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Mother’s Day 2015 Toddler Craft

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Writing at this blog has been transformative for me. Just one of the many, many changes has been in regard to gift-giving.

Prior to writing here I would always send some type of (usually $$$) gift for Mother’s Day to all the important women in my life. I am fortunate to have many: My mom, 2 living grandmothers on my side, hubs’ mom, and one grandma on his side. That’s FIVE people to whom we’d send gifts every Mother’s Day. Generally I’d spend about $50/person. I remember shipping Bath and Body Works gift packages one year. I did a chocolate-of-the-month gift one year. I’ve done gift cards to restaurants. You get the picture. This holiday was pricey for me.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Matt wrote an excellent post where he discussed that all his Mom really wants is time together with the family (his post was specifically about his Mom’s birthday, but I think the same applies to Mother’s Day).

I’m in an unfortunate situation where we can’t easily spend time together since we live so far away. BUT, that doesn’t mean that our only option is to spend a bunch of money on stuff/junk that no one really needs anyway (side note: that chocolate-of-the-month club was one of the more expensive gifts I’ve sent, and was a miserable failure as every.single.month the chocolate arrived totally melted).

So I’ve really enjoyed doing these cheap little toddler crafts. I think it’s so much more meaningful to the recipients than it would be to receive a gift card or the newest lotion and candle from B&B Works. Not only do the recipients get a gift of love, but I like to snap a couple pictures of the girls actually making the craft that I include in the card. The total cost is typically less than $3/card (honestly, probably much less than that. I already have a huge craft box, so I only ever buy envelopes, stamps, and the cost of the pictures that I include). And I’ve gone back to Texas to visit and seen these works of art hanging on fridges, or framed and hung on a wall like a true piece of art (<<This is for real. I was so shocked and humbled to see the girls’ flower art on the wall of their Nana’s home, in a frame and everything. Warmed my heart).

The whole point is that if you think outside the box, you can often think of more meaningful and less costly gifts for ANY type of occasion than you would if you’re just rushing to the nearest Walgreens to buy a generic gift card to stuff inside a Hallmark card.

So, sorry if you’re getting tired of these craft ideas. I know I’ve done a bunch of these now…and I spared you my Easter craft this year because we did one of those, too! Here’s a quick pic for proof:

Toddler Easter Card/Craft Idea

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Oops, apparently I never took a pic of the finished product, but here’s a quick explanation…

I made little Easter eggs (here, you see the tracing outline of 2 eggs on a piece of white paper), and let the girls color the paper for decoration. I then cut out along the outside and folded the two end flaps to meet in the middle. I had a picture of the girls inside so when you opened the egg you saw a picture of them! Pretty cute, right? Most of my crafts are ideas I’ve seen on Pinterest, but this one was entirely my own! ; )

But here it is… my annual Mother’s Day toddler craft (previous toddler craft posts include:  Easter 2014, Mother’s Day 2014Valentine’s 2014 & 2015).

Toddler Mother’s Day Craft Idea

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This was a super easy-peasy one (the painting crafts are always a little more time-intensive since they require mandatory baby clean-up/baths afterward). I started by giving the girls markers to color on long white paper (we just used the paper that came with our art easel, seen in this post). Then I traced the girls’ hands onto some colored construction paper and measured their arm span. That’s it for the girls’ part! Sooo easy!

After they went to bed for the night I cut the long white paper into strips. I wanted the paper to be the actual length of the girls’ armspan, so that’s why I took their measurements. I glued the two hands to the end and wrote the message (I love you…. THIS Much!!!) On each craft I used one hand that was Bailey’s and one that was Brooke’s so I labeled their hands on the back and wrote on the back of the white paper “actual armspan” so the recipients would know that this is a true-to-scale long-distance HUG from the girls! Isn’t that cute!

Since there really wasn’t room on the back of the hands to write a nice message, I also bought cheap Mother’s Day cards from the Dollar Tree (2 for $1). I wrote a personal message to each recipient, included a couple of recent photos of the girls, and slipped the “hug” inside.

DONE!

