Inexpensive and Easy To Make Teacher Gifts | Holiday Edition

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It’s that time of year again where if you have school aged kiddos, it’s time to start thinking about those teacher’s gifts. Instead of adding more chaos to your already packed schedule, here are some inexpensive ideas you can either pick up when you are running errands or if you have a few moments, can make pretty easily.

They spend all year pouring their time and support into our kids so taking a few minutes to say thank you really means a lot to them and let’s them know they are appreciated. So here’s a few great ideas from around the net:

  1. Everyone loves lip balm this time of year.
  2. Cutsified Clorox containers – another good one for all the germs this time of year or you could use tissues.
  3. Cinnamon Ornaments – these make the house smell incredible and we love making them, they are so easy!
  4. Simple, yummy soaps!

Sometimes I tend to go a little more practical and pick up a cute bucket/container at the dollar spot at Target and fill with much needed class supplies: crayons, glue sticks, dry erase markers, colored pencils, etc. I know those won’t go without a huge thank you from your child’s teacher.

Is It Friday Yet | Edition #1

This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.

Welcome to the “Is It Friday Yet?” official list of tidbits from around the internet to get you over that midweek hump.

Your welcome.

  1. Because a lister’s gotta list
  2. Need a new calendar for your desktop? I personally have the ‘Tis Eggnog Season one.
  3. Is it already time to start thinking about our New Year’s resolutions? Well, we can at least read ourselves into them…

Eating healthier here, here and here, because it’s okay to not be good all the time. And this because it’s not the new year, yet people!

Detox here (if that’s your thing).

Get motivated to move more and lose the excuses here.

Get organized once and for all here. The follow-up to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

4. No excuse not to make a pillow cover for the holidays. Here, here and here. Just make as a slip cover to fit over your existing couch pillows so it’s less to store after the holidays are over.

So, thank you Hump Day, as we are now officially allowed to begin savoring the days leading up to Friday.

East Valley Events | December 2015

Here are some great ideas to get you in the Christmas Spirit.

Throughout the month of December

Merry Main Street in Downtown Mesa

Winter Wonderland at Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale

Rawhide Snowy Christmas at Rawhide Western Town in Chandler

A Christmas Carol at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert

The Spirit of Christmas at The Chandler Center for the Arts

December 5th

Holiday Balloon Glow San Tan Village in Gilbert

The Holiday Balloon Glow & Bazaar by The Paisley Pumpkin Events at San Tan Village

Chandler Tumbleweed Tree Lighting in downtown Chandler

december 6th

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas at The Mesa Arts Center

December 12th

Schnepf Farms Winter Wonderland | 12/12 – 12/30

Festival of Lights Boat Parade at Tempe Town Lake

Boutiques

Artisan Christmas Boutique in Gilbert | 12/4

Peppermint Lane Boutique in Gilbert | 12/4 – 12/5

The Pasture Vintage Market in Mesa | 12/5

Swoon Winter Boutique in Mesa | 12/12

Part One – Track Your Expenses

This is Part One of my five-part, eight-week series on The Beginner’s Guide To Budgeting.

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If starting a budget seems overwhelming, let’s go old school for a moment, shall we.

1. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil.

2. Now write down EVERY amount you spend as soon as you can after you spend it, for an entire month and what you spent it on. Every. Single. Penny.

That’s it. The first step towards budgeting your money is to track every cent that leaves your bank account/wallet.

You will have entries for your mortgage/housing, insurance, auto payment, etc. I call those Fixed Monthly Bills (FMB) those that are due every month like clockwork. And then you will also have entries for things you need to purchase every month, you know, like food to eat and Kleenex to blow your nose with, that stuff. Those are referred to as Fixed Monthly Expenses (FME).  And then if you are like me, you will have the things that I like to call FLUFF, better know as: Fun Life purchases Under False Finances – those impulse items, things you don’t-really-need-and-I-really-can’t-afford-them-but-I-really-want-it-and-it’s-going-on-the-credit-card-so-I-don’t-have-to-pay-until-later-anyway so you go ahead and buy them. Anyway. Yeah, those things.

