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Homemade Gift Giving

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We haven’t bought a single thing yet for Christmas. I mentioned before, but both sets of Grandparents are kind of going all-out for Christmas this year. The girls are going to be spoiled rotten as-is. So, we’re planning to go pretty minimal for them and just stick to basic needs (e.g., some new school clothes, socks and undies, etc.)

We originally said we were NOT going to get anything for each other. But in thinking and talking about it more, we decided we’d do a homemade gift exchange. We set the limit at $10 for any supplies or materials that need to be purchased. Anything we already own is fair game to be used (we have a decent amount of crafting materials already due to our kiddos).

I’m looking for some good homemade gift giving ideas!

We’ve been broke for a long time, so I’ve already done some of the more popular cheap/free craft ideas. I’ve done a scrapbook, 52 Reasons I love you (similar to this), coupon books, etc.

Source

I need something new. Something more creative and innovative….but not too challenging for someone who doesn’t have a lot of talent when it comes to arts-and-crafts.

Any ideas? Does anyone else exchange homemade gifts with significant others?


Frugal Vacation Tips from Orlando

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As you know, I’ve been saving money every month towards Universal Studio tickets for a mini vacation this week over the Thanksgiving holiday.  I requested and was approved to work remotely for two days this week (Tuesday and Wednesday,) and have hotel points for three nights. These are my frugal vacation tips for making this trip work within our existing budget…for the most part!

Should I Cancel the Trip?

After I found out about my job situation, I did contemplate cancelling the trip, but decided that I really need this break. We left Monday night after work and drove down. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders already. While I had to work yesterday and today, the feeling of freedom prevails and let’s me breathe a bit after the overwhelming amount of stress I’ve been under. (I also have to work in the wee hours Friday morning and Sunday morning to administer all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday digital content even though technically the corporate office is closed.)

Frugal Vacation

Without further ado, we are ON VACATION and I couldn’t be more happy to be here. Here’s what I have done to minimize the costs and keep this trip from impacting our monthly budget too much:

  • Gas – there will be no impact for the cost of this travel on our budget because the difference between the miles driven to FL versus driving to Gymnast’s training 4 days a week is minimal.
  • Hotel – we split the trip down into 2 days because I was wiped from starting work at 3am on Monday (another midnight web flip.)  I had to pay for one night in the midway hotel. The rest of our trip nights are covered by hotel and credit card points. Cost $98

Our view Monday night from our midway hotel. Got a great deal booking last minute!

  • Food – I went to Dollar General before we left home and bought a ton of snacks and drinks. And we have saved the bulk of our typical $400-600 grocery budget so we can eat out at some fun places. In addition,
    • Our breakfast is free at our hotel;
    • The kids have been told we will be drinking water at every meal out; and
    • Our favorite method of saving money while trying cool places is the Appetizer and Dessert meal.

Our favorite frugal meal out tip – Appetizers and Desserts. Last night, our desserts came out first, they were delicious!

  • Entertainment – I have saved the money for Universal. And we have some movies we would all like to see. The kids all know that any entertainment is on them, out of their allowance.  They can choose to participate or not. Other than that, we are enjoying sleeping in, wandering around City Walk and just goofing off.

 

Chosen Family – Our Old Nannies

On a personal note, the little kids’ nannies (3 sisters from the same family) all now live in Orlando. They have been part of our lives since Princess was born 13 years ago. We are hoping to get to see them while we are here.

The oldest sister began with us after I returned to work after my maternity leave (was still working in the corporate world then.) The next sister took over two years later when the eldest got married (Princess was in her wedding.) Then the third sister took over when the middle sister left for college, and she was with us through the birth of her two kids and even when the twins arrived 6 years ago. (When the twins first arrived, I could not leave them alone with the younger two, so I always had to have a baby sitter for them for those first couple of years if I had to leave.)

Do you have special family or as I call it chosen family you will see this holiday season?  Because I am not really close to my immediate family, my chosen family which is quite abundant plays a big role in our lives. I think it’s made it easier as well being a blended family / foster / adoptive family to see those not related by blood as important members of our family.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Whether you cook, go to someone’s house or go out to eat like we do, enjoy the time you have with your loved ones!


