Categories
Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

Family Frugal Living: How to Live with Less & Get More

Photo by Flickr user Matt Johnson
Photo by Flickr user Matt Johnson

We want it all—the big house, the fancy car, all while juggling happy kids and getting a home cooked meal on the table every night.

Unfortunately, life can get in the way—especially with kids—and we lose track of spending and end up in a rut.

Frugal living doesn’t mean making sacrifices to save a few pennies, it’s simply learning how to make smarter decisions with your money so that you can live the life you really want.

Saving a little bit here and there will allow you to save up for that family vacation you’ve always wanted to take; and easing the worry of financial troubles will allow for a more stress-free and happy household.

Make a budget & stick to it

Yes it’s tedious and sometimes a hard conversation to have, but take the time to sit down with your partner and break down your budget.

Pull all of your bills, bank statements, and other expense records for the last 3 months and separate your necessary expenses from your leisure expenses. Come up with a total number for your monthly bills then figure out where else the money goes. Seeing it on paper can make a big difference. If you spend $5 on your favorite coffee drink per day, that’s $35 per week or over $1500 per year! Imagining all of the things you could do with that extra money might make coffee at home a lot more appealing.

Just be sure not to sell yourself short; try to round your numbers up to give yourself a little more cushion—for example, if groceries vary from $250-$300 per month, give yourself that extra room so you’re not feeling stressed at the store.

Check out deal-a-day websites.

There’s a reason that sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are so popular—they offer great deals on everything from produce delivery to kids music classes. You may even discover an exciting idea for a much needed date night!

Deal-a-day sites allow you to treat yourself to something you wouldn’t normally buy by offering it at a fraction of the price. Sites like Deals for Mommy and Zulily offer huge discounts all things mommy-related like name-brand diapers or designer kids clothes.

Keep Summer Camp Costs Down
Photo by Flickr user javi_indy

Shop the sale papers.

I’m not telling you to go out and be the next featured star of “Extreme Couponing,” but you’ve got to admit that they’re onto something.

Coupons are everywhere nowadays and if you really need that one specific brand or item it’s a great way to get it on the cheap. Coupons.com offers free printable coupons every day. Some grocery stores even have double coupon days which can really bring in the savings.

Reward kids with experiences, not material things.

Kids want stuff, there’s no avoiding it. Taking a kid to the store is like… well, taking a kid to a store.

Grocery stores cleverly line the aisles with little trinkets and overpriced plastic junk that just screams out to every bored child stuck in a shopping cart. To avoid tantrums and save money, don’t give into the marketing ploy and offer the reward of an experience. Offer to stop by their favorite park on the way home or play their favorite game before bedtime.

Cheap plastic things lose their luster quickly if they don’t disappear under a couch first, but memories last a lifetime.

Don’t get stuck on brands.

Does the top-selling peanut butter really taste all that different from the store brand?

Stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi can offer lower prices because they sell their own brands. Just a little secret insider tip, many of the off-brand products are actually overflow of name brands that are sold under a different label. This varies by store, but just goes to show you that you can get the same quality products for a lower price.

Don’t forget the list.

You’ve made your weekly grocery run, put everything in its place and realize—crap, you forgot the milk. It happens more often than we’d like to admit—you make a list on a sheet of paper and either leave it on the counter or lose it before it hits the store.

Avoid wasting time and money on several trips to the store by using a grocery list app for your smart phone. My favorite is Cozi, which combines a calendar, to-do list, grocery list, and even a journal to jot down notes. Keep everything organized and in one place and you’ll never forget the milk again—well, at least you’ll be less likely to.

Photo by Flickr user NessieNoodle
Photo by Flickr user NessieNoodle

Buy in bulk.

When you come across a good deal at the supermarket, stock up. Things like rice, canned vegetables, and dried beans can keep in the pantry for years, and meat can safely be kept in the freezer.

Be sure you stock up on staples, not fad or phase foods that kids may grow out of. Once you create a stock pile for yourself, you’ll spend less time and money on grocery store trips.

Shop the Farmer’s Market.

