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40 Days of Change

The Internet is abuzz with different challenges you can do with your family during the 40 Days of Lent. There is the de-cluttering challenge to eliminate 40 bags of stuff in 40 days. The 40 Acts challenge to do 40 random acts of kindness in 40 days. And the challenge to just give up something you love for 40 days straight- whether it is chocolate, or wine, or even social media. The point is people are preparing to give up something for 40 days as a way to honor their traditions.

But what if you do not celebrate Lent? How can you participate in the giving part without participating in the religious aspect? Well, all it takes is 40 days and a plan!  I am introducing 40 Days of Change in our house this week.  We are literally using our spare change to help make a change. My kids get paid a quarter for certain chores each day and we will let them decide how much of their earnings they would like to contribute to our cause.

Here is what you’ll need:

A jar or box

Spare change

Calendar

A charity to donate to

Start by selecting a clean jar, or box to collect your spare change in. Keep it in a location you pass every day when you come home. You simply empty your pocket change (or change from the bottom of your purse, or the few coins in your wallet) into this container. Random single dollar bills count too, and so does the quarter in the couch or the pile of pennies in your car console.

Next, open your calendar. Mark the day you start collecting your spare change and count out 40 days. That will be your official end date. Take whatever you collect in that 40 day time period to your bank or local Coin Star machine. Once you have counted and cashed in all your loose change you are ready to make your donation. It doesn’t matter how big, or small your contribution is. Every single penny counts!

Last, pick your charity of choice. My family’s passions are pediatric cancer, and feeding programs in our local community. Here are some suggestions if you need them:

St. Baldrick’s Foundation

St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital

A Moment of Magic

Make a Wish

Give Kids the World

Ronald McDonald’s House

Angel Food East

People’s Place Kingston

Caring Hands Soup Kitchen

The SPCA (You can search for your local shelter, or for local animal rescues).

Hudson Valley Hero Project

You can get a little creative and use the money you collect to pay off lunches at your kid’s school, or prepay someone’s coffee at your local coffee house. Perhaps you prefer purchasing gift cards from a local grocery store and handing them out to families standing in line at check out. Earlier this year my girls and I were on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. A lovely woman realized she had a handful of gift cards for the movie concession stand she wasn’t going to use. So, she stood by the ticket booth and handed them out to families that were on their way in. She selected us and it was truly touching to be on the receiving end of such generosity. It also allowed me to splurge on treats for my kids.

There are no rules to 40 Days of Change. We can pick a charity every 40 days if we like, or just stick to doing it once a year. I hope my family will enjoy a new 40 day challenge at least three times a year. Even if we only raise a few dollars each time, the value lies in giving back routinely. Helping my kids connect the entire process of planning, and saving to giveaway, will help them recognize a need and find a way to fill it. They can see that every action matters and through action we can make a difference in our own community.

Related post: Family Savings Jar: Dimes for Disney Charity Starts at Home 7 Ways to Give Back With Little Ones in Tow Give a Kid the Gift of Swag Charitable Giving is A Christmas Tradition

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

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Hang on to your socks, I’m about to say something you probably wouldn’t expect from your resident Hudson Valley Parent frugal blogger. Stay At Home Moms you MUST invest in yourselves. “What the what? You want me to spend money? On myself?”

“I Deserve” Spending

Yup, you heard right. But it’s more than just spending money on yourself, though that is part of it. When you work outside the home, you tend to form the mindset of “deserving” this or that – whether it’s a new pair of shoes, or a night out with your girlfriends. Now this mindset can set your finances back if left unchecked, but I’ve noticed that when you become a stay at home mom, the mindset is sometimes reversed – “I don’t work, so I don’t deserve to treat myself.”

The sad thing is, “treat” for me means buying myself a brand new mop and four bras. Living on one income requires that I always keep an eye on our budget. As I get more years of being a SAHM under my belt, I’ve gotten a little, tiny bit better at spending money on myself.

We’ve paid off all our credit card debt and we actually can make it between paychecks without borrowing from our savings. Ok, so sometimes we squeak by with $25, but it still counts. Those bi-weekly paychecks are tricky.

