Monthly Archives: July 2015

Floor 44: Breastfeeding?

I’m breastfeeding BabyDebtFreeJD.

I’m not doing it because it’s cheaper.

However, I was curious – how  do the numbers add up?

Tummy Time

DogDebtFreeJD and I keep a careful eye on BabyDebtFreeJD during tummy time!

Using a middle-of-the-price range formula, formula feeding will cost about $2,000 over the first year of a baby’s life.  Formula is one area where Mr. DebtFreeJD and I would spring for the best on the market – so I would estimate it would cost us more . . . although how much more?  Not sure, but let’s say $3,000 for the year.

So, it’s expensive to formula feed!

How much does it cost to breastfeed?  Nothing, you might say?

Wrong!

There are a lot of potential costs associated with breastfeeding.

Things you can spend money on include:

  • A pump.  Cost: $0.  Insurance covered this for me.
  • Milk storage bags. Cost: $14 for 100 from Amazon.
  • Bottles.  Cost: $0.  A kind friend bought these for us off our registry.
  • Lansinoh cream or the equivalent.  Cost: $0.  Luckily, I have not needed to use any creams or ointments yet.
  • Nursing bras.  Cost: $0.  My old bras work just fine for breastfeeding.  (I understand that this is not an option for more . . . uh . . . endowed ladies.)
  • Special nursing shirts or dresses.  Cost: $0.  See above.  What I own already, especially looser shirts, or button-down shirts, work just fine – but so do my old tank tops and t-shirts.*  A side benefit of breastfeeding: you lose weight fast!  So I fit into my old shirts within days after BabyDebtFreeJD was born.
  • Nursing pads:  First pack of washable pads: $10.  Second pack (after DogDebtFreeJD stole several out of the laundry basket and hid them): $0, bought with a gift card.
  • A breastfeeding pillow, like this one.  Cost: $2.  I picked one up used at a garage sale.  Which is good, because Baby DebtFreeJD hates it, and will only nurse on it if he’s too tired to notice I’m not supporting him with my hands.
  • A nursing cover for breastfeeding in public.  Cost: $15.  I have seen people use a scarf or a cloth diaper, but I usually need two hands to wrangle BabyDebtFreeJD when nursing under a blanket, and so we bought one that ties around my neck on Amazon.

In short, breastfeeding is much cheaper than formula feeding.  However, as with anything else, there are ways to breastfeed expensively, very cheaply, or somewhere in between. I fall on the “in-between” part of the scale: I bought things new when it made my life easier (nursing cover) or they weren’t available used (milk storage bags).  I didn’t buy things when I didn’t need them (e.g., special nursing bras or clothes).  I bought them used when possible (e.g., nursing pillow I saw driving by a local garage sale).  There’s also a lot of luck involved – I was able to nurse BabyDebtFreeJD without needing to supplement with formula, and we *knock on wood* haven’t had complications that would requiring purchasing medicine or special ointments.

This mirror was another generous gift.  Here, Baby DebtFreeJD is admiring his stylish duds.

This mirror was another generous gift. Here, Baby DebtFreeJD is admiring his stylish duds.

And, of course, the bottles came off our registry from a generous friend of the family. The generosity of friends and family makes having a new baby easier in SO many ways: people have sent presents, brought dinners, made supportive phone calls, and come for visits (thanks especially MomDebtFreeJD and Mom-In-Law DebtFreeJD for staying with us for a couple of weeks)!

Last, but certainly not least, breastfeeding BabyDebtFreeJD would be a lot harder if it weren’t for generous paid maternity leave.  I’ll be home for a little under four months, which gives us lots of time to establish breastfeeding and gives me time to pump and store breast milk for when I return to work.  Without paid maternity leave, breastfeeding could be prohibitively expensive – because the cost would be equal to all the paychecks I’d be losing while I was home feeding BabyDebtFreeJD every time he is hungry.  And he is hungry approximately 2304958761 times a day.

A rare period in which BabyDebtFreeJD is not ravenous.

A rare period in which BabyDebtFreeJD is not ravenous.  The excellent chair was a hand-me-down!

*Not to get too graphic, but I just pull up the tighter tops, rather than pulling the neckline down.

Article on Test for Discharging Student Loan Debt

The New York Times has an article today on the  most-commonly used test for discharging student loans during bankruptcy.  That test, called the Brunner test (after the eponymous case), has three prongs:

  1.  “[T]he debtor cannot maintain, based on current income and expenses, a ‘minimal’ standard of living for herself and her dependents if forced to repay the loans”;
  2. “[A]dditional circumstances exist indicating that this state of affairs is likely to persist for a significant portion of the repayment period of the student loans”; and
  3. “The debtor has made good faith efforts to repay the loans.”**

In other words, the debtor must show she can’t maintain a minimal standard of living, that state of affairs will persist, and she has made a good faith effort to repay her loans.  She must meet all three prongs to prove her student loans are causing an undue hardship, which is the standard for discharging them under the bankruptcy code.

Although this test is widely-used, the article notes that it isn’t binding in all courts – so some judges use a different test.  Other judges have criticized it, including legal luminary Judge Easterbrook.*  Interestingly, when the test was adopted, student loans were dischargeable during bankruptcy after a waiting period.  Today, that avenue for discharging student loans doesn’t exist.  Congress got rid of it in 1998.  The only way to discharge loans is to satisfy the Brunner test.  That’s made some people question whether the Brunner test is now too strict, since there’s no other safety valve for borrowers who can’t repay their school loans.

