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Saturday, 30 March 2013

30 Non- candy Easter basket fillers- on the cheap!

As I prep the kids Easter baskets, I am very proud about how little candy goes in them.  Of course, my kids have grandparents and so the day will still be sugar laden but I can control how much they get from us.  I feel that I have done such a good job stuffing their baskets with fun things that they wont notice the absence of candy (minus the chocolate eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny, of course). Since this is my blog you know I'm not going to suggest buying those cheap plastic Easter themed toys that wind up broken and in the garbage eight minutes after they are opened.

Here is a quick list of non-candy things I have put in Easter baskets (this year or others)

-sidewalk chalk
- silly string
- crayons
- colouring book
- bubbles
- Lego
- small puzzles (I get 100 piece puzzles from XS Cargo for $1.88 each)
- bunny ear hats (from the dollar store, but not the headbands, those snap too easily.  These are hats that go over the whole head and velco under the chin.  Even in this day care it has lasted for years)
- seeds (usually buy them from the dollar store, can be for carrots/lettuce or flowers)
- neck tie/ suspenders
- hair clips/ headbands
- playing cards
- flash cards
- colour change tabs for bath water (a 12 pack is only $2 at Wal-Mart)
- clear pastry bag filled with Goldfish crackers and tied with green ribbon- looks like a carrot!
- plastic egg with a "Delayed Gratification" surprise inside (written like a fortune cookie but it might say "Help Daddy cook dinner" or "Ten minutes of Angry Birds" or "One extra story at bedtime")
- bright colour socks (check out my previous post on how to make them none skid)
- small kite (better yet all the things you need to build a kite yourself with your child)
- thrift store dress up clothes (neck ties, suit jackets, costume jewelry, pretty brooch, fancy gloves)
- dice (these are good for playing games, of course, but also for math)
- bright coloured pencils (but avoid the novelty erasers- they tend to not work well and will simply be lost or in the garbage)
- one of their own shirts that you have changed the buttons on to be more festive - flowers, eggs, bunnies. Keep those original buttons and you can change the shirt back again with very minimal effort
- finger paints
- construction paper
- Hot Wheels car
- feather boa
- child size gardening gloves
- mini flashlight (they come in all sorts of great colours)
- phosphorescent (glow-in-the-dark) stars
- "candy" necklace made from Fruit Loops (although I do admit this comes pretty close to being candy)

Happy Easter, gentle readers!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

DIY non skid socks

DIY non skid socks

My family live quite a ways from us.  Back in January, That Guy and I took the kids for a ten day adventure to see them.   While I was there I saw my mother almost fall down the stairs. My parents have highly polished hardwood floors throughout their house, the stairs included.  When my mom was stepping onto the next stair her sock slipped on the surface and she was dependent on the railing to save her from a very serious fall.
It got me thinking about my kids socks too.  Most children's socks do come with non skid grips on the bottom, but not any of my daughters tights. And no adult socks. Yet we, too, have hardwood floors and its can get just as slippery for adults as for children. So although I will show you this DIY on my daughters socks please use the same idea for your socks and slippers.
Audrey's socks and some fabric paint
What you will need:
- socks/tights/slippers
- 3D/puffy fabric paint

Take your tights and put something inside to keep the paint from fusing both sides of the sock together.  This could be a small piece of cardboard, a small ball or even a cup.

I used a piece of cardboard from a tissue box destined for recycvling

On the bottom of the tights create designs with your fabric paint.  I am the furthest thing from artistic so I stick to things like dots, stripes, hearts, stars or their names  For toddler socks its a fun idea to write "Left" and "Right" on the bottom of their socks to help the identify these words/direction early on.   If you are even remotely artistic try flowers, superhero logos, cars, animals ect. You could write days of the week or the colour of the sock. You could decorate them seasonally and give them as mini gifts (stocking stuffers, Easter basket fillers)

Allow time to dry and Volia! Safe fun footwear that everyone will be happy they are wearing.
Those are supposed to be hearts, haha

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Birthday gift for under $7- DIY Play Make-up

DIY Play Make-up

My children were invited to a birthday party this coming weekend.  Kids birthday parties always make me a bit nervous.  Not because there will be 20 noisy kids in one room, but instead because of the gift opening.  I have not bought a gift (with the exception of the two per child from Santa at Christmas) in over four years.  I make all of our Christmas/ birthday/ wedding/ baby or shower gifts- but to stay on budget that means I also have to make gifts for the kids friends.
Usually this is accepted with open and happy hearts by the children and parents of the children.  After all, the parents know me and so a home made gift is more or less expected.  Yet I always get a bit nervous about how it will be perceived by the other parents at the party. The ones who spent $40 buying a gift while I managed a DIY gift for under $7.  I shouldn't care what they think, gentle readers- I know that- but often times I do.  So I am always on the lookout for the best DIY gifts out there to really thrill the child and prove to other parents that more money spent does not always equal more enjoyment.