Alright, so it’s not always most cost effective to shop the farmer’s market, but when you weigh out the pros and cons it can add up.

The produce in the grocery store has been coated in petroleum, shipped from another country, and been sitting on the shelf for days or even weeks. Farmers are likely to have an oversupply of what’s in season in your area at harvest time (read about the Dirty Dozen to see what’s worth buying organic—basically anything you which eat the peel/outside).

What better way to get your kids to love produce than giving them the absolute best?

Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz
Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz

Learning to embrace the frugal live by saving a few dollars here and there because of smart shopping and proper planning can help you live the life you’ve always wanted. 

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
Parenting Resources Supermoms in the Spotlight

Just a Mom

“I couldn’t do it, I would get too bored.”
“What do you do with all that free time?”
“I would miss my job too much, I like having a separate life.”

These are just a few of the comments I’ve received in response to my decision to stay home and raise my son. I never pictured myself being a stay-at-home mom. I hate cleaning and can barely remember to take my keys out of the door—how could I manage to keep another person alive? Well, like most stay-at-home moms will tell you, it just happened.

I’ll be the first to tell you that many perceptions of the stay-at-home mom are extremely untrue. First of all, I don’t have the time to get bored. Even my partner, who bless his heart works full time to keep a roof over our heads, has repeatedly offered to set up the old video games we used to play before parenthood so that I can “be entertained” during the day. What he doesn’t understand is that my “free time” during the day is spent showering, doing the dishes, and tidying up after a crazy crawling tornado. If I’m lucky, I may sneak a chapter or two of a book in but that’s pretty rare.

Many moms choose to go back to work after having a child and I think that’s great. If you have a job that you look forward to going to everyday and helps define you as a person, bless you and stick with it. I, on the other hand, have never experienced that until I became a mother. I also don’t have the luxury of having a retired mother nearby aching to take a baby off my hands so day care was out of the question. Motherhood is the only thing that has ever come naturally to me, so I choose to do it full-time. I too like to have a separate life but mine just comes in small doses.

There’s a certain amount of guilt that I felt about not bringing home a paycheck and not being able to help with the financial burden so I guess I had a hard time justifying it. I’ve always been the type of person who works hard for what she wants and tries to have everything be as equal as possible in a partnership. You can only imagine the amount of guilt I would feel when my partner would come home from work to a sink full of dirty dishes and a disaster of a house. Where did the time go? How couldn’t I find 20 minutes to wipe down the counters or even do a half-hearted vacuum job?

When my son was 6 months old, I went out to dinner with a few friends one night. The waiter was making small talk with some friendly questions and happened to ask each of us what we did for a living. “I’m a social worker,” replied one. “I’m an elementary school teacher,” said the other. I paused when the eyes were on me—well, I USED to be a yoga instructor and writer, now I’m a full-time spit-up crusted food source and diaper zombie at the beckoning call of an infant. “I’m just a mom,” I said. To my surprise, both my friends and the waiter looked at me with sharp eyes. “JUST a mom?” replied the waiter. “Honey, do not discredit yourself. I commend you for your responsibility. You are raising another human being—that is no small feat.” As shocked as I was to hear his reaction, a smile immediately came to my face and I felt an extraordinary amount of self-satisfaction.

It’s no secret that along with parenthood comes an immense amount of judgment. We watch how other parents handle their kids and wonder if perhaps they know something we don’t. If we breastfeed, we are embarrassed to do so in public; if we bottle feed we get the guilt trip about the benefits of breastmilk. All judgment aside, we alone are our own biggest critics. Why are we so hard on ourselves as mothers? We strive to have a clean home, a delicious dinner on the table, and smiling children every day—but life gets in the way. Kids are unpredictable, as is life. So take a deep breath, ease your worries, and tell yourself that you’re doing a good job. When your family looks back on this time they will not remember how many days that dirty pot sat in the sink, how long that coffee stain has been in the carpet, or that you wore that same pair of yoga pants three days in a row. They’ll remember the love you gave them and the smiles and laughs you shared.

