Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Notebook Experiments: Can I Give the Gift of Homemade Cleaners?


Experiment: Can I Give the Gift of Homemade Cleaners?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 01.15.09

Materials Needed: Please see Jolly Mom for cleaning recipe ideas and supplies needed.

For each of these little kits I bought two empty spray bottles, a little feather duster, a microfiber mitt for additional dusting, a mini-brush set, and a bill organizer. For making the cleaners, you need only vinegar and a mild dishwashing soap.

Results:
We had two gift occasions coming up this week that I need to make gifts for. My brother just moved into a new apartment and I am attending a baby shower for a new mom who is moving into her first home. What is more practical than a kit for them to tidy up their new digs?

I hit the Dollar General to get the supplies for each of these. The buckets are drink buckets from the picnic supplies, and all of the rest of the goodies were found in the cleaning supplies. I also hit the stationary section and found bill paying organizers that would be perfect for someone moving into their new place with new utilities.


I made two of my favorite cleaning recipes for two spray bottles for the gifts:

All-Purpose Cleaner

Mix together two tablespoons of mild dishwashing soap and two cups of water in a spray bottle and give it a shake. Use these anywhere that you would use a commercial all-purpose spray. This cleaner is particularly great for countertops, bathroom surfaces, and high chairs.

Glass Cleaner

Mix together one part white vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle. Spray this solution on your mirrors and windows and dry your windows with newspaper. The newspaper is great for lint-free drying and is a great way to repurpose some of those old papers you have laying around.

I attached recipe cards tied with raffia to the buckets so that they can make more of these inexpensive and earth-friendly cleaners for their home. My hope is that they will see how easy it is to make your cleaners at home and see that it can save them some money in the process.

Conclusion: This would make a fantastic graduation gift, a sweet gift for a new bride, and a fun gift for a college student getting their first place. I will definitely be making more of these in the future!

Related Links:

Happy Homemaking the Homemade Way

Thrifty Graduation Gift Ideas

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Mother's Day Notebook Edition


Sometimes we need to offer our own families a little creative inspiration for Mother's Day. Perhaps, you need a few fun ideas for your own mother? Better yet, many of these wonderful ideas could double as teacher appreciation gifts for the end of the school season!

Here is my notebook of Mother's Day gift ideas for all of our sweet mom readers:


Photo Credit: Giver's Log

This hand soap featuring your kids' art would make a wonderful gift.


Photo Credit: A Spoonful of Sugar

A restaurant binder to organize all of those take-out menus and a gift card to a favorite restaurant would make a wonderful gift (@ A Spoonful of Sugar)


Photo Credit: design sponge

For a mom on the go, this tin travel picture frame made from an Altoid tin is absolutely adorable (@ design sponge)

A mix of new music for the mom in your life wrapped creatively in your kid's beautiful pictures.


Picture Credit: the object project

This Mother's Day corsage would be a lovely addition to any mom's wardrobe (@ the object project)

A bag of yummy coffee with a pretty coffee mug painted by your sweet children.

Photo Credit: Make & Takes

This project would be an easy one to do with your children- a beautiful etched glass vase (@ Make & Takes)


A coffee cup or waffle-weave dishcloth with a bottle of hand soap tied with a little raffia.


Photo Credit: Crafty Crow

Another adorable craft to do with your small children- sweet little drawer sachets (@ The Crafty Crow)
A little breakfast in bed is always appreciated by moms. How about some of these lighter than air waffles with a cup of homemade vanilla chai tea?


Photo Credit: zakka life

Here is another sweet little sachet for Mother's Day- these are filled with lavender (@ zakka life)

Photo Credit: Three Peas in a Pod

I don't know very many moms who would not appreciate homemade bath salts in a pretty jar (@ Three Peas in a Pod)

What fun crafts or gifts have you done with your children for Mother's Day? What gift has meant the most to you?

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ask the Frugal Momma: Throwing a Baby Shower on a Budget?

Amy,

I am turning to you for some advice about an upcoming baby shower that my husband & I are co-hosting because I know what a budget savvy and creative person you are!

A roommate of mine from college is expecting her first child in May. After asking her several times if anyone was throwing her a shower and her saying no, we offered to co-host a couple's shower with a guy that works with her husband and his wife.

So here's where I get to the dilemma...she e-mailed me the guest list this week and there are 30 couples on it...that's 60 people!

I need some advice for how to pull of the kind of shower that they deserve, but on my budget!! I feel like we have to feed all of these people and provide adult beverages, but I don't know how we could do that for less than a small fortune!!

Sincerely,

J.


Thank you so much for your question and I am so happy to offer a little advice on your baby shower! As always, if you have any questions that you would like to send me, you can email them to me at amy(at)momadvice(dot)com and I would love to share any expertise that I can offer.

Here are a few tips and tricks for throwing a fun baby shower on a budget:

Keep The Decorations Simple

You can burn through a lot of money quickly just on the decorations so one cost effective way to decorate is to decorate with item's that the mother can use or by making a few sweet handmade items.

One of my favorite decorations for a table centerpiece are diaper cakes because it is a special gift for the new mommy and it can double as an attractive centerpiece for the occasion. You can visit my easy instructions and a little cost-breakdown and my tips for how to make these inexpensively.


(photo credit: Wendy Copley)

(photo credit: Janice)

Make a baby clothesline to hang near the food table or behind where the mother will be opening her gifts. Pick cute coordinating items and then give them as a gift to the mother at the end of the shower.

(photo credit: Jaime Compton)

A simple, sweet banner can double as a decoration later for the child's nursery. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate at all, in fact, the simpler the better. If you know the mother's nursery colors, try and coordinate the banner to the baby's future room. For a simple banner tutorial, I love this cute square banner, a bunting made from newspaper, and for the ambitious a knitted bunting. The possibilities are endless and could be made from supplies that you already have on hand in your crafting supplies.

Inexpensive Food to Feed the Masses

If you have a large group to feed, you could stick to between meal times and just provide fun snacks or a fun dessert table. Appetizers will go a lot further than a meal will. If you would like to do a meal, a brunch can be a really cost effective way to entertain and is a classy way to throw a fabulous spread.

Spinach Balls

Bite Sized Sandwiches with vegetable & fruit trays

Mini Quiches with an elegant salad (photo credit: chanmelmel)

Breakfast Casseroles & a Festive Punch

Mimosas (photo credit: K Santos)
A Creative Cake


Instead of doing an elaborate cake, offer guests mini-cupcakes in sweet pastel colors with a creative cupcake topper. These cupcake toppers from papertreats are just one example of cute homemade toppers that can decorate your cupcakes very creatively and that will make them sparkle when your cake decorating skills are lacking. If you are really ambitious, you could make your own cupcake picks with the baby's initial stamped on them or even something more elaborate like this. Check a scrapbooking supplies store or a craft store to find cute paper and embellishments for your project.

Remember that you can freeze cake ahead of time, so you can crank out those cupcakes even the week before and keep them in the freezer. I like to decorate the cake while it is still frozen because it helps reduce the amount of crumbs that can collect in your icing. Ice them the day before and assemble them on pretty cake stand or make your own cake stands for a thrifty and creative alternative.

You will need to modify the length of time you cook your cupcakes for cooking mini-cupcakes. Follow the instructions exactly, but just cook your cupcakes for half the time. Keep an eye on them just because they will cook quickly!

Here are some of my favorite cupcake recipes:

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes With Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

The Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World

Fun & Games

I may be the minority, but I am not a fan of baby shower games. With sixty people in attendance, you are going to have a hard time pulling off an organized activity. Spend that time socializing or do a game like these that will not require everyone being quiet and sitting in a circle.

(photo credit: Emma Black)

Have your guests email you a picture of them from when they were a child. Print out copies of the pictures and make it a party game to Guess Who? is in the pictures.

(photo credit: the higher nest)

How about a Baby Shower Price is Right card and choose the closest winner on how much common baby items would cost?

(photo credit: nhearon2003)

Of course the simpler the game, the easier! Why not throw candy in a clear jar and have your guests guess the total amount? With large group activities, the simpler the better! The bonus with this game is that this game can double as a centerpiece!

Parting Gifts

In a party of this size, I do not think people will be expecting to take home a party favor. Everyone is going to be happy to be included and will just be enjoying the celebrating. Concentrate your efforts on the food, cake, and entertainment and your guest will leave with the wonderful memory of the occasion rather than a gift that they probably will not use.

Consider your shower and any of the centerpieces and decorations your gift to your friend. If you want to add a special gift that she can use, give her a basket of thank you cards and stamps which she can use to thank all of her guests for their thoughtful gifts!

Good luck with your shower and I hope these ideas will give you a good starting point for a festive and frugal celebration!

(Photo Credit: Picture 1- Jerusalem)


Do you have any tips or advice for the hostess for throwing a great budget-friendly shower? I know she will really appreciate it!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Homemade Play Dough: A Play Dough Recipe Round-Up

We had a birthday party to attend last week for my sweet friend Michelle's daughter. I had recently bookmarked a chocolate play dough recipe, from A Foothill Home Companion, in my notebook entry that I thought would make a fun birthday gift.

I love to make play dough for my kids and usually use my Fruity Play Dough recipe, but I wanted to try something different for this party. Although this play dough wasn't as pretty as my usual colors, the fact that it smelled like a little bit of heaven seemed to trump it's, less than appealing, shade of brown.


This play dough smells divine. In fact, both the kids came upstairs and begged for some of the chocolate cake I was making. It was quite disappointing to see that it was only play dough that I was cooking and a batch that wasn't even for them.


We packaged this up with a set of pretty cookie cutters and a copy of the recipe so that their family could replicate the recipe in their own kitchen.

I love to make gifts like this for birthday gifts because it is affordable and a gift that they can use more than once. Ethan drew his own birthday card for the birthday girl complete with a princess tiara and money... because that is apparently two items that princesses possess. Having him make the birthday card added a special touch and saved on the cost of a store-bought card.

Here are some other fun play dough recipes:

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough (@ Like Merchant Ships)
Homemade Play Dough (@ Skip to My Lou)
Play Dough Tips & Tricks (@ Organizing Connection)
Edible Play Dough (scroll down a bit)
Perfect Play Dough (@ Family Fun)
Natural Play Dough Recipes (@ Nature Moms)
Gingerbread Play Dough (@ Recipezaar)


What is your favorite birthday gift to give or a favorite gift that your child received for their birthday?

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Clark Kind of Holiday '08

We opted to celebrate our Christmas this Sunday instead of waiting until the actual Christmas because we have so many family festivities to attend. The kids love getting their presents a little early and I love keeping them busy as we prepare for all the hustle and bustle of the season.

Our annual cinnamon roll Christmas tree was made for the children to devour it. It is so simple, but the entire family loves it and looks forward to it each year. To make it you just need two containers of cinnamon rolls and make a shape into the tree. Serve with oodles of hot cocoa and watch the children bounce off the walls in delight and sugar-infused fun.



Sometimes it is hard to say what the favorite present is, but this year there were two clear winners with the kids. The first one... the infamous superhero cape. I got Emily a princess cape, but she wanted to try on brother's cool cape instead. Ethan has pledged his loyalty with Batman forever and I am sure we helped seal the deal with a Batman Lego Set & a Batman Shake & Rattle Car, but the kid hasn't taken the costume off since he got it. He has been pretending to fly around the house rescuing us all from the unnecessary evils of the world.

The other true winner was the Baby Alive Doll. We aren't giving her the food and things like that, but I love that she can make the baby pretend to go potty since she, herself, refuses to go on the potty. I am hoping it will bring her inspiration, but until then she can play with her baby. She loved this baby so much that she refused to open the rest of her gifts. "Emily, do you want to open one of your presents?" "NO, MOMMY. YOU STOP! I WANT TO PLAY WITH MY BABY." Ah, the joys of turning three!

I will definitely share our favorite presents of the year after all of the present opening has been done and will write them down for gift ideas next year for our blog.



After all the presents were opened, they grabbed their new sleeping bags and pillows from their bed and camped out to rest. They watched their new box set of Max & Ruby Christmas specials and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon after all the festivities.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Miscellaneous Post of Thrifty Holiday Ideas

The gifts are wrapped and tucked beneath the tree. I opted for reusable grocery bags in lieu of the traditional gift bag this year. I am such a fan of the Target bags and the clever designs that they implement into their bags. These fold up into the size of a small cosmetic case and had a pocket in the front too, perfect for tucking a gift card or a note of appreciation to someone. These were only $1.50, but everyone was so excited to get these this year. There are just a couple of pieces of tissue paper at the top, but the bottom was stuffed with newspaper that would have gone in our recycle bin. The newspaper helped these stand a little more upright since they were not flat-bottomed. I felt proud about my eco-friendly alternative and am hoping to convert some of my plastic-bag-lovin' family members over to the joys of reusable bags.

We did not buy any new decorations this year, but I opted to decorate with what we already had instead. This wall of pictures behind our Christmas tree needed some sprucing up so I covered the photos with some leftover holiday wrap and bows. I thought it tied in the Christmas spirit beautifully and look forward to doing this each year!

I did my annual gift exchange with my best friend. Do you recognize the pom pom? It is made from Target bags and was featured in our notebook. She was so proud to give it to me and I was so excited to see how her "notebook experiment" turned out. Tucked inside was Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Cookie Book, 2-at-a-Time Socks, a gorgeous teal velvet blazer (found at the thrift store), and a set of note cards with shoes on them. Now THAT is a friend that knows you well! We put a $20 dollar limit on our gifts and always try to outdo each other with our thrift store finds and killer deals.

We worked on mailing and addressing all of our holiday cards for the year. Ethan helped me put on the stamps and we created an assembly line of stamping; he stamped with his stamps and I stamped a snowflake rubber stamp on each and dropped them in the mail. I mailed off my friend's baby blanket and noticed that shipping costs have been reduced for people who do online mailing versus bringing your items into the post office. I was able to save some change on the mailing and was once again very thankful for my handy little postal scale.

Ethan had his holiday show where he sang a beautiful song about snowpants and a song about special, special,special me. He invited Ryan & I to come to his show where he would "dress up fancy and sing special songs." He was so proud of his song and to give our cozy holiday gift (tucked in a reusable bag) to his teacher. We celebrated his special, special, special performance with a budget-friendly Junior Frosty from Wendy's.

Instead of our holiday photo books this year, I decided to make a DVD of our year for each set of the grandparents. I set it all to holiday music and sent it off to our out-of-town relatives with a message for each of them about how special they were. Shipping costs were greatly reduced and it is something that they can view over and over again or share with their friends.

