Changing electricity providers can result in significant savings
I wanted to write a post that outlines a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately. Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps.
Many people aren’t aware that you can change your electricity provider, and it takes very little effort. Really, you aren’t really changing providers so much as joining a large group of people who purchase electricity together and therefore get it cheaper. In most cases you will still receive your bill from your current electric company, its just that the rates you are charged will be cheaper.
You should be aware that electricity is bought by the kilowatt hour (KwH). If you check your electric bill there will be a figure that tells you what you currently pay per KwH. That figure is the one you need to try and beat. There is an example of what to look for in the image below.
In my case, I beat it by 2 cents per KwH, and that really adds up considering I use around a thousand KwH per month. Not only that, but I am very happy to have the option to go with 100% wind power “offsets” so that I actually am getting green energy for cheaper than what I was paying for coal–8.99 cents per KwH. There are many companies selling electricity and rates and deals do vary.
The site I used to find a new electricity provider is called Point.Click.Switch. You just need to choose your state and your electricity supplier. They will then show you a list of possible energy providers along with their rate, cancellation fee (most of them do not have a cancelation fee), the amount of time the specified rate will last and the amount you would save over your existing rate (you need to enter that rate from your electricity bill at the top of the page).
Definitely pay attention to the term, just as much as the rate. After the term is over, they may change your rate to higher amount. So whichever term you select, mark your calendar so you’ll know that it’s time to find a new provider/or evaluate the existing one.
I typically use about 1500 KwH per month. If you want to compare, at my old rate, I was paying 11.99 cents per KwH, so the savings looks like this every month:
Old Rate: 11.99 cents x 1500 = $179.85 New Rate: 8.99 cents x 1500 = $135.85 (Savings of $45 per month)
If I would have opted for the non-green electricity at 7.99 cents per KwH, I would have saved an additional $15/month.
It took me about 10 minutes to sign up and then they emailed me to verify that I really wanted to do this. You will need your electric bill when you fill out the form. It might seem a little scary, but don’t worry, it isn’t like you run the risk of having your electricity cut off if you make a mistake–your main electric company is still regulated and so is your new one. They have to go through a process for changing your provider and the reality is that is all “on paper”…in other words, you still actually get the same electricity as you got before through the same wires that you already have. Again, it is really “all win” for most people.
Say NO to donuts and pastries for breakfast. Such a bad idea–especially for kids.
Recently I have noticed that one of the parents in my daughter’s school is giving her child donuts and/or pre-made and packaged waffles/pancakes for breakfast every day.
It can be difficult for families to eat right and to give their kids healthy choices for breakfast. It is very hard, especially when time is short in the mornings, but this child is going to be at risk for diabetes and isn’t getting the best “brain food” for the morning. She is already starting to look chubby and that’s very sad to see. I can only imagine what the rest of her meals could be like.
I don’t really know the parent of the above child, and I don’t know what I’d say to them if I had the chance. I would like to suggest some alternatives that would be healthier and still be attractive for the child to eat.
Certainly after months of being fed sugar snacks for breakfast, it is going to be difficult to get the girl to eat something else. but perhaps with some coaxing and some information about nutrition, she might be willing to make some changes. At this point I have a feeling it is going to take some creativity.
I think almost anything would be better than the above-mentioned plain old chocolate donuts (they look like they’re from Dunkin’ Donuts). Probably even processed cereal like Apple Jacks or Cap’n Crunch would be an improvement from a donut. But, there are much better choices. I think this parent probably holds the same belief as many others–if it is on the store shelf, you can buy it and eat it and all will be fine–everyone does it so it must be okay. The same goes double if a restaurant sells it.
Here are some ideas that would be better and in the case of the above child, would probably be easily accepted into the breakfast rotation:
– Smoothies – The homemade kind. You can pack alot of nutrition into a smoothie and kids will think it is on par with dessert. The key is to use true, wholesome ingredients. A typical smoothie make for my kids would include: frozen blueberries or pineapple (from Costco), organic oatmeal, spinach (yes, that’s right!), a banana and/or strawberries for sweetness, flax meal or maybe oat bran.
