April 29, 2013

1st Birthday Party Ideas

Those of you who have been following our blog know that I have two boys. One is five and the other is a week away from 9 months. With my oldest turning six a couple months after Kindergarten starts, it’s safe to say birthdays around here are going to start getting
interesting.

My youngest son turns the big ONE this August and since the first birthday is a big deal, I’m starting to get some ideas rounded up now. Now, you have to understand that I’m pretty good at procrastinating so the fact that I’m thinking three months in advance for his birthday is pretty amazing. And, since I’ve been looking at first birthday party ideas, I thought I’d share a few with you in case you, or someone you know, have a little one turning one in the next few months!

1. Baby Water Party: Since my son’s birthday is in August, this idea is pretty appealing to me. It can be done at home or at the local pool, depending on your preference. Personally, I like to invite family and close friends (and their kids) only for the first birthday party so I would opt for at home. All you have to do to make this party a hit is fill up a small wading pool with a couple inches of water and advise parents with small children that there will be pools available for splashing. If you have kids of different age groups, you may need more than one pool. Definitely make sure that parents are supervising their kiddos while they’re in the water.

2.  Family BBQ: Some people like to keep birthdays for kids under five simple and only invite family over. There’s nothing wrong with this, especially for the first birthday party when the little one won’t remember anyways. It’s a simple idea that usually takes place around noon on a Saturday or Sunday. Hamburgers, hot dogs and other grilled favorites are served and once everyone is full, out comes the cake and everyone gathers around to watch the little one “smash” his/her own personal cake. Then gifts are opened and everyone is able to leave and get home at a decent time! This is definitely the way to go if you prefer a simple first birthday party for your little one.

3. Paint Keepsake Party: This one works well for boys or girls and lets the kids bring home a keepsake for their parents. Since most of the kids at your little one’s first birthday will probably be little, you will want the parents to help with this. Have a table with a plastic table cloth prepared with paper plates, small paintbrushes, paper and paints. Have the kids dip either their hand or foot in the paint and then press on a piece of paper and have parents paint the child’s name and date in the corner. Set aside and let dry. At the end of the party, parents can take the pictures home and frame them for a keepsake!



You can read more tips for kids and parents on my blog here.

April 21, 2013

How to Spend Your Tax Return

It’s that time of year again…tax time. The time of year many people dread because it means that they will have to pay the government even more money. However, sometimes we get “lucky” and end up getting money back. If you are getting money back this year, what do you plan to do with it? There is a saying that says something like, “if you don’t control your money, it will control you.”

This is true, especially when we get an unexpected amount of money back. If we don’t have a “plan” for what to do with it, then we will most likely spend it on something in the spur-of-the-moment and it will be gone. So, what do you want to do with your tax return? Below are a few suggestions.
1.      Establish an Emergency Fund. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, which is scary because you never know when an emergency may occur…or an unexpected job loss may happen. An emergency fund will help make the “emergency” a little less urgent and help you fill in the gaps when needed. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set some of your tax return aside and start an emergency fund. 

2.      Replace old Clothes. If you have children, then you know how fast they go through clothing. Kids aren’t cheap and when they are growing, it seems like we are constantly buying clothing. Setting aside part of your tax return to buy new summer clothes for your kids, may be a smart idea. If you start watching the sales now, you will probably be able to get your kids nice summer clothes for great prices. (A great way to save money on clothes is to shop online.)
 
3.      Date Night. So many parents don’t make enough time for themselves because there is so much going on with the kids. And, when they do have time, it seems like there just isn’t enough money so they make the sacrifice and stay home. Set aside $100 or so and go on a date night together.
 
4.      Vacation. Family vacations are important because they give the family time to reconnect with one another. Family vacations don’t have to be a week long or cost a lot. But, it’s important to make time to get away together, if only for a weekend. If your tax return is decent, put some back for a small family vacation this summer.

5.      Pay off Debt. Another great idea for tax return money is to pay off debt with it. If you money racked up on a credit card and have enough to pay it off, then pay it off. That’s one less payment you will have to make every month. Paying off debt will not only take away a monthly payment, but it will also make you feel better about your finances – which can be a big relief.

