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Last Day of School – Teacher Gifts

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Last Wednesday was the last day of school for our kiddos. Remember when I wrote about summer childcare options? We ended up going the babysitter route for MWF during the summer so I’ll still have some extra time with the girls to go to the zoo, library, parks, pool, etc. etc. etc, but I’ll also have some dedicated work days. I’m hoping the mix will work out well.

When the girls’ last day of preschool rolled around, I was kind of at a loss. I would have loved to do some Pinterest-worthy craft, but that was in the middle of all the Rocky stuff and I simply lacked the time/energy/focus to do anything super fancy or nice.

Quick craft to the rescue! (Am I getting good at these last-minute crafts, or what!?)

We made two crafts; one for each of our two teachers. One said “Thank You” and the other said “We’ll Miss You” (because one is actually moving away and the other we’ll see again next school year).

I wrote out the message in dotted lines, then the girls traced over it, and then I wrote a really nice and heart-felt message on the back. I also bought $20 gift cards for each teacher (the most I’ve ever bought before!) because our preschool costs were lower this month (since we were gone for a solid 1.5 weeks last month for the cruise), and because they really deserved it. We had a couple issues this year that I haven’t talked about on the blog just out of respect for our kids’ privacy. Nothing crazy, but some general adjustment stuff as I started working full-time for the first time since their birth. Our teachers were just amazing and really acted as extensions of our family. I’m truly so thankful for them!

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Regarding these quick little crafts, I’ll tell you the best buy I’ve made was a box of these colored oversized envelopes (they sell plain white, but since I use them mainly for mailing crafts back to family in Texas I wanted some fun colored envelopes). I bought the box last year so I can’t remember how much I spent (probably $3?), but I use them for EVERYTHING! When you’re sending pictures/crafts through mail, you don’t want to use a regular envelope where the picture will have to be bent to fit. Having these larger-sized envelopes has been clutch!  I love them!

So I simply use some scrapbook paper cut into rectangular shapes (to fit the envelope) and a piece of solid-colored paper to glue on top. Color a picture on the front (or trace words, or whatever other craft idea you have), and write a message on the back. BAM! Done!

What do you do for an end-of-year teacher gift?

As it’s Memorial Day today in the U.S., I’d also be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank those who have served or are currently serving our country – particularly to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. I also want to extend a special thanks to our Service men and women’s family members! I cannot imagine how tough it must be with all the frequent relocations, deployments, etc. THANK YOU!!!


A little laugh for today

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I’m staying uber busy with work so aside from previously scheduled activites we are not doing much which is great because it means we are eating at home and not spending money.  Yeah!  So my plan is to get another numbers post done this weekend once some big projects are complete.  But here are few highlights from the couple of weeks.

As I mentioned last week, it was homeschool prom time.  And princess just barely made the age range, by like two days.  Here she is ready to go, she was escorted and chaperoned by the twins and a great time was had by all!

 

Princess all ready for prom.

Princess all ready for prom.

Can you believe she is just 12? I can’t.

All about the money: She wore her Easter dress and I had a coupon for $15 off a pair of shoes, so total spent on her ensemble $12. Twins just wore dress clothes they already owned. I call this a win!

The chicks finally got moved out of the kitchen and to their own outside scoop. It’s a DIY coop and we’ve shored it up with bricks around the edges to keep predators out. They are loving it and we are loving having our kitchen chick free, especially since they had started regularly escaping.

Chicks have moved outside to their own coop.

Chicks have moved outside to their own coop.

All about the money: $0 spent. Our hosts continue to foot the bill for all supplies, we just supply the labor. And most of the things we used on the coop were found on property from scraps of other projects. Another win!

We took over lawn care of our section of the property this past weekend. Would have done it sooner but it’s been raining non-stop here for almost a month. Both the twins were super excited to learn to drive the Zero Turn Lawn Mower, and while there was a learning curve they conquered it like champs and conquered the grass. They compared it to the driving in Star Wars. So of course, that makes it a ton of fun.

History Buff learning a new skill and cutting our grass!

History Buff learning a new skill and cutting our grass!

Princess birthday was this past week and she really wanted a bike with a basket. Do you know how much bikes cost??? Well, our host knows a man who rehabs used bikes, making them like new mechanically. So I got this perfect bike for her and our host got her a basket.

Princess and her birthday bike!

