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Monday, 26 November 2012

DIY Christmas gifts- Felt car mat less than $5

Ah,Christmas!  I love Christmas - the music, the twinkling lights, the baking and friends. And since I have spent the last three years working on DIY holidays, even my budget can enjoy Christmas.

I have kicked off my holiday gift preparations with a gift for my nephew.   My nephew is just weeks shy of his second birthday but this gift would be well loved by a child car lover of almost any age.   In fact I will be making a second one for my son Walter.
Here is a quick tutorial on how to DIY a FELT CAR MAT.

What you will need:
-1/2 m of green felt off the blot ($2.40 if you can get it on sale as I did)
- 1/4 m black felt off the bolt ($1.20)
- printer
- scissors
- straight pins
- felt craft sheets in an assortment of colours (on hand)
- hot glue gun
- hot glue sticks. Lots.  Really, I used 16 ($1.25)
- fabric paints (optional). (on hand)
- ribbon (on hand)
Total cost for this gift: less than $5

Since my hand cutting skills are a work in progress  poor  non existent I had to do a bit more leg work than the artistic bunch out there might have to.  I used google to find some free printable colouring pages of the images I wanted for my town (school house, hospital, gas pumps, church ect).  Then I adjusted them to the right size (i used quarter page size) and printed out the simple image.  This became my "pattern".   After cutting the image from the paper I pinned it to my felt sheet and cut around it.
Yes, I actually had to do this for a simple tree image :)

Next I repeated the idea with the green to complete tree then hot glued the pieces together.
Continue until you have cut out and hot glued all the pieces of your town together.
City bits
 Next you can add some details with fabric paints. I used the paints to add things like doorknobs, flower boxes, shingles, store names ect.  While that is drying pull out your half meter of green felt. It's time to plan a city!  I was a bit surprised to discover that this was the most challenging step for me. I agonized over where the hospital should go and how many trees should be in a school yard.  Finally That Guy advised that I model  the town after our own neighbourhood and I did something similar to that.  (We don't have a traffic circle in our neighbourhood but I had to add one because they would just be so much fun for the kids).  I used regular sidewalk chalk to plan out my city because I'm visual like that.
You thought I was kidding about a lack of artistic  ability? I wasn't . 
Using your black felt from the bolt cut out and glue down your roads. You can get black felt in the craft sheets, so why do I recommend  getting it from the bolt? Because its simply a larger piece  So you can have fewer "seams": in your roads and  all the black will be from the same dye lot. I used yellow fabric paint to add the road lines, but cutting small bits of yellow felt and gluing them down would work just as well.
I left a space free along the right hand border of my mat so I could name the city.

After the roads are all in glue down your city bits. I start getting pretty excited at this point because its all starting to really come together. If you so desire name the city along the free space.  Both felt letters or fabric paint work just as well for this purpose.
Now you can fold the mat in half, then in half again and roll it.  Use that ribbon to tie it up and it is now perfectly portable. Keeping your kids quiet and happy at home, church, doctors office - you've got it covered now!

Monday, 19 November 2012


Recently I posted about my son's birthday celebration. Instead of the traditional "party" which includes gifts we simply celebrate with all our friends.  No gifts, but we do have a box for non perishable food items should anyone wish to bring something.

That Guy and I made this decision about two years ago, just before Walter's second birthday. We did it for a number of reasons...  
Primarily because I run a home day care.  We have a bazillion toys.  Really, a bazillion!    Our day care toys are packed in huge plastic toy boxes and rotated out every two months.  Which means ten of 12 months the toys sit quietly in the basement.  So, my frugal friends, I put myself in the position of the purchasers of said toys.  How sad and frustrated would I be if I worked hard to earn my pay cheque, took time away from my non working hours to find, buy and wrap a gift that would sit unused and unappreciated for the majority of its toy life? Very!

Of course there is always the benefit of teaching our children to give.  Our family believes in the values and goals of our local Community Care charity and they are so great to our children.  When we take the kids down with the food they collected at their birthday the Community Care volunteers treat them like mini celebrities. Everyone comes out to greet them, weigh the food and congratulate them on helping.  Then they take some photos of them next to the donations. A few weeks later we get a wonderful and personal letter from the charity thanking my son or daughter.   My kids come away feeling like giving back, being socially aware and helping how you can is fun, special and glamorous.

Additionally I love that we are teaching our children about how to celebrate without the commercial trappings.  It really is about the celebration.

That being said, making this change didn't go perfectly smoothly when we first announced our decision.  So partly to make peace and partly to maintain that certain element of childhood we do allow family to give a gift, but not at the birthday celebration.

I recognize for some the decision for no gifts may seem counter productive in my frugal lifestyle. After all, if my son gets a new pair of pants at his birthday wouldn't that give my budget a break instead of buying them?  My response is, in theory yes. But in practice what my kids get out of this experience is something I could never buy.