6.      Put some in Savings. Savings is not the same thing as an emergency fund. An emergency fund is not to be touched unless there is a real life emergency. Savings is different because it’s there for when something comes up and you need it. For instance, if you’ve been needing a new mattress and you find one on sale. You weren’t planning on buying it yet, but it’s too good of a deal to pass up…that’s what savings is for. Try to put at least 10% of your return in savings.

April 19, 2013

Life is Precious: What I’ve Learned from Boston and Texas

There is no doubt that this week has been a very sad week for America. On Monday, we experienced the horrific Boston bombing, which shocked the nation. Then, on Wednesday night the town of West, Texas suffered from the deadly fertilizer plant explosion.  At Kids Formal, our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by these two tragedies. There are not enough words to express how sad we truly are for the people affected.

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As a mother, tragedies such as these two always make me think of all the parents of the victims. It doesn’t matter how old someone is when they pass away, they are always somebody’s child. It has been said that the greatest pain in the world is the pain of losing a child. I am very fortunate that I haven’t experienced this pain, but when tragedies happen, I can’t help but think about how precious life is and how I could lose one of my children in an instant.
The fact is that nobody knows when it will be there time to go and, therefore, none of us know when the last time we will see our children will be either. Just look at the poor parents in Newtown, CT who sent their little ones off to school expecting to pick them up later that day. I honestly don’t know how any parent can’t relate to those poor families.

Below are some of the things that I have learned from these unexpected tragedies.
1.      Be thankful for every day. I think that everyone gets a little lax sometimes when it comes to appreciating the gift we are given each night when we lay our heads down on our pillows. We aren’t one day in this life, and unfortunately, neither are our children. Sadly, it doesn’t matter if our children are 3 or 30…death doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age. When our time is up, it’s up. This is why every night when I go to bed, I’m consciously thankful for being given another day with my family. 

2.      Don’t sweat the small stuff. I know that we have all heard this saying and, if you’re like me, you don’t think much of it. But, when something horrible happens that is beyond our control, it really puts things in perspective. For instance, my son and I recently got into an argument about whether he should wear his boots or tennis shoes with the outfit he chose for the day. Looking back on it now, it was a petty argument that could have been avoided. So what if I didn’t agree with the shoes he chose for the day? The important thing was that he was wearing shoes. If wearing the boots made him happy, why did I care if it looked funny? That’s something he can figure out on his own. Those are the types of issues that I’m talking about when I say, don’t sweat the small stuff. Just be happy that you and your family are all healthy and able to spend another day together. 

3.      Make time for fun. This is another one that I’m guilty of. I’m always busying myself with things around the house that need to be done instead of spending quality time with my kids (and husband). The fact of the matter is that there is always going to be laundry to do, dishes to put away and toys to pick up, but there won’t always be time available to play catch with my boys or watch a movie with my husband. Through the events this week, I’ve come to realize that I need to make time for fun with my family. So what if the dishes have to wait until tomorrow? It’s important that I take time to play with my kids now because I may not get the chance tomorrow. 

4.      Always say “I Love You.” I can’t imagine the regret that would come from losing a loved one after an argument, especially if I didn’t say “I love you” before I left. However, I have heard stories from people who have lost loved ones who did not express their love the last time they saw their loved one alive and they all live with this regret. Since we don’t have any guarantees in this life, I make it a point to tell my husband and my kids that I love them before I leave for the day, even if I am upset with them.
Thankfully, I didn’t know anyone who died or was injured in the Boston bombing or the Texas explosion, but those events definitely caused me to think about life in general. Now, I look at things a little differently and try not to take anything for granted. I want to live every moment to the fullest and I want my family to do the same.

