Tag: christmas

Post-Disneyland Christmas Budget Reality Hangover Remedy

I want to be a great mom.

Yes, it sounds obvious because who doesn’t want to be a great mom…but I really have a deep desire to be a great mom.

Do I know what a great mom is? No. I have no idea what I even mean when I say to you, “I want to be a great mom.”

Part of me thinks it means making sure my kids want for nothing. Taking them to Disneyland for my brother’s wedding was amazing. They were wide-eyed bushy-tailed thrill seekers the whole time we were there. Even the angsty tween couldn’t help but be sucked in to the Disney Magic ™ … we all had a blast.

Coming home and entering all those line item spending items to the budget REALLY brought me back down to earth. Like, woah.

But as soon as that pain of how much we spent settled in there was (with almost whiplash speed) a whole bunch of Christmas stuff all over my world telling me that all that spending we just did wasn’t enough because we had to buy Christmas presents for the kids.

I almost immediately bought an Xbox One S from Costco. “It was on sale,” I said. “The kids will love it,” I said. “A group gift will SAVE MONEY,” I said. Then we started talking about how the kids play minecraft all the time with split screen and didn’t they need a bigger TV so they didn’t have to stand in front of the smaller TV to see the little screen quarters.

I’m not lying to you…I literally woke up out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night and thought to myself, “What the hell are we doing?” We were about to fall down some kind of consumer money-pit rabbit hole where I spent a thousand dollars on my kids for Christmas after spending more than I feel comfortable admitting to publicly on a week long vacation. (That price includes wedding gifts, clothing, like…everything but it’s still madness.)

We are in enough of a hole and digging ourselves deeper isn’t going to make it any better.

So, against my desires of wanting to give a lavish Christmas to the kids (that we cannot afford) I am going to teach them about restraint. I’m going to teach them that we are going to do a small holiday because the date on the calendar does not determine our spending habits.

Maybe we’ll do the gift guide I see going around social media: Give them something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

It sounds good in theory but my new (too strict) goal is $100 for all of Christmas for the three kids…including stockings. I’m not sure if it’s possible but I’m going to try. I picked the number in a very scientific way. I bought my youngest a LOL Big Surprise the day after Halloween this year because I heard from a mom friend online it was going to be the IT toy this season. I had totally failed on getting my daughter a Hatchimal last year (she really wanted one but was awesome about waiting until after the holidays) so was thinking I’d save the day this year.

They are going for a hefty sum on eBay right now. I’m thinking I can use the sale of the LOL Surprise to fund Christmas if I time it correctly.

I’m done being sans souci about money. It’s time to get focused and build muscle for squeezing pennies in 2018. There are some amazing things in store (I hope) and I can’t wait to share them with you as they happen! I’ll keep you updated on my cheap-as-heck Christmas plan.

“Teacher Gifts” would Bankrupt Me!

Last night my kids wrapped teacher gifts for their teachers.

One gift for the main classroom teacher and one for each math teacher because they both go to math for an hour a day. Also because they are math teachers and I think that deserves a yearly prize because it’s awesome.

My kids were wrapping and having fun and using all my Japanese Washi Tape (<– Look! I figured out how to use Amazon affiliate links!) and I was starting to feel bad. I knew they had more teachers and here I was only taking care of one more than the bare minimum. In what I can only call a moment of total insanity I got all bubbly and asked the kids, “Hey kids…how many teachers do you have a week?”

They went down the list and it looked like this:


I left off room moms and the other volunteers because I was like, “Oh, let’s not go all overboard, now.”  I also only added the one vice-principal because I’ve interacted with her many, many times. I totally left off all the main office workers and the janitor (who gives out Pokemon cards and really kind of deserves a gift because he’s a cool dude.) There are probably at least twenty people not on this list who I could give a gift card and they would feel they were getting recognition they deserved for their hard work!

So if I wanted to get everyone the bare minimum (A $5 Starbucks “Have a cuppa on me” card) I would have to buy the Super Size Value Pack with (hold on, it’s early and I totally need a calculator, I’ll be right back) 32 gift cards.

HOLY CRAP! That’s $160 in gift cards! 

I can tell you right now I didn’t spend that much for both of my kids on Christmas gifts this year. I’m sure as hell not going to plow out that kind of cash on people I’ve never met but happened to apply for a job that got them in front of my kid. Who is spending hundreds of dollars doling out gift cards like Santa? I cannot even imagine.

