Sunday, August 31, 2008

Saving It Saturday: Saving Gas

With the rising cost of gas, it seems we are inundated with ways we can save a bit money at the pump. Are the things we are hearing accurate? How much gas are we really going to save and is it worth it to even try what we are hearing? is a website run by Edmunds, Inc. According to their website, they publish four websites that "empower, engage and educate automotive consumers, enthusiasts and insiders". The folks over at decided to run some experiments to test the theories we are all hearing. These experiments were performed in real-world situations, not on closed tracks or simulated scenarios, and are easily repeatable by anyone. The results:

- You can achieve up to 37% savings, averaging 31%, by braking and accelerating at a moderate rate. Try to look at the road ahead of you and plan ahead. Braking hard and punching the gas, are great ways to burn gas without getting anyway.

- Driving the speed limit, at least on the highway, can save you about 12%. In the Edmunds test, they drove for 50 miles with the cruise control set at 65MPH and 50 miles at 75MPH. You could probably save even more gas by driving around 55-60MPH. Most reports that I have heard/read, state that fuel efficiencly drops drastically around 60MPH.

- Using cruise control for normal driving situations can save 7%, on the average. With the exception of driving in mountainous areas, cruise control helps to ensure smooth driving and avoids unnecessary braking and accelerating.

- With most vehicles, there is minimal difference in gas efficiency when it comes to how you cool the interior. Using the air conditioner does use extra gas, but driving with the windows down creates drag and decreases fuel efficiency. So what to do? Do what makes you and your passengers most comfortable. The gas consumption of both methods is about the same.

- Tire pressure, while important for safety, does not do much to alter fuel efficiency.

- When idiling for more than 1 minute, it is more fuel efficient to turn the vehicle off.

A few other tips I have heard that were not tested by Edmunds, but that make sense are:

- Remove excess weight from your vehicle. Every 100 pounds reduces your miles per gallon by 2%. I joke with my husband that this is why we need to lose weight. Just 50 pounds a piece and we can save money on our gas ;0)

- Keep your vehicle properly tuned. According to, a dirty air filter can reduce fuel efficiency by 10% and a faulty oxygen sensor reduces it by up to 40%.

- Combining trips is an obvious way to save gas. The less you drive, the less gas you use. Combining your own trips helps, but so does combining your trips with others. Car pooling and ride sharing are great ways to reduce the number of miles being driven and therefore the amount of gas being consumed. Even homemakers can "car pool" to the grocery store or the library with a neighbor and/or friend.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Family Friday: Theme movie night

Instead of just watching a movie together, make a whole night of it. Include a movie-related dinner, snack, and activities. Here are some of my ideas:

-Charlotte's Web: Dinner/Snack- fair-type food such as corn dogs, roasted corn, lemonade, etc with cotton candy, fried dough, funnel cakes, or ice cream for a snack or if your family has a semi-twisted sense of humor you could have a based meal (chops, bacon, etc) with pork rinds or gummy spiders for the snack. Activities- spider-theme crafts such as this one from Family Fun or these spider lollipops also from Family Fun; Play The Farmer in the Dell (works best with larger families); sing Old MacDonald; Make a giant spider web with one string for each family member. Wind the string around things and over and under things. Have each person take the end of their string and "unravel" the web together. (this is a lot of fun)
-Lady and the Tramp: Dinner/Snack- spaghetti and meatballs, (of course) and dog bone shaped cookies for a snack Activities- visit the pet shop or pound and look at the puppies available for adoption (I only recommend this if you may actually adopt a dog OR you are willing to hear the endless requests for one); dog crafts such as making a paper bag dog puppet (you can even find a template here) or a toilet paper tube dog (template here), there is also a whole bunch of dog crafts on Danielle's Place (I am not the same Danielle) website; go in the backyard and try to find Canis Major and Canis Minor and/or the star Syrius (the Dog Star)

Those are just two ideas I have. What can you come up with? Please share them through the comments section.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thrifty Thursday: Stock up

When you find something you regularly use, on sale for a great price, be sure to stock up. Food and other necessities often follow certain sales cycles, where you find certain things are always on sale at a certain time of year. If you can wait to buy the things you want when they are going to be on sale, you can save a ton of money. By stocking up when things are in season, it will be easier to avoid paying full price later.

Mid-season is a good time to start looking at clothes for the season next year or even to get you through the rest of this year. Sears, JC Penney's and others have had their summer clothes on clearance since mid-July. This pattern repeats every season, but the best deals are usually found in August and January.

