Wednesday, November 26, 2014

15 Ways to stretch your Christmas budget

Ways to stretch your Christmas budget

Many of us are struggling with how to make Christmas “work”. Money is tight, prices are high, and it seems like the Christmas we may want to have is far out of reach. With a little bit of financial finagling and a willingness to try new things, Christmas does not have to cause stress and heartache. There are many areas where you can stretch your budget this holiday season. Four of these areas are entertainment, gifts, activities, and food.

  1. Go for a “sleigh ride” (in your family vehicle) around town and look at the Christmas lights. Many shopping centers have displays or you may live close to a city that has a residential contest. The lights are fun and pretty to see and often each display is unique. Even big kids can enjoy the creativity that goes into the different displays. Make it even more Christmas filled by listening to or singing carols while you enjoy the decorations. Or read a Christmas book while you drive around. (A few examples of Christmas books are: A Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi, Polar Express, The Night Before Christmas, Room for a Little One, and Christmas in the Big Woods.) Be sure to bring along snacks.
  2. Borrow movies from the library or save them on your DVR. Christmas movie marathons are a tradition for many families, but purchasing or renting all those movies can rack up the dollars and easily push you over your entertainment budget. Instead of buying the movies (especially if you only watch them once a year) or spending the money to rent them, check out the movies from your local library. It’s important to get the movies on hold now, so you can hopefully watch them before Christmas as the waiting list for these movies can be long. Another option is to use a DVR. If you have a DVR, look up when different Christmas/holiday movies will be on air and record them. Then, when it’s time for the movie marathon, play the movies from your DVR.
    If you aren’t able to borrow movies from the library or you usually invite guests to your movie marathon, have everyone bring his/her favorite movie and snack/drink. That way you don’t have to provide all the movies or food, and you get to have your friends enjoy the movies with you!
  3. Attend a Christmas tree lighting. Most cities and towns have a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Some are small with just a few songs and speakers, others are large with a concert, celebrities, and are even televised. These activities are usually free and allow you to spend time with family and friends (if you wish). If you’re not sure when or where there are tree lightings in your area, be sure to look it up on the computer or check your local news station’s website.
  1. Have a “handmade” gift exchange. Instead of spending $100s on gifts for all the different family members, suggest a handmade gift exchange. With the help of Pinterest, finding crafts that are simple or intricate (and everything in between) is as easy as a few clicks. You may need to purchase some supplies, but there are plenty of ideas on how to repurpose items you may already have. If you don’t have a Pinterest account, it takes little time to create one. Go to Pinterest and click on create account. If you don’t want to create an account, a simple internet search for frugal handmade gifts, should give you some great ideas.
  2. Make treats for gifts this year. Similar to making a handmade gift, foods and sweet treats that you make yourself are usually welcomed gifts also. Whether you make fudge and give everyone a dozen pieces, bake muffins or cupcakes, gingerbread cookies, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, or miniature loaves of pumpkin bread; food is a thoughtful gift. (If you do choose to give food as a gift, be sure to know of any dietary restrictions or allergies. It stinks to be given an edible gift that you can’t eat.)
  3. Have a used gift exchange. This is a bit unusual, but it asks for more creativity in the giving. Each person finds something they own, that they think would make a nice gift. Something they don’t use or have a need for anymore. It should still be nice and in good condition, just not something they want anymore or something they think the receiver else would like even more. Some examples are unused candles, (my family happens to be allergic to most scents, so candles aren’t often burned at our house), books, cookbooks, DVDs, tools, extra cooking utensils and bakeware. The key to this is making sure it’s something the other person will use or enjoy. It’s not meant as a way to get rid of the junk around your house.
  4. Purchase stocking stuffers from the dollar aisle or dollar store. It’s amazing how many items you can find for $1 if you have the time to look. Many large stores have a $1 aisle that offers all sorts of small items that are perfect for stuffing a stocking. Stores like the Dollar Tree, are filled with items are all $1 or less. Some items you may find are candles, dishware, coloring books, diaries and journals, board books and chapter books, art supplies, small toys, hairbands, cookware, stickers, and more. A good way to make sure you stay on budget in these situations is to give yourself a certain amount to spend and don’t spend more than that amount. It’s easy to go overboard in a $1 store or $1 aisle, and making a list isn’t always easy, because the merchandise can change frequently. This is the perfect place to take a friend or family member with you to help you stick to the amount you set and pick out what would really be the best choices for each persons’ stocking.
  5. Stay away from Black Friday sales. Sometimes the offers on Black Friday aren’t really that much of a deal or the product isn’t a very good one. (Talking from experience, a Netbook purchase from a Black Friday sale has never worked well and has altogether been a waste of the money and time spent.) Another reason to stay away is because  of all the enticing deals that you didn’t plan on buying, but are just too good to pass. The stores are counting on you seeing these deals and spending more of your money. An easy solution, if you’re not there to see it, you’re not going to buy it.
  6. If Black Friday is a tradition, or there is something you CAN’T pass up, make a list of what you’re going buy and stick to it. To make the shopping more fun and help you stick to your list, have a friend go along who will act as an accountability partner. You both can help each other stick to your budgets and have fun waiting together in the l-o-n-g lines.
  1. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. A great way to spend less is to serve others who have less than you. It helps us feel better, takes time away from thinking of what we want to focus on others’ needs, and reminds us to appreciate what we do have. Suddenly our “want for Christmas” lists become shorter, and hopefully our kids’ lists do too.
  2. Participate in a Christmas program. Many times, participating in a program reminds participants of what the holidays are really about, and participants can see the program for free. Whether you act, sing, help build the set, make costumes, run the lights or sound, work the ticket booth or usher; participating in a holiday program brings feelings of good will and gives the family something to do together. Programs are customarily free to participate in and are well worth the time spent in preparation. And the memories are priceless.
  3. Attend a free program celebrating Christmas. Some churches and communities have free Christmas programs that may include a play, music, dancing, reading, etc. As with other activities mentioned, programs like these can help us remember why we celebrate Christmas and spend time together with family without spending more money.
  1. Have a potluck meal for Christmas. Instead of putting all the food on someone else’s plate to prepare for Christmas, have a potluck dinner instead. Have everyone who is coming bring something (the host can determine who brings what or offer a sign-up for guests). This gives everyone a chance to make something and share in the work. It also lets the person bringing the item decide how he/she wants to make the mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. Keep in mind, different can be good!
  2. Buy food from a discount store. Even though it can seem that the big retail grocery stores have the best prices for turkeys, rolls, and produce; that’s not always the case. Some discount stores such as Save-A-Lot and Aldi, have much better prices without the brand name.
    There are other discount stores that carry groceries and other goods that have been rejected from retail stores. These “damaged goods” stores can be a good place to look for unusual items or food. The problem with this kind of discount store, is that they don’t always carry particular items. So it may save the moolah, but may not save on the time.
  3. Have a cookie exchange with friends. Each friend signs up to bring  three dozen cookies  (or more depending on how many people come and how many cookies you want to take home) of a different type. This is a fun way for your family to enjoy Christmas cookies without having to make them all yourself. And you get to have different kinds of cookies instead of three dozen gingerbread everyone tires of within a few days.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

