Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fun Dollars Guide to Thriving the Holidays: The heART of ReGifting

For several years now, I have made a practice of ReGifting during the holiday season. My children have come to expect ReGifts. After rolling his eyes the first year I ReGifted, my husband has even hopped on board.

What is a ReGift? It's a gift given that was neither purchased new nor made by hand.  It's something you already have given back to you with Newness.  Maybe it was something that was broken and is now fixed. Maybe it's something you never use and forgot about, but someone found it and thought you might start using it again. A ReGift might also be something you give that was already yours, but  you give it with love; more than just a hand-me-down. Or, maybe it's something that the receiver of the gift already had, but you wanted to give the gift again, giving it with new meaning.

I remember one year Corey was so bogged down with work that he only had time to pop into a nearby store to do any Christmas shopping for me. He bought me a Pink Oil Lamp; as in "rub the lamp and a genie will appear" sort of lamp). While it was novel and unexpected, it felt forced. It felt like he had not put much thought into my gift and wanted to "just get me something". So, while I displayed my lamp on the shelf, every time I looked at it, I was reminded of those negative feelings.

The second year of ReGifting, Corey ReGifted me the Pink Genie Lamp. I had been doing bellydance for almost a year at that point. He ReGifted me the Pink Genie Lamp to recognize my hard work and love of bellydance. Receiving the ReGift changed the way I felt when I looked at the Lamp from then on. Instead of it being a constant reminder of his lack of attention, it became a trophy of his appreciation for my hobby.

ReGifting also represents an appreciation for what we already have. If you don't want to contribute to the OverCommercialization of Christmas, put your Fun Dollars where your mouth is. Be thankful for what you already have. Find appreciation in gifts already given. Find ways to make gifts new for those you love. Give stuff you already have.

When my best friend moved across the country, I didn't get her a going away present. I knew she already had enough to pack. Instead, I left a Sephora bag at her house the last time I saw her. I didn't say anything about it. I didn't tell her where it was, she just found it while packing. The Black and White Striped bag contained the dress she borrowed from my closet for Halloween 2010. It was originally my graduation dress; black velvet, cocktail length with glitter disco balls, open back... I held onto it for so many years but never wore it. The one person who did wear it was my best friend. She and I dressed up as fairies after taking our kids trick-or-treating. We were chauffeured to (and picked up from) the local dance hall by my husband. (He stayed at home with our sons so that we could have a Girls' Night Out.) Oh the Chocotinis we enjoyed!!!!

The Sephora Bag also included a few other items that could be used for an "emergency Girls' Night Out", all of which came from my closet as ReGifts. When I gave her those gifts, I wasn't giving her "things", I was giving her a memory. I was reminding her of our fun evening without our kids so many moons ago. Giving her that ReGift was me promising her that I will not forget her. I gave her a gift for the future as a gesture of me keeping our friendship alive. Even though almost the entire length of the United States is between us, I want to make sure we get together again, someday, for a Girls' Night Out. And when we do, she won't even have to think twice. Instructions are to grab the Girls' Night Out Bag and hit the town!

I would love to hear what your ReGift ideas or memories are. Feel free to share in the comments section.

Coming Soon: My Children and ReGifting and Corey's Idea: The PreGift

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fun Card

As life chugs forward, I get caught up in the daily movement of things and forget about what really excites me...writing...writing about Fun Dollars. Instead of documenting my journey, I have been living it, practicing it, and making it better. Constant evaluation of what works, and what doesn't; changing or discarding what doesn't work.

What wasn't working about Fun Dollars after we moved to a more urban setting: Cash. I hated carrying around my Fun Dollars in cash after we moved to the city. I discovered with all the options for buying I could possibly imagine, I had a hard time exercising restraint when purchasing. What was to stop me from getting pizza and ice cream at the Costco food court every time we went grocery shopping? Nothing but my own will power. Now take that same restraint and apply it throughout the city many times a day. I just couldn't do it. I knew I needed more accountability to my Fun Spending than blogging about it, or looking back at receipts before they go in the file.

