Monday, July 14, 2014

Week 2 of cloth diapering a newborn

We are on our second week of cloth diapering baby #4 and it is going great! Seriously. I don't know how long we are going to cloth diaper-- we have gone into this with a very open mind-- but my husband and I both agree that if it continues to go as it has been, we are going to be cloth diapering for a long time!

I wrote a blog post a little while ago titled "Cloth diapering budget." That post added up the cost of cloth diapering versus disposable diapering. We've had a few expenses added to that list since then. We had not yet ordered a sprayer. We ordered a OsoCozy Cloth Diaper Sprayer from Amazon for $39.95. I also started having a hard time with baby #4 leaking through his diapers at night. He was going 4-5 hours between feedings and the hand-me-down Gerber prefolds weren't doing the trick. I bought new Gerber prefolds and had the same problem. I went back to my local baby store and explained my problem. She recommended that I buy Bummis Organic Prefold Diapers, the organic prefolds she sells in her store. She said the organic diapers are more absorbent and that many of her customers will come in and say their Gerber diapers are leaking. I was a little skeptical. How could the organic prefolds be that much better than the Gerber prefolds? I bought 5 at $2.50 a piece ($12.50 total) just to try out-- BIG DIFFERENCE! I tested the diaper out and he went 5-6 hours without leaking in the organic prefolds, without any extra lining. I went back to the baby store and bought 10 more organic prefolds ($25 for 10 + the $12.50 of the other 5 = $37.50 total for 15 organic prefold diapers).

My total cost in the "Cloth diapering budget" post was $290.54, adding in the 15 organic prefolds brings it up to $328.04, plus the diaper sprayer brings it to $367.99. (Worried that all my Gerber prefolds will go to waste? Nope-- we use these as burp cloths!)

Now that the numbers are out of the way, how have we been cloth diapering???

For the newborn stage, we have decided to use the organic prefold diapers and the Thirsties diaper covers. We have a diaper changing station all set up to make cloth diapering at home as easy as possible, plus an awesome well-stocked diaper bag which makes cloth diapering on the go so much easier.
Here is our diaper changing station:

And our diaper pail, which is just a Rubbermaid step trash can from Target, with a Planet Wise diaper pail liner:
After much consideration, we decided to use cloth wipes at home. Logistically, it just makes sense. When you are cloth diapering, you are already throwing cloth diapers into the diaper pail... Where would you throw the disposable wipes? So for now we are using cloth wipes. I had a big discussion with the gal at my local baby store and she stores her cloth wipes dry instead of mixing up the solution and storing them wet. I decided to also store ours dry. I mixed up a solution and put it in a spray bottle. Looking for a cloth wipe solution? Check out this link: "Cloth Wipe Solution Recipes" at Zany Zebra Designs. I went with the Castille soap solution but with more tea tree oil and more water since we have such a large spray bottle; we've been happy with it.
To protect baby #4's modesty (and because I doubt he would have liked participating in this photo session), our "baby" is Peter Puppy, our oldest son's favorite stuffed animal. Peter Puppy has been through a lot since he is usually quite busy playing with our five-year old.
Before I open up the diaper, I like to set out the supplies I will need. You do not need to change the Thirsties diaper cover every time you change a diaper. I like to lay out the prefold and have it folded, ready to go in the diaper cover.
I made most of our wipes by cutting up old receiving blankets. This is the size of the wipe I have currently cut. I fold it into fourths and then saturate one side with the wipe solution.
I spray the wipe before I start changing the diaper.
I then lay everything out nice so that I can start on the diaper and won't have to rummage in the diaper caddy for anything. I then pull back the Thirsties diaper cover...
...and cover the groin area with a cloth wipe. If you have ever changed a newborn boy's diaper before, you know why I do this.
The newborn diapers aren't usually very messy to clean up and I've generally only needed one wipe, sometimes folding that wipe in half if I need to.
Since the wipe usually isn't all the way wet, I use it to pick up the prefold and put it in the bin.

When I first went into my local baby store to talk to the gal about cloth diapering, she told me that for a lot of the newborn/breastfeeding "stinky" diapers she didn't even need to rinse them because they weren't that messy. I was very skeptical and didn't really believe her... but it really is true. Some of the diapers do require to be rinsed. Now that baby #4 is 2 weeks old and growing a lot, he doesn't have a stinky diaper every time we change him. Most of the diapers are wet or only a little messy. For the really messy diapers, it is usually about the time to change the Thirsties cover anyways, so I'll pull the whole thing off baby #4 and set to the side while I re-diaper...
...and since our changing station is conveniently in the large hall bathroom near the toilet, I use our nifty diaper sprayer to rinse it off.
Since I only have two hands, I couldn't quite get a picture of holding the sprayer. I just angle the diaper down into the toilet and spray it off-- no touching or scraping or whatever required. Just spray it off. I know that cloth diapering is often frowned upon by people, "Ew, I could never do that." I have to say, with this being our fourth child, I have cleaned up far worse with the other three (and they all wore disposables). Taking complete care of another human being-- even a small, newborn one-- is a very hands on experience.
I like to fold the diaper up after spraying it so it doesn't drip when I go to throw it in the pail.
When I get the diaper back over the pail, I like to let it fall in piece by piece so it doesn't go through the laundry all folded up.
After changing the diaper, stinky or wet, it is time to re-diaper. I lay the clean prefold in the Thirsties cover...
...and fold back the top so that it is most absorbent in areas that it needs to be.
Then I cover the prefold with the Thirsties cover and snap it closed.
It is really important to check the leg holes to make sure that the prefold is completely covered by the Thirsties cover. Since the prefold is what is absorbing everything, if it sticks out of the cover, you will have leakage. This is the prefold sticking out of the Thirsties cover...
...and this is what it should look like.
Now we have a happy Peter Puppy in a clean diaper! :)
Obviously cloth diapering at home with a changing station is convenient. How easy is it out of the house? When we leave the house, I use disposable wipes and diaper sacks. I keep the diaper sacks in the outside pocket of my diaper bag next to the diaper pad. I like the changing pad to be handy and the diaper sacks accessible since I use them so often.
Inside my diaper bag, I keep 4 prefolds, 1 Thirsties diaper cover, my disposable wipes, and my wet bag.
To change a diaper while out, I really like to have everything laid out and accessible. I do not want to be digging in my diaper bag while my baby is on a changing table in a public restroom, cloth diapers or not. The baby would be on my changing pad, but these are the things I need when changing a cloth diaper out of the house: wet bag, diaper sacks, disposable wipes, and a clean prefold.
I open up all the bags so I don't have to when I am changing the diaper and lay out the prefold, just like I do at home. (The prefold is under the wet bag in this picture.)
I then take off the dirty prefold and put it in the wet bag and set the wet bag aside.
I use disposable wipes while out of the house because it is the most convenient for me for now. I like having disposable wipes on me also because wet wipes are very handy when you are out with toddlers (sticky hands!). I drop the used wipes into the open diaper sack.
From there, it is pretty much the same to change a diaper while out of the house or at home.
When the diaper is changed, I throw the diaper sack with the used wipes away and zip up the wet bag with the dirty prefold inside. I fold up the wet bag as much as I can and put it on top in my diaper bag. When I get home, I empty the wet bag into my diaper pail. Since I am just changing newborn diapers, which aren't very stinky, I have not needed to wash my wet bag after each use. Eventually I think I will need two on-the-go wetbags. For now, one is working and the times I have needed to wash it, I have been able to do it in the evening after we are home for the night.
The laundry question comes up often when cloth diapering. Here are the answers to the two most frequently asked questions:
Don't you have to do a lot of laundry?
This is our first time cloth diapering any of our children, but this is our fourth child. As a family of six, we do a lot of laundry. Since we already do 1 or 2 loads a day, this really hasn't changed our laundry pattern. I make sure to do a load of whatever is in our diaper pail each day and that has worked out great-- haven't run out of diapers yet! :)
Isn't that...gross?
No. As I said before, taking complete care of a human being-- even a small, newborn human being-- is a hands on job. You can see from the pictures that I am not elbow deep in, um, waste while changing a cloth diaper. Honestly, what bothers me more is burping our little guy and him spitting up in my hair... yuck! :P I don't know if it is because this is our fourth child and so diapers just really don't bother me, but sometimes when I do a load of diapers from our pail, I just throw the diapers into the wash and don't pull out the wet bag liner. Sometimes, if it is exceptionally full or we've changed many stinky diapers, I pull out the whole liner and empty it directly into the washer, pulling the wet bag liner inside out before tossing it in too. Since the diapers aren't messy and I rinse the ones that are, I've had no issues with a messy washing machine. Our washing machine is, however, full of evidence from his older siblings: K'Nex, Legos, Matchbox cars...
I'll be sure to keep you all updated on our adventures in cloth diapering! So far, so good. :)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Welcome to the world, baby #4!

