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Public Schools Here They Come

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Beginning in January, both of my younger children will attend the local public schools. My heart breaks just thinking about it. It brings up all the sense of failure I have pushed away the last two years as we have struggled so much financially, with housing and then with this move to our new tiny town. And I am scared. But in the end, I want what is best for them, for all my kids, and right now with our current town, my work issues and the need for me to pick up a lot more work and continue to job hunt…this is what is best for right now.

We have visited to two schools they will be at, met with the counselors and Gymnast has completed the required testing.  (I also tested them independently to make sure I am very clear on where they are at.)

We will still have quite a few logistics to work out with gymnastics and volleyball training and competitions going on through April and us needing to on the road 15 minutes after school lets out. But we will take it as it comes, and figure it out.

Saving Money

I know this is a bad thing, in general, but it will save me some money…maybe.  The majority of the school Gymnast will attend qualifies for free breakfast and lunch, so they offer it for free to the entire school. My guess is he will not want to take his lunch, and he rarely eats breakfast, so that will save me some grocery money. That is not the case at Princess new school, so I don’t know if she will pack a lunch or purchase, I don’t even know the prices yet.

The Silver Lining

With my work situation, this will really free me up to search for jobs and work during the day. It will really be a new experience for me since the little kids have always been homeschooled.

I don’t know if it is the “rest of our lives” school option, but it is the “for right now” option we are going with. But I will be honest, I will most likely be like a mom of a kindergartner and come home to cry after I get them to school.


Black Friday Frugal Fun

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Hi all!

Anyone out braving the Black Friday crowds today trying to score great deals?

We haven’t even taken a look at any of the Black Friday specials. We’re kind of “phoning it in” for Christmas this year. We really don’t have any money to be out-and-about shopping. Plus, we already know what our parents are getting for the kiddos and they’re BIG gifts!!! Bikes from my mom and a motorized car from hubs’ mom, so we’re just going to do little necessities (e.g., new socks) and minimal other stuff (e.g., stocking stuffers) and call it a day. The girls are going to be so spoiled from their grandparents that they really don’t need anything extra from us.

So instead of going out shopping, we decided to do something special on this Black Friday. We decided to do an “experience” gift.

Black Friday Frugal Fun Challenge:

  • We decided to each take one kid so they could have special one-on-one time with us. So we had to think of two *separate* experiences.
  • We wanted to do something special we’ve never done before – not just taking them to the park or mall play area/normal stuff.
  • We set a maximum price tag of $25 per pair ($25 for Mom & daughter; $25 for Dad & daughter).

I jumped online to check out pricing for my idea and it totally paid off!!! I wanted to take my kid to Funtasticks. It’s a little local place with putt-putt golf, bumper boats, kids’ carnival-style rides, race cars, etc. After checking out the website, I discovered they were having a 50% off sale for 2-hour wristbands. Instead of $20.99 each, I only spent $20.99 total (+ tax)!!! The trick was that the sale was ONLY advertised online. There was no mention of it anywhere on-site and they were still ringing up wristbands at full price, so you had to ask to get the special rate. Again – it pays to check out sales and coupons online (I just saved a ton on my brakes that way, too!)

We had an absolute blast! It was 2 hours of unlimited outdoor adventures! We used every single second and took advantage of the slow day (almost no lines anywhere! We practically had the park to ourselves!)

Notice the spaghetti straps! It’s still in the upper 80’s here in sunny Tucson! We’re breaking heat-records from the 1890s with our current temps! But on the plus side, it makes outdoor fun all-the-more appealing!

It was so fun!

And don’t feel sorry for sister! She and Dad found a pottery place in the mall and spent their time crafting!

All-in-all, it’s been a great Black Friday! We spent time together as a family in the morning pulling out some Christmas decorations, ate leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches for lunch (one of my favorite parts of turkey day!), and spent the afternoon having some special one-on-one time with our kids.

How have you spent your Friday? Any great Black Friday finds?


Free DIY Thanksgiving Centerpieces

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For those of our American friends, are you all ready for the big Thanksgiving holiday? Whats on the menu at your houses?

We’re going very low-key this year. Typically, we either go to someone’s house or we have family or friends over to ours. This year it’s just the 4 of us and we’re planning to enjoy some sleeping in, possible naps (children willing), family walks, and just general laziness. Sounds glorious to me!

