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Teacher Appreciation

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Last week was Teacher Appreciation Day, but our school actually did a Teacher Appreciation Week back in early April! I’d meant to write a post about it at that time, but it escaped me until now.

I pride myself on giving pretty decent little teacher appreciation gifts without spending a bunch of money (see a previous teacher gift here, and a classroom gift idea here). This year was no exception. Since we did a full teacher appreciation week (not a single day), I spread things out a bit across the week. It helps that our school posted online a list of our teacher’s favorite things, and that they had a suggested calendar of things you could do to help celebrate the teachers. So here’s how our week looked:

  • Monday –  We brought our teachers’ favorite foods (we have 2 teachers):  one said her favorite snacks were cashews and the other said bananas. To make it work, we brought bulk cashews and dehydrated banana chips (both bought in bulk bins at Sprouts). I had the mini mason jars already at home and made a quick note and tied a ribbon around the neck from stuff we had on-hand. Maybe a $3-4 total cost (I can’t recall at this time, but couldn’t be more than that).

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  • Tuesday – I volunteered to come help during lunch time while the teachers had a special luncheon.  Free for me, plus I got to each lunch with my girls! Wins all around!

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  • Wednesday – nothing special
  • Thursday – I brought a homemade dessert (this recipe for churro cheesecake that’s incredible) because the teachers were having a dessert party in the afternoon. PRO Tip: I always buy stuff that we frequently use at Costco when it goes on sale, even if we don’t necessarily need it at the moment. Doing so meant I had all the ingredients on hand for this dessert because it’s made with mostly staples. The only “odd ball” thing, for us, would’ve been the crescent roll dough but I’d recently bought a Costco pack of it so we had plenty for this dessert.

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  • Friday – I wrapped up the week with $10 gift cards (per teacher) to Target along with a nice note of appreciation using thank you cards we already own.

A gift or act of service nearly every day of the week (for two teachers) for a total of under $25. You can’t beat that!

What do you normally do for Teacher Appreciation Day?

How many gifts do you typically give your kids’ teacher and/or class in a year? At the beginning of the year we did a class gift, we did a teacher holiday gift around Christmas time, and now a teacher appreciation gift. Do you do an end-of-year gift, too??? Any other gift-giving occasions I’ve missed (we don’t know the teachers birthdays, for example).


A Tiny Little Splurge – Worth More than its Weight in Gold

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I have a confession to make, and to be honest, this is something I did months ago.  Like maybe three months ago.  But I just got the results, so at this point the money was long gone.  But…let me explain why first.

Months ago, I was sitting at dinner with History Buff, Princess and Gymnast.  And like all 10 years olds do, Gymnast went off on this tangent about tattoos, how he wanted one, would I let him get one, and so on.  Then History Buff brought up the tattoos he might get one day, mostly based on what his birth father has.  And then he starts this story about how his biological mom has his younger sister and brother’s names tattooed on her, but not his and Sea Cadets.  And as much as he will say he is over the hurt that has been caused by events with her, I could see the pain just this little thing caused him.

And I immediately thought of my Mother’s Ring.  (I don’t have tattoos and am too scared of needles to ever want one.)  My ex-husband got it for me some years ago and it had my younger two children’s birthstones on it.  They are tiny, but it has replaced my wedding ring over the last few years and I never took it off.

And then I realized that History Buff and his twin has been my sons for over two years now…and they weren’t on my ring.  Something I cherish because of what it symbolizes.

Okay, you can probably guess where the story goes.  Princess and I were out one day and I had some time to kill so I ran into a local jeweler to find out how much it would be to add the twins to my ring.  It was $85.  I thought it would be hundreds and completely out of reach.  Well, I left it that day and they’ve let me make payments over the last months, and this week I picked it up.

I am THRILLED!  Now I have all my children on my Mother’s Ring and I will cherish it forever!  Happy Mother’s Day to Me!

My updated Mother's Ring!

My updated Mother’s Ring!


All About the Money – April 19 to May 1

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We’ve just wrapped up our second week on the farm, and for the first time in years it seems I feel like I can breathe again. You just don’t realize the amount of stress you are carrying around until it gets lifted. I mentioned in my post this past weekend that I was really staying busy with work, but I am also doing a lot of work outside including spreading mulch, cutting down tress and bushes and general lawn maintenance. The kids and I even went to one of my new work client’s homes and worked on weeding and mulching their flower beds for 3 hours on a 90 degree day…I will check the weather before committing next time!

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And we are truly enjoying the chickens, mostly our 25, but we meander down to check on the other 420 once a day too! Here is how our household money has been spent over this last week and a half.

