Let’s Talk Christmas

I know it’s July and with this beautiful summer weather Christmas seems eons away. In reality though Christmas isn’t all that far away and before you know it the local radio stations will be playing our favorite Christmas songs around the clock. While Christmas is a time for joy for many people it can bring a great deal of sadness and frustration especially when it comes to finances. Even the most frugal of families can feel the pinch when it comes to Christmas which can suck the joy right out of the holidays.

This year I want to make Christmas as stress free and as joyful as possible. I want to spend time with friends and family without the stress of finances hanging over my head like a cloud. I have decided that this year I am going to start planning for Christmas in July. With 24 weeks left until Christmas this gives me the opportunity to save $1000 by simply putting away $42 a week. My goal is to save a $1000 by Christmas to help pay for Christmas presents, host my annual Christmas party and so I can give a little extra to those in need. I have recently kicked an expensive coffee habit so I know that I can work the $42 into my budget.

If you are reading this and thinking it sounds like a good idea but $42 a week isn’t in the budget think about putting aside $20 instead. In 24 weeks you will have accumulated $480 and that can go along way towards easing the burden that holidays often put on our finances.

Let me know in the comments below if you already have your Christmas fund started. When do you start planning for the holidays?

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Are You Afraid of Leftovers?

Over the years I have encountered a strange phenomenon among men and women my age and that is an unnatural fear of leftovers. I happen to be really good at saving money on my food budget and when people ask me the secret to my success they are usually appalled that I make my family eat leftovers. The funny thing is that these same individuals love to fill their shopping carts with expensive frozen dinners because I guess that is their idea of “fresh food”.

Recently, I had a conversation with a woman about leftovers and she told me that she would never feed her family leftovers because they are gross, flavorless and unhealthy. She had no issue with cooking a homemade meal for her family but instead of packaging away the leftovers for another meal later in the week or storing them in the freezer she just throws them out. When I think of the amount of food this family waste as well as the wasted money it makes my brain hurt. I attempted to explain that leftovers are nothing to be afraid of and in fact are a great way to serve healthy food on a budget. In fact, having leftovers on hand saves time and dishes later in the week when schedules get hectic.

I don’t think I was very successful explaining the benefits of leftovers but it has compelled me to sit down and make a case for them in writing. If you are afraid of leftovers and stumble upon this post I hope you will reconsider the idea of cooking with leftovers.

Leftovers do not have to be gross, flavorless or unhealthy. When you make a casserole and you have leftovers refrigerate or freeze within two hours of serving. This will maintain the quality of the food and prevent bacteria from growing. I agree that bacteria riddled food is gross but proper storage prevents this from happening. I will link a great article below from the FDA that provides some guidelines for food storage.

When it comes to flavor most food will taste better the next day because it has had time to meld flavors. For instance, chicken noodle soup is great day one but it is way better day two because it has sat in the fridge with the veggies and spices melding flavors. When you throw out leftovers you are missing out on a wonderful culinary experience.

Eating leftovers is not unhealthy unless the food was unhealthy to start off with. A leftover chocolate pie isn’t going to gain nutritional value overnight just as a lasagna isn’t going to lose nutritional value overnight. Making food from scratch gives you the opportunity to create recipes that are healthy and nutrient rich. A homemade lasagna is going to be lower in sugar and salt when you compare it to a pre-packaged frozen lasagna. We know that excessive salt and sugar consumption can lead to a whole lot of health problems and unfortunately the convenient pre-packaged meals are saturated with sugar and salt.

Leftovers are nothing to be afraid of as long as you educate yourself on proper food handling and storage you can safely reuse leftovers. I love using leftovers because it gives me a break later in the week when I need to make a fast meal. Not only does this save me time it also saves me on kitchen cleanup because I am just reheating not creating the meal from scratch. Using leftovers can be fun as well it’s an opportunity to get creative. Over the years I have learned how to take leftover chicken noodle soup and turn it into chicken pot pie, creamy chicken and noodles, and chicken spaghetti. Leftover pulled pork is not only great on sandwiches but you can stuff baked potatoes and top with cheddar cheese for a whole new meal.

