Saving Money: 10 Experience Gifts for Kids

 

As any parent can tell you, Christmas and birthdays, while fun, exciting, and memorable, can often be overwhelming just from the sheer amount of new toys accumulated. Many parents, in an attempt to tame the toys, like to give their children “experience gifts”. Experiences help build memories, help you simplify, and can save you money. Instead of gifts for your child, family and friends can contribute to their experience gifts as well. Here are some of my favorite experience gifts:

1. Zoo Passes
-Kids love the zoo, and most zoos offer annual passes that are only slightly more than a one-day admission.

2. Theme Park Tickets/Passes
-Some theme parks offer resident pricing, but if that is still steep, consider a day trip to your local (or closest) theme park for your child’s birthday. If there are no theme parks close to you, get tickets for an annual county fair or carnival.

3. Sports Sign-Ups
-Sports seasons can be pricey (between $50-$100 a child, just for registration, and not counting any equipment, team party fees, etc.) For your child’s birthday present, have friends and family contribute to a sports season.

4. _____ Lessons
-Is your child interested in learning horseback riding, art, or guitar? Lessons can be a wonderful birthday present, and there are a world of options to suit any child’s interest!

5. Movie at the Theater
-Purchase discount movie tickets at Costco, and take your child out for a movie in the theater. Theater movies are an exciting outing for kids; especially if you splurge and let them bring candy! 

6. Day at an Entertainment Park
-Think a day of mini golf, arcade games, and any other attractions your local entertainment park offers. 

7. Special Meal Out 
-We always went out to dinner, my choice, the day of my birthday. I always thought this was better than a party! Breakfast out the morning of your child’s birthday is a fun tradition as well (he or she would especially enjoy it if it means getting to school late =) ) 

8. A “Date” With Each Parent
-For a special memory, allow your child to spend some one-on-one time with each parent. This could be a date to get a bagel with mom one morning, and an afternoon with dad at the park. Great memories don’t have to cost a lot of money.

9. Tickets to a Sporting Event 
-Instead of a toy, consider taking your child to a local sporting event. Most Major League stadiums have inexpensive standing-room-only seats. Half of the fun is walking around the park anyway! If you have a local minor-league team, the tickets are often very inexpensive even for good seats. Minor League stadiums may even let your birthday child’s name go up on the scoreboard for free!

10. Combine All Family Birthdays To Put into a Vacation Fund
-We had never taken a family vacation before last year, but we also didn’t want to add any more expenses to our year. So, last year we decided to take our entire family birthday budget (including our anniversary), and put it towards vacation. We had an incredible time, and my children also considered it their “birthday trip”, making it even more special for them.

Remember, your time is worth more than toys in the eyes of your child. 

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Ask Sara: “All About Junior”

I get a lot of questions about Junior…from my readers, people we see in the grocery store, and even my friends. Here are a few frequently asked questions about my sweet little buddy.

“So, what’s wrong with him?”
Nothing’s wrong with him. Junior is fearfully and wonderfully made; he just happens to be missing his hearing. Aside from profound deafness, we are not aware of any other issues, but we’re keeping an eye on his development and his vision, as issues in either of those areas could mean that he may have additional challenges.

“What is a cochlear implant?”
Simply put, a cochlear implant is an electronic device that helps a deaf person hear.
It consists of an internal magnet and electrode array that is placed in the cochlea. A microphone and speech processor worn on the outside of the body (attached to the head via magnet), feeds electrical signals into the implant, where the auditory nerve is stimulated, and the brain interprets it as sound.

“Can he hear normally now?”
Even with the incredible technology of the cochlear implant, Junior will always have a mild hearing loss.
And, just because the device is working doesn’t mean he can suddenly hear normally. Consider the implant like a prosthetic limb. With any prosthetic, the user will need to practice using it often, and go to many physical therapy appointments to help his body learn to adjust and use it like a normal part of the body. In the same way, Junior’s brain has to learn how to use the implants like a regular ear. He is in intensive speech and auditory verbal therapy several times a week, and we do many speech exercises at home to make sure he’s hearing as much and as well as possible.

