Friday, August 24, 2012

Get some culture in your life

I'm always on the lookout for fun, cheap, and this time of year, indoor things to do with the kiddos.  We are lucky to live in a major metropolitan area, and while Phoenix isn't exactly known for it's diverse culture, there are a few museums and things to do with the kids.  Our favorites include, the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, The Children's Museum of Phoenix, downtown, the Arizona Science Center, downtown, and of course the Phoenix Zoo.

All of these things are loads of fun, but going to them can be pricey.  We all know I'm not one to shell out a ton for entertainment, so of COURSE I have an answer to that :).  Actually, a few answers :). 

1) The Culture Pass you check out the culture pass from the library and you get FREE entry into museums and attractions, how awesome is that?  This link is local to the Phoenix area, but check to see if there's something similar in your area!

2)  Take advantage of free days! Target has a programs that sponsor FREE days at museums and arts centers.  In Mesa, AZ it's called Target 3 for free that offers free admission the first Sunday of each month into select museums.  They also do free First Friday admission into the Children's Museum of Phoenix.

3)  I've said it before but I will say it again, sign up for the deal-a-day sites like Groupon, Google Offers, etc.  We got a year membership to the Arizona Science center for a little more than the cost of one day's admission for our family!  Great to have for those rainy (or in our case stiflingly HOT) days when you need to get the kids out of the house :).  I was also able to score a BOGO (buy-one-get-one) ticket into the Arizona Museum for Youth, which I just used for Zach and me to go today.

4)  I also mentioned this before but for lots of reasons experiences make GREAT gifts.  We ask for a membership to the Phoenix zoo every year for Christmas from my in-laws and we love it, and they love that they can give us something we will definitely use and enjoy every year!  We don't have to worry about more stuff cluttering up our house and we will get to enjoy time as a family, what better gift?

random picture of Z with his legos just so this post has a picture :)
What are some ways you save money on fun things to do?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vacation, all I ever wanted..

Vacation, had to get away!  Had to get away from the HEAT.  Every year about this time my family and I decide we are done, D-O-N-E, with the AZ heat and we escape to the San Diego area for a few days.  We just got back from a 4 night stay in Carlsbad, and it was GORGEOUS.  The weather was beautiful (although the crazy locals thought it was hot, bwahahaha), our hotel was ok, made better by the fact it was across the street from the beach, and the boys had a blast.
After 8 hrs in the car Z wanted to go straight in the ocean
So besides gloating about what a wonderful time we had, I thought I would share some tips for vacationing on the cheap.  

1) Decide where you're going to go, and roughly when (spring, summer, fall, winter), early.  We have been going to the San Diego area every summer for vacation for the last 3 years, it's relatively close so we can drive, and it's a good time for the whole family.

2) Once you decide where you're going sign up for the deal-a-day sites for that area (Groupon, LivingSocial, Plum District, etc).  That's how we scored a great deal for our hotel.  Plum District (referral link) ran a deal last Jan or Feb for the Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort, we ended up with 4 nights for under $500 total, and we were right across the street from the beach!

3) Decide roughly what you want to do when you are there.  We knew that this time we were going to go to Legoland California.  We had never been and we figured Zach was old enough to really like it.  So I tried to get some coupons for admission ahead of time.  Look online, look in your entertainment book, ask your friends!  I was lucky enough to score some awesome coupons from my friend Kristine that saved us $72!

4) Plan on eating in a few times and take advantage of free or cheap meals!  Part of our hotel deal included breakfast every day at a local cafe.  Since we were driving I packed a bunch of groceries and we made sandwiches to take to the beach and eat.  And one night we got pizza and saved the leftovers to eat in the room for dinner after a long day at the beach. We were fortunate that the room had a small kitchenette so we had a fridge/freezer, microwave and stove at our disposal.  It was awesome, we'll have to plan for that going forward.

5)  Keep in mind that experiences are great gift ideas too!  Zach's 4th birthday is right around the corner so we asked our families to get him either stuff for the trip, contribute to his Legoland ticket, or give him spending money for the trip for his birthday.  It helped us out, and he will always remember the gifts!

Mr. G was not thrilled w the ocean, we spent beach time in a sun tent
Now we did go out and eat too, not just huddled in the room.  We just chose to go out for ice cream or go out for pizza and take the rest back to the room which saved us cash, and some sanity since the boys were not interested in sitting still for a nice meal.

What are some ways you save money on vacation?

Monday, August 13, 2012

A company that cares!

Once in a great while I will come across an awesome company and as a compulsive over-sharer I will share it with you, obviously.

