Author Topic: Unpaid maternity leave + crazy grocery/medical bills + unemployed spouse-help?  (Read 24504 times)

blake201

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Hi Mustachians,

I'm 35 weeks pregnant and panicking as I head towards maternity leave without enough saved, an out-of-control grocery bill, lots of medical expenses and husband making almost no money. Would love advice on further cutting our expenses and ways husband could find some income to help get us through that gap without (gasp) incurring credit card interest or borrowing from our parents.

I will be be going on maternity leave in 4 weeks--9 weeks fully paid, 9 weeks totally unpaid.

Income:
  • My take-home pay from a full-time job working at a nonprofit is $4,050 per month. I'm on partial bedrest now but allowed to work from home.
  • Husband's current graphic design/illustration freelance income is meager--averaging $400 revenue per month as opposed to about $2,000 per month last year (he lost many clients who took work inhouse to save$). He has been applying to jobs of all kinds per week for months now with no luck--one or two interviews, but never anything more.

Basic family details: I'm in my mid-30s, husband in early 40s. We have a four-year-old daughter with severe multiple food allergies to 10 foods, plus asthma and severe eczema (this is relevant for grocery bill problem and medical bill problem), and are expecting Baby 2 in a month. We live in Brooklyn, NY in a 2-bedroom apartment with amazingly low rent.

The problem: How do we get through my maternity leave without running a credit card balance or borrowing from family?

Considering how Mustachian we would like to consider ourselves to be (no credit card or student loan debt, all our clothes except underwear/socks from thrift stores, cook everything we can from scratch with whole foods, buy food in bulk on sale and store inside bed/closet, have low rent, no cable TV or fancy cell phone plan, using bikes or public transport instead of cars, etc) we thought we would have zero problem saving for the unpaid 9-week portion of my 18-week maternity leave, especially once our daughter entered public pre-K and we could stop paying for preschool ...

But then...
  • Right after I got pregnant, our 4-year-old daughter who had 5 severe food allergies had a series of reactions and developed 5 new allergies, suddenly making our already challenging grocery shopping and meal planning way more difficult/expensive.
  • At the same time, she was also accepted to a medical treatment program that may actually CURE her asthma, food allergies and eczema in a few years... at a cost of $500+/month because it's not covered by insurance.
  • Meanwhile, I've had a number of unexpected and expensive pregnancy complications -- and have often been so sick that I can't do all my usual grocery cost savings tricks or cooking from scratch and I have been having to take cabs to my weekly midwife visits because I can't take the subway or walk much these days.

So I think we're going to end up maybe $4,000 short or even more. The idea of running a credit card balance or borrowing money from parents makes me nauseous. So would love any help or ideas on cutting our expenses or finding other ways for husband to make money. I realize this is an epically long post, so I thank you in advance if you have any help to offer!

Also: I am not going to cut my maternity leave short. 18 weeks at home with a new baby is barely enough, and that is just not an option here!

Current average monthly expenses:

Fixed and/or Mandatory Expenses:

Rent: $1,300
Childcare: $0 right now because kiddo in special allergy-free public Pre-K classroom and husband picks her up after school
Internet: $57 (I periodically threaten to cancel Time Warner to get this down to $45, but last time they did not care).
Netflix + Pandora: $35 (we still get 2 DVDs a month from Netflix, as we use them for family movie nights instead of going to movies and the selection of kid-appropriate movies on streaming is weak)
Phone: $47 (Ting service for 2 used Android smartphones bought on eBay)
Electrical/Gas: $95
Life Insurance: $41.35 (necessary since husband has no income and if something happened to me, would be catastrophic)
Medical bills: $800 ($500 for kiddo's food allergy treatment, and the rest for copays, cabs for me to midwife appointments because I can't walk nowadays, vitamins for my anemia and prenatal vitamins, kid's eczema lotions and allergy meds, husband's asthma meds, etc)
Groceries: $1,000 (Yeah, I know. Was more like $630 before my health problems and kiddo's new food allergies Will get into more detail below).
Household goods: $75
Public transport: $30 (for husband—my Metrocard is taken from my pay)
Laundry: $30 (machines in basement of apartment building)
Subtotal: $3,510

Optional Expenses:
Charitable giving: $7.50 (we used to give a lot more, but cut back to a small monthly gift to our favorite org)
Y family gym & pool membership: $125 (We joined the Y a block from us when I started having medical problems that meant I couldn't ride my bike or walk much anymore--midwife said only real OK exercise for me is swimming, so we all go swimming together regularly as a family)
Restaurants: $105 (used to be $25/month, especially since kiddo can't eat it, but husband and I have resorted to takeout lately sometimes for oursevles)
Entertainment/recreation: $30 (taking kid to movies or museums and such--we go to movies with discount AAA passes for $6.25 each)
My fun money: $40 (I have mostly spent this on yarn and fabric to make things for baby and for Christmas gifts and whatnot, plus paying occasional late library fines)
Husband's fun money: $40 (he mostly spends this on music, video games, and sometimes on buying lunch for himself)
Kiddo's fun money: $15 (for special desserts or occasional toys)
General clothing & shoes: $30 (thrift stores only, except for socks, shoes and underwear)
Baby stuff & maternity clothes: $50 (we still had most of our baby stuff but had to replace our expired car seat, bought a used cosleeper, got some gender-neutral baby clothes at Goodwill since we don't know baby's sex, and I've had to get used maternity clothes on eBay and from local moms since I had gotten rid of most of mine)
Personal care: $18 (though not every month, husband usually cuts his own hair and I only get mine cut 1 or 2 times per year)   
Alcohol and bars: $25 (for husband to buy wine or beer, I don't drink even before I was pregnant)
Birthdays & gifts: $50 (I mostly make gifts but we've had a lot of weddings and baby showers to attend and even the supplies to make gifts cost $$$. We are not buying any Christmas gifts for anyone or each other this year, but are making some for kids in our family). [/li][/list]
Subtotal: $530.50

Savings:
Saving for maternity leave: $400 (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on husband's freelancing)[/li][/list]

Total monthly expenses: Approx $4,440

Assets: We have $3,000 in checking saved up so for my maternity leave, and will probably have about $4,000 saved by the time it starts, plus a small emergency fund we never touch to ensure we never overdraft our checking account. We have $105,000 in retirement accounts (pitiful, I know--and we have stopped saving for retirement altogether in the last few months).

Liabilities: We have no student loans (we used to have $40,000 but finished paying off last year) and never run balances on our credit cards. We are car-free. We rent and do not own, so no mortgage. 

And...

Our ideas so far for increasing husband's income and making extra cash:
  • Husband has been looking at the board here on side gigs -- he's applying to leapforce, fiverr and some of the others mentioned. He continues to apply to regular full-time jobs frequently and is also looking beyond "jobs he would actually find fulfilling" to "anything that pays any money at all" (such as temporarily working at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods--maybe we could get a grocery discount on those pricey allergy-free foods). And he is trying to find new freelance clients.
    As we've decluttered the apartment to make room for baby 2, we've sold a lot of things on eBay or Amazon or the local parenting list-serves, but that's not yielding a huge amount and is a lot of work.
  • We opened up a Chase Ink card and are putting all spending on it for next 3 months to get the $625 cash bonus.

And... the grocery bill problem.

Like I said, even when kiddo had 5 food allergies, we were usually able to keep our grocery bill down to $600 a month. We bought in bulk on Amazon Subscribe & Save and Vitacost, watched sales cycles and flyers so we could stock up when safe foods were on sale, used coupons when possible (not usually possible with most of her safe items) and kept a price book of how much each item cost at any of the 5 supermarkets within walking or biking distance of us. Plus we cook from scratch as much as possible and avoided convenience foods (including most allergy-safe convenience foods).

