Friday, June 27, 2014

Meet Kim Crawford

*Sigh* A glass of wine. A crisp, cool white on a hot summer evening, grilling shrimp on the barbie. Lounging outside on the patio with the kids rolling their bikes around, playing, laughing. One o

f my favorite things about hot weather (which there is not a whole lot about hot that I enjoy, but this is one of them) is that cool white wine just tastes better when it's hot outside. Reds feel better in colder weather, whites in warmer weather. That's just my personal preference.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'll sip on a glass of wine no matter what color it is or what time of year it is, but when I have my choice about it, I'll pick a white for summer. White also accompanies lighter food, which leaves a better feeling in my tummy when it's hot. Chicken, shrimp, crab legs, mahi mahi, it all goes with white and lends itself to being lighter fare. Add asparagus grilled in a cast-iron skillet and a delicious salad, and dinner is ready. Last night's salad included spinach, sliced mini peppers, fresh figs, and feta. I topped it off with pumpkin seed oil and apple cider vinegar. It was practically dessert! The sweetness of the shrimp and the citrus notes in the wine all paired perfectly. We ate asparagus as an appetizer before everything else was ready, otherwise, it would have been too cold, or overcooked because I started it first.

So, I've been gushing about the wine, right? In my world, there is only one white (at least for right now). My heart and palate belong to New Zealand, Marlborough County to be precise. And the varietal?  Sauvignon Blanc. There is just something about the grapefruit notes in these wines that speaks to my soul.

I don't like all brands of this specific type of wine, however. If you remember about a month ago, our family went on our "$65.00 Vacation". The bottle of wine that I purchased on vacation was a Marlborough County Sauvignon Blanc called "Matua". It came in a bottle with an aqua label, and I bought it purely on aesthetics. It was a brand I had not tried yet from the Marlborough family. It turned out to be too acidic for my palate. It was the first time I didn't thoroughly enjoy my signature drink!

Noblio, Oyster Bay, and Kim Crawford are the three that I buy most frequently. The first two are on the less-expensive side. I can usually find them for right around $10.00. They work, but when I can get it, my wine of choice is Kim Crawford. I don't know who he or she is, but the balance, smoothness and citrus of Kim Crawford really blows my skirt up.

So last night's dinner was truly the essence of summer for me. My favorite white wine, perfectly chilled, grilled shrimp, asparagus, and fig salad. A light, summer dinner enjoyed out on the patio. As we ate, someone in our neighborhood started playing a Native American flute. It was almost too delightful to be true. Live music, family, and food. What more is there to life? Oh yeah, wine.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc on sale at Safeway- $11.00 (Normally $17.00)

Balance this pay cycle- $57.00

Happy Spending!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Golden Dragon

Now that we live right smack dab in the middle of town, I feel like our food options have exponentially expanded. When we lived on hwy 179, we were between Uptown Sedona, and the Village of Oak Creek (VOC for the non-locals reading this). West Sedona was only a little bit further than Uptown. And driving to Cottonwood on a weeknight for dinner was never an option. Now, it feels like Cottonwood is just around the corner. In fact it probably only takes us a few more minutes to drive to Cottonwood as it does to drive into VOC.

So this week, I told Corey that I want to take our family out for dinner with Fun Dollars sometime during the pay cycle. I really enjoy taking a night to eat out, and now that I'm not spending money on fast food, I have more in my budget for delicious outings with the whole family.

Yesterday, we fixed our phone situation, which took most of my afternoon. We ended up ordering a new phone for Corey. He likes to keep abreast of the latest technology. Me, I'm just kinda like, "whatever". If it were up to me, I'd still have a flip phone, but Corey insists that I at have a smart phone. So, I kept his old phone and had my phone number put on it. The whole process of transferring numbers and contacts to two phones at the Verizon store took the better part of an hour. Lily still had not taken a nap by 2 when we were leaving, but she did pass out immediately after we got in the car. Suffice it to say that I spent the remainder of the afternoon doing household things that I would have finished earlier in my day had we not gone on our phone adventure. Although I am happy to be connected back to civilization. (I mean, seriously, checking facebook only on my laptop, what am I, a heathen? ;)

By the time Corey came home, I was still folding laundry. Dinner was either going to be salad or leftover pasta. I reminded him about my offer to take the family out, and then we began our empty-stomached brain storming session; where to eat?

