Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living the Americone Dream

No, you read that correctly, Americone Dream, the Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor with Stephen Colbert on the lid. What does that have to do with Fun Dollars? I'll get to that in a bit.

This past Monday, I did feel like I was living the American for licensed toys for my kids at Wal-Mart, Disney via Barbie, and Lego characters we saw on Netflix. After purging and decluttering so many of my kids' toys in preparation for a yard sale, I thought they could each use a new "something".

Carrick just recently got into "Ninjago", the computer animated Lego ninja series now available on Netflix. Thankfully, the show is still current enough that they sell Ninjago Legos at Wal-Mart. He has been playing on his "magic blanket" all week. (Magic Blanket is a fleece blanket we lay on the floor that has a pile of random and mixed-up Legos in the middle. When he's done playing we just gather up the corners of the blanket and the mess is "magically" picked up. Also, the blanket can travel from room to room that way, thus increasing its magical-ness.) He has been making his own version of the Ninjago characters with the random parts he has at his disposal. He inherited ALL of Corey's 1980's/90's Legos from his childhood, so he has a hoard of pirates, astronauts and knights to choose from.

This is what the characters actually look like.
I was really impressed with his creativity while he made each character. He would find a hat or a weapon and fashion it into a part of each characters' look. He took two little yellow square "jewels" and put them in one of his guy's hands as ninja throwing stars, the weapon of one of the characters. Even though I really appreciate his thinking outside the box, I imagined how excited he would be to have real Ninjago Legos. I don't even think he knew they existed until I brought the box home. (As a rule, I do not take the kids to Wal-Mart with me on the few times I shopped in recent months. And if they do go with me, we just don't go to the toy aisle.) I wrapped up the Lego box with Christmas wrapping paper when I came home from shopping. I told Carrick when I picked him up from school that he could have a surprise present when we got home, but only after he helped to pick up the toy room. He offered to put away the dishes instead, and that was a perfectly acceptable alternative.
These are Carrick's versions of the character. See the throwing stars?

Lily and I tackled the toy room together. Her surprise present was a Cinderella Barbie Doll. She had found an old mini Barbie Doll a few nights ago and was carrying it around. However, she kept calling it "scary". The hair was messy and kind of all over the place giving the doll a zombie-esque look. So I thought she could do with a proper princess doll that wasn't scary. I also noticed that she's been favoring blue with some things recently, and I thought that Cinderella with her blue dress might be the way to go. (Also, the Cinderella doll had the most pleasant looking face of the available princess Barbie dolls.) Some of them looked like they might gossip about the other dolls ;)

While my kids played with their new toys, and I enjoyed my tidy house, thanks to their help, I sat down at the dining room table to begin this post: Living the Americone Dream. Yes, watching my kids play, free from danger or war. Typing on my new laptop about my day, pursuing happiness, living free. Isn't that what it's supposed to mean to live in America? Free to do what makes us happy and prosperous, so long as it doesn't infringe on anyone else's human rights? Free to play in the yard without tanks rolling through the streets, or threats of dictators? Free to eat a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's for lunch?

I thought if I threw that in there with all that other star-spangled stuff it might go unnoticed. Yes, I did that. That's what it means to be an American to me. I am free to eat Fair Trade Vermont's Finest for Lunch with Stephen Colbert winking at me after shopping at Wal-Mart. That's my Americone Dream.

Toys and ice cream at Wal-Mart- $21.00
Balance this Pay cycle- $79.00
Happy Spending!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Aroma Therapy

Last Saturday, I found myself hanging out with Niccole again, only this time, we were safe from road rage in Flagstaff. We were at her house making sugar scrubs. Niccole is a Young Living Essential Oils Representative. She has been using and diffusing the oils from the Young Living collection for several months now, keeping her family healthy during spring fever season, colds, the flu and stress of everyday life. Using her Young Living diffuser, she adds oils everyday to ward off the germs her kindergartner might bring home. She stuffs cotton balls infused with oil in the vents of her car to purify the air, and she takes baths with stress-relieving oils at the end of the day. Whatever she's doing she's doing right because somehow, her two children, ages 6 years and 6 months, have stayed away from the sick-and-icky arena all season long. Meanwhile, my kids are on round two of fevers.

So when she invited me to her Sugar Scrub party, I thought it would behoove me to investigate what all this oil hype was all about.