What is your proudest thrifty holiday idea this year? Did you do anything out of the ordinary to save a buck? Please share!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Round-Up of Homemade Hostess Gifts

I love to give hostess gifts because they don't cost very much at all, but can say a lot about who you are and the person you are giving it to. In my opinion, giving a homemade gift shows that you care enough about that person that you would devote time towards making something special just for them. The best part about the homemade gift is that you can make it very inexpensively, but leave a lasting message for your recipient.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite hostess gifts to give for the holiday season from our website...


A jar of pumpkin butter with some buttery bread machine rolls.

A snowflake knitted dishcloth with a personalized family tag.

A coffee cup or waffle-weave dishcloth with a bottle of hand soap tied with a little raffia.

A knitted or no-sew scarf with a repurposed container housing some homemade vanilla chai tea or other great drink mix.

A batch of ready-to-bake homemade cinnamon rolls to make your host's morning brighter.

A set of bubbly magnets in a creatively wrapped Altoid tin.

A fresh batch of Oreo Biscotti in a pretty coffee mug.

A mix of your favorite holiday music wrapped creatively in your family holiday picture.

A can of sugar & spice nuts- the perfect holiday treat.

A mini-loaf of deliciously spiced pumpkin bread wrapped with a bow.

A batch of vanilla scented granola in a thrifted jar.

A small box filled with Christmas goodies- don't forget some holiday-esque sugar cookies!


A jar of homemade hot cocoa mix tied with some festive ribbon.


Not enough ideas? Here are some other great hostess gifts to try!

1 hour apron (@ Stop Staring & Start)

A creatively wrapped bottle of inexpensive wine or champagne (@ Martha Stewart)

A paper scrapbook bag (@ Craftzine)

A pan of nut brittle block with a mini-hammer or make my microwave version of this (@ Martha Stewart)

A set of fabric-painted monogrammed hand towels (@ Martha Stewart)

A cinnamon candle with a big red bow (@ Martha Stewart)

A fabric covered journal with a note of thanks (@ Country Living)

A box of paper fortune cookies, but write things you are thankful for about the person you are giving them to instead of fortunes and use holiday paper (@ For the Love of Paper)

A box of festive caramel corn tied with a green bow (@ little momma and co.)

A little hot cocoa kit with chocolate covered marshmallows (@ whatever)

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Teens & Tweens

I am having the best time putting together these little budget-friendly gift guides for families and I hope you are finding things that are useful in these lists. I have looked through a lot of magazine lists and website lists and none of them really struck a chord with me so I am hoping things on mine are providing ideas for you.

I have been getting some very nice thank-you's from some of the Etsy sellers so that really warms my heart to know that these lists are serving a double purpose and are helping crafters out too!

In case you missed it, here are the lists that we have on here so far:

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Young Children
My Christmas Wish List
Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

Teen gifts are a tough category for me to cover since I don't have any children in this stage. I think I am a pretty hip and young mom though so hopefully some of my ideas will work and please feel free to chime in on this category.

As a teenager, my favorite gift was getting money to spend for the after-Christmas sales. My parents knew that our money would go a lot farther if we shopped after Christmas and, at this age, that was just as exciting as getting a bunch of stuff under the tree.

Here are a few notes about teens:

1. Give them the gift of an experience. Even if it doesn't include you in the picture and one of their friends instead, they will love getting to do something fun. Take your teen daughter to the beauty school and get manicures with her. Hit the makeup counter with her at the mall and buy her a little something out of the case that is flattering. Go tubing with your son and take him somewhere fun for dinner. Give him a couple of tickets to see a movie and a little spending money for the concession stand. Go as a family to see his favorite baseball team play. These are just a few ideas for gift-giving experiences rather than just things under the tree.

2. Remember that at this stage, kids are a little more aware of the value of the dollar and you are now able to have discussions with them about your financial situation. Be honest with them if something is out of your price range, but also try to keep the wonderfully magical aspect of the holiday by doing activities together as a family.

3. Include them in the shopping, the wrapping, or the baking. Even if it is just your son sitting at the kitchen table devouring the holiday cookies and you chatting with him. Even if it is watching your daughter's favorite television show while you wrap gifts. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but I promise you that they will remember those special times and what a great parent you are...even if they don't realize it until ten years down the road.

4. Gift cards are great. Although these aren't always the budget-friendly option, teens love getting cards to use towards what they want. The key with gift cards that makes them still budget-friendly is that the money can be applied towards the things they really want. Let's face it, you and your son might not have the same style or taste in music, so if you buy them a gift and they hate it...well, that is money down the drain. If you give them a gift card and they put towards something they really love though...well, that is money that is well spent!

5. Subscriptions always score. You can't go wrong with a magazine subscription and it is a gift that keeps on giving. Visit eBay to find your teens favorite magazines and buy them a year or two at a discounted price. Other subscriptions that rock? Netflix or Blockbuster subscriptions so they can watch their favorite movies or rent their favorite games at home. For gamers, a subscription to Gametap would be a fun gift to give. Don't forget that subscriptions to stream music can also be a wonderful gift. I have recently become acquainted with the joys of Napster and last.fm. Just make sure that the subscription is compatible with their mp3 player or that they have a computer that they can access for their music. Timing free trials with the gift-giving season will help extend the life of the subscription just a little bit longer.

6. Give them gifts based on their hobbies. For the artistic son, get him sketch pads, canvas, or drawing tools. For the daughter who loves to cook, sign her up for a cake decorating class or a cooking course at a continuing education center. For the child that is into sports, try and find some equipment or offer to pay for a program at the local park's department. Anything that shows that you care and are interested in what they are doing is going to be a gift that they will appreciate.

Here are a few of my budget-friendly ideas:






Wristlets are great for a teen girl on the go because they can carry around their cell phone, iPod, and what they need for a fun night out with their friends. I love these little wristlets in fun patterns from Janine King Designs and they are currently on sale for $19.99. This one is the Ginseng Butterfly pattern, but you could find one that fits well with your teen's style. You could also attempt making one and I love this little wristlet tutorial for my sewing-readers!

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not know about the Twilight series from Stephenie Meyers. If your teen is a super-fan of the Twilight books, she would love this four piece set of Twilight tile necklaces. This four piece set from Candy Tiles is only $20. You would need to purchase a chain or she could hang these on a silver chain that she already has. The ambitious parent could make her own tile pendant necklaces and custom design them for her daughter! Another thrifty idea to make this cute would be to have different colors of ribbon that she could string these on that you could include in your gift. How cute would that be?

I adore these little pink gum drop bobbies from Button Boutique- aren't they adorable? This set of seven is only $9.90! Again, my crafty mommas could whip some of these up by following this tutorial!

Another goodie for a tween/teen girl would be this cool Jonas Brothers bag that would resonate with any super fan. It reminds me of my obsession with New Kids on the Block and the super cool fan gear that I was always sporting. I understand about obsessions with boy bands, I truly do. This says you do to and is available from rocknrecycle for $26.95.
Gaming chairs are great for girls or for boys who are really into playing video games. If you watch for next year, they do discount these around the time that the kids are heading back to college. Our beanbag chairs are certainly not as nice as this one, but they only cost us $20 each. After doing some browsing online, this one came up as one of the lower priced ones at $49.99 called the Boompod. This chair can link up to all the gadgets- iPods, mp3 players, game systems, etc.. It would be a fun additon to your son's room and is great when he has friends over to play.

Electric razors are a great gift to give and come in some very budget-friendly options. If you don't want to order one online, I often see some really great prices at the outlet malls on shavers. This razor from Panasonic can be used wet or dry and is priced at $29.99. If your family does a lot of traveling, a pocket electric razor might be a great option too. This one from Braun is only $19.99 and rivals the larger and more expensive models in performance.


It doesn't matter what kind of clunker your kid has, every guy has a desire to make upgrades to their car. Upgrading their headlights is just one inexpensive idea that you could do. Other ideas would be tokens to get their ride washed, getting them supplies to shine up the car themselves, getting a holder for their cell phone, even upgrading their speakers or audio equipment on a small scale would be great. These GE bulbs are priced at $30.99, but Amazon is running a buy one get one free deal on these. You could give one to your son and one to your husband or some other great guy in your life!

Is your son really into gaming? jamjamtees sells this funny "geek" shirt that any gamer would love. If you browse this seller's shop you will find everything from t-shirts for gamers, cyclists, and even lacrosse. This t-shirt is only $12.99.

Look for ideas in the next coming weeks for hostess gifts and stocking stuffers!

What are your favorite gifts to give kids in the teen/tween category? What gifts have really scored with your teenager?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

My Hostess Gifts This Year

I have been working on little hostess gifts to give this year for all of our upcoming holiday gatherings. I wanted something that would be quick to make and also economical. Thanks to my new knitting hobby, I am whipping up snowflake dishcloths for a mere $.75 each.


This pattern was easy to do and only required a bit of concentration when making the snowflake in the center. This is all knitting and purling so if you can do those two stitches, you can totally make these! I used Peaches 'N Cream in red and a robin's egg blue.

I have to say that my favorite part about these is the little addition of our family Christmas picture (courtesy of Brittani Renee Photography). I had a disc of our pictures and I copied the pictures to my computer. I then took one of our holiday photos and plopped it into a Word document. Right click on your image and click, "Size." You can then adjust your image to the size for your gift cards. This was reformatted with width and height at 3 inches. You could also do a smaller gift tag by resizing the image to 2 inches. Type your message below and mount it onto cardstock or pretty scrapbooking paper. This was hole punched and then I used a needle to weave in a strand of contrasting yarn with a little raffia.

I hope those who host us in their home will know how much their efforts are appreciated by this tiny gesture of thankfulness.

What is your favorite hostess gift to give? Please feel free to share your recipes or tips/tricks for personalizing those hostess gifts!

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Budget-Friendly Gifts for Younger Kids

One of the things that people wanted to see on our site were some ideas for giving gifts on a budget for children. I can cover the younger kid category quite easy, but will have to put some thought in for the teen and tween categories.

I know I am not the only parent who sat in amazement when my child became fixated on a box rather than the gift itself. Yes, young children are easier to please than what we might think so remember that when choosing gifts for kids. Don't add unnecessary stress to your life because chances are that our children will just be entertained and happy with the opening of the gifts and a fabulous spread of holiday food.

Things that I have discovered with choosing gifts for younger children are:

1. Thrifted gifts will be just as loved. Younger children are not at a stage where they are going to be disappointed that a gift did not come in a shiny new box. No, they will just be excited to see whatever it is you have wrapped for them so don't feel like you are disappointing them if you don't have a brand new gift for them.

2. Art supplies always make an excellent gift. In my house, you can never have too many crayons, drawing paper, or fun things to keep the kids entertained for hours. When out-of-town relatives send money for the kids, I always apply the money to a big bin of art supplies or goodies for our ornament-making station. I also usually give this gift a little early so that they can be entertained during those hectic days right before Christmas.

3. Giving gifts of traditions are always the best kind of gifts. We try to focus more on traditions rather than what is wrapped under the tree. Try incorporating a Christmas Jar or an Advent Calendar of goodies. Do a countdown to Christmas with items found at thrift stores or wrap each year a set of Christmas books that the children can look forward to every year.

4. Don't feel guilty about what isn't under the tree. In this tough economy and with so many job losses and higher prices plaguing families, please do not feel bad if you can't get your children everything that is their heart's desire. Remember that young children are impressionable and you can offer gentle guidance towards budget-friendly gifts at this stage in the game. When my son asked for Spike the T-Rex ($130), I showed him some other great dinosaurs that I thought he would really like that were less than $20. With a little guidance and an explanation that Spike was a little out of Santa's budget, we were able to steer him towards some more budget-friendly options.

Here are some examples of some of my favorite gifts for young children:
One of our favorite gifts that we have received is the Leapfrog Magnet sets. My daughter loves this farm animal set ($14.99) and also loves the alphabet set. The farm animal set is great for young children because they can just put two magnets together to make the animal and then it sings a little song about what the animal says and does. The alphabet set will grow with children more and will be used longer, but does comes at a little higher price ($16.99). When your child is a beginning reader, like mine, the set can be used to begin spelling words, which is really fun.

Both sets have been loved for years and years in our house and it keeps my kids entertained in the kitchen while I prepare supper. I will say that I hated this farm animal set when I was pregnant and would bump it with my belly and it would say things about cows. Um, thanks, LeapFrog!
My children love blocks and last Christmas we got them each a box of these for the holidays. My daughter is two and my son is six and they both love these blocks and play with them for hours. We gave them this gift early (one of our activities in our Christmas Jar) and they had the best time with these. I have a wicker basket that is the centerpiece on our coffee table in the playroom so that the kids can build and create with these anytime they want. This set is $18.99 for 100 blocks. If you get one for each kid, they can build a fortress out of them!

One of the most beloved gifts for both the kids was a sock monkey that I bought my daughter. She carried it around a lot and I have found him hiding underneath the covers in my son's bed too. My Mommy's Place has these for only $14. If you are ambitious, you could make a sock monkey yourself and make it entirely unique for your children. I think these guys look so cute popping out of the stockings.

My son is really into the superhero thing right now so I am planning to get him one of these superhero capes to fight off the bad guys in our house. This cape is reversible so he could decide which hero he wanted to be and is available from kidzescapes for $24.

Not to be outdone by the boys, every good princess needs a cape too and kidzescapes has that covered too. You can get this reversible cape for $25. The ambitious momma could tackle this project herself and come up with a wonderfully unique cape for their child.

I swear I don't work for Leapfrog, even though it might seem like it! I have to say that the best DVD's we have EVER bought our children are from Leapfrog. We actually bought the entire set of these and they are one of the best teaching tools that I have ever seen. It taught my two year old all of her letter sounds and gave my son an advantage in kindergarten. He was one of the only ones in his pre-K class that could recite every single letter sound. These movies build on beginning letter sounds, word sounds, and even work on math skills. If you are going to add to your movie collection, I highly recommend these. The Letter Factory is priced at only $8.99.
My son is six and his favorite book is definitely the Dangerous Book for Boys (priced at $16.17) We also have a sparkly Dangerous Book for Girls book (priced at $17.79) for my daughter when she gets a little older. These Things to Do editions are only $10.17 (here is a link to the girl's edition). In it are great activities to keep your kids entertained for hours and hours. Include some supplies to complete one of the dangerous activities and you will be the coolest parent on the block.

If your child is in the beginning stages of reading, they will love Mia's Reading Adventure. This computer software has been an incredible addition to our collection. Your child learns reading through games and story activities to help them learn word recognition. The characters are 3D and the storyline is really good so it has kept our son really entertained and engaged in it. We have tried other software from the company, but so far Mia has been the biggest hit. This is priced at $24.99.

