Monday, December 20, 2010

Toddler Bliss on Christmas Morning

One of the great things about toddlers is that they can get really excited about "new" toys, but they haven't yet learned that "new" means they're wrapped in thick plastics and still have a chemical smell. For more Christmas morning bang for your buck, shop second hand. Just make sure the second hand item is clean and any age appropriate. You can also hide back toys that older siblings have out grown. Pull them out of hiding on Christmas Eve and shine them up.

By the way, if the child is old enough to know that "new" comes with a chemical smell, you can buy a "new" car air freshner for $2, spray down the toy, then head out to the garage to give yourself a "new" car for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Morning

When you don't have much to spend on Christmas, make the day about spending time together. We have a rule that we open, put together, and all play with any toy we unwrap. If it's a Lego set, we put it together and play with the figurines within their new world. If it's a hot wheels track, we put it together and race each other. This makes about five presents each last through the day and we have great memories of long play sessions around the Christmas tree. It allows us as parents to also enjoy that "new toy" excitement a lot longer. They ooh and aaahh as every piece comes out of the packaging and put onto the set.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Keeping Christmas Costs Low

Plan ahead, but don't buy too far ahead. 

I started out as the on-top-of-things Christmas shopper, my list made and presents bought before Thanksgiving. But then a funny thing happened. My kids got old enough to change their mind. Now I make a list, but I don't buy until Christmas is close at hand. It saves me from over buying and from the trouble of taking things back.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Announcing the winner of our 2010 Wall of Fame Costume Contest:

Tigist Haile sent in these ever-so-cute scarecrow costumes: 

I did not spend much on these as I used the stuff I have in the closet for the most part. I bought the raffia for $4.99 and the plaid material for $6.99 (for cuffs, scarves, and patches). Also the felt was about $2.00. The rest is good old tacky glue, packing tape, and needle and thread :) I probably spent 1/2 day cutting and sewing the patches /cuffs.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Money Well Spent?

Every once in awhile, you have to spend money to save money (as long as you pay cash for it, that is) but is the money well spent?

Though I've reviewed books, movies, and television shows for, I've never reviewed products until now. Last year, with cold and flu season fast approaching I bought a Germ Guardian EV9102 UV-C Room Air Sanitizer and a Germ Guardian GG100 UV-C Pluggable Air Sanitizer.  They both proved to be worth the money though both were pricey for an initial investment. The bigger model runs around $130 while the small version costs about $60.

I paid out the initial investment in desperation. My children and I all have weak immune systems. Three years ago, despite getting the flu shot, both of my children got Flu A & B. Both ended up with pneumonia. One of my boys ended up with Shingles. (Yes, you heard me right: Shingles, the blistering disease that old people normally get.) For three months, at least one person was sick in the house at all times despite the fact that I'm a pretty good housekeeper. (The back yard  and front flower beds are not technically in the house so don't judge me.) When flu season approached, I instituted several new "house laws punishable by banishment" which included various things we could do to keep ourselves healthy. I also bought these two versions of the Germ Guardian. My husband, usually a miser, remembered how much the various E.R. and chest x-rays bills cost him the year before and refrained from rolling his eyes.

The Germ Guardian company advertises that the use the same ultra-violet system that hospitals use to sanitize their air only on a smaller scale model suitable for houses. A fan draws in air, runs it past a UV light bulb which kills 99% of airborne bacteria and mold, then vents the clean air out of the top of the machine. This process also eliminates odors.

I did not have the capital to invest in a whole house model, but I could pay for the two smaller versions. 
We put the larger model in a central location on our main floor and the smaller plug-in version in the boys' room. The first winter we had these machines, we noticed an immediate improvement. First of all, when someone in the house got sick, that person did not give away the disease to anyone else in the house. That's right, at no point did one person get a cold and then the cold work its way through the other members of the family. Our kids went from missing several weeks of school to missing about 8 days total. We paid out one co-pay for one sick kid rather than paying co-pays for all four of us. 

As I mentioned before, I implemented several other "home health rules" which I will share in another post. Because of those rules, I was not completely sure it was the Germ Guardian causing such great results.

At the end of the first school year, the bulb on the downstairs model went out -- much sooner than we hoped, but we had run the machine constantly. Since it was summer, we decided to wait until that fall to replace the bulb.  When the time to replace it rolled around, the local Lowes did not have any replacements on hand so we waited some more...

And got sick. Our youngest got the flu and, even though we still had all our "health laws" in place, the flu moved through the family with ease. That's when my husband ordered the replacement bulbs online. After that, nothing moved through the family the entire winter. Now we are once more in the midst of flu season and I did it again. I forgot to replace our Germ Guardian bulb and get the machine running again. So boy number one got sick... now I'm sick. Guess what I did last night?  I forked out the cash for shipping and handling because I can't wait to replace our bulbs. The bulbs are not cheap, but neither is missing work with sick kids, paying co-pays, and buying Mucinex... unless of course you own stock in Mucinex.