But when she got 10 (sesame, nuts, peanuts, dairy, eggs, mustard, peas, canola, poppy, cumin), it got harder (especially sesame, mustard, peas and canola, which are in many otherwise allergy-free products) and the bill lately ranges from $900-$1,300 a month. She can't eat an item that has even been made on shared lines (or sometimes in the same factory) as one of her worst allergens without having a reaction--she's that sensitive. We can't comparison shop on almost anything except fresh produce or meat ... She has ONE safe brand of pasta, and it is $2-$3 a box even when bought in bulk. Her one safe fake milk (oat milk) is $3 - $5 a quart. Her one safe brand of dried or canned beans is $5 a box or $2.50 a can. Earth Balance fake butter that contains no peas or canola? $6 for a little container.  Sunflower seed butter--$4 a jar online (or $11 in a store here). Safe bread (when we don't have time to make ourselves, which is almost always lately): $4.50-$7/loaf. And so on.

And we are supposed to only feed her organic or at least antibiotic-free meat or chicken, as exposure to antibiotics could worsen her already severe allergic march. (Pesticides are also implicated in food allergies, so though we certainly cannot afford all organic, we follow the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen most of the time).

And she is a somewhat picky eater, yet eats as much as an adult sometimes. And I am on a gestational diabetes diet and can't have many carbs, and an iron-rich diet because I'm significantly anemic.

Typical groceries we buy:
Sunbutter (she and I live on this stuff)
Bonne maman jam (only safe jam)
Allergy-free bread (Angelic Bakehouse, sold only at Whole Foods, only confirmed safe bread for her allergies)
Lots and lots of fresh veggies -- potatoes, squash, spinach, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks, herbs, beets, whatever is in season and on sale. Some organic for items that are especially likely to have pesticides. We belong to a CSA but only in summer/early fall.
Fresh fruit when on sale -- bananas, apples, oranges, occasionally berries when on sale
Frozen organic veggies for emergency meal-making--mostly spinach, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc
Whole antibiotic-free chicken (roast or slow-cook, use carcass to make stocks)
Dark meat chicken parts, antibiotic free
Cheap stew meat or slow-cooker appropriate cuts of beef or pork (antibiotic free when possible)
Whole Soy soy yogurt
Soy cheese
Pacific oat milk ($3-$5/quart)
Allergy-free baking supplies: flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, salt, vanilla, etc.
Allergy-free oatmeal, grits and other hot cereals
Allergy-free deli meat and sausages and bacon from Applegate (SO EXPENSIVE but sometimes only way to get a quick meal for the kid in a pinch... Trader Joe's has best price on this)
Earth Balance soy garden buttery spread (only Earth Balance fake butter that is safe for kiddo)
McCormick spices and seasonings (only safe spice brand for us)
De Cecco pasta  (only safe pasta)
Lundberg or Rice Select rice or couscous (confirmed safe)
Eden Organic dried and canned beans (only safe beans)
Rice noodles (Tinkyada only safe brand)
Soba noodles (Eden Organic only safe brand)
Muir Glen canned tomatoes (only safe brand)
Olive oil (we have a few safe brands)
Muir Glen ketchup
Safe crackers & chips: Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Tostitos
Safe tofu
Maple syrup
Safe raisins and dried fruit (Newman's Own is safe but pricey)
Cheerios

OK! So... if you read all that or even most of it, you have my gratitude. Ideas welcome!!! I do think our expenses should go down once baby actually arrives (we can cancel the Y once other free exercises are OK, we might buy SOME disposable diapers but we still have our cloth ones, we won't need formula because I'm going to breastfeed and hopefully after a while I'll be back on my feet and able to focus more on saving money on food and can take public transport again) but not sure they will go down ENOUGH without some work. 

Zummbot

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Have your husband apply at the Apple Store. He already knows a lot about Macs due to his design background, so it should be fairly easy for him to get (I know, I'm a designer as well who worked at an NYC apple store for a year and a half). He'll start part-time, which will leave him time to do his freelance too. The starting pay in the NYC area is $17 an hour I believe. No reason he still can't apply to better full-time jobs, but that should be some low-hanging fruit for him to grab in the meantime.

Catbert

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A couple of thoughts on food:  kids generally don't want or need a whole lot of variety. Come up with 1 inexpensive breakfast and lunch and 2-3 dinners.  Just keep repeating them.  Make a distinction between what DD can't eat (allergic) and what you don't want her to eat.  This may be the time that organic and hormone free has to go for awhile.

Can the medical program you daughter is on go on hiatus for awhile?  Or would that put her back to zero?

You have lots of expenses that you can't afford on $400 a month income - Netflix, the Y, Pandora (whatever the heck that is), anything that has "fun" in the title. 

mxt0133

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Do you have a car?  Tell your husband to drive for Uber.  He'll make $20-25 an hour after expenses and can work as much or as little as he likes.  I know a few people that moonlight or morninglight as Uber drivers as those pay the highest rates. 

If he doesn't have a car, apply to UPS or FedEx I know they will hire any able bodied person that can lift a 50lb box.

Your husband needs to be working two or three jobs, like yesterday.  Does he feel like everything will just kind of work out?

Side topic, as a first generation immigrant that had parents work three jobs ranging from gas attendant to convenience store clerk.  The concept of apply for all kinds of jobs for months and not finding work just doesn't compute in my mind.  I mean I was thirteen years old when I started working and ever since then I basically got a job whenever I wanted to work.  Sure I couldn't be picky if I needed a job immediately but I always knew I could get a job even if it was minimum wage or under the table.  I mean if I had kids to feed, which I do, I would be washing dishes, scrubbing toilets, you name it, if I knew we would be going into debt.

Just realized, can you apply for disability or unemployment?  Have you looked into that with HR or social services?

Irishmam

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Just some random thoughts:
Have you looked into a scholarship for the Y? Your income might be low enough to get a break on that.
You are paying quite a bit for Netflix, Internet and Pandora-have you looked into a cable package that might shave some $$ off your monthly rates?
Your husband might benefit from a job at Whole Foods-I believe staff get a 20% discount on food and are pretty well paid as a base rate.
If family are looking at gifts for you for Christmas / new baby maybe a gift card to Whole Foods / Trader Joe's might be a good suggestion?
The study that your daughter is part of is VERY expensive. How can they justify that price / month?Let the people who are running this know that it is a huge financial strain for you right now and that you may not be able to continue it until after maternity leave. They may be able to find some sort of waiver or at least hold her place until you are in a better position financially.
Bedrest sucks, but it will be worth it in the end. Try not to get too stressed out-hang in there!!

tweezers

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It seems like a lot of your optional expenses can be pared down (our netflix is $8/month, and we stream Pandora for free).

Amazon might be a good source for some of your non-perishable foods (Tinkyada noodles for example are far cheaper on Amazon than at our local groceries, but you have to buy a case).  Also, do you have a local Gleaner group or one nearby?  In our area this is membership-based group that can take advantage of produce and other food from groceries, farms, and even individuals (e.g. excess fruit from trees on their property).  I have several friends that save a considerable amount on their food bill with their membership (and membership cost can be deferred by volunteering a certain number of hours/year). 

I second seeing if you qualify for any sort of aid.  Good luck.

mozar

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For allergies I've heard it's possible to slowly introduce kids to allergens to build up their immune system. doctor supervised of course. and cut back on meat, just use small amounts for flavoring.

The_path_less_taken

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Yikes...kinda scary spot to be in.

Are there support groups near you for kids with allergies? Because sometimes someone who has already been down that path can help? They know the best places to buy stuff cheap, or would go in on a bulk shipment?

You're on the wrong coast but an example out west would be:
azurestandard.com
unfi.com

Same exact stuff you buy at Trader Joe's (which does offer an employee food discount, btw) or Whole Foods, but at an amazing discount. Both will ship free one day a month on the west coast...I've gotten 800lbs of organic, grain free chicken feed delivered to my town with no shipping cost. But if there were some sort of pasta or light things it might actually pay you to have them shipped?