I used to use a Smart Stick to mix these together and cleanup is therefore was very quick and easy. I now own a BlendTec 570 Blender which makes much smoother smoothies and is equally easy to clean. While drinking your breakfast can be really effective, many will find that they need to chew something to feel like they are full. I suggest a piece of toast, bagel or muffin to go with it.
PRO TIP: Orange juice you buy in the grocery store is most likely NOT what you think it is. (Unless you saw someone squeeze it out of an orange) Store-bought orange juice isn’t so wholesome and although it tastes good, the tastes are almost always added in artificially even though the package labeling leads you to believe otherwise.
For a full explanation of what you’re really buying when you purchase orange juice, see this article. I would also add that orange juice comes with quite a bit of it’s own sugar, so keep that in mind if OJ is part of your morning.
– Muffins – The homemade kind. Muffins made with the right ingredients can be nutritious and delicious. Zucchini Oatmeal muffins are a favorite around our home. There are so many others that don’t have lots of sugar, but have lots of nutrition. Muffins can be made on the weekend and hopefully the child will participate so they’ll know what they are eating and learn to enjoy it. Kids will think they’re getting a pastry but really it will be a healthy part of a morning start.
PRO TIP: Most muffins freeze well for future use.
– Make your own cereal – My wife has taken it upon herself to mix up a batch of cereal once or twice a week. She’s basically making muesli but the process involves roasting a combination of oatmeal, nuts, etc. There are lots of great recipes out there, and since you can control what’s going into it, you’ll know what you’re eating and save a ton of money on premade cereals. The added bonus is that if you get the kids involved in making the cereal, they are more likely to enjoy eating it.
Other healthy ideas from a vegan friend of mine. To quote her directly “Fresh fruit and veggies are good. Wasa crackers (or other whole grain crackers) with avocado slices, hummus, or another fave dip are also good. Yogurt, of course! Add granola or other ingredients for a heartier dish. Pita pocket with hummus and veggies. Air-popped popcorn. Dried fruit + nuts. Whole grain crackers with vegan cream cheese. “Ants on a log”–celery with nut butter or cream cheese and raisins. Fig bars.”
There are plenty of parents who will join me in my unhappy feelings about the gift bags that kids are given at their friends’ birthday parties. Of course we’re happy to share the joy of a family celebrating their child and the accomplishment of getting a year older. And it isn’t that I am ungrateful for all the effort that the parents have gone to in order to have the party to begin with–I am. I have done it enough to know what a pain it really is…but I have to speak up about the gift bags full of party favors that the kids get to take home with them from your typical party.
JUNK is the word that comes to mind. Junk food and junk toys. Frustratingly useless stuff that should never even be manufactured is thrown into fancy paper or plastic bags and given out to the kids.
Lets talk about the junk food first. I realize that many parents don’t give a thought about the ingredients in the cakes they buy at the grocery store, but wherever it came from, unless specified otherwise, you can be sure it is full of sugar (and worrisome chemicals–I won’t even get into the dyes used in some icings.).
It’s a cake, it should have sugar, right? Well that’s true, but stores go way overboard, especially with the icings–it is really an unhealthy amount for an average sized piece. And usually that cake is eaten at the end of the party. So first the kids eat some sugary cake and then they are handed a bag full of candy with more sugar.
Aside from the behavior aspects of so much sugar, I just want to request that parents stop diabeating (to use a word from Urban Dictionary) our kids. Diabetes is at an all time high, and it is so sad to see obese children–in many cases, it could have easily been prevented with healthier diets and exercise. What is given out at parties just goes to make giving out harmful foods normal, when it could just as easily go the other way.
With a little bit of creativity (and perhaps a homemade cake made from scratch) children’s exposure to sugar and chemicals in the name of a happy birthday could be greatly reduced. BTW, if you actually stop and think about the taste of some of these cakes that everyone seems to think are so delicious, they really just taste like chemicals. Try it yourself the next time you get a chance to taste a grocery store cake. It’s not good.
All kids look forward to and even expect to get party favors. But can’t we change the tradition to omit the sweets? My kids know that they can have something from that bag on the way home, but if I have anything to do with it, they never see the rest of the candy again…straight into the trash when they’re not looking.