how to deal with too much stress

It's been a while since I've posted a blog. We had summer and all that goes into that, and then preparing to move, now we're prepping the house we're moving into while trying to pack, and then there's homeschooling, daily chores, doctors' appointments, and the list goes on... So I've been a little stressed and not the easiest wife or mother to get along with. Sometimes when I'm stressed I revert back to bad habits I picked up as a child or I find myself yelling for no real reason. So I took the plunge, I started counseling.

This isn't my first time in counseling. I struggled a lot as a teenager and young adult with issues that were out of my control. During those very difficult times, I learned to do things that were not really healthy as a way to live day by day. Little things that make no sense to me looking back at them, but somehow it made me feel better as a kid (even though they really didn't make me feel better). I know as an adult those habits were unhealthy and should never happen again, but occasionally they still do. Even though I'm much, much healthier than I used to be, I still have a lot of work to do to become the person I want to be. 

The thirteen years of counseling I went through as a young person made a huge, positive impact on my life. Even with that, I still find myself needing someone to talk to; someone I can trust who is not part of my family. (Family is often too close to the situation or the person which skews their perspective and ability to be neutral. Plus, all this stress (even good stress) tends to cause trouble in relationships with loved ones.) I'm blessed in my church with Priesthood members who are willing to counsel during the day when I'm available and are willing to have my kids in the next room playing. The insight I receive about how to curb my bad habits and start new, good habits, the way I think about myself and my relationships,  as well as the love they show my kids, is immeasurable.