To keep costs low, our Thanksgiving dinner is going to be pretty minimal. Last year (yes – an entire YEAR ago) I got a BOGO turkey, but we only cooked one. I’ve had the second turkey in the freezer for an entire YEAR. I’d always intended to cook it at some point, but there was really never a reason to cook an entire huge turkey. Sooooo, I busted it out and it’s been thawing in the fridge the past couple days. No cost incurred there.

For sides we’re doing green beans (fresh – not the canned/casserole-type dish), homemade rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing. Lots of carbs (isn’t that how it always goes with Turkey Day?), but not a lot of volume. In the past we’ve always had the potato struggle (mashed vs. sweet), but last year I realized that I was the only person who even ate the sweet potato casserole! As much as I love it, it’s a LOT of work and if no one else even enjoys it, I don’t want to do it just for myself.

Since we’re only cooking for 4, we didn’t have to go out and buy a ton of food. And the foods we’re having are extremely cheap (homemade rolls – dough is basically free since we have flour, yeast, etc. on-hand; potatoes were super cheap at the store for mashed potatoes; stuffing is also super cheap; etc.)

When I was first planning our meal, I asked the girls what they wanted for Thanksgiving. Funny little kiddos, the first thing they said was, “CENTERPIECES!” No, silly – I meant food! But they had a point. They’ve read story books and seen cartoons and all Thanksgivings seem to be characterized by these big, elaborate, gorgeous displays on the center of the table. The problem is, we don’t have the money to be splurging on table centerpieces or unnecessary decorations. So I did a little google search for “Free DIY Thanksgiving Centerpieces” and got a ton of fun and cute ideas (PS: I found this fun free printable with kids’ activities for Thanksgiving day that I’m planning to do with the kids, too!)

In the end, I picked to have the kiddos do a Thankful Turkey. I loved that they came up with things they are thankful for and it allowed them to practice their penmanship by writing their own thankful lists (with help from mom & dad with dictating the spelling). It was pretty funny and cute to see some of the things they came up with (e.g., “Thankful for MYSELF” got a good chuckle). I just love spending the holidays with our kiddos – as they grow, it truly becomes more and more fun!!!

So for anyone else out there looking for cheap/free last-minute Thanksgiving Centerpiece ideas, I wanted to share ours. All supplies were things we already had on-hand so it cost us $0 to make, plus it was some fun family time and a great opportunity to share the different things we’re thankful for in our lives.

From our family to yours, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!


Competition Season is Upon Us

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All the months of training, all the months of driving hours back and forth to practice, all the blog debate on the cost of my kids’ activities (that is supposed to make you smile,) today is the day we have been preparing for! The competition season is upon us! Gymnast and I drove about 3 1/2 hours last night to be ready for his first gymnastics meet of the season today.  Woot, woot. I cannot wait to watch him fly!

Pictures of Gymnast competing a couple of years ago.

Now before you jump on me for the cost of this endeavor, it is built into my budget, Gymnast’s training cost $240 per month during the season (less in the summer when he comes less often.) I have $350 per month in the budget to cover the costs of attending meets and meet fees.  Financially, I have planned for this.

With that being said, and with my goal of getting rid of some debts before the end of the calendar year, I am doing my best to squeeze every single cent out of my budget. I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks I have learned over the last 7 years of having a child in a competitive sport (and now two children in competitive sports.)

