May 26, 2014

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

Today we honor those brave men and women who gave their lives for our country and our freedom. Each and every one deserves our sincere thanks and gratitude, as do the families they left behind. 

While we enjoy the good weather, family, friends and food today, let's all take a moment to reflect on what the day is really about. Thanking and honoring those fallen heroes who made it possible is the least we can do. Today is a celebration of them. One day a year is hardly enough for what they gave and sacrificed. Let's make it count.

May 25, 2014

Simple, Quick Memorial Day Menu

For Memorial Day, I'm taking things easy and going for a simple, quick menu rather than my usual holiday fare. Not that I get too fancy with the summer holidays to begin with, but this one is going to be even more simple than usual. We're not even having the prerequisite macaroni salad! An easy menu allows for more relaxing and less stressing to get all the food prepared. I count that a win for sure.

How simple are we talking?
  1. Bubba burgers (on sale half price this week at Martin's) with cheese, lettuce, buns, pickles, ketchup and mustard
  2. Fresh Corn-on-the-cob, cut in half (M2's first time having it, also on sale this week)
  3. French fries, frozen not fresh (a bulk bag so we'll make a bit then save the rest for other meals)
  4. Yellow cupcakes with Reddi Whip on top to make them lighter
I might attempt corn bread from scratch, if I have all the ingredients and the mood strikes me tomorrow.

May 22, 2014

Easy Money Saving Tips: Summer Activity Edition

This article is part of a series. You can read the others here, here, here, and here.

With Memorial Day coming up on Monday, we're getting closer and closer to the summer season. It's that time of year when families are looking for fun activities that won't break the bank. So what is an fun-family-activity-planning, money-saving SAHM to do? Here are some free or cheap things I take advantage of whenever I can.
  1. Free outdoor events and movies. Many counties, towns and organizations hold fun, free events. Do a search online for your area, call the government center and/or check out pamphlets at the library. We've found kids' festivals, craft festivals, heritage days, battle reenactments, concerts and movies in the park (or pool), parades and more. For a few dollars, you can check out school concerts and other productions. Some movie theaters even offer a free (or very cheap) showing of older children's movies on certain days. Many of these events aren't just fun and free, but educational too.
  2. Parks. Most of us have parks in our area that we just never think to use when we're looking for something fun and free to do. By us, we have ones with huge playgrounds, pools, walking trails, lakes, tennis courts, disc golf courses, ball fields and picnic areas. Check out the ones near you and find one you like. There are also a number of national parks around. At various times during the year, they offer free admission. Our favorite is Shenandoah National Park, which, along with some free days, offers a season pass for $20. Since it's $10 to get in as long as we go twice, we at least break even. The views are amazing. Pack a lunch in a cooler, grab the whole family and head out for a day of fun in the sun. Some parks even offer grills so you can bring along hamburgers and hotdogs to cook up and then have s'mores for dessert. (Don't forget the sunscreen and plenty of water!) 
  3. Museums. Many museums have at least one day a month where they don't charge admission. Some are even free year-round, like the Smithsonians in Washington, D.C. We have a children's museum that does free first Friday evenings and we're close enough to do day trips into D.C. Museums sometimes also offer free special events so keep an eye out.
  4. Local pools. Last summer, we moved to an area that has tons of community pools around. While not free, for a few bucks we can spend a day relaxing in the pool and then hit the park for a dinner picnic.
  5. Libraries. I love, love, love our local library. In our county, you can not only get a card for the county system but for three other nearby county systems as well. Each offers different children's programs for various ages, all for free. The one I go to with M2 most often does a sing-along and story time then play time with lots of toys for her age group. The bit older kids have a story, songs and then crafts. Special guests, like a live turkey around Thanksgiving, also make appearances. There's even a Lego club for older kids and a number of book clubs. And, of course, there are tons of books you can borrow along with kid-friendly movies. Borrow a movie, build a blanket/pillow fort, pop some popcorn and spend a rainy day relaxing.  Or, set up some boxes decorated to look like cars (craft project!) add the popcorn and you've got a drive in theater.

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May 19, 2014

Easy Money Saving Tips: Round Three

This article is part of a series. You can read the others here, here, here, and here.

As I shared in a previous post, we do many things to cut costs to make my being a SAHM possible. Here are a few more of the things we do for the third round of this series. Not all these tips will work for your family. I encourage you to read through, pick the ones you think might work and give them a shot. It doesn't hurt to try!
  1. Limit eating out and ordering in. Let's face it, paying someone else to cook your food is more expensive and not as healthy. We save a ton and feel better by cooking meals at home. Our goal is to spend money at restaurants no more than once a month at a casual dining, family-friendly restaurant or on pizza. (I'll admit, sometimes we slip up on this. It is hard!)
  2. Use energy efficient light bulbs. It's a bit of an investment at first, but we saw our electricity bill go down after we swapped out all the bulbs. Plus, they last longer.
  3. Install water efficient shower heads. For about $25, we got pretty nice shower heads that work as a traditional head and have a sprayer function which makes cleaning the showers and M2 much easier. You can get ones for even cheaper than that. Just look for ones that say "water sense" or "eco water" on them and compare how much the savings will be with each one (most tell you on the packaging). Ours also have a little button so that you can turn the water to a trickle while we soap up for added savings. It's very easy to swap out the old shower heads. If you're in a rental, hang on to the old one(s) so you can swap them back in and keep your nicer ones when you move.
  4. Purchase energy efficient appliances. I'm not saying run out and trade in your functioning appliances for brand new ones. But, when you're in the market for a new fridge, washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc., take a look at the energy ratings. We had to get many new appliances for our house, including a completely new heat pump system, when we bought our new house. Energy efficiency was one of my top requirements. Because of that, our electric bill is actually now the same or less on a house that is twice the size with bigger and more appliances than our last place that was a rental with crappy energy sucking appliances. Our heat pump is much larger as well and still uses less energy while actually heating and cooling the house better.
  5. Use windows and ceiling fans instead of AC. When it's nice out and not sweltering, we take advantage of it. I turn the AC off and open up all our windows, turn on the ceiling fans if you need a an added cool boost and enjoy the fresh air (and money savings). One of the big pluses of this house is a ceiling fan in every room. Those are a ton cheaper than running the AC. The fresh air will help you air out your house and get rid of that staleness you get from it being closed up, too.

