Family Fun on the Cheap

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I love going out as a family to experience new things. I love taking our kids to museums and other activities. However, with 4 kids it can get expensive. We quickly figured out that even with just 2 kids it could get expensive. So, my goal is for my children to be able to get great experiences but do it in such a way that we don’t break the bank! Here are some of our favorite ways to have family fun.

Explore Local/State/National Parks: Many parks are free or very cheap to get into for the day. If you will be going to a lot of national parks getting an annual pass is well worth the cost. It’s $80 for a family pass. However, there have several different kinds and specials. If you are a military family you can get a free one. With 58 national parks there is something for everyone. Go here to search and see what parks are near you or near your vacation spot. State parks are also a great place to visit. It’s easy to find these with a quick google. Same for local parks.

Museum Passes: For our family it is almost always a better value to buy a yearly family pass to local museums, aquariums and zoos. Most of the times they pay for themselves in 2-3 visits. Also, many of them have great reciprocal programs that can be used if you travel often to visit out of state family. The three best values that I have found (that get you access to the most museums/zoos/sciences centers are the following two. Boonshaft Museum of Discovery and CuriOdyssey. I always suggest that if you are buying a membership (especially if it isn’t local) and planning to use the reciprocal program on a regular basis that you call the places you are interested in using it at and make sure they are still part of the program.

Groupon: This is a great place to get discounts for local places. You can also find off the wall places that you might not normally have found. Two years ago when we visited Oklahoma for our Godson’s baptism I was able to get a groupon to The Museum of Osteology in OKC. This is a totally unique off the wall museum and my kids loved it. They wish it was close to us so we could go back on a regular basis. I always encourage people to check out lesser known museums. There are some real gems out there. This summer on our way home from a family reunion we are planning to make a slight detour and take our kids to see The Unofficial Lego Museum.

Blue Star Museums: This is specific to military families. From Memorial Day to Labor Day many museums across the USA take part of the blue star program and give free admission to military members and their families. You can find a list here. The list for the upcoming summer will be available in May.

Tents for Troops: Another program specific to military families. This program is a collaboration of camping sites across the USA that allow military members and their families to camp for free. Info on this program can be found here.

Free Bowling for Kids: This is a great program that families can take advantage of during the summer. Info can be found here.

Free Skating for Kids: Another great program for families to take advantage of. This one is all year. Info can be found here.

Community Programs: A great place to find things to do is to check your local town or nearby towns websites. Often you can find things like concerts in the parks, theater performances, farmer markets, parades, festivals and other free/low cost activities. Not only do you get to spend some good quality time with your family but you also help teach your kids the importance of community.

Local Library: A great place to find things like story time and other fun activities. Our current local library shows new kids movies on a big projection screen every couple of months. It’s free to go. My kids get the experience of going to the movie theater without the price tag.

$1 Movies and Movie Nights at Home: Some communities have dollar theaters which is a great way to take your kids to movies without it costing an arm and a leg. Regal Cinemas offers a program called Summer Movie Express where they play family friendly movies for $1 a piece. Info can be found here. We like to do movie nights at home on a regular basis. We will either borrow a new movie from the library (libraries are a great free way to enjoy new movies) or rent one from Redbox. We’ll have popcorn and sometimes I’ll buy a couple $1 boxes of candy for the kids. Everyone will get into their pjs and we’ll all hang out in the living room and watch the movie together. Here are some other ideas from interest to make movie nights at home more special: Drive in Movie at home, backyard movie night, Dinner Themes to go with Disney Movies and Concession boxes.

So, what is your favorite way to have family fun on the cheap?

Birthdays Galore Without Going Broke

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It’s birthday season in our house. We have three birthdays between January and April. Needless to say by the time we get to the end of April this momma is birthday out. However, birthdays are important in our house. For example with one son born so close to Christmas I always want to make sure his birthday doesn’t get lost in the celebrating of Christmas. With their birthdays so close it can be tempting to celebrate them at once but I want them each to have their own special day.

