Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bountiful Vacations on a Budget



Vacations with a large family can take some serious logistics, especially when you are trying to have fun on a budget. Many of our vacations involve camping, which is not as rustic as it sounds because we have a small travel trailer that we haul along with us, but there are a few months of the year when camping is not so comfortable.

Living on a small farm with a couple of little dogs has caused us to be strategic about getaways. It seems to work best for us to be gone for just a couple of days at a time, this also seems to work best with the varying work schedules in our home. 


With kids in college, we also are having to think about school schedules when planning vacations, something that was not an issue when all our children were homeschooled. With three of our students freshly finished with a semester of college, we took an opportunity for a short getaway. It always feels like it might be our last vacation as a family because our oldest is getting so close to being out of the home, so we are trying to make the most of these moments, and still stay on a budget.

Our recent getaway was planned a few months ago when the dates became available for Home School Days at the Monterey Aquarium. This is a fabulous program where the normally twenty-seven dollar tickets are free for the adults and students in our party. This makes a location that would normally be out of reach for us, suddenly affordable.

We also wanted to stay an extra day or so, so that we could explore our favorite tide pools in Pacific Grove, so we booked two nights at The Sea Breeze Inn.  This is an older hotel, but the linens have been upgraded and they have a family cottage that works fairly well for us, at a very affordable price. With our family size, we would normally have to rent two rooms and spend upwards of $200 a night, but this particular room was less than $150, and we were all able to squeeze into the available beds, I know some big families let kids sleep on hotel floors, but I can barely stand to see my children sit on a hotel floor, much less sleep on one.

We arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and then went straight to the beach. Unfortunately we had missed low tide, but the rocks were still beautiful for climbing on, and the salty waves and cool breezes were refreshing after the several hour car ride. 


After rock hopping along the shoreline, we went out for a pizza dinner. We had packed a few snacks for lunch, and I do mean just a few, so by the time our pizza arrived, we were like a pack of ravenous wolves. We ate at Gianni's, which was just okay. It is a cute little restaurant but we are used to ordering Mountain Mikes with a coupon or Little Caesars so the $27 dollar pizzas were a bit steep, if I was going to be spending that much, I would much rather have been eating at my sister's fabulous wood fired pizza restaurant. We ordered two extra large pizzas and had some leftovers which were promptly eaten for breakfast.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that our heater was not working. We didn't feel like moving or having a workman in the room with our big crowd, so we cranked the heat up in the adjoining room and cuddled up to stay warm. Having this inconvenience somewhat dimmed our enjoyment of the hotel however, and with the added blessing of pouring rain, we decided to check out in the morning and head home the next night after our aquarium visit. Our vacation was supposed to have involved two nights in a hotel, but our beds at home are so comfortable, and our home feels so sanitary, compared to the hotel that we decided to switch gears and just spend one night away.



After a night of rest, albeit in a chilly room, we checked out of the hotel, with the manager trying very sweetly to get us to stay one more night. We headed to the aquarium and enjoyed a few hours of wandering through the exhibits. The older three children decided to skip the aquarium and walk around town, so we had the fun of exploring with just 6 of us. Although I missed my big kids, it was nice to be able to focus on enjoying the younger four. 


After exploring the watery exhibits we ate our packed lunch and then met the big kids at Starbucks for coffee and cocoa. It was cozy to hang our there while the rain poured down outside but finally we braved the elements to get back in our big van. My husband gave us a sweet tour of the lovely old homes in Pacific Grove, while each of us pointed out our favorites. Then after an hour or so of exploring we met up with friends at Phil's Fish House for some delicious fish and chips. 


With our tummies full, we headed home into the night and crawled into our own cozy beds, determined to treat the next day like a vacation as well. Although our trip was short, it was a sweet little time of reconnecting with each other, and exploring one of our favorite created places, the beautiful, rocky shoreline. Although, we have taken cheaper vacations involving our travel trailer, and our own trailer cooked food, when compared to a weekend at Disneyland, this vacation was very budget friendly.
For more tips on bountiful living on a budget, check out my book!

What are your best tips for vacations on a budget?




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hand Made Christmas


One way to save money at Christmas is to make gifts and decorations, especially if you make them with things you have on hand. We have not traditionally been big decorators in our home, but because we are hosting a few parties, we are going to be decking the halls a bit. In order to save money on decorations, we gleaned a bunch of greenery from the tree farm where we purchased our tree and then made wreaths

We made ours with a grapevine base and hot-glued floral tape, but the above tutorial uses wire and a wire base. Both would be a little more invisible, I just used what I had.


We used additional greenery over the tops of many of our surfaces including the piano, bookshelves and the mantel, as well as placing greenery stems in vases. We then interspersed it all with lights we had on hand.