As I mentioned earlier, Cottonwood is now an option, which by the way, makes spending Fun Dollars stretch more than it would in Sedona. There are more places to eat in the Verde Valley that are not expensive tourist spots than up here in Red Rock Country. Cottonwood is where we keep our Chinese buffets, our chains like Pizza Hut, Sizzler, and Denny's. It's where there are small, less-expensive local bistros (Old Town Cottonwood might be hosting our next family night.) Last night, we decided that since our last family Fun Dollar dinner took us to Ming House (our 'usual' when it comes to Chinese buffets), we would try their competition, The Golden Dragon.

It has been 5 years since we patronized The Golden Dragon. Corey and I took Carrick there when he was an infant. It was so horrible that we never went back. Maybe we were there on a bad night, maybe they've upped their game since then. We knew that it was a place we could all enjoy; buffets are especially kid-friendly places. The food is ready immediately; if they don't like what's on their plate, there's always something more they can try; and they are usually larger rooms, which means that noise is not an issue.

We were not disappointed by our choice. They did up their game. (Granted the beef and broccoli was a little off, but we managed.) The crab wantons, the orange chicken, the spicy eggplant were all wonderfully prepared. And since we arrived at 6:30 during the prime dinner time, the food was hot and refreshed, nothing was cold or stale. The garlic green beans were my favorite. Normally at buffets, the green beans can get a little tough the longer they sit out. These were well seasoned and tender. I even made Carrick eat a second plate of them before getting any ice cream. (Oh yeah, ice cream, the real reason why I like Chinese buffets ;)

Even after I had desert, I had yet another plate of Orange chicken. It was that good. Lily chomped on watermelon, Carrick ate more than I have ever seen him eat at a buffet too. Usually he has one small plate and is "full", but he kept eating. He enjoyed the Orange Chicken as much as I did.

I put up $20 and Corey covered the rest. I had planned on spending $30, but he said he would cover part of it. I love sharing :) So now that I have an "extra" $10 (money that I had budgeted that I didn't spend) I can buy that bottle of wine I've had my eye on.

Family Dinner at the Golden Dragon- $20.00

Balance this pay cycle- $68.00

Happy Spending!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Just Something Fun

Swimming in the pool, having splishy splashy fun,
Carrick told me he was tired and finished with the sun.
We had been there for two hours, and my girl needed a nap,
So Carrick swam ashore, in a final swimming lap.

We packed up all our floaties, our goggles and our toys,
I put Lily in the stroller where she made her napping noise.
As soon as we were rolling, her eyes began to close,
"What do you want for lunch?" I asked, and pizza's what he chose.

I thought about his answer and the places I could go,
But none of them had drive-through, so I'd have to tell him "no".
Then I thought of one place that serves it really fast,
I could pop in really quickly and make a pizza dash.

I kept the car on, running the air and locked the door,
Inside the pizza place, there was no one on the floor.
And then a person popped up and said to me, "Hello",
"I'd like some pizza slices, and please make them to-go."

They were ready in a jiffy, while I filled our soda cups
Sprite and Dr. Pepper filled them all the way up.
I was back in three minutes, Lily didn't make a peep.
Carrick took his slices, and Lily stayed asleep.

I ate my two slices, and Carrick ate just one.
(He wanted one for Lily for when her nap was done).
Our tummies full of pizza and our bodies nice and cool,
That's how I spent 12 Fun Dollars after swimming the pool.

