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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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

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!

10 Money Saving Tips for Back-to-School Shopping!

As a family we live a fairly frugal life. We eat at home more often than we eat at a restaurant, we stick to a budget and strive to pay down consumer debt, and lastly we ALWAYS shop on the clearance racks. Contrary to many opinions, you can find stylish and cheap clothes on the clearance rack, if you plan ahead!

Last year families with school-aged children spent an average of $630.36 on back to school shopping per child. That’s more than we spend on Christmas gifts each year! What if I told you we spend $250 per child on back-to-school shopping? That $250 budget accounts for clothes, shoes, supplies and everything needed for back-to-school! How I do it, clearance.

First, you should know I buy 90% name brand clothes for our kids. I buy them good shoes that will last until at least Christmas. Lastly, I don’t buy what we don’t need.

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10 Tips to Save Money on Back to School!

Here are 10 money saving tips for back-to-school shopping!

  1. Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need
    • Go through last year’s clothes and see if there is anything that still fits and is in good condition. Most of the time you can make last year’s outfit new again with accessories.
  2. Make a List
    • Start with a list of what you do need to buy. Shopping without a list will lead to buying too much, or too little.
  3. Start Early
    • June and July is a perfect time to start clearance shopping. Spring styles are moving out of stores, making way for in-season Summer clothes. I start at the expensive stores and get the stables; jeans, hoodies, flannels, etc. These are going to be the building blocks to your child’s outfits and will probably be worn 2-3 times before being washed. Spend a little more on these pieces and get good quality.
    • I usually try to pick up a tank top or two, as well as a pair of shorts for those couple weeks leading up to fall. I can generally find a cute summer outfit or two on clearance in July.
    • Allowing extra time also lets me look for Buy 1 Get 1 deals. I can score free shoes at this time as well as socks, underwear and more. Meijer has Buy 1 Get 1 sales each week, and I can usually get several great deals.
  4. Buy Mix and Match Outfits
    • The key to not spending too much on clothes this school year is buy items that can be mixed and matched.
    • Pieces such as a shirt that can be worn with jeans, a skirt, and layered with a sweater can make 6 different outfits: Shirt + Skirt + Flats, Shirt + Skirt + Leggings + Boots, Shirt + Jeans + Flats, Shirt + + Jeans + Sweater + Boots
    • This works for boys as well. Jeans + Tee one day, next week try Jeans + Tee + Flannel over top.
  1. Buy the “Throw Away Fashion” Cheap
    • To me “Throw Away Fashion” is the printed tops with a character, or the tie-dye shirt everyone is wearing to school. These are the pieces that are popular today, but in a month they won’t be cool. I usually buy these at big box stores such as Target. They are cheap enough to “throw away” after a month, but your child gets to wear the latest trend. I would shoot for only 1-2 pieces in your back to school shopping.
  2. Think Longer Than Just Fall
    • When buying clothes for back to school I am not only buying things for the month of September and October, I plan for all of fall and into winter. I try to stretch clothing by buying layer pieces and buying the next size up. Sure, the first week or two of school they might be a little baggy, but kids grow quickly! Plan ahead and buy the next size to ensure they get the length needed.
  3. Buy Quality Shoes
    • We buy shoes three times a year. I buy shoes at the start of school, for basketball season, and again in late spring. In order to get the length out of a pair of shoes, you need to buy good quality. I used to buy shoes from Target when our babies were small, now that their feet aren’t growing as quickly I buy named brand such as Nike, Adidas and Sketchers. These shoes don’t wear out as quickly, allowing me to buy fewer times throughout the year.
  4. Buy Quality Backpacks
    • When my nephew was in elementary school my sister in law gave me a great tip on backpacks. She said she bought three backpacks for her son during Kindergarten. Instead of buying a good quality backpack, they bought a character backpack from Meijer. The backpack was $20 and she ended up buying three of them… that’s $60 in one year for backpacks! Instead of buying three lower quality backpacks we decided to invest in nice backpacks for our kids. Sure, the upfront cost is $60 for one, however they have lasted two years and are still going strong! LL Bean repairs their backpacks and they carry a warranty. If they get destroyed, send it in for a replacement or to be fixed!
  5. School Supplies
    • We get off easy on this one… our school has a program where you pay $15 at the beginning of school for all of your supplies. We have to buy a backpack and any fancy supplies our kids want, but the basic school supplies are already taken care of. Ask your school if they have this program, or suggest it!
  6. Haircuts
    • Most people don’t think about budgeting in a hair cut before the start of school, however we always get our kids fresh new cuts before the first day. I wait for a $5 hair cut coupon from Great Clips, which usually comes out right before school starts. This is a great way to get a fashionable cut for cheap.