Tips for Managing and Controlling the Expense of Competitive Sports

  1. Barter – you know this is my go to trick. I bartered for 4 years of Tae Kwon Do training, culminating with Princess getting a internationally recognized Black Belt. I also bartered for 4 years of gymnastics training. (And I am working on bartering for volleyball right now.) I have provided tech support, website design and general admin work in return for the monthly cost of training.
  2. Used Equipment – all the teams we have participated in have at least yearly “used equipment/uniform sales.” Taking advantage of these can literally save you hundreds of dollars a year. This year Gymnast uniform package cost me $200 dollars! I would have happily bought used if he weren’t the biggest boy on the team, alas, all new for him this year.  But you get my point, right?
  3. Car Pool – when we first started gymnastics, another little boy on our street did as well. We traded off driving every week, it was fantastic! It gave me some of my time back AND saved me some gas money. That is not an option where we are now, but if it were, I would jump at it!  I’m just grateful that now both kids will be in sports within a couple of miles of each other rather than states and counties away.  That will save me some time and money compared to the spring.
  4. Travel – If your sport requires travel with overnights, those hotels can quickly add up, especially with one or more competitions per month during the season. If at all possible, we have driven up and back on the same day, but sometimes, you just can’t do that (especially when there is only one driver who needs to sleep sometimes.) I have found three tricks for saving on hotels outside of the typical bargain hunting as far in advance as you can.
    1. Share a room with another teammate and their family. This is pretty uncomfortable to me, being a single mom, so not one we really do. But I know others who do this regularly.
    2. Use credit card points for hotel stays. Now this one I do ALL the time, and was probably the reason I was no opposed to giving up my credit card use. I have one card I use, that I use like a rolling line of credit, use it and pay it. The points add up quickly that way. That is how I paid for Gymnast and my room last night.
    3. Join hotel points programs, and save them up. I am a member of two Hotel programs, both free to join. Any time we travel, I look for those hotels first. Every dollar spent, we get points. Every night spent, we get points. You get the picture. (Most of them also have credit cards that allow you to earn more points. As tempted as I am at times, I know that is not a wise choice for me.) Those points add up. And we use them for stays.
  5. Food – Nuts, granola bars, jerky. I keep some of each in my car, all the time. It helps quench the “I’m dying of hunger” needs without stopping at the most convenient drive thru or convenient store. This is especially key after practice when we are still an hour away from home.In addition, all our hotel choices when we travel, offer FREE breakfast and most of the time have a free fruit snack for kids i.e. apples. When we travel, we pack the meal for the ride there. Typically sandwiches and chips. This typically leaves us with 1 maybe 2 meals that I must pay for. In all cases, we drink water, depending on how many of us go, this can save me up to $15.

These are just a few of the tips I have learned over the years. There are as natural as breathing to me. My kids are also well versed in our frugal-ness when traveling.

One thing we like to do when we are in a new place, as we will be a lot this year, is try things unique to those places (within reason.) Typically, one child gets on Yelp to find the restaurant.  We LOVE Yelp in that we can find things based on food type, cost and location. If they choose something that is a bit more pricey, not all the way pricey, they know as soon as we sit down and I eyeball the menu, they will get a budget for their meal. It’s fun to watch them barter and share things to try more, get more.


School Options

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It is time to explore school options for my youngest two children. Throughout my time here, my choice to homeschool my kids has been under-fire. I am not here to defend that choice, I still stand by it. The only thing I want is what is best for my kids, that’s it, that’s all.  Up until this year, I would never have blinked when answering that homeschooling was the best choice for them.

And now we are here, and my heart is broken that I am not there with them. I am not as hands on with their schooling. Our school time together is limited. And the daily time we have is when I am at my worst, tired and ready for bed. So now I must evaluate again the best schooling options for my children.

The Now

I am not going to rush into any decisions or changes. I am confident that what we are doing now is good enough for the remainder of this year. Both of the kids are using ALEKS for math which I love as it is based on Mastery. It also has great reporting for me to track the time they spend and their progress wherever I am. They have a variety of “workbook” type curricula they do independently primarily focused on writing and grammar skills. Both have a live online Spanish class once a week and are progressing fantastically (Princess would probably be considered fluent in Spanish now after 4 years of consistent study.) And then we are doing History through literature by reading and discussions daily and independent reading of biographies (Gymnast is currently reading about Harriet Tubman and Princess just finished Ronald Reagan.)

For this school year, I do not plan on making any changes.

School Options – Princess

I’ve hinted at it throughout my time here, but Princess is smart and very motivated to achieve a lot in her education. This is her personal drive. There are lots of school options for her. With that in mind, we have visited a local college prep school that offers both boarding and commuting options. She will be going into 9th grade next fall although she is working at higher grades for some subjects.

At this time, the plan is for her to start there in the fall.  I don’t know if it’s a long term commitment, but I think it is the best option for next year.  Of course, we have to get through the application process and financial aid.  We’ve just started the process after she shadowed a student for a day. She is thrilled at the opportunity, I am sad. But in the I want what is best for her.