If you are still looking for an easy and cheap Mother’s Day craft, this is the way to go! This was by far one of the easiest crafts I’ve done to date. The whole thing start-to-finish took maybe 10 minutes and I made 6 crafts (I’ll send 5 out for Mother’s Day gifts and I’m saving one to send to my Dad for his birthday later this month).

I hope you all have a great rest of your week, and a happy early mother’s day to all the moms out there! (and hugs to all the motherless daughters on what I’m sure is a painful and/or bittersweet day. Here’s a post a friend shared on Facebook that you may find of interest).


Cheap Going Away Gift Basket

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Since my friend was moving cross-country, I decided to put together a little going away roadtrip-ready gift basket. This was super cheap to put together, but is thoughtful and practical at the same time.

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In my basket I included:

  • 3 current magazines, purchased through trade-in credit at our local used bookstore (tip: this is a great idea for magazines to flip through while you travel, too. They sell current issues for as little as $1 at our store). Cost: $0
  • 3 dollar store snacks (Corn Nuts, Yogurt-covered pretzels, and trail mix). Cost: $3
  • 3 candies from Walgreens (Skittles, Lemon heads, and Rasinetes). Cost: $3
  • 1 basket from Dollar Tree. Cost $1

Total Cost: $7

Another idea that I had after I’d already given the basket to my friend was to include a gift card that could be used for something to listen to. Ideas include iTunes (to download music or audiobooks) or a Cracker Barrel gift card, since you can rent books on CD from Cracker Barrel and return to any other location (and since Cracker Barrels are typically directly off of highways, its super convenient to rent and return items).

The whole basket was very inexpensive for me, but I like these types of gifts that can be meaningful (and/or practical) without having a big price tag. I feel like blogging here has really helped make me more creative in that regard (instead of just defaulting to buying a $25 Home Depot gift card for a moving-away friend as I might have in the past).

Speaking of more meaningful and low-cost gifts, I’ve been working on another Mother’s Day gift toddler craft (reminder:  Mother’s Day is this Sunday!!). I’ll try to get a post up soon in case anyone is interested in doing something similar for a special woman(-en) in your life!

 


April ’15- Month in Review

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I hope everyone is having a fantastic week thus far!

I want to start doing a “month in review” here on BAD to clue everyone in on what’s occurred during the previous month. I think this will help summarize what’s going on in my life as we move forward on my debt reduction journey and allow people to quickly get up to speed that didn’t catch my weekly updates.

To summarize, A LOT occurred in April:

  • I began the month (technically it was March 31st, but let’s call it April) by telling you what’s been bothering me even since I started my hardcore paydown (read it here). This was the hardest to write but most heart felt post to date. Update: I’m starting to realize time is more important than money and or gifts, and spending time with people and giving them a minute or two every couple of days is priceless.
  • I vowed to help my sister by contributing to a 529 in my nephew’s name (read it here). Update: I officially opened up an ESA (not 529) account in my nephew’s name over the weekend. The first contribution will be this Wednesday.
  • In the same post, I decided to re-contribute into my company’s 401K plan (read it here). Update: All the paperwork has been filed and I’m set to start contributing 4% (giving me the max. 2% company match, as well) of my paycheck this Wednesday.
  • I also decided to start budgeting for $50 of “fun” money per month to use to go out with friends (read it here). Update: I’m going to set the $50 aside on the 2nd Wednesday of every month for the following 4 weeks. I don’t have any other bills, except my electric due at this time.
  • I came across a roof leak in our house and freaked out! (read it here) Update: I haven’t opened any ceilings yet (mostly out of fear) but it’s been dry now since the day I ventured upon it. We’ve had some pretty good rainstorms already this year, so if it was from rainwater, I feel it would still be wet. My hunch is still ice dams.
  • I got a work bonus and a raise! (read it here) Update: The bonus was quickly put into my savings account. The raise has amounted to $17 a paycheck, but every additional penny helps.
  • We (GF and I) finally got around to celebrating Valentine’s Day, while also doing a fun little getaway up in Buffalo, NY (read it here).
  • Lastly, I got around to putting  our summer plans down on paper (read it here). It may not seem like much but I have a feeling it’s going to be a busy one this year!