I give Germ Guardian all five stars! If you have a weak immune system, this is an investment worth making.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Costume Contest!

Do you have any supercute, super cheap costume you've created? Send me your pictures with a description, list of supplies, your costs and your cost saving ideas. Entries will be featured next Halloween season, but the winner will earn a spot on my Wall of Fame for the 2010 Cheapest Costume Champion. The winner will be announced on November 15th.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Group Costumes -- Harry Potter First Years

My favorite group Halloween costume was Harry Potter First Years. We created the Book 1 scene  when Hagrid leads the new students by lamplight from the train to Hogwarts and then Professor McGonagall sorts them with the sorting hat. This scene allowed us create clothes for the kids that did not involve the more complicated Gryffindor uniforms. The first years march in with gray clothes and black ties. This was also the first Halloween after our eldest son started the gluten free diet and could not trick or treat. Dressing up as Harry Potter to do a magic "trick" at every door made the holiday special.

Now Here's How

Harry, Ron and Hermione all created their basic look with clothes from their closets: white shirts, gray slacks/skirt, gray sweaters, and black ties. (Well, we did need to provide a black tie to Hermione.) All of these items came from the closet and cost us nothing. Then they added graduation gowns. One came from my college graduation and two were bought at Goodwill for $2 each. Their wands all came from nature.  They each took sand paper and dulled down twigs (for free) to create their wands. All of them needed hair dye to match the characters ($3 total.)

Then each of them added personal character touches:

Harry carried a magic trick and a box of "Ever Flavored Beans" (made by Jelly Belly). The magic trick came from a simple magic kit he received for his birthday. The Ever Flavored Beans...okay, okay, they were the splurge! $7.00 at Barnes and Noble. Another great touch: he practiced various Harry poses and incantations.

Hermione carried a large old fashioned book from her mom's book shelf and a stuffed toy cat from her toy box. She did a great job with the Hermione attitude and had the eye rolling/foot stomping down pat.

Ron broke his wand and taped it together. He wore his shirt untucked. He carried a smaller bag of Ever Flavored Beans (again, splurge $4.50). He carried a toy rat. He could flip a switch, put it on the floor, and chase it yelling "Scabbers! Come back here!" (Again, splurge -- $6 at Walmart pet area.) He wore an old pair of shoes with holes in the toes. He also took some of the webbing from our Halloween decorations, draped it over his shoulders and placed spider rings from one of his school party bags through the webbing (all free.)

One thing I loved about these costumes was the way that the gowns blew around in the breeze and the fact that they were warm costumes.

For McGonagall's look, things got a tad pricey, but if I'd had more time I think I could have asked around to borrow certain pieces.  I bought an old black prom at Goodwill ($10) and a black blouse ($2) with poofy sleeves (since the prom dress didn't have the right top.)  Since the cape covered the waist, I didn't need to sew or alter the dress or blouse. I simply wore the blouse untucked over the dress. Then I used a broach from my own jewelry box to clasp my blouse at the neck and my own high heel black boots. Finally, I bought one yard of really pretty green fabric ($3 -- half price sale.)  To make it into a cape, I cut it up the middle lengthwise, but only halfway up the fabric. At the halfway mark, I cut a small circle for my neck. Then I sewed a seam at all the edges. (Incidentally, we've loaned different pieces of this for local plays and other kids costumes.)  I, too, needed dye hair spray ($1). The BEST part of my costume: the sorting hat! I bought a scarecrow hat at a second hand shop ($5, but major score!) and covered it with batting and brown fabric ($2). I pinned the fabric to the scarecrow hat from the inside with safety pins to make the "dimpled" look. I carried it as a puppet so that I could hold it over the kids' heads and yell, "Gryffindor!"

Hagrid used a shoe box, black paint, and battery powered touch lights from our hall closet to make his lamp for leading the first years. All the supplies came from our house. He wore boots and pants from his own closet and stuffed a Goodwill XL flannel shirt ($2) with pillows from our house. Then he borrowed that awesome coat, a real duster, from a friend of his. He did have to buy a black wig/beard at a costume shop ($7).  Finally, we bought scrap fur fabric from the odds and ends rack ($1). We tied them on a string and hung them around his neck as if he'd been hunting. 

We actually created this costume first for the Midnight Release Party for book 7 in July. We had a lot of fun since so many of the teens dressed up as various characters. Several people asked to get their picture taken with us and lots of kids and teens wanted to be sorted with the sorting hat. That night, we won for best costume and took home our prized poster autographed by the illustrator Mary Grandpre! We used it again at Halloween and won several prizes at various events. This will be a great costume for opening night this November...Hmmm, where did I put my sorting hat?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Group Costume -- S'mores Around A Campfire

This is by far our cheapest, most creative costume yet. I went as firewood (which also doubles as a dryad costume.) Our nieghbor girl went as the fire. Her mom came along as a graham cracker. Our eldest went as a chocolate bar while hubby went as a marshmallow on a stick. So far we've won "Silliest Costume Award" at the scout Halloween party and still have one more big event to go. (That's all the events we could squeeze in this year, since we're working extra jobs.) So here's the breakdown of how to make each element.

