Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Ahhh of Vacation

My last $20.00 Fun Dollars went to food this week, actually, it was early last week when I spent them. Corey was gone all day last Sunday. He works for a limo company and he had to represent them at a wedding expo in Scottsdale. My parents were due to fly in the next day. So that left me with two children and a messy house on Sunday.

I explained to Carrick that his Nana and Dedah were coming to visit, and I wanted our house to look pretty for them when they came. (Fortunately, I did all the laundry the day before, so laundry was crossed off my to-do list.) We all went to church that morning. I needed a little centering before the big task of cleaning the entire house. I took the kids to Basha's for a roasted chicken and mashed potatoes for lunch. Almost immediately after lunch, Lily took her nap, which was about 2 1/2 hours in length. Carrick snuggled in his bed and watched Rio 2 and How to Train Your Dragon. With both kids occupied, this mama not only cleaned the house, but rearranged some furniture too!

I told Carrick that if he kept the clean parts clean, and helped me pick up toys in the play room, I would treat him to Zainey's Frozen yogurt. He held up his end of the bargain, so before we went grocery shopping, I took the kids to Zainey's. Corey was on his way home at that point. He arrived shortly after we returned from Safeway with a meager grocery haul. I didn't buy too much since my folks would be visiting and eating out would be a regular occurrence. Corey was in the mood for Chinese, so he and I split the cost. We ordered eggplant and garlic green beans, two of our favorites. With food on the table, no dishes were harmed in the making of this meal. We used the last of our paper plates as well.

Phew! The house stayed clean pretty much until the cleaning lady came the other day. Mostly because we have all be out doing things in Sedona with mom and dad. I only did a small bit of picking up here and there throughout the week to maintain the tidiness level. I might sound a little anal-retentive about having a clean house. My mother is not a neat freak, and even though my dad is a tidy person, he would never expect the level of cleanliness that I keep with two kids. They know what it's like to raise a family and have clutter, dishes, laundry and crumbs strewn about the house. I just like keeping it clean because it looks nicer that way.

And, while mom and dad are in town, it's almost like I am on vacation with my immediate family as well. We get to swim at the hotel with mom and dad. We all go out to eat. We all go hiking. We all shop in Uptown and Tlaquepaque. So when I come home, my vacation is still going, and the appearance of my house affects how I feel. After a beautiful day of hiking and swimming, opening the door and seeing a swept living room feels like, "Ahhh...". Who wants to be on vacation and spend it in a messy house? Not this mama.

So, the other day, buying Zainey's as a bribe, essentially, and ordering from Szechuan were ways of me keeping the house that I had spent all day cleaning looking like I had spent all day cleaning it. Kind of a proactive welcome home gift for everyone who would walk through the door to their vacation retreat. Ahhh....

Zainey's Frozen Yogurt- $7.00
Szechuan- $13.00
Balance this pay cycle- $0.00

Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Yesterday, my father turned 60. I don't think he'll mind me sharing his age, since his friends on facebook didn't really keep it a secret. Turning 60 is something to be proud of, it means you've made it, it means you've lived life, it commands wisdom and respect. Many 60-year-olds are just hitting their stride. 60 is the new 40, right?

Many months ago, when I found out that my parents would be vacationing during dad's birthday, visiting us in Arizona, I immediately started planning. I wanted to do something for my father for his birthday. I wanted to somehow repay the 32 years of birthdays he has given me. I knew I couldn't even come close to that, but that's what was monumentally emerging in my mind. What about a helicopter ride? Or a balloon ride? What if we went to Williams and all took the train to the Grand Canyon? How can I show this person who has done so much for me in my life how much I care and want to celebrate the big 6-0?

Then I took a step back. "What would dad want? It's not really about what I want to give him, it's what he would appreciate as a gift from me." And then it was clear. I could sum it up in one word, "Elote". Every time he comes to Sedona, he loves eating at Elote Cafe. Ever since Corey and I were employees there almost seven years ago when it opened, we have taken our family there to eat when they visited. And, invariably, when my dad comes to visit, he likes to pick up the tab. What if this time we picked up the tab? That was something I knew we could do that would be a true birthday present.

We did not use Fun Dollars, but that was part of the plan. I told Corey, "I want to take dad and mom out for his birthday when the visit. I don't want us to use Fun Dollars because I just want everyone to order anything they want. That's his birthday present from us." He agree. We didn't really bu groceries this week because we've been eating out with mom and dad. It's kind of a vacation week for us too. And if we had used our Fun Dollars to pay for it, it would have been all of the Fun Dollars Corey and I both get for the entire pay cycle.

There was also another present I was able to give my father, in addition to a night out at his favorite restaurant. It's something you can't really buy...unless you know how.....It was time. I gave my father time on his birthday. Time spent with him, time with his grand kids, time doing whatever he wanted to do in Sedona, and sharing that with him. I paid my cleaning lady yesterday, which bought me an entire day to spend with my dad. We all went shopping in uptown while Carrick was at school. When Carrick came home, he got to spend the afternoon swimming with "Nana and Dedah" at their hotel pool, just one-on-one. Lily and I took a shower and got ready for dinner. Then we all went out to a lovely evening and came home to a clean house. We enjoyed hanging out as a family on this special day with the floors swept and the dishes done, not by me, but by someone else via Fun Dollars.

It was truly a Happy Birthday.

Cleaning Lady- $40.00
Balance this paycycle- $20.00
Happy Spending!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Time has Come

OK, folks, the day is here. Please begin the submission process for your Fun Dollar Summer Challenge entry. Write a document or an email describing your experience using Fun Dollars. Please send your finished product to In the subject of the email, write, "Summer Challenge".

If you are curious about what I am looking for in a winner, check out the entry titled, "Happy 100!" where I outline the criteria for entrants.