A few weeks ago I did a post about reusable water bottles, I mentioned sippy cups in that post.  At the time I gave a few different examples of sippy cups that you could use that aren't plastic (yuck) that you could use to give your kiddos water on the go.  At the time I didn't have any strong recommendations, but I did say we have a few Kid Basix cups (Safe Sippy 2 and Safe Sporter) and love them.    
Recently I had an interaction with the Kid Basix folks that make me think their company is pretty great too.  We bought the Safe Sippy 2 a couple of years ago when Zach was using sippy cups, I loved that it had a straw attachment because he was just learning to use a straw, at the time. Safe Sippy 2 is pretty smart, and it is, it's a sippy, that easily converts to a straw cup, *with* a lid, AND a silicone sleeve to keep little hands away from extreme temperatures.  The cup is even more fancy in that the handles come off for when your kiddo gets bigger so it's pretty much an investment for the long haul.  Any-who, fast-forward to now, and Gavin is just starting to use a cup to drink some water.  So I immediately thought of our Safe Sippy 2, because it's not plastic, and I knew we had the sippy valve to convert it easily for him since he's just learning.

One small snag, I searched our cabinet in and out, and all of our baby boxes and could NOT find the handles.  So frustrating, obviously Gavin could use the cup without handles, but that's a lot of coordination for a almost-7-month-old.  So I was bummed. I looked online at the Kid Basix site and on Amazon for replacement handles.  All I could find was a replacement part kit, which is also pretty awesome, for less than $5 you can get all new parts for the sippy cup!  This thing is built to last!  So then I went to the Kid Basix site and contacted them trying to find out how to get some new handles for our cup to make it easier for Gavin.  And this is the response I got from Susan at Kid Basix:

"We do not sell them, but are happy to send you a pair if you are in the US.  Can you send me your address?"

Shut the FRONT door!  Maybe I'm a little hardened and cynical but this to me is the BEST customer service I have seen in a long time.  I had fully expected them to either tell me to buy another cup, or best case to send me a link to buy new handles.  

This post isn't sponsored in any way, this is truly my experience they are a great company with refreshing customer service.  Their tag line is "making kid's lives better" but they are really making parents lives easier too :).  Thanks Susan and Kid Basix!! 




Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My little sprout

It is super important to me that my kids are raised being aware of the world around them.  I want them to act responsibly and I want them to look to us for an example of how to live responsibly.  So we include the kids (well just kid right now because the baby is too wee still) in all of our "green-ness".  

Zach (my almost-four-year-old) knows what compost is, and he knows what goes in it and what doesn't.  Nothing is cuter than him finishing his banana and asking "Mommy, can you put this in the com-post for me?".  Makes me so proud he knows what that is, I had no clue until I was like 25.  

He also knows about recycling and what goes in the bin and what doesn't.  It's one of his little chores to gather recycling stuff and take it to our inside bin for me.    He has chastised ME on more than one occasion "that goes in da cycling MOMMY!".  And I thank him for it.  He's my little reminder that everything I do matters.

He also is a fantastic eater, he knows that some foods "taste good, but aren't good for you" so you eat those only sometimes.  And that "fruits and veggies make you big and STRONG!".  He LOVES going to the "market", aka the farmer's market and helping pick out produce.  He knows that his food comes from farms and grows in the ground, it doesn't magically appear in the store.  He'll try anything to see if he likes it.  He usually does it himself, but if not, we do insist "you have to try it to see if you like it and if you don't like it, you don't have to eat it".  

I'm not saying all this to brag, although I AM so very proud of him for knowing all this.  I'm just saying, teach your kids and start young.  Include them in what you're doing, let them see it as normal behavior and they will grow up knowing no different and carrying on with the healthy green lifestyle.  

What are some things that you do with your kids to help them learn about living green?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Get your crafty on: Bulletin Board

The hubs and I are BIG wine fans.  Before the kiddos came into our lives we were wine club members at a few wineries. We took trips to Napa, and Temecula and had a huge wine fridge.  So obviously we enjoyed a few bottles of wine at home ;).  And as a result we had a bunch of corks that we saved, they're interesting and I figured we could do something with them, I just didn't know what at the time.  I'm probably a borderline hoarder because I'm always saving things that I think I can do something with, BUT 90% of the time there IS something I do with that stuff!  Since I've been staying home with the kiddos I've been trying to get the house more organized.  As a result of the organization I determined we needed a bulletin board to pin all the papers that keep cluttering up my counters.  Enter: wine corks!

I'm sure you will all be shocked to learn, I did *not* get this idea from Pinterest :).   (It's ok, take a moment to pick yourself up off the ground).

It could not be simpler to make a bulletin board though.  Find a cheapy frame, This is one I found on clearance for $2, and keep an open mind, you could paint it or add embellishments if it's not what exactly what you'd like.  Remove the glass and paper, so you just have the backing and put it back in the frame.  Use your handy-dandy hot glue gun to glue the corks on to the frame backing.  
bag of corks, and the frame/backing
The pattern is up to you, I tried to mix it up a bit but only did vertical and horizontal.  Keep the corks pretty close together so you can't see the backing, it's kind of like a puzzle.

starting to arrange the corks
At the end I had to trim the tips of a few corks to get them to fit in the frame, I just did that with scissors.
the finished product!
 TA DA!!  Super easy project that looks interesting and nice as opposed to those store-bought dorm room cork boards.  You are recycling used corks, very green, and what better excuse to drink more wine?!
  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Baking Mixes on the cheap

I've said before, I am a *terrible* baker, I really can't handle exact measurements and specific mixing instructions and everything that enables one to make edible food when baking.  That said, like most, I love me some fresh baked brownies and chocolate chip cookies.  So, I usually just use a store bought mix, add water, eggs, maybe some oil and I'm good to go, I *rarely* eff that up.  


