Free Printable! Christmas List: Want, Need, Wear and Read

christmasThis year we are trying out a new approach to Christmas lists and gift giving.  We have fallen into a never ending cycle of ‘out-doing’ ourselves each year when it comes to piles and piles of gifts shoved under our tree.  This is not a tradition I want to continue.  I want my kids to remember the feeling of joy and fun being with their family not the endless mounds of wrapping paper after a marathon of tearing open presents they’ll barely look at later.christmas2

Luckily, 3 of our 4 kids are 5 and under and the thirteen year old is such a good kid, which will make this year’s change easier.  We are opting for a Christmas list that contains something they each want, need, will wear and to read.  This isn’t a new concept, though I truly don’t remember where I first learned of it.  We’ll still do stockings, which has always been my favorite part.  Growing up my dad made stockings such fun.  And we will likely continue our tradition of ‘family gifts’ (one year it was an Xbox Kinect, clearly mostly for the kids, but fun for the grown ups, too).  This isn’t a hard and fast new rule to Christmas presents; just one I hope will help my kids understand it isn’t about getting stuff and help me reel it in a bit more. Wish me luck!

I created a little free printable to help kids fill out their Christmas list, you are welcome to use it, too!  You can download it here.


What are some ways you cut down on the excess at Christmas time?  Let me know in the comments.

Themed Costume Ideas for Families

Group Halloween Costume Ideas


My kids still let me plan themed Halloween costumes.  And believe me, I will be riding this wave for as long as they let me!

Family Group Costume Ideas

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays in this family.  Costumes for 5 (now 6) people can get quite pricey, so I do my very best to keep the total very low.  I try and buy items that can be reused and DIY costumes as much as I can, rather than purchase pre-made costumes (though, if there is a great deal, I am not opposed to store bought costumes).Group Costume

Last year I shared my post on 5 costumes for under $25 (we were Mario Bros characters)!  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, borrow pieces, thrift and make pieces!

Family Costumes

This year I scored a bunch of super hero costumes while searching a local garage sale site on Facebook!  It’s perfect because the kids said they want to be super heroes or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I know they’ll be tons of TMNT out this year on Halloween so, even though I have a great DIY Homemade TMNT costume ideas, I’ll be waiting on that.  Super Heroes it is!

Share your group theme ideas below!

Delicious Lunch At Home Or Work with Chili’s® at Home Frozen Foods

Thank you, Bellisio Foods, for sponsoring this discussion on tasty and bold meals!

Chili's at Home

Usually I try to pack leftovers for my husband to take to work.  On days I slack or there where no leftovers the night before he tends to spend anywhere from $5-10 (or more!) bucks on lunch.  That really adds up!  Since we are a one income family we have to be careful with our budget.  Especially, because we are saving for Disneyland and even $5 a week for a year would cost us $260.  It might not seem like much but that total could really come in handy while our kids (and foster son/nephew) experience Disneyland for the first time! So to save, I have been buying easy frozen meals for him to take on those occasions he doesn’t have a packed lunch.  Chili’s at Home meals are perfect!

Chili's At Home Frozen Food

I found tons of options at my local grocery store.  The flavors all sounded amazing (and I had to grab some for myself, obviously).  Think gourmet comfort frozen foods; like, my favorite, Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese.  And it’s not just single serving options, either.  You can choose from Multi-Serve and Family Size (and I saw on their website that Snacks/Appetizers are coming soon), too.

Chili's at Home Single Serve

The single serving is a generous size, big enough to get Hubs through the day, and the price is right! Plus, if you head to the website, I saw a coupon link, which would make this already affordable meal even cheaper.  The Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese was ready in 5 minutes and making it was the easy part (letting it cool was much harder; it looked so delicious).

Bacon Mac 'n' Cheese

Hubs and I agree, these Chili’s inspired frozen meals are perfect for home or work.   These big, bold, tasty flavors would be a fantastic and easy dinner choice, too.  What would you pair your Chili’s At Home with to create a perfect meal?

Planning and Saving for Disneyland

Disney on a BudgetI was recently invited to an amazing conference for Disney Social Media Moms (On the Road) #DisneySMMoms and got the inside scoop on Disney related stuff, as well as amazing info from some role-model worthy women (check out my social media for more on the conference).  This prompted me to really make a decision…it is time to seriously consider a family vacation to Disneyland!