Ever since I was a massage school student, I have heard about this "essential oils" stuff. I stayed away from it for the most part because it seemed rather daunting. There is literally an oil for everything. There are also blends, and potencies that vary from brand to brand. The possibilities are endless with essential oils. I am more of a simple person, and the thought of sorting through all the details and uses of oils seemed overwhelming, so I just never got into it.

But over the past few months, I have heard Niccole talk about her oils collection. She too felt overwhelmed with the essential oils scene, until she attended a sugar scrub party hosted by a mutual friend of ours. The woman hosting the party broke it all down for Niccole and made it understandable, and digestible. Shortly after attending her first sugar scrub party, Niccole signed up to buy and sell the Young Living Essential Oils.

While I sat at Niccole's dining room table last Saturday, she explained to me how she is always learning something new about the essential oils. She showed me a spiral-bound book that came with her kit. It was basically an encyclopedia of how to use the essential oils.

"There is just too much information to remember. So I am regularly referring to the book. I read and re-read it quite often, just to make sure I'm using the right oils," Niccole explained to me.

That made a lot of sense to me. Why try to remember it all? There is literally thousands of years of wisdom to keep locked in your brain if you try to just "know" everything about essential oils. Seeing the spiral book made me feel like learning about oils was more attainable. I didn't have to be the encyclopedia, I could read one that was already created.

We used small glass jars to make our sugar scrubs, adding olive oil and avocado oil as the base. Then we dropped in the oils. I made two different scrubs; one for my psoriasis, and one for my face. For the psoriasis scrub, I used a blend of avocado and olive oil. I added tea tree oil and lavender (I forget how many drop of each.) Then I scooped up 1/4 cup of sugar and added it to the jar, swirling it with my popsicle stick. I removed the stick and smelled the jar to see how the scent changed after adding the sugar. I added a few more drops of each oil, then another 1/4 cup of sugar. I stirred it all up with my stick, and I liked the scent and the consistency enough to be finished with it. It was that easy!

Moving on to my face scrub I used the same method, except the oils I used were lemon and peppermint. I couldn't wait to use it on my face! It smelled so clean and refreshing! I added 3 different 1/4 scoops to this blend to make it more on the dry side, and less on the oily side. Also, I used only the avocado oil in this jar. I wanted to see how it would work on my face since I had never used it before.

One week later, I am so happy with the two scrubs that now live in my shower. I feel so much better about what I am putting on my skin. (And, I have plans to ask Corey for a starter kit for my Mother's Day present ;) I like knowing that I have supported a friend as well as benefitted from nature's wisdom.

2 Young Living Essential Oils Sugar Scrubs- $10.00

Balance this pay cycle- $0.00

Happy Spending!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shopping Therapy

After lunch at Olive Garden, we drove across town to just past the Market Place Mall to the shopping center where Old Navy and Marshall's share space with World Market and Best Buy. It's my favorite place to go shopping in Flagstaff. I get bargains and variety all in one place. After parking, Niccole and I both got out of her car, and were standing just behind the vehicle getting her stroller out for her baby. Meanwhile, a hulking black truck was pulling out of a spot two parking spaces away from us. As I watched Niccole remove her stroller, I felt myself being gently pushed forward from behind. I turned around to see who had shoved me, only to realize it was the truck!

Outraged I ran down the parking lot after the culprit, shouting obscenities. It's the only thing I could think of doing in the moment. The truck stopped halfway down the parking lot, and I stopped too. (In retrospect, I could have kept running and caught up with the truck, getting close enough to get a license number, or even demand that the driver get out and give me their insurance information. However, I didn't do that. A small, scared voice in the back of my head told me to keep my distance. If the driver was inconsiderate enough to touch me with their vehicle, who's to say they wouldn't just throw the truck in reverse and run me over?) So the truck did stop, just long enough for the driver to throw her hand out the window and flip me off, as well as shout, "You should have got out of the way!"

Indignant at the behavior of this driver, I fumed back to Niccole who was putting her baby in the stroller. An associate from Best Buy came out and told us we should go into the store and call 911. I had no intention of doing that since I wasn't injured and I had no license plate number. The employees let us sit down and gave us water and tissues. As I reported to dispatch, the realization of what happened crashed over me and I was in tears at that point. Half an hour later found us saying goodbye to the police officer and mall security guard who were called to the scene. I was mostly calmed down, but still shaky. I wasn't going to let some idiot driver ruin my Girls' Day Out, or what was left of it.

Niccole asked me if I wanted to head home or keep shopping. Since I had found very few things on my list at Kohl's, I was determined to keep shopping. I have never really used shopping as a release or therapeutic activity; it goes against all my principles, however, I had a pocket full of cash, a list, and a really good reason to use shopping as therapy. Why not?