Our newest family member has finally arrived and we are over the moon for him. Welcome to the world, baby #4!

He was born weighing 9 lbs 4 oz! This is a record for our family. His three older brothers weighed 7 lbs 14 oz, 6 lbs 6 oz, and 6 lbs 5 oz. However, they all look like duplicates of each other. I put together this collage of all four of our boys as newborns. I'm obviously over the moon for these boys!

Our oldest, D, is at the top. Our twins, C and O, are the middle picture. And our newest baby, L, is the bottom picture. I'm feeling like such a proud momma!

Even better, today our boys met their new brother for the first time. My husband and I were very unsure how it would go, not just meeting the new baby, but also bringing 2 3-year olds and a curious 5-year old to a hospital. We were also worried how our toddlers would feel seeing Momma in the hospital and saying good-bye to me here when their visit was over. Our fears were unfounded! One of our toddlers cried saying good-bye to me, but my hubby was quick to pick him up and give him hugs and the sorrow of leaving Momma was quickly replaced with an Altoid mint. :)

I really thought my heart would burst seeing them love on their new brother. Our oldest barely put him down the entire visit. Surprisingly, the toddler most excited about a baby didn't want to hold L, but our toddler who has been against another sibling from day one did!

We let the boys take charge of the visit. We didn't want to push the baby on them or make them feel like they had to do anything they didn't want to do. In fact, our toddlers spent much of the visit looking out the window. Apparently trucks are cooler than baby brothers....

Our oldest wouldn't be distracted by anything. He was 100% focused on giving his littlest brother love. I really think he loves babies as much as I do. His spirit is so sweet and so compassionate... I love being a momma to boys...

One of my favorite parts of their visit was getting love from our toddlers. One of our boys (the one who was against another sibling) is a self-proclaimed momma's boy. As soon as he burst into my room, he crawled up in my lap to tell me he loved me. Later on, our other toddler joined him. It just filled me with such joy having my family with me here, loving on me and our new baby. I look horrible in this next picture because I couldn't help but tear up at our boys' outpouring of love.

I say it all the time, but I love being a mom. I love this job and the adventure my husband and I have been on, parenting together. Each stage has brought us new challenges, new heart ache, new frustration, new joys, and new ways to love on our kids. I wake up each day and look forward to seeing our boys' faces. I feel so incredibly blessed to have this new little one to love on. Getting all our boys together today and seeing them at these different stages-- a kindergartner, toddlers, and a newborn-- I was reminded of all the different things I love about their ages.

I love that our 5-year old wanted to be a big man, holding the baby on his own and being trusted to do so. It was so important to him to hold that baby right, without any one's help. He wanted to pick the baby up on his own, wrap the blanket around the baby, talk to the baby on his own... It was beyond precious. He brought a board book with him to read to his new brother. I am so proud of him and love watching the boy (and man) he is becoming.

I love that one of our 3-year olds, C, was uncertain of the whole situation. From the moment he entered the hospital room, he didn't know what to think. He had fallen asleep in the car and was tired. He didn't know why Momma has to stay at the hospital, who this baby was, why everyone was so excited... It was overwhelming to him so he clung close to his safe place-- his daddy. My husband was so calming to him, so understanding, and C slowly warmed up to the whole scene. He loved listening in on the book D brought and loved all the snacks and snuggles I offered him.

And then O. As I said our other 3-year old climbed right into my lap as soon as he came in my room. He was thrilled to see momma and happy to claim my lap as his place. He started talking about how the baby wasn't in my tummy anymore right away (though all the boys agreed that my tummy is "still big"). He crossed his little legs at the ankles as he made himself at home in my lap. "Guess what, Momma?" "What, baby?" "I love you." I love how with everything going on, he tuned it all out and focused on loving on his momma. He told me all about how our neighbors made pancakes with them this morning and all the fun he was having with them. It was fun listening to him fill me in on his day.

Ah, and then our newborn... One of my favorite things about newborns is how easy it can be to solve their problems. When he's crying he is tired or hungry, but most of all, he wants to feel safe, be near me. I can put my hand on his face and say, "I'm here; it's okay," and he calms. I can visibly see him calm just by being near him. His little hand squeezing my side as he nurses... I love it. I love that I am enough. I am all he is asking for, just being there. My other boys want that too, that sense of security, that Mommy and Daddy are right there by their sides, but their problems aren't always as easy to solve now as scooping them up and hugging them. There is a beautiful simplicity in infancy.