The Cost: Private school is expensive. The average tuition for local kids visiting this particular school is $4000 per year. They do offer substantial financial aid. It is something I will have to consider after we get all the facts.

School Options – Gymnast

For Gymnast, I am struggling…he is my social child. He would love public school. However, unless they are willing with work with us on time, he would not be able to continue with gymnastics.  When he and I have talked, he does not want to give up gymnastics. This is his first year with online classes, and while he struggles with the technology, he enjoys it more than working independently most of the time. I am still looking for different options for him.

Or We Could Move (again)

One other thing I should mention is that if we were to move to SC (where they both play their competitive sports) they could both attend the public schools on a part time basis.  The districts there are very open to alternative school options. Unfortunately, it would move us away from family which was a big factor in us moving here and greatly increase my commute time. It is a thought in my head.

(I am not mentioning Sea Cadet as he is wrapping up his senior use as a dual enrolled student at the local community college and is doing fantastic.  He is taking 11 hours this semester and we are hoping for 15 next semester. He will be in college full time next year.)

 


My Amazon Debt is GONE!!!

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My Amazon Debt is gone!!!  I moved the payment date up to today. I couldn’t resist. As of today, my Amazon line of credit is GONE! Paid in full.

amazon balance screenshot

Doing a happy dance over here and breathing a deep sigh as I set my sights on my other immediate goals.

New Budget = More Work

I spent a lot of time this weekend working on a new budget since I have voluntarily taken a temporary cut in pay. And I hate to say it, but we cannot maintain our current life without those addition hours or an equal amount of income. I am on the project hunt, applying through Guru.com and reaching out to past and current clients who might have some project work they need done.  I know from past experience I can either get really busy this time of year with one off projects or it will be really dry. Please send up a prayer for me.

New Sport = New Expense

Before I say this, I will admit, I am crazy and obsessed with providing my kids with every opportunity.  I get enough flack for that, so don’t think you have to tell me too (my attempt to stave off the whiplash I believe will come with this news.)  Princess recently tried out for a competitive volleyball team. She made it!  This team costs $1000 for the season. The fee includes all uniforms, tournament fees, training and so on. I reached out to her dad for financial assistance, we will see if he comes through.

Conclusion

I have one less monthly debt payment, and I plan to keep it that way – yeah!!!

I have a larger than manageable gap in my budget due to the cut in my regular 1099 hours.

I have a new substantial bill for the next few months ($300 due this week and then $175 monthly for the next 4 months.)

I’ve got my work cut out for me. And I would love some suggestions, specifically regarding making up the income as I really do not see anywhere I can cut in my budget, although I am still evaluating that.

Save

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Cheap Halloween Kids’ Craft

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After a rocky start to the school year (and a teacher who was replaced a month into the year), we LOVE our new teacher. But I was a little nervous when she texted the class parents at 4:30pm yesterday to say she needed 5 volunteers for a Halloween party today. The volunteers would also need to bring an activity to do for the whole class, supplies and all. Yikes!

I wanted to volunteer because I was planning to work from home today anyway and one of the perks of my job is its flexibility to do things like this! I wish I’d had a little more notice so I could’ve planned a really cool activity, but I set to the interwebs ASAP to find a kids’ craft that is: 1) age appropriate for 5-year-olds, 2) quick, & 3) cheap! Since I’d be providing the supplies I couldn’t get crazy with anything too elaborate or pricey!

Luckily, I found some cute little q-tip skeletons that fit all 3 criteria.

I was able to raid our craft bin for the glue bottles, scissors, and construction paper. I found a free printable for skeleton heads (see here) and printed enough for the whole class. I already had some q-tips on hand, but not enough for the whole class, so I did a quick Target run and bough the cheap store-brand q-tips for a whopping $2.77 (for a 500-count). Can’t get much cheaper than that!

I had so much fun getting to go volunteer in the class! It’s my first time of the school year and I had an absolute blast getting to hang out with my kiddos and meet many of their friends. The kids had several different craft options to choose from, but our skeletons were a big hit (truth be told: I think the kids just wanted to play with the glue bottles because they’re typically only allowed to use glue sticks. lol)

Here’s my kiddo working on her skeleton! Very focused! Oh yeah, costumes were allowed today too. 🙂

Happy Halloween!


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