5 Ways to Save Money on 21-Day Fix

Confession time! I desperately need to start back up on 21-Day Fix. I took the summer off of the fix, determined to eat healthy but to also indulge a little. I wanted to be able to go out and have ice cream with the kids, or to go to the movie and eat popcorn. I’m very pleased with myself that I only gained two pounds. I really let myself enjoy the summer, but now it’s back at it! I am ready to start my first round (for the second time) on 21-Day Fix.

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21 Day Fix Meal Plan and Ways to Save Money on Groceries Each Week!

One of the biggest comments I hear from friends and family is how expensive eating healthy is. When I started the 21-Day Fix back in February 2016 I was terrified of my budget being blown, just to lose a couple pounds. I am probably one of the most frugal people you will ever meet, and going over my budget gives me extreme anxiety.

When I started planning my meals and snacks I added a hundred dollars into my grocery budget for the 21 days. I set a limit of $33 extra each week, and I would have to stay under budget, there was no exception. In my mind if I couldn’t afford 21 days of eating healthy, I had to try another program.

Luckily after the first round of the 21-Day Fix I got pretty good at eating healthy and staying under my original budget of $100 each week at the store. I didn’t even need to use the extra $33 I allowed myself!

Below are five ways I kept within my original grocery budget on 21-Day Fix:

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  1. Keep it Simple: The biggest tip I can share with you is to keep your meal plan simple. Find five or ten dinners that your family likes, and stick to them. Use leftovers for lunch and simple snacks such as fruits, peanuts, and Shakeology.
  2. Buy in Bulk: Once you find foods that you like, stock up on them. I purchased bulk frozen chicken breasts, ground turkey, Naan bread, corn tortillas, frozen fruits and veggies at Sam’s Club and stored them in the freezer, then I only defrosted what I needed. This allowed me to stretch a bag of chicken breast a month, defrosting only 1-2 pieces as needed for lunches, and 6-7 pieces for dinners. You can buy reseal-able vegetable and fruit bags and only take out a green container at a time for lunch. The containers are microwaveable, making serving sizes easy!
  3. Buy Seasonal Produce: One way to save a ton is to buy seasonal produce. Peppers, zucchini, melons, and berries in the summer, and apples, pears, grapes, etc. in the fall. I found a seasonal produce chart online and bought according to the season. You can save a ton on in-season produce. Stock up on broths, canned vegetables and baking needs (coconut oil, whole wheat flour) in the fall and winter, and keep them in the pantry.
  4. Stretch Portions: I’m not for meal prepping (making a week’s worth of meals on Sunday). I have a way of convincing myself the food has spoiled and I can’t eat it. I know it’s all in my head, but I can’t help it. Instead of prepping a week’s worth of meals, I started cooking a big dish on Sunday such as lasagna or chili for dinner, and getting enough leftovers for one or two lunches. Then, if we have chicken for dinner, I’ll make an extra portion for lunch the next day. This helps me to “prep” a couple lunches making it less likely I’ll eat something unhealthy or not eat because I’m busy.
  5. Shop Sale Flyers: One way to save money on groceries, whether you’re eating healthy or not, is to shop the sale flyers. I don’t usually coupon, instead using sale flyers to stick to a $400 a month grocery budget. Most people don’t believe it, but they DO put healthy foods on sale. Usually there is meat on the front page at a “lost leader” price (really a low price to get you to come into the store). I generally buy two or three packages of sale meat and freeze them for later. I can always find sale veggies and fruit (usually the seasonal produce), and things like Greek yogurt, almond milk, and whole grain goodies to stock up on. I build my meals according to 1: what’s in the pantry and freezer, and 2: what’s in the sale flyer.

My normal 21-Day Fix meal plan looks something like this:

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I am so excited to start the 21-Day Fix again, and get these couple pounds off. I know it won’t be easy the first couple days, but I’m looking forward to my jeans fitting again, and leggings. I am really looking forward to fall + wearing leggings. Gotta get these thighs back in shape though!

Share some of your favorite meal planning and money saving tips. I’m always looking for new recipes to “fix-up”.

 

 

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5 Tips for a Better Before School Morning Routine

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Like most moms I’m looking at the calendar and counting the days until school starts. You may be counting the days until your little gems will be gone for 6+ hours with joy (like me LOL), or counting the upcoming days in dread. Either way, a new school year is almost here!

I love the start of new school years. I love being able to take a picture of the first day and a picture on the last day to see how each kid has grown. I also love the fresh start to a new school year. You get to meet a new teacher, and your kids get to start off on the same footing as everyone else. This is most important for us; Lane tends to need a clean start each year…

One thing I don’t like about the school year is mornings. In our school district elementary school starts at 8:20am, which means the bus picks the kids up at 7:45am. In order to get everyone dressed, teeth and hair brushed, breakfast eaten, and school bags packed, I have to wake the kids up at 7:00am. Even with a 45-minute window to get everything done, some days a backpack is forgotten or someone is eating breakfast on the way to the bus stop.

