10 Frugal Tips for Families

As a young family, we’ve experienced life with two incomes, one income, and one and one third incomes. With my recent departure from my “1/3 income” in my part-time marketing work (which is now a full time job for an entry-level individual), we are back to one income. It is a blessing and a luxury to be able to be home for my kindergartener and preschooler. As when I left full time work when my son was five months old, we made some adjustments to our budget to make it work, and many of these financial choices have become habits now. As a result, I don’t have to stress about not working.

Here are some things we do to help budget and save money:

  1. Cancel cable. We’ve replaced it with a Netflix subscription and have never gone back.
  2. Delayed buying smartphones – We hung onto our dumbphones until about 2 years ago, when we finally made the upgrade to a free phone of course! Now we’re going to have to replace these “free” phones, and I think we’re too sucked into smartphones to go back to basic dumbphones (although I know it would save us money).
  3. Use what you have before going out shopping. This meant using stuffed animals we already have to decorate for my son’s jungle themed party.
    Jungle birthday party collage

    The stuffed animals and green yarn (vines) were already on hand, so my shopping was minimal for decorating.

    And then I shopped at the Dollar Store for other decor. Easy and cheap!!

  4. Make coffee at home. When my coffee marker broke, I even used the pour-over method for my morning brew.

    mama O making coffee when her coffee maker broke.

    Boiling water over coffee filter that’s chip-clipped to a measuring cup. This was okay – the pour-over method was better!

  5. Re-use / recycle resealable bags. My mom did this,and my husband did this too…and (despite me swearing that I WOULDN’T do this as a teenager) we wash and reuse plastic Ziploc bags until they are worn out! I’ve also bought washable cloth bags for packing lunches and snacks.
  6. For groceries, shop the sales. I am in charge of 95% of all shopping, so I know when something is priced well. I try to use coupons, but only if it’s something we need and not just because I have a coupon.
  7. Eat-in more – I enjoy cooking and I do so often, so we can save going out to eat on occasional date nights. Typically we like to treat ourselves with sushi or unique “foodie-type” restaurants.
  8. Clearance = my best friend! I love shopping the clearance racks for kid’s clothing and try to buy ahead for next season at a fraction of the price.
  9. Enjoy the great outdoors – we love hiking, biking, and camping as a family. These are all affordable and fun activities. We’re saving for bigger vacations when the kids are a bit older.
  10. Understand where your money is going. We use a budgeting tool online and Excel spreadsheets. The online tool is similar to Mint.com. Here’s another helpful retirement planner. We have made saving for the future and for our kid’s education a priority, starting early on in our careers and when the kids were born.

For other sources on how to spend less, I would recommend checking out various topics on Clark Howard’s site. My mom is a  long-time fan, and I read one of his books (checked out from the library – another amazing, free resource), and he has a lot of great tips.

What are your tips for saving money as a family? Do you do any of these things I list above? Let me know what you think!

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Do As I Do in the Polar Vortex

Here’s how I rocked it this morning while dressing up to drive my daughter to school:

#winning! Screw you polar vortex - we're still going out of the house!

Mama O. #winning! Screw you polar vortex – we’re still going out of the house!

With wind chill, it was -25 below zero, so we were dressed in MANY layers.  My daughter shared that her teacher talked about how to dress in the arctic, so she willingly layered on snowpants, boots, hat, mittens, and let me wrap a big scarf around her face, so just her eyes were showing too.  I broke out my long underwear and even layered a tight fitting beanie hat under my balaclava. I’ve lost all sense of style (but I AM smiling with my eyes. Can’t you tell? Thanks to watching America’s Next Top Model, I know that’s a thing.), but I don’t care! I was warm and set a good example for my kids! Some other parents weren’t even wearing a hat when dropping their kids off – one of those “Do as I say, not as I do” moments. (DISCLAIMER – I have those moments as a parent too – just not today.)

Since frigid weather is a reality, and school only closes when it’s -35 below zero wind chills (I think), you simply have to do as I do in a polar vortex. Layer, layer, layer to keep warm! I even threw a fleece blanket over my son in the car to keep him extra warm.

With such advice, I truly feel like I have become my mother! I can hear her saying, “It’s not a fashion show,” when we dressed practically – not fashionably in winters past. I remember one winter blizzard when I was a kid, and my mom ended up walking to our school to walk us home because the roads were so treacherous. We Sconnies (residents of Wisconsin) have to be hearty with such winters!