We feel this is the happiest medium between giving and getting for our family.  :)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Partying for less

My son just turned four.  Hosting a successful birthday for a four year old boy would be hard enough, doing it while maintaining our frugal lifestyle is a whole separate challenge.
First of all, Walter had to have a cowboy birthday. I learned quickly that the theme was simply not negotiable.
Secondly, I feel that it goes without saying (and yet here I am saying it) that you can get the most from a frugal lifestyle when you DIY as many projects as possible.  This philosophy has got me know in my circle of friends as "that one who crafts".
Finally, our children have birthday celebrations, not birthday parties. The only difference really being that we request no gifts.  We do understand that some people desire to mark the occasion with a token, which is why we collect non-perishable food items for our local food bank.  (More on this in a later post.)
Although I wouldn't change our birthday celebrations, they do present an additional challenge.  Take your average child's birthday. They are typically about two hours long with the large majority of the time spent eating pizza, then having cake followed by gift opening.  Remove the pizza, (I can explain) and the gift opening and I'm stuck trying to actively engage these children for the whole two hours. All on my grabd budget of $150!

i could have bought standard cowboy themed party invitations at the local party supply store. But at $7.95 for 8 it would have broke my frugal heart.  So instead, I dressed Walter in his cowboy attire, stood him against the wall and snapped a photo of him with the majority of the photo space being blank wall.  Then i uploaded the image to PicMonkey (GREAT free photo editing software online), turned the photo sepia and added the required text.  Since it was all done in a photo format i was able to send the image to Wal-Mart for processing and walked away very happy with my 20 cent custom party invitations,. Total coat $2.50

Our home is flat out not suitable for hosting 15 four year olds along with their parents indoors.  I'm so not the type for the fast food restaurant party, nor the movie cinema.  I love using our community center,  If i am forced to spend money, at least i know its a reasonable amount and its going back to support our community. Total cost for two hour rental of the large gym of the community center $65

This is where having a generic birthday, like cowboy, and not a licensed party, like Woody, really pays off. Keep it simple and stick to a two colour theme as best you can.  We went with brown and red. gold (because i could not get brown) and red balloons.   For the record, what i really wanted to do was get red and WHITE balloons and colour cow spots on the white ones with sharpie markers.    But That  Guy kept rolling his eyes at me every time I mentioned it.  *sigh* Can't win 'em all I guess.
Two red and white checked plastic table cloth from the local dollar store was just right for the food table and   the donation table.  The fabric store sells burlap from the bolt.  Two meters of that for $7, cut into table runners gave me four great runners.  One for the food table on top of the table cloth and one for each of the seating tables.
Centerpieces i kept simple and playful.  Literally. I picked up packages of plastic toy horses and other farm animals from the dollar store and grouped them together at the center of each table.

Finally was the western town. That Guy and I created a whole western town out of appliance boxes and some spray paint.  Okay, technically That Guy actually cut and painted all the boxes into a jail, bank, saloon, general store, a wagon wheel and a few cacti.... but I nagged for three months to get the job done.  So I view this as a 50/50 workload split. :)  The town was a huge hit and totally free!

Total decor cost $17


Dollar stores can be SUCH a great resource!  Each child received a cowboy hat, with a small thank you tag attached.  On each tag I also included a self adhesive mustache.  Total cost for guest favours $17

Let me explain the no pizza.  Pizza is actually not required at every party.  So often I am at children's birthdays where there is waaaayyy too much food.  And usually the item that tips the scales on this is ordering  three or four trays of pizza for a party for toddlers and a handful of parents.  The easiest way of avoiding the $50 cost on pizza? Host your party between 2-4.   Everyone has had lunch and is leaving well before dinner.
Food is one of our cultures social lubricants so I am not suggesting you serve nothing.  But there are alternatives.  We served pretzels, string cheese, water, juice boxes and a few theme related foods. I wanted to serve corn on the cob (totally western).  That Guy said no four year old is going to be drawn to corn.  So I did Candy Corn, off the cob instead.  I wanted to do baked beans.  That Guy just looked at me. (Really, he is very supportive! But hes also my reality check) So I did jelly beans instead,    I wanted to do roasted marshmallows.... lets just say I settled for un roasted marshmallows on a skewer.  Then, of course, i made small signs to explain my compromised clever- food choices.
In lieu of a cake we did some cactus cupcakes for all the kids to enjoy.
Total food cost $40

The westen town won hands down and was how the kids enjoyed spending the majority of their time.  I did also plan a few other activities though.  I spray painted some empty pop cans (tin cans would have worked better but I had way more empty Diet Coke cans than I did empty soup cans) silver and with a tennis ball it became s shooting gallery game.
I bought some favour sized bubbles from the dollar store (4/$1) and wrapped them in small balls of tin foil.  Spray painted gold  these became "gold nuggets"  that i hid around the room for the kids to find.
Finally I did my version of musical chairs.  Instead of chairs the same number of balloons as children, less one were thrown into the air.  When the music stopped the child who didnt catch a balloon was "out".
Total cost for games: $3 (for bubbles)

Total Birthday cost $144.50

Best of all, I was able to reach out to someone who was interested in hosting her own cowboy birthday for her son and pass on all the western party supplies and decor so it did not have to go to waste! :)

Monday, 5 November 2012

And So It Begins

I suppose my blog requires that initial "About Me" post, so here goes.
Just a few weeks ago I had my 29th birthday. I am very happily married to my husband of six years (henceforth known as "That Guy")  and together we have two beautiful children.  Our son, Walter, has just turned four and our daughter, Audrey, is 14 months old.
When Walter was ten months old we bought our first -and current- home and I decided to open my own home day care.
My day care is open ten and a half hours a day. My daily rate is $30/child.  Yes, you did the math correctly. I make just less than $3/hour/child.  Out of that profit (does that even qualify for the word "profit"?) comes the cost of feeding, entertaining and educating these children.  
My job, although being one of my proudest and most rewarding accomplishments, makes living on a dime an utter necessity.
That Guy is gain fully employed as a very talented pastry chef. (And by "gain fully" I mostly mean my waistline) It is fair to say that two incomes are required to keep this family afloat.

Enter me, three years ago with a brand new interest in and purpose for frugal living.  So even though parenting and day care are both full time jobs I view my commitment to our frugal lifestyle as another.

Through this novice blog I aim to share with you the journey of my lifestyle and the trials and errors (so many errors) along the way.