We are big Disney fans in this house.  We show our DisneySide in some way everyday.  All six of us have our own Disney favorites; Jelly Bean, my red-headed 12 year old stepdaughter grew up loving Ariel and her resemblance to Merida is uncanny.  Seriously, people have stopped us and told us to seek out monetary compensation because clearly “Disney used her as a model!” My younger boys have watched all of the Toy Story movies over and over and most recently Frozen has been playing on a loop.  My husband’s favorite is by far The Sword in the Stone.  And I refuse to pick just one and since I am the writer of this article; I don’t have to!

Disney's Brave

Disney Snack

My oldest boy is now 5 and has been asking when he’ll get to visit the magical and mysterious land of Disney, or as you and I call it, Disneyland.  The younger two boys are blissfully unaware that there is a place, only 7 hours away, that houses all their favorite Disney characters, rides, food and magic.  Jelly Bean has been lucky enough in her short life of only 12 years to have visited Disneyland twice.  I have a burning desire to share the pixie dust with my kiddos and have become determined to take them in the next year.  It would be an especially amazing experience for my nephew (you can read about our Kinship Foster Care story here) who has never traveled and who’s future is somewhat uncertain and who might not get the chance to feel the Disney magic later in life.

We live on one income and our budget is very tight.  We don’t use credit cards so we’ll be saving old school for this trip; little by little.  I prefer this way because their is no debt involved and it gives our whole family something to work for and get excited about.  Would it be awesome to get some Disney instant gratification and go next month?  ABSOLUTELY!! Does that really work for my family of 6? Not really.

Photo Credit: Scott Brinegar/Disneyland

Photo Credit: Scott Brinegar/Disneyland

My first step in planning is to price out some trip prices.  Because I am hoping to take them around this time next year I can get a pretty good idea of how much a trip like this will cost.  Planning is half the fun (if you are new here let me introduce myself, “Hi, I am Nicole and I LOVE to plan and organize things…it’s kind of an obsession”) and I am getting really excited with all the amazing options and things to see while visiting Disneyland.  It’s been almost 10 years since I last went!

So,  I am putting our plan out into the world!  To make this work I’ll be working extra hard here on the blog and tightening up any extra spending for a while here!  I know we can do it, though and I am excited to see it all come together.  Of course, I’ll be sharing my saving and planning along the way.

Share some money-saving tips for Disney below!



DIY Wooden Kitchen (Re-Purposed Bookshelf)

My sons love to help in the kitchen and I knew a while back I wanted to add a play kitchen to the playroom.  I started keeping an eye out for sales, deals and second hand options.  I wasn’t exactly opposed to a plastic piece but really preferred a wooden set.  The price for wooden kitchen was far too high, I was seeing them used for hundreds!  Also, I wasn’t finding many neutral options.  I don’t mind a pink kitchen and my kids certainly wouldn’t care, but I did find it interesting that the neutral or ‘boy’ kitchens seemed few and far between with a very limited supply and choice.

DIY Kitchen

So I set out to make a DIY Play Kitchen for my kids.  It was a fairly easy project, really.  It took a few weeks but only because I wasn’t able to work on it often (an hour here, 30 minutes there etc).  I made this a while ago but I’ll try my best to explain what I used and what I did.  I wish I had more photos of the process, but, again, I did this before I was writing DIY posts or blogging at all!



You Will Need:
Corner Braces
Friction Lid Support
Nails and Screws
Metal Bowl
Drawer Knobs
Drawer Pull
Magnetic Push Latch
E6000 Glue
Plastic Lids (or something for the burners)
Optional plexiglass or thick plastic

I took an old small bookshelf we’d had for quite some time and measured the dimensions for the new shelf and for the piece to divide one shelf and make an ‘oven’.  I figured out the size of the oven door, too and had Lowe’s cut my wood for me before coming home with all my supplies.

DIY Wooden Play Kitchen

Using the corner braces (for my small kitchen I only used 1 inch braces) I added the shelf and put the divider in and used nails through the back to reinforce the new additions.

I added the drawer pull to the piece of wood for the oven door, cut a whole for the plexiglass/plastic and glued it to the back for the oven door. Then Hubs helped attach the oven door to the bookshelf. I was worried about the door falling open so we used a magnetic push latch to keep it closed (but the kids could easily open it too) and the friction lid support was to ensure the door didn’t fall and hit shins or smash toes.  It keeps the oven door from opening all the way to the ground.

Next came the hole for the sink.  Using a jigsaw (my first time!), I cut a hole for my dollar store metal bowl (score!) to fit.  The bowl was perfect because it had a small lip that sits perfectly.  I used E6000 glue on the metal bowl and kept a brick in it over night while it set.

