Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Free or Thrifty Christmas Activities

It seems like Christmas Activities came upon us quickly this year!  I was sort of scrambling to figure out things that needed to be done early in the month--like the advent calendar and our Christmas Calendar--to make sure we didn't leave out any of our favorite traditions.  If you're feeling the same way, I wanted to throw a list of funtivities out there so you can jump on the sleigh!

1.  Every year we make a special December Christmas Calendar.  We throw all of our Christmas Traditions on it.  This year I stuck it on the refrigerator so that the kids could see what's going on (it also reinforces days/month/weeks/dates that we're working on for homeschooling) and an added benefit is that it keeps the front of my refrigerator tidier!

2.  Spend an evening making a special trip to the store as a family to buy a popcorn tin.  Watch a little Christmas show, listen to Christmas music, or write Christmas cards as you snack on popcorn.

If you don't want to spend $5-6 to buy one, make some of your own Hint of Cinnamon Kettle Corn and throw it in a tin or container you already have.  Dollar Tree would probably have a cute container, too!  This way you can participate in a fun tradition without spending extra.

3.  If you enjoy the religious side of Christmas, find a live nativity, or find a church choir performance.  Many of these activities are free.

4.  Go for a drive or walk to see Christmas lights.  Make hot cocoa and cookies when you get home.

5.  Invite friends over to sing carols and have dessert.  This is one of my favorite traditions!  We always had a LOT of Christmas music going as a kid.

6.  Listen to the Christmas channel on Pandora.com. It's free, and there is a lot of great Christmas music to be heard!

7.  Set up your advent calendar.  It's ok if it's December 3rd.  Everyone will still enjoy it.  Fill it with something inexpensive like jellybeans if you're on a tight budget, or fill it with activities, like, "Make Cookies", or "Sing Jingle Bells", or "Make a Christmas Card".  It can be fun and free or inexpensive.

8.  Watch the Reindeer Cam!!  My kids get a total kick out of this.  It's just a video feed of a couple of Santa's reindeer.  Santa appears at specific times (see the website for details).  He juggles, "Ho, Ho, Hos", opens mail, feeds the deer, etc..  It's great!

9.  Make your own Christmas cards.  I usually get free or inexpensive cards on clearance.  This Christmas I'm going to give them some markers and let the kids have at the box that I picked up cheap last year.

10.  Has anyone ever sent you an Elf Yourself?  Why not join in the fun???  You could even make it your virtual Christmas Card and save on stamps.

11.  If you're looking for some fun crafts to do with kids, or adding to your home school curriculum, here is a free Christmas Printable I found.  There are a ton out there!  You just have to look around.

12.  Today I will be cutting out some circles with my Cricut.  I'd had an idea to make a "Kindness Tree", sort of the way we made our Thankful Tree, but I didn't want it to distract from the Christmas Calendar.  So I'll be cutting out the circles, we'll write an act of kindness that we've done or that somebody else has done for us throughout the day, and on Christmas, we'll read all of those things.  I already see teeny tiny hints our family moving into the secular parts of Christmas, and I want to make sure our focus stays where we want it.  I think this will help.

13.  Make goodies for neighbors and friends!  There are lots of goodies that can be made for a great price.  Take the opportunity to get to know your neighbors or coworkers a little better.

14.  Put Christmas books under the Christmas tree until presents arrive.  They look nice, and your kids will enjoy pulling them out and having you read the books to them!

15.  Have a Special Night.  My husband's family always had a night where they would turn off all of the lights/electricity, light candles, and have some foods that Mary and Joseph would have eaten (olives, grape juice, cheese, nuts, figs--or fig newtons--etc.), look at pictures and read scriptures of their journey.  The family would then go to sleep by candlelight.  It is one of my favorite traditions that we have kept in our family.  It feels so good in our home on Special Night.  It's so quiet and reverent.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ways I Saved

It feels like I haven't blogged in so long!  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving break, I hope you had one too, and now we're ready for Christmas.

We had our Pilgrim's Feast for school lunch on Tuesday (pictured above).  My husband came home from work that day and was able to participate.  It was just wonderful!  The kids really enjoyed it.  I used almost everything that I had on hand.  We just had to purchase some dried cranberries, which I needed for Thanksgiving dinner anyway.  We'll definitely be doing this again.  We'll just use classier plates next time instead of clearance Halloween paper plates  :)

I made bread, cookies, burritos and Thanksgiving dinner, all earlier in the week.  After that, I basically quit cooking and we've been eating leftovers or quick meals.  I'll be making something nicer for dinner tonight!  :)

I ordered my husband's Christmas gift on Amazon on Black Friday.  I'm not sure if it was a Black Friday sale, but it was a steep discount, and they had a $20.00$100.00 purchase from this brand.  This being an investment sort of gift, I decided to get the upgraded version with the coupon instead of getting the one I had originally planned on and going under budget.  I think it'll be more versatile and last longer.  I was happy with the purchase!

Two other women and I are in charge of the children's program at church.  We have been making the children a gift for Christmas and I was able to make my part of the gift from things I had on hand.  We have a budget, but I like using my stash of sewing and crafting items for others when I can.

We went to a tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree.  While we were there, we took advantage of the free hot chocolate they offered with the tree, and the children got to visit with Santa.  We stayed right within our budget!

We went to Costco (yikes!  It's hard to stay within a budget there!) and stayed right within our budget.  We found a beautiful Bible stories book for our children that came out of their school budget.

I prepared our December budget in our big budget book as well as the little sub-budget book.  I have notated each purchase and we're right on track for the month.

I had the children make a few crafts this week out of things we had on hand.  My daughter and I made a bracelet, my son had fun beading a "worm", the children made funny faces by gluing cutout shapes onto a paper face, and I had the kids glue leftover leaves from our Thankful Tree onto legal sized construction paper for Thanksgiving Dinner place mats.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving one day early.  Enjoy baking pies, mashing potatoes, basting turkeys and consuming awe-inspiring amounts of food while Giving Thanks!

