Sunday, March 14, 2010

Annual Memberships and Passes Can Save BIG!

I just got my family a membership to the Denver Zoo and to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
We have had one to the zoo before, but I do not renew it every year.

If you enjoy going someplace you have probably already figured out that an annual pass can save you a ton of money. If not, now is the time to look into it!

Things to consider:

*What types of activities does your family enjoy doing over and over again?

*How often are you really going to be able to go?

*What other benefits does the membership get you?

*Is it partially tax deductible?

Here in Colorado there are so many things to do and see it can be hard to narrow it down. You can get memberships for everything from the community center to the Art Museum.

I think it is always wise to only get a couple memberships a year that you will actually use. I also like to rotate-don't get the same memberships year after year unless it is something your family is passionate about.

Sometimes I actually have to do math to figure out if a membership or annual pass will save us money.
For example, we are going to take a trip to Mesa Verde this summer. We are planning to stop at several other National Parks and Monuments during the trip. I have been to the NPS website and looked up the entrance fee for each place we want to stop. I also decided we might do another camping trip at Rocky Mountain National Forest which is also part of the NPS. Even with all those stops it looks like the Annual Pass will NOT save us money.

Another example is the Denver Art Museum. They will be hosting the King Tut exhibit this summer and fall and I really would love to take the family to see it. However, we can go to the museum itself for free the first Saturday of each month (we went once last year). The exhibit would be discounted with a membership, but not enough to make it worth it. It is cheaper for us to just pay to see the exhibit.

For the Denver Zoo, it was a no brainer. It costs so much to take the family to the zoo that it will pay for itself in 2 trips. Plus, members get discounts and free tickets for friends. Our Family Plus membership will also allow me to bring a friend each time I go! This will come in handy in the summer when DH is working. One of my good friends has a membership, too, so we can go together. Oh, they had also mailed me a "special deal" so I only paid $99.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is one I have not done before. We have taken the kids only a couple times, but it is so cool! A membership will get us a discount on IMAX and planetarium tickets as well as other perks. We've never taken the kids to IMAX because of the cost, but we will now! The Family membership I got will come with 3 adult entrance tickets I can use to bring friends. This membership will pay for itself after two trips and one IMAX movie.

One of the best parts about having a membership or annual pass is that you aren't pressured to stay all day to get your money's worth. You can drop in whenever you like for an hour or two or even just to see certain things and then go home. You also are notified of upcoming special events and member only activities.

Here is a great website for things to do in Colorado! Have fun!!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Are You Camping This Summer?

I'm very excited to have written a guest blog article for Amanda over at The Screaming Penny! It is about saving money camping. Camping is about the cheapest family vaction around. I have been planning our summer trip to Mesa Verde and pulled together some generic tips to help all you thrifty campers out there!

Check it out over at The Screaming Penny!

Monday, March 01, 2010

March Finance Talk

5 Million Dollars In Cash Displayed At Seminole Hard Rock Casino

February went really well! It feels so good to make our money work for us. We stayed on budget and had some leftover from a few categories. The leftover was rolled over to March.

Our snowball goal for February was $1379. We were planning on putting it all to debt, but we have changed our financial plans. I will explain in a moment.
We were able to have $1694.36 towards snowballing. We also had a couple hundred in our Health Savings Account (HSA) that we used and had a dental bill come up that we needed to pay.

*Dental Bill: $197.80 PAID OFF
*Hospital Bill: $819 PAID OFF
*Emergency Savings: $1000
TOTAL: $2016.80

We have decided to save up the snowball instead of using it towards debt. This is so that DH can switch jobs in the near future. We would like for him to get his LPN licence back and get a job nursing. Working at the factory is great for now, but will not work out long-term for our family. Plus, we are worried about the stability.
After DH gets a new job nursing we will put everything in the baby Emergency Fund towards debt (above $1000).

March goals:
Snowball: $2200 ---towards savings

We are very happy that we were able to sign up for health insurance benefits through DH's new job at the factory. We will be saving about $200 per month on premiums PLUS we now have dental insurance. We have a few people with bad teeth, so this will end up being a good savings, too.

The bad thing that we have learned about the factory job is that if they are running ahead of schedule DH will only work 4 days a week. This has happened a couple times and another time he only worked half a shift. So, we may not be bringing in the income we anticipated.

