Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Deals

Amazon seems to have some decent year end deals on Toys and Games. While some of the items are not as deeply discounted as they were during the peak pre-Christmas sales (for example, $11.99 for the LeapFrog Tag Maps: USA as opposed to $9.99 before Xmas). Still, a bargain is a bargain and for those of us regretting not snapping up the earlier deal, it's still at a big enough discount to be a great deal. Plus, it works out just as cheap as in the sale, with the added bonus that I can use my Swagbucks.

Speaking of Swagbucks, don't forget today is the last day to get all five of the holiday bills. If you get them all before the end of the day today, you will receive 50 extra bucks in the new year!

Check out the Amazon year end clearance on toys with some items being over 70% off. The Alex Ready, Set, Go! Red Trike is priced at $49.99 (75% discount, down from $199.99). The Pop On Pals Pop On Pals Amusement Park - Boys is down to $9.99 (a 71% discount from it's regular price of $34.99). The Play-doh Fun Food Poppin Movie Snacks is down to $4.99 (67%, was $14.99). And the Moxie Magic Hair Stamp 'n' Style Doll -Sophina is down to $9.99 (60% off, down from $24.99).

You can find the full list of year end discounts on toys here.

Express is having a clearance sale too. Many items are 60% off, but you can get an extra 20% off clearance items. Sign up for Express email and you get 15% off, plus use code 9945 for free shipping.

Kohls is also having a decent sale. Some final clearance items are up to 80% off. Plus everything is eligible for 99c shipping, and you can use code TWENTY4U for an extra 20% discount.

Finally, the Leapfrog sale is still on, with free shipping on everything. Use code WINTER20 for an extra 20% off.

Hope everyone has a great night, whatever you are doing tonight!


Organized Working Mom

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Leapfrog Tag Book Deal

Right now Leapfrog has a sale where several of the Tag books are $5.99. They are offering free shipping, and if you use the code WINTER20, you get an additional 20% off. That makes the cost per book $4.79 shipped...a great deal!