Addicted To Self-Sacrifice

Moms take care of everyone else in our family first, am I right? We make sure they have everything they need and most of what they want, then if there is money left over maybe we take care of our needs. Do you make self-sacrifice look like an art form too?

I used to think that sacrificing for my family was admirable. In the beginning it was just a matter of survival and as a SAHM I didn’t need to get my hair done or buy work clothes so it was easy to let things slide. The truth is that the longer you live like this, the more the feeling of undeserving grows and you know what else grows, resentment and sadness.

A few years ago my husband would have to force me to buy something for myself and if money was super tight, I’d sometimes return it for a refund. Not investing in taking care of your own needs isn’t admirable so much as dangerous.

Yes, we all make sacrifices for our families. Most of us already put our kids’ need first. But you can’t suppress your own needs forever. They start to bubble up in unhealthy ways. I find myself lamenting in front of my kids that I can’t do this or buy that for myself.

Investing In You Is Investing In Your Family Too

The truth is, the reason keeping me from doing that is me. When you don’t invest some money in yourself, you tell yourself over and over again, “My needs don’t matter,” or “My wants are less important than everyone else’s.” That, my friend, is no way to live. You know why? Because your family needs you.

They need you to take care of you. They need you to be happy. They need you to know that you are important and deserving.

Beyond just spending money on yourself, you need to invest in yourself SAHMs. What I mean is, you need to invest in the things that make you happy outside of your family. When you’re a SAHM the boundaries of work and home are completely blurred. There is never an “off the clock.”

I love my kids, in fact I’ve always done everything in my power to be home with them as much as possible. BUT I’ve learned that I need to pursue interests outside of them.

Find Your Happiness

Four years ago, I started blogging again and landed this tremendous gig at Hudson Valley Parent. It’s been the therapy I need to get through life as a SAHM.

It allowed me to find my purpose in the world. I asked my grandmother once if gardening was her hobby. She spent sun up to sun down tending her flowers like they were her very own babies. She said, “No, it’s my love.” That’s how I feel about writing.

That’s what you need to find for yourself. Invest in finding your love. Yes, I know you love your kids. But you need to find what you love, what motivates you, what inspires you because that passion is going to trickle down to your family.

It’s Not Wasted Money

It was super scary for me to invest money into my writing career. When I wrote my book, “So, You’re Broke?” to help other moms live well on a budget, I paid a professional editor. I started my own blog and put money into running it.

It still terrifies me to think that it all might be a waste of money. I might never make it back. It’s a REALLY slow process of changing my mindset.

Because I’m not investing in whether or not I’ll make money with my writing. I’m investing in me. I’m investing in my happiness. Each day I get to write is a day I get to feel alive. That’s what I need to remember.

Money is money. It’s temporary. As much as I like teaching tips to save it, I know money is made to be spent.

Money may not buy you happiness, but you can use it to invest in yourself. It’s not enough to say, “I’m deserving. I’m important.” If you can’t back it up once in a while. So, I urge you SAHMs, take care of yourself. Buy something you need and maybe something you want just because you know you deserve it.

I’m not saying go on a shopping spree, charge up your cards and then endure an emotional spending hangover. I’m saying loosen the purse strings, go out on a limb and find your happy. Take a class, pursue a long abandoned hobby, do whatever it takes to find your passion.

If you won’t do it for you, do it for your family. They need you happy and they need you to know that you deserve it.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

gift-553146_640When you grow up with a mom who has a shopping addiction and a mild case of hoarding you develop a skewed perception of stuff. My mom was one of the most generous people I knew. She definitely spoiled us, but at the same time, stuff started to take over our lives.

The Problem With Stuff

As a mom myself now, I want to get my children things they want, but at the same time I don’t want a massive amount of toys cluttering up the house. I’ve found that experience gifts are a perfect solution.

A Gift Worth Waiting For

My daughter has been asking to attend gymnastics classes for the last two years, but it just hasn’t been in our budget. So for her birthday I prepaid for six weeks of classes and presented her with a card explaining her gift. I also got her a leotard.