If your children like to move and groove to the music, I can guarantee that both you and they will absolutely love the new They Might Be Giants, "Here Come the 123s" The CD comes with a DVD that has all of the songs on the CD with a music video to accompany it. The lyrics are hilarious, the movies will make you laugh out loud, and the kids will learn something. The DVD is just as good as the CD so you can get something for your car and to keep the kids educationally entertained in front of the television. This is priced at just $14.99.

One of our favorite things that has been loved literally until the color wore off and we had only two magnets left because we had lost them all is this School Zone Preschool Magnetic Set. We have taken this set with us whenever we travel or are at a restaurant waiting endlessly for food. The set comes with different heavy-duty backgrounds and comes with an entire farm of animals & magnetic letters that can be stuck to the different backgrounds. The different storyboards have different activities on them or if you have younger children who aren't reading, they can make up their own stories. These are magnets though so make sure you are supervising younger children or give this gift at an age where you can trust them.

The case is metal so if you have a rambunctious toddler like me, it can get warped from standing on it, but the kids have loved this so much that I plan to get them each a new one. They have a kindergarten and preschool version. Best of all, they only cost $9.99.


These are just a handful of my ideas for gift-giving and I hope it helps a little with your holiday shopping.

What are some of your favorite gifts to give for younger kids? Do you have any special presents that your children are requesting this year? Please feel free to share!

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

All Knitted Up: Project Linus Security Blanket




I am wrapping up my second baby blanket. I think this one is just a tad fancier than the first blanket I did. Although the pattern looks very complex, in actuality the pattern has three rows that just repeat over and over. It is one row of knitting, one row of purling, and then one row of actual pattern. Then you just repeat it until you want to poke your eyes out with your knitting needles.

My favorite part about this blanket is the scalloped edging on it. The blanket looks so beautiful and delicate and it will be going to my best friend's sweet little baby who is on the way in just a couple of short months. I hope it will be a favorite in their collection and I can't wait to send this off for the holidays.

If you are interested in making this blanket, I found the pattern in, "Knitting for Peace" which is a really great book with simple patterns for charitable giving.

It has blanket patterns, chemo cap patterns, infant and preemie hat patterns, and prayer shawls- just to name a few! I can't wait to start doing some charitable knitting and hope to put some really great stuff together in time for next year's holiday. I would also love to do something with Mama to Mama throughout the year. Is anyone else doing anything with this wonderful project?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A Perfectly Cozy Gift

I have finished my snowy day scarf and it turned out beautifully! I loved how this scarf turned out so much that I decided to make it for a few more gifts for holiday-giving this year. I was planning to finish it with some tassels, but after tying some tassels to the edges, I decided to take them out because I liked it without them more.

Ethan liked this scarf so much that he now wants me to make one of these for his teacher. We headed over to Michael's and he picked out a soft icy blue for the scarf to be knitted out of. It was so fun to see him think so hard about what color he wanted to give to her. He truly loves his teacher. In fact, on his report card it said, "Ethan tells me he loves me every single day." I hope he is always this tender and sweet.

I am saving those tubes that my Crystal Light drink mix comes in to use for my holiday drink mixes this year. I wrapped this one in some holiday gift wrap and wrapped it around the tube, sealing with a little Elmer's glue to hold it in place. I used my handy little circle punch to make a gift tag to label the drink mix and tied it off with a little raffia. I thought it turned out so cute and, best of all, it was something that would have gone into my recycling.

The scarf is wrapped in ribbon I bought at the end of season last year on clearance. I think it looks so pretty and festive with this bow on it.

Total cost with ingredients, yarn, and wrapping- approximately $5!

Back to the knitting needles to replicate this a couple of more times- once for my postal worker who has worked so hard helping deliver boxes to my house all year long and another for our special teacher. If I can squeeze another one in, it will be for one of his bus drivers and the other (a gentleman) will get a special goody box delivery.

What teacher gifts do you have planned this year? What do you do for those special helpers in your life (the mail carrier, the bus driver, the hair dresser, etc..)?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Great Budget-Friendly Gifts for Men

(Image Credit: Craig)

I don't know what it is about men, but it seems that people are always looking for gift ideas for them. I have never really had a problem with buying for guys, in particular, but struggle more for those people in my life who seem to have everything. Buying gifts for the guys in your life doesn't have to be difficult and I want to arm you with some of my favorite gifts for guys that are always a hit.

Give the Gift of Music- I am a big music-lover and the men in my life are music lovers too. Music is always a great gift to give because it is something that can be enjoyed for a very long time. I love to make a "mixed tape" of great music and then follow these instructions for making a very personalized CD cover with pictures that I know the recipient would like. Print the covers on heavy card stock and add a personal message to the recipient.

If the man in your life is more into the digital music, why not give him an iTunes gift card that can be redeemed for picking his own favorite music? These gift cards start at just $15, which would make a great gift for any music lover.

Give the Gift of Movies- One of the best gifts I have ever given has to be the gift of movies. Netflix offers a wide range of plans that you can choose from and you can purchase a month or two for your recipient for very little money. Their plans start at $4.99 and you can present the subscription in a fun way or even tuck the gift in with a popcorn tub and and some movie theater snacks.

Give the Gift of Reading- Guys love magazine subscriptions and I have found that magazine subscriptions can be bought very inexpensively off of eBay. Make your own card and tell your guy that the gift is redeemable for any magazine of his choice (except those filthy magazines which will never be purchased for your guy thankyouverymuch) and that you will get him a gift subscription. I have found subscriptions to magazines for $3 or $4 for an entire year versus the newsstand prices. If it is in your budget, you could subscribe to two or three without breaking the bank and let him think you spent a mint on him.

Give the Gift of Food & Drink- They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and I have found this is absolutely true. Whip up a special batch of his favorite snack and pair it with some of his favorite coffee. You could make him a batch of these sugar and spice nuts and pair it with a little bucket of his favorite beer. By pairing your homemade specialty with a store-bought favorite drink, you have a great combination for a perfectly budget-friendly gift.

If you want to extend the gift further, wrap up his favorite snack and give him coupons to redeem the snacks for later. This is especially effective with college-aged guys and we have made more than a few college students happy with our boxes of goodies. You can download and print our free college coupon template and mount these to card stock for holiday gift-giving.

Give the Gift of Accessories- Just like women love a good handbag, a pretty scarf, or a hot pair of shoes, men have a desire for accessories too... just not the same kind as us. If your man is into gadgets and already has them, why not supply him with some accessories for the items he already has? For example, if he has a Nintendo Wii, you could give him some Wii points to put towards one of his favorite old Mario Brothers games. Likewise, if he uses any other game system, you could buy an extra controller or a different style of controller so he could play with more of his friends. If he has a Kindle you could give him a gift certificate to Amazon to buy some book downloads. Is he into computers? Why not try and find some computer software that he could put to good use by taking advantage of those rebate offers from the office supplies stores. We often forget to reload the tech gadgets we already have so this is a cost-effective way of building upon investments that have already been made.

There are the other accessories in life too so take a peek at his belt, his wallet, his hat, his scarf, his planner. While not maybe as much fun as some of the other gifts on the list, upgrading your man's accessories can be very thoughtful and will be used for years to come. I love to go to stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's to find these accessories because they are so deeply discounted and you can get some really great brand-names for an affordable price.

Give the Gift of Believing In Your Man- I know how much I appreciate it when someone believes in me and what I do so why not try and make that into a gift for someone you love? Are they self-employed or trying to start their own side business? Why not place an order for business cards for them? VistaPrint offers very affordable prices on business cards and think how much that would mean to someone who is trying to start their own business. You could pair that with a business card case that has been engraved with his initials which would make the gift even more personal.

Does the man in your life have a hobby that he is passionate about? Why not get him a book, a tool, or some items off of his wish list to support that hobby. Make these gifts more personal with a note that tells them that you are proud of them and give him a free pass to watch the children so he can go and pursue his hobby for the day... with no flack from you. Men value their alone time just as much as women so give him permission to go hit a few of those golf balls that are wrapped under the tree and enjoy some of your own quality time alone with the kids.

Give the Gift of Memories- Do you know something about the man in your life that you could use as a creative gift? Think of their favorite book as a child or think of a gift that he said he always wanted, but never got when he was young. Try and find those items on eBay and write a personal message to them about how you always remembered that this was special to them. You don't have to pay to get a first-edition of the item, remember that the thought is there and he will appreciate that you remembered that about him.

Another way to capture those memories is by finding an old picture that would have significant memories for him and have it printed up through a photo place and frame it for his desk at work. Maybe it is a picture of you with your father? Maybe it is a picture of you and your spouse on your honeymoon? Maybe it is a picture of your grandfather with his grandkids? Frame it and give it to them as a way of remembering all of those wonderful memories.

Whatever you do, just remember to make the gift as personal as you can. Wrap your gift creatively and tuck in a letter of what that person means to you. Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated and nothing says appreciation like a little time invested into a personal gift. Don't just give him the supplies to wash the car, give him a coupon that says it is good for one car wash done by you. Don't just give him a magazine subscription. Buy one magazine to wrap that says that it is good for the subscription and then tag the magazine with sticky notes with funny notes from yourself. Don't give him a generic coffee mug, have the children create one with you and fill it with his favorite snack. Make it as personal as possible and your gift will say a lot more than any expensive gift that is wrapped under the tree.

I hope these ideas have helped since this was a topic our readers really wanted to see!

Please share-what do you like to give to the men in your life? Have you done any of these ideas from this list?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea

It was cold and rainy today. The leaves have fallen off of the trees and the cold weather has come on with a vengeance. As soon as the weather starts turning, I start thinking of all the things that I love about autumn. The crisp leaves, the cool air, my cozy slippers, flannel sheets, and warm drinks.

My favorite warm drink is chai tea. The drink mixes are expensive, but mixing up a batch of this yourself can help to keep your pockets nice and warm with a little extra money. Most of the spices, dry creamer, and dry milk are already stocked in my pantry. The only additions I usually have to run out and get is the instant tea and powdered vanilla creamer.

To make the batch more smooth, instead of gritty, I process everything through my blender. I first mix all of the white ingredients in my blender (milk, sugar, creamer, vanilla creamer). I dump those in a plastic container and then I mix up all the brown ingredients (tea and spices). I pour this on top in the plastic container, seal the lid and give it a good shaking to incorporate or mix it up with a spoon. If you have a large food processor, you may be able to process it all together, but if you have a blender it is best to do this in divided batches.

Not only is this drink mix wonderful for yourself, but mixing up a batch of this and tucking some of it in a mug would be a wonderful gift to give to someone special in your life.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea Mix

1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup French vanilla powdered non-dairy creamer
2 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups unsweetened instant tea
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
¼ tsp white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it is a fine powder. Add two-three tablespoons of mix to 8 ounces of hot water or milk.

What is your favorite autumn/winter drink? Do you have any recipes to share for drink mixes?

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out Martha: Bubbly Magnets

Today I wanted to share a little holiday craft that I have been working on. I have been making some bubbly magnets to go in stockings and as small gifts for those special people in our life.

Remember, I am no Martha Stewart, so any craft that I share is something that a child can do. I am trying to share some little ideas for things that you can make to give for the holidays. Last week I shared my homemade spiced nut mixture and this week I am sharing my magnet craft. Crafting can be expensive, but this craft is affordable and highly addictive!

Supplies Needed:

Flat marbles (These can be purchased at the dollar store or in the floral section of your local craft store)

1/2" or 3/4" Round magnets (These are the most expensive purchase. I believe they are $6.99 for 50 magnets, but you can use the Michael's 40% off coupon in your paper towards this tab)

Modge Podge Adhesive Glue

A small paintbrush

Hot glue gun and glue sticks

Scissors

Pictures for your magnets (you can use photographs, wrapping paper, magazine pictures, scrapbooking paper- anything with a fun design)

Instructions:


Take your marbles and center it over your desired design, just to make sure it will fit perfectly under your marble. Dip your brush into the Mod Podge glue and brush the glue onto your design. Center your marble over the design and stick it to the pattern. Allow the glue to dry for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you are doing more than one magnet, on the same sheet, repeat the process on the paper or move on to your next sheet of paper.

Once your glue has dried, cut around the marbles, as close to the edges as possible. Now take your glue gun and dab a bit of glue on the magnet and attach your marble over the magnet piece. Allow these to dry completely.

Ta-Da! Cute new magnets for your fridge!

* This post originally aired on October 15, 2007*

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Eat Your Heart Out Martha (Or How to Make a Diaper Cake)

Welcome to a Play It Again, Momma week! This week we will be highlighting some of our favorite entries and today's entries will be all about crafting. What could be better than that? I hope you will enjoy these and remember, if I can craft it, your kid can craft it!

If you can believe it, I have been sitting on this blog entry for a year now. I only know this because the cakes that I have pictured were for my nephew and my best friend's son and they are both celebrating their first birthday!

Even though I haven't shared about this, my heart swells a little because I was so proud to carry such a pretty gift into the hospital. I felt even more proud when the nurses stopped me and asked me where I bought it. It was one of my proudest Martha moments because I am not very crafty, but I try oh-so-hard to have those impressive moments in my life.

Making a diaper cake is so easy and the results are extremely impressive! I had seen many companies advertising these on their websites, but they were charging fifty dollars (or more!) for these cakes. I ran a search and ran across this great picture tutorial on how to do it, and decided that it was definitely something I could do with just a couple of small purchases.

For my diaper cakes, I needed to establish a base for them so that I could transport them easily. I found a box in our garage and cut a square of cardboard out of it to rest the cake on. I then covered the cardboard with pretty wrapping paper in blues & pinks.

Next I followed the instructions for making the first diaper layer and used a stretchy headband that I had to bring the base diapers all together, making the first layer of the cake. It had suggested using a rubber band, but I didn't have any that would secure that many diapers together. I then wrapped pretty ribbon around it and tied them together with that, securing them together with white tipped pins, which made it look like part of the ribbon itself. With the next two layers, I was able to use a rubber band to put them together, and then covered the rubber band with the ribbon.

Once you have all of your layers, you can stack them and stick a dowel rod in the center, or anything that is long and will help them stay jointed together.

I went to Target and found little man blazers that would be perfect to go with the cake. I pinned these to the back and stuck a little stamped card in the pocket that said, "Congratulations!"

Next I went to the dollar store to buy some shrink wrap and two sets of wooden blocks (over by the baby supplies). I spelled out BOY on each of them and saved the rest of the blocks for our daughter to play with.

Shrink wrapping is very easy! Take the bag and pull it over your item and hold it at the top. Turn your blow dryer on and blast it until the wrapping shrinks tightly to fit your item. Use the bow that is supplied, or tie off with a bow of your own!

