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Category: Frugal Fun

Lessons from the playground: Choose to bloom where you’re planted!

The children begged if we could go to the park early one morning last week. I said that we could once our chores, homeschool and naps were finished for the day.

They were so excited and kept talking about it all morning and afternoon and asking when we could go.

We finally finished up all the necessary things for the day and I loaded them up into the wagon and we took off for a nearby park. All the way over, they were completely stoked about going to the park and could hardly contain their excitement.

As soon as we got to the park, though, I noticed that they had trouble enjoying one piece of playground equipment because another nearby was calling their name. They’d go over and start playing on that and then they’d see another. And so it went.

They weren’t complaining and they definitely did have fun (as evidenced by the pictures above), but their fun was hampered. They were doing exactly what they’d looked forward to all day, but they couldn’t completely enjoy it because they were distracted by other parts of the playground which looked more exciting.

As I observed my children go from one piece of playground equipment to the next, I thought about what a picture this was of us adults. We can miss out on so much in life because instead of being content where we are, we’re always thinking the grass looks greener on the other side. Instead of just soaking up all the blessings of today, we’re wasting time wishing we were somewhere else.

I’ve learned something over the last few years: no matter where you are, you can find plenty of difficult things to complain about or you can find many wonderful blessings to be thankful for. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Choose to bloom where you’re planted, to make the most of the resources and opportunities you have today and your life will be so much more rich and fulfilling — no matter your income level or financial situation.

Fifteen Favorite Children’s Read-Alouds – Part 1

Summer is here and you might be looking for some fun and frugal ways to occupy your children without just sitting them in front of the computer or television.

Reading is a wonderful way to stimulate your children’s minds, teach them great lessons, open up new worlds to them and give them a life-long interest in learning. If your children are young, reading aloud also provides a great opportunity to spend quality time with your children. Plus, if you get most of your books free, reading is an incredibly frugal pastime.

We love books at our house. We don’t have a lot of children’s toys, but oh do we enjoy books! Our children never tire of being read to.

And since I’m often asked for children’s book recommendations, I’m going to be sharing fifteen of our very favorite children’s read-alouds over the next four weeks. These are books which — in most cases — we’ve read over and over and over again. Many of them might already be on your own shelves, but I hope you’ll discover a few new ones, too.

1. Goodnight Moon— Hands down, this is Kaitlynn’s (almost 3) favorite book. In fact, I’m pretty sure every single one of us have this entire book memorized by heart. We also can pretty much tell you every little detail on every square inch of every page. But that’s perfectly okay, because it’s such a great classic book.

2. The Seven Silly Eaters — This book was sent to our family by a blog reader and it’s become one of the most-requested read-alouds by our girls. It’s a fun — and sometimes a bit over-the-top — book about life in a bustling household. We don’t quite have every word memorized yet, but we’re quickly getting there! 🙂

3. Because I Love You— If I had to pick a favorite book from all the children’s books we own, I’m pretty sure this book would be it. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love for us — even when we were yet sinners. It touches me every time I read it to the girls and opens up lots of opportunities for me to explain truths about God.

4. The Bear That Heard Crying (Picture Puffins) — This is a true and fascinating story which happened in 1783. A 3-year-old girl gets lost in the woods and is saved by a bear — yes, I said a bear. The girls are always in awe and ask dozens of questions when we read this one.

Part 2 of Fifteen Favorite Read-Alouds is coming next Monday.

This post is brought to you in part by HarperCollins and the Borders Double Dog Dare You Reading program. Kids 12 and under can join the Borders Double Dog Dare You Reading program and earn a free book when they read 10 books. Just fill out this form and bring it in to any Borders, Waldenbooks, or Borders express store by August 26, 2010 to participate in this program. Find more Summer Reading Programs here.

photo credit: Washington State Library

Q&A Tuesday: Habitual Non-Frugal Splurges

You mention things here or there on your blog like how you’re a Pampers snob or how much you like the Pepperidge Farm cookies (which I also adore!) so I’d love to have you do a post on your habitual splurges (i.e. un-frugal habits). I think it’d be fun to hear! – Chelsea

From the comments and emails I get, I sometimes think people get the impression I’m such a tightwad, I don’t ever splurge on anything.

Quite the contrary! My husband and I save money in many areas so that we can splurge in a few areas.

In fact, we actually budget for splurges. We’ve found it’s so much more enjoyable to splurge on something when you have planned to do so and have the money allotted in your budget.