The winner will receive $50.00 of my own Fun Dollars.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mmm...More Chocolate

I have continued my experimental time in the kitchen in the past week working wonders with cans of beans. I realize that my sugar free/flour free versions of bean pastries might not be to every one's liking. Sometimes not having sugar or flour is an acquired taste. So I have been playing with different recipes and only adding a fraction of the sugar and flour called for by the recipes.

I also tried using carob powder for the chocolate recipes instead of cacao. Since we have little kids at home, not using sugar, but using cacao was still hyping them up. Cacao contains caffeine, carob powder doesn't. Also, carob powder is sweeter than cacao, I was still getting the sweetness I wanted without having to add too much sugar. The recipes I found online called for a whopping 3/4 cup sugar!

For my son, who has seen a relatively low sugar diet for the past month now, that is a lot of sugar. We made the mistake of letting him eat a few tiny party mints last week when we were out at a restaurant, and he was acting so wild when we returned home. His sensitivity to sugar is really apparent now, so I don't want to bake treats with too much sugar in them. I use 1-2 tablespoons of sugar, instead of the 3/4 cup the recipes call for.

Chocolate Chip Muffins:

1 can black beans (rinse and drain)
2 eggs
2 tbsp carob powder
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp coconut oil (or whatever cooking oil you have, this oil adds to the sweetness too)
1 tbsp flour (I use a gluten free mix)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup chocolate chips

*The first time I made these, the batter was very thick, so I added just a splash of coconut/almond milk to the batter in the blender to make it easier the wrappers.)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or oil muffin tin or place paper wrappers in tin. Blend all ingredients except chocolate chips. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into wrappers 3/4 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Test center with a toothpick before removing from oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Makes 9-12 muffins.

Carrick asked me to make strawberry muffins the other day, but since my kitchen space was occupied by Corey cleaning it (no complaints), I decided to use the toaster oven in the sun room. I used a smaller pan, and therefore only used 1/2 a can of beans. This recipe is for 1/2 batch. Double everything to make a full batch.

Strawberry Shortcake:

1/2 can pinto beans washed and drained (Navy or canellini beans will also work.)
1/2 c washed and slices strawberries
2 eggs
1-2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or oil 5x7 pan (I used a glass Pyrex dish.) Blend together all ingredients. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 27-30 minutes. Test center with toothpick before removing from oven. Let cool 5 minutes. Slice and serve. Makes 9 snack squares.


Muffin wrappers and baking tins at Dollar Tree- $3.00
Chocolate chips, carob powder, vanilla extract at Whole Foods- $15.00
Balance this pay cycle- $60.00
Happy Spending!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Of Treasures and Trash

I seriously don't mean to go to Goodwill this often, but it seems like it's been happening a lot lately. Maybe it's the draw of the unknown; having no clue what's in the store and what gem I might stumble across. Maybe it's the idea of paying way less for things than I normally would. Or maybe it's the fact that I am at home with Lily while Carrick is in school and we just need somewhere to go. Whatever the reason, I have found myself wandering the aisles of Goodwill several times in the past week.

My most recent venture to Goodwill was actually the result of some decluttering from the weekend. Corey went through his clothes and had two bags worth of discarded items. One bag went to the clothing recycling program. At the recycling center, and various donation spots around town, they accept ripped, torn, stained, unmatched and damaged items. They end up going to places where people are desperate, like war zones overseas. One of the employees at the recycling center told me even shoes that have no mate are OK to donate. They give them to people who have lost a leg or foot. So one of Corey's bags was for the recycling center.

The other bag went to Goodwill. Last week, I stopped by to drop off Corey's donation items. When I pulled, there was another woman already parked in the 5 minute donation pakring spot. I saw what she was pulling out of the back of her car, and it took all my will power not to ask jokingly, "Can I just buy those now?" She was getting rid of 4 throw pillows, two with brown Zebra stripes, and two with tan giraffe print. They would have looked so cute on our couch at home. I purged our house of a dozen or so throw pillows after we moved. They were old, torn, ripped, faded and flat. I have been on the lookout for new ones ever since.

I wish I had asked the attendant if I could have bought the pillows, because they were not in the store the next day, even though I was there soon after they opened. I didn't have time to wait around for them to be priced the day that I saw them dropped off. I was on the way to pick up Carrick from school. I could have gone right after school, but he was hungry, it was raining, and the after school excitement just drove pillows out of my mind.

"There will be other pillows," I thought as I searched the store to no avail. "I'll just wait, and get something better." Maybe buying someone else's pillows isn't the best use of my Fun Dollars. Maybe I should save my Fun Dollars to buy new pillows; something soft I can bury my face in when I lay on the couch and not think, "someone might have farted on this."

I did end up with a few gems for the kids on my pillow hunt, however. I found a summer and a winter shirt for Carrick that were in pretty good shape. For $1.50 each, I decided to bring them home and surprise him. I also found the cutest hot pink sweater for Lily.  I also came across a pair of violet corduroy pants for her that were like new. I know I have clothing swaps to look forward to, but I have learned that I can never have too many kids' clothes around. They just get stained, worn, torn, and outgrown too fast, kind of like the pillows.

Sure enough, my patience and treasure hunting skills are fine-tuned after 9 months of documenting my Fun Dollars. I was in the Village of Oak Creek shopping for a new broom and doormat. My parents are visiting this week, and I spent all weekend cleaning. The handle to my broom broke (yeah, I clean that hard), and our welcome mat is no longer a welcoming sight. I wasn't going to use my Fun Dollars for either of these purchases, and when I saw the pillows there, I decided I deserved a treat. I cleaned the entire house, so, I could spend $20.00 on two new pillows for the living room. Everyone gets to enjoy them, so I felt justified in my purchase. Sometimes I just have to make a judgement call when I find just the right treasure.

