Saving Childcare Costs Without Losing Value

Summer Fun

For any working parent, the cost of childcare is a callous topic. Something that hurts upfront but you get used to it, because quite frankly you “do what you gotta do” but every time you look at it you cringe at the reminder. We were blessed for the first 3 years of our girl’s lives to have my mom be our DCP (daycare provider) however when we moved we were forced to incur all the traditional costs of being a parent. We have searched long and hard for great childcare and the school/center they have been in since we moved to Raleigh is phenomenal. We have not a single bad word to say about the environment or the people but sometimes change, if even just temporary, is good. I wasn’t sure where to begin but I knew the facts. 1. we needed to save money and cut costs if we could 2. it absolutely could not be at the expense of our girls 3. i was not going to take out a personal ad or entrust my babies to someone off Craigslist. Leaving me with the question, HOW THE HECK am I going to do this??

So, I took advantage of my resources and trusted my instinct, how? you ask. Well, I work at a university with some of the most intellectually gifted and creative students I have ever had the pleasure of being around, there has to be some childcare experience among 35,000 students and boy was I right. I put an ad in the school newspaper, “serious inquiries only,” and listing every requirement possible. Any teenie-bopper, fair-weather “babysitters” need-not-apply. The list included, background checks, drivers license, CPR, First Aid, Infant CPR, and Lifeguarding skills all REQUIRED as well as resumes and references, of course. No, there was no formal application lol but an interview process…absolutely. Right away I had quite a few inquiries and  we whittled down our selections to the interview process. Cut to the chase, I found the perfect person. A young lady, with all the above skills and then some. She also just happens to be a fashion design student which is a huge bonus for our art loving child. In fact, I bet our summer nanny had no idea she would be doing so much art work during her summer lol. She’s creative and fun but still follows our rules and requests without hesitation to use a timeout or redirection as needed. She’s on point with our expectations and completely respectful and let me say, has one of the best temperaments of anyone, ever. Beyond patient. I may be slightly jealous lol. All in all she’s perfect for us. I was hesitant to boast in the first few weeks but now as we close out our third week all parties are still happy with the arrangement (knock on wood). Although, she’s been warned, if she keeps it up we may not let her return to classes in the fall, j/k.
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To date, this girls are spending their summer playing princess and doctor, painting nails, taking walks around the lake, going to the playground, swimming in the pool, bike riding/learning, cooking, and of course doing artwork; and let me t
ell you there is no better feeling than coming home after a long day’s work to my happy (and tuckered out) little ladies. The house stays clean, naps are had and pleasantries are exchanged. The handoff is great and when Nanny-Sam heads out
for her evening the girls are excited to help me start dinner and still love having me arrive. It’s such an amazing feeling. I realize it won’t always be this way so for now I’m loving every minute of it.
Here’s to a wonderful money-saving, sun-shining, and safe summer from our family to yours. ox
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…feelings not optional.

I don’t know how to start but I’m feeling the need to write. This week, for work, I am going through my CDL training. This is such a small almost meaningless task, except for the time consumption and training it’s only real kickback is how it enhances my somewhat versatile resume and repertoire; except that my Dad was a truck driver. He taught me all I know about cars and driving. When I hit a car a few months ago, my 16 year-old self kicked in and the first person I called was my Daddy. Guaranteed conversations with my dad were always cars, work, or parenting advice. He could provide me with any and all “true” perspective and one could guarantee that it was always unfiltered yet very much appreciated. That’s what made him so great at being a Daddy.

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Anyhow, the first week of the CDL process is tri-fold, and that’s just for the permit. So far I have passed 2/3 tests. Meaning, yes I failed one. It was bound to happen. I own it. Not the point. The first person I wanted to call was my Dad. I want to hear him laugh and say, well you didn’t study. BTW, I def did,  but then he would have given me some feedback and knowledge. I can hear him talking to me (I realize that I should capture this moment and hear him still talking but come-on..it’s not the same) This is one of those moments of bonding that I should be having with my mid-40 year old father who died too young and I’m angry about it. It hurts, deeply. 