Also, Happy Black Friday and enjoy the deals for me.  I'm pretty certain I'll be tucked into my bed, awaiting some pie for breakfast  :)

I'll be back on Monday with Ways I Saved and an awesome Manly Homemade Gift post later next week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pilgrim's Feast for School Lunch: A More Authentic Menu

(This is my very favorite Thanksgiving decoration that we have.  It was entitled "Harvest Angel")

As my husband and I have contemplated how we can better celebrate, appreciate our history and bring a greater spirit of thanksgiving into our home, we have found so many wonderful new traditions.

Our Thankful Tree has been a total hit.  Our kids so enjoy writing something down each night.  It has not been uncommon to hear, "I'm thankful for ____" from our children throughout the day.  What a blessing to have started it.  We'd been struggling to work on gratitude in our home and a fun, family-bonding activity has helped.  It is definitely on the tradition list!

We also borrowed a stack of Thanksgiving books from the library.  They have been wonderful to read to and the kiddos love them!

We watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for a bit of fun! (Not an affiliate link)

In school, we have been working on coloring this Pilgrim, Pilgrim coloring book.  It's a free printable, and my children have enjoyed coloring it and talking about it over several days.  This could be a fun activity to keep kiddos busy while you're cooking!  We'll be gluing the pages onto construction paper for school tomorrow, as well as one other special thing.  Our Pilgrim's Feast.

About a week ago, I got to wondering what the Pilgrims REALLY ate, and decided that we needed to have a lunch at school where we try eating, as best we can, what the Pilgrims really ate.  After googling around a bit, this is what we'll be having for our Pilgrim's Feast tomorrow:

Corn (we'll be eating heated up frozen corn)
Bread (they ate sour dough bread, according to one source, we'll just go ahead and make French Bread)
Craisins (they are believed to have had cranberries available at the time in the area)
Walnuts (we'll be eating a mix of nuts that contains walnuts)
Radishes and Onions (I'll be sauteing these (seasoned) from our winter garden, which I'll let them pick)
Carrots (from the grocery)
Pumpkin Muffins (We'll talk about the way that they served pumpkin, and that the Indians taught them to grow it)

They also had a LOT of meat and fish, from what it sounds like, and the celebration lasted 3 days, not just one.  We'll be talking about this, not doing it.  I don't think I can cook that much!  Ha!  Also, I'll just be cooking a whole chicken for Thanksgiving day, so I'm not going to prepare any meat for the kids today.

I know this will be a school tradition as well.  They are VERY excited about it!  While we home school, this could be done on a weekend, or some other time, if you're interested in making it part of your traditions.

It's been fun to make sure we don't fly through Thanksgiving without much thought or gratitude.  I'm hoping that it will transfer us into a more giving than getting Christmas.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?  Did you try anything new this year?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ways I Saved

Remember when I told you that I hurt my back?  Well, it pretty much prevented me from cooking much for two days, so my husband got fast food for us a couple of times.  It messed up our budget a bit and I wished I had my freezer better stocked like it had been (seems like we've been incredibly busy since Halloween!), but I'm grateful my husband took care of us!  I really needed the rest.  It's getting better.

Last week I made homemade pizza, hot chocolate from packets we got for free, two batches of black beans and cookies.  I also made Simple Yellow Rice, and Cheesy Potato Soup,  We at lots of leftovers, too!

I had about 10 bananas that began browning pretty quickly, so I threw 5 of the REALLY ripe bananas into a ziploc that I will thaw out and use in a Banana Bread recipe, and I froze the rest into packets that I will use for a Banana smoothie that I like to drink for breakfast.

I made crafts with my kids.  The Fish Friend sewing project was a big hit and they have been playing with them quite a bit!  We also made some necklaces and bracelets, and one day I cut out a bunch of crazy shapes out of different colors of construction paper and they made funny faces out of them.  All of our crafts were done with things we had on hand, so they were free to us this week.

I organized my junk drawer and a counter that is a litter magnet.  When we bought that nice desk to complete our living room update, I knew I wanted to utilize the drawer, but I didn't want it to become cluttered.  So I've been thinking about what, exactly, I wanted to go in there.  I organized it very neatly, cleaned off that counter, cleaned up the junk drawer, and these areas have become highly efficient places.  It makes me happy!

My husband and I decided we wanted to pick up a new hobby together.  We found a lot of fun ideas online.  Geocaching, creating your own comics/cartoons, juggling (ha!), playing catch, watching all of the Ken Burns documentaries, etc.  We decided we wanted to go to the library together and pick out a book to read together, and we'll probably try geocaching one day when we can swap babysitting.  We've been wanting to for several months, now.  What I loved about THIS LIST in particular, was the title "Spend Time, Not Money".  Then the author provides many things that are free or very inexpensive.  It's empowering to have a list like that when there isn't a lot of spare money floating around.

We held a couple's budget meeting.

We took inventory or the clearance things I've picked up for our children over the year for Christmas.  We just have a few things left, and I'll most likely be making them.

How did you save money this week?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Easy Sewing Project for Boys or Girls

We love crafts and sewing projects in our house.  Two nights ago, we had about 30 minutes before bed and I wanted to do something fun but quiet with the kids.  We hadn't pulled my daughter's sewing kit out in a little while, so I decided that it would be the perfect project for us.

Instead of having my husband spend time with Little Guy while Little Gal and I sewed, I decided that I would let Little Gal work on a project that I designed (this pattern will come too!), and let Little Guy work on a different project that I designed.

It was wonderful to sew with both of them.  Little Guy is only 3.5 and I helped him handle the needle with the first few stitches, then let him do the rest while I held the fabric.  He was SO proud of himself.  Little Gal is 5.5 and was able to do her project almost all by herself.

If you have lots of children on your gift list for Christmas this year, this pattern could be printed out, the supplies gathered or purchased and given as a gift.  It would be very inexpensive, but meaningful.  Most children will need supervision, so this gift could be given with your time and attention attached.

The project that I created for Little Guy was a Fish Friend.  Print the pattern below, gather the supplies and your child, and let's go!


One sheet (9" x 12") of felt in desirable color
*Craft thread (embroidery thread would work, but this craft thread works great for kids)
Chenille Needle
2 buttons for eyes
One printable pattern

First, print and cut out the Fish Friend Pattern.  Use chalk or another marking tool to trace two Fish onto the felt.  Using scissors, cut the two fish out.  Mark the pieces where the dots are on the pattern.  This is where you'll sew the buttons on for eyes.

