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Making lunches – a matrix of choices!

healthy gluten-free school lunch

Many of your children have probably started back to school already. Mine do not start until next Wednesday. However, with this being the first year my little boys have gone to camp, we have been making lunches for the past four weeks. (Or should I say my husband has.) It has gotten me to thinking about how to make this chore easier and to provide the most variety for my children. My husband and I typically take leftovers to work, because we can heat things up or don’t mind eating something cold if we have to. The boys on the other hand…

I used to have a list on the refrigerator of lunch choices, but it has gotten a bit out of date. So I created a new one. It mostly includes dairy options because with keeping kosher meat is expensive. There are also only certain days the kids can bring meat to their Jewish day school.

Below is my matrix of lunch choices (in green). It will be a great tool for adding to our grocery list each week. Then each day when we pack lunches, we will choose one item from each column. This way our kids will get a variety of foods and it will make sure that all of one type of food doesn’t get eaten up in a week! (I just bought a lot of Chex Mix on sale last week at Walgreens and if I let them, my kids would have it every day!) Feel free to edit this document for your needs and your kids’ tastes.

Lunch choices 2013

Other tips for saving money on packing lunches:

∞ Use up your leftovers when you can. This may not work as well for the kids, but the grownups can eat them!

ziploc divided container∞ Use as little packaging as possible. We use reusable water bottles, lunch bags, and as many containers as we can instead of bags. I just bought these Ziploc divided containers for my kids’ lunches and today was their first day using them. I figured it would be a great way for them to know what was their lunch food and what should be saved for snacks. We also use cloth snack bags for some items when we can. For more details, see my post Switch over your disposables.”

∞ Buy cheap water bottles. I have learned from camp that my kids lose water bottles constantly. It does not pay to buy nice ones because I cannot count on them coming back! So the dollar Spot at Target and the dollar store are my favorite places to buy water bottles. See my posts on Why I love Target! and Are ‘dollar stores’ really a good deal?

∞ Stock up on nonperishable lunch items. When you spot something on sale (and even better have a coupon, too) get a few! I got granola bars on sale at Target yesterday and had a manufacturer’s coupon and a Target coupon. This is the best way to stock up – having all three conditions! I also buy in bulk when I can through Costco and Whole Foods. See my post on “Bulk discounts.”

∞ Make as much homemade as you can. We recently got a breadmaker and my husband is enjoying figuring out the best recipes to use. It smells so good when he has a batch ready to go in the morning, With all four boys in elementary school this year, we could easily go through a loaf of bread in a day! Our next project is to experiment with some homemade snacks. See Little House Living and my posts on (More) Make your own… and Don’t buy it, make it homemade – Part 3 for recipes.

∞ Look for outlet stores. We recently found a local outlet bread store (thanks, Lori!) that saves us a ton on bread, bagels, and sandwich thins. They even have store coupons!

∞ Use your price list. Make sure you are buying things at the best price you can get. Just because something is in a larger size of is on sale, doesn’t always mean it is the best deal! To learn more, check out my post “Keeping a price list.”

∞ Check out the sales at the end of this month. Pretty soon all the back-to-school items will go on sale, which means lunch bags, containers, and the like on sale for cheap prices (check out Target, Wal-Mart, drug stores, etc. for these deals). Last summer we got the boys their current lunch bags for $3 each! I love them because they have a zipper at the top and a space for their name on the back. I also got backpacks from Lands’ End at a very deep discount last summer! Be sure to stock up on those swimsuits and rash guards while you are at it, too!

Do you have any tips for packing lunches that you would like to share? Please add them in the Comments section! Thanks Rivka H. and Jessi L, for your ideas I incorporated into the matrix.

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The best $10 a month I spend – Dropbox!

A few years ago, right around report card time, my laptop got one of those horrible trojan worm viruses. It hid all of my files and I couldn’t access anything even though I could see the files were somewhat still there. It took me hours to do research and figure out how to bring them back. Shout out to Bleeping Computer for helping me solve this awful problem!

But back to my story… After this I went out and bought an external hard drive, for fear of losing my files again. I had eight years of digital photos and all of my teaching and personal files on that computer! The hard drive worked great, right up until a month or two after the warranty and then for some reason it stopped turning! We took it to Best Buy and they said it could not be fixed for any reasonable amount of money. It would be a couple thousand dollars to recover the data! That’s was the last straw! I also had lost about a 100 ebooks from Scholastic (that luckily they reloaded for me on their website, but now I have to take the time again to download them!). I would not be relying on an external hard drive or any device again!