For those interested in where my budget shook out:

April '15

I had some major expenses this month: 1) a tax bill close to $200. Since my I didn’t pay enough taxes last year to match my income (which was greatly increased due to pulling out my retirement fund), I owe the state of PA estimated quarterly taxes this year. 2) Our get-away cost nearly $400 in total 3) I spent more for groceries and dinner than I normally do. After my post to kick-off the month, I’m not too upset about this.

In debt reduction notes:

I reduced it by OVER $2,500!!

Pretty exciting stuff.

However, all good news aside, I had thoughts last week of stopping my debt reduction pay down altogether (obviously I’d still pay the minimums), which would have also meant writing for BAD, too. As I was sitting my car thinking about everything, I couldn’t help but wonder if instead of throwing every extra cent at debt, if I threw every extra cent into my savings. It would build quickly, giving me a large enough windfall to get through any obstacle, and when the balance was big enough, I could use it to pay off all the debt at once, alleviating my stress while giving me comfort that I won’t be in debt forever. After talking it over with GF, the feeling came to pass. With savings interest rates so low, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense mathematically, but, as I’ve always said, being in debt is a psychological, as well as, financial burden.

But what do you think? Do you ever get feelings like this? If so, did you suddenly change course, or did you let it pass? Let me know in the comments!

Have a fantastic week!


Ashley’s April 2015 Budget Update

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Happy Monday! Hope you had a good weekend, wherever you are! We spent our Saturday morning at the splash pad and Sunday morning at church. A fun and relaxing little weekend (wishing it weren’t already nearly 100* in Tucson)!

Now that we’re officially in May, here’s an update on how we did with our budget in April.

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 101
Water 53
Natural gas 22
Sprint (2 lines) 115
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1035
Gift-Giving 37
Restaurants 125
Entertainment 16
Groceries 416
Gasoline 75
Household Goods 93
Clothing 20
Parking 8
Toddler purchases 40
Rainy Day Savings 100
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 1796
Total  $6193

 

Some notes:

  • Gift-Giving included a going away gift basket (post coming soon), the purchase of some mother’s day cards, and another baby present (I’ll be sending a baby present this month too…I think this makes 3 months in a row. I’m definitely at “that” stage in life, lol).
  • Restaurants was a little over my typical $100 budget due to all the get-togethers this month (one for a dissertation defense and two for going-away celebrations).
  • Entertainment included a couple songs on itunes and some supplies we bought for when we went camping (I consider camping to be entertainment, and therefore, it was included in this category).
  • Household goods was a little high this month. I finally got some gardening supplies (soil, a new pot, some herbs), and I got Costco-sized packages of toilet paper and laundry soap.
  • Clothing included purchase of two $10 pair of water shoes for the girls. Their preschool class goes to the splash park twice a week and water shoes are required. I got the shoes (which were some of the cheapest I found, but still of good quality) online from Target. I use a Target card because I get 5% off and free shipping to my house! (I pay the card in full whenever used)
  • Toddler Purchase is a C0stco sized box of diapers.
  • Rainy Day Savings represents $50 each, toward my health fund (including dental/vision/health) and my annual fees fund. I use Capital One 360 to easily separate my money for these different savings goals (<<refer a friend link).
  • Savings Goals represents $400 toward Cruise 2016 and $100 toward a Roth IRA.
  • Debts. This figure is broken down here (and in my most recent debt update post):
    • $100 PenFed car payment
    • $453 student loan payments (that’s ACS and Navient payments)
    • $1119 for our very last license fee(!!!)
    • $124 toward medical debt

So there you have it. I’ve got to run. Hope your week is off to a great start!


Another Time Out…

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Remember that I had planned a little “going away lunch” yesterday for my good friend who is moving cross-country?

Well we went and had the lunch as planned and I treated, also as planned. I thought this was going to be my last time to see my friend for a long, long time.

Surprise!