At first it felt weird not wrapping up a bunch of presents, but I knew I was getting her something that she really wanted. I had to focus on the quality of my gift rather than the quantity (or lack thereof). Just as I predicted, she was overjoyed. She had her first class last week and she kept telling me, “Mom, I love it!”

It also stirred up some nostalgia for me to see her up on that balance beam. That was my favorite when I was a gymnast. Watching her felt like I was passing my legacy on to her.

If you want an alternative to traditional gifts like toys, clothes, or books, here are five great reasons to give kids experience gifts.

1. Something To Look Forward To – After all the other gifts have been opened, played with a handful of times and pushed aside, an experience gift is still there, promising something fun and exciting is still waiting for them.

One of my favorite gifts my mother gave me when I was in high school was tickets to see Les Miserables in New York City. I had been listening to the soundtrack CD for months and when I finally got to see the play, it was amazing! I didn’t mind that I had to wait a few weeks for the play. If anything it felt like it extended my birthday.

2. Less Clutter – As I mentioned before, I really don’t like too many toys hanging around, especially when they aren’t being played with very often. Experience gifts like a special trip, art, dance or gymnastics classes won’t contribute to the clutter in your house.

3. Give Something That You Normally Couldn’t Afford– So many extracurricular activities are expensive. They certainly don’t fit into our tight budget, so we’ve had to be very selective about which activities my kids do. Since I would normally spend money on birthday presents, I was able to use that money to give my daughter something I normally couldn’t afford.

4. More Memories – How many of your toys do you really remember from your childhood? Maybe a handful if you’re lucky. No matter how much our children beg us for toys, they typically don’t occupy our children for long. Giving an experience gift gives children memories that will last them a lifetime.

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5. Quality Time – Experience gifts usually give parents or other family members quality time with the children. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, an art class you take together or just watching them twirl around the floor at their dance class, what the giver receives is time. Time to watch your child really enjoying something, seeing them light up with excitement. Sure, maybe it’s hard to run them to classes on a weekly basis or to and from their favorite sport, but it’s also time that you get to spend with them.

Years from now, they’ll remember that you were there with them. Even if you were just in the background watching from the bleachers or sitting silently in the corner of the room, you’ll become part of those happy memories.

I can’t for the life of me tell you what badges I earned when I was in Girl Scouts, but I’ll never forget that my mom volunteered to be my troop leader. While it wasn’t a birthday or Christmas gift, her willingness to give me and the other girls her time every week is something I still think about proudly.

I would love to ditch a lot of my kids’ physical presents in favor of experience gifts. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get my husband on board for Christmas, but at least for birthdays it’s become a great alternative.

What experience gifts have you given your kids that they loved?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

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Before you have kids, you might not even be aware of the concept of having work-life balance. You probably work your typical 40 hours a week and save your sleeping in, errands, housework and fun for the weekend. This is all you know. After you have kids you are introduced to this concept of work-life balance.

Whenever I think of this concept I picture a scale where the object on one side weighs the same as the object on the other side and the scales are even. Balance after all is what you’re after, but balancing work and life (including all the things required to take care of those little people that depend on you) never looks like that. I think that’s why so many parents find themselves frazzled and stressed out.

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I’m sure, like me, you know the feeling of there never being enough time in the day and the feeling doesn’t go away no matter your work status. I’ve worked full-time with my kids running a daycare, part-time, been strictly a SAHM, and a WAHM. Every single situation requires lots of juggling.

When I worked part-time there were days I sat proofing copy on the computer while my baby nursed. Luckily I had a very understanding company at the time. There were days I ran a daycare that I still felt that my own children didn’t get the best I had to offer them. I felt like the kids whose parents paid me to watch them got more of my time and attention. It didn’t help that we had three infants in our care and my kids were four and two and didn’t require non-stop feedings and diaper changes.

As is typical for most SAHMs, forgoing paid employment doesn’t mean you don’t work. I did a lot of volunteering through my church in addition to carrying the primary responsibility for the household chores and childcare.

Right now working from home means praying for a long uninterrupted nap from my toddler and is dependent upon my other kids being at camp or school. It means fitting my work into whatever time squeezes around and through the daily webbing of my life. It also means folding laundry, running the dishwasher or vacuuming the house are also fighting for that same uninterrupted time, which is never long enough.