4 Cheese slices and 2 sodas at Famous Pizza-$12.00
Balance this pay cycle-$88.00
Happy Spending!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Closing the Deal

It has been a roller coaster of emotions and finances these past few months. From packing up and moving, to putting our house on the market, from paying a rent and a mortgage to closing the deal, we have been through a lot as a family. Corey has been especially cautious with our finances these past few months as well. In his words, "Until that check clears..." meaning, we can't count on the house money until it is official because anything can happen.

Even with the fire in the canyon, the insurance company would not insure the house for the new owners until after the fire was put out. So, even then, we were waiting, hanging, until the fire was out. What if the buyers decided it wasn't worth it to wait? Or that it was too risky living in a place where wildfires happen? We had no clue about what they were thinking, so we kind of put our hopes of a fat check on hold.

And then my phone fell into a pool. Right in, under water. And wouldn't you know it, it turned on, it received messages, but the darned touch screen was inoperable. The only mode of operating the phone was incapacitated. Even with insurance, it would have cost us an extra $200 to get a refurbished phone. And Corey wouldn't budge on getting a new one. We were living just fine with me using his phone, and him carrying just his work phone. He insisted on waiting till we closed on the house, had the mortgage off our plate, and had our check from the new owners safely in our account. So, I patiently waited.

He even wanted to "trim the fat" so to speak while we were paying a rent and a mortgage. He asked me to cancel our cleaning lady! She only costs us an average of $20 a week, but he wanted us to conserve our funds until everything was cleared. I couldn't do that to her. She's a single lady and she depends on her clients for her income. So I decided to split the difference. I explained about the phone, the mortgage and the rent, and she understood. But I also told her that I could empathize with her depending on us as one of her steady clients. I told her that I could pay her for one hour of work ($20) out of my own personal money so that she would only be out $20 for this week, instead of the $40 we usually pay her (she comes every other week for 2 hours.)

I know that I could have budgeted more than the $20, but I felt like it was a fair meeting in the middle. After all, it's still my cash. I didn't have to use any of it, really, but my heart told me that it was the right thing to do to still contribute a little bit.

And then the magical day happened. Corey came by the house to have me sign the back of the check that had more money on it than we've ever held in our hands at one time. The check from the buyers that said, "Your old house is our new house." We put the money in, and went out that evening to celebrate. We had already planned on going out to eat anyway. We had a gift certificate to one of the nicest places to eat in town, L'Auberge.

A creek side resort with dining right on the banks of Oak Creek. The babble of the water, the ducks floating by, the dappled sunlight dancing through the trees all came together to create a magical setting. It was truly an evening of celebration.

Now that we are cleared of having to pay our mortgage, and we have the added comfort of cash in the bank, maybe next time, I'll tip our cleaning lady the remainder of what was missed this week. I think we can swing an extra $20.00 now.

Cleaning Lady- $20.00

Balance this pay cycle-$6.00

Happy Spending!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Drink Responsibly

Drinks. As far as Fun Dollars are concerned, they are my new fast food. They are the splurge in my budget. They are the "gimme" in my day. As I have grown into my 30's I have discovered that my body has turned on a natural "off" switch for drinking. I was never a heavy drinker, but I would overindulge from time to time. Back in the days before bedtimes and play dates, before my life revolved around putting others in pajamas, I could kill a bottle of wine in a night with Corey and have no problem.

Now, anything more than a glass of wine or one bottle of beer, or malt beverage, has to be accompanied with a glass of water too. If I don't keep hydrated while consuming "responsibly", I wake up in the middle of the night with a pseudo hangover. I hate hangovers. I'm not sure there are many out there who can say, "Yeah, I enjoy a good hangover", but there are those out there who will consume, knowing that a hangover will follow, and do it anyway. Me, not so much. My body gets this feeling halfway through the night like it's pulsating, like I can feel the blood thumping through, trying hard to process the leftover alcohol.