So why I am so stressed? Because life is stressful. Even good things in life can be stressful. Having a baby, having a bigger house to move into, getting a promotion, having surgery to remove cancerous tumors; all good things, yet stressful. Learning how to deal with the stress of every day life, doesn't come easy to everyone. Some kids spend so much of their childhood dealing with abuse, hunger, bullies, learning difficulites, disabilities, health issues, etc; that they can't learn how to truly deal with the stress of every day life. Their job is to survive! So when they become adults, the everyday stressors can get to be too much. And the coping mechanisms they used in childhood, blow-up in their adult life.

Why I am telling you all this? Why am I opening up the deepest, darkest, parts of me that make me feel so ashamed? Because I need to. Because October is National Mental Illness Awareness month. I may not be mentally ill, but I do understand what mental illness is and the stigma that follows it. So today, I am standing up, and telling the world that I don't have it all together, that my habits and ways of dealing with stress are affecting my relationships, and so I'm getting help.

If we are to end the stigma of receiving therapy and counseling, we must look at getting help as sign of STRENGTH and not weakness. We must embrace those that are struggling, instead of turning away because we don't want to see or want to be bothered. Let them know that we stand together to break that stigma! I challenge my readers to stand with me in strength to share if you have ever been in therapy or counseling or you are currently in therapy and counseling. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, but a choice of strength. It shows that you care enough about yourself and your relationships to ask for help, because you want to be a better spouse, parent, son/daughter, brother/sister, friend. Let's end the stigma, and show the world that we are not weak, but STRONG!

Monday, June 2, 2014

What you can do with $13

With $13, you can buy1 1/2 - 2 extra value meals from McDonald's.
With $13, you can buy 4 bacon wrapped sirloin filets from Hy-vee.
With $13, you can buy 5 pounds of strawberries from Price Chopper.
With $13, you can buy one pair of toddler girls' crochet slip-ons from Payless.
OR with $13, you can help a kiddo with neurological disorders go to camp.

Michael Buttgen is a barefoot runner who is running 13.1 miles (a half marathon) for kids with neurological disorders that are supported by the Joshua Center. Michael is my dear husband. He and I love our oldest son to the "moon and back". SuperBoy is a gifted kiddo and is always creating new stories, new games, and trying to find ways to make this world a better place. Not everyone sees in him what we see. Some people are taken aback by his tics, his compulsions, and/or his impulsiveness. SuperBoy has Tourette Syndrome Plus. His plus is ADHD, OCD, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). These barriers stand in the way of him making friends with his same aged peers, finishing school work on time, moving on from one activity to another, walking in straight line, following multi-step directions, becoming angry or anxious without crying, and so much more. Kids tend to make fun of him for his differences and often adults think he's behaving badly. But not at the Joshua Center.

At the Joshua Center the kids understand each other, because they all have at least one neurological disorder. The adults, understand that the kids aren't trying to be distractions and look beyond the tics, the compulsions, the impulsiveness, to see the creativity. The Joshua Center is the only center of its kind in the US.

Every year the Joshua Center provides two camps that support kids all across the nation with Tourette Syndrome. Joshua Camp allows our kids to forget for a few days that in the eyes of the world, they're different. It allows them to make new friends and relax knowing they won't get in trouble for making faces at the teacher, making noises during quiet time, playing with their food, or fixing things so they're "just right". At Joshua Camp the kids can truly be themselves.

So what's with the $13? It's all Michael (my husband) and I are asking you to donate for our son and other kids like him. The money goes directly to the Joshua Center. It helps provide the camps, parental and family support, social skills clubs, and so much more. If you can give, just $13; it will make a world of difference.

This link will take you to the donation page. Thank you for your donation.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

loving someone who rejects you

I think one of the hardest things in life is learning how to love others. Especially loving someone who you feel is rejecting you. It could be that the person is rejecting you, or that he/she simply doesn't understand how to love you so you feel rejected. It still makes it hard to have a relationship with that person.

Trying hard to love someone, to reach out, and be regularly rejected is heartbreaking. We've all been there, and in many cases you can just walk away. The person rejecting you is a co-worker, a neighbor, or distant relative, someone that you can be cordial to without having to spend a lot of time and energy on speaking his/her love language. That's not to say that you aren't friendly, but that you won't spend the same time and energy on that person as you do on a family member, an in-law, or a good friend who is going through a difficult time.

