home were life-savers. For example, I reached for our decorative lumbar pillow every night, as substitute for the pregnancy pillows I never bought. I also relinquished my frugality for items such as an exercise ball to sit on (honestly the most comfortable seat in the house) and a pair of new Birkenstocks (the most comfortable shoe to walk around in). If I could give choose ONE item, though, it’s the water bottle with a sippy straw for me! Lastly, I made the most of my personal time, as I hear you don’t get much after baby arrives. I read books and blogs, digested podcasts, and wrote and journaled as much as I could.

Of course, everyone’s pregnancy is different. The creature comforts and third trimester discomforts range widely. I’d love to hear what essentials you found useful in your third trimester!

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Thoughts on Family Traditions

Easter is this weekend. Earlier in the week, my dad asked if he could take his future grandson to church. “You know, for donuts,” he joked. My first thought was, it would be nice to get away every Sunday just Mike and I while the grandparents took him to church. Selfishly, of course. I was raised a Roman Catholic and Mike was raised in both Catholicism and Christianity. Both sets of grandparents occasionally attend service. Both of us have moved on from it. After talking about it, we’ve reconsidered sending the kid off to church. It just wasn’t an intentional plan. At the same time, we’ve also had to consider curating family traditions.

We’ve thought about nixing holidays like Christmas and Easter, as they originate from religions we don’t ascribe to. But we’ve also recognized the value of tradition as well as the morals we’ve learned from childhood. We’ve since decided to keep some traditions (such as celebrating holidays with grandparents who wish to continue celebrating them) without forcing a ritualistic, weekly service. We will likely use a combination of old and new traditions that would introduce the little one to what we grew up with but not brainwash him away from forming his own conclusions. For example, this Easter, we joined my parents for woodfired BBQ at Heritage BBQ in San Juan. I thought to myself, “Why can’t Easter be this?

It’s interesting, this job of parenting. To have to decide what makes up tradition and what doesn’t until they come of age. Stepping away from the old-school definition, I created a list of family traditions that I imagine our new family would have. Of course, these have no religious basis what-so-ever. And they aren’t set in stone, either. Just things I would love to see us habitually do. Whether we stick to them or not is another matter.

New Family Traditions

  • Filipino breakfast at Lolo and Lola’s once a month.
  • Homemade birthday cakes, over store-bought ones.
  • Cinnamon buns on Christmas morning after opening gifts.
  • Summer BBQs and pool days.
  • Firepit smores and campouts.
  • Outdoor hikes or bike rides.
  • Evening walks and sunsets.
  • Eating dinner together every night.
  • Pizzas on the patio.
  • Sleeping in on Sundays.
  • Weekend waffles, french toast, or pancakes.
  • Easter egg hunts in the backyard.
  • Strawberry picking in the Spring.
  • Holiday lights and hot cocoa.
  • Boardgames and puzzles on rainy days.
  • Books before bedtime.
  • An ocean dip on New Year’s Day.

Packing a Hospital Bag

I’ve never given birth before so hospital bag packing advice may not be the most tried-and-true, coming from me. But I’ve gone ahead and packed one anyway, because what else? I have taken the list home from my doctor, listened to advice from mommy friends, and read blogs from minimalists galore. I am taking what I believe to be essential to me, which isn’t above creature comforts such as cozy socks. I’m also not so minimalist as to leave my baby’s attire to the hospital cap and gown (sorry!). The cute stuff I’ve brought, too. But I’ve paired the packing back so it’s light enough that I can toss it into my truck in case I am home alone when it becomes time. So I’ve skipped the personal pillow, the mood candles, the hair drier and massage oils. I have also taken my doctor’s advice to not bother with sani -pads or underwear. Looks like baby and I will be going home in hospital diapers!

What I Am Packing in my Hospital Bag

For Baby

  • One take-home attire for baby. We chose this onesie from Bonsie so we could skip packing socks and mitts.
  • One cute muslin swaddle from Dock-A-Tot.
  • His infant car-seat, gifted from his grandparents and great-grandparents.