I searched and searched for an inexpensive idea for the faucet.  I wanted knobs they could actually turn (both for the stove top and faucet).  I found this extremely simple faucet for $10.  It was a perfect!  It comes ready to use with plastic screws to connect it to a real sink/faucet.  I just cut them off flush to the piece and glued it in place using E6000 and a clamp to keep it in place overnight.

I picked a paint color and decided last minute to add some chalkboard paint to the side, for menus, lists and just plan doodling if they liked.  The paint is simply an acrylic paint I got at Michael’s using a coupon.

Kitchen From Book Shelf

I painted plastic lid tops (these came from toddler snack canisters) with chalkboard paint (I thought they could use chalk to indicate a ‘hot’ burner or not (that feature is rarely used so any paint will do) and glued those on the other side of the sink.  The burner knobs are drawer or cabinet knobs.  I got them at Lowe’s for $1- there are more expensive options but these worked great.

I bought some play food and some pots and pans from the dollar store and our little DIY Play Kitchen was complete!  In total I spend about $65, not too shabby!  The boys love their kitchen and I love that it was inexpensive and one of a kind.

Easy DIY Play Kitchen


“Come Back to Mimi’s” Promo at Mimi’s Cafe

We are huge fans of Mimi’s Cafe; there is one 5 minutes from our home (and there are lots of options for our nephew with food-allergies).  Mimi’s Cafe is rewarding children right now as a part of their new “Come Back to Mimi’s” promotions.

The next time your child visits Mimi’s Cafe, he or she will get a special invitation back for all the free pancakes they can eat on their next visit (if your kids don’t love pancakes like mine do, no worries!  Mimi’s will treat them to another kid meal).


As of this week, kids who are dining with their parents (or any other adults) will get a flyer at the end of their meal, inviting them back for an All You Can Eat Free Kids Pancake Dinner, available to children under the age of 12 with an adult purchase of an entrée of $10 or more.

Mimi’s likes adults, too, so they’re being invited back, too — with a special $5 off their next visit, which will be found at the bottom of their guest check.

I am so excited about this promotion because dining out with our growing family can get expensive!


Campus Book Rentals Buy Back Program

A new semester means new books to buy.  As a full time student my books usually cost between $400-$600 each semester.  Ugh.  I’m trying to live on less over here.  Which is why Campus Book Rentals is such a relief.  Their prices for books are great and they have a RentBack program that  allows students to rent the textbooks they own – to other students… which is awesome because it makes them 2-4x more money compared to what you might make through buyback options!

The perks of using Campus Book Rental are the best I’ve seen (and I’ve been in school far longer than I’d like to admit)!

-save 40-90% off of bookstore prices
-free shipping both ways
-can highlight in the textbooks
-flexible renting periods
-donatation to Operation Smile with each textbook rental

Check out this video about the RentBack program:

Gearing Up for a New Semester with Campus Book Rentals

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  college books are ridiculously expensive to buy.  I average at least $200 per course I’m taking.  This semester I’m taking 5 courses…I can expect to spend around $1,000 on books (on top of my tuition)!!  Yikes.

At first I thought the idea of renting my books was weird.  But then I thought more about it and DUH, I try to sell my books back (and getting next to nothing for them) to the bookstore after each semester…what is the difference?!  The difference is the money saved!  You can save tons buy renting your books each semester.  Here are some of the perks to using Campus Book Rentals:

-save 40-90% off of bookstore prices
-free shipping both ways
-can highlight in the textbooks
-flexible renting periods
-donates to Operation Smile with each textbook rented

This is a screen shot off my student account for school.  It’s one of the books I’ll need (in fact I need two for this particular class) this semester.  It tells me how much to expect to pay for the book (new, used, rent etc).


It was super easy to find the book on by copying and pasting the ISBN.  Here’s what came up for the exact same book.  The rental price difference is almost 50% off!!!!

There’s also the option to rent books you already own using RentBack. You rent out books to other students and you could make 2-4 times more money than buyback options (like when the campus book store offers me $4 on a book I spent over $100; no really, that’s happened.  I always end up keeping them out of principle).book

This is a great idea for anyone who’s in college, going to college or who has kept their college books, like me.  Yay! For saving money!!!  I already own enough in student loans!

***Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post of an awesome company I really like. If you have more questions regarding this please check out:

5 Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries!

Today I bring you a guest post all about saving money on groceries from Clayton Curtis of Instawares, an online retailer that specializes in restaurant supplies and equipment.
As gas prices go up, so does the price of food, and families everywhere are starting to feel the pinch. Whereas frugal living was once a fad, for many, it’s quickly becoming a necessity. The good news is that there are a number of ways to save money on groceries, and you can use one or all of them every time you visit the store. If you’re having trouble making ends meet, then give these five strategies a try. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save.