Diaper cakes can have small items tucked in the center of them from the mom's registry or you can go with a themed cake. Remember, the more items you add, the more you add to your cost. If you are trying to keep the cost down, keep it simple.

Here are a few theme ideas:

Bath time Cake- add a baby towel, tuck washcloths in the center and put a Rubber Ducky on top. You can also add small bath toys or bubble bath.

Elegant Cake- Make your diaper cake look like a wedding cake, and surround it with fresh or silk flowers. People will hardly believe their eyes when they see it.

Beach time Cake- This would be for a little later in the baby's life, but you can fill it up with beachy items. Some suggestions are a shovel, pail, baby sunglasses, a hat and some sunblock.

Night-Night Baby- Include a copy of, "Goodnight, Moon" with this cake. Add a little sleeper set, some calming nighttime lotion, and a compact disc of sweet baby lullabies.

The cost for each of these was:

Diapers- Free! they were given to us as a gift and Emily wore cloth so we never used them!
Diaper Cake Base- Free- made out of an old cardboard box we had!
Ribbon- $1.98
Little Man Blazer- Clearanced out for $2.98 at Target! Gotta love those clearance items!
Shrink Wrap & Baby Blocks- $2

Total Cost= $6.96

Sound Off: Would you guys like to see more, "Eat Your Heart Out, Martha!" moments on here? I have one a year, but I am happy to share the few I do have! I hope this gives you another thrifty gift alternative!

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Craft Some Bath Toys?


Experiment: Can I Craft Some Bath Toys?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 06.26.08

Materials Needed: Please see plumpudding for the full instructions on this task. I hit our local dollar store and picked up a ten pack of craft foam to use for this project. The craft foam is thin enough that you can cut these with plain old scissors or you could break out your zig-zag scissors from your scrapbooking materials.


Results:
I am not very good at free-hand drawing so I went ahead and looked for a template where I could stencil some really cute shapes out of my foam. I found this handy template from the Martha Stewart website and whipped up several fishes, flowers, and hearts for the kids. These were very easy to trace and took only a few minutes to whip up. My husband also put together some that he drew for the kids.

The kids absolutely loved these and didn't want to get out of the bathtub. I also saved a few sheets of foam for the kids to do finger-painting on. I am planning to use these foam sheets with some of our homemade pudding paints (with only enough water to make a finger-paint consistency instead of a water paint consistency) and then I will just rinse the sheets off when they are done so that they can make brand new creations!

I would recommend making sure to soak the foam before you begin sticking it on walls. The pink color did bleed onto the walls and left a pink shade that is going to take some serious scrubbing to get out. None of the other colors caused this problem, but giving them a good soaking first should prevent this problem.


Conclusion: One package of foam can keep my children entertained for many baths and I can't wait to whip up some more of these for them to play with. I am thinking that these would make excellent stocking stuffers this year and you can't beat the price! Thanks plumpudding for your creative idea!
********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Frugal Hacks: 6 Months Until Christmas

Don't you hate me already? Six months until Christmas, everyone! It is time to start thinking about ways you can save for the holiday season. On Frugal Hacks, I am sharing some things that we have started doing to get ready for the holiday season so we can stay under budget!

Two years ago, I actually started a Christmas journal and now I have created a Christmas file folder of the things that I want to do for the next year's holiday. In our little Christmas Memory Journal, I have included the recipes for what dishes our family loved the most, what the children asked for from Santa, what we spent the holidays doing, and tucked inside are the sweet letters and pictures to Santa. Someday I hope to give each of the kids a journal so that they can share those recipes and memories with their own families someday!

My inspiration comes from so many place so I am bookmarking all of the crafts and projects I want to try. My notebook entries are my virtual bookmarks to holiday ideas and have helped me each year with some much needed holiday inspiration.

Here is a round-up of Christmas fun to help inspire you in this July heat!

Christmas Getting & Giving Recap
Christmas With the Clarks (or the Endless Flu Epidemic)
Eve of Christmas Morning Recap
Christmas Morning with the Clarks
Working on My Christmas Countdown
Be A Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have
Be A Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift, Yo
Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift
The Gift Closet: Wrapping Gifts
Sugar & Spice Nuts
Creating Family Traditions
What to Get the Person Who Has Everything
Making Real Christmas Memories
Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget
Creating Holiday Traditions
Christmas Drink Mixes
Save More On Your Christmas Shopping
Say Bah, Humbug to Holiday Debt
The Christmas Jar
Bubbly Magnets (for Gifts)
Oreo Biscotti (for Gifts)
Elegant Photo Albums
Painted Children's Mugs (for Gifts)

How do you organize and keep track of your projects and ideas for the holiday season?

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Fast Father's Day Gift


Both of the dads in my life have birthdays around the same time as Father's Day so I ended up doing a combination gift this year to show how much we appreciate them.

Tucked in with a stack of my special music (made just for dad), I included a card for each of them. I used some of our tickets from our giant ticket roll and decorated the outside of the card with them. Inside is a gift certificate for Netflix for two months.

I used the same gift as a graduation gift for a family member so this would make an excellent gift for a college graduate too!

This gift can be as affordable or as expensive as you would want to make it. They offer so many different types of plans and you can pick the plan that fits your budget best. I would love a summer of free movies so I hope they will enjoy this as much as I would!

Happy Father's Day, Dads!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fast Father's Day Gift!

Did you wait until the last minute on getting your dad/husband a gift? Don't worry! I have a fast solution that is fun and cheap!

First, pick out some pictures that you truly love of your children and plop them somewhere on your computer where you will be able to find them (Flickr users can link directly through their account to their pictures)

Now that you have your pictures, it is time to get creative with them. Go to Big Huge Labs and choose the CD Cover link (or you can just click directly through here).



This is where I got a little confused so I will try and make it easier by explaining what I did. After you have uploaded your photo and typed in your message, it will take a few seconds and then produce the image. That image is not the size you need, but don't worry! Right click the image and COPY the image. Now open a blank Word document and right click to PASTE the image.

Next, you will need to resize your image. Right click your image again and click SIZE. Change the width on the image to 8.2" and hit enter.

When you see your image, it might look like it doesn't fit- don't worry! It is the perfect size for your compact disc. Print it out (either in black and white or in color) and then cut it out, being careful to cut off those dotted lines so it makes it nice and clean looking. Fold the side flaps, bottom flap, and then the top flap.

You will, of course, need to slip some rocking music in for your dad, but that will be the fun part! I am trying to introduce my dads to some new music, while still staying within their genres and tastes. I find it a challenge to introduce people to music that they haven't heard of before, and it makes me so happy when I can discover a new favorite for someone.


I am giving the dad's in our life a fun mix of my music and some homemade cookies! Not only is it frugal, but I hope it is a thoughtful gift too!
Happy Father's Day, Dads!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What I Got For Mother's Day

Ethan brought home this beautiful picture for mommy from school. I adore it because he is giving a toothy grin and he has the sweetest smile. When he was little, he knocked one of his front teeth (tragically stunting the growth in one of his front teeth) and his one front tooth is short and his other is longer. It is one of those things you think you won't forget as a parent, but you do...I am glad I have a picture of this precious little smile. I will hang on to it when all those perfectly perfect teeth come in. This little picture was accompanied with a potted flower that I just love. Two of my favorite gifts.

What else did I get for Mother's Day? Oh, don't hate me too much, this was lots of time and research and just happened to be purchased around Mother's Day, but is really an investment for my kitchen and meal preparation... Behold, my glorious Cuisinart Multi-Clad Pro Stainless Steel Pot Set. Oh my goodness! Heaven! Total and utter heaven! I love these pots like I love my children and as much as I love my red pot, red coat, and red shoes. Yeah, that kind of love...a deep kind of affection that only one cook to another cook could understand.

My husband has been making so much fun of me as I clean these precious gems. I am all stroking them lovingly (hoping that phrase doesn't pop up in our keyword phrase searches too often) and just cleaning them like they are the finest china dishes I have ever own. Yeah, I don't care... say what you must, but I have waited YEARS for these pots.

They are every bit of good as I had hoped. Sturdy, heavy, easy to clean, and beautiful to look at. Yes, I can gaze at my freaky expression on the lids as I take a dishtowel to the corners of my eye and weep at their beauty. I don't know why my husband is making fun of me? Perhaps jealousy because it is a love that I cannot explain.


Oh, and one of the strangest things that has happened to me is getting a beautiful flower sent to me...by the TiVo company. Say what? Yeah, Tivo was all like, "I hope you can pause for a moment and enjoy your Mother's Day." Although you can't see it, the company stamped their logo on the corner of the flower and sent these to me one morning via Fed Ex. This was perhaps one of the most creative campaigns I have ever seen. I used to work in marketing so I can appreciate a good campaign- can't imagine how much time and orchestration it took to send these out to mommy bloggers, but very thoughtful and I loved looking at it in my window. What did I appreciate about this campaign? The note was actually handwritten. That means a lot to me because this can be a rarity. I appreciate it when people write notes by hand- it is good form, in my humble mommy opinion!

Not to be outdone by the flower, this entire stack of books came to me from Hachette Book Group. They wanted to send me a, "Mother's Day Package" with no strings attached. Who in the world would turn down free books? In this stack are:

1. Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
2. Your Best Life Now For Moms by Joel Osteen
3. How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger by Charla Krupp
4. Bobbi Brown Living Beauty by Bobbi Brown
5. Kim Cattrall Sexual Intelligence by Kim Cattrall
6. Sew U Home Stretch: The Built by Wendy Guide to Sewing Knit Fabrics by Wendy Mullin & Eviana Hartman
7. Jewels: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50 by Michael Cunningham & Connie Briscoe
8. On Becoming Fearless: ...in Love, Work, and Life by Arianna Huffington
9. Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach
10. Days: From the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch
11. Heart of the Home: Notes from a Vineyard Kitchen by Susan Branch
12. Starting Your Day Right: Devotions for Each Morning of the Year by Joyce Meyer
13. Ending Your Day Right: Devotions for Every Evening of the Year by Joyce Meyer
14. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris
15. Send Yourself Roses: Thoughts on My Life, Love, and Leading Roles by Gloria Feldt and Kathleen Turner

Some of these I already have so I will be giving them away as gifts and for our giveaways on here, but it was just so darn exciting to get all these nice new books. I am hoping we can work through a couple of these on the site since I have enjoyed our past book discussions so much.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another Season of Gift Giving

It seems that the summer is our crazy season for gift-giving. Between high school graduations, weddings, new babies, and the regular birthdays, we can spend a lot of money on our gifts.

I am sure I am not alone so I wanted to share some links to frugal ideas for buying and wrapping your gifts this year!

Gift Giving:

Elegant Photo Albums- Would make an excellent Mother's Day gift!
Bubbly Magnets- A great addition to a college student's gift or Mother's Day gift!
Sugar & Spice Nuts- Would make a fabulous Father's Day gift
A His & Hers Gift to Remember
Frugal Wedding Gifts
Housewarming Gift Ideas
How to Make a Diaper Cake
Thrifty Graduation Gifts
Frugal Graduation Gifts
Painted Mugs- Great for Mother's Day, Father's Day, or for a special babysitter who might be off to college
Restaurant.com Gift Certificates- Great for any occasion
Give the Gift of Magazines Frugally
Starbucks Banana Pound Cake- Paired with a pound of coffee, it would make a lovely gift for Father's Day


Gift Wraping:

Gift Wrapping Made Easy
Be a Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have
Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift
Be a Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift
Simplifying Gift Giving
Introducing You to the Gift Closet

Sound Off:
Do you have a favorite baby, housewarming, wedding, or graduation gift that is always a hit?

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Favorite Handmade Gift

Isn't this tote bag the cutest? My mother-in-law made it and it was my favorite gift of all. She makes the most beautiful things and has such a knack for sewing. I think she should quit her day job as a teacher and start crafting it up full time. Her aprons, baby slings, and bags are always such a hit with her family and friends. Too bad crafting doesn't have health insurance. I tell you, that health insurance stuff really kills a lot of great dreams.


I just love the little button closure on it. I can see this going with me on lots of trips and it will make a great diaper bag as well.

Lucky for me...a gift card to Starbucks was tucked inside. Now I can tote my library books over to the coffee shop and enjoy a free latte. What could be better than that? In my opinion, handmade gifts are the best in the world!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Frugal Hacks: Themed Gift Baskets

Head on over to Frugal Hacks and you can read my ideas for themed gift baskets to give for the holidays. These are one of my favorite things to give (AND to receive!) so I hope it will help spark some ideas for the gift-giving season.

Sound Off: If you could pick a gift basket to receive, what would it be filled with? Remember, Santa just might be reading!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha: Elegant Photo Albums

Grandparents can be difficult people to buy for because I think as we get older, we began to acquire so much and it can be a struggle to come up with an idea for something they already don't have or can't buy for themselves.

Last year I started doing photo albums for each set of grandparents and it was a real hit, particularly for the grandparents who don't live near us. It is a great way to share with them what we have been up to throughout the year and give them a tiny glimpse into our everyday life. By making each of these albums personal and filling them with pictures from our life, it helps them feel like they are close by and gives them a great brag book to share with their friends.

I found professional-looking albums last year at our local dollar store, but I didn't have any success this year. I decided to head over to Marshall's and found some very elegant albums for
only $3.99 each. Not as good of a deal as the ones got for a buck last year, but still a phenomenal deal.

I found thirty pictures from our year to have printed for each book. I tried to put the fun holiday pictures in there, but also funny pictures from our year and included subtitles for each. How else can you share the joy your husband experienced from getting his hands on one of the first copies of the last Harry Potter book on a midnight run to Barnes & Noble? Those are the moments that I wanted to put in our books.

We included pictures that our son drew for each album...six in all! I decided not to wrap them since they looked so elegant without the wrapping and opted for a gold bow instead. I found the ribbon at Dollar General and plan to use this same ribbon for our treat boxes this year. 75 feet for $5 is a great deal and I love how beautifully it brought these albums together.

I ordered our pictures this year through Winkflash.com. This was the first time I used their photo services and it was a great experience. They had flat shipping of $1 and it was twelve cents per print, which I thought was very affordable! For a complete breakdown on photo deals for this month, be sure to stop by Baby Cheapskate. Angie has a great price breakdown on holiday card specials and coupon codes you can use.

The total cost for each gift was $7.80, which makes it not only a memorable grandparent gift, but also an affordable one!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

$5 Magazine Subscriptions


I buy a lot of magazine subscriptions to give as gifts and primarily go through Ebay to make my purchases. I love giving subscriptions as gifts because it is a gift that continues giving long after people have become tired of the items they got for Christmas gifts. In addition, it gives them something fun to look forward to in their mailbox, rather than just the regular old bills!