Last weekend, Corey and I split a six-pack of the most delicious hard cider. Angry Orchard creates seasonal brews that are released for a short while (at least at Safeway it's a short while.) This season's concoction contains essence of the Elderflower. Ho boy! Look out! You won't even feel this one coming. It's smooth, floral notes seriously make it a dangerous drink. I could have sat there and just finished bottle after bottle when I first sipped it. Delicate. Crisp. Delightful. However, I decided I wanted to enjoy one the next day, so I only had the one drink on the night we each contributed Fun Dollars towards a six-pack.

The next day, we made burgers, and that required a slightly different flavor profile than the sweet and delicate elderflower hard cider. I quickly zipped over to Safeway (again) and picked out a Zinfandel. The Bogle Old Vine was on sale for $7.50! I gave $5.00 towards it and wished Corey a Happy Father's Day. (Half jokingly. I did get him something else besides "half" a bottle of wine. But I didn't use Fun Dollars. He informed me that gifts do not have to come out of Fun Dollars.) The Bogle family of wines is always a solid choice. They are reasonably priced, and if you can find them on sale, it's even cheaper. I have never tried a Bogle variety that I didn't like. They really know how to make an middle-of-the-road priced wine that delivers stellar flavor. The juicy Zinfandel paired quite nicely with our burgers.

We corked up the rest of the bottle, and I enjoyed some with lunch the next day.

Not only does drinking in moderation save m body from the "yuck" factor, it's just smart. We space out our beverage consumption so that we have more to go around. We also are setting an example for our children about alcohol consumption. Don't get me wrong, there is a definite time and place for getting "wasted", like on a honeymoon, or when the kids are with grandma and grandpa. But on an everyday basis, when we are sharing our experiences with our children, we want them to see us consuming as if it were nothing more than lemonade or iced tea. Removing the negative associations with alcohol teaches them that it is possible to enjoy the beverage for the flavor, for the pairing with food, or as a treat, like a chocolate bar. It's not something that has to be over used to be enjoyed.

I am glad that I have come to that place, and so has Corey. It's been a good decade of legal drinking that we've both enjoyed together. And as the years press on, our children will only become more and more interested in what's in the glass. Having Fun Dollars means we can spend them however we want. With that comes a responsibility to set an example. Whether it's spending, or drinking, moderation and consideration mean everything.

Bogle Old Vine ZInfandel and six-pack of Elderflower Angry Orchard Hard Cider at Safeway- $10.00 (split with Corey.)

Balance this pay cycle- $26.00

Happy Spending!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bar-B-Q and Bluegrass: A Father's Day Outing with Fun Dollars

Yesterday and today mark the annual Train Days and Bar-B-Q Cook Off  in Williams, AZ. This historic Arizona town captures the charm of an old western movie with the history of Rte. 66. It is the Gateway to the Grand Canyon from I-41 (you know, that road that replaced Rte. 66 for a faster cross-country thoroughfare). You get bikers, pasty-white tourists, leathered cowboys and everyone in between in Williams on any given day, and the day of the great BBQ cook off is no exception.

Folks pour in to this small town to feast on some 30+ vendors' competition meat, each one vying for the title of "Best Bar-B-Q." They compete in rounds that include chicken, pulled pork, ribs and brisket. Now add to the festivities craft beers for sampling, and live bluegrass music echoing across the grounds from the grandstand, and you're now celebrating Father's Day in true Williams style. Add that to the vintage 1929 Cataract Rambler Steam Engine ride, and this is now a Father's Day celebration for the whole family!

The Steam Engine and Pullman cars are the originals that were used back in the early twentieth century. The windows in the non-air conditioned cars are even the originals! They lift up and have little latches (like on some bathroom doors) to hold the windows up so you can catch some breeze. (And since there are bound to be kids on the train for those celebrating Father's Day, I recommend not opening them up past the second notch.) The green velvet seats were reupholstered after vandals and vagrants took up residence in the cars when the train retired long ago. A massive renovation took place before getting her up and running again. Those same green velvet seats are also the really fun kind of train seat that can flip the back rest to create a limo-style seating. I_  _I  < like that.