Labor Day Sale up to 80% off Summer Essentials 8/29-9/2

As for food, always choose fresh produce that is in season and preferably local. You can buy large quantities and then can or freeze them for use in the "off-season". Other food items to note sales for are: frozen foods in March (Frozen Food Month); ground beef, hot dogs, soda, and condiments in late-June/early July; and baking goods (flour, sugar, chocolate chips, etc) and turkey in November and December.

In January, we tend to find sales on gym equipment, diet plans, diet foods, and athletic wear. Paint and cleaning products tend to be on sale in late-March and early April. Linens can often be found for great prices in May via "white sales". School and office supplies are often drastically marked down in July and August. The best candy sales are before Easter and Halloween, though I generally get it on clearance AFTER any holidays. The new model vehicles come out around October so dealerships reduce the price of the current year's models at that time. Toys and gifts can be found on clearance at really low prices in January.

All in all, the best way to save money is shop when there are sales. Try to plan ahead and you will save even more money.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: GPS Safety

With the price of global positioning systems (GPS) dropping last year, there has been an increase in the number of people using them. They have also become more of a danger to us, in many ways.

The most obvious danger GPS sytems pose is distraction of the driver. To minimize this distraction, all programming of the GPS (destination, mode, etc) should be done BEFORE starting on the road or at least when the driver is pulled off in a safe area. Also, try not to look at the GPS screen while driving, follow the verbal instructions instead. If you HAVE to look at the screen (for the map or otherwise), again pull over to a safe location to do so.

Another danger of GPS sytems comes into play if yours gets stolen. My husband installs auto glass for a living and he says the number one thing he has seen being stolen from cars is GPS systems. The bigger concern then becomes what is on your GPS. Many of us have home programmed in as a regular destination as a convenience for ourselves. If your GPS gets stolen, now the thief can find you too. So what can you do about it? First, do not program your actual address in for your home destination. Instead, use a nearby intersection or public building address. Second, do not leave your GPS (or any valuables for that matter)in plain site in your vehicle. It is better to take it out of the vehicle, but if you are leaving it inside at least put it where it cannot be seen, such as the trunk, glovebox, or under a seat. Also, be sure to wipe off the suction cup mark from the glass as this is a telltale sign to a thief that you have a GPS. Since thieves know people often leave their GPS in the vehicle, if they see this mark on the glass they are more likely to break in and check your glovebox, under your seat, etc for the GPS.

GPS systems are a great convenince in our modern lives, but like many other great conveniences they also can bring great danger. Use your GPS responsibly, be sure to leave no sign that you own one in your empty vehicle, and remove your home address out of the stored addresses and you will be doing a lot to protect yourself and others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber

Having a clean shower is one thing that has always been important to me. However, I find it to be one of the moer energy-consuming chores. When I had the opportunity to try the Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber, I was thrilled since it implies it will make cleaning my shower easier. I cannot say I love it, but I can say it helped reduce the amount of "elbow grease" needed.

The Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber comes in a little plastic container that stores the extra cleaning pads and the scrubber's green foam handle, a nice way to keep everything together when not in use. The cleaning pads have the cleanser built right in and just need a bit of water to activate. In the beginning, the pad foamed up nice, but the thick foam only lasted a few moments. There was still enough cleanser to clean my tub though. The handle fit easily into my hand, but for corners and tight spots you need to remove the handle and just use the cleaning pad. After you finish cleaning, you rinse it off, toss the pad in the trash and put the handle in it's plastic storage case until next time.

I like the convenience of this product and I like how it cleaned. Rinsing the cleanser off was fairly easy and the little storage container is neat, but a bit flimsy. My complaint with the Action Scrubber is that it seems like such a waste to keep throwing those pads away. They take up landfill space and cost money to replace. While I enjoy Scrubbing Bubbles cleansers, I will stick to the sponge and separate cleanser until something can be invented that is more environmentally friendly. Of course I do have a great handle now that I could attach a cleaning cloth to and replace my sponge with that.

This is a product that some people will absolutlely love and others, like myself, will not like having to throw away all those cleaning pads. If you do decide to buy it, click here for a $2.75 coupon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Money Monday: Life Insurance for homemakers

Many of us know the importance of having life insurance for the "bread winner" of the family and some of us also have life insurance for our children, but most of us undermine the importance of having life insurance on a homemaker. We need to ask ourselves, what would our family do should something happen to us?