I really hate yelling and starting the morning off stressed. I get stressed and feel guilty for yelling, and the kids feel that stress all day. To help cut down on the stress and help mornings to go smoothly, I got in the groove of a morning routine. The routine isn’t difficult; it takes prepping the night before, and helps me use time stamps to get everything done.

I used this routine all of last school year, and I plan on implementing it two weeks before school actually starts. This will help me and the kids get familiar with the routine and the adjustment period is out of the way before the first day of school.

5 Tips for a successful morning routine:

  1. Prepare Backpacks the Night Before
    • Each evening while the kids are doing homework I look through backpacks. Usually there is a permission slip, note home, or something to take a look at. I sign slips right away, and either file or throw away everything else. Every night I have to sign the kids homework sheet saying they read their 20 minutes, and that I saw the folder. I sign their reading log during this time as well. Next, I put their folders and slips back into their backpack and hang the bag by the front door.
  2. Make Lunches the Night Before
    • After dinner we set up our lunch assembly line and each kid makes his or her own lunch. I have snack stations they can pick what sides they want in their lunch and we make sandwiches. This helps in two ways: 1. The kids pack what they’ll eat 2. It frees up time the next morning.
  3. Set Out Clothes Before Bed
    • Growing up my best friend Jamie would pick out his clothes the night before and wear them to bed. His theory on this is he doesn’t have to take the time to get dressed the next morning and gets to sleep longer LOL. Now, I don’t think you need to go that far, but picking out clothes the day before is a good idea. I like that I don’t have to go through six outfit changes with Audrey, just to have her wear the first outfit she tried on. I let her do the trying on the night before and she’s locked in to what she’s going to wear the next day.
    • A tip for girls is to have the days of the week posted on their mirror or wall in their room. It never fails; your daughter picks out a dress and boots to wear every Tuesday forgetting she has gym class. As soon as the schedule for “specials” (gym, music, art, etc.) is established I print out index cards with the information. That way Audrey wears gym appropriate clothes when needed, and she wears clothes that can be washed in case of spills during art class.
  4. Wake up Before the Kids
    • I love my sleep, but I love my sanity and privacy more. I wake up 20 minutes before the kids each morning so I can take a shower, brush my teeth and get dressed in peace and quiet. Otherwise I’m trying to pee and someone is asking me to help him or her find matching socks, or telling me they can’t find their toothbrush. {Side note: Audrey seems to lose her toothbrush twice a day. Miraculously it can be found under the bathroom towel or on the floor Every. Single. Time.}
  5. Keep It Simple for Breakfast
    • I’m not sure how moms in the 50’s made big breakfasts for their families. It’s mind boggling to me… I keep breakfast simple in our house. We usually have an assortment of bagels or pastries, cereal, and previously prepped frozen burritos or egg muffins available. All of these are self-service for the kids; they can pore, warm up or toast whatever is available. While the kids are getting ready I set out the toaster, paper plates and bowls, and the breakfast assortment. After they eat and they’re brushing teeth and putting on their shoes, coats, backpacks; I clean up the breakfast foods and its done!

 

Our Morning Routine:
6:45-7:00am – I wake up and shower/get dressed
7:00-7:05am – Wake kids up
7:05-7:15am – Kids get dressed (I set out breakfast)
7:15-7:30am – Breakfast
7:30-7:40am – Brush teeth, put on shoes, get backpacks ready
7:45am – Leave house and walk to the bus

 

After these tasks are completed, it’s time for me to walk them to the bus and kiss them goodbye. On the bus they go, and it’s peace and quiet for 6 glorious hours…

Self-Serve Snack Station for Kids

If you’re like most parents, hearing the words “Can I have a Snack?” is continual. On any given day I am asked this question three, four, or five times… sometimes more. Some days I cannot function enough to know if the kids have already had a snack, or if this is the first one.

Now that our kids are older, it’s less boredom eating, and more feeding two growing boys that play sports. If there’s one thing that friends and family were right about, it’s that boys WILL eat you out of house and home. After baseball practice the boys will tear through the cabinets looking for anything they can eat. Seriously, think ravenous bears that have been hibernating all winter and can speak English. It’s really a scary sight. Some days it’s every Normandin for themselves.

In order to keep the kids full while not losing my mind, telling them they can have a snack for the sixth time today, I started a snack system that allowed the kids to be self-service. I created two snack stations for the kids: one full of healthy foods, and one full of “fun” foods. I keep the healthy station in the fridge and the fun foods in the pantry.

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Healthy snack station with peanuts, hardboiled eggs, carrots, celery, and yogurt

Healthy Snack Station:
Individual portioned in snack-sized Ziploc bags to ensure portion control
Hard-boiled eggs
Carrot sticks
Apple slices
Low-fat String cheese
Yogurt
Celery sticks
Grapes
Natural applesauce
Sliced Peppers and Hummus
Mixed Fruit
Salt-free peanuts

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“Fun” Snack Station with treats

“Fun” Snack Station:
Rice Krispy Treats
Animal Crackers
Fruit Snacks
Granola Bars
Veggie Strays
Pretzels

The rule of thumb for snacks is the healthy snack station is fair game. You can have healthy snacks throughout the day, as many as you “need”. Keep in mind my kids are old enough to know if they are hungry and want something to eat. Also, I pre-portion all of the healthy snacks into Ziplocs to ensure sizes are appropriate for the kids. In general the kids eat one to two of these snacks during the summer, and one during the school year.