Back at the festivities, there were also train exhibits for parents and kids alike. A Big Red Santa Fe Caboose is just one of the retired train cars that folks can tour. Across the street from the depot, a tent houses local model railroad layouts for children to enjoy. There were also a few steam-powered engines on display whizzing and popping every few seconds. All the while, the soft ramble of bluegrass music plays from across the railroad tracks. It gathers speed, and the rhythm reminds you of the train ride you just took.

This was a really wonderful way to do something new and enjoyable with the kids. Corey and I financed our entire trip with Fun Dollars. We packed a cooler with salads, sandwiches, and fruit. We expected to have some BBQ, but we wanted backup food to save on Fun Dollars. Factoring in the train tickets for myself and half of Carrick's fare (Corey and I split it) as well as the BBQ samples, I spent $30.00 Fun Dollars.

Happy Father's Day!

Train tickets and BBQ Samples- $30.00

Balance this Pay Cycle- $36.00

Happy Spending!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Keeping it Cool

Ahhh...nothing feels nicer than a cool beverage on a hot day. My go-to cool beverage is water, but sometimes I crave something unique or flavorful. I like to make fruit-infused water when that urge comes around. Orange/blueberry, cucumber/lemon, or strawberry/peach are a few of my favorites. Cutting up fresh fruit and leaving them to sit in a closed container in the fridge creates the most refreshing H2O.

I also get into iced tea creations in the summer time. I'll grab two different kids of teas from our massive tea stash and let them soak in a pitcher for a few hours. It's a way of using what we already have to create something new. They are teas that I wouldn't drink solo, or hot, like Tazo Passion (Corey buys it for himself), but when I add two bags of Passion to two bags of Bigelow Green Tea, they make an iced drink worth savoring. I'll sit on the porch and watch the kids play sippin' my summertime glass of awesomeness.

But, there are some things that I can't do at home, like make bubbles, or squeeze a coconut, that require Fun Dollars. So today after swim lessons (Carrick was feeling better) we went to Natural Grocers for some "treats". Coconut water and Pelligrino came home with me to fill the gap in my summertime beverage bar. With Pelligrino (it also works with other sparkling waters) I like to squeeze lime and lemon juice into my glass. Sometimes I like to add one of the Passion tea bags and float raspberries in a champagne glass with my bubbly water. It's a non-alcoholic alternative to champagne when trying not to dehydrate in the desert and summer heat.

I'm saving the coconut water for this weekend. We plan on taking a Father's Day weekend day trip to Williams to see the train show. I want a non-water drink for the road, so my can of coconut water will hold that spot for me. I also bought four more Luna Bars to carry around in my tote bag. One will be for the Summer Kid's Movie tomorrow. I don't want to spend $7.00 on popcorn this week. A Vanilla Almond Luna bar will serve me just fine. I will also have snacks for the road ( just for me) on our trip. The kids have peanuts, cashews, raisins and bananas from our grocery trip this week that will serve as their road trip snacks.

I did share some Fun Dollars with Carrick today. He wanted a Cliff brand fruit rope for his "treat" after swim lessons. Since he passed his level 3 swim test today, I decided we could celebrate. He also picked out one for Lily. Always thinking of little sister. He didn't even beg me for her leftovers after she tossed half her fruit rope on the seat. He handed it to me and requested that I "wrap it up". It's still sitting on my counter top in a ziploc baggy.

Snacks and drinks at Natural Grocers- $10.00

Balance this pay cycle- $66.00

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Half Baked

Half Baked. Yeah, it's exactly what you cream. Good ol' Ben N' Jerry's. A soothing swirl of vanilla and chocolate ice cream punctuated with hunks of cookie dough and fudgey brownie. It's for those of us who can't decide and just want to eat something right out of the carton. As healthy as I want to be this summer, I still need a little sugar, a little sweet treat that's not fruit derived. I call it my fast-food/junk-food pacifier. I refuse to go to a drive through window now (unless we are on the road and it's beans from Taco Bell. It's the only fast-food option that has been "Corey Approved".) And while I fully understand that my body does not need junk, I firmly believe in the moderation principle to spur on success.