For Mom

  • 2 Nightdresses which are really housedresses from Nesting Olive. It is my favorite maternity product!
  • 1 going-home attire – another loose fitting dress from Eileen Fisher.
  • A robe. Instead of taking my pretty one from Parachute, I will be bringing a Target robe that I would sacrifice in a heartbeat to the cause.
  • Maternity pumping/nursing bra from Kindred Bravely (get 15% off your order here!).
  • Cozy socks. My Darn Tough hiking socks will do.
  • A handy dandy water bottle with bendy straw. I am using one of Mike’s old Hydroflasks but this mama bottle from BinkMade would be a dream.
  • Hair tie and a head band. It’s gonna be the workout of my life.
  • A kindle with books to read on it. Because I am under the impression I would get bored, for some reason.
  • Cell phone + charger.
  • Lip Balm.
  • Photo ID, Insurance, Hospital Forms, Birth Plan.

For Dad

  • Non-perishable snacks.
  • Toiletries.
  • An extra change of clothes.
  • Switch, Cell Phone, and Charger

For once, I think I hit middle ground in terms of quantity. I am not bringing a massive bag to the hospital. But I am also not being so spare as to give up creature comforts. Let me know if there’s something I’m lacking. We’ve still got a few weeks left.

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

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Curating Closets: Slip-Ons

I love me a good jandal, as the Kiwis call them. Slip-ons are my practical, everyday go-to. And when it comes to the category, Birkenstocks are the ones that stand-out for me. Some would say they aren’t pretty, but they look good to me. Something about their Nordic simplicity really resonates. Honestly, the design of their shoes equally match Tokyo-style as much as Parisian fashion. More importantly, Birks are ergonomic, sustainable, versatile and surprisingly form-fitting. These babies are worth the price-point and so much more.

My first experience with Birkenstocks

I remember when I bought my first pair. I was in dental school with nary a penny to my name, and millions of pennies to the government’s name. My now-husband and then two-roommates were at the beach in South Bay. We just finished a morning of fantasy football viewing at our favorite pub, and the boys were heading to the sand to throw a frisbee around and fall asleep. I remember two of them getting sun-burnt after taking an hour nap.

I went to visit the Birkenstock carrier at the boardwalk. My now-husband who was already working at the time bought me my first pair. I felt like it was a splurge. It was a Nubuck leather Arizona sandal, in a taupe color with silver buckles. I remember picking one out from the kids section, simply because it was cheaper. A size too small, but fits none-the-less. I wore those Birks every chance I got, until it eventually fell apart.

My Birkenstock Sandal Journey

Since then I’ve also owned the Madrid sandal in their water-proof, synthetic EVA material. I love those for beach and pool days, washing the car, or simply for stepping outside at anytime there was a chance of wet feet. Those sandals lasted at least five years. At less than $40 a pair, I would say it was a great investment.

But it was the baker days that turned me onto the Boston Birkenstock slip-ons. My forever favorite. Of all the Birks I’ve loved before, these have been the most sturdy, functional, and useful. I remember early morning shifts laden in flour, my black Birkenstocks contrasting white powder while I stood for hours manning ovens, mixing dough, and topping off pastries. I originally got them because they covered my toes and were slip-resistant, which were essential for my work. They eventually became my every-day shoe.

After I moved on from the bakery and opened my dog-sitting business RMV Tail & Paws, they became my dog-walking shoe. Whether it was 6am in the morning or 9pm at night, there was no sneaker that could compete with the ease of these slip-ons. Likewise, I would wear them with my fancy Eileen Fisher Wool Coat, or a denim summer dress. As long as I wasn’t planning to run or do any physical activity, I would opt for the Boston clogs. After marrying my husband, I had outgrown my insecurities about being tall and decluttered all my heels and wedges. Now I go for comfort over style.

So let’s talk price.

You may be thinking, Birkenstocks are not frugal purchases at all. But I reframe cost into value. When I buy a pair of shoes, I consider how often I wear those shoes in my calculations. Essentially, a shoe I wear every day gets more value per dollar than a shoe that is fancily tucked away in a box for special occasions. It isn’t the dollar amount itself that matters, but rather, the worth of those dollars.

As a caveat, there is what I would call a ‘learning curve’ with Birkenstocks. It takes a while for your feet to get accustomed to the fit. The cork sole does mold to them, but your feet may find the ridges and dips a bit discomforting at first. To be fair, they’ve been used to flat, unsupported shoes for so long. But these, my friend, are game-changers. Like all good things, it takes time.

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