The “fun” snack station is less lenient. The kids are allowed to have only one fun snack each day. Whether they eat that fun snack in the morning, afternoon, or as a dessert is up to them. The bottom line is only one fun snack each day, period. A lot of times the kids will save these snacks and eat them as a desert, since in general we don’t serve desert each day.

The way to execute the self-serve snack is really in the planning. Each Sunday after I grocery shop I prep and fill the snack boxes. I make sure to count the portion amounts that I’ve prepared so I know how many are available. Also, I try to make the portion quantities even. For instance, if I am making apple slices this week I count out nine packs of apple slices. I know we have three kids, and each kid can have three packs throughout the week. The same goes for the fun snacks. If I make chocolate chip cookies and each kid can have one cookie a day, I need twenty-one cookies or a combination of cookies and other treats.

Having the snacks self-service and healthy have eliminated me being asked if it’s snack time. It’s been so nice knowing the kids are eating healthy and yummy snacks, and they feel great about choosing their own food.

Bonus! This system also works wonders for making school lunches. Part of our kids’ chores throughout the school year is making their own lunches. They will use the snack stations to build their packed lunches. You’ll need to add more portions and snack quantities if you’re using the snack stations for lunches. Also, I suggest putting a limit on snacks for school lunches. Last year Asher packed carrots, celery, grapes, and berries without a sandwich and no real source for protein. He was starving when he came home! I now have a limit of two or three healthy snacks (depending on what they’re packing and which kid it is), one fun snack, a sandwich and a drink for lunch each day!

Refinished Student Desk & Chair Set Under $100

Our starter home was only 1,000 square feet so we didn’t need a lot of furniture. When we purchased a bigger home that was nearly double the size of our starter home, we were on the hunt to fill our house. I like heirloom quality, but I am not willing to pay a big-ticket price. The answer for me was estate sales!

Estates sales are a great way to find good quality items at a fraction of the price bought new in store. Most of the furniture is good quality, built to last. Not the particleboard, throw away in two years, stuff you’ll find in big box stores. I like estates sales better than garage sales, although both can be great. The biggest difference between an estate sale, and say a moving sale, is in an estate sale someone has passed away. What this means is they aren’t getting rid of the “junk” they no longer want. Their belongings are no longer being used and the family has decided to sell them.

We have furnished our entire home with estate sale finds. The pieces are conversation pieces that I mix with modern décor and accessories to bring them back to life. In our home 90% of our furniture is from estate sales. Our master bedroom suit is from the 1940’s, has been owned by one couple, and was a gift from the groom-to-be to his bride. The couple were married their entire lives and the wife passed away, prompting the estate sale. Talk about good juju! I hope my husband and I have such a long happy life.

At the same sale we purchased a 17-foot drop leaf dinning room table, a hutch cabinet, two matching dressers, mirror and nightstands. Since the dressers and side tables are an older style, we paired them with a modern upholstery headboard, matching lamps, and fun accent décor. The pieces are beautiful and truly complete our master bedroom!

Two of my favorite pieces we purchased at estate sales were our sons’ desks. I wanted a small, compact student desk that could be used in their bedroom and when they go to college could be taken with them. Since our boys are only 10 and 7, I needed something that would last for several years, and still be in good shape when they moved out.

I was so happy to find two student-sized desks at two different estate sales! The desks started out in rough shape. One was a terrible hunter green paint that had contact paper for the writing surface. The other was a cool, modern desk with a shaped top. It had scratches all over the surface and needed a good cleaning. The price was definitely right though! We paid $10 for each desk. These are solid wood, student-sized desks that were structurally sound, and only $10 each! I was also lucky enough to find some cool chairs that would coordinate perfectly with the desks. Each chair set us back $2.50. That’s $12.50 for a desk and chair combination – Woot Woot!

Since the furniture was so cost effective I decided to do something above just setting the desks in their rooms. I ended up having the pieces refinished. We have a friend who has her own business refinishing furniture (A Cut Above The Rust), and I knew she would do a fabulous job. She stripped the desks and chairs down to bare wood, painted them, added drawer pulls, and reupholstered the chairs for us. The turnaround time was a couple weeks, and they came out beautifully!

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Refinished Red and Natural Wood Boy’s Desk
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Refinished Vintage Black  Boy’s Desk

Each desk and chair combination when all said and done: purchasing, refinishing and reupholstering cost us $100 per set. That’s nothing compared to the cost of a new cheap desk. We found a comparable sized desk at Target for $225 and it wasn’t even made out of real wood, and didn’t include a chair. The desks are a great size to fit a computer, a table lamp and some odds and ends. There’s even space left for the kids to write.

