A Spring Saving Riddle…or two.

I love Spring, for so many reasons. Of course, springtime in North Carolina is very different than that of Vermont. Although like so many other things there are pros and cons to both. This is why I find it even more important to (hopefully) welcome spring with some fun saving events that always brings sunshine to my day; especially if, likes this year, Mother Nature is lagging behind.

Some might remember last April I posted about all of the freebies I took advantage of. From your favorite morning coffee to an afternoon ice cream treat; many well-known, national names are offering free items this April and here my faves. Disclaimer: I do not endorse any businesses or products and for this reason I have listed the following promotions in a fun-riddle-form.

  • Up first, for my NC, SC and (I believe VA and GA) peeps- tomorrow, March 31 starts the first of multiple, consecutive free iced-coffee Mondays at a very popular “donut” place that hails from New England. 
  • Also tomorrow, March 31, this “Old Farmer” will offer a 2-week promotion on your morning joe.
  • April 8- Probably THE best of them all. Satisfy your sweet tooth with free conicals; hailing straight from Vermont where it is never too cold for this stuff.
  • Next up is all about cheesy-melty goodness but you have to be a member first-but for those who do on April 11 you get free _____.

This is only a few but I’m sure there are more keep an eye out and save some moola while enjoying the little treats that will warm up your spring.

Happy Savings!

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Quick Share

I’ve been meaning to write for a while but work is crazy, in all the best ways, right now and between that and home I tend to choose sleep in any “extra” minute I get. BUT, there are a couple quick stories I wanted to share.

The first is short and sweet and a bit of a brag on my better half because I really am the luckiest girl in the world 🙂

I think it’s safe to say we will more than likely implement a budget freeze in the month of March for the rest of our lives, it seems to work really well. However, there are moments where temptation can be just that; and when I am running on very little sleep and feeling uber stressed from work sometimes all I want is coffee and chocolate. I called Brent in my moment of weakness and vented, okay let’s be real I was whining and secretly hoping the old Brent (who was so good at giving into me out of love) would cave. Instead, he just listened and was supportive and somehow avoided the insinuation. About 30 minutes later I get a text from him that says come out front, and there he is with piping hot cappuccino made by my favorite barista, him. It was exactly what I needed without the guilt of giving in. Love him.

The second is a sweet moment I simply wanted to share about my little girls in the world of them truly helping my healing one day at a time.

I was driving back to my office for the third time, after a pretty crappy day and had the wee ones with me. As we were driving through rush hour traffic the girls took notice of this overwhelmingly big, beautiful and multi-colored sunset. Charlotte said, “sun sun! Mommy, Sun!” And it was an instant reminder of that beautiful sunrise the morning of his passing and I said, “Noooo that’s not just the sun, that’s Grandpa. Wave Hi! to Grandpa.” And they began to shout “HI GRANDPA MARK! LOVE YOU! MISS YOU!” and we all waved and shouted and smiled. It was a moment that made me melt and for the first time I didn’t start crying my eyes out. Then in the impeccable timing that things tend to work I heard a story eerily relative to recent events and then my all-time favorite song by MercyMe, I Can Only Imagine. It was truly a marvelous moment that I needed so badly on that day and I will certainly never forget.

ox

The Dollar Store Spa Party

Forgive me, I promised this post a few days ago but Charli came down with Strep battle round 2 and this one “little” illness has thrown our whole week for a loop. Anywho…here goes.

Last weekend we had Miss Madz birthday party. I have always thrown birthday parties for the girls and I have always attempted a budget but at some point have been known to throw the budget out the window with the excuse “she will only turn ___ once.” Parents, especially moms are masters at this excuse. We are great at justifying almost anything for our kiddos. Last year was the first year that I made a budget and actually stuck to it for birthdays and celebrations. Now that I know I can do it and still have a great party, it’s even more of a fun-challenge.

This year, my little-big girl requested a variety of “types of parties” and ultimately landed on a Spa-Party. Not going to lie, I had my reservations about this. I mean, she’s only 5. Although I did understand because that is something that she has seen me and my girlfriends here in Raleigh do for just about every birthday, we go and get our nails done. I agreed to throw a spa-party but I made it very clear it was going to be a kids spa party and there would be no make-up or fancy lotions or anything like that. She agreed and was absolutely excited.