My heart is full right now. I am experiencing one of those times where all I can think of are the blessings in my life. Aren't those the best times? I can't stop thanking God for this outpouring of love. Besides the obvious blessings, I have to give credit to this amazing Bible study a friend of mine plugged me into called Good Morning Girls. The theme for this study is "You are Loved." I love the support that my study has given me over the past couple weeks as I struggled with the late third trimester in the summer heat of the South and a house bursting with active children. This study helped shift my attitude from complaining to praise. I have the verses we've been discussing flying around in my head as I look at our newest bundle of joy. It floors me how much God loves us. Looking at this baby's face, I struggle to justify my complaints over the past couple weeks. It was a frustrating and uncomfortable time for me, understandably, but, oh, it was worth it. I would do it again in a heart beat!

Lamentation 3:22-25
"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stroller shopping checklist

Using our Baby Jogger City Select with our 3-year old twins

When my husband and I found out that I was pregnant with twins, we knew that we needed to buy a new stroller (among many other things!). Stroller shopping was overwhelming! There were so many different types of strollers on the market in all different price ranges. I talked to my dad about it and he reminded me of his system when making a large purchase.

I touched on his system in my blog post, "I love my stroller," but after a recent conversation with one of my girlfriends regarding stroller shopping, I thought it warranted its own post. Large purchases are often hard to make, especially when you start tying a lot of expectations to that purchase. It is easy to become paralyzed by the thought of buyer's remorse. Here is how my dad has always advised me to approach a large purchase and how I applied that to stroller shopping.

1. Take out a piece of paper and draw three columns. The first column is "Must Haves," the second "Would like to haves," and the third is "Deal breakers."

This is where you put some serious thought into how you will actually use your stroller. This is more of a reflection on your family's lifestyle and the types of things you actually do in your day to day life. This is not where you listen to anyone's nay-saying comments, "You won't be leaving the house for months! Why even buy a stroller?" or where you try to convince yourself that after the baby is born you are going to pick up jogging... This is where you realistically examine how you intend to use your stroller, how long you plan on keeping your stroller, if you want to buy one stroller to last from infancy to preschool or a stroller that works with infancy and then another stroller later once your little ones reach the toddler years. When and how are you actually going to use your stroller?

2. "Must Haves"
In this column write down all of the things that you must have in your stroller. This is your list and so these can be anything that you require for your own personal life. Here were a couple must haves for me:
  • My husband and I are both tall and so it had to be comfortable for us to push (no short strollers).
  • I wanted a stroller that would last from infancy to preschool (and will now work for our next baby after our twins!).
  • It had to be functional in our life. I wanted it to fit through doorways, to be able to be pushed over grass or gravel. I don't jog with our stroller, but I do go to the mall, do our family shopping, and take our kids outside a lot (parks, pumpkin patches, etc.).

3. "Would like to haves"

In this column write down all the things that would really be nice to have in your stroller, but that you are flexible on. This is where you really need to be honest with yourself because sometimes it is easy to get held up on these things, things that really don't matter in the long run and that often end up costing you more money because you classify them as "must haves," when really they aren't. Again, this is very subjective to you. This is your list. Here were some of my would like to haves:
  • For me, budget ended up in this category (not for my husband, but I was making the list!). I really wanted the stroller to stay under or around $1000. After doing some preliminary stroller shopping before writing my list, I could tell that a stroller that hit my checklist would cost about this much. (You can find the Baby Jogger City Select with a double seat for less than this now! Check out Amazon.)
  • I really did not want a side-by-side stroller. I felt that it would be too restricting. I liked the idea of the strollers that had removable seats; I felt they were more versatile. However, if we found the perfect stroller and it happened to be a side-by-side, I was open to it. When I made my list, I did not immediately eliminate any of the types of strollers (side-by-side, over/under, in-line strollers, stadium seats).
  • Maneuverability really mattered to me, but I was willing to compromise how this happened. I needed a solution for all three of our kids, since our oldest was 2.5 years old when our twins were born. I wanted to be able to push it with one hand. I didn't want it to be a really heavy or hard to manage stroller since heading out with infant twins and toddler was going to be enough of a challenge in itself, but I was open to how it happened, whether with a glider board or with some sort of hold-on handle
  • Another surprising thing that fell into this category for me was how easy it was to assemble, disassemble, and put in my vehicle. This was really important to me when I was shopping for a single stroller for our first child. After doing some research into the world of double strollers, especially double strollers that could accommodate 3 children (such as with a glider board), I realized that all double strollers are slightly awkward. I really wanted one that wasn't ridiculously heavy and that was slightly less awkward. For instance, taking the seats off my Baby Jogger City Select and then folding up the frame is a lot less cumbersome than folding up an entire in-line stroller and lifting that-- seats and all-- into the back of my van. I also realized, after putting some thought into it, that whatever stroller we decided on would eventually fall into our routine. After the first couple times of using our stroller, I was right. I have a bit of a system for assembling and disassembling the stroller in the back of our vehicle.

4. "Deal breakers"

This is the negative category. The must have category is also a deal breaker category, but it is about things that you really have to have in a stroller. This category is about things that will make you not want a stroller, if you have anything on that list. I didn't have a lot on this list because all I had really done was some small Google searching before I wrote down these categories and really wanted to approach stroller shopping with an open mind. Here were my only deal breakers:
  • Cup holders. From looking online, I could tell that the world of double strollers was very different than the world of simple single strollers. A lot of strollers don't come with the basic accessories you think of when you think of a stroller. For instance, my Baby Jogger City Select stroller didn't even come with the second seat; we bought it separately. All the accessories for our stroller were bought separately and this isn't uncommon at all for strollers like this. I noticed most of the strollers we were looking at only came with a stroller frame and one seat. I am a caffeine addict and my stroller had to at least have the option for me to buy a cup holder for it. No way I'm leaving the house with 3 kids with nowhere to put my coffee.
  • Somewhere to put my things. I needed room for my diaper bag, purse, and shopping. The basket really mattered to me. I didn't like the storage room in a lot of over/under strollers and I didn't want to have to hang my diaper bag from the handle of my stroller.
With this list in hand, I went about stroller shopping. It helped to have them actually written down because when my husband jumped on the stroller research with me, I could decisively tell him what I wanted/needed out of a stroller. Making this list requires serious thought. It is good to keep the points as open as possible and to approach them with an open mind. The solutions for the must-haves or the deal breakers may not be exactly what you were thinking and the would like to haves may work out in a surprising way as well.

Once you have your list assembled, you move on to the next steps:

5. Research

Spend a lot of time researching. Research online. If you are out and see someone with a stroller that you really like or haven't seen before, ask them about it. You will hear the best reviews from someone who actually uses the product, not from the sales people who can tell you all the good points about any of the strollers on their sales floor. If you have a stroller that you think might work for you and happen to bump into someone pushing that stroller in public, ask them specific questions. "Do you like how it handles? Is it easy to push at the park? Do you have a hard time disassembling it? Is there room for a diaper bag underneath?" Whatever specific questions you can think of, ask them! Most people are quite open to discussing theses things, especially when you ask nicely. Moms get how hard it is to decide on a stroller and love helping other moms out. I discovered the Baby Jogger City Select after a trip to Target where I saw someone pushing the Kolcraft Contours stroller. I didn't know there were strollers like that on the market. That mom told me the things she liked about her stroller which led me to more Google searching which led me to the City Select.

