Money, Musings, Parenting

How We Raised Our Baby on a Single Income Budget

I recently came across a Smart Parenting article that estimated the cost of raising a baby from 0 to 2 years at P1 million. Doing some quick math in my head, I concluded that it couldn’t possibly have cost even close to that much for us, because we got through on just my husband’s salary with no outstanding debt and even some savings set aside. I decided to make my own estimate and compare it with that of the article (whose figures were based on a survey of parents they interviewed).

The disclaimer I wish to make though is that I included only the items in the article’s infographic, so that I could make a direct comparison of costs. There are definitely several more items that we bought that are not included in the article, and so the actual total expenses of both our family and the families interviewed are probably more than these estimates. Still, by comparing our expenses per item listed, I discovered a huge difference. Whereas the interviewed families spent over P1 million, our family spent just over P350k. Here’s the comparison I made, together with notes on how we were able to cut costs.

There were some items that had cost more for us, and these generally were related to health and travel needs, which are both big priorities for us. For example, we chose to avail of vaccinations at a private hospital, even though we could have actually gotten them for free at a health center, because we wanted to minimize the risk of Wolf experiencing side effects. We chose a lightweight yet durable stroller, even though there are many cheaper options, because we wanted to use the stroller for travel abroad with Wolf.

Several people have wondered how we have been able to afford raising Wolf on a single income thus far. I think that while we lost one income stream from my job, we were able to bring down our cost of living, even without sacrificing our quality of life. We still go out to eat at least once a week, we’ve traveled abroad twice with Wolf, and we managed to throw Wolf pretty fun baptismal and birthday parties. I think that me being out of a job challenged us to be more resourceful while still remembering to indulge sometimes. Here are the rules we followed in order to make us happy and comfortable on a single income:

  1. We used our credit cards to our advantage. This, I believe, is the key to our success. I am proud to say that ever since we began using credit cards, we have always paid the balances in full. Especially after Wolf was born, we used our cards, not to pay for things we couldn’t afford, but to track our expenses and adjust every month. Most expenses of middle-class consumers can be paid for by credit card. By swiping almost every purchase, we could see exactly where our money was going, feel remorse when our spending on unnecessary things would go a bit overboard, and compensate by dialing down our splurging the next month. We have two credit cards—one is for all the necessities such as groceries and gas, while the other one is for luxuries like eating out. The latter has a much lower credit limit, which we never max out. Bear in mind that if you wish to try doing this, you MUST pay in full and on time always, or else this will backfire big time. Nowadays, it’s easy to track your running balance by viewing your accounts online. Do not swipe for anything unless you have the cash to pay for it!
  2. We saved before spending. We set up our accounts to auto-debit a fixed amount every month. We never touched the money once it was debited. Admittedly, we have not been able to save as much as I would like to, but the fact that we were still able to set aside savings on a single income has helped us feel a bit more at ease. Soon, we will increase this fixed amount once we are able to add to our income streams.
  3. We took projects on the side. Since we are both musicians, we are able to utilize our skills to earn a little extra sometimes, which is a great help whenever there are unexpected expenses. Unless it will compromise our health, we never say no to more money. Haha.
  4. We looked for cheaper yet more effective maintenance products. The boom in online selling has made finding affordable alternatives to consumables such as bath and grooming products such a breeze. More expensive doesn’t always mean better. Thanks to online sites that gave me access to hundreds of user reviews, I have been able to find products that work much better than the previous ones we used and yet cost much less. We never settled for an inferior item just because it was cheaper. In this way, we never felt deprived. On the contrary, we felt like winners every time we got to spend less for better quality!
  5. We invested in lifestyle upgrades that allowed us to save more in the long run. I know that sounds too good to be true, but there are such things! One such investment was our plasma sterilizer. The outright cost was high, but it continues to make my life so convenient. I save so much time and energy popping all Wolf’s toys plus our toothbrushes and my makeup tools in the sterilizer instead of wiping or washing them, and they come out absolutely clean! The amount of money and stress we have saved from avoiding potential hospital confinement is so worth the investment. And I get to spend less time doing chores and more time playing with Wolf. One other such investment is our espresso machine, which we chose to buy using GCs my dad gave us last Christmas. Prior to the purchase, my husband used to drink Starbucks every day. Once he learned to make his own latte, complete with latte art, he realized how he could have superior coffee at home for much less. An added bonus was that we got to spend more quality time at the table. Our daily coffee ritual has become a family tradition that Wolf has dubbed “coffee party.” While we sip our coffee, he sips the extra milk. Haha.
  6. We remained generous with our families. My husband and I have always had this mutual understanding that when it comes to our relatives, especially our parents, we help financially whenever we can. He is free to contribute money to help his family whenever needed, and likewise, I can shell out money for family matters without hearing any complaint from him. This may seem counter-intuitive to financial management, but I believe that as long as your budget can accommodate it, you should help out others, as generosity comes back hundredfold. I grew up seeing my parents share their wealth and feel happier than if they had spent it all on themselves. I believe that if you keep thinking that you do not have enough to give to others, you will place limits on your ability to earn more. But if you give freely because you know that there is so much more to come, you will find ways to make more money reach your hands. Ultimately, sharing your wealth helps you develop a mindset of prosperity.

