Category Archives: Frugal Family

Fourth of July Fun

I love the 4th of July. It’s a day to remember our many freedoms and it brings out the patriot in many of us. If that wasn’t enough, we celebrate this holiday with cookouts, swimming, and fireworks. What’s not to love?

I wanted to get festive with the kids but so many crafts are too hard for toddlers and so many treats are full of sugar. So I did a little brain storming and came up with an age appropriate snack and craft idea. They are both very simple but your little ones will still enjoy them.

Salt Fireworks

This is an alternative to the standard glue and glitter fireworks that kids make at this time of year. I prefer using salt to glitter because it doesn’t make the mess that glitter does. Let’s face it, if you turn your toddler loose with glitter, you’re going to be cleaning it up for weeks to come. The salt cleans up much more easily. That said, be sure to watch your child carefully because you wouldn’t want him eating the salt!

Anyway, I dyed two small bowls of plain ol’ table salt with gel food coloring. I left the thrid bowl white. Let the salt dry out thoroughly so it doesn’t clump together. Then, just pour the colored salt into salt shakers.

For toddlers, take a black piece of construction paper and make fireworks designs with white glue. Place the paper in front of your child and let him shake away. Preschoolers and older kids can make the glue designs themselves.

Be sure to do one firework at a time and shake off the excess salt before beginning the next firework.

Red White and Blue Kabobs

This is such a simple, yet healthy snack. Best of all, the kids will actually eat it! Just cut off the pointed end of some strawberries and cut a string cheese stick into 7 or 8 sections. Then, using festive tooth picks, layer a strawberry, cheese chunk, and a blueberry. Voila!

Saving on Summer Camp

Got a big kid who is going off to summer camp this year? Guest blogger Alvina Lopez offers these tips for saving money on this big expense.

With the summer heat comes the summer spending. With kids out of school, summer days are full of movie outings, museums, amusement parks, summer vacations, and so much more. While all of these activities can be extremely fun and entertaining, they can also be a major damper on the family budget. On top of family activities and vacations, many parents opt to send their kids to summer camp. Though summer camps can be pricy, they don’t have to take a major chunk out of your carefully configured summer funds. Try these simple ways to save money and allow your kids to have a fun and enriching time away from home.

1. Book Early: One of the best ways to save money on summer camps is by booking your child’s stay early. Many camps offer a reduced rate for reservations made up to 6 months prior to the start date of the camp. Also, most camps provide a discounted rate for families that pay the entire amount of the camp early rather than waiting until the last minute. This seems like a no-brainer reserve your child’s stay early and possibly save as much as $100 dollars or even more. Moreover, by reserving the slot early, you can now plan the remainder of the summer around those dates. Just be sure to plan ahead for the camp dates. Many camps may have a no-refund policy somewhere in the fine print, so be careful.

2. Find Discounts: While this advice may sound silly: save money by saving money. Many camps offer different discounts that many parents don’t know about. This is one of the easiest ways to make your kid’s summer camp fun more affordable. Many programs offer discounts for individuals who are teachers, police officers, firefighter, or military personnel. These discounts vary depending on the organization through which the camp is run, but it is always worth asking. Discounts are also typically offered for families enrolling more than one child in the camp. While sending your kids to different camps during the summer may encourage more independence, sending your kids together can save you a significant amount of cash. Furthermore, many camps may also count towards a tax break. Summer camps can qualify as a childcare tax break. So, if you kid is 13 years old or younger, you may be able to deduct the cost of the camps from your taxable income. Be sure to check with your tax professional to make sure that your specific situation qualifies for the break.

3. Save on Gear: One of the biggest price tags associated with summer camps is the gear your kids will need. Unfortunately, many parents are so hung up on the cost of the camps themselves that they overlook how expensive buying gear can be. Thankfully, there are several ways that you can save during the process of gearing your kids up for their summer adventure. First, try to find the best deals look online and shop around. This can be somewhat stressful and time consuming, but will definitely pay off in the end. Also, try talking to friends with kids or family members about borrowing whatever gear you can. If you have a close friend with kids the same age, try sharing gear each summer and save significantly. Keep your kids from losing their pricy gear by labeling their things before they leave. Losing expensive things (as we all know) is just like throwing money away. Keep their things carefully labeled and find a good way to transport them so that things can stay organized. Keeping track of your things is key to saving on buying gear for next year.

