Four Easy Ways to Save Money (Really!)

Easy ways to save money can be yours! Read my post and then add your ideas in the comments section. Let’s brainstorm together!

Oh, I hate this time of year. Not really, fall is actually my favorite of the seasons, but when it comes to spending money, September is the worst. Because not only are we coming off a period of time — summer vacation — when we tend to spend more and our bank account balance is looking a bit more anemic than usual — September brings a host of extra expenses that blow my monthly budget to bits. You know what I mean — back-to-school clothes and supplies, school fundraisers, fees for after-school programs that are starting up, lunch tickets and other assorted kid-related expenses. Plus I have to start thinking about cold weather and end-of-the-year related expenses — our oil bill and holiday shopping to name to major ones.

Basically I spend the fall giving money to everyone else but myself.

And then add in the fact that in the past two weeks two forms of my income have either been completely depleted or substantially decreased and I’m a bit of a basket case lately.

Still, despite my desperation, when I think logically about the situation, I realize that the easy ways to save money that I deploy on a semi-regular basis are things I can still do to help keep our finances in the black. (That and take lots of deep breaths.)

Amanda’s Four Easy Ways to Save Money

Mismanage Your Checkbook —  Doesn’t that sound simple? Just write in the cash as you need it! It’s the easiest (and only) of my easy ways to save money tips! Kidding of course, but I have found a way to put my poor math skills to good use. When I enter in a debit card transaction or bill that I have paid into my checkbook register, I round up the figure. So if I spent $15.78 at the Cadbury Chocolate Store, I enter that I actually spent $16. $29.02 at the M&M shirt depot becomes $30. At the end of the week, when I balance our family checkbook, those remainders are returned to me in a dollar amount.
I find that I average an “extra” $10 or $15 that I can transfer into our savings account (I do all the banking online). I like this method too because instead of adding and subtracting four-digit numbers, I just have to do it with two-digit numbers, giving me less opportunities to make a mistake.

Shop Online   I do a lot of shopping online for a few reasons. Partly because I’m lazy and it offers me a chance to not get off the couch (and chase a toddler around the store), but mostly because it gives me a chance to do some serious comparison shopping. I always shop through sites that give me money back and whenever I frequent a store, I always google the name of it along with the phrase “coupon codes.”

Choose a Credit Card Wisely — If you choose to carry credit cards, make sure they are ones that offer you some sort of benefit. The main card that I use deposits a percentage of my purchases into my children’s 529 (college savings) account. The other store cards that I carry in my wallet either offer me a discount right off the top of my purchases or give me a percentage back. Also, T. and I (for the most part), treat our credit cards as cash, paying off the balance in full every month.

Pay Yourself First — This is a hard one to do mentally, especially if you’ve got bills piling up, but it’s one that you need to do if you want to save. Every first of the month, the bank automatically takes $75 out of our checking account and puts it into the 529 accounts we have set up for the kids. It’s only $25 per kid per month ($300 per year), but it’s more than I was saving before. And it’s (mostly) painless because it’s not something I’m writing a check for (just remember to enter it into your checkbook!).

What are your tips for easy ways to save money? Please share them below in the comments section — I really need them!

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A Curious Toddler Takes His Time

A math puzzle for you to ponder:

A.’s school bus stop is up the street, on the corner, one crossed street and two houses away from ours. For me (or T. or C. or A.) to walk there, it takes all of about 25 seconds. Tops. Her bus is scheduled to arrive at 8:09 every morning. What time should A. and I leave in order to make sure she arrives at the bus stop on time?

What’s that? I hear 8:05, 8:04 — even an 8:08. Well, you are all wrong. Because you forgot an important factor. It’s not just A. and I walking to the bus every morning. Most days we have a curious toddler with us. A curious and very, very slowtoddler.

No kidding, we left the house at 8:00 this morning and we got to the stop with a minute to spare. (I should mention that we started to head out the door at 7:55 — not only does A. have to get her backpack on, so does Spencer. I got him an Elmo one right before school started, knowing that he was going to want to wear one like his big siblings.)