When I saw this DIY Play Make-up on Pinterest, I knew I had found something great. And now the whole gift has been completed for under $7.

What you will need:
- a variety of old or empty make-up containers
-soap &old toothbrush
-make-up bag
- several different colours of nail polish
-at least two days for dry time
- new items (like make-up brushes or sponges, hair rollers ect) **New items are optional**

I started by taking inventory of all my old or never used make-up.
Since my mom buys expensive department store make-up she often sends me the "free" bonus sample bags she gets when she spends $x, so I thought I would be able to find a lot more unused make-up. What I found instead were half a dozen lovely never used make-up bags, but only one blush and one eye shadow- I must have cleaned out my "stash" not too long ago.  But I could use one of the make-up bags as part of the gift so I counted it a win and moved on.
I reached out on a social networking site asking friends for their empty, unused or long forgotten make-up containers.  After waiting a few days and getting no responses I thought I should hit the dollar store and just get what I needed there.  I was able to nab some make-up brushes for $1.25 each, and a four pack of unusual nail polish colours for $3 along with a pack of velcro hair rollers for $1. Yet the selection of make-up I had expected to be vast was limited to one eye shadow quartet.  I skipped buying that and figured I would ask around at department stores for their empty trial containers.
Yet I was saved having to do this because as it turns out someone on that social networking site had read my plea, and she sweetly dropped off a whole freezer bag full of old make-up from the days her daughter did competitive dance.

Step one:
Take your container of old make-up and a toothpick and scrape out any remaining eye shadow, blush or pressed powder.
Old make-up

Step two: Wash thoroughly   Then wash again.  I took and old toothbrush and really gave the containers a good scrubbing.

Step three: pour nail polish into the empty wells of the container.  Repeat until you have filled all the wells in as many containers as you desire.
Carefully pour in nail polish

Step four: Allow to dry.  You will notice That the dry nail polish does not take up as much volume as the wet, so you may choose to top-up your wells as they dry.
Allow to dry
Step five:package it all together and feel pride in your gift for under $7.

This "make-up" being in real containers with vibrant colours makes it so much more realistic for the kids than the other plastic play stuff that costs three times as much.
In an ideal world one would complete this project out of doors or in a seldom used garage or basement as there are noticeable fumes from the nail polish as it dries.

Enjoy, and happy money saving!

Monday, 18 March 2013

The tricks of advetising

Once a person understands something, it holds less power over them. Specifically, advertising.
So many tricks in this trade that most people don't notice, yet they feel the pull to buy a certain brand/product over another.
By taking some time to expose the tricks of advertising I hope to help you make better buying choices and save some money along the way.

I was just flipping through the flyers last night when I came across a sale on laundry soap.  Now since I make my own (you can find my link on how you can DIY laundry soap here) I was in no way tempted by the sale.  But I did notice that the store had a limit of four bottles of laundry soap per customer.
We might guess that the limit is put in place by the store as a way to be fair to customers and make sure one person doesn't grab up all the savings for themselves.
That's exactly what the store wants you to think. But lets be honest, gentle readers, when have you known large corporations to put the fairness of who saves money over their interest in profit? They want to sell as many bottles of laundry soap as possible, so who cares who buys it?  By imposing a limit of four they have created the perfect selling environment.
People usually do not go into a store and buy four bottles of laundry soap at a time.  But with a "limit" customers feel that they must buy four.  After all, its such a great deal how can they afford NOT to buy four? Often times (but not always) the deal on the limited product is actually not that great, but the limit makes you feel like you better get it now or you'll miss out. The limits are always higher than what people would typically buy in one shopping trip, but never so high that people would not max out their limit- when have you ever seen a limit of 22 bottles of laundry soap?
So there it is.  A limit is imposed to make you feel the store is being fair, courteous and friendly- and all the while the limit is there to drive up sales from one bottle of laundry soap to four.