Although I originally wanted most of my posts to be finance-related, hence my blog domain name, this is officially my first post that talks heavily about money. I tried writing one several months back, but it just didn’t feel right then. It felt fake. The fact of the matter is we are all a work in progress, and perhaps at that time, financially, even though I’ve always been pretty thrifty, I was too raw to come up with any experience worth sharing. But now, Wolf is about to turn two years old, and our family has managed to raise him well on a single income. I am proud of that feat, and while writing about it, the words flowed easily. I hope that this post helps others in a situation similar to ours.

Our family has managed well thus far, but that is not to say that we are complacent. Having just one income stream may sometimes be necessary, but it should not remain a permanent condition. That is why we are embarking soon on our journey to increase our income streams and achieve financial freedom. If you are reading this now, I hope that in ten years, you will learn of our family’s success, and you yourself will have acquired the same prosperity. Here’s to our future!

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Parenting, Travel

How Travel Benefits My Baby

From the get-go, I did not hesitate to bring Wolf around with me wherever I went. I first took him to a restaurant when he was just two weeks old. I took him to a classical concert on his third week. At three months, he would tag along to my wedding gigs. He had his first road trip and pool experience at six months. He has been to Japan twice—once at ten months, and again at one year, five months.

Baby eating in high chair

Some parents prefer to shelter infants and refrain from bringing them outside often. I am inclined to do the opposite; I believe that the more of the outside world my baby experiences, the better. It was my instinct to allow Wolf to explore new places and meet new faces early on. Now that Wolf’s an older baby, his personality and constitution are becoming more evident. I can really appreciate now the benefits that Wolf has gained from his explorations. Travelling often has aided in Wolf’s development of the following traits:

  1. Wolf is sociable. He never went through the “nangingilala” stage of babies (stranger anxiety), wherein babies become fussy or inconsolable around strangers. He eases up to new faces quickly, and he often finds pleasure in entertaining others with his antics.
  2. Wolf is well-behaved. He can endure long trips in his car seat, and he doesn’t complain as long as he is full and rested. He is also used to eating out with us at restaurants, where he is comfortable sitting in a high chair and eating alongside us. I do not allow him any screen time while eating, and he knows how to be content enjoying the meal with us and interacting with the other diners.
  3. Wolf is healthy. He is always quick to recover from a cough or cold, and being sick does not dampen his pleasant disposition. He has never needed to be hospitalized for any illness. I believe that his regular exposure outside, combined with my willingness to breastfeed anywhere, have both played a part in toughening up his immune system.
  4. Wolf is talkative. At one year and seven months, he knows more than 60 words. Many of these are words that he was able to say when travelling. I noticed that although I introduced several of these words early on through reading to him, it was often when he would see the actual objects outside that he would learn to say the words. He learned to say “tree” when he saw trees in Tagaytay. He learned to say “meow” and “butterfly” when he saw cats and butterflies in Baguio. He learned to say “train” after riding numerous trains in Japan.
  5. Wolf is confident. Much of the time, I bring Wolf outside so that he can be where I am. At such a young age, Wolf is happiest and most reassured when he is with me and his dad. When we go out and I let Wolf lead the way, he is always excited to walk ahead, but he also looks back to make sure I’m still there. Then he smiles and toddles on boldly. He is empowered to explore, because he knows his parents are at his side, happily watching him find his stride in the world.Baby in butterfly sanctuary

I realize now that my baby’s name, Wolfgang, is so apt. His name means “travelling wolf.” Indeed, he has gone on many excursions with us, and he will definitely go on many more. Here’s to our wolf pack’s next adventure!