6. Try it out!

This is very important. Something can read really well on paper, but not work out at all like you think it will when you actually handle the product. I didn't like how long the Kolcraft Contours stroller was when I actually tried pushing it, but I did like that it had more options than, say, the Chicco Cortina Together stroller. I also learned that a lot of the over/under strollers were irritating for me to push, that I didn't like how the seats got in the way of my stride. This step is all about you, the person who will be dealing with this stroller every day. How comfortable is it for you to push this stroller? How do you like how it feels? How easy is it for you to navigate? The other thing to remember when pushing a double stroller, especially if you plan on using it from infancy to preschool, is that eventually you will have a lot of added weight in there. How easy will this be to navigate with 30 lbs of children added? 50 lbs? 90 lbs?

The one thing I will caution on this step is that assembly and disassembly of a stroller is confusing the first couple times. Some strollers you can tell will not be the right stroller at all for you. For instance, I have a very petite friend and many of the strollers they shopped for were literally taller than her when she folded them and far too heavy for her to lift into the back of a van. There were strollers that I found very heavy to lift when disassembled, especially the double strollers that the seats were not removable, but when I took my husband with me to the store he initially complained that there was a lot to take apart with the strollers that have removable seats. I hear often from people that it must be obnoxious for me to take the seats off and on each time I take our stroller in and out of the van. My husband and I are both in agreement that it is not cumbersome; 3 years later we have done it so many times it is literally second nature to us. We also love that our stroller completely disassembles-- you can take off the wheels, seats, accessories, everything-- which makes it very compact for travel. So be cautious when judging the double strollers on how easy or difficult they are to assemble and disassemble when you are trying them out the first time in the store. Try folding a wide variety of double strollers for comparison. Double strollers are not single strollers and will not fold like a single stroller, so try not to compare them to folding single strollers.

Note: A lot of the big box stores will only have popular models of best selling strollers. If you are looking for a specific stroller or want to go somewhere to compare strollers side by side, often times a local baby boutique will be your best option. They tend to carry more of the European/high end/fashionable strollers over the standard double strollers. Call around and ask if there are floor models available to handle if you have a specific stroller in mind. It is very informative to find somewhere that has several of the models in store that you can actually compare side by side instead of driving from one store to the next to view different strollers. Also, if you find a stroller that you think you would like that isn't available in the United States, such as the ABC Adventure Buggy, contact your local twin group/mommy group. There is a good chance someone there has your stroller and wouldn't mind you stopping by to check it out!

7. Shop around

This last step is how we found the best deal on our Baby Jogger City Select. While the big box stores run sales, name brands, such as Baby Jogger, are often left out of promotions, coupons, and sales. I did some shopping around and found a local baby boutique that sold our stroller for the same price as the big box store. However, the baby boutique offered a customer loyalty program where if we spent x-amount we received x-amount of store credit. We bought our stroller and all the accessories through them and received a sizable discount from them where we would have been paying full price at a big box store. Also, check for last year's models. Unbeknownst to us, our stroller was at the tail end of the year and about to be marked down by Baby Jogger. Weeks after we bought the stroller, the baby boutique contacted us and refunded us the difference in the sale price (gotta love local stores!). There are also deals on websites like Amazon. Doing some shopping around before running out and buying the stroller can help save some money when investing in a stroller.

For us, a functional stroller was a must-have item. My husband is in the Navy and not always available. I needed the stroller so that I would be able to leave the house by myself with the kids. When we found out we were pregnant with twins, our families wanted to buy us all sorts of things and we told them a stroller was what we wanted. We registered for it and sometimes they bought us things that we had registered for and sometimes they just sent us a contribution. It was great that they got us a gift that we needed and still use and that made our lives so much easier!

So there is my best advice to keep in mind while stroller shopping. Why am I so passionate about stroller shopping? For me our stroller did exactly what I just said: it made my life easier. There is no way that I would have been able to take our oldest to his park and rec classes at the lake if we had a stroller that couldn't handle forest trails. We were able to continue our park trips, our long walks, our trips to local farms. I was able to take our twin infants to the doctor's office by myself. I was able to do our grocery shopping, get us out of the house, travel, because I had a stroller that was easy to use. The stroller gave me freedom and flexibility. I was so nervous about how I would manage a toddler and twins and having a stroller that suited our lifestyle helped make that much easier for me to handle on my own. I know that sounds really corny, but as a Navy family, it is difficult to live so far away from friends and family. When our twins were born, I did not have a large support network and was trying to figure out how I would manage everything on my own. I truly feel that for us, picking the right stroller made those first couple years with twins-- a busy time by all accounts-- easier.

I'm also excited that the stroller we bought for our twins will be the stroller we use with baby #4; I love that we aren't having to buy yet another stroller as so many people do! We plan on using a stroller seat for one of our twin toddlers, the infant carrier drop in for baby #4, and the glider board for our other twin toddler; our oldest will walk next to the stroller.

Here are the links to my other blog posts on our Baby Jogger City Select:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A pregnant pause

I am 38 weeks pregnant with our fourth child. We live in South Carolina and it is hot and humid. We also have three boys and are expecting our fourth boy. Apparently all of this put together has left people rather flummoxed when trying to make small talk with me. In order to fight off the I'm-beyond-hot-and-exceedingly-pregnant bitterness that accompanies the late third trimester while pregnant in the South, I'm putting together a list of polite things to say to other gals in my situation, should you choose to start making personal remarks to strangers.
1. "When are you due?"