Right side of the screen
In every television commercial split screen comparison of two products, the one they want you to buy is featured on the right side of your screen. The right side weighs more "heavily" in the mind. We read from left to right and therefore tend to linger on the right side of the screen once our minds figure we have taken in all required information from the left side.
Moreover there is a rather distinctive biblical factor at play here. Oh yes, gentle readers, the bible is used in advertising more than you can imagine- but I will get into that in a minute.  In the bible Jesus sits to the right of  His Father.  Right is "good" while left is "bad".  This is the same mentality that had little children being forced to write with their right hands even though they were left handed, not that many years ago.
Showcasing the product advertisers want you to buy on the right side of the screen is a very simple technique, but also very effective and one not made by accident.

Colour is used to invoke feelings and thoughts in ways you may never have thought.
In TV commercials the set and the wardrobe of the actors almost always co ordinates with with colours of the product packaging. This makes us feel that the product "fits" in our everyday lives.
Colour is also well thought out in packaging. It makes sense when packaging an item intended for children to use bright primary colours. But have you ever noticed how processed foods are usually packaged with the most- the brightest- colours?  This is because we know logically that when it comes to food the more colourful the meal the healthier it is. Sure once you dump the bag of potato chips into a bowl, or cook and serve the pizza pockets they are no longer colourful- but you've already bought them by that point.
Making the packaging colourful helps us feel as though we have made a healthier decision than we have when picking these products up.

Product claims that don't mean anything
You've heard lines like "No brand out performs this brand".  Think about that one- they are not saying their product works better, only that it works equally as well as another one. Working equally as well is really nothing to brag about.  It likely means they are using the same formula/materials as a less expensive brand and packaging it differently. Yet it sounds like they are claiming to be the best without the legal ramifications of making such a claim. Tricky.
What about "Made with white meat" when advertising a processed chicken product?  They are not saying the product is 100% white meat, you just make that assumption based on the product claim.  What they are really saying is that SOME white meat was included in the making of the product. Same goes for "made with real cheese"- real cheese is included somewhere on the ingredient list, but that does not necessarily mean its made only with real cheese.
We need to be careful with what we assume a product claim means.

Try me
Once you touch a product you are several times more likely to buy it. So the scratch and sniff sticker on the fabric softener is more than a way to get you familiar with the scent.  You have to pick up the bottle, scratch the sticker and lean your face and nose right in against the product.  You have formed a bond, as silly as it sounds, with this bottle of fabric softener.  Nah, you wouldn't trade your family for it, but you have spent more time interacting with this bottle than any of the others on the shelf.  Not only will you likely buy that brand you will buy THAT bottle, The one right there in your hand that already feels familiar to you
Same idea for mailed out samples. The whole notion originated from a charity.  The charity had noticed a decline in donations so what they did was send out return address stickers to people who had donated to them in the past. Once people received these stickers, and found value in them, they felt a desire to "pay" in some way for them.  The charitable donations came flooding in.  This particular charity still uses this highly effective approach to this day.
Its the very same idea behind the free samples passed out in the grocery stores.
Its wonderful to have the opportunity to try before you buy.  Yet know that shop talk for this approach is "try and buy" not "try and cross our fingers someone might buy"- they know that once you try for free most people feel an ingrained obligation to buy.

Biblical references
Biblical references are everywhere. Where else could one expect to see golden arches besides the world dominating fast food chain- guarded by St. Peter as the gates of heaven of course.  The old beer slogan "I Am. Canadian" - direct biblical reference. Notice that the slogan is not "I am Canadian."   That punctuation changes everything and is no accident.  In the bible when God is asked who He is, He responds by saying "I Am."  The beer company simply included their brand name at the end of their claim of being divine.
Referencing bible stories, quotes and imagery are not designed to tug just at the hyper religious. Almost all of us are at least lightly familiar with the bible and the stories contained within- regardless of our religious convictions or lack thereof as the case my be.  Due to high awareness, biblical references create a feeling of familiarity which is very soothing and incredibly powerful.

Some products are wonderful and totally worth their cost. I hope this blog will help you, my gentle readers, to make that call based on the products performance and its relevance to your life rather than based on the success of the advertising campaign.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Menu planning means money saving

I am a terrible cook, gentle readers.  Really.  Awful. The whole process exhausts and confuses me.
I can follow basic directions of a recipe, but fancy terms, techniques or substitutions baffle me. If it were just me I would be very happy with a yogurt everyday instead of ever trying to prepare a lasagna.

But, its not just me. My kids and the daycare kids need something more than yogurt and cottage cheese to keep them going for the day.

I am not a fan of processed or packaged meals. Being so processed they contain limited nutrients. Our bodies need nutrients, and when we don't get them we tend to feel unsatisfied or still hungry. This is one of the reasons its so easy to over eat and gain weight with processed foods. And that's not to mention how expensive they are!!