When loving someone feels like it is getting you no where, you have to just keep on showing love. The hope is, that eventually he/she will accept your love and show you love too. That the person you're loving will choose to speak your love language and make the relationship a priority. That won't always happen though. Love is a choice, and sometimes people just choose to not love or not to show love. The person may love you, but can't (for different reasons) speak your love language. In some cases, the person refuses to speak your love language. When someone chooses to not speak your love language, it's tempting to give up on that relationship. It's easy to give up, and the world says that it's okay. Walk away, get a divorce, disown the child, get the negativity out of your life, you have better things to do with your time. It's harder, but it's worth it to keep loving him/her. Keep speaking his/her love language. Show that the relationship is important to you. Make that person a priority. Hopefully the other person in this relationship will stop rejecting you.

Occasionally a change happens right away, but more often than not it will take months and sometimes years. For whatever reason, the other person in the relationship is struggling to love you. Maybe it's because of past pain or hurt, maybe the person hasn't felt love from you for a long time and it will take just as much time before he/she feels you can be trusted with love, maybe the person thinks he/she is loving you and doesn't realize you feel rejected and unloved. Whatever the reasons, if this relationship is truly important, don't give up on it. Try loving. Read books about love and how to love, read articles, learn, truly make it a priority. Sometimes people reject others because his/her own love tank is empty. Loving that person can help fill that tank and allow him/her to have more love to give.

Remember that if you wouldn't want that person to give up on you, then don't you give up on him/her.

Monday, April 14, 2014

real love

Love and seeking first the Kingdom have become my focus this year and what the kids and I have been learning about. It has been both an eye opening and humbling experience. I have known for a long time that I am not the mom or wife that I had always hoped to be, as I have allowed resentment and bitterness to come in and rule my actions more often than they should. I am finding hope that I can turn all that around and begin to show my family "real love."

For this post I want to speak more to marital love. My first step in learning about love and loving my husband was reading Dr. Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages. WOW! It made me really look at myself and be honest with who I am and what my love language is (even though it's not what I expected or wanted). It also opened my eyes to what my hubby's love language is and how best to love him. Even with learning all that, I can say with 100% conviction that love is a choice. You have to choose to love your spouse in the way that he/she speaks love. It isn't always easy, but it works.

Whether your marriage is great or on the rocks, in the newlywed stage or going on 50 years; I truly believe that studying the five love languages can help your relationship. For anyone who has been in a long relationship knows that there are times when you just don't have that "loving feeling". Your spouse has done something or said something that hurt your feelings and you don't want to show him/her your love because your hurt and angry, but that may be one of the best times to show your love and open the lines of communication. So often marriages are ending because of bitterness and resentment due to a lack of communication and love. It's not really that the two people don't love each other, but that they didn't speak each others' love languages or they didn't take the time to "really love" each other.

Low self-esteem and self-image is prevalent in our society. It is super difficult to love someone who is negative and doesn't like him/herself, but that's when love is needed the most. It won't be easy, because you won't feel like doing it, but is sure will mean the world to your spouse! They will know that when they were at their ugliest and most unlovable, you loved them anyway. Loving each other in the appropriate love language will bring out the best in that person.

It can also be harmful to a marriage for one person to not allow his/her spouse to show them love. When your spouse asks you what they can do for you, and you say nothing or ignore the question, it doesn't help no matter your reasons. You may think that you are lightening the load by not putting something else on the to-do list, but in reality it puts a barrier between you and your spouse. In a way it's like saying, "Even if I told you how to love me, it wouldn't be good enough." Not really a marriage enhancing statement. 

Another reason a spouse may do this is because he/she doesn't feel worthy to accept love. Keep trying and keep asking, the more you love your spouse, the more worthy they'll feel of that love. The more you accept your spouse's love, the more worthy your spouse will feel too. His/her love will be good enough for you, so maybe he/she is good enough for your love.

Marriage is work. I believe that marriages can be saved and can be great. No matter where you are in your marriage relationship or if your engaged and about to enter the marriage covenant, reading this book can be invaluable and make your marriage better than ever.

Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: hoe to express heartfelt commitment to your mate

Monday, February 17, 2014

Frugal, but fun date nights

 Before I begin this post, let me be candid for a moment. My husband is a hard working man. He has a good job and finds joy in the fact that his jobs ultimately helps children. We know what it is to struggle financially. I can not work due to disability and choose to take the opportunity to homeschool our kids. Our kids have some health needs and have doctors' and therapy appointments on a regular basis. I have numerous medical bills due to tests and hospital stays that are all part of the process of discovering exactly what is causing my disability. This is not meant as a complaint or woe is me moment, but rather background for this blog post.