The thing is…I wish I could. I think it’s an important job and it is important to recognize the job these people do with children every day. Celebrate the gym teachers, because they play games like Pass the Bacon with the kids. No, I’m not kidding, that’s a real game. Celebrate the art teachers because deciding to be an art teacher these days is pretty much akin to buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best because of how school budgets are all over the nation. Celebrate the computer lab teacher because she saves you from having to try and teach a child with the attention span of a hyper puppy how to use a mouse without yanking the cord out of the computer.

The librarian at my 2nd grader’s school is honest-to-goodness one of my favorite people on this EARTH. I adore her. I’m pretty sure when I’m 90 and someone tells a story about a random librarian, she is the one I’ll be picturing in my mind. She is everything I’ve always dreamed of in a librarian and I have a total mental crush on her.

Your (and my) Tax Dollars at Work!

I got notes home from both classrooms. If you have kids, I’m sure you’ve gotten these notes as well. “It’s that time of year! Please send in money so we can buy a gift for the teacher!” This year both notes had the amazing distinction of not having an AMOUNT of money to send in listed. So I guess you just send in whatever. I spent a few minutes wondering what the lowest amount of contribution I could make would be to get a signature on the group gift, but then I asked my 3rd grader if she knew what her teacher liked.

“Cheez-Its and M&Ms!” was the immediate reply.

I saw the clouds part and heard the angels sing! You don’t have to send in five bucks for some totally unknown gift when I can (oh yeah, are you going to pick up what I’m about to put down here?) use the Food Stamps to score my kid’s teacher gift. So I got to be that fat mom people hate in the line at the Walmart using her EBT card to buy MFing Cheez-Its and M&Ms. If you were behind me in line you probably thought I was a horrible person and that my big plan was to go home and eat that madness while watching some reality TV and washing that box down with Diet Coke while putting down those reality show women like it was my American DUTY!

Or maybe you’re a decent human being and had no opinion on what I was buying. 

Either way…those Cheez-Its are wrapped and on their way to a (hopefully) pleased teacher.

Our tax dollars being used to make a teacher feel appreciated.
You’re welcome. 

Come to find out her math teacher loves granola bars. I was straight gleeful at that point.

The other kid had a tea drinker and a 100% blank slate of, “She doesn’t ever talk about anything but math.” (but she doesn’t talk about math enough to know what kind of math-themed gift to get, either.” So they get tea sets because if the one teacher doesn’t want it it’s in nice packaging so she can regift it. I couldn’t use Food Stamps on the tea sets (duh) but I did manage to spend a lot less than if I just started sticking five dollar bills in all the room mom envelopes.

I hate participating in the group gift no matter what condition my finances are in. The room mom sends out one envelope, gets all this money back and then buys the gift and presents it to the teacher like it was her gift. I remember the one time one of my kids had a great room mom. Yeah. That was nice. Now it’s a contest to see which helicopter mom can make her blades whir fastest to get the gig.

I was a room mom once. For five minutes. I was told the woman who didn’t get the gig (first come, first chosen, this was not by merit or I’d have never gotten near it) was crying. I was like, “Oh, wow, I do not even want to do this and only did because I was worried no one else would. If there’s someone crying over this she is welcome to it.” What I saw as an obligation this woman saw as…I don’t know what but losing it affected her. Not being room mom affected me too. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders knowing I would never have to plan a craft.

Until Pinterest delivers, I’m not your go-to woman for crafts. In case you hadn’t figured that out yet.

What level of teacher-gift madness do you subscribe to? Do you give something to everyone? 



The Christmas Spirit of Strangers


This year my Christmas Spirit ™ hasn’t come in with the force of awesome it usually does.

There has been stress, there has been weirdness, and there has been overall pressure to make some extra money. Not because we are living in fear, but to stay ahead of the fear, but that doesn’t make scrambling any less stressful.

But then there were some really good things that happened one after the other and I felt so much better and lighter and I felt the first tendrils of real Christmas Spirit™ take hold. I hoped things would happen that helped it grow.

Then it did!

First there was the invitation that came just in time. A great idea I was thrilled about. (What is vaguebooking called when it’s done on a blog? It’s time sensitive, you’ll know it when you read about it soon.)

Next, my amazingwonderful cousin asked me out to dinner last night. There were cosmos, there was steak, there was Caesar salad *drool* and I was happy and we had a bunch of fun.