Clothes for the kids at Goodwill- $5.00
Balance this pay cycle- $78.00
Happy Spending!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hiro for a Day

Ever since we moved to West Sedona, I have dreamed about the little sushi place across the street. Well, actually, it's down the block, up the road, and across 89A, but essentially, it's just a few minutes' walk from our house. Hiro's Sushi Kitchen used to be located in the giant corner space at the Hyatt Pinon Pointe that is now Soundbites Grill. I can't imagine how many plates of sushi they must have had to crank out just to pay rent there.

When I saw them leave that space, I was kind of sad. I never had the chance to go there and try one of my favorite foods. But a few months later, I saw a sign at the corner of 89A and Mountain Shadows: Hiro's Sushi Kitchen. With joy, I planned to eat there, but it never seemed to happen.

Then when we moved to West Sedona, this cute little eatery was right in my neighborhood! I was so excited to plan a lunch date with friends, or an alone-date with just me an Lily, or a dinner date with Corey. Day after day, and week after week, I spent my Fun Dollars on other places to eat and on other things besides sushi.

That all changed on Wednesday.

Carrick had an early release day from school. Corey and I were hungry from waiting too long to eat lunch. We only had a limited amount of time to eat before picking up Carrick. "Let's go to Hiro's. It's close, it's fast, and it's going to be cheaper than India Palace," I said, urging Corey out the door. So I got to go on a quick lunch date with Corey (and just one kiddo to manage).

We arrived there five minutes before they closed up for the afternoon. They were so welcoming and more than happy to serve us. I knew ahead of time that I was not going to just get the cheapest roll on the menu; quite the contrary. I wanted one of those "fun" rolls with sauce, and raw fish on top and called something like "dragon" or "rainbow". I chose the house signature roll called "The Firecracker".

My Firecracker Roll was everything I wanted it to be. Corey, on the other hand was pleased with his "Sushi Box", but surprised at how much his meal cost. When I gave him a $20 for the lunch, he put in $20 of his own Fun Dollars, and asked for change back. Looking at the bill, he was disappointed that he had to give me all the change because after the $2.50 upgrade from a California Roll to a Spicy Tuna Roll, and another $2.50 for hot tea, he was at $20.00 after tip. I received

$3.00 of my $20.00 back after tipping out. Next time we go, I think we'll just skip the drinks all together. It kind of defeats the purpose of an inexpensive sushi lunch. If he had just got the Sushi Box, it would have only been $11.50 plus tip. It included a California Roll, three salmon nigiri, a pile of seaweed and miso soup. It's their version of a lunch combo.

Well, live an learn. That's what Fun Dollars is all about. Taking stock of our spending and changing it for next time. And there will be a next time. I am so glad I finally got to try out Hiro's Sushi Kitchen.

Firecracker Roll at Hiro's Sushi Kitchen- $17.00 (includes tip)
Balance this pay cycle-$83.00
Happy Spending!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recipe Update

Oops! I forgot two important ingredients in the bean muffin recipe I posted yesterday. I added them in this morning. 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp baking powder. If you tried this recipe and the muffins didn't rise up enough, that's why. My apologies.

Also, someone asked me about sugar substituting. I tried using 1/2 tbsp agave nectar and 1/2 tbsp brown sugar today. This is much less sugar than what the original recipe called for, but it's still sweet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Art of UnSpending

So many aspects of my personal life seem to be converging. The change in eating habits to get rid of psoriasis has crossed over into my spending habits. The quietness of having one child at home during the day has lead to more time spent in the kitchen. And the lack of sugary treat-buying with my Fun Dollars has resulted in creative new ways to make "treats".

My favorite two recipes are brownies and muffins, only instead of flour and sugar, I substitute beans and bananas/dates. (recipes are listed below.)

Part of the fun of Fun Dollars is finding ways to make use of or enjoy what is already yours. By doing this, you think outside the box and come up with ways to actually save your Fun Dollars. Yes, Fun Dollars are meant to be spent, but what happens when you want something bigger, something that costs more than the Fun Dollars you might get each week?

One of my plans for Fun Dollars this year was to finance part of Christmas with Fun Dollars. It's partially a gift to Corey, so that our bank account doesn't get slammed with Christmas, followed by my daughter's birthday two weeks later, followed by my son's birthday three weeks after that...then Valentine's Day two weeks after his birthday....then my birthday the day after that....Yeah, pretty much from Christmas through the day after Valentine's Day, our family sees A LOT of spending. Not to mention the registration renewal for both cars happens in December and January. So the fact that I will be able to take a little bit of the financial strain off the family's budget is a challenge I heartily welcome.

What does that mean for my Fun Dollars? It means planning, first and foremost. I can't just decide in December that I want to use my Fun Dollars for Christmas and birthdays. I would only have a limited budget to work with, not to mention zero Fun Dollars for me to spend on myself. But if I set aside a little each week that I receive Fun Dollars, I can build up the Christmas budget into something that will actually benefit the family.

That also means I will be working with less Fun Dollars each installment. So to find ways to save my Fun Dollars, and not spend them on items I would normally buy becomes a fun little challenge. As I mentioned earlier, I have been spending more time in the kitchen. Researching and experimenting with healthy "treat" alternatives has become my new passion. When Carrick comes home from school and I have a plate full of brownies, the look on his face is priceless. And because I make them with black beans and no sugar, he can eat as many as he wants. When he comes home telling me how awesome his lunch was because he got to eat three muffins, my heart sings. He totally forgets that the muffins are just beans and eggs. It's all about the cinnamon and nuts and bananas that add flavor.