I think one thing that might help you is if while you're on maternity leave you experiment with making some food stuffs she can tolerate yourself...crackers or whatnot. Crockpot jam. Pear butter is even better than apple butter and can be done overnight in a crockpot...so much cheaper than the imported jam you mention.

Other than that I don't know what to tell you, but I hope you figure something out. Have a safe and Happy Holiday, and also a safe birth.

blake201

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Thanks everyone for ideas so far!

A few thoughts/responses:

On that food allergy treatment:

Yes, that food allergy treatment our daughter is in is super expensive ($500/month), but it is actually working and is currently considered by leading allergists to be one of the only chances for a real "cure" for food allergies. In the six months our daughter has been in treatment, instead of having three or four asthma attacks per month, she has had one the entire 6 months when she had a cold. The eczema and weeping open sores that covered her body have all but vanished. She has stopped having reactions all the time and has not needed her Epi-Pen once.

And she has gone from super-allergic to milk (reaction if someone who ate milk kissed her on cheek) to tolerating small amounts of milk baked into some foods. Without the treatment, she would probably never be able to attend a regular public school safely without an 1-to-1 aide hovering over her at all times. 

With the treatment, she might actually outgrow some of her food allergies instead of developing new ones. So in the long run, it is an investment in our family and our daughter's health, happiness, etc.

If she was older she could get it through free clinical trials at Mt. Sinai, but they are only taking ages 12-45.

I belong to a lot of allergy-parent support groups (including one for children on this treatment) and we're generally all in the same crappy grocery shopping bind (unless the kids have just one or two allergies). Some of the other parents in the group have done "GoFundMe" projects to ask for donations for their children's treatment costs, but I feel really uncomfortable doing that.

On cutting some other expenses

We are definitely planning to cancel the Y and probably a bunch of other stuff when I'm on leave (like Netflix DVD service and Pandora radio, we can get DVDs from the public library and put up with ads on Pandora. And of course "fun money" and alcohol and whatever has to go when there isn't any income...


Still worrying we will come up short, though.

On husband's work sitch:

The Apple store is a great idea, not sure why we didn't think of that! He'll investigate.

Yes, he HAD been focusing his job search middle-income jobs like the ones he used to have before he became a freelancer (he was laid off in 2010, became a stay at home dad for a few years, then became a freelancer when we found an allergy-free preschool our daughter could safely attend). He also was a stay at home dad this summer so we didn't have to pay for summer camp. So he's mainly been job searching since the end of August. I think we weren't really looking at all kinds of odd jobs until more recently because we never thought he would get so few interviews.

We did think of Uber, but husband grew up in the city and hasn't driven a car more than once in the last 7 years. We take bikes and public transit and are frankly a bit afraid of driving since we do it so rarely. I wish we had an extra room we could rent on AirBNB!

Freelance $400 a month is an average, so hopefully he can also increase that -- this month it was $1,000, but some months it has been less than $400.

On food costs and feeding the picky eating kiddo...

This is something where I think we just need to get our discipline back and really focus, though I am honestly not sure how low we can get that bill until she outgrows some allergens--most of my friends who have kids with multiple allergies are in the same financial boat with their groceries.

When I am home on maternity leave I should be able to do a lot more of my from-scratch stuff again for sure once I am recovered from the birth and can wear baby on my back--bread and most baked goods from scratch (I love to bake and used to do all the time before I was on bedrest), crockpot jam, more couponing and sales flyer checking and timing sales at local grocery stores, etc. Making crackers is a great idea, those stupid Wheat Thins are $4 a box (but alas, the cheap crackers at Trader Joe's are full of allergens). And daughter loves to help bake safe foods she can eat.

We do already buy any non-perishable allergy-free foods online on Amazon Subscribe & Save or Vitacost to save money (if they are cheaper than local, which they almost ALWAYS are by far--NYC grocery stores are awful!), and we store them in bulk inside a storage bed in the kid's room. It's the perishables and fresh stuff that we buy locally that tend to kill our budget.

The kid's eating habits are a bit harder. I tried just serving her oatmeal with sunflower seeds and fruit for breakfast every day (what I eat) but she got really bored and refused to eat it after a while—she seems to need a variety--allergy-free bagels with Sunbutter one day, cereal and soy yogurt, oatmeal another, homemade whole wheat waffles another, Cheerios and oat milk another.

And she consumes SO much meat and chicken, more than husband or myself much of the time--doctor said it's because she's allergic to dairy and eggs and is craving protein. The only non-meat protein sources she will eat are Sunbutter and sunflower seeds, soy cheese/yogurt, chickpeas, and occasionally black beans, but when we present her with a bowl of vegetarian chili or beans and rice with just a few shreds of bacon or ham hocks for a little flavor, she's like "Where's the meat, Mommy? I'm HUNGRY!!!" She will pick out all the little bits of meat and ignore the rest sometimes.

I can't complain too much, though--unlike many four-year-olds, she does love her spinach and brussels sprouts.

A few other thoughts:

I do realize things could be a lot worse. We have no debt now, and could probably manage to pretty quickly pay off any we incur when I'm on leave. I just hate to go down that road--I would love to be socking money away into retirement and towards future financial freedom instead of digging ourselves into debt in the other direction.

And once I go back to work at the end of May, we then face question of whether husband should be stay at home dad again -- if he hasn't found a job that can pay enough for daycare, he'll have to, which is a bit of a bummer, since he'd like to go back to work.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 09:00:30 PM by blake201 »

TerriM

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What about Starbucks?  I'd bet the tips are good in Brooklyn.

BTW..... having read up a bit on atopic dermatitis and asthma for girls, I'm glad you're getting her treated.  Apparently boys grow out of asthma, but girls, less so, and it can get more serious.  Would they let you pay back on a longer term?


I'd also checkin with any of the food-help nonprofits.  I mean, you're working in a non-profit, they understand the low-pay issue.  Even 2-3 months of rental assistance and some food would help.  WIC maybe?

blake201

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What about Starbucks?  I'd bet the tips are good in Brooklyn.

BTW..... having read up a bit on atopic dermatitis and asthma for girls, I'm glad you're getting her treated.  Apparently boys grow out of asthma, but girls, less so, and it can get more serious.  Would they let you pay back on a longer term?


I'd also checkin with any of the food-help nonprofits.  I mean, you're working in a non-profit, they understand the low-pay issue.  Even 2-3 months of rental assistance and some food would help.  WIC maybe?

Yes, I know $500 a month sounds like a lot for ... but if it ends the ER visits and hospital stays, it is beyond worth it. (She had to be hospitalized and put on steroids for two weeks when she was two, for example, for her severe asthma and atopic dermatitis). The asthma doctor says that on just six months of treatment, her lung function has almost doubled and she barely needs her steroid inhalers or steroid creams at all. And the Phase II trials have found the medicines she is on for asthma work better than prednisone without the side effects... it just takes the FDA forever to approve new drugs.

I checked on food stamps before but I think our income is usually too high, but I hadn't thought of the food help nonprofits or WIC. Maybe when I am on maternity leave without pay that would be an option--I never considered that! We couldn't really go to a food bank because many of the foods wouldn't be safe for her, but maybe one of the local nonprofits that has fresh produce could help us.

TerriM

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What about Starbucks?  I'd bet the tips are good in Brooklyn.

BTW..... having read up a bit on atopic dermatitis and asthma for girls, I'm glad you're getting her treated.  Apparently boys grow out of asthma, but girls, less so, and it can get more serious.  Would they let you pay back on a longer term?


I'd also checkin with any of the food-help nonprofits.  I mean, you're working in a non-profit, they understand the low-pay issue.  Even 2-3 months of rental assistance and some food would help.  WIC maybe?