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...

I had heard of Dropbox, but had never tried it. I decided it was worth looking into. With Dropbox, a cloud storage solution, you can get up to 2 GB of space for free. You can then earn more free space by referring others and sharing Dropbox via social networking sites and completing other activities. However, even with that extra space, it was not enough to store all of our files and photos.

So for $9.99 a month, I get 100 GB, which is more than enough. However, there are higher plans that can accommodate 200 and 500 GB. They also have business plans for multiple users.

Why should you try it?

  • Gives you the peace of mind that all of your files are protected and backed up.
  • You have the ability to share files and folders with others. This has been great for accessing my husband’s files. He doesn’t need to keep sending me certain files I need when he updates them; I just click on the link on the first email he sent me with that file.
  • It is easy to set up.
  • It works without you doing much. You just put everything you want to be backed up in your “Dropbox” folder on your computer. It backs up files any time you create new ones, make changes, delete files, etc.
  • You don’t have to remember to back up your computer on a certain schedule. It does it every time your computer is on.

Definitely worth that $9.99 a month! Give it a try and let me know what you think! FYI – I am using a PC; I hear from friends with Macs that backing up your information is done differently.

Note: I am not working for Dropbox and receive no benefits from posting this information!

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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Other savings tips, Reviews

 

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Save big on your phone and cable!

Money

During my quest to save money, it has been much easier to find small ways to save. And those small ways can add up over the course of a year. Finding those big-ticket items can be more problematic. However, in the last two days I have found two new things that will together save us more than $1600 a year!

Phone service:

The first came from my friend, Mara, who writes the blog “Kosher on a Budget,” which I often refer to and link to. She did a post on an internet-based phone service. The Ooma system hooks up through your internet connection and you pay as little as $120 for the unit (yesterday’s price on Amazon). Then you pay less than $4 per month for fees (this may vary based on your area). Our current phone bill is up to $64 a month!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

ooma deviceFor one year that means we will pay $120 + $48 = $168 for Ooma. The unit would be paid off after three months compared to what we paid before.

In contrast, a year of AT & T is $64 x 12 = $768!

That is a savings of $600! Now, I do have to add one more expense to this. I bought the Ooma wireless adapter to make sure the unit would work with my wireless internet, because I wasn’t sure we had all the parts to do it using cords. That was an additional $40. However, even adding that in we save $560 the first year! After that we save $720 a year! That is quite a savings. I can’t wait to get the unit and try it out (and tell AT & T goodbye!).

I have heard of other internet-based options out there, but none as cheap as this. The Straight Talk unit from Wal-Mart costs $100 for the unit and $15 a month for service, which adds up to $280 a year.

Cable:

After the excitement of yesterday’s find, I started looking into other ways we might cut some of our biggest expenses, one of which is cable. We got suckered into getting AT & T U-verse a few years back when they first came to our neighborhood. They offered to upgrade our internet service to fiber-optic cabling and we could try out U-verse for a month for free. The cost for the Internet was not much higher than what we were paying them for DSL and I was glad to have a faster connection.

Then I got hooked on the DVR. We had previously used our VCR or DVD player to tape our favorite shows to watch after the kids went to bed. However, there were many times we would forget to program something, the time would change, or the tape or disc was full. The DVR offered a way to not have to deal with all of that. Plus, we were enjoying getting to watch the Disney Channel and a few other cable networks.

Our financial situation has changed for the worse again and this seems like a luxury that we should adjust. I also hate that I am paying so much to the cable company when we really only watch a few channels. So I think we are going to make the leap one of the new streaming device offerings.

Roku unitI did some research today and there seems to be a lot of evidence out there that the Roku device is best. It hooks up to your TV via the internet and allows you to watch tons of free programming and have access to a variety of streaming channels, the most popular being Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video. Through some research I have found that Netflix offers many Disney shows and Hulu Plus allows you to be fairly current with the regular timely offerings on TV.

I am no expert on any of this and have been reading many articles on the different channels, their programming, and the pros and cons. But for me, the bottom line is that I can still watch my favorite shows and my kids can still see the Disney Channel. We will be able to use our Netflix account or Amazon Prime right on the TV (currently my husband used Netflix on his iPod and our Amazon Prime was mainly for the free two-day shipping).

The unit costs about $100 across the board at various retailers. However, Amazon has it right now for $99. I had thought Target might be a good place to get it with my 5% Red Card discount, but the tax eats that discount up and you end up paying more than $100. Netflix and Hulu Plus are about $7.99 each per month.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Even if we add Netflix and Hulu Plus on top of the cost of the unit, our yearly cost for this first year using Roku will be $100 + $192 = $292.