Family in Japan

Musings, Parenting

Mommy Brains are Not Dull Brains

Recently, a relative asked me when I plan on returning to work. I said that Casey and I haven’t really discussed a timeline, especially since we have not had a helper stay long enough for me to consider working full-time again. He then said that I haven’t worked for so long, and I might go stale. A few days later, a friend asked me if I experienced mommy brain. I asked her to clarify what that meant, and she said it’s when new moms become so overwhelmed with taking care of their babies that they lose touch with the world, and their brain deteriorates somewhat. I just looked at her and said, no, I’ve never experienced that, but deep inside I felt offended. Both instances revealed to me a condescension toward stay-at-home parents.

Child care has been undervalued for centuries, and sadly, it remains so to this day. I know a lot of people would still say that taking care of a child is not as mentally stimulating as being part of the work force. This notion is deeply ingrained yet sadly misinformed. It continues to be perpetuated by people who may not have had enough experience on both sides of the fence. Speaking as someone who has experienced both, I have several rebuttals to the idea that child-rearing is a mental walk in the park compared with corporate life.

  1. Many full-time jobs entail long hours of being idle. In the eight hours of work at the office, a good chunk is not actually spent being productive. I know that this is true for many in the corporate world. Now you may be thinking that staying at home with a child involves a lot of idle time as well. It could be so, but that would depend on the stay-at-home parent. At home, you don’t have a boss hovering over your shoulder to check that you’re doing office-related things, and so free time can be truly productive. When my baby is asleep, I often use the time to read, write, or trade stocks. Or sometimes I nap beside my baby, which is very productive as well.
  2. Many full-time jobs are unavoidably routinary. Daily tasks remain essentially the same, to the point that people merely go through the motions at work, and most actions become almost automatic. When you’re so used to doing certain tasks, your brain does not get that effective a workout. The same can be said for housework, but like I mentioned earlier, the amount of mental stimulation one can get varies depending on how much one actively seeks it. This actually holds true whether you have full-time office work or stay at home. The difference is that arguably, you have more leeway to plan your day at home, and so if you wish, staying at home can open up more opportunities to sharpen your mind.
  3. Raising a child involves a lot of brain activity. Meal planning, creative storytelling, singing and dancing, exploring—these sound fun and easy, but they require resourcefulness, innovation, patience, and discipline, which are high-level mental and emotional exercises. “Mommy brains” are not dull brains. They are brains that are challenged every day by their boss babies. Can’t take my word for it? Science is on my side.

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

To be clear, I’m not saying that being a stay-at-home parent is more mentally challenging than having a full-time office job. I’m just saying that both roles can be mentally challenging, and that assuming that staying at home with the kids equals rotting brain cells is wrong. For those who think being a mommy doesn’t exercise the brain, well, just imagine taking care of a human other than yourself, and on top of that, realize that the human cannot even make his needs known directly.

Feeding a toddler

Take meal time, for example. You’re not a mom. You’re hungry, and so you eat a Subway sandwich, which is what you felt like eating. The end. Meal time is simple and requires minimal mental effort. Compare this to if you are a mom. You’re hungry. Your baby is hungry. You make him a sandwich. He eats a bit then starts spitting it out. You ask him if he wants a banana. He says “nana” and so you peel a banana. He takes a bite, spits it out, spreads mush on the table and smiles at his work of art. He then bounces up and down, grunting, and you realize he needs to poop. So you wait for him to poop, clean him up, then offer chicken and rice, which is what he wanted after all, but how would you know? Chicken is hard to say! Finally, an hour later, you get to eat his leftovers, which are not what you wanted but are all you have time and energy left to eat. On the bright side, at least you got to eat. Haha.

Also, take note that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg. I can only imagine how my brain will be tested once Wolf learns how to answer back!

I hope this post can help others better appreciate the value and challenge of parenthood. I don’t know if I will ever return to a regular office job, but even if I don’t, please realize that my mommy brain will remain in tip-top shape, thank you very much!