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May 17, 2014

Why No Posts?

I haven't been posting as much as of late since the past more than a month now I've been sick and overly tired. Be assured, I'm still here and planning plenty of posts! I thought an update (so you don't think I've fallen off the face of the earth) would be good.

One of the main things causing my sick and tired ick is a bout of anemia. It seems innocent enough, until it's so bad that you're too tired to stay awake. It also then makes other health-related things even worse. Double whammy!

Back in college, I had it so bad that campus docs thought I had mono. All the symptoms pointed to that. They were trying to send me home, far away from the campus so I couldn't infect anyone else. Then my blood test came back not as mono, but bad anemia. Not at all contagious. I simply had no energy and was tired constantly, no matter how much I slept.

This time it hasn't been as bad as in college--same symptoms, just not as severe. There's been other health-stuff going on as well. That part I'm not ready to talk about yet. You'll have to wait for a future post to hear about that.

Being so tired has meant not as much no energy for the blog and also not as much energy to keep the house clean, laundry done and healthy dinners made. We've also not been able to enjoy the lovely weather that much or do fun things. My bed and comfy chair are holding me captive! Lucky for me, A's great and has been helping to pick up the slack as much as he can on top of his full-time-with-long-hours job.

M2 has been enjoying extra cuddle time and has been working on pointing out body parts. So far, she's got where her nose is down pat. We're working with her on tummy. She loves when you tell her, "The yummy goes in the tummy!" Her new favorite book that Mama has to read her three times a day is One Foot Two Feet. It's an adorable book she got through the Imagination Library program run by Dolly Parton. Each month until she's age 5, M2 gets an age-appropriate, new book in the mail, free. She's gotten some great ones and we've been introduced to books I never even knew about. It's available depending on where you live. I fully recommend checking it out and signing up if you live in an area that offers it.

Due to her teething which makes her sleep more, I've been able to sneak in afternoon naps for myself some days. She even plays nicely with her favorite buddy Violet (the talking stuffed dog) for an hour or so in the morning so I can sleep in a bit.

With daily meds, I'm slowly feeling better. I am hoping to have the house back in order soon. It's really starting to drive me nuts. Ditto the being stuck in the house. And the not blogging as much.

May 2, 2014

Easy Extra Cash

As a stay-at-home mom, extra cash comes in handy. All those baby and toddler items M2 needs add up and the holidays get to be expensive. Around Christmas last year, I was looking for ways to make some extra money that were easy and legit. I'd heard about online surveys but any of the sites I went to seemed to take forever before you actually got anything, thus making it not worth the effort. Then I stumbled upon Opinion Outpost.

This site is awesome. At first, I was leery about it's legitimacy so I did some research. It is a real company, based out of Connecticut. Very near to where my parents live, actually. I didn't find any complaint reports. Setting up an account to get things rolling took a bit of time as you have to answer lots of initial questions so you can be matched with surveys, but it was worth it.

Answering easy surveys for about an hour a day, I can make around $100 a month. There are options to cash out via PayPal and a few retailers. My favorite is Amazon. With just a few months of taking the surveys, I've gotten M2 a fancy new convertible car seat, her Easter present Cozy Coupe, baking pans, A's birthday presents and lots of other things I can't even remember. Currently, I'm saving up for a big ticket item. (I'll reveal what that is in a special future post.) I'll also be using the rewards to help subsidize Christmas gifts this year.

You can spend as much or as little time as you want on the surveys and do them any time you want. I take advantage of nap and bed times to do mine. Each time a survey is offered to you, it includes how many points you'll earn (50 points equals 50 cents) and about how long the survey will take. If you don't want to take it, you can skip it and do another. Closing your account if you decide to quit is also simple. I tried it to see.

You won't qualify for every survey, which can be frustrating if you've spent a few minutes answering qualifying questions and then don't get it. All the ones you do complete makes up for it, though. There's a game you can choose to play each time you don't qualify to try to earn free points. Or, you can make a donation to a charity. If you run out of surveys to do, change up your profile.

There have been a few times where I didn't receive the credits I was supposed to. A quick email got it fixed easily and quickly--Opinion Outpost reps are very efficient and nice. You can cash out for as little as $3, and get the rewards right away via email.

I've tried a few other survey sites that were legit. So many online survey companies make you do tons of surveys before even getting a few dollars and then make you have a high dollar amount before you can cash out. Annoying! Others rarely offer surveys you even qualify for and just become frustrating. Or, you have to wait for your gift card to be mailed. Some also make it very difficult to close your account--a big negative in my book. Opinion Outpost blows all the competition out of the water.

To get started, click on any of the links in this post (like this one Opinion Outpost). They'll take you right where you need to go to sign up. (Full disclosure: I'll get a much-appreciated referral when you click and sign up.)

For more ideas on how to make some extra cash, check out The Penny Hoarder.

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