With the skilled help of his amazing therapists, we are hoping Junior will be caught up to his peers in speech development by the time he is in Kindergarten!

“When did you find out he was deaf?”
Junior failed the newborn hearing screen given in the hospital, but it was determined he had a lot of fluid backed up in his ear which we were told would dissipate and restore his hearing. When he was 3 months old, the fluid had dissipated, but the profound deafness was still there. After several emotionally difficult months after diagnosis, we found out he was a candidate for a cochlear implant, and we began that long, but rewarding journey. 

“How many words can he say?”
Junior will be 2 in a couple weeks, and has had his cochlear implant for 13 months. As of last month, he had the speech development of a typical 15 month old. He can say roughly 30 words, and can understand about 80-100 different words and phrases. He’s not putting words together to form phrases or sentences yet, but that is the next step! It’s amazing to see how far he’s come!

“My baby was recently diagnosed with special needs. I’m not sure what to do. Do you have any advice?”
When Junior was first diagnosed, I was in a heap of emotions I couldn’t even pinpoint. Sadness, guilt, anger, and the ever-present why. At the same time, he was so precious and little and like us all, just wanted to be loved no matter what. There’s no right or wrong way to react to your child’s diagnosis, since it’s completely natural to go through a grieving process when you find out your child is not “perfect” in the world’s eyes.

One of the most helpful thing for me to do was to surround myself with other special needs parents, especially those who were further down the road than I was. They can give you the encouragement you need to through the difficult times. Hearing “it’s going to be okay” from someone who has never walked the road means nothing. Hearing it from someone else who has experienced the same things means everything.

Along the road, I also learned to look at Junior through God’s eyes. God made him perfect in His eyes, and sometimes I need to remember that God doesn’t look at the outward appearance, and neither should we. The treasures and blessings that Junior has brought with him have been so deep and rich, that I don’t think I’d change anything about him…he’s perfect.

Finally, give yourself grace. Take deep breaths. Try to get away by yourself and relax. You don’t need to hold it all together or do it all. Especially in the first months of diagnosis, it’s everything you can do to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Don’t beat yourself up that your house is dirty and dinner is takeout again. Show your baby the love he or she longs for, and forget about everything else right now. If you’d like specific advice or need some encouragement, feel free to contact me.

Read Junior’s Story HERE


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Recipe Collection-Slow Cooker Meals

I’ve posted a number of Slow Cooker Recipes in my Family Favorite Recipe page, but I wanted to put them all together for you. So, here are my 8 favorite, simple, delicious slow cooker meals!

1. Chili
This is our standby chili recipe. Simply perfect. Add more heat if you prefer, with hot sauce when serving, and serve with cheese, sour cream, fritos, and cornbread.

2. Meatball Soup
If you’re tired of serving spaghetti with your meatballs, try this simple soup!

3. Black Beans
This recipe has been the most popular page on my site, and for good reason! It’s a wonderful recipe that turns out fantastic. Serve as a main dish with rice, or as a side dish.

4. Refried Beans
Based on my black bean recipe, but using pintos, these slow cooker refried beans are a delicious and healthy way to bring Mexican food to the table!

5. Baked Potatoes
Yes! You can make baked potatoes in the slow cooker! Great as a side dish or even a main dish when you add cheese sauce, chili, broccoli, and bacon!

6. Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
Literally the easiest meal you will ever make. Chicken breasts, a can of tomatoes, a can of diced green chilis, and some taco seasoning. Cilantro if you have it. That’s it! And it’s delicious and versatile!

7. Carnitas
This refreshing shredded pork is great on tostadas, burritos, tacos, and even nachos!

8. Greek Yogurt
You can make Greek Yogurt in the crock pot! And it’s actually very easy, although it takes a little while! Serve with fresh fruit or granola.

