Monday, January 8, 2018

Birthday Party on a Shoe String budget

We only do birthday parties every other year for our children. Sure you can save the money by never having birthday parties. But I think birthday parties are important childhood memories. I am not an advocate of crazy fancy parties. I think they are too time consuming and costly. Now what I am about to tell you of what I did might think I am being contrary.
1- I start on pinterest. I look for the things that are practical, easy to make, will be an activity or add atmosphere. Above all I look for things that are cheap and easy to make myself. Then I pick 2-3 ideas that I think I can accomplish in the given time and will fulfill my criteria.
2- Of course a theme is decided, not that a theme is needed but it does help direct and limit ideas from getting out of hand. I make a list of possible activities and food. Not everything has to be apart of a theme. No kid is going to care that a cupcake or cookie isn't within the theme. Yes it is fun and if you can do it without adding extra expense then sure do it, but if you are doing it cheap no kid cares if there is a lot sitting on top. 
3- There is a trade off of food verses time. Food takes time. If you need to fill time, feed the kids a meal and treats will fill that time. Food can make the party more expensive. Make treats yourself. Choose foods that kids like and you already buy in your budget.
Make yourself foods:
Mini sandwiches (cut 4 out of one normal sandwich)
Homemade pizza or pizza bites
Cookie bars
Things with dips (pretzels, apples, carrots, celery, peanutbutter, nutella, marshmellow, creamcheese) pick a couple combinations and let the kids dip.
4- If you don't feel the need to feed them stick to cake, ice cream, and water. All you really need is cake.
5- It always makes you feel better when you can cater to food needs/allergies, however remember that if you don't have the budget you should stress about it. Keep it simple. You have every right to ask the parent of the child to bring something for them. They deal with it everyday they know what their child can have. My friend's daughter is deathly allergic to milk, she would much rather bring "safe" food than stress you and have you served her daughter something that puts her life in danger. It is not your job to go way out of your way. Don't feel guilty, if they get offended then they are the ones being pretentious.
6- Keep activities simple and cheap. Your don't need crafts that cost $4 per child to make. Games can be just as fun and memorable as a craft and it won't cost you much or anything at all. Kids love games that they already know (tag, hide and seek, duck duck goose, pin the tail). Use your theme and change the game up to fit your theme. Ie: the person it is a snowball and you've been hit if you get tagged. Kids won't care if it makes less sense they will be happy to run around and play. The options are endless do play the same old traditional games. Also honestly most parents will be happy that one less thing to throw away later is sent home with their child.
7- Bringing stuff home. Goodie bags are NOT required. Sure they are fun the kids like them, but they cost a ton and honestly everything in them are thrown away after 2 days. Alternatively, if you feel that you need to send guests home with something consider some of the following, one single fun item value $1 or less per child (small bottle of bubble bath, bows for girls toy car for boys, grab bag/treasure chest pick a toy out of, tumbler character cup). We have a tradition of doing a pinata. I fill it with candy and give each kid a ziplock bag. When the pinata breaks they run and fill their bag with candy and that is there "take home" gift. Nice thing about pinatas is they can take a long time to break if you have a talented person holding the rope and if your pinata is well made.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Meals with Spinach

Spinach is a super nutritional food. It has been known the value of spinach for a long time. Hence the creation of Popeye to encourage kids to eat spinach. The fresher spinach is, the healthier value it has, but have you seen the price of fresh spinach? A small bag is $7 at my local grocery store. I don't like to buy frozen. I do not find the taste well, and it limits the number of things you can make with it.
Costco does carry a huge 3lb bag for about $5 (all year round). 3 lbs is too much you say? Thought on the 3lb bag
1- It is less than the small container at the grocery store, so as long as you use more that you would have got at the grocery store, it was worth the cost.
2- If you actively try to use it, it will be gone faster than think

Let's talk recipes (or ideas):
*Lasagna - mix it with the meat, the riccatta or make it a layer unto itself.
*Florintine - chicken, shrimp, or meatless
*Creamy pasta red sauce
*Stuffed ravioli
*Baked Pasta (use manacotti filling mmmm)
*Stuffed Peppers -orzo instead of rice add spinach
*Salad - Asian, fruit, chicken, mixed greens
*Sandwiches - replace your normal lettuce with spinach

What things does your family make that we can add to our lists?