Homemakers provide childcare, transportation, cleaning and laundry services, meal preparation, shopping, etc. If something were to happen to a homemaker, some of our "jobs" will likely be taken up by other members of the household, but it is likely not possible for all of our work to be absorbed by other family members. To determine how much life insurance a homemaker should have, figure out what responsibilities will need to hired out and how much they will cost. Add 3-4% for inflation and multiply that number by the number of years you will need that service. Add up the amounts for each service and you will have the amount you NEED to have for life insurance. Add in any extra amount that might be desired, such as time your spouse may take off to mourn and that is the size policy you should seek.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Simple Sunday: Kindness of strangers

This weekend, my family and I attended the New York State Fair in Syracuse, NY. On Friday, I bravely went by myself and the 4 children, ages 7 years, 6 years, 20 months, and 2 months. We ended up parking a distance away from the fair and had to take a shuttle to get to the fairgrounds. I got everyone out of the van, the babies and our gear (diaper bag, snacks, water, etc) into the stroller and we headed to the shuttle stop. I knew I was going to have trouble getting on the trouble with the double stroller and 4 kids, but figured I would manage. When the shuttle arrived, I had my 7 year old take the littlest baby (in his car seat carrier) to get on the bus, while I folded up the stroller to bring that on and the 6 year old held the other baby's hand to get on. I really did not like the idea of my 7 year old carrying the baby onto the bus, but I really could see no other way at the time. Just then, a kind man came off the bus and asked if he could carry the baby onto the bus for me. After accepting his help and thanking him, we continued on to the fair.

Upon arriving at the fair gates, the same gentleman who helped earlier, grabbed the stroller for me and took it off the bus AND set it up for me. After I thanked him again, he smiled and said he remembered when his girls were young and then he was on his way. I was so incredibly thankful that this man would stop and help a complete stranger that he saw could use help, but had not asked for it. I was not in dire need of help at that time, but the help I received helped keep me from feeling overwhelmed.

Later in the day, a woman saw me struggling to get the stroller out of one of the buildings and she came up and just picked up the front tires and helped me. Again, a situation I could have managed on my own, but was made so much easier by the help of a stranger.

Then again when we were leaving, a gentleman that was boarding the shuttle as I was getting off, offered to take the stroller off for me and then he set it up for me. These three people who helped me with simple tasks, touched my life in a special way. They allowed me to truly enjoy the day at the fair with my children and helped me to keep my sanity and composure when I had struggles.

We returned to the fair today with my husband and while I did not have any situations where I needed stroller assistance, the kindness of strangers continued on. As we were getting an snack to eat, a young woman approached me and handed me a milk ticket. They cost 25 cents and are redeemable for a glass of cold milk in the dairy building, so she was not out a whole lot of money, but I was touched by her offer anyway and the girls loved having another glass of chocolate milk.

At the New York Central Mutual booth, we entered our names to win a prize. They also had little "gifts" people could take, including orange plastic bags to keep all your fair goodies in. As I was entering the drawing, the woman working at the booth went into the building and came back with this great zippered totebag. I thought nothing of it and when I finished my entry form went to take an orange bag. She looked at me, handed me the totebag, and stated that with 4 kids I needed a bigger bag. I was incredilbly grateful and put the bag to good use throughout the rest of our day.

I know money is tight for many of us and time is often short as well, but each of these people did something for me and my family that cost very little, if anything, and took just a few moments of their time. The little bit that they gave made a big impact on me, but also on my children. It made us realize how much those little things that we can do for others can make such a huge difference for them. We also realized that sometimes the best help we can give, is the help that is unasked for. None of these people asked me if I needed help or "gifts", they simply saw a need I had and stepped up to fill it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Save It Saturday: Give It Away

We have all come across something we own that we no longer need or maybe it just is not in the condition we want it to be in. What do we do with those things? If you are like me, you will set it aside to deal with later, either by selling it at a yardsale or attempting to repair it. Occasionally, I will simply throw the item away, or at least I used to. Today I am going to share some resources I have found that will help you declutter those items without filling up the landfiill.

Books and current (within 2-3 months) magazines are greatly appreciated by nursing homes and hospitals for the patients to use. Clothes and blankets are also often needed by homeless shelters and battered women's shelters. Also, some elementary schools also keep a stash of kids clothes in the nurse's office for when students have "accidents". A quick call to the nurse's office will let you know if that is an option. Many places also have thrift stores (check for Goodwill, Salvation Army, Deseret Industries, etc) that will gladly take your donations.

Two other options I have discovered are Freecycle and ReUse It. Both groups work in generally the same way: people post items they no longer want and those who can use those items respond, the original owner can then choose who to give it to, all transactions must be 100% free and legal. Another option through both groups is for a member to post something that they need and another member may contact them if they have that item and are willing to part with it for free. Both groups have the same idea of keeping stuff out of the trash and keeping usable goods in circulation as long as possible, reducing the need to use more energy to produce new items. Craigslist also has a free section that you can post items on without joining a group. All three groups are free to all participants.