Happily I can report that many times they don’t even want to try those candies. So what a waste of money and effort for the gift bag giver, right? It definitely doesn’t help that my kids usually are not happy with the limitations placed on their newly acquired desserts…making me the bad guy. Lollipops, Swedish Fish, candy rings…nothing but sugar and chemicals…they weren’t necessary to begin with. Lets find better things to include in those bags!
Then there are the toys. I think most of the stuff comes either from the dollar store or maybe Oriental Trading Company. Usually they break easily or never really did what it was supposed to do to begin with…the only useful thing I usually find in those same gift bags are pencils…but oddly, at least going back a few years, the pencils were being given out at party after party for my two and three year-olds…and since these were normal-adult sized pencils, they weren’t really something that my kids could make the best use of. (I am happy to report I have a lifetime supply of colorful pencils stored away.)
Ok, so I hate to make a complaint without providing some ideas for solving the problem. First, I think it is useful to point out that the parents probably wind up spending at least 3 or 4 dollars per gift bag. That money could surely be spent in better ways–maybe on just one useful thing that goes with the theme of the party.
For example for a pool party, you might give away goggles, diving toys or maybe those pool noodles. Maybe for a dinosaur themed party you could give away a book about dinosaurs or dino action figures. For some parties, the gifts might be something from the party itself–for instance if you have a craft party, the craft the kids create would be the thing they take home or maybe they get a pack of sculpting clay.
How about a paint-it-yourself birdhouse? Maybe even include some bird seed. Another dea is to give away plants or crafts (or both) — for instance tree in a box – This option was very popular at my child’s 7th birthday party. You can even get Giant Sequoia seeds.
Another idea is to go to Ikea and purchase live bamboo plants and if you want to get fancy but some of the 75 cent vases to go with them. Kids are surprised and really enjoy taking care of them and they’re really difficult to kill. This year we purchased a cactus plant for each kid who came to the party. They loved it! By the way, I saw the sale depicted below at Ikea on a recent trip (September 2019)…
If it’s in the budget, you could hire a caricature artist for the party. The party favor could be a caricature of each of the guests. This is truly fun for the kids, and in the best circumstances will be keepsake that the child will treasure.
Here are some possible suggestions for party favors instead of candy that wouldn’t be expensive, but at least go a bit beyond the usual junk:
Mechanical Pencils (I know what I said about pencils above, but mechanical pencils have a special effect on many kids–for whatever reason they think they’re exciting and want to use them. Since you can get a 24 pack for less than 10 dollars, it can be a good deal for a worthwhile party favor!)
We’ve also recently been to a dolphin themed birthday where the hosts gave each child a hula hoop with an inflatable dolphin hanging in the middle. At “Five Below” you can get a hula hoop for about $2.
There are lots of other clever ideas. For example, we recently went to a pool party where the hosts gave pineapples to each guest. The pineapples were decorated with sunglasses and Hawaiian Leis. This fantastic because aside from the novelty it gives kids a reminder that fruits can be fun and interesting.
Aside from things like that, I would recommend that parents try to stay away from giving any food at all in the party favor bags if you can.
I recently had to replace the toilet in the girls’ bathroom. I wanted to save water, so I went with an eco-friendly dual-flush toilet from Costco. The great thing about it is that it has two flushers–one that releases a small amount of water, and one that releases the full tank…so depending, uh, what you’re flushing, you choose the flush accordingly.
The problem it presented was that our round potty seats from Target don’t fit right–they are more for round toilets, and this toilet is more of an oval shape and sticks out more…so the old seats slide around.
