Simplify Your Life- Budgeting for Christmas

11 11 2012

I know it seems so far away and most people do not want to think about it, but no matter what, Christmas is on its way.  Since I have put my family on such a strict budget, I find it necessary that I am fully prepared going into this holiday season with an open mind and a manageable and realistic budget.  The first part of this two part post is about figuring out and setting a budget, the second will be about making Christmas more about traditions instead of gifts.

The first task I challenged myself with was to write down a list of all the people I would like to send a hello and Merry Christmas to.  This was the beginning of my list, and is fairly long.  This list will be used for one thing, to tell each and every person I care about, to have a Merry Christmas. These people will receive a Christmas card.  Now don’t get me wrong, I wish I could buy elaborate gifts for all of the people I can about, but it is just not feasible nor practical.  For my annual Christmas card ordering, I shop around as best as I can at online printing companies, trying to find the best bang for my buck.  For example I have used Shutterfly in the past and they are currently offering a deal of 40% off holiday cards.  My list usually consists of approximately 75 households.   Always make sure to include postage in your budget.  It is little necessary items that can really add up and throw your budget way off track.

Since all of my favorite people are on my Christmas card list, I look at this and start narrowing it down.  I start making a list of all the children I will be shopping for this holiday season.  Of course I include my nephews, very close family friends, and my “second children” aka, the children in my care on a daily basis.  Then I think about how much I would like to spend on each.  I know it sounds awful to put a dollar on each munchkin, but it is a necessary step to staying on budget.  Lastly, I make a short list of a few extra people in my life that have really gone out of their way to help me during the year.  These gifts are normally very small, but are just a way to say thanks.

In the past few years, since many of our close family members have also been strapped for extra cash, we have eliminated all adults out of the family gift giving and have turned the focus to the children.  This is their time to feel the joys of Christmas.  Since I still want to be able to provide those close loved ones with the spirit of Christmas, I often turn to kid pictures and yearly calendars that include pictures from the previous year.  It is a gift that we can afford and it gives back all year long.  Again, I search and search online printers to find the best available deals.

So I leave this to you:

  •  Figure out an amount you would like to spend on Christmas aka. Christmas Budget.
  •  Make a list for holiday cards, subtract that amount from budget
  •  Narrow the list to some very special ones who you would like give a gift to.
  •  Also add people who you would like to say Thank You to for their efforts during the year.
  •  Make sure to include a dollar limit for each child/person.
  •  If there is money to spare, think about giving some extra pictures or items to other loved ones.

Remember that a gift is just that a gift.  Don’t feel obligated to get the biggest and best for someone when you cannot afford the gift.  If you don’t remember in a year what you purchased for someone but still are paying for it within your monthly credit card payments, was it really worth it?

You may not be able to give them everything you want, but remember your presence is often more valuable than any present.

Look out for Part 2 of this segment on creating family traditions.


Simplify Your Life- Responsibility Charts

9 11 2012

In the past few months, I have set on a journey to Simplify My Life in order to meet all of the demands of my busy schedule.  I started by making a weekly schedule and have also been meal planning.  While both of these have helped tremendously, I am still in dire need of more simplicity.

Since most of you know I have two boys, ages 4 and 5, and also watch a crew full of friends on a daily basis; It comes as no surprise that my house is often presentable at best.  With the changes in weather this week we have been a little more confined to the house, and the mess has definitely taken its toll.

Since this is going to be an ongoing problem throughout the coming winter months I thought to myself, what a perfect time to make each of these little munchkins their very own responsibility charts.  Most of the items on the chart are already things my boys do on a daily basis, I believe they will set the ground work for more “chores” to be added as they get older.

I have listed several “chores” with pictures on their own chart and have allowed space to check mark each day of the week.  The Responsibility Charts are going to be laminated so we can use a dry erase marker to mark off each task when they have been completed.  At the end of the week it can been wiped away clean and reused.

First, I am going to start small, and with my own two children.

We have already started the process, and so far it is going great!

Responsibility Chart-Sylis

Responsibility Chart-Seth

Next, I plan on making similar charts for all of the other children; firstly so they don’t feel left out, and secondly, I always treat them as my own, so why not have them help as well.  These will be the very basic of tasks, making them responsible for their own personal belongings and messes.

Since I am not a fan of monetary allowances, but am a true believer in acknowledging good behavior, their reward system will include various awards I pick out on Monday.  If they are doing well, I might allow for extra books at reading times, a few extra minutes to play before nap or bed, or a special dessert type treat after lunch or dinner.

Since they will all with have similar charts, it allows them to understand that each friend is  accountable for their own messes and personal belongings.   All in all, I hope to teach these little ones more responsibility and personal accountability.

What types of “chores” are your little ones responsible for?

Simplify Your Life- Traveling with Young Kids

30 10 2012

During a recent trip to the coast I put together a “Survival Guide” for parents traveling with young children.  I gathered all of the “tools” to create the perfect busy, interactive, learning kit to ensure your travels are whine free.  This concoction does not include any electronics or toys that need batteries; bringing young kids back to the basics of car travel and quality family time.

Kit has been tested and approved by a four and five year old!