Employment Law for Working Parents

Some time ago, when my daughter was a toddler, I had a mommy awakening moment. I had started a new job and the workload was heavy. I was trying (and failing) to stay on top of everything but it required putting in long hours. Despite that, I thought I was doing a decent job of balancing work and home life.
My daughter was going through a big imitation phase and liked to copy everything we did. At the park one Saturday morning she stated loudly “I’m Mommy!” then proceeded to type on her pretend Blackberry. As I watched she laughed, clearly delighted at her impression of me. “That Mommy! That what you do, Mommy!” she said. “That all you do!”
I had thought I was doing a pretty good job making sure I was home and spending time with my family. I rarely worked late, even though I needed to. Instead I often brought my laptop home and I always checked email from my Blackberry. That day was a huge reality check for me. Even though I thought my daughter would appreciate me being there, all she saw was me ignoring her in favor of the Blackberry. From that point on I decided to make it a priority to spend quality time with my kids, attend the events that are important to them and not be the parent in the corner, making the whispered business call and emailing throughout the performance.
I’ll make another post later about how I reorganized my work hours and organized my tasks to better accomplish this. But this post will focus on getting the time off to attend functions and care for your children in the first place. I am very fortunate to have an awesome boss who understands the importance of family, and actually encourages us to put them first and attend everything we can. But I’ve been in positions before where that was not considered a priority, and in those situations it’s important to know what you’re legally entitled to.
This post talks about California resources and legislation because that’s where I’m based, but you can check your own state legislation here. None of this information is a substitution for checking with your employer’s HR department, and knowing what’s in your employer’s policies, handbook, and collective bargaining agreements, as applicable.
California Employment Law for Parents - Summary:
Unpaid time off for pregnancy
Pregnancy Disability Leave provides up to 16 weeks (unpaid) leave for disability related to pregnancy and/or the birth of a child. The standard amount of PDL time allotted for a vaginal delivery is 6 weeks, and 8 weeks for a c-section.
Paid time off for pregnancy
California’s SDI program benefit period for a normal pregnancy and delivery is generally from four weeks before the birth and up to six weeks after, due to pregnancy related disability. You will not be paid at 100% of salary – see this chart of the current payment amounts based on your typical earned income.
Unpaid time off for birth/bonding
California has a very generous leave provision in comparison to many other states for the birth or adoption of a child. Both the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provide that a parent may take up to 12 weeks for the birth of and/or bonding with a child. Most employers integrate the leave so that the 12 weeks run concurrently. Employers must provide the best of the benefits from both acts. Some highlights include the use of intermittent leave for bonding. If a parent wants to take some, or all of the 12 weeks (480 hours) on an intermittent basis for bonding, they may do so as long as the time is taken within one year from the child’s birth or adoption. This means that a parent could potentially take every Wednesday off after the child’s birth until their leave allowance runs out. The Act also entitles health insurance benefits to continue, and if the employee is unpaid, may enable the associated payroll deductions to be taken out upon return as opposed to while the employee is not receiving income.
The law allows an employer to mandate that employees use their own paid leave time concurrently with FMLA and/or CFRA. You would need to check whether your employer requires this or not.
To be eligible for the leave, parents must have worked 1,250 regular hours in the 12 months preceding the request, have been an employee for 12 months (not necessarily consecutive months), and the company must have at least 50 employees.
Paid time off for bonding
The SDI program also introduced a new provision, called Paid Family Leave (PFL). Workers who pay into SDI are also entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child. The program also allows relatives to claim up to 6 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill family member – for example a spouse or domestic partner who is recovering from childbirth or is disabled due to pregnancy. The payment information is the same as SDI above.
Combining leave
Employees can combine the various leave provisions to maximize the amount of leave they receive due to pregnancy and birth of a child. For example, a woman who is placed on bedrest 4 weeks before the birth of the child, and who then had a vaginal delivery would be legally entitled to 10 weeks (4+6) of Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), followed by 12 weeks of FMLA/CFRA, for a total of 22 weeks of protected leave. Generally, the 12 weeks of the PDL would also be eligible for SDI payments through the state, and 6 of the 12 weeks of FMLA/CFRA would be eligible for PFL payments.
So, in total, the employee would be entitled to 22 weeks of unpaid leave, 16 of which could be subsidized through the state. This does not include whether the employer has their own paid disability programs or whether they allow paid leave to be taken concurrently with the PDL, FMLA or CFRA.
Pumping at work
The California Labor Code provides that employers must allow breaks for mothers to express breast milk. They must also provide a private room for this purpose (a bathroom is not acceptable). The break time does not have to be compensated, but employees may combine their paid breaks with breaks for pumping.
Time off for school or daycare activities
California Labor Code Section 230.8 provides for up to 40 hours each year (up to 8 hours per month) to participate in any activity sponsored by the school or daycare facility. This could include volunteering in your child's classroom, participating in field trips, parent-teacher conferences, or special events.
Any full time employee, regardless of the shift they work, is entitled to 40 hours of leave. The leave could be vacation, personal leave or comp time. You may also take unpaid time if that is an option offered by the employer. The choice of what type of leave to take is the employee’s. Part time employees receive a proportionate amount of leave. Night shift employees may also ask for time off to sleep in order to prepare for a daytime event.
You must provide advance notice of your need for leave, and if required, provide your employer with written proof of your participation. The employer may not refuse the request if the employee is eligible.
To be eligible for the leave, you must be:
·         A parent, guardian or grandparent with custody of a child enrolled in a California public or private school (K-12) or licensed child day care facility
·         An employee of a business with 25+ employees at the same location
Teachers are considered full time employees for purposes of the legislation, and the school is required to pay for a substitute. Generally teachers are required to take leave without pay unless their collective bargaining agreement provides for something different.
Make-up time
An employee may request to make up time off within the same 40 hour workweek. So, for example, if you need to leave an hour early on a Tuesday to take your son to the dentist, you could make up the time by taking ½ hour lunches on Wednesday and Thursday, and you wouldn’t have to use your own paid leave. However, the decision to grant the request is entirely at the discretion of the employer.
I hope this summary of the regulations is helpful. If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will answer as best I can!
Organized Working Mom

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TLC's Extreme Couponing

Tonight at 8PM Eastern, TLC is going to be airing a new special, Extreme Couponing

Couponing is something I really want to do, and I fairly often manage the clipping part. But actually bringing the coupon to the store, or remembering it once I'm there is a whole different ballgame! The only really successful couponing I have done was when one of my kids was a baby. There was a Target coupon that allowed you to buy Gerber baby foods for a net cost of $0.01. Over the course of about a month, I bought enough food to last until my child went to solids. Of course the obligatory additional purchases of things I always seem to "need" when I'm in Target probably negated the coupon savings.