Our U-verse cost (taking out our Internet fee which we will still to pay) = $90 + $10 (bundle discount we will lose) per month. That means $1200 a year!

That is a savings of $908 a year.

In two days, I have figured out how to save us $1628! I would say not bad for a few days work!

Please let me know your experience with phone systems and cable so that we can all learn from each other. I will be excited to share our results with you after we install both. However, from what I have read of reviews online, both seem like great options to save a bundle and take advantage of some great new technological options.

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Some other ways we save significantly:

 

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Summer savings guide

Summer Fun

With our current predicament of job uncertainty for both my husband and I, spending as little money as possible this summer has become even more important. This is the first summer since my little boys were small that we have all been home, too. That means more expenses than usual – food, excursions, utilities, etc. Here are the tips I have discovered so far for doing summer on the cheap:

Ahead of time:

Prepare for summer the summer before. Buy towels, hats, etc. at the end of the season so you have them for the coming year. When all the kids are in camp, we needed a lot of swimsuits and towels to avoid doing laundry every day! It helped to shop ahead.

Get some of your essentials at the dollar store. Sunglasses and water bottles are best to get at the dollar store because my boys lose them often. I don’t have to feel bad when this happens if I have only paid a $1! See my post on “Are “dollar stores” really a good deal?”

Watch throughout the spring and summer for sales on swimwear. Last year I got rash guards and swim trunks for a great price at the end of the season for my boys for this year. They actually still fit into their size from last year, but I am ready when they need a size up! Good online stores to check include The Children’s Place, Land’s End, and L.L. Bean.

Stock up on sunscreen before summer is here. Last year with all four of my boys in camp every day, we went through a ton of sunscreen. On top of that they broke out from many brands, even Aveeno, which you would expect not to be a problem. They have excema, which can make their skin break out more than usual. Luckily I found out about The Honest Company. I love their products! Their sunscreen is a great consistency, has no bad or perfume smell, and my boys don’t break out or scream in pain from it.

You can try a free sample pack (you pay only shipping). Then you can sign up to receive a bundle every month. The Essentials bundle includes five of their products. (They also have a Diaper & Wipes bundle and Health & Wellness bundle, too, with other choices of products.) I can’t afford to order a bundle every month, but get them a few times a year. You can choose how often you want them delivered. Every time I order, I get a sunscreen, so I am ready for summer!

Be on the watch for great deals on memberships to local attractions. These deals usually don’t occur during the summer. For the St. Louis Science Center’s 50th anniversary of their planetarium, they had a sale on memberships – $50 off! It has been our best purchase ever! See my post “Become a member!”

Early summer or (late spring):

Plan ahead for where you would like to go. The first week of summer that I was home, we had no official plans or schedule. We were making it up on the fly. This really made the days long and me stressed! Putting together my Summer Bucket List really helped because now I have done the research ahead of time and can either choose activities for the whole week or the night before. See my post “Summer Bucket List (aka Camp Mommy).”

Take advantage of the many free or cheap excursions in town. These include:

Watch for sales on crocs and sandals! We were fortunate to get new crocs (fake brand) a few weeks ago at “Five Below,” of all places!

Throughout:

Pack food wherever you go. Even if you won’t be there for long, pack at least a snack and water. This helps with cranky kids and avoiding high cost emergency food purchases.

Take advantage of your local library. We have been going to their great events all summer and check out books and movies each week while we are there. It is so nice to have the time to do this and with the summer reading programs, we all earn prizes for reading! We are enrolled in the county’s program and the local Jewish library’s. I have not updated my Summer Reading programs post, but see last year’s here.

Look out for ice cream coupons. We have found ice cream coupons in our coupon mailer that comes in our mailbox every week. Check local calendars, too. Here in St. Louis, we have a calendar called the Town Planner. It is mailed to families every year and has coupons tailored for your area. They also have coupons on their website. Another source for ice cream coupons is your local Valpak. These come in the mail in some areas and they also have a website, too. You might not always find coupons for the location you want, but sometimes the drive can be worth the savings! You might also earn ice cream coupons from your Summer Reading programs.

Forget about your thermostat timer. Keep your thermostat set as if you are not home and then adjust as you feel it is too hot in the house! See my post Saving money and energy on Shabbos.”

Use your birthday freebies. If your birthday falls in the summer, or if your kids’ do, be sure to sign up for those birthday freebies! See my posts:

Enjoy your summer and share your summer tips in the Comments section!