Yes, I know $500 a month sounds like a lot for ... but if it ends the ER visits and hospital stays, it is beyond worth it. (She had to be hospitalized and put on steroids for two weeks when she was two, for example, for her severe asthma and atopic dermatitis). The asthma doctor says that on just six months of treatment, her lung function has almost doubled and she barely needs her steroid inhalers or steroid creams at all. And the Phase II trials have found the medicines she is on for asthma work better than prednisone without the side effects... it just takes the FDA forever to approve new drugs.

I checked on food stamps before but I think our income is usually too high, but I hadn't thought of the food help nonprofits or WIC. Maybe when I am on maternity leave without pay that would be an option--I never considered that! We couldn't really go to a food bank because many of the foods wouldn't be safe for her, but maybe one of the local nonprofits that has fresh produce could help us.

Maybe make contact earlier if you can.  The best kind of people to help are those who you know you can make the difference for.  If you just need 6 months and you're on your feet, fantastic.  Plus you sound like people who are trying to do their best to help themselves.   Maybe someone would have contacts for your husband to get a job.

blake201

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What about Starbucks?  I'd bet the tips are good in Brooklyn.

BTW..... having read up a bit on atopic dermatitis and asthma for girls, I'm glad you're getting her treated.  Apparently boys grow out of asthma, but girls, less so, and it can get more serious.  Would they let you pay back on a longer term?


I'd also checkin with any of the food-help nonprofits.  I mean, you're working in a non-profit, they understand the low-pay issue.  Even 2-3 months of rental assistance and some food would help.  WIC maybe?

Yes, I know $500 a month sounds like a lot for ... but if it ends the ER visits and hospital stays, it is beyond worth it. (She had to be hospitalized and put on steroids for two weeks when she was two, for example, for her severe asthma and atopic dermatitis). The asthma doctor says that on just six months of treatment, her lung function has almost doubled and she barely needs her steroid inhalers or steroid creams at all. And the Phase II trials have found the medicines she is on for asthma work better than prednisone without the side effects... it just takes the FDA forever to approve new drugs.

I checked on food stamps before but I think our income is usually too high, but I hadn't thought of the food help nonprofits or WIC. Maybe when I am on maternity leave without pay that would be an option--I never considered that! We couldn't really go to a food bank because many of the foods wouldn't be safe for her, but maybe one of the local nonprofits that has fresh produce could help us.

Maybe make contact earlier if you can.  The best kind of people to help are those who you know you can make the difference for.  If you just need 6 months and you're on your feet, fantastic.  Plus you sound like people who are trying to do their best to help themselves.   Maybe someone would have contacts for your husband to get a job.

Looks like we would for sure qualify for WIC benefits while I'm on the unpaid portion of my leave (even if husband has a low-wage job) especially since I will be breastfeeding--there is a WIC office at the hospital near me, so I'm going to call them and discuss. Though I looked at their brochure and some of the main foods they offer -- milk, eggs, peanut butter -- are allergens we can't even keep in our house, but maybe they can be flexible and offer soy milk and Sunbutter instead given the circumstances. And they offer fruits and veggies and whole-grain cereal and whole-grain bread as well. So that might be a good $50 towards the weekly grocery bill.

SNAP/Food Stamps are out because we have too much in retirement savings. I'll look at other food programs too.

TerriM

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I'm pretty sure WIC simply makes a list of what you're allowed to buy and hands you a debit card that you go and buy food with--should be flexible.  Even if you're feeding everyone but your daughter, it's a great start.

sekritdino

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Do you have a car?  Tell your husband to drive for Uber.  He'll make $20-25 an hour after expenses and can work as much or as little as he likes.  I know a few people that moonlight or morninglight as Uber drivers as those pay the highest rates. 

NOPE! No, don't do that! If he gets into a crash while driving with someone in the car he would be covered on Uber's insurance. At ANY other time he has to be covered by his own insurance and by this I mean commercial driver insurance which runs about $200/week. If you do not have this and your regular insurance finds out you are using the car for commercial driving they will immediately drop your policy.

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On the food, you're buying lots of special carbs that I'm sure cost a lot, like the soba noodles and so on.  Since your daughter can eat potatoes, think about ways you can use them to stretch out your food budget, since they're so cheap.  Might be kind of tough with the dairy and egg allergies, but there are probably solutions.  Cut them in different shapes, bake, fry, boil, put them in a soup, mash and make potato cakes, maybe make eggless gnocchi, etc.  Most of these iterations can be done with sweet potatoes too, for more variety.


amyable

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Could your husband step in and bake bread, make jam, etc. to cut down on food costs, since you're on bed rest?  And, he's currently underemployed?

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So sorry to hear about your little one with food allergies. I grew up with a mom with celiac disease who also cannot eat dairy, and it can be hard when you start having to eliminate more and more and more (she can't have pea protein, certain veg, etc). She has leaky gut as well, and just started the GAPS protocol. Bone broths, stuff like that. It's supposed to help. Glad to hear this medical trial is working so well for your little one!

My husband and I were soy, dairy, egg and gluten free for a year and a half (and are now just soy and gluten free). Horsepoor is right-where your grocery budget is killing you is in the prepared baked goods. We have to make things like pre-made pasta or pizza crust a rare treat item. I know it's hard when time is short and you just want to give your kid a cracker with some sunbutter.

Sunbutter can be made at home; I know that stuff is expensive as hell (like $12 a jar and I live in a LCOL area). If she eats a lot of dried fruit, you might benefit from getting a nice dehydrator. It would be a big initial outlay but compare it to those individual tiny fruit leathers or raisins or whatever and it might pay for itself quickly.

Also, I'm not a parent, so I should probably shut up, but when I was growing up if I didn't like the food that was placed in front of me, I had to try one bite, and if I didn't like it I was allowed to make myself a bowl of cereal. I do know that with allergic kids it's important to do some level of food rotation so they don't become sensitive to the thing they eat a lot of, but having to rotate food every single day just because your kid won't eat it more than one day in a row sounds a little extreme. Again, not a parent, but has anyone here ever tried letting their kid...not eat for one meal if they don't want oatmeal two days in a row? And then she'll be hungry at some point and will HAVE to eat whatever is in front of her (within her allergen guidelines of course) at the next meal. Or maybe doing oatmeal first week of the month, waffles the second week, etc?

Also plus seven on your husband finding multiple part-time jobs; anything he can get at this point, because mostly you guys have an income issue. When my husband was starting out with his web development business, he got a LOT of sub-contractor work by posting ads in other cities' Craigslists. We lived in Utah but he listed ads in Portland, LA, San Francisco, etc. Might try that. I know some people have luck with eLance, but YMMV.

And, Amyable has a point: why isn't your husband cooking since he's barely working?

olderone

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I would consider cutting maternity leave short.  9 weeks is not unheard of for maternity leave.

Freedom2016

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Wow! I am impressed with how well you are managing your lives! I can't imagine working around so many allergans.

I wanted to speak to the length of your maternity leave (as I type my 7-week old is sleeping in the Baby K-Tan carrier...).

I am totally with you on 18 weeks feeling like a minimally acceptable time to be home with a newborn. The US is seriously cro-magnan in how it values (not) baby bonding and family building time.

I am basically self-employed and with my firstborn, I took 4 months of leave, all unpaid. Hubby was working at the time, so we managed the income shortfall by cutting way back on expenses and trimming our savings rate. We never went into debt, and we made it work.

However, with this baby (#2), I am the sole breadwinner - DH is stay-at-home parent to our son. As such, as much as I believe in, and want, similar uninterrupted maternity leave with our new daughter, our reality is that I am the only person bringing in income for the family. Which seems like essentially the same situation you are in.