It's a resolution of mine to get better at couponing this year, so I'll be interested to watch the special. However, the preview says that one of the women goes dumpster diving for coupons. Dumpster diving?? DUMPSTER DIVING???!!! Um, no thanks. There's a limit to how far I can go for a deal!

If you check out the show tonight, let me know what you think about it!


Organized Working Mom

Making Money: Swag Code Basics

I've posted about Swagbucks before, but one of the things that took me a while to figure out when I started was the swag codes.
What are Swag Codes?
Swag codes are strings of text (no spaces) that can be entered into the swag code box on the home page of the Swagbucks site to get you extra bucks. They vary in amount, and are usually between 5-12 swag bucks.
Where can I find Swag Codes?
Swag codes can be found on any of the following Swagbucks pages (Facebook, SB Blog, Twitter and Flikr). There are also a number of sites which outright tell you the codes, for example Swag Code Spoiler, but I’m not sure if this is technically allowed.
How long do Swag Codes last?
You will need to be quick. Swag Codes usually have a short expiration window, or they are restricted to only a certain number of users.
How will I recognize a Swag Code?
The code is usually a string of text and numbers with no spaces in between. It is often in quotes – for example, if you see on a page something like: Swagbucks wishes our members a “MerryXmas456x2”, it would be likely that the text in quotes is a swag code.
Happy hunting!

Why flylady doesn't work for me

Flylady is a popular home organization site. I personally know several people who swear by this site and credit it with having their homes totally organized, and the fact that it didn’t work for me definitely doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. This is definitely not intended to be disparaging to flylady - there are lots of good tips on there and I encourage you to check it out. But I had many frustrated failure moments trying to follow the plan to the letter before I realized that baby steps and routines just don’t keep me motivated. Maybe I’m too impatient, but I need my whole house to be totally clean and clutter free to give me the impetus to keep going.
Whether you call it perfectionism or just being anal, I like to have my whole house in order. It gives me some kind of perverse satisfaction and I generally feel more accomplished in general, even though the rational side of me knows how ridiculous that sounds. Eventually I realized that the only way for me to be completely organized around the home was to fully spring clean the entire house, and then set up routines to keep it going. This takes at least a weekend of hard work on the front end to get the house in perfect shape. The trick is keeping it that way. I had several relapses before I realized that the only way I can achieve it is to dedicate an hour a day to whole house straightening.
I know an hour sounds like a LOT of time. It’s almost impossible to think that you can set aside that much time a day. And for me, it is impossible if I leave it until the end of the day, because I’m tired and too lazy to do much of anything. So here is where you’re probably going to start thinking I’m crazy, but I found that the only way for me to get this done is to get up an hour earlier in the mornings. It has the added bonus that the kids are asleep and don’t have a tendency to follow me around the house like target missiles, seeking out and destroying every area I just cleaned.
My standard morning routine on weekdays is as follows:
·         Unload dishwasher
·         Wipe down and polish counters, stove top, surfaces, and table tops
·         Clean floors with my Shark Steam Mop (every other day)
·         Dust
·         Fold and put away laundry
This all takes about 30 minutes, and I catch up on my DVR shows at the same time. I find that doing these tasks every day means they take far less time. Then depending on what needs doing that day, I use the remaining 30 minutes to steam clean the upholstery with my Shark cleaner, clean the bathrooms, clean the walls with magic erasers (FYI – they are the best at getting rid of crayon marks from your little Picasso), clean the oven and fridge, and pay bills. I don’t set a specific schedule for these things because I like the whole house to be presentable, so I will tackle whatever I think needs it the most, whether that is a combination of all the above, or a deep cleaning of the bathroom.
Freshening the couch with the Shark is one of those things that seems like it might not make a difference, but is actually one of the most valuable things I do. Having a cream couch with small children was not the best decision I ever made, and sometimes the grimy fingerprints seem to creep up on me until I suddenly realize it looks disgusting. I now try to clean it once a week at least, even if it doesn’t look like it needs it, and that has made a huge difference to how the whole living area looks.
In the evenings, I always start a load of laundry when I get home from work, and put it in the dryer overnight, ready for me to fold in the morning. Doing laundry every day means it never gets overwhelming (and I can always find something to wear). After dinner and before bed, we take 15 minutes as a family to do the following:
·         Load dishwasher (it runs overnight)
·         Straighten each room (the kids straighten their own rooms and play area)
·         Sweep and vacuum
By doing these routines every week day, I never get stuck needing to do hours of cleaning on the weekend. I can fully enjoy my days off with my family, spending quality time with the kids, and lessening some of that working mommy guilt!
In another post I’ll talk about the problem areas in my house and what I do to prevent clutter and mess creeping up on me.