 

Do you spend too much on back to school shopping? What are your tips on saving?

How to Keep Kids Off The Couch This Summer

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Keeping kids’ off the couch and active this summer!

Summer is finally here! We’ve made it through the school year, and now it’s time for some R&R… at least that is my kids’ theory.

Summer was originally designed to allow students to explore other interests, whether that’s sports, or art, or anything really. However, I’m seeing more and more kids sleeping in, playing on their tablets and rarely walking outside or picking up a book. Additionally, our kids’ are losing some of the knowledge they learned this school year. Did you know that statistically a student loses two to three months of reading skills and two months of math skills while on summer vacation? That’s almost a quarter of the school year…gone.

For the first time as a parent I am lucky enough to work from home during the summer. Which means I am now in control of our kids summer. No more hoping a babysitter will play outside with them or work on their summer packets. This year, I get to help and get to enjoy summer with the kids!

The goal is to keep the kids off the couch and have them exploring those new interests mentioned above. Plus, I want to make sure they don’t experience a learning gap this summer and lose that knowledge they worked hard for during the school year. The way I plan to achieve these goals is with a schedule and a calendar of events. I know it seems “old school” but it works!

 

The Schedule:

Keep in mind; I want this summer to be fun and to be relaxing. I also want the summer to be productive and a learning experience for the kids and myself. Also, I do have a full time job working from home. Some of these time gaps do reflect hours I have conference calls or need to focus on work.

8:00-9:30am: Wake Up, Breakfast, Get Dressed, Morning Chores
9:30-11:30am: Free Time (Play in rooms, play a game, watch TV, play on tablets)
11:30-1:00pm: Lunch Time (Play outside afterwards)
1:00-2:00pm: School Work (1 math sheet, 1 writing sheet, read for 20 minutes)
2:00pm: Snack
2:00-4:00pm: Play Outside/Activity
4:00-5:00pm: Afternoon Chores

I have this schedule laminated and hanging on the fridge. That way when the kids ask if it’s lunchtime I can direct them to the schedule. Also, we have a lot of kids in our neighborhood. This schedule helps our kids to know when they can play with friends, even if a neighbor rings the doorbell.

 

The Activities:

I wanted to keep the kids’ busy with both low-key activities as well as physical activities. I tried to mix it up each week so nothing is repeated, becoming boring. Lastly, I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg to keep the kids busy. It’s ok if we spend some money, since we are saving a boatload not sending the kids to a sitter.

  1. Library – The local library has a lot of activities for school age children, all for free. Our kids are enrolled in Lego Club (groups complete a building project in groups), Cute Critters (the zoo and area petting zoos bring small animals to show and tell), Summer Reading Club (earn prizes for reaching your reading goals).
  2. Church – The church we attend has a kids’ play place with tunnels and slides indoor and a café to order lunch. There is free Wi-Fi so I can set up my laptop and let the kids run and play for an hour. We can pack a lunch, or we can eat at the café.
  3. Day Camp – There are plenty of options for camps around town. The YMCA has a day camp for kids to go hang out and play all day, plus there are many options for sports camps. We opted for a sports camp for each child. The high school here in town puts on a weeklong camp by the high school students for both baseball and soccer. The cost considerably less than the Y plus we felt the kids would have more fun doing a sport rather than just playing indoor or outdoor.
  4. Community Pool – This year we decided to get a family pool pass for our community pool. My husband gets off work at 2pm everyday and this is a great way to keep the kids active. Once a week Trent takes the kids to the pool from 2:30pm until 4pm. It’s free now that we paid for the pass, and most of their friends from school are there too.
  5. Swim Lessons – With our pool pass we are eligible to enter the kids into swim lessons. They are a discounted price with our pass, and a great way to keep the kids active and safe.
  6. Summer Packets – Before school ended I asked each teacher for ideas on a summer work packet. These packets should be for review of the school year, not to teach them new things. I was able to gather worksheets the kids have already done in class as well as find similar sheets they haven’t seen before. We have enough work in each packet to do one math sheet and one writing sheet everyday this summer.
  7. Park – To help the kids work on science I searched Pinterest for different science experiments and nature activities. I found wonderful sheets including nature scavenger hunts, stars and plant maps, and so many more. We purchased some toys the kids would enjoy using at the park including binoculars, a net, a bug housing kit, an inexpensive telescope and some water shoes for the creek. We plan to spend time creeking, hiking, and looking at the stars this summer as part of our hands-on science learning.
  8. Downtime – There of course will be days when the weather isn’t cooperating, or someone isn’t feeling well. I invested in some quiet games: Guess Who, Connect Four and Checkers. I also bought a couple of puzzles that the kids could put together upstairs in the play area. These allow the kids to be inside but it will also be quiet enough for me to get some work done.
  9. Zoo – We have had zoo member passes since our kids were little. It’s an investment up front, but we pay for the pass with as little as 3 visits in a year. With school field trips, member’s only events and more, we usually go once a month in the spring/summer/fall and once or twice on a nice day in the winter.
  10. Field Trips – Once a month I want to get the kids out for a fun trip… it’s summer after all! These would be more expensive outings and probably include lunch or a small gift. Some ideas would be; an amusement park, the movies, a museum, local baseball or sporting event, etc.