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

Parenting

Please Don’t Touch Babies with Dirty Hands

It seems silly to have to dedicate an entire post to this, but unfortunately, so many people need to be reminded to sanitize before holding babies. I ask people to disinfect with alcohol before carrying Wolf, and sadly, some have taken offense at my request, saying things like, “You’re too uptight!” and “I’m not dirty! As if I’m carrying such a threatening disease!”

I don’t understand why some people react so violently. It’s not like I single them out. I expect everyone to be extra careful when touching babies. I myself always make it a point to sanitize with alcohol several times throughout the day. Our hands are the dirtiest parts of our body. They transmit millions of germs. Babies have immature immune systems, and they are highly susceptible to getting sick.

Just a few weeks ago, Wolf caught his first major cough and cold. He would wake up crying in the middle of the night, because he couldn’t breathe properly due to all the phlegm. He was still so sweet and good-natured throughout the ordeal, which made it even more heartbreaking to see him struggle. Here’s a picture of him smiling despite his runny nose:

smiling baby selfie

Have you ever had a terrible flu-like cough and cold? The kind that has you hacking through the night and constantly expelling mucus? Well, imagine if you didn’t know how to blow your nose. Imagine if you didn’t know what “sick” meant. Imagine if you felt horrible and had no idea if you would ever feel well again. That’s what being sick is for babies.

So please, the next time you want to cuddle a baby, take the initiative to ask the mom or dad for some alcohol or gel sanitizer, which they most likely would have ready. And if you are sick or feeling under the weather, please please don’t go near the baby. Just imagine that if the baby catches a virus from you, that baby could get very sick or even die. It’s not worth it!

Parenting

How Virgin Coconut Oil Helped My Baby Gain Weight

Wolf was a relatively heavy newborn at 3.5 kg, but he was slow to gain weight from the very beginning. At one point, he was even severely underweight due to complications encountered while breastfeeding. We were able to address the issues with the help of lactation counselors, and his weight gain improved. When he turned six months, he was well within the normal weight range for his age, and we were able to achieve this on breast milk alone.

The newborn Wolf:

Wolf at six months:

Given our history with weight issues, I was anxious about starting him on solids. You may wonder why. You may be thinking, “Wouldn’t you be eager to start feeding him solid food so he can bulk up?” It is a common misconception (which I also held before) that babies will naturally gain weight faster once they begin eating solids. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Weight gain tends to slow down as babies take in food other than breast milk. One reason is from six months onwards, babies become more active and eager to explore their surroundings, thus burning more calories. This obviously cannot be avoided. Another reason is that ounce for ounce, breast milk has more calories and fat than most solid food for babies, and so solid food tends to bring down total caloric and fat intake of babies. It is this second factor’s consequences that I could mitigate to a certain extent.

It was easier said than done, though. According to this article, there are few solid food options for babies that come close to breast milk in terms of calories and fat, and I can count them on one hand — avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, and rice. I had heard though from a lactation counselor that her pediatrician suggested virgin coconut oil (VCO) for her baby who was slow to gain. VCO has high amounts of lauric acid, which is the the same type of healthy fat found in breast milk. That’s why many milk formulas contain VCO. So I decided to try adding VCO to Wolf’s diet.

Wolf at seven months, before eating his first solid meal, avocado:

When Wolf began solids, I would add a teaspoon of VCO to everything he ate, especially if the food that he was eating was not calorie or fat dense (such as carrots). By doing this, I was able to keep his weight gain on track. You may ask, how am I sure that it was the VCO that kept him gaining well? On Wolf’s eighth month, I became complacent. I stopped adding VCO to his food. To my dismay, Wolf did not gain anything in three weeks! I then added VCO again to his diet, and in less than a week, he gained 300 grams.

Wolf at eight months:

VCO has many other uses aside from promoting healthy weight gain in babies. It can be used to supplement the nutrition of adult diets, moisturize skin, massage baby, prevent and treat diaper rash, minimize cradle cap, help heal minor cuts, condition hair, and so much more! With the many benefits, VCO is surely a good buy for every household. I’m such a believer that I’m even considering using VCO to cook our food at home. I doubt Casey would agree though (he hates coconut). But hey, he should hate it just a little less, now that it has worked wonders for Baby Wolf! ❤️