By making these awesome, healthy treats, I haven't spent a dime on Luna Bars, Gummy Bunnies, Doritos, or ice cream ( I did come across an awesome, healthy gelato recipe I want to try out.) As a result, I have more Fun Dollars in my pocket. All of the ingredients are things that we would buy on a regular trip to the grocery store. Adding an extra $10.00 for a dozen eggs, four cans of beans and a bunch of ripe bananas is well within the scope of our grocery budget. As a result, we have snacks and treats, as well as lunch items all week that are not only delicious, but good for our kids to put into their bodies.

Really, it all comes together: what we spend, what we eat, what we do, how we think. When one part of our life changes, it sets into motion changes in so many other areas of life. We become a better version of ourselves when we can adapt to those changes and embrace the newness.

Here are the two recipes I have tried so far.

Black Bean Brownies:

1 15 oz. can black beans (drain and rinse)
3 eggs
4 tbsp cacao or coco powder
3 tbsp oil (I use coconut oil for the sweetness)
1 banana (mashed), or 1/4 cup dates (for sweetener), or you can use 1/2 cup regular sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1/4 c whole walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. (I use the toaster oven because it heats up faster and I can fit my brownie pan in there.) Put everything (except walnuts) in the blender/food processor. Crush and stir in 1/2 the walnuts if you choose to use them. Grease or oil 8x8 pan or a circular pan of similar dimensions. (I use coconut oil for this too and a basting brush.) Pour batter into pan. It will be runny. Sprinkle with remainder of chopped walnuts (optional). Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven. Brownies are ready when you stick a toothpick in the middle and it comes out clean. Let cool for 2-3 minutes. Slice and serve. Makes 12 brownies.

White Bean Muffins:
1 15 oz.can of Navy or Canellini beans (drain and rinse)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 mashed bananas
(I have not tested this recipe with the date substitute yet, but probably 1/2 c. would do it.)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder

*You can turn this into a chocolate muffin recipe by using black beans and 4 tbsp cacao or coco powder, and removing the nutmeg and doubling the cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350. Blend ingredients in a food processor/blender. Place muffin wrappers in or grease/oil muffin pan. Pour batter into cups until 1/2 full. Bake for 30 minutes. Test center with a fork or toothpick before removing from oven. Let cool 5 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen muffins.

I hope that these simple, inexpensive and good-for-you treats will add value to your family budget, save you some Fun Dollars and keep you and yours on a healthy path.

Happy Spending!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Happy 100!

Yay!!! To celebrate my 100th entry of Fun Dollars, I am celebrating the generosity of Fun Dollars!!!

At the beginning of June, I announced the "Fun Dollars Summer Challenge". This was a chance for the readers of this blog to set up their own Fun Dollars system, implement it, and use it all summer. At the end of the summer, I told them I would ask for their submissions in writing, telling me all about their experience with using Fun Dollars.

The time is drawing near for those of you who participated to start putting together your thoughts on Fun Dollars. This is the last week before submissions will be requested. What I am looking for in a winner are these elements:

1. How long did you use the Fun Dollars? Did it take you a day, a week, a month to set it up and use it? The longer you used them and stuck with it, the better your chances are for winning. I will have more to look at and to consider if you used it for a longer period of time.

2. How closely did you adhere to using Fun Dollars? Did you "cheat" by spending more than your Fun Dollars? Did you buy things with grocery money that should have been Fun Dollar purchases? "Cheating" won't necessarily ruin your chances of winning; if you did cheat, I want to hear about it. What did it feel like? Why did you do it? One of the reasons I am writing about Fun Dollars this year is because I found it hard not to cheat last year, so I definitely know how that feels.

3. Who else was involved with Fun Dollars? If you live alone, did you tell a friend or relative about what you were doing with your money? Or if you have a family, were they in on it too? Did you help anyone else set up their own Fun Dollars system? Were you "Fun Dollar Buddies" with anyone?

4. What were the challenges of using Fun Dollars? Were you tempted to spend more than what you had? If you did, what did you spend your money on? Were there times when you wanted to spend more but didn't? What were your regrets? What were your triumphs?

Consider these things as you put together your submissions for the Fun Dollars Summer Challenge. The winner will receive $50.00 of my own Fun Dollars. Good Luck, and Happy Spending!

Setting aside money for the Fun Dollar Summer Challenge Winner- $20.00 ($25.0 total so far. The balance will come out of subsequent Fun Dollar installments. I am building it up slowly so I can still spend some in the meantime.)
Balance this pay cycle- $0.00
Happy Spending!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Keeping it Clean

*Sigh* A clean home is like a breath of fresh air. When Corey told me he didn't want to pay for the cleaning lady with our family budget, I was heartbroken. But, a determination arose within me that I had never felt before. It was called "maturity".

If Corey had told me this news six months ago, I probably would have had the grown-up equivalent of a meltdown. I would not have had the experience with Fun Dollars that I now have from documenting my spending. How often can someone find a person who will clean their house for under $50.00 an hour? And what am I supposed to do this fall when I go back to work? Clean the house and work? I know there are some super moms out there who manage to do both. But I have learned that I am not one of those moms.

When I worked two years ago, and was expecting Lily, the house turned into a tornado zone. Laundry piled up, floors went unswept, and clutter accumulated. The only part of the house that was clean were the dishes...because Corey did them. After working for five hours, dropping off and picking up Carrick at day care, and prepping dinner, I just had nothing left to give to the house, never mind myself, or my growing belly.

Now that I have two children, instead of an expectant mid-section, the demands of life are different, but no less than they were two years ago. Even though I have a smaller house to care for, I still have a one-year-old at home who will get into anything and make a mess of it. That's okay, but messes can't just sit there, they turn into bigger messes. If a smashed strawberry is left on the floor, it quickly becomes a smear across the floor, or a hand print on the wall. Carrick is older now, but that doesn't mean that he is perfect about how much mess he creates either. He is still a child.