Also, if I have this delicious tub of heaven sitting in my freezer, I can sneak a bite here and there when I get a craving for chocolate, or ice cream, or sugar, and be done with one bite. That way, I am not exposing my kids to it. You know as well as I do that I can't just go to Baskin Robbins and get myself something and not buy the kids something. Hello! But what I can do is take a bite when no one is watching. One bite.

I bought the tub in secret as well. Carrick woke up sick (again) this morning, and this time it was at 6:30 a.m.! He usually sleeps in at least an hour past that. His whining about how yucky he felt woke Lily up too. Corey ran a bath for Carrick to cool him off and calm him down, which meant that Lily was in there in a heartbeat. There's not a bath or shower in this house that goes down without her knowledge. Girlfriend loves the water. Since she also had a fever as of this morning, Corey helped her into the bathtub as well.

With the little ones occupied, I quickly ate breakfast and left to get some supplies for my day alone with two sick children; chicken soup, an orange, an onion (to put around the bed), eggs (since we were out after my breakfast), and something for me to keep sane. I walked past the protein bars, the bulk bins, the cookies, none of them gave me the feeling of parting with my Fun Dollars. Then, down the frozen foods aisle, I found the glorious sale of my favorite ice cream. Ben N' Jerry's Half Baked for $3.00.

On the way into the grocery store I saw that the Red Rock News for today contained the spread from the new Splash Pad that opened up last week. I spent the change from the $4.00 I gave the cashier to buy a copy of the paper. I also spent another $1.00 to grab a copy for my  mom.

So here I am, halfway through my day, Half Baked and happy :) Carrick is watching a movie and Lily is passed out for her second nap. Thank goodness for Fun Dollars, and some help from my friends Ben and Jerry.

Half Baked Ice Cream and two newspapers- $5.00

Balance this pay cycle- $76.00

Happy Spending!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Christmas in June

One of my New Year's Goals this year was to partially finance Christmas with my Fun Dollars. I did that somewhat this past Christmas. I used $40.00 of my Fun Dollars to buy Corey a cashmere and cotton sweater from L.L. Bean. I also bought some things for the kids at the c
hildren's consignment shop that went out of business. Everything was super discounted, so I managed to score some pretty nice deals.

After the experience of last Christmas, I was excited to repeat it. I truly enjoyed buying things for my immediate family with my Fun Dollars. As an added bonus, not using as much of our bank money to fund Christmas was an extra gift to Corey. (And as many of us know, husbands can be the hardest people to give gifts to.)

Yesterday, after Lily went down for a nap, and Carrick was happily taking quiet time, I told Corey I was going out shopping. Two of my favorite places to shop are right around the corner from our house now, Goodwill and Bell's Outlet. Even though I hosted  a clothing swap several weeks ago, my inventory of "bottoms" is surprisingly low. I have a skirt, a pair of capris, and two sets of leggings that actually fit and flatter me. (I have some things that are a little big and baggy, those are just for wearing around the house.) And after looking at my shirts, I realized that most of them are just too fancy (and too hot, they are all polyester) for wearing around town for summer activities with the kids.

So, off to Goodwill to start my afternoon of ALONE TIME SHOPPING!!!!! (I heard a store clerk say to some kids that were running around the store, "Please don't run, there are older people shopping here..." blah blah blah....and I was thankful that it wasn't my kids she was talking to.) I found three light-weight shirts that worked with what I already have, and since they were the special sale color of yellow, that meant they were only $1.00 each.

I also found the cutest little doll house/castle for Lily, which only set me back $5.00. I am so putting that in her Christmas box for later. I also found a sock monkey winter hat for Carrick and a rubber stamp (stocking stuffer). He is really into anything that can be put onto paper right now, stamps, markers, color pencils, etc. I will keep looking for more stamps and probably get him a couple ink pads to go with them before Christmas.