As you can see leftovers are not that scary and can be a great tool if used correctly to save you time, energy and money. If you are still on the fence consider this if you are feeding your family a steady diet of pre-packaged freezer meals then you are already eating leftovers. These meals are pre-cooked and frozen only to sit a month or two in your local grocery store before being purchased. They are full of sugar, salt, MSG, and other preservatives that give me chills. Skip these chemical laden leftovers and start reheating your home cooked meals. It really is the best thing you can do for your family and your budget!

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm529509.pdf

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Commonly Googled: How to homeschool for free…

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I wanted to see what questions Google was being asked about homeschool so I turned to the Google search engine and typed in how to homeschool and the first thing that popped up for me was how to homeschool for free. When I first began my homeschool journey years ago the financial burden was something that had concerned me because we had very limited finances. I wanted to provide the very best in education and was worried that our budget would restrict the quality of our resources. After a great deal of research I learned that it was possible to homeschool for free without affecting the quality of the education we provided.

If you are thinking of homeschooling and wondering how to do this either with little money or no money I recommend reading Homeschool Your Child For Free by LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski. This is a great book that breaks down how to homeschool various age groups and subjects for free and where to find free resources. I found this book in my local library and loved it so much that I hunted down a used version online. Over the years I have read and reread this book countless times and have always found great advice and inspiration.

In order to homeschool your children successfully you need to provide access to books, activities and lively discussion. The first step is providing access to books and even if you don’t have an extensive home library you can accomplish this by taking advantage of your local library. Here you can find books and resources to really teach any subject or topic. The next key to success is to engage your children in activities outside of the home where they can experience new things and learn while having fun. Check with your local metro, state and national parks in your area because many times they provide free activities and events. We have done bird watches, butterfly walks, fishing, hiking and a number of other activities all for free through our park system. With a little online research you can find museums, zoos and field trip opportunities that are free for residents on certain days of the week. Finally, you can utilize lively discussion to educate your children. I love having conversations with my children discussing what we have learned and there thoughts and feelings on the situation. Recently, when discussing the American Revolution I had my kids split into Loyalist and Patriots and argue their stance from that perspective. This was a great way for them to practice what they had learned in a fun way while really gaining an understanding of the issues the colonist were dealing with during that time period.

Homeschooling doesn’t have to break the bank and you can provide a quality education at home for free. Of course you will still need to provide things like pencils, paper, glue and other craft supplies but you don’t need an expensive boxed curriculum to homeschool. Make sure you do a lot of research and read as many books as you can on how to homeschool. This will help you develop a plan for your school year which will basically be the map you need to navigate your journey as a home educator. Anyone can homeschool if they have the desire, the initiative and the willingness to provide an environment that encourages and promotes learning.

Below you will find links to some great information about homeschooling for free. If you have a specific question about homeschooling for free or in general let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Free online homeschool

 

Online Homeschool Community

 

Free Online Math Game

 

Preschool Science Curriculum

 

Education.com (access to lesson plans, worksheets and other resources for a small monthly fee)

 

The Free Reading Program

 

Starfall

 

TeachersPayTeachers (While there is a fee for some of these resources you can find free worksheets and lesson plans)

 

The Good & The Beautiful (Language Arts courses Level 1-5 can be downloaded for FREE)

 

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (Free books for kids 5 and under. Not available in all zip codes)

 

 

Ordering Prescription Glasses Online

black framed wayfarer eyeglasses on book

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Did you know that you can order prescription glasses online? I just learned it was possible about a week ago. I had received a new prescription from my eye doctor and when I went to pick out my glasses I discovered a very long line. I didn’t have enough time that day to wait so I figured I would just go back later in the week. That night I randomly wondered if I could somehow get glasses online so I turned to Google for answers. This is when I discovered Zenni Optical an online retailer that makes it possible to purchase prescription glasses from the comfort of your own home. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that not only was this a convenient option it was also an affordable option as well.

I found frames for as low as $6.95 with free lenses and I was able to add the anti-reflective coating for $4.95. I purchased two pairs of glasses and had them shipped directly to me for the low price of $29.07. The entire process was relatively simple the only hard part was measuring my pupillary distance. Luckily Zenni Optical provides easy instructions to help you figure this out with a ruler and a mirror. I measured three times to make sure I had the right numbers but this is the only tricky part. Other than that you select the frames you like, enter your prescription for each eye, your pupillary distance, and select whatever options or accessories you want to add. Once your order is submitted it takes between 7-10 days to receive your order unless you pay extra shipping to fast track the order. Since I enjoy saving money whenever possible I chose to wait the 7-10 days and was very happy when I received my order exactly 7 days later in the mail.