Growing up birthdays were a big deal in my family. My father use to wake me up at 5:24am every birthday to wish me happy birthday. He said he wanted to say it at the exact moment his greatest joy was born.(Funny part of it was that my birth certificate says I was born at 5:24pm. He swore it was a misprint.) Even, after I moved out he would still call me at exactly 5:24am my time. That meant for the 5 years we lived in a different time zone he was actually waking up at 4:24 his time to call me. His birthday call is probably one of the things I will miss the most now that he is gone.

For most parents birthdays are an extravagant expensive occasion. It is an occasion were hundreds of dollars is spent. I am part of several mom’s groups and I think for most a birthday party cost somewhere between $500-$1000 by the time they pay for the party and gifts. I just can’t wrap my mind around spending that much on a child’s birthday. You times that by four and Mark might very well have a heart attack. Time and time again I hear parents say kids have to have these fancy parties. It’s what ever one else is doing. They expect it. You build your child’s expectations.

Our children always enjoy their birthdays and  we are not spending $1000s of dollars on them. The birthday boy gets to pick where they would like eat for dinner that night. (It’s almost always chic-fil-a) We do cake, ice-cream and gifts together. They pick a family activity to do. In past years we’ve had movie night at home, visited museums and picnics at the park. As they get older we start having small low-key parties at our house. Nothing fancy. We invite a few friends over: play and share cake with them. The kids have a great time. The stress is low for me and it doesn’t break the bank.

So, here’s to making birthdays special and remembering that to make them special it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.

Downsizing to a One Car Family

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Some time ago Mark mentioned the idea of going down to one car. I promptly told him there was no way that was ever going to happen and that he was crazy to suggest it. It just wasn’t workable. However, after much discussion (almost 6 months’ worth) we decided to go for it. As of today we are officially a one car family.

Now, I realize in today’s society and culture the idea of anyone willingly being a one car family is kind of crazy. However, we were hardly using Mark’s car. He only drove it pretty much to and from work. Anytime, we went out as a family we had to take the minivan because not all the boys could fit in Mark’s car.  Even, on the rare occasion when we hired a babysitter to go out on a date we took the minivan because it was easier for me to get in and out of.. The amount of time he was driving it wasn’t worth the expense to keep and maintain it. Not, when we live as close to his work as we do.

So, for now he’ll either bike to work, take the car if I don’t need it or we’ll drive him. Though, given that I am not much of a morning person I don’t for see a lot of driving him to work being done! I know the biggest objection to the idea of one car is well, the kids and you will be stuck at the house. Trust me, I know. That was my biggest objection at first.

However, honestly, I am happiest when I am not running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I am happiest when I can stay home for part of the week. However, the idea of staying home; of enjoying my home is totally foreign to me.  The idea of slowing down is alien to me.  From the time I was 6 years old and started kindergarten I’ve always spent more time away from home than at home.  So, even though I’d rather spend time at home it is ingrained in me that I shouldn’t. It is ingrained in me that I should be out and about filling my time up with stuff that happens away from home.  Being a one car family will force me to work on this. It will help allow me the ability to stay at home more often; something that brings me peace and joy. It will help in our quest to simplify our lives.

Easter Baskets 2014

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Easter is only a few weeks away and that means it is time for Easter baskets. I find great enjoyment out of putting together Easter baskets and things of that nature. However, with 3 kids it can become time consuming and expensive! Last year I switched to a family basket instead of individual baskets. It was wonderful! This is a tradition we will be continuing this year.

Growing up my Easter basket as a kid was filled completely with candy. From the start I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to approach Easter baskets. I wanted them to be fun but not filled with junk candy; that was bought just for the sake of filling the baskets. Thankfully, this approach was already well established by the time we found out Thomas needed to be gluten free; since, it’s hard to find seasonal candy that’s gluten free. Though, Peeps candies (including the chocolate covered ones) are!