There is a large cutting margin since chalk leaves a thick mark.  If your child is older and wants it to be more precise, use an instrument that will leave a thinner line.  Instruct young children to cut within the chalk markings.  Remember, it is not going to be perfect, and that's ok!  They're learning and they'll build so much confidence as the positives are noted.

Select or allow your child to select the buttons they'd like to use.  You'll need two.  One for each Fish Friend piece.  Using a Single-threaded needle, tie a knot in the thread, and sew 4 stitches to attach the button to one piece.  Repeat with the second Fish Friend piece.

Now each of your Fish Friend cutouts has an eye sewn on, you need to lay the two pieces down, wrong sides together with the eyes on the outside.  Pin in place.

They will probably not match up perfectly if your child used a wide cutting margin.  Remember!  This is ok!  They are learning.  If you need to trim a bit, go for it.  It doesn't need to be perfect, but your child will be happier if it looks like a fish, not a rectangle.

Using the single threaded needle again, make large running stitches around the entire fish, about 1/4" from the edge, with stitches about 3/8" apart.  Tie off the thread, and you're done!  Good work!

*This is not an affiliate link.  This is simply the craft thread that we use and it is especially good for kiddo fingers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hmmm. What Happened to My Back???

Well, my friends, I had a wonderful post planned for today.  I took all of the photos for it, we actually had a sunny day yesterday so I had good light to take them in, and I even had a good amount typed out.  However, my lower back had been hurting for several days (note the foreshadowing) and when I was doing some garden work yesterday, I felt my spine work into a nasty throb.

I finished up my work oh so carefully--my neighbors probably thought I was nuts--and then went inside.  Could I rest yesterday?  Nope!  I just had to deal with it and everyone else had to deal with me wincing and grunting.  Ha!  I finally got to lay down at about 6:30.  Monday through Wednesday are a madhouse around here!  Sleep helped a bit, but I just couldn't finish up the post in time.

So!  This little Fish Friend picture is just a teaser.  I'm hoping to have the complete post up tomorrow.

Have a great Thursday, everyone!  It's almost the weekend!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to Fix Shoes with Shabby Velcro

Over the summer, my sister-in-law gave us a bag of clothes and shoes for Little Gal.  It was very sweet of her, and full of beautiful things.  Her youngest daughter had grown out of the items, and she wanted to pass them on to us.  

There were ballet shoes, some fancy velvet shoes (I'm thinking Christmas), and these adorable black Mary-Jane shoes.  Little Gal really needed some black shoes for church, so I was thinking these would be perfect.  I got her dressed for church one day and as we were walking out the door, she told me the shoes wouldn't stay on because the velcro kept coming undone.  After watching her, it was totally true.  Bummer!  Quick wardrobe change and we were out the door.

I knew we either needed to buy new shoes, or fix these ones.  Like many things, I let it simmer until I came up with a possible solution.  I fixed them the way I'm about to explain, however, you really do have a second option if this one doesn't work for you.  I'll explain that second option, I just don't have pictures to illustrate it as I didn't need to use it.

Let's get started!


Thread in complimentary color
Needle Nose Pliers

Examine your shoe.  See where the velcro matches up, and look for any places where you might be able to add elastic into the strap.  Try the shoe on your child (or whomever will be wearing it) while holding the strap tight and on the shoe, and see if they can slip the shoe on and off without needing more "give".  In our case, Little Gal could slip her foot on without needing extra or needing less.  I put the strap where I wanted it to hold it fast, then moved onto the next step.

IF YOUR SHOE DOES NOT GO ON AND OFF EASILY, never fear...yet!  If you're really determined to fix the shoes, you may be able to cut the strap at a discrete place, then stitch the straps to both sides of some elastic.

For example, if Little Gal's foot wouldn't have gone off and on, I would have cut the strap right where the strap is laced through that little buckle on the instep of the shoe.  I may have trimmed the strap a little if I needed give, but not necessarily MORE strap.  I would have then sewn the straps back onto a doubled-up piece of black (or complimentary color) elastic.  I would have threaded it back through the little buckle piece, then continued onto the next steps.

Thread your needle.  Since I wanted this to be heavy-duty, I used a double threaded needle instead of a single threaded needle.

Mark or remember where the strap is going to permanently end up.  Pull the strap off of the velcro, then stick the needle through the inside of the strap on the velcro side.  This way your knot will be hidden.

Once you've pulled the needle and thread through, replace the strap where you want it.

Begin stitching about a 1 inch line.  Take care to follow the stitching that the manufacturer sewed.  It will be easier.  Use that thimble and the needle nose pliers to help you.  These shoes were both leather and man-made on the top, and it was pretty rough at times.  It killed my needle.  

After you've stitched about an inch down the shoe, you'll need to stitch back up on the other side of the velcro unless you want to go all the way down the strap, stitch across, then stitch back up.  I didn't want to or feel it was necessary.

Cross over when working on the inside of the shoe, so that you can't see that huge stitch (I'm pointing to it with my pliers) on the outside.  

Continue up the shoe.  Do a couple of extra stitches if you're worried about durability.  Tie the knot on the inside so nobody can see it.

Can you see the stitches?  I can only see a hint of one when I'm looking at the shoe carefully in my hand.  Woohoo for saving some money and not wasting perfectly good (well, NOW perfectly good) shoes!

Have you mended shoes before?  Any tips?  I'm particularly interested in finding out if there's a better needle to be used for this sort of thing.  I just used a general use one.  I also have an awl that I could have used to make the needle holes, but didn't think of it at the time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Make Laundry Detergent

About three years ago, my sister gave me her super simple laundry detergent recipe.  It was around the same time when coupon deals for nearly free laundry detergent quit coming as regularly and it just seemed easier and much, much cheaper to make it than deal with the hassle.

Our family has had zero skin issues from this detergent and that's worth something!  We all of sensitive skin and I used Dreft for my Little Guy and Little Gal until they were about two, at which point I began using this without skin problems.  I find that it cleans our clothing/towels/sheets well, leaves them smelling fresh, and I don't find that it fades clothes or leaves them dingy.

