Saturday, October 30, 2010

Low Budget Party Idea #1

We have one more day to prepare for our Halloween Party, and I've had a few request for the other low budget parties that have already been thrown. Now I can't take credit for the ideas, since other frugal family members have thrown some of these parties. This is the box car party that my sister threw for my nephew earlier this year. He loves the Cars movie.

Cars- The Movie WallpaperImage by Cthomasuscg via Flickr

Cars movie theme, you'll need:
White spray paint
4 Orange cones (can be found at the dollar store)
Boxes (banker's box size, but make sure the handles are on the longest sides of the box) Cut out the bottom
Black Paper Plates (regular size)
White paper plates (small)
Cars movie theme stickers
Additional colored paint (optional for painting the boxes prior to the party)
Checkered Flag
Trophies (optional)

If you are going to paint you boxes different colors, you'll need to do that first, then you'll need to attach the Velcro to the back of the plates and to the boxes. Make sure that you attach the correct sides to the boxes since you'll be attaching the white plates to the "front" of the box to serve as headlights, and the black plates will be attached to the sides to serve as the wheels. You will need to spread the 4 orange cones out far enough to allow 2-3 adults to stand (they will serve as the pit crew), and use the spray paint to create 2-3 lanes in your "track".

As your guests arrive, give them 4 "wheels", 2 "headlights", stickers, and ask them to assemble their cars while they are waiting for the remaining guests to arrive. The kids will like the activity, and they will use the assembled car in a race later at the party. Not all of the kids will want to race, but they should enjoy the activity.

Once your pit crew is in place, you can start your races. Each kid will need to step into their box, and hold it up with the handles. They will each run one lap around your track. There will be some crashes and some stumbles since it is a little difficult to run carrying the box. Your pit crew will need to get the car (kid) off of the track immediately and re-assemble the car should they want to continue to race. Upon completion of the lap, you'll need to wave the checkered flag to indicate that the race is over. Each child can get a trophy if you opted to use trophies, if not they can keep their car as a party favor.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Party Plan

Jack-o-laternImage via Wikipedia

Well tomorrow is my youngest son's first birthday. We plan on having a Halloween party to celebrate his birthday on October 31st and we plan on going Trick-or-Treating as a group with our party guests. Now this is where it gets a little tricky. The last few years for my family have been very different, my family throws really good parties on a brown bag budget. It seems as though each party is an attempt to outdo the last one. No one is jealous or upset about it, the consensus is pretty much that we can't wait for the next party. Everyone wants to see what we'll come up with next.

We have decided to have a carnival theme. Of course everyone must come dressed in a costume since we'll go Trick-or-Treating together after the party. We have games that the kids will play to win a prize. All of my prizes I got on sale for 40% off at Party Boy. There is a 40% off Halloween items in the ballroom that in the back of the parking lot. I got plenty of Halloween themed plastic crazy straw cups for the little kids, and rubber rats and skulls for the bigger kids.

I've designated "spots" in the back yard for the activities. Each person will get a small gift bag of candies, toys and ten tickets. You can buy a spool of tickets at Party Boy, I should be able to use them at another party. My daughter the "artist" (but will be dressed as a pirate) will offer face painting for 2 tickets. She took a nice cardboard square and some paint, and painted a nice selection of Halloween themed pictures for the kids to choose from. My eldest son (the banana) will be in charge of the ring toss and the can table (knock the cans off of the table to win a prize), these will cost 5 tickets each.  My husband the vampire will be in the miniature pumpkin patch were the kids will pay with 4 tickets to try to choose matching pumpkins that have the same color painted on the bottoms.

I am going to be dressed as a witch, and I found a really scary looking cauldron that I'm going to use to hold all of the prizes and any extra tickets that the kids will need. We do plan on having the traditional birthday cake with a Halloween twist, and of course we will have a Halloween themed pinata. It isn't a party in my family without a pinata.

Now it will be more cost effective for me to shop for next year's Halloween party when this season comes to an end. For the most part, I've gotten all of my Halloween decorations, candy and prizes on sale. The cans and the bottles for the games, came right out of the recycle bin. The paint, school supplies I already bought during the summer, when I went back-to-school shopping.  So no rented equipment or clowns for me. I'm blessed to have a family that will work for free!