Week of 4/19-5/1
Category Amount Balance
Week 4/18 174
Auto – Gas -98 76
Savings -143 -67
Food – Eating Out -58 -125
Debt -98 -223
Child Support 160 -63
Salary 477 414
Reimbursement 111 525
Laundry -40 485
Dentist -65 420
School -24 396

I think most of it is self explanatory, but here are a few notes:

Gas – the gas money is going to be high, there is just no way around it.  While I am trying to minimize our trips to town, we have to go at least 4 afternoons a week for sports, 2 mornings a week for Princess’ Spanish class and my work.  So I’m trying to plan everything else like grocery shopping and misc other errands around those trips, but sometimes…well, it’s a lot of gas.  Even History Buff has noticed the difference with his car.

Eating Out – I cringe looking at that number especially since one of them was a total weakness on my part.  But I’m cutting myself a little slack and will do better.

Reimbursement – paid by a client to reimburse for a business trip I had to take on their behalf.

Dentist – I think I’ve written before of how we go to the local dentist hygiene school for our check ups and cleanings every 6 months.  It was that time of year again, and no cavities for anyone!

School – One of the twins is taking the AP Psychology exam this year, this was the fee for that test.

I know I have some out of pocket medical costs coming up this week.  One of my children has on going medical needs and we have exhausted the treatment covered by insurance for this particular issue other than the prescriptions.  And I have to make a $250 payment to the orthodontist per the payment plan we have just worked out.  So I’m keeping a bit of extra in my operating budget in preparation for those expenses.


More Online Savings

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Between working 2 jobs, having a family, and basically another part-time job tending to my Dad’s matters, “spare time” has been basically non-existent lately. I feel like I’m lucky, too, because I have such a supportive spouse/partner. I seriously don’t know how single parents or parents with traveling spouses (or military/deployed spouses) do it! I seriously don’t. Props to any and all of you reading here!

Anyway, due to the extreme lack of time I’ve found myself turning more and more toward online shopping. I’ve already posted about my new favorite app where I’ve been scoring cute clothes for cheap (though, warning: it’s totally addictive! It’s been okay for now because I’d already intended/budgeted for buying some new clothes before Cruise 2016, but after the cruise I may need to delete the app for awhile! It’s just too easy to shop!).

Today I’ve got another favorite online tool that has been helping me save money:  Paribus (<refer-a-friend link. If you sign up from my link we both get an extra 5% savings).

If you’re unfamiliar, Paribus is a little widget thing you install on your computer. It tracks your internet shopping (by recording e-receipts you receive from merchants for online transactions) and if you happen to purchase something that goes on sale later, they will contact the company on your behalf in order to get you a refund of the overage.

Paribus doesn’t support all merchants world-wide (I believe they’re U.S.-only right now), but they do support several big ones. I’ve received refunds from Target and Amazon for purchases I’ve made for items that have later been reduced.

My favorite part is that, after the initial set-up, it requires absolutely nothing on my part. I literally forget it even exists until I get an email from them saying that I’m getting some money back! I experienced this recently when I bought a glass canister set from Target for $24.99 as a gift (Target is my favorite for gift purchases since shipping is free and I get 5% off using my Target card). The canister set went on sale and I ended up getting back $2.34 automatically to my Target card. They contact the retailer and get them to refund you the difference through whatever means you paid (it’s online shopping, so I’m assuming this is mostly debit or credit). Getting the email about it made me think that I needed to share it because it really does work!

So how does Paribus make money as a company? Simple. Paribus takes a 25% cut from whatever your savings are on any given item. So, yeah, they take it from the customer. If something were to go on sale at a store and you take it in directly, along with receipt, you could get the price adjusted and not have to essentially pay a “commission” to anyone. You’d get the full amount back. But, to me, a 25% commission is well worth it given that, otherwise, I would likely never take the item back to get a price adjustment done. I’m just speaking for myself. But I know I’m terrible with returns. I’m sure as heck not spending precious time scouring the internet for possible sales and then taking the item (along with receipt) to the store for a price adjustment. It just wouldn’t happen. First, I’d probably never even know about the sale. Second, I just simply lack the time over a couple bucks here and there. But if Paribus wants to come in and handle all the heavy lifting for me and just give me back 75% of the savings, then I’m happy with that! Feels like “free money” to me (I know it’s not really “free” but that’s how it feels).

There you’ve got it. I give Paribus 2 thumbs up. If you use it, tell me what you think! If you’re thinking about trying it, use my referral link so you and I each save an extra 5% on the “commission” fees (ps: “commission” is my term, not theres. They call it a “success” fee. 🙂 )

 


A/C is on….

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It could only last so long, right?

After our outrageous electric bill back in February I turned the A/C totally OFF and it has remained that way ever since. The impact on our bill has been HUGE! Our most recent bill (to be paid this month) is less than one hundred dollars! I think that’s the lowest electric bill we’ve ever received!!!