Our history co-op is celebrating Colonial History this month and as part of that celebration, we will be having a White Elephant gift exchange with gifts that we have made. This colonial spirit motivated me to also make a few little gifts, both for the exchange and for friends. 



We started off with some lavender bath salts. I have lavender flowers which my gardener mother gave me and which I have been saving for this purpose. My daughter mixed a box of epsom salt with a teaspoon of lavender oil and 1/4 lavender flowers. This will make a lovely, relaxing soak. 



The next handmade gift we created was our Altoid tin dolls. These were made with scraps of fabric and stuffing. I first made a little pattern with a peaked hat and cut two pieces of fabric from that pattern.


























Then I cut a little round hole for a face and on a small piece of white fabric, stitched on a simple mouth and eyes. I stitched the face into the hole to look like a baby in a bunting and then sewed right sides together. After turning and stuffing, I sewed the opening up and made a little blanket and mattress.






I made one as a gift for our Colonial Day, but my children were so delighted by them, that they asked for one as well. I also have a little ninja cut out and waiting to be sewn together in my basket. These can be purchased from the Milk and Violets shop on Etsy.

Making gifts with and for your children is not just a way to save money. It is also a lovely way to enjoy the quiet, cool days leading up to Christmas.

For more ideas on Bountiful Living on a Budget, check out my book.

For many more lovely ideas on having a wonderful Christmas with your children, check out the Wonder Bundle from Wild and Free, a beautiful homeschool community. An article featuring our Prairie Christmas Party, as well as many other tutorials, gift ideas and handmade craft and food recipes are included.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Shopping on a Budget


"Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read."

                              


I love Christmas. We actually went through several years where we questioned whether Christmas was even okay for us as Christians to celebrate, and even in those quiet years, I still managed to sneak in some kind of gift giving and stocking filling for my children.

What I don't love however, is getting into debt, buying stuff we don't need, and neglecting the poor.

The desire to live within our means so that we can be free to give defines our Christmas gift giving.



I want Christmas to feel extravagant for our children, but I don't want to spend extravagantly. With this goal in mind, there are a few strategies that I use each Christmas.

1. Keep Expectations Low- Every year I tell the children that it will be a small Christmas and they won't receive many gifts. I do spend a morning asking them what they would like for Christmas and writing it down, I love hearing what they are dreaming of, but I make it clear that they will not get everything on their list.



2. Use A Formula- I love the phrase, "Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read". I found it in a blog post by Jen Hatmaker on simple Christmas, although it has also been attributed to Ann Voskamp. It is a very good guideline for me on gift purchasing. With seven children, I need a framework to keep the gift purchasing simple.

3. Start Early- Throughout the year, I am constantly on the lookout for good books at thrift stores. These are stored in my closet where I will then divide them up between the children for their Christmas gifts. There is nothing quite like a new book with a holiday to enjoy reading it. This is a good principle for all gift giving, while being careful not to overbuy or overspend.



4. Wrap Everything- I use Christmas as an opportunity to give my children things that they already need. Socks, underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste. I may spend a little extra to get day of the week undies, or a character toothbrush, but even necessities should not be taken for granted, and giving them as gifts helps my children recognize that fact. I also wrap small things like crayons and drawing pads which were purchased for a few dollars back in August.

                             


5. Keep Relationship as the Priority- Throughout the holiday season we try to keep relationships at the forefront. Making time to read through an advent devotional, sing songs, build a puzzle, and reach out to the needy are what the holiday should be defined by. If all my time is spent shopping, the memories will be bitter for everyone.



Christmas can be a wonderful time, free of debt and stress, it just might take a little more thought and planning.


For more ideas on a simple, thoughtful Christmas, check out www.bewildandfree.org. The December subscription, Wonder, is full of beautiful ideas for Christmas celebrations that keep Jesus as the center while making special memories with your children. Our recent Little House on the Prairie Christmas Party, along with recipes and a craft is one of many lovely resources included.


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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Toys on a Budget


Christmas is coming and we are days away from the biggest shopping day of the year. I sat down with the children to make a list of what they would want for Christmas and am trying now to remember where I put it. 

As I plan what I will get as gifts for my children, several trains of thought chug through my mind. One prominent conflict about what toys I will purchase for my children is the endless time which seems to get spent picking up and organizing those same toys. 

They seemed like a great idea in the store and they brought a lot of excitement when they were opened but within a short time, they are shoved under a bed or left out in the yard. 

Toys, no matter how much they cost, rarely retain their value to your children. While there may be some exceptions, a special doll or stuffed animal would be a perfect example, many of the toys we buy, lose their sparkle rapidly.

Another problem that I have with too many toys is the way they stifle creativity. My children seem to have more fun making toys or playing imaginative games than they do sitting down and playing with store-bought toys. Again, there are some exceptions, the toy kitchen that we made from an Ikea cabinet 15 years ago is still played with, as are the Legos which the boys have collected throughout the years. 