Some people love tide or another detergent, have had bad experiences with homemade laundry detergent, or just don't want to fuss with it.  If you want to save money from your household budget, though, I suggest you at least try it.  Even if you only make one batch, Borax and Super Washing Soda have other uses.

1 Cup Borax
1 Cup Super Washing Soda (NOT regular baking soda!)
1 Bar Fels-Naptha soap, grated finely

Use the fine side of your grater and grate the entire bar of Fels-Naptha.  Pour it into your detergent container.  I believe my sister cuts her bar into small cubes and then she uses her food processor and washes it really well afterward.  Not really sure!  I'm sort of old school with my grater.

Add 1 cup of Borax and 1 cup Super Washing Soda.  Break up any clumps that you may find.  Tightly place the lid on your storage container and shake to combine the mixture.

To Use:  Add 1-1.5 TBS detergent per load of wash, following your machines instructions for when and where to place the detergent.  I am unsure of how much to put in a High-Efficiency washing machine, but probably the same amount since it is so little and this detergent doesn't really make a lot of suds as it doesn't have the added ingredients that make bubbles.

NOTE:  If I have towels or clothing that is especially soiled or mildewed, etc., I will pour in 1 cup distilled white vinegar with the water.

I did a little math for you so you can know (roughly) the cost.

Borax:  $.41 per 1 Cup/Batch
Super Washing Soda:  $.43
Fels Naptha Bar:  $.97

Total for one batch of Homemade Laundry Detergent:  $1.81

Number of Loads per Batch (rough estimate and determined upon about 1 TBS per load:  44ish

Cost of Laundry Detergent per Load:  A hair over $.04

Now, I usually like to do a full load of wash, and I usually have heavily soiled clothing (my kids like to play outside and they're 3 and 5), so I use a slightly heaped scoop.  I run at least 1 load of laundry per day and the last time I made laundry soap was just before October 7th in my Ways I Saved post.  I just made this batch on the 16th, so I'd say that's pretty stinkin' good!

Do you make your own laundry detergent?  Do you add other things?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ways I Saved

We have had three birthdays that we were invited to in the last week and a half.  While we were grateful to be invited and desired to attend, two of these parties were held at Chuck E Cheese, and one of them was held at a pizza parlor.  Wanting to be careful with not spending too much on gifts or food and tokens, I decided on a total budget to be spent on gifts (no more than $5 per child), and we will be ordering food to share as a family at the parties.  This money was taken out of our family fun money budget.

The gifts for the birthday children consisted of a pony toy.  This is Little Guy's friend, and she's just turning two.  I focused on him selecting something that she would like.  He did a good job.  He made a birthday card for her, and was so excited to get his very own invitation.

Little Gal picked out beads and string to go in a box for the first party she was invited to.  We found several fun jewelry-making items at the Dollar Tree and we put it in a box that we found there.  Little Gal included a few beads from her collection to add a personal touch.  She made a card for this little friend of hers.  We used wrapping we had on hand.

When Little Gal was invited to the second party, we decided on beads again.  This time, I decided to take a slew of Jo-Ann coupons and buy beads in bulk.  I purchased (2) one-pound bags of pony beads (my gal picked stars and regular beads), plus I let her pick out a small package of specialty beads that were $.50 after the coupon.  Since Big Lots was nearby, I decided to head in and see if they had any string that would be suitable.  They had all kinds of craft bead items for a great price.  We picked out two packages for $1 each.  It ended up costing more overall, but the gift ended up being $5 on the dot when I divided up the cost of the bulk beads, and I still have a gallon bag that is half full of beads which I will use the next time we are invited to a party, or have a party.  We've done bead activities instead of a party favor before.

We had company for dinner one night.  I made homemade pizza (I already had most of the ingredients on hand, though I purchased some Italian Sausage), salad (I made the dressing and used toppings we already had on hand), had Root beer that I purchased $.85 per 12-pack during the summer, and we had fancy ice cream Sundays.  I let Little Gal pick the ice cream, and we bought about 1/2 cup each of four toppings that I let her pick out of the bulk bins at Winco.  I made the hot fudge (HOLY COW THIS WAS GOOD) from ingredients I had on hand, and I had whipped cream in the refrigerator.  I had promised Little Gal that we would have a special ice cream treat if she memorized a part for a church program she recently participated in.  She memorized it in about two days!  The dinner was in her honor and the company had fun participating in the celebration.

I made one of our favorite soups for lunch on Saturday.

On Saturday, we finally had some free time in the morning for some relaxing family fun.  We took our doggy on a long walk around a beautiful neighborhood, went for a little drive, then took the kids to the library.  We sat and read and looked at books for a long time together.  Then, we checked them out and went home.  It was so nice!

I made a vegetable noodle soup (I'll have to post this recipe), bread, fry bread, potatoes, lots of inexpensive sandwiches, pancakes, and muffins.  I'm excited to work on healthier, more frugal meals this week.  Yikes, last week was a lot of junk food!

I also made cookies.  I baked 1 dozen cookies one night for a family night, then I used my cookie scoop to scoop cookie dough balls onto the cooled cookie sheet.  I covered this, threw it in the freezer, and the next day I divided the balls into a couple of bags.  This is a wonderful way to bake without eating all of the cookies (or dough!) by yourself, and being able to pull a few out for a treat later.  Be aware, certain cookies freeze better than others.  I have been using THIS Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and it's wonderful.  I add in the 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar that a reviewer suggested and it makes the most beautiful, bakery-style cookies.  I also leave the cookies on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes to trap the moisture in for the crispy on the outside, soft on the inside effect.  Mmmm.  I want a cookie right now!!  NOTE: I bake these frozen cookie dough balls at 350 for 10-14 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.

I made a menu plan that will allow for very little food to be purchased.

I made a batch of laundry soap.