There are no perfect situations, only the situation that suits you best in each season of your life. There is no equal balance between work and family time. The scale is always tipping to one side or the other and the most important thing to remember is that you can’t look at any single day to see how your life really measures up on the scale. You have to look at much larger chunks of time – months or years to see the scale average out.

Maybe you’re going through a season where you’re trying to start a business, work towards a promotion, or seeking a new job and the scale seems to be perpetually tipped in that direction. Maybe you’re a SAHM, but you want to return to the workforce in the future and your scale is always tipped toward family to the point where you wonder if they could survive without your full attention.

When you look at your life one day at a time, the scale will never show a balance. Someone or something will demand more of your attention and that’s okay. Because the truth is that work-life balance (as in both work and family get equal attention at all times) doesn’t exist.

So instead of looking for balance, ask yourself the most powerful question that I ever asked myself – “What’s it going to take to make me happy right now?” I’ve asked myself this question right after my first child was born, after I found out my company was going through a merger, when my daycare business was failing and when I was a full-time SAHM in search of some way to earn additional income. The answer was different each time.

The answer may not always be easy or feasible right away. Maybe that looks like part-time work, full-time work from home, or staying home. Finding “balance” is just a way of saying you feel happy with the priorities in your life at this moment in time.

The scale is always tipping, sometimes multiple times a day and it can leave you feeling frustrated, angry or sad. But the scale is not how we should measure our lives. We may not always have the time to do everything we want to do. But as long as you’re actively doing your best to provide for your kids in whatever capacity that looks like for you, then it doesn’t matter what the scale says.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

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It’s been four years since we’ve gone away for vacation. That’s how many years I’ve been a SAHM. Coincidence? Nope. Dropping down to one-income meant making sacrifices and our annual trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was one of the first things to go. We’ve had fun camping every year, but I’m looking forward to this week when my family and I go to Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. Stay-cations and camping are great alternatives to an expensive vacation, but there are many ways you can cut the cost of going away.

1. Go Off Season – Since we’re headed down to the Jersey Shore at the very end of the season we were able to get a great discount on our hotel. Most hotels have more affordable rates during off peak times.

2. Prepay – We also got a 20% discount on our hotel stay for prepaying before June 1st. Thanks to our tax refund, we were able to send one payment, but we also could have sent installments if we wanted to just as long as our payment was received in full by June 1st.

3. Groupon Shop Your Outings Before You Go – Always check groupon for deals on excursions and resorts. We found a great deal on a water park we want to visit while on vacation just by doing a simple search.

4. Sign Up For Newsletters – Have a hotel or resort you love to stay at? Sign up for their newsletters and get notified of special deals.

5. Bring Your Own Car – If your car or van is in good shape, skip the car rental and bring your own. The car rental is usually the second largest expense after the hotel if you’re driving to your destination. If you have to bring your own vehicle I recommend getting any work done before you hit the road. A few years ago, my family was stuck on the side of the road on our way to Lake George when my husband’s car overheated.

We just finished a TON of work on my mini-van that needed to be done, as well as some routine maintenance like changing the oil, tires, and brake pads. We needed to do the work anyway, but doing it before vacation gives me more confidence in taking my vehicle. We would have spent $500 minimum to rent a mini-van.

6. BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) – Eating out is always expensive on vacation, especially in tourist areas. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that grocery store prices also vary widely from one area to another so I’ll be hitting up my local Aldi for cheap and easy breakfast items, snacks (which my kids will go through a ton of), and ingredients for easy dinners we can make in our hotel room which has a microwave and stove top. I’m also packing my crock-pot for ready to eat dinners like lasagna after a long tiring day at the beach. Loading the car up with drinks, sandwiches and snacks is also a must for a road trip with small kids. Stopping at rest stops for food is a budget killer.

7. Skip The Souvenirs –  I have a pretty firm rule on not buying souvenirs. I’d rather take lots of photos or have the kids collect shells to remember our family vacation by.