While at lunch I was informed of a little surprise. One of our old grad school buddies apparently booked a last minute plane ticket to Tucson. He arrives on Friday afternoon (the same day my good friend will be finishing packing up her house).

So I’ll now be going out on Friday night as well.

To be clear – I love, love, love my good friend. She has been there for me through the rough grad school years and I’m thrilled to celebrate with her one more time before she leaves (and its just an added bonus that one of our mutual friends will be in town, too).

That whole issue aside….I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was just a little bit bummed over the financial aspects of this. I’ve financially limped by to the end of April and now I’ll be starting out May a little behind, too. That said, I rarely go out so its unlikely I’ll have any other big spending that occurs during the month of May. But still…I’ve got goals in mind and am trying to watch my spending more now than ever.

So there’s a little bit of pain associated with this. I’m a little torn, too, over the more personal/relational aspects of this. I would have liked hubs to come out with us (seriously – we never go out like this, so if I’m going to go I’d love for hubs to get to come with us!) But the cost of babysitters is really high and, ultimately, hubs opted to stay home and watch the girls so I could go “live it up” with the grad school buds one last time. Sounds like a re-living of our glory days or something, but I promise it won’t be nearly that exciting. ; )

Since I treated at lunch I think I’m off the hook for drinks at the bar, right? Maybe a single round or something but I don’t think there will be any expectation for me to pick up the whole tab. Hopefully I can get away with nursing a single drink all night long without drawing too much attention to myself. I want to have fun, but I’m not a drinker anyway, so it doesn’t sound fun to me to go out to a bar, spend a ton of money on drinks, and then have to figure out a way to get home. So we’ll see how it all goes and I’ll keep you posted.

What do you think? Am I being overly cheap? What do you think the social expectations are here regarding buying drinks…is going Dutch okay???


Lofting Beds – Money Well Spent

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We spent the weekend in construction mode.  I decided a month or so back that Little Gymnast would move into the twins room for the summer no matter what we decided as far as long term housing.  He’s just at the age and with them working quite a bit this summer, it was a good time to make the move.

I researched bunk beds, custom built lofts, diy lofts and as I was at the hardware store pricing things needed, I came up with my own brilliant, if I do say myself, design.  I called my dad as he has years of construction experience and ran my idea by him to make sure it was viable.  With just a few modifications, he thought it would work and for just a few dollars more than a traditional bunk bed we created our own custom lofts in the two bedrooms. Figured a picture was better than my description. Please excuse the messiness, we are still organizing and arranging.

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We purchased the following to complete this project:

  • Four steel utility shelving units, 2 per loft at $72 each
  • Eight 2″x4″x10′ to bolster the lofts at $3 each
  • Two sheets of plywood originally 4’x8′ but they trimmed the width down 2″ for free at $20 each
  • One box of nails at $3.60
  • One twin mattress at $119

Each loft (not counting the single mattress) cost right at $178 each. The design solved multiple problems in one fell swoop ie storage, desks and separate beds. They are identical in the two rooms with the exception of my king size bed under Princess’ bed and both the twins’ beds under Little Gymnast.

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You will see in this picture that Princess and Gymnast both have plenty of room to sit up in their beds and are using the top shelves have made desks. We’ve then been able to use the remaining shelves for much needed storage…shoes, extra blankets and possibly a stock pile of home goods that up until now we had no way to store.

Everyone is proud of a job well done, appreciates the new “private” space and is getting settled into the new boundaries and room situations. Overall, I think we have solved the bulk of the larger issues we were encountering with our small space living. And I’m pretty proud of the design.

Next up…dining room tables out of extra piece of plywood we already have and a set of saw horses. Just trying to figure out how to stabilize the plywood to keep it from warping.

Update: When I first wrote this, I forgot to say where this money came from and I’m sure it will be asked. We did not break out of our extreme budget. We used monies earned from the massive purge last fall when we were downsizing – between the individual item sales and garage sales we socked away right at $2048 which has been saved towards furniture. Aside from a few odds and ends in our new place, that money has remained untouched.