For the first few months in 2016, I dispatched with carrying cash, and made extraneous purchases only sparingly. Corey was busy with a work transition, and we agreed that once he was six months in with his new career, we could revisit Fun Dollar ideas. Until that time we were both just on the honor system, and very restricted, with our personal Fun Spending.

As summer approached, school was letting out for Carrick, and Corey was getting into the swing with his burgeoning new career. One day went to the bank for some business and came home with a "Fun Card". Well, he didn't call it a Fun Card, I did, because that's what we were using it for. We had talked about what to do with Carrick and allowance, and a reloadable debit card seemed to fit our need. We diverted from our plan with Carrick over the course of the summer (that's a whole other blog post), and ended up using the reloadable debit card as my Fun Dollars for doing summer things with the kids.

Now that I had nine months of city-exploring under my belt and a new, more accountable system of Fun Dollars, I quickly set to work with summer plans for the kids and me. While Corey was at work everyday, we went to parks, on hikes and bike rides, and swimming. All of them were free activities costing zero Fun Dollars. I would take the kids somewhere fun, and free, then we might enjoy a treat afterwards, using our Fun Card. We made trips to Dollar Tree and Target for art and craft supplies, buying them with the Fun Card. We made trips to Goodwill for cheap, new toys. We built up a nice stash of creativity-inducing supplies this summer and the kids were involved!

They learned that we only get to load the card up with a certain amount of money. They learned that once it is all spent, it's gone until the next reload time. Little by little, the kids began to understand that they could make purchasing decisions and see the effect of a well thought-out buying decision. Lily was obsessed with glue all summer long. She learned that getting a package of glue sticks at the Dollar Tree meant that she could stick anything onto her "Masterpieces". She learned that having glue sticks, instead of yet another doll or necklace that would get lost or broken, she could enjoy it over and over again, each time a reminder of the buying decision she made.

Carrick learned the value of "being picky". He learned that if he didn't find exactly what he was looking for, there would always be another store to search. Carrick was looking for goggles this summer and I told him that would be a great thing for us to "hunt for" and buy with the Fun Card. (Sure I could hop on amazon, but that's not what I wanted my kids to learn.) After going to several stores, he finally found goggles that were the right shape, size, color (and price). He waited until he found exactly what he wanted and didn't settle. He knew the funds would be there. He knew we would go to more than one store (not all in the same day, mind you), and he knew that at one of those places, his perfect goggles would be waiting for him. The most important part was that he knew that when he DID find his perfect goggles, mom wouldn't tell him "No".

I took "No" out of the shopping experience for my kids. It's now called "The Fun Card is empty", or "Is it on the wish list?" or "We already used our Fun Card today, we will have to get it on a different day." All three are "No" answers, but instead of just shutting them down, they are now encouraged to think back on their spending, their wants, and remember what they already have.

Having the Fun Card allowed my kids to feel more connected and empowered with the consumer experience. They no longer whine when they don't get what they want at most stores. (Lily is still a work in progress, I won't lie...but it's much better than it used to be). They don't beg me at home for things they wish they had. We simply put their wishes on the wish list. We bring the list with us and keep our eyes open when we are out and about. Maybe we find something, maybe we don't. Either way, my kids can handle the disappointment. (Well, except for that one time Lily didn't find a pink glitter unicorn at Goodwill...she cried all the way out of the store...and fell asleep on the ride home, surprise, surprise.)

Also, I would like to mention that still treat myself a little with the Fun Card. I used it for a pedicure this summer. I also used it for chocolate once in a while, or the occasional Starbucks. Let's be real, I didn't totally deny myself some spending pleasures. I was "very picky" as Carrick would say.