This comment takes the place of these inappropriate comments that I hear all.the.time regarding how far along I look:
"Wow! You are about to POP! Holy cow! I saw you walking up and I thought WHOA!"
"Goodness, any day now, right?" (Why is this rude? Because I started hearing this a little before 30 weeks. And obviously I didn't want my baby born any day around 30 weeks.)
2. "You look beautiful."
This can take the place of just about any other comment you want to make regarding my general appearance. Because I can tell you, the awkward "You look (pause) great" when I'm hot and chasing toddlers does not make me feel like I look great. Also, any other comment regarding my size probably should be avoided totally.
3. "Do you know what you are having?"
I don't mind this question at all, though the follow up response is really what starts bothering me. "NO! ANOTHER BOY?" The next point will help you get through my answer of, "Another boy."
4. "What a blessing."
This is all you have to say when I tell you I'm having another boy. That's it. I don't need to hear how having all boys is your worst nightmare or that you know a mom to all boys and her kids pee in their family room. I really don't even care about your friend who had 6 boys before they finally had their girl or how you and I are in the same boat because you had 2 boys before you finally had your girl. Even worse, don't start female bashing to me. I myself am a female and do not want to hear about "female hormones" or my luck at missing the teenage years of raising a daughter. In fact, just read my blog post: "Mom to all boys."
5. {Smile}
I'm putting the smile in here because if you are the type of person that would holler, "WHOA! DELIVERY ROOM IS CLOSED! HAHA!" as I approach the dressing room in Old Navy, you probably should just refrain from making a comment at all. Actually, just about any joke you want make-- unless we are friends-- should probably be avoided. Just smile. Or don't even acknowledge me. I don't know you; you don't know me. Let's not make this awkward.
Aaaaargh! I'm really trying to keep this positive. I suppose my Costco trip in the heat has done me in for a positive list of things to say to a pregnant woman. Resisting the third trimester bitterness... failing...
6. {Wave and smile}
This is for people who are far away, as in across the street or on the other side of the playground, even across the restaurant or grocery store. If you aren't close enough to use an indoor voice when speaking to me, do not feel obligated to "open mouth, insert foot" as you shout across a public place to me. I have not been waiting all day to hear you tell me, "I HOPE IT IS A GIRL!" or "YOU LOOK LIKE YOU ARE ABOUT TO POP!" or "ARE THOSE ALL YOURS? AND YOU ARE PREGNANT?" or "ANY DAY NOW, EH?" Your wave and smile will be enough and instead of me feeling like a circus act, I may walk away thinking, "Wow, that person must like pregnant women to wave and smile at me."
7. "Where are you delivering?"
This comment is in place of just about any other comment a stranger can make to me in regards to my birth experience. The following are a list of comments that you should never even think about asking a pregnant stranger who you are making small talk with in a public place:
"I bet you had a C-section with your twins, so you'll need a c-section this time, right?"
"I bet you'll be able to just pop this one right out."
"Did you have all your other ones naturally?"
"Are you scared to give birth? I mean, it, like, hurts, right?"
Basically, just don't go there. Don't talk about it. I don't want to talk about it with you, truly. And it isn't your business if I had c-sections or not and I really don't want to talk about my lady bits with you. Ever. At all. You won't get a nice response from me.
8. "Best of luck to you."
This comment sends good tidings to someone instead of any other comment you want to make regarding breastfeeding. Why should you avoid making breastfeeding comments to strangers? Because it isn't your business.
Yeah, I said it. It isn't your business.
Especially to a first time mom.
Especially to a mom with older kids.
If a mom chooses not to breastfeed, that is her business and your comments may add guilt to a decision that she wrestled with or she may feel you are attempting to put feelings of guilt on a decision that she is comfortable with. If she can't breastfeed for whatever reason, she may remember your comments about the importance of breastfeeding and breast is best and yadda yadda and feel even more like a failure-- WHEN SHE ISN'T.
When people make comments to me about breastfeeding, I really want to tell them it isn't their business. Instead I say, "That's the plan!" and smile. I can't believe that some people pry further and ask which of my other kids I breastfed and for how long. Rude.
And TRULY it is a mom's choice how she wants to feed her baby. And that decision should not be surrounded by guilt or feelings of failure.
Now, this is NOT to say that I do not discuss my experience breastfeeding. This is in regards to the comments you receive from strangers making small talk at the store, randomly, not actually seeking breastfeeding advice or camaraderie, just shooting the breeze.
Read my post on breastfeeding twins: "Breastfeeding."
9. "Congratulations!"
This comment covers the comments that people want to make regarding how many children we have. I hear, "You are brave!" all the time. Brave for having four? Brave for having another when we already have three boys? Brave for leaving the house?
The other comment I hear is, "Better you than me!" What a philosophical statement... Is this person trying to say that a curse was hovering somewhere over our town and that it happened to land on my house instead of theirs? The curse of four children? Or is this person saying that if they were in my shoes and lived my life and married my husband and had my kids, they would not have chosen to have a fourth child?
However you look at it, just don't say it. Say congratulations and then later, in the privacy of your home, tell your family, "Man! Saw this lady at the store today! Pregnant with her fourth kid! Can you believe it?" And they will all say, "What a crazy lady!" Your family will agree with you because, clearly, my family does not or we wouldn't be having our fourth blessing.
10. {Silence}
Best kind of comment when a comment eludes you. No need to scrounge around in your mind trying to think of something witty when you see me waddling around Target with my hoard of kids. No need to tell me to find a hobby (found one!) or about how astronomical our food bill we be (as if we hadn't thought of that) or that pretty soon we'll need a 12-passenger van (already researching them, thank you). No need to remind me how hot and humid it is outside when you see my puffing along with swollen ankles, "Man! You look sweltering!" No need to jokingly accuse me of going into labor when I stop to catch my breath or rest my feet a moment. Best just avoid any one of those comments.
Well, I tried to make this a friendly list of things to say to a pregnant woman. I think the 10 comments themselves are polite, perhaps my explanations could be a little less bitter sounding... I think the heat has finally gotten to me. So now I will answer the most common questions I hear when I go out:
"Man, are you READY to have this baby? You look ready!"
Yes, I am ready. I am hot. I am tired. I already have three kids and, yes, they do keep me busy.
"Are you trying to pop this baby out?"
Most commonly asked question when I do anything-- run errands, take a walk, take the kids out... Apparently what people want me to say is yes, that that is the only reason I would be doing any of my daily activities.
"Are you done?"
I don't know. I don't want to be done having kids. I would love to have five or seven kids, seriously. My husband is leaning more towards being done. When I met him he wanted two kids and this will be our fourth. So one day in the next couple years we will have to have a conversation about it. At this point, I'm not sure our life could get any crazier.
"Are you going to go for that girl?"
Yeah, I would love to have a daughter. I love my relationship with my mom. Read my blog post: "Four boys." Obviously God has a different plan for me and my husband and I trust him. Maybe one day we will have a daughter and I would absolutely love that. For now, I absolutely love being the momma to each one of my boys.

For the record, I have heard all the above statements and questions from strangers this pregnancy.

Pregnant mommas, what would you add to this list?

****Just to reinforce the point, this post is NOT in regards to having conversations with my family, friends, or acquaintances. This is about complete strangers stopping me in public-- such as at the cash register or as I'm walking through Costco or at the park. I am always happy to discuss with my friends or fellow mommas my breastfeeding experience, especially in an appropriate environment or when there is a genuinely curious momma (like fellow multiple moms asking me about my experience with twin newborns).

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cloth diapering budget

This post is not about how to cloth diaper, but about the cost of cloth diapering. We have not cloth diapered before. I really wanted to cloth diaper with our third pregnancy, but when we found out we were having twins, I feel like I talked myself out of it. In some ways I wish we had (budget); in other ways, I think it all worked out (convenience of disposables). Regardless, this time, I am cloth diapering come hell or high water.