It can be hard to change your lifestyle and habits in one week so this whole process is going to take place over a couple of  months. This one step will take a whole month. This will allow you examine where your money is going and what it is doing for a full month. This is a process and the first step is awareness. And you probably think December is a really bad time to start something like this but I actually think its the perfect time because that is when most of us overspend blissfully and gleefully unaware of where our money is going.

I’ve even created a worksheet for you to use (because I ♥ spreadsheets) so if you would like to keep everything organized and in one place here you go (hint: it will make Part Two a little easier).

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If you run out of room go ahead and print another one, they’re free!

But of course, if it is easier to just save up receipts in a folder or envelope then have at it. I just want you to keep track of every cent you spend for an entire month: on groceries, on coffee, at the gas pump, with your credit card, on gifts for others, on a pack of gum, that parking meter with the change in your pocket, on gifts for yourself, every bill you pay….EVERY. THING.

Meet you back here in a month with that list, or in between worksheet entries, you can keep checking back here for more fun things NOT finance related, like maybe food or house projects!

The Beginner’s Guide To Budgeting – Series

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Ok, we are quickly approaching 2016 and it’s a good of time as any to start revisiting our financial resolutions from the beginning of this year. Or start working on those for next year. Never hurts to be ahead of the game.

Well, if you’ve fallen off the budgeting bandwagon this past year, let me see if I can help get you back on board or at least help you book another trip for this upcoming year.

Budgeting can be confusing and overwhelming and some might not even know where to begin when it comes to budgeting your money. This isn’t something that is taught in school (though I HIGHLY believe it should be!), nor is this something that comes naturally to many of us.

So, I am offering a five-part, eight-week series that starts tomorrow to help you take the steps to becoming more aware of your finances and more mindful of your money.

Disclaimers: Now, I am not a financial planner or money expert by any means…. I just know what works for us. It might not work for everyone but it will at least get you thinking and possibly taking a step in the right direction.

Part One (Week 1-4): Track Your Expenses

Part Two (Week 5): The Big Picture

Part Three (Week 6): Tell Your Money Where To Go

Part Four (Week 7): Adjustments

Part Five (Week 8): Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?

So come on back for some budgeting fun!

Magic Body Butter

Hello magic.

I have been searching for a way to help my dry skin and decided to make my own body butter yesterday to help with my ever dry, itchy winter skin. Even in the desert it worsens during the winter months especially with the extra dry desert air. Nothing I could find commercially has helped.

I’ve been searching around online and looking more closely at what I am putting on my skin and I am coming to the realization that those commercially made “soaps, lotions and creams” might not be all they are cracked up to be. They might be just the thing that is robbing my skin of some severely needed nourishing.

So I decided to try whipping up a batch of my own… and I think I am addicted. I’ve already dug into this yummy jar. I couldn’t wait for a picture. Doesn’t look very pretty but it is a beautiful thing to me.

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My skin has never felt more calm. That’s exactly what my skin feels like. Calmed. The constant itchy, tight dryness is soothed. Gone. Amazing to someone who has suffered year after year for a good couple of decades with dry, itchy-to-the-bone, winter skin.

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I didn’t follow a specific recipe, neither did I write down what I did, I just added a little skin loving of this and a little skin nourishing of that and whipped. Not sure if I can replicate it but you can bet I’m going to be trying to make this creamy goodness again. And I’ll probably be writing it down this time.

Celebrate the Season 2015

‘Tis the season. The countdown to Christmas and time to start thinking about my annual Celebrate the Season album and start gathering supplies.

While I love Ali Edwards December Daily tradition, I have more of a process that isn’t so daily, shall I say. I am all about telling my story and preserving traditions but daily is just too much of a commitment for me. I take a more sporadic approach to record the ways we celebrate the Countdown to Christmas and in no particular order including Thanksgiving and New Years. I love recording the traditions we honor, the memories we make and the way we celebrate the holidays all the way up to the New Year. I am so grateful for the motivation to start doing this back in 2005. Those memories are just so precious.