I ran across this great special through Hearst Magazine for $5 subscriptions. There are tons of titles to choose from including Marie Claire, SmartMoney, Good Housekeeping, Town & Country, House Beautiful, & Popular Mechanics. If you go on their homepage, however, these deals aren't offered so be sure to go through that provided link.

What excellent gifts these will make! I am not sure how long this offer will last so I am going to order some today. I hope this helps someone else with some of their holiday shopping!

Side Note: Be sure to look how many issues are being offered for your money. Some of the nicer subscriptions, like O Magazine, only offer four issues for this price. Still an excellent deal, but won't last as long as the twelve issue subscriptions!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have

Sometimes it is more fun to spend money on the gifts themselves than it is to spend it on wrapping your gifts. While I love an elegantly wrapped gift, I do enjoy sharing on creative wrapping solutions too. In fact, sometimes those creative solutions are right under your nose. Wouldn't Hallmark be disappointed if we used items we already had to wrap our gifts instead of keeping them in business with their gift bags and wrapping paper?

Here in this first picture is a grocery sack. This paper bag was purchased for five cents from Aldi Supermarket. This was, of course, before I had made the switch to cloth grocery bags so I have many of these useful bags laying around my house that aren't being used.

You can leave the paper bag plain or you can decorate it. I happened to have a Christmas stamp that I stamped onto the paper. The gift tag came from a book of scrapbooking tags that I happened upon at Michael's. I used my coupon to buy them and they were $2 (less with the coupon) for 24 tags. Tie it up with a bow or a piece of raffia, and you have a beautiful gift out of items in your home.

This second gift is wrapped in a map of our hometown. You can pick these up in the different cities that you visit or in different hotels or restaurants. Save them in a folder for wrapping paper and use special areas for the special people in your life.

The gift tag was made out of my business card and then the gift was tied with green raffia. Business cards can be a fun way to tag your gifts to coworkers. Considering many companies overbuy in the business card department, this is a great way to use some of these cards up and also reminds your boss how much he should appreciate your efforts, particularly for large companies where employees and superiors can be a bit more disjointed. Just give it a hole punch and loop it through the ribbon.

Last, but certainly not least, don't forget all of those lovely coloring pages and how useful they can be for wrapping gifts.
Kids love to feel special and they love to contribute towards the making of and the purchasing of the gifts for your family. These scribbled drawings, while not as appealing to the eye as many fancy gift wrap choices, are true beauty to grandparents and other family members.

If you like to have more control over the color choices and such, give your children crayons in your color scheme that you are going for or make suggestions for drawings ("Grandma LOVES snowmen, maybe you could draw her a really special one?").

The gift tag was made from scrap cardstock that I had and then I stamped the tag with the same stamp that was pictured above in my paper bag wrapping job.

Don't forget the other solutions that I have shared on like tailoring your gifts for their recipient and using wallpaper for gift wrap!

I hope this offers some other creative solutions for your wrapping needs! I plan to put this all together into an article for our website for future reference!


***For more great solutions for your family, be sure to visit Rocks In My Dryer for more great ideas for this edition of Works-For-Me Wednesday***

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift

Last week I started a series of posts on wrapping your holiday gifts. I shared my obsession for beautiful wallpaper and a cute idea for your gift tags.

This week I wanted to talk a little bit about tailoring your gifts for their recipient. This is one way that I do try to make my gifts special because I try to wrap my gifts with the person in mind who is receiving the gift.

Sometimes I tailor the gift to the person who is going to receive it and sometimes I tie the theme into what the gift actually is. It is fun to wrap your gifts this way because it makes it fun for the person who is opening it and it shows that you had them in mind when you wrapped the gift.

The gift shown in this example is for your favorite budget-savvy blogger or someone whose occupation involved the green stuff. The gift was wrapped in the stocks section of our Business paper and the gift tag was made out of a piece of money from a Life board game. Tied in green raffia, to go along with our money theme, this brings it altogether perfectly.

I try to do this often with the elements that I bring into my wrapping. When I go thrift shopping, I look for cute serving spoons or whisks that can be used to tie on the outside of newlywed gifts or for the Foodie in our family. Any small item that can be tied to the outside of the gifts can be great items to add to your wrapping details.

The comics section can be used to wrap children's gifts, Wall Street Journals make great wrapping paper, and foreign newspapers can add a little pizazz to any gifts you are giving.

Best of all, what a wonderful and earth-friendly way to recycle your newspapers!

Sound Off: What special details do you add to your wrapping jobs?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift, Yo!

I was asked to speak to my mom's group this week on how to celebrate Christmas on a budget. Since I do those Tuesday morning show segments, I figured it would be in my best interest to make some pretty props to go along with my morning discussions (and that could double for my mom's group discussion).

How about serving triple duty and sharing them on my blog here too? Why not!

I have several ideas for thinking outside of the box when it comes to wrapping your gifts. Sure, I could go to the store and get a giant roll of wrapping paper, but what is the fun in that? Some of the most fun is in the inventing of new ways to wrap those gifts under the tree.

The gifts might not all match, they may not be overly red and green, they also aren't going to be uniform, but at least each gift will have their own original style.

Today's gift wrapping idea is to check your local thrift store for wallpaper to wrap your gifts. I frequently find gigantic rolls for only $1. Try to pick a design that can be used for the holidays, but also can double for those other special occasions where a gift is needed.

This gift is not only covered in wallpaper, but the gift tag is made from a deck of cards. Is your dad a prankster? Give him the Joker! Is your brother the jack-of-all-trades? A Jack! Does your mom think she is the queen of the castle? Give that woman the Queen!


Tie it off with a little holiday cheer and embellish your gifts with a little ornament or something holiday-ish. I love those ornaments for those teeny trees to put on my gifts or I love to add big old jingle bells to make my present a little more festive.


I hope you enjoyed my quick tutorial on being a wrap superstar. I will discuss another idea next week!!

***For more great ideas today, visit Rocks In My Dryer for Works-For-Me Wednesday!***

Sound Off: Are you a wrap superstar? What are some things you use to wrap your gifts?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

A His & Hers Gift to Remember

We went to a beautiful wedding this weekend for a dear family friend. I wanted to give her something special, but funds are tight this month.

One of my favorite gifts to give is a small wine rack, filled with a couple of bottles of wine for their honeymoon. I found some cute gift tags at Wal-Mart and labeled them "His & "Hers" tied to each bottle with a strand of raffia. The wine rack was purchased for $1 at our local thrift store.

To make this gift more special though, I tucked a note from my husband and then a note from myself on each side of the wine rack. My husband came up with a list of "HIS advice" and I came up with a list of "HER advice."

We had a great time coming up with tips for marriage and it was a fun way to pass the time on the trip to the wedding. My husband's list included buying your wife flowers and never cutting your spouse down in public, but always bragging on them, particularly at your work! My list included never going to bed angry and always remembering to date your spouse, even after you have children.

I hope that they will enjoy the gift as much as we enjoyed creating it for them!

The wine chosen was a new favorite of ours called Banrock Station and it is an excellent wine for the price. It has been featured in the Wine Spectator for years now as a great buy for your money. They sell a crate of this wine, with six bottles in it, for a little over $21 at our wholesale club. Unfortunately, they only carry the wine in bulk (at least at our Sam's Club) in the Chardonnay. I have bought the reds on sale though, at our local supermarket, in a case of six bottles to get our ten percent off of the purchase. I can usually get the bottles for under $4 each, which is a great buy for good wine.

Sound Off: Do you have any great advice for a newlywed couple? What advice would you include?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Gift Closet Part Five: Housewarming Gifts

This is the fifth part in my series on stocking your gift closet. For this entry, I would like to discuss some frugal and fun housewarming gifts that you can give to your favorite new homeowners.

Many of the ideas that I had suggested for wedding gifts could also be used as a great housewarming gift for a new couple. You can keep those ideas in mind when doing your shopping too.

1. Breakfast Basket- This is one of my favorite gifts to give, particularly if the family/couple has just moved into their new house and hasn't unpacked yet. I mix up my favorite pancake mix and place it in a decorated jar, purchase syrup (or you can make homemade syrup), and include a whisk for mixing the batter. This can be put inside of a mixing bowl or a pretty basket. I love to give this gift because usually no one has done any grocery shopping and this gives them something to look forward to eating one morning or for a quick evening dinner. Tuck in a little note of congratulations on their new home.

2. Welcome Home- A welcome mat can be a great housewarming gift. You can purchase one of these or you could make them a welcome mat that you have painted and personalized. Keep your eyes peeled in the clearance section for the mats, particularly around the holiday season when holiday mats make their move towards the clearance section.

Other welcome additions to a home are ornate house numbers or a pretty sign that has their family name on it. I also love to make a wreath for the new homeowner to put on their front door which can be another welcome addition towards creating an inviting home.

3. Add a Little Life- When doing your thrift shopping, keep in mind things that would make great items to put plants in. China tea cups, planters, baskets, tin pails- any of these are great to use for planters. You can find items in your garden that will transplant well or you could buy a small plant for the new homeowners. I try to pick things that will not die off easily, considering how busy new homeowners are when they are unpacking, and because not everyone has a green thumb!

4. Tools- It is hard to find the tools that you need when you actually need them. Put together a small tool kit for the homeowner and include items that you know they will really need as they get settled. A box cutter is great for breaking down their moving boxes, items to use for picture and mirror hanging, a hammer and various type of nails are great to include and give to the new homeowner. They have a good selection of these items at the dollar store.

5. Baked Goodies- Who can resist a loaf of homemade bread or a special treat? I love to give items like these because they are affordable and really show that you care for someone.

Related Readings:

Simplifying Gift Giving
Wrapping Gifts
Thrifty Graduation Ideas
Frugal Wedding Gifts
Baby Gifts

Sound Off: What is your favorite housewarming gift that you give or have received?

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Gift Closet Part Four: Baby Gifts

Well, we are quickly working our way through this series and I hope that I have offered some creative gift solutions for you. If you haven't been following this series, I had been asked about creating a gift closet to help save your family money. In the first section, I discussed some ways that you could present your gifts. Next, I shared some ideas for thrifty graduate gifts. Most recently though, I discussed some money-smart ideas for wedding gifts.

Today I wanted to share some ideas for baby gifts. What could be more joyous than another life entering the world and what could be more fun to buy than little baby clothes? I find myself really wanting to splurge in this category, just because baby stuff is so gosh darn cute! Who can resist those frilly dresses they have for little girls? I also have a hard time resisting little man clothes- blazers, khakis, and polo shirts are some of my favorite purchases. Unfortunately, this momma is on a tight budget, so I have to hold myself back when it comes to gifts like this.

Here are some of my frugal ideas for baby gifts that will be remembered:

1. Dinners- Meals for new mothers are a fabulous gift to give and cost next to nothing, if you make smart menu choices. I love taking meals to new mothers because I remember how much I appreciated those meals when I received them. You can prepare a meal fresh, or stock up a new mom's freezer with dinners that her family can eat when she is too exhausted to prepare anything. I have some thrifty meal ideas and some tips on how to transport that meal to the new mother in my past entries.

2. Make a Diaper Cake-Be sure to read this entry on how to make a cake. There are some additional great ideas under the comments so make sure to read those too! I love making these and love how impressive the whole package looks when it is done. To me, when someone makes something, that is more special than anything that anyone could buy. It shows that they cared by investing time, that they probably did not have to spare, to make something fantastic just for me!

You could also do different variations on this same idea with a Diaper Wreath (thanks to Jenn for the hint on that one!) for the new mother.

3. Babysitting Services- I love to make gift coupons for people to tuck within their cards and what could a new mother want more than a night away? I love to offer my babysitting services to help a mom out so that she can enjoy a night on the town with her husband or just to go get her hair cut (BY HERSELF!). This is a really good gift for a mom who is on a tight budget and can't afford to hire a sitter or a mom who has more than one child and never gets a moment of peace.

If you wanted to add a little gift to go along with it, try a gift certificate from Restaurant.com. They make a fabulous gift and you only spend a fraction of the value of the certificate. You can read my personal review of these certificates in one of my past posts.

4. Magazine Subscriptions- Ask the mother if she is receiving any parenting magazines and offer to buy her a subscription. Read my post on purchasing magazine subscriptions very inexpensively on Ebay. Many times there are packages of magazines that you can buy with two or more parenting magazines in the package, which make a great gift set. No one will know that you did not splurge for a full price subscription, and it is something she can enjoy all year long!

5. Capture Memories- You can make a beautiful memory box with little or no crafty talent, and it will be a gift that the mother can truly use. Purchase a box from your local craft store (I love to use those Michael's coupons for these types of purchases) and decorate it with paints, ribbon, wrapping paper, buttons- whatever you have around your house. If you are close to the mother, you could tuck your own personal note in about how much you love the child. The mother can store their little hospital ID bracelet, their hat they wore at the hospital and notes from family & friends. It is a wonderful gift and is also a very personal one.

6. Start Saving- One gift that I love to give and receive is a piggy bank for the new baby. What could be better than getting their child on the right foot towards saving money? You could tuck a savings bond in with the bank to get their bank started.

Sound Off: What is your favorite baby gift to give? What was the best baby gift you have ever received?

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha! (Or How to Make a Diaper Cake)

If you can believe it, I have been sitting on this blog entry for a year now. I only know this because the cakes that I have pictured were for my nephew and my best friend's son and they are both celebrating their first birthday!

Even though I haven't shared about this, my heart swells a little because I was so proud to carry such a pretty gift into the hospital. I felt even more proud when the nurses stopped me and asked me where I bought it. It was one of my proudest Martha moments because I am not very crafty, but I try oh-so-hard to have those impressive moments in my life.

Making a diaper cake is so easy and the results are extremely impressive! I had seen many companies advertising these on their websites, but they were charging fifty dollars (or more!) for these cakes. I ran a search and ran across this great picture tutorial on how to do it, and decided that it was definitely something I could do with just a couple of small purchases.

For my diaper cakes, I needed to establish a base for them so that I could transport them easily. I found a box in our garage and cut a square of cardboard out of it to rest the cake on. I then covered the cardboard with pretty wrapping paper in blues & pinks.

Next I followed the instructions for making the first diaper layer and used a stretchy headband that I had to bring the base diapers all together, making the first layer of the cake. It had suggested using a rubber band, but I didn't have any that would secure that many diapers together. I then wrapped pretty ribbon around it and tied them together with that, securing them together with white tipped pins, which made it look like part of the ribbon itself. With the next two layers, I was able to use a rubber band to put them together, and then covered the rubber band with the ribbon.

Once you have all of your layers, you can stack them and stick a dowel rod in the center, or anything that is long and will help them stay jointed together.