How to Make Leftover Night Fun!

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Turn Leftover Night into Buffet Night!

As I talk to friends and fellow moms, one thing that amazes me is no one has a leftover night anymore. Growing up we had a weekly leftover night and a monthly freezer-clean-out night. No one does this anymore! We now throw our leftovers away, wasting perfectly good food and money.

In our home we have a weekly leftover night. At first the kids (and Trent) weren’t so sure about leftovers. The idea wasn’t “normal”, no one eats leftovers, on and on… I heard every excuse. After I sat down with Trent and showed him how expensive our groceries were, and how much I could save each month by not planning one full dinner, he was on board. Now, it was time to bring the kids to the dark side.

Instead of calling it “Leftover Night” we call it Buffet Night. Just like at a buffet, our kids are in control of what they eat.

Here’s how we turned the dreaded leftover night into a buffet:

  1. Take each meal out of the container or Tupperware and present it in a clean, fresh bowl. Yes, this makes for more dishes. However, it also helps the meal to look fresh without the condensation, food settling and a big whoosh of smell.
  2. Set the counter up like a buffet. Dishes and silverware at the front, and food lined up where the kids can see exactly what is available.
  3. Let them serve themselves. Again, bigger mess but you’re getting everyone involved.
  4. Serve a new dinner item on the buffet. We usually serve a fresh salad and rolls or Italian bread so not everything on the table is old news.
  5. Have a backup plan. Some week’s left overs are scarce; meals were eaten for lunch or someone had an extra helping. When we don’t have enough for a leftover night we usually have a “Make Your Own” night. On these nights dinner is a sandwich, cereal or something out of the freezer. Again, let them choose what’s for dinner (within reason).

The biggest take away on bringing back leftover night is the savings. An average meal can cost our family $10 or more. If you save $10 each week, that’s $40 each month and $520 each year!

Healthy and Homemade Dinners for Only $35 a Week!

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We’re a really busy family with two full time working parents, all three kids in school and sports, and three crazy puppies. Because we’re busy, it’s so easy to grab fast food on the way home from work or in between practices. Although it’s easier, it’s definitely not cheap or healthy.

I started meal planning to help stick to a budget and to ensure we’re eating a healthy dinner each night. I usually rotate 2-3 weeks of meals depending on sale flyers and what we already have in our pantry. Below is a week worth of healthy and homemade dinners, all for only $35. Bonus: these meals also take less than 30 minutes to prep and cook! All meals are kid approved, and make for excellent leftovers.

Keep in mind, we are a family of five, feeding two growing boys in year around sports. Some quantities may need to be adjusted, depending on your family’s needs. I added portions and/or quantities to the side to use as a reference.

 

Tacos: 20 Minutes to Cook

Ground Turkey – $3.99lb. (1 lb.)