More articles from Andrea K. Clark
 

April 15, 2013

Things to Do Before Kids

I know, this blog post is a little odd for the Kids Formal blog considering we specialize in clothes for kids…meaning you probably already have kids, right?! Well, I know I’m a little late in writing this but I just had to get it out of my system. It seems like I’m always seeing and talking to “young” couples who are engaged or have just gotten married and don’t have kids yet. There are just so many things that I want to tell them, you know the things I didn’t think twice about before having kids that I wish someone would have told me about. So, if you know one of the couples I’m talking about…pass this on to them!

1.      Take Naps!! I can’t tell you how many times in a week I think about those college days when I could nap whenever I wanted to. Before class, after class, sometimes during class…but I didn’t take advantage of it. If I could go back in time I think I would seriously shake myself for not taking advantage of those all those missed opportunities. Now that I’m a mom, my time is not my own. It belongs to my kiddos (ages 5 and 6 months) and I only get to sleep when they are, which isn’t often enough!

2.      Enjoy the Romance. I know that when you’re young and just getting started with your career, money is a pretty hot commodity. It’s one that most responsible young, kid-less people try to save for the future. Saving money is great, but don’t be so tight with your money that you skimp on romantic dates. Trust me, once the little ones arrive, finding the time to go out on a nice, romantic date alone is next to impossible. As in, if you’re lucky, three to five times a year. Enjoy the romance together now because kids have a tendency to make it harder to do.

3.      Travel More. This is another big one. Probably the one that I really wish I would have known about before kids. My husband and I love to travel – we always have. However, we dated for five years before we got married. We were 21 when we got married – so really, we only dated 2 ½ years after high school before getting married. In other words, we were broke college students. We had our first kiddo when we were 24. We did do some traveling during those childless years, but not nearly as much as we should have.
Okay, those are my top three things that young couples need to do before they have kids. Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely adore my kids and wouldn’t give them up for anything. However, in some instances, hindsight really is 20/20. There are just a few things I would have done differently during those kid-less years. I’m sure if you have little ones running around, there are days when you can relate!

April 11, 2013

Get Moving This Spring!

I know, it’s already April and I’m talking about spring! Every year, I look forward to spring. I guess it’s because during the winter months my family and I are stuck in the house most of the time. So, by the time February gets here, I’m more than ready for the warm weather to come back so we can get outside and enjoy the fresh air again. I’ve just noticed that the more my family and I are outside, the happier we tend to be.

There are a lot of benefits for families associated with being outdoors. For one, the sun gives us the Vitamin D that our bodies need and we also get exercise when we’re out having fun in the sun. An additional benefit for those of us with young children is that playing outside wears them out…which means a decent afternoon nap for us! Therefore, get you and your family moving this spring. There are too many benefits not to. If you start planning activities now, you won’t have a problem thinking of things to do when spring does arrive. Below are a few ideas to help get you started.
1.      Explore New Trails – Take the time to research some of the nearby hiking and bicycling trails in your area. Then, plan a Saturday morning to take the family to one of them and explore it. Make sure you bring plenty of water, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks and the camera! If you’re kids are older and can handle it, a little trail bike ride may be a fun adventure too. However, if you have young kids and want to ride bikes, you will need to look for neighborhood sidewalk trails/paths to take to ensure everyone has a good, accident-free ride.

2.      Frisbee – Who doesn’t enjoy a fun game of Frisbee? This is an activity that people of all ages will enjoy regardless of whether you’ve got a 2 year old or a 60 year old! The best part is that Frisbees aren’t expensive and can easily be played in the backyard. If you don’t have a backyard or want a change of scenery for the family Frisbee games, load up and go to a nearby park.

3.      Basketball or Volleyball – Another fun family activity is to play a game of basketball together. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a regular game of basketball, especially if the kids aren’t old enough to understand the “real” game. Therefore, games of HORSE and Around-the-World are also fun basketball games that can be played. If you live have access to a volleyball court, then you and your family may have a good time doing this instead.

April 7, 2013

Newborn Woes

I know that I’m not the only one out there who has recently had a baby. My little guy is a week shy of being 6 months old. I tell you what, that is hard to believe! I know that the time went by fast when I had my first one (now 5), but I swear it’s going by even faster with the second one.