In my last budget update I’d mentioned that I wasn’t sure how long it would last. We’ve had a few days in the mid-90’s temperature range, and it’s been a little tough to deal with the heat lingering around well into the night. Even so, I was secretly hoping to leave the A/C fully off until after our cruise (which would put us in early May).

Not so much. heh.

I got home the other day from work after what had been another day in the mid-90s and the FIRST thing I notice is a sound….the sound of the air conditioner running.

Gotta love sweet hubs. He set the thermostat at 80 degrees, so it’s still quite high and the A/C isn’t running for long. But he’d been off work early that day and the house was just too hot to handle. Fine. So we compromised on an 80* setting for the time being.

I don’t anticipate this having a huge impact on our electric bill or anything. Living in Tucson we have some HOT summers so we always have higher electric bills in summer when the A/C is busy cranking away for most of the day. But it makes it a bit more “real.” Summer is right around the corner. The hot temps are already coming in full-force. It will be interesting what next month’s bill will be.

 


Make a Wish

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Hi all! Happy Monday!

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet over here lately. Last week was a tough one. The girls missed two days of preschool due to illness (the frequency of illness this Spring has been crazy!), then I got sick, throw in some Dad-related drama and by Sunday night I was just barely keeping it together. I’ve written a whole post in my head about Easter and now here we are 2 weeks later, my phone seems to have swallowed our pictures (not really, I can see them on the phone…but they will NOT send when I’ve tried to email them to myself and I’m having some upload error when I’ve tried to manually plug-in to my computer.) So…I’m giving up on it at this point. You have to know when to pick your battles, right? ; )  Cliff’s Note version of the post:  I hoarded saved free stuff we got from our neighborhood & church Easter egg hunts. On actual Easter I didn’t have to buy a single thing. I re-used eggs, re-distributed candy (they don’t need much anyway), and filled in some empty eggs with pennies. We had 60+ eggs total and baskets were overflowing. We did dye easter eggs (using food coloring – no store-purchased dying set), but the extra dozen eggs were literally the only thing I had to buy! The grandparents both sent little Easter packages so the girls did get some new stuff (stuffed bunnies, sunglasses, a couple outfits), but hubs and I spent zero out-of-pocket and we still had a fabulous Easter! It can be done frugally, folks!

Moving on….(and, sorry there was no photo to accompany that. Like I said, I have to give up and move on at this point)….

Has anyone ever heard of the app, Wish?

It’s an app you can download and shop for cheap stuff on your phone. All of the items are coming from overseas (I believe they’re all Chinese manufacturers). The app essentially gets rid of the middle-man and puts consumers directly in touch with the manufacturers. Because of this, you can get stuff for pennies compared to store-bought stuff. According to this article, this is the first ever site that was designed specifically for people to shop through the app. No need to use a bulky computer or go to a phyiscal store. The shopping process really couldn’t be easier.

I’ve actually been using Wish for a few weeks to buy random things here and there for our cruise. Check out these adorable swimsuits I bought for the girls:

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(don’t ask me why i could get this photo and not the Easter ones. I don’t know)

They do have some down-sides. The big one is that the sizing is pretty consistently off. Everything is a bit smaller than standard American sizes, so I’ve always ordered up a size. The shipping takes awhile, too, up to 2-3 weeks.

But that being said, I’ve been receiving crazy compliments on everything I’ve gotten so far. It’s cute stuff and for CHEAP!

I hesitated to even share anything about this app with you guys. The main thing is that I was worried it was totally exploiting children labor and I didn’t want to contribute to that or suggest anyone else do so either. But my understanding from doing a bit of research is that the Wish app vets out the different manufacturers and will drop people who do not conform to the app standards. Admittedly, I don’t know that this is 100%, as I’ve seen some knock-off Polo or other name-brand items and I can’t be sure what’s going on at the manufacturing-level. But the app represents these places as the same types of places who sell to American stores already. The only difference is you don’t have to pay the mark-up because you get the item directly from them. So that puts my mind a little bit more at ease.

I want to be 100% up front that this post is not sponsored, nor have I received any type of compensation for this post. Actually, they have no idea that I even blog here. I’m just passing it along because I’ve been so impressed with the app. If you have the time to spare and are okay with ordering things without trying them on (and, read the reviews! They’ll help guide your sizing decisions), then this is a great way to save serious money! I think it’s on-par with second-hand prices, only you’re getting brand new stuff that’s really cute and fashionable.

You’ll see a mention about Wish in my next budget update (coming soon – probably Friday) because I’ve bought some clothes from there that will be appearing in the clothing line-item of my budget.

Let me know what you think if you use Wish.

Are there any other really cheap direct-to-buyer apps I need to know about? 

 


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.

 


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