 

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Summer Bucket List (aka Camp Mommy)

SwimmingThis summer is the first in a while that I have had all the kids home with virtually no camp. Since I am back to full-time teaching and am off during the summer, it doesn’t make financial sense to the send the kids to camp. So this year, it is “Camp Mommy.” I have been winging things for the past week, having just finished school at the end of May. But now my older son is off, too, and we really need some sort of schedule. So last night and today I have gotten to work on this! (By the way, I have three 5-year-olds and one 9-year-old, all boys.)

I created a schedule for the day of what we will do when. The schedule includes time for indoor play, outdoor play, snacks and meals, movie or TV time, and excursions. Crafts, cooking, reading and academic review will fill in the gaps.

Then I have been putting together our summer bucket list – those excursions we will take. With four kids, staying in the house all day will not work! I had seen a few resources here and there and put them together in a useable way. One idea that I really liked was having slips of paper that you draw from each week to make a schedule. I think drawing each day one at a time would be difficult, especially since some excursions are more timely than others and have varying costs.

Here is what I came up with:

A fill-in schedule: Summer Bucket List schedule form

Cards with activities for day & afternoon excursions and evening outings:

The instructions to use these are as follows:

1. Modify the attached schedule for your own needs.

2. On the excursions file, add in local excursions that you would like to visit this summer (color coding denotes cost).

3. Take a look at the starred cards, which are timely activities. Decide if you want to research these ahead of time and then take them out of the weekly drawing and manually put them on your schedule as they occur OR just figure it out as they get chosen.

4. Print the schedule and activity cards.

5. Sort the cards based on color-coding. You may want to have envelopes or buckets for each type.

6. Write in any events you already have on your schedule for that week – like summer library activities, family events, camp, etc.

7. Pick the number of cards that work best for your family from each color category. (I plan to leave space for one library and at least one park trip a week. My kids still nap so I might use shorter activities or trips to the park or library in the afternoons. If your kids are older you may spend a whole day at one activity or choose two per day.

8. Lay the cards down on your schedule and create a plan for the week.

9. You may decide to discard the cards you used that week or reuse those that you would like to do again another week.

I hope these directions are not too complicated. Please give me your feedback so I can edit it or change it to be more helpful!

Hope you like them!

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Summer 2013 Dollar (or Free) Movies

5 Movie Tickets for 1 Day

I am sorry to post this so late, but this summer I have all my kids home, which means less time to blog and do my own things! However, there are so many great things to do in the summer, many of which are cheap. Summer movies are great to avoid the heat and perhaps see some movies on the big screen that you missed the first time around.

I have updated last years’ list of theaters that offer free or cheap movies. These are typically only offered during the summer. But check your local theater’s website, because they may offer other promotions like senior discounts, mom and baby viewings, concession discounts, etc., year-round.

I have culled sources from across the Internet to provide you a comprehensive list. If you find a theater offering a program that I missed, please let me know! Participating theater state locations are provided for each listing so you don’t have to click on all of them one to see if the program is being offered near you!

CarmikeSummer Kids Series. This theater chain offers $4 movie combo, which includes movie, popcorn drink, and snack. Some theaters start June 3 while others start June 10; days vary by theater. Participating locations vary each year. Be sure to look at both sections below the general information to see if there is a participating theater near you. Some locations even have showings more than once a week. They have participating theaters in 33 states: AL, AR, CO, DE, FL, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO (Warrensburg), MT, NC, ND, NE, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, and WV.

Cinemark TheatresSummer Movie Clubhouse. $1 per show or $5 for 10 shows if purchased in advance. They have participating theaters in 37 states: AL, AK, AR, CA, CO, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, MS, MN, MO (Kansas City), MT, NC, NM, NV, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV and WS. Click on your local theater for details.

CinemaworldSummer KidFest. June 7 – Aug. 1, seven days a week. FREE for kids, adults $2 or donation of non-perishable pet-food item. Schedule may vary by location. Locations in FL and RI.

Classic Cinemas Wednesday Morning Movie Series. $1 per ticket. Runs June 12 – Aug. 7. Multiple theaters in IL.

Clearview CinemasClearview Cinemas Kid’s Club. July 10 and 11 – August 22, 2013. Wednesdays and Thursday, Tickets FREE. Schedule of movies varies by theater. Participating locations in NJ and NY.

Cobb Theatres – Free Summer Kids Shows. Their website does not have details for this program except to check your local theater for a schedule. Locations in AL, CO, FL, GA, and VA.