So, for me to have someone else come in every other week and mop my floors and clean my toilets is a really big deal. So big a deal, in fact, that I am willing to shell out my Fun Dollars to pay for it. I realized today while talking with the cleaning lady, that I would have made different decisions with my Fun Dollars six months ago. Instead of supporting a friend with their income, I would have blown my money on junk.

I used to value things like chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, and fast food. I would have spent the $40.00 that I now set aside for a clean house on things that are essentially poison. There is a time and place for such things, and in moderation, nothing is completely harmful. But in the amounts that I was consuming junk food, and fast food, and alcohol, and soda, they all added up to poison. I consumed them much faster than my body could process them. Burger King, beer and Zainey's frozen yogurt all in one day? Blech!

I have really wizened up about my spending habits. In reality, nothing is stopping me from buying $100.00 worth of Oreos if I want to. Corey can't tell me how to spend my Fun Dollars, and what I do with them is my choice. What I have come to realize is that my choices have become more focused, more deliberate, and more beneficial to me as a human being.

I really owe it all to going public with my spending. Thank you to any and all of you who bear witness each week to where my money goes. Without people reading this, I would still have an awareness about where my money goes, but the accountability would not be there. I am responsible to myself and to the readers of this blog to hold true to what I believe in and reflect those beliefs in my purchases. Right now, I value my health and my time with my children. So $40.00 seems like a small price to pay for some extra play time. The toilets can wait.

$40.00 for my Dear Cleaning Lady- $40.00
Balance this pay cycle- $20.00
Happy Spending!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I studied Fashion Merchandising at Western Illinois University and graduated a decade ago with my Bachelor's Degree in DFMH (the new acronym for "Home Ec."). It had to have been one of if not the easiest degrees to achieve at the collegiate level. It required three and a half years of class and one semester of an internship. No minor was required. In theory, one could actually graduate in those three and a half years, if they did their internship in the summer before their final semester. I chose to do my internship in the spring, after finishing all my classes.

I used to joke about how easy my degree was. There were many times, for multiple classes, that our assignments were, "Go shopping, then write a paper about it." Each class had it's own angle on the experience. If we were writing for Visual Merchandising, we would critique lighting, displays, flow, and setup. If we were writing for textiles, maybe we could compare how the same fiber was used for various peices of clothing.

Those were my two favorite classes as a Fashion Merchandising Major. But perhaps the easiest class for the easiest degree was Accessories. Yes, you read that right, Accessories. I literally took a class to learn about jewelry, belts, gloves, umbrellas, shoes, hats, and even sunglasses. We learned everything from how to knot a four-in-hand, to what a Bolton Thumb was.

So, now, my "job" is essentially what I went to school for (finally!) I go shopping, and then I write about it. After setting aside $40.00 for the cleaning lady this week, and $20.00 for the Fun Dollars Summer Challenge, I was left with $40.00. If you look at my previous balance, that leaves me with just $5.00 left for the pay cycle.

$4.00 of that went to new "fancy" flip flops. I had two pairs of flip flips when I started the summer. One of them was already two years old, and they were my "fancy" pair. The sparkles were falling off, and even though they still worked, structurally speaking, their appearance was starting to look shabby. Mama doesn't  do shabby; I'll do thrifty, but never shabby. Shabby and Frumpy are best friends, and if one is hanging around, the other one will join soon.

The New Fancy Flip Flops
So that left me with the task of only having to replace my gold, glittery "fancy" flip flops, the ones I wore to church or out to eat. When I went shopping at Target earlier this week, I happened upon a pair of gold, cushy, "fancy" flip flops on clearance for $4.00! Bingo! They came home and the old pair went to Goodwill.

Somehow, during my spending this week, I managed to have 2 $1.00 bills in my purse. It turns out, with all the dietary restrictions I have imposed, none of my regular "treats" were available to me, which is what I usually end up buying when I have less than $5.00 left. I passed Circle K, dreaming about an afternoon fountain soda. I drove right on past Wendy's, ignoring my craving for a medium Frosty. I waved at Burger King, saying, "Sorry, french fries!" and I thought, "it's harder to spend $2.00 than I thought."

After cruising through Goodwill for a second day in a row (yesterday, I filled up a bag of clothes for the kids for $15.00, but it wasn't Fun Dollars), I took a step back. "Why am I so desperate to rid myself of these two dollar bills?" I pushed Lily in the stroller down the covered walkway from Goodwill to Bell's Outlet, blindly following my urge to purge.

When I walked in, I thought, "Surely I can find something to use for $2.00 in this store." I started in the jewelry section. I almost picked out a trio of classy gold earrings. Then I remembered, I had spent the past three days squinting into the sunlight because my sunglasses are MIA. I walked to the very edge of the store, the dark corner, where they hide the clearance accssories. It was there that the light on my face glowed brighter than it had all day. I stared down at a mangled, tangled mess of clearance sun glasses ready for the hunt.

I systematically dug through an pulled out everything that was under $4.00. I had been keeping my coins from my purchases in my purse instead of emptying them out in the family coin jar. (Yes, I know I'm cheating...) I found six pairs of sunglasses that were actual possibilities, and not outrageously hideous. Out of all of them, two actually looked decent on me. They were the same price, so I chose the more comfortable of the two. With my two paper dollars, and my coins, I paid for them with the last remaining tidbits of my Fun Dollars. And I left a business card on the register ;)

"Fancy" flip flops at Target- $4.00
Sunglasses at Bell's Outlet- $2.00 (+ $1.00 in coins)
Balance this pay cycle- $60.00 (earmarked for future expenses.)
Happy Spending!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Bedtime Story

Bedtime has long since been placed on a sacred pedestal. In my list of life priorities nothing, I repeat, nothing stands between me and my bedtime; not parties, not children, not even sex. If it doesn't fit with my level of tiredness, I won't do it, plain and simple. Once in a while, I might make a concession, but it's always on my terms. 