Coming home we average an even worse MPH. My curious toddler and I walked in the back door at 8:25. 8:25! Fifteen minutes to walk 100 yards. No wonder I’m not losing any weight walking.

I’m not complaining though. While I wish Spencer would move slightly faster than molasses, I know that while we are walking he’s doing a lot more. He’s learning and exploring and enjoying life. It’s a lot of fun to watch and gives me some insight on how his thought process works. Let me tell you, for a short distance, he can really squeeze quite a bit in.

This morning on our way home he spent a great deal of time walking or skipping sideways. For part of the journey he’d face me, while other times he’d face our neighbor’s houses. He thought it was the greatest thing to do. “Look at me,” he shouted. “I walk funny!”

When he wasn’t sashaying to the side, his eyes were trained to the ground, looking for acorns, rocks and other assorted treasures along the side of the road. Very aware of his surroundings, he’d let me know if he spotted something he deemed important. “Look at squirrel mommy!” “Look at cat!” “Cars is coming! Be careful!”

Of course, he had to mix in some humor too. One of his favorite games to play whenever we arrive on our block is to point at every house we pass and ask if it’s his. “This Fencer’s house?” He’ll pause for effect and then answer himself with a loud “NOOOOOO!” over and over again until we arrive at our abode.

Who knew a simple walk to the bus stop could be so exciting?

Do you have a curious toddler?

Want to learn more about Spencer? Check out Shock and Aww on Facebook and my other parenting blog, We Are Both Right. Also, I’m on Twitter too.

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A Happy Toddler on a Sad Day Offers Hope

Ten years ago, C. was eight days shy of his first birthday. We were a little less than two weeks away from his big first year birthday bash. I was a magazine editor in New York City, working from home most of the time and traveling into midtown Manhattan just once a week.

That Tuesday I was supposed to go into the city, but for a now-forgotten reason, I didn’t. Instead, like most, T. and I spent the day in a surreal state, our moods switching from sadness to anger and back again as we tried to process what was unfolding in front of us on the television. And while the two of us were encompassed in a profound state of sorrow, the reality was we had a happy toddler living in our house with us. A sweet nearly-one-year old who had no idea what was going on. That the country he lived in would never be the same. Who didn’t know why his parents were weeping or that his godfather and mother’s cousin were NYPD officers that we couldn’t get in touch with. (They were fine.)

So through our tears and our worries and host of emotions, we tried our best to entertain our happy toddler, playing and singing and coloring and skipping and acting like everything was normal. Even though it was the furthest thing from it. In the days that followed, it was more of the same, our happy parenting nothing more than a facade.

Ten years later I find myself in a similar position. I’m always sad on September 11, but this year even more so. I don’t know if it’s the magnitude of the anniversary or that the coverage has just been more ramped up than in pervious years, but I’m definitely more reflective this September. And yet what am I doing this morning instead of watching the coverage from Ground Zero? Watching Blue’s Clues. Playing cars. Seeing how high I can jump. Giving as many extra hugs and kisses as my kids will let me.

And as my happy toddler jumps around in his self-chosen mismatched outfit, as he giggles and shrieks and plays with his brother and sister, as my three kids spend the morning simply loving one another, I am reminded of why I don’t forget.

Want to learn more about Spencer? Check out Shock and Aww on Facebook and my other parenting blog, We Are Both Right. Also, I’m on Twitter too.

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Inexpensive Family Activities (Although I’m Sure It’s Not What the Owners Intended)

Spencer and I stumbled upon a new inexpensive family activity, one that I had never thought of before.

A new Petco opened up one town over not too long ago and last week, on our quest for big boy underwear, we popped in and visited with all the four-legged, two-legged, winged, finned and scaled friends. Today we needed to return one of the packages of underwear because I wanted to trade up a size. The other set I bought was washing just a bit too small. (That Spencer had three accidents in 30 minutes and only one success had nothing to do with it. Really.)

Anyway, C. and A were with us and to sweeten the prospect of spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon underwear shopping (to be fair it wasn’t really the whole afternoon, but still), I told them that we would also make a fun stop. Both of them looked at me like I had seven heads when I told them we were going to Petco (actually, A. got really excited because she thought we were getting a dog), but they rolled with it.