I like to fill the Easter basket with stuff that was already planned purchases for the most part. That way there isn’t a lot of extra money going out the door. There are certain staples that go in every year like sidewalk chalk. My kids adore the stuff and we use it all up by the end of the summer. So, each Easter I replenish our supply. This year’s basket will have:

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett. (I picked this up last year on after Easter clearance)
The Weight of Mass: A Tale of Faith by Josephine Nobisso (school related)
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (The Knight’s Tales Series) by Gerald Morris
Butterfly garden (school related)
– a new matchbox car per kid
Sidewalk chalk (I scored a better deal on Amazon than what the price was at our local Walmart)
Thermos Funtainer water bottle for each kid. (I picked these up at our local Walmart/Target because they were significantly cheaper than on Amazon.)
-Octonaut’s DVD

So, what is going in your kids Easter baskets?

Little Bit Extra

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There are many ways that you can easily make money while going about your regular life. I use several different programs to bring in a little extra; mostly in the form of gift cards. Amazon gift cards are my favorite.

Swagbucks: I collect swagbucks and then “cash” them in for Amazon gift cards that I use towards Christmas. I usually earn one $5 Amazon gift card each month bringing my total for the year to $60 in gift cards. I earn that $60 simply by playing on my computer. I earn swagbucks through a variety of ways. Taking a few minutes to do the daily poll and checking the tool bar, putting in the swagcodes when they pop up, couponing and using swagbucks for my internet searches. I can also earn swagbucks via referrals.

Ibotta: I started using Ibotta this past January. It’s a phone app that you earn rebates on groceries like milk and bread. So, far by simply checking the app after I grocery shop and redeeming rebates I have earned $10.50. Not bad for 2 months. This is another program that you can earn extra for referrals. The money can be cashed in for gift cards or my personal favorite sent to your paypal!

Bing: This is a new program I just recently found that works in conjunction with the Bing search engine. You collect credits by using the search engine and then can cash them in for gift cards or swagbucks! I will be cashing mine in for swagbucks to get more Amazon giftcards (You use less swagbuck points to get a gift card there than you do to get an Amazon gift card using bing credits. Therefore more bang for your points!) They are also currently offering a great deal if your friends sign up using your referral link- 500 bing credits.

Affiliates Links: A lot of companies offer affiliate programs such as Amazon. Mark and I have an Amazon store front called The Blue Duffle Bag. It’s just like shopping on Amazon and we earn a little bit back. Also, when you order something from a link on my blog we earn a little bit back; all which I appreciate immensely.

Lastly, credit card rewards. I know this one isn’t for everyone. However, we pay for everything we can using our credit card to rack up reward points and pay it off each pay period to avoid interest. We redeem our points for cash back. In the last two years we have earn back $450!

If you are interested in signing up for any of these I would appreciated if you used my referral links.

Our Amazon Store:

Early Retirement…. say what? (And some DIY recipes!)

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Mark has been talking about retirement for a while now and had started working on a retirement account. He had even mentioned the idea of early retirement several times. Originally it was mostly just discussion but than in December he came across Mr. Money Mustache…..All of a sudden the talk about early retirement became much more earnest and he wanted to put a plan in action to achieve that. His plan meant living very very frugally. It meant saving an immense amount of money now.

At first I was very resistant of the idea. I already felt like we were living frugally. I already felt; when compared to how I was raised that we were saving a lot of money. I didn’t see how we could follow the lifestyle that Mr. Money Mustache advocated and still have a happy enjoyable life filled with rich experiences.  I’ve slowly been getting more on board with the idea and the plan. Though, I am sure Mark wishes I could climb aboard the Mr. Money Mustache boat a little quicker!