I managed to navigate the waters of motherhood and bedtime with a fair amount of ease. Choosing to co sleep with each of my children afforded me 9-11 hours of sleep as a new mom. Even now with two children, I get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I wake up feeling rested and ready anywhere between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. (and usually get half an hour to an hour alone before the kids wake up.) It's all down to honoring bedtime. 

When I was a child, I went through phases of night time rituals. The first being a bedtime story with mom or dad. I kind of preferred dad, just because I liked the way he told stories. He would read to my sister and me together because shared a bedroom. My favorite story was The Sneetches. We'd be in stitches, laughing at all the hilarious ways he would rhyme out Dr. Seuss verse. 

in middle school, I preferred the Psalms from the bible over bedtime stories. I think I went through a phase of emotions and fear, and they offered me comfort and solace before bedtime. This was mom's department. Even though she and dad would take turns each night, hearing the words of God through my mother's lips added a certain measure of reassurance. 

In Jr. High, I started working crossword puzzles to get into the zone of sleep. I would harvest the back page from TV Guide and keep it bedside for a week, working on it a little each night, until the next one came in the mail. If I figured out the TV Guide crossword before the new one came, I would pull one out of the newspaper. I remember liking the TV Guide crosswords because they were easily solvable. They gave me a sense of accomplishment before turning the lights out. I think I also started working crosswords right around the time my sister moved out and got her own bedroom. Since she was no longer there to share the bedtime story, I found a new way of winding down. 

These days, bedtime might still get held in high esteem, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I always have the luxury to read or work a cross word before feeling too tired to lift a book. I am able to stay up later now than I ever have before; usually turning the lights out between 10:30 and 11:00. My standard bedtime for the last 7 years or so has been 9:30. Anything past that, and I turned into a banshee. 

Since banshees are not good at putting little children to bed, I had to learn how to understand my own tired signals, as well as the ones from my offspring. After getting a child (sometimes two) ready for bed with jammies, brushing teeth, reading them their own goodnight story and kisses goodnight, I don't always have energy left to give myself the same attention. Thankfully, Corey is usually around to help out with getting the kids ready for bed. He will give baths, or read Carrick a story, and I will get to spend some time by myself after Lily falls asleep. 

This summer, with no morning schedule, I was able to have ample amounts of me time before bed. So much so, that I read the entire adventures of the Borrowers. It's a vintage copy that has my mom's and aunt's names written in the front. The binding is ripped from years of use, but the story is timeless. I have one chapter left of my re-read of The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers, so on my recent trip to Bookman's I scouted out another book to take its place. 

I found a double Nancy Drew Mystery. I have a huge collection of Nancy Drew books somewhere in my parents' basement that have yet to make it to Arizona. I would spend hours during the summer breaks reading Nancy Drew books. My favorite was sitting outside under the big shady tree in our front yard. For bedtime reading, Nancy Drew seemed perfect. I like to keep my reading light, nothing too exciting or heavy. Children's literature has always struck a chord with me, so $4.00 Fun Dollars bought me a month's worth of bedtime stories. 

I also procured a pair of cotton pajama pants at Target while out shopping. All I have are flannel pants or shorts, but nothing light and airy for lounging around before bedtime. My legs get cold when the cooler is on, so I needed something in between. 

Now, with new pajama pants and a good night book to read, I am ready for bed. Good night.

Nancy Drew Double Mystery: The Sapphire Spider and The Invisible Intruder at Bookman's- $4.00
Pajama pants at Target- $13.00
Balance this pay cycle- $65.00
Happy Spending!

Friday, August 8, 2014

After School Special

It seemed like Carrick's first week of kindergarten flew by. From learning how to eat lunch in the cafeteria to working on self-directed lessons, this kid has started his kindergarten year like a pro.

To celebrate the completion of his first week of kindergarten, I wanted to get him something special. I didn't want to reward him with something sweet, but I did want him to feel like I appreciated all his hard work and acknowledge the giant step taken. When I saw the baby brachiosaurus at Target, I knew that was the answer.

It's not like he needs another dinosaur, but out of all his toys, his dinosaur herd is by far my favorite. Watching him come up with wildly imaginative scenes with his dino families just puts a smile on my face. Hearing him name off all the dinosaur species as he plays makes me feel like a proud mama. And, the baby brachiosaurus was one of the toys he wished for the last time we were at Target. I told him that he could only get one dinosaur, encouraging him to get a species that was not yet a part of his herd. I also explained that he could buy another one when he had more of his own Fun Dollars. I remembered our conversation about it as I passed through the "trinket" aisle just inside the doors at Target today.

For only being five years old, he accepts "no" much better than some kids even twice his age. He never throws a fit, or begs. He might play with the toy until we leave the store, but he hands it over at the check out. He never makes a big deal about not getting a toy.

After finishing up at Target (I was on a girl's shopping day with Lily and a friend), we visited Bookman's. This store is pretty much a Barnes and Noble of used books, complete with a gaming section, musical instruments, toys, and a coffee shop. At the checkout, I discovered a basket full of plastic animals. There was an entire herd of elephants, a pride of lions, and about a dozen sharks, to name a few. Lily picked out a smaller cheetah to take home. I didn't see any prices, so I asked the clerk checking us out how much the animals were.

Baby Brachiosaurus with Daddy Brachiosaurus.
Lily's Cheetah is climbing the rock.
She went over to the basket and pawed through it. "Since there's no price listed anywhere, we'll just say a dollar per animal." I reached in and pulled out a hammer head shark and a tiger shark for Carrick. I decided I would give him the baby brachiosuarus today, and one shark each week for the next two weeks as an end-of-the-week treat. (After that, my parents will be visiting, and that will be its own reward. I think the routine of going to school will be pretty much set by then, so the positive reinforcement won't be as critical.)