So, here's me. Unable to cook, unwilling to buy pre-made- whats a girl to do? Marry That Guy! :) Not only can he cook, but he is willing to do it almost every single night for our family and my day care children.
Over the years we have come to see a huge value in menu planning.
Primarily, this helps my day run smoothly with day care, knowing what to serve.  It also helps keep my day care parents happy- they can have confidence in what I am feeding the children and should there be a reaction we can track back to exactly what was served.
Yet, of course, it helps us save money too.  By actively thinking about what you will feed your family its easier to make choices based on the food items you already have on hand.  This constant inventory taking will also help prevent your food from spoiling or expiring because you know you have it so you can use it.

Over lapping ingredients or entrees helps to significantly lower your costs as well as simplifying your meal preparations.  For example, That  Guy makes a really great chicken stew. When he makes it he makes enough to feed our family dinner and the daycare lunch the next day and then he doubles it. By doubling the chicken stew it ensures that we have enough left over to turn it into a chicken pot pie.  One entree, two meals.
I make a pretty decent applesauce.  I make a ton at a time. Throw in any fruits you might have that are just about to spoil. Hint: if you add strawberries also toss in a few drops of red food colouring. When strawberries are cooked they turn grayish  which is less than appetizing.   I serve apple sauce in the traditional way as s snack to my day care children.  The next day, I pop a slice of bread in the toaster, top it with applesauce, sprinkle with cinnamon and call it "cinnamon delight".  The kids are convinced its a different snack and I don't have to prepare anything new.

Tomato sauce can be used in a multitude of ways :pasta topper, lasagna filler, chili base ect.  So make a decent tomato sauce and you're already started on several meals.

Menu planning allows you to ensure variety in your meals, as well as the opportunity to take advantage of  local and seasonal produce. Buying this produce from a farmers market may also allow you to negotiate on prices.  Please remember though, that these are hardworking farmers out to provide for their families.  I love saving a dollar but be thoughtful in your negotiations and consider not beginning your relationship with a farmer in this way.  Show them that you will provide them long term patronage and have a respect for their work first.

My kids love veggies, cucumbers and bell peppers being a big favorite.  They will happily eat them simply washed and cut.  But after so long its me that's looking for a new way to eat them.  A very simple cucumber and tomato salad in the summer is a huge hit with everyone.

Running low on a bunch of things? Too low to feed any one thing to your whole family? My solution has been "dipping fun".  Giving the kids the last of the crackers/bread sticks/ pitas and a variety of  raw veggies cut into spears, combined with the last of the cottage cheese/Greek yogurt/hummus/jam/guacamole is a meal that cleans out our fridge and the kids adore! (speaking of hummus, please don't buy it.  Serve a simple rice dish with chick peas and veggies one evening.  Then use the remaining chick peas to make the hummus)

Using very basic Excel knowledge I do up a calendar spreadsheet of our meals for the month, including snacks for the day care kids.  If your kids go to school outside of the home this could be very useful in planning bagged lunches and snacks as well.  Then each month I just copy and paste to vary the menu slightly.  Each season I add in seasonal produce and remove items that call for ingredients which will no longer be in season or readily/cheaply available. This approach only takes work four times a year (once for each season) for the first year.  Then just re-visit your old menus.

Each time you're in the grocery store it costs you money.  Really, how often have you run in to just grab some milk and wound up spending $47 on things you had not planned to buy? It used to happen all the time to us.  Menu planning helps you make a complete and very useful grocery list.  This means that you can effectively cut your grocery shopping to once a week thereby saving you time and lots of money!

Monday, 11 March 2013

A new office space for under $130

We bought this house in January and other than painting we really haven't had a chance to do much else to it.  Fortunately, the house is in good shape and does not need a lot done. But it did need an office and I did this one for under $130!

Finished office space

It is a three bedroom home.  That Guy and I plus the kids occupy all three of them. With myself running several small businesses we were starting the feel the need for a designated office space.
It didn't have to be big, but it did have to be functional.  Plus, with the long term vision of the children doing their homework there and having a computer in the space, it was very important to us that it not be a closed off room but a central dedicated space.