Aside from keeping trash out of the landfills, donating/giving away unwanted items benefits mankind in general and conserves energy. It is also a great way to declutter your home without feeling bad about items being wasted.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Family Friday: Date your children

Last week I discussed the importance of dating your spouse. This week, I am going to talk about having regular one-on-one time with your children.

Any parent of more than 1 child knows how difficult it can be to give individual attention to each child. Yet, it is very important for our children to know that we love them as individuals and to have "alone" time with both parents. We try to do it so that each child gets a one-on-one date with each parent at least once a month. I asked my oldest what her favorite part of her "dates" were and she said it allows her to talk privately with us, another great reason for having these dates.

Ok, so dating our kids is a great idea, but time and/or money may make it difficult. For both issues, dates do not need to be the same as a romantic date. We have had dates to the laundremat, grocery store, Wal-Mart, etc. Sometimes, my husband will take the other kids to the park and my date and I will stay home and have a cooking date. I do try to include a special "treat" with each date, but it is not necessary. One of my daughters' favorite dates was to go to Tim Horton's with me and share a lemon pastry (79 cents). Other times the treat will be a trip to the dollar store where they can pick 1 item. It is rare that the treat costs more than $1. Besides, it is not the treat that matters, it is the individual attention they are receiving.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thrifty Thursday: Eating at Home

It‘s no secret that cooking at home is usually much cheaper, and healthier, than eating out. Granted, there are some places with dollar menus and kids eat free, but more often than not you are still paying more than it would cost to cook at home and/or you are not getting a wholesome meal. I admit, cooking at home does take more time and effort, and on some days it just is not possible to find the time to cook at home, but with a little planning it can be done.

One of the first things to remember is that a home cooked meal does not have to be elaborate or all from scratch. There are many times that a sandwich and soup or pasta and sauce will suffice. There are also LOTS of convenience foods available for those times when you are in a pinch. Keep some on hand for super busy days. Hamburger/Tuna/Chicken Helper, canned soups, canned sauces, rice/noodle mixes, etc can all help when you need them. Of course, relying on convenience foods is still more expensive and not as healthy a choice as making everything by hand, but it is a less expensive option to eating out.

Planning ahead can also make it easier to avoid both eating out and convenience foods. On days when you may have a little more time, prepare some of your family’s favorite dishes that can be frozen and then easily reheated. Lasagna, casserole, soups, sauces, and baked goods (rolls, muffins, cookies, etc) are great for freezing and reheating. You could always make a double/triple batch, serve one and then freeze the rest. You can also use the crock pot for those busy days, preparing the meal the night before or for reheating a frozen meal. You can find a bunch of crock pot recipes here. There are also lots of cook once, eat twice recipes here. This is where you cook something like a roast one night and then use the leftover meat for fajitas the next night. You can also learn more about Once A Month Cooking (OAMC), and find recipes, by reading Linds Larsen's The Everything Meals for A Month Cookbook

I also find it helpful to prepare ingredients ahead of time. I plan a block of time, within 24 hours of grocery shopping, to prepare what I have bought. It may include dicing onions/celery/carrots, chopping broccoli, browning ground beef/turkey, baking chicken breasts, shredding cheese, or even just separating a large package of something into smaller packages. I then freeze whatever ingredients I will not be using in the very near future (24 hours or so). Now my options have just increased dramatically if I have to make something with little time and even if I don’t have any “busy days” that week, my dinner preparations have been drastically decreased.

One favorite at our house is homemade pizza. You can make the dough from scratch or many stores and pizza shops sell “fresh” pizza dough that you bake at home. We enjoy the typical pizza, such as pepperoni, mushroom, etc, but gourmet-style pizzas go over the best. Last night I made BBQ chicken pizza with chicken that had been baked, diced and frozen last week. I defrosted the chicken, tossed it with a bit of BBQ sauce, spread some more BBQ sauce on the partially cooked (you want to partially cook it so it does not get soggy when you add the sauce) pizza dough, threw the chicken on and sprinkled with cheddar and mozzarella (shredded and frozen last week). It took 15 minutes to finish cooking and I was done. I added a salad and we had dinner.

So what are your favorite ways to save time and money in the kitchen?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Bulk up!

Most people know that fiber is important to maintaining regular
bowels, but did you also know it is one of the secrets to managing

First I will tell you a little about fiber. It is only found in plant based foods and there are two types of it, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber takes up extra water in your digestive
tract and what is primarily responsible for colon regularity. As it
passes through your digestive system it also picks up excess sugar
and cholesterol, helping to regulate the body (that's why Cheerios
is so good for the heart).