Regardless of how fast time is going by this time around, there are days when I give in to the newborn woes. You know, the fact that I feel like I’m not getting anything done because I’m constantly having to stop what I’m doing to change a dirty diaper, feed the little guy or move him because he’s bored (and fussing) and wants to be moved.
Sometimes, having a newborn isn’t all that fun and on those days, I just want to throw up my hands and say, “no one told me about this part of it!” You know, what happened to the fulfillment of picking out those adorable baby clothes, little dress shoes, bottles and other baby items? Instead, I’m trying to figure out when I’m going to have time to wash and FOLD all those tiny little clothes…and don’t get me started on the bottles. The truth is parenthood is hard and there is such a thing as newborn woes.
Surely, you know what I’m talking about? Luckily, I’ve found a few things that relieve the stress when I feel like giving up and throwing myself a pity-party. Below are the things that help me and hopefully, they will help you too.
1.      Drive away. That’s right. There are times when the walls close in and I feel like the house is too small and dark and I’m just cranky because of it. Especially, when I have a screaming baby. If the child has been fed and has a clean diaper, this is when I load him up in his carrier (screaming and all), put him in the car and get in the car and drive away.

Generally, the vibrations of the vehicle calm my little guy and he eventually falls asleep. For me, just driving around improves my mood. Even if I don’t actually go into a store, I feel like I’ve interacted with the world and I’ve gotten out in the sun (who cares if it’s streaming in through my tinted windows?). If I want to talk to another adult, I pull through a drive-thru somewhere and order myself an ice-cream shake! By the time I get back home, the baby and I both are in better moods.

2.      Lock myself in the bathroom. There are times when I can’t just jump in the car and go for a drive. This is when I put my little guy in his crib and head to the bathroom for a long, hot bath. I honestly don’t care if it is 2 o’clock in the afternoon. There’s just something about soaking in a tub full of hot, steaming water that helps melt away the day’s stress.

3.      Take a nap. Finally, if my little man is snoozing in the swing or has actually fallen asleep for his morning nap in the crib, I will take advantage of this time and steal a nap myself. It doesn’t matter how bad I feel, I usually feel refreshed after a mid-day nap. Even a quick, 30 minute nap rejuvenates me.
If you have a newborn at home, it’s important that you find the time to do the little things that helps you de-stress. If you can find a way to improve your mood when you find yourself getting down, it will have a positive impact on your baby too. It’s not good for parents to be upset around their newborns because they can sense that negative energy. So, do what you can to stay positive and refreshed.

April 4, 2013

Tips for Saving Money on Young Kids in 2013

As 2012 came to an end, we knew that the economy wasn’t in great shape and that we were most likely going to experience some type of tax increases as the fiscal cliff neared. However, if you’re like me, you weren’t quite prepared for how drastic of a cut your first paycheck in 2013 would actually take. While most American families have been working hard to save as much money as possible in years past; it looks like it’s going to be even more critical to find additional money saving techniques in 2013. If you have young children and are looking for a few additional ways you can save money this year, below are a few suggestions you may find beneficial. 

1.      Diapers.com Okay, I’m a little embarrassed by this because I have a 5 year old and I’ve just recently discovered the Diapers.com. I’m hoping that I’m not the only one who has been missing out on the incredible savings that this site offers money-strapped parents! If you have kids still in diapers then you know exactly how costly those little things are…well, let me tell you of my recent savings at Diapers.com. I purchased an XL box of Pampers size 3 diapers (222 count) for only $47.99 (right now, they’re offering a $2 coupon on select boxes valued at $49.99…which is how I got the $47.99 price). However, I also found a cute little Carter outfit marked 50% off ($8.99) on the site too. After doing a little researching online, I found a 20% coupon code for first-time Diapers.com customers (OHBABY20) which I was also able to use. The total for my entire order was: $47.38 because I also received free 2-day shipping since my order was originally over $49.00! The site has a lot more than just diapers and clothes for infants and toddlers, so if you’re a parent with little ones around, take advantage of Diapers.com and save some money!
 