I have to admit I was still a little skeptical that I could get a quality pair of prescription glasses online especially with the price I paid for two pairs but I am no longer skeptical. After trying on both pairs I can happily say that this is a fantastic way to purchase glasses in fact I might be going back to their website to snag a pair of sunglasses. In the past every time I have picked out a pair of glasses at the eye doctor I end up with glasses I hate. It’s because I feel rushed and usually just pick the cheaper option but ordering them online allowed me the chance to browse and really find frames I liked. I absolutely love both pairs of glasses I picked out and no longer have to wear the bulky glasses I hate.

If you are in the market for affordable prescription glasses I urge you to check online. I know there are a few online retailers like Zenni Optical but I can honestly say this is a great company to buy through. I love the variety of frames they offered, the fact that they carry children’s glasses, their affordability and of course the convenience of ordering online. From here on out this will be the way I purchase not only my glasses but my family’s glasses as well.

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Disclaimer: I am not being paid or sponsored by Zenni Optical or any other party. This review is unsolicited and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.

 

Zenni Optical

www.zennioptical.com

 

 

 

Grocery Budget and the Bulk Store

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Today I took my monthly run to Costco to pick up my bulk items like toilet paper, paper towel and other random household items where buying in bulk makes financial sense. Over the past year I have learned what to buy and what not to buy at Costco and this has helped me avoid the trap of overspending. Unfortunately, while I was waiting to check out I witnessed a common situation where someone had attempted to do all of their grocery shopping at Costco and blew their budget. The lady in front of me had filled her basket with meats, cheeses and produce as well as some household items. When the cashier gave her the total of $400 I thought she was going to pass out right there in the line. Instead of assessing her purchases she swiped her card and left the store in what appeared to be shock.

Stores like Costco, Sams Club and other bulk stores are a great way to save money on household items and random groceries but you have to be strategic when shopping these stores. First never attempt to do all of your grocery shopping at a bulk store because this is a great way to overspend. Second make sure you know the unit cost of items that you buy on a regular basis because this will help you make an informed decision. Unless you have a very large family that can consume bulk produce before it goes bad do not purchase produce from a bulk store. My last tip is to avoid impulse buys if it isn’t on your list walk away and take a day or two to think it over. The seasonal department is the best place to encounter items you feel you must have so either avoid this section all together or practice will power. If you see something that appears to be a great deal take the time to investigate other stores and make sure it’s the best deal first. You can always go back and grab the deal later in the week.

I love Costco and often refer to it as “Disney World for adults” because it really is in my opinion the most wonderful place in the world. While I enjoy my Costco membership I have learned that not everything in a bulk store is a great deal and you have to be pretty choosy if you are working with a tight budget. It’s so very easy to overspend in bulk stores because you could purchase your entire shopping list in one convenient place but you will pay for that convenience. When it comes to items like paper goods, trash bags, laundry soap, dish soap and pet supplies you can find amazing deals in bulk stores.I have even snagged some pretty awesome deals on clothes, shoes and books at Costco.  You can find additional deals within the grocery aisles but you really have to hunt for them. Remember just because a deal is advertised as a “deal” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Things like cookies, crackers, cereal, chips and other snack items are often over priced and would be best purchased at your local grocery store.

If you often find yourself overspending at the bulk stores take a look at the things you are buying to see if you are really getting the deals. Take a notebook and jot down prices at your local store as well as the unit price so you can really compare the prices. I know it sounds like a lot of work but make it fun. Leave the kids at home with your spouse or a babysitter, grab something from your local coffee shop and stroll down the aisles at your local grocery store writing down prices. You don’t need to record every price in the store just on the items you buy weekly. Whenever you are out shopping this little record will help you determine if you have found a deal or if you should pass it by.

They say the one place American’s spend the most money is on their grocery budgets and I believe it. Life is hectic and we often find ourselves overworked and tired so a simple run through the grocery store never feels like a simple endeavor. This is why it is so important to plan your shopping in advance with a meal plan and a shopping list. When you do shop stay focused, stick to your list and really pay attention to prices. You will be surprised how a few simple steps can save you money in the short term and how it can really add up in the long term.