I looked around the internet for a low-cost, fun potty seat and I found this one. I got it today and it works great. This seat is made mainly of hard plastic (no cushion) and rubber. I think these are both pluses since the rubber keeps the seat from moving and the hard plastic doesn’t have any crevices that are difficult to clean. (Update 6 months later: This seat still is in pretty good condition. The eyes have peeled off, but otherwise, it is in very good shape. I still recommend this seat)
Here are some book recommendations for interesting books I’ve recently read. Most of these are available on Amazon or via ebook/audiobook. These books were all fascinating and informative about living in our times:
Freakonomics by Dubner & Levitt Freakonomics II by Dubner & Levitt Outliers Malcolm Gladwell Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely Moon Walking With Einstein by Joshua Fore Incognito Nurtureshock Manufacturing Depression
If you are like many parents these days, a getaway to Ocean City or some of the other Maryland, Virginia and Delaware beaches is just a bit too much of a commitment in time and money. So then there are the Chesapeake Bay beaches to consider, and although none of them are quite the same as, say Ocean City, there are two or three that come to my mind that might be decent day-trip substitutes. They are all in Calvert County and they are: North Beach, Chesapeake Beach and Flag Ponds Beach. These are way better than Sandy Point State Park near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and aren’t that much further. (I couldn’t help but laugh and agree with a recent review of Sandy Point on Google — it said something like: “If you’re looking for a dirty beach and jellyfish, this place is for you.”)
Today I am going to talk about North Beach. Its about 30 minutes from Annapolis and not far from Howard, Prince George’s and pretty much anywhere in Anne Arundel County.
When you arrive, you find that there is a free parking lot right near the public beach, but you do have to pay admission and wear an armband to show you’ve paid.
Current beach admission fees (as of May 2017) for out of county visitors are:
Adults 12-54: $17.00 Children 3-11: $9.00 Children 2 and under: Free Seniors 55 and up: $9.00 Active Military: $9.00
Season passes are $120 for adults and $100 for children.
It’s cheaper for in-county visitors:
Adults 12-54: $7.00 Children 3-11: $4.00 Children 2 and under: Free Seniors 55 and up: $4.00 Active Military: $4.00
It was $10 to rent an umbrella and $5 to rent a chair. Fishing Fees Two poles maximum per person North Beach/Calvert County Residents: Free. (Must show proof of Calvert County residency.) Out of County Visitors: 1st Pole & 2nd Pole Inquire at Welcome Center Paddle or Pedal Fees Single Kayak: Hourly $15.00/Daily $45.00 Double Kayak: Hourly $20.00/Daily $60.00 Stand Up Paddleboard: Hourly $20.00/Daily $60.00 Bicycles: Hourly $10.00/Daily $30.00
There are many regulations to be aware of. No large coolers (actually only pretty small coolers are allowed – 9 quart limit), no tents, no pets, no loud music, no alcohol, no fires, no g-strings, don’t feed the animals, no thongs, no fireworks. Although I thought they might be kind of restrictive, I also thought that it did make the beach nicer for everyone. You have to pass a guard on the way down to the beach and they definitely stop you if they see you have a cooler or tent. See the image with most of the other rules and regulations below.
The area of the beach we were on was surrounded by breakers and was never more than 2 or 3 feet deep even if you walked out pretty far. There were very small, gentle waves. This meant that it was a perfect place for kids to play and not have to be worried about getting bowled over by a huge wave or going in too deep.
The sand was clean. There wasn’t alot of trash around. Some people might be turned off by the feel of the bottom when they’re in the water. You could either consider it slimy or silky or somewhere in between. It surely feels different than at an Atlantic beach. Its kind of a muddy clay. It didn’t bother me, but it is kind of surprising the first time you experience that. Otherwise, other than some seaweed in the water, it was a very clean, nice experience.
There were some restaurants and shops around, as well as a fishing pier. Again, there are some fees involved if you want to fish (see North Beach admission rates above).
This is another amazing case of a kid who just put his mind to something–in this case a test for pancreatic cancer…and so at 15 he did something that is extremely important to humanity and will save lives and save tons of money.
Summary: I have good and bad things to say about our experiences with them over the years. I would tell people to look for other alternatives if they have one available (see below for some ideas in Columbia MD). If you’re wondering about the cost of lessons, as of February 27, 2013, 6 weeks worth of half hour lessons are $100. Considering that you don’t have to pay for a monthly membership like in other venues, this is somewhat competitive.
The Facilities First thing I would say is that the idea is great. The Kids First Swim Schools that I have been to are in strip malls. Its kind of unexpected to find a swimming pool next to a grocery store and a Good Will Thrift store, but it works…mostly. The pool at the Columbia location is medium sized. It goes up to 5 feet deep and is usually kept pretty warm. They are quick to point out that they use salt to generate their chlorine, which I guess is great. They say this makes it more “natural”. The pool area is usually kept pretty clean although they do leave some things to be desired.