Though sending your kids to summer camp can be an expensive endeavor, there are several ways to cut the cost and make it a worthwhile investment. Try these three tips to help save some money during the process and allow your kids to get the full summer camp experience.

Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie, who blogs about accredited online schools. She welcomes your comments at her email: alvina.lopez @gmail.com.

 

No More Soggy Sandwiches?

If you are a frugal parent, odds are good that you’ve packed plenty of lunches–for yourself, your spouse, and/or your children. And if you’ve packed a lunch, chances are, you’ve experienced the soggy sandwich. My husband, for example, loves tuna sandwiches. But if I make it in the morning before he goes to work, the bread is soaked nearly all the way through by the time he gets around to eating lunch. After a couple of times of that, I started packing the tuna in a little container and popping the bread slices into a zipper-top bag. That fixed the soggy sandwich problem but it created two new issues–crushed bread and money wasted on disposable sandwich bags.

That is why when I saw the Perfect Sandwich from Contain This!, I just had to try it. The Perfect Sandwich is a single container with one layer to hold wet ingredients and another layer to hold the bread. This keeps the wet and the dry ingredients separate. Best of all, there is an included ice pack that fits in the bottom of the wet compartment to keep your meats, cheeses, and veggies cool and safe.

 

When my Perfect Sandwich container arrived, I couldn’t wait to give it a try. I started by using it pretty much exactly as directed. After freezing the chill pack I inserted it into the bottom of the container and topped it with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and meat. I closed up that section and was pleased to see that it really does create a tight seal. I then placed my bread in the top compartment and voila! No wet bread, no crushed bread, and no wasted zipper-top bags.

 

Of course, not everyone wants a sandwich for lunch so I decided to try out the Perfect Sandwich container with one of my personal favorite lunches–hummus. Again, I used the chill pack and filled the bottom section of the container with two types of hummus, sliced cucumbers, and Kalamata olives (yum!). Then I placed wedges of pita bread in the top compartment. I took this with me on a picnic playdate and I was very pleased to find that the contents of my lunch didn’t slide around very much. The Perfect Sandwich kept them well contained.

 

Finally, I decided to give the container a whirl with my hubby’s favorite–the tuna sandwich. This was where I truly appreciated the included ice pack. It keeps your food at a safe 40 degrees for five whole hours–which is vitally important, especially when you’re packing foods that include mayonnaise or other highly perishable ingredients. I am happy to report that my sweet husband’s sandwich was perfect at lunchtime–his bread wasn’t soggy or squished and his tuna was nice and cool.

 

All in all, I am thrilled to add the Perfect Sandwich to my collection of lunch containers. It’s functional, it’s high quality, and it solves a common lunch dilemma. By the way, if you make bento lunches, this would make a nice two layer box but you would probably need to remove the ice pack from the bottom layer to make enough room for your foods.

If you want to read more about the Perfect Sandwich or if you want to buy your own, visit the Contain This! website or check them out on Facebook.

 

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me at no charge for the purpose of review. I was not compensated in any other way and this review reflects my honest opinion of the product. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.

Lazy Days of Summer

As I was sitting in the kiddie pool this morning with my little ones, I found myself thinking about all the things I should have been doing: breakfast dishes, laundry, catching up on emails, etc. As moms, I think we usually have our minds on several things at once, primarily because we always have so many things to do and obligations to meet.  But you know what? It’s okay to spend a lazy summer morning splashing around with your babies. It’s okay to spend an afternoon at the park pushing them on the swings or riding down the slide with them. It’s okay if the dishes sit in the sink for a few hours and it’s okay if your emails don’t get answered right away.