I left her house at a totally respectable time and started the journey back to my house the way I always do. The same way we drove in her car to dinner. There was this slurpy patch of wet-ish snow but her car (a Kia small 4-door sedan) got through it just fine. I figured I was safe as I drove down the street, not losing traction even once in the sleet and snow, and I went down around the back and down the next street over. At the end of the street I slowed to turn right and PFWUMPFH got firmly stuck in the grooved, wet, tracked-through snow I had just gotten through in another car two hours earlier.

I was on the phone with Mr. Brickie at the time and he knew something was wrong because suddenly I’m sputtering and yelling insults at the snow and going from Drive to Reverse as fast as possible (with a few accidental Neutrals and Parks thrown in for variety, natch) and when a car would go past I would put it in Park and throw on my emergency lights so they would know to keep on keepin’ on past me and I wouldn’t suddenly drive into them.

The second car to pass by was a minivan. It stopped once it was behind me and slowly started backing up. The reverse lights were kind of blinding in my rear view mirror and I told Mr. Brickie exactly where I was in case I was about to end up in a basement somewhere. Then a seven year old boy appeared in my window.

I rolled down the window and he asks (with an angelic, sweet smile), “Are you stuck?”
I reply with a smile cause this kid is adorable, “Why yes, I *am* a little bit stuck.”

His just as angelic brother comes up behind him and now I feel safe enough to get out of the car. Their father is standing next to his minivan and waves.

The kids offer to push my car while I drive.

I say, “You won’t hurt yourselves, will you?”
The father replies from ten feet away, “No, because I’ll be helping them.”

I smile and say thank you a million times and get in my car and they did it. They pushed my car out of the snow and onto the clear road that was about two feet in front of me.

I hollered WOOHOO THANK YOU MERRY CHRISTMAS out my window and kept on driving. Safe and with a renewed faith in people, in strangers, in grown men who know not to get too close (okay, that part is kind of sad, too), and in the Christmas spirit.

Maybe I’ll run into them again, they only live a block away from my amazingwonderful cousin and those kids aren’t something I’ll soon forget. They were so darn SWEET.

You know, the kind of kids you wouldn’t mind your kids dating when they got older.

Waiting, Fantasies, and Poor Christmas (part 2)

mickey-alarm-clockWe start with some great news today.

One of Mr. Brickie’s SEM side-clients – who was almost 90 days behind in payments – sent in a partial payment this week, so that gave us a little breathing room. 11% of the current amount due isn’t anything great, but I’ll take whatever I can get with thankfulness right about now. Plus, the act of the client making a payment at all shows that the client is still active and makes the odds of receiving the other 89% a real possibility come January/February.

In the meantime we’re going to start posting more things on Criaigslist. It’s time to sell everything non-essential. Not just for the extra money – although that will be great – but having less stuff around us will make us feel less stressed. Okay, maybe it won’t make anyone else in my family feel less stressed, but it will make me feel better.

My new motto is, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

In other Mr. Brickie news we are in a tumultuous time with the weather. He was not able to work on Monday but was able to work today even though he did not expect to. He is also probably going to work Friday and Saturday this week. The rumors of another job during the winter are still floating around but have not been confirmed. If he can just keep working, he will get this first bump in apprentice level (from 40% to 50% apprentice) in the beginning of January (sorry if I’ve mentioned it a hundred times, it’s a mantra I repeat to myself often) when that happens he will get his first raise. That raise will be about $4/hr. If he worked full time and didn’t have unpaid rain days that would be an extra $8300 a year.

That is serious cheddar.

My original calculations will have us solvent with all bills and enough for gas and tolls and groceries at the 60% level. So it will be at least six months from January when we hit that level and get another raise of about the same level. (The reason it’s not exact is that the percentage is based of the journeyman rate and that changes year-to-year.)

While my husband only gets paid for the time he works, every hour goes into the health insurance bank, two pension funds, and an annuity fund. We might be poor, but it’s a straight shot of warmth to the heart when you hear the optometrist’s office manager exclaiming to a coworker, “This is the best insurance I have ever seen.” I get why people love their white collar jobs and paid holidays, but that just isn’t where my joy lies. I love skilled labor and think being able to make something is breathtaking. It’s so real and tangible.