Fred Meyer had several items for great prices last week.  I bought 6 half gallons of milk (I freeze them for later use), two half gallons of orange juice (OJ is usually wanted when we're sick, and there never seem to be sales when we need them!  So, I've been keeping a couple in the freezer) for $.99 each.  We go through about a half gallon of dairy milk and a half gallon of non-dairy milk per week for our family of four, so this will last us a long time.  I also bought some canned pumpkin, pasta (woohoo!  our stock was running low), canned beans (I usually make dry, but I like to have the pinto beans in chili sauce for two recipes), P.B. and non-dairy milk on sale.  I was happy to get stock-up prices!

I'm happy to have a more normal schedule coming up this week, I think I'm all tired out from all of the excitement!

What did you do to save money this week?

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Make and Stick to a Budget

This is our budget book.  We've been using it for 15 months with great success.

I often tell you about the budget meetings my husband and I have in my Ways I Saved posts, and I wanted to share with you our budgeting method.  I also thought it would be helpful to give you some insights to the manner in which we live and how we came to this point.

When my husband and I first got married, we were both in school and working.  When I look back, I think it was insanity.  I commuted roughly 1 hour each way to and from my university and I rarely saw my husband more than 1 hour a night before I crashed and went to bed at 9:00 p.m.  I'd wake up at 4:00 a.m. and do it again the next day, while he stayed in town and worked full time and went to evening classes.

During this time, I realized how little money we truly had and I found all kinds of crazy budgeting websites.  Get rich quick never sat well with me, and the "write down all of your dreams and save money for them so you can do them" sounds great, but it wasn't very satisfying because we made so little money and realized very few of our dreams.  I would tell my husband ALL of these wonderful and not-so-wonderful ideas and overwhelm him with all of the things I wanted to do with our very humble earnings.  To sum it up:  We were NOT on the same page.  I wasn't even on the same page with myself!

After several years of just trying to live frugally and not really getting anywhere either good or bad, some of our dear friends told us about Dave Ramsey.  Dave Ramsey's plan is quite solid and has worked well for us, though we don't do everything exactly as he suggests.

I'd like to say that as soon as we found Dave Ramsey, that all of the financial turmoil ended, but that's not so.  It just made things easier than they would have been without his plan.  Out of the last nine years that we have been married, the last few months are the most financially successful months we've ever had.  We haven't had to worry so much, and we've been able to do some things for our home that we have not had money for previously in our marriage.  We are able to do these things because we are getting out of debt and slowly have more and more excess.  My husband's career is not one that societal standards would consider us to ever be wealthy or close to it, however, we feel confident that as we get out of debt, we will be able to do those things that we want to do.  Even if it takes a little longer than another person.  We feel very grateful for his wonderful job.

You may wonder in my Ways I Saved posts, "How is she saving if she is spending so much and buying so many things?"  I will tell you, I sometimes feel guilty after we do something nice for our home or selves because it's always been such a struggle in the past.  However, it is nice to be able to work on our debt and work on having a nice home.  Our current home is quite modest.  It will be nice to purchase a home someday, and put beautiful things in it that we carefully chose and purchased for good prices.

On to the actual budget and away from the history!

We have tried a lot of things throughout our marriage.  Goal lists (too vague and slow gratification), Excel spreadsheets (out of sight, out of mind), Quicken (the same as Excel.  I'm too lazy to get on the computer to notate every expense), Cash Envelope Systems (part of me likes the cash envelope system, part of me doesn't.  In the end, we've abandoned it due to too many categories in our budget), etc., etc., etc..  We have finally found what works for us in regards to the bookkeeping aspect of budgeting.  And it's simple.

We use a composition book to keep track of our total budget and a mini composition book to keep track of individual transactions and withdrawals from the categories of the budget.  That's it!

Let me take you through our budget book.

1.  I estimate my husband's income, so that I can plan for the month, but we adjust according to what money actually comes in.

2.  Write down your estimated expenses.  ALL of them!

TIPS:  Start your budget a week or two before the actual month in which it will be used.  Estimate high on things like utilities so that you are pleasantly surprised when they are lower than what you had assumed they would be.  If you work on your budget early, you probably won't blow through any excess you might get, and you can be more prepared and make cuts if your earnings are low.

Also, this is the time to determine whether any festivities, clothing, or any other non-repeating expenses need to be added in to the budget.

3.  Subtract the expenses from your earnings.  If you have excess, put it toward debt, savings, whatever you need.  We do our budget in a "Budget the money to $0" sort of fashion.  If you are short, you'll need to make adjustments to your budget.

4.  As your bills begin coming and once the money has left your bank account, mark the items as paid.  We very simply notate it to the left of the budget item.  If our monthly expenses have come out very differently, I might even write up a new one and write it as "Revised" so that I can compare it to the original.

Also, watch your bank account to make sure the correct amounts of money have been withdrawn.

5.  As some budget categories come in more or less than what you had calculated, cross the old total out and write in the new amount.  This is usually where you are happy that you budgeted high.  For example, my electric bill was $8 less than I thought it would be this month.  Woohoo!

6.  Determine what to do with any excess you may have from expenses coming through less expensive than you had thought.  Notate what it will go to.  TIP:  Sometimes we don't pay that excess to the category we decide on until the end of the month.  You never know what may happen.  We usually like to keep our Emergency Fund (Dave Ramsey suggests between $500-$1000) for those surprises, but I don't really like touching it if it just turns out that we need an extra $20 for this or that.  You could always leave some flexible money in your bank account, but that's up to you.

7.  DISCUSS, DISCUSS, DISCUSS!  Don't be long-winded if your spouse doesn't handle budgeting well, but a weekly budget meeting does wonders.  Especially if you have goals.  You can look at your budget book frequently and see what progress is being made, or pull in the reins before ruination has been inflicted.  My spouse doesn't really like writing up the budget too much.  I don't like it when he's not involved.  So!  I draw up the budgets, allot the money, then we discuss it.  I make him take a look at my math!  I simply don't want to be solely responsible for that.  Once we've discussed and agreed, we're done and we put the big budget book away.

The Mini Budget Book:

We use a mini composition book (I bought a three-pack at the Dollar Tree for $1 last week) to keep track of any categories of the budget that will have more than one withdrawal.  For example, the grocery, gasoline, and fun money categories.