Whole Wheat Tortillas – $.98 for fajita size (2 packages)

Lettuce – $.88 for a head of lettuce (1)

Tomato – $.60 for a Roma Tomato (1 I’m the only one who eats tomatoes)

Sour Cream – $1.50 for an 8oz. container (1)

Total Cost: $8.93

Homemade Pizzas: 25 Minutes to Cook

Jiffy Mix Crust – $.60 (1 makes a 12” pizza, we use 2 boxes)

Cheese – $2 (1 bag for light cheese)

Turkey peperoni – $2.50 (1 bag makes 4 pizzas for us)

Fresh Mushrooms – $1.50 (Shared between 2 meals)

Total Cost: $7.20

Homemade Chicken Tenders: 30 Minutes to Cook (less with a deep fryer)

Chicken Breast Butterflied and Sliced for Tenders – $1.99lb (1 lb)

Flour – Have in Pantry

Seasoning Salt – Have in Pantry

Oil – Have in Pantry

Fries – $2.50 (1 bag)

Total Cost: $4.49 (makes approximately 10 strips)

Baked Ziti: 30 Minutes to Cook (noodles done in 10min, 20min in oven)

Ziti Noodles – $1 a box (1 box)

Sauce – $1 (1 Jar – Once a month our store has a 10 for 10 Sale)

Cheese – $2 (1 bag)

Mushrooms – $0 (use remaining from pizza)

Salad – $0 (left over lettuce and tomato from tacos, add cheese and eggs)

Fresh Italian Bread – $1.70 (1 loaf)

Total Cost: $5.70 (Makes a 9×13 pan)

Stuffed Chicken Breast: 30-40 Minutes to Prep and Cook (prep the night before for faster dinner time!)

Chicken Breast – $1.99lb. (1 lb.)

Frozen Broccoli – $1 (Broccoli florets)

Cheese – $0 (left over cheese from pizza or ziti)

Brown Rice – Have in Pantry

Total Cost: $2.99

Breakfast for Dinner: 20 Minutes to Cook

Turkey Bacon – $1.69 (I use the Butterball Turkey Bacon – It’s Cheap!)

Pancake Mix – Have in Pantry (Usually costs $4 for a box of Bisquick)

Eggs – $2.50 (1 carton makes 2 breakfasts)

Total Cost: $5.88

Left Over Night: Less Than 5 Minutes to Re-heat

Total Cost: $0

10 Cheap or FREE Things To Do in Surfside Beach, SC!

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This year we have a big goal to hit – paying down our debit by 50%. Even though we’re working toward this huge goal, we still wanted to enjoy a family vacation. We joined up with my mom and sister (who lives in Surfside Beach, South Carolina) to plan an affordable week long vacation.

My goal was side hustle our entire trip. We were able to pay for our rental house, gas money and groceries by selling old furniture, clothing and odds and ends in the basement. You can see more about what we sold and how much we earned {here}.

After these expenses were paid, we had to figure out entertainment. I was able to earn and extra $255 through Ebates ($125), selling some additional furniture ($100) and birthday money sent from my in-laws ($30). This was our spending money for entertainment. Now, the challenge of spreading $255 over the course of 6 days, with 5 people!

With the help of my sister, Pinterest and some good ol’ fashion Goggling we were able to stay entertained each day, and avoid the “I’m Bored” whining.