Princess and her birthday bike!

All about the money: Princess dad sent me $100 this week for her birthday. I got the bike for $45 and got her a few other things.

Now last but not least, Gymnast finally acquesced to a hair cut. His hair had become quite a little afro and was getting harder for him to care for. He wanted to go where his dad used to take him when he lived here. Here are the results:

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Do you think he likes it?

All about the money: $25 spent at the barber shop but barber says from now on it will be less to maintain. I say it’s money well spent.

I’ll be back next week with some numbers! Have a great week!


Summer Childcare Blues

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Finding reliable, reputable childcare has consistently been one of the most stressful parts of being a working parent.  So today I want to pose a question to the other working parents out there:  What do you do for summertime childcare?!?

The place we’re currently at operates on an academic year schedule (not surprising, because its preschool through 8th grade so it’s a real school campus, albeit a private religious one). Their last day is May 24th and they don’t reopen again until the second week of August. But here I am, working full-time at my day job plus part-time at my online job and I have NO childcare!? Yikes!

After doing quite a bit of research, here’s what I’ve found. I’ll go ahead and tell you from the get-go:  no good options exist. Especially in the under 5-year-old age range. (Disclaimer: a TON of options open up for school aged kids age 5+, so this problem may be specific to parents with younger kids).

  • Option 1: There are lots of different one-week long summer camps at different places around town. This would be perfect if I was home all summer with the kids and just wanted to send them somewhere educational a couple weeks out of the summer. But I need childcare every week. I know my kids and I know they do not thrive in that kind of instability (a different camp at a different place with different people every single week). This won’t work for us.
  • Option 2:  Half-day camps. There are two places we know and trust that offer half-day camps. Half-day is far from ideal (one is from 8:30-12:30, but the other is only from 9-12. A total of 3-4 hours per day!) They’re pretty pricey for being such a limited amount of care. The three hour camp is $100/week/child and the four hour camp is $175/week/child. For comparison purposes, this amounts to roughly $1500/month for 20 hours per week.
  • Option 3: JCC. We loved the JCC while we were there and only left because they were too far from our home. The commute wasn’t realistic after I started working full-time. But I thought that maybe we could go just for the summer. It’s someplace we love and the girls are familiar with. Wins all around, right? Nope. Turns out as non-members the prices are exorbitant. And there’s not an option for a short-term membership just for the summer. Getting childcare 3 days per week for 7 hours per day would run us OVER $2100 for our two kids!!!! Holy cow, that’s expensive! This would be my favorite option in terms of amount of childcare coverage and the enrichment activities/opportunities for the girls. But at that price, it just seems cost-prohibitive to me! For comparison purposes, this amounts to roughly $2100/month for 21 hours per week.
  • Option 4:  Part-time Babysitter. We’ve got a high school babysitter we really love (and the girls love her, too)! We’re friends with the family and have talked to her parents a bit about whether she’d be a good choice for some summer childcare. What we discussed was  3 days per week (a couple weeks with only 2 days of care), 8 hours per day at a rate of $250/week for 3 day weeks or $175/week for 2 day weeks. This is the most cost-effective option and also the best in terms of actual childcare coverage (looking at number of hours per week), but I don’t love the idea of the girls being home all the time and not interacting with other kids. Also, I worry about babysitter fatigue/burnout and having no reliable back-up if the sitter is sick. For comparison purposes, this amounts to roughly $1100/month for 24 hours per week.

(side note: for comparison purposes, we currently pay roughly $1100/month for full-time childcare, approximately 40 hours per week. So really ALL of the options discussed are nearly double our current rate of pay per hour of childcare coverage).

My Thoughts:

I’m thinking we might hodge-podge care a bit. I like the babysitter option, as it’s the cheapest and largest amount of care. To try to add in some enrichment and other child-interaction for the girls, I think I might also enroll them in a couple of one-week summer camp programs. That way they still have the stability I’m looking for (they’re not going to a new camp every single week; they’ll mostly be in familiar surroundings with a familiar babysitter), but they’ll still get to go out of the house a bit and experience some enrichment with other kids.