Realizing this morning that I am almost 36 weeks pregnant, I figured it was about time to get baby #4's things together. My sister and I set out this morning to get all the last minute supplies I need before we have a newborn in the house (nursing pads, breast milk storage bags, pacifiers, etc). We also went by my new favorite local baby store and picked up all the things we will need to start off cloth diapering.

I'm pretty pleased when I look at the bottom line of cloth diapering compared to the bottom line of disposable diapering. As of right now, I have enough supplies to conservatively cloth diaper through the toddler years. I will most definitely be buying more cloth diapers (and possibly supplies) before our cloth diaper days are through, but this supply is a very good start. I know that some of these things (for instance, the hand-me-down prefolds) are not things that everyone has ready access to-- such as a first time mom-- but other things (like my used BumGenius Elementals) can be found if you keep an eye out.

So here are the numbers:

When I set out this time to cloth diaper, someone tipped me off to the BumGenius All-in-Ones. Since my husband is still somewhat skeptical about cloth diapering, I love that they work exactly like disposable diapers. The more I learned about them, the more I knew they would be the diapers for us. I firmly believe that chatting about these types of things with friends opens doors and in this case it definitely did. One of my mommy friends found a great deal on a local cloth diaper swap Facebook page and asked if I wanted to split the stash with her. Even better, they were the BumGenius Elemental All-in-Ones, the organic version of the All-in-One diapers I had decided upon. With that deal, I purchased 11 BumGenius Elemental All-in-One diapers for $87.50.
Approximate price I paid per diaper: $8
I went to my local baby store to chat with the gal about cloth diapers. She tipped me off that the regular size BumGenius All-in-One diapers (as well as the Elementals) are not ideal for the newborn days. I asked her what she recommended and she said that she really liked using the prefold diapers with the Thirsties Duo Wraps. I was excited about this because we used Gerber prefold diapers with our first 3 boys as burp cloths. I have an entire bin of them. The gal at the baby store said that 6 Thirsties Duo Wraps would be enough to get started cloth diapering in the newborn days, which is what I went with. I did not buy any more prefold diapers because we have so many hand-me-downs.
Price I paid per diaper: $13.50
One of the most convenient aspects of cloth diapering is the wet bag. I love the idea of throwing it all in my washer instead of sorting through soaking buckets. Since I'm setting up a diaper changing station for easier cloth diapering at home, I decided to go with 2 Planet Wise Pail Liners, one to use while the other is being washed.
Price I paid per pail liner: $18.00
The gal at the baby store told me that she uses just one wet bag for on the go. She said that when she gets home, she'll often just dump the contents of her wet bag into her diaper pail instead of having to wash it every time. So, to start with, I only bought 1 medium Planet Wise Wet Bag to use on the go.
Well, I bought an adorable wet bag with a monster design on it... Then I saw the adorable matching wipe holder. And I knew I had to get that to. This was my only frivolous cloth diaper purchase. Yes, I could do without it. Yes, it is super cute.
For wipes, most of my friends make their own cloth wipes by cutting up old receiving blankets and the like. I also plan on doing this, but I did decide to buy a pack of Thirsties Fab Reusable Baby Wipes just to help get me started. That way, at least, I have "nice wipes" to try and I can always buy more if I just absolutely love them over the ones I make myself. I did remember the diaper budget and so I only bought 1 pack of wipes. ;)
One thing I've been told about cloth diapers is that you need to be careful what you wash them in. I make my own detergent (read my blog post "Homemade Household Cleaners") and it has Borax in it. When I was talking to the gal at the baby store, she recommended using a detergent without Borax. Her store carries the Rockin' Green Classic Rock Motley Clean detergent for around $20.00 a bag. I was planning on buying a bag to try out. However, when I was at Babies'R'Us, they had the BabyGanics Loads of Love detergent at buy one get one free, $13.99 for 2. I couldn't pass up the deal and so I bought 4 bottles of it. We'll see how I like it. I've heard really good things about the Rockin' Green detergent, so I can always fall back on that if the BabyGanics detergent doesn't work as well as I would like it to.
The total cost for all of this is $290.54.

According to the chart on Aware Beginnings Doula Services, you will need 8-10 diapers between the ages of 6-12 months, if you wash daily, with that number going down further after 12 months; I have 11 All-in-One diapers. For the newborn days, the Thirsties Duo Wraps are a diaper cover with the actual diaper being the prefold, which I have a surplus of. The gal at my baby store said the Thirsties do not need to be washed every time, but on an as needed basis. Going off of this chart, the diaper supply I have built up at just under $300 could last me until toddlerhood!

Talking to my friends who have started cloth diapering and who have been cloth diapering for a long time (second and third children in cloth diapers), I know that there will be additional expenses along the way. For instance, when we are moving, we will have to figure out the cloth diaper situation. We still have to install a diaper sprayer in the bathroom we plan on setting up our changing station; running between $40-$60 new, I plan on having my husband build one himself (check out this blog post: "DIY Tutorial: Make Your Own Diaper Sprayer"). We will probably end up buying more BumGenius All-in-Ones. But what I'm most pleased about is that this is a great start. There is no rush to go buy anything else.

These are the diapers we bought for our children in the past:

Pampers Swaddlers Newborn Size: 88 count at $19.95 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.22 a diaper

Pampers Swaddlers Size 1: 148 count at $25.99 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.17 a diaper

Pampers Swaddlers Size 2: 132 count at $25.99 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.19 a diaper

Pampers Baby Dry Size 2: 160 count at $31.99 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.19 a diaper

Pampers Baby Dry Size 3: 180 count at $27.68 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.15 a diaper

Pampers Baby Dry Size 4: 180 count at $36.79 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.20 a diaper

Pampers Baby Dry Size 5: 160 count at $37.75 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.23 a diaper

Pampers Cruisers Size 3: 174 count at $36.70 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.21 a diaper

Pampers Cruisers Size 4: 136 count at $36.26 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.26 a diaper

Pampers Cruisers Size 5: 96 count at $28.46 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.29 a diaper

Target Brand Diapers (Up & Up) Size 5: 138 count at $28.99
$0.21 a diaper

With our oldest, we used Pampers Swaddlers from newborn size up to size 2, then we switched Pampers Cruisers (the Baby Dry diapers made him rash).

With our twins, we used Pampers Swaddlers from newborn to size 2, then we switched to Pampers Baby Dry before eventually switching to Target Brand. When we could, we bought biodegradable diapers, but, for the most part, we used Pampers.