If you are looking for more inexpensive family activities to do, the pet store is definitely worth a shot. At our Petco on weekends they have dogs that are up for adoption out on the floor in open-top cages. The dogs love the attention and my kids had so much fun playing with and petting them.

And even if the dogs aren’t around (there were cats in cages too) there are plenty of animals to visit with. We saw birds, lizards, fish, ferrets, hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, turtles and more. It’s like going to the zoo, but as if you are actually inside the gift shop. And while a trip to the pet store isn’t the longest of the inexpensive family activities, it’s good for at least a half hour. Any Petco near my house is part of a larger shopping center, so it also makes for a nice break for your little ones if you are out shopping for a few hours. (Plus, did I mention it’s free?)

We even got a funny story out of our excursion. Spencer and I met a dog named C. who was sort of just resting on his pet bed when we came along. Funnily enough, when C. walked over, the dog instinctively stood up, wagged his tail and nudged human C.’s hand. I guess he knew they shared an awesome name! (Not to mention, Spencer was delighted that there was a dog that had the same name as his big brother. He got the biggest kick out of it.)

What inexpensive family activities are your favorites?

Want to learn more about Spencer? Check out Shock and Aww on Facebook and my other parenting blog, We Are Both Right. Also, I’m on Twitter too. (Because I have all this time on my hands.

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Toddler Art Projects for When Mommy is Feeling Daring

I’m sleep deprived. Or maybe I’ve lost a marble or two. What other explanation could there be as to why I willingly gave my two year old some paper, a few tubes of (washable) paint and a brush and let him have at it?

Actually I’ve been feeling a little guilty. I’ve been wanting to do some toddler art projects with Spencer for a while now, but just didn’t have the time, energy and let’s face it — the inclination to haul out the art supplies so he could create.

It was rainy here this morning though and I didn’t have too much to do, so I figured, why not? I pulled some Crayola finger paints out of the closet, along with a brush and paper and plopped him down at the kitchen table.

I knew he wouldn’t be into finger paints as he’s got a thing about messy hands, but he really enjoyed using the brush. It sounds silly because I’m talking about a 2-year-old, but he actually employed a few different techniques — he made dots and swirls, holding the brush different ways to make different types of prints.

What I really enjoyed about our morning of toddler art projects was going over colors with him. He knows some of his colors but not all and today was a good opportunity to review them. I know toddlers don’t necessary need to know their colors yet, but it’s something I’m very aware of. C. is color blind (only in certain ways, mixing up blue and purple; red and brown and some others). His condition is something I suspected when he was a toddler but didn’t confirm it until he was in preschool. Being that color blindness is more common in boys than girls (A. isn’t) I always wonder if Spencer will follow in his big brother’s footsteps. I don’t think he is, but I’m not certain. Only time will tell I guess.

I’m glad we painted together. It went really well — I will definitely be more willing to work on some toddler art projects with him in the future. And of course we had our funny moments too:

I only had three tubes of paint, but they were the primary colors, so we soon had our hues to choose from doubled. He really liked squeezing the paint out of the tubes and, surprisingly enough, touching the paint, eventually using his fingers to make his art.

“It looks like catsup,” he told me when I put some red on the paper plate we were using as a palette. There was a pause, and then, “I lick it?”

I thought we might have a problem when he got purple paint on his red M&M shirt, but as luck would have it, it smeared in just the right spot, doubling as a mustache. He thought it was hysterical.

I just hope he doesn’t like the facial hair too much — as you recall, we have five M&M shirts that would have to be modified!

What type of toddler art projects do you and your child like to do?

Want to learn more about Spencer? Check out Shock and Aww on Facebook and my other parenting blog, We Are Both Right. Also, I’m on Twitter too. (Because I have all this time on my hands.

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Toddler Friends — She’s Just Not That Into Him

Girl trouble already. Sigh. Aren’t we a little bit young for this?