Happy Halloween Everyone!!
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why I don't "Grocery Game"

Example of an American grocery store aisle.Image via Wikipedia
I've had several people ask me if I'm a "Grocery Gamer". For those of you who may not know what that means; the grocery game, is a website that requires you to purchase a membership, to get instructions on the best way to use your coupons with the grocery store sales to get the biggest discount. There was a lot of publicity over the years about it, and how you could save a lot of money on your grocery bill. Now I did use it at one time. I did use it almost 6 years ago, when I was new to coupons. I had my doubts on the membership fee though. I just couldn't get past the fact that I needed to pay a membership fee for this information. It is more of a convenience fee. You may decide that it is worth it, and the fee is not very expensive. You will see that the savings will offset the cost significantly.

One day I was watching the morning news as I got ready for work. They showed another person that had a website that you could use to get the same information. Coupon Mom was her name, and she had an IPhone that had a coupon app! This was an easy name for me to remember, and the App was intriguing. I went to the website it has a lot of information I don't use, but I go there to print out my "List". I know there are a lot of helpful links, I just try to stay focused on printing out my list since I usually don't have a lot of free time to clip and organize my coupons. I usually just have enough time to either print out one list, and gather the coupons for that list, or I can print lists for several stores, and prepare for shopping later in the week.

I've used this site for a few years now, and I upgraded my cell phone to a phone with Apps. You see, I used to download my coupons onto my Kroger card via the website before the new phone. You have to wait at least one hour before you check out to redeem your coupons. With this App, you only have to wait 10 minutes! I can also use my phone to look at the coupons I've downloaded while shopping. This is probably the best financial decision I've made. I don't pay the membership fee to print out a shopping list; and even though I paid for the upgrade on my phone, two trips to the grocery store have already paid for the cost of the phone in savings. I'll have to upload my receipts, this way you will see my actual savings.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To Work or Stay At Home (2 of 2)

June supervises the boys and their friends, To...Image via Wikipedia

Well it looks like I may have until the end of the year to work full time. That will help since I'm still working on paying down our debt. I've been using this debt reduction calendar that I found online, it is fairly simple to use. I've talked to my husband and we are trying to figure out if we can afford to live on one income or if I cut back my hours to work part time if that will help. I found this stay-at-home calculator on the website, I do like it but I'm looking for a calculator that I can use in Excel format. I want to have the ability to adjust my expenses and possible income as a SAHM.

It is a mixed blessing, my daughter has been asking for time with mom that I haven't had. My eldest son is graduating this year, and he wants to look at colleges together. The youngest son is walking (I missed his first steps because I was working), and I know my babysitter is not going to feel comfortable with potty training.  So when it comes to these issues, I need to be home. I've come to accept that this is going to be a good thing for my family.

The negative is that I know that once you leave the work place that you don't come back earning the same pay as when you left. This is where I'm hoping that the savings and retirement plans that I have in place are going to be sufficient. I've got some money saved in case of an emergency, and I've also decided that I would try to sell Premier Jewelry. I would be an independent consultant, so I'll have to keep you posted on my progress.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Work or Stay at Home (1 of 2)

How do you decide if it is feasible to work full time or to become a stay at home parent? I know I've been blogging about some money saving tips, unfortunately with the changing economy, I feel the need to be prepared. My husband and I have been discussing this for some time. Nowadays, there are no guarantees. We are trying to lower our debt so that should I leave the work place; money would not become the subject of arguments. I know that I can save money by clipping coupons, and using my freezer to do bulk cooking. The bottom line is that I hear about many people losing their jobs, and it scares me. The reality is that I can see the "writing on the wall" so it is time to prepare for the worst. Here is a little back ground information, I'm a people person, I need to find some way to be around people, otherwise I think I may be unhappy.  On the other hand, I'm not really happy working full time anyway. I feel guilty leaving the family to go to work, and I work late most of the time. Then when I need to take time off from work for my family, I feel guilty leaving work undone and most of the time I'm off I'm getting calls or texts that are work related, so my kids really don't get that time with me. Becoming a stay at home mom may actually be a blessing in disguise. Right now I'm having. to chose between work or family.  This should not be a decision anyone should have to make. Frankly, it is only a matter of time, and the decision will be made for me. Don't get me wrong, my husband is very supportive, but he wants me to leave my work at work, or not to work at all.