We moved away from the cash envelopes last month and we are really enjoying this.  It seemed that if we didn't get the exact amount of cash for every category right from the start, money would begin to be withdrawn, but without us really knowing what was going where and how much money was still left in a budget and the question, "How much is left in X category?" was constantly being asked.  I also didn't like being responsible for all of that cash, and I wanted to be able to use my Target Red (debit) card without having to go put money back into the bank.  Lastly, it's night to be able to pay for several things in one transaction at the store, then divide them up in the mini composition book from looking at the receipt.

Here's what the inside looks like:

1.  Write in the Category and money allotted.  Each category should probably get its own page.

2.  As you spend money on items in these categories, notate with a subtraction sign and the dollar amount.  Occasionally write in the new total that you have to spend.

3.  Keep this book with you in your purse or car so that you can fill it in while you're out shopping.  Let your family members know when the money is gone from a category.  This may be easier said than done, but it is important for them to know.

If family members don't like budgeting at all, kindly and lovingly express its importance to you.  Write up a budget anyway and ask if they'd like to see it.  Quickly show them the path to freedom, achievements that could be had.  Whatever you do, other than possibly some fun money (which I believe is very healthy if you can afford it), DO NOT SPEND MONEY THAT YOU CANNOT AFFORD.  It will not help your goals to say, "Well, S/He spent $X, so I'M going to spend that much too!"  I even believe that kindly and lovingly expressing your disappointment or discouragement is ok if it's becoming a serious problem.  The thing is, it has to be LOVING and KIND.  In this way, you can be true to yourself and your financial obligations.  Obviously, I don't know you or your situation, so take this paragraph with a grain of salt.

We have so much work left, but we've had great success this way.  We're continuing on our path to "Financial Freedom" and it feels good.  A good motivator is to look at the budget and imagine how much excess we would have if we didn't have to pay those debts.  Try it and you'll see!

How do you keep your budget?  Any tips you'd like to add?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How to Grow a Winter Garden: Harvest and Update

I showed you our Fall and Winter Garden, but haven't given an update in awhile, so I thought I'd share with you!

The Garlic beds (small top picture) are doing great.  Both the Spanish and Italian varieties are up and that makes me happy.  I've never grown garlic before and I was jealous of others who were pulling theirs up in late July and August.  Hopefully I get some good cloves!  Also, if you haven't planted yours yet, get it in quick!  You can even try some from the grocery store if you can't make it to a nursery for a certified bulb or two.  Or three.

Our little patch of 7-8 Snow Peas in the strawberry bed (middle right picture) have been attacked again and again by the slugs.  It's way too good of a hiding place for them.  The slugs don't seem to want the pods, but they are eating the plants so much that I know it's hindering their growth.  However, I'd never grown snow peas before, and it has been nice to grow them, so we enjoy a little harvest every few days.  They continue to grow, despite the weather becoming much colder.

The space where we built the new Cement Block Bed (bottom right picture) has turned out great.  The garlic is beginning to come up in the holes of the blocks which is awesome.  Hopefully it keeps some nasty slugs and critters out.  This bed has radishes mixed in with carrots on the left, and bok choy on the right.  Everything's doing well!  The radishes are beginning to bulb a bit, so hopefully they'll be ready to eat soon.  Also, the carrots have begun popping up everywhere.  I'm sure they'll do well, so long as the slugs don't eat the leaves before they get a chance to grow.

The East Bed (bottom middle picture) is the most fun.  We have a straw-covered block of garlic that is doing well, a block that is solely radishes, radishes with spinach, and radishes with carrots.  Yes, I'm growing lots of radishes!  HOWEVER, for a plant that is supposed to be so easy to grow, I'm having a difficult time, so I planted them everywhere.  I finally harvested one today!  It was so exciting!  I'm hoping to do roasted radishes at our Thanksgiving dinner table.  We'll see!  It would also be nice to throw some spinach in our salad, but I'm not certain that will happen.

The Greenhouse (bottom left picture) is such a joy.  I have a feeling that next winter, I'll bulk up growing in there.  It's just a plastic covered greenhouse, but it holds the warmth quite well.  I have several lettuce, kale, purple-headed broccoli, basil and leek seedlings growing, some flowers that are overwintering there, strawberries that were runners that happened to land in the herb pots and I'm letting stay, and our trashcan for potato growing.  I couldn't believe how many we got for our end-of-summer harvest.  I know they might not produce potatoes, but I read some success stories of starting them early, and the summer potatoes were far superior, so I had to try again.  So far, they are growing well in the greenhouse.  I continue to cover the growth with more soil and I'll do that until I come within an inch of the top.  Then we'll see what happens!

Everything grows slower than in the spring and summer.  You can tell it's quiet out there, you know?  This part of the earth is very drowsy right now, and I know I'm fighting that, but it's been nice to eat something from the garden occasionally.  It's also been great to experiment and keep learning about my garden.  It's definitely worth it, even if I just get garlic and some more snow peas.

Are you growing a fall or winter garden?  Have you harvested anything yet?  What are you growing?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Do You Watch While You Sew or Craft?

I have been sewing quite a bit the past month.  I've always enjoyed sewing, but there are definitely times when the well goes dry and then I don't sew for months.  The time in my married life when I sewed the most consistently was the year we lived in a home that had enough rooms to designate a sewing room.  When I look back to the things that I made during that year, and the things that I learned, it was wonderful and I hope that I can someday have a sewing room again.  

As we have been reorganizing and updating our home, I have my eye on a few spaces that I'd like to make my sewing storage, so that it is easier to access it.  However, I have been hand sewing the last few days and it has reminded me of how fun, fulfilling and satisfying it is.  I hand sewed a whole lot as a child, but had grown impatient with it in the past few years.  In keeping a sewing box handy with my project in it, I've realized that one of the beauties of it is not needing to pull out the machine and all of the set-up that goes along with it.

The women's night sparked a desire to sew more by hand.  It was so fun to sit mending and cutting while chatting with other women who were doing the same.  Reading The Prudent Homemaker's Gift a Day series has made me want to make more gifts by hand.  My time, thoughts of the person as I create the gift, and physical effort are truly the greatest gifts that I have to give.  