As I process these thoughts, they bring to mind some of the fun we have recently had which did not involve store bought toys.

Playing "Where Oh Where Is The Big Black Bear"-This scary game involves turning off all the lights while the bear goes and hides. The rest of us then tread carefully through the house until the bear jumps out and scares the living daylights out of us. Play at your own risk, I almost broke my nose in a dark hallway collision.

Making Homemade Superhero Gear-If your children are given the freedom to create, they will not care if it looks exactly real, their imaginations are bright enough to make up the difference between fact and fiction.

Reading Books and Acting Out Stories-This goes the same for movies, where else would they have gotten the idea for the Captain America gear? Stories are great for sparking imaginative play.

Collecting in Nature- My children will often make flower fairies out of nails and flowers, they don't last long, but then they didn't cost much either so the loss is pretty small. They also make boats out of walnut shells, play food and money out of leaves and weeds, and houses out of trees.

Making Paper Dolls and Other Homemade Toys-Paper dolls are quick and easy to create, but what about sewing a simple cloth doll or cape from scraps of cloth that you have on hand?


We have found some special toys through the years and we are so glad to have them, but when we inundate our children with toys, we often kill creativity instead of inspiring it, as well as potentially causing us as parents more frustration as we struggle to pay for, and clean up after, this over abundance of toys.

This Christmas, see if buying one less toy for your children could be freeing. It may be that it frees up money to help someone in need, time to read with your children, and space in your home to enjoy each other more.
For more ideas on Bountiful Living on a Budget, simply subscribe to get them delivered to your inbox. You can also buy the book, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget to get page after page of money saving and life enhancing advice.


                                

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bountiful Recreation on a Budget




Living on a budget often conjures up images of scarcity and lack. You imagine yourself watching the world pass you by while you count pennies in a dark room. However, the thing that you are truly unlikely to be doing is cooking rice over an open fire for your children, or scrounging the garbage heap looking for food for them. If you are reading this post, chances are you have a roof over your head and at least a little food in your pantry, unlike much of the developing world. Your are just looking for ideas on how to make your resources go a little farther.
We have lived frugally for so long that perhaps our taste for fun is a little tainted. However, we really do have fun on a budget, and in so doing free up resources to do meaningful things such as packing up boxes for Operation Christmas Child or sending a loved one to a marriage conference.



Today, Sunday, felt very fun, although it required very little financial outlay. We spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and reading in bed. After preparing ourselves and a salad offering for the church potluck, we scrambled out the door for the short drive to our local fellowship. We worshipped and listened to the Word for a while, and then ate a yummy soup and bread potluck lunch while visiting with church friends.
Later we headed the short distance home where we split into smaller groups to find our own afternoon leisure. My husband had to run the carpet cleaner we had rented back to the grocery store so I hitched a ride with him so we could have a spontaneous date. When our children were younger, babysitting costs would have made this opportunity a little less feasible but with several older children at home, we can sneak out for a quick break together weekly. After dropping the carpet cleaner off at the grocery store we picked up two for one coffees at our local Starbucks. While sipping our steaming mochas, we strolled the downtown area, admiring front porches and discussing plans for an upcoming marriage retreat that we are hosting.


Shortly after we returned home a few of the younger children and I went on a stroll down our country road, admiring the leaves and savoring the cool autumn air. Upon our return we set up a colorful vignette on our picnic table and spent a few minutes doing crayon rubbings and leaf sketches. 
While we were doing our nature study, my oldest son reminded me that I had promised to read an essay that he was assigned in his English class. I scanned it and then went to find and visit with the other children who I had not yet connected with. One of these was returning from a run, so her and I went on a quick walk in the darkening twilight while she cooled down and talked.


When I returned to the house, I was ready for a few minutes to myself, so I instructed another child to heat up leftover soup on the stove and I stole away to my closet to check Instagram, eat chocolate and put away clean clothes, not exactly simultaneously. A few of the middle kids were wanting to watch an action movie that was available on Amazon and were very motivated to tidy up the house so we could watch it together. 
While I had my strange mix of relaxation in the closet, they tidied up the house and got the movie going. As it started I popped popcorn, put on a g-rated movie for the youngest two in my bedroom, and then finally joined them.We sat on the edge of our seats through the movie, spent some time praying afterwards, and then headed off to bed for the night.
Total cost for a fun filled day of investing in relationships?
Coffee-4.75
Movie-4.99
Leftovers, popcorn, and gas >$5
And the return on the investment is impossible to put a price on.
Family fun is completely within reach on a budget. It might take a little more work or preparation, but the returns are great as we teach our children to love simple pleasures, and demonstrate to them the principle of storing up treasure in heaven instead of squandering it here on earth.





Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Simplified Room Cleaning for Kids


How does it happen? Every few weeks I am forced to go into my youngest boys' bedroom, after finding it increasingly messy when I tuck them in at night, and do a thorough cleaning. While I clean, I utter encouraging words such as, "How did this happen?", "Why do you have ten pairs of socks under your bed" and "You are not the two little pigs!". 

As I exclaim in shock and awe, I scrape the underbed contents and begin sorting. I invariably find an odd assortment of dusty stuffed animals, mismatched socks, dog-eared books and scattered bits of that bane of my existence,
Legos.




To give my young boys a little credit, I must say that their room is quite small and it is rather hard to tell which of the two who share it is the worst perpetrator. Making beds and closing drawers are two basic daily duties that should be routine at this point, but as my son pointed out to me when I took the photos, "This is going to look bad for you", and the truth is that if it isn't a routine, it means that I haven't been following through. 


If I daily check their room to make sure those things are done and then give appropriate consequences when they are left undone, it will eventually become a habit for them. However, if I go in there once a month when it has become unbearable, rant and rave over the mess and then ignore it again until next month, I will have taught them nothing, except perhaps that I am inconsistent with my expectations.



As with any task which we expect our children to do, there are a few basic ideas for making it doable.
1. Keep it simple. Easy to pull up blankets, or a bottom sheet with duvet cover will make bed making do-able for the youngest of children.
2. Keep it organized. We try really hard to only have a few categories of toys in our home, and especially in the rooms. This particular room has a bin for stuffed animals, a bin for dress up, a book-shelf with special books, a small toy bin for toy animals, and hooks for back packs. There is also an under-bed drawer for Legos, those evil little offenders of room cleanliness.
3. Keep a minimum of stuff. This room does not have a closet. When we remodeled, we had to take the closet out for use as a hallway and so it is a little awkward for clothes storage. We keep the boys better clothes hanging up in our closet and they are just responsible for a few drawers of everyday clothes. Keeping these everyday clothes, jammies and underthings weeded through regularly makes it much easier for the boys to put their clothes away in the proper drawers. A few categories of toys are kept in their own individual bins.
This is no designer bedroom. With seven children at home, we are just one step away from having utilitarian dorm rooms, but helping these young men develop good habits that will carry them into adulthood is our responsibility as parents. 


Another post on cleaning kids rooms
And one with a great cleaning checklist here
And this one on our responsibility as parents

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bountiful Homeschooling On a Budget


I am doing an online book study with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker right now and it is a fresh reminder of why I wrote the book, Bountiful Homeschooling on a Budget. So often, our decisions about money are based solely on what we want or can afford, and we often neglect to consider how our financial choices glorify God, or how they don't, whatever the truth may be.

So, over the next several weeks and just in time to help you save for the holidays, I am going to be highlighting some key ideas from the book.

                                                

One of my favorite ideas for saving money on homeschooling is to form a learning community with local friends. Homeschooling is so much more fun in community, but if you are trying to do it on a budget then many organized co-ops such as Classical Conversations may be out of reach. 

As well, there may be a particular learning focus that is important to you, and so a one size fits all approach is not going to be in the best interest of your family.

We have had a homeschool co-op in some form for over ten years, we started one when we lived in the Northern California foothills, grouped up with some homeschoolers while in Mexico, and have one in our current little town as well. 

Some years, the focus has been on science and other years we study history. We are currently working our way through Early American History and having a blast with a small group of local friends.

For myself, the areas of learning that are really hard for me to cover are art and science experiments so when we have a co-op we make sure to have those areas covered. This has also saved me lots of money on art and science classes as we have been able to learn from other moms in our community those skills which we might lack.

              

Interested in forming a co-op but not sure where to start? 
Here are a few easy tips to get you going.

1. Find a few friends who are interested in getting together to learn. Usually 3-4 families is optimum for an in-home co-op.

2. Set up a meeting to discuss the schedule and expectations. I usually plan a year's worth of topics at the beginning of the school year. For instance, we might meet once a month and cover a chapter in a science book at each meeting or we might cover a different time in history at each meeting. 

 
3. Plan who is responsible for teaching. In our co-op, we usually have rotating duties which include; hosting, art instruction, geography and snack. In our science group we would assign a different mom to each science book group (some children were in high school textbooks, others were in elementary Apologia books).

4. Give each mom a calendar and then form a Facebook or other group to keep the moms in the loop about where you are meeting and what they are responsible for.

Having our own homeschool co-op has saved me thousands of dollars and hours of time. I did check into Classical Conversations one year, but with a family of my size and even with working as a tutor it would have been very expensive and even more time consuming. For now, forming our own co-op has been a wonderful and creative option for learning in community and gaining new skills. 

If however, Classical Conversations is the best option for you, I know some excellent tutors and directors. Comment for more info.



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