{And yes, I know that for some people, the concept of “splurging” means you throw all caution to the wind and budgets out the window. Well, we just can’t enjoy spending money unless we know we can afford something. Call us weird, but we’ve found the boundaries of a budget actually give us a lot more freedom!}

So, in addition to being a Pampers “snob” and loving Pepperidge Farm cookies (my husband buys them for me for almost every birthday and Mother’s Day since I can’t bear to pay the price tag on them as a matter of course!), I have another regular non-frugal splurge.

You might want to make sure you’re sitting down when you read this, because it’s going to seem very anti-Money Saving Mom®. In fact, I wondered if my readers would lose all faith in me if they found this vice out.

However, if you promise you won’t hold it against me, I’ll tell you about my very non-frugal habit: I get my hair highlighted and cut at a nice salon.

There, I confessed.

I know that getting my hair done is as polar opposite to frugality as it comes. I’m sure you’d expect me to cut my own hair with a hair-cutting kit I purchased at the thrift store.

For years, I actually did cut my own hair. It was free and it worked – sort of.

However, since I didn’t really know how to cut hair and wasn’t all that good at it, I spent a lot of time fussing with it as a result. I have very thick, straw-straight hair and I felt like I was constantly fighting it.

But I refused to pay the prices that salons wanted to charge because I felt like I was saving so much money doing it at home. Well, yes, I was saving a lot of money, but I was also spending a LOT of time trying to tame my mop of hair.

When Jesse was almost finished with law school, we scraped together some money and I went and got my hair done at a nicer salon. It was the first time I’d ever done something like this in my entire life and I struggled with a lot of guilt over it – even though we had budgeted for it.

When I got home, though, I had an epiphany: there are some things which are worth paying a higher price tag for, if you can afford it in your budget.

All these years I’d fought with my hair, trying to will it into submission and spending countless fruitless hours doing so. After one trip to a salon, my hair seemed like it took on a whole new personality.

It actually started working with me – not against me. All of a sudden, it was a breeze to fix and take care of. And I saved so much time: I could wash and blow dry my hair twice a week and that was pretty much it.

So from then on, we’ve made room in our budget for me to get my hair done. Yes, it’s not cheap, but it’s worth it to us. After all, fewer bad hair days means a much happier mama. And that’s worth quite a bit, isn’t it?!  🙂

What about you? What’s your regular non-frugal splurge?

Dealing With Toy Overload – Part 1

When you come to our home, you might notice one thing right off: it’s bare. We don’t have many knick-knacks, we don’t have piles, and we have white walls.

It might seem utilitarian to some and extremely bland to others, but it’s the way we prefer to live. It saves us time because we don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for misplaced items under heaps of clutter. It saves us energy because we don’t have a lot of extra things to pick up or dust. And it saves us money because we’re content with keeping it simple.

Even though we have three young children, you won’t see many toys at our house. This is not because they are all stuffed in some closet or strewn about in a toy room. It’s because we just plain don’t have very many toys.

You see, when we got married and had our first child, we were living in a tiny basement apartment. Space was scarce so we had no choice but to stick to the basics. If it wasn’t essential, we couldn’t keep it because there wasn’t any room.

We grew to love living the minimalistic life and found that it made things so much easier to keep picked up and clean that we opted to continue living like this–even when we moved to a larger home. We figured at some point, our children would want to have more toys but we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.

Well, so far, we’ve found that our girls really don’t need many toys. In fact, they are perfectly happy with a few quality, versatile toys. They’d much rather play with cardboard boxes or build tents with old sheets, folding chairs and couch pillows than have the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. The few bells-and-whistle toys we’ve had in the last couple of years served to entertain for a short while and then were abandoned for Legos, puzzles and creative play.

Tomorrow I’ll share some ways we’ve found to keep toys simple, organized and pared down at our house–including ideas for dealing with well-meaning relatives who are adding to the toy overload at your house.

The $20 Bill Challenge

Jessica from Life As I See It emailed me about a challenge she is doing with her husband this year:

Several weeks ago I was thinking about ways to earn a bit of extra money and I had an idea – what if Paul and I each started with a small amount of money and used it to make even more money over the course of a year.

From this idea our Twenty Dollar Bill Challenge was born.

The challenge is simply this – we each get one $20 bill and at the end of the year the person who has made the most money wins.