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As I am unpacking my boxes I am discovering many, many, many (don’t tell my husband) 12 x 12 papers, embellishments and scraps that I realized I shouldn’t need to shop for anything for this album this year. I am going to challenge myself to use up what I have. I am even considering putting the pages into another album I already have as a continuation of our holiday traditions.

My process:

  1. Use what supplies I have. I have many leftover from the last couple of years and as I am unpacking my boxes it is like Christmas around here as I uncover many of my papers I didn’t even remember I had.
  2. Pick a theme – I am going to pick 3 basic colors and find papers in those shades and will hopefully be able to throw in some non-traditional colors this year as accents, think gold and light blue.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Set a goal of finishing it this year by the end of January.
  5. Print out pictures from last year….that goes without saying, unfortunately. Going to use the Walgreens app on my phone. Incredible 1 hour turnaround, sometimes even faster! And maybe finish last years while I’m at it :-).
  6. Give myself a hall pass on documenting every little thing and focus more on enjoying the moments and making the memories, not so much on the process.

So what do you want to document about this holiday season?

Many new memories to be had this year with a completely different climate then what we are used to. No snow, shoveling, bundling up, wind chills or snow days off from school.

How To Stretch Your Grocery Budget

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In an effort to get back on track budget-wise my first instinct is to reign in our food bill. It seems that besides our mortgage and car payments, the next largest amount of money we spend in our household is on food. We spend it on going out to eat, groceries, snacks at a gas fill-up stop, treats when we are out and about, grocery store run because we are out of milk but end up throwing another $20 worth of impulse items in the cart at 9pm at night. So after living in two different apartments in as many months, with our stuff in storage, while we waited for our house to be built, we really let our budget slip. It’s gotten WAY out of control.

Time to get back on track. Here are some tried and true methods I am going to re-implement in our grocery shopping to help us stay on budget that could work for you as well. For our family of 5 we have a $150/week budget. So first order of business is to just get back to that number.  (If you’re wondering how I came to that number or even what your grocery budget may be, stay tuned. I have a series coming up at the end of October that will help you figure that out.)

According to the USDA’s Cost of Food at Home, for a “liberal” spending family of 5 (4 adults – considers that my 12 & 14 yo eat like an adult – and one 10 yo) spends $387.70/week on food, while a thrifty family spends $197.30. Yikes, I guess you could call us thrifty.

1. Plan Ahead

First and foremost, the basis of any good strategy is a good plan. Then you have to stick to it. Planning out your meals means that there will be no brain-numbing, last minute panic attacks of what to have for dinner. It will already be decided and you will have all the ingredients you need. No need for a quick trip through the drive through.

I have been using GatheredTable.com and am in love. Their plans are versatile, they have great recipes to choose from, I can add my own if I want  to mix it up and once decided it compiles a grocery list for me that I can customize further depending on what is already in my cupboards! Can’t say enough about how much I love this site. And just heard a *rumor* that there will be an app coming very soon! GAH!

2. Shop the ads

This is a no brainer. When whole chickens are on sale for $0.99/lb, that is what we are having for dinner tonight, tomorrow night and maybe the next night too! And I’m hoarding then away in my freezer for a rainy day. You can plan your meals around what is on sale at the store or even swap out ingredients for what is on sale. Your favorite chicken enchiladas on the menu for tonight but ground beef is on sale, use ground beef instead. A recipe you were planning calls for salmon but talapia is on sale, swap it out, I guarantee you won’t notice the difference in taste but your wallet will in savings!

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3. Have a well stocked pantry

Stocking up on items when they are on sale allows you to purchase them for a lot less than buying one can of tomatoes as needed and you can build a nice supply at rock bottom prices and can save on the next weeks or even months grocery bill by already having them on hand. Hence the empty shelf in the photo above, I’m set for a good while on olive oil now. I bought them all!!

Stocking up on items when they are on sale will also allow you to substitute in a pinch. Don’t have taco seasoning – make your own. Don’t have a protein – use beans, lentils or quinoa. Don’t have the salsa you want – make your own. Extra company and need more pasta sauce – good thing you have jars of stewed and crushed tomatoes on hand!