While, I was exploring his website I came across an article entitled “Are You Cleaning Out Your Own Wallet?” It hit home especially when Mark and I sat down to review the financial picture of the past year and go over the budget for the upcoming year. I was shocked at the amount of money I had spent over the past year on household cleaning supplies and personal supplies. I started looking at what we were buying and started considering what we could do to cut the amount of money spent in those areas.

There wasn’t a lot to cut in household cleaning supplies. I can’t cut out dishwasher soap or laundry soap. We need trash bags. In personal care products there was room to cut but even then there wasn’t too much room. I am not a woman; who can embrace never shaving and being super hairy! I can’t buy the cheapest shampoo and conditioners because they leave me with horrible dandruff. Dandruff that is so bad my scalp will start to bleed. I can’t use super cheap products on my face because they cause me to break out.

So, since there wasn’t a lot to cut by not buying the products I had to start considering ways to get said products at a more reasonable cost. I started scouring Pinterest and found some fantastic do-it-yourself recipes for things like dish soap, laundry soap and some of the personal care products I use.

At first I was a little skeptical about how well some of these alternatives would work. However, I am pleased to say that they all work just as well as the mainstream store bought items and in some case like the dishwasher soap better! So, without further ado here are the recipes!

Dishwasher soap found over at Wellness Mama’s blog.



  1. Combine all ingredients and store in an air tight container.
  2. Use 1 tablespoon per load as needed.
  3. For an extra boost, add a few drops of dishwashing liquid (only a few!!!) to the powder before closing the soap container in the dishwasher.
  4. You can also add white vinegar as the rinse agent, though honestly, I forget this most of the time and it still works.

I used an old pickle jar. I have been beyond impressed with this recipe. I have not added any liquid dishwashing soap when using it. This has cleaned my dishes better than the expensive dishwashing tablets were! With the amount that I made and how little needed per load this is going to last me forever!

Laundry Soap found here at How Does She do That.


  • 1 (4 lb 12 oz) Box of Borax- Found in the detergent aisle
  • 1 (3 lb 7 oz) Box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda- Found in the detergent aisle
  • 1 (3 lb) Container of OxyClean- Found in the detergent aisle. (This is optional but I highly recommend adding it)
  • 2 (14.1 oz) Bars of Zote Soap- Found in the detergent aisle (we chose to do pink for the scent but the white would be just fine. You can also use Fels Naptha)
  • 1 (4 lb) Box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda- Found in the cooking aisle (You could also get two 2 lb box, we couldn’t find the larger 4lb box when we went)
  • ·         1-2 (55 oz) Bottle of Purex Crystals Fabric Softener- or use 3-4 bottles of Scentsy Washer Whiffs.


1. Grate zote soap with cheese grater or food processor.
2. Mix all ingredients together in a large bucket.
3. Use 2 -4 Tablespoons per laundry load.

Note: I used Fels Naptha soap and a grater. I also left out the purex crystals.

Now, onto the 2 personal care products I have started making. The first one I started making was make-up remover. I am thrilled with it because unlike the store bought make-up remover it doesn’t leave my skin feeling slimy afterwards. Instead, it feels nourished. The other product I started making was a face scrub. It is very similar to the expensive face scrub I like from the body shop but so much cheaper to make!

Make-up Remover found over at Frugally Sustainable


  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dr. Bronner’s unscented baby-mild liquid castile soap (I used citrus scented)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil


  1. Combine ingredients in container
  2. Shake well
  3. Dampen cotton ball to use
  4. Store in airtight container and shake before each use.

Oatmeal Honey Face Scrub found over at Dabbles and Babbles


  • Two parts oatmeal (ground up finely in a blender or food processor)
  • One part honey
  • One part sweet almond oil (or coconut or olive oil – which ever you prefer)


Mix everything together until it’s a thick sticky mixture. Feel free to add a little extra oil or even a few drops of water if it’s too sticky or clumpy. Smooth onto face and rub into skin for a couple of minutes and then rinse off.

Note: I used olive oil.

I use this nightly! Absolutely, love how it leaves my skin feeling.