 

Written by Sarah Antrim

Categories
After-School Activities Parenting Resources

The Anti-Athlete: 5 Activities for Kids Who Aren’t Into Sports

You may have had dreams of your son being a football star or your daughter competing in the Olympics, and now that your child is in elementary school it’s clear that goal is not likely to be achieved.

While our culture does place a distinct level of importance on being athletic and exceptional at sports, in actuality there are great things for your kids to be passionate about if they don’t happen to be athletic. Be honest with yourself if you’re disappointed and then get to work finding a great activities for kids.

Drama

The Anti-Athlete: 5 Activities for Kids Who Aren’t Into Sports
Photo by Flickr user Nic McPhee

While many boys find dancing to be “girly” (though if your son doesn’t, great!) and singing involves a certain “it” factor to get great opportunities, drama tends to be a great experience for both genders. Theater, film classes or even pantomime – there are plenty of ways to absorb the art of acting into one’s soul and your non-athletic child is sure to love it.

Look for a summer camp program that offers a wide variety of creative arts but also focuses on method acting. Or, pick a community children’s theatre – some accept all participants even if they play a background role. If your child falls in love with the stage, any part will be thrilling.

Drama can also help a shy child by teaching them to speak clearly and confidently both onstage and face-to-face with peers. Likewise, if you have a class clown on your hands, he may thrive in an improv comedy class.

Scouting Groups

scouts

Scouting is much more than cookie sales. Both the Boy and Girl Scouts of America challenge children in all arenas including not only outdoor life, but valuable skills like public relations, independent project completion and compassionate actions toward others.

Boys will enjoy pinewood derbies, campouts and learning survival skills. Girls will similarly learn about the great outdoors but also receive great resources when it comes to building self-esteem and knowing how to be prepared for the work force as an adult. Both genders can receive merit badges for almost any activities for kids you can dream up including fire prevention, sewing, and working as a team.

Best of all, scouting requires parent volunteer hours, so you will be able to get involved with your child’s newfound passion.

Visual Art

The Anti-Athlete: 5 Activities for Kids Who Aren’t Into Sports
Photo by Flickr user Ernst Vikne

If your child isn’t athletic or particularly outgoing, try handing him a pencil and paper. You might be amazed at what your introverted youngster can conjure up in a visual art form.

Sketching, painting, sculpting and computer design are all valuable skills that can turn into not only an extra curricular but perhaps eventually a paid job.

When your child doodles away in his notebook while all the other kids are eager to go outside and play, take notice. There may be some uptapped talent within those pages that could benefit from some genuine interest and encouragement.

Student Government

Photo from sheknows.com

She may not be a born athlete, but could she be a born leader?

Even many elementary schools have some sort of student government activities for kids to get involved in. From being a class secretary to running for president of the student body, your child’s political options depend upon age and school rules.

However you’ll be hard-pressed to find an area that doesn’t encourage at least some sort of student government. This may be a non-profit club that teaches children to write letters to their local congressman and gets them involved in local fundraisers and benefit causes, or it could be a competitive high school that gives away scholarships and awards for those who exemplify leadership.

If your child is a problem-solver who tends to also be a good listener, then student government may be a great alternative to playing sports.

Spirituality and Faith

The Anti-Athlete: 5 Activities for Kids Who Aren’t Into Sports
Photo by Flickr user satomi f

Spirituality is something your child will carry with them their entire life, and many believe also beyond this world. No matter what their age or personality, every child can benefit from a rooted faith.

Check out local vacation bible school programs during the summer months – almost every Christian church has them. Usually only a week long, it can provide an avenue to get involved with other activities for kids down the road, as well as make plenty of new friends.

Church youth groups, outreach trips locally and overseas, as well as special events on holidays like Christmas and Easter are opportunities your child will have if they get involved with a local church. Other denominations sponsor prayer or meditation days, teen dances and even carnivals.

Only your unique and individual child can determine what they’re passionate about. Ensure they are not overshadowed by a jock older brother or excellent athlete of a sister by asking them regularly what they’re interested in. Chances are, they’ll have at least one idea you can then indulge.