8. Find Low Cost Entertainment – My family and I plan to spend most of our time on the beach, in the hotel pool, or walking along the boardwalk. Beyond our one planned trip to a water park, which is mostly a birthday present for my daughter who turns nine while we’re away, we plan to just play and relax. Limiting paid entertainment is a great way to save money on vacation. Also check your hotel lobby for coupon booklets for local restaurants and attractions.

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9. Go Away, But Not Far Away – With three small kids and a limited budget we wanted to pick a place that was “away,” but not “far away.” My kids get really antsy on long drives so we decided to head to the Jersey Shore five hours away instead of trying to drive to Myrtle Beach and renting an extra hotel room on the way down and on the way back.

This year there was a gap of three weeks between the end of camp and the start of the new school year. Usually we go on vacation before camp starts and then by the end of the summer we’re all anxious for school to start. I’m so glad that we still have a great week of vacation to look forward to so we can savor these last days of summer with our kids.

What are your favorite ways to save on vacation?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

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It’s that time of year again, well according to the stores it was that time in June. It’s back to school shopping time. It seems like every year the list of supplies gets longer and longer. It can feel like you’re buying enough pencils and notebooks for the entire school. Add backpacks, clothes, and sneakers to the list and you could easily spend several hundred dollars per child. Being the frugal person I am, that’s simply unacceptable to me.

Here are five strategies I use to keep our back to school costs under control.

1. Do A Thorough Inventory – The first order of business to keep clutter at bay and money in our bank account is to take a thorough inventory of what we already have before even thinking of shopping.

This means going through everything in my kids’ closets and dressers. I have them try each item on and inspect for fit and any stains or rips. Anything that doesn’t fit I donate or throw away depending on its condition. Anything ripped or stained gets set aside for play clothes. Now that you can plainly see what usable clothes your kids have, you can start your list of what items your children truly need. This way you don’t waste money on shirts for a child that’s fully stocked on shirts, but needs pants or buy pants for the child that has plenty.

If you’re especially frugal like me, you might already have a stockpile of school supplies as well from sales the previous year. I also go through the items that came back from school with them at the end of the year like scissors and folders that aren’t damaged and cross those off the list. I often stock up on tissues when they are on are sale and I have coupons and put them in the closet for back to school when each child in my district is required to provide three boxes.

2. Don’t Shop All At Once – I know this might sound counter-intuitive. I mean who wants to go to multiple stores when you can just go to one place and be done with it. Well, if you want to take full advantage of the amazing loss leaders (items reduced to a great price to get you in the store to buy more expensive items) from each store I’d suggest doing a little at a time. It also feels more comfortable to spend small amounts over the course of a month than to drop several hundred dollars in a few days. Shopping over time means being more strategic with your time and money.

School Supplies

So far I’ve found some pretty great deals at ShopRite like composition notebooks and 12 packs of pencils for .50 each. My fantastic finds at Staples include three packs of erasers for .25 each and single subject notebooks for .17 each. Since both stores happen to be next to each other, it was easy enough to walk between the two and get only the items with the best prices from each store.

3. Shop Online – I really hate driving to the mall and searching through a dozen stores to find what I’m looking for at a great price. Instead I save some of my shopping for the comfort of my home. I get my kids book bags and shoes online. No worries, they can be returned if there is a problem. You can start your shopping with a free $10 gift card by signing up at Ebates and get a percentage of cash back depending on the store you choose to shop at.

Do a quick search for promotional coupons and use them at check out to save more money. You can also qualify for free shipping if you meet a certain dollar amount or are willing to wait a little longer for your items. Many sites like Amazon and K-mart also have memberships where you get free shipping. Just remember to cancel your trial membership after you use it or you could get charged the yearly fee. K-mart also has Shop Your Way points you can earn on each purchase and they also have coupons on their site you can choose from and apply at checkout.

Sign up for the newsletters of stores you love. Because of special e-mails I’ve been able to take advantage of one-day online sales that save me 15% or more on things I would already need to buy for my kids. Both last year and this year I was able to get two pairs of shoes for my daughter (sneakers and dress shoes) and sneakers for my son for about $40 total thanks to these special e-mails.

