A sad goodbye to diapers.com

My baby girl will turn three next week. In the first few months of her life, I was as dependent on diapers.com as she was on me for food. I had two kids in diapers. I used baby shampoos, soaps and toothpaste. I loved everything about diapers.com. Free overnight shipping, no tax, and amazingly responsive customer service. When I was tired from sleepless nights and mistakenly ordered the wrong item, they replaced it without charging me. It was my fault, but they repeatedly did everything they could to make me happy.

For years, I’ve been a loyal customer. I’ve told friends about them and joked that they should pay me for all the good PR I’ve given them. So it was a sad goodbye when I unsubscribed from their email list today. It’s not because their customer service or product quality has declined or because (money-hungry) California caught up to them and they now apply tax on purchases. I simply don’t need the products they specialize in anymore.

Four strollers, five car seats, 100 sippy cups and God knows how many diapers later, I no longer have babies. I have a preschool-age child and an almost-kindergartner (I write, wiping away tears). Diapers.com sells some items for older kids, but most of their promotional emails don’t relate to these products, so over the past few months, their emails became clutter in my inbox. Yet I resisted unsubscribing, maybe hanging onto the baby stage just a bit longer.

If I need something, I’ll still check their site, or one of their sister sites, soap.com, yoyo.com or beautybar.com.  I will recommend diapers.com to all the new moms I know and I’ll buy baby gifts for friends on the site.

I remember reading the company story (they started in a garage) in a business magazine years ago and feeling good about giving my money to them. And it’s easy for me to get behind a service that saves me time and money. I’m not getting the emails anymore, but I’m forever grateful to the company that made having two babies in less than two years, just a little bit easier.

Sample lots, buy once

sephora

If I ever win the lottery (which is unlikely since I don’t play often), my splurge would be to have my makeup and hair done by a professional every day. Like most moms, I rarely have the time to do either properly, so it’s a real treat when someone else does it for me. After a breakup years ago I decided I needed a new look, so in addition to growing my hair out (that boyfriend liked short hair), I went to the mall to get a makeover. I bought most of the makeup she used and decided I should do that every few years, so I have the tools to look good, in case I ever have the time.

To save time, I go get my makeup done on a day when I have plans for the night, so I don’t have to worry about doing makeup myself (I also schedule hair appointments strategically for the same reason). If I am spending money, I want to save time, too!

The last time I got my makeup done was for a wedding when Avery was a baby, so I decided to go last weekend before a friend’s 40th birthday party. I loved my makeup (go see Jessica D. at Sephora in UTC if you live in San Diego), but she also mentioned I should exfoliate my skin to help makeup stay on better. As much as I don’t want to spend money on another product or take the time to apply it, I knew she was right.

I didn’t buy any that day, wanting to survey my friends about products they like. And the survey tool for the 21st century? Facebook, of course. My friends suggested several products and in the past, I’ve just picked one randomly and purchased it. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. If I don’t, I’m wasting money and time, which you all know I hate.

When I was at Sephora last week, Jessica gave me samples of a few things, so I had an idea. I would take my list from Facebook to Sephora and ask them to sample the products my friends suggested. I also went to the Kiehl’s store next door. I don’t know why I never thought of this before. Before I spend $85 on Exfolikate, I should test it out first. So for the next week or two, I’ll be working from my little sampling station, trying to find the best product for my skin. It was free and even though I’ll have to spend some time buying the actual product, Sephora and BeautyBar.com offer free shipping on online orders over $50, so it will be quick and easy. And I know it won’t go into the trash unused a few months from now.

Time and money, saved! Now I’m off to buy a lottery ticket…

Costco rules!

costcI have a love/hate relationship with Costco. Definitely more love than hate since I like to save money, but we live in a small house with very little storage, so finding room for 20 bags of chips or 40 rolls of toilet paper presents a challenge. Though storage logistics can make me crazy, the good deals and quality products keep me coming back.

Before this year, I only shopped at Costco for meat, cheese and bread. Since my kids were fed at school, it made more sense to buy snacks and produce at the regular grocery store, otherwise things would go bad before we got around to eating them. Since Clay started preschool we are going through more food, so I’m shopping at Costco more.

I have a few rules that help me save time and money when shopping there, which I thought I’d share:

1. Don’t buy anything that only one person in your family will eat.
Chase and Clay are picky eaters, Avery will eat anything and I’m somewhere in between. When shopping at Costco, I only buy food that we all eat. That’s the only way we’ll actually use all of it before it goes bad. If that happens, not only did we waste money, but I wasted space storing it and time shopping for it.

2. Split, then freeze or share.
The Oroweat wheat bread we like comes in a pack of two. We eat a lot of sandwiches, but still don’t go through two large loaves a week. I immediately put one in the pantry and the other in the freezer. I do the same with tortillas, ground turkey, ground beef and chicken breasts. I leave one of each out, then freeze the rest. Another option is to share with a friend or family member. My mom and brother live near each other, so they often split items. She can’t eat 20 avocados, but between her putting them on her sandwiches and he and his wife feeding their friends guacamole while they watch sports, they all get eaten.