Enjoy these summer days with your children. Your little ones won’t be little forever and your older ones will be back in school soon enough. Give yourselves a break and enjoy your kids. As for me, I think I’ll head back outside and play in the water.

New Dietary Guidelines from the USDA

By now, you’ve probably seen the USDA’s new nutrition icon. The image pictured at left plus the new “My Plate” brand are all part of the USDA’s nutrition standards campaign that replaces the Food Pyramid.

While they have not released specific guidelines for young children yet, the basic formula will be the same: fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables (with the emphasis on vegetables), fill one fourth of the plate with grains (whole grains are encouraged), and the remaining fourth with protein (lean being best). Round out the meal with a glass of milk to get your dairy requirements.

While there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about these new guidelines, I am happy to see them laid out in such an easy to understand format. I love it that finally, the U.S. government is on board with filling half your plate with fruits and veggies. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with my dinner in thirds–meat, starch, vegetable. And honestly, the starchy food was often a larger portion than the meat or vegetable. And that seems to be the norm for a lot of people. If we can make these new USDA guidelines the norm, think how much healthier we will all become.

For a super handy way to serve your child the proper portions, check out these divided plates: My Healthy Kids Plate and The Portion Plate for Kids. How cute!

Frugal Summer Fun

Splash Pad photo by Robert Taylor, Creative Commons License

School’s out for summer (cue the Alice Cooper music.)

If you have older kids in addition to a baby or toddler, your days just got a lot busier. If you’re anything like me, you are probably checking out all the fun activities your community has to offer your kids during the summer. Problem is, these activities can really break the bank.  A hundred bucks for swimming lessons, two hundred for day camp, another hundred for a zoo membership, etc., etc. Before you know it, you’re broke and the kids may or may not be sufficiently entertained.

Fortunately, there are fun things for your kids to do this summer that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. In some instances, your younger children may even be able to participate. Now this list does not include at-home activities like crafts–instead, these things will get you out of the house and into some fun.

Summer Reading Programs — Summer reading programs are a great way to keep your child excited about reading all summer long. Typically, a child will keep track of all the books he or she reads and will be rewarded based on that number. Younger children can often participate with a parent reading the books to the child. In addition to your local library, check out book stores as many offer summer reading programs, too. Here is a great list of nationwide reading programs.

Summer Kids’ Movies — Many movie theaters across the U.S. offer free or super cheap kids’ movies during the summer months. While not as educational as a reading program, this is a great way to beat the heat on the hottest summer days. Check out participating theaters here.

Splash Pads — More and more communities are installing splash pads in their parks. Splash pads, also known as “spraygrounds” are simply parks or areas within parks that offer sprinklers instead of playground equipment. No splash pad in your town? What about ground fountains? These fun fountains squirt streams of water from the ground intermittently and can often be found in shopping plazas, town squares, and other locations.

Free Admission Days — Many museums and other attractions nationwide offer free admission on particular days of the week. Here is a listing of the free days sponsored by Target. If you don’t see a local attraction on your list, call around and you might find some hidden deals you didn’t know about. In my own town, the zoo, a wildlife preserve, a natural history museum, and two art museums offer a free admission day each week.

Bowling — School age children can enjoy free bowling all summer long at their local bowling center courtesy of Kids Bowl Free. Find a participating bowling center near you, sign up your child online, and let the bowling begin.

If you know of any other fun and free or almost free outings, leave a comment and tell us about them!

Crafts for Older Babies and Toddlers

Arts and crafts are great for fine motor development as well as to encourage creativity. The problem is, it can be hard to find craft ideas for babies and toddlers. After all, if you put something in your baby’s hand, he’s likely to put it in his mouth. That kinda rules out crayons, markers, glue, clay, etc.

Fortunately, there are some baby-safe crafts that you can do with your kids. I’m going to share with you some of my favorites. All of these use common household items and they all pass the mouth test. 🙂


Cracker Canvas


 

 

 

 

 

 


What You Need
Graham Crackers
White Grape or Apple Juice
Food Coloring (natural food coloring is ideal)
Small Paintbrushes

What To Do
In small cups or bowls, mix a couple tablespoons of juice with several drops of food coloring. Mix a different batch for each color you want to use. Place a graham cracker in front of your toddler and show him how to paint on it with the juice “paint.” The more food coloring you use, the more vibrant the paint will be–and the messier it will be. The best part is, when he’s done, your little one can eat his painting.