I headed into my favorite store, the Dollar Tree. They have some of the best finds. And this just in, not every Dollar Tree is created equal. They come in different sizes and offer a variety of great products in every store. I headed into my preferred store (a bit better than the local one) and scored big time! Easter baskets served as the footbaths. The nail polish was sold in packs of 2 (score!); they had little pedicure sets I could divvy up, and face tattoos-so fun! Perhaps the best find were the gift bags, 2 for $1 in the pink and purple paired variety. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I was able to use my own Q-tips, cotton balls, serving trays, card stock, and polish remover (just in case) and wound up only spending ..well I’ll save the big reveal for the end 🙂

Invitations

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I opted for e-invites. Madz helped me design it by picking colors and patterns which was super fun for both of us. Then I created a Facebook event and made the header of the event page the top portion “pic” of the invite. This was much easier for people to respond to and I didn’t have to worry about wondering who would or wouldn’t be there.

Decorations

This was the easiest part. I transformed my dining room into a little  day spa. I set up my five dining room chairs against the wall and then brought out the kids Minnie-Mouse table for the “manicure area.” Pushed my dining table against the wall the grab and go snacks . We put out plastic champagne cups for the kiddos to feel that extra bit of “special” ( also a steal on clearance from NYE decorations. A full set for $0.65) Madz and I decorated these with glitter to make them fancy and festive. I used a rolling stand as an entry table with a little Welcome sign and some Thank-you mints; and put on display the “Spa-Cafe Menu.”

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My favorite birthday decoration though, that I do every year and costs nothing, is displaying pictures of the girls through the years.  Newborn pictures, funny pictures, maternity, etc. Just to share with everyone how much she has grown and it gives me a reason to display those old pictures that have been replaced with newer ones. They are also great conversation pieces with the grown-ups.

Food

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I finally got some sense this year. The sicilian in so me tends to overfeed just about everyone and how much do seven little girls really eat? Not to mention this is not budget-friendly. So I decided to get creative, if I was going to think of this as a day-spa it should have a cafe; and what do you do? You order. So I looked through my cabinets and created a spa-friendly menu right from my pantry. The only additional food I had to buy were some maraschino cherries and a 2-liter of ginger ale for the Sweet as Maddie-Ru featured “mocktail.” I had a friend bring some champagne for a grown-up version should we choose to indulge after the nail painting and for kids and adults, this was a huge hit.  The menu included hot dogs with cheese, crepes with sunbutter & jelly (because we are a peanut-free household) and my personal favorite grilled cheese triangles with cups of tomato soup. I didn’t have to make a bunch of each just whatever was ordered and it turns out cheesy hot-dogs are a hot commodity for 4-9 year olds. I put out some veggie sticks and made a funfetti dessert dip (whipped cream, yogurt and cake mix) threw some graham crackers out no-muss no-fuss. As for the cake it was all DIY. Madz and I whipped up some cupcakes the night before, frosted with plain white frosting and let the kids go to town decorating at the party. (Tip: if you’ve never made a homemade cake try it. It is very budget friendly! I always have eggs, milk, butter, vanilla, flour, salt and baking powder on hand so it saves me the $1-3 box mix and tastes much better) It was perfect! In regards to the DIY decorations, I should’ve done this a long time ago. Gone are the days of me trying to make some elaborate cake that frankly, I can only guarantee tastes good because I just can’t make it look as good as my standard. I’m telling you never strain over a party again. This totally works!

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Activities

You guessed it, we painted nails! And let me tell you, these seven little ladies did not move for a good 35 minutes they sat with their little sparkly pink ginger ales and soaked their feet while giggling and loving life. Moms were on nail polish-duty. Painting little fingers and toes and tickling a bit too. We took their order for lunch and then served it to them while they were “soaking” which really made their day. They all felt so special and there was a wonderful moment of bonding, even for the ladies who were helping out of love for Madz and not there with a child of their own. We then pressed on some pretty fun face tattoos, opened presents, decorated some cupcakes and then played for a good hour on what was a much needed spring-like day in Raleigh. It was perfect for everyone. I didn’t have toys strung around the house, the mess was contained, the moms all pitched in so I didn’t have to wear a hostess hat and be on point and we just enjoyed sharing the afternoon making memories.