How does your March look?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Project #4: Homemade Birthday Invitations

My daughter and I spent about an hour making invitations to her birthday party. She had a great time helping! It was nice to use some stuff from my craft stockpile!
I used some pink cardstock for the cards. We stamped them with a flower stamp and Versa Mark ink. Then I applied "heat & stick" and Kelsey heated it with the heat gun. Once it was sticky we poured hot pink glitter on them!

They turned out great and glitter is now everywhere!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book #3: Girl with a Pearl Earring

The third book I've finished this year is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It's a pretty short novel and very easy to read.

I found the story subtle and realistic. I could imagine myself in the scenes where the fictional tale takes place. There wasn't a lot of action or suspense. It is a coming of age story of a girl, Greit, living in Holland in the 1600's. In concequence of an accident her father suffers she becomes a maid for the famous painter Johannes Vermeer.
I was able to read through the book in 2 days. It is perfect for anyone looking for a little escape.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book #2: An American Prophet's Record

I have finished my second book! This one was 500 pages long.

There is a new series of books being published about Joseph Smith, the LDS prophet. He lived in the 1800's and started the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, sometimes called the Mormons.

Well, the Joseph Smith Papers Project is amazing in its scope. However, the books they are publishing are very much out of my price range! They have already published the first two books in the series which I periodically drool over.

I was lamenting the fact that these books wouldn't be gracing my bookshelves any time soon when someone pointed out that the journals of Joseph Smith can be had for a fraction of the cost. I quickly plunked down around $15 plus shipping for my own copy.

An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (2nd ed), by Scott H. Faulring is a very easy to read book. I like how it was done, the language was cleaned up a bit and there are ellipses to explain some words to the reader. This can be helpful since spelling was not very important in the 1800's.

The journals are so interesting to read. There were parts that were super boring, like the minutes of certain court cases. I found other court cases intriguing, so I am glad they are there. You really do catch a glimpse of the life and beliefs of Joseph Smith and the early LDS restoration movement.

I did notice that there is a lot of overlap with the History of the Church, which I have read about half of. There are some differences in the recordings, so it is still worth reading both if you are an LDS historian or fascinated by LDS church history.

As always, when reading journals I wish there was more information and details recorded. I am glad for the records and journals that we do have, though! I guess that is the history lover in me. It is neat to see how people from another time and place lived and died.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Project #3: Children's Closets & Dressers

This week I went through ALL the clothes the kids have. It took me two sessions. I think I spent about 3 hours total.

I wanted to get an accurate count of what they have so that when I am out shopping the deals I get things they need and don't overbuy anything. There are so many cute items out there and great deals that it can be tempting to keep buying even when we have enough.

So, now I have a huge pile of items to get rid of. Some I will take to the second hand shop. Everything that they won't take will go straight to the thrift store with the rest of the goods. Here is a picture of my beautiful pile!

The closets all look great and are filled with clothes that fit and look nice. Well, the play clothes may be ragged, but that is to be expected!

My oldest son's closet:

My daughter's closet. The rest of her clothes are in a dresser:

My youngest son's closet:

The clothes they have yet to grow into are in Space Bags on a shelf. This keeps them easily accessible for me and helps me remember that they are there. I love having everything organized!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Clearance Sale at BabiesR'Us

I went to BRU to use a $5 ecard I got from them from Facebook the other day. They have some good sales going on right now.

There are a lot of clothes on clearance with an additional 30% off the clearance tag. There were outfits marked at $9 that were really cute. They would be $6.30 final price!!!

All the Gerber cloth diapers are B1G1 50% off. The packages run about $14.99 each, number in package vary. But this would be a very cheap way to get started cloth diapering. Or, you can buy some to donate to humanitarian efforts, which is what I did.

2-12 pack Gerber flat fold diapers $14.99 + $7.49
1 pair cute socks sz 36-48 months $0.70
TOTAL OOP after $5 off: $20.04

February Finance Talk

5 Million Dollars In Cash Displayed At Seminole Hard Rock Casino

Like most American's we have a lot of debt. Unlike many, our debt is not consumer credit card debt. We owe a lot of money on student loans and business loans.