For wipes:

Pampers Sensitive Wipes: 448 count at $8.78 with Amazon Subscribe and Save
$0.019 a wipe

The chart from Aware Beginnings Doula Services says you will change 10-12 diapers a day up to 6 months of age. Using their statistics and the prices of the diapers I bought for our kids in the past, here is the estimated cost of diapering one child for the first 4 months, about the time my girlfriends have been switching from Thirsties to All-in-Ones:
10 diapers a day x 28 days = 280 diapers / 88 diapers in Newborn Swaddlers = 3.18 boxes of diapers
4 boxes of Pampers Newborn Swaddlers = $79.80
+ 1 box of Pampers Sensitive Wipes = $88.58 for the first month of diapering
10 diapers a day x 28 days = 280 diapers / 148 diapers in Swaddlers Size 1 = 1.89 boxes of diapers
2 boxes of Pampers Size 1 Swaddlers = $51.98
+ 1 box of Pampers Sensitive Wipes = $60.78 for the second month
10 diapers a day x 28 days = 280 diapers / 132 diapers in Swaddlers Size 2 = 2.12 boxes of diapers
3 boxes of Pampers Size 2 Swaddlers = $77.97
+ 1 box of Pampers Sensitive Wipes = $86.75 for the third month
10 diapers a day x 28 days = 280 diapers / 160 Size 2 Baby Dry = 1.75 boxes of diapers
2 boxes of Pampers Baby Dry Size 2 diapers = $63.96
+ 1 box of Pampers Sensitive Wipes = $72.74 for the fourth month
For four months of conservative disposable diapering, the total cost of diapers and wipes is $300.07

Buying all of the supplies to cloth diaper cost me $290.54 and that number includes diapering from newborn to toddlerhood.
The $300.07 does not include Diaper Genie Refills, which we also use, and it also gave a conservative estimate on wipes. Some months we used a lot of wipes and some months not as much. We did use roughly a box a month.
I do also want to note that when you look at the price of the links I have for cloth diapering, most of the numbers on Amazon are slightly lower than the prices I listed from my local baby store, usually by about a $1 or $2. Shopping online is so convenient as a stay-at-home mom and I do it often. However, I love to support local businesses when I can (usually used book stores). Local baby stores are a great way to save money on items like these because most of them offer a customer loyalty program. When we bought our Baby Jogger City Select, that is how we saved money buying all of the accessories. That is why I made the choice to shop at a local store versus buying everything off of Amazon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why should I shop at the commissary?

It seems a lot of people avoid the commissaries for any number of reasons or are in support of them for the "lower enlisted." Personally, I think commissaries are full of savings that benefit all ranks, especially our family of five (soon to be six). I also think that shopping at the commissary and thus supporting it with my dollars is a way to ensure continued commissary benefits both for my family and for other military families, especially the OCONUS locations where the commissary benefits are crucial. Some of the complaints against the commissary, I believe, are made without an understanding as to how the commissary operates and is funded. I hope this blog post sheds some light on why you should shop at the commissary and how to get around the somewhat inconvenient aspects of commissary shopping, such as limited hours and tipping.

Commissaries are a non-profit organization ran by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA). From the DeCA website:
Although commissaries collectively realize sales of about $5 billion per year, there is no profit generated on these sales. By law, commissaries are required to sell goods at prices that are set at a level to recover the cost of goods, with no profit built into these prices. There are also very stringent legal controls on the ways that DeCA can use taxpayer monies that Congress provides to operate commissaries.
Commissaries run on appropriated funding, meaning tax payers support the commissaries and funding is regularly voted on. Remember during the sequester when all the commissaries shutdown? This was due to the fact that commissaries operate on appropriated funding (read my blog post, "Government shutdown," and's 2013 article, "Commissary Cuts Remain Likely"), unlike exchanges which operate on non-appropriated funding. The prices at the commissary also reflect a 5% surcharge on each purchase. Question and answer on the DeCA webpage, "why does DeCA make me pay a surcharge on my commissary purchase?"
Surcharge is applied to the total value of each commissary purchase because the Congress has mandated collection of surcharge (currently 5 percent) to pay for commissary construction, equipment and maintenance. All surcharge dollars collected are returned to commissary patrons in the form of continually improved commissary facilities. The amount of surcharge applied to a commissary sale transaction is shown as "SCG" on your sales receipt.
What exactly does this surcharge pay for? From the DeCA Working Capital Fund Fiscal Year 2000/2001 Biennial Budget Estimates Operating Budget, page 2:
Surcharge Collections represents a third major source for funding commissary operations. Surcharge Collections is a trust fund primarily funded by a five percent surcharge applied to patron sales at the check-out counter. This fund was established so authorized patrons share responsibility for overall costs of commissary operations, including commissary supplies, equipment, utilities at CONUS locations, information management equipment and support, and commissary construction program. This fund also receives revenue from prompt payment discounts, the sale of used cardboard and equipment, and services provided to others.
Page 3 of the same report outlines the differences between CONUS and OCONUS commissary locations and the absolute importance of OCONUS locations to military families:
OCONUS and remote locations cost more per dollar of sales than CONUS locations, using about 45 percent of available appropriated fund support to produce 22 percent of sales. These commissaries are more expensive because operating and support costs in foreign and remote locations are higher. Many locations service small-to-medium military populations with smaller sales and higher fixed costs. Additionally, there are significant support costs incurred in providing U.S. food products and household items to overseas locations, e.g., transportation of $156 million in FY 2000.
...In spite of these cost considerations, commissary operations overseas are efficient and effective because DeCA’s infrastructure provides economies that are not achievable by other alternatives. The commissary system is also instrumental in reducing cost of living allowances (COLA) overseas by providing low-cost groceries.
The commissary system is critical in supporting military members and their families overseas. This military population does not have adequate alternative shopping available. OCONUS commissaries are more than a place for acquiring groceries. They are an essential "life-line" of the overseas military community and their quality of life.
The general rule of thumb is that shopping at the commissary will save you on average 30% than what you would pay at an average grocery store. The commissary also is very coupon friendly. Overseas commissaries even accept manufacturer coupons 6 months past their expiration date. For the complete coupon policy at the commissary, check out this link: "Coupon Use in Commissaries." One difference between couponing at the commissary and couponing at an average grocery store is that commissaries do not have loss leaders (check out the Crazy Coupon Lady's post "What's a Loss Leader and How Do I Find One at my Supermarket?"). The DeCA website explains why the commissary does not offer loss leaders: "Because commissaries are required by law to sell items at cost-- neither higher nor lower– we can't offer 'loss leaders.'" The commissary also changes its flier on a different schedule than average grocery stores, according to their website:
Stateside commissaries change prices twice a month, as opposed to the private sector, where prices are changed weekly or more frequently. Commissary prices are changed on the 1st and 16th of each month and are usually in effect for 30 to 45 days. These price changes are generally about a 50-50 mix, with some prices being lowered as items go on a special promotion or sale and some raised as items come off a special promotion or sale. 
 Even without loss leaders, the commissary website claims:
However, although you may find selected items at lower prices in commercial stores, our price surveys provide convincing evidence that-if you shop regularly in a commissary for all or virtually all of your grocery needs--you will save 30 percent or more on your grocery bill versus what you would pay in a commercial store for the same array of items.
The National Military Association's article, "Protecting Our Commissary Savings," states:
A military family of four saves $4,500 a year when regularly using the commissary. Multiply that average savings by the number of military families who use the commissary and you see how effectively and efficiently the $1.4 billion [appropriated funding] is used.
In the USMilitary "What the Recruiter Never Told You" Part 13 Military Commissaries and Exchanges article by Rod Powers, he compares commissary prices with WalMart Super Store prices:
In preparation for this article, I visited a local Wal Mart "Super Store," and bought $103.57 worth of groceries. I then made a list of the items I bought and traveled to Patrick AFB... At the commissary there, I priced the exact same items. According to DeCA, my commissary bill should have been around $70.00. Had I actually purchased the items, my bill would have been $85.52. Tack on the 5 percent surcharge, and it would have been $89.79. I won't count the bagger's tip, as Commissary baggers not only bag your groceries but take them outside and load them into your car. That's worth every penny of the tip, in my opinion. My total discount would have been 13.3 percent.
Tipping at the commissary is subjective. I typically do not carry cash. However, when checking out at the commissary, I can request specific dollar amounts of cash back when paying with my debit card. The last time I went to the commissary I requested $10 cash back in the form of one $5 and five $1. The baggers at the commissary work entirely off of tips and are not government or commissary employees. I generally put $1-$2 in the jar if I do not have the baggers take my groceries to the car and about $5 for a normal grocery load if they do. $2-$5 is generally considered acceptable when tipping at the commissary. Often times I tip more over holidays or when I have an exceptionally large or cumbersome load. Using the self-checkout at the commissary does not require tipping.
According to the DeCA Working Capital Fund Fiscal Year 2000/2001 Biennial Budget Estimates Operating Budget, page 3, "Commissary operating hours and days are determined by sales, patron demographics, and local installation needs. Due to funding limitations, commissaries are open an average of 48 hours a week." The same report estimates on page 22 that an average grocery store is open roughly 117 hours a week, just to compare the differences between commissary hours and average grocery store hours. While the commissary often has limited hours, they generally open their doors a half hour before the cash registers are open. This is very convenient for me when shopping with the kids. I can do my shopping when the commissary is still relatively empty and get to the cash registers right when they open, making for a speedy check out. Even so, the limited shopping hours are often inconvenient for my family. The commissary opens later than most other area grocery stores. On weekends when we are making big pancake breakfasts and run out of an ingredient, it is often before the commissary is open. Or when my hubby calls on his way home from school and I want him to swing by the commissary for something, it is often when the commissary is closing or right before, forcing him to use a different grocery store. And just like the Chick-Fil-A law (anyone else only crave Chick-Fil-A on Sundays?), we inevitably need something from the commissary on the day it is closed.
The previous quote from the DeCA Working Capital Fund Fiscal Year 2000/2001 Biennial Budget Estimates Operating Budget
brings up a very valid point: "Commissary operating hours and days are determined by sales, patron demographics, and local installation needs." This is where the responsibility falls on us, the commissary shoppers. If we aren't shopping at our local commissaries, the hours will continue to get cut and commissaries will continue to close. While the commissary is not the vital lifeline for us here in South Carolina as it was for us in Hawaii, shopping at CONUS locations helps keeps OCONUS locations afloat, balancing out the commissaries non-profit budget. How important are these commissary locations to military families? This article on Hawaii News Now, "Milk Prices in Hawaii Go Up" by Beth Hillyer, outlines the prices of milk in Hawaii, "The highest price we found on Oahu for a gallon of whole milk was $8.99 on sale for $7.49 if you have a value card. The cheapest was Costco for $4.99 per gallon." This article obviously doesn't include commissary prices on milk, but you can see how shopping at an average grocery store in Hawaii for the basics starts adding up!