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Has enough space for computer, lamp, odds and ends, and a writing surface!
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Boy’s student desk with enough space for a computer, odds and ends, and a writing surface

Quick and Easy All Natural Homemade Dog Treats

Last year we lost our German shepherd dog, Nala. Nala was an amazing dog, but she had a lot of health problems. Nala suffered from allergies, anxiety, a heart arrhythmia, and chronic ear infections. Because of Nala’s health problems and allergies, we ended up making her food most of the time.

The last year of Nala’s life she was on five medications, and continually had an upset stomach. To help ease her stomach we made 90% of her food, both treats and meals. For this reason, we had a fair amount of dog-friendly recipes in our recipe box. It seems like a big undertaking to make a dog’s food and treats, but it doesn’t have to be! There are a lot of dog recipes that you can make in crock-pots, and some you can whip up in no time.

When our kids wanted to host a dog-friendly lemonade stand that served dog treats, it was time to pull the recipe box out. I needed a treat that would feed a crowd of dogs, and wouldn’t cost too much money. One recipe we had never tried was an applesauce/peanut butter cookie. This was a perfect choice as one batch made around fifty cookies, and there were only four ingredients needed.

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Homemade All-Natural Dog Treats!

Ingredients: Make sure you buy natural ingredients without any additives. A good rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients the better. We used natural creamy peanut butter, natural unsweetened applesauce, whole-wheat flour (you can use regular flour just be sure to get unbleached), and water. I’ve seen this recipe with the use of stock instead of water. I found the stock to be too salty, and water to be just right. If your dog needs a little more flavors, you could cut the stock with water in equal parts.

Directions: Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Next, combine all ingredients and stir to combine. The dough will be thick, so you’ll need to knead your dough to finish combining. After kneading the dough, form a ball on a prepared, floured surface. Roll the dough until it’s ¼ inch thick. We used a two-inch dog bone cookie cutter, and made fifty treats.

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Quick & Easy Homemade Dog Treats

Ingredients:
1 Cup – Whole Wheat Flour
½ Cup – Creamy Natural Peanut Butter
¼ Cup – Natural Unsweetened Applesauce
¼ Cup – Water
Bone Shaped Cookie Cutter

Directions:
-Preheat Over to 350 degrees
-Combine ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir until well combined
-Knead dough and form into a ball (dough will be thick)
-Roll dough until ¼ inch thick
-Use bone shaped cookie cutter
-Place bones onto an ungreased cookie sheet
-Bake for 15-16 minutes or until golden brown
-Let treats cool and then store in an airtight container

 

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Cut Cookies into 50 Bone Shaped Treats

This recipe is very versatile. If your dog doesn’t like the applesauce, change it out for a mashed banana or some pumpkin puree. You can also change the water to all stock or half stock/half water. Adapt the recipe to your dog’s preference.

The best part is, the treats are so cheap! The ingredients cost very little: $2.50 for a large jar of peanut butter, $2 for a jar of applesauce, and $4.25 for whole wheat flour. In most cases I have these ingredients in the pantry, so they don’t cost anything. I can get fifty cookies out of a batch, and the ingredients usually stretch to three batches, making the cost 5¢ per treat!

Tip: Usually I make three batches at a time and freeze the cookies for up to a month. You can serve these treats frozen or fresh to your puppies. Either way, they are sure to be puppy approved!

Kids’ Lemonade Stand Summer Project

Kids’ Lemonade Stand Summer Project
How Our Kids Learned Valuable Lessons from a Lemonade Stand

When I accepted a full time, work at home job I knew it would be a wonderful change to my home life. I was now able walk the kids to the bus each morning, and pick them up each day. I found myself hearing all about my kids’ day over snack-time, and was able to seamlessly “leave” work and be home without rush hour traffic. What I didn’t anticipate was a summer home with my kids.

There were ups and down this summer. I am so happy we had more ups than downs though. One of my biggest goals this summer was to get the kids involved in something besides TV, tablets, and video games. I really wanted the kids to learn, to grow, and to develop. My hope was they would learn something new about themselves, grow in their mind, body and spirit, and develop a passion for something… anything.

Out of all the planning, the one project that taught them the most was born from a passing comment. We were visiting the dog park with our two dogs and foster puppy when someone mentioned they had nothing to drink. The pet owner was upset they had to cut their trip early because they didn’t bring water with them. It was a hot day and he made the comment, “why don’t you have a lemonade stand here?”

As soon as the comment left his mouth, the light bulb turned on. Why DON’T we have a lemonade stand at the dog park? It’s summer, it hot, and there are usually 20+ people at the dog park at one time. I asked the kids if they were interested in building a stand, and their summer project was born.

I wanted to balance a learning experience as well as a fun time that lasted through the project. I didn’t want them to burn out half way and get bored. In order to keep this balance, I made sure we hit the ground running and set a date in the near future. From the time the idea was born until the actual event day was only 3 weeks. It was a crunch, but we did get it all in, and the kids were excited the whole time.