I bit the bullet and went back to work on a part-time basis (like, 10 hours a week) when DD was 5 weeks old. No lie, it's not easy, but it's also not as bad as it sounds. We are able to schedule my work hours between feedings for the most part (and much of my work is done from home), so I haven't had to pump too much or use too many bottles with her. She is also still physically on my person 12+ hours a day, and even though I will have to ramp up my work hours when she is 13 weeks / 3 months old, I still feel good that she is getting lots of good parental bonding time throughout given that hubby is SAHD.

I share my experience only to gently challenge the notion that you absolutely must have 18 weeks of leave. Are you certain that this is non-negotiable? Only you can answer that of course...

Gin1984

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I'm pretty sure WIC simply makes a list of what you're allowed to buy and hands you a debit card that you go and buy food with--should be flexible.  Even if you're feeding everyone but your daughter, it's a great start.
Except if this kid is so allergic that she can't be kissed by someone who had drank milk, I am not sure if they can have those foods there.  Tell the WIC people about the allergies, NY allows for substitutions because of allergies.  However, why not go back to work after the first nine weeks, if your husband is home.

blake201

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Could your husband step in and bake bread, make jam, etc. to cut down on food costs, since you're on bed rest?  And, he's currently underemployed?

Right now husband is doing 95% of all household stuff (he had been doing 80% since I got pregnant, and now does almost all due to me being on partial bedrest) -- all laundry, all dishes, all cleaning, much of the child/kid care stuff (he does all the hard stuff and I get the snuggles while lying on the couch), all the grocery shopping and 80% of the cooking. I do almost nothing besides work from home lying in bed and snuggle with kiddo and tell her stories and play with her.

If he was also baking bread and making jam or pasta as well I think that might interfere with his job hunting and the freelance gigs he still has. I think that will have to wait until I'm on leave and physically able to help out agin.

blake201

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On the food, you're buying lots of special carbs that I'm sure cost a lot, like the soba noodles and so on.  Since your daughter can eat potatoes, think about ways you can use them to stretch out your food budget, since they're so cheap.  Might be kind of tough with the dairy and egg allergies, but there are probably solutions.  Cut them in different shapes, bake, fry, boil, put them in a soup, mash and make potato cakes, maybe make eggless gnocchi, etc.  Most of these iterations can be done with sweet potatoes too, for more variety.

That's a good point. We have a pasta maker and have made pasta and gnocchi before... and once I don't have gestational diabetes, potatoes are always a great meal base!

blake201

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I'm pretty sure WIC simply makes a list of what you're allowed to buy and hands you a debit card that you go and buy food with--should be flexible.  Even if you're feeding everyone but your daughter, it's a great start.
Except if this kid is so allergic that she can't be kissed by someone who had drank milk, I am not sure if they can have those foods there.  Tell the WIC people about the allergies, NY allows for substitutions because of allergies.  However, why not go back to work after the first nine weeks, if your husband is home.

Yeah, we can't eat/keep those foods in the house for fear they could get on surfaces, plates, etc.  But I'm sure WIC has some other options.

The reason I don't want to go back to work at nine weeks is because one of the main reasons I took my current job three years ago was for the long maternity leave and other benefits. Everyone has values they focus on, and for me, it is really important to me to bond and be with my newborn for longer than the paltry average in the U.S.

I got 12 weeks unpaid with my daughter at my previous job and it was not nearly enough--we had barely got breastfeeding all in order at that point and I had a lot of challenges with pumping at work. I would rather cut all expenses we can down to the bone and husband would rather work whatever job he can find for a time or  rather than losing that precious time with a baby I'd never get back again. Husband has had his turn spending time at home with a baby when he was a stay at home dad--it's my turn this time.

I mean, the main reason we'd love to retire early one day if we ever can is to spend more time with our kids instead of working--to me that is infinitely more precious than maintaining any standard of living. The U.S. is pitiful when it comes to maternity leave. But given our current savings, by the time we get to early retirement, this little baby is going to be a teen.

And if husband finds a decent job, I am going to take the option of extending my leave to 26 weeks total (another 8 weeks unpaid)--that's what most of my coworkers have done.

I mean, it's not that we have NOTHING saved for my maternity leave... right now at our current level of expenses, we will have enough for me to be on at leave at least 13 weeks... we just need to cut those expenses and bring up income to make it through another 5 weeks.

Again, we are not in a huge crisis here--more a bit of panic and "oh crap, we need to figure something out right now" mode. We have no debt, we have some retirement savings... we just have some crazy medical and grocery bills that are messing with our Mustachian mojo, as it were.

blake201

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So sorry to hear about your little one with food allergies. I grew up with a mom with celiac disease who also cannot eat dairy, and it can be hard when you start having to eliminate more and more and more (she can't have pea protein, certain veg, etc). She has leaky gut as well, and just started the GAPS protocol. Bone broths, stuff like that. It's supposed to help. Glad to hear this medical trial is working so well for your little one!

My husband and I were soy, dairy, egg and gluten free for a year and a half (and are now just soy and gluten free). Horsepoor is right-where your grocery budget is killing you is in the prepared baked goods. We have to make things like pre-made pasta or pizza crust a rare treat item. I know it's hard when time is short and you just want to give your kid a cracker with some sunbutter.

Sunbutter can be made at home; I know that stuff is expensive as hell (like $12 a jar and I live in a LCOL area). If she eats a lot of dried fruit, you might benefit from getting a nice dehydrator. It would be a big initial outlay but compare it to those individual tiny fruit leathers or raisins or whatever and it might pay for itself quickly.

Also, I'm not a parent, so I should probably shut up, but when I was growing up if I didn't like the food that was placed in front of me, I had to try one bite, and if I didn't like it I was allowed to make myself a bowl of cereal. I do know that with allergic kids it's important to do some level of food rotation so they don't become sensitive to the thing they eat a lot of, but having to rotate food every single day just because your kid won't eat it more than one day in a row sounds a little extreme. Again, not a parent, but has anyone here ever tried letting their kid...not eat for one meal if they don't want oatmeal two days in a row? And then she'll be hungry at some point and will HAVE to eat whatever is in front of her (within her allergen guidelines of course) at the next meal. Or maybe doing oatmeal first week of the month, waffles the second week, etc?

Also plus seven on your husband finding multiple part-time jobs; anything he can get at this point, because mostly you guys have an income issue. When my husband was starting out with his web development business, he got a LOT of sub-contractor work by posting ads in other cities' Craigslists. We lived in Utah but he listed ads in Portland, LA, San Francisco, etc. Might try that. I know some people have luck with eLance, but YMMV.

And, Amyable has a point: why isn't your husband cooking since he's barely working?

Yes, Sunbutter can definitely be made at home. Right now I generally manage to get it for $4/jar or occasionally less with sales/coupons/buying online in bulk but we'll probably try homemade when I'm on leave.

And I probably exaggerate a little--I don't have to give her something different EVERY day, but she won't eat the exact same breakfast for a week or two like I do. And kids with so many multiple severe food allergies often have "feeding" issues and can become severely picky/fearful about food to the extent that they need special allergy-free formula to get enough nutrition...

... and they have to eat a wide variety of rotating foods to keep from developing new allergens to the ones they haven't eaten recently. For example--kiddo used to be fine eating peanut butter and not allergic at all--then she got bored with it and didn't eat for a few months and then developed an allergy to it and needed her Epi-Pen when I gave her peanut butter waffles--now we can't even have peanut butter in the house. And she passed a shrimp food challenge and now must eat shrimp at least once per month to avoid developing shellfish allergy, etc.

But it's totally a reasonable critique, whether or not you have kids yourself! I do think there can be an over-catering to picky eating... and kiddo knows that she's not getting any dessert or snacks if she doesn't at least try everything we put in front of her and eat some veggies.