Spencer and I went out to breakfast this morning with some of my mom friends (yay! Mommy time!). One of them, C., brought her 3-year-old daughter M. and a little girl she watches, 2-year-old Ch. The two girls, who spend one morning a week with one another are clearly toddler friends and sat next to one another during the meal. Spencer sat next to me in the corner so I could minimize any damage, noise, floods, tornadoes, etc. that a toddler could cause in a small restaurant.

When we were finished eating, we gathered up front to say our goodbyes, the two toddler friends holding one another’s hands. Spencer, keen on anybody his size, toddled over to the girls. “Hi kids!,” he said, smiling. Wanting to part of the toddler friends action, he stood next M. and tried to take hold of her free hand. M., just a toddler herself and in a “boys are yucky” stage, was having none of it. She didn’t tell him no, but she wouldn’t offer her hand up to him and she kept turning her whole self away from him. (She was probably unimpressed by his syrup-stained M&M shirt [orange today] and his sticky fingers.)

Apparently Spencer is not a good reader of body language, because he kept trying. Unfortunately, M. kept rebuffing him. My friend C. was embarrassed. “M.!” she said, “Hold Spencer’s hand!” When M. still refused, C. moved on to Ch., but she wasn’t interested either.

I felt so bad for Spencer. He didn’t understand what was going on. He wasn’t upset or crying or anything, but the look of bewilderment on his face just made my heart break. He just wanted to be part of the crowd. When you are two years old, everyone is supposed to be your friend. Everyone likes you. How do I explain to him that sometimes it doesn’t quite work that way? (And that sometimes, girls can be very silly?)

We left not too long after, me happily taking my little guy’s hand as we headed back to the car. He looked up at me brightly. “Hi Mommy!” he said, smiling once more. “We walk together?”

Awww. Who wouldn’t want to be toddler friends with someone as sweet as that?

Want to learn more about Spencer? Check out Shock and Aww on Facebook and my other parenting blog, We Are Both Right. Also, I’m on Twitter too. (Because I have all this time on my hands.

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Family Outdoor Activity — Fore! I Mean, Touchdown! I Mean, Gooooaaaaal!

We had a family outdoor activity day yesterday and spent it playing a great game — mini-golf. Well, T., C. A. and I played mini-golf, Spencer played a brand-new hybrid game I like to call mini-gobasebaskethockfoot. (Coming soon to a stadium near you, no doubt.)

Have you ever played mini-golf with a two-year-old? We did 18 holes yesterday as part of a family outdoor activity dayand I can honestly say I never have. Sure, Spencer had a club and a ball and there were all sorts of cute landscaped holes that we walked around, but whatever it was he was doing, it was not mini-golf. Not even close.

“It’s like playing with a walking windmill,” T. groused as he watched me line up the ball in an attempt to avoid not only the stable hazards that the landscape designers had put on the course, but the toddler one that had arms and legs and affinity for causing trouble. Despite not playing the right way, he sure had fun —  he would grab the ball (not necessarily his own, sorry people behind us) and hit the ball and kick the ball and toss the ball, not to mention the club — swinging it like a bat and a hockey stick and a sword.

A few times, when it was Spencer’s actual turn, as opposed to the time he just decided to hit the ball on his own, he was content to stand with T. and let his dad show him the right way to do it. Still, when the instructional period was over, he was happy to go back to playing his rules, his way. (And once again, people behind us, I’m very sorry.)

Our family outdoor activity day was also spent riding go-karts, something Spencer was totally content to do the right away. C. is big enough to do drive one on his own and A. rode with T. so that left Spencer and I to tackle the road together. I drove much slower than the other drivers, purposefully, but he didn’t seem to notice. He sat in the car, a big smile on his face, giggling the entire trip around the track.

We capped off our day with grilled cheeseburgers, a trip to the playground and T. playing whiffle ball with the kids in the yard. Of course Spencer didn’t play whiffle ball, I think he calls it whifcricktrackandfield, but at least he had fun!

What type of great family activities does your family like to do?

Want to learn more about Spencer? Check out Shock and Aww on Facebook and my other parenting blog, We Are Both Right. Also, I’m on Twitter too. (Because I have all this time on my hands.

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