4. Buy Used – I’ve been frugal for so long now I actually hate buying new clothes, especially for kids who are bound to outgrow, stain, or rip them fairly quickly. I love to shop at consignment shops and sales. They have a children’s Be Green sale twice a year in Fishkill where I do almost all my clothing shopping for the kids. They have clothes and shoes in great condition, as well as Halloween costumes, coats and snow pants, boots, and special occasion dresses and suits. Between the two sales I can usually get most of my kids’ clothes for $100 per child for the entire year.

You can also take those clothes that are in good condition but don’t fit, which you inventoried already and get store credit at most consignment shops. You can also check for special bag sales and discount days to stretch your clothing budget even further. The Salvation Army in Middletown has family day on Wednesdays and most items are half off. Check for local children’s consignment stores in your area. Like them on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters so you don’t miss their sale days.

5. Buy Off Season – We do buy our kids three new outfits for the first week of school, which always starts on a Wednesday in my district. To make sure we don’t spend too much we check for end of summer clearance sales. Since early September is still pretty hot you can get dresses, shorts and short sleeve shirts for good prices.

I typically buy my kids’ backpacks for the following year in November or Early December and they get them for Christmas. They are usually a great deal. I’ve gotten them as low as $5.

With these strategies in place, you save money on all the supplies and clothes your kids need to start the school year. What are your favorite money-saving strategies?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

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Yup, you read that right. It might surprise you that being a stay-at-home mom can help you in your career even though you aren’t in one at the moment. I know not all SAHMs want to return to the workforce and that’s perfectly fine. I’ve been a SAHM/WAHM for the past five years, and I never expected that this gift of being home with my children would give me the time, motivation, and experience to finally achieve one of my life-long goals of writing a book.

For the longest time, I used working outside the home as an excuse not to pursue my passion of writing. I did plenty of writing as a Marketing Coordinator,but it never fulfilled me in quite the same way. I wrote what other people wanted me to write, which was sometimes really hard to do. I spent more of my energy trying to channel and deliver on other people’s expectations of myself than I did figuring out what I really wanted to say to the world.

After some time at home, I picked up my old blogging habit. I connected with Terrie Goldstein, publisher of Hudson Valley Parent, and expressed my interest in blogging for the magazine. I became a regular contributor and have enjoyed writing for this wonderful audience.

Eventually, I began writing a book about saving money based on my experience living on one-income as a SAHM. Two years later, I finished, So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life and published it on Amazon and it’s been an eye-opening experience. I could never have achieved this goal if I were still working outside the home. If I can follow my passion, you can too.

Here are five ways, you can achieve your career goals right now as a SAHM.

  1. Go Back To School – Now is a great time to think about what you want to do with your life, if and when, you go back to working outside the home. If you didn’t love your former career or if you never had one before, this is a perfect opportunity to explore your career options. There are an enormous amount of options when it comes to education or career training and you can pursue many of them online in your spare time.
  2. Pursue Your Dreams – Maybe you’re artistic and enjoy writing, painting, crafting or jewelry making. Whatever it is, pursue it while you have the chance. Even if you can’t make a career from it later, your soul with thank you. You never know if you might end up teaching classes, opening your own Etsy shop, or starting a blog.
  3. Start Your Own Business – When you pursue your passion, you might not want to put it on the back burner to work for someone else. You could use your skills and talents and turn them into a business that fulfills you.
  4. Volunteer – Being at home gives you the flexibility to volunteer your time and talent to local non-profits. While this may not lead directly to a job in the future, you’ll get valuable work experience you can use on your resume. Volunteering also offers opportunities to network with people in your former or future career field. One day you might find yourself sitting in an interview with someone you met at a charity function.
  5. Freelance – You can use your skills to work freelance. You can pick and choose which jobs to take and work on your own schedule. Sometimes you can charge higher rates for the same work you did as a staff member at your former job. Sometimes companies don’t have the budget to hire someone full or part-time, but can pay for a particular project that needs to be done.

I’ll never look back at this time at home with my kids with regret. Not only have I had the honor of watching them grow up before my eyes, but they have been my inspiration to find my voice and pursue my dreams with reckless abandon.

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Staying home with my kids and living on one-income gave me the time and experience to write and publish a book about living frugally.