 

Written by Tamara Warta

Categories
Parenting Resources Time-Saving Tips for Busy Moms

7 Ways to Save Money on Family Activities

Photo from blog.al.com

No matter what the season, every parent knows it’s essential to get kids out and about in order to keep your sanity. Stir-crazy little ones can quickly lead to a crazy mom, which means there should always be activity options that are affordable, local and simple enough to navigate through. Unfortunately, many children’s activities are out of the price range of a typical family. More affordable options like visiting a local pool or hiking a nearby trail can be made much more difficult if there are very young siblings involved. Oftentimes elementary school-aged children end up sitting around more than older or younger kids often because of a lack of time or money. If you often find yourself placing your child in a similar situation, take heart – there are plenty of ways to save money on family activities that will enrich the lives of your kids and not break the bank.

Buddy Up!

Many local amusement parks offer group discounts or some sort of deal if you refer a friend. Gather some close friends with similarly-aged children and enjoy a discount on admission, lunch or any other number of things. All running deals should be listed on a destination’s website, but feel free to call and ask about group or tell-a-friend deals.

Have a Flexible Schedule

The local water park may be too expensive for a weekend trip for a family of 5, but do they have a discounted rate for a weekday or evening admission? If you live somewhere warm enough, a “night slides” deal or something like it might work out particularly well for you. Even Disneyland offers a twilight admission price. Look for mid-week promotions, deals for those visiting a winter destination in the summer (like ice skating), or be on the lookout for grand openings in your town that may offer great incentives in order to build a customer base.

Pack Smartly

Often the admission price to an amusement park, museum or other attraction isn’t the issue – it’s the money you spend once you’re inside the gate that can cause problems. Packing smartly can save some major bucks. Pack lunches for every member of your family – while it probably won’t be as tasty as the resident pizza or hot dog stand, it will be healthier, more affordable and convenient. Double checking your bag before leaving the house can also save you money – did you remember to pack sunscreen? Extra diapers or a change of clothes? Extra camera batteries? Remembering everything on the first try leads to avoiding the purchase of marked-up essentials at the closest gift shop.

Use Cash

Avoid the use of those magical debit cards and you’ll save a bundle without even trying. If you’re headed to an amusement park or another pricey destination, budget out how much you can spend beforehand. Withdraw that exact amount of cash from the ATM and limit yourself to that. Money becomes much more precious and tangible, and gives you an opportunity to teach your kids an important lesson about valuing cash and pacing themselves when it comes to spending.

Coupons

Coupons are obviously a good idea when you’re trying to save money, but there are many available in places you probably never even thought to look. Fast food restaurants often offer incredible discounts to local attractions, and many websites have cropped up in recent years. Use those sites to print your own coupons or order tickets ahead of time online with a particular promo code. Coupons can also be unexpectedly found on box tops (cereal, juice, fruit snacks, etc.) and in the free parenting magazines available on many newsstands where you live. Sometimes even mentioning a certain radio station or local TV show can get you a hook up at a place you normally would’ve had to pay more for.

Embrace Free

Encourage your kids to enjoy free activities rather than the big, impressive things. Parks, libraries, some museums and nature trails are always free and available for play and exploration. Sometimes our kids get too wrapped up in electronics and “wow” factor-driven events which can lead to paying a high price not only monetarily but also in the sacrifice of imagination and intellectual engagement. Try to challenge your kids during school vacations to find three free things they love for every one thing they have to pay money for. Teaching joy through frugality is something they can carry with them for their whole life.

Do a Swap

Maybe your kids love swimming but you don’t have the money or space for a pool. Have you ever taken it one thought further to realize maybe the neighbor’s kids love video games but don’t have the latest hit your son happens to have? Or maybe you have access to a horse, volleyball net or even a coveted book collection? Get to know your neighbors and arrange goods swaps. Your children may enjoy an afternoon in a backyard pool while the other local kids happily eat your famous chocolate cupcakes. Everyone has a talent to share or swap, and this can save you a lot of money while helping you make new friends at the same time!