The dressing rooms are horrible. Problem one: they tend to be occupied. There are only three of them. Can you imagine what its like when several classes end at once (which is the norm)? You have a bunch of cold wet kids and unhappy parents waiting for the next one to become available. Of course, if your kids are still young, you can take them into the bathroom and change them, but in practice you will find at least a few parents changing their kids while hiding them behind towels. People have other things to do besides waiting to change their kids–and changing even one child is never a two-minute thing. I think they could easily build a few more dressing rooms if they wanted to. They really should–this is one of the biggest complaints about the place. I feel that they could easily fix this by putting additional changing rooms in their open space areas or near their front door. They don’t have to be very big, they just need to be available.
For some reason, computers haven’t made it to Kid’s First yet. It is quaint. As a customer, you wouldn’t care, except setting up your next swimming session can be a real pain for them and for you. They have books of paper with the kids’ records on them. So when you go to setup a session, they have to dig through the books to find your kid (which sometimes doesn’t go well) and then look at their paper schedules to figure out what times meet your needs and fit your kid’s level. It can be time consuming and often a little bit silly. Add to that the fact that you don’t always know whether your kid is going to be promoted to the next level when you go to sign up. This is because they give “Report cards” on the last day of class.
Keep in mind that the next session will start the following week, so your choices are sign up earlier and hope you got your kid’s level right or wait and risk not having the time slot you want available. I have two kids on two different levels so this can be even more comical. Having said this, we’ve had pretty good luck and the staff tries to be accommodating, even starting new time slots just for one of my kids so they could go at the same time as the other.
The “Time Zone” I used to complain about this foible, but I have to say, it has saved me from being late several times: They keep the clocks at Kid’s First Swim School set five minutes or so behind. So if your class is at 6:30pm, its really at 6:35pm.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen new parents go busting into to pool area rushing their kid along because they thought they were late, but instead were early. Its almost funny.
The Teaching As far as the teachers, there are a few great ones. The problem is that the turn over is very high. Its not unusual for my daughters to have two or three different teachers over the course of 6 weeks…that is a problem because the teachers don’t get to know what the kids can do. And in the case of one of my daughters, it can be a bit upsetting because she only feels comfortable with certain teachers.
At one recent lesson, my five year old had to tell the teacher that she was teaching them on the wrong level (too easy) because the new teacher forgot what level they were on. There are definitely obvious levels of experience too. We’ve found that even if you pay for private lessons, you may get two or more different teachers over six weeks. That is likely to make you angry.
Class sizes can vary quite a bit. We have had many classes with just one or two kids in them…and others with at least five kids. Keep in mind that with one teacher alot of the time only one kid can swim. So you can guess that the size of the class dramatically affects the amount of attention each child gets….And with bigger classes your kid is sure to spend at least half the time in the water waiting for her/his turn. You can purchase semi-private and private lessons to control this, but obviously the cost of this is much higher.
In spite of the above, all in all, I can definitely say that my kids have improved in swimming as a result of the lessons.
Family Swim Nights Family Swim Nights take place on Saturdays and Sunday evenings from 6-8pm. It’s a great chance to practice with your kids and talk to other parents about their experiences. Recently they have restricted the use of boards and noodles so you will want to bring your own.
I would definitely say that a side effect of going to the family swim nights is extra improvements due to watching other kids and playing with them. Kids definitely learn well from other kids.
Birthday Parties This is a pretty good place to have a birthday party. There is plenty of room and since 25 kids are allowed in the pool, you can really have a nice party for about $225 (check with them for current pricing). The party areas aren’t anything fancy, but are roomy.
Depending on what time of day, your group will either swim before or after the party. They have two party areas at the Columbia location, so its very possible that another party can be going on at the same time as yours. The other group isn’t allowed in the pool at the same time as yours though…still, it’s not an ideal situation.
Don’t forget to tell parents that they likely need to come prepared to get in the pool with their young kids on your invitation.