Dickinson TheatresSummer Vacation Movie Series. Prices vary between FREE and $2 per ticket. Select the theatre near you and then click on the box with SVMS. This will then lead you to the flier for that theater. Locations in AR, AZ, KS, MO (Lee’s Summit and Kansas City), NE, OK, and TX.

Georgia Theatre Company Summer Movie Series. This series is offered for $1 on Tuesdays and Thursdays in June and July. Participating locations are in FL, GA, SC, and VA.They are showing the entire Harry Potter series of movies, as well as other favorite animated kids’ selections.

Goodrich Quality TheatersKids Summer Movies. Begins June 10, Monday through Friday. Tickets $1. Participating locations in IN, IL, MI, and MO (Jefferson City and Columbia).

Harkins TheatresSummer Movie Fun. Less than $1 per ticket. Locations in AZ, CA, CO, OK, and TX. Click on your preferred theater for their schedule and movies listings. Shows start as early as May 27.

Malco Theatres Kids Summer Film Fest. Runs June 4 – July 31, 2013, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. $2 per ticket. Locations in AR, KY, MS, and TN.

Marcus TheatresKids Dream Summer Film Series. Runs June 18 – Aug. 15, 2013, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. $2 per ticket. Locations in IA, IL, MN, ND, NE, OH, and WI.

Marquee CinemasKid’s Summer Movie Program – June through August, start dates vary by location; Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Tickets FREE. Participating locations in CT, FL, KY, NC, NJ, NY, PA, VA,and  WV.

Muvico TheatersFREE Summer Film Fest. June 11 – Aug. 15, 2013, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays. Locations are in CA, FL, and IL.

Regal CinemasSummer Movie Express. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, $1 per ticket. Start dates vary by location. Participating locations are in AK, AL, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MO (Fenton, Hazelwood, and Springfield), MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, and WV. Great Escape Theaters are now owned by Regal Cinemas.

Wehrenberg TheatresFamily Summer Series. June 5 – Aug. 15, 2013, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tickets FREE. Locations in IL, IA, MO (Chesterfield, St. Charles, O’Fallon, South County, Des Peres, Arnold, and St. Peters), and MN.

* For more summer family activities, click on the links here or on the “Family ideas” category on the right menu and/or click on the “Family Fun Outside the Home” page on the top menu bar.

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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Family ideas, Other savings tips

 

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Free Bowling and Skating – Summer 2013

The year has gone by so quickly and it is time to start making summer plans with the kids. This will be the first summer I have had in a while home with my children. They are excited about “Camp Mommy.” I hope they won’t be disappointed!

Below are FREE bowling and roller skating opportunities to take advantage of this summer.

Kids Bowl Free:

Kids can receive two free bowling games a day for the entire summer thanks to generous bowling alleys across the nation (they also have locations in Canada). Shoe rental cost is not included. Check out their website for information on getting your school involved, locations, and frequently asked questions. The age limit is determined by each bowling alley. Dates also vary by alley, but some go from April until October!

There is also an option to sign up for a family pass (for the adults), but it is not necessary to receive your child’s free games. This may be a good deal if you go multiple times over the summer with your kids. You will have to figure it out based on how many times you think you will go, and the cost per game and for shoe rental at your participating bowling alley.

AMF Summer Unplugged:

AMF offers their own summer bowling program for kids. Kids 15 and under get two free games every day of the summer (from May 13 – Sept. 2). Again shoe rental is not included and a family pass is available for purchase. AMF has locations in ALL BUT 14 states in the United States. This year there is no need to print coupons or vouchers; they will give you a membership card on your first visit. And if you forget your card, they can look you up!

Brunswick Bowling:

Brunswick also has a summer bowling program for kids. Students 18 and younger can receive one free game of bowling in June, July, and August. For children 12 and younger, you just add them to your Bonus Zone profile (a rewards program and email newsletter). Children 13 -18 should create their own Bonus Zone account. Brunswick has locations in 18 states and Ontario – Canada.

KidsSkateFree logo

Kids Skate Free:

According to their website, skating is:

  • A fun way to increase muscular strength and cardiorespiratory endurance.
  • A way to burn anywhere from 330 to 600 calories per hour!
  • Great for improving balance and flexibility.
  • A fantastic source of aerobic exercise.
  • A key to weight control.
  • Easy to learn.
  • A great tension reliever and enthusiasm builder.
  • An excellent way to help maintain good health.

The website features a tool for finding a location near you, frequently asked questions, and other information. Times and days vary by location.

For more ideas of fun things to do with your children, check out the:

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Family ideas, Other savings tips

 

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