Try to keep money out of conversations with children unless you are trying to teach them a lesson in value and restraint. Kids tend to become stressed out if they sense instability, so stay positive and emphasize the fun that can come out of being budget-conscious and grateful for all the things your family has!

 

Written by Tamara Warta

Categories
Parenting Resources

Heat Wave! 10 Indoor Activities for Kids (that aren’t TV)

Written by Sarah Antrim

I am a firm believer in spending as much time outdoors as possible; but when the thermometer reads into the triple digits, and you break a sweat stepping outside before noon, sometimes it’s best to stay indoors. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are very serious things and can sneak up on kids pretty quickly. Instead of flipping on the TV and letting kids get sucked into a screen coma, try some of these activities that will give their bodies and minds a workout.

1. Build a fort

Grab the blankets, couch cushions and as many pillows as you can find and let the kids go wild. Fort building encourages kids to work on their architecture and problem solving skills. For even more fort fun, turn out the lights and bring out the flashlights so kids can pretend they’re camping indoors. It may make a mess of the living room for a day, but an activity where kids can entertain themselves for hours is well worth it.

2. Board games

I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in a few good board games. Games like Clue, Candyland, and Monopoly never go out of style and when the time comes you’ll be glad you have them! Board games are a great activity for the whole family. Just remember that even though everyone loves to win, try not to get too competitive with kids or they will lose interest pretty quickly.

3. Hide the thimble

A game that goes by many other names, this can keep both toddlers and kids busy for hours. Since this isn’t 1920 and you’re unlikely to have a thimble lying around, pick any small yet distinguishable object such as a golf ball or a large coin. Take turns being hiders and finders with your kids—one person hides the object and the other directs them to it by uses indicators like warmer and colder as they get closer to or farther from the object, or if it’s a butterfly up high or a snake down low.

4. Icebox baking

One of the reasons cooking can be such a chore in the summer time is the fear of turning on that dreaded oven. A great way to fulfill the sweet tooth craving in the nasty heat is icebox baking. If Jell-O and pudding don’t tickle your fancy, all of these recipes can be made without turning on the oven:

Cookie Crisp Pie
Lemon Cream & Coconut Cupcakes
Strawberry Icebox Cake
More great no-bake recipes from Martha Stewart

5. Put on a play or talent show in costumes

kids in pirate costumes

Encourage your kids to work together to write a play or each come up with their own skit and present it for the family. Kids can dress up and dance to their favorite song, act out a silly scene from a movie, or sing their heart out. Dress-up doesn’t just have to be for girls, costume changes make the whole event more fun for everyone!

6. Treasure hunting/cleaning

Getting kids to do chores without complaining is all about the presentation. If you’ve got boxes of old junk in the basement to get rid of like most human beings, send the kids to “discover” what’s inside. Who can find the neatest treasure? Who can find the silliest treasure? You’ll get something checked off your list and the kids will be entertained.

7. Recycled crafts

a boy crafting

Turn your trash into treasure, literally! Anything from milk jugs to egg cartons can be re-purposed into crafts. Milk jugs make great bird feeders and lanterns while egg cartons can become the beginnings of an indoor garden. Check out Craft Gossip for an extensive list of recycled crafts.

8. Photo books, scrapbooks and collages

Most memories are digital nowadays making the days of the photo album a thing of the past. But there’s something nostalgic and exciting about a photo print you can physically touch. Buy some photo paper and print out your favorite memories. Cut out pictures and encourage your kids to write out their favorite thing about a certain memory. It will make a great keepsake in time.

9. Write a letter

boy writing a letter

Remember how exciting it was to find a hand-written letter in your mailbox from a friend or relative? Aside from quick notes in birthday cards, hand-written letters are quickly becoming a dying art. Help your child write a letter to a grandparent or relative and make their day when they open their mailbox.

10. Just dance

Got the stuck inside and bored blues? Just a few minutes of dancing can help reduce stress and improve your mood. Plus it’s a great way for kids to get rid of pent up energy from being stuck inside all day. Turn on the silliest music you can find (think Purple People Eater) and catch the boogie fever.