 

 

Planning 2019-2020 School Year

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I know we are a ways off from the start of the  new school year but this is the time of year that I begin to plan. I gather my curriculum catalogs together along with my trusty notebook so that I can plan out what materials I need for next year and where our journey will take us. I love this process because it allows me to recharge, gain motivation and let’s face it I get to buy books so of course it is my favorite time of year.

Before I begin the process of planning I like to sit down with each of my kids and go over where they are and how they are feeling about their progress. I think it is important to have these conversations with my kids because it’s the best way to keep them on track and involved in their education. During these conversations I like to find out if there is anything in particular they are interested in learning or adding to their curriculum. For instance, my oldest this year has told me that he is really interested in aviation and would like to learn all about flying. When I am planning next year’s curriculum I will be looking for aviation themed books and resources for him to explore this interest. During these conversations I like to take notes that I can refer back to during the planning phase.

Once I have had a conversation with each of my kids I then like to review what we have done over the past year. This is a great time to get rid of what doesn’t work and find replacements. Starting this far in advance with my planning allows me to research and read reviews so that I can make an educated decision on what to try next. Of course things that are working well will be continued into the next year. This past year we have had great success with CTC Math so we will continue this program next year. Again I record these notes in my notebook so that I can reference back to them.

Over the next few weeks I will peruse through my catalogs (my favorite is the Rainbow Resource Catalog) and conduct online research. I usually do this after the kids have gone to bed so I can relax with a cup of coffee while I read uninterrupted. When I find books that interest me or materials I want to try I will write down the information in my notebook. By the time I am done my notebook will be pretty filled in but it will become a valuable tool when I finally write out my scope and sequence for next year.

When the research part is done this is when the real fun begins I like to take myself out for a parent teacher conference. I go to a cafe where I can sit down with my books and my laptop so I can work for a few hours uninterrupted and I can keep the coffee coming along with a delicious lunch. I will use my notebook to fill in what we will be learning next year in Bible, English, Math, Science and History and a list of materials for each subject. I will also determine what extra curricular subjects or activities will be covered. Each of my kids will have an outline created and I will create my short term goals for the year and re-address our long term goals to ensure we are on track. I will then create a homeschool budget and create a game plan to stay within that budget.

Once I have everything figured out on paper and typed up I print up a materials list. Since I plan in advance this allows me several months to purchase materials and gives me the opporutnity to get the best price. I love ordering books through sites like abebooks because I often find gently used books for a few dollars a piece. I keep this materials list on me whenever I am out because I have found resources at used bookstores, thrift shops and even garage sales.

Over the years I have found that this approach to homeschool planning works best for me but what works for me may not work for others. However you plan your homeschool curriculum make sure you make it fun, use it as a way to invigorate your homeschool and find out what your children think about their education and what they might be interested in learning.

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Best Catalogs for curriculum:

https://rainbowresource.com/catalog

https://www.bookshark.com/request-a-catalog/

https://www.sonlight.com/about/catalog/

https://timberdoodle.com/pages/free-catalog

https://www.nature-watch.com/online_catalog.php

https://www.christianbook.com/apps/catalog-request

https://www.libraryanded.com/request_catalog.html

Instant Oatmeal Muffins

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Did you know that you can use instant oatmeal packets to whip up delicious muffins? A few months a go my local grocery store had a great deal on instant oatmeal packets and I had a coupon that sweetened that deal. This resulted in me accumulating a large number of boxes in a variety of flavors. I like keeping these on hand because they make great snacks for the kids during the cold winter months. This past week I learned that they can also be used to whip up delicious muffins full of robust flavor.

My daughter loves blueberries and she had requested blueberry muffins for breakfast. I didn’t happen to have any blueberries on hand but I did have packets of blueberry instant oatmeal. I simply added the oatmeal to my go to muffin recipe and 20 mins later we had piping hot blueberry oatmeal muffins that disappeared at lightening speed. Since then I have used the following flavors with great success…. strawberries & cream, apple cinnamon, blueberry and brown sugar and cinnamon. I will post the recipe below for anyone interested in trying this out.

 

Instant Oatmeal Muffins

2 cups of flour

2 packets of instant oatmeal

3/4 cup of sugar

1 tbsp of baking powder

1/2 tsp of salt

1 egg

1 cup of milk

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup of vegetable oil or melted butter

Preheat oven to 500 degrees ( I knock the temp down to 400 degrees when I put the muffins into the oven)

Whisk dry ingredients together until they are fully incorporated. Use a spoon to hollow out the center in the mixture and pour in the milk, oil, egg and vanilla extract. Use a spoon or fork to mix wet and dry ingredients together (be careful to not over-mix you just want ingredients to be combined).