Last weekend we bought the bag at Costco. This is how far one bag has gone:
*one spinach lasagna served 8 huge portions, everyone full and leaf overs.
*One meatless Florintine
*One fruit filled Salad with spinach and homemade poppyseed dressing
*one creamy red sauce pasta
*baked pasta with manacotti filling

Saturday, August 13, 2016

School Supplies when Getting out of debt

Each year we're given a list from our schools of what they want us to buy for our student that year.  If you were to buy everything on the list at full price it will cost you around $100 per child. We just can't afford to do that this year. Here are some tips that we have used to get the supplies we need.

1-  Set your budget and stick to it. We decided we could spare $20 each month of the summer to save for school supplies come fall. Including $20 for the first month of school, that gave us $60 total to spend on 3 kids. This is for everything- clothes, backpacks, and all the supplies they need. Take what you have, prioritize what you actually truly need, and spend it on that first. Once it is gone it is gone.

2-  Check the list for what you have already. Honestly you do not need to get a new backpack every year or a new pair of scissors every year. Our school requires the kids to each have their own pair of headphones for the computers and class stations. (They can't share because it spreads lice). I found a good sturdy pair for each kid a few years ago on Amazon. I don't let them play with them over the summer, and they keep them in good condition in the class. They are going on 3 years now. Save the items that can be reused.

3- Identify the items that are necessities. Know what you must have. What folders or notebooks are required for the classes? Does that backpack need replacing this year? Do your kids have underwear that fits? Get those items first before picking up the millions of items on the teachers' wishlist. There are times when you just have to recognize that you can only get so much of what is needed. New clothes are popsicle sticks are fun but not always necessities.

4- On the items you can get the best deals buy an extra. So when it comes to the items on the list, when I find a deal that I can pick up at an awesome price- ie coupons, door busters, rebates, especially deals that I doubt many others are picking up, I get the max number or an extra one. For example, finding a box of a dozen pencils for 50cents a box is great. Even though each teacher requests 2 doz per child, it is a great deal and I pick up an extra box for each class. I may not have the money to buy one of everything on the list, but I can help out where it is a deal that I can afford. No teacher is going to say we have plenty of pencils.

5- Buy all year round or Save all year round. So putting a small amount in your budget all year to spend when those deals come is a great idea. But also watching the sales all year. In addition, things like paper, glue, crayons, cleaning wipes, and tissues are needed all year and teachers will accept donations whenever. I use coupons to pick up tissue boxes throughout the year and sent the box to class. Especially as supplies get low in the classroom the teacher will be grateful for resupplies. Also around the Holidays there are awesome door busters- like crayons for 25 cents a box. Buy then and save till September of restock your teachers. Not all the best deals are during back to school. It is also another way of looking at it if you don't have the money all at once to contribute to the class supplies. Teachers are happy to get donations any time.

6- Coupons. Yes they can be a pain but digital coupons are helping make life easier. Watch of $ off of total purchases. Or store coupons for non-sale items. when you're signed up for Staples deals, they send $10 off coupons every few months that are only good on non-sale items. You must purchase $10 or more to use it. There are lots of items that are needed that are rarely on sale-colored paper,  tissues, and cleaning wipes are great examples. I also look at the grocery store coupons of $5 off when you buy $50 worth of groceries. I'm going to spend $50 easily with a family of 6 and that money is already in my budget. When I have one of those coupons I will pick up $5 worth of school supplies. Hey that is $5 of supplies not coming out of my school supply budget. There are always the normal coupons too. As a side note, a lot of school nurses will accept donations of personal hygiene items for students who can't afford those simple necessities.  If you are super stocked from all your coupon deals consider donating them to the school nurse.