Fall Decorations I bought with the Fun Card at Dollar Tree.
The funny thing about using this Fun Card system now is that with 50% LESS money than my old Fun Dollars amount, and the fact that I am spreading that amount over three people (me and the kids) I am somehow making it last just as long, and enjoyed 100% more. My guess is because I enjoy watching my kids learn about Fun Dollars. We don't need to spend a lot to get a lot out of our spending. I love watching my kids learn about their own spending habits. I enjoy seeing them develop discernment about their purchases. I smile as I watch them discover the effect of their decisions. To me, it is priceless.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Happy Easter

It's been a while since you last heard from me and my accounts of accounting for Fun Dollars. This may come as a shock to many of you, but as of January of this year, we suspended our Fun Dollars. This new turn of events stemmed from our Christmas trip and daughter's birthday, followed closely by our son's birthday all vying to swallow us in the name of consumerism. We had to buy presents. We had to buy cake. We had to buy balloons. We had to pump gas to get across town (or across the country to visit for the holidays.) In our minds, all of those extra expenses were "gimmies". Why wouldn't we buy presents for our kids? Why not save money and drive instead of fly across the country? In light of our extra-extra spending, Corey and I decided we could live without our Fun Dollars until further notice.

Three months have passed, and we still have not budgeted for our Fun Dollars. What we did instead was completely deconstruct our family's finances and start from scratch.

The catalyst of this momentous event came in the form of resignation from Corey's previous job. With no hard feelings, Corey was told that the job he had worked (ridiculously) hard at for nine months was not exactly the right place for him in the company. He was asked to abandon his post with a month's paid salary.

Many of you might be thinking, "PANIC!!!! WHAT WILL WE DO NOW????" I am a stay-at-home house spouse. I have no income whatsoever. We solely rely on Corey to bring home the bacon. Much to my surprise, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and relief. Working 80+ hours a week and being on-call 24/7 was no longer a part of our family life.

Thankfully, Corey has a massive contacts list, and within days he was interviewing for a position with the insurance company he has been with since he was sixteen, Country Companies.

He was slated to start officially working on March 7, pending a passing score on four exams. This left him at home, with us, studying, and taking care of business that was left hugely undone after our move to the Valley.

As the wife of someone who worked such long hours, and the mother of two, I was just barely able to keep my head above water during our first several months in the Phoenix area. I was just starting to get the hang of it when Corey's time with his old job came to a close. To my relief, he spent the time when he was not studying for his exams cleaning out the garage, organizing closets, and addressing long-forgotten projects. One such project was setting up an online budgeting system...and actually sticking to it.

We reduced our spending. We cancelled a few subscriptions. We decided what was really necessary, and what was realistic. Then...we executed it. That's the hard part. It's the part when you delay a purchase because it's not in the budget. Or you say 'no' to something, even though you want it. Bottle of wine? No thanks. Netflix? Nah. We can live without it. We have Hulu and Amazon. Bam, $9.00 a month back in the bank.

Acting as better stewards of our food by eating what we already have as well as planning meals has saved us $50.00 a week in groceries. $50.00 A WEEK!!!! That's $209 each month we are now ahead. Now, we could go back to our original Fun Dollars allotment, but why? When we are actively building up our bank account, why turn our backs on frugality just to shake hands with consumerism?

For me, I like the challenge. I find ways to budget delicious meals, and make dessert, all within the bounds of our new budget. No longer do I feel the need to eat out at a restaurant. I like what we have at home. (We still budget $20.00 a week for eating out if we so choose, but so far, we have only done that once since setting up the new system.) Since we have a meal plan, I am not panicking about what to make each night. I know I can open the fridge, and have all the ingredients for tonight's meal because we planned for it. Also, since we gave up regular alcohol consumption at the beginning of the month, we don't feel the need to "go out" and indulge. We did enjoy some margaritas over Spring Break, however, and it was with tequila we already had.

With a month of practicing and executing our budget plans, I felt confident as the Easter Holiday loomed ever closer. Each week, we allot a certain amount for non-grocery purchases; the stuff I would buy a Target, like toilet paper, Kleenex, toothpaste, etc.  I was also ahead of the budget for this category since I skipped my weekly Target trip over Spring Break. (Go to Target with two kids? No, thank you.) I asked Corey if a $10.00 Easter budget would be Ok, knowing that I had a little cushion from last week. He agreed.