Also, I still worry that 3 days per week (even at 8 hours per day), might not be enough time. My jobs over the summer are definitely more flexible than during the academic year. For example, my main job dictates that I teach 3 classes per semester during the academic year. In summer I’ll still be working full-time, but only teaching 1 class (and it’s fully online). The rest of my time is being paid to prep other classes and oversee our grad student teaching. There’s really nothing that requires me to be on campus aside from a sporadic meeting here or there. So it’s possible the 3 day per week childcare scenario could work. But what if I get into it and discover that’s not enough time? We really have no other back-up or alternative arrangements, which is scary to me.

 

What do other working parents do? What suggestions do you have? As of now, we haven’t signed any contracts or put deposits down on any camps. We’re still trying to figure out the best course of action. What do you think?


How could I forget and All the Dogs Gone

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Better late than never!

I was so proud of getting my budget together for our Glamping Adventure that begins next month.  But I forgot a category and in our preparation I’ve had a rude awakening…laundromat!  I had this great plan that while the kids were at swim team every morning, I would be able to run across the street, do some laundry and it would be done by the time we leave the pool.  $10-15 dollars a week.

Um, no.  We decided to try it this week.  So on the way with granted a couple of weeks of laundry plus dog bedding, I run by the bank to grab a few rolls of quarters.  Did you know laundromats no longer take quarters?  I had to use my bank card to by a laundry card…and $60 later, we had our laundry done.  $60!!!  It was $5 per wash load, and $0.39 per 7 minutes in a dryer.  Yikes!!!!

So definitely going to have to re-think this plan and add some to the budget!

On the other side, we have re-homed our final dog as of today and have two home possibilities for the cat next week.  By the end of the month, one month before we have to move we have found great homes for all our beloved pets.

Princess and Gymnast saying goodbye to Izzy today.

Princess and Gymnast saying goodbye to Izzy today.


New Shoes and Sports

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I could certainly relate when Ashley wrote about her daughters’ First Children’s Activity; while that was many years ago for me, I remember it vividly…Mommy & Me Gymnastics classes…me with two children.  Little Gymnast and Princess must have been 2 and 3 respectively at the time.  If I could do it again…well, I probably wouldn’t.  It was a lot of work keeping track of two during the class, but I do remember it being fun too.

So this week I splurged just a little bit.  I know, not the best idea when you are struggling to pay the most basic bills, but in my defense, I have been hired to do 4 websites this month in addition to my on-going part time job and new part time job starting next month, so I’m not just twiddling my thumbs.

First splurge, knowing that we are now going to be staying here when our lease is over in April and that school would also be over for us, I decided to sign the kids up for a new activity session (spring session, Princess has been playing basketball during the winter session.)  So Sea Cadet, Gymnast and Princess will all be playing volleyball for the spring session and Princess will also be playing softball.  This will give us something to do and get us out of the RV for a few hours each day.  The total cost for all four activities was $185 and the season will run from March thru the end of May.  This will take us right into swim season so I’m happy with it.

Second splurge, new athletic shoes for the four kids.  All the kids were overdue for new athletic shoes and in light of the new sports, I decided to bite the bullet and buy them.  I knew I wanted name brand shoes that had lots of support, all my kids are really rough on their shoes.  So Rack Room shoes, buy one get one half off combined with an earned $15 discount from their loyalty program that I had been saving, plus a gift card from returning shoes Princess received for Christmas…and all of them got shoes they wanted, fit them well and are exactly the support I wanted.  Average cost of shoes $45 per pair.  I’m please with that.  (All my kids are now in adult sizes with two of them with exceptionally large feet, so felt like this was a great bargain.)

I did not make these financial decisions lightly, especially looking at bills that are past due, but I am pleased with them and feel that the intrinsic reward my family will get from these two purchases will far outweigh the financial cost.  And I am continuing to seek more work and make much healthier financial decisions overall.

 


Valentine’s Exchange

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At our previous childcare facility they didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, so this was our first year doing a school Valentine’s exchange.

Only, this Valentine’s exchange turned into party x 4 because I’ve got two kids and they celebrated on two different days (so all the kids could celebrate, given that many only attend on MWF or TTh).

There are 25 kids in the class x 4 (again, 2 kids & 2 days of parties), so we needed 100 Valentine’s all together.

Initially I let the girls pick their own box of Valentine’s from Walmart. They’re relatively inexpensive (about $2.50-$3.50 per box), but I realized after-the-fact that I’d only bought enough for one day (not two). Plus, some of the boxes only have 16 Valentines, so I was having to buy 2 in order to cover the 25 kids. When I went back to the store a second time (for day#2 of parties) I decided to do something a little different.