3. Don’t test out a new food for your kids.
I’ve made this mistake a few times. Oh the kids will love this, I think. Then they don’t and I have 47 waffles taking up half my freezer and I feel guilty wasting money by throwing them away. Buy smaller quantities at the grocery store and do a taste test first.

4. When you can, shop alone.
Husbands wander off to look at huge TVs when they already have one (or more) at home. Toddler girls talk you into buying tutu dresses. Four-year-old boys want to cruise the toy aisle, then beg you to buy something. If you’re alone, it’s easier to manuever the giant cart, you can park away from the crowds and you might even have time to browse the gossip magazines (they are 30 percent off retail price!) for a few minutes.

5. Time your visit wisely.
I work full time, so I can’t go going during the day on a weekday. When I worked from home I would run over at lunch sometimes and that’s not a great time either (retired people like to make a lunch out of the samples and working folks go to the food court on their lunch breaks). I’ve found that the best times are Monday or Tuesdays after work or Sunday mornings when they first open. I went right as the Super Bowl started this year and that wasn’t bad either – lots of TVs to watch the pregame festivities and everyone else was already home getting ready for their parties.

How about you? Any tips for saving time and money at Costco?

Dressing the munchkins: quality over quantity

babygap_logogymboree_logo01_green_v1_m56577569830748330

When I was pregnant with Clay and found out I was having a boy, I did what many expectant moms do: I went shopping for baby clothes. I was in Florida visiting my friend, Heather, and Baby Gap was having a huge sale, so I bought a suitcase full of onesies and other sale items. There was something irresistible about that little bear logo and at the sale prices, they were a great deal.

Clay had reflux when he was born, so I changed his clothes several times a day and washed those first onesies probably 100 times each. The shocking thing: they held up great! I quickly realized that with baby and toddler clothes, it was worth the money to buy quality brands, because they will hold up longer over the long run. Kids can wreak havoc on clothes. Every type of bodily fluid, along with finger paint, food, milk, dirt and who knows what else will end up on your kids’ clothes. They will fall down 10 times a day. Even though shopping online is convenient, I don’t have time to buy new stuff every week, and I don’t want to spend the money replacing clothes before they outgrow them.

For our kids, I shop mostly at Baby Gap and Gymboree. On occasion I actually visit the store in the mall, but mostly I shop their online sale section. When we need certain items, I just search “bottoms” or “tops” in their sizes and make my selections based on the sale options. Besides convenience, online shopping for kids is great because other parents review the items, so you’ll know if they run big, if the fabric is scratchy, etc. Both stores can be pricey, but their sale items are very reasonable and I know they will last. I can wash them every week and the colors won’t fade, the seams won’t split. Sure, I could buy cheaper clothes and the kids could have more of them, but for preschoolers, I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

I packed up a bag of Clay’s hand-me-downs for a friend’s son last night and it looked like a Gymboree and Gap sample sale. But after wearing these clothes for close to a year, doing crazy four-year-old boy stuff, they’re still in pretty good shape, which makes me think they were good purchases.

There is a good chance that Clay will let me dress him forever, but since she already dresses herself at two and has sweet-talked her dad into buying her tutu dresses at Costco, I’m pretty sure Avery will battle me to shop for her own clothes before she’s out of elementary school. So I’m enjoying the control while it lasts. I sure will miss Gymboree and Gap when I’m trapped with her, bright colors and loud music in Forever 21!

What about you? What are your favorite stores to buy kid clothes?

Staying out of the red with the Target Red Debit Card

piggy bank

Clay’s new piggy bank

Everyone knows I prefer online shopping, but before my infatuation with Amazon and Diapers.com, my first love was Target. It is less chaotic than Wal-Mart, with good prices and the ability to buy diapers, a new TV and applesauce all in one place. When my kids were babies, I would sometimes go to Target after they went to bed and walk around aimlessly, enjoying time to myself and checking out inexpensive (but cute!) home decor options or workout clothes. I rarely do that anymore, but in general, if I’m going to a brick-and-mortar store for something, there is a good chance it’s Target.

You’ve all been at Target (or other retailers) when the checkout person asks, “would you like to save an extra 5 percent and open a store card?” Since Chase works for a credit counseling company, I know the dangers of store credit cards, as they have some of the highest interest rates in the industry. So even though I love to save money, my immediate answer is “no, thank you.”

After turning down the 5 percent savings for years, I changed my tune last Thanksgiving, after my mom told me about the Target Red Debit card. While we use our rewards credit cards for larger purchases, I use my Bank of America debit card the rest of the time. She was at Target with me and asked why I didn’t have their debit card. She explained that it is linked directly to your checking account (just like your debit card) and that you save 5 percent on every purchase. You also get free shipping for Target.com orders, which may be the biggest advantage for me. Normally Target only offers free shipping if you spend $50.

Last night, Clay asked for a “boy version” of Avery’s piggy bank, which I bought at Target a few weeks ago. He’s making really good progress with saving his money and I want to encourage him to save. I also don’t have time to go to Target this week. After a few clicks on their site, I saved 5 percent and it will here by Friday (with free shipping). The Target Red Debit Card is my new favorite way to save time and money!