Building a Business:

The lemonade stand planning started as soon as we got home from the park. I started by challenging the kids to build a business plan. I wanted them to think about what the business was, who the customer would be, and why they were doing it. It’s one thing to have an idea, it takes understanding who, what, when, and where to turn that idea into a business.

Business Plan: A lemonade stand that brings refreshments to not only people, but to man’s best friend too. We’ll serve fresh lemonade, homemade human cookies and homemade dog cookies. A portion of our proceeds and donations will go to A.D.O.P.T Pet Rescue where we adopted our Beagle, Jack.

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Business Concept for the Dog-Gone-It Lemonade Stand

After the business plan and concept was built, it was time to name the business. The kids needed to add their dog friendly concept into the name to make it relevant to the plan. They came up with, The “Dog-Gone-It” Lemonade Stand. It’s a cute name, adds in the dog friendly vibe, and it’s catchy.

I also wanted to teach the kids some “Golden Rules” about business and how to treat your customers. I asked the kids to come up with 10 customer service guidelines for their business. My hope would be the kids could use these guidelines in everyday life, not just in the business setting. We have good kids who are very respectful. I wanted them to understand being respectful to teachers and friends is different than a business setting with paying customers.

Approval:

One curveball that was thrown our way was that the city has protected the dog park and they do not allow vendors to sell there. I know, most of you are rolling your eyes saying, “It’s a kids’ lemonade stand…” Believe me, I did the same thing. However, this is part of the learning experience. Sometimes you get told no, and you need to work through it.

I was able to get a phone number for the director of Parks and Recreation and discuss the summer project and our goals. I let the director know the time and effort the kids have put into the business plan, and asked for her to reconsider. Luckily, she was willing to look over the business plans and the kids’ ideas. After a couple days of waiting, we received an email that she approved their lemonade stand at the park! She only approved them for one day, and a 4-hour block of time. However, she approved them and complimented their hard work.

Putting Plans in Motion:

After our approval, it was time to put our plans in place. We’ve never made homemade dog cookies before, our dogs like Milk-Bones perfectly fine LOL. However, the kids were very adamant they wanted homemade treats. So, I asked them to find a couple recipes, and we narrowed it down to two types of dog cookies. Also, they planned to make chocolate chip cookies and brownies for the human goodies.

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Homemade Dog Cookies

Since we only go to the park once or twice a week, we weren’t sure of the crowd we would be serving. So, we made a plan to scope out the park at different times, and to get an idea of how many people and dogs we would need to plan for. We determined we might see up to 100 people in a 4-hour time frame.

Lastly, we needed to take our recipes and our number of potential customers, and determine our costs and margins. The kids went through the grocery store with the list of ingredients to find out how much money they would need. They then took that amount and divided that by the number of servings, this gave them their potential profit.

Marketing:

Now, this was my favorite! I went to college for advertising, and have been working in a marketing job for roughly 10 years. I helped the kids come up with an age-appropriate marketing plan that they could execute themselves. We made flyers, which were handed out to neighbors and dog owners at the park. We made a Facebook event and asked friends and family to share on their pages, and we made sure to tag the city. This exposed us to people we knew, dog park visitors, as well as people in and around the city.

We asked customers how they heard about us and most stated Facebook, either the event or their friends who were talking about it.

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The kids were in charge of passing out flyers

Execution:

Now that the plans were in place, the approval came through, and the kids marketed the business, it was time for the lemonade stand! To continue the learning experiences, the kids helped make all the dog treats and cookies. They didn’t load cookies into the oven, but they did help mix, roll/cut, and package all 300 dog cookies and 150 human cookies.

 

The kids set up the stand, and ran the stand all day. It was a little slow at first, but with the help of social media, friends started showing up in no time.

 

I am happy to say the kids were still smiling after a long day. They were able to make $100 from the stand (after paying off the start up costs), and raised $20 in donations for A.D.O.P.T Pet Rescue. As promised they matched the donations with their own profit, and donated $40 total.

I am so proud of Lane, Audrey, and Asher. They started with a plan and saw it through. They were able to learn so much from this experience. When I asked each child what they learned I heard things like; how to make cookies, business is tough, how to count money, and most importantly that people loved their lemonade!

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Lemonade Stand Day!

DIY Cupcake Decorating Birthday Party – On the Cheap!

I love throwing birthday parties for our kids! The excitement, the bright colors, fun decorations and of course… the food. What I don’t love about throwing birthday parties is the cost…and the planning… and the cost. Now, with Pinterest the need to have an extravagant birthday party is huge. You can’t just grill out with a couple of box-baked cupcakes. You have to have homemade cupcakes… and artwork for food… and crafts! The amount of time and money put into a Pinterest worthy party is ridiculous.

This year Audrey had the idea for a Cupcake Wars birthday party. She wanted to decorate cupcakes with friends and have a very girly and cute party. When I started researching and pinning ideas for her party I seriously became ill with how much money we would be dumping on this party. Instead of being discouraged, I decided to start finding ways to save.