4. “Shop” that Well Stocked pantry

Instead of instinctively running to the store when you think you have nothing to make a meal out of, look again. Use those pantry items and any produce or meat that needs to be used up to throw a meal together. You’ll be surprised what you can make.

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Making things from scratch is a great alternative to boxed mixes or frozen foods, remember how grandma used to do it? Biscuits that were hot out of the oven, piles of pancakes in the morning; it is cheaper and easier than you think to make these from scratch. Most of us have some sort of flour, baking powder, eggs and milk in our pantry or fridge. I like to make batches of pancakes or waffles and freeze them so the kids can pull out what they need (this also falls under #7 DIY-IT).

5. Beans – the other white meat

Substituting beans for meat in your dishes help stretch your dollar also. You could consider having a meatless meal once a week that allows you to further your meals while still saving money. This is something you’ll definitely have to talk to your significant other about because most everyone I know was raised with the thinking that you had to have some sort of meat as your main dish for dinner. Every dinner. My husband was no exception and still struggles with this but is slowly coming around.

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6. waste not

Now after all that work of planning, shopping and cooking why would you want to throw the efforts of your labor (not to mention money) away!

Here’s some ideas to put into use so nothing goes in the trash:

Veggies getting a little limp? Saute those greens up and freeze them (ice cube trays work wonderfully) and then you can just toss them into soups or stews as needed.

I also keep an airtight container in the fridge and when I have any leftover veggies like corn or  green beans from a meal that just is not enough to save I throw them in the container and after about 3 weeks you’ll have a nice mix. This makes for a wonderful Everything But The Kitchen Sink Soup I make. It’s basically a free meal!!

Another way to also stretch your food dollars even further, like into the next day farther, is leftovers. What you don’t finish for dinner package up in individual portions so that you or anyone for that matter can grab them quickly in the morning and you have lunch for the day. Bringing leftovers for lunch is in again people, I swear!

We also have a Clean Out The Fridge meal at our house. We pull out any and all leftovers and either reinvent them into a new meal or reheat and it makes for an easy way to make room for the next shopping trip all-the-while letting nothing go to waste.

7. DIY-it

For the love of all that is just and good for pity’s sake! Make your own salad dressings. It is so easy and tastes so much better than the bottled stuff. Granted those little bottles are tempting with all their sugar and preservatives and it may take your taste buds a few salads to get over that longing but once you do the freshness is incomparable. And the possibilities are endless. We can get pretty creative with what we have on hand – see #3 Have A Well Stocked Pantry.

While we are on the subject of making it yourself this also falls into that category. Those packaged seasoning mixes that contain all sorts of weird “ingredients”.

Not only does making your own dressings and seasonings save you money but I am not sure why you would want to season your chicken with Monocalcium Phosphate or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate? We all have garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and cumin in our cupboards, don’t we?

8. Think outside the grocery store organics box

Ok, I know we all want to eat better but most of us can’t afford an all-organic diet. There are some guidelines and common sense that come into play – at least where my veggies and fruit are concerned.

The Environmental Working Group has studied pesticide residuals in veggies and fruits and compiled a list of the Clean 15, those that are ok to purchase the conventionally grown way. The Dirty Dozen however are ones you do want to spend your grocery dollars on to purchase organic if you are able.

While the Clean 15 list still contains foods that are still produced with some pesticides, my rule of thumb is that if you are worried about chemicals and consume the skin of the fruit or veggie (and can budget for it) buy organic.

Get your produce from the source! Buy from local farmers markets where you can ask the farmer what pesticides and chemicals might have been used. We all want to eat more fruits and veggies and who knows them better than the grower. You’re also supporting local farmers.

You can also stretch your organic dollars by signing up for a local CSA or Bountiful Baskets. I can’t wait to try out either one out here. With a year round growing season, fresh organic veggies should not be far away. For $20 – $30/week they both offer an affordable way to get organic fresh fruits & veggies to your table.