Weekly Debt Update #11- Unexpected Expenses and Overreactions

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Hey Everybody!

So this past Sunday, as I was getting ready to go to the gym, I was searching for a water bottle in our attic (which is finished) I noticed something I’ve never noticed before- water damage. Ugh! Just on the eve of GF’s and my get-away, I had to find this.

What I noticed was bubbling and stained paint on the ceiling and sure enough, when I touched it the drywall was moist (not soaked, thankfully). Check out what it looks like:

Roof Leak

Now, it looks like the previous owners had some issues with this too as it’s fairly evident its been patched in before, but we were told it was fixed. Like I said- I’ve never noticed it before. The attic isn’t a place I venture too often (maybe once or twice a month) but I know I would have noticed it before had it been there. I’m thinking (and hoping) the reason is from ice damming on the roof from over the winter (which was notoriously bad this year). Hustad Companies says “These ice dams not only pose a threat of significant damage to the roof, decking, interior walls, ceilings and floors, but they are also an indication that there is a problem with the roof. The ice on the roofs only just melted 3 or so weeks ago, so this is my feeling. I’ll start removing the drywall and insulation to make sure there isn’t any mold growth in the meantime. I’m hoping if it’s from ice dams, then I should be able to mitigate future issues (by shoveling the roof) until I’m out of debt and have significant savings to have it all fixed (think 2 more winters). If it’s worse, well, I don’t know. I have $1,200 in my slush fund to see if I can have patching done to the roof to buy me some time. If worse comes to worse, I can stop my debt payoff and build my savings. Thankfully, since my expenses are so low, I can bring my savings up fairly rapidly- about $5,000 in 2 months. Here’s hoping for the best!

I also want to share a problem that I have.

For some reason or another, and it doesn’t happen too often: I overreact. Like badly overreact. I can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone overboard in my whole life, but for some reason, this roof leak deal sent me over the edge. Let me walk you through what happened and my thought process of the whole ordeal:

  1. I wake up at 7:30AM as GF is leaving for work. I make coffee, peruse the internet and putz around the house for a little while until I feel like going to the gym, at about 9:30.
  2. I get my gym bag ready but realize I don’t have a water bottle. I can’t find one any where else in the house, so I decide to check the attic.
  3. I open the door to the attic, and look up to notice a water stain on the ceiling. I touch it and feel that it’s damp. I also peel away some of the paint.
  4. So do I analyze the situation in a thoughtful and engineer-like manner? No, of course not.
  5. My mind instantly dives into the worst case scenario- I have to replace the whole roof.
  6. How much is it going to cost is the next thing I think of. My mind settles on $5,000.
  7. How am I going to get this money? Cut every and all expenses in my life, therefore I can have it saved up in roughly 6 weeks. My past couple weeks of easing the debt payoff pace is for naught. I decide I have to cancel anything and everything I’ve (and we’ve) planned, including our B&B stay this weekend.
  8. I next think of how to increase my income- back to the part-time gig deal. I can bring in an extra couple hundred dollars a month.
  9. What if the damage is so significant that the houses structure is permanently damaged beyond repair? Throw in an extra $5,000

OK, so mind you this all takes place within a matter of, at the most, 2 minutes. I spent the next hour pacing the house and cleaning and getting my heart rate up (better than a workout!). GF gets home not long after and I tell her the whole story, including steps 1 thru 9. Her response: you’re overreacting.

Even in the face of confrontation, I was certain I was right: the roof needed replaced, the structure of our house was unstable, and I resented ever buying the place. It took a long discussion, a few examples, and some fresh air to finally bring it home: I overreact, and when it happens, I overreact bad. And now a couple days later, it doesn’t seem so bad. I’ll check it out more in the next couple of days and analyze the situation from there.

When an unexpected expense comes up, how do you react?

Here’s where I stand with my debt payoff:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid Off
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$24,119.47$3,717.77
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,924.45$3,272.57
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,498.52$2,851.66
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$3,009.63
$3,086.40
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$53,552.07$57,035.59

Hope everybody has a great week!