After picking up the phone and calling around, I was able to take what could easily have been a $500 birthday party down to a $150 party. I saved a boatload of money, and now I’m going to share with you my Pinterest worthy, cupcake decorating birthday party… on the cheap.

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I kept costs low by ordering a small centerpiece cake and unfrosted cupcakes

The first thing I needed to think about for a cupcake decorating party was the cupcakes. We have a local baker that has been making our kids’ birthday cakes, my birthday cakes, and our Christmas cookies for years. She does a fantastic job and we’ve ordered so much we now get the “Friends and Family” discount. I called Susan and asked how much for a cupcake centerpiece cake (small, only feeds 4-6 people) and the cost for 24 unfrosted/undecorated cupcakes. Yes, she laughed at me. However, I am happy to say I only paid $40 for a small cake and the cupcakes. Score!

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The girls’ decorated their cupcakes with clearance bin frosting and candies… no one knew it was clearance finds, and no one cared!

Since the party was right after Easter I went to every store in our area and picked up clearance decorating kits. I was able to find frosting, sprinkles and a ton of candies for the top of the cupcakes, all on clearance. I filled cupcake holders with the candies and sprinkles, and used Popsicle sticks for spreading on the icing.

Next, we needed to plan the favors and goodie bags. Audrey found a picture on Pinterest for personalized aprons and chef hats, and of course fell in love. So, now I had to enlist some help on creating beautiful aprons when I don’t even know how to start a sewing machine (does it even have an on/off switch?). Again, I picked up the phone and started calling embroiderers in our area. I actually got someone on the phone that was just starting up a business, and was willing to embroider the aprons for FREE. All I had to do was provide the material and put her business card into the goodie bags. She did get business from one of the moms at the party who is a Girl Scout troop leader and wanted names sewn on their vests.

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I found a new business owner who embroidered the aprons for free!

My mom and I glued ribbon on the chef hats, keeping down costs. I found a 3-pack of chef aprons and hats for $19.99 on Amazon. These were by far our biggest expense. I found cupcake ribbon at Michael’s on clearance as well.

I put together take home goodie bags with pastel colored bags on clearance from Easter. I filled the bags with the personalized apron, chef hat, individual take home cupcake boxes, and a clearance paintable cupcake magnet from Michael’s.

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Each girl’s station was set up with their chef clothes, frosting, and candies – ready for cupcake decorating!

Lastly, we needed food. Everyone says boys eat a lot, but apparently they’ve never seen 10 girls eat pizza. I found on Groupon a special for Papa John’s Pizza. If you bought a $25 gift card you received 2 free large pizzas. The best part is you could redeem the gift card and free pizzas at the same time. I was able to get 4 free pizzas, and an order of chicken wings on the $25 gift card. All I paid for was the $25 gift card and a tip.

Believe me, this was an excellent party and it looked like I spent a ton of money on it. When in fact, I only spent around $150. We hosted a total of 6 girls, including Audrey. Each girl had a fantastic time, and I totally impressed the other moms. Thank goodness they don’t know how little I spent!

Tips on How to Enjoy a Nightly Family Dinner

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Our family hasn’t always sat around the table together night after night. In fact, most nights when our kids were little we would sit on the couch watching TV, or we would feed the kids and then my husband and I would eat after they went to bed. When my oldest son started having some behavioral problems we were desperate to find a solution. What we found is my oldest son, Lane, has ADD.

After the diagnosis and some serious soul searching we decided not to medicate Lane. Instead we would try more natural ways of managing his ADD. I am a firm believer that most boys before the 90’s would have qualified for ADD. Heck, the term “boys will be boys” came from somewhere. We knew it would be a hard road, but we were determined to make it work.

During our research, one thing I kept hearing about was how food and dinnertime around the table really makes a difference in our lives. Caffeine, added sugars, food dyes, any artificial ingredient alters your mind. In addition to that, I read how many benefits family dinner around the table has. It sounds so simple… eat dinner at the table. Eat dinner at the table with all members of your family…at least five days a week… OK sounds easy, but in reality it’s not.

Let’s look at the benefits of eating dinner around the table:

  • Lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression
  • Higher grade point averages and higher self-esteem
  • Better vocabulary skills
  • Not as picky of eaters
  • Lower rates of obesity and eating disorders (This is HUGE, I grew up with an eating disorder and I do not want my daughter to go through it!)

 

The benefits go on and on, and each one is truly intriguing. With the need to have healthier eating habits, and a way to connect and improve Lane’s behavior, eating dinner around the table was a light-bulb moment for our family. This could be the key to our non-medicated success.

Since we didn’t start out as a family who ate dinner together each night, there was a learning curve. We had to figure out how to eat around the table and how to make conversation. Not only that, we had to figure out how to do it with three kids! We had three kids in four years, so needless to say it was hectic. Dinner around the table with a six year old, a five year old, and a three year old was messy, loud, and all around stressful until we got the hang of it.