Insoluble fiber moves quickly through the body since it cannot dissolve in water. It picks up carcinogens and other harmful products in the body and whisks them out of the
body before they get a chance to do damage. Both types of fiber are
attributed to reducing the risk of cancer.

As for weight loss, foods that are highest in fiber, often are very low in calories and
fat and they help you feel full for a longer period of time. Fiber
is the trick to eating carbohydrates, as the higher the fiber
content (fiber is a carb), the better it is for you. High fiber
foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables (the skins and
peels contain the most fiber), and legumes.

If you do not regularly eat a lot of fiber, it is important to start slow and gradually build
up your intake to prevent being uncomfortable. Also, due to the
increase bulk in your digestive system, make sure to drink plenty of
water every day to keep things moving smoothly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Vanilla Almond Special K

Ok, I have another food item this week, but this one is healthier than the Mini Oscar Mayer hot dogs from last week.

I am not a big cereal eater and therefore rarely buy it, but last week I was able to get a good deal on Special K so I bought it. I am sure many of you have tried the vanilla almond flavor before, but for me it was a first.

The cereal was perfetly sweetened to my taste, not bland, but not overly sweet either. The flakes stayed crispy in milk long enough for me to get through the entire bowl. That is one reason I never really liked cereal, I hate soggy flakes, but Special K impressed me. The vanilla flavor seemed a bit weak to me and there were few almonds, at least in the bowls I had. I was able to punch up the vanilla flavor a bit by adding some vanilla coffee creamer in with my milk on the last bowl I ate. The downside is that it also added sweetness, making it a little too sweet for cereal, but I would serve it as dessert.

Nutrition-wise, this is decent. Many cereals are fat-free, but this does contain a small amount of fat, presumably from the almonds, making it "good" unsaturated fat. It does contain whole grains, but is not a high fiber cereal, which I prefer. As all US cereals, it is also fortified with several common vitamins and minerals(A, B, C, D, iron). Complete nutritional information can be found here.

Would I buy this again? I might. If I get another great deal on it and if I do not prefer the strawberry version (I have never tried it, but have a box waiting to be opened) more, I will buy this again, otherwise I am sticking with higher fiber cereals.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Money Monday: Coupons

Print FREE Grocery Coupons at Home

Ahhhh, coupons. If you are like most people, you are either fanatical about them or you never use them. For me, I have gone through periods of having a very organized coupon system and I have gone through periods of only using the occasional coupon that I found attached to a product I was buying. I recently returned to having an organized couponing system and I am applying lessons I have learned from previous attempts and from my couponing down times.

First, coupons can save a LOT of money, especially on new products. Often manufacturer's print high value coupons when they are releasing a new product or version of a product. It is also not uncommon for the new items to initially be sold at a reduced price. It is even possible to get some of these items for free when you combine the sale price with the coupon. Add in rebates, and you can actually make money. Click here for an example of how I bought $97.55+ worth of products for only $3.13 a few weeks ago by combining sales, coupons and rebates. I find drug stores are the best places to find these deals, but grocery stores and other stores (like K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart) also offer great, even free, deals. A great place to learn exaclty how to make the most of your coupons, sales, and rebates is Money Saving Mom. She has several sections to check out, but I recommend starting with CVS 101 and Walgreens 101. Each week she posts the best deals based on that week's ads and coupons, so be sure to check her site regularly.

Now, coupons can also be dangerous and can actually cause a person to spend more money than they would have otherwise. Do not allow yourself to get caught in the trap of needing to use EVERY coupon you have. You will end up buying stuff you don't really need with money you could have used elsewhere. Having a coupon and getting a sale are great, but if it does not come out to being free, you should avoid getting those items you cannot or will not use.

As for keeping your coupons organized, this is an area that is best accomplished when you keep up with it weekly. I have a plastic shoe box with several envelopes in it. Each envelope has a different type of item written on it (cereal, dish soap, hair care, etc) and those are the types of coupons you will find inside the envelope. The envelopes are then arranged alphabetically. I also have several envelopes in the front that have store names that I go to frequently (Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, etc). Every Sunday I make out my shopping list and gather the coupons I know I will need and put them in the respective store envelopes. Then I cut out the remainder of the coupons from the coupon packets and file them into their proper product category envelope. If I come across coupons online or in other ways, I am sure to file them right away. This is one of those areas that if you procrastinate, it becomes too much to handle. As for cleaning out expired coupons, I just look for them as I file new ones or when looking for a certain coupon. When I find myself with nothing to do, I may grab an envelope or two and go throught them just looking for expired coupons, and many people will go therough their entire coupon system on a regualr basis, but do what works for you.