I respect academia and do not begrudge people their choice to go to a college or university. I do, however, think people have really lost their perspective on skilled trades, considering “blue collar” work somehow “less than” white collar. I did too. I was very skeptical about unions and bricklayers and the whole nine yards when Mr. Brickie started his training, but at this point I’m so completely sold. I would be just as proud of my daughters if they learned a trade instead of going to college. Sure, both is fine, too. It’s a world where everything is possible. But if they were forced to choose, the only advice I would have is, “Pick the one you think you’ll love in five years. One that grows with you. One that makes you feel special in your heart.”

I can see it from both sides. I see how happy my husband is. I feel the difference in how he snuggles me at night and the confidence that comes home with him from work and turns into a side hug and quick kiss in the middle of the supermarket.

He was never this happy when his main job was search engine marketing. Never. As a side-job he loves it, but as his main source of income he absolutely detested the whole thing. Mostly because people make no sense a lot. Or so I think.

I have to say, the changes in his personality from going blue collar make me certain I could be poor and happy with him forever. Luckily, I don’t have to make that choice. He is doing great at work and will probably be with this company until he is a journeyman and who knows, possibly forever. There are several coworkers of his who have been there their entire career and one son who is second generation with the company. The reputation of the company he is with is that they’re always working on something, so he will be able to semi-rely on regular hours.

Plus my other mantra: The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 40% increase in jobs from 2010-2020. The industry is going to grow and, pretty soon, it’s going to grow fast.

He talked to a coworker of his during a break who said he usually saves about $3k to get through winter. He didn’t always need the money but that was his slush fund. The nods from the others confirmed that was pretty much the rule among the guys.

So we even have our minimum savings goal for next winter.

It will be nice to see snow and be excited he’ll be able to spend a surprise day at home with the family.

In addition to minimum savings achievements and surprise snow days, I have lots of family fantasies of how things will be once we are in a financially stable position. Gymnastics lessons and art lessons and vacations and retirement accounts and museum trips are what I dream of on the good nights. Things we were able to do and put a hefty amount away in savings back when I was working full-time(ish) in marketing. He’s going to make more than I did. We already know how to save because we did it last time we made more money than we were used to.

We may be poor, but we are poised for success.

It’s taken almost eleven years of learning about each other, our priorities, our bad money habits…but we did the work and are happier now than we have ever been. We have a long-term plan, we have purpose, and we have the discipline to go the distance.

As long as we can make it through the waiting part. Which, I have to admit, is much more difficult than I could have ever imagined.

Update on poor Christmas

I only have two people left to buy for. The girls are taken care of for Christmas as well as for their January birthdays. I just wanted to be done with it. Now I am.

This involved credit card debt (yes, I’m a big ol’ hypocrite) and I seriously don’t even care. I got better deals on what I bought than I’m seeing listed for Black Friday pricing and each kid got five-ish things. Nothing is over the top, and most presents were purchased for under ten dollars on Amazon.com … I did get one the Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Bow for $15 and change, but I already have one in my closet from a PR campaign the girls have never seen. Everyone gets some Nerf for Christmas. They’re going to be thrilled with everything, I’m sure, and while I will have to pay some interest on the purchases, it’s something I talked to Mr. Brickie about and we decided it would be better to just be done with the whole thing and pay a little for the convenience.

We paid out most of our tax return last year to pay off debt, so, again, we know we’re not going to say, “We’ll take care of it with our tax return” and decide to go to Maui instead and hang the credit debt. It’s nice being a person I know I can rely on to do the responsible thing.

It might just be for today, but right now, I’m feeling hopeful for the future of my family.

I scored today’s quote from a post I read about a person moving into a 200 square foot cottage. You can find that article, which is pretty interesting, right over here.

How To Make Christmas Break Work (kid edition)

Tomorrow is going to be the last day of school for the kids until 2011.

I’ve amused myself for the last week by telling people I’m so over things and won’t even bother doing them until next year. From eating sushi to saying certain phrases I’ll just be all, “I’m over it. I’m taking the rest of the year off.” It’s not really laugh-out-loud funny, but it amuses me and I’ve heard a couple of my friends start saying it so it’s catchy.

Wow. I’m dreading two weeks with my kids out of school so much I’m avoiding talking about it on my own blog. Be that as it may I have been compiling a list of things I can do with my kids to keep them (and me) amused during holiday break.