Reyes01

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You mention cutting the optional expenses while on leave. Do it all now (not then). And move Netflix & Pandora into optional:-) Cut everything you can before asking family for a loan/gift. Had the optionals been cut some months ago you would have been set for your leave. Not sure lack of planning means family has to kick in (not meaning to sound harsh, just blunt:-)

Lynski

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I work full time and do freelance graphic design on the side.

If your husband charges an hourly rate, the new year is a good time to raise it. A letter thanking his existing clients for their business over the previous year will help to keep him top of mind for future business. You can google some of the wording regarding raising your hourly rate, but generally the best practice is to just state what the new rate is, no need to try to give a reason because it can come across as an excuse and clients may try to bargain down. Just say something like: because you so appreciate their business, you are giving them advance notice that your rate will be increasing by X date.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2014, 03:06:59 PM by Lynski »

blake201

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You mention cutting the optional expenses while on leave. Do it all now (not then). And move Netflix & Pandora into optional:-) Cut everything you can before asking family for a loan/gift. Had the optionals been cut some months ago you would have been set for your leave. Not sure lack of planning means family has to kick in (not meaning to sound harsh, just blunt:-)

Oh, it's not harsh. You are quite right--I think it was delusional of us not to cut more of our optional expenses months ago, we just couldn't believe husband's job search would take so long or his freelance business wouldn't pick up more and were obviously in denial! If we had cut those when I first got pregnant, we would certainly be far closer to our goal (maybe not all the way there, but way closer).

We would HATE to borrow from our families, and there are SO many strings attached to that kind of thing. They would be happy to help (our daughter means the world to them and they know how much those monthly treatments cost), but they would also be happy to comment on every single purchase we made and otherwise make us feel like kids instead of adults.

I think the more I look though, this really is also an income problem as someone mentioned above, not just an expense problem. (It's also a time problem--when you are sick or temporarily disabled, the time available to do all the thrifty things needed to cut expenses goes down).  Husband put in his applications to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods -- we'll see if they have any hours available, and of course he's continuing to look at other things that pay better and other freelance gigs.

I really appreciate all the advice, and of course I'm not offended by folks being blunt... I did ask for help after all! 

blake201

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I work full time and do freelance graphic design on the side.

If your husband charges an hourly rate, the new year is a good time to raise it. A letter thanking his existing clients for their business over the previous year will help to keep him top of mind for future business. You can google some of the wording regarding raising your hourly rate, but generally the best practice is to just state what the new rate is, no need to try to give a reason because it can come across as an excuse and clients may try to bargain down. Just say something like: because you so appreciate their business, you are giving them advance notice that your rate will be increasing by X date.

Thanks for the tip! Yes, he does charge an hourly rate (used to be $25, now $30 and $35 for some clients). The problem is less what he gets paid per hour but more that he isn't getting enough hours...  his two biggest steady clients (who used to account for about $1,500 - $2,000 per month together) took all their graphic design and illustration inhouse or switched from using illustrations to cheap stock photos. He has found a few new ones but the number of regular clients whose rate he could raise is just 2 or 3 -- still worth doing, though.

merula

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I can totally sympathize about wanting a longer maternity leave. My job only provided 6 weeks paid maternity leave, and my husband was long-term unemployed. It wasn't easy, but for me it made more sense than forgoing the pay. For my second, I extended the leave to 8 weeks with some vacation and then went part time for a few weeks. That really helped because I could feed my son before I left and when I got home and pump once at work.

FWIW, I found that breastfeeding the second was way easier than the first, even from the beginning. I think it was because I knew what I was doing, even if the baby didn't. You may not have the same problems the second time around.

Only you can decide if a longer leave is worth debt, buy just remember it is an option.

Freedom2016

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FWIW, I found that breastfeeding the second was way easier than the first, even from the beginning. I think it was because I knew what I was doing, even if the baby didn't. You may not have the same problems the second time around.

Agree! I have been pleasantly surprised at how much easier it has been with #2. Not problem free, but a lot easier. Hopefully you'll have the same experience, OP.

mm1970

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Well I don't have experience with allergies.  But all I can say about bringing down food bills:
1.  Figure out the cost per meal of the meals you do eat.
2. Put the cheap ones in rotation more often
3. Figure out if you can make stuff yourself (you were doing a lot of that before)

blake201

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FWIW, I found that breastfeeding the second was way easier than the first, even from the beginning. I think it was because I knew what I was doing, even if the baby didn't. You may not have the same problems the second time around.

Agree! I have been pleasantly surprised at how much easier it has been with #2. Not problem free, but a lot easier. Hopefully you'll have the same experience, OP.

Oh, I sure hope so! The first time around I got awful painful thrush that took FOREVER to get rid of, then oversupply and vasospasms and some other not fun issues... it took me seven months to be able to nurse kiddo or pump without pain! (And then I nursed her very easily until she was almost three). Formula wasn't an option since she is very allergic to cow's milk and I was pretty stubborn about making breastfeeding work. That was partly why going back to work at 12 weeks was so hard for me.

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mm1970

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FWIW, I found that breastfeeding the second was way easier than the first, even from the beginning. I think it was because I knew what I was doing, even if the baby didn't. You may not have the same problems the second time around.

Agree! I have been pleasantly surprised at how much easier it has been with #2. Not problem free, but a lot easier. Hopefully you'll have the same experience, OP.

Oh, I sure hope so! The first time around I got awful painful thrush that took FOREVER to get rid of, then oversupply and vasospasms and some other not fun issues... it took me seven months to be able to nurse kiddo or pump without pain! (And then I nursed her very easily until she was almost three). Formula wasn't an option since she is very allergic to cow's milk and I was pretty stubborn about making breastfeeding work. That was partly why going back to work at 12 weeks was so hard for me.
Sadly for me, that was  not the case.  I was at least experienced enough to realize the problems earlier, and fix them.

I still was plagued with plugged ducts.  And with #2, I realized that's what they were, so I was much less willing to suffer them.  Even though I was pumping more often, working fewer hours.  With #1, I nursed for 13.5 months (6 weeks after stopping pumping, he weaned).  With #2, I only made it 10 months (6 months after I gave up pumping, he weaned).

I hope it's much easier for you. 

TerriM

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Given that OP has a kid with allergies, it would definitely be beneficial for her to nurse her kids. 

I found #2 was easier than #1 because the breasts just weren't ready to nurse--needed a little stretching, which meant cracked and bleeding nipples for #1.  But I also knew how to avoid the plugged ducts better.  With number 1, I'd stopped rotating and ended up with mastitis.

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In re the picky eating problem: rather than having a week of this then a week of that, why not rotate based on days of the week? I had a very limited diet for a time as a child and to avoid the constant tantrums, Monday was pasta day, Wednesday was pizza day and Friday was chicken day. The other days varied, but you could do it with every day of the week if you wanted. It would take some of the decision-making/thinking out of dinner and mean you can prep in advance and freeze if you want to. It gives the illusion of more variety (though I used to love the routine). And you can make different sauces or toppings to mix up chilli day or stir try day or whatever.

(Also, as someone else mentioned, have you ever tried just saying "OK" when she refuses to eat something? She can eat what's on the table or nothing and both options are fine. My parents never did that to me, but I often wonder if it would have helped.)

athomeintheworld

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Good for you taking that time off after baby. You can't ever get that back. Don't listen to people saying it's "too much" etc - do what is right for your family. Unfortunately maternity leave in this country sucks. 

Breastfeed your new baby.

I hear you about the food allergies - we were in a similar situation but now improving with some alternative allergy treatments. I know how stressful this can be.

Your expenses (with the exception of food - and there is only so much you can do there) are pretty reasonable. Focus on increasing income, every little bit helps. Have anything you don't need/use that you can sell?

Baking your own gluten free bread isn't too hard and might be cheaper for you, esp if you're using a lot of it:)

TerriM

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(Also, as someone else mentioned, have you ever tried just saying "OK" when she refuses to eat something? She can eat what's on the table or nothing and both options are fine. My parents never did that to me, but I often wonder if it would have helped.)