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Someone dear to me recently explained the process of suffering and death as a novelty, for lack of a better word. It sounds wrong upfront, but when you think about it there’s a lot of truth to it. And like most things when the novelty wears off everyone else’s life gets to go on and you are left to deal with the pieces and pain. No one ever forgets it just gets pushed back. We are all guilty of it this, I am no exception. If I am being brutally honest I have even been guilty in the past of falling victim to acting like this with loss to those nearest to me but for the here and now. In this situation. It’s just different. I am different. I feel it to my core. I miss him to my toes and I love him beyond…

The Memory Bank Offers Great Interest Rates

Well, Hello. 

Admittedly, May has been a little off for me. Both financially and emotionally, there is some tension and cloudiness, for lack of a better term. Dad’s funeral is next month, and we have lots of planning for the summer as well as a pending move (uuggghhh!!!) More on that later.

For now, we have lifted the spending freeze and overall are still doing pretty well but we knew it would be the real test of habit. Have we or have we not made significant change? The first notable difference was we stopped for coffee with a gift card (not even our regular account transaction) and we felt uber guilty. I don’t want to create this type of lifestyle. We work hard so every once in a while these treats should be enjoyed not internalized and ridiculed. This is something we are addressing to find a good balance. But the grocery and household goods are still on par and we may have just found a way to cut one of our largest bills down (I’m crossing my fingers and will let you know as soon as we confirm this change is permanent). So all still very much a work in progress.

In regards to free entertainment, last night we had an absolute blast hosting game night at our house and it didn’t cost a penny! We had three other couples join us, it was BYOB and an appetizer. I was able to use a pantry raid for the food we provided and I contributed my bottle of wine received for Mother’s day. Admittedly, the hardest part was not opening it after a long week at work and have it hold out for Sat night 🙂 From food to fun and even better company I’d like to think we made a great profit, with all proceeds going straight into the Memory Bank. 

ox

Mommy Day

Mother's Day 2012

 As I left work today and picked the girls up from school, all exits were shared with big smiles and greetings of “Have a Happy Mother’s Day! Any big plans? Enjoy your day!” Of course these exchanges are always pleasant but it made me ask myself, why the hype and expectation? What’s that about? Mother’s day, in my opinion, is probably one of the top most misinterpreted holidays. It’s a holiday rooted in the true TLC of mommyhood. When I think of Mother’s day I think of big hugs, chipped tooth smiles, deep belly giggles, baking warm cookies together, and late night snuggles. I want to remember those tender moments and celebrate being a mom because even in the “head-banging-against-the-wall- what the-hell-am-I-doing-moments” I know it’s important to remember how fast it all goes by.

Charlotte Elise Madilyn Ruth

Unfortunately it seems that in 2013 Mother’s day has become more exploited by commercialism and rather turned into a Hallmark holiday  weighted down by overpriced floral arrangements, expensive dinners and elaborate gifts. Let me make this clear- Mom’s don’t need more dirty water to clean up or her favorite vase to be turned into a football game; she definitely doesn’t need any additional “stuff” to trip over and if you have small children a mom it may be best to avoid the stress of trying to go out to eat at a “nice lunch” with four screaming children. Sure, an escape is great but a weekend getaway may be over the top. Besides at some point during the day [most] moms want to see their children, lol. Granted, all of these things are nice and very much appreciated but try to plan accordingly, perhaps as the children grow certain gifts and/or functions become a bit more practical. Age and location absolutely plays a role but truth be told, in all reality [most] moms want precisely the same thing for mother’s day, and (secret tip to all men) it is the same as any other holiday, women merely want to be thought of, and the best part is that it truly costs nothing! Here are my top 5 suggestions for a mother’s day gift for the special mom in your life and quite honestly women of just about any age would love!

  • Make her favorite breakfast AND clean-up the mess.
  • Occupy the children (truly keep them busy) so that she can take a 20 min shower and maybe even get to pee, in peace.
  • Stay happy and positive and the children will (hopefully) follow suit-enjoy the day!
  • Get artsy, save your money, and have the kids make a present
  • Photos! Update an album or maybe take a picture and have it framed.