Many of you might be thinking, "Easter? On $10.00 for two kids??? Impossible." Well, I am here to tell you, it's not only possible, it is essential.

Our children will have a fun and memorable Easter Holiday. They will not "go without". They will have treats and sweets and an Easter outfit for church. Buy "borrowing" another $10.00 from last week's unused budgeted amount, I managed to not only create a cute, pastel, Easter-themed goodie spread for the kids, I also found a way to incorporate BOTH of their church outfits into that budget as well.

I started with what I already had.

Carrick's pants from last year's Easter outfit still fit him and are in good condition. I needed to replace his dress shirt, and (if I found one that worked) a vest as well. Lily has an adorable pink gingham sundress that she inherited that looks like new and she is just now big enough to fit into. All she needed were some cute white shoes or sandals to wear with it. Dress shirt, vest and shoes for the kids cost me a total of $7.00 at two different Goodwill stores. All items were in like-new condition.

Among the other items I "already had" were Easter buckets from last year's community Easter Egg hunt. From this I also scored a boat-load of free Easter eggs, since the kids got to keep the eggs they found. I also had a bag of grass; green and pink. I spent $2.00 at Dollar Tree on two 5oz. bags of Easter chocolate. I filled 26 of the left over Easter Eggs with the candy (and ate 3 of them myself). Yes, each child gets a total of 13 Easter Eggs, that's it. They get to find the eggs, they get what's inside. Do you think they are going to complain that they didn't get more? NO! Because they are going to be so happy with the fact that they are even getting candy they it doesn't matter the amount. And let's face it, parents, less is more with candy, am I right?

At Target, I spent a whopping $10.00 on items to fill the baskets. I bought paintable wooden bird houses for each kiddo. Lily's has a more "girly" look and includes pink, purple and yellow paint, with a brush. Carrick's has blue, yellow and red, the primary colors, which he is a fan of. Not only is it a present, it's a present with purpose. The kids can enjoy the activity of painting, and hanging up their bird houses. I also bought them each a butterfly net. Carrick has been begging me for one ever since the bugs stared popping up more. Watching my kids run around the yard, exploring their world, trying to catch bugs? Yes, please. Both presents are activities, and things they can appreciate, and they are not expensive, fancy or elaborate. Why? Because they don't have to be. Keeping it simple...

I also bought them each a Reese's Pieces carrot, since they are both in love with those little bite-sized drops of peanutbuttery.....mmmm....Where was I? Oh yes...Total on Easter so far: $19.00, and that's where it ends, folks.

The rest is all stuff we already had. I put two springy books in each of their baskets from our book shelves. "Guess How Much I Love You" in Carrick's basket, and "A Child's Garden of Verses" for Lily. One has rabbits on the cover, the other a little girl with a flower garland around her head (it is the same copy I had as a child, so in addition to looking springy, it's also vintage.) I can read to the kids as they paint their bird houses. Tada!!! Memories made. Money saved. That's what it's all about. Oh yeah, and the Easter Bunnies (and Care Bear) were already a part of our stuffed animal collection. THEY DO NOT NEED MORE STUFFED ANIMALS...AND I BET YOUR KIDS DON'T NEED ANYMORE, EITHER. Use what you already have. Your kids will not complain that a sweet friend, a long-forgotten toy, has made a miraculous reappearance for Easter. In fact, you can hide the toys all year long, and only pull them out for the Easter season.

So, I challenge you, this holiday, and every holiday, look at what you already have. Respect your own finances. And remember, those few fleeting minutes or hours of euphoria your kids feel when they open up their Easter baskets is NOT, I repeat, NOT worth breaking your bank over. They will know you love them whether or not they have a chocolate Easter Bunny. And if they don't know that already, an extravagant Easter spread of goodies will only mask it temporarily, and you probably have bigger things to worry about besides saving money. But to all of you who have children who know they are loved, make that the real message, on any holiday. Holidays are about family. Not things. Not treats. Not toys and eggs. Get creative, and make an Easter that everyone will remember.