I cannot stand it when I hear people talk about "good" debt. I am here to tell you that all debt feels bad. Now, maybe a mortgage doesn't feel this bad, but all my debt feels awful!

We are starting 2010 with nearly $200,000 in debt. Think about it. Paying minimum payments would never get us out of debt. We will die in debt unless we do more.

Some of you may know we have been following Dave Ramsey for several years now. I really like his approach to debt elimination. I like several other books by other authors as well. The plans I like are all so similar that we just stick with the DR plan. One of the great things about DR is that he is very motivational. His most popular book is The Total Money Makeover. I really enjoyed Financial Peace Revisited and More than Enough. More Than Enough has a lot of meat to it.

One thing I love to do is use debt elimination calculators to see what we need to do to pay off our debt before we are dead. There are several out there and some are better than others.
I really like the free one I use with Excel from Vertex24. I like using Excel beacause I can save it on my computer and make changes as often as I like. Some of the online calculators are nice, but you have to redo them from scratch whenever there is a change you want to make.

Current Debts:
Hospital: $819
Biz Overdraft: $8,911
Biz Loan #1: $25,660
Biz Loan #2: $40,000
Student Loans: $115,700
Total Debt: $191,090
Minimum Payments: $2667

Obviously, we need a BIG shovel to get out of this debt. We were not able to snowball at all last year, but we did avoid any new debt. This year it looks like we will be able to start our snowball back up. That is a great feeling!

With our snowball our goal is to knock out the hospital bill this month and the overdraft by October 2010. I wish we could get this debt taken care of faster, but with it being so large this is how it goes. The other debts will take several years. I'm hoping we will have everything paid off by New Year's Day 2018. GULP!

February Snowball Goal: $1379

Financial news for our family this month is that DH has been hired as a full-time employee for the graveyard (3rd shift) at a box company that he has been temping at for 8 months. This is great because he now qualifies for benefits and a pay raise! This will lower our health insurance and increase our income.

I started babysitting this year, but my days went from 4 times a week to 2. This lowered my expected income but frees up more of my days for other activities.

DH is still running his chiropractic office part time. He is bringing in enough to cover overhead. We also cares for my disabled sister at night and he transports her. This source of income has been a life saver for us, but will end in July this year. We've been using it to pay minimums on debt.

How does your February look?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Book #1: From Jesus to Christianity

I have finished my first book of the year. I thought I would keep track here just for fun.

The book I read was From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith by L. Michael White. I thought it was well written and balanced. He took the time to present several different beliefs from Bible scholars on some of the controversial topics. He doesn't make his bias obvious he just presents what is known. Sometimes that is not very much! There was so much information presented in this book that it took me awhile to read it.

It was very exciting to learn more about what the world was like leading up to the time of Jesus and for the first few hundred years. I learned more about the culture than I knew previously. I enjoyed learning more about Paul and his writings and the forgeries. It is also fascinating to see the likely order in which the gospels were written. The author is able to show what types of beliefs and other writings that helped shape what we now call the New Testament.

This is a great book for Bible scholars, historians, students of religion or anyone who wants to learn more about one of the world's largest religions.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Project #2: Melt & Pour Soap

I've been making Melt & Pour soap (M&P) for several years now. It is so easy and fun!

This year all the women at church are getting a bar of soap for their birthday and my mom volunteered us to make some. I have lots of bulk soap, fragrances and color on hand.

I often have people ask me how to make M&P soap. It must seem difficult, but it is very simple. Any beginner can do it or a child with adult supervision.

First: Prepare your area and gather everything you will need. Personally, I use the following.
*Microwave safe bowl
*Silicone spatula
*Metal straight edge spatula (for cutting the soap)
*Soap molds
*M&P Soap base
*Fragrance oil or Essential oil
*Soap dyes and other additives
*Plastic wrap or something to wrap soaps in (soap for my own use gets put in a large pretty jar in my bathroom)

When I first started making M&P soap I just bought base at Michael's using a 40% off coupon. They sell a 10# bucket for $39.99. Now I use natural base from Wisteria Lane. I've been really pleased with the products I've purchased from them.
I could also use the Amazon GC's I earn from Swagbucks to get base for free!