Who needs Santa when you can shop online?

One day's of deliveries

One day of deliveries

I don’t know how moms made Christmas happen before online shopping. Our Elf on the Shelf Mickey is cute, but he doesn’t really make presents for Santa. If it weren’t for online shopping, I would have had a breakdown and I most certainly wouldn’t be done with my shopping already.

It’s a running joke between Chase and I: if I can’t buy it online, I’m probably not buying it. There are exceptions of course, but this Christmas shopping season they were few and far between. I had to buy for about 25 people and I got nearly everything online. I went to Target for stocking stuffers and wrapping paper. I also visited a small boutique and a Bath & Body Works store near my office. I never went to a mall, yet finished my shopping earlier than ever thanks to online shopping.

Five reasons I love shopping online:

1. You can do it from the comfort of your own home.

This one seems obvious, but it’s value could be underrated. The first thing I do when I get home from work is change my clothes. I can shop online in my pajamas, from the iPad, sitting next to the kids in the bath. My car is parked safely in the garage and I am not circling the Nordstrom parking lot hoping to find a single, young person leaving (because we all know families and old people take forever). As much as I love Christmas music, I do not miss the crowds or pushy salespeople.

2. You can solicit another opinion.

I am terribly indecisive when it comes to gift purchases. Should I buy her a white or a red sweater? Should I order it now or wait until it goes on sale? I shop online in bed a lot and it is easy for me to ask Chase to take a look at an item I’m considering. He makes fun of me for stressing over such small decisions, but it’s who I am. He helps me make these seemingly easy choices. I assume you could get others’ opinions when shopping in person too, but whose husband will go shopping with them?

3. Shipping boxes can also serve as gift hiding places.

I realize my kids are still young and this may not last forever, but every single Christmas gift I’ve bought is in a corner of our garage, still in their shipping boxes. The kids have no idea that the Cars and Disney Princess toys they’ve been dreaming about are two feet away from them every time they get in or out of the car. For people like us who don’t have a lot of storage space, being able to keep the gifts in the one place we do have some room, without anyone realizing what’s inside, is invaluable.

4. You can procrastinate.

Sales get better and shipping gets cheaper the closer you get to Christmas. I am subscribed to several store emails and learned last year that waiting to buy gifts can help you save money. The closer we’ve gotten to Christmas, the more emails I’ve received offering discounts and free express shipping. I didn’t follow my own advice this year though. There was one item I bought my brother and his wife from Pottery Barn. I was having it engraved, so I felt the need to order it early. Not two days passed before I got a coupon for 20 percent off and free shipping. If only I had waited…

5. You can compare prices.

I would never in a million years drive to more than one store to check prices on an item. Time is money, after all. But online, it takes one minute to check the price of an item on several sites. You can choose the best price with the lowest shipping cost.

Online shopping saves me money and more importantly, a lot of time. Maybe when Mickey the elf goes back to tell Santa that the kids are behaving themselves, he’ll also suggest online shopping. I’m sure Santa could use some bargains and time-saving tips, too.

Merry Christmas!

Mall phobia

As a teenager, there was nothing I enjoyed more than a day at the mall. Now, I get anxious just thinking about it. I am queen of running to the mall at lunch for essentials (makeup, a birthday gift, etc.), but the idea of spending more than 45 minutes there is just downright frightening. I don’t know why. I have never been attacked by a mean sales girl and I haven’t lost a child in the clothing racks (yet). So why do I hate shopping so much?

I don’t recall exactly when my mall phobia began, but I think it may have been when I moved to San Diego. We have several very nice malls here, but they are all ridiculously crowded, ALL THE TIME. The economic downturn was never evident in the parking garages or checkout lines. They are packed, 24/7. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but in addition to being a bit anal, I’m also more than a bit impatient. Crowded malls are hell for impatient people.

This is why I turned to online shopping. I shop on my couch, things are brought to me and if I don’t like them, I can drop them in a UPS box, rather than waiting in yet another line. So if online shopping works, why do I care if I can’t stand the mall? Because I sigh every time I look in my closet!

When you shop online from the same few stores, you end up with very little variety. When I click on to Gap or other stores’ sites, I first navigate to the sale items (I never pay full price), then filter it down to my size, before buying clothes that are similar to items I already have, just in different colors. Piperlime does a great job putting together stylish outfits on their site, but it’s hard to buy a whole outfit without trying it on first.

I get InStyle magazine (yes, I realize the irony, but my mom bought it for me as a gift), but every time I see something I really like in there, I look at the price and it’s a $200 top or a $400 pair of shoes. So I go back to Gap and Target, tail between my legs, and buy something sensible.

Avery’s teacher told me this morning how cute her clothes are (I buy them online), and that other parents have even commented on my stylish child. A few more years and Avery will be embarrassed of me.

For nearly four years I was either pregnant or nursing a baby, so I didn’t want to spend money dressing a constantly changing body, but those days are behind me. It’s my turn to look cute again. I realize I’m going to have to invest both time and money in this effort, but where do I start? Does anyone have a cure for my mall phobia?