Saturday, December 31, 2011

Preparing for the New Year - Day 5

Well, hopefully by now your house is looking great and you are feeling ready.

Day 5:

Do a quick clean up. Today, spend an hour (or less) picking up, running the vaccum, dusting and cleaning the kitchen floor. This way you will wake up tomorrow to a nice clean house - with an organized pantry and fridge and hopefully a bit less clutter! Perfect way to start the New Year.

Come back next week for some exciting changes - I'll be posting something new I've been working on early next week. Until then, enjoy the night, and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Preparing for the New Year - Day 4

Are you enjoying your clean frige? I know I am. In fact, we decided to try something new this year for the freezer. We are lucky enough to have a freezer in the basement, so we decided to keep the upstairs freezer strictly for food we will eat in the next two weeks. Things tend to get lost in it and I end up throwing them away, so hopefully this will help. Downstairs will be storage, and upstairs will be food to be eaten quickly.

Day 4:

Clean out your pantry. Bet you knew this one was coming! I almost always do this on New Year's Day - I'm not sure why, it just happens that way. Same as the fridge, start at the top and work your way down. Pitch anything that is expired, organize by category (baking, snacks, breakfast, etc.) and consider throwing away (or giving away) anything you deem as unhealthy.

I have been slowly eliminating processed food from our diet, so this will be my final removal of most of it from the house.

I know my pantry is a mess, so I'd better get downstairs and get started now! Good luck!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Preparing for the New Year - Day 3

How much did you clear out? I took a bag of items to Goodwill and listed about a half dozen on Craigslist. I also filled up a rubbermaid container with items for our next garage sale (already tagged and ready to go!). Felt great and the house looks much cleaner without as much clutter!

Day 3:

Clean out your fridge. Today, we'll jump into an area that I know needs cleaned out regularly at my house - the fridge!

This is how I'm going to do it: First, I'll take everything off of the top shelf - check expiration dates and toss anything that is expired. Then I'll clean the shelf and put the items back on that shelf (if they belong there - otherwise they stay on the counter). Next, I'll move on the the next shelf and so on until the shelves are finished. Finally I'll do the door. If there are items that can be combined (i.e. two jars of mustard), I'll combine them.

Once the fridge is finished, I'm going to move on to the freezer and follow the same process. As I'm checking items, I'm also going to make a note of things that need to be used up (literally make a note on a piece of paper). Then, when I plan the menu for next week, I'll be sure to include those items.

Stand back and admire your clean fridge!!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Preparing for the New Year - Day 2

Did you get through all your returns? We were done by noon and it was such a GREAT feeling!

Day 2:

Clean out some stuff! Today, my suggestion is to do a quick survey of your house and see if there is anything you can eliminate - take to Goodwill or sell. I wouldn't spend hours going through your whole house, but I bet if you walk through each room and look around, you can get rid of quite a few things you are no longer using, don't really like or just don't need.

Then, bag them up and take them straight to Goodwill (or at least put them in your car for the next time you head that direction), immediately tag them and store for a future garage sale, or list on Ebay or Craigslist.

A little less clutter and a little more cash (or at least one more tax write off for 2011) is a great way to prepare for 2012.

I won't have a post tomorrow, but I will have a few more suggestions Thursday - let me know how much you were able to clean out!

Preparing for the New Year - Day 1

With just a week left until next year, it is a great time to get yourself ready. With just a little bit of work each day, you can start off 2012 feeling ready to go!

My philosophy is why wait until January 1st to start fresh? Why not get a head start now? So most days this week, I'll be posting a tip with a project to work on that should help you feel ready to meet 2012.

Day 1:

Put away the Christmas presents. While you are doing this, determine if you (and your kids) will really use each gift. If not, return it today (or at least put it in a bag in your car to return later in the week). I know it's a hassle to get out and do returns, but the stores tend to be a bit more liberal this week, and instead of waiting until it's too late to do any returns, you'll feel great to have it finished!

My plan for the day is to make myself and my hubby a nice cup of coffee, put away the gifts, decide if there is anything we need today while it's on sale (wrapping paper for next year, birthday presents we'll need in the next few weeks, etc.) and then go out to conquer our returns and a little bit of needed shopping - we'll have a list which should keep us from purchasing unneeded items and by the end of the day we'll only have the new items in our house that we want or need.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Gift Card Promos Save YOU money!

This tip is really from my hubby - he is the king of this one . . .

You know how there are so many gift card offers right now? Buy $25 in GC, get $5 free and the like? Well, even if you don't need gift cards to give as gifts, you can use these deals to your advantage.

Next time you are out to dinner and the restaurant you are dining at has this promo, check it out - if it's a good deal, I'd suggest heading to the bar and picking up enough to cover your dinner that night. Then, use the gift card you just purchased to pay for your meal.

You were going to pay for dinner anyway right? So you've spent the same amount of money, and now you have $5 (or whatever the deal is) to use later!

Here is a great example:

We had dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings Wednesday with some friends and we knew our bill was going to be $30 - $40. So, my husband went to the bar, purchased two gift cards for $25 each and received two mystery cards (guaranteed to have at least $5 each on them). When our bill was due, we paid with the gift cards. Now, we have about $20 left on one gift card, plus at least $10 with the free card. So, we'll be able to come back for dinner in January and have our meal paid for!

A few caveats so you don't waste your money:

1. make sure you like the restaurant and would want to return

2. don't do too many of these deals - most of the bonus cards are only good in January or January and February, so you could easily get yourself into a situation where you can't use them all

3. don't buy the deal just to save money if you can't afford it, often you will purchase more in gift cards than your bill - great if you can just use them later, but if you can't afford the extra cash now . . .

4. don't lose the gift cards or bonus cards!!!