Coupons may not seem like they are a huge savings, especially when they are only for $0.25 off, but they add up quickly. I challenge you to actively seek out good sales and combine them with coupons for a few weeks and see just how much you can save. It only takes a handful of coupons to save enough money for a small treat to reward yourself with;)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Simple Sunday: Hugs

Todays simple pleasure for me is hugs. One of my husband's co-workers is this wonderful woman named Sharon. I do not know Sharon real well yet, but I like what I do know of her so far. One thing I love about her is that whenever she sees me and/or my children, she always has a hug for us. It does not matter if I am having a bad day, her hug always helps me to feel better. That is the beauty of hugs, they can improve any moment and can always help us feel safe and loved.

Here is a story about how a hug saved the life of a newborn baby.

For some interesting videos that show just how great hugging someone, anyone, can be. Check out YouTube and type "free hugs" into the search bar. You will find a bunch of videos of people who stood in public places holding "free hug" signs. It is amazing the reactions they got and I am sure many people, especially those offering the hugs, felt really good afterwards.

Hugs are also a great way to get past an argument with someone. No matter how hurt or angry you are, a good hug from the offending person, usually helps soften your heart and helps quench the fire of anger. Knowing how good it feels when someone who has hurt us gives us a hug, imagine how someone you have hurt would feel if you offered them a hug. It is hard to stay angry with someone when they are showing that they love you.

Hugs are the perfect gift to others and to ourselves:
"Hugging is healthy: it helps the body's immunity system, it keeps you healthier, it cures depression, it reduces stress, it induces sleep, it's invigorating, it's rejuvenating, it has no unpleasant side effects, and hugging is nothing less than a miracle drug.

Hugging is all natural: it is organic, naturally sweet, it has no pesticides, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, and is 100% wholesome.

Hugging is practically perfect: there are no movable parts, no batteries to replace, no periodic check-ups, has low energy consumption, high energy yield, is inflation-proof, non-fattening, has no monthly payments, no insurance requirements, is theft-proof, non-taxable, non-polluting, and is, of course, fully refundable."
-Sharon Lindsey (not the Sharon my husband works with)

So when you are angry, tired, lonely, sad, happy, exicted, or any other emotion, just give someone a hug. It will improve their day and yours.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Save It Saturday: Milk Jugs

Milk jugs are one of those items that are usually recyclable at recycling facilities, but recycling uses energy, so we are also encouraged to reduce and re-use items. Today, I will share several ways I have come across to re-use milk jugs before sending them off to be recycled.

- Save the caps, 12 each of two different colors, and use them as checkers. You could also paint the caps, 12 black and 12 red, if you are so inclined.

- Cut the bottom off and use the jug to protect plants that are growing in the garden.

- Cut around the jug, 2-3 inches from the bottom. Put small holes or slits in the bottom and fill with soil. Use this as a seed starter. Use the top part of the jug to retain moisture by placing over the top of the starter.

- Cut a hole opposite the handle and use it to store your toilet brush.

- Make a catch game with 2 half-gallon jugs, 2 toilet paper tubes and a wad of aluminum foil. Directions can be found here.

- Follow these instuctions to make a bird feeder. You can also store the bird seed in another empty milk jug.

- Cut the bottom off and use the top as a funnel.

- With Halloween around the corner, here is a great way to make a skeleton decoration using milk jugs.

- Cut into a scoop shape, leaving the handle and top in tact and useas a scoop for rock salt, pet food, soil, etc. Also, nice for the kids when playing in the sand at the beach.

- Fill with water and use to weigh down tarps or pool cover.

- Decorate and use as a piggy bank. A great idea for the little ones.

- Fill with water and use as hand weights. The more water you use, the heavier the weight.

- Help your freezer run more efficiently by filling empty space with milk jugs full of water.

And last, but not least, my personal favorite, make a milk jug igloo as shown here.

Those are the ideas I have. How about you? What do you do to re-use your milk jugs?

Family Friday: Get out and Date!

This is for those who are married, are you dating? If not, get out there and do it...with your spouse of course. There is no doubt that marriage has become as disposable as everything else in today's society. Is it not working the way you thought it would? Throw it out. It no longer works? Throw it out. You no longer like the color/size/shape? Throw it out. I am pretty convinced that one of the underlying reasons this is happening is that parents have chosen to revolve their families around their children and not around themselves. Children are by all means very important and their health and safety should be our first concern, but there are so many parents that also feel that their children are entitled to every little thing they want. Therefore, quite often, our marriages fall apart and we no longer know or even like the other adult we are living with.