Sometimes I wish that I lived in times of sewing circles and wearing dresses.  I love the earthiness of it.  When I sew, I often turn on a period film to get my fill of creating something beautiful while watching such wonderful stories unfold.

Today when I sewed while my children were resting during nap time, I turned on this Pride and Prejudice, which has grown on me considerably.  I also love the more modern version with Kiera Nightley, however, I like the depth that the BBC version has time to go into.  You can watch it for free if you have Amazon Prime, by the way.

What do you watch while you create?  What is your favorite Jane Austen film adaptation?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

{EXPIRED} How to Make a Thankful Tree + LEAF CUT-OUT GIVEAWAY

For those of you that live in the U.S., have you noticed that each year that goes by, Thanksgiving seems to become less and less important?  I know I am not innocent here.  We've had years where we didn't mention a single thing we were thankful for, or perform any other tradition for that matter, on Thanksgiving except for eating a huge meal.

This year, as Thanksgiving approached and I noticed that stores were putting Christmas items out with the Halloween/Fall items, I was determined to do some special things for Thanksgiving.  I think it's a good start!

1.  We separated out some of our Fall and Halloween decorations so that we could actually decorate for both holidays separately.

2.  We're going to have a family movie night and watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving which we got in this pack last year when it was on sale.  (This is not an affiliate link)

3.  I plan on making some Thanksgiving cookies with the kids to take to our neighbors.  I found some sprinkles on clearance that will look very pretty that are specifically fall, not Halloween.

And best of all...

4.  We started a new Thanksgiving tradition this year. We call it our Thankful Tree.  Not only have we been working on being grateful for what we have in general, but we decided to take this opportunity to look for more things to take note of and verbalize each evening as a family. 

Here's how we did it:  First, on butcher paper, we colored a tree trunk and branches.  We taped ours to the refrigerator door, but you could tape it up anywhere, really.  The tree is about 3 feet tall.  Then, the children and I cut out leaves out of different colored paper using my Cricut Cutting Machine.  Next, we talked about Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it.  Then we talked about one thing that we were thankful for, we each wrote it down on a leaf, which we then taped onto the tree.  

It has been wonderful to be able to do this as a family each day.  It is a wonderful way to be grateful as a family, to see the good, and to enjoy each other's thoughts.  We were able to include guests one night also, which was a fun way to wrap up our evening with them.  It's a good way to remind the kids (and myself!) to be thankful throughout the day by asking them, "What will you be writing on the Thankful Tree tonight?"

I know it would be tedious to cut out these leaves without a Cricut, and it might be costly to purchase the leaves (if you can find something like it), so I wanted to offer a packet of Leaves and Circles to three readers.  I thought it would be a fun little giveaway!

I will offer the Leaf and Circle packets to the first three readers to contact me.  Feel free to include your name and mailing address in the first email, or you can wait for my response letting you know that you've won.  If you choose to wait for my response to give me your mailing address, please respond quickly with your mailing address so that I can send out your Leaves and Circles as soon as possible.

To enter this giveaway, send me an email with a subject line of Thankful Tree Leaves and Circles at LifeLivedIntentionally [at] gmail [dot] com

And don't worry, I'll mail them out by Thursday so that you will be able to have time to use them until Thanksgiving.  You can use the snail mail time to make your Thankful Tree trunk and branches so it'll be ready when the leaves arrive.

Good Luck!

Disclosure:  Email and mailing addresses will only be used for the purpose of this giveaway and getting your gift to you or letting you know you did not win.  I'm sorry, but this giveaway will be open to U.S. Residents only.  I will do my best to be timely in updating this post once the giveaway has closed, however, the giveaway may be closed, even if it is not marked so.  This giveaway doesn't include the tree trunk, which you will need to make yourself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ways I Saved

Last week was busy, busy!  We had lots of extra appointments.  I'm thinking that I'm going to be a hermit in December and never leave my house.  Ha!  Like that'll work!

We worked on our budget.  I'm usually really on top of things budget-wise, but I was so busy with Halloween that I didn't really get much of a chance to work on it.  So!  Over a week into November, and the budget is done.

I turned the heater on less and tried to watch the electricity usage.

I only bought a few things at the store this week, and they were clearance or sale items, so I was able to get great prices.

My husband and I wanted to give our children a pretend/dress-up box for Christmas.  After Halloween, I went to Target and everything but the food was 90% off!  I tell you what, I couldn't believe it.  I found so many things from cupcake liners for $.19 (I''ll use these year-round and think of my savings every time I look at the spider image.  Ha!), to fancy costumes for $2-3.  Many of the items were for the Christmas gift, but many items were so inexpensive that I bought them for everyday use, like the cupcake liners and some craft items.  I'm a sucker for Target clearance.  Especially when it's 90% off!  It was great to be able to find so many great costumes and accessories for their gift.

I fixed another pair of Footie Pajamas.  Little Gal's only pair got a hole in the foot, so I was very happy to have figured out how to fix them when I saw it.

I made a meal plan and stuck with it.  It helped save quite a bit as we didn't really need to buy much after I planned around what we had on hand.

I had one of those magnetic notepads that ran out of paper.  I purchased a 3-pack of mini legal pads, but they didn't have the magnet on the back.  I like to keep a notepad on the refrigerator for grocery lists.  Otherwise, I forget what I need!  I pulled the magnet off of the old notepad, and hot glued it onto one of the legal pads.  I was happy it was strong enough to hold the legal pad!

There was a women's group that met for a craft night.  You were supposed to pay for and sign up for crafts to make, or you could make a couple of free things there.  I went to the activity, even though I hadn't signed up for any crafts.  I took a bag of mending (this is where I fixed Little Gal's PJs) and sewing projects.  I fixed the PJs, cut out a nightgown for a Christmas present for Little Gal out of fabric I already had, and enjoyed a delightful evening out without spending any money other than gasoline.

My friend and I drove together to the women's craft night, and she agreed to go to the store for a few items afterward.  I had a couple of Lindt chocolates coupons.  After we got some exercise taking a quick turn around the store, I picked up the food items I needed, plus I was able to treat each of us/our husbands to a bag of truffles for $.50 each.  Woohoo!

