Monday, December 15, 2014

Stocking Stuffers for College Students

I try really hard to keep to a strict budget with stocking stuffers.  It's so easy to pick up little things here and there, and all of a sudden you've spent more on the stocking than you have on their under-the-tree gifts!  It's also harder to find inexpensive but useful and wanted items as they get older.

My budget is usually $20 per kid, and I keep an eye out all year long for things for their stockings and Easter baskets.  I did well this year keeping to that budget with one exception - the beef for homemade jerky for DS, and that I got at a better price than I anticipated, so I'm okay with it.

It's a tradition over the last 5 years or so that they each get a T-shirt in their stockings.  If I can find a $10-off-$10-purchase for either JC Penney's or Kohl's, I can get a free (or really, really inexpensive) shirt for one or the other.  They also usually get a book, and I have been fortunate to find books they want on Paperback Swap at no cost to me.  DS usually gets a hand tool, and I have started doing that this year for DD too.  She has also requested that I start buying her kitchen utensils for her stocking and Easter basket, and those and tools can be found relatively inexpensively.

This year I also am doing a lot of Pinterest projects - rice-filled hand warmers, lip balm, crocheted dish cloths/hot pads, and the aforementioned jerky for DS.  I'm really excited for them to find the recipe books that I made up for them.  I got small photo albums at the Dollar Store and recipe cards on sale at Hobby Lobby and wrote up their favorite recipes and put them in the albums.  I also left room for blank recipe cards that they can add to in the future.

I used a lot of Hobby Lobby coupons and did a lot of crafting in the evenings (which has helped the last 4 months or so to go really fast!).  And I have saved my Extra Care Bucks from CVS and Register Rewards from Walgreen's to help cut down on the cost of candy for the stockings.

It is definitely more challenging to fill a stocking - or 2! - on a tight budget, but I have fun doing it.  I just hope the kids enjoy their goodies as much as I have enjoyed making and finding them!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

College Christmas Break

Christmas break lasts a lot longer when you are in college!  DS is halfway through his 2nd year at a residential community college, anticipating graduating with an associate's degree in about 6 months.  (Yikes!)  DD will be finishing up the fall semester of her sophomore year at her college in New York.  They've spent a total of 3-1/2 days together since the middle of August, and that was for Thanksgiving, when we were crazy busy.  Now, DS comes home this weekend, and DD comes home the following week.  Both go back the 2nd week in January.

The Reader's Digest version of the next 4 weeks looks something like this:  DS comes home Saturday.  We go to NY the following Thursday (leaving at 8 AM) to be there in time to pack up DD's things before she starts her last final exam at 4 PM that afternoon, and then turn around and leave when her final is done at 6 PM, driving hopefully straight back, arriving home around midnight or a little later.  We have a tree to decorate and cookies to bake and frost (the recipe makes approximately 240, depending the size of cookie cutter we use), and DD will need to finish her shopping.  We will attend Christmas Eve services at church and spend Christmas evening with their grandpa, and sometime that weekend, I presume, they will see their dad and his wife.  Dentist, orthodontist, and vision checks are scheduled, and they have to complete part 2 of a teen driving study that they started this summer down in Columbus.  And since their birthday is less than 10 days after they go back, we'll have an early birthday celebration their last weekend home, and we need to fit in a trip to see our friends in Cincinnati at some point.  Oh, did I mention I will be working overtime during all this?  :-)

Add in visits to see friends and church activities and some fun things we've been waiting to do together, and it's a good thing they get between 3 and 4 weeks between semesters, because I don't know how we'd fit everything in otherwise!  I think I'll need to take the day off after they return to school just to recover! :-D

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So.....Maybe I Should Start Posting Again?

I've been thinking about this blog a lot lately.  It's been a long time since I posted.  More than a year, actually.  I should have posted more during their senior year.  You know, how to throw a graduation party for two on less than $100, how to schedule time for college visits in two different states, how to handle twins moving out to college eight hours apart while Mom starts a new job all in the same week.... all of which we did, and more.  And then I started to think it would just be boring to post, since the kids are gone for most of the year, but then again, you don't stop being the mom of twins just because they go off to college.  In fact, this is probably harder for all of us than any previous season of life, including the divorce and surviving junior high!  I'm still trying to pay off my debt :-( .  I'm still trying to encourage the twins to live their lives for Christ and to be obedient to Him.  And I'm still single.  Perhaps I need to start posting again, not because I want or need for anyone else to read this, but because I need to say things, to encourage now-self and my future-self.  And if I can give anyone else some ideas or encouragement along the way, then, hey, that's a bonus!  I won't promise that postings will be regular, but hopefully they won't be a year apart again, either.  :-)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Giveaway At Work Save Live

Jason at Work Save Live is having his 1-year anniversary giveaway this week.  I've been searching for new personal finance blogs that inspire me and give me fresh ideas on making my money stretch, and Jason does that.  I've enjoyed reading his postings since I first found him earlier this year, and I hope he has an even more successful second year!  Click the link below to enter for a chance to win an iPad Mini, Amazon gift cards or Paypal cash.  Then take a few minutes (or a couple of hours!) and explore his site.  You won't be sorry!