I am glad I did decided to keep shopping. I crossed a lot of things off my list and rounded out my existing wardrobe quite satisfactorily. My favorite score was a black and white striped maxi dress by Calvin Klein for $30.00! I also decided it was time for me to get some white capri pants. I have avoided white with having a baby around, but now my daughter is two and more tidy of a toddler than I expected. So, I thought the risk would be worth it to buy white capri pants since they would be able to accompany about five different shirts I already owned.

I also found a pair of flip flops for $13.00. They came in gold and silver. I needed some "casual" flip flops for the summer, but I didn't want the $5.00 pairs that I knew I would find at Old Navy. These mid-priced flip flops were just too gorgeous to pass up, but I couldn't decide on a color. In the end, I let my shopping therapy mindset take over, and I bought both;  again thinking, "why not?" I knew that when I returned home, no matter which color I bought, I would still be thinking about the other color. And, most of the time when I buy a pair of shoes I really like, eventually they wear out, right? So why not be proactive and buy not only a back up pair, but a back up in the other color so I am not thinking, "Why didn't I get the other color?" This may seem tedious to some people, but it's a new concept for me. I am so gosh darn practical about shopping that I rarely, if ever, buy the same item in more than one color. I think the exception is tank tops and workout pants.

While I was at Marshall's, I also bought a set of foam rackets and balls for the kids to play with. They love to play games with each other and chase each other around the house. I figured with these toys they can bat at each other and not hurt each other. At $6.00, it seemed like a good idea to buy me some peace of mind knowing they won't hurt each other with these new toys.

Add to my Marshall's tab a pair of lavender dish gloves with zebra stripe cuffs, some makeup and applicators and an impulse buy of a new shopping bag at the register, and I racked up $104.00! I don't think I have ever dropped that kind of cash shopping on one place (for myself). I supposed that is what therapy shopping is all about, right? I wouldn't know because I don't do that....ever. Maybe once, and if I did, I can't remember what it was for.

Moving on to Old Navy, I found a black and white striped tank top on clearance for $2.00. I couldn't pass it up. I also found sparkly grey tights on clearance as well. I planned on cutting off the feet to turn them into leggings and wear under my denim skirts. I also found a pair of charcoal and a pair of black cotton leggings to wear with my longer t-shirts for $8.00 each. And to finish off the day, I also bought a package of six pink sock pairs for Lily. I literally looked at every store we went to for a package of socks that had just pink in them and couldn't find one. (Lily refuses to wear any other color on her feet than pink these days.) Old Navy saw me part with $28.00 of my Fun Dollars.

At the end of the day, I didn't really feel totally "better" after my run-in with the black truck. Shopping therapy took my mind off what happened for a little while, and mostly, I was just "therapy shopping" because I had already planned to go out and go shopping. I guess that's why I don't really do therapy shopping. I know it doesn't work for long-term results. If you have to go out and give companies money to feel better, make it a real therapist instead. Therapy shopping is the shallow, short-term fix to deeper problems.

The next day, a trip to Urgent Care (just to get checked out) yielded no real, or visible harm to my body from the truck, and I took the rest of the day off work. I was overloaded with adrenaline in my system, and that was pretty much the only damage done. I did use therapy shopping once more, though. This time, I did actually start to feel better, well, relieved is probably a better word for it. I had my eye on a small, aqua purse for summer. Every time I would go into Beall's I would try on the purse and admire it; the way the strap hugged my shoulder, the fresh look of aqua, the ease of access to the compartments. I knew that if I waited any longer, the purse I wanted to carry around all summer would be gone. So, I bought it.

I also went home and took a bath with lavender oil and Epsom salts. After that, I slept for an hour and a half before picking up the kids from school. This felt more like real therapy, calming my nervous system. While Carrick was at karate, I took a walk around the neighborhood with Niccole too. We walked with another "karate mom" and we just had some good girl time and got some endorphins going, which helped along the healing process. The day after that, I felt as if the brush with the truck had never happened, and my adrenaline levels were back to normal.

At the end of the day, I am grateful that I was not harmed more than just a surge of adrenaline, and nothing, not even shopping can replace the good vibes of a bath and plenty of sleep when it comes to actual therapy. Spend your money wisely, and not on emotional purchases, and you'll have more Fun with your Fun Dollars.