FIREWOOD: brown corduroys, brown shirt, hair braided with a few small braids, twigs stuck through the braids to fork out above my head, larger twigs held in hands and threaded out of belt loops.
TOTAL COST: Nothing. The clothes came from the closet and the twigs came from below the neighbor's tree.

FIRE: orange jumpsuit, flame fabric cut as a poncho but you could also cut out whimsical triangles of this fabric or of plain yellow fabric, hair sprayed down with glitter.
TOTAL COST: about $5 for the fire fabric and $1 for the bottle of glitter hair spray.

HERSEY BAR: brown pants, brown shirt, flat panel of cardboard spray painted brown and painted with black lines like a bar of chocolate, string stapled on the back to hold it up on his shoulders, and a hole cut out for his face.
TOTAL COST: $3 bucks because we didn't have any brown spray paint. The clothes came from his closet and we went dumpster diving at a trendy decor shop (which didn't have nasty trash) for the cardboard. $1 for a package of "design research."

GRAHAM CRACKER: Plain brown table cloth and cardboard painted with brown dots.
TOTAL COST: Nothing. Table cloth and cardboard were free. If she needed to put a hole in it to make a poncho, the cost would be about 3$ to buy another at, say, Goodwill or Walmart.

MARSHMALLOW ON A STICK: (Hubby lost weight, a lot of weight, this year so he really didn't want to be the marshmallow, but at the last minute our son decided he really wanted to be the chocolate bar, so a huge, HUGE kudos goes out to Dad for being the "bigger" man.)  Okay, the marshmallow was a giant box wrapped in white trash bags and old mattress pads. A layer of old sheets was stapled over the top. Then I covered a really long stick broken in half (again from the neighbors tree) with aluminum foil. I stuck one end through one side of the box pointed up. The other half I stuck into the other side pointed down.
TOTAL COST: Nothing! Dumpster diving for the cardboard and all the other supplies came from our bags of old stuff in the basement. If I didn't have a box of old sheets, etc, I could buy sheets at Goodwill for about $3 and Walmart (for one top sheet) for around $5. If you have to buy a mattress pad, I suggest you take an old one off a bed for the costume and replace it with a new one.

Show me your homemade creations with a list of ingredients and costs.  I'd love to feature your work of art in articles for next year.  The most creative, cheapest costume will win a spot on my Wall of Fame.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lower Your Electric Without A Remodel

Time for the gloves to come off... or rather be put on.

While I would love to save money by installing geothermal and coating my roof with solar panels, the money for the initial investment just isn't there. Meanwhile I live in a house built in the 1920's with original windows and cinder block exterior. Even the price of replacing the windows gives my husband hives and dry heaves. We just don't have the cash even with the all tax incentives out there.

But then this house was built in the 1920's. Peolple have lived whole lives in this house and survived every winter. The question is how? Can we live as they lived? For the answer, I have to turn to other countries who still practice the old ways to keep their bills down.

First of all, wear long johns. If you're scared people will think you are fat, just remember that in the spring you'll get lots of compliments on how much weight you've lost. And if you think your little tots might protest, just turn down the heat first. They will gladly leave them on to stay warm.

Second, heat rooms you live in instead of the whole house. Yes, you'll need to keep the thermometer high enough to keep the pipes from freezing, but just enough. You don't need every room set on 80. A small space heater will heat the T.V. room pretty fast. If you all pile in the master bedroom to watch T.V. before bed, even better. You're warmed up for bed, can get under the covers, and then turn off the heater.

Third, gloves and scarves can actually be warn indoors for a variety of tasks. Why do you think proper ladies of the past wore them so often? Remember the clerk from Scrooge? He too wore the fingerless kind for good reason: scrooge wouldn't heat the building. If you want to spend your money on something fun instead of heating, reach for a pair of gloves. Maybe you don't want to start a load of laundry with gloves on, but you can type, read, and even pick up toys with gloves on. They are cheap, cheap, cheap. Really I'd rather wear out a nice pair of gloves and get to go pick out a nice, new pair of gloves than pay the electric company anyway.

Finally, move your body. Okay, put away the game controller or remote control and pull out the dance pad or Wii Fit Board. A sedentary body feels a lot colder than one with adequate blood flow. Yes, I know you've had a hard day's work, but you're wasting money on a gym membership anyway. Make yourself move at home. This will warm you up and keep you trim under the long johns.

Hope this helps you take a nip at Jack Frost!