I went to Target and found little man blazers that would be perfect to go with the cake. I pinned these to the back and stuck a little stamped card in the pocket that said, "Congratulations!"

Next I went to the dollar store to buy some shrink wrap and two sets of wooden blocks (over by the baby supplies). I spelled out BOY on each of them and saved the rest of the blocks for our daughter to play with.

Shrink wrapping is very easy! Take the bag and pull it over your item and hold it at the top. Turn your blow dryer on and blast it until the wrapping shrinks tightly to fit your item. Use the bow that is supplied, or tie off with a bow of your own!

Diaper cakes can have small items tucked in the center of them from the mom's registry or you can go with a themed cake. Remember, the more items you add, the more you add to your cost. If you are trying to keep the cost down, keep it simple.

Here are a few theme ideas:

Bath time Cake- add a baby towel, tuck washcloths in the center and put a Rubber Ducky on top. You can also add small bath toys or bubble bath.

Elegant Cake- Make your diaper cake look like a wedding cake, and surround it with fresh or silk flowers. People will hardly believe their eyes when they see it.

Beach time Cake- This would be for a little later in the baby's life, but you can fill it up with beachy items. Some suggestions are a shovel, pail, baby sunglasses, a hat and some sunblock.

Night-Night Baby- Include a copy of, "Goodnight, Moon" with this cake. Add a little sleeper set, some calming nighttime lotion, and a compact disc of sweet baby lullabies.

The cost for each of these was:

Diapers- Free! they were given to us as a gift and Emily wore cloth so we never used them!
Diaper Cake Base- Free- made out of an old cardboard box we had!
Ribbon- $1.98
Little Man Blazer- Clearanced out for $2.98 at Target! Gotta love those clearance items!
Shrink Wrap & Baby Blocks- $2

Total Cost= $6.96

Sound Off: Would you guys like to see more, "Eat Your Heart Out, Martha!" moments on here? I have one a year, but I am happy to share the few I do have! I hope this gives you another thrifty gift alternative!

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Gift Closet Part Three: Frugal Wedding Gifts

This is the third installment in the gift closet series. In the first section I talked about the presentation of your gifts, in the second part I discussed inexpensive graduate gifts, and today I would like to talk about frugal wedding gifts.

I love to stock up for weddings because it is something that you can do throughout the year with very little expense. Many of the wedding gifts that I am going to list will make great housewarming gifts too or can be a great way to welcome a new neighbor. Try to keep some of these ideas in the back of your mind when doing thrift sale shopping or hitting the end-of-season clearance sales.

Here are a few of my ideas for wedding gifts:

1. Get the couple's board game collection started and get them some new games. You can ask the couple what type of board games they like and get them one or two of these.

2. Christmas decorations make great gifts for a newly married couple. You can purchase these at the after Christmas sales and get tons of stuff for very little money. It is nice to get an ornament with the year of their wedding on it to include within the gift, to remember their wedding date by.

3. Pool your money with several other couples and get them a folding table & chairs set. Some of our family did this for us and we actually used it as our kitchen dining set for several months before we were able to save up enough to purchase a kitchen table. Broke newlyweds will really appreciate this gift.

4. Fill a wine rack for the couple. I often see small wine racks, made to accommodate two or three bottles, at thrift sales. I try and buy these and fill them with a couple of bottles of wine. One of our favorite inexpensive brands is the Barefoot wines, which can be purchased for $5-6 a bottle. This wine has received great reviews and awards, and it is easy on the wallet.

5. Give the couple a picnic set. I try to stock up on these during the summer clearance sales. Pair a picnic set with an outdoor blanket and you have a beautiful gift for the couple. These will often be marked down fifty or seventy-five percent off at the end of the summer. Stock up!

6. I love to buy couples a welcome mat or a wreath for their front door. You could also get an inexpensive sign that has their names on it. I try to make the wreaths myself and utilize those great Michael's forty percent off coupons. Thrift stores will often have donated wreaths that you can use and just pull all of the previous owner's greenery off of it to make a new one.

7. A stationary set can be a beautiful gift for a new bride. Fill a basket with stationary and plenty of thank you notes and a book of stamps. This is a thoughtful gift that she can really use to thank everyone who has given them gifts.

What are some gifts that you like to give as wedding gifts? Better yet, what was the best gift that you received?

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

For the Mom Who Has Everything: Exclusive iPod Gift Set


What could be better than a brand spanking new iPod? How about an iPod and some chocolates to go with it? Best Buy is offering an exclusive gift set for Mother’s Day that will be available starting May 6th and will only be available for a limited time with limited quantities available.

The gift set includes the following:

- A pink or silver 4GB Apple iPod nano, slim enough to fit in mom's pocket, purse or palm

- A variety of pink-foiled milk chocolate meltaways

- It is packaged in a mod polka-dot-patterned box inspired by the prism of iPod nano colors and this spring's hottest accessory: dots!

I got the opportunity to review this lovely gift set and all I can say is that if your sweetheart gets you this gift, he will be the man of the year! The iPod makes such a fabulous present and the chocolates are a great bonus to satisfy any mom’s sweet tooth.

This iPod has 4GB versus the 2GB that were previously available in the first generation of iPods. The battery is twice the size of the original and Apple boasts that it can go play twenty-four hours of music or five hours of photo slideshows before needing a charge. It has an aluminum exterior, which makes it resistant to scratches, and comes in a fun hot pink color or a striking silver shade.

I have never owned an iPod before so this is my first experience with the Apple Company. Since I have never had one of these, I really had no expectations going into it. I was really surprised though how much I love this gadget, as the sound on it is absolutely incredible and is far superior to other mp3 players out on the market.

The iPod also includes lots of other fun little gadgets like games, a calendar, a stopwatch, and a small screen to view your pictures.

The difference between the iPod & other mp3 players is that iPods do not have a radio available on it and all of the music needs to be converted into iTunes before it is playable in this player. Fortunately, iTunes is easy to install and the process is not tedious, but just an extra step towards having a player with incredible sound. The radio feature can be added by purchasing additional accessories, but it is not a necessary item for most people who would just like to listen to the music of their own choice.

The retail cost for this gift set is $214.99 and is available at your local Best Buy store. Feel free to point your husband and children towards this review to really give them a hint of what you want this year! I am wishing you all whatever you are dreaming of for your special day and hope you all have a fabulous Mother’s Day!

Many thanks to the Best Buy company for giving me the opportunity to review this product!

While I am on the subject of iPods & mp3 players, here is my question for today...Who is currently on your playlist? I am sure we can all use some ideas for new artists and give me some of your good old favorites. I am always looking for a little creative inspiration!

On Amy's Playlist:

Norah Jones
Jack Johnson
Coldplay
Amy Winehouse
Paolo Nutini
Regina Spektor
The Killers
The Fray
The Shins
Matt Kearney
Justin Timberlake (no comments please!)

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Product Review: Philips Digital Picture Frame


Philips contacted us and gave us the opportunity to review their 9" Digital Picture Frame, which we were extremely excited to try out. A digital picture frame has been on my Mother's Day gift list for a long time so we were excited to receive one of these.

Philips is a fabulous company and one thing that I really appreciate about them is their knack for design. This photo frame is sleek looking and has nice clean lines. The stand is made to to lock into the two positions depending on how you want to stand it. Overall, it is just an amazing looking frame.

Unfortunately, I am technically challenged and I was very anxious to begin loading our pictures onto it when I received it, but the software was extremely confusing for me. I waited until my tech-savvy husband got home and had him try his hand at it. I had resolved it was due to my poor technical skills, but he was in agreement that transferring photos was confusing and the software that is included was not user-friendly. We had a lot of trouble figuring out how to transfer the photos from our PC. An easier option would be to transfer your photos to a memory card, which can then be stuck in the back of the frame, which simplifies the process compared to utilizing their software.

Once we figured out how to load the pictures, we could plug it in and begin displaying them. I was extremely impressed with the quality of the picture and how vivid the colors were on the screen. Not only were the colors extremely bright, but the transitions between photos were well done and did not have too long of pauses between photos or any hokey transitions between the photos.

This frame will store up to sixty photos on it, which can reduce a lot of cluttered frames in your home without taking up too much space. You can keep the frame running on a provided AC cable or on the rechargeable battery that is included with each frame. The frame also includes a very smart feature that will allow you to only run the frame at certain times of the day, like only when you are home, to save on electricity.

The Philips digital picture frame would make a fabulous gift for the grandparents, a wonderful Mother's Day or Father's Day gift, or a gift for a special graduate in your life. The frame is currently on sale for $199.04 with free shipping through the provided link above.

Many thanks to Philips for giving us the opportunity to review such a wonderful product. We were not disappointed!

If you would like us to review a product for your company, please send inquiries to amy@momadvice.com. We look forward to reviewing products that mothers would love to hear more about!

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Cheap Date Night


Restaurant.com is running a 60% off coupon from April 23-30th of the month. The 60% off code is APRIL and can be applied at check out. In addition, they are offering a free $10 certificate with your order. This discount makes the $25 value dining certificates that normally sell at their store for $10, a mere $4 each. What a savings!

These would make a great inexpensive Mother's Day gift or a gift to a graduate.

We use these on all of our date nights and save a ton of money. We get to eat at places we could never otherwise afford and for a fraction of the cost that everyone around us is paying. We have never had an issue using these anywhere or poor service because we were using these certificates.

For a review of our first experience using these, you can visit this past entry.

Note: We do receive a small credit for being affiliated with this program, but I only highlight things like this if they really are a good deal- I promise!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Gift Closet Part Two: Thrifty Graduation Gift Ideas

It has been awhile since I talked about my gift closet, but with the graduation season upon us, I thought this might be a good time to chat again about it.

The first part in my gift closet series included information on how to wrap your gifts and explained how a gift closet worked. Gift closets are such a fantastic way to take advantage of clearance and thrift store opportunities, and will make gift-giving a lot cheaper when planned out this way. Be sure to read that entry for the information you need to get started.
Today, for the second part in this series, I would like to share with you a list of great gifts you can give to a high school graduate. Please be sure to share a favorite gift you received or gave for graduation.


Thrifty Graduation Gifts:

1. College Coupons- One of my favorite things to ever get in the mail, when I was in college, was a care package…from ANYONE! Giving the graduate coupons for care packages can be a very frugal gift and one that they can enjoy throughout their first year in college. Coupons can be assembled with a self-addressed stamped envelope. I like to provide a menu of choices and let them write on the coupon what they would specifically like. I include simple family favorites that can easily be packaged and enjoyed by them. Cookies can be shipped to them in empty Pringles containers or in Christmas tins. Bar cookies are very good choices for your menu options because they hold up well in the shipping process. You can download a template for creating your own college coupons by visiting the download section on MomAdvice.com, and create any kind of coupon that you would like to give. I mount these coupons on cardstock and tie them together with ribbon. They are a fun & creative gift and it is a gift that the graduate can look forward to throughout their school year.

2. Gift Cards- Gift cards, while not the most inexpensive choice, are something that a broke graduate can truly appreciate. I love to give gift cards to their local supermarket so that they can stock up on food while they are at school. Other good choices for gift cards are the gas station (if they have a car while they are at school), the local salon, the campus bookstore, local eateries, or the movie theatre.


3. Useful Gifts- Try and think of the things that the graduate will need to take with them when beginning college. Some of the things that come to mind are a backpack, an umbrella, alarm clock, a shower tote (filled with things they need), a small lamp, bed linens, towels & washcloths, school supplies (cheap during the beginning of the school season), luggage, or zip drives & disks.

4. Food Kit- My food kit is all put together inside of a dish tub. Within the dish tub, I provide a set of four place settings (plastic forks, knifes, spoons, bowls, & plates) and a sponge & dish soap for doing their dishes. I also put in Ramen Noodles, Cup of Noodles, and any other food that I can find that can easily be prepared in their room. Just tie a bow on the outside and know that this is a gift that they will actually use.

5. Laundry Kit- This is one of my favorite gifts for a graduate. Just assemble everything in a laundry basket and tie a bow on the handles of the basket. Inside stick a roll of quarters, a mesh laundry bag, detergent, fabric softener sheets, a Downy Ball and you can put together a tutorial for them on how to treat stains and easy directions on how to do their laundry. Step-by-step instructions, for the newbie to doing laundry, (as many graduates are!) can be found here and ten tips for the perfect wash can also be given to them too. If you are even more ambitious than that, you can put these things in a binder for the graduate and include your own tips and recipes for getting stains out or you can laminate these.

6. First Aid Kit- What graduate is actually going to remember to stock a first aid kit before they leave? Put together a container of items for their medicine cabinet so that they are prepared when they leave home. Fill it up with aspirin, band aids, stomach medications, ointments, cotton balls, tweezers, and sun block. Include anything & everything they might need for an emergency.

7. Journals & Address Books- Gifts for a graduate who is not planning on attending college or who will be attending a community college can be a challenge. Many of the gifts, traditionally given to a graduate, are made for those who are going away to school. For these graduates an organizer or a journal can be a wonderful and thoughtful gift option. Address books, so that the graduate can record where all of their friends are going, are also nice for them. These can be purchased at your local dollar store or found at local card retailers.

The important thing, in my opinion, is to offer a gift that they can actually use. I can’t tell you how many books I got for my graduation- the infamous Dr. Suess book, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and coffee table books. These are nice, but are usually read once and put away. I rarely reread them and they ended up collecting dust on my shelf. I am disappointed when gifts I give are not used because, to me, it is like money going down the drain. Don’t be afraid to ask your graduate what they are in need of so that your gift is actually used!

If you are the mother of a graduate, I wish you congratulations on making it this far with your child. It is an accomplishment for you both and you should be very proud!

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mashed Banana, Mashed Banana

Is the song stuck in your head now?

When I went grocery shopping this week, I noticed that the bananas were looking a bit shabby. They looked exactly as they are pictured here....very, very ripe. The price happened to be crossed out though and the bananas were marked down to half off. What a steal! Fifteen cents per pound- who could resist?

I loaded my cart up with tons of bananas and headed home with my nasty bananas in tote. I got out an old butter tub and filled it with eight of the bananas. I mashed those suckers up and put them in a freezer container and then started with the next batch. Eight bananas translates to four mini-loaves of banana bread so I packaged them that way so that it would be easy for me to dethaw and dump when it came time to make my bread. I ended up with enough to do twenty-four mini loaves of bread once everything was smashed and put away for another day.

My family loves banana bread and I love to keep it in my freezer to give away as gifts to friends & family. I make a mean banana bread and I love to have loaves on hand for those unexpected occasions- a sick family member, a thank-you to someone who has helped us out, a quick birthday gift...I think it is a gift for any occasion! Tied with a bow and a thoughtful card makes your last minute gift look planned!