The store bought mixes are relatively cheap, but it adds up!  And they have an assortment of "extra" ingredients that we are really trying to avoid.  So, of course, I turned to Pinterest!  (Everyone close their mouths from the shock, I'm a well-known addict).  I found this site that has an assortment of "fake-it" Betty Crocker mixes, PERFECT for me!  The standard ingredients, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder are CHEAP.  Add in some chocolate chips, butter, vanilla, and you're still at less than half price of the store-bought mixes!


So far I have tried the chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies.  They were delicious!  Although I will say softened butter != melted butter (that's does not equal for those that are not uber-nerds like myself).  That is how much of a non-baker I am, I used melted butter and got greasy, enormous, flat cookies the first time.  Baking FAIL.  


I highly recommend putting both the recipe for the mix (so you can refill when you use it up), AND the instructions to make the recipe on the jar, like so:


    

We use either mason jars, or glass canisters from IKEA to store the mixes.  I prefer glass storage to plastic bags because I try to avoid plastic whenever possible.


It's my favorite kind of money saver, one that saves you $$ AND keeps yucky ingredients out of your house.  Not to mention, BROWNIES, YUM!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beans! Beans!



The more you eat, the more you.. SAVE money, geez what are you 12?  Beans are GREAT for you, they have protein and are a good source of fiber.  But what about the ummm... gas?  The more you eat the more your body will become accustomed to eating beans and you will no longer be so gassy.  So hang in there, and maybe indulge at home for a while? Unless you want to keep your coworkers away ;).

One easy way to save a TON of money on groceries is to make use of beans.  And I mean dried beans not the canned ones.  Those can be full of sodium, other added ingredients and probably BPA from the can liner, not-so-good-eats.  I have found a variety of dried beans at my local farmer's market.  And if you don't have them at yours, check places like Whole Foods, or Sprouts, or your local natural food store for bulk bins of beans.  I know Whole Foods has organic dried beans, not sure about Sprouts though.  

stored in ikea jars, labeled
Dried beans do require a bit of planning to use, you should soak them first and they can take a little while to cook.  Whole Foods has great directions on their website of how to prepare beans.  But don't let this deter you!  Just soak a batch of beans overnight and cook them up on the weekend, they don't require much attention and then you can use them all week for meals!

So what do you do with beans?  In our house we use a lot of lentils, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, and chick peas.  Here's just some ideas of what we do with them:

lentils:  soup, add-ins for anything with ground beef, hearty dip
black beans:  black bean salad, quesadillas, tacos, burritos, dip, black beans and rice, black bean burgers

white beans:  soup, dip
kidney beans: chili, red beans and rice
chick peas:  homemade hummus, chick pea salad, cookies(!)

They cost pennies on the dollar to buy, are super easy to make and are delicious and healthy!  What are your favorite bean recipes?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Points!

I have written about cloth diapers before, IMHO, those are the cheapest way to go.  BUT I have also written about how we used disposables with Z, and we had to use disposables with G for a short time because day-care wouldn't do cloth (that's a soap box post for a different time).  So, with that said, did you know you can earn FREE things with your diapers?
the gifts to grow program from Pampers is on the box
See the points sticker hiding there?
Pampers has a program called gifts-to-grow that earns you free things for entering codes you can find on your diaper packages.  These are usually in the form of stickers on the plastic packaging of the diapers inside the boxes, a little tricky to find.  I did this with Z and we got things like a free Diego potty seat for potty training, eco-friendly bath tub toys, a Melissa and Doug monkey toy, Shutterfly photo books, announcements, and prints, a GAP giftcard, they have tons of awesome stuff!  Browse the rewards you can earn here.

Huggies has a similar program they call Rewards, and while I haven't used Huggies to earn these rewards they look pretty cool as well.


And it's not just diapers!  You can earn rewards with Disney movies.  They have the Disney Movie Rewards program that earns you points with movies you buy, you watch in theaters, and disney cds you buy.  It's pretty easy to accumulate a lot of points, lately I've been using them for Starbucks giftcards, hey, mommy needs a reward for watching the same movie 3786 times in a row!


Check ALL your products for rewards programs and points, even Stonyfield has a rewards program, so your yogurt can earn you free things too!


Also be on the lookout, often times these companies release free points codes around holidays, or seasons, or just because, making it even easier to earn free stuff :).


Do you have any lesser known ways to make your products work for you?