There were several things I know now, that I wish we would have known when we started. Tips that would have made the transition easier and everyone leaving the table enriched. Below are five tips I can give you that I learned the hard way. Dinner around the table should be enriching. It should open up your family dynamic, allowing you to yell less, laugh more, and set your family up for more fun together. I don’t know a single parent who wouldn’t love to love their kids more!

  1. Start Small – One thing I learned is you don’t have to go from zero to seven gourmet meals each week. Start small, pick one or two days that you have an evening free and go with it. Add in more nights as you can, or opt for a breakfast together around the table. Meals don’t need to be elaborate or gourmet – eat what your family normally eats, or order pizza! As long as you’re at the dinner table eating together, you’re doing something right.
  2. Unplug – This is a big one people! No phones, no tablets, no TV. Simply unplug. Family dinner loses some of those benefits when we’re staring at our phones. Parents, lead by example on this. Make sure your phone is tucked in your purse or in another room. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is our time.
  3. Now you’re asking… “If we don’t have our phones what the heck are we going to do”? Talk to each other. Not about the weather, but about your lives. This is the whole enchilada baby! You’re talking to your family about their lives, getting to know them, getting to know their friends. It’s time to start talking again. When we started Lane was in Kindergarten all day, and Audrey and Asher were in preschool. Both Trent and I worked outside of the house and we were apart all day. I started this game, “Suck and Sweet”. You go around the table and say one Suck (bad thing) and one Sweet (good thing) about your day. We’ve been having family dinner for five years now and there’s always something to say. Sure, the Sweet might always be “recess” for your child, but one day it will be something else, and you get to hear about it!!! #ParentWin.
  4. Picky eaters… I know some of you have those rare golden children who eat anything. They love food. They love trying new food. They love vegetables. Well, I don’t have one of those kids. I have three very picky, very different eaters. I make one meal for dinner, and I try to make sure it’s a square meal (protein, vegetable, starch, dessert). The kids have started branching out and now try everything. They may not like it, and they may not eat it again. However, they now try it. I introduce a new recipe once a week. When I do introduce something new, I make sure the veggies and starch are something they know and love. Lastly, I let them vote. After we try a new recipe, the kids will vote whether it’s a keeper or not. They feel in control with the voting and are more likely to try it so they have something to say. Everyone loves to be a critic, and I will use that to have our kids try new things.
  1. Lastly, make dinner fun. It should be fun! Your kids should crave dinner with the family, and they will. Some ideas are make their favorite desert after dinner, or take a walk after dinner. Play a silly game – we like trivia and guessing games. Pick an animal in your mind and have the kids try and guess what it is. Give them a couple clues, and get them involved. Tell jokes – our kids love to find jokes online (kid appropriate) and tell them at dinner. Ask the kids to guess what ingredients are in the dish. Anything, just make it an enjoyable experience.

 

After five years of enjoying family dinner, I am happy to report it helps. Lane is still un-medicated and we have very little behavioral issues at home and at school. He does struggle some with learning, but we’re continuing to improve with other initiatives there. Our kids are open and tell us about their day. Thanks to our dinners together we caught on very quickly that our youngest, Asher was being bullied on the school bus this year.

On top of the big moments, there are so many small ones that show our family is stronger. We’ve branched out to a weekly family night in addition to family dinners, and there is very little yelling and discipline in our house.

All I can really say is… bring back family dinner! I know it’s cliché, but the problems we face as parents today are nothing like in the fifties when families ate dinner… as a family. As parents, its on us to set examples for the next generation. If in the next decade we’re the Jetson’s, I want to live in a sky rise with my dog Astro, eating dinner around the table (preferably dinner would be prepared by my robot maid), with my husband and kids.

 

6 Tips to a Calmer, Less Hyper Dog

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Our house can get pretty crazy when it comes to hyper and bored dogs! We have two of our own dogs, and usually have a third foster dog that joins us. Most of the time we have a foster puppy (under six months), and our two are both young (Jack is a year and a half, and Bolt just turned a year old).

With puppies and young dogs they need constant exercise and entertainment, otherwise my house is destroyed. Chewing furniture, tearing up kids toys or general rough play between the three happens otherwise. I’ve always read a tired dog is a good dog. Heck, Cesar the Dog Whisperer made a career on “Calm Submissive” and “Exercise Obedience”.

After some trial and error, plus talking with other foster dog families and friends we’ve found six key ways to keeping our dogs exercised and entertained. These tips help keep my house in order, and help keep the dogs out of trouble.