The Cost Of the activities we do with our kids, swimming lessons are probably one of the most expensive. I can’t even imagine what the insurance for a pool for kids must cost, so I guess they need to charge alot to make up for that.
Right now (2013), we pay about $90/six week session. So that works out to be about $15 for a half-hour lesson. You can purchase many sessions at a time for discounts. They also offer private lessons and semi-private lessons. These are more expensive, but I am not sure what they cost right now.
On Saturday and Sunday evenings, you can take advantage of some practice time, that costs $5/per person. Birthday parties for 25 kids with one hour in the pool and one hour having a party costs about $200.
Alternatives To Kids First Swim School There are of course many alternatives to Kids First Swim School. If you’re in Columbia, Maryland two obvious competitors are the community indoor pools (in Columbia, that’s the Columbia Association) and Lifetime Fitness. Both offer competitively priced lessons and honestly, the facilities tend to be nicer in general, especially at Lifetime Fitness.
I recently became a member of Lifetime. Swimming lessons at Lifetime fitness are $50/month and its a much nicer experience. There are more changing rooms just for families and they even have showers–and class size is capped at 4 kids (You have to be a member to get lessons there–memberships are about $150/month for a family–so again, this is why I am saying that Kid’s First is competitively priced if you’re just looking for swimming lessons.). Here is my full review of Lifetime Fitness.
Another very good alternative in Columbia is the Columbia Association. I have heard only good things about the lessons and I know the facilities are very nice too. I am not sure what the lessons cost there, but the membership for a family that already lives in Columbia is about $75/month. The YMCA in Ellicott City also has a good reputation.
The US needs to produce more scientists and as most people know, one of the problems is that there isn’t enough interest from girls. Of course girls can become great scientists who can improve our world, we really need to work hard on all levels to make sure girls know it. A secondary reason is true of boys and girls alike: Public education has to do more to emphasize science and math. Kids need to know that doctors, researchers, mathematicians and engineers are heros. They need to know that science is still wide open and we have lots of things that still need to be investigated and discovered.
There are definitely things that parents can do to help their girls along. Top of the list is encouragement–parents need to talk up science and math. Second is to get girls science and engineering presents. Look past the pink aisle in Target and Walmart and realize that many of those toys only teach girls certain important, but limiting skills. take them places that will help them learn science beyond what they are exposed to in school–Many times these are things that the whole family can enjoy together. For instance museums, zoos, planetariums, etc are all fun outings for kids. There are also scientific toys and gifts. And educational TV shows that encourage science and math.
Today I saw this great product for helping to get girls (and boys) interested in science–in this case electricity and more. Its a dollhouse that is fully wired and comes with modular pieces that turn into different kinds of furniture.
If your boys and girls are interested in Legos, consider investing in a NXT or Mindstorms robotics kit. It is all kinds of cool and the things they learn from it will go a million miles in pushing them ahead of their peers. They aren’t cheap, but believe me, if you can get your kid working with them, they will learn all sorts of things about programming and engineering…and its just a really cool toy for all ages (probably age 6 or 7 and up, but I am really sure there are plenty of exceptions) Here is an example of a kit that walmart sells:
There are many others at varying price points. Many elementary schools and middle schools are now getting these kits and starting robotics clubs. Seriously, don’t wait, get your boy or girl going on this today. Also, see my post about the future of jobs in America
I was recently told about a relatively unique after school/weekend activity for kids: Chinese Dance Lessons. The source showed me videos and told me the teacher is wonderful. I was so impressed with the simple beauty and grace of the dances, and how they involved the dancers’ whole bodies and facial expressions. I am always looking out for other interesting after school ideas.
My kids currently do: Roller Skating Lessons (fun/very cheap), Ballet Lessons, Piano Lessons and Swimming. These activities fluctuate by time of the year and the amount of energy my wife and I have to spend driving them around. We’ve done gymnastics in the past as well.
If you’re interested in academic activities for the gifted and talented kids, I have heard great things about Johns Hopkins Gifted Youth Program. They have interesting courses after school, in the summer and on the weekends. Also, for young kids who don’t attend preschool, Glenelg Country School has activities for kids during the week. There is also after school academic programs in math and science.