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!


Upcycled Presents – DIY Present Idea

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I mentioned a week or so ago that I had completed my Christmas shopping for my immediate family in Texas. Everything I bought is handmade and mostly upcycled out of recycled materials. I am thrilled with my finds. I just picked up the items for my brothers today and wanted to share this really neat idea with you.

These Tiki Torch/Bug Repellant bottles were made for me by Susanne at Upcycled Inspirations. She lives on the lake and they fill these with Citronella to keeps the bugs away when they are out on their dock or deck by the water.

The Perfect Gift

While my brothers don’t live on the water, they LOVE the Cowboys football team and are definitely outdoorsy kind of dudes. I thought this would be perfect AND they are made from upcycled liquor bottles that Susanne collects from neighbors, restaurants and wherever else she can find them (can you say dumpster diving – my words, not hers.) How cool is this idea? And how affordable since probably most of know someone that could provide some bottles.

I love DIY presents, and this would be a great one to do for those outdoor living people in your life. And if you are like me and don’t have the time or desire to gather the supplies and put them together…well, you can hit up Susanne and she will take care of you.  She loaded some images of the other cool stuff she does on her Facebook page.

I do not know Susanne personally, I just met her at a craft fair downtown in our tiny town a couple of weeks ago. I am not receiving any kick back for this post (although I wouldn’t turn it down.) I just wanted to let you know about this cool DIY present and give credit where credit was due.


Christmas is Around the Corner

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merry christmasI have been amazed at the number of my Facebook friends who are already decorating for Christmas. I am really looking forward to doing just that, but will definitely wait until after Thanksgiving. It will be really new for us as we got rid of my of our Christmas stuff with the exception of a few personal things. We don’t even have a tree! (Last year we spent Christmas in Georgia and Texas so didn’t do anything in regards to decorating.) With that being said, the decorations are not the point of this point.

I’ve already purchased/made presents for all my Texas family and will ship them right before Thanksgiving. The total cost for those 6 presents was less than $50 – 3 brothers, 1 sister and my parents. The money came from my discretionary spending (I get $20 per week from the allowance line item) so it is not in my budget, as will the remainder of my presents. My kids will purchase presents from their allowance or money they earn.

However, the Christmas holiday is a minefield for those of us who do not always make the wisest financial decisions. I am wanting to stop the madness and work with a budget.

Christmas Tips and Tricks

Here’s what I’ve come with up so far as I start planning.

  1. Purchase tree from Boy Scout troop (my little cousin is a boy scout and his dad will deliver it for free.)
  2. Homemade decorations from Pinterest boards. (I’ve got a ton of crafty stuff so I believe this will be free using supplies we have on hand.)  The only exception is lights, we don’t have any for the tree.
  3. Presents for my kids – a book, a game/toy/crafty item and a clothing item for each child. I would also add a stuffed stocking and a personal gift. (This is where I really need a budget!)
  4. We are eliminating candy this year, but typically that would be my go to cheap present.
  5. I also need to limit who I buy presents for as I love giving gifts…don’t we all.  I am going to sit down soon and make a list. Then I must stick to it.

How do you keep Christmas under control? What tips and tricks can you give me to stay on the right track financially?


Ragnar Relay = Complete!

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Just popping in with a fun “life” update today. If you are only interested in strictly financial posts, just skip this one and check back tomorrow – I’m finally posting my budget!

I’ve mentioned a couple times about how I’ve been training for a big running relay race called Ragnar.  Well, the race is complete! It started Friday and ended Saturday. Today, I’m at home and in full recovery-mode (meaning, as little movement as possible and fully stocked with ibuprofen) 😉

Here’s a picture I posted on my Facebook:

23 hours, 15.4 miles of mountain running, 2.7 hours of sleep, 8 crazy teammates. So much fun!