Next: I use 2 pound cavity molds. Cut up the soap base into small cubes and weigh to make sure you have the right amount for the mold. Put all the cubed base into your microwave safe bowl. Melt in the microwave on high in 30-60 second intervals. Do NOT allow the base to boil and do not over stir, to avoid bubbles.

Once the base is fully melted you can add your fragrance. I add 1 ounce of fragrance oil to 2 pounds of base. If you are using essential oils you will need much less.
At this point you can add any additives you may like. Do NOT use food additives that will go bad. I like to add extra glycerin, mica, glitter, shea butter, vitamin E, jojoba beads, seeds, etc.

If you add seeds or other additives that you want to suspend in the soap you will need to wait to pour your soap into the molds until it starts to get thicker. I try to pour it when it gets like pudding. If you wait too long it won't settle into the mold, you'll get strings. But, you can always warm it up a little in the microwave and try again.

If you don't put anything that needs to be suspended then you can pour immediately into the molds and let cool.

Finish: Once cool you can cut the bars if you have a mold like mine. Otherwise, just pop out of the cavities and wrap. You can get as creative as your imagination will allow when it comes to presentation.
I wrap in plastic wrap and put a label on the back with the soap information for the recipient.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Mini Social-$10 FREE

Someone just pointed out this fun website with items for mom, baby and child. It's called The Mini Social.
Adorable tights in just about every color you can imagine! A selection of Melissa & Doug toys and beautiful jewelry. They've got some cute stuff!

Right now you can get $10 off your first order when you use the coupon code NEWYEAR10.

Hurry on over and see what you can find! There are many items for $10 and under. Plus, they have a referral program where you can get $10 in store credit when your friends place their first order. So join today!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Green and Cheap Birthday

I wanted to post about how to have a wonderful birthday celebration without breaking the bank. A lot of these ideas are also better for the environment because they include used and homemade items.

Kelsey will turn 6 in a month. I've already got her birthday (almost) done.

In our house we only have "friend" bday parties on the even bdays. This cuts down on cost AND how much crap my kids have!!! Of course, another way to do this is to post "no gifts please" on the invites, but most little children LOVE to bring a gift. I also limit how many children they can invite. I find that inviting about 6 kids will give us around 4 in turn out.

GIFTS for dd
16" Bike ($10 from Goodwill)
2 Color Wonder Sets (2/$10 from Walmart Black Friday)
Wooden Doll Highchair (traded at Once Upon A Child-value $5.50)
Gymboree terrycloth swim cover (traded at OUAC-value $6.50)

This gives me a total oop of $20. However, since I sold dd's outgrown bike on Craigslist for $15 it brings my oop to $5!!! We do need to possibly replace a tube in one of the tires of her "new-to-her" bike.

You will notice that the only new items she is getting are the Crayola sets. My kids have been getting used things for gifts all their lives, so this is not an issue for them. I highly recommend not making a big deal out of used vs. new or putting more value on new in front of your children. It is learned behavior to prefer new.

For the party:
Cake mixes are CHEAP! I get them year round for about $0.50 a box. I can get tubs of frosting for just as cheap. I bought the nice jars of food coloring paste at Michaels years ago with a coupon for about $10. I need to replace them, but they lasted over 10 years. It's a great deal and they make beautiful colors!

Activities: This varies greatly by age and number of children at the party. We usually do a little game and craft. I find that an hour and a half is a good amount of time for a party. Longer tends to make for bored children who rome the house looking for things to get into. This is long enough for a game, craft, food and presents.

Party favors are sometimes hard. This year I found a great deal at Lillian Vernon. I bought two packages of 4 little purses with bead necklaces. It was less than $1 per purse/necklace combo! They are cute and come in a variety of colors. I bought them with my Christmas purchases to get free shipping.

Some other fun party favor ideas are: homemade play dough, gak, silly putty, treats/candy, craft projects, stickers
At the Dollar Tree you can find some fun little things, too. The plastic whirly flyer things are fun-its just a propeler with a stick. Bubbles, puzzles, capsules that grow in water, etc.