Over the years I have learned to suck it up, dress warm, and just go about what you need to get done that day.  For example, after dropping off my daughter, I took my son grocery shopping, then stopped at Target to get some warm beverages from Starbucks and do some shopping. Screw you polar vortex – we’re not sitting at home waiting for it to warm up (partly because it WON’T today…or for a few days anyway until it hits a balmy 20 degrees).

Daddy O. does as I do in cold weather as well, saying often in winter, “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing.”  For this reason, we’ve taking up snowshoeing as a winter hobby to take advantage of the snow when we can! Here were some shots of us snowshoeing back in 2013.

How do you brave the cold weather? Stay warm and share your thoughts below!

My Weapon Against Holiday Busyness – Advance Planning!

As I have mentioned before, I am type-A leaning, so I value efficiency, organization, and planning. With my daughter in 4 year old kindergarten, our lives have certainly adopted a quicker pace week in and week out.  To stay ahead and not get overwhelmed, I always try to think ahead. I’m that person buying Christmas presents in July, picking up birthday party favors weeks in advance, and recording important dates and to-do’s in my planner.

My weapon against holiday busyness IS simple – Advance Planning!

As many of you have noticed, the holidays are ALREADY upon us. I’ve seen a mix of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in stores lately.  YIKES! I do have a few gifts in hand, so I don’t expect to have a hectic, last-minute shopping season, which is SO not my style. Daddy O., on the other hand, is a different story, but that’s his deal!

Similarly, I often start looking at holiday card options this time of year.  I enjoy trying to find a good family picture to share in our annual holiday card. I love the old-fashioned tradition of sending and receiving cards.  It’s something that social media just can’t replace.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new holiday card source this year.  It’s a site called Minted. What I love is that it is an independent design community, so think small, talented, independent designers who have their works voted on and sold through Minted. This means my card won’t be like every other one I receive.  It will be unique!

This quick video is a cool intro to Minted.  Many moms (either working or staying at home) are also designers, pursuing their passion and submitting their work to the design challenges on Minted.  This community of designers (similar to the blogosphere) delivers beautiful, award winning design.

Moms pursuing their passions – hmm…sounds familiar. And yes, I’d like to support that community!  I bought my daughter’s Halloween costume from Etsy (an Elsa dress), and it seems that Minted is a sort of Etsy of cards, art, and decor.

The number of choices is a bit overwhelming, but I managed to find a few favorites.

Minted Watercolor Bunting Holiday Card

Love this Watercolor Bunting at the top of the card! There is also a gold foil, shiny option.

Being a proud Sconnie, or Wisconsin native, I like the idea of this card, but I don’t like that Wisconsin was covered up.  Daddy O. and I did, however, once call Pittsburgh home.  This COULD have been our card then when it was just the two of us! There is also a West Coast version of this card, but I think Wisconsin was covered up in that one too.  Bummer – this option is not for us.

Minted Holiday Map Holiday Card

Fun way to show off where you live in a holiday card.

I was drawn to the fun lettering on these cards.

I am not sure what family pictures I have to include in this year’s card, so I may have to get creative with multiple photos on one card.  Here were some multiple photo options that caught my eye:

Minted Holiday Collage Photo Card

A card with multiple pictures may work best for our family.

My family isn’t too big on super heros, but I someday we may be.  When that is the case, we’ll use a card like this:

Minted Comic Book Holiday Card

You could really have fun with this card’s comic book style!

Certainly professional photographers’ pictures are far superior to my own snapshots, and I’m having a little picture envy just looking at all these lovely cards used on the site.  In the spirit of advance planning, here are some tips on how to get a great family picture for holiday cards by Heather Lee on Julep. She recommends having pictures taken now and having a photo card in mind, so the photographer can compose the shot correctly.  Good tips!

For our own card, I’ll try my best to snap some good pictures within the next few weeks or use what we have.  I think these two cards are my top holiday card contenders:

Next step – playing on Minted with some of these cards and my pictures.  Stay tuned to see which pictures and what card I choose!

This was a sponsored post, but the opinions expressed were my own. Photography by Minted.

Wise Words from another Mama: Don’t Blink

Some more experienced moms share some of their parenting wisdom. I am all ears with moms (& dads) of older kids. They seem so relaxed and calm as I may be anxiously expressing concern about xyz for my 2 or 4 year old.  One common theme is how quickly time passes. Certain phases, such as growling in my oldest’s case, will pass in time. More experienced parents know this all too well.