2.      Online Clothing Stores I know you’re probably thinking that I’m an online shopping junkie, but I’m really not. However, when it comes to being frugal and saving money, I tend to shop around for the best deal, which means I compare the local prices I find to online prices before purchasing clothes. While I’m an advocate of shopping for some clothing from websites such as Amazon.com and Ebay, I leave the formal clothing to Kids Formal and you should too. We really do have one of the largest inventories of fine children’sformalwear, all at reasonable prices – generally much lower than local formalwear retailers can offer. 
 

3.      Get Crafty Finally, in order to cut back and save as much money as possible, I have started to get craftier here lately. For instance, I found a great deal on a Wolfgang Puck bread machine a few weeks ago that I couldn’t pass up, so I’ve been making my own bread. And, this particular bread machine also makes jams and jellies too…so I’m no longer buying jams from the grocery store. Doesn’t sound like much, but it does make a difference.

Another thing I’ve started doing is making my own laundry detergent. I actually figured this one up and found that if I bought as much Tide from the store as I can make with my recipe, I would spend at least $470 MORE dollars a year just on laundry detergent! If you’re interested in making laundry detergent, you can find the recipe here.  

Those are just a couple of ways you can get crafty and save money. There are many more. For instance, learning how to sew and making your own kids’ clothes will save you a lot of money, especially since they grow so fast. So, why not learn a “trade” in 2013 and learn how to make something your family uses on a regular basis and save money?

Vacation Ideas for Families with Young Children

For me, the month of January always means carving out a time to sit down and come up with a number of “plans.” For instance, every year at this time I sit down and make a list of the debt my husband and I have…I include everything but the car note and the mortgage. Then, my husband and I go over the list and determine which things we can get paid off by the end of the year…then we make a “plan” for how to do this. I also use this time to get our tax information in order and schedule an appointment with our accountant so we can get our income taxes done early.


 

Financial planning is not the only type of planning I do during the month of January. I also plan for upcoming events such as weddings, holidays (Easter), family pictures and, my favorite, a family vacation. Although I don’t necessarily enjoy spending money, I do love planning our yearly family vacations, especially now that my husband and I have children. However, in order to successfully plan a family vacation, I have to start planning (and setting money aside) early…this is why I get it done in January.
Perhaps, you have always wanted to take family vacations but don’t think vacationing with young children is going to be pleasurable. While there are unique challenges when traveling with young children, it is possible to have wonderful vacations during this stage of your life (and still bring the kids!). Below are a few vacation ideas for those of you with young children. Whatever you decide to do, get it planned (and possibly booked) now to ensure you have enough time to save up and prepare for it.
·         Disney Cruise – Disney cruises are great vacations for families with children (of all ages) as Disney is in the business of entertaining. This means there is something to do all the time for you and your children! The Disney cruises even offer childcare, ensuring that you and your spouse can have alone “adult” time together. You can choose cruises that range from 3 to 14 nights and visit places like the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, Mexico and the Bahamas! The best part about Disney is that there is something for everyone, regardless of age, but especially young children!

·         Branson, MO – If you live within driving distance to Branson, MO this is definitely a great place to vacation with kids. It doesn’t matter if you want a short weekend trip or wish to stay a week, you won’t be disappointed here. The only complaint you’ll most likely have is that you ran out of time to do everything. And, if you don’t mind attending a small meeting, you can often find great Branson deals for two or three day trips as many time share companies offer specials to those who agree to sit through an hour long presentation during their visit.

·         The Beach – If you simply can’t decide what to do for your family vacation because you aren’t sure what your little ones will enjoy, you can’t go wrong with a vacation at the beach. There are a number of excellent beaches around the country and when you plan a beach getaway, the most you’ll be out is for your lodging, food and travel expenses. Some beaches do have a fee to use them, but if you do your research you can find beaches that are free to the public…making a beach vacation very affordable. Most young children love the water and will happily spend day after day at the beach building sandcastles and wading in the water!