This year, I have decided to put my marriage at the top of my priority list.  One thing that I decided to try to do this year is have a date night once a month. That's not always an easy task when you live on a shoestring budget. With Valentines' Day this past weekend and our wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks, I am thinking creatively so that we can make it all work. It can be disappointing when we look at our budget, and there simply isn't the money there to go to dinner at a sit-down restaurant or see a movie or play. In my preparation and planning for our anniversary, I've come up with different ideas that would be both fun and frugal. I can also save whatever we don't do for our anniversary for another date night this year.

Here are some of the ideas I've come up with:
  • Make your spouse's favorite dinner and ask each other questions about dreams or goals for the year. (The key here is to really listen and not laugh at your spouse's dreams or goals no matter how unrealistic they may seem. Your spouse will respect and love your willingness to let him/her dream and join in on the dream.)
  • Find a special deal at a restaurant that you can afford and go out to dinner. If you enjoy dressing up, do it! 
  •  Pretend that you're on a cruise ship or vacation. After dinner go somewhere and keep pretending that you're visitors there. You may find that looking around as if you're a visitor/tourist that you see things you haven't noticed before.
  • If you prefer to stay home, pick up a few groceries and make dinner together. Watch a movie you haven't seen in a while or one you have never seen at all. Just spend some time snuggling or laughing together.
  • Even though money may be tight, it can be fun to go to one of your favorite stores and window shop. DH and I enjoy going to home improvement stores and looking at items that we hope to put in our dream house one day.
  • Board games can be a great way to fun. Change up the rules a bit and make an old game, new again.
  • If gifts are important to your and/or your spouse, try making him/her something special. A favorite cookie or dessert can be just as special as a store bought gift. If you sew, crochet, knit, paint, write, make him/her something that shows you really know what your spouse likes. Or make him/her something that would be meaningful for years to come, a calendar of the kids' pictures or a collage of memorable moments. 
  • Go for a walk.  One of my favorite memories with DH is walking barefoot around the plaza. We can't do it anymore, but I'm sure it's something I won't ever forget.
  • Watching a movie at a theater can be quite expensive, consider renting a movie from the Redbox or borrowing one from the library. Another option is attending the second run ($1) theater.
  • If you enjoy spending time with other couples, consider hosting a snack food pot-luck game night. It could be with just one other couple or several. Everyone brings some snack foods and a favorite board game to play. Just be sure to not be so busy hosting that you don't join in the fun.
  • Finding a babysitter can often make date night difficult. We live close to family and they often help us out with free babysitting. (It's a win -win because DH and I can have a date, and the grandparents/aunts & uncles get to spend time with the kids.) If family babysitting is not an option for you, consider having babysitting partners. Your "partners" watch your kids one evening/weekend and you watch their kids another evening or weekend that month. Your kids will enjoy getting to spend so much time with their friends and the adults will enjoy having an evening off to spend together.
  • Sometimes going out or finding a babysitter just isn't possible. Try to find an evening that you both can stay up "late" and spend some time together doing something you both enjoy (watch a television show or movie, play a game, or talk).
It can be disappointing when you want to take your spouse out on a date, but it's not fiscally responsible.  Take a few minutes to think about why you married him/her. What are five of your favorites characteristics in your spouse? What are some of your favorite memories? Use the answers to these questions to help you plan a fun and frugal date night. Don't be afraid to be creative or have the night not go exactly as you planned. Just try to positive and have fun with the love of your life. It will make a lasting memory and help your marriage be stronger.
Our anniversary date last year. A local restaurant had a special for dinner, and we went window shopping after. Some friends watched our kids for us. We saved money and had a nice time together. (Unfortunately, I'm on my phone listening to a voice mail from a family member.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A poem "Struggle"

Sometimes I find it hard to breathe.
The world closing in around me.
Icy fingers reaching out to grab hold
Of whatever joy I have left.

Where is the hope I need?
Where are the answers?
Why does it seem when things are finally better
It was just a lie?

Can I find my hope in God?
Can I give Him my heart?
Will I trust Him to do what is best for
My family and for me?

I know that I should be faithful.
Miracles I see each day,
People whose lives have been saved
Because of God's mercy.

No, I cannot doubt His existence.
I cannot doubt His amazing power.
But some days, I feel alone
And wish I could see His mercy for me.