We have paid off my husband's truck and I'm almost done with another credit card, but there are some bills that I'm having to pay because I work full time. I pay for daycare/babysitting, on top of the cost, I prefer to use my sister-in-law which adds a two hour commute to and from  work. I also have to pay for a private bus service for my daughter since we live 1.8 miles from her school, in order for her to ride the bus provided by the district, we need to live 2 miles from the school. I'm not home when she gets home but she does call me when she gets home. We recently had our microwave break, so the option has been to eat out or order take out. I do think that if I was home more I could offset some bills and be more of a parent to my children. I also have a 17 year old that needs to get his college applications sent off before December 1st. My gut is telling me that becoming a SAHM is what I need to be doing right now anyway.

I've been looking online for a way to calculate the cost of working vs. staying at home. there are several calculators out there, but they aren't accurate. They don't include the loss I will take to my retirement since I won't have the money to contribute, and I won't have my employer to contribute to it anymore. Not to mention medical insurance, mine is paid for by my employer, so my husband and the kids are on his. I know that it is cheaper to pay cash for regular doctor's visits. I would do that instead of using my insurance since my deductible was so high. I may have to create a more accurate spreadsheet to truly see what the savings vs. cost will be.

So it looks like my blog will not only have some tips about saving money, it will also include a diary of a working mom turned SAHM.
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Family Game Night

Hasbro Family Game NightImage via Wikipedia
I'm not sure if you have seen the commercials for "Family Game Night" on your local TV stations, but my family and I have decided to give it a try.  We have been doing it for over a year now, and it has been a hit! I really am not in a position where I can take the whole family out for a movie, so we have been playing board games instead. We have dedicated Fridays for now, and we have several games to choose from, since my other family members found out that we have been doing this, we got several board games last Christmas. Now we have a variety to chose from, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, you name it! A game that I've played and really have enjoyed has been a game called Beat the Parents family trivia game. I've never seen it in the stores, but I found it on I bought it for my Daughter last year after reading the reviews.

Beat The Parents is a trivia game that requires the players to divide into two teams, the kids vs the parents. Now I've become very confident in my board game skills, I'm pretty competitive so I knew I was not going to lose at this game. I've seen "Are you smarter than a 5th grader", I figured the questions would be similar.  My husband and I played against the kids, by kids I mean a 17 year old and a 13 year old. This was not an easy game! When I  or my husband read the questions out loud, we thought to ourselves, these are too easy. The kids could not answer the questions, and when the kids read the questions to us out loud, they were amazed by our inability to answer. Now the questions really aren't difficult, I mean, who doesn't know what the letters ATM stand for! Especially a 17 year old, shouldn't he know since he asks for money on a regular basis?  Beat the Parents had us laughing the entire time. I'm not going to give any examples of the cards that are read to the parents since most of my readers are adults.  It wouldn't be fair should you decide to purchase it (which I strongly suggest you do). My family and I look forward to Family Game Night, and we have enjoyed all of the games we have played so far.  I would recommend Beat the Parents to families with kids ages 10 and up. We have had several families over to play this game, and they have enjoyed it too.

Now that I have two teenagers in the home, they really don't want to spend a lot of time with "Mom and Dad" when they are home. The spend a significant amount of time in their rooms, Family Game Night has given me time with my kids again without them complaining about it. We have found a low cost way to entertain ourselves and others when we have company over to visit.  This has been such a blessing to our family and it has kept us close.
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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Flylady's crisis cleaning really is a lifesaver!

Do you look for your car keys on a regular basis?  How about your mail, do you have a spot in your home that collects mail on a daily basis?  Well lately I've been doing both.  I used to be a lot more organized. I'm not sure if it is the combination of having a family on top of a full time job and a two hour commute, but I've started to notice how much time I waste. It really hit home this week, I have my in-laws coming to visit on Monday, I've got tons of laundry to do since I was in Toronto last weekend, and unfortunately my husband left the mail for me to sort out. I haven't had time to go grocery shopping, and I'm not even sure where to start cleaning my house. The panic started to hit on Friday while driving to work.  I knew I would be working late, my husband has to work on Saturdays, so I wouldn't have a lot of help with the baby, and there would be a possibility they would get here on Sunday since they were driving from New York to Houston.