1. Clip Coupons
Clipping coupons is the classic way to save money on groceries and still one of the best. While the average coupon may save you anywhere from 25 cents to $1, when you multiply that by 100 items, the savings can add up quickly. In addition to the coupons you receive in the mail, you can look online for printable coupons for specific items that you’d like to buy. To some people, this may sound like a lot of trouble, but if you’re going to buy an item anyway, then you might as well use a coupon and save yourself some cash.
2. Buy in Bulk
If you’ve been thinking of buying groceries in bulk, then now is the perfect time to start. Buying in bulk not only saves you money on each item you buy but saves you money on gas as well. Fewer trips to the grocery store mean more money in your pocket, and that’s the whole idea. To get the best prices on everything from toothpaste and shampoo to canned goods and soda, try shopping at places like Costco or Sam’s Club. Just remember to bring a list as the low prices can tempt you to buy a lot of things you don’t need.
3. Buy Generic
The next time you visit the grocery store, skip the brands you normally buy, and make a point of buying the generic equivalents. Not only will you notice a drastic difference in prices, but you may find very little difference in quality. If you continue to prefer certain brands over others, that’s fine. Just remember that there’s no sense in paying more for a name when a store brand may be just as good. If you don’t like a particular item, then you can always switch back to your favorite brand.
4. Eat at Home
Gas, tips and high menu prices combine to make eating at restaurants an expensive way to go. If you’re someone who typically dines out several times per week, then you can save a lot of money by eating at home. The key here is to focus on cooking as a fun activity rather than a chore. Remember, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen making everything from scratch. You can cook canned or instant foods or use the microwave. If you order a lot of pizza, then buying a frozen brand can save you hundreds of dollars per year.
5. Plant a Garden
If you’ve avoided buying fruits and vegetables due to the high prices, then planting a garden can be a good alternative. Most fruits and vegetables require very little care beyond the occasional watering, and the choices are practically limitless. For a few dollars worth of seeds, you can supply your family with all the fresh produce they care to eat. There’s no better way to save on groceries than by growing them yourself.
If you’re shocked by today’s food prices, then follow the strategies that smart shoppers use every day. Your wallet will thank you.

For more on the food industry check out Instawares blog for daily tips.

***Disclaimer: If you have more questions regarding sponsored and guest posts this please check out:

Zaycon Foods: Quality and Quantity!

This discussion is sponsored by Zaycon Foods and may contain affiliate links

How does Zaycon Foods manage to provide such high quality super fresh meat and produce to its customers at such low prices? The answer is strength in numbers. And not our numbers, yours!

Zaycon Foods can sell its products at bulk rate prices to individual consumers and families because our unique sales event business model brings lots of people together, adding all their purchasing power into a combined bulk food purchase. And when you buy as part of a group that’s committing to such a large purchase, the power is in the hands of the purchaser! It’s the ultimate group buy in terms of both price and consumer empowerment.

You can pre-select exactly what you want to order from a given Zaycon sales event – sometimes you may want to stock up on our amazing meaty back ribs and sometimes it might be all about the Zaycon bacon – and then, on the day of the sales event, you and a whole big bunch of your neighbors will find yourselves in a nearby parking lot watching as an entire tractor trailer’s worth of high quality natural food is unloaded into all of your cars! You will be amazed at how quickly one of our refrigerated trucks goes from being filled with natural, fresh chicken or hundreds of gallons of grade A non-homogenized milk to being empty and back on its way to the farm!

A Zaycon Foods truck sales event often lasts less time than you would spend on a trip to the grocery store, yet you will leave with a whole lot more food than you’d get at the market, and for much better prices, too!

When you use the Zaycon Foods sales event as your preferred place to purchase meats, milk, and any of our other fine products, you get advantages even beyond the bulk pricing that comes with our special sales model. You also have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what you’re going to get! A trip to the grocery store can involve wasted time wandering around looking for various foods spread out across the store; at a Zaycon Foods parking lot meat truck delivery (or milk or berries or fish delivery, too!) you have pre-ordered your foods, so all you have to do is show up and wait for our friendly staffers and volunteers to load up your car.
Also, unlike in the grocery store, the prices you will pay for a Zaycon Foods product are locked in on our website, so you will know how much you are going to spend before you have committed to a purchase.

At a supermarket, you might pay one price for chicken on one day, and then a higher price on another day. With Zaycon, you decide that you want to order a case of our fresh boneless skinless chicken breasts, you check the price and then you commit to it, knowing that from that moment on, we are committed to getting you your fresh, natural food!


Get started by going HERE