Looking at the list the teacher says you need to send to class is always frustrating when you are trying to put every extra cent toward paying off debt. I am grateful and need to remind myself that even though it  is hard on us and that is money not going toward our debt snowball, but I know that we are better off than some. There are some families out there that aren't just in debt but they don't have enough to buy any supplies let alone actual day to day needs. The things we can afford to buy help everyone in the class, not just my kids.

I know some of my friend have vented about having to buy supplies at all. That is what taxes for for, right? Personally I would rather buy what I can or if we donated money to the schools directly to let the schools buy in bulk. But taxes go to the State or County levels. I have seen that money shrink down before it gets down to the schools and getting those supplies. At least if I am spending the money myself, I know it was spend wisely and went toward what it was suppose to. No detours to another purpose here. Just school supplies. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Month We Gave Up

Since hiding our mistakes and ignoring our problems is how we got into this mess in the first place, I feel obligated to talk about "the month we gave up." It is not easy to admit our shame. But it must be said.

Last month, May, was a miserable failure for us. So much so that by the end of the month we had just given up. In starting June, my husband just wanted to wipe the slate clean and start all over. It was tempting. But I felt we really needed to figure out where we stood. How much trouble we had gotten into.

Sure we could look at all that happened and justify it....
{our son needed surgery, our daughter needed to go to the ER and get staples, we had family obligations that required us to travel when our budget was already stretched thin, bills that showed up out of no where 5 months after I had surgery.} These are all reasons why we went over and way into our Emergency savings. But it is worse than that. We gave up. We realized what a mess we were in and we made the mess worse. We let it get really bad. I just wanted the month to end. There are a few other reasons that my husband says were "planned" for but since I don't know how those books were kept, I *guess* that isn't a contributor. And the only thing that kept us from bouncing checks and overdrafting or using credit cards again, is that we use the previous months funds to pay this month's expenses. It was a choice we made and set up after our tax return gave us a cushion so that we always have a cushion, and never have to worry if all the expenses come due before that month's pay check. The problem with that now is we no longer have the cushion. We are now back on the pay check to pay check budget and because we still have all those bills from last month, we aren't paying any debt this month. We are back on baby step one.

I feel like we are failures. Like we have lost a battle. But you know why we are not? Because we figured it out and we are getting back on track. It is what repentance and starting over is all about. We all make mistakes, we all feel like giving up. Satan wants us to believe that when when make a mistake that is the end. We can't listen to his lies. We must get back up and keep going.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Necessity or Luxury

What qualifies as a NECESSITY? Verses what makes something a LUXURY?

Necessity is defined as being indispensable or required.
Luxury is defined as extravagant living.

In trying to "cut the fat" and live as simply as we can to get out of debt it has really made us consider what can do living without. It has surprised me what I once thought of as a necessity but I can look at as more of a luxury.

What has brought this to the forefront of my thoughts was my shampoo.
I have a salon shampoo that I love to use. Years ago I decided a way to use salon shampoos and rotate it with a bargain shampoo. The salon shampoos last me about two years.  I considered this a necessity. That is until after I purchased it the other day, and realized that was $20 in our household budget that could have went to something else. I haven't opened them yet, I keep debating taking it back. Knowing me I probably won't return it. I feel really guilty about it.

Back when we first started I saw lots of foods that I bought for snack or whatnot as luxuries. One of these was bananas. I love bananas. However, as a snack food they are an expensive item to sit around the kitchen and sometimes go bad because they were forgotten (although super rare at my house since my children devour them). have you ever looked at the cost of a single bunch? Most ran between $3 and $4. That is a lot of my food budget for a snack item my children devoured the moment they saw them.