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$50 Weekly Menu…No Beans or Rice Version!

It’s almost inevitable…try to find recipes for budget friendly meals, and you’re immediately bombarded with more bean and rice recipes than you can stomach. Now, don’t get me wrong, my slow cooker black beans and slow cooker refried beans are family favorites, but there’s only so much you can take. Luckily, you can make low cost meals with ingredients you’d normally buy…you just need a plan to stretch your ingredients! I made all these meals…with enough leftovers for a few days of lunches…for only $50.

Here’s what’s on the menu at our house this week:
*Chicken Noodle Soup
*BBQ Chicken English Muffin Pizzas with Fruit Salad
*Omelet Bar with Fruit Salad (fillings include bell pepper, mushrooms, cheese, onion, and bacon)
*Spaghetti topped with Bell Peppers and Mushrooms, and Broccoli
*Baked Potato Bar with Broccoli (toppings include cheese, sour cream, onion, and bacon)


Strategy #1-Remember How to Stretch Your Meat
-For this week I only needed 3 chicken breasts and one package of bacon. Two of the chicken breasts were cooked and chopped for chicken soup, and the other chicken breast was shredded for our BBQ Chicken English Muffin Pizzas. Two chicken breasts in the soup spread enough for about 8-10 servings of soup (we had plenty of leftovers), and one shredded chicken breast made 12 BBQ Chicken English Muffin Pizzas.

One package of bacon also lasted all week. Since I cooked up the bacon and then crumbled it for the omelets and baked potato bar, I get the flavor and heartiness of the smoky and delicious bacon without spending a ton or using a lot.

Strategy #2-Simple Side Dishes
-The side dishes for the pizza and omelet bar are just simple, in season cut up fruit. Right now we’re getting good deals on apples, pineapple, and bananas. (Even organic fruit is inexpensive when on sale!) 
-The other days I’m just steaming up broccoli. I like to buy the frozen bags from Trader Joes, but fresh is fine too. I think the frozen is a better price for more consistent quality, though.

Strategy #3-Make Dishes Where a Little Goes a Long Way
-As I mentioned above with the bacon, omelets and baked potatoes are great conduits for quality ingredients, but not having to use too much to get a ton of flavor. I only purchased one bag of cheese–none of the meals too much cheese–and only purchased one bag of mushrooms and one bell pepper. By cutting up the veggies I was able to add some to the omelets, and the rest I sauteed in butter and olive oil with salt and pepper as a delicious topping to our basic spaghetti with red sauce.

What are your favorite low cost meals–that don’t involve beans and rice? I’d love to have you share your recipe or link in the comments!

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6 Frugal Meal Ideas Using Eggs

Barring an allergy or sensitivity, eggs are a great frugal ingredient that you can use for many different meals. Here are some ideas for saving money on your weekly menu using eggs as an ingredient.

1. “Leftover” Omelets
When I have scraps of vegetables or meat left over I like to make omelets. It only takes a small amount of leftovers to make omelettes, but they are very filling. Serve with a smoothie using any fruit on hand.

2. Fried Rice
I love this recipe for fried rice, for when I have even a little bit of meat leftover from a previous meal.

3. Salad Topper
Add hard boiled eggs to a salad, for a protein boost that will help fill you up. Try it on spinach salad or Caesar Salad.

4. Breakfast Burritos
Scramble eggs with a little bit of chili powder and garlic powder. Fill a tortilla with eggs, cheese, salsa, and bacon if desired. Serve with fruit or roasted potatoes.

5. Breakfast Scramble
I’ll make breakfast scrambles when I have a little bit of veggies leftover but don’t feel like making omelettes. Scramble eggs with chopped vegetables, such as bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes and spinach. Serve with toast.

6. Egg Sandwiches 
For a quick and filling meal, scramble up two eggs, and place on a slice of toast. Top with cheese and broil until cheese is melted. Top with another slice of toast. 

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