So we decided to make use of this little nook.  This strange nook is between our entrance way and our kitchen and home to our basement door on the other side. Since moving in it has been used as a catchall, for junk and things that belonged in the basement but no one wanted to take all the way down stairs yet.
The walls were pretty banged up and the space is narrow but since we had no other nooks to work with, this was going to have to make due.
"Before" photo of the nook

We knew we wanted a floating "shelf" as the primary surface.  We figured we could re purpose some old counter tops on the cheap. Down to the ReStore (Habitat for Humanity store of donated and salvaged items for home improvement. They sell everything from paint and doorknobs to entire kitchen cabinets and windows).  But it was for naught since there was only a slab of granite counter top there.  Even if I wanted to pay $150 for a place to set a computer screen on (I did not) I am not a fan of having radioactive stone in my kitchen space- and never would I have it as a surface on which to prepare food.
I took a look on and but found nothing which would be suitable for our needs. I had to buy new. *sigh*

Down at the home improvement store though I was pleasantly surprised that we could pick up an 8ft stretch of plywood for just under $11.  We only have a 6 1/2ft nook, so that would leave us enough left over for a functional shelf below. Win! Add in screws and the lumber needed to build shelf support, and we are at $26.

The previous owners of this house had thoughtfully left us very well labelled cans of the paint colours used in the house. So we filled old picture holes, sanded and repainted all with on hand supplies.

The plywood was functional, but not overly pretty. So I painted it with three coats of chalkboard paint, using up the last of the chalkboard paint I had on hand.

A trip to the dollar store got me all the accessories I would need to be productive in that space (desk organizer, pens, whiteboard eraser, cork board, pushpins ect) Total there was about $12.

At our old house, before Audrey was on her way, our third bedroom was used as an office space. We had a traditional set up with a computer desk, computer tower, monitor, keyboard, mouse and such. When we needed that space for Audrey's bedroom and we attached our computer tower to our TV screen and did away with cable I was strongly in favour of getting rid of all the parts we didn't need anymore (corded keyboard and mouse, monitor, speakers ect) It was a good thing That Guy did not listen to me and held on to them. Now we had them for the office space at no cost to us.  Well, minus the computer tower.(since we are currently using it and have to plans to give it up).... and nothing works without the tower.....
Back on I went and this time found what I was looking for. After bargaining with the seller from his original asking price of $100 to the rock bottom steal of $90 (some suggest I need bargaining practice but I don't know what they are talking about) we had a deal- and a functional office space.

My wall art was self-made. Using on-hand black self-adhesive vinyl and my Cricut cutting machine I cut out all the letters and little corner flourishes. I had That Guy draw faint pencil lines on the wall so I could place my letters- I never would have got them straight trying to eyeball it.

A spare dining chair, some potted flowers given to me by a sweet friend and the space was complete.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

End of Year Teacher gift for under $6

This end of year teacher appreciation gift does not actually come at such a bizarre time as it may seem. This Friday is my son Walters last day of public school before starting a home school program with me on Monday.
When people hear that I will be home schooling and how excited I am about it many people jump to the conclusion that I am anti-teacher.  I am no such thing, gentle readers.
Walter has a wonderful teacher in his classroom right now and an Early Childhood Educator whom he (Walter) simply adores. They are both women who do their jobs for the very same reason I will be home schooling- to do our best for children.
The decision to home school came because it is an option for me, as a working from home mom, and solves a lot of concerns about things like transportation ect.

I wanted to leave the teacher and ECE with a small token of appreciation from Walter as students often do at the end of the school year.
It had to be just right. Something thoughtful but not over the top, something sweet but not expensive, something they don't get a million of, something they would actually use and something cost effective. 

So this is my solution: "Thank You for Planting the Seeds of Knowledge" gift pack.

Terra cotta planter - $1 (Dollarama)
planter base $.50 (Dollarama)
tissue paper- on hand
chalkbord paint- on hand
chalk- on hand
two garden tools- $1 each (Wal-Mart)
gardening gloves- $1 (Dollarama)
packet of seeds $1.89 (Wal-Mart)
silk flowers- on hand

Paint the planter with chalkboard paint. I do three coats, but I'm a bit over the top like that.  Chalkboard paint dries pretty quickly so this is not a huge time investment.
Before you write anything on the new chalkboard surface take a piece of chalk and rub it all over the surface, then wipe/wash off.  Without this step the first thing you write/draw will always be lightly visable on the chalkboard surface.
Stuff your planter with the goodies.
Wrap it up in a bit of cellophane and ribbon.
Attach a note or gift tag that reads "Thank you for planting the seeds of knowledge" or some other such sentiment. (Perhaps you add seeds for thyme instead of flowers and write a tag that says "Thanks for spending Thyme with me.) Volia!

Very little cost investment, very little time investment.  And a gift anyone would be pleased to receive.