What else can you do?  I never figured out how to safely shove food down my kid's throat if they didn't want to eat it. :)

My only exception would be if they are in the lower 10th percentile weight-wise or losing weight because they're clearly not eating enough.  We did have that with one of our kids, and once I realized his situation, I started just feeding him whatever he wanted, even if it was ice cream or chips.  I figure something was better than nothing.  He's back up to a good healthy weight today. 

mozar

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I don't have a kid but what I've read is that the more the kid is involved the more they will eat the food. In France they have kids as young as three learning to cook.

blake201

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I don't have a kid but what I've read is that the more the kid is involved the more they will eat the food. In France they have kids as young as three learning to cook.

Yes, this is very true. She's been helping me cook since she was three, actually--and as she has gotten older, we let her do more (but no going near oven or sharp knives, so she can only cut soft things with her kid's knife). She can make her own sandwiches, knead bread, mix pancakes, assemble a salad, mix guacamolé, roll cooked sushi, and much more. Kids with that many allergies HAVE to learn how to cook--she will never be able to eat in a restaurant.

Most of the time, this seems to encourage her to actually eat the item, but it's not foolproof... there has been many a time when she made a whole allergy-free pizza with me but then only ate the pepperoni off the top when it was done.

blake201

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(Also, as someone else mentioned, have you ever tried just saying "OK" when she refuses to eat something? She can eat what's on the table or nothing and both options are fine. My parents never did that to me, but I often wonder if it would have helped.)

What else can you do?  I never figured out how to safely shove food down my kid's throat if they didn't want to eat it. :)

My only exception would be if they are in the lower 10th percentile weight-wise or losing weight because they're clearly not eating enough.  We did have that with one of our kids, and once I realized his situation, I started just feeding him whatever he wanted, even if it was ice cream or chips.  I figure something was better than nothing.  He's back up to a good healthy weight today.

Yes, we do sort of follow the "one bite" rule but it seems to work better if we just put out a variety of healthy foods and let her eat which ones she wants.

The "you have to eat all your veggies" really backfired on us when we used to try it... there was a day when I was like "you need to eat all your peas before you can have more noodles or chicken..." and I thought she was just complaining because she didn't LIKE the peas. She ate all her peas... and was covered in hives minutes later. Turns out she developed a brand-new allergy to peas (apparently relatively common in children who have peanut allergy) and was complaining because they made her mouth itch.

blake201

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General update: husband and I went over all suggestions and had a meeting last night to take another super close look at both income and expenses.

For the income, short-term plan is for husband to apply to Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Apple Store and maybe Starbucks and see what he can get there, while continuing to do as much freelance as he can on the side... medium-term plan is for him to find a steady job with pay that will be enough to put the new baby in daycare when I go back to work (failing that, he will stay at home with baby until he finds such a job).

On the expenses, we found a few small things to slice off for now (the fun money and entertainment, Pandora and Netflix DVD service, all restaurants, all alcohol) and looked really carefully at the grocery bills again.

It was actually a bigger jump than I thought when we looked in YNAB--last year, our average grocery bill was $550 a month (that was when we she just had 5 allergies and we were total grocery cost ninjas, really focused all the time on watching sales flyers and meal planning and buying everything at the cheapest store at the cheapest price and calculating cost per meal, etc).

It jumped up to $800 average when she developed the 5 new allergens, but it didn't jump to $1,000+ until I started having pregnancy complications and gestational diabetes and our from-scratch cooking and grocery-saving mojo tanked.

So I THINK that we must be able to slice at least $200/month out of that grocery bill or more... we can eat less organic stuff (just go antibiotic-free with meats, which we already often do), ditch most snack/processed foods, update our safe foods price book spreadsheet and make a new cost-per-meal spreadsheet (we haven't done this since she developed the new allergens) and put those meals into more frequent rotation as someone suggested above.

We shall see. I am feeling slightly less panicked now (which is good--since I'll be having a baby in 3-5 weeks, I need to stay calm!)

HP

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No advice on how to save any significant amount of money that hasn't already been covered, but I had a thought about the love of meat thing. I am not sure what sorts of fats your family tends to eat-- probably not a lot if you can't do butter or most vegetable oils? But meat tends to be fatty, and fats are a particularly dense source of calories. Particularly, it is the saturated fat variety which is important for children's brain development.

I have a child who can't do dairy or gluten (and am experiencing a newfound appreciation for the limits of his sensitivities, lol) and to sub butter for frying and some baked things, I use tallow (fat that sheaths the liver in cows). You can buy it very cheap from butcher shops in unprocessed chunks, cut it into more bite sized chunks (removing meaty sections), and then melt it down and strain out any membranes. Store in fridge.

Goldielocks

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My comments here are to show alternatives to your situation...   These may not fit with your value system, so just a "foil" to help you think through your situation.

1)  Maternity leave at 9 weeks, plus 9 weeks.  That is 18 weeks for the primary income earner to be out of work, for only an average of 50% pay.   I highly recommend that you return to work (even if from home full time for a few weeks), after the first 12 weeks, and DH stay home.   Chances are that without a C-section, you will be feeling MUCH MUCH better than you do now, by the time 12 weeks is past.    Note that the "wonderful" 1 year Canadian maternity leave is actually at the same pay you indicate here... which is one reason why I was not able to take full advantage of it-- money can be important.

Your husband then becomes a SAHD for a year, with only occasional freelance work to top up income, as workload permits.   Totally do-able, and recommended if you have a pre-schooler with medical issues, AND a newborn at home.   I will point out that there is no difference in your values between staying home 18 weeks and 36 weeks, so you may as well go "whole hog" now and have a SAHD for the on-going parenting.

2)  Excema, Asthma, food allergies, etc -- you do know that most kids change  or outgrow these issues by the time they are 8 or 10 years old?   My son had horrible excema, triggered by allergies, which went mostly away by 5 years, when moderate asthma developed (no more than 1 trip to emergency a year), which also is now only "mild" at age 12.  His allergic reactions are also now very mild in comparison.   Meanwhile, my sister picked up a severe fish allergy at the age of 24, after eating fish 2x a week for her entire life, and severe excema for about 10 years before it went away again.   Allergies and impacts change with age, diet, lifestyle.

My two cents is that you either need to find a charity source to pay for the allergy treatments, or you need to afford them yourself.  In your situation, I would take my child off the non-covered treatment, and just double down on locating the allergen sources in her diet / environment, realizing that it will likely get better in a couple of years, as long as you stick to it for now.     Maybe have a goal that your DH needs to find additional work to cover her treatment before you resume.  Nothing like a real goal to help be creative to find real income.

3) Treatment: You do know that many non-authorized treatments do seem to work, but then are proven to be no more effective than other treatments/ methods?   This is one reason why so many never make it to funded stage.  $500 per month is far to much to spend on this right now...   (Yes, I too, have paid $500/month for non-covered "therapy" (unrelated to allergies) for my child too, and it worked, but at some point I had to wake up to the fact that it was a diminishing returns "improvement", at a huge cost, and we ended it after 8 months to no real detriment.).

 Good Luck!   I hope that when the new babe comes, all your worries will fade away...   
It is in our nature to be worried like this just before the baby comes.  Some of us "nest", and some of us worry about stable (financial) home at around 36 weeks.

markbrynn

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Piece of advice on the meal planning. It seems to me that you are trying to do food replacements (at high prices) rather than finding foods that your daughter is not allergic to and cooking with them.

For example, is there a carbohydrate (pasta, rice, bread, tortillas, quinoa, couscous, potatoes, etc.) that she is not allergic to? If so, then feature that/those in her diet and stop buying expensive allergen-free pasta. This also applies for butters. We don't need to eat butter. Or jams. Or milk. I did a lot of reading online about milk. It's hard to find the truth, but it seems pretty likely that a milk free (any kind of milk, real or fake) diet is possible as long as you get your nutrition from other foods.