Last but not least, it doesn’t have to be mother’s day to remind the special mom in your life that you are thinking of her and appreciate all that she does; but when it is Mother’s day… maybe tell her twice.

Happy Mother’s Day all! And a special shout to the best mom in my world, I love you and thank you for all that you do for me, for Brent, and for the girls! We love you oxResampled_2013-05-10_20-24-47_432

Celebrating 5 years of Marriage in 5 days… for (less than) $5

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Friday, May 3rd, marks our 5 year wedding anniversary. Remembering our wedding is something that we enjoy, who doesn’t? But for me I find myself remembering not just our special day, but our special journey. Together for over eight years, it’s really only a moment in time, and we have had our ups and downs but we have always stuck together and we are confident about where we are going.

Apparently the 5 year anniversary is wood and flatware..hmmm. Not sure about either of those things so I decided to get creative and instead began to think about what to do to make B feel extra special. Of course always being mindful of our budget, this was hard because I wanted to do something all about him that he would TRULY enjoy. In the past I have successfully pulled off a romantic pinterest project or two, but let’s be real ladies, guys like that stuff but they don’t love it. And I wanted this to be about him, because I know how lucky I am. Just last week he held me for about two straight hours while I wept for my Dad, he told me his favorite stories of my Dad and dried my tears. This is the same man who has probably done more middle of the night diaper changes and feedings than I have and gets up every morning to make our daughter pancakes. He helps me clean but works twelve hour days; he has my coffee ready every morning without me having to ask and genuinely makes me feel like his most favorite and loved individual. I want (and need) to remind him more often that he really is my rock, but given the timing I decided to seize this opportunity and really make him FEEL my love for him. So here it is..

5 years of Marriage (and 3.5 years of dating) in 5 days 

Day 1: I recreated our first Valentine’s day dinner

Love note 1

Ready and waiting to surprise him after a long day’s work.

Spicy catfish, rice pilaf, veggies and chocolate covered strawberries. Then we played rummy <3

Spicy catfish, rice pilaf, veggies and chocolate covered strawberries; then we played rummy ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Highlighting that it takes “2” to make an Us. I did something minimal to remind him of all the best “pairs” in our life and let him enjoy two of his favorite things
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Day 3: He proposed on a Wednesday so I took this opportunity to “recreate the proposal” I didn’t actually get down on one knee, though. B had to work late so I had a similar set up with another love note

He proposed with my favorite movie, my favorite cookies, and his mother's beautiful diamond ring. The rose petals in the pic are the same ones he proposed with and we had at our wedding.

He proposed with my favorite movie, my favorite cookies, and his mother’s beautiful diamond ring. The rose petals in the pic are the same ones he proposed with and we had at our wedding.

Day 4; MY FAVORITE We are big breakfast people and in college we ALWAYS went a little hometown diner called the Miss Lyndonville Diner. We actually had our own game we created and played on the tabletops with individual creamers while we waited for our food, typically always the same order, but never really got to finish because the service was so speedy.

His favorite Miss L breakfast was the Skillet #8 with corned beef hash, eggs over easy, and toast. I even had a copy of the real menu from Miss L printed :)

His favorite Miss L breakfast was the Skillet #8 with corned beef hash, eggs over easy, and toast. I even had a copy of the real menu from Miss L printed 🙂

Day 5: While we are celebrating with dinner and a night out with our dear friends, for my day 5 gift to Brent I am giving him the a special love note he wrote me that included a “timeline of us” with an extra special note of my own. I don’t even know if he will remember writing it, hehe.