Today, when I picked him up from school, I had a black bean brownie, a cold water bottle, and a baby brachiosaurus waiting for him in his car seat. Combined with his one hot lunch this week (he gets to pick one meal from the cafeteria each week, otherwise it's a cold lunch), and he was super-pumped about his school day. It's amazing how the smallest thing can have such a huge effect on a child.

Baby brachiosaurus at Target- $1.00
Cheetah, and two sharks at Bookman's-$3.00
Balance this pay cycle- $82.00
Happy Spending!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Back to School Blues

Today, my first baby went to kindergarten. Today, this mama ate chocolate.

I was good, and stuck to my "diet". I did not eat the comforting-on-the-surface chocolate. I ate the nourishes-the-soul chocolate; 72% cacao, Ghirardelli, Twilight Delight.

Actually, in my foggy, bewildered "how is my baby this old already?" state, I  would have bought the other kind of chocolate, the kind that tastes good but inflames the body, and has zero antioxidants. But, my steadfast husband, who cares about what I put into my body was the one who went to the store. (I was the one who chose to eat whatever he brought home.)

I didn't just eat the chocolate, I devoured it. And surprisingly, it worked. Whatever those chemicals are in the body that like chocolate and think that it's love or something were in full swing. As I chowed through each square, my feelings of denial of my baby growing up and my oldness soon melted away.

I thought buying Carrick a little something for his first day of school would also be a good idea. I didn't want to get him a super sugary something. I also didn't want him to think that every day would warrant a treat. But today is special. I also figured he'd be hungry when I picked him up. I had to set the "bar", and not make it too high. A Luna Bar fit the bill. It was just treaty enough to make him think it was something special, and just healthy enough, and filling that I wouldn't feel bad about giving it to him.

Since Lily was with me, I had to get her something too. She got to munch on a Honey Graham Kid's Cliff bar.

Our transition from first day of school to home was a success. Mommy's nerves were calmed by her chocolate, Carrick was treated with his chocolate, and Lily was glad to have something since everyone else had something too.

Ghirardelli Chocolate at Safeway- $2.00
Luna Bar and Kid's Cliff bar at Natural Grocers- $2.00
Balance this pay cycle- $86.00
Happy Spending!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lunch Date

India Palace, one of my favorite places to eat in Sedona, offers the most mouth-watering lunch buffet. From Vegetable Korma, to Tandori Chicken, their offerings are not only healthy, they are in alignment with my new food choices. In an effort to clear up a long-time affair with psoriasis, I am changing my eating habits. Cutting out nightshade family foods, wheat, dairy, and most red meats constitutes most of the changes. India Palace serves food that supports these changes.

Today, my son had a "practice day" of kindergarten. It was only an hour and a half long, and parents were instructed to "leave them at the door". With only my daughter in tow, I felt like a free woman. She actually fell asleep as I drove to the bank to collect this week's Fun Dollars for Corey and me. I sent Corey a text to meet me at India Palace. It was a date. 

With Carrick at school, and Lily asleep in the stroller, we were done eating in less than 10 minutes! It wasn't much of a date, or very romantic, but we were allowed 10 glorious, uninterrupted minutes of communication. No one was trying to get down from the table and run around. Carrick wasn't bargaining for extra rice pudding. Lily wasn't throwing handfuls of saag paneer on the floor. It was ten minutes in heaven.

Also, after ten minutes of eating, I had to stop because the dishes are so filling! If I had tried to eat anymore, I would have needed a nap and felt "too full". Since Carrick's school was having an open house after his practice day let out, sleeping would not be an option. I had to be a good mama and check out the after school activities, lunch menu, and PTA. Even though our lunch date was brief, those precious minutes alone with my love felt like half an hour. Time slows down when I'm in good company.

Lunch date at India Palace- $10.00
Balance this pay cycle- $90.00
Happy Spending!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rethinking Fun Dollars

As I move forward in my year of spending and documenting Fun Dollars, I need to take time to reevaluate how I spend them. I did this at the beginning of the summer, after Carrick's preschool let out, and now that we are on the verge of starting kindergarten, the time has come to examine some spending habits yet again.

This summer, I was successful at keeping sweets and fast food to a minimum. I did not rely as heavily on sugar, candy, chips, and soda as I had in previous summers. I think a pat on the back is in order, especially considering this was my first summer with two children eating solid foods.

It's now time to take my food spending of Fun Dollars to the next level. I need to cut out wheat for myself. As I mentioned in the previous article about Fun Dollars, my husband and I are serious about getting rid of the psoriasis that we have lived with for close to a decade. Wheat/gluten is one of those trigger foods. That means that the restaurants where I spend my Fun Dollars also need to offer food that doesn't contain wheat.

Dairy is another trigger food, which means no more trips to Zainey's. Or, if we do go to Zainey's I'll have to get their sorbet. It will be a change for my palate, but, I'm a big girl, I can handle it. If I do get the urge for ice cream, I'll have to drop a little extra cash and get a non-dairy option at one of the health food stores in town. Almond or coconut-based ice cream isn't bad, but it's just not the same as regular ice cream. Also, the refined sugars (whether they're organic or not doesn't matter) are also not that good for psoriasis, so my sweets will need to be very few and far between.

Alcohol is another 'no-no'. This past week, Corey and I consumed zero alcohol after returning from our trip. I will not be buying any more bottles of vino for a while.

