May 24, 2014

Sick Kiddos: Always be Prepared

I have to admit that I have been pretty lucky over the last six years as my family has always managed to stay pretty healthy, even when the cold and flu season was in full-swing. Sure, there have been a few times over the past several years when one of us has been “down” due to a 24-hour bug, but we haven’t had anything major (knocking on wood now).
However, last night at around 11:30 p.m., my 6 year old got up, went to the bathroom and then came out to tell me he was sick. The thermometer confirmed his conclusion as he had a 99.8° temperature. The poor little guy was up and down several times between 11:30p.m. and 3:00 a.m. when his fever finally broke and the stomach cramps subsided. Although he woke up this morning without a temperature and his happy-go-lucky attitude had returned, I could not send him off to school without knowing for sure if he was really back to normal.
Having sick kiddos at home is definitely no fun and for whatever reason, it always seems to start when we are least expecting it. I mean, my son had been in bed asleep for 4 ½ hours before he got up and suddenly got sick. Thankfully, I was prepared and didn’t have to rush out in the middle of the night (or first thing this morning) to get anything. While it can be miserable to have sick kiddos, it’s definitely worse when we aren’t prepared. Below are a few things that you should always have on hand so you’re prepared when the sickness strikes.

Working Thermometer: There have been many times when I’ve thought that my son has had a fever when in fact he didn’t. And, there have been other times when I’ve thought that he just wasn’t feeling that great but discovered that he was running a 101+ temperature! In order to accurately gauge our children’s temperature we all need to have a working thermometer in our medicine cabinet so we can get to the bottom of the temperature mystery as soon as possible.

Pedialyte: Those of us with young children, need to keep at least one bottle of pedialyte in our fridge ready to go when the diarrhea and vomiting start. Since children are so much smaller than we and many eat/drink less than we do, it’s important that we stay on top of their vomiting and diarrhea to ensure that they don’t get dehydrated and begin to lose the nutrients they need to fight the sickness. Pedialyte is the way to do this as the “medicine” tastes like flavored juice but is packed full of nutrients that our bodies need to function and fight off illnesses. 

Soup and Sprite: Most doctors recommend that those with stomach bug or flu-like symptoms stick to clear liquids such as sprite, as well as, wholesome soups such as chicken noodle soup until their bodies are able to handle regular foods again. But, the last thing you are going to want to do is head to the store when you’re kids come down with something. I always keep a 6-pack of sprite in the pantry as well as a few cans of chicken noodle soup.  

New Toothbrushes: It is recommended that you change out the toothbrush of the person who has been sick each time he/she recovers from an illness such as the flu or a stomach bug. The reason is because our toothbrushes collect a lot of germs when we brush our teeth and if some of the flu, stomach bug, etc. germs remain on the toothbrush, then it is possible to catch it again a couple weeks later. Therefore, keep a couple extra toothbrushes on hand so you are ready to switch them out when needed!

May 23, 2014

Summer Break Activities for the Whole Family

Summer is just around the corner which means most of us are going to be looking for some activities that are enjoyable for the entire family. As a mother of two young children (ages 6 and 1), I know how difficult it is to find things that our family can do and everyone enjoy themselves. Obviously, when we are looking for family activities, our focus is on finding activities that our children will enjoy but that doesn’t mean that we (the adults) don’t want to have fun either, right? Below are some ideas for summer break activities that your entire family can enjoy.

The Beach – If you live within a few hours of a beach, then plan a day to take the family. There is just something about a family beach day that puts everyone in a good mood. Maybe I am a little biased as my family didn’t live close to a beach, which has made me come to realize just how awesome beaches and the ocean are. My family loves spending a day together lounging around on the beach. We suntan (well I try when the dad and the boys are busy playing), wade along the shoreline, build sandcastles, play Frisbee and a number of other things. It’s a fun, relaxing and inexpensive way to spend the day together as a family.

Aquarium – In many states, the summer heat can really play a toll on people, making it almost impossible to get outside in the middle of the day when temperatures have skyrocketed. Days like these are perfect for family trips to the aquarium. My children love visiting the aquarium as they enjoy watching and learning about marine life. My oldest son is at the age where he is fascinated with sharks so a trip to the aquarium always gets him excited.  

State Parks – Visiting state parks together can make for fun family outings during the slow, summer days. We haven’t taken our youngest son yet, but when we have gone in the past with our oldest son, we would go in the morning before the temperatures get too unbearable. Usually we would bring a picnic basket along with us stocked full of sandwiches, fruit and water so we could enjoy our lunch outdoors before heading home. Our oldest has always enjoyed these excursions because he likes to get out and explore. Again, visiting a state park is another inexpensive activity that families can enjoy together. (Just a FYI: If you live in Texas or will be visiting and have young kids, try to visit the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, TX!)