I also picked up the cutest pink polka-dot "table cloth" for Lily's next birthday party. Since her birthday is two weeks after Christmas, it never hurts to be proactive and buy things a few months out. It lessens the financial strain right after the holidays. In addition to the table cloth I also found a cute little pink purse for Lily. She is so into shoes and purses, I figured it would be a fun present, whether it's Christmas or birthday.

I finished off my alone time by checking out Bell's for some pants or shorts. I didn't find anything I was in love with, so I left there with a trio of pink stud earrings. I have one pair of earrings I can wear that Lily can't grab, so I thought I'd just add to that collection a bit. She also likes to take my earrings for walks around the house, so the one pair I do own, I have no idea where they are.

As the year progresses, I hope to add to my pile of Christmas items via Fun Dollars. This year, I would like to get things for my "extended" family as well. Since we will 90% likely visit Illinois during the Christmas season this year, I would love to have presents already ready. More of our Christmas budget will be spent on travel than usual, so helping out with Fun Dollars will be one way I can give back.

And speaking of giving back, make sure to check out the post "Summer Fun Dollars Challenge" if you haven't already. You might like what you read ;)

3 shirts, a castle, a purse, a stamp and a money hat at Goodwill- $16.00
trio of stud earrings at Bell's Outlet-$3.00

Balance this pay cycle-$81.00

Happy Spending!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Healthy Home is a Happy Home

This round of Fun Dollars found me surprisingly chilled out and relaxed...after the fire was put out, that is. I felt uptight about the prospect of summer at home with both kids, but after two weeks (and a little stay-cation) I feel like Super Mom. I took control of our snack situation this week, which fueled a sense of accomplishment and peace about the house. Just having food for two children can turn into an all-day ordeal. I was determined to stick to our agreement (between Corey and me) to not resort to sugar for snacks. No gummies, fruit roll-ups, chips, chocolate or icee pops. So, what I did instead was buy coconut popsicles for Carrick to get us through that first week. Corey had no objections to Julie's Organic Coconut pops. I also indulged in a little tub of almond-based ice cream for me (Praline Almond Dream....sooo good!)

After that first week at home, I found a new sense of confidence in the kitchen. I made a smorgasbord of healthy snacks that the kids could just reach in and grab. If it wasn't in the fridge or the fruit bowl, they couldn't have it. I chopped melon, diced pears, sliced apples, peeled mango and cubed pineapple. I filled tiny, condiment-sized cups with these delicious treats, and the kids (even Lily) became independent with their snacking. Not only did this keep them from begging for sugary treats, it kept me from giving in and spending my own Fun Dollars. Granted, I bought Carrick coconut pops, but after he finished the box in the first week, I made home-made ones that he liked just as much.

I used grocery money to get a carton of coconut milk (in the regular milk section) and I blended it up with a banana and pineapple juice. Pina Colada pops were all the rage at the Sheridan house this week. Zero Fun Dollars spent on treats. I filled up an ice cube tray and covered it with cling wrap. I poked holes in the wrap and stuck Popsicle sticks into the "ice cubes". Lily could eat them too, and they really helped with her cutting a new tooth.

I also decided that while fruit and nuts are nice, I needed a little something for myself, not quite chocolate, but something  like that to stave off the urge to just buy a candy bar. Luna Bars were on sale at Natural Grocers, so I bought 4 of them. Caramel Nut Brownie and S'mores were my favorite out of the bunch. No Snickers bars for me!

Last night, was perhaps the crowning moment of snackage so far. I used a frozen banana and coconut milk as a base. Then in one cup, I added frozen mango chunks, and in the other cup I added cacao powder. Five minutes later, my NutriBullet had made "ice cream" and we had an ice cream party at the dinner table! With Lily on my lap and Carrick next to me, I felt like Super Mom again. Ice cream that had no added sugar, no cow's milk, and I could let them enjoy as much as they wanted because I was okay with what I was giving them. No guilt, no bargaining, just fun.