Grease a 12 cup muffin pan ( I also like to line mine with cupcake liners for easy cleanup)

Fill each cup 3/4 full with the muffin batter

TURN DOWN YOUR OVEN TEMPERATURE AS YOU SLIDE YOUR MUFFINS INTO THE OVEN!!!

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 mins or until a toothpick can be pulled out clean from the center of muffin.

Makes 12 muffins.

 

Enjoy!

 

My Favorite Bread Recipe

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There is nothing more comforting than the smell of freshly baked bread oh wait there is… eating freshly baked bread. Over the years I have tried so many different bread recipes and I have also created my own because bread is pretty simple it’s simply flour, yeast, sugar, salt and oil. You can play around with a variety of ingredients to customize your very own bread recipe or you can try my favorite bread recipe.

 

Homemade Bread

1 cup of warm water

1 tbsp of yeast

1/3 cup of honey ( you can also substitute sugar, maple syrup or even molasses)

2 tablespoons of oil

3-4 cups of all purpose flour

3 tsp of salt

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Mix together the warm water, yeast, oil, honey and 1 cup of the flour let this sit for about 5 mins in a warm location.

Add two cups of flour and sprinkle the salt over top using your hands or a wooden spoon to combine ingredients. At this point your dough may be a bit sticky you can add additional flour a little at a a time until you have achieved a smooth ball of dough. Let the dough sit for about 30 mins or until doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled I like to spread a piece of parchment paper on my table and then I use my rolling pin to roll it out into a flat disk. Using your hands fold the dough like a tight jelly roll tucking in the ends and firmly sealing the center.

Flip loaf over seam down and cut in 3-4 2″ deep slits so the bread can vent while it’s baking. Let your loaf rest for 30 mins or until it has doubled in size again.

Now that your loaf has doubled in size it’s time for it to go into the oven and bake for 35mins @ 400 degrees.

Remove dough from oven and allow it to cool fully this step can take an hour or two but it ensures that the bread finishing baking all the way through.

Slice your cool bread into slices and enjoy with your favorite toppings.

 

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Math: A Review of CTC Math

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Recently, we started using a new math curriculum and after using it for a little over two months I decided to give it a review. Before I continue with my review I do want to state that I am not being sponsored by CTC Math and this is a completely unbiased review. For the past few years, we have bounced around through a few different math programs primarily using Modern Curriculum Press workbooks and other supplementary worksheets. This has worked pretty well but now that my oldest son is getting into pre-algebra I wanted to find something that would allow him to work independently and at his own pace.

Originally I wanted to set him up with Teaching Textbooks but after doing their free trial realized that this particular program wouldn’t work well for our family. First, the cost was much higher than I could afford and my son really struggled through the content not because it was too hard simply because it was not engaging enough. Looking for an alternative I stumbled across CTC Math and we signed up for the free trial. Not only did my oldest son love it my youngest two wanted to try it out as well. That day I signed up for the family homeschool membership which is $15.97 a month and now all three of my kids are enjoying this curriculum.

I highly recommend CTC Math because not only is it affordable, my kids can work through the lessons independently, but the content is amazing too. When they log in they click on the next available topic and watch a short lesson. The video lessons are short and concise and then they have questions to complete. When you set up your students profile you can choose how many questions they have to answer as well as what percentage they need to score to pass the topic. Once a week I receive an email from CTC Math with a look at their scores and an overview of what they worked on throughout the week. I can also log in at any time to see how they are doing and I can also print off additional worksheets for them to complete.

If you’re looking for a math program that is affordable and allows your children to work independently then I recommend that you take a look at CTC Math. Teaching Textbooks is an awesome program as well and while it didn’t work for my kids it may be a great option for your family. I love programs that allow you to test drive the material before investing so you can determine if it will work for your family.

 

CTC Math

https://www.ctcmath.com/trial

Teaching Textbooks

https://www.teachingtextbooks.com/v/vspfiles/tt/free_trial.html

 

**Disclaimer- This post reflects my own experience and opinions and is not being sponsored by anyone.