So where do I stand on commissary prices? Do I think that they are always much less than shopping out in town? Here in South Carolina, no. For the bulk of our family shopping, we go to Costco (read my post, "Family diet verses family budget"). In general, Costco has lower prices on more of the staples of our family grocery list than my local commissary. Do I think the commissary in general has lower prices than an average grocery store here in South Carolina? Yes, especially when loss leaders are not on our list and we are just getting those in-between Costco trips items or small portions of things we couldn't buy at Costco (fresh herbs, for instance). Do I think that dealing with the "hassle" of the commissary is worth supporting this service to military families? Absolutely.
Here are a list of common complaints against the commissary-- many of which are my own complaints when compared to an average grocery store-- and how I deal with them to continue to support this service:

1. They do not offer online grocery shopping.
I love online grocery shopping, as I've mentioned in several previous blog posts. Where we live in South Carolina, there are no local grocery stores convenient that offer online grocery shopping, so this really isn't much of an issue for me. If I had to choose between shopping at the commissary or placing an order online with Harris Teeter... I think it would be a much harder choice for me. As is, I have the choice to either go in to a local grocery store or to go into our commissary. I usually choose the commissary, unless it is closed or pay day.
2. Their check out system is ridiculous.
Well, I agree. I do not like the big ole' one line system. My friends without kids tell me it moves fast. Standing in that one line with all three of my kids is about as much fun as taking the boys with me to the clinic on base (which I also do). Since our boys are so young (5-years old and 3-years old), I solve this by going early in the day, arriving when they open the door, about half hour before the registers open. I've even taken them all on pay day-- totally unintentionally. I get our shopping done and am either the first or second person in line. When I only have one or two items I need, arriving early works great too because I can be first in line for self-check out and we really are in and out.
3. You have to tip the baggers.
Maybe I'm frivolous, but this doesn't really bother me. I never have cash, so I'm always glad I can request cash back when I check out. I generally don't like the baggers coming out to the car with me. The mini van is impossible to load groceries in with the stroller in the back and our toddlers are always a hot mess to load up. Most of the time, I have them load my groceries back into my shopping cart and put a tip in their jar. The $1-$5 doesn't feel like a big deal and the times I take my hubby's car without the kids, I like having my groceries loaded up for me.

4. The commissary is so... dark.
Yeah, it isn't bright and fancy like Harris Teeter or Whole Foods. But neither is Costco. It may not have the upscale look, but it does the job. This is our fourth duty station; we've shopped at all different types of grocery stores across the country. The commissary just really doesn't bother me.

And here are some links to help with your commissary shopping:
The blog "Commissary Deals" teaches you not only how to coupon at the commissary, but tips you off to current deals! Learn the commissary's coupon policy, how to navigate commissary sales, and how to make the most of case lot sales. New to couponing? Check out the Getting Started: Learn to Coupon tab. This website is seriously a treasure trove of useful links (check out the Categories and Topics menu on the right hand side of the page!).
Note: I've mentioned it before, but I am not a couponer. I know many people coupon which is why I provided the links for couponing at the commissary. I save money when doing our family grocery shopping by sticking to our list and minimizing our trips to the store. :)