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All-in-all it was a very successful party and to the point, the whole thing cost me $42. What did I learn? Birthday parties do not have to be stressful. They do not need to be expensive and they do not need to wipe out every resource. Kids don’t need big blow-out birthday parties (which I already knew but it was a good reminder). These little girls loved the quality time with their moms and feeling extra-super special. It also took the focus off Madz which was good. I think we underestimate our children. They don’t HAVE to be the center of attention, we make them the center of attention. When really, it means more to simply have fun and be with friends. Not to mention, young or old, who doesn’t like a little pampering? I’m beaming thinking about how much I learned from these little ladies. There was a moment in the fun when I just observed the carefree spirit and listened to their little laughs and giggles..it was perfect.  So the next time you are planning a party or an event, try to keep your perspective, keep it simple and remember what it’s really about. I promise that will be your best celebration.

ox

My Little Frugal Five Year Old

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I cannot believe that today my baby turns 5 years old. Everyone says it, time flies! And I’m here to say that with kids, it speeds up. I remember like yesterday the day I found out I was pregnant. It certainly did not take 90 seconds! I remember staring in the mirror thinking to myself this IS really happening.” I knew it without a doubt. I also knew Brent wouldn’t believe me, so 5 (yes, FIVE) tests later I think he was convinced. 5 years later I am beyond blessed. I still have my moments of staring saying “this IS really happening” but for very different reasons. I know I have talked a lot about my Dad and my family but let me tell you about this my oldest little girl.

My Madilyn Ruth is a spirited child; she came by her nickname Madz honestly, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Equal to her moments of being the Madzter she is a compassionate old-soul who is the BEST big sister. Charlotte, at the ripe young age of 2 worships her big-sister and not in a jealous “I want what she has” or “that’s not fair” way but in a “she is my protector and I love to be around her” way. When Charlotte cries Madilyn takes her hand and calms her. When I scold Charlotte she runs to Madilyn and Madilyn has said to her “it’s okay you just can’t do that.” or “that’s not safe, Charli.” And then I melt. I’m so blessed to have these two little girls as ours and they teach me so much about myself and about life.
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Of course, life without spirit is not truly life and Miss Madilyn certainly keeps me/us on my/our toes and I could write a book with her one-liners. A prime example is a very recent grocery excursion that led to Charlotte having a mega-meltdown over not really anything. So I left her screaming, plank style at one end of the aisle I slowly made my way to the other end (Note: I did not leave her sight or the aisle itself) and Madilyn responded with “Mommy, no! Someone will take her and I don’t want to be a family of three.” I had to chuckle but then quickly responded with “trust me no one wants to take her right now,” lol-sorry but it was true.  It is moments like these that make me remember that regardless of the number of times shes sneaks water and shampoo into her room to bathe her dolls; marks up my wall with Sharpie; takes photo shoots of her dolls at 2am; or climbs acrobatically onto the counter for chocolate as breakfast before we get out of bed-I continue to cherish not just being a mother but being Madilyn’s Mommy. I know she won’t always want or need me and there are moments when I question how much she actually “needs” me now, the independent soul she is; but I tell her everyday how loved she is and I know I have become a better person because of her. I still have a lot to learn just as she has many years to grow, God-willing, but I am so proud of this little being. She is so much better than me in all the right ways. She is a patient 5 year old, she is a compassionate human, and let me say the girl can spot a sale by color coded stickers in just about any store from a mile away. A frugal Fowler in the making for sure. 🙂 She loves to sing and dance and is far less afraid of life than I ever was or even am now. She has so much to teach me and the world…
Happy Birthday my Maddie-Ru may your spirit never change and your love and spark for life continue to light your path and the world of others. ❤
Over the weekend we had a very frugal birthday “Spa” party. I have all the details and photos and I will post tomorrow.Yesterday was spent doing party clean-up and today I am too nostalgic. Check back tomorrow for the Spa-BDay “how you can to” on a dime.
ox

The Results!

I cannot believe it has been a year since the start of this project. As I have said many times over, it has been a year of incredible highs and unimaginable lows but being fortunate enough to sit here today, writing the outcome(s) and having the hindsight and perspective is by far the richest benefit. Now, let’s cut to the chase

Part I: Short-Term Goals

Goal: pay off Brent’s $300 credit card
Outcome: Success & Failure

We did pay this down but then we wound up using it. Ultimately this is Brent’s only line of open-credit and it helps to improve his credit score. We were advised not to close it out altogether and while we paid it down significantly we did wind up using it here and there. So, while we failed in the goal stated above we achieved in paying down this debt and learned better use and management of it as it no longer sits maxed, or almost maxed, out.

Goal: Pay off Charlotte’s medical debt
Amount $359.39
Outcome: Success!

Goal: Pay off personal loan
Amount $250.00
Outcome: Success!