I have no idea if I’ll end up going back to a traditional job once my youngest child is in school, but either way I know that I’ve used this time wisely, building skills that will help me later.Staying home with kids is not a vacation by any means, but you can use whatever spare time you have to pursue the career you want down the road.

What would you like to do in the future?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life. She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Summer-camp season is upon us which means lots of kids putting their heads together in hot-weather activities. Time to step up measures to prevent the transmission of head lice. This spray has been working very well for us for the past few years, I’m happy to say. It’s easy to make and use, and the essential oils have many benefits for your child’s overall health.

A neighborhood is just the geographic location of your house, until you meet the perfect neighbors that really make it home. Our neighbors the Wall-Carty’s are our family BFFs. We get together at least two days a week to chat and let the kids play. We also share a meal at least once a week.

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Usually our potluck dinners are thrown together last minute and facilitated by a little begging by all the kids. My favorite part about hanging out with our friends is that it’s always, “come as you are,” whether your house is messy or you’re wearing sweatpants. So anything goes when it comes to our potluck dinners.

Here are 6 reasons I love our kid-friendly dinners and why I recommend you plan one with your neighbors, friends or family:

1. Use Up Your Leftovers –  Sometimes we literally grab whatever is in the fridge and head over to our neighbors house or they come to us with their leftovers and voila- instant meal. Not only do you get the pleasure of using up your leftovers, but the kids can choose meals that are new to them so you don’t get the complaining you would get if you just had your own leftovers. Using up your leftovers is a great way to stretch your monthly food budget as well.

2. Please Those Picky Eaters – Having more than one main dish means there’s usually something that will please even the picky eaters in your family. Last night we had a potluck where I made a taco macaroni casserole and our neighbors brought some leftover chicken they had on hand. Both their daughter and ours didn’t want the casserole, but happily ate the chicken and their son and ours wolfed down the casserole. With potluck, there’s virtually no complaining about what’s for dinner.

3. Try New Recipes – Our potlucks are great for getting to try new recipes. Sometimes it gets boring with the same rotation of food, but when you combine meals with another family you get to try things you never had before and test them out on your kids before making them yourself. If you love something your potluck partners bring, you can add great new recipes to your family’s meal plan.

4. A No Cook Night – Who doesn’t want a night off of cooking? The best part of potluck is that we often bring leftovers. Sometimes our family cooks and the other brings leftovers and sometimes it’s the reverse. Last weekend my husband and kids went to a wrestling match last minute and had to leave before dinner, leaving a whole pan of baked ziti for just me and the baby. The next day we had potluck at the Wall-Carty’s and they were making burgers so I grabbed that largely uneaten pan of ziti and didn’t have to cook at all.

5. Play Dates – The kids always want to play with each other and having dinner together means that the kids can hang out longer. Let’s be real, the play dates are for us adults too, especially me who works from home and doesn’t get to talk to adults much during the week.

6. Tag Team Parenting – If you have potluck dinners with family or friends whom you’ve made your honorary family, you can tag team up on the kids to get them to finish their vegetables. While our kids don’t like to listen us when it comes to eating, it helps to have another parent reminding them that they need to eat if they want to get dessert later.

When it comes to getting your kids fed and keeping them happy, you really can’t go wrong with a potluck. Plus it’s a great excuse to get together with your favorite people.

Does your family do potlucks often?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

 

 

If anyone knows the stress that living on one-income can put on a family, it’s me. While trimming our family’s budget, I had to find a way to reduce our grocery spending. One very important way I do this is by shopping at Aldi. If you’ve never heard of it, chances are you have probably driven by one and never even noticed it. You may have seen the store, but didn’t really know what it was. It’s not very eye-catching, but I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t let that keep you from giving it a try.