Wins what we haven’t yet decided. But the satisfaction of beating the other person would be pretty great on its own. We’re each others biggest cheerleaders but we enjoy a good challenge between us too.

We’ve made a few simple rules to keep ourselves on target:

– We are able to sell personal items but we’ll still check with each other to make sure the other person doesn’t mind the item that’s being sold.
– We can’t ‘borrow’ money to invest in another project if our current funds are all tied up in a current project.

Those are the simple rules we have made up – if other issues arise along the way we’ll sit down and see if we need to add to the rules, but the point of this is to challenge ourselves to think outside the box and see if we can keep investing money in projects and make a larger return.

Jessica and Paul have already invested their money in some pretty creative ways. Read more here.

Have you ever held a challenge related to money in your home or with your friends? I’d love to hear more about it!

Creative Uses for Leftover Easter Candy

Guest Post by Catherine from A Spirited Mind

Between egg hunts with extended family and Easter baskets at church, my three children always wind up with an impressive haul of Easter candy. The kids don’t need that much candy and my husband and I don’t either! To top it off, stores put candy on clearance the week after a holiday, and I often run across bags of sweets for 75-90% off in the course of my normal grocery store and drug store shopping.

Instead of throwing the candy away and passing up the clearance deals, I’ve found a few creative uses for Easter candy other than simply eating it all out of hand (or, in this case, out of basket). You can use holiday candy to provide treats throughout the year for your family or for others, and to show hospitality inexpensively.

Here are my top three favorite uses for leftover or clearance candy:

1) Substitute chopped candy for chocolate chips or baking chips in recipes.

Many types of candy can be chopped up to use in place of chocolate chips or other baking chips in recipes like cookies, brownies, or Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. In my area, bags of chocolate chips cost between $1.50 and $2, so if I can find about two cups of chocolate candy for less than that, I consider it a good deal.

 Any candy that is purely chocolate, “crunch” type chocolate, or chocolate with nuts will work for this purpose. Do use caution with candies containing toffee or nougat, since those will spread in the hot oven and can make regular cookies too sticky.

A nice mix of chopped chocolate is a good place to hide those cheap generic chocolate candies that always get left at the bottom of the Easter basket until the good stuff is gone! When I bake with chopped candies, I use a little less than the recipe calls for. For example, I usually use a whole bag of chocolate chips when I make cookies, but I would recommend only using a scant two cups of chopped chocolates because the varied textures of the candies can make the cookies come out uneven if you use more.

Once your mix of chocolate is chopped, you can freeze it in two cup portions to use later, or bake up a big batch of something to share with friends, neighbors, teachers or anyone else you’d like to bless with a sweet treat!

2) Use gummi candy to make shapes for decorating.

Instead of letting gummi candies harden and go to waste, you can use them to make pretty gummi butterflies, flowers, or other shapes to decorate cakes, cupcakes, or petit fours. I find that Starbursts, gumdrops and other soft gummis work best for shaping, while hard-shelled varieties like Skittles and jelly beans give mixed results depending on the brand. Feel free to check out my gummi decoration tutorialfor inspiration!

Once you’ve reshaped your gummi candy and dipped it in sugar to set it, you can freeze the shapes to use later if you don’t need them right away.

3) Have a fondue party!

Whether or not it’s well-suited for baking, any type of chocolate can make a fabulous fondue. To make the fondue, melt the candy in a double boiler or a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water and add cream until it’s the consistency you like (the amount of cream will vary depending on how much chocolate you’re using).

You can separate your candy into types first, or make an eclectic mixture. Cut up apples, pears, bananas or other fruit to dip in the fondue, or serve it with some clearance Easter slice-and-bake cookies. Fondue is a fun treat for kids, a romantic dessert for Date Night In, or a fun and inexpensive way to get some friends together. If you don’t have enough chocolate bunnies in your own candy stash to make up fondue for a crowd, maybe a pot-luck fondue party would be a good way for your friends to use up their surplus Easter goodies and have a fun get together besides.

Hopefully these ideas will get your creative juices flowing and make the leftover or clearance candy more useful than you thought. What other fun or inventive ways have you found to use candy after a holiday?

Catherine Gillespie lives with her husband and three small children in a little house on what used to be the prairie. She writes about good books, literature-based preschooling, extemporaneous cooking, faithful parenting and other creative pursuits at A Spirited Mind. You can also find Catherine on Twitter and Facebook.