Blogoversary Giveaway

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Traveling with Teens

Traveling with teens can be, um, interesting. :-)  It's really not that different from traveling at any other age - you have to keep them fed, interested and distracted enough while in the car that they don't start Armageddon with their siblings. :-D  haha

We haven't done a lot of overnight travel in the last few years where we have stayed in hotels (we've stayed a lot with friends), but that changed earlier this month when we took a side trip on the way to DD's college visit.  We've been to Niagara Falls before, but knew even before we were home from that trip that we wanted to return, and 5+ years later, we finally did!

It's about a 6-hour trip from our house to the falls, and just like when they were little, teenagers need something to pass the time on the drive. Music, books and DS video games were essential.  They both also did some driving and got valuable interstate highway experience.  We also packed snacks and scheduled a gas fill-up break about halfway into our trip.  With the leaves changing, we all enjoyed the scenery.

In our family, to solve a lot of arguments, we go by the "day" system.  DS was born first (1) so he gets first choice on odd days; DD was born second (2), so she gets first choice on even days. This solves who sits up front in the car, chooses the radio station, gets to pick the restaurant for dinner, etc., even who gets in the shower first!  Even as teenagers, this simple system has saved us lots of headaches.

While we were still in the planning stages, I let the kids each pick an activity they wanted to do - DS wanted to go back to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Lake Ontario, and DD wanted to go back to Journey Behind the Falls.  I also wanted to be sure we stopped on the American side of the falls to get that view as we didn't stop there before.  We also did a spur of the moment trip into Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, which again was a repeat visit.  I had planned for most of our spending and was pleased that I didn't go nearly as overbudget as we did the last time.  We were there for 2 nights, so the kids each got to pick a restaurant to eat dinner at.  Keeping the kids involved in planning and decision-making is definitely an easy way to get them excited about the trip and upbeat while we were there.

One thing that I didn't plan on but turned out to be essential was getting a rollaway bed for our hotel room.  Two to a bed worked when they were younger, but not as teenagers, and a rollaway bed was much cheaper than a second room!

I'm fortunate that my kids love to travel, whether it is a day trip or a weeklong vacation far away from home.  Starting when they were babies and not letting "having children" hold us back from enjoying different places and experiences has been a little nerve-racking at times, but definitely worth any temporary loss of sanity or minor inconveniences incurred along the way. :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Applying for College

This past weekend, we visited DD's college of choice, and during her admissions interview, she took the opportunity to formally apply.  The admissions counselor was very impressed with her organization and neatness as not all students are as well prepared as DD was.

What did she do?  Simple, really.  She had all the required forms, they were filled out properly and legibly, and she kept them in a folder so they stayed nice and neat.  You would think that would be a no-brainer, but the admissions counselor told us of one student who pulled his application out of his pocket, where it had been wadded up, just like a paper you throw in the trashcan.  That student made an impression all right, just not the kind he probably wanted!

Most schools allow you to send your application in with your transcript sent by your school and your reference(s) sent by those who are writing them for you; however, DD took everything with her.  We felt better knowing that we had those requirements in hand and that her admissions decision wouldn't be delayed because a transcript request got lost in a stack on her guidance counselor's desk.  If you are having forms sent in separately, I would recommend attaching a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the form so that you know the address is correct, and especially those writing the reference don't have to supply a stamp, too.

There are definitely advantages to applying early.  At DD's college of choice, the application fee is waived because she applied before a certain deadline.  She will also find out in about 2 weeks her official status, and once she is accepted, she will be at the head of the line for financial aid.  (Most need-based aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.  If you wait until March to apply, there may not be many funds left.)  And obviously, by applying early, and being accepted, she can concentrate on finishing up her senior year without the uncertainty of where she will be spending next year weighing on her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quick Meals - Roast Beef Pizza

We had this last night, and it dawned on me that I had it on the table in about 20 minutes from start to finish. Something to remember on nights when time is of the essence. :-)

2 cans crescent roll dough
1 package deli roast beef (or 8 ounces thinly sliced)
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
8 ounces mozzarella cheese

Spread the crescent roll dough out on a pizza pan or cookie sheet, pinching seams closed.  Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes.  Turn oven to broil.  Top crust with roast beef, onion, pepper and cheese.  Return to the top rack of the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, watching until cheese is melted.

You can slice the onion and pepper while the dough is baking if you like your vegetables crunchy.  If you would rather, slice the onion and pepper first, and while the dough is baking, saute the veggies on the stove top until soft.  I have also cut the recipe in half, using just 1 can of dough, which seems to work well for our family of 3.