Categories
After-School Activities Parenting Resources Sports

Top 10 Qualities of a Good Coach for Kids






When it comes to kids’ activities, summer camps or anything else that is part of the life of your child, a good coach or teacher can quickly make or break an experience. From that first soccer coach to a high school music instructor, it’s essential you find someone who truly connects with your son or daughter in a way that will inspire, encourage and enlighten them.

Here’s some of qualities of a good coach for kids to look for:

1. A Kid at Heart

Kids can be noisy, annoying and even gross.

That’s why it’s important for anyone working with children to have a little piece of childhood still within them. They may be a theme park fanatic or love a good round of laser tag – whatever it is, they need to be enough of a child at heart to relate to children on a level they will appreciate.

2. Enduring Patience

While a childlike spirit is undoubtedly important, your child won’t get anywhere unless the adult leading them is patient beyond belief.

Even the most easy going child can grow frustrated with a sport or other activity, and the primary adult in charge needs to be right there with the long-suffering outlook that is required to repeat instructions for a third time, or keep a crying child going when they are ready to quit.

Patience is a virtue, and one of the best qualities of a good coach for kids.

3. Experience

Your child’s teacher or coach may have won many awards or medals personally, but how long have they worked as an instructor?

More importantly, how long have they worked with children?

A swimmer that qualified for the Olympics does not automatically equal an outstanding coach for a 7-year-old afraid of putting her head under water. Look for someone who has experience not only with the activity focus, but also in leading little ones in it.

4. Qualifications

Is your coach confident in what to do in the case of an emergency or injury?

What paperwork or references do they have to back this up? Experience via formal education and training still counts for a lot.

5. Encouragement

Almost every teacher and coach involved in summer camps or kids’ afterschool activities is encouraging. But in what way?

Some may consider the examples seen on popular shows like Dance Moms or Toddlers in Tiaras as “encouraging,” while others may consider a good encourager to be someone who never yells. In reality, a healthy balance between the two will serve your child best – someone who is firm with the rules, but gentle with the reprimands.

6. Billing Practices

How do they invoice for lessons or a camp session? Do they have positive reviews from others in the community?

Check to make sure your selected instructor uses best honesty practices when it comes to all things money-related. If they are a non-profit, are their spending reports available for review? If they are charging you directly for a professional service, how do they measure up compared to others in the region?

7. Flexible Perspective

Is the coach able to evaluate a situation and adequately see various points of view?

Since little ones all learn in different ways, you don’t want an individual who is pigeon-holed into one mode of operation. If your child needs to learn visually, and an instructor isn’t able to provide resources for that, it may not be a good fit.

Look for someone with flexible viewpoints and multiple strategies to instruct and drive home a point of understanding in your child.

8. Pride in Accomplishments

Your child’s, that is – not their own.

Do they conduct regular recognition nights or issue ribbons, certificates or something else of the like to students who reach certain milestones?

Even the most elite extra-curricular shouldn’t be completely void of accolades. See what they do to commemorate your child’s improved skill set as the months go on, and talk to your child about how they personally would feel they reached a goal worth being proud of.

9. Commitment

Just as a quality school teacher is far from done working when the bell rings, after school activity leaders need to make themselves available for extra practice sessions, parent meetings and fundraising events to make their business worth something.

If they are willing to put in the extra time, or assign someone of equal merit, to work with your child individually, then you’ve likely found a great fit.

10. Community Involvement

Who knows them in your city? What have they been involved in both within your activity and beyond?

A well-rounded individual who’s active in their community will always make the best teacher or coach when it comes to children. Research what non-profits they’ve donated to, what they have done to benefit those around them. If they seem to lack charity and a decent relational life, then they may not be the best at working with kids.

The most important thing to look for in a teacher for your child is a good feeling. While it may sound cliché, your parental intuition will oftentimes kick in to reassure you that you’ve found a good match.

Do your homework, go the extra distance to compare and contrast what’s available, and you are sure to find a great coach for your kids.