Sydney shopping with me

1. Low Prices Every Day – I know you’ve heard this phrase so often, it might be falling on deaf ears. Aldi is cheaper than even Walmart and most days I’d rather cut off my right arm than stand in a Walmart checkout line. Even if you only stock up on staple items at Aldi, you stand to save a good chunk of change. Here are just some of the items I bought this week. I spent $99.20 for a family of 5 for a week’s worth of groceries.
Bread – .99 for wheat ( .89 for white)
Milk –  $2.49 a gallon
Cereal (generic frosted flakes – $1.21)
Generic raisin bran  ($1.79)
Generic rice krispies($1.79)
Butter – $2.69
Sugar – $1.79 for a 4 lb. bag
Large Eggs – $1.45
Brown Sugar – $1.29
Yogurt – .39 a cup
Generic Oreos – $1.69
Dishwasher Detergent (20 count tabs) – $2.49

Though I didn’t need any this week, they also have diapers in sizes 3, 4 & 5 for $4.99 for a jumbo bag and baby wipes for .89 a package.

Sugar Pallate

2. They Don’t Take Coupons – I know for some of you you’re thinking, “why is this a good thing?” That’s because it means less wait time at check out and for those who just don’t like the idea of spending time cutting and sorting coupons, you can feel confident that you’re still paying low prices without having to use coupons. I still shop at ShopRite when I can get really great deals on loss leader items like shampoo, toothpaste or cereal, but I know I can get a lot of my family’s basic needs at good prices at Aldi all the time.

3. Double Money Back Guarantee – You literally have nothing to lose and something to gain by giving Aldi a try. They have a double money back guarantee that if you don’t love one of their products you can bring it back to the store and they will replace the item AND give you your money back. I was a little hesitant to try their meats at first, but I’ve never had a single problem with their quality.

Shipping boxes

4. They Don’t Take Credit Cards – Ok, before you beat me up on this one hear me out. Not paying for credit card transaction fees is one of the ways they keep their prices low. If you’re a frugal person or trying to get out of debt, you can be thankful that Aldi gives you no reason to rack up more charges on your card for groceries. They do take debit cards, cash and EBT cards.

5. You Bag It – If you’re like me and get super frustrated by the way they bag your groceries at your local supermarket, then Aldi is for you. At Aldi, they return all rung up items to your cart and you go to a bagging counter where you bag your groceries however you like them. I also tend to hate how stores sometimes only put one or two items in a bag, leaving me with 20 bags instead of the 4 it would take if I just bagged them myself using my reusable shopping bags. This is another way they keep costs down, by not hiring extra people to do your bagging. You’ll want to bring your own reusable or plastic bags with you. They do have bags for sale for five cents each or you can grab empty boxes you find around the store to pack your groceries in.

6. Fewer Items – Sometimes I just want a jar of peanut butter and don’t want to spend twenty minutes looking at all the different brands, comparing prices. I just want to grab a jar and keep moving through my list. If you get overwhelmed in big stores, Aldi’s smaller selection is a welcome change of pace. There’s only 4-5 aisles to maneuver through and less options means less indecisiveness for a quicker shopping trip.

7. Household Items & Toys – Sometimes you can snag really good deals on dishes, household appliances and even toys at Aldi. I grabbed a steam mop for $40 and some really great camping chairs a few summers ago for $11 each. You never know what great goodies they’ll get in. You can keep an eye on these items as they typically get marked, but don’t wait too long cause once they’re gone they’re gone.

Glutten free

8. Growing Organic & Gluten Free LinesAldi is working on growing their organic and glutten free product lines, which is great for shoppers looking for these items.

Organic at Aldi

Other Things To Consider

Don’t forget to bring a quarter with you for a cart. You’ll get it back when you return the cart to the corral at the front of the store. This is yet another way they save you money. There are no employees running around collecting the carts.

Much like Walmart, Aldi tends to sell produce that is already at its ripest so buy only what you plan on using right away or you might find that it’s gone bad before you have a chance to get to it.

Most of their items are their own store brands. You can find one or two brand names, but they are few and far between. Generics save you loads of money and if you don’t like an item you can return it for a new item and get your money back.

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It’s not going to be as big or fancy as other supermarkets, but let’s face it, you aren’t getting married in the building, you’re getting your groceries and getting out with the least amount of hassle as possible without spending a ton of money. I would definitely recommend suspending your instinct to judge this book by its cover.

Would you consider shopping at Aldi to save money?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found blogging at The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.

 

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