So what can we do about it? I suggest making a regular date night with your spouse. A real date, one where you get dolled up and get a sitter, and go out. Strive for once a week, but even 1-2 times a month is great. There may be times you cannot get a sitter and that is ok, just have a "home" date after the kids go to bed. There may also be the occasional week/month when you absolutely cannot manage to fit a date in with all the other things you have to do. I challenge you to find a way, even if it means hiring a sitter and then going to the laundromat/grocery store/etc with your spouse.

Is money an issue? That's ok too. Dates do not need to be expensive. Go to a restaurant just for a drink and/or dessert, better yet share the dessert. Matinee movies are much less expensive than later shows. THere are even "free" dates that you can go on. Pack up a lunch and picnic in the park/beach/back yard. Volunteer somewhere together. Stay home and cook dinner together. Pop some popcorn and watch a movie together, either one you own or rent one from the library (many have DVD's you can check out for free). Go to the library. Stargaze. Can't afford a sitter? Find another couple to swap babysitting with or see if there is not something you could offer in exchange for babysitting. I have a friend who will babysit in exchange for a homemade dinner. I just make a casserole and send it over on the night she watches the kids. If you just cannot find anyone, hold your dates at home, but only after the kids are bed for the night or napping, and try to get out at least occasionally.

Do not worry about the kids feeling cheated. They may at first, especially if they are used to be all and end all of your universe, but they are growing to realize you are a person and that marriage and the marriage partnership are important. They will also grow to feel more secure because they can see that the core (you and your spouse) of the family is growing stronger.

Also, do not let any other thing, such as work or other family members, get in the way of date night. Make date night a priority, like any other important appointment. A quote I like to keep in mind when I am feeling overwhelmed is by a man named J.E. McCulloch, "No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home." Let's do our best to ensure that our homes are successful.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Enter to Win a Twisted Wendy's Frosty

I just love Wendy's Frosties so you can imagine how excited I was to see they are running a contest to give away a year's worth of Twisted Frosties. Ok, so the odds of winning the grand prize are slim (nor do I really need that many), but they are also giving away 10,000 individual Frosties. You can play the instant win game once a day until 9/30/2008. Good luck and please let me know if you win;0)

Thrifty Thursday: Credit Cards

Credit cards can be very damaging to a budget, but for the disciplined user, they can also be quite advantageous. I am of the firm mind set that, with few exceptions, such as education and a house, nothing should be purchased if you cannot pay for it in cash. Having said that, there are so many credit cards out there that offer airline miles or other reward points when you use them. Here is my solution: I use my favorite reward card for ALL my monthly purchases, but I deduct the amount from my checking account in my check register as though I paid "cash" for it. Then every two weeks, within my grace period, I go online and pay my balance in full. I do not need to "come up" with any money because it is still in my checking account. I am able to rack up lots of points without paying one extra penny.

Now, if you are one who cannot help but use your credit card, even when you know you cannot afford something, I suggest cutting them up or putting them in a Ziplock bag full of water and freezing them. This way you are not tempted to use them and if you are tempted, it will take awhile for you to either get a new card or for the card to defrost. During that time, the desire usually fades. I know I have been tempted in the past to charge items that are on sale/clearance for a really good price, even when I do not have the cash to pay for the item. I have to remind myself that if I end up paying interest on the purchase, it really is not a good price.

So what is my advice? It depends on you and what you feel you can do. If you are disciplined and can control how you use your card and will pay it in full before interest accrues, I suggest getting a card that offers nice rewards. If you are not disciplined or do not think you will pay your balances in full each month, you are better off without having a credit card. The call is up to you.

Do any of you have other bits of advice regarding credit cards. Please share them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Eat your breakfast

Every Wednesday, I plan to post some information regarding health (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) and achieving/maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Each week will include a challenge so that together we can all begin to live healthier lives.

I have chosen to start with a topic pertinent to physical health, eating breakfast. Breakfast has often been touted as the most important meal of the day, yet many of us choose to skip it and/or allow our children to leave home without it. Skipping breakfast can play a part in obesity, high cholesterol, high blood sugar levels, inability to concentrate, and lack of energy. Studies have shown that eating a healthy breakfast helps bring our blood sugar levels back to normal which in turn, helps to control our satiety (feeling of fullness) and energy levels. In fact, not only is eating breakfast important, it should also be the meal in which we consume the majority of the day's calories. It is not uncommon for many of us to do just the opposite of this by skipping or skimping on breakfast and eating a huge dinner. When you think about though, we NEED the extra calories in the morning when we are starting our day's activities, not in the evening when we are beginning to settle in.