For Busy Minds:

Interactive Fun:

  • Worksheets / Dry Erase Marker (Print out, laminate & reuse)
  1. My Personalized “I Spy” Worksheet
  2. Shapes Worksheet
  3. Alphabet Worksheet
  4. Letters Worksheet

Keeping Their Bodies Fueled:

Sleepy Heads:

  • Pillow
  • Special Lovie or Blanket

Clean Up / Safety:

  • Baby Wipes or Hand Cleaning Wipes (for all the sticky messes)
  • Bag for Trash or Sick Child
  • First Aid Kit

Tip: Keep the “Survival Kit” away from the kids and only get one item out at a time.  This way you have new and exciting stuff to bring out and challenge their minds the entire length of the trip. Happy Traveling!

Do you have any traveling tips you would like to share? Please comment in the section below!

Simplify Your Life- Make a Schedule

20 10 2012

During the beginning of this semester when I returned to school, I realized just how many time-consuming things I get myself into.  It quickly became apparent I would either need to cut back or really adjust how I manage my time.  For some reason, in past semesters, I was able to keep up (barely), but this one was a little different.  I felt as though my sanity was suffering more and more as the weeks went by and although, I am not a lazy person, I felt as though I would make time for some things that were not quite as necessary and then be forced to quickly cram everything else in at the end of the week.

I began to brainstorm with a friend on what I could cut back, and I realized that although my schedule was insane, I really did not want to cut back on anything.  The only other option I had were to create a master schedule and try my best to stick to it.  So far I have only deviate a little bit and have found myself a little more organized and more on task then I have been in a long time.  Yes, it is possible, and I will share some tips and tricks I have learned along the way to help you do the same.

1)      Start with a list of all the general tasks within you weekly routine that need to be accomplished.  Next, put a letter of reference next to each of these tasks in order of importance. A-E

A)     These are the most important items that are ABSOLUTELY necessary to complete.

Examples: Work, Classes, Appointments, etc.

B)      These tasks are BEST if completed sooner than later.

Examples: Homework, Paying Bills

C)      These CAN WAIT until tomorrow, but still have importance during the week.

Examples: Laundry, Housework, Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

D)     Items that one DESIRES to get done, but they can wait or be DELEGATED.

Examples: Organizing, De-cluttering, House Maintenance

E)      These need to be ELIMINATED.  If you don’t have time, ELIMINATE them.

After all tasks are listed, and have been assigned a letter of importance, then start filling them in on a Weekly Schedule .  Start with “A” items and work through the list until every item is accounted for.

Make sure the list is realistic to your life.  If you do not wake up at 5:00 am, then do not start your schedule then.  If your only schedule 40 minutes for laundry, you will be way off schedule when it takes you a few hours to complete.  The more accurate you are in filling out your schedule, the more successful you will be at it.

Check out this site, for 10 Tips for a Better Daily Routine.

So, my challenge for you, if you are feeling overwhelmed with your demanding schedule.  Make your list, rate the importance, and fill in my attached schedule, STICK TO IT FOR TWO WEEKS, and let me know if it was any help.

Good luck scheduling!

Simplify your Life- Meal Plan

7 10 2012

The other day I had one of my friends over and we were talking about ways to minimize stress.  As we were brainstorming she was telling me about her methods to meal planning, and as seen in the previous post, this is one area I would really like to improve upon.  As a health conscious mother, I pride myself in feeding my children nutritious meals but often time slack when it comes to planning ahead.  Taking the skills I learned from my friends and tweaking them to match my crazy busy schedule I was able to come up with a solution to every busy mom’s meal planning needs.  I have created a step by step guide to meal planning and have also attached a printable copy of the Weekly Menu Plan  in hopes to help moms like myself, take back their kitchen.

Step One – Look and see what you have.  This is crucial.  By seeing what is in your cabinets and freezer you can get a feel as to what you may need for the upcoming week.

Step Two– Plan the big course for each Dinner meal for the following week; utilize the ingredients that are already readily available in your kitchen.  Begin to write each Dinner Meal with sides on the provided Weekly Menu Planner.  Make sure all older items and meals that could be used as left overs are always planned for the beginning of the week.  Also, be very cautious of the amount of prep time for each meal and as well as prescheduled activities.

Step Three– Plan the side dishes and lunch menu filling in any gapes you may have.  List all necessary items in the grocery list section of the Weekly Menu Planner.  Think about extra ingredients that may need to accompany a meal and make certain these are either in the kitchen or on the grocery list.

Step Four– Make one trip. Whether it is to multiple stores or just once, make certain that you make only one trip per week to shop.  This is probably the hardest step, but can save the most time in the long run.

Step Five– Stick to the plan.  It is very easy to get off track and go and pick up some unhealthy convenience food, but it is much easier to stick to the menu when you already have it written down and all the ingredients sitting in the fridge.

It is amazing what these five steps have done for me in the past few weeks.  Not only have I been able to stick to healthy habits, minimized my stress concerning dinner preparations, but I have also been able to use the forgotten foods in my cabinets and freezer and have even seen a reduction in my budget for food.  All in all it really pays off to plan a Weekly Menu.

Menu Plan

Teresa Chalmers

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