Each member of our team had 3 different legs ranging in length from 4.1 – 6.6 miles of trail-running/mountainous terrain. I ran my first leg on Friday evening, my second leg on Saturday about 3am, and my last leg on Saturday at 10am. This photo was taken as I was taking off for my last leg of the relay. My shirt, appropriately, says “Everything Hurts and I’m Dying.” A little tongue-and-cheek, but definitely fitting for how I felt at that moment. I wore my Fitbit the entire time and for Saturday, my stats indicated that I’d gone 37,726 steps (= 17.91 miles), and climbed the equivalent of 114 flights of stairs (from the mountains we were running)! To say I’m pooped today is an understatement!

BUT – tired as I may be, I had an absolute blast! It was THE BEST time ever! And, as I’ve got 3 half-marathons under my belt (but nothing longer), this is a PDR (personal distance record). YIKES!

All my teammates immediately said they wanted to sign up again for next year. I’m still on the fence. I loved it, but I typically only sign up for a big race once every couple years. Committing to do it again next year feels like a lot to me. There’s a lot of time and effort dedicated to training, but it also costs money to go (the race was $120/person + we all pitched in another $25 for team shirts + a day off work, food and snacks for while we were there, etc.). We’ve got a few months to think it over so we’ll see.

For today, though, I just wanted to share this major accomplishment! I’ve heard of Ragnar races before, but never really considered doing one myself. If it weren’t for my teammates (friends/colleagues from my department) I probably never would have pushed myself to try to complete a Ragnar race. But the feeling of pride and accomplishment is huge! Just the little psychological boost I needed going into a new month! If I can accomplish something this big physically (15+ miles of running on mountainous terrain), surely I can conquer our monthly budget. Right?

I’ll be back tomorrow asking for your advice! I’m already nervous, so bring your patient pants, as I could use your support!

Have a great end to your weekend!

~Ashley


Life Lately

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Hello, friends!

I apologize for my absence! June has been an absolute whirlwind of a month! I feel like I just blinked and all the sudden we’re two weeks deep and I haven’t written a single post! Yikes!

It’s not for lack of thought about you all! Things have just been, well, a bit crazy. Let’s talk some general life updates with some financial stuff sprinkled throughout.

First, my Dad has officially been moved to a locked memory care facility. My siblings and I have been dreading it for months, but luckily the move was far less terrible than the build-up we had in our minds. On moving day, my sister took my dad to a doctor’s appointment and out to lunch while my brother instructed movers to get everything out of the old place (an independent living facility) and moved over to the new place. My dad happily arrived at his new home exhausted and ready for a nap. He likes the food better, which is a big deal for him – he’s become quite picky over foods and hates things he once loved. I’m not sure if his taste buds have changed or what the “cause”, but he prefers bland things and his favorite “snack” is a piece of white bread or a Hawaiian roll. Very odd, but I’ve read other FTD’ers tend to crave breads, too.  He still does not realize he is locked in the facility and cannot leave. This has been a HUGE blessing for us! The facility is built around different courtyard areas so he can freely access “outside” whenever he likes, but the main exit is locked for patient’s safety.

The girls are in kindergarten camp this week. We’d originally planned to stay in Austin longer following my Dad’s move, but I’m so glad we decided to come back early so the girls could go to this camp. They are loving it and I think it is helping to assuage the new school/Kindergarten fears. We won’t have official class lists until August, but they’ve met all the kinder teachers and are becoming familiar with the school, the routine, meeting new friends, etc.

I’ve got to admit to making some poor financial decisions this summer. We’ve been making a huge sum of money the past couple years, but everything seemed to end at once. Now with my part-time job gone, hub’s job gone, and my new raise not going into effect until next month, it’s been a struggle to adjust. I haven’t done great with it. Hubs and I went on our “Mom and Dad Getaway” (one of our 2017 goals) and I feel real guilt over it. It was our first trip away from the kids for more than a single night since they were born (and they turn 5 next week!). I do think we needed the time alone together to reconnect and think it’s a healthy and important thing for couples to do if they can. But…we also could not have chosen a poorer time. I mean, this was the time that worked for me (with my work schedule, summers are best for a getaway), but it was a terrible choice of timing in terms of money (or lack thereof).