In one recent email exchange about Fly on the Wall with an awesome blogger who writes at Baking in a Tornado and has a high school senior soon to leave for college and another college-age son, I commented that I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have children at that stage, since it seems SO far off for my family. In response to my comment, she wrote, “Don’t blink!”

And it’s so true…just in the past few months, I’ve noticed some big changes in my kids, as they learn and grow and become somewhat more self-sufficient (translation = a little easier for mom).  Here are a few examples:

  • My son gave up his pacifier after 2.5 after chucking it in the car (paci #1) and I discovered holes chewed in one (paci #2). And we were worried it would never happen!
  • “I wanna be your baby,” said my son whenever he wanted to be picked up and snuggled. This happened mostly after bath time, when he wanted to be wrapped up in his towel and snuggled to dry off and warm up.  Now I still pick him up from time to time, but mostly when he’s hurt and crying. I miss hearing those sweet words in his little voice.
  • I noticed my 4.5 year old daughter teaching my son how to go down the stairs outside our house by himself.  It was a sweet moment!  I don’t always have to hold his hand when he goes down those stairs anymore, but I gladly will whenever he asks.
  • My daughter is becoming more and more comfortable around extended family.  At a recent brunch, she was hugging and talking with her great aunts and uncles. A FAR improvement from last year, when she growled at people and would cling to our legs.
  • Another sweet sibling story – big sister will sometimes help little brother buckle-up (both the big buckle and the smaller ones).  She can even tighten the buckle for him, though I have to double check her work.  One I didn’t, and my son ended up going for a short car ride with only the big buckle secured. Oops…they both still need mom after all!
  • Looking back at pictures I realize how BIG they’ve grown.  It’s often when someone else makes a comment on them, making me take a closer look and compare pictures to a few months ago.  Oh yeah…they are losing that baby-look and moving to the little kid-look. (sob. sob.)

In all of this, I want the emphasis to stay on little!  My kids ARE little – even if it will be for a short while.  I can hardly believe big sister will be starting 4 year old kindergarten in fall. Little brother and I will have some one on one time when she’s in her half day class.  I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead, while trying my best to soak up the joy and entertainment that each day brings with them (and getting all emotional as I write this post).

The biggest thing I’ve learned from parents who have been there before, is that I should worry less and simply enjoy more. I can’t think of a better lesson in parenting or life in general than that.

What have you learned from more experienced parents?  Have you also been told, “Don’t Blink?”

Cheers for Friday and a long Memorial Day weekend!  Make it a memorable one!

Wise Words from a Super Mom

In my 100th blog post, I had mentioned that parenting seems to be getting easier.  This is QUITE oversimplified, as children can be a both joy and challenge regardless of their age.

A better way of putting it came from a dear friend, and super mom, who started her own parenting journey years ahead of me and made it all look SO EASY!  She had her first child during her second year of law school while her husband was also in grad school and her sister an undergrad all at the same school.  Some may say it was crazy, but like any mom and family, they made it work with rotating childcare schedules and a whole lot of love and hard work.

Truth is: There’s no road map for parenting – or anything in life for that matter! You have to live your life and go with what works for your own unique situation.

Okay, on to those wise words:

“As your children grow, they become less physically demanding, and more psychologically demanding.”

THIS is the best way to describe parenting! With my kids approaching two and four, I’m happy to only change diapers for one (not two like I did earlier), only help one get dressed, and just provide more direction for my older daughter. Sure there are still time outs and standard discipline, but I’m more challenged by the questions I’m being asked by 3.75 year old.  Things like:

Big sister: Why is that man not wearing a shirt?

Me: Well, sweetie, it’s really hot out today, and sometimes men choose not to wear shirts to stay cool.

 

Big sister: That boy isn’t wearing a helmet on his bike.

Me: Yeah, sometimes people don’t make good / safe choices. I’m really glad you wear your helmet.

 

Big sister (after hearing no): I don’t like you anymore.

Me: That’s not very nice to say. That makes me sad.

Big sister (later): Sorry mom.

Whew! These questions can be exhausting! She is also yelling at her younger brother when he does basic two year old things: throwing food, not listening, screaming, etc.  I remind her that she was that way when she was younger, and we have to teach him how to behave.

Do you agree with this revised parenting statement? Can you relate to these questions?  Any advice on other responses?  Have a great day all!