I decided to go to and send an email to Flylady for help.  If you are not familiar with Flylady, she has a wonderful approach to cleaning your home 15 minutes at a time.  I found her website about 4 or 5 years ago and somewhat "cherry picked" the routines she suggested to fit my lifestyle. I explained my situation via email with a little more panic in my text, as I typed, I could feel my heart racing as I really started to think about all of the things I needed to do. I finished my email hit send...and waited...I got an email immediately in response with the first line reading "breathe" and that Flylady has a podcast that I could listen to about crisis cleaning. I couldn't help but to feel a little relieved and chuckle when I read that word. I clicked the link in the email to listen to the podcast.  I couldn't believe that she already had a plan to deal with a situation like mine. The scenario that she created only allows one hour to clean, I've got the whole weekend! I had to listen to it twice. The baby pretty much sleeps through the night, so I couldn't let him nap all day. He is starting to walk now, running after him is a job in itself! I strapped the baby on, and started to go to work in the kitchen. The baby was facing out, so he played with the water while I washed the dishes. He actually giggled as I went from room to room to drop things off.  I feel a lot less stressed about the situation, and I've started to reclaim my spot for my keys. The mail is going to take some time to go through, I'll have to do that when the baby is asleep. 

I'm really looking forward to the visit from my in laws, the baby will be a year old at the end of this month, maybe  they can help plan the first Halloween/birthday party! I'll try to get some pictures posted for you to see.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Google helped me save $$ on my phone bill!!

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

 I've been trying to cut costs as much as I can in almost every aspect to try to get us closer to becoming debt free. The problem is that not everyone is on board yet. My latest venture is the phone...we have had at least two cell phone bills this year that have been over $500.00.  Yes you read that correctly, we had to take my daughter's cell phone off of our plan, increase our family plan minutes and yet somehow we still went  beyond our plan. I will also admit that I am not proficient with the new technology that exists, but I do okay. My latest venture and it may be old news to you Techies out there, is Google Voice and GMail.

Image representing Google Voice as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase

Now I've seen the icon to the left of my screen indicating that I could call my friend Jeannette every time I'm checking my email, but I figured it was a chat screen or something I would need to pay for.  Well I was at work one day and the IT person was working on our laptops when he needed to call another client. He used Google Voice and I happened to overhear the computer being used as a phone. This was intriguing to me. I have some family members that I would like to call, but it would e a long distance call from the home phone (we have a basic phone line) or I would need to wait until after 9:00pm (central) or the weekend to call.  He briefly explained how it works, but I didn't really give it much thought until recently.  I had to go to Toronto for business meeting. I learned when I was in Toronto, and was roaming, that I did not have an international plan and would have to pay .25 for every text (even though I have unlimited texts on my plan), and calls would be .69/minute (you don't even want to know how much Internet was). Now I'm sure you would be thinking, just turn your phone off. Easier said than done... this trip required me to use my phone since 6 other people came with me. We couldn't even find each other in the airport to catch the shuttle to the hotel upon arriving in Toronto.  I'm afraid to find out what our phone bill is going to be.

Needless to say, I have several friends that want to hear all about my trip. Some of them have moved here from other cities, and kept their old phone numbers which makes me need to wait until it is after 9:00 to use my cell phone to make the call. So I decided to use Google voice, I created a phone number, and set it up to make a call to my real-father. I could hear the phone ring through the speakers on my laptop and the person on the other end could hear me fine (this was a call to California).  Well, he wasn't home and I had to call him on his cell since he is in Las Vegas right now.  I made another call to his cell using Google voice, and had to leave a message. I gave him the "Google number" to call so that he could save it to his cell phone. Not too long after that, I had a Google voice "voice-mail" from him. YES, not only does Google voice allow you to make and receive calls, it also transcribes voice mail messages into what looks like an email with a "play button". I could read the message or select play and I heard my father's voice! This probably the best way I can offset the cost of our phone bill for now. I don't have to wait until the weekend or off-peak hours to make any long distance calls! I'm LOVING IT!! Feel free to call me at 832-377-0864, I would love to put voices to my follower's faces!!
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