10 FREE or Cheap Things To Do at Surfside and Myrtle Beach!

  1. The Beach – This is what you come to Myrtle Beach for, the beach! We spent everyday at the beach. Some days it was for a couple hours and some days just for an hour at dusk. We bought each kid a $5.99 boogie board, and believe me it was worth every penny! We brought with us $1 sand buckets with a couple of shovels, and a rubber football. Just a couple dollars and our kids had a ball (no pun intended) at the beach everyday!IMG_1209.jpg
  2. Visiting the Pier – In Surfside there is a long pier beside Surf’s Diner. You get to the pier through a little store that sells fishing gear, ice cream and access to the pier. It costs $1 for each person to go onto the pier, and it’s worth it. If you’re lucky there will be a local fisherman on the pier who lets your kids ask a million questions, and even lets them throw his catch back in the water ;). We went twice to the pier and each time had a great time! We bought ice cream after dinner and talked to the local fisherman. We even got to see a 5-foot shark eat a stunned fish, and a baby shark being caught!
  3. Boardwalk on the Beach – We walked the Boardwalk one afternoon and the favorite part was feeding the fish LOL. For 25 cents you can get a handful of fish food. We spent roughly $2 for each kid to feed the fish. It was about an hour of fun, but it was fun!IMG_1346.jpg
  4. Picking Hermit Crab Pets – As a souvenir we bought each child a hermit crab to bring home. It cost $9.98 for a crab, the house, food and some environmental things (sand, a shell, a sponge and a small piece of bamboo). It was an inexpensive souvenir that wouldn’t just be thrown away.
  5. Evening Activities – In the evening, after a full day at the beach or out and about, it’s a good idea to have some activities. This helped keep the kids off the tablets, and helped avoid temper tantrums. We brought with us Scrabble, Monopoly and a couple movies. Each night after dinner we played a game or cuddle up for a movie.
  6. Riding Bikes – My sister clued us in on a couple places we could ride bikes around town. There’s a little park in Pawley’s Island, just 20 minutes south of Surfside. We rode our bikes there one afternoon and it’s a nice quiet day. We rode our bikes on the Marsh Walk and around our housing development as well.IMG_1347
  7. Ripley’s Aquarium – Now, this isn’t necessarily free, but we did get a good deal! My sister homeschools her boys and got us a great deal on tickets. Ripley’s is a fun area to enjoy the fishes. It’s a 3-4 hour trip around the aquarium, if you take your time. We really had fun seeing the sharks, petting a shark and even meeting a Mermaid!
  8. Fly Kites – The beach becomes deserted around 7pm. We took that time to fly a couple kites and pick up shells. You can buy kites down at Myrtle Beach or like us; you could bring them with you. We brought kites we already had and it was FREE!
  9. Boat Tour – The boat tour wasn’t free, but worth the money. We paid $30 for each adult, and $15 for each child. We went to the North Island in Georgetown and pick shells, saw a lighthouse and wildlife in its natural habitat. The boat ride is an all day trip; so plan 5-6 hours with driving time.
  10. Skywheel – Again, not free but worth the money. The cost for the Skywheel is $14 for each adult and $8 for each child. We found a coupon in the Mega Flyer for $1 off each person. The Skywheel is fun to see the ocean and maybe even a couple dolphins! It’s roughly a 10-minutes Ferris wheel ride, and you go around 3 times.

10 Ideas for Tinker Bell Gifts at Disney World!

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Last year we spent an amazing seven days at Disney World. Our kids’ ages were nine, seven and five. We had a really fun time, and made plenty of memories. We weren’t so sure we would have a great trip when we were planning however. Our youngest son, Asher was having frequent accidents at school. We felt the accidents were partially a phase, and partially from our recent move. We were working through the problem with a reward system. If Asher went a day at school without an accident, we would reward him with a small gift.

Since we were still experiencing frequent accidents, I started asking friends and family for Disney themed gift ideas. One of my friends used “Tinker Bell Gifts” on their last vacation as a way to save money on souvenirs. So, I took her ideas and started planning!

We executed Tinker Bell gifts by setting out a gift the first night we were there. We made sure a note from Tinker Bell was added to the bag that outlined the “rules” on how you earned a gift. Below were our rules:

  1. Be patient
  2. Be respectful to each other as well as mom and dad
  3. No whining
  4. No begging (for a souvenir, food, ride, etc.)
  5. Settle down and go to sleep each night
  6. For Asher only: No accidents!

Next, we sprinkled some pixie dust around the door and throughout the room. This made it look like Tink really flew through our hotel room and dropped the gift off. Bonus: the Mousekeepers vacuumed each day so the pixie dust was always new!

Lastly, we planned what we would buy for gifts and how much we wanted to spend. Some of the gifts I brought with us, and some we bought while we were there. I wanted to stick to a budget since they were in addition to souvenirs. My goal was to stay between $5 and $10 each day.

Below is a lift of gift ideas:
Tsum Tsums – Disneystore.com purchased on sale for $3 each
Disney Dollars – Purchased at the concierge’s desk, each kid received $5
Trading Pin – Disneystore.com & Amazon.com, bought sale ones they could trade
Light Up Toy– Purchased at Magic Kingdom for Fantasmic the next day!
Vinylmation – Purchase the surprise box at the resort gift shop
Candy/Snacks – Purchased Chip & Dale pretzels and crackers for our pool day snack
Coloring Books – Purchased at Target, great for the car ride home!
Ear Hat or Headband – Purchased at Disneystore.com with a promo code
Special Toy – on the last day we bought the souvenir they really wanted!
Swim Toys – Purchased from Target for our pool day at the resort!

Have you ever given Tinker Bell gifts? How do you reward or save money on souvenirs? Share your tips in the comments below!