Corey and I also enjoyed splitting a bottle of wine and a six-pack of Angry Orchard Hard cider with our Fun Dollars.

By planning and using some creativity, I managed to have both kids at home for the summer, and not resort to fast food, junk food, treats or last-minute pizza. This pay cycle was truly Happy Spending!

Julie's Coconut pops and Almond Dream ice cream- $10.00
Angry Orchard and Nobilo Sauvingon Blanc split with Corey- $10.00
4 Luna Bars at Natural Grocers- $4.00

Balance this pay cycle- $1.00
Happy Spending!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fun Dollars Summer Challenge!

Okay, I've been writing and documenting my Fun Dollars experience since January. Those of you who have been reading are familiar with how the Fun Dollars system works. Now that you have an idea of what I've spent my money on, what the rules are, and the challenges associated with Fun Dollars, I propose to you a challenge:

During the summer months of June, July and August, create your own Fun Dollars system. You can use the template that the Sheridans use, or you can tweak it to suit the needs of you/your family. Come up with a Fun Dollars system, then use it for the summer. At the end of the summer, the last week of August and the first week in September, submit to me (via email, which I will share closer to the time), your experience of using Fun Dollars for the summer. I will read all the submissions and pick a winner. The winner will get $50.00 of my own Fun Dollars to be awarded the second week of September.

Have fun, enjoy this financial experiment, and Happy Spending!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The $65.00 Vacation

To kick off my better budgeting, I sponsored a family getaway to Scottsdale. It's been almost 2 years since I used Fun Dollars for a get-away. (I did it the second month into our Fun Dollar implementation.) During the fire in Oak Creek Canyon last week, I watched on facebook as friend after friend packed up and left Sedona for the "fresh air" of Phoenix. (That in itself should tell you how bad the smoke was here, when people go to Phoenix for fresh air, you know it's bad.) After three days of staying in the house with the children and not letting them play outside from the "unhealthy" to "hazardous" air quality rating in Sedona, I couldn't take it anymore.

I had been in discussion with Corey about getting out of town anyway.  It would most likely be a stay-cation (when you go on a vacation within driving distance) to Phoenix, since we had just purchased plane tickets to visit family later this summer. We had decided that the earliest we could afford to go anywhere would be after our house closed escrow on the 19th. I couldn't wait that long. We were breathing polluted air and going stir crazy from being inside.

Then, something wonderful happened. While I was watching post after post go up of poolside frolicking on facebook, another friend of mine posted that she needed a massage chair for her new business. One post and a pickup later, I successfully sold our massage chair. It has literally been sitting in our garage for three years unused, not once seeing the light of day.

My friend gave me a $100.00 bill to pay for the chair. I now held in my hand the bargaining chip I needed to get us out of town. As it turned out, we were able to get a very nice hotel room with a full-sized fridge and kitchenette, two TV's a king sized bed, and a hot breakfast for $50.00 per night. It was the same hotel where all our friends were staying, so there would be kids there to play with my children as well. We stayed two nights. I literally paid with the same $100.00 that my friend used to pay me. Zero cash came out of our bank account for this excursion.

I bought snacks and lunches, Corey bought dinner at Tommy Bahama. I chipped in with my Sedona friends, who were staying there, for pizza on the second night. I also bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Safeway. We did Zero Dollar activities, while we were down in the Valley, like play in the splash pad at the Scottsdale Quarter, hang out at the pool, and watching TV (which we do not do at home). 

When we returned from our three-day, two-night get-away, the smoke had cleared out of Sedona, and the fire was 90% contained up on the rim. Oh happy day! Refreshed and renewed, we came back to clear skies and fresh air.

And that, my friends is how we went on a stay-cation and didn't touch our bank account to do it.

Happy Spending!

2 lunches, snacks, wine and pizza- $65.00

Balance this pay cycle- $25.00