I understand that with a daughter allergic to 10 categories that it gets difficult to find satisfying meals (for you or for her).

My argument is basically the old vegetarian argument: stop eating meat substitutes and just eat a healthy diet without meat.

Good luck.

SunshineGirl

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You might want to take a look at what taxes you are having withheld from your paycheck, because with all your medical expenses, you might be able to deduct them? If so, you could reduce your withholding and bank more of those dollars rather than wait for a refund.

Also, it occurred to me that you guys would be in an ideal position to start a blog about your daughter's allergies. With your husband's skills and your family experiences, it's a niche that would probably find a very interested base of readers. You could have a donate button, and you would probably get freebies from companies wanting reviews, and possibly you could make a bit of money from ads. You could even make it a frugal living with high medical expenses sort of niche blog.

In any case, good luck to you!

blake201

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My comments here are to show alternatives to your situation...   These may not fit with your value system, so just a "foil" to help you think through your situation.

1)  Maternity leave at 9 weeks, plus 9 weeks.  That is 18 weeks for the primary income earner to be out of work, for only an average of 50% pay.   I highly recommend that you return to work (even if from home full time for a few weeks), after the first 12 weeks, and DH stay home.   Chances are that without a C-section, you will be feeling MUCH MUCH better than you do now, by the time 12 weeks is past.    Note that the "wonderful" 1 year Canadian maternity leave is actually at the same pay you indicate here... which is one reason why I was not able to take full advantage of it-- money can be important.

Your husband then becomes a SAHD for a year, with only occasional freelance work to top up income, as workload permits.   Totally do-able, and recommended if you have a pre-schooler with medical issues, AND a newborn at home.   I will point out that there is no difference in your values between staying home 18 weeks and 36 weeks, so you may as well go "whole hog" now and have a SAHD for the on-going parenting.

2)  Excema, Asthma, food allergies, etc -- you do know that most kids change  or outgrow these issues by the time they are 8 or 10 years old?   My son had horrible excema, triggered by allergies, which went mostly away by 5 years, when moderate asthma developed (no more than 1 trip to emergency a year), which also is now only "mild" at age 12.  His allergic reactions are also now very mild in comparison.   Meanwhile, my sister picked up a severe fish allergy at the age of 24, after eating fish 2x a week for her entire life, and severe excema for about 10 years before it went away again.   Allergies and impacts change with age, diet, lifestyle.

My two cents is that you either need to find a charity source to pay for the allergy treatments, or you need to afford them yourself.  In your situation, I would take my child off the non-covered treatment, and just double down on locating the allergen sources in her diet / environment, realizing that it will likely get better in a couple of years, as long as you stick to it for now.     Maybe have a goal that your DH needs to find additional work to cover her treatment before you resume.  Nothing like a real goal to help be creative to find real income.

3) Treatment: You do know that many non-authorized treatments do seem to work, but then are proven to be no more effective than other treatments/ methods?   This is one reason why so many never make it to funded stage.  $500 per month is far to much to spend on this right now...   (Yes, I too, have paid $500/month for non-covered "therapy" (unrelated to allergies) for my child too, and it worked, but at some point I had to wake up to the fact that it was a diminishing returns "improvement", at a huge cost, and we ended it after 8 months to no real detriment.).

 Good Luck!   I hope that when the new babe comes, all your worries will fade away...   
It is in our nature to be worried like this just before the baby comes.  Some of us "nest", and some of us worry about stable (financial) home at around 36 weeks.

Definitely aware that many treatments in development seem to work but are then proven ineffective--but actually, the treatments she's on have been shown to work in double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials that have been running for over a decade. They just haven't made it through final steps of the process.

And while many children do outgrow some food allergies by age 8 or 10, she is in a different situation. Eggs and milk are commonly outgrown (she is already showing signs of outgrowing milk) but the other allergens she has are generally life-long in 80% of cases (sesame, tree nuts, peanuts, mustard). She was also developing many new allergies to previously safe foods until she started the treatment--her system was just on allergic hyperdrive. Her allergies are so severe she might not be able to attend public kindergarten next fall -- which would be a far greater financial problem than $500/month.

We are extremely strict with allergen sources in the home/environment/food... which is why our grocery safe list is so restricted. Many of her allergens are non-top-8 and therefore do not need to appear on labels at all under U.S. law. So for every food on her list, we have to call/email the companies every three to six months to confirm the items are still safe and that the. All the reactions she has had in the past four years were either due to developing a brand-new allergy to a food that was fine before (like peas) or to a company changing it's manufacturing practices suddenly (i.e. suddenly making sesame crackers on the same line as formerly safe plain wheat crackers) or to someone coming into contact with her who hadn't washed hands/face properly (a small cousin at a party kissing her on the cheek before we could stop her after eating ice cream).

And the asthma treatment she is on has had several double-blind placebo-controlled trials that also showed it to be extremely effective.

So while I think we can certainly slice that grocery bill and other bills smaller, that's not a place I am willing to cut.

Also--someone else noted that tax deductions are possible for medical expenses. We have an FSA through my work but the limit is $2,500 per year. We then also deduct all additional medical expenses -- including the difference in cost between the specialty allergen-free foods and non-allergen-free ones.

blake201

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Piece of advice on the meal planning. It seems to me that you are trying to do food replacements (at high prices) rather than finding foods that your daughter is not allergic to and cooking with them.

For example, is there a carbohydrate (pasta, rice, bread, tortillas, quinoa, couscous, potatoes, etc.) that she is not allergic to? If so, then feature that/those in her diet and stop buying expensive allergen-free pasta. This also applies for butters. We don't need to eat butter. Or jams. Or milk. I did a lot of reading online about milk. It's hard to find the truth, but it seems pretty likely that a milk free (any kind of milk, real or fake) diet is possible as long as you get your nutrition from other foods.

I understand that with a daughter allergic to 10 categories that it gets difficult to find satisfying meals (for you or for her).

My argument is basically the old vegetarian argument: stop eating meat substitutes and just eat a healthy diet without meat.

Good luck.

Yes, these are all good points! Part of the challenge here is that some of her FAVORITE foods are the fake stuff--the fake milk, the fake butter, the fake cheese. But I'm sure it would benefit us both budget and health-wise to move away from those as much as we can... though it would limit our ability to make allergy-free foods that seem "just like the real thing" (like soy cheese pizza, etc).

The other challenge is that even many "plain" foods like dried beans, pasta, quinoa, couscous, rice etc, need to be purchased in a safe variety from a manufacturer who can assure me they aren't contaminated by nuts, sesame seeds, etc. (For example--we can't buy them from the bulk bins at Whole Foods because of cross-contact... even bags of Goya dried beans are not safe, etc).  Not potatoes though--those can be bought wherever.

blake201

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You might want to take a look at what taxes you are having withheld from your paycheck, because with all your medical expenses, you might be able to deduct them? If so, you could reduce your withholding and bank more of those dollars rather than wait for a refund.

Also, it occurred to me that you guys would be in an ideal position to start a blog about your daughter's allergies. With your husband's skills and your family experiences, it's a niche that would probably find a very interested base of readers. You could have a donate button, and you would probably get freebies from companies wanting reviews, and possibly you could make a bit of money from ads. You could even make it a frugal living with high medical expenses sort of niche blog.

In any case, good luck to you!

Thank you! I do have an allergy-free cooking & lifestyle blog but I have been neglecting it ... so right now it only brings in a sad little $3 per month (as opposed to my much-longer-standing sewing blog, which tends to bring in $50 monthly for ads even when I don't have time to blog). I'm sure if I put more effort in it could go up by quite a bit.