My husband loves single use drink mixes for his water bottles at work. Granted I love to get them for him because 1- he drinks more water, 2- doesn't and isn't tempted to buy soda pop from the vending machine, 3- they are sugar free and therefore aren't adding the weight on. But at the cost of the packets it was eating into our food budget. Our compromise is that I make a pitcher of a flavor up and fill his water bottles to take it with him. It isn't perfect. It is barely working.

What are some things that you use to see as necessities in your life, but working on getting out of debt has changed your perspective?

My next question is at what point can we add these things back in our lives? Living without some of these things for over a year now, it is really hard mentally denying yourself of any luxuries. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Yard Sale

Most of the lists on how to increase your income contains the suggestion "yard sale". 

I love shopping at yard sales. However, I hate doing them. I never feel like I have enough stuff. I want to feel I am giving people a fair deal, but I also want to feel I recuperated back some of the cost that I put into the items I don't need anymore.
I literally have closets full of baby and toddler clothes. It was taking over the house. I had given way here and there and I had been saving them for future children. But the realization came that it was taking over our house.
The other motivator to actually going through it was lots of extra expenses this month and next. Some of those expenses are: My computer met an unfortunate accident. The desk the computer sits on is all wrong for my new computer (we are making do until we can find an affordable replacement). The lab work bill for my daughter.  There is the post yard sale day (where I get a lot of the clothes and needed items for our family for the next year). Our microwave is on its last leg and any day we expect to need to replace it. My son's birthday. My other son's birthday. Multiple end of the year school fundraisers, including the spring carnival-which we had decided was the one big fundraiser we were going to participate in. Extra doctor appointments and bills. These things all add up. While they weighed on my mind I decided maybe it was time. Also I had just done some "spring" cleaning and identified some items I no longer needed/ was ready to part with.
After all the work to get it together we made about $200. We did two days and closed up about 11am both days. We didn't have any big ticket items to sale. The last time we did a yard sale (about 5 years ago) we had a leather chair that we sold for $170. The most expensive item this time was $20.
So it is $200 more dollars than we did have and more stuff I do not need in our house gone. Afterwards, we took everything over to donate. Yes I could have made more through a local facebook  sales group. But I am so tired of the mess that brings. I post and post, people either never seem interested or they stand me up over and over again. I am done trying to sale things on it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gifts for teachers

I wanted to do something that was simple but also affordable.

I started on pinterest. Here are some I was considering

Then I started thinking about how they were all food. I started thinking about how teachers probably appreciate things that aren't going to go to their hips. But at the same time last year I did mason jars and we included Peach Herbal Tea with a note to enjoy their summers. They came out to about 3.20 per jar we put together. but something of this cost wasn't what I wanted to spend while we are trying to wise and conservative with our money.
But if teachers get multiple of these, it is a lot of keep around- clutter.
So I started looking for things that aren't food, but once they are used there is no reason to feel the need to keep it.
I decided to look and see what I could buy in sets and keep the cost down. If we did all of my childrens teachers I would need 12 gifts.
Here were some ideas I found on pinterest for non-food but possibly still affordable.
then I found this one and I knew I could buy a set of Sharpies at Costco.
I asked a teacher friend of mine which would you rather get, a Sharpie or a candy bar. She very quickly said "Sharpie" then asked her friend she was with (we were talking on the phone) and her friend said "Sharpie" without missing a beat. 
I bought a pack of Sharpies at Costco. It came with 25 Sharpies. It was $14. Maybe not the best deal but I needed them by tomorrow and it was a set of super fun colors.
I made these tags for the Sharpies
(full size image, ready to print, please "save as" and print)
I'm doing 2 each. I tied a ribbon around them. Each gift is costing us between $1.15 and $1.70.

Lastly I'd like to say, it is not a requirement to give teachers gifts. I am not someone who thinks that you have to. But I wanted to do something to let the awesome teachers have had this year know how much I am grateful for them.