So what is a healthy breakfast? You want to include as many different food groupos as possible (grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy, and protein), but definitely include whole grains and some protein in order to ensure feelings of fullness as the day progresses. There are many breakfast ideas and recipes on Mr. Breakfast's website and he even has a page dedicated to healthy breakfast options. Also, on MoneySavingMom, there is a recipe for a healthy, frugal breakfast of Baked Oatmeal. Some other meal ideas are an egg cooked to your liking, some whole grain toast, an orange, and a yogurt; whole grain blueberry waffles with a slice of lean ham and a glass of skim milk; or a scrambled egg on a whole wheat muffin and a slice of cheese with a banana.

A healthy weight, a reduced risk of diabetes/heart disease/high cholesterol, and the ability to concentrate and have the needed energy for your day are great motivators for eating breakfast and ensuring that your children eat it as well. From personal experience, I know I just feel better and tend to be in a better mood, on days when I have eaten breakfast. I also lost 80 pounds over the course of 2004 and one of the major changes I had made was to eat a healthy breakfast every day. I have since gained much of that weight back, and while I did have 2 children during that time (December 2006 and June 2008), I also stopped eating breakfast every day. My challenge for this week for myself and for you, is to eat something for breakfast every day and to try one new recipe from the Mr. Breakfast website. Of course, the healthier the breakfast the better, but the goal right now is to just get in the habit of eating breakfast every day. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Try It Tuesday: Mini Oscar Mayer hot dogs

I am not one who likes the idea of serving hot dogs to my children, but they like them and I had several coupons to get them for free so I got some. When I was at the store looking, I found these cute mini Oscar Mayer hot dogs, plain and with cheese. I decided to get the cheese ones and they were a huge hit at our house. They are slightly longer than a coctail weiner and were the perfect size for my 20 month old. My oldest two ate 2 for a serving and (along with their typical sides dishes as well) were satisfied. Since they normally would eat 2 hot dogs in a sitting anyway, I actually feel better about serving them the mini hot dogs since they are now eating LESS hot dog. They also come in a great resealable bag so you do not need to serve them all in one sitting and the messy juice you so often find in hot dog bags was not spilled all over the place when the kids helped themselves. So while they are still not a nutritional favorite of mine, these mini hot dogs are something I would not mind having on hand for those particularly busy days or for a special "treat" for the little ones.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Money Monday: College or Retirement

Many people often start savings accounts for their children to attend college. This is a well-intentioned plan, but can hurt you in the long run. The most important savings that a parent can do is to save for their own retirement. Too often, we are able to help with college tuition, but when it comes time to retire we cannot. Both parents and children can take loans to help with college expenses, but neither of you can take out a loan for retirement. It is better to encourage your children to work and save their money for college and/or to take out loans for their education. Scholarships and financial aid are also viable options for a future college student, but again, I have yet to see a scholarship awarded simply for retiring. Companies no longer offer the retirement packages like in the past and social security may or may not be available when you are ready to retire, therefore it takes more money in savings to be able to afford retirement So, unless you and/or your spouse, plan on working well after retirement age, I suggest building up your own savings account before funding one for your child's education.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Simply Sunday: Rain

I am still trying to figure out exactly how I want my Sunday posts to work, but for this week I plan to just write about the simple beauty of rain. Rain is one of those things that we love and we hate. It can ruin our plans, yet we need it for growth. Today, the rain ruined our plans to walk up to a local arts festival, but instead, I got to stay home and bake with my daughters. I look at it as a win either way. We also have been able to enjoy the sight of several rainbows over the past few days, something that we would not have had without the rain. On hot, humid days, a rainstorm feels wonderful and watching it bring life back to parched land is amazing. So whether it be a drizzle or big, fat raindrops, instead of griping about my ruined plans, I try to remind myself of the beauty that lies within the rain.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Save It Saturday: 350

So what does 350 have to do with recycling or helping the planet? 350 (parts per million) is the highest level of carbon dioxide that can safely be in the atmosphere. Currently, we are above that number at 385 and the 350 organization wants to help bring that number down. So what can we do? Every Saturday I will be sharing a tip that will help reduce our individual carbon footprint (the amount of CO2 we help contribute to the atmosphere). Instead of a tip this week, it is more of an introduction as to one reason why we should help the planet and to help spread the word about There are 2 contests going on through to help spread the word about There are some great prizes for both contests and I encourage you to check out the information by clicking the link below, especially if you are a creative person. The contest ends on 8/15 so you need to hurry. Please post here if you do enter and let us know when we can go vote for you.