  1. Daily Walks – Each day I get outside and walk all three dogs. I aim for a thirty-minute walk each day. I have a tandem leash that I can hook two dogs up together, which allows me to have only two leashes for the three dogs. If the kids are in school I take the opportunity to walk the dogs to the bus stop. Sometimes I have to break this up into two walks, one to the bus stop in the morning and one to pick the kids up in the afternoon. During the summer I go in the morning when it’s nice and cool. We do walk the dogs in the winter. I have a sweatshirt for each dog, and unless there’s ice on the ground, or the temperatures are below freezing, we walk.
  2. Commands – Each day I take a handful of training treats and work with all three dogs on their basic commands. Our two dogs know them well, but sometimes our foster pups don’t know any commands. This is a great way to help the new puppies before they go to their forever homes. With dogs that know commands, repeating them helps the dogs learn focus and also reminds them of their manners… Jack still needs to learn manners… everyday :).
  3. Fetch – Tried and true, dogs have been playing fetch for decades. Not all dogs have a retrieving mentality or prey drive, but I can assure you they all like to run! Jack, our beagle has a huge prey drive and takes fetch very seriously. He is the first to run after the ball, and is zeroed in on it every time. Bolt, our Heinz 57 Mutt could care less about fetch. Most of the time he only tries to keep it away from Jack, never actually fetching. I usually toss the ball straight up in the air with Bolt so he has the chance to catch the ball and run around the yard in victory LOL. Either way, a good ten to fifteen minutes of fetch is all you need to wear your pup out. During the winter or rain, I use a soft indoor fetch ball (Chuckit! Indoor Ball works best). I throw the ball from room to room or down the steps so the dogs are still running and still playing even when we can’t go outside.
  4. Set a Schedule – I’ve found repetition is the key to quiet time. In the evenings we put the kids to bed around 8pm and my husband and I enjoy some quiet time. We’ve set this schedule with our dogs from day one. Our two boys know when the kids go upstairs they need to “Find a Spot”, this is the command we use for going to their dog beds. We don’t have to use the verbal command any longer; they now know when the kids go up to bed, it’s quiet time. With the foster dogs we need to teach them this command. I usually place a towel on the floor near the dog beds and point to the towel saying “Spot”. Once the dog goes to the towel, you give them a treat. After repeating the command each time they get up, you give them a treat. They also see the other dogs do this, and learn by example as well.
  5. Frozen Kong – Each morning I find the Kongs and fill them with peanut butter and small treats. Once they are filled to the brim (5-6 small treats and about 2 tablespoons of peanut butter) I freeze them. In the evening, during quiet time we take the Kongs out and each dog gets one. When frozen it keeps our dogs occupied for about an hour. After they have licked all the goodies out, they are usually ready for bed!
  6. Toys – We have a ton of toys lying around the house and available for the dogs to play. I like the Nylabone brand best, they last a long time. For the length of time you get out of one (two to three months), they are relatively inexpensive! I generally have two Nylabones, as well as a rope toy and a couple tennis balls lying around per dog.

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The formula for us to keep our dogs’ obedient and low key is exercise and rewards! We make sure they get about an hour of exercise, spread throughout the day. After a long day they enjoy some quiet time while also enjoying a reward. This is also the time they get one on one time with my husband and I. We make sure to pet each dog, sometimes allowing him or her on the couch, and just enjoying some relaxation.

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How to Start a Chore Chart for Kids!

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I like a clean, tidy house but it’s difficult to keep up. After work, making dinner, homework, and sports the last thing on my mind is housework. Our life is BUSY like most families, and spending the little “free time” we have together is so much more important than a clean house.

Our kids are a little older now and they are capable of pitching in on chores. We’ve never given the kids a list of chores or paid them an allowance. My thought was we buy you most of the things you need or want, what do you need money for? However, they are getting to an age where having a little cash at the ball field for a snack or when hanging out with friends is fun. So, we decided to put in place a chore chart and weekly allowance.

The first thing we did was research age appropriate chores. I wanted to make sure these were chores they could keep up with, and wouldn’t be discouraged by.

Next, I filled out a chore chart and alternated the chores between the kids. My hope with this is to eliminate “so and so have easier chores” or “I don’t like want to do that”. Everyone will be doing the same things, just on different days.

Lastly, my husband and I decided on a value for the chores. I don’t want to go broke paying the kids for chores (I may have to re-do LOL). So, we decided on a quarter per chore. It may seem like a small amount at first, but if the kids complete all of the chores, every day, it adds up to serious money for a ten year old!

Here’s how the plan looks when put together:

Each kid will have 4 chores a day. Each chore pays 25 cents. Each child can earn $1 a day Monday-Friday (weekends off just like a real job). Friday is payday and they will be paid $5 a week if all chores are completed. That’s $20 a month!

Below is the chore list:

  • Make Beds
  • Straighten Up Bedrooms
  • Set the Table
  • Wipe Down Table (Before and After Dinner)
  • Load Dishwasher (After Dinner)
  • Water Plants
  • Feed Dogs
  • Scope Dog Poop

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Next, I bought a dry erase chore chart from Amazon ($19) that we could stick to the fridge and re-use. I debated on an excel chart or there are some cute ideas on Etsy. In the end I wanted a cheap option that didn’t require printing a new chart every week.

The kids have been completing the chores for a week now, and their first payday was Friday. So far, so good! I think the chores are easy enough to keep up with, and really add to the kids’ confidence. I plan on switching up the chore list this summer when schools is on break. Maybe add more difficult chores, or additional chores? Either way, this is a big help in the upkeep of the housework, and the kids enjoy spending “their money”.

Do your kids have chores? What works for them and for you? Share some tips in the comments below.