Salem will be 3 on his next birthday.
His gifts will be a toddler scooter and a helmet. My mom will buy the helmet new and I have already started looking for a used scooter. I'm hoping to pay no more than $10-15.
I also found him a nice wooden rocking horse for $18 on CL, but I already gave it to him. He was turning all our furniture into "horsies" and so I couldn't wait!!!

I'd love to hear your ideas for keeping gifts inexpensive and under control.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Random Thrifty Thoughts & Cheap Family Night

Tonight my family went out together to hang out. We had $11.75 left on a gift card that had started to lose money that we needed to spend.

So we went to Whole Foods to spend it because that is where we determined we could get the biggest bang for our buck.

We got:

*3 Free kid club HUGE bakery cookies
*some bulk cinnamon sticks 1oz $0.40
*new lid/cap for my SIGG bottle $2.49--got charges $3.99!!!
*Annies Bunnie Cereal ($1 coupon) $2
*Organic Ice Cream 1.5 qt $5.99

Okay, so I'm kinda ticked that our night would have been FREE if they hadn't overcharged me. I was too busy playing with my kids to notice.

Anyway, while I was there I looked at the Vanilla Beans to see if they sold them in bulk. HAHAHA! No.
Whole Foods brand sells ONE bean in a GLASS JAR the size of a regular spice jar. It cost $4.xx!!! Or Frontier sells 2 beans in a tube for $11.99!!!

No thank you!

When I got home I looked at Amazon thinking about my Swagbucks. I have been able to "purchase" some Amazon Gift Cards with my Swagbucks.

The best deal on vanilla beans is 1/4 Frontier "certified organic" for $35 (no free shipping) or 1/2 pound of premium for $24.99 (no free s/h).

Then, I went to eBay since that was the last place I bought them. GREAT DEALS!!! I can get 1/2 lb of extract grade beans for about $15 shipped. I will be purchasing these to make my vanilla extract for Christmas gifts this year. I need to buy soon so the extract can do its thing all year.

See how much money can be saved by research?!? It amazes me! Plus, this means I can save my Amazon GC's for a better deal in the future.

Thank you for reading my random thrifty thoughts. I'd love to hear yours!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Thrifty Chicks! Cool Blog!

I've discovered a thrifty blog that is simply divine! You must check it out!

The Thrifty Chicks

This inspiring blog is written by Shopping Golightly who lives here in the Denver area. She writes about all things thrift shop. I have read most of the posts on her blog and they really will motivate you to go check out what is in your local thrift shop.

After reading just a few of her posts I felt inclined to rededicate myself to buying second hand. I would love to see how little I can purchase first-hand this year. My family is already used to second hand, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch.

If you're looking for ways to maximize your dollars or help the environment you've got to click on over!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Project #1: Declutter Revolution!!!

This weeks project is not crafty and it didn't cost any money!

I have been decluttering for, well, years now. I'm getting close to a *happy place* but with growing children there will always be things to get rid of.

This week I have been listing things to sell online. LEGO are being sold on eBay and I've got some childrens items selling on a mothering forum. I may or may not find things to put on Craigslist. We took 2 boxes of stuff to Goodwill on Monday.

So far this week 4 boxes have left my house!!! Last week a box and a couple packages left. It feels sooo good to sell stuff we don't need anymore. Taking stuff to Goodwill feels real good, too.

Someone was telling me they have a goal to donate 2010 items this year. They got the idea from a blog I should try to find. What an awesome idea! I think I'm up to about 100 already. Yay!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Menu Plan Monday-January 4

I'm trying to get back on track with menu planning. My mom and I cook a lot of dinners together so we are both going to make an effort to plan our shopping and menu. It seems like we've been making a lot of trips to the grocery store lately.
So, today my mom went out and spent almost $300 on food for the month. I'll go get some deals from King Soopers and whatever else we need during the month. We have a goal to stay around $400.


Meat Loaf (half turkey/half beef), scalloped potatoes and zucchini
Easy Chicken Pot Pie
Potato Cheese Soup
Lasagna, mixed veges
Ham and Pea gravy over biscuits
Homemade Pizza
Crockpot chicken and veges


Pasta Salad
Lunchmeat sandwiches
PB&J Sandwiches
Leftovers from dinner
Mac n' Cheese


Toast with PB & J

To see other menu plans, visit I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone the best of New Year's!

May all your dreams become reality.