  1. Art. From painting to crayons to markers to pencils to chalk, I’m going to have time set aside every day for art. A roll of butcher or easel paper is perfect to sprawl on the kitchen table and tape underneath, leaving my table free to be drawn on, without actually getting, you know, drawn on.
  2. Crafts. This one is tougher for me because it requires a lot more supervision than your standard coloring book and crayons. I’ve found that Elmer’s Glue will come off of anything and glitter will come out of nothing. So glue is “in” when it comes to craft supplies in my house and glitter is definitely an “out” – I have better things to do than find glitter in my youngest daughter’s junk when I change her diaper after the older two have had a full day of crafting. (True story, and the one that got glitter banned from my house.) But it’s pretty easy to take some cardboard and make a stand-up animal or really big paper doll that you can make clothing for from construction paper.
  3. Dance Time. I don’t know if other parents do this, but we occasionally set aside a half-hour to an hour to put on kid radio on the television and let the girls dance. We clear away the coffee table and push furniture to the outsides of the room to give them space. We’ve also done this with CDs when we didn’t have a television provider that had channels of music.
  4. Food Time. This is another high-supervision activity to avoid ants or other things-that-like-floor-food out of your home. But letting kids make their own lunch can be a time-consuming and fun activity. Start with crackers or bread. We use Brownberry 100% Whole Grain (look for the wholegrains.org label!) and cut it into pieces. Then the kids use kid-sized spoons to spread peanut butter or nutella or jelly or whatever from these little tasting bowls – also known as pinch bowls – we have. It keeps the peanut butter out of the jelly and also helps with portion control. Not portion control so they don’t get fat, but portion control because my kids will put eight pounds of jelly on something and then not be able to eat it because it’s too much sugary-goodness for them to handle. We also had them make cookies yesterday. A spritz cookie recipe is so easy to throw together and let the kids stir (or turn on the KitchenAid) that it’s crazy not to try it at least once a year.
  5. Cleaning. With star stickers or movies or a million other rewards, we find that cleaning isn’t something that’s too difficult to get our kids to do. Your mileage may vary. My kids get bummed out when they have to clean their own bedroom and playroom, but ask them to clean something in the living room, kitchen or the bathroom and they feel like big girls and love to help. So we save the bedroom and playroom for the “before bed tire you out with your whining and your boredom and when you’re done bed will look like party central” chores and save other-parts-of-the-house cleaning for during the day when we can make it fun for them.
  6. Outside. I hate the cold and am not the mom that is going to be all, “Hey kids, want to go sledding?” But I’ll happily spend an hour watching my kids play with snow in the front yard. My husband is out there with them, of course, but if I had a place to watch them in the backyard I’d have no problem letting them go out into my fenced backyard unattended to play in the snow. Just make sure to have your kids come inside every ten to fifteen minutes to check them for blue lips and chattering teeth. Have cocoa on hand for the chilly after-party!
  7. Write A Book. If your kids are just scribbling and have given up on coloring and just seem…bored…you can have them write a book. Little ones can write a picture book and you can write in captions. Bigger kids can illustrate and write their own book. A couple bucks, a three hole punch, and some yarn or ribbon can see your book laminated and bound, ready to be put away and remembered fondly when your kids are 30.
  8. Decorating. One of the things I want to do when none of my kids are destructive toddlers (only two more years to go!!) is give the girls a special “kid tree” they can decorate with all the homemade ornaments they bring home from school and they can make at home with yarn and construction paper and maybe a piece of cardboard to keep the construction paper hanging right. My tree is a work of art that I adore, and I am not going to sacrifice it to school ornaments and have it looking like nick-nack night at the preschool. I have no problem if you love your garage-sale looking tree and I get that it makes your heart swell – that’s fine – I’m just not that person. I am a director and I have a vision…for my tree. LOL
  9. Exercise. I don’t know about your kids, but mine will do some Leslie Sansone Walk Away the Pounds with me in a heartbeat. They’ll try to do more difficult exercises like Core Rhythms but they lose interest fast because they can’t keep up. If your kids are older set it up as a contest to see who can go longer. Who cares if you lose? You wore your kids out, and that’s always a bonus!
  10. Video or Board Games. As long as they’re part of a healthy school-vacation diet of activity, there is nothing wrong with adding in video game or board game love. It’s a tool in the toolbox and anyone who thinks they’re inherently evil probably misread the bible and thinks money is the root of all evil, too.  

I manage to interact with my kids while going to school, working from home, and sporadic blogging. I have all the faith in the world that you, too, can take a few of these suggestions and incorporate them into the next two weeks of long, long days.

p.s. If you’re a parent that cannot wait to spend two full weeks with your kids, I think you are a rock star.
p.p.s. Yeah, I totally used affiliate links for most of the products. I heart Amazon.