Part II: 2013 v. 2014 

Cost of Living: For most making the transition from renters to homeowners is terrifying and not always cost-effective. The one argument that cannot be disputed is that with homeownership, one is investing rather than simply paying “the man” every month. This makes a purchase of this magnitude much easier to digest; especially for a cheap skate like myself. However, for us there were many more perks to buying a home. We were able to lower our primary cost of living by more than a 1/3 which has been a huge help in building a savings. Being a homeowner also means that we are able to manage every logistic. Sometimes renting come with bills and fees in one lump sum, up front this may seem like a “deal” but when you aren’t able to see the detailed cost you don’t really know if you are actually getting what you are paying for. We have better control now of every cost which makes money management that much easier.

Groceries: I have always been a stickler for lists, of all kinds, but especially grocery lists. I do my best to abide by all of the “grocery laws.” Don’t go to the store hungry, never go without a list, stay off the end caps, shop your pantry first, etc. but throughout the years it hasn’t always been easy. Admittedly, it has taken much trial and error but I am happy to report that we have accomplished maintaining a regular monthly grocery budget of $300 max. This is $75 a week for a family of 4 for all meals. Luckily, in some months, February being a prime example, we are able to come in a bit under this only spending about $265 for the month. Before this project we could have easily spent anywhere from 300-500$ a month in groceries because we weren’t paying close enough attention to our expenses. Although I admit that in addition to the strict planning, it has been more than helpful that we are officially now beyond baby food and diaper days.

Entertainment: Openly, our biggest issue we didn’t even know we had, was the cost of the little things. We were racking up hundreds of dollars without even realizing it. By implementing monthly budget freezes every couple of months, and strict budgeting every month we have confidently tackled this issue, and won! We have saved upwards of $250 in any given month by closely managing our “sporadic swipes.” Although learning about when local freebies were available was a plus…come on, April!

Student Loans: As many of our peers this is a number that is hard for us to grasp. We are buried beneath what seems like  never-ending student loan payments. One thing that did add to our bills in the past year was my student loan which had been in deferment. By taking on a minimal payment I can say it still feels like we don’t even make a dent in our student loan and interest costs, but we have paid it by about $600 since last April and we continue to pay Brent’s down as well. Successfully we have paid off over $5,500 in Brent’s loans. Cutting our student loan debt by a small fraction in the past year.

Phase III: Savings

Let it be known uprooting your life and family will drain every penny of savings (or at least it did for us) but- we had a plan and without risk there is no reward. I think I have shared that it was last year the day after my father’s passing, while my step-mom laid on life support in ICU that our bank account went into the negative. I realize in these types of circumstances money should be one’s last concern, but when you have a family to care for it just felt like one hit after the other. We had used all of our savings to get by as our life began in Raleigh but we weren’t quite at the point of the upswing. That is until this project. Taking a close, scary look allowed us to grab hold of the reigns and gain control of our financial situation. A year later we have built a savings account of over $800 (a number that is minuscule to some but is huge for us) and continued to contribute in smaller portions to both of the girls’ savings accounts. We have managed our bank account and began saving and budgeting for experiences with our family.  A personal goal moving forward is to eventually to return the goodwill and share the love of friends and family that has been shared with us. So, slowly we are trying to carefully calculate expenses, save up and give back as we can. I realize that this will take much longer than we anticipate but what better way to share our life and experiences than work to pay it forward?

Ultimately we went from $0 to something. Maybe not much to some, but a lot to us; and something we are continuing to contribute to and hopefully (God-willing) are able to build. The most beneficial rewards we have gained is that of compromise and understanding. Brent and I are finally on the same page finding balance between working hard and enjoying life. Something much easier said than done. We want to provide experiences and make memories with our little girls and some are done at no expense in the comfort of our home and others come with a cost but one we are absolutely willing to pay.

In short, since this little project’s start date, we have worked to eliminate close to $7,000 in debt, lowered our bills by 30% from one-year ago and something worth noting, we have actually lowered our living expenses 55% (yes, over half!) from the cost we were paying in VT while increasing our combined annual income by 68%. Our savings may not be much but it is a foundation. Needless to say it hasn’t taken very long for us to see that while the transition was a hard choice to make, it was the right one. Regarding building a savings, this is something that takes a lifetime and as you all have seen sometimes we have to take a few steps back to take of things to then move forward again. I am happy and excited to say this little project of frugality doesn’t end today, I have so much more to learn. So yes, it will continue and so will this blog; but for today, March 1 with our next monthly budget freeze in full-effect, I am happy to say we are well on our way and I look forward to seeing where we can/will be in 2015.

The journey continues…