"You know you are in love when you see the world in her eyes, and her eyes everywhere in the world." -internet copyright but what's inside is all from sparky ;)

“You know you are in love when you see the world in her eyes, and her eyes everywhere in the world.” -internet copyright but what’s inside is the Timeline of Us …all from sparky 😉

Without fully intending to, I was able to do all of this on less than $5.00 Everything was printed on regular paper and I built the food for dinner and breakfast right into our monthly menu plan. This served dual purpose, because not only was it budget friendly but he didn’t catch on! Of course, dinner will be our splurge but even that is going to be better than it would be because Raleigh has first night deals every first friday of the month. Regardless one of my favorite things about us is that we have never had a lot of money, but we have always had a lot of love. Love in our home is never frugal, and I pray every evening and wake every morning grateful and loving my husband and my family- even on the hard days.

He’s pretty special and I’m pretty lucky. ox

Healthy Eating, Budget Friendly

Eating healthy is a big part of my life; not only just for me but for my family. It is so important to us that the girls enjoy healthy foods just as much as the “treats.” We live very much by the saying, everything in moderation…including moderation. Lucky for us Madz will eat baked fish and Charli loves her raw spinach and carrots, but I’ll be the first to say these items aren’t always the most affordable. So I understand the argument that it can be cheaper to buy the processed food over organic but only sometimes; with the proper planning and some great tips there is a bigger bang for your buck to be achieved.  To help provide you, and me with some true proper- perspective, I’ve asked Brent’s cousin Lauren a nutritionist in Boston to write up some tips for keeping your budget and your health in tip-top shape. Enjoy!

From Lauren over at Running Carrot…

Kerri asked me to write a guest post about eating healthy on a budget. I thought this was a great topic because I’ve been living on a small stipend during my dietetic internship this year. I’ve had to learn to balance my funds to buy my beloved vegetables and have a little left over for dark chocolate and wine to celebrate Wine Friday in our apartment. Although, I can definitely learn from Kerri and minimize the after-work trips to Trader Joe’s for those non-essential dark chocolate almonds I love.

The first and most important step is to PLAN.

Look at your store’s fliers for the week to see what items may be on sale, or if there are any coupons for certain items. Plan meals around these sale or cheaper items. In-season produce will often be the cheapest, so this is a great way to try a variety of fruits and vegetables for a wide range of nutrients. Don’t be afraid to try new and different items, such as beets, swiss chard, or parsnips. When in doubt, just sauté or roast new veggies!

Head to Pinterest, your favorite recipe blogs, or cookbooks to find recipes for the items. Or, if you have meals you regularly eat in your households, stick with those. I like to find 1-2 new and fun recipes each week to try out, and the other days, I stick to something simple.

A simple way to plan out balanced meals is to try to have:

  • Leafy greens and/or 1-2+ other vegetables
  • Palm-size portion of protein
  • Small amount of fat (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, butter)
  • Carbohydrate (sweet potato, winter squash, rice, quinoa, fruit, etc.)
  • Example: Chicken, broccoli and carrots roasted in olive oil, sweet potato with a little butter and cinnamon
  • Balancing your meals will keep you satisfied. The veggies have tons of fiber, and the protein and fat will keep you full and satisfied.

Take a post-it, and fill out the meals for each day of the week, like below:

  • B: Green smoothie
  • L: Salad with canned salmon, avocado, and almonds
  • D: Chicken, sweet potato, broccoli
  • Snacks: Orange; kefir and blueberries

You may choose to only fill in dinner if you stick to the same few breakfasts and lunches, or you can fill in everything.

Now, you can create your grocery list! If you have a list, you can stick to it and avoid roaming the grocery store without an idea of what you need. A trip to the grocery store with a list will also be much quicker, and I’m sure Kerri is always looking to save time with two little ones in tow or at home.

Lastly, do not go to the grocery store hungry! I repeat, DO NOT go to the grocery store hungry. If you’re starving and walk by your favorite snacks, they’re probably going to end up in your cart and on your receipt.

Budget Food Items

Frozen Produce: People tell me all the time that they buy fresh produce for the week, and it goes bad before they can use all of it. The trick is buying frozen produce. Frozen produce is flash-frozen after harvesting the produce, so all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are retained compared to canned vegetables. In fact, produce loses nutrient content over time, so frozen vegetables can have MORE nutrients than fresh produce that travels across country before getting to your cart. Look for just vegetables instead of bags with sauces.