Marshall's- $104.00
Old Navy- $28.00
Beall's Outlet- $20.00

Balance this pay cycle- $10.00

Happy Spending!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Getting to the Good Stuff

With my list in hand, I made a trip to el banco to cash my paycheck and keep $200 of it for my shopping spree. I returned home to make two smoothies, and then met Niccole at Wildflower in Uptown. We headed up the canyon, gabbing about "girl stuff" and discussing where we wanted to shop on our day out together. We decided Kohl's would be our first stop.

Kohl's wasn't particularly exciting, but there were two pretty good finds on the clearance rack. I picked up a royal blue tank top and a black sweater. They were each $3.00 and change. I already own a black sweater, but this one is a little more dressy and fitted that the other one. I was excited about the tank top too. Royal blue is a non-existent color in my wardrobe, and I was pumped to add a new flavor to my style. (Actually, that's not true, I do own a GAP T-shirt in Royal blue, but it's just for wearing to the gym or cleaning the house. This tank I can wear layered with something, so it will see more wear than just me getting sweaty.)

I did pick up a sea green V-neck T-shirt for Corey at Kohl's too. I accidentally washed a pen of his months ago, and ruined several of his T-shirts. The only one that I really felt bad about was his light aqua one. So this one was meant to replace the inky shirt. All of the other ruined shirts were tired, and several years old. The aqua one was a Christmas present. So I picked that little surprise up for him, and it was the most expensive thing I bought there at $8.00.

After Kohl's we headed around the corner for an early lunch at Olive Garden. I took the opportunity of being passenger all day to order a "Sangarita". It was good, but honestly, it was mostly sugar, and I could have done without it. I ordered the Soup, Salad & Breadstick lunch combo trying to be "healthy" and "economical", but that went out the window when I added the fried artichoke add-on for $3.00. Lunch, Drink and Tip: $23.00. I must admit, it was such a luxury to eat with no one on my lap or asking me for food, and to that end, I did enjoy my drink and fried add-on even more. Although I did offer to hold Niccole's baby while she finished her meal. Apparently with no one diverting my attention from food, I pretty much wolfed down whatever was in front of me and I finished way before Niccole did.

Following lunch we headed across town to the outskirts of the shopping mall area. Just past the mall there is a shopping center with Old Navy, Marshall's Best Buy, World Market and Tuesday Morning.

And that's where the day got interesting....

Kohl's- $15.00
Olive Garden- $23.00
Balance this pay cycle- $162.00

Happy Spending!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making a List, Checking it Twice.

Now that the sun is up just after 6 every morning, and the days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising, and summer is just around the corner (because in Arizona, summer starts at the end of April), the time has arrived to pick through my remnants of warm-weather clothes. At the beginning of every season, I like to try on what's in my closet and what's been in storage to see what still fits, what needs work, what clothes I am missing that would complete some outfits, and just breathe new life into my wardrobe. I am a firm believer in purging. I don't like to hang on to things that are stained, ripped, shabby or tired. Granted, there are a few tried-and-true items I hang on to for sentimental reasons, no matter what their condition, but other than those few things staying, everything else is held up to the magnifying glass.

After doing this for several seasons without fail, and after doing it for two children over the course of two years, I feel like a "seasoned" pro. I know what to look for, what to toss, what to keep, what to donate (or hold back for a yard sale.) I also have started a habit of purging directly out of the laundry. If a shirt or pair of pants has been run through, stain-treated, and is still looking sad, it leaves the house. I feel like a laundry mercenary sometimes; nothing escapes my watchful eye.

Since I did such a good job of stocking the kids' clothes during the off season, the only person I needed to really go shopping for was myself. During the cooler months, I bought on-sale shorts and shirts for Carrick at clearance prices and kept them in a bin for when the weather warmed up. Lily was the recipient of several hand-me-down bags from other moms who have young girls just a little older than her. (Even though shopping for little girl clothes is super-fun, I will gladly accept free clothes any day of the week.) In fact, Lily had so many clothes that I couldn't even store them all. I sent two shipments to a friend of mine who has a girl Lily's age, and gave the another bag to a friend of mine in town. With the kids' warm-weather wardrobes ready to go, I put the blinders on during my recent shopping spree and just focused on myself for a change.