Fishing – If you haven’t ever taken the family fishing before, it is definitely a unique experience that everyone will remember. This is an activity that will require a little planning ahead as you probably need to get a fishing license from the state for you and your family members, but once that is done, you’re all set. (Assuming you have the rods and tackle.) Plan to leave in the morning when it is cool so you can be packing up and heading back home before the heat gets bad. Usually, we only spend a few hours fishing when we go and that’s plenty. It’s an activity that we all enjoy doing together. Now that our youngest is walking he will get to join in on the fun. He’ll probably play in the riverbank and with the rocks, mud, etc. but it will still be fun for him!

Hopefully the ideas listed above have given you some new summer family activity ideas that you and your kids will enjoy doing together! What are some of your favorite summer activities to do as a family?

May 22, 2014

Romantic Vow Renewal Ideas

As you know, the wedding industry is one of the biggest industries around. In fact, it’s quite a ludicrous industry to be in because there will never be a shortage of couples who desire to take their relationships to the next level. And while we hear a lot about what it means to plan a wedding – venue, wedding dress, bridesmaids’ and flower girl dresses, the honeymoon, etc., we don’t hear a lot about vow renewals.

Is this because there aren’t many couples out there who desire to renew their vows? No, it’s really because full-fledge weddings are more profitable for those in the wedding industry than vow renewals as most couples looking to renew their vows don’t find it necessary to spend the amount of money on the ceremony as couples getting married for the first time do. However, that doesn’t mean that we should overlook the couples wishing to renew their vows!
Today, I want to talk to the couples out there who are thinking about renewing their vows.

Many couples struggle with the decision about whether or not they really need to renew their vows and, if so, how should they choose to renew them? Below are a few tips and suggestions that answer these questions.

1.  Do we need to renew our vows? The answer to this question is one that varies from couple to couple. Some couples feel like they were married once and they have no desire to renew their vows. If this is how you and your spouse feel, then by all means, don’t spend the time, money and effort planning a vow renewal. But, if you and your spouse have the slightest desire to renew your vows, then make the plans to do it – you will be glad you did!

2.  How should we renew our vows? Again, the answer to this question depends on you and your spouse. What do you guys want? The fun thing about vow renewals is that you and your spouse get to plan them without worrying about what others think (unlike most wedding planning). Therefore, you guys get to choose exactly what you want! Below are a few ideas:

  • Small, Intimate Ceremony – Many couples renewing their vows choose to have small, intimate ceremonies where they only invite their family and very close friends because these are the people who have been there for them throughout their marriage and know them the best. These types of ceremonies usually take place in backyards, small parks and other small venues.  
  • Large, Grand Ceremony – However, there are still those who can’t imagine renewing their vows without all of their family, friends and other acquaintances present, which is absolutely okay too! These vow renewals are a lot closer to wedding ceremonies in the fact that the guest list is quite large, therefore, the venue is too. Catering, entertainment and other “wedding-like” expenses are generally spent in these vow renewal ceremony.
  • Destination Ceremonies – Just like with destination weddings, couples can plan destination vow renewals. Most of the time, couples wishing to renew their vows elsewhere tend to keep these ceremonies intimate, meaning that a lot of destination vow renewals are just with the couple and possibly their children present. Of course, the benefit of destination renewals is getting and all-inclusive renewal/vacation at the same time. I can also see how these vow renewal ceremonies would be very relaxing for couples looking to recommit to one another without a big “hoopla.”
So, what are your thoughts about vow renewals? Is this something you want to do in the future? Or, have you already renewed your vows? Please share your thoughts with me!

May 1, 2014

Tips for Holiday Savings in 2014

I’m not sure what your take is on the current year, but mine is that it is going by entirely way too fast. The school year is already coming to an end and I swear it feels like the year just began! While I am like many of you who are beginning to focus on the upcoming summer months, I am also beginning to look even further and plan for the holidays.
Yeah, I know, it may seem a little crazy to start my holiday planning this far in advance, but I tell you what, when you start planning six to eight months in advance, the ability to save money is greater. An additional benefit is experiencing a lower stress level when the holidays do arrive. Below are a few tips I have for how you can save on the holidays this year.
1. Start buying gifts now. One of the easiest ways to ease the financial burden of the holidays is to spread the expenses out throughout the year. If you have a lot of extended family and friends that you buy Christmas gifts for, then start watching the sale flyers for your favorite stores. When you see something that you know one of people on your gift list would like, go ahead and buy it. Sure, you will have to store it but you’ve saved money and you have one less gift to buy. Therefore, it’s worth it!