Savvy Shopping

I’m sure like many others, my family has had our share of times when money was tight. There are a few main money saving tips I have learned over the years, and I plan to share these on the blog. I would put them all in this post, except that I lost about a thousand brain cells with each child and the chances of me actually remembering them all at one time are slim at best (which leads me to another topic to be tackled a different day – the concept of “underpromise and overdeliver”).
So here are just a few ideas related to online shopping for now:
Top Five Online Shopping Tips
1.       Christmas with Amazon
I LOVE Amazon. It’s an awesome site for many reasons, but I was really converted to it a few years back over the holiday season. In December, Amazon has a huge sale. If you know when the prices are at their lowest (generally between December 10-16 or thereabouts), you can score some amazing toys and gifts at 50-80% off. This year was the third year I’ve shopped mainly on Amazon. Although this year still didn’t live up to the first year, when I got a Rose Petal Cottage, with nursery set, dining set, birthday set and stove for a total of $25, it was still good. I also buy birthday presents in advance and it is GREAT to get to my kids’ birthdays and have all the presents sorted already.
2.       Free Prime membership at Amazon
If you’re a mom, you can get free prime membership through Amazon Mom. Prime membership will give you FREE two day shipping on almost every item that Amazon stocks. Amazon Mom is free to sign up, no strings attached or credit card info required. The initial free membership is for a three month period, but you can extend this a month for every $25+ purchase you make in the baby section (diapers, wipes, etc). You can earn up to one year’s free membership from the date you join, so those of you joining today would be able to use it next Christmas. Amazon Mom also gives discounts to members on toys, diapers, and other products.
3.       Online discount codes
If I’m shopping online, I always search for a discount code before I buy. Retailmenot is an awesome site that allows you to search for the retailer you plan to purchase from, and get a list of codes that can be used to get discounts at the site you’re shopping at. Users rate the codes so you know which ones are most likely to work. You should be able to find something for most retailers, but I have had good luck with certain sites – almost every time I’ve bought anything from Boston Market I’ve been able to find a code for at least 20% off. I would never go into the store to order now because I can order online and save so much more.
4.       Swagbucks
If you haven’t yet been introduced to the world of swagbucks, you should definitely try it. Swagbucks is a no strings attached search engine, where you are randomly rewarded with swagbucks (usually between 5-50) for searching. I’ve found that I tend to get rewards in the morning, middle of the day, and evening. If you search the web for codes, you can enter them on the home page for additional bucks. You can exchange the bucks for any number of different items and merchandise, however I prefer to exchange them for Amazon gift cards. 450 swagbucks will get you a $5 gift card. Apply the gift card number to your Amazon account and the money will never expire. I seem to be able to get about $10-15 each month just by searching, watching a few videos and finding codes (I never complete the offers…mainly because there’s nothing I need). If you use the money in conjunction with the Christmas Amazon sale and free prime shipping through Amazon Mom you can get some REALLY cheap (read: free) items.
5.       Forums
If you find a bargain - share, share, share. There are plenty of sites out there that track bargains all over the web. My favorites are slickdeals, and sassycouponmom. You can also find a lot of great information on forums – for example the babycenter community has a thread going over the holiday season that specifically tracks the Amazon deals.
I hope some of this was useful info! Please comment and let me know of your favorite shopping tips!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Introduction (or should that be disclaimer?!)

Although I now consider myself to be fairly organized (at least most of the time) this has definitely been a work in progress. Before kids, I had no problem staying on top of work, exercising, and maintaining my house. At the time we rented an apartment that the owner was trying to sell, and we had to keep it show ready every day. It was a breeze. I had plenty of time for dates, dinners, and downtime with the hubby. But of course, as anyone with kids knows, life before children is a no-brainer. It’s almost a mystery how people find things to fill up the days (although I would have been hugely insulted by that at the time – I certainly felt extremely busy, and complained about it at length, probably to the annoyance of my friends with children!).