Bananas can be frozen whole too and thrown into your freezer, eliminating my smashing step altogether. Just chop off the tip and squeeze it out. You don't even have to touch the banana.

I prefer the smashing because it saves valuable space in my freezer and I can just chuck it into the bowl when it is time to mix it up.

Next time you are at the store and the bananas are looking too ripe, buy a bunch and keep them in your freezer. If the supermarket has not marked them down, just ask if they will give them to you for half price. Usually they just want to get these out of their store.
Here are my banana recipes for the little monkeys in your family!

Banana Pancakes

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ripe banana

Combine flour, white sugar, baking powder cinnamon, & salt. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla, & bananas. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture; batter will be slightly lumpy. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop batter onto the griddle, using approximately ¼ cup for each pancake. Cook until pancakes are golden brown on both sides; serve hot.


Banana Oatmeal Bread

1/2 - 3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups mashed banana
3 T vegetable oil
2 T sugar
1 1/2 t salt
1 3/4 cups oats
3 cups bread flour
2 1/2 t yeast
Layer in bread machine pan according to manufacturer's recommendation. Bake on the sweet, basic or rapid cycle. Makes a large loaf (2 lbs).


Banana Crumb Muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cups white sugar
1 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 T butter

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease ten muffin cups or line with muffin papers. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut the butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake in preheated oven for eighteen to twenty minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.


Heavenly Banana Bread


2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
1 t. vanilla
½ t. cinnamon
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (usually is about four bananas)

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 60-65 minutes. Allow bread to cool ten minutes in pan and then turn onto wire rack.


Chocolate Banana Bread


1 cup margarine, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
6 bananas, mashed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup lite sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.In a large bowl, cream together margarine sugar and eggs. Stir in bananas and vanilla. Sift in flour, baking soda and cocoa; mix well. Blend in sour cream and chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pans.Bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of a loaf comes out clean.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Bellazandra Custom Designed Jewelry: A Mother's Gift You'll Remember


I was contacted by the owner and designer of Bellazandra jewelry to see if I would be interested in doing a product review of her custom designed jewelry. One look at her website, and I knew that I would be more than happy to be able to share about her product, particularly because she is a work-at-home mom who is doing what she can to remain home with her daughter.

Zandra was an interior designer and was born and raised in Sweden. She moved to the United States in 1999 and was looking for a way to be able to stay home with her daughter Bella. She wanted to implement her creative background in some way, and decided to apply her background as a mother and as a designer towards designing jewelry.

Zandra offers bracelets for mothers, birthstone bracelets, children's bracelets, fathers bracelets, necklaces, & earrings. Most importantly, she also makes awareness bracelets, in which part of her proceeds are donated towards great causes such as St Jude's Hospital, breast cancer awareness, and Operation Smile.

Because all of her jewelry is made for each individual, you get the opportunity to pick anything and everything that goes into making your piece. You can choose the charms, the style of clasp, the birthstones, and the size of your bracelet.

I received my bracelet this afternoon and I am in utter delight & awe at just how pretty it is. My bracelet has my son & daughter's names on it with each of their birthstones surrounding their name. I chose a toggle clasp, which is easy for me to open and shut myself, and a small charm that says happiness on it. The happiness charm is to remind me of just how lucky I am to have these two kids in my life.

The best part about it, for me, is that the bracelet is made to fit me. You are able to provide the measurements of your wrist to the company and they will make the bracelet the proper size for you. I have tiny wrists and usually bracelets end up looking like the size of necklaces on my wrist. It was so nice to have one that fit perfectly for me!

There is so much thoughtfulness that has went into this product. The bracelet was packaged in a small brown pouch and placed in a Tiffany blue box with a brown bow. She also includes a thank you note and instructions with each piece detailing how to care for your jewelry.

I can't rave enough about how nice this product is and how much I admire moms who are able to create a niche for themselves in the work-at-home world, doing something they love while having the benefits of being home with their children.
This bracelet would make a lovely Mother's Day gift (hint, hint to the male readers out there!) and you can place orders for Mother's Day up until April 26 to insure that your bracelet arrives on your special day.

Many thanks to Bellazandra for giving us this opportunity to share our opinion on such a beautiful product! Please visit Zandra's site to view all of the great choices that she offers.
*If you are a mommy inventor and would like to see your product showcased on our blog, please email me at amy@momadvice.com*

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kid's Craft Idea: Painting Mugs

Since it is another snow-filled day, we worked on a craft project to pass the time today. What better way to pass the time than to work on some fun projects?

When I have been going to the thrift store, I have been picking up plain white mugs. The cost on these is fifty cents and I have been putting them in a box downstairs to make gifts for our family.

I then went to the craft store and purchased a porcelain paint set. The paint set was around four dollars and I used my forty percent off coupon to knock some money off of the total on that. These types of paints require no heat-setting since the glaze that is included sets the paints for you.

With this particular paint set, you need to do a glaze on the surface first and allow that to dry. I actually did this the night before so we wouldn't have to wait on this step.

Today we painted the mugs, which my son had the best time doing. We did put a heart on each of them, in honor of Valentine's Day, and we will be giving these out to some special people in our life.

While waiting for the paint to dry (to apply a final glaze on them), I have been doing a little baking for a mommy that I am running a meal over to. She just had a baby and I get to bring her Valentine's Day dinner. I am making a heart-shaped pizza, a cold pasta salad, and these giant heart brownies. I found this stoneware dish at the thrift shop for two bucks and have been waiting to be able to use it. I hope she will enjoy the meal as much I as have enjoyed cooking for her. Hopefully the weather will hold out so that I can deliver that meal!

I also need to get moving on some laundry and make cookies for my son's class. It has been fun though getting to squeeze in some quality time with my son and do something fun like this.

Give this craft idea a try with your children! These mugs are great for any occasion and what teacher wouldn't love a sweet mug like this made by your child?

Please visit Shannon's Blog, Rocks in My Dryer, for more Works-For-Me Wednesday tips!

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Gift Closet Part One: Wrapping Gifts


I had an email which requested that I talk a little bit about the gift closet and how we stock our gift closet. First, I am using the word "closet" in quotes because we do not have a spare closet to stick all of these gifts in. The one major closet that we had in our house was revamped and now houses our entertainment unit (People with small homes should definitely read that post!) Instead, I actually use a clear plastic tote and a shelf in our basement for keeping these spare gifts.

A gift closet is just the idea of keeping gifts that you can use for any occasion. Some people stock gifts with a specific purpose in mind, like Christmas. Other people stock gifts that they think they will be able to use throughout the year, like birthday parties, weddings, or housewarming gifts.

Now just about any tightwad I talk to has a place that they horde deals that they run across. Why should you pay full price for a gift when you can raid the clearance sections of stores and thrift for goodies that will make great gifts? The purpose of my gift closet is:

1. To have a gift that will fit any occasion. I try to stock for weddings, birthday parties, thank you gifts, get well soon goodies, and the "just because" gift.

2. You are always prepared no matter what occasion strikes. If you forgot to write something on your calendar or suddenly realize that your brother's birthday is looming and you have no funds for a gift, you can always visit your closet for a great gift.

3. Christmas is not a blow to your finances because your gift closet is stocked throughout the year. I try to buy a gift here and there instead of a giant shopping session which can cause a serious dent in our account.

The first part I am going to discuss about stocking your gift closet are inexpensive ways to package your gifts. Storing gifts, in my opinion, is just one element of stocking a gift closet. Another blow to the finances can be the packaging of your gifts. Here are some of the items that I keep on hand for making my gifts look pretty for less...

- I hit thrift stores all of the time and try to look for pretty tins in the housewares section. At fifty cents to a dollar each, they are a great way to package homemade goodies and make them more special.

- Baskets are nice to have on hand to make an instant gift basket for someone in your life. Try and buy these when they run end of the season sales at the craft stores or when you are doing your thrift shopping. Remember that baskets can be spray painted or decorated with scrap ribbon and filled with odds and ends in your gift closet (tissue paper, a pretty dish towel, or whatever else you have on hand)

- I love to keep jars on hand for gifts. These can be used to package up soups, stews, sauces, jellies, or gift mixes. I use scrap fabric to place on top and also have little odds and ends that I have collected to tie around the lid (cinnamon sticks, silk flowers, twine, etc..)

- I always have items that I can use to wrap gifts with. I have wrapping paper, but I also have other items to wrap with. I save the comics section of our newspaper for children's gifts. I also look for wallpaper rolls at thrift stores to wrap gifts with. The wallpaper looks so elegant and I can get huge rolls of it for a buck at our local stores. Scrap fabric or tulle can add elegance to any gift.

- I save anything that I think would make a great home for a gift. For example, I love those little sacks that cards come in or the boxes that note cards come in. When I receive a gift, I save whatever that person used to give me my gift in. I have started to gather quite a large collection of gift bags and boxes from hording the ones that were given to our family.

- Coffee mugs and pretty plates are also stashed away for those unexpected gifts. I love to find elegant china plates in the housewares section of our thrift store or unusual coffee mugs. For example, a china tea cup can be a beautiful holder for a small houseplant. When the plant needs to move to a bigger home (or in our house, simply dies a horrible death!) the cup can be washed out and used for tea. Fill mugs with cocoa mixes or tea bags as a sweet & simple get well gift. These are just a few of the uses for these items.

- I love to use the china size boxes for giving cookies in, particularly around the holidays. Tuck the cookies in wax paper and tie with a bow. This makes your treats look like a gift anyone could want!

- I keep a manila folder in my gift closet and place any cards that I receive in it. The front of these cards can be made into a new card or they can be used for gift tags with a quick hole punch and a little ribbon.

- I buy the stacks of card stock scraps and use these for gift tags on my gift baskets & bags. Add a small stamp to it and a quick note and you can bypass Hallmark altogether.

Those are just a few ideas that I have for the wrapping portion of the gift closet. In Part Two, I will began discussing frugal gift ideas for various occasions. If there is something in particular that you would like me to touch on, just reply in the comments section.

Feel free to share ways you wrap gifts or how/where you store your gift closet!

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Eve of Christmas Eve Morning Recap

Don’t you love it when the most exciting thing for the kids is the boxes and the bows, rather than the present itself? It seems that many of the presents my kids enjoyed ended up being things like that, rather than the items that we spent more money on. It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a lot to have a memorable Christmas with your children.

Our Christmas morning we dined on waffles and our cinnamon roll Christmas tree. Since I had not had my coffee in the morning, I accidentally tinted the icing aqua, rather than green, and claimed it to be a “retro” Christmas tree this year. Several additions of green tint gave us a very green tree though and the kids loved it. I left the trunk without icing for our one year old daughter, so that I didn’t have a big mess on my hands with the two kids.

We then spent the rest of the morning enjoying all of our new Christmas gifts. My son’s favorite Christmas gifts this year were his fifty cent encyclopedia of dinosaurs, which I found at our local thrift store, and his Mega T-Rex (a request from Santa Claus).

I had also went to Sam’s Club, the day before, to purchase some popcorn for our popcorn popper. We had received a popcorn tub set for a gift and I realized that we were out of popcorn to fill it. A pound of popcorn at the supermarket was a couple of dollars, so it seemed more economical to buy a large bag of popcorn from Sam’s instead. The bag contained fifty pounds of popcorn though (for only $10.87), and we are just a family of four. Since I was not planning on eating popcorn for every single meal, I stored the majority of it, but still had quite a bit left with no home for it.

I found a Rubbermaid tote and filled it with the leftover popcorn. I ran out to the garage and grabbed all of my son’s beach toys and stuck them in it and took the tub down to our basement to rest on top of his train table.

I bet you can guess what his favorite gift was? The total cost was probably three dollars, but has been a blast for him and kept him very busy for the rest of the day.


What were your child’s favorite gifts this year? Any recommendations you can offer?

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget

I heart Christmas. It is my absolute favorite time of year. I fear that my children are going to grow up hating Christmas because their mother drove them crazy with Christmas extravaganzas. Sadly, I am willing to forgo their enthusiasm in their later years to really make Christmas special for them now.

When I say that I love Christmas though, I do not mean that I go crazy buying presents. Presents do not equal the fun part of Christmas for me. Frankly, presents equal more stuff that I need to find a home for and we have a ton of things already that still haven’t found their proper homes.

No, the fun part of Christmas for me is the Christmas music, the decorating of the tree, making homemade goodies for gifts, reading Christmas stories, and watching the classic Christmas shows on television.

Other people do expect some gifts though so I do give in on the gift thing. The frugal gal in me really shines around the holidays and I have gotten some great deals under our tree. Here are a few tips for keeping the bling in your holiday without completing ruining your budget.

1. Start buying after the holidays. I get great deals on my gift wrap, Christmas gift bags, holiday ribbon, cards, and stocking stuffers after the season is over. These are those little things that don’t seem to ever make into the budget factor. Sure, you got a great deal on a gift, but if it costs you three dollars to make it look presentable…well, is it still a good deal?

2. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. We opted out of a holiday gift exchange when the price tag became too much of a burden our family. If you don’t feel good about giving a gift, then you probably shouldn’t give it. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if you don’t feel comfortable with the dollar amount.

3. If you know that others in your family are struggling to meet ends meet, agree to not give gifts or do something in lieu of a gift. For example, this year my sister and I agreed that the adults in our family would not be exchanging gifts and only the kids would be receiving the goodies. That alleviated the financial burden of buying two gifts for each of our families. For birthdays, which we both have right around the holidays, we are exchanging babysitting instead of gifts. A night away with just my hubby…now that gift is priceless!

4. Be sure to hit your dollar store…and hit it often! You can get some great gifts there. I got beautiful hardbound books for gifts, amazing acid-free photo albums, and stocking stuffers galore at our dollar store. Dollar sections at Target & Michael’s can also host a goldmine of great gifts for you that are much easier on your wallet.

5. Buy gifts periodically throughout the year so you don’t feel that financial crunch when December comes around. I visit the clearance sections in the stores all year round. I put these gifts in a Rubbermaid tote and just add to it as I come across things. By December, I have almost everything I need and I can say, “Ah” instead of “Ouch!”

6. When your children are small, they are not going to care if they are the first recipient of their toys or not. Thrift shops can be your best friend and your children will love it just as much as they would have if you bought it at the “real” store. Enjoy it before they figure it out!

7. Homemade goodies are the way to anyone’s heart. Make things that are quick and easy , but still have that homemade flair in them. I buy Christmas tins from our Goodwill and fill them with goodies for people. The tins cost a quarter a piece and I try and find recipes that don’t cost a lot to make or take a lot of baking time.