I bought a box of pink Valentine’s themed tootsy roll pops and set about making my own Valentine’s!

I stole the butterfly idea from the back of the tootsy roll box

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I cut the papers myself (which certainly weren’t great. I was rushing to do them on short notice), and I let the girls put stickers on the butterfly wings. Ideally I would’ve let them color and really decorate the butterflies, but time was limited.

After the stickers and suckers were in place, I wrote a To/From message.

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Really not great, but not bad in a hurry. And it was easy and cheap!! Plus, recipients got a full sized sucker! Score from a kid’s perspective, right? ?

After the party, I also took a picture of another kid’s homemade Valentine  this would be super easy, still cheap, and is a creative way of doing something other than the usual boxed Valentine stuff.

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Our girls are at a Christian preschool, so it works well for the environment. They just glued this card on the back of a box of sweet hearts. On the front, they filled in the To/From labels. That’s it! Super easy!

 

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So so there you have it. If you’re looking for a cheap, homemade last minute Valentine, here are a couple ideas.

What do you usually do for kids’ Valentine’s exchanges?


First Children’s Activity!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve brought up the issue of paying for organized kid’s activities.

Our twins are now a little over 3.5 years old. They’ll turn 4 this June. And, to date, we have never enrolled them in a single organized children’s activity. We started our debt-reduction mission nearly 2 years ago (when they were only 18 months old) and, at the time, I didn’t feel like they were missing out on anything. I have several friends who’ve enrolled their kids in all kinds of activities even from infancy (e.g., MyGym, tot & me dance/gymnastics, swim, etc.). But at that young age, I preferred to save the money and really didn’t think we were missing out on anything.

Last April I mentioned that I was seriously considering enrolling the girls in swim lessons. At the time, however, they were attending the JCC for childcare. Over the summer the JCC did free swim lessons as part of their daily curriculum, so that satisfied me. However, looking back, the summer swim lessons weren’t the best. It was taught by certified lifeguards, but it included entire class groups of about 18 kids at a time, so a good deal of the time kids were just sitting on the steps waiting for their turn. There wasn’t a lot of actual instruction on a per-student basis. That was totally fine at the time (plus it was free!), but it means our kids still don’t know even the basics of water safety (e.g., how to grab the edge if they fall in, how to float, etc.).

Given our upcoming Cruise and all the time we’ll be spending around water, swim lessons were high on my radar at the beginning of the year of something I wanted to look into. At the end of January I did a lot of research and found a swim school nearby that’s reasonably priced and has great reviews.  I officially enrolled the girls 2 weeks ago and their first lesson was this past Saturday.

The girls LOVED it!

They’re in classes that are capped at 4 people (though their first class only had 3 kids) so there’s tons of individual attention. The instructor was very friendly and made the lesson so fun.

We have 12 lessons between now and our cruise sail date and, although I’m not expecting full swimmers by any means, I’m hopeful that will be enough time for them to learn basic life-saving measures so that I’ll feel a little more comfortable around so much water on our cruise.

The total cost for one lesson per week is $65/month (per child). This seemed to be a pretty competitive rate in our area. By comparison, I saw some rates that were literally double this amount.

But I do have a question for readers. Now that we’re opening this door (the door of children’s activities)….how do you account for it in your budget? I was going to include it as an “Entertainment” line item, but it almost seems like it warrants its own category. Thoughts?

Also….this just opened the door to a whole world of children’s activities. Soccer, Dance, Swim, Karate, Gymnastics, Oh my!  I can just envision them in little tutus or soccer cleats and my heart wants to burst!

I am determined, at this point, to keep our activities to a maximum of one at a time. I do NOT want to be running them to a different activity every night of the week! Plus our budget (and my time/sanity) wouldn’t allow it! But it’s already making me look forward to whatever activity comes next. They’re still young so there’s plenty of time, but it’s so much fun seeing the excitement in a child’s face as they’re exposed to something new. I could definitely see myself (if I weren’t on the debt-reduction mission) going ahead and enrolling them in multiple activities at a time.

Parents – any experience with swim classes? How does this rate compare to what you’ve paid in the past? What activities do you enroll your child(ren) in? How do you account for children’s activities in your budget?


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