We were spending money we didn’t have. There, I said it. First time in the 3 years of blogging that this has happened. I paid for things on credit and don’t have the income coming in to cover the costs. So, there’s that. My raise starts July 1st, but since the paychecks are lagged, I won’t have a full month of my new income until August, at which point things should stabilize financially speaking. My original plan was to just stay treading water over the summer, but now I know that’s not going to happen. We’re slipping backward a bit. It’s not like we’ve gone out and bought a car or taken on tens of thousands in a home equity loan or something, but we’ve paid on credit for vacation items (hotel, food, etc) that we just can’t cover. And then on our way home from Austin we had a tire blowout. Remember how I just barely got new tires? Ha! I’d only bought 2. A couple hours and $500 later I bought 2 more (no chance to comparison shop or find a deal). We were so lucky that hubs’ felt the tire wobbling so he had exited the highway and slowed down the car before the blowout occurred. We were also incredibly lucky to have it happen to be in a small town with cell phone reception (much of the drive from Austin to Tucson is in cell phone dead zones in the middle of nowhere). So, I’m thankful for our health and safety and the fact that we could get the new tires relatively quickly. But it felt like God or Murphy laughing at us for the poor financial decisions we were making and just adding insult to injury. I guess we’ll see a credit card reappear in my next debt update. It’s a tough thing to accept, but ultimately I’m human and made some mistakes poor spending choices.

Despite the spending issue, work has been going well. I’m enjoying the change of pace the summer always brings. It’s been nice to have the hubs and girls around more (even though it makes working from home tough. I usually just go to campus). I’m able to catch up on some big work projects without having classes and 100+ student emails to contend with daily. I love what I do and feel so fortunate to have landed this position and especially the giant raise I secured (though won’t see until next month).

All-in-all, I’m doing okay. Not great, but okay. I’ve been struggling with some mental health issues related to dealing with my dad’s care and dealing with my siblings to try to secure him the quality care he deserves. It’s personal family matters so I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that it’s been a challenge. I know that ultimately we are so lucky! My dad had assets at the time of his diagnosis, so we are paying for his care with HIS money. It would be a whole different ballgame if it were my siblings and I footing the bill. But even so, it’s tough when there are major disagreements and I hate the strain that this has placed on all of us. I started going to therapy last year around this time and only went for maybe 4-5 months. I’m considering starting to go again, though, just because I did find it to be a helpful outlet. We shall see.

To end on a positive note, let me share one piece of good news. You may or may not recall how I referred to Summer 2016 as the Summer of Death (we experienced 3 significant deaths that summer).  Well one of them was my husband’s grandfather. His estate went into probate and it took a long time, but my husband’s mother has now inherited a good bit of money. Although nothing was left directly to any of the grandchildren (meaning, my husband did not directly inherit anything), his mom offered to pay for 3 days in Disneyland all-expenses paid for our family! She covered the cost of tickets, hotel, food, travel expenses, and even gave us extra spending money to put toward purchasing souvenirs, matching shirts, or the like. I know it seems like a crazy juxtaposition to the “mom-and-dad” getaway we just barely had, in which we set ourselves BACKWARD in our debt progression. But this gift was given to us with the expressed intent to be put directly toward a family Disneyland trip (not toward general household expenses and/or debt). All of our travels thus far have been with extended family, so we have never had a family vacation with just the four of us and my mother-in-law wanted us to have one. We graciously accepted and have booked our room and tickets for next month (again, the idea being that it’s easier for me to travel during the summer – though it will be dreadfully hot!). The kids and I have never been to Disneyland before (hubs has, but it’s been many years), so we’re all excited to go! It may even slightly help with our current financial picture because the entire time that we are away will be financed on someone else’s dollar (so we may see a savings in our grocery bill or utilities for the time we’re away).

I hope your summers are going well! I must admit how tough it was for me to sit down and type up this update, knowing the financial details I would be sharing. I promise to have a complete debt update at the end of this month so we can catch back up with where our family is at now. My hope is that this is just a blip in the radar and that we’ll soon forget this ever happened and be well on our way to smashing our remaining debts!

Have a great rest of your weeks!

~Ashley


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