So with all these things that get eliminated (and/or drastically reduced) from my Fun Dollars spending, it clears the way for new purchases. The biggest purchase that will become a regular part of this new "budget" is my cleaning lady. Corey wants to take her services out of our family budget. We are working on overhauling our family budget, and the cleaning lady is getting the cut. However, I am not ready to part ways with her just yet. I plan to re-enter the work force this fall after Lily starts daycare, and I want to keep the cleaning lady around. Even though Corey has committed to cleaning the toilets, I think it might be useful to have someone come in and pick up toys, or do dishes while I'm at work. That means that out of each pay cycle, $40.00 will automatically be spent on my cleaning lady.

Which brings me to my last point; me working again. I'm waiting a month after Carrick starts kindergarten to start Lily in daycare. I hear how emotional it is to send your first kiddo to kindergarten, even if they have attended preschool; it's a really big deal. So, to start my baby in daycare at the same time as starting my kiddo in kindergarten might leave me an emotional mess. Spacing out their starting school allows me to get used to taking five days a week (which will be a first). Once we have that routine down, starting Lily three days a week will be less stress on this mama. I plan to use my month with just one child job hunting. By October, I will (hopefully) be an employed woman bringing home the turkey bacon!

With the prospect of having a job, my spending habits will most likely change as well. If I am working, instead of hanging out at home, my need to go out and shop, or grab treats, or whatever, will be drastically reduced. Instead of spending money, I'll be making money. So I think the shift of me paying for my cleaning lady makes sense all around, which is why I used $20.00 of my Fun Dollars this past pay cycle to pay for my cleaning lady. (Well, that's part of the reason, the other reason is I forgot to go to the ATM after we arrived home, and I wasn't in the routine of things yet.) I used half Fun Dollars, and half anniversary money to pay for her this time.

The last remains of Fun Dollars this pay cycle bought desert last night. After a healthy meal of grilled chicken, swordfish, quinoa and salad, I decided that chocolate was in order. I left for Natural Grocers and bought 70% dark chocolate for Corey, toffee almond milk chocolate for me, a Luna bar for Carrick, and a kid's Cliff bar for Lily. $8.00 for a round of chocolate for everyone. So much for "no refined sugar", but on the upside, the chocolate is all gone. I'll have to just give myself a good amount of time before buying another round of sugar with my Fun Dollars. Documenting my spending will also help me "stick to it", since everyone who reads this is in on my dietary checklist. Writing about it acts as an accountability meter to some extent.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explore new avenues with my Fun Dollars as my wants and needs change. It's time to rethink what makes Fun Dollars truly "fun".

Cleaning Lady- $20.00
Desert at Natural Grocers- $9.00
Balance this pay cycle- $1.00 (Which I will give to Carrick for doing a chore this week.)
Happy Spending!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Last Hurrah

The summer officially ends this weekend. On Monday, Carrick goes to his first "day" of school. It's only a 90-minute introduction to the Montessori system. Parents and children attend together so that everyone is on the same page. The day after that is a 90-minute session with just the children. Then the day after that, the entire school goes "back to school."

So yesterday, we enjoyed our last children's summer movie at Harkins Theater. We missed the previous two movies because we were visiting family in Illinois and Indiana. The show was Freebirds, which Carrick especially likes. It didn't matter to him that he had watched it on Netflix a handful of times this summer, seeing it on the big screen was something he did not want to miss. He still had about $10.00 Fun Dollars to take with him to buy his kid's combo. I also had enough Fun Dollars to splurge on a small popcorn and soda. 

After returning from our family visit, Corey and I decided to refine our eating habits. Both of us live with psoriasis, and are serious about eradicating it. This means that the food we eat should be geared towards our goal of clear skin, not self-indulgence. Refined sugars, like those in soda, are on the "do not consume" list. Popcorn isn't necessarily bad, I just wanted to get one bag of popcorn because I hadn't all summer. That's right, we attended seven movies together this summer, Carrick, Lily and me, and I did not buy popcorn until the last movie. It was kind of a last hurrah for summer.

After the movie, I wanted to take the kids shopping for school clothes at Bell's Outlet across the street. It was Friday, and shoppers under the age of 49 get an extra 15% off with their loyalty card. (Folks 50+ get their discount on Mondays.) We were walking through the kid's section, when I felt dizzy and hot. I actually started sweating, despite the air conditioning being on. I immediately knew what was going on. I had made the mistake of having too much caffeine, and not enough food/water. Morning coffee paired with Dr. Pepper and only popcorn was not a good idea. I quickly checked out, and made a dash for Taco Bell.

My order came to $5.00 even. I did not want to mess with going home and cooking, I just needed food ASAP. We came home, and as my hands were shaking, I unwrapped my bean burrito. After finishing my lunch, and sitting on the couch sipping water, I slowly started to feel better. It felt like my last hurrah was more of a belly flop than a cannonball.

I thought that I would give myself until school started to be vigilant about what I ate. I thought that since both the kids were still at home, I would wait until at least one of them was occupied during the day to try to change how I ate. But the truth is, now is always a good time. It doesn't really matter if there are kids around, family to visit, or soda to drink, in the end, the decision is mine about what I put into my body.

This also leads me to a discovery about how I will be spending my Fun Dollars in the months to come. Since there are many things that are getting crossed off my list of "OK to eat", the places I spend my Fun Dollars, and the things I spend them on will drastically change from my previous spending trends.

Also, the fact that Carrick will be in school means that there is one less person I will be spending my Fun Dollars on. All summer, I have spent my Fun Dollars on small treats like Luna bars and coconut waters, many times, buying for and sharing with Carrick. With him gone all day at kindergarten, I will have slightly more to spend on myself.

I am really excited about the next few months of Fun Dollars. I think these changes will only help me become a better version of myself. There really is no Last Hurrah, just everyday decisions that I, myself, get to make.

Popcorn and Soda at the movies- $6.00
Lunch at Taco Bell- $5.00
Balance this pay cycle- $29.00
Happy Spending!