Pudding Paint


 

 

 

 

 

 


What You Need

Pudding
White Paper (finger paint paper is best, but any will do)

What To Do
Give your baby a dollop of pudding and a sheet of paper. Demonstrate to her how to finger paint with the pudding.  Some pudding will get on the paper, the rest will probably go into her mouth. When she’s done, hang up her artwork for the day–then throw it away. You wouldn’t want to attract bugs by keeping the pudding painting for too long. As an optional idea, try using vanilla pudding tinted with food coloring (again, natural is best) to give your baby a variety of colors.


Mouth-Safe Dough

(contains wheat–see below for gluten-free)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What You Need

1 cup of flour
2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
a half cup of salt
1 tablespoon of oil
1 cup of boiling water
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Pumpkin Pie Spice, or Apple Pie Spice (optional–added for scent)*
Food Coloring (optional)*

What To Do
Mix all ingredients–except food coloring–together, first with a spoon, then with your hands once it is cool enough to handle. If using food coloring, add a few drops and knead into the dough. Store in an airtight container. As a side note, you obviously won’t want your toddler to make a snack out of this dough, but if some does wind up in his mouth, at least all of the ingredients are edible.


Gluten Free Dough
What You Need
½ cup rice flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Pumpkin Pie Spice, or Apple Pie Spice (optional–added for scent)*
Food Coloring (optional)*

What To Do
In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook on low heat until mixture thickens and begins to form a ball (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, knead the dough and then store it in an airtight container.

*Some people use unsweetened Koolaid in their homemade dough recipes to add color and scent. This, of course, adds artificial ingredients into the dough, but it does result in pretty colors that smell good, too. Personally, though, I prefer to use natural colors and scents in my play dough.

Stockpiling Explained

I am a seasoned couponer and I have a small stockpile of items my family regularly uses. In the beginning, friends and family didn’t seem to understand the point of the stockpile. I explained that by buying a lot of an item when it’s dirt cheap, I won’t have to buy it again until the next deal comes around. This, of course, means that I should never pay full price again. Nevertheless, I was often met with blank stares or a perplexed, “But why do you need 20 boxes of cereal?”

That is when I realized that the purpose of a stockpile may not be clear to those who don’t have one. With that in mind, I found an excellent explanation of stockpiling over at WeUseCoupons.com that I would like to share with you here. And if you are not already a member of We Use Coupons, go now and sign up. Membership is totally free and it gives you info on all the best coupon deals, couponing advice, advance copies of sales ads, and more.

In the meantime, check out this very good explanation of stockpiling:

by Nathan Engels


Why Stockpile?

Why stockpile is a great question that I get all the time in coupon classes. Why in the world would you buy 20 of something?? Well it’s simple, when I buy a years supply of something that is FREE, I take it off my grocery list for a year!! As my stockpile grows I am able to remove stockpiled items from my weekly grocery list. This in turn saves me hundreds of dollars every week!!

What is a stockpile?
A stockpile is a reserve of items you use on a weekly or monthly basis. Generally, stockpiles are built over time, they just don’t magically appear! They are built by buying free items or items that are deeply discounted with coupons. I started my stockpile with 3 bottles of shampoo and oatmeal! Each week I added to my stockpile and now, many of my friends think I have a store!!

So how do you get started?
First I would say, make sure to read some of the basic couponing articles found on WeUseCoupons. If you master basic couponing techniques, you’re on your way to have a garage full of stuff!!