5. keep track of what you have purchased and make sure you use the bonus cards before they expire

Enjoy your holiday season!

Monday, December 19, 2011

My favorite gift!

I often talk about how much I like "doing" versus "buying," so this year I decided to create a special gift for my family in that vein (even my hubby doesn't know about this one).

I saw a similar idea somewhere on the internet (if I knew where I'd post a link!), but it was more for dating - I tweaked it for my family.

I took 12 envelopes and wrote the month on each one. Then, inside each envelope I wrote a note to my family outlining a fun family event we would do that month. Included in the envelope are also gift cards, cash, tickets, etc. - whatever is needed for the outing. I put the envelopes in a pretty basket (recycled from my closet) so it will be something we can leave out in plain view. My plan is that on the first of each month, we can sit down over dinner, dessert, whatever, open the envelope and then schedule the event.

I'm hoping it will become a fun activity the kids look forward to and encourage more fun family times. It's been a fun project for me coming up with new ideas and gathering the supplies for each month. The daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social and Eversave have been invaluable!

So, here's to one fun thing planned for 2012: A Year of Family Fun!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Share the Christmas Spirit!

Something I like to do each year is share the Christmas Spirit with the people that help out my kids daily - but maybe don't have daily interaction with them. I'm talking about the school office staff, nurse, principal, etc.

Most people do something for the teachers, but without the office staff, the schools wouldn't run - so make it a point to do a little something for them. They really appreciate it!

A few ideas:

1. Make some coffee cake and pick up a Starbucks (or local coffee shop) traveler with all the fixings - a nice little breakfast is always welcome!

2. This year, I made sugar cookies (with homemade buttercream icing) and am dropping them off this afternoon with a Starbucks traveler - who wouldn't love a little afternoon cookie and coffee break! Total cost: $14 for the coffee as I had already made the cookies for our family.

3. Pick up an inexpensive plant (Poinsettia's are nice this time of year) for them to place on the desk - they can enjoy it all month! I saw them at Meijer for $3.33 yesterday - very affordable.

4. Have your child make a card thanking them for everything they do - this can be very meaningful as they often don't feel as appreciated as the teachers.

5. A jar of candy for their desk - use all the great drugstore deals right now to fill it up!

Another thought on this - if you take food in, I'd suggest taking it the week before Christmas break starts - often the school will do special treats or breakfasts the week of break, so it's nice to spread it out a bit for them.

Don't let the Holidays pass you by!

How to decide what to do this season? There are so many fun events going on that it can be hard to narrow down what to participate in. It seems like every year there are more parties, events and visits to add to the list. To help you out, I have a few holiday planning suggestions:

1. Ask your family. Just because it sounds good, or because you've always done something, doesn't mean you should do it. So, ask your kids and spouse what they would really like to do this month. It might surprise you. We've made a list for each of us of "must do's" and then we have another list of "if we have time" outings. This way, I'll ensure we each do what is most special to us, and if there is extra time or we end up with a free night, I'm not scrambling for ideas.

2. Put it on the calendar. This is another biggie. I've found that if I don't make specific plans (at least for the "must do's"), odds are good we'll get busy and before we know it, the month is over and we missed out on something special. Putting it on the calendar also helps with scheduling - you can see at a glance if you have too much planned for one weekend but another is light. Then, if need be, you can rearrange things before you get in the thick of it!

3. Take it easy. I can't stress this tip enough. Yes, there are a lot of fun and good things to do this season, but sometimes a lazy day at home watching a Christmas movie and snacking on popcorn and hot chocolate is just as memorable for your kids. Plus, planning a few low key days will keep everyone healthy and stress free!

4. Enjoy yourself. Remember, these are memories you are making, so you want them to be good ones! So what if everything doesn't go as planned or if you miss out on something. If you take the time to enjoy your family and your time together, you are going to get what you want out of the holiday season. It's just not worth it to get upset or panicked if things don't go perfectly - in fact, sometimes the "bloopers" in life become the best and most memorable parts of your family history!

So, before it's too late, make some cocoa for the family, sit down with the calendar and plan out the rest of your month!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Preparing for the New Year!

Yes, I'm thinking ahead!

I love the new year - it's another chance for a fresh start. I like to plan (as you all know!), so I've started thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2012. Some things I had planned for 2011 didn't happen, so those will roll over - others are new.

I'm also starting to think of a theme. I often create "theme's" for my year - it's a fun way to plan, reflect and add new experiences.

A couple of examples:

2011 was the year of completions and adventures

2010 was the year of the weekend getaway

In 2008 I had monthly goals - I liked that one and may try that again this year

So, expect to see posts on this topic in the next few weeks. I've found that by thinking about it ahead of time, I'm not stressed on the first - I can go into the new year with a plan of attack!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar

I have seen so many cute Advent calendars on the internet this year - how to decide??? Since I've been fighting this cold, I haven't had the energy to do much, but I didn't want to miss out on the Advent fun, so I decided to use our normal Advent calendar (that my SIL made for us) and I've tucked little notes in some of the pockets with activities we will do on the day the note is pulled.

For instance, today was day 1, so I tucked a note in with the ornament that said "family game night - play a game together". Some of the notes involve a craft or cooking (like make cards or make fudge), some are an activity (decorate the tree, go look at Christmas lights) and some are service oriented (take dinner to friends, bless a neighbor). I looked at my calendar and placed the notes based upon our schedule - so for instance I know we're getting our tree Sunday - hence the tree note goes in on Sunday. I put the "make cards" note in a few days before teacher gifts will be delivered, etc.

The kids were super excited to find the note this morning - they had already been looking forward to the tree itself so this was a real bonus!

Maybe next year I'll get all crafty, but in the meantime at least I'm making this year special!