8. Restaurant.com gift certificates. Need I say more? These have made my giving so much easier. Right now they are running a coupon code (Code#: 73515. This coupon code expires on DECEMBER 10th) for fifty percent off the already low price on these. I will be writing a review of these awesome gift certificates later this week. I have used them, they are for real, and they make great gifts!

However much you choose to give, remember to give only what you can afford. Who wants to pay for Christmas for an entire year? Worse yet, who wants to still be paying on Christmas when the next Christmas rolls around? Give, but give accordingly.

Feel free to share how you keep the costs down on your holiday spending!

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Powdered Milk & Christmas Drink Mixes

If you would have asked me a couple of years ago if I would ever prepare powdered milk, the answer would have been no. My mom tried to get us to drink this when we would run out of milk, as children, and I thought it tasted horrible. I can remember thinking that I would NEVER serve powdered milk to my children. I would NEVER shop at Aldi. I would NEVER be one of those moms…Guess what kind of mom I am? Guess which mother likes to remind me of what kind of mom I said I would not be and then became?

I have discovered the joys of powdered milk through one of my favorite resources…the great Hillbilly Housewife website. Miss Maggie offers a great tutorial explaining how to prepare powdered milk and the things that you can make from it.

The price of powdered milk is so much better than its fresh alternative. I can purchase a large four pound box for a mere $6.99 from Aldi Supermarket and it makes twenty quarts of milk. If I get fresh milk on sale, a real deal would be $1.50-2.50. The dry milk is a steady $1.40 per gallon, all year long, so dry milk is much friendlier on the wallet.

In the beginning, I bought the powdered milk to use when making my hot cocoa mixes. Then it sat there taking up space in my cupboards for a long time. Then this summer we discovered Magic Milkshakes and I found a new way to use up the milk.

As I was preparing dinner one night, I figured why not use powdered milk in my recipes? I mean, who could taste if the milk was powdered or not in my mashed potatoes or my waffle batter mix? The taste was essentially the same thing and so I thought it might be worth using for that. Sure enough, no one in my family suspected.

Since that worked out so well, I thought we could try it on our cereal (we were taking baby steps here!) and so I suggested this to my husband. The look I got from him was as if I had grown three heads, but he said he would try it, for the sake of my milk experiment. He found the taste to be “different” and said it had a bit of an aftertaste to it. He said he would be willing to drink this if he HAD to, but would rather not drink it. To me, it tasted similar to skim milk although I would still prefer the fresh alternative over the powdered stuff. It is more a mental thing than the fact that it tastes different. When mixed in my cocoa or in my food though, it performs just as the fresh milk would.

For the sake of your grocery budget, give powdered milk a try and see what your family thinks of it. Even if you end up just using it for cooking, the savings is worth it!

If you are looking for hot drink mixes to give away as Christmas gifts, many will include the infamous powdered milk. Here are a few recipes to get you started for the holidays!

Good Night Cafe

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and whir until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.2/3 cup powdered nondairy creamer1/3 cup instant coffee granules1/3 cup sugar1 tsp. ground cardamom1/2 tsp. cinnamon1/8 tsp. nutmegAttach to jar:Mix 1 tbs. into 8oz. boiling water.

Café Mocha

1 1/2 cups instant coffee granules1/4 cup each unsweetened cocoa, and powdered nondairy creamer6 tbs. confectionary sugarPlace all ingredients into a blender or food processor and whir until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.Attach to jar:Mix 1-2 tbs. into 3/4 cup boiling water.

Cinn-Mocha-Sation

1 cup powdered nondairy creamer3/4 cup sugar2/3 cup powdered dry milk1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa1/3 cup instant coffee granules1/4 cup brown sugar1 tsp. cinnamon1/4 tsp. each salt, and nutmegPlace all ingredients into a blender or food processor and whir until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.Attach to jar:Mix 1/4 cup into 3/4 cup boiling water.

Gourmet Hot Chocolate Mix

11 Cups powdered dry milk1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer2 1/2 cups confectionary sugar1 pound container of instant chocolate drink mixSimply mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container! Attach to jar:For a great cup of gourmet hot chocolate, measure out 3 heaping tablespoons of mix into your favorite mug, and add 6-8oz. boiling water! This recipe makes about 250 servings, and can be cut in half.

Malted Hot Chocolate

3 1/2 ounces of malted milk powder5 1/2 ounces of powdered non-dairy creamer1 pound of powdered dry milk1 pound of confectionary sugar14 ounces of instant chocolate drink mix8 ounces of mini marshmallowsStir and store! Attach to jar:Use 3 heaping tablespoons of mix to one mug of boiling water.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saving More on Your Christmas Shopping

This entry is really more of a, "Play It Again, Momma!" type entry, but I did want to add a couple of things to entice you to sign up for an Ebates account. I also wanted to remind people about this program, since many of us have begun our holiday shopping.

I absolutely love Ebates and it has greatly simplified my holiday shopping. I can go to their website and click under their Special Offers link. The offers are listed alphabetically so I can see quickly at a glance if Children's Place is running a sale this week or not. Scroll down or click through under the letter of the place you are looking for. You can also sort these offers by type. Say that you don't want to pay shipping or you are looking for money off coupons, and the offers will be sorted this way. Categories are available too!

I frequently search just under a keyword search. If I am looking for a new coffee machine, I can search under that. I then sort this by price lowest to highest (you are shopping with me, remember?) and then I can see quickly who has the best deals and how much I would get back with the cash back rewards. It even calculates the exact amount you would get back, down to the penny, so you can see quickly how much you could potentially put into your check.

Recently, in an Ebates blog entry, they highlighted the top three cash savings tricks for Ebates. The suggestions that they came up with were:

1. Deal Layering: The deal with Ebates is that you usually get cash back on your purchases. For example, if you bought a shirt from the Gap (clearanced out, of course!), you would get 5% back through a cash back reward. When searching for the Gap under the Special Offers Link, you can look for a coupon to go along with your cash back reward and you can credit the savings towards your purchase and also receive cash back on your purchase. That equals more money in your wallet!

2. Each Tuesday Ebates has a deal with one company where they promise to double your cash back. A few weeks ago it was Fossil and this company doubled their normal eight percent to sixteen percent. That is a huge cash back return! You can check each Tuesday to see who the offer is with. Choose to shop with that company, when doing your holiday shopping, and you will receive more money back in your cash back checks.

3. Finally, be sure to sign up with their Ebates Reminder Tool. Don't you hate it when you order something, pay for it, and then realize later that you could have gotten a reward for purchasing it? Thanks to their little Moe Money Maker program, a little pop-up will come up when you are shopping with an Ebates merchant. It basically redirects the page to shop through the Ebates site. Now I will admit, that I started to get a little annoyed with this feature when I just wanted to go to BabyCenter because my kid was sick and I was trying to look up what to give him and it kept redirecting me to shop. We have two browsers installed though (Firefox & IE- because our family is techy like that!) and so I only use one browser to shop with. This software is optional, but it is certainly handy when you forget to cash in on your rewards.

I received my first Ebates check, this past week, just so you know that the offer is legitimate. Many rebates programs never actually pay out, but I can tell you that this one does.

If you want to read more about Ebates, please check my past blog entry. I also share how smoothly my first purchase went with Ebates when I purchased my little French Press insulated coffee mug. (I am still using this every single day and I have only been to Starbucks twice in the past two months!)

If you would like to sign up with Ebates, you can use this provided link. I do get a $5 check if you sign up (just didn't want to be sneaky about that!), but you will get a five dollar credit in your account if you sign up too. Basically, this is a win-win situation. The five dollars is credited to your account upon your first Ebates purchase.

Happy holiday shopping!

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Works-For-Me-Wednesday: Giving the Gift of Magazines (Frugally)

Welcome to this week's edition of Works-For-Me-Wendesday. Swing by Shannon's blog for more great ideas (and I mean More with a capital "M") for you & your family!

This week I am going to clue you into giving another frugal gift. For each holiday & birthday, I try and get someone a gift subscription to a magazine. Do I purchase these gift subscriptions from those handy little slips in the magazine? Of course not! Those prices are ridiculous! Instead, I make most of my magazine subscription purchases off of Ebay. Ebay, you say? Why, yes! Ebay has dirt cheap subscriptions and I think magazine subscriptions are the perfect gift. They get a whole year's worth of magazines and you get these magazines for little to no money. For example, I got someone in my family a gift subscription for three years for only $3.97. This magazine retailed for $14.97 per year. This person was *super* happy and I was *super* happy because I didn't spend an arm and a leg buying them a gift.

Just a couple of little helpful hints about purchasing magazines through Ebay. First, make sure you include the gift recipient's address. Don't forget to include this (I usually include this in the notes section or however the listing descibes I should include this information) or the magazine will come to you (and that would be so silly!). Also, make sure that you read the reviews of the seller. Don't buy from someone who has lots of negative feedback or from someone that has no feedback. You want a Power Seller or someone who is known for providing services as described and who has gotten rave reviews from their buyer. Finally, make sure that there is no shipping and handling on the magazine. For example, I was buying a gift for someone and the subscription price said $1.99 for a year's worth of O! Magazine. What a great deal, right? Wrong! The seller wanted $19.97 for shipping the magazines. What a rip off!

Some of the more obscure publications are not available, but the basics are usually easy to find. Just search under the magazine name!

If you don't want to pay for magazines at all, read my blog entry on getting free magazines (or this other entry that includes some more great information). What am I getting for free right now? Spin, Interview, Family Fun, & Antiques magazine. How cool is that?

If you are new to the world of The Motherload, be sure to visit my past WFMW entries for even more great ideas!

Solution for Cheap Trash Bags
Programming Your Cell Phone
Free Up Pantry Space: Make a Snack
Weeding Through Your Child's Art Work Creatively
Using the Coffee Maker With Ease
Making Your Spice Rack Usable
Maximizing Space

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Frugal Graduation Gifts


I discussed a few ways that we save money on gift-giving in my last blog entry and now I would like to share a few ideas that I use, in particular, for graduation gifts.

Here are just a few of my favorite gifts for the graduates in my life:

Food Kit: My food kit is all put together inside of a dish tub. Within the dish tub, I provide a set of four place settings (plastic forks, knifes, spoons, bowls, & plates) and a sponge & dish soap for doing their dishes. I also put in Ramen Noodles, Cup of Noodles, and any other food that I can find that can easily be prepared in their room. Just tie a bow on the outside and know that this is a gift that they will actually use.

Laundry Kit: This is one of my favorite gifts for a graduate. Just assemble everything in a laundry basket and tie a bow on the handles of the basket. Inside stick a roll of quarters, a mesh laundry bag, detergent, fabric softener sheets, a Downy Ball and you can put together a tutorial for them on how to treat stains and easy directions on how to do their laundry. Step-by-step instructions, for the newbie to doing laundry, (as many graduates are!) can be found here and ten tips for the perfect wash can also be given to them too. If you are even more ambitious than that, you can put these things in a binder for the graduate and include your own tips and recipes for getting stains out.

Coupon Queen: One of my favorite things to ever get in the mail, when I was in college, was a care package…from ANYONE! Giving the graduate coupons for care packages can be a very frugal gift and one that they can enjoy throughout their first year in college. Coupons can be assembled with a self-addressed stamped envelope. I like to provide a menu of choices and let them write on the coupon what they would specifically like. I include simple family favorites that can easily be packaged and enjoyed by them. Cookies can be shipped to them in empty Pringles containers or in Christmas tins. Bar cookies are very good choices for your menu options because they hold up well in the shipping process.

Gifts for a graduate who is not planning on attending college or who will be attending a community college can be a challenge. Many of the gifts, traditionally given to a graduate, are made for those who are going away to school. For these graduates an organizer or a journal can be a wonderful and thoughtful gift option. Address books, so that the graduate can record where all of their friends are going, are also nice for them.

The important thing, in my opinion, is to offer a gift that they can actually use. I can’t tell you how many books I got for my graduation- the infamous Dr. Suess book, Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and coffee table books. These are nice, but are usually read once and put away. I rarely reread them and they ended up collecting dust on my shelf. I am disappointed when gifts I give are not used because, to me, it is like money going down the drain. Don’t be afraid to ask your graduate what they are in need of so that your gift is actually used!

If you are the mother of a graduate, I wish you congratulations on making it this far with your child. You should be so proud of both of you!

Feel free to include ideas of your own for graduates and drop them in our comments box below!

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Simplifying Gift Giving

It is that time of year again- weddings, babies, & graduation gifts all seem to happen during the summer. The summer is a time of stress for our family because it seems like everyone in our family has a summer birthday. With all of these obligations, we find ourselves buying presents left & right. It is hard to stay within a budget and be creative with gift-giving when we have four gifts to get in one month. Yes, I know that gifts are optional, but skipping out on gift-giving with my mother & father would be a little frugal (even for me) and I do want to show my appreciation even in my own small ways.

One of my solutions to gift-giving is to keep a shelf in our basement for gifts. If I run across something at the Dollar Tree or find something that has been clearanced out at Target, I just keep it on the shelf for those unexpected gifts or to beef up a less expensive gift that I have bought.

Another solution to help with buying gifts is to regift things. For example, my son, who is three, had a big birthday party and we asked for anything & everything dinosaur related. We ended up with a couple duplicates and are saving them for the birthday parties he attends. Obviously, you want to be aware of who gave you the gift. My solution is a post-it note stuck somewhere on the gift with the person's name who gave it to us. This really helps relieve the anxiety of regifting to the wrong person.

I also hoard bags, tissue paper, ribbons, boxes- basically anything that I can salvage for another person's gift. This cuts down on the cost of wrapping your gift and allows you to spend the extra two dollars on the gift itself.

I am not a big card person and really only send out cards to thank people, anniversaries, and when someone in our family is ill. In gifts though, I take the cheap route and skip the card. I like to purchase the scrapbooking squares and sheets of paper, stamp it with a cute little stamp, use my funky edged scissor-thingies, (can you tell I am NOT a scrapbooker?) punch a hole in one side and then ribbon it through to tie the gift up. I make all of my gift tags for Christmas and it adds a personal touch without a card (which most people end up throwing away anyway!).

Finally, don't think of yourself as cheap, but think of yourself as creative when it comes to gifts. Some of my most impressive gifts were ones that were inexpensively made, but had my personal touch on them. I am not crafty, I do not sew, and I can only draw stick figures (if that!) so you do not need to have skills like these to make a gift special.

The gifts that I remember are the ones that were made with love and personalized for me. Try and remember that gift-giving on a budget does not reflect that you don't care about someone just as much as the next person, but it means that you are a smart cookie and aren't going to be paying for those gifts for years to come.

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