If I buy more, won’t my grocery bill go UP not down?
The entire stockpiling concept is built on saving money! Almost every week I spend around the same amount of money on groceries, and my stockpile grows! Some weeks I spend a little more, some a little less. BUT building a stockpile should NOT negatively affect your budget. If soup is on sale for $.25 per can, I check the expiration date, estimate how many I will use and buy appropriately. I don’t go out and say, “I want 500 cans because it’s cheap!” Be practical!! Don’t spend your entire grocery budget on stockpiling two items that you won’t use all that often.
Another important stockpiling tip, buy the free stuff in mass!! If it’s free, stockup until your heart’s content! If soup is free, buy as many as you can! If you don’t use it all, give it away to friends, neighbors or the food bank!!

It takes time
Hardcore stockpilers will tell you flat out, it takes at least 6 months or longer of dedication to build a good size stockpile. Each week the sales change, which means that something new is free or extremely cheap. After stockpiling for months on end, your stockpile will be diverse, but not perfect! You may also run out of something. Give it time, and learn your own habits!

My family is destroying my stockpile!!
I hear this a lot. Imagine eating generic captain crunch for years on end and then one day, mommy brings home the real stuff! Kids just love the shine of the new box, and because mommy bought not just one box but TEN, the kids and husband tear into 6 boxes in the first week! This is a common problem, but know that it will pass! After a while that new novelty will wear off to just another cereal.

How much should I stockpile?
When you find an item that is free or extremely cheap when using a coupon, the inevitable question arises, how much should I buy? To begin, you need to figure out how large of a supply you need! We recommend having at least a minimum of 3 months on hand, but 6 months is preferable. This will allow you to take that item off your grocery list for six months. Sales are cyclical, which means that eventually that item that you are purchasing today, will eventually go on sale down the road again. How much of a particular item you need depends on your family and their usage. A family with 4 teenagers is going to use a lot more deodorant than a family with a newborn and a toddler. Determine how much your family needs by estimating how much they use in a given week or month.

Stockpiling is Ongoing
Just because you got 10 boxes of cereal for free doesn’t mean you will pass up the next cereal sale. You are never “finished” with a stockpile. Sales and cycles are happening constantly. If cereal is free again don’t hesitate to buy more! As soon as you get a full supply of one item, you will run low on another. Each week is different and after 4 months of not buying cereal ,you may be running low!

Stockpiling is stupid, I just go to Costco or Sams.
Well go right ahead and spend hundreds of dollars! Buying in bulk isn’t stockpiling, it’s wasting money. Sams is expensive! Let me say that again, Sams is very expensive! 90% of the time, purchasing in bulk at a warehouse store is not cheap! I have friends that brag about their warehouse purchases and I just smile on the inside. That item they were bragging about was FREE three weeks ago and I have hundreds of them in my basement! I discourage stockpiling items that you actually have to pay for UNLESS you can’t get a good deal on a regular basis. Even then, don’t buy at stockpile levels, simply buy enough to last until you DO find the super deal elsewhere.

Remember, at warehouse stores, items may be cheaper in bulk, but most are never stockpile-worthy.

Issues that arise
Some stockpilers HATE paying for anything! Sometimes that leads to small problems down the road. For example, I hate paying for mac and cheese. I rarely have a supply of it because I can’t ever seem to get it entirely free. Luckily we don’t eat it much, but when I want it, sometimes I have to run and pay full price for one box at the convenient store (A horrible thing).

Brand loyalty is another issue when stockpiling. Most couponers have thrown brand loyality out the door, but some people only use Dawn. If you find that item on sale and you have a coupon, it may be worth overbuying by normal standards if you know it’s the only brand that you will use and it doesn’t often go on sale.

Coupon shortages are a common problem with stockpiliers! If you want to buy 30 of something you are going to need the coupons to do it. Ebay and clipping services are your friend! Buying multiple papers will also help. Get the coupons any way you can. You will even find people like me who will even dumpster dive for them!!

Controlling your Ever Growing Stockpile
Organization & Space
“Ummm honey, where should I put the 200 canisters of oatmeal you bought at Wal-mart? There isn’t any more room in the closet!!” Space is a constant struggle as your stockpile grows. My stockpile started on a shelf in the garage and has literally taken over then ENTIRE garage. I built shelves because my stockpile took over! Being organized is really important.