When I got pregnant with my first child, I naively imagined that I would be exercising within a few weeks, losing all of the baby weight and getting back my abs within four or five weeks. Six at the most! I pictured an idyllic scene wherein I enjoyed my restful maternity leave, glowing and blissful, while my contented, giggling child cooed the day away. I would return to work rested and fabulous (after all, I would have all that time to do manis, pedis, and plenty of shopping). I would have time to do all the projects we needed to get done in our newly purchased home, not to mention the home cooked meals I would have ready for my husband when he walked in the door.

So, as you may have guessed, my idyllic little fantasy was swiftly shattered. I gained over 80 pounds with the pregnancy, and returned to work a few months later with at least 30 of them hanging around my waist and arms. It’s a little surprising I didn’t lose more, considering I spent my entire waking moments pushing a stroller in a figure of eight around our house, the only (semi) proven method to calm my screaming, colicky baby. And the only cooked meals my husband arrived home to were the TV dinners still sitting in the microwave from lunchtime.

I’ll skip over most of the gory details of my firstborn’s infancy, and just give you some highlights – my husband became a stay at home dad during the day, and works his full time job at night. Shortly after returning from maternity leave with my firstborn, I took a new job and a big promotion. A while later I got pregnant again, and swiftly added to that left over baby weight. I swore that this time, things would be different. In a way they were…baby number two was a happy, sleepy baby and fit right in to our family. Adding a second child seemed so easy…and yet I still couldn’t get to grips with a single area of my life!

Being more of a researcher - ok, ok, a procrastinator - I spent a lot of time looking for ways to be more organized. I spent hours googling all kinds of systems, tips, and tricks and yet I really couldn’t find anything that actually helped. 

In my search I found a lot of articles encouraging me to “just let things go” and “stop trying to be perfect”. But I wasn’t trying to be perfect, I could barely stay on top of the essentials. You know, things like making it to my kids’ activities on time and still getting those important projects done for work, while somehow actually watching said activities and not getting stressed every time I fought off the urge to check the relentlessly buzzing Blackberry. Forget about actually enjoying the moment.

I’m not even going to mention the disaster that was my house during this time.  The laundry room quickly turned into a dumping ground for clothes, a wasteland through which you would have to dig through the 3ft piles to find a sweater. I can’t even tell you the sheer amount of time I wasted on a daily basis just looking for items of clothing. Shoes were sprawled in the shoe closet, and every morning before work I would spend at least 5 minutes searching for the missing half of a pair before realizing the toddler had stashed it behind the couch. A teething baby had bitten chunks of wall off my windowsill while the other scribbled in permanent marker on their shoes. I cleaned, straightened and organized the house from top to bottom on numerous occasions, only for it to return to a war zone by the end of the week.

I “never had time” for exercise, hadn’t had a date night for months, and we would randomly forget to pay bills which had sunk to the bottom of the “to do” piles on the kitchen counter.  Our finances were a mess because we never knew what charges were pending or how much was really left in our account. It was an exhausting way to live. I wondered, often, about people who seemed to have it all. I couldn’t imagine how they managed to fit everything into the day. Even with my husband doing far more than 50% of the household chores and childcare, I could not get to grips with it. I tried flylady, and other organization methods without success, and I got frustrated.

Eventually, over the last year, I have found a way to “have it all” (well, kinda!). Through trial, error, and sheer dumb luck, I have ended up in a place where my house is always clean, tidy, and company ready. I found a way to prioritize my kids so that I can be there for their important events and spend good, quality time with them on a daily basis. I’m on top of my work and feel good about my contribution to the company, am in the process of fixing my finances, and I even find time to squeeze in some daily exercise and regular date nights with my husband. I’m hoping to use this blog to share what I have done in case it can help someone else. When I was looking for a solution, I was desperate to find something that would work for me. I never found it…so I’m writing it myself.  I was so used to feeling that mom guilt, employee guilt, financial guilt, and getting organized has helped me to be free of those feelings for at least 5 or 10 minutes a day : )

I will be sharing the ways in which I have organized my life, diet, finances, schedule, work, kids, marriage and more, and I hope to hear from others too because this is definitely a path I’m still learning. I’ll be including tips for making extra money that won’t impact your home life, legal and informational resources to ensure your employer is providing the family friendly policies you’re entitled to, and tips for date nights even if you don’t have, or cant afford, a babysitter.

However - it remains to be seen whether I’m organized enough to fit in this blog!