2. Set money aside every pay period. Another great way to make sure you are financially ready for the holidays is by setting money aside each pay period. For example, I take out $50-$100 of every paycheck and put aside in a fund (within my budget book) labeled “Christmas.” Regardless of what the amount is that you can afford to set aside, the cool thing is that these bi-weekly deposits add up pretty quick. I’ve actually been doing this for several years now and it has worked really well for my family and I. In fact, because I know that I have the money set aside when it’s time to start buying holiday gifts, I am able to have fun shopping because I’m not worried about accumulating a lot of credit card debt or running my bank account dry buying gifts. This is probably the one tip that can save you the most stress during the holiday season, if you follow it.

3.  Buy stamps for holiday cards several months in advance. This one may sound a little silly, but have you ever added up just how many Christmas cards you actually mail out? I know a lot of people who have done away with mailing actual cards out for the holidays and opt for e-cards instead, but I personally feel like receiving a card in the mail is more personal. Anyways, to ensure I’m not caught off guard by the cost of stamps for my Christmas cards, I purchase forever stamps several months before Christmas and store them until the holidays roll around. I do still mail some of my bills so I make sure to keep the “Christmas” stamps in a separate place so I’m not tempted to use them. An additional benefit to this is that a Forever stamp is good forever so if the cost of stamps goes up after the time you bought the Forever stamps, you will be saving even more money when it’s time to mail those cards out!
4. Shop online. Believe it or not, there are a lot of great deals to be found online. While it does take time to browse the online deals at various stores, it can definitely pay off. An easy way to stay up-to-date on the online sales is to create a special email that you use only for receiving newsletters from your favorite stores and check this email once a day or once every other day. It makes it easy as you shouldn’t be receiving any mail in this account other than the stores’ flyers that you’ve signed up to receive. And again, don’t be afraid to order early. If there is a sale going on for an item you know will make the perfect Christmas gift for someone, then order it and cross the person off your list!

5.  Be frugal when buying holiday décor. The marketing teams at department stores are comprised of very intelligent people. They know how to decorate a store for the holidays with their products. When customers come in to shop they notice the décor and the various items that have been used for the décor and marketing teams know this translates into purchases. The issue is that most of these items are not going to be on sale and they’re overpriced anyways. Therefore, take the time to shop for your holiday décor items at discount stores such as Ross, TJ Maxx, Dollar General, etc., as well as, at garages sales. You never know what you will find at these places and when you get the items home and set up with the rest of your holiday décor no one will know that you didn’t pay full price for these items.

Believe it or not, the majority of stores make most of their profits for the year during the holiday months. The holidays are big business in America (and elsewhere), but that doesn’t mean you have to go into debt at this time of year!

How to Spend Your Tax Return

The first of the year brings the dreaded tax season with it. It’s the time of the year that many Americans dread because we don’t know if we are going to end up owing the government money or if we will be getting some money back. I’m not sure about you, but this time of the year makes me anxious until I get the call from my accountant telling me the “verdict.” Like everyone, there are years when my husband and I have come out ahead and received a tax return but then there have been other years when we have had to pay Uncle Sam.

For those who will be receiving a return this year, it can be pretty tempting to go out, splurge and spend it all. After all, it is your hard earned money being returned to you right? I know how tempting this is from experience. While spending a well-deserved tax return will feel liberating at the time, chances are it will be followed with a feeling of regret when all the “extra” money is gone. Below are a few suggestions for how you can spend your tax return without experiencing “buyers’ remorse” afterwards.

Open a Savings Account: Studies have shown that the majority of people are living paycheck to paycheck with very little money saved, if any at all. In fact, the average American hast more debt than they do savings. If this is you, then why not open a savings account with that tax return? Let that money stay tucked away in case an emergency arises in the future. There are some savings accounts that earn interest, which is always nice.

Pay down Debt: As mentioned above, most Americans owe more than they have in savings. If this is you, then paying off a credit card, medical bill or another outstanding balance is a great way to start working your way out of debt. There isn’t another feeling quite as good as making a final payment on something. If you have some money left over, put it in savings or opening a savings account is still an option worth considering.

Buy an Investment Property: While debt is generally considered a bad thing, there is a time when it isn’t bad and that’s when the debt is making money for you. For instance, most business owners have to take out a loan when they start up a business, but the money they make from the business pays for the business and then some, making that a good kind of debt. You may not be ready to start your own business but are looking for a way to increase your net worth, then buying an investment property is an option worth considering. Investment properties are a great way to increase your monthly income while building your investment portfolio. Your tax return can be used to purchase the house and make necessary improvements before you find a tenant…or resale it for a profit. It is worth noting that while investing in real estate is a good thing to do, getting rid of all your little debt (credit cards, student loans, etc.) should be your first priority.

Hopefully the ideas above have given you some inspiration for how to spend your tax return. Do you have any other ideas for spending a tax return wisely?