I only needed a few things (mostly bottoms) to make what I already have really become an outfit. I own two denim skirts (from last year's spring clothing swap), and while I like to wear them with fleece-lined leggings in the winter, that idea just won't work for summer. However, I don't feel completely comfortable wearing them without something underneath, so I added tights to my shopping list. I also own several tunic-length shirts that are without summer leggings (tights are sheer, leggings are opaque.) I threw two pairs of leggings into the donation bin while purging because the waist bands were stretched out beyond fitting me anymore. They were in fact three years old, and certainly had their fair share of wear. They were also wearing thin, and just needed replacing (it would have been embarrassing to wear them in public.) So, leggings were added to the list as well.

I could also have some use for a really nice dress. I added a sun dress or a maxi dress to the list; something breezy and casual that I could maybe wear to the park, but also just dressy enough I could wear out to dinner or to church. Flip flops were also a must. I have a really comfortable pair that I wear most of the time, and a not-so-comfortable pair I wear in place of dress shoes (something I bought with Fun Dollars during my hiatus.) But I needed a pair that I could wear to the pool; a pair that could get wet and not get ruined. Capris were the last "must" added to the list. I needed a pair of classy capris that would go with my fancier shirts for summertime. White would be ideal, khaki could work, black would also do, but not as preferable due to the heat of summertime.

With my list made, I added a few items to the "if you see it" category. If I saw a small, light-colored purse that I liked, or a hat, or an extra-cute shirt (because I don't really need a shirt, but sometimes, there's a really good bargain that just can't be passed up), and a new pair of rubber dish gloves. They are not really clothes related, but the ones I have now are probably going to pop a hole in the finger any day now, so I didn't want to be caught with an excuse not to do the dishes.

With my list in hand, I felt empowered to make smart purchases, and not get overwhelmed by the "I wants" while shopping. It's way to easy to fall prey to the "I wants", especially when shopping with your best friend.

After dropping the kids off at school bright and early on Monday morning, I headed to the bank to cash my paycheck and have $200 Fun Dollars placed in my wallet. The day was mine to seize, and seize it I did.

Balance this pay cycle- $200.00 (This is an exception to the regular $100 rule of Fun Dollars. I will not be repeating it next pay cycle. Corey agreed that since I was revamping my wardrobe this was an acceptable amount to withdraw.)

Happy Spending!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Back in the Saddle Again!!!!

After taking a couple months off, I am ready to report on Fun Dollars again. I left the slate blank for a while because I wanted to work on some other pieces of writing that had been forgotten about. I had ideas and not enough time to spend with them. Taking out the responsibility of reporting Fun Dollars "bought" me time for my other creative endeavors. Another reason that I am almost too shy to admit is that I actually felt a pressure to spend my Fun Dollars. I would start to feel panicky about buying a Domino's Pizza because in my mind, I have already explained and justified my spending so many times that people don't want to hear about it again. So I felt a pressure to do new and fun things with my Fun Dollars, just because I knew people would be reading about it. Taking a step back for a while allowed me to buy, or not buy, and not feel a pressure to make a story of it.

So why bother coming back? Because people missed me. (Well, at least a few of my friends missed reading my blog.) I was just at a baby shower and I was explaining to them why I hadn't written a blog post in so long. One of them told me that she actually started shopping at Goodwill because of reading my blog. Another told me that she just liked reading the stories because they made her laugh. Whether I am entertaining someone, or helping them spend their money more wisely, I do enjoy having a regular (public) writing outlet. So, when I was at this baby shower, we played a game and I won; the prize in the gift bag was a really nice wallet. My friend nudged me and said, "See? It's a sign that you should do Fun Dollars again." How can I say no to that? (Don't answer that.)

To kick off my return to the Fun Dollars arena, I am going on a Spring Shopping Spree. My best friend, Niccole, and I had already made plans to drive to Flagstaff and go shopping together tomorrow, so it's only fitting. I also went through my closet today and tried on most of what I already own to get an idea of what I need to round out my wardrobe. Many items were kicked to the curb; things that are worn out or don't fit me right anymore. I made a list of what I need and a few things that I 'want', and as I go shopping, tomorrow, I'll be referencing my list.

Also, I will be expanding my Fun Dollars budget for this pay cycle. Normally, I get $100.00, but because I am working on building my summer wardrobe (and we'll need to stop for lunch somewhere), I asked Corey if I could have some bonus cash to make smart purchases. (He doesn't want me to get the cheapest things, but rather quality things that will last and hold up, which may require a larger budget than $100.00).

I am super-excited to get back into the swing of things, and thank you to my friends for urging me on to start writing about Fun Dollars again. I hope I don't disappoint you ;)

Balance this pay cycle- $200.00
Happy Spending!