Expiration Dates
A deal isn’t a deal unless you are actually going to use the item before it spoils. ALWAYS check items before stocking up! Even water has an expiration date. Determine realistically how much your family will use and then buy the appropriate amount.

We hope that you understand the basics of why to stockpile with this article. Stockpiling is a great way to reduce your grocery list every week. By stocking up on an item for a year, you no longer have to buy it every week. If you can get that item for FREE, imagine how much money you will save EVERY WEEK. Stockpiling affects your bottom line and I believe it is the key to literally saving THOUSANDS every year on your grocery bill!

Happy Shopping!!

This article is copyright Nathan Engels. No portion may be may be copied, reproduced or posted in any form without written permisison of the author.

–Courtesy of WeUseCoupons.com, used with permission.

Juice Box Heroes

Have you ever had one of those days when you just know that if you have to listen to one more Wiggles CD, you’re going to be escorted from your home by the nice men in white jackets?

And it’s not just the Wiggles. The Little People, Dr. Jean, Barney….they all make me crazy with sufficient exposure.

So a couple of weeks ago when I saw a deal for a different sort of children’s music on Plum District, I had to check it out. The deal was for two Juice Box Heroes CDs for $12.50. I had never heard of the Juice Box Heroes before but when I checked them out, I knew I had to get the deal.

To give you an idea of what their music is like, think Weird Al Yankovic for the preschool/toddler set. Most of the songs on the CDs are parodies of 80’s hits with a couple of 60’s/70’s songs thrown into the mix. Here are some snippets from one of the CD’s:

  • Cake is a parody of George Michael’s Faith. — “…because I’ve got to have cake, I’ve got to have cake.”
  • Mommy is a parody of Tommy Tutone’s Jenny (867-5309) — “Mommy I’ll sing my numbers, 123456789.”
  • We Are Going to Bake It is a parody of Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Going to Take It — “We’re right. You’ll see. One bite. Yummy!”
  • Don’t Worry, Take a Nappy is a parody, of course, of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy — “You and your friends, you ran a mile. You’re so tired you can’t even smile. Don’t worry, take a nappy.”

These CDs are so much fun. My kids think the songs are funny and I can actually jam right along with them. To be sure, this is fluff, pure and simple. But if you want to dance around the living room with your little ones, this is the perfect music.

Use Up Those Hard Boiled Eggs

This weekend, my family will participate in that time honored tradition of dying Easter eggs. This is such a fun activity for the kids (and the grownups, too!). The problem is, when you’re done, you’re left with quite a few hardboiled eggs. And sure, the occasional hard boiled egg for breakfast is nice and I personally love a good egg salad. But then what? Here are some ideas for using up the rest of those hard boiled eggs.

Scotch Eggs — This British treat is a great on-the-go breakfast food. Traditionally, Scotch eggs are fried but this recipe is for baked Scotch eggs for a somewhat healthier option. Also, I use turkey sausage instead of pork sausage to cut out even more fat.

My Favorite Egg Salad — Growing up, my mother and grandmother always prepared egg salad with green olives. I was surprised to learn as an adult that many people use pickles in their egg salad instead. If you haven’t tried it with green olives, you don’t know what you’re missing. I actually use more olives than this recipe calls for but you can adjust all of the ingredients to your tastes.

Deviled Eggs — This may seem obvious but if you’re serving an Easter brunch or dinner at your house, turn some of those Easter eggs ito deviled eggs. They’re easy and always a crowd pleaser.

Potato Salad — Odds are good that potato salad is on your Easter menu. If so, chop up a couple of Easter eggs and toss them in.

Green Salads — Hard boiled eggs are a great topping for chef and spinach salads.

Breakfast Sandwiches — Most breakfast sandwiches use scrambled or fried eggs. But there is no reason in the world why you couldn’t substitute sliced or diced hard boiled eggs for the eggs in many of these recipes.

Cookies — I know, hard boiled eggs in cookies? Sounds strange to me, too, but this recipe calls for just that. I haven’t tried them but if you do, let me know how they turn out.