When I was picking fabric out of my stash for Little Gal's nightgown, I found some fleece that I had forgotten about.  I had used it to make pajama bottoms for my brother for Christmas one year, and when I was looking at it, I realized that there would be enough to make pajamas for my son for Christmas out of the leftovers.  In my family, everyone gets some new pajamas for Christmas.  It's a cozy and fun tradition, and I enjoy it so much more when I get to make the pajamas myself.  For those of you that don't sew or don't sew much, pajama bottoms are some of the easiest things to sew.

With Christmas coming, I have really been unsatisfied with the thought of purchasing all of our gifts.  I want a more thoughtful Christmas than that!  So, I have been making a list and picking things out that I want to make.  I so appreciate homemade gifts.  They take so much time and thought!  I started a gift for my mother-in-law last night.

Little Gal really needs some new clothes.  She's so tall and grows so fast.  I found a $10/25 coupon for JC Penny and took her over there.  It was the first time I have ever taken her shopping and tried clothes on her and let her have much input.  It was fun!  I ended up purchasing all of the items on clearance, plus I used the coupon.  I got 9 pieces for $31.  That's $3.45 per item.  One of the items was a nice pair of jeans, too!

Also, we completed our living room update this past week!  I'm am VERY excited about this.  Our sofa AND love seat are both here now (the love seat had to be ordered), our piano is tucked to the side nicely, and the built-in bookshelf is tidied up.  The last problem was our computer.  We had gotten rid of our computer desk because we didn't like it, and wanted to find a better solution once we knew how much space we were dealing with.  My husband found an IKEA Secretary's Desk on craigslist that had originally been $400.  We got it for $50!  It's nice and solid, and though I probably would have preferred an older piece in general, this is built well (once my husband tightened it up and fixed it a bit), and has nice, clean lines.  We're both very happy with it!

We have been spending money on our home last month and this month, and it feels strange sometimes because we used to struggle so much.  I used to not be able to work on our home when I wanted to because there wasn't any money.  My husband earns a modest income, but we're very grateful for the excess that is allowing us to have our home turning out the way we want it.  The pieces are solid.  Our criteria for a new piece is that it be a piece we love.  Something that will last.  Solid wood if possible.  We're also buying these things within our budget, and many things are used, so they're a fraction of the cost new.

How did you save this week?

Friday, November 8, 2013

How To Fix Footie Pajamas

Little Gal has long, slender, feet, unlike footie pajamas have.  The combination of long and slender vs. short and wide creates holes!  Two years ago, I had a pile of about 8 pairs of footie pajamas that had holes in the toes where her little toes had rubbed and worn the fabric.  After making attempts at mending them with darning stitches, hole-sized patches, cutting the bottoms of the feet out and sewing new ones back in, I gave up and discarded the pajamas.  It drove me nuts throwing them away because they were still very usable and not worn out at all.  Except for those feet.

When one of my son's footie pajamas got holes in them a month ago, I left them in his closet instead of tossing them because I really wanted to figure this footie thing out.  When we updated our kids' room, I cleaned out their clothes and had to face these pajamas again.  As I looked at them, it hit me.  I didn't need to anything more than sew an inner lining of the bottom of the footie, stitched in around the seams.

I mended two feet (footies? ha!) of the pajamas in about 20 minutes, and even let Little Gal help with about 10 stitches.  He has been using them off and on for about a week now and they're working great!  No complaints from him, which is the real proof of success.  I discovered the holes one night when he begged me to change his pajamas because the feet were bothering him.

Disclaimers:  Yes, that is a nasty crack on my dried out thumb.  I've been using more lotion and my hands are getting better.  Handling all of the fabric with the costume-making at Halloween plus the change of weather has been rough on my already cursed skin.  I'm sorry you have to look at it!  My hand model wasn't in for the photo shoot  ;)  Also, that nail polish was an experiment with Little Gal that has been on for a LOOOOOOONG time.  It's still on.  In fact, I'll probably go take that off after I finish this post.  Or maybe not.  :) 

Ready to fix some Footies?  Here's what you'll need:

-Thimble (not necessary, but helpful when the layers of fabric get really thick)
-Fleece fabric (flannel might also work.  You want something thick)
-Chalk or some sort of washable marker if you feel so inclined.  I didn't take this step as this project is VERY forgiving.

Turn the pajamas inside out.  Lay the foot of the pajamas flat on a piece of fleece that you'd like to use.  I matched the fabric in my daughter's because I had time, but my son got crazy orange as it was the color I had out.

Once you've got the foot of the pajama flat, cut around the foot, taking care to not cut the pajama fabric.  If you prefer, you can use your chalk in this step to trace the foot of the pajama, and then cut it out.

Line the footie patch up with the foot of the pajama, and pin in place.  It'll be neater if you do.  It'll probably forgive you if you don't so long as you're a decent hand-sewer and you take care to continue lining it up.

Using a slip stitch, sew around the patch and foot of the pajamas.  To make a slip stitch, stick the needle through, pull until snug and make sure you don't get knots in your thread.  Make sure your stitches go through where the original stitches in the pajamas are.

Next, stick the needle through about 3/8" away from the first stitch, with the needle going through the fabric in the same way it did the first time. You do NOT sew needle down, then up when making a slip stitch.  It will be needle down, needle down, etc.  The thread will make little loops over the fabric edge, closing the seam off.

Once you've gone all the way around, tie the knot off.  If you really want to go for it, you could, at this point, stitch (by hand, or by machine, perhaps, if you can get the footie into the machine) over the places that have holes to connect the patch and the pajama fabric together.  I did not find this necessary, but you may need to do something like this if the hole is severe.  I think prevention is the key here, friends.  Do this as soon as you see a hole, or perhaps BEFORE you see a hole.

Here is a finished footie patch, slip-stitched all the way around.  It's in there well, and very comfortable for the Little Wearers.  I'm happy they're comfy and I'm happy I didn't have to get rid of perfectly good pajamas!

By the way, my daughter found a hole in her pajamas as I was writing this post, that's why there are two sets of jammies here!  I was able to take some more pictures of a couple of details I'd missed the first time.  Off to fix the other footie!

Do you mend footie pajamas?  How do you do it?