Overall, the article is certainly worth a read.  The snippet I found most interesting:

In 2014, 16 percent of all bankruptcy filers had student loans that totaled more than 50 percent of their annual income, compared with 5.4 percent in 2005.

To me, this statistic indicates that in the last ten years, student loan debt has become a major factor in bankruptcies.  And, somewhat terrifyingly, it means that 16% of bankruptcy filers are doing so knowing that they can’t discharge a debt that is eating up over half their income!

*Judge Easterbrook is a renowned conservative judge on the Seventh Circuit.

** Brunner v. New York State Higher Education Services Corp., 831 F.2d 395, 396 (2d Cir.1987).

 

Disclaimer: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!!!!  I’m not a bankruptcy lawyer, and I don’t litigate student loans lawsuits, or anything related.  In sum: #1 I couldn’t offer competent legal advice on this even if I wanted to and #2 I don’t want to and am not offering legal advice.  Lawyer hat is off, blogger hat is on. So don’t rely on anything I say in these columns to make decisions about your own life – but DO think of these as conversation starters on interesting topics.

 

 

Floor 43: Create Options

Law firms are not always reasonable places to work.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I like mine.  I like the people and the work.  The hours are (mostly) reasonable.  Compared to my friends who work in BigLaw in DC, NYC or LA, things are very very civilized.

However, occasionally stuff gets crazy.

Case in point: the day I went into labor.  I got to work at 8:30 am, worked until 7pm, got home, ate an enormous dinner prepared by Mr. DebtFreeJD,* hopped back on the computer, finished a brief at 11 pm, and went to bed.  One hour later, my water broke.  I emailed off the brief, went to the hospital, and delivered a baby at 9:15 am the next morning.

This was actually totally OK.  The brief was interesting, it was a pro bono case, and if I had said “I’m nine months pregnant, and someone else needs to do this,” the firm would have worked it out. It was my choice to be working right up until practically the second I went to the hospital.  It made for a crazy experience in which I spent much of my time in active labor in the hospital still dressed in my work clothes. But ultimately, I was the one who decided what crazy and how much I was going to deal with.

However, if I had no choice in the matter — for example, if I was working for some crazy partner who insisted that I stay up until the wee hours of the morning while enormously pregnant drafting a contract — that would not have been OK.  I would have been furious, and resented that person forever, and it might have even colored the whole having-a-baby-process.

In short, having options made all the difference.

Getting rid of debt opens up a lot of options.  In my opinion, that’s a great reason to do it.  Even if everything stays exactly the same, knowing I have those options is a really big thing psychologically. Feeling trapped in a project — or a job — you hate is awful.  Feeling trapped can make even a job you like into an unpleasant experience.  And with a lot of law school debt, it’s easy to feel trapped.  So I’m looking forward to removing that ball and chain!

*Thank goodness – I needed those calories during labor!

 

Floor 42: Costco!

Mr. DebtFreeJD and I love Costco with the zeal of the newly-converted.  The samples!  The churros after the checkout lanes!  The huge amounts of food! Every time we go to Costco, I am stunned once more by how much food there is, and how cheap it is.

Our Costco strategy is simple: we walk methodically through each of the food aisles (skipping the TV, clothes, and other assorted junk from China aisles), and try to buy only what we will actually eat.  Obviously, buying food in bulk is pointless unless you actually consume it.  For us, that includes:

  • Maple syrup.  We eat pancakes every Sunday, and probably make up the cost of our membership on savings through buying Kirkland-brand grade A maple syrup alone.
  •  Peanut butter.  DogDebtFreeJD = a little spoiled.*  We eat the peanut butter too, of course, but a lot of it goes into DogDebtFreeJD.
  • Coffee.  We are not coffee snobs.  In fact, we can’t tell the difference between the “good” stuff and the “not-so-good” stuff.  My absolute favorite brew of coffee is Dunkin’ Doughnuts Hazelnut with cream, drunk while answering emails first thing in the morning or driving to work.**  Failing that, Costco coffee is just fine.
  • Avocados.  E.g., proto-guacamole.
  • Beer.  Enough said.  Cheese.  Same.  Chocolate.  Same.  Just kidding.  We don’t buy Costco-sized sweets.  I want to return to my pre-pregnancy weight, and buying all new pants for Mr. DebtFreeJD would not be cost-effective.
  • Fresh blueberries, raspberries, grapes, etc. etc.  Even though I’m no longer pregnant, the fruit cravings have not decreased.
  • Frozen fruit for smoothies.
  • Frozen shrimp/salmon.  For when we are feeling like cooking an adult dinner.
  • Frozen veggie buggers.  For when we are not feeling like cooking an adult dinner.

Recently, I have been contemplating whether to buy an Executive Membership.  Annual cost is $110, as opposed to the $55 cost of a regular membership.  The Executive Membership comes with 2% cash back, meaning we’d have to spend $2,750 annually, or $230 monthly to be worth it.

In the past, we haven’t spent that much.  However, now we will.  Because DIAPERS.

Meeting

DogDebtFreeJD and BabyDebtFreeJD meet each other!

* Any spoiling is due to the fact that she is the most wonderful dog on the planet.  (No offense to you other dog owners out there).

**When I was still driving to work.  No more!