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Bulk Food: Check out the bulk bins! Instead of buying individual snack-size packs of nuts or trail mixes, you can make your own from the bulk bins. Nuts are nutritious, satisfying snacks, but they can be expensive. Buy them in bulk to buy the size you want at a lower cost. You can also buy other items in bulk, such as rice, quinoa, beans (dry) and lentils, or baking items. However, be careful about all the items you buy in bulk. Sometimes people shop at Costco but end up overeating on snacks or wasting food. Costco is great for items that will last a while, such as olive or coconut oil, nuts, or quinoa. You can even buy spices in bulk to add flavor and extra anti-oxidants to your food. Spices, such as black pepper, turmeric, or ginger, are very high in anti-oxidants and they can even increase the absorption of nutrients in your food!

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Farmer’s Markets: The produce at farmer’s markets is local and often very high quality and fresh. I bought a huge bag of local, fresh spinach at the farmer’s market today for $4.00, and I guarantee I would pay $6-8 for the same amount of organic greens at Whole Foods. Farmers may even offer deals near the end of the market, so they don’t have to take their products back home.

CSAs: CSAs are also a great deal for high-quality, local food. It’s can be a high up-front cost, but you get a ton of produce weekly for a low cost. The CSA I’m planning to get for this summer/fall will only be about $8 per person per week (4 of us are splitting a large share), but we’re getting over 10 pounds of fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit each week. I’m a veggie lover, so this is a huge bargain!

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Prioritize and stock up: Think about your priorities in terms of food quality. Personally, I care about buying high-quality protein, such as organic meats and eggs, wild fish, and organic dairy products. If there is a sale on organic chicken, I’ll stock up. If you can afford to stock up and have a higher bill one week, it will lower your costs other weeks. Fish is an expensive item, but you don’t have to leave it out! Choose canned salmon (it’s always wild!), sardines, or tuna for a great, high-quality protein. Eggs are very budget-friendly and a highly nutritious protein – they’re great for breakfast! In terms of fruits and vegetables, follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Items on the Dirty Dozen are high in pesticide content, so you may consider buying these organic, compared to the Clean 15, where buying conventionally is fine.

Think about snacks: Choose nutrient-dense snacks that will satisfy you. Which item will fill you up more – 12 chips or a handful of nuts? If you buy the chips, you may be likely to keep snacking past the one serving, leaving you snack-less for the rest of the week. Some satisfying snacks are include Greek yogurt, frozen berries and kefir, a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, a hardboiled egg and ¼ avocado, or a banana and peanut butter. Try to have some fat and/or protein with your snacks to keep you satiated until your next meal. A little fat or protein goes a long way. Fat also helps you absorb nutrients, so all the vitamins & minerals you paid for don’t go to waste!

Make it yourself! Many grocery store items are easier and cheaper to make, such as salad dressings, guacamole, or sweet potato fries, and you can avoid some of the sugar or additives hiding in these products! Mix together some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a salad dressing or bake chopped sweet potatoes with olive oil. You can also save money by buying items in their whole form and chopping them yourself, such as carrots instead of baby carrots.

Leftovers! By the time I get home from work and the gym at night, I’m tired! I don’t want to make a fancy, full dinner every night, so I rely on leftovers. When I cook a meal, I’ll often make enough for 2-3 meals. For example, I’ll cook a few portions of chicken, then have some for my salad the next day at lunch, or for dinner the following night. Soups, chili, or stews are a great, budget and leftover-friendly meal. You can make a large batch for the week and keep in your fridge, or freeze them for a quick and easy meal.

Yes, it can be pricey to eat healthy, but it doesn’t have to be. Think about getting the most nutrition for your buck, and fill your grocery cart accordingly. When you replace the bag of chips for fruit, or the Lean Cuisine for a homemade meal, you’re saving money, as well as nourishing your body and mind. Let me know if you try out these budget-friendly tips, or if you have any other tips! For more nutrition tips and my thoughts on food, check out my blog.

Thanks, Lauren!