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How to Throw the Best Kid’s Birthday Party on a Budget

I love throwing awesome, over-the-top birthday parties for my kids. Every year, I go all out. I create a beautiful cake with fondant and set up games and decorate. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have that when I was a kid.

But the problem is, parties are expensive. But not MY parties. I throw awesome parties with very low cost by using a few secret tricks that I’m going to share. The same tricks can work for any kind of party including a baby shower, bridal shower, and more.

9 Frugal Party Planning Tricks

Here is the 9 step plan to an amazing party without breaking your budget.

1. Plan

The first step for any party is the plan. I use my own party planning checklist to stay on track. I start by asking my child what theme they would like and go from there. I always have their parties at home to save money. Venues are just not worth the money.

Then I plan the decor, food, games, and activities. I set a budget and split it up into categories so I know how much I can spend on each thing. Download your free Party Planner and Budget here.

2. Theme

birthday party on a budget

Homemade Pirate Cake using free printables

Not everyone likes a theme, but my kids usually pick out a theme each year and I try to go with it. To save money, I go on Etsy and look at the designs out there for invites and party decor.  

There are also tons of free printables on Pinterest. So I usually get an idea for what I want based on the other examples out there. Then I print out free invites, cupcake toppers, signs and other items that I can find.

You don’t have to plan around a theme. If you like simplicity, there are lots of free printables online that just incorporate balloons and typical birthday images. But since I love themes so much, I have a few websites that I recommend if you are looking for free themed party printables. continue reading

Save Over a $1,000 a Year By Making Your Own Cleaning Products

How Much Do Cleaning Products Set You Back?

How much do you think you spend per year on cleaning products? The answer might surprise you. Depending on the size of your family, you could easily spend as much as $1,500 per year on cleaning supplies. That’s pretty expensive, right?

In 5 years, that would equal $7,500. Imagine what you could do with that money if you still had it. You could buy a used car with that! Luckily, there is an easy way to reduce these expenses.

Now, I’m not telling you to just not clean. Obviously, that would save a ton, but seriously? Gross. So instead, try making your own cleaning products. Not only will this save you money, but you will also be able to decide what chemicals are used in your home. Some of the store-bought cleaners have scary ingredients that are bad for your kids.

It’s Easier Than You Think

You don’t have to be a chemist to make your own cleaners. Not only is it super easy, but many of the natural ingredients are safer for your family. It’s literally as easy as buying a couple ingredients, mixing together per the recipes below, then putting it in a spray bottle. Voila! Now you have cheaper, safer cleaning products and all the ladies on the block are going to want to know how you did it!

Ingredients:

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7 Ways to Get Your Kids to Love Math!

Child doing math

The Fun of Pi Day

My middle-schooler was just beaming on the morning of March 14th. She couldn’t wait to tell me that it was Pi day (because the math symbol for pi=3.14 which is like the date 3/14) and that this year was extra special.  I laughed when she told me why.  She said that 3+14= 17 and this year the date for Pi Day was 3/14/17.  So it was a double whammy of nerd amusement. I was kind of dying because I had to keep my nerd jokes at bay for her sake. (But inside, I was thinking: Come to the dork side, we have pi.)

the pi symbol

When I picked her up from school later that day, I asked if her math teacher had done anything special for Pi Day, but she glumly replied that he didn’t do anything fun at all.  She was ticked because the other math teachers gave their classes pie to eat on Pi Day (they must have been thinking outside the box).

Even though she was annoyed at her teacher for not embracing the math nerd holiday, I was happy. What? Happy about no pie? No, I was happy that my daughter loves math so much.  There are tons of parents out there who struggle to get their kids to do their math homework every day. But my daughter does her homework without any intervention on my part.

It’s very common for kids to hate math. Less than 32% of high school seniors are proficient in math in the United States. Not only that, but 46.5% of parents surveyed by the National Center For Family Literacy said that they struggled with helping their kids with math because they didn’t understand it themselves. But my daughter and I are not in that group.

Am I bragging? Why yes, I am. But here’s the important message, you can help your kids love math too.  There are some easy steps you can take that will change the way your kids view math.

Make Math Fun for Kids

I’ve known a few math haters in my time and it can be a challenge to get them to do their homework.  But there are a few tricks that really help. These tricks helped my daughter love math all through elementary school and into middle school. She loved it so much that she joined the school math competition.

She isn’t the typical kind of kid you would think would love math.  My daughter is very athletic, loves sports, and would rather have fun with friends than do homework. She is silly, energetic, and loves goofing off just as much as the next kid.  In fact, she might even have a few A.D.D. symptoms going on. But she likes math anyway. Why? Because we taught her from the beginning that math can be fun.

Here are some ways to make math fun for your kids: continue reading

9 Awesome Tips on How to Love Your Crazy Hormonal Preteen Daughter

Mom and daughter

Toddler or Preteen. Which stage is worse?

My sister-in-law still has a toddler running through her house, climbing up the walls, diving in the trash, hanging from lights, and grabbing knives. Yes, knives!  When confronted, the little cherub innocently says, “I sorry!” and smiles like the most beautiful, but beguiling, child on the planet.  Oh, she’s smart.  Too smart.

On a good day, my sister-in-law’s sweet little ninja tot throws a toy across the room hitting her square between the eyes.  The poor mom calls it shrapnel.  “Incoming! Watch out for baby shrapnel!” Crackers, toys, blocks, bricks, an electric drill. Duck and cover takes on new meaning with her child.

But, on a bad day, the little angel brings her mom a plate with poop on it.  Not kidding.  A piece of poop. On a plate.  Who knew a toddler could even go there?  There should be a line that even a toddler won’t cross. Apparently there isn’t.

I can laugh because I don’t have a 3-year-old anymore. (Or so I thought.)

Is life better after toddlerhood?

Let’s face it, for some moms “the terrible twos” stage is really just a code word for “the terrible four years after the child starts walking and realizes they can take over the world because mom can’t run fast enough, climb high enough, or endure long enough to stop the child before it’s too late” stage.

Ask just about any mom of a busy toddler and you will most likely find that she is in a constant state of exhaustion and she just can’t wait until her kid is out of toddlerhood because then life will be easier.

I mean, I’ve been there.  My daughter, Lady Bug, was a quite the dangerous little thing.  She broke my nose with a bottle of Tums one day when she was two. (You never realize how hard a plastic bottle is until it is used as a weapon against you.)

So as my oldest daughter approached the preteen stage and my youngest exited toddlerhood, my brain was throwing a party.

Literally, a brain party. (Cue the celebratory music) No more diapers!  No more getting them dressed!  No more struggling to get them to go to bed and to stay in their bed!  No more chasing a miniature human that knows “Tot Kwan Do” and is a danger to herself and others! (Ironically, this is the criteria used to determine if someone should be locked up as an adult.)

Life will be easier now. Right?

Enter preteen, stage left.

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10 Creative Discipline Methods

The other day, our twelve year old daughter yelled at her very patient dad, called him several names, and said he was the biggest jerk on the planet.  She had never acted this rude to him before so he wanted to make it pretty clear that this wasn’t OK.

Sometimes kids just don’t care if they get grounded!

He sent her to her room for time out.  She said she didn’t care.  So he told her she was grounded for a week and took her cell phone away. She also didn’t care.  She was in one of those amazingly wonderful 12-year-old moods!

Now what?

So I suggested that he take all her books away.  What? Books?  Why would a kid care if you take books away? Some kids might even love that.  Well, books just happen to be my daughter’s most cherished items. Whenever she has spare money, she buys a new book.  She has read each of her books several times.  She has even read the entire Harry Potter series a whopping 17 times. So yeah, I suggested he take her books away.

He started loading up all her books into a laundry bin and hauling them out while our daughter begged and pleaded for him to give her a different punishment.  She promised she would never be rude to him again and swore she would be different from now on.  Well, since then, she has been slowly earning back one book per day depending on how good she is that day.  It’s working wonderfully!

In real life, there is always that one child who just doesn’t care when you use the typical discipline methods.  You can only take away privileges, cell phones, toys, car keys, video game controllers, TV cords, desserts, etc. so many times before you realize these things are just not working.  That’s when parents have to get creative. The key to creative discipline is to think of something that really matters to the child.  Every kid has a negotiation point.

What Other Parents Are Trying

Here are some funny discipline methods I have heard of others using:

  1. Remove the Door.  I’ve heard of lots of parents that have problems with kids slamming their bedroom doors and finally getting to the point where they just have to remove the door.  Can’t slam it if it’s not there. Another variation of this is to have the child shut the door 100 times softly.
  2. Curfew Clown.  Kami over at My Life Tree has a scary clown mask that she hides in different places if her kid comes home late.  Imagine the startle they get when try to sneak into the room late at night in the dark only to run into a freaky looking clown!
  3. Hug A Tree.  One parent was frustrated with her kids unwillingness to help out with yard work so she made them hug all their trees.  Took them a while since they had quite a few.
  4. Put Their Toys “Away”.  Some children conveniently forget to put away their toys every time they get them out.  A few parents have told me that when this happens, they just put their kid’s toys away in a random secret location and the next time the child wants the toys they have to hunt for them.
  5. Play Awful Music.  One parent uses an unusual tactic for when her teens get too loud in the house.  She turns on annoying preschool songs until they quiet down. Nothing like hearing “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” over and over!
  6. Make Them Go Barefoot.  When one child wasn’t doing a good enough job with his chore of cleaning up the dog doo from the back yard, his dad made him go out in the yard barefoot afterwards.  Apparently, the child started doing a better job after that.  Nothing worse on your bare feet than dog doo!
  7. Take Their Shoes Away.  A friend of mine had a son who removed his shoes in church and threw them across the room, hitting two people in the back of the head. Imagine how mortified she was when those people turned around to see who threw the shoes. After that happened, her son came to church without shoes for quite a while!
  8. Drop and Give Me Twenty! Some parents make their kids do push-ups when they misbehave. At least they will be fit!
  9. Window Washing. When two siblings are fighting, some parents have them clean opposite sides of the same window.  This supposedly leads to epic silly faces and lots of laughs.
  10. Fill Out an Incident Report.  One mom I know has a policy that when one of her kids tattles on another kid, they have to fill out an incident report.  It requires them to list out who was involved and all the details, including what happened before the incident. Usually by the time they are done filling it out, they would rather just go play than have to deal with it anymore.

Even though some of these above ideas are pretty funny, just remember that you love your children and their feelings matter.  So it is always best to try and balance your discipline efforts with love and kindness.  Be sure to let them know that you still love them even when they make mistakes.

My favorite advice is to always try to see the humor in every situation. Keeping things lighthearted and fun goes a long way toward making family life a lot better for everyone.  If discipline is a real struggle for you, I recommend reading this book called Parenting With Love And Logic.  It’s my favorite parenting method and has made a big difference in our home.

What are some creative discipline methods that you have used?

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Thanks for stopping by.  Be happy.  Keep it real!

-Julie

 

3 Fun Valentine Treats You Can Make With Your Kids

This year we kept Valentine’s Day simple by limiting our treat making to only 3 things.  (Sometimes I go a little overboard and try to make everything I see online.)

My kids just love, love, love helping make treats.  My daughter Aria helped me make these 3 delicious treats for our family Valentine’s Day party.  See below for step-by-step instructions.  And as usual, these are all real photos of the actual treat making process so that you can tell that we aren’t perfect and you don’t have to be either!  (All those posts online with perfect crafts and recipes in the perfectly decorated houses aren’t what real life is about.)

Real + Family = Happy!

Treat #1. Chocolate Dipped Strawberries Instructions

Step 1.  Pick out some fresh strawberries from the grocery store and wash them.  It was kind of tough this year trying to find some good berries (especially in NC).  The place that had the best berries was Costco, but with any batch you have a few ugly ones.  That’s OK.  It makes it real.  Be sure to dry the berries thoroughly with a paper towel so the chocolate will adhere properly.  Wet berries don’t work as well. Keep the leaves on. (I always get enough berries to make sure that I can snack on a few as I go and also for the little people hands that pop up out of nowhere and snatch a few off the plate when I turn my back.)

Step 2.  Melt some chocolate candy melts in microwaveable glass cups.  Sometimes I melt chocolate in a special chocolate melting device, but since I don’t need the chocolate to stay warm for very long, I opted for the quick route. When you are a busy mom, the microwave is your best friend!

The chocolate I use is Wilton Candy Melts.  The trick I use is to take a full cup of chocolate wafers and microwave at 60% power for 1 minute, then 80% power for 30 seconds, then stir, if needed microwave at regular power for additional 15 second intervals.  Don’t overheat or it will burn and stink up the kitchen.

Step 3.  Dip the berries in the chocolate and place on wax paper or Utopia Kitchen Silicone Baking Mats to harden. I use Utopia Kitchen Mat in place of wax paper.  It is such a great mat! I use it all the time for cooking.  Nothing ever sticks to it and it is easy to clean.  Once the chocolate is hardened you can serve or refrigerate to serve later.  I try to keep them out of the fridge if I can so that moisture they aren’t cold when you bite into them.  Enjoy!

Treat #2. Chocolate Dipped Wafers Instructions

Step 1.  Melt some chocolate wafers in microwaveable glass cups (same as step 2 above).  The chocolate I use is Wilton Candy Melts.  The trick I use is to take a full cup of chocolate wafers and microwave at 60% power for 1 minute, then 80% power for 30 seconds, then stir, if needed microwave at regular power for additional 15 second intervals.  Don’t overheat or it will burn and stink up the kitchen.

Step 2.  Dip the Wafers and place on wax paper or Utopia Kitchen Silicone Baking Mats to harden.  I used vanilla and strawberry wafers but you could also use chocolate.  Only dip halfway and then place on the mat to harden.  There will be some spreading of the chocolate around the wafers, but don’t worry, you can trim this off later. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.  The kids will eat it no matter what it looks like.)

Step 3. Use piping bags to drizzle stripes of chocolate and then place sprinkles on the stripes.  If your original chocolate cups have already hardened then just add more chocolate wafers to each cup and follow step 1 again.  Fill a piping bag with your color choice of chocolate or multiple bags for several colors.  Then cut a very small opening on the tip of the piping bag and drizzle stripes across the wafers.  Immediately place any sprinkles you want to use in order to get them on while the chocolate is still warm. If you wait too long the chocolate will harden and the sprinkles won’t stick.

Step 4. Trim off extra chocolate with a knife and then place dipped wafers on serving plate.  When you trim the excess, but careful not to break the wafers.  I usually don’t even pick up the wafer to trim.  I just leave it on the mat and press down with a knife to break off the excess.  Once you place it on a plate, don’t refrigerate.  Just keep it out of the fridge until serving.  If you plan to wait until the next day to serve then just place the wafers in a zip lock bag overnight.  Enjoy!

Treat #3. Cheesecake Filled Strawberries Instructions

Step 1.  Prep the Strawberry cups.  Clean and top your berries.  Be sure they are dry.  Then take a melon baller and cut a small hole out of the top of each berry.  Be sure not to go too deep or there will be a hole all the way through the berry where the filling can leak out.  Next cut the bottom tip off in a straight line so that the berry will sit flat without tipping.  Line them up inside a glass cake pan.

Step 2.  Mix the instant cheese cake filling per instructions on the box and fill berries.  I use Jello Cheesecake Mix, but I mix it for a couple of minutes longer than suggested just to make sure it is thick enough. (You don’t need the graham cracker mix so you can set it aside for a later project.) Then scoop the filling into a piping bag.  You can use it with or without a tip depending on how fancy you want it to look.  Pipe the filling into the hole in each berry.

(Yes, sometimes we play Upwords while cooking cause we are a tad bit nerdy.)

Step 3. Refrigerate until serving.  The berries need to chill for at least a half hour for the filling to set.  When you serve these be prepared for compliments. They are delicious! Enjoy!

It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to make these treats.  They taste amazing